Saturday, June 6, 2009

How to keep students engaged in the last month of school....

As the weather turns warmer and student's thoughts turn to permanent recess, it can be harder and harder to engage them in actually learning. I'm sure many of my colleagues thought I was crazy when I started a fairly major project a couple weeks ago. The idea for this project came from my TAH Elementary Book Club. Our leader, UMass Lowell professor Pat Fontaine shared a great project that had been previously used by third grade teachers in Lowell. The project called for children to research famous people and then to create life-size versions of these people. For specific parts of the people's bodies, the students would discuss what their famous people "saw with their eyes", "heard with their ears", "believed in their heart", etc.

I was immediately excited by this project and I knew right away what I wanted to do with it. For awhile I had been trying to think of some kind of engaging project to go with the standard in our Massachusetts Frameworks about Revolutionary War figures. I was an Art History minor in college and previously taught Art at summer camps and thought this would be a perfect combination of history and art. ( I somewhat knew what I was getting myself into as I had done slightly similar project when teacing about ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses in fourth grade.) I spent much of my April vacation hunting for a giant roll of paper. (not easy to come by at all) Lucked out when a friend who teachers Art said that she could hook me up. With paper in hand, I started to make my plan on how this project

My fabulous Library Media Specialist, who was coincidentally also a member of this book group, helped me make a plan on how we would execute this project at a fifth grade level. We wanted to upgrade a little to make more challenging. We added some aspects like "Legacy" and "Character Traits". I told the kids some limited information about the project to get them started. (I wanted to make some of it a surprise.) They were assigned in groups of three or four to a specific figure. We emphasized that they were responisble for doing their own research, and would be working together as a group on the final part of the project.

For about three to four classes, students worked on their research. I think research can be a difficult skill for students of most ages. For this project, research did prove to be tricky but it seemed that the second major step was the most difficult for many of the groups. When groups finished researching, they worked together to see if together they had answers to all the questions. Their next step was to use their research to write two to three really good answers in complete sentences. These answers would go in the speech bubbles that would be placed near the different parts of the body. The sentences that the students wrote showed me a great deal about what they ascertained from their research and where their writing skills are by the end of fifth grade. Some groups did a great job on this, but it was pretty clear that some groups missed the boat on the importance of some of these gentlemen. (Although it was frustrating, it was an opportunity to go back and help guide the kids with how to pick out the most important information.)

After the writing portion was okayed, some of the teammates worked on typing the responses in to speech bubbles while others worked on the art work. The kids were totally jazzed to make these people. The first step was to choose one of the students to be traced. ( I encouraged them not to pick the shortest, skinniest person in the group since these people were supposed to look like adults.) The funniest part of this whole process happened during this tracing step. Girls apparently didn't want to trace boys, and boys didn't want to trace girls. Puts it in perspective, doesn't it. I forget how little they are sometimes......I had also been thinking about how we could make these figures very recognizable to our Killam School audience. I knew that for the kids drawing the faces of these figures would be difficult. I decided to try blowing up recognized faces using the copy machine. (Alexander Hamilton's face actually came right off a 10 dollar bill.) I thought it kind of gave it a very artistic quality to have the real black and white faces on top of the drawn bodies.

They've been dilligently working away on the artistic construction of these people. I've assisted with the broadening of some shoulders and the thickening of some arms, but other than that they've done it all themselves. Here are some shots of them hard at work....

We've been working on these ALL over the building- library, random hallways, and so many students have seen us. My goal was fufilled when some first graders walked by us and said, "hey look, it's George Washington", which I know made that group feel really good.

We aren't quite finished yet, but I do have one group that finished on Thursday and I thought I would share some pictures to show you their finished product of James Madison. You'll notice that at the bottom of this paper is a copy of Madison's actual signature. The kid's thought this was a really cool touch. As more groups finish, I will try to add a group shot of all of these "Revolutionary" gentlemen together.


Gretchen said...

Helen - what a great project. I'll be checking back to see how it all ended. I'll also be telling our education department about this project!

A. said...

I need to move to Reading and get you to teach my kids. How fun!

Kathryn Jones said...


Looks like a great activity! The students look as if they are having a ball! (and Madison is looking pretty good, too!) Keep up the good work!

Mommy, Esq. said...

You are such an amazing teacher!