Sunday, October 31, 2010

Paper Trails

As I finish making copies for the week for four first grade classrooms, I look down at the pile of worksheets and I am astounded by the sheer amount of paper these students will use and eventually throw away during a typical school week. Add school newsletters, announcements, and fundraising pamphlets and the paperwork coming home each day in students’ backpacks can become overwhelming. For families with multiple children in the same school, the problem is only compounded. As “going green” gains popularity, it only makes sense to tackle the topic of reducing waste with our students. Hopefully, allowing students to witness a problem and design solutions will help them become more aware and responsible citizens.

Are there ways to reduce the amount of paper we use every day in the classroom? For in-class work, you can try giving each student a small whiteboard. I cut a class set of white boards from shower board I bought at a home improvement store, and they work great for a lot less money than buying individual boards. If you have access to computers or a computer lab, there are lots of free games and activities available online that students can use for repetition and practice. Interactive whiteboards can be a great tool for learning in a less paper-intensive environment as well, although many of us aren’t lucky enough to get those, yet! For more structured work that is best practiced on worksheets, you might be able to save a little paper by doing double-sided copying.

After students learn more about the problem, they may start their own recycling or re-use programs. Some enterprising kids started collecting paper waste for recycling or re-use and made a deal with their teacher to have a party in class when they had collected a certain weight of paper. They created the plan and timeline and presented their ideas to their teacher. As the amount of paper they collected increased, they earned intermediate prizes, including the chance to hold a paper-airplane contest (created with recycled paper, of course), and a “recycled” art contest, where students were challenged to create artwork entirely from things that were meant to be thrown away. To help reduce the amount of paperwork created in the first place, one parent volunteer at my school offered to mark the classroom mailboxes of siblings so that only the oldest sibling in each household would get copies of school notes, saving a lot of paper over the course of a year.

Is too much trash really a problem? What’s wrong with throwing away garbage? When stuff goes into the trash, it gets buried so we don’t have to deal with again, right? This may be true, but lots of garbage doesn’t end up in landfills, and the garbage that does get buried can take a really long time to decompose. One class created a mini-landfill in a plastic container with all different kinds of trash in it. They left it outside all year to see what would happen to the trash. How long do you think it would take a diaper to start decomposing in your own mini-landfill?

If you need to get your class moving, try this landfill game from PE Central. Kids can start thinking about issues with trash and recycling while they run around and let off a little steam. For a very different approach, Waste Management partnered with Discovery Education to create lessons about trash and recycling. You might find some useful ideas for your class in their Buried Treasure activities and lesson plans.

A great visual example of the damage uncontained waste is doing to earth is the pacific garbage patch, a huge mass of trash collecting in the Pacific Ocean. You can find lots of pictures and explanations of this phenomenon online. There is a detailed description of this and a couple of other major environmental issues in a free webinar from Maps101. Depending on the age of your students, you might want to show parts of it in your class or just use the information in your teaching. This blog entry is also very informative on the topic. It was neat to learn so much about garbage, a topic I didn’t know a whole lot about. That’s one of the best parts about being a teacher…learning with your students!

For a fun and interesting conversation-starter, watch this “mockumentary” that details the journey of a plastic bag from a parking lot to the open ocean, contributing to the mass of debris in the pacific garbage patch. The movie follows the bag as if it’s an endangered animal as it makes its way out into the ocean.

For more ideas in environmental education, be sure to visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Education page. This page has a section for elementary, middle, and high school students. Their Kids Club has a great section on garbage and recycling with activities, science experiments, and more. I also really like their interactive game, Recycle City. It’s got a detailed introduction to the topic, an online game, and related activities.

We always like to collaborate and share ideas with other organizations we associate with on our social networking sites. Keep an eye on the National Environmental Education Association’s Facebook page for tips and ideas. Also, the Teaching Ideas site has an extensive collection of activities related to different themes. We discovered these collections through their Facebook page. Be sure to check the site in November for their theme “Saving the Planet.” Good luck, and have fun going green with your students.

~Peggy's Corner - 10/28/2010~

Talkin’ Trash

According to the EPA, the average American produces about four and a half pounds of trash each day, which amounts to a whopping 1,600 pounds per person annually. That figure does not include industrial waste or commercial trash – operations that produce much, much more trash than consumers.

Sometimes it’s difficult for students to conceptualize just how large these numbers really are. It helps, then, to use graphic examples when describing the problem. For example, according to WM Recycle America, each year Americans throw away enough aluminum to completely duplicate the full United States commercial air fleet. That’s a lot of soda cans! The same organization says that Americans toss enough glass each month to fill up a skyscraper. Examples such as these that are easy to visualize can really help to drive the point home for students of all ages.

Fortunately, Americans and many other countries have become much more conscientious about the waste we produce and how we can recycle materials instead of burying or incinerating them. Many schools have introduced their own recycling programs, and you can view many of their initiatives on YouTube or TeacherTube. Some popular measures include reducing or eliminating the number of days that the cafeteria uses foam food trays, refilling printer ink cartridges instead of throwing away used ones, and setting up paper recycling stations and bins throughout the school. There are many online guides and handbooks on establishing school recycling programs, some of which we’ll be featuring on our Facebook and Twitter pages this week; perhaps you’ll find something that inspires you to take greater steps towards establishing a “greener” school or community.

My picks this week focus on the trash or waste we produce, and how we can better reuse, recycle, or repurpose items to reduce the amount of garbage dumped into landfills or incinerated into the air we breathe. Students are naturally passionate about the Earth and “doing the right thing,” and the resources below offer some fascinating insights into trash, recycling, and human ingenuity.

Garbage Dreams
Subjects: Ecology, Economics
Grade: 6-12
In Cairo, the Zaballeen people survive by collecting and recycling trash; they recycle over 80% of the garbage they collect. In this online game, students take on the role of the Zaballeen, where they virtually sort, process, and profit from the garbage collected from Cairo’s neighborhoods. I like that this game takes the economic considerations of recycling into account as well as the obvious ecological benefits. To effectively grow their businesses, players can invest in various types of recycling equipment, which may or may not pay off. If they manage their businesses well, they can buy extra trucks, expand into wealthier neighborhoods, and perhaps hire additional workers to help in their recycling efforts. “Garbage Dreams” is produced by PBS as a supporting activity to their documentary of the same name. The game is aligned to national education standards.

Activity #2: My Water is Gray Water
Subjects: Ecology, Math
Grade: 5-8
In this activity, students determine the average amount of water they use during a typical shower and the concentration of soap in that water. The students learn the need to recycle gray water to allow plants, animals, and humans to survive in space. This activity was produced by NASA Quest, an educational initiative by NASA to provide educators, students, and space enthusiasts with information and activities that apply to real-world challenges faced by NASA’s space program.

The Rotten Truth About Garbage
Subjects: Ecology, Social studies
Grade K-8
This site takes an in-depth look at the complex issues surrounding municipal solid waste. This online exhibition is organized into four major sections: What Is Garbage?, There's No "Away", Nature Recycles, and Making Choices. The exhibit also includes numerous activities for students, ranging from oral history projects to trash audits. This resource was developed by the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), an organization of museums and science centers dedicated to furthering science education and innovation for the public.

~Joann's Picks - 10/28/2010~

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Classroom Disaster

Some things in the world…okay a lot of things in the world…are difficult subjects to tackle with students. When bad things happen in the world, especially close to home, how do we help our students understand what’s going on and what they are feeling? There are textbooks, lesson plans, and best practices in place to teach the core academic subjects, but the there is no clear-cut procedure for handling unexplainable disasters. Whether it’s a natural disaster or a man-made one, students are witnessing situations in real time and in more detail than ever. The unfolding events can be very scary for students and teachers. Discovering the scientific basis of these disasters and how to cope may alleviate this fear and give a feeling of control over the situation.

Depending on the age of your students, these explorations of catastrophic events can include historical comparisons, political discussions, service projects, and hands-on experiments. There are many different types of resources catalogued on the Gateway and other sites to help you introduce and study just about any type of natural disaster with your students. Joann will be posting a variety of examples of these resources daily on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Where you live and the specific time of year influence the types of natural disasters you may need to teach about in your classroom. If you live in an area commonly hit with certain types of disasters, like earthquakes or tornadoes, it might be helpful to begin introducing the topic before a disaster strikes. No matter which type of disaster you need to learn more about, you should find some activities to start with on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. Through different keyword searches on The Gateway, I found a lot of very creative and challenging activities to help you deal with all different types of disasters. One of the best parts about starting with these catalogued resources is that you can use the standards selection tool to determine how the activities will fit within your state standards.

There are quite a few other lessons and activities online that can complement the lessons you find on The Gateway. The following links are a sample of the variety of resources you might find useful. The FEMA site has a good overview of many types of natural disasters. National Geographic’s Forces of Nature activity allows you to pick a force (tornado, hurricane, earthquake, or volcano) to see pictures, maps, and case studies related to that force of nature. How Stuff Works, a Discovery site, has articles, pictures, and videos to help better explain disasters to your students. The link takes you to the wildfire page, but there are explanations and activities for other disasters as well.

The information and resources in those sites are all very helpful, but there is no replacement for hands-on experimentation of the forces at work in these disasters. This year we have discussed 2 specific types of disasters in our posts: hurricanes and oil spills.
In the study of hurricanes, students saw air pressure demonstrated in a really fun and memorable way as they witnessed an egg “magically” being sucked into a glass bottle. I have seen kids and adults alike watch this demonstration in awe. Once they can explain the scientific principles behind “trick,” they will have a much deeper understanding of how weather systems like hurricanes are formed. Students from kindergarten through junior high tried out the inquiry-based oil spill experiment introduced in our oil spill posts. There are hands-on experiments like this available on the Gateway for other disasters, too. For example, you can build your own tornado with soda bottles here. Finding and implementing activities like this can make your investigation into disasters much more effective and useful for your students. If you know of any activities to use in teaching about disasters, please share. Thanks!

~Peggy's Corner - 10/21/2010~

Scorched Earth

A few weeks ago in Hungary, a reservoir ruptured, flooding several towns with 185 million gallons of toxic red sludge. The 12-foot high river of sludge killed nine people, with scores more hospitalized with chemical burns and other injuries. The effect on the environment and the people there is still unknown, and the scope of any lasting damage is likely to be unknown for many years. The sludge is a byproduct of refining bauxite into alumina, and is contained in numerous reservoirs in communities surrounding the aluminum plant. A few days after the disaster, a report surfaced that the plant had appeared on a short list of potential environmental disasters several years ago, while photographs taken of the Hungarian reservoirs months before the rupture clearly show degraded and leaking reservoir walls. As of this writing, the manager of the aluminum plant is the target of an official investigation, and the plant’s assets have been frozen. In the meantime, the people in the villages surrounding the plant are trying to put their lives back together in a devastated landscape.

Disasters, whether man-made or naturally-occurring, are an unfortunate fact of life. Pliny the Younger wrote vivid descriptions of the devastation caused by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, while today, haunting images of toxic mud-splashed houses and flooded buildings in Hungary flash across our TV and computer screens. Disasters are a common thread in human history, binding past to present in a very real, dramatic way. The ability to stream live images or publish real-time descriptions of disasters has made such occurrences more personal regardless of where they occur: as fellow human beings, we are able to truly empathize with the afflicted communities, even as we experience it secondhand.

Students typically begin learning about disasters that occur in the natural world, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions. Older students are able to delve more deeply into the topic, perhaps studying human-induced disasters, including their causes, their effect, and what preparations can be created to help prevent against a reoccurrence in the future.

My picks this week all focus on some aspect of disasters, including how stress from experiencing a disaster affects the human body, and how communities can plan for economic recovery after a disaster has affected their community. Throughout the week I’ll be featuring all types of disaster-related lessons and resources for all grade levels on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check those pages frequently.

Are You Prepared?
Subjects: Science, Language Arts
Grade: 3
Natural disasters come in many different forms. In this lesson, students conduct research into the different types of disasters and create brochures that highlight an event and feature ways to protect themselves. What I like about this lesson is that the focus is on safety preparations, which helps to reduce some of the “scare factor” of disasters for younger students. This lesson is a product of the Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX), which offers lesson plans and educational best practices, as well as Alabama professional development opportunities. The lesson is aligned to Alabama Content standards.

Rebuild Your Community
Subjects: Economics
Grade: 9-12
This lesson focuses on priorities for a community's post-disaster economic recovery. It specifically examines the importance of the revival of the cultural, educational, and religious institutions in the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Students examine the concepts of scarce resources, cost-benefit analysis, opportunity costs, and economic incentives in determining how to rebuild and revitalize a neighborhood. This is vital information that gets students to think more broadly about the aftermath of a disaster, and is a topic that is often overlooked in discussing disasters. This lesson is a product of Thirteen Ed Online, the educational online outlet of WNET, PBS’s flagship station in New York. The lesson is aligned to McREL standards.

Mental Health and Disasters: How Your Body Reacts During and After a Tragedy
Subjects: Health, Psychology
Grade: 7-12
In this lesson, students learn about how the body reacts physically to stress, and evaluate the long-term affects of stress on those whose lives have been impacted by disasters. Students evaluate and discuss the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and apply this concept to situations in their own lives. This lesson was produced by PBS Newshour, which offers news for students and teacher resources. This lesson is aligned to national standards.

~Joann's Picks - 10/21/2010~

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaching in “The Real World”…or The Missing Piece

What was your favorite subject in school? Was it one that had a really cool teacher? One you could sleep through without getting caught? One that was very challenging? One that you still actually remember what you learned? When I have asked kids and adults this question, I was surprised to find out that many people’s favorite classes have been the more challenging classes, but they are the ones that relate to their own lives. Through my years of working with students of all ages, I am constantly impressed with how well students of all abilities rise to meet our expectations. If we can create classes and assignments that are a lot of work, but not purely busywork, students might surprise us by showing more potential than we ever knew they had. I know this was true for me as a student in some of my more challenging math and science classes in high school. I was lucky to have some wonderful teachers who took the time to make their subjects interesting and relevant in their students’ lives.

I laughed when I read Joann’s description of her geometry class, because I think we have all had classes like that during our school careers. The teacher may have the best of intentions, but somehow the subject is lost on the students. Unfortunately, it’s easier for many teachers to just keep teaching the way they are teaching even when it’s not working. What would it take to help teachers like this get through to their students with quality challenges and real-world examples?

Creating a real-world connection is easier in some subjects than others, but teachers have accomplished it in all different subject areas, and we can learn from their successes. I think this is where an online PLN, a group of teachers who can share success stories and ideas on sites like Facebook and Twitter can be very helpful. Teachers have shared this camaraderie in their own schools for a long time, but the community can grow exponentially as you include educators from around the world. As your PLN grows and you start to read blogs and join in conversations, you will find more and more great ideas. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have enough time to try out all of the wonderful ideas I read!

A few years ago, I taught a course called “Chemistry in the Community,” an introductory level chemistry class with a textbook that was entirely based on real-world applications for chemistry. I still got the questions about why we were learning things and when we would ever use it, but I had tools to demonstrate these answers. Students got to experiment with things like water quality, mining, farming, and fireworks to gain an appreciation and understanding of the role chemistry played in their everyday lives. The big ideas behind this curriculum inspired me to think about how well units like this would work in all different subject areas.

This week, we are focusing on geometry resources at The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. Joann presented some outstanding non-traditional geometry resources in her column and she will be posting more ideas every day on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Geometry is a subject with a lot of potential for including real-life problem solving applications for students. I found one thread on the Classroom 2.0 page that shows how teachers can share project ideas and links to build a better geometry class than Joann’s! Some of the projects would be really neat to make a geometry class more fun and challenging at the same time. Nancy Powell, a teacher at Bloomington High School, has compiled a really extensive list of ideas and projects, too. Some of her activities use Sketchpad, software you can purchase, but a lot of them are designed to be done without a computer. There is a LOT here, so be sure to take some time looking through them. As always, I highly suggest searching “geometry” on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills. There is a huge variety of resources catalogued there, including resources from Pi Across America (I just love the name!).

“It was missing a piece. And it was not happy. So it set off in search of its missing piece.” From The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein

Are you missing a piece in your teaching? Join a group of educators, either in person or online, and let them help you turn your classroom into a learning hub for the real world. Have your students live geometry this year, not just learn about it.

~Peggy's Corner - 10/16/2010~

Like Geometry? Eucliding Me, Right?

Geometry wasn’t my best subject in school. In fact, I pretty much loathed it at the time. Perhaps it was because the class was scheduled after lunch, in an overly-heated room that induced a mouth-slackening torpor within minutes. The geometry teacher had the unfortunate belief that lectures were the only effective teaching method, and he obligingly droned on daily from his desk in the corner. Occasionally, to vary the lesson, he’d stand up. My classmates and I – usually excellent students – struggled against waves of drowsiness, our heads bobbing like too-heavy flowers on thin stalks as we’d start to drift, then jerk awake. Occasionally, one of us would lose the battle and doze off. The teacher, without missing a beat in his lecture, would quietly rise from his desk, glide behind the blissfully sleeping offender, and drop an enormous dictionary on the floor. Did I mention that I loathed geometry?

Fortunately, times have changed. Teachers illustrate geometrical concepts with hands-on activities, real-life examples, and varied methods of instruction. My kids have come home with math assignments that required them to measure the dimensions of a room to calculate how many gallons of paint it would take to coat the walls twice, constructed buildings out of craft sticks using various required geometrical shapes, and other types of problems. They still learn theorems and solve proofs, of course, but there is much more interaction in class and examples given of how these concepts are used everyday in the real world. For some kids, the gap between what they learn in some academic subjects and how – or if – they will ever apply this knowledge as adults can be a major component of their buying into learning the material in the first place, and answers the question “but when will I ever use this? Does anyone ever use the Pythagorean theorem after graduation??”

My picks this week focus on resources that expose students to geometry in unconventional ways. Math teachers already have effective methods of teaching geometrical proofs and theorems, and I want to offer something a little off the beaten path. These creative, hands-on geometry activities will hopefully capture student interest, and make geometry a little more palatable to those students who don’t see the value in learning geometry. I’ll also be featuring many more lessons, activities, and other resources on geometry throughout the week on our our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check in to view them.

Origami Cricket
Subjects: Geometry
Grade: 4-12
This is a neat activity that reinforces right triangle theorems. Students fold paper into various angles and triangles to form origami crickets, then flip them over to make the crickets jump. This activity is offered by The Math Forum, and was written by geometry teacher Cathleen V. Sanders.

The Building Blocks of Geometry
Subjects: Geometry
Grade: 3-5
In this hands-on activity, students explore geometric building blocks in the real world in order to describe the characteristics and relationships of points, lines, line segments, rays, and planes. Students build honeycombs, use geoboards, and other materials to illustrate geometric concepts. This activity is presented by Beacon Learning Center, an online professional development center that offers lesson plans and other educational resources. This activity is aligned to both state and national standards.

Ken Burns American Stories: Baseball Geometry
Subject: Geometry
Grade: 6-12
What do baseball and geometry have in common? More than you think! In this hands-on activity, students examine the surface area of baseballs, make imprints of them in clay to analyze the footprint, and corroborate their findings by calculating the ball’s circumference, diameter, and surface area. The activity also offers a quiz and hands-on extension activity. This resource was produced by PBS, which offers many educational resources and activities for educators tied to PBS programming. This activity is aligned to national math standards.

~Joann's Picks - 10/12/2010~

Monday, October 11, 2010

Changing up Your Lessons this Fall

Autumn is a time of great change and transformation in nature. As a child, I remember the awe I felt watching leaves fall and crunching across them as I walked on the sidewalk. As an adult, I am still in awe of the sights and smells of the season (and I STILL want to jump in the huge pile of leaves, even if it means I’ll have to rake them up again). This week, Joann and I collected resources that tap into this childhood fascination of the changes occurring in nature to teach lessons in many different subject areas.

You can bring these autumn changes into your classroom by using leaves to teach science lessons about photosynthesis, why leaves change colors in the fall, and more. Leaves can also be used in language lessons, art projects, and even math. Look at Photosynthesis: Don’t “Leaf” out Fall’s Most Important Lesson, a collection of activities from Education World for some fun interdisciplinary examples. There is a detailed description of photosynthesis and an explanation of the changing colors in fall, including an easy-to-read version of the explanation for younger students.

Colors in the Leaves describes a great autumn science experiment for all ages. In this lab, students discover why leaves change colors in the fall and why they start out green. It is an inquiry-based science lab using chromatography to separate the colors found in leaves (a spinach leaf in this case). The author of the activity did the lesson with students as young as first grade, but it would be interesting and informative through high school, as the students are learning more about photosynthesis and chromatography. Younger students would need more supervision, since there is acetone and rubbing alcohol involved, but the students wouldn’t need to touch any of the chemicals to benefit from the experiment.

Discussions from these science lessons might lead into a broader discussion of changing seasons. National Geographic Xpeditions has some lessons and activities to help your students explore this concept. Seasons is also a good primary level introduction to why there are different seasons. Students get to model the earth and sun with an orange and a flashlight, a demonstration I remember well from my school days. Sometimes it’s hard to beat an actual physical model of how things work.

Studying butterflies and moths is a popular activity to bring nature into the classroom for a quick and interesting view into life cycles. Metamorphosis is an amazing process for students to witness first hand. There are lots of different lesson plans available online, and it’s probably a good idea to read a few to choose the best parts for your class. Creepy Caterpillars to Beautiful Butterflies is a good second grade example to get you started. As I searched for more examples of this type of activity, I discovered that many metamorphosis lessons use the book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle. I came across some very interesting vocabulary discussions regarding cocoons vs. chrysalises from The Butterfly House in St. Louis, “Butterflies emerge from chrysalises, moths emerge from cocoons.” You may or may not know this fact already, but the book has a butterfly popping out of a cocoon, which my 1st grader promptly corrected, so I should have been more prepared! Other recommended and more realistic metamorphosis books are “Waiting for Wings” by Lois Ehlert or “Butterfly House” by Eve Bunting.

As a primary teacher who plans for all the subjects or a secondary teacher that works in a team to plan and present units, you may be looking for thematic units to tie students’ learning together in many areas. Frogs: A Thematic Unit is a good example of how one teacher used the metamorphosis of frogs as a theme to teach many different subjects. When you implement a thematic unit, you are still teaching the same important math and English concepts you always would while you keep it interesting by connecting your subjects to one theme. If you want more frog activities and information to supplement your thematic unit, try the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant page. I need to try to make the origami frog!

Enjoy this time of change in your classroom. By this time in the year, hopefully you are starting to see some positive changes in your students as they begin to learn and grow in your class. (You might even be able to call it a student metamorphosis!) If you have any other autumn teaching ideas or insights, please share. I would love to hear how these types of lessons have gone in your classroom. We will be doing the leaf chromatography experiment soon, and we’ll post the results on the Gateway Facebook and Twitter pages.

~Peggy's Corner - 10/7/2010~


A few weeks ago, my third grader stopped in her tracks, flung her arms far apart, and breathed deeply. Nonplussed, I stopped and asked her what she was doing.

“Remembering the way summer smells,” she said.

I sniffed the air tentatively, but all I could really smell was car exhaust. We were in the middle of a plaza parking lot, after all.

I had forgotten this little scenario until this morning, when we awakened to temperatures in the 40s. As we waited for the school bus, my daughter raised her chin into the wind and announced that it now smelled like fall. “But I still remember how summer smells,” she said.

We live in New England, where summers are fleeting and – for me, anyway – fall arrives much too quickly. The leaves are changing color, pumpkins have appeared on doorsteps, and I can’t seem to keep my hands off a local farm’s seasonal cider donuts. Like spring, autumn seems to be a season when transformations are most noticeable. Plants go dormant, hornet colonies die off, and caterpillars begin constructing chrysalids. The world around us changes continuously via weather, seasons, human-induced development, natural disasters, and so forth. Many examples of transformation are all around us all the time, if we slow down to look.

The concept of metamorphosis has a long and rich tradition. Classic horror stories and legends depict werewolves, vampires, and various types of shapeshifters, all capable of transforming themselves into other guises. Around the year 8 A.D., Ovid published The Metamorphosis, which describes various tales of transformation. Although Ovid’s work is still widely read in academic circles, most people are more familiar with Kafka’s Metamorphosis story of Gregor Samsa, a hardworking salesman who inexplicably awakens one morning as a large insect. While his physical transformation is pronounced, his family too undergoes a metamorphosis in the story, prompting the reader to ask “what is human?”

Metamorphosis is most often demonstrated in the classroom via the lifecycles of various creatures, such as mealworms, butterflies, and frogs. The ability to view these species’ dramatic changes in a relatively short period of time is a fabulous way to illustrate the concept of transformation to students. My picks this week focus on some aspect of metamorphosis, whether it occurs in life science, literature, visual art, or elsewhere. I will be featuring many more resources for all ages throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check in to view them.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Subjects: Literature, Writing
Grade: 9-10
In this lesson, students analyze the many interrelated literary elements and universal themes in Kafka’s seminal short story. Students are asked to delve much deeper into the story’s symbolism beyond Gregor’s literal transformation into a bug as they examine the effects of society, family, stress, and environment on the characters. This lesson is offered by LEARN NC, a program of UNC Chapel Hill School of Education that provides lesson plans, professional development, and other resources to support teachers. The lesson is aligned to North Carolina state standards.

Claymation Metamorphosis
Subjects: Art, Life science
Grade: 5-12
Like Gumby, but educational! This lesson provides an introduction to the basics of Claymation and media production using a familiar scientific theme — the metamorphosis of a butterfly. This lesson is produced by Blick Art Materials, an art supply company that also offers lesson plans and video workshops for teachers. The lesson is aligned to national standards.

How a Caterpillar Becomes a Butterfly
Subjects: Life science
Grade: K-1
This activity introduces young students to the life cycle of a butterfly. Students role play and draw the various stages that a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly. Students also listen to and discuss Eric Carle’s classic book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This lesson is offered by the Educators Reference Desk, a repository of lesson plans, resource guides, and AskERIC Q&A archives from the Information Institute of Syracuse at Syracuse University.

~Joann's Picks - 10/7/2010~

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Get out and RUN!

Teachers in all subjects share the common goal of developing skills and habits in our students that will serve them well throughout their lives. This focus on educating the “whole child” reminds us that a student’s well being includes the health of their mind and body. I love how Joann’s picks this week encompass this concept by combining learning and exercise. Physical well-being and brain health go hand in hand. Read about this connection a little more in this article about a study of 9 and 10 year olds at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The CDC also recently released a list of research to support the importance of physical activity in schools. As an educator, it’s nice to see that there is research showing the importance of this physical activity, but it really boils down to this for me: How are my students going to focus on learning if their bodies are restless?

As many schools are faced with the reality of cuts in “specials” like P.E., the burden of keeping our students active and healthy is all too often shifting to the regular classroom teachers. As a classroom teacher, you may be thinking, “Don’t I already have enough on my plate?!” Adding this extra challenge to your to-do list this year may seem overwhelming. There are lots of neat activities indexed on The Gateway that you can easily incorporate into your everyday routine. Sites like P.E. Central can be very helpful for supplying ideas and activities you can implement, even with limited experience in physical education.

I like the way my daughter’s elementary school is helping teachers include physical activity by sponsoring a “mileage club,” where students walk or run around a designated path to earn punches on a card to show how far they go each day. At the end of each 5 miles, their punch card is full and they earn a little plastic foot to display proudly on their backpack. My daughter was absolutely ecstatic the day she came home with her first plastic foot on her backpack. I love the idea of getting the kids up and moving, but I wonder how long the enthusiasm for little plastic feet will last. I know money is tight, and kids can’t expect huge rewards for running around, but I was inspired to think of a way to make this “mileage club” idea more fun and perhaps even educational.

My mileage club idea is to have the students work toward reaching REAL destinations on a map of the area surrounding their school. They will still run or walk around the track at school, but each time they do it, they will track their total distance on a local-area map. Teachers can incorporate geography and map-reading skills as students plot their progress on a classroom map. Math calculations, goal setting, and motivating others are also topics that would be right at home in this activity. Keep in mind that a lot of the planning and activity ideas can be brainstormed and created by older students. Don’t be afraid to put them to work!

In my “virtual” mileage club, I plan to start by creating stops every 5 miles starting at the school. It was pretty simple to map out a route idea using Google Maps. I typed in the school name, and the name of the first destination I thought would be around 5 miles from the school. I found a popular park five miles from the elementary school, which will make a perfect first stop for the kids, since many of them are familiar with the park and how far away it is from their school. Beyond the park, I chose “stops” the students are familiar with, such as a popular restaurant, a family fun center, and a popular amusement park. My next task will be to contact these businesses and see if they are willing to participate or contribute to the program. I am hoping these businesses will be willing to donate prizes like a free meal, round of mini golf, or maybe even an admission ticket for the students who make it all the way to 30 miles. I think these types of prizes will serve as an incentive along with the foot charms they have been collecting. As the year progresses, I will probably need to add more stops, depending on how far the students go. This will take some time to set up, but with a little effort, you can create a fun program your school can use year after year! Be creative and think about what is around your school, and empower your students to help come up with the goal destination! At our school there are plenty of parent volunteers who want to help out from home, and helping to set up a program like this might be a perfect fit for them.

This is just the beginning of my idea, which I am sure will need a lot of tweaking to make it work just right. I’ll keep you updated on my progress with the planning on our Facebook and Twitter pages. If your school might be supportive of a project like this, you and your students can help start a school-wide push for some physical activity. If not, you can always implement it in a smaller scale in your own classroom, and who knows…It might just catch on. Just search on a map to see what neat places your students can “run,” Or let your class do the searching so their destinations are even more enticing. There are many other great ideas out there, and whatever can motivate students and teachers to be active and have fun will be the best fit for your school.

Is your school promoting any activities to help students improve their physical fitness? We would love to hear about what is working (or not working) around the world. Good luck, and tell your students to keep up the good work.

~Peggy's Corner - 10/1/2010~

Brain Gym

We’re all aware of the grim statistics on overweight American kids. 15% of children aged 6-19 are seriously overweight, while over 10% of kids aged 2-5 are overweight. Within some racial and ethnic groups, the rates are even higher. Doctors and child advocacy groups have continually sounded the alarm that today’s students are the most sedentary and unhealthy generation in American history. Why, then, is physical education caught in the crosshairs of some districts’ politicians and school administrators’ sights as an expendable area of the curriculum?

Earlier this year, the governor of New Jersey raised the idea of eliminating physical education classes for elementary students altogether, and severely curtailing the time required in gym for the upper grades. One reason cited was that those varsity athletes who already practiced 8-10 hours a week risked injury if participating in gym class. Well, maybe. But what about the other 95% of the student body?

Schools and PE teachers who have to defend the importance of physical education in the curriculum are gaining in numbers. Under pressure to raise test scores, school districts look for any additional time in which they can cram extra instruction. Unfortunately, areas like phys ed, art, music, and even recess come under increasing fire as “frills” that can be sacrificed in the name of “enhanced instruction.”

Physical education classes do much more than teach gross motor skills. In addition to improving cardiovascular health and promoting healthy lifestyle skills, gym classes offer more team-building opportunities than any other subject on a regular basis. Good communication is practiced repeatedly, as students learn to cooperate and work with peers of varying skill levels, personalities, and ethnicities. These are vital skills that they will need later in life in their work environments and communities. Kids’ self-esteem can increase, and exercise is a proven stress-buster. Research has also shown a strong correlation between physical activity and increased test scores. MRIs of kids’ brains have revealed that fit kids have significantly larger sections of the brain (particularly the basal ganglia and hippocampus) which govern actions like maintaining attention, the thought process, and complex memory.

My picks this week are from PE Central, a site dedicated to offering the latest information on developmentally appropriate physical education programs for kids. Most students through the teenage years need at least an hour of exercise each day; some of these activities can be done in regular classrooms to help interject some physical movement across the curriculum. As always, please check our Facebook and Twitter pages throughout the week for many additional resources, lessons, news, and information about the importance of student physical education and exercise. Now get those kids moving!

Subjects: Physical education, Math, Geography
Grade: 6-12
This is a great activity that combines math, geography, and physical fitness. Over the course of the unit, students gradually increase their jogging time, while plotting their progress on a map of the Appalachian Trail. One lap for the students equals one mile on the map.

Maintaining Target Heart Rates Using DDR
Subjects: Physical education, Math
Grade: 9-12
Get your groove on! Using Dance Dance Revolution, students calculate their target heart rate zones based on individual resting rates, and then maintain their target heart rates while participating in various activities.

Candy Bar Fractions
Subject: Physical education, Math
Grade: 4-5
Students learn about the relationship between exercise and burning calories in this activity. Students divide candy bars into parts, figure the number of calories per section, and calculate how long and vigorously they have to exercise to expend the calories.

~Joann's Picks - 10/1/2010~