Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review of 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom

For my next professional reading this summer I chose 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom by Dodge & Duarte.  This was a sharp contrast to my last professional reading, because Disruptive Thinking was more anecdotal, motivational, and a lot of theory (with one overarching framework and tips to implement it).  This book does what it says; it has 25 types of activities, and you could pretty much flip to one from the table of contents and try it out tomorrow without reading the book cover to cover. 

The Introduction

This book starts out defining formative assessment and setting the purpose for making the time and effort.  By page 15 I was peeking through the book to see “when are we getting to the activities?”  I could see that before getting there, there was information on digital assessments (which I found beneficial) as well as tips for what to do once you have looked at formative assessment data (basically: differentiate your instruction).  It also discussed general ways to tailor formative assessment to learners who need more of a challenge or more scaffolding, including students with special needs and ELLs. 

5 Types of Formative Assessments

The actual activities begin in chapter 4 on page 33 (of 121).  The assessments are grouped into categories (Summaries, Graphic Organizers, Visual Representations, Collaborative, and Self Assessment).  They are explained and there are sample worksheets (as well as a way to access them to print online, which I was impressed with).  The worksheets can be adapted for multiple subjects.  For example, in the Find Someone Who page (p. 104-106), there are a couple dozen sentence starters to help reinforce academic language while students are demonstrating their understanding of the concept.  So whether you want a quick print and go or you have time to adapt a page specifically for your content/language objectives, you're covered.

Downloadable Assessment Forms

To get the resources, I went to the website provided on the last page of the book, entered my Email address and a code, and was able to immediately download a zip file.  It contained 40 assessments in Word and PDF formats.  I almost assumed that Word would allow me to edit, but I checked them over and unfortunately I was wrong.  Not only will I have to keep the phrasing the same, but there were some formatting errors I was unable to correct.  The only editable parts are those that fields that are intended for students to fill in.  My school does run an old version of Word, so maybe it's my machine that's the problem.  But at least from my perspective, although there are tips on how to adapt a rubric in the book, I will need recreate the pages provided if I want to tailor the language of the assessments.      

Breaking Down Each Assessment

Each activity also has a "Step by Step" to remind you about the gradual release of responsibility and tips for tiering (including separate tips for ELLs and students who need a challenge).  For many assessments, a word bank of academic vocabulary is provided to help students practice using words in discussions.  (Each assessment also has a "tech connect" that lists apps that can be used and why.  I'm not a one to one classroom, but I would imagine that if I was, the technology integration would be one of the most valuable parts of this book!      

Many of the sheets discussed in this book were already familiar to me, but it's a good resource to have a bunch at your fingertips when you need to change things up.  The tiering was also useful if you have a student who is stuck and you're running out of ideas on how to scaffold. 

One of the assessments I've used over the years is the Matrix.  It can be used in character analysis, history, and science, but one of my favorite uses is in geometry when comparing and contrasting shapes. You can do this for quadrilaterals, 3D figures, or 2D figures.  You can see in the photo how I use it as part of my 2D figures unit  to help students compare and contrast triangles.   
Now, having read this section of 25 Quick Formative Assessments, I'll be able to get more mileage out of this page.  I can have an anchor chart with academic vocabulary and sentence stems to get kids saying, "An equilateral triangle has _____, however an isosceles triangle ______."  "Neither the obtuse nor the right triangle can be _____."  I'm reminded these sentence stems are great for ELLs as well as the rest of the class.  I'm also considering having my class create their own matrix when they have computer time, in Excel, Google Sheets, or Canva (Canva being a resource I'd never heard of before!).  So even though the format of the graphic organizer wasn't new to, this section was useful.   

Multiple Ways of Demonstrating Understanding

Another thing I like about each chapter is that it refers to which of the Multiple Intelligences that are tapped into for each assessment.  It got me thinking about how I could get more mileage out of my Multiple Intelligences Survey.  I was inspired to update it to include suggestions for content delivery, as well record keeping so you can plan with students in mind.  

Who Should Read This Book?
Obviously, if you want some new quick formative assessments for your class, and help understand how to use them, this book would be helpful for you.  It's also designed for grades 4 and up, although having taught 3rd grade, I think third grade teachers could use the majority, though maybe not all, of the materials listed. 

Maybe not so obvious though, is that this book would be helpful for you if you know lots of different formative assessments but: 

1.  You need help tiering for a wide range of learners.
2.  You are a newly 1 to 1 classroom looking for how to switch from worksheets to online formative assessments
3.  You want more ideas for assessing ELLs.  

Have you read 25 Quick Formative Assessments?  This is the second edition, so I'd love to hear what you thought of either edition in the comment section.    

Disclaimer:  Scholastic sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Disrupting Thinking About Pedagogy (Part 3 of 3)

The third and final section of Disrupting Thinking felt like it was written as a salve for burnt out teacher feelings.  It was less about “how” to help kids approach reading and more about why a change in your teaching is critical.  It was more to say, “You’re not crazy.  Teaching has become crazy.  Don’t stop questioning why, even if you’re feeling powerless.” 

Much of this chapter did not Disrupt my Thinking; it confirmed it.  The section tells a bit about the history of pedagogy in this country has evolved as society has evolved, (although it always has and always will need to catch up) how prepackaged “Common Core Ready” programs are not the be all and end all, how kids need Silent Sustained Reading in order to read better, the power of Daily 5 style. 
choice when kids are required to read (and general tips on scaffolding when choice is not an option) and how to structure a reading block in a sort of

Because this section sort of leaped around (in my mind, anyway) I had to slow down a number of times to relate things back to the BHH (Book, Head, Heart) framework that was promoted in the previous sections.  I kept coming back to the questions:
  1. “What kind of readers do I want to turn my students into?” 
  2. “Which good reading skills/habits do I value?”  (And what standards can I name to justify at least some of those if I was asked about it) 
  3. “What am I going to do about it?”
I made notes after each section to keep my own thinking more focused.  I’d like to share how I could relate to 3 sections that most hit home for me.

Disrupting Thinking about Best Practices

As I was reading this section, I thought about the Second Step social-emotional curriculum we used to use at our school.  I loved this program.  It was sequential and boxed, but the photos were such a great jumping off point each week to getting the kids thinking about multiple points of view, facial cues and feelings, naturally occurring consequences and choices.  Then one year we were told it wasn’t research based so use Kelso instead.  We got posters to hang up and were told to use the language on it to remind them to solve problems, but that was it.  All because Kelso was research based and Second Step wasn’t. 

The same thing happened with our ELA program, and then our math program (although the math was an improvement, I’m not totally sold on the ELA).  The authors point out that when we all start following these boxed programs that work for limited student populations, we strip out the creativity and input from the students, communities, and professionals who understand their specific population.  But school districts do it because they’re afraid of failing test scores.  Which I can certainly relate to.  Find me a teacher who can’t!  But here’s the line that disrupted my thinking:  “We’ve become an educational system guided more by fear of failure than respect for innovation.”


Think of all the scientists and entrepreneurs who failed dozens of times before they discovered something that changed our lives!  And don’t we want our students to be innovators?  YES! 

At this point I had to calm down a little.  Yes, I hate MCAS, but let’s bring it back to what we can do to help our students.  We want to make sure that our teaching is not just about recall, of course.  But we also want to make sure it’s more than the rubric, as I talked about in my first post of this 3 part series.  We need students to think about how a text is changing how they think, and to do that, they need to be aware of and discussing the connections they’re making to a text.  They need to recognize the “call to action” in a text, and evaluate how it confirms or clashes with their values.  That’s the reason standardized texts can not be the focus of our instruction or our year with each class. 

Disrupting Thinking about Bringing Up the Middle

In chapter 11, the book gets into a second problem with standardized tests, and that’s how the low performing kids are (dis)serviced.  And yes, I have encountered a principal who wanted us to focus on bringing up the middle at the expense of the low performing kids (hence the name of my blog).  And again, this book basically says that we need to be asking ALL ability levels those same higher order questions.  “What does the author think you know, how does it make you feel, how does it change your thinking?” 

That being said, the authors maintain that using the BHH framework will improve comprehension.  So it stands to reason that it WILL improve reading test scores.  It will prompt students to enjoy reading more and thus opt to read more and therefore practice reading skills more.  So if you are pro-test-score-improving this framework is still relevant for your instruction. 

Disrupting Thinking about Student Interest (vs. Relevance)

Chapter 12 was even more mind-blowing.  And again, it’s not so much about how to help kids read better.  It was a list (by age range) of issues that kids think/worry about.  It wasn’t about topics that are interesting for kids, but relevant for kids.  It made me realize that I need to update my back to school surveys.  Obviously lots of kids are interested in animals and sports.  I don’t need to read those surveys each year to know the topics the majority of the class will pick.  But seeing what issues kids are aware of and want to grapple with and wish they could solve will start to bring relevance to the curriculum.  The list in the book is an amazing start for teachers to refer to, (so you can see how deep students are capable of digging) although asking your own students is kind of the point.  I know once I asked them, I will then need to find texts to match their passions.  And I know I still need to address the standards, but BHH will address comprehension standards. I'm not too worried about time/adding stuff in, because I know that I can at least start with science related materials until our district relaxes their reliance on our ELA anthology. 

The Bottom Line

Once students have read and it’s time to discuss, instead of focusing on plot, you might want to try the BHH framework for you classroom discussions: 
  1. What surprised you?
  2. What did the author think I already knew?
  3. What changed, challenged, or confirmed your thinking?
The authors really want to emphasize that open ended questions, especially those that probe the book, head (thinking) and heart (empathy) are how the way to improve students’ comprehension, but also deeply engage them in what they are reading, and know why reading is important throughout their lives.  Their final interview with a classroom teacher was such a perfect way to illustrate why these are the questions that matter, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. 

So have you read Disrupting Thinking?  What surprised you?  What did the authors think you already knew, and you want to further explore?  What changed, challenged, or confirmed your thinking?

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Disruptive Thinking Part 2: Is BHH the New QAR?

In my last post I began a discussion of Part 1 of Disruptive Thinking with a contest.  Christie, you won a copy of the book!  Also in my previous post I also talked about the struggle reading poses to students and teachers, but how that process is sort of the point, as opposed to rote answers.  Part 2 of Disrupting Thinking gets into the meat of the instruction: How do you talk to your students about the thought disrupting process of reading?  How do you get them to think about and also respond to what they are reading in a deeper way?

Disrupting Thinking:  Book, Head, Heart

The "hook" the authors describe in this book is the "Book, Head, Heart Framework" (BHH).  They focus most on the heart in this section; the reason being is that many other texts, including ones they've written in the past, cover the "In the Book" part, aka, text dependent, one right answer kind of questions.  The "head" questions are more inferential and more metacognitive.  Students think about the confirmation and/or changes in their expectations and assumptions.  Readers with different background will have different ideas here, and this is where comprehension can really start to break down or evolve.  Personally this was not a new concept for me, but these are the types of questions that I'm always trying to include more of in my teaching because they go deeper and it's how instruction is differentiated. 

Really, the "In Your Heart" questions are the deepest of questions: these are the questions that are a call to action.  They get into the real reason for reading beyond taking a test:  How does this book resonate with or change who you are?  Not every book will do that, but one of my takeaways is that it's part of my job to pick books that provide opportunities for creating positive changes in my students' mindsets.  

Again, the authors ask us to practice what they preach, and give us a poem to reflect on with the framework to practice on.  But I feel a greater need to share how I used the framework on this book.  For the "In my head" response, I couldn't help thinking of a framework of questions I used about 15 years ago, back when I taught 3rd grade.  I kept thinking "In My Head, In the Text, In the World."  A quick Google search brought me here:  http://schochsite.pbworks.com/f/au_hirata_raphael_article.pdf  to an article on Question Answer Relationship (QAR).  Using this method, I helped students analyze the types of questions that were on practice MCAS questions.  When there weren't enough deep questions, I made my own.  

So I've reached out to the authors on Twitter to ask what they see as the main differences between the two theories.  I'm still waiting back to see what they say (maybe it's in Part 3 and I'm spoiling the ending.  I see Raphael is in the references section).  But so far, I see 2 differences:

Book, Head, Heart Vs. Question Answer Relationship

Difference 1:

QAR is more about analyzing prepared questions.  The key word is questions, as opposed to text or the reader.  

BHH is more about student generated questions about a text.  There are sentence starters to help students formulate questions (great for ELLs and other students who need the scaffold).  But the students lead the generation of questions.  The focus is actually more on the reader than on the questions.  And the reader and text matter in equal proportion in BHH, I would say.  There are questions, only as a vehicle for eliciting a response.    

Difference 2:

QAR's third question type is "In the World." 

BHH's third question type is "In my Heart."  

I believe that the two are in practicality the same, but philosophically different.  Again, I hope the authors weigh in here.  But to me, QAR is more about observing how the book relates to the real world.  Connections are made to current events.  BHH is also about making a connection to the real world, but it's more of a call to action than an observation.  It's taking something to heart.  It's about changing or reaffirming the reader's feelings and attitudes and reshaping them so that when they go out into the world, they will act more responsibly.  

Facilitating Book, Head, Heart Discussions

So when I first read Part 2, I thought "I need to make some Head and Heart Questions for specific books."  But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, "Is this sort of defeating the point?  The questions need to be student generated."  The anchor charts are right there:  "In the book, what's it about, who's telling the story, what does the author want me to know?"  "In your head, what surprised you, what changed?"  "In your heart, what did you take to heart?  What did you learn about yourself?  "What do you need to help change?"  If we get more specific than that, are we leading students to "right answers?"  

For example, I read BFG by Roald Dahl with my students.  [Spoiler Alert]  One of the "In My Heart" reactions I had, when I read the book, was that Sophie learns that just because the giant doesn't speak "properly," he is very intelligent and has other gifts to share.  This not only makes Sophie more compassionate and connected to the world outside her orphanage, but it awakens Sophie's confidence in herself.

I wonder, when using BHH in my classroom, should I ask students:

1.  Read chapter 5. What does the author want you to know?  What surprised you?  What did you learn about you? 
2.  Read paragraph 5 on page 100.  What does the author want you to know about Sophie?  What did you learn about you?  What surprised you about the BFG over the course of the book so far? 
3.  Read paragraph 5 on page 100. What does the author want you to know about Sophie's attitude toward the BFG?  How did her assumptions about the BFG's intelligence change?  If you meet someone who speaks differently from you, what should/shouldn't you assume about them?"

I suppose the answer is, #1 is the goal.  We want students to make their own connections.  If they are not there yet, provide as much scaffolding as necessary with the goal of removing scaffolds as they mature as readers.  Let's face it, in #3, we're wading (/plunging?) right into "One right answer territory."  And that alone will not produce truly responsive readers.  We need students to integrate new material into their own schema and sense of self, be open to growth and change, and ask their own questions.

I'm eager to see if Part 3 addresses any of my questions.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the BHH framework for responses?  Was your first thought to go write text specific questions or start copying one of their anchor charts?  Can you think of different instances where each approach would apply?

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Disrupting Thinking: Professional Summer Reading

Summer is here and it's time for teachers to thrive!  Along with rest, fun, and odd jobs around the house, I'm honing my skills in the teaching of reading.  Currently, I'm reading  Disrupting Thinking:  Why How We Read Matters, from the authors of Notice and Note.  The biggest draw for me was that the book promises to address the "importance of media literacy and tips for teaching kids how to identify fake news." 

A book by respected authors that would explore solutions to a very current, timely problem was absolutely worth my time.  I couldn't help but think about my first fourth grade class from 12 years ago.  "Did I do enough to teach those kids, who are now adults, to help them seek out the truth and think critically about it?"  As elementary teachers, I guess many of us don't find out how the majority of our former students are doing 10 years later.  But reading this book became urgent for me so that I could feel like I'm doing my best to do right by my current and future students.

I was also given the opportunity to spread the word of Disrupting Thinking.  Scholastic gave me a second book to give away.  If you're interested, please join the discussion and leave a comment that relates to one of my pain points in red.  I'll choose an answer using a random number generator on July 5th.  It's a good summer read; there are enough anecdotes of classroom visits to make it feel relatable and humorous.  There are reflection questions at the end of each chapter, so the authors make you practice what they preach in terms of active engagement with their ideas.  And it's divided into 3 sections. This contest is now closed; winner will post tomorrow morning.

Section 1:  The Readers We Want
The major takeaway for me in this section is The Struggle Is Real.  As teachers, we struggle with standardized tests and canned responses.  If a test is standardized, the publishers are looking for a specific sort of response, and often have a rubric to assess it.  So creative thinkers are sometimes penalized.  Students struggle with an overabundance of boring texts as well as the conditioning that their initial response is not answering the question on the test. 

In order to bring new life into reading instruction the authors explore the idea that are aware of their reactions to a text (or film, or news report); they don't ignore them.  They make inferences, question, look for more information, all in a cyclical manner, but it starts with a reaction to something in the text.  Texts need to be about topics they are unfamiliar with, or disagree with, or be novel in some way.  In order to be better readers, students need to struggle.  So yes, the struggle is real.  But that's kind of the whole point.  If it was easy, why "teach" it?

That being said, the authors acknowledge that there is a fine line between bringing one's background knowledge and feelings to the reading and dismissing the author's message!  It made me think of practicing MCAS using an old reading and writing prompt about storms.  I've seen kids write about hailstorms and earthquakes when those were not the storms mentioned in the text. Obviously they didn't get enough new information out of the text to write coherently about it, so they stuck with what they knew.  Fortunately, the book offers very specific prompts for conferring with students to help them recognize when an author confuses them, earns their trust or distrust, or changes their minds.  This way they are recognizing how they respond to a text without adding or deleting information.  And it's funny; in the past I've seen students write total wrong answers to open response questions and assumed it was beyond their reading ability.  This text makes me wonder; is it the fact that it was so contrary to their beliefs that it was just easier for them to write what they knew, or thought they knew, because they are inexperienced with formulating a difference of opinion?  We also need them to accept that changes in thinking, in the wake of new information, is normal and often the goal of reading. 

So having read the first section only, I went back to my class and started using the term "disrupting thinking" in relation to reading.  (Spoiler alert: the second section actually gets into a different "hook," as opposed to the title of the book, so this is my own personal spin on the ideas of the author, but it worked for my class in May!)  We were about to read a nonfiction piece about animals in our anthology.  This tends to be an introduction to a science unit on animals that culminates in a written report from each student.  Now, in the past, I've done an KWL chart about animals because most kids have some knowledge of animals, favorite animals, and generally enjoy learning about animals.  But this time I changed my introduction.

I did record facts about animals that they knew prior to reading.  But then I told the kids, "We read nonfiction for new information.  Now, some of you already know things about animals.  But when we read this article, prepare yourself for it to disrupt your thinking.  Maybe you will learn a new fact about an animal.  Or maybe you'll learn something that goes against what you already thought you knew!"  Then, after reading, I asked students for NEW information that was in the text.  If there was any information that contradicted their prior thinking, I planned to guide them to see how their thinking would change (but there wasn't any). 

In the next post, I will talk about the second section of the book which promises to help me teach kids to pay attention to how their thinking has changed after reading a book.  It sounds like my lesson on finding new information is an important start, but only the tip of the iceberg.  And at this point, I'd love to hear your thoughts about the book if you're reading it.

Disclosure:  I received compensation for a fair and honest review in the form of 2 free copies of the book (one to keep and one to give away to one of my readers). Again, if you'd like a chance to win your own copy of this book, please leave a comment below that addresses one of my pain points in red.  This contest ends on July 5th 2017 at noon.  This contest is now closed, but feel free to post a comment to join the discussion!

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Constructing 3 Dimensional Figures

In geometry, 3 dimensional figures is one of those areas of math that is a lot of fun to teach, but can be tricky for kids who are usually great at math!  Instead of mathematical reasoning, it involves more spatial awareness, and the ability to mentally turn shapes around.  As a result, you may find some kids who are not used to coping with frustration in math class suddenly feeling overwhelmed.  The upside is that some kids who feel like they are not good at math are suddenly your helpers.  Use this as an opportunity to teach that no one is good at everything, but everyone is good at something! 

Folding up nets for 3 dimensional figures

To foster cooperation and appreciation for others' unique talents, I like to partner students up to complete sets of 3D models.  There are two activities that help kids with different objectives for 3 dimensional figures.

The first activity involves nets.  These are great for helping kids see all the faces in a model at a glance.  Students can count the faces more easily on a flattened net than on the drawing in their workbook or test. 


Tips for folding and taping our 3 dimensional figures

Models of 3 dimensional figures including prisms and pyramids
When preparing materials for this activity, consider the needs of your class.  The thicker the paper, (cardstock, coverstock, 32 pound paper, or copy paper) the harder it is for some students to cut and fold clean creases.  I find it's more difficult than it used to be, since younger kids have more screen time and less color/cutting/fine motor time.  On the other hand, once the creases are in place, it's easier to tape the thicker the paper.  If you spread this project over two days (one cutting/folding and the other taping/counting) consider if and when you will have extra hands in the class to help out.   

Also consider whether or not your shapes will have "flaps" for taping.  For some kids, it's an extra folding step, which is a disadvantage.  But again, when it comes to taping, it can be helpful.  My advice is to use nets with flaps because you can always cut them off to differentiate for some kids.  
Once the folding and taping is complete, further students learning by counting the faces AGAIN.  This can be challenging for students because there's no obvious starting or stopping point, so it's easy to lose count.  Model the strategy of drawing a dot on each face to help keep track of what's been counted.

Another activity that is always a hit is building models with toothpicks and gum drops (or marshmallows).  This activity helps students count the edges and points in 3 dimensional figures.  I would NOT have students count the faces on these models, since they are "empty." 


Tips for building our 3 dimensional figures

Before tackling this challenge, I teach students the difference between prisms and pyramids. 
A prism can start with any 2D shape for a base.  Next, build up with vertical toothpicks.  Put gumdrops on the top of each, and connect the top gumdrops so there is a face with an identical shape and size as the base.  The resulting sides are squares.  Explain to students that if they had longer toothpicks for the sides, those faces would have been rectangles instead of squares, and it's a prism either way.

A pyramid, like prisms, can start with any 2D shape for a base.  However, instead of building up with vertical toothpicks, tilt them slightly toward the center.  Those toothpicks need to come together in the center to be joined by a single gumdrop (or marshmallow).  The top center vertex is the defining quality of a pyramid.  Notice that the sides are all triangles.   

The kids will have a blast "playing with gumdrops" during this math lesson and get a better grasp of them at the same time.  Then, once your structures are complete, if you need homework pages or written assessments, check out my 3D figures pages

As an enrichment activity, students can try creating shapes with all triangle or all pentagon faces, similar to the nets for dodecahedrons or octahedrons, tetrahedrons.  Just be aware these will require an abundance of materials! 


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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Southwest Region Landforms Art

I've already talked about how I introduce students to the history, natural resources, and products of a region. Today I'm going to talk about our fourth concept: Landforms.

We start discussing Southwest region landforms the same way as we did with our other concepts, with a concept map.


Concept Maps


Then just as before, we read the text with our "lens" of finding landforms.

However this time, I urge students to spend more time looking at the text features rather than reading every single paragraph over again.

For one thing, the maps are going to give a lot of information.  Additionally, the headings are going to help us remember what the sections are about.  A heading that reads, "A proud people" is probably not going to have as much information about Southwest region landforms as a heading that reads, "A lay of the land."

We do play our "Beat the Teacher" review game that I described in an earlier post to emphasize the key terms I want students to know for the test.  And when it comes to the region we're familiar with, here in the Northeast, this is as far as I go.  But today I want to skip ahead a few months to talk about what happens when we cover terrain that is unfamiliar to students.  Growing up in a city in Massachusetts, my students are not familiar with Southwest region landforms like canyons, mesas, or plateaus.  So to help these terms stick and give students the "other worldly-ness" feeling of a new landscape, we make art!


Southwest Region Landforms Art


This art project is one of the highlights of our Southeast Region Unit. I've tried a variety of media to create this project, but the key is always holding the page lengthwise, hand drawing a straight line, drawing the shapes, then cutting along that single, jagged line.  This produces TWO "jigsaws" and helps students see the inverse relationship between the canyons and plateaus, valleys and mountains.  This will tie in with our science unit on weathering later on, but that's a blog post for another time.

Southwest region landforms art with limited materialsOne method for creating our landscapes with the Southwest region landforms is to prepare the page BEFORE drawing out the shapes.  I provide thinly cut strips of paper (think 1/8 inch) for students to glue in rows.  They draw on the back and once cut, they glue it onto blue paper for a sky color.

The advantages of this method are easily accessible materials as well as opening the door to discussions of visible layers of sedimentary rock (and more science connections).

The major disadvantage to this project is that for some students, cutting through two layers of construction paper and glue is an arduous task, especially when they have to cut along that whole line with no natural breaks.

Southwest region landforms art with pastelsAnother method is to use pastels.  First, rub the lightest color on the jigsaw.  Hold it firmly against the background and rub UPWARDS.

What happens is the colored pastel dust you brushed up becomes the sky, and the area that the jigsaw was covering stays the original color of the paper (so brown is a good choice).  Next, choose a second color that is lighter than the first.Rub it on the jigsaw, then hold it firmly a little higher up than the first.  Rub upwards again, and you get another layer of Southwest region landforms in the distance.

As you can guess, this project requires a steady hand when it comes to rubbing the color upwards, because you can't erase (but you can save the jigsaw for a second attempt).

The final method is my personal favorite because it seems to have the highest success rate, and it looks really dramatic.

Southwest Region Landforms Displays


The medium is oil pastels on black paper.I demonstrate how to create a sunset, with concentric circles and colors.  If you think of the order of colors in a rainbow, ROYGBIV, reverse the letters in ROY's first name to YOR.  Then reverse the rest of the letters of his last name to VIB.  Finally, omit that middle initial.  There's no green in this sunset.  I allow students to include pink as well.  Depending on the hue (peachy or fushia), it looks best either between the orange and red or red and violet.

Southwest region landforms art with pastelsNotice that it's not necessary to complete the underside of the circle, but more than halfway ensures there's no missing coverage later on.

After the colors are on the page, use a tissue to rub along the edge of each circle.  This will help them blend.  Do NOT use fingers for this step!  Not only do the pigments stain, but the oils from your fingers can cause black/grey discoloration on the artwork.

Southwest region landforms art displaysFinish by laying a black jigsaw of the landscape over the top.  The result looks like a landscape with the Southwest region landforms in silhouette.

Could you use crayons for this project to avoid mess? Absolutely! If you notice on my filing cabinet (top, middle) there was one absent student who completed the project using crayons. The materials are up to you. But I find this project in my Southeast Region Unit get kids much more excited about learning about a new region than the note-taking alone.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

United States Geographic Regions Empty Box Project

In my last blog post in this series on United States geographic Regions, I talked about integrating social studies content with ELA objectives as we take notes on natural resources and products of each region.  Today I want to share an activity that is so easy to set up, and it helps make the social studies content feel more relevant to our everyday lives.  I call it the "Empty Food Box Geography Project."

United States geographic Regions Empty Package ProjectFirst, I send home a letter about a "volunteer homework assignment." Students are encouraged to bring in empty, DRY containers of food.  I emphasize that cans are not desirable, although the paper labels from cans are fine.  

Label Boxes with United States Geographic Regions

I set up an area with 5 boxes, one for each of the United States geographic regions.  Then, as the boxes come in, students read out what state the food came from.  We determine which region that state is in and place it in the correct box.   
As time goes on, we look for patterns.  Where does our produce come from?  (Hint:  It's not all local).  What about our grains?  By the time we start learning about the Midwest region, I get to hear a lot of, "That makes sense!" when we see crackers from Illinois, since this is our nation's "breadbasket."  
This activity takes just a couple minutes at the start of each social studies period, and can be done year round.  Some years I launch it at the beginning of the year so the kids get a preview of how to categorize the states into each of the United States geographic regions.  Other times, if I know it's a group of kids with high participation rates from home, I launch it during my Midwest Region unit (around midyear).  This way I don't end up with more food boxes than space to store them!  And the Midwest always "wins" with the most boxes, so it's a perfect time to highlight the importance of our food production.

United States Geographic Regions and Consumer Education

The kids love this project because it's food related and an easy way to participate.  I love it because not only does it reinforce what they're learning about American products and provide practice for categorizing states by United States geographic regions, it also starts getting them to read food labels.  Looking beyond the front packaging is an unrelated, but very important life skill!  

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