5th Grade Math Challenge Project with Minecraft

Over the last month or so I have been teaching in a 5th grade classroom.  We rolled out a new math program (Houghton Mifflin Expressions) so I am going into the classrooms and helping the teachers work on the program.  For this 5th grade class I gave them a pretest – which I think is extremely important.  Pretesting shows exactly what the students know and what I need to teach.  Using the information I gained from the pretest – I was able to cut the unit down from 21 days to 12 days.  I taught only the concepts the students needed and then gave the chapter test.  All but one or two of the students made an A on the test! The power of using the pretest is amazing!  It gives us the opportunity to teach what the students need and then be able to challenge the students with the rest of the time. Pretests also allow you to group students in flexible groups within the class.  If not all the students need the unit – give those students challenge work while you work with a smaller group of students that need more help.  This also helps with classroom management because your students that already know the material aren’t bored and distracting other students.

Dollar sign

Because the unit was over multiplication of whole numbers and decimals, I wanted to pick a challenge project that would allow the students to use their new skills.  The unit introduced exponents, so I wanted to be sure the project I picked had some exponents.  I chose to have the students do a project on the National Debt.  The students and I spent two days finding the National Debt and discussing what it is.  We also discussed the types of services the government provides and has to pay for with tax dollars.  We talked about taxation and issuing new money.  It was a great two days of discussion and the students asked SUCH great questions!

Then we moved on to the debt clock.  This is a clock that that shows the National Debt in real time.  It shows how the National Debt is increasing, literally by the second!  We also researched the US population so we could use LONG DIVISION to figure out the national debt per citizen.  The students were NOT happy about long division in the trillions place by millions!  I worked part of them with them and then challenged them to figure out the rest.  I wish I could say that the students rose to the challenge, but they didn’t.  I did have ONE students that worked it out all the way, by hand!  I let the rest use a calculator – clearly our long division skills need work (another reason these projects are great is because you do see what skills your students need work on)!  Additionally, we calculated the national debt owed by all of the citizens in our state (GA) and in our class.  We also used scientific notation to write the debt and discussed how scientific notation is used.  The last part of this phase of the project was to check the debt clock at three different points in time (we did this over several days) and use the change formula to calculate the change in the clock of the three different time periods.

The last part of the project was for the students to show a representation of the National Debt.  I found this website which showed a representation using dollar bills for the national debt (I scrolled quickly through the girl on the couch in the racy outfit!).  The kids were amazed at the amount of $100 bills it would take to represent the national debt (I used the website and not the youtube video because I didn’t like the women on the couch and knew I could have control of the content).

I knew I wanted to students to show this type of representation, but also understand it would take a LONG time that I didn’t have.  So, instead, we used Minecraft.  I loaded minecraft onto our iPad carts and let the students use the blocks to represent the money.  The students had to figure out how many blocks they would need based on the amount of money they made the block.  In general, most students had a block equal 1 billion, so they still had to place 17,000 blocks!  The students had to show the National Debt, Georgia’s portion of the debt and the Classes portion of the debt.  We presented our projects to the class and I graded the project with this rubric.

I think the representations are AWESOME!  I am so proud of the work the students did!  I have linked some of our projects below (Sorry about the quality of the video – you can’t screen record on the iPad).

FUNNY AND CREATIVE ONE!!!

iPads and Dyslexia (and just good apps!)

Dyslexia is a learning disability that causes students to be poor spellers, lack fluency in reading, have a hard time putting their thoughts down on paper, and have a hard time with names and dates.  Of course, these are just general guidelines that we look for when we suspect a student is dyslexic.  A formal psychological evaluation will lead to a formal diagnosis. 

The iPad is a great tool to help students with ALL of the difficulties associated with dyslexia.  If my son has to be dyslexic, I am so thankful that he is dyslexic in a time when iPads are so widely used and schools are allowing students to bring their own devices to school.  At the beginning of the school year my husband and I met with Eli’s teachers and the 2nd accomodation we put in his 504 plan was to be able to use his iPad in every class.  The 1st accomodation was extra time – we know from research that the single biggest factor that helps level the playing field for students is extra time on tests. 

Eli uses his iPad for every subject!  The best tool for Eli is the voice button on the iPad.  All Eli has to do is press the microphone on the keyboard and the iPad will turn what he says into typed messages.  This is extremely beneficial to students with dyslexia because students with dyslexia have a hard time getting their thoughts down on paper.  Dyslexics have WONDERFUL and CREATIVE ideas, but encoding them is extremely difficult.  Through the use of this feature of the iPad, Eli is able to dictate his ideas and then go back and edit them later.  The iPad will also playback anything that Eli has typed.  This way he can hear what the sentence should sound like.  Dyslexics have a hard time rereading their work and hearing errors because they are so used to compensating when reading for something to make sense, that if something is incorrect in a sentence – they just make it make sense in their mind.  That is one of their coping strategies (I hope that sentence makes sense to the reader – I understand what I am trying to say, but it is difficult to put into words!).

To use the speech to text feature of the iPad you only have to press the microphone on the screen when you are typing.

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To enable the iPad to read text you will need to go to settings – General – Accessibility…

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Then, go to Speak Selection…

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And finally, turn Speak Selection on…

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This one feature of the iPad has changed the way my son works and writes.  Now he can speak his ideas and they will freely flow from his brain to the iPad.  It does take some work getting used to enunciating clearly for the iPad to know what you are saying.  Generally, we have to edit some of his work, but that is easy compared to trying to write his ideas down!  He doesn’t use this feature in class, just when doing homework and working on papers.  I also want him to learn how to overcome his disability, but these features make writing for him much easier!

Another life saver for us is the app Read2go.  This is an amazing app that is supported by the website Bookshare.  Bookshare offers free audio books (newspapers, magazines, textbooks, etc) for anyone with a print disability.  All you have to do is supply a copy of your child’s or your own psychological that proves the disability.  The Read2go app plays all of the content off of the Bookshare site.  We use this app for ALL of Eli’s independent reading and anything he has to read from his textbook.  The app gives visual support as it reads by highlighting the text and the app reads the text.

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Another amazing app is the AppWriter US app.  This app is a word processing app that is specifically designed for dyslexics.  Students can type papers in this app.  The app allows students to take a picture of any text and the app will convert it to text.  The app has context word prediction and will read what has been typed.  If you couple this app with he text to speech function of the iPad, your student will feel significantly less stress about writing!  This app also claims to use a font this is supposed to help dyslexcis, but the research is very mixed on if that claim is true – the font has been around for many years.

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Another app that is a life saver for us is iMovie.  My son uses iMovie to study.  He creates movies about what he is learning.  This method of studying allows him to use his creativity but also is a great review of content.  I have put  couple of his movies below so you can see how he uses them to study.  The WW1 movie helped him study for a test and the Abe Lincoln movie he made in class rather than doing a paper/pencil assignment. 

 

Another app that we use quite often is iThoughts HD.  I find that Eli is extremely visual.  If I can show him how concepts go together rather than tell him, he is more likely to retain that information.  Below is an example of a mindmap that we made to help him write a paper.

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We also use iCard Sort to help him study.  We make decks of vocab words and their definitions.  Then we shake the iPad, which mixes up the cards and he has to match the words to the definitions.  The tactile nature of this method of studying helps him retain the information.   And now iCard sort allows pictures to be put on the cards, which makes it an even better app for studying!

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Finally, the last app we use a lot is Strip Designer.  This app makes comic strips.  Eli loves being creative and studying at the same time.  This app also allows him to use his visual memory by attaching pictures to concepts.

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These are the apps we use most for Eli but, I also use these apps all the time in my classroom and the students LOVE them!

Technology in Reading Class – Part 2

Word Work is a very important part of reading class.  We spend a few minutes a couple of times a week making words and it is one of my centers.

When we make words as an entire class I print a page with letters on it and the students cut apart the letters at the beginning of class.  Then, I call out a series of words and the students have to make the words out of the letters they have.making words

For the letters above the first word would be “is”, then when would make “it”, then they would change “it” to “kit” and so on.  We go through making maybe 10 words.  The goal of the activity is for the students to figure out the word they can make with all of their letters.  In this case the word is “tricks”.  I use a book called, Making Words, to generate this activity.  This has been a difficult task for the students and it has been very enlightening for me as a teacher.  I walk around and  keep notes of the students having difficulty and if I have time I make note of the words they are struggling to make to see if I can find a pattern to their difficulty.  If I can find the pattern, then I can offer specific help.  This is a great activity because the students are manipulating sounds and matching letters to the sounds.

I also have a word work center.  I am switching between playing Boggle, which the kids love, and playing a game I found for the iPads, Moxie 2.  The kids LOVE Moxie more than Boggle.  At first I thought the game would be too difficult for them, but they love it!  They are begging to play in their free time now and I don’t have the heart to explain to the them that they are LEARNING while playing!  Moxie 2 gives the students three rows of letters and then pops up new letters.  The students have to insert the new letter into one of the three rows of words to make a new word!  It is brilliant!

moxie

 

I made this recording sheet for the students to keep up with the words they make and their point total at the end of the game.  Click on the picture to get the form.

moxie2

 

Technology in Reading Class – Part 1, Book Trailers

One of my favorite things is to use technology in whatever class I am teaching.  However, when I use technology I want to be sure that I am using technology in meaningful ways to enhance my curriculum.  There are a lot of ways to use technology that do not enhance curriculum and just replace what we did before.  For example, a lot of my fourth-grade students last year decided to start using their iPads for their Reader’s Notebook rather than a spiral bound notebook.  I allowed the students to do this and didn’t have any problem with them using one form of technology to replace paper and pencil – HOWEVER, this is not meaningfully using technology as a tool to help my students retain more information.  

I want my students to love reading and I want them to love to come to reading class.  I also want my students to really work with texts to understand mood and theme of the text.  One way to do this is to have students use technology.  My FAVORITE way to use technology is having students make book trailers. Book Trailers are an incredible way to grab students attention and love of technology and combine it meaningfully with reading!  The students LOVE making book trailers.  When making a book trailer students have to think about the most important parts of the book and relate them to the viewer.  The students also have to think about the mood of the book.  I always tell my students that I should not hear Disco music if the book was a serious book!  The students have to match music and pictures to the mood and theme of the book! It is a perfect way to use iPads in the classroom!  iMovie even has pre-made book trailers in their library for students to use! Photo I allow my students to use the templates in iMove for the first couple of book trailers and then they have to graduate to making them from scratch in the expanded form of iMovie.  You don’t have to use iMove, you could use any video app or software that you have.  

I have used book trailers in 4th and 5th grade.  This year I am teaching a 3rd grade reading class and I am going to attempt book trailers with them as well. Below is an example of a book trailer from the book Hatchet.  Here is a link to my dropbox folder on Book Trailers.  I have taken some of these templates from all over the web – all free.  I have adjusted them to suit my needs.

I will continue in this series of posts about technology in reading with how we have used Puppet Pals in reading class. 

Sound Decks

One of my jobs as curriculum coordinator is to make sure that my school is aligned with what we are doing through the grade levels.  One thing we found that was not aligned was our sounds decks for our primary grades.

When we taught phonics sounds to our kindergartner’s we may have taught them the “ck” sound with duck, and then in 1st grade we might have used quack and in 2nd grade we might have used lock.  We thought it would be best if we designed sound decks for all of our grade levels that were the same.  We didn’t want to have to pay for sound decks, so I created them.

As part of our word work time each day in our primary grades our teachers spend just a few minutes going through their sound decks.  We find that this quick and simple practice each day is helping our students – especially our struggling readers.  This is the second year that our teachers are using the same sound decks.  I know this is not the fun, exciting part of teaching, but some rote memorization is required for our students.  We try to balance out the rote memorization of sound decks with word ladders, making words, and exciting literacy centers.  We believe that spending a few minutes each day reviewing phonics sounds pays off huge dividends! 

Click on the picture of each sound deck below for the link to download. I made two sets of cards – larger cards with a chevron background or smaller cards that you can print and put on your own scrapbook paper background (or leave plain!). I haven’t gotten the vowel digraphs on Chevron yet – I will do that soon, so that when you click the link they will be in the same folder!

A A-Z Cards

long a Long Vowel Cards

ch1Digraphs

bl copyBlends

ai-au Vowel Digraphs

Non-Fiction Unit, with iPads

Last year I taught a fourth-grade reading class.  One of the units we worked on was Non-Fiction.  I have to say, this might have been the most painful unit I taught last year.  For years our school has used a basal reader and last year we switched to a reading workshop model of teaching reading –  and that was a HUGE change!  I think one of the greatest areas of weakness in a basal reader has got to be the non-fiction section.  Actually, in our basal readers, I don’t remember a section on non-fiction!  That means the only area that the students received instruction about non-fiction would have been in science and SS class!

Because we were basically starting from scratch and our students did not have a large knowledge base on the subject matter we started very slowly!  Our first few days were spent on trying to help the students understand that when we read non-fiction we have to take a “Sit up and learn” mentality, rather than a “Sit back and relax” mentality.  I read a lot on how to teach non-fiction from Lucy Caulkins and her Units of Study.  I took this anchor chart directly from her materials.  I used this anchor chart over a couple of days because it is a lot for students to transition to non-fiction reading.  I wanted them to be excited about learning new content!  We bought a variety of non-fiction books so that students could choose a book to read that was interesting to them and was on grade level.  The students could choose to read one book or all of the books during the genre study. 

Anchor Charts P13After we spent a few days on revving ourselves up for reading non-fiction I started teaching about text features.  I wanted the students to understand the setup of a non-fiction book.  I used this anchor chart to teach text features.  I apologize for the poor picture!

photo (3)After we talked about text features we had the students go on a text feature scavenger hunt!  I gave the students the list of text features and they used the iPad app Strip Designer to search through the non-fiction books and find examples of the text features.  The students took a picture of the text feature and put it in comic strip.  Then, they labeled each text feature they found.  I think when I do this activity this year with my third-grade students I will have them also tell me how to use the text feature.

Below is an example of one of the pages from a students work.  This activity allowed me to see if the students understand the different types of text features in a variety of different books.  The camera on the iPad makes assignments like this so easy!

Ben's Text Features 

Reading Workshop Discovery

Images
Wow! It has been a long time since I last posted, but blogging gets away from me during the school year when the focus is so immediate and pressing in the classroom! Over the past year my role in the school has changed and grown to include Curriculum and Technology. Now, I am responsible for coordinating the curriculum and the technology in the lower school. The model really makes sense, because we know that we want students using technology inside the curriculum, enhancing the curriculum, rather than in insolation. My job is to help teachers become aligned with curriculum and to show them how to embed technology meaningfully into their curriculum.

Last year and continuing on through this year our focus as a school is reading. We are also working through a new math program, which I will post about separately. Our reading model has changed drastically over the past few years. We have completely done away with a basal reader and worksheets. We have moved on to Reading Workshop. We run a slightly modified version of reading workshop, one that fits our school and our goals and I think it has worked fabulously! My dream is for all students to love reading as much as I do. I think that as time has gone by we have somehow forgotten that to teach students to read, maybe we should let them read as much as we can! Our new reading program does just that – the kids are reading all the time!!!!

In K-2, we focus on guided reading with our students. We still use a workshop model, where we teach a mini-lesson, read a read aloud to model the mini-lesson focus, and then the students go to guided reading where we reinforce the skill again. The students in k-2 also work in literacy centers while guided reading groups are pulled. We utilize our reading specialists and our teaching assistants in these classroom to try and pull all of our guided reading groups each day! That way our students are growing as readers and getting the support that they need each day. We have also implemented independent reading time each day. During independent reading our students are reading a just right book and the teachers are conferring with the students. The students must have 20 minutes of independent reading each day, with the teacher conferring. We have set a goal that a teacher should confer with their entire class at least once every three weeks – struggling readers should be conferred with more often.

In 3rd-5th we have implemented a core/choice novel model. We feed into a traditional middle school, so we alternate the core and choice novels. The students will read one novel that the entire class reads, and the discussion is teacher directed. Then, they will alternate to a choice novel, where the teacher teaches a mini-lesson, models the skill with a read aloud, and then the students work with the choice novel they are reading. The students are LOVING the choice novel units. We usually give the students a choice of 5-8 novels to read and they are able to read as many of those choices as they can. We have had numerous occasions where the students read all of the choice novels available in the three week time frame we give for the novel. The kids love being able to choose a just right book and being able to read what they want to read.

Right now as we kick off the schools the teachers are busy with running records. We require 3 running records a year for our students – one at the beginning of school, one in January, and another at the end of the year. We have seen tremendous growth in our students through the transfer to this teaching model. It breaks my heart to see students all reading the same book in class and doing worksheets, when there is a better way to teach reading. For anyone interested in learning more about this model of teaching I recommend reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Growing Readers by Kathy Collins. Also, if you search the web you will find a lot of information on running reading workshop.

Over the next couple of weeks I will post example lessons from K-2 and 3-5 of how we are using this model at my school.

The Daily Five – Book Study

I subscribe to a lot of teaching blogs (I know they aren’t on my blogroll – one of my to do’s this summer is to revamp my blog!) and there is a lot of discussion around the book The Daily Five.    In my school we have been working on reading workshop and moving away from the basal reader and the dreaded WORKSHEET!  I spent a lot of time in classrooms during the second half of the year (we didn’t fully get our brains wrapped around workshops until Dec!) showing teachers how to use a read-aloud and have students use readers notebooks.  My principal and I are both going to The Teachers College Reading Workshop at Columbia University this summer and I am so excited about that!  And NOW, I have found The Daily Five!  I am a participate book study posted on several blogs – Today’s posts are from Teaching with Style and Seusstastic Classroom Inspirations.

I decided to use a Reader’s Notebook approach to this book study because 1) I have to take notes when I read to help maintain my focus and memory and 2) I like things to be neat and pretty :-).  Below are my pictures of what I put together for the first chapter.  I wrote down the quotes and ideas from chapter 1 that jumped out at me.

2012-06-13_14-21-53_2402012-06-13_14-22-02_1052012-06-13_14-22-09_3642012-06-13_14-22-15_9582012-06-13_14-22-25_925    2012-06-13_14-22-34_4952012-06-13_14-22-39_728The part of the book that stuck out the most to me was, “The way teachers structure the learning environment and the way students spend their time influences the level of reading proficiency the students have attained at the end of the academic year”.  This is SO BASIC, yet for many years in my teaching career I missed the mark on this one! 

During the last year or two while I have been learning everything I can about reading workshop I realized that the one aspect of the reading program I was teaching that was missing was READING!  It is amazing to me that we think we are teaching out of a basal reader, one story a week, and we think we are doing a great job teaching reading!  The “Just Right Book” concept blew my mind and I know that The Daily Five is going to have a similar effect. I love independence in the classroom and have always taught that way, so I think the D5 is going to be a wonderful addition to my reading class (I get to teach a 4th grade reading class this year).

Here are a couple of other links to The Daily Five book study:

Mrs. Freshwater’s Class – grades 1-3 book study posts

Live Love Laugh – Kindergarten D5 Book Study

Dilly Dabbles Doodles – Grades 1-3 book study

We Read, We Blog, We Teach – Upper Grades Book Study

Kindergarten, Butterflies, and the iPad!

A few weeks ago I was in a kindergarten classroom to teach a unit on butterflies!  It is so exciting to be in kindergarten, but also nerve wracking because I taught 5th grade before moving into my current role of curriculum/technology coordinator at my school!  Kindergarten is quite different from 5th grade!

I had the best time teaching these little ones!  The best part about teaching kindergarten is the students are sponges!  They want to learn everything they can and have so many awesome questions!

I knew that I wanted to incorporate a lot of technology into this lesson, but I also wanted to encourage the students to do some hands-on projects so we could work on our writing and our fine motor skills.

I started the week by giving each student a post-it note and had them write or draw a picture about what they knew about butterfly’s.  The students came up with they fly, they have wings, they eat nectar, etc.  Then I gave I put the students into groups and gave each group a non-fiction book.  I wanted the students to discuss with each other what they noticed about the book, hoping we would be able to pull back together as a group and create a list of text features of non-fiction books.  I realize now that I hurried into this process and I should have modeled it with the students prior to putting them into groups.  However, with a LOT of scaffolding, I worked with each group and they found some features of non-fiction text.  Then, used the following anchor chart to describe non-fiction text (this isn’t mine, I found it on pinterest – I don’t know the reference or I would include(here is a link to my kindergarten board on pinterest).  Finally, I read the book Waiting for Wings and we tried to decide if the book was fiction or non-fiction.

nonfiction1_thumb[2]

We began the next day reviewing our features on non-fiction text and reviewed while reading a story.  Then, I took all the kindergartners to the computer lab and we worked on a game to put the lifecycle of a butterfly in order.  We used two websites.  The links are here and here.

The next day we did a craft I found on pinterest!  Don’t you love Pinterest!  The students loved this craft!  The picture is linked to the source.

noodle-butterfly-lifecycle

We also worked on a non-fiction book project about the life of a butterfly.  Again, the picture is linked to the original file location.

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The last project we did was on the iPad.  I wanted the students to somehow illustrate the butterfly lifecycle, but I wanted them to use words and pictures.  So, of course, the iPad was the perfect solution.  I used one of my favorite apps, Puppet Pals HD.  I preloaded in pictures to be used and then I showed the students how to make a puppet show.  I let the students choose from a couple of different backdrops for this experiment AND I had given the students free time the day before to play with the app and get used to how it worked.  Below are a couple of examples of students explaining the life cycle of a butterfly with Puppet Pals. 

Research in Kindergarten!

This week I have been in a kindergarten classroom working with the students on their literacy skills and RESEARCHING!  It has been an awesome week and I have to say that I was very nervous going into this week that my plan would be successful!  The kindergarten teacher contacted me and wanted me to come in and work with her class.  I researched on the internet and found some amazing posts about kindergarten students making movies and I immediately decided this is what I wanted to do with the little ones.  The class was focusing on the rainforest and grasslands so, I decided we would focus on researching and making a movie!Image

When I went in the classroom the first day I used an anchor chart to discuss with the kindergarteners the characteristics of non-fiction texts.  I found this awesome anchor chart on pinterest.  I love this anchor chart because it has wonderful pictures!  Not being an artist myself, there was no way I could recreate this anchor chart so I just saved the picture and put it in my flipchart.  I pulled this anchor chart up on Monday and the students and I talked through each part of the anchor chart.  I had a non-fiction book with me and as we discussed each characteristic I pointed out an example in the book I had.

After we talked through non-fiction text I showed the students the book that I had with me.Image  It was a book about hyenas (going along with the grasslands theme).  I showed the students my book and had the students ask questions about the book.  The students came up with the best questions!  I wanted to set a premise for reading the book and the questions were the perfect introductory activity!  As we read through the book we found all the answers to our questions!  The students were so excited!  After we read the book, we assigned all of the students an animal that they would be researching!  Their animal would either be from the rain forest or the grasslands.  I sent the students back to their tables to write their own questions about the animal they were assigned!  It was wonderful to see the types of questions the students asked!

Image

The students all asked great questions!  The next day when I went into the room, I asked the students what they remembImageered about the characteristics of non-fiction next.  One student said, “They have a gallery!”  I was so excited, because I knew she meant glossary!  The fact that she was nearly able to recall the word made me so happy!  So we reviewed what they remembered and then we went over the anchor chart again.  Then, we looked at the questions the the students had asked about hyena’s the day before and I asked the students if we had found out any answers in our reading!  The students, of course, remembered everything we had read!  We wrote two facts from our book about hyenas.  Then I gave the students books about their animals and had them go and read their own books (some of them needed help reading, some did picture walks to determine facts, and some read on their own).  Then after they had read their books they had to write two facts about their animal.  Some of theImage kids wrote 4 or 5 sentences about their animals!  Another teacher walked in the room while the students were completely absorbed in reading and writing and asked the students what they were doing.  All of the students popped up and said, “We are researching!”.  They were so excited and the teacher was so impressed!

So today when I went into the room we had the kids draw Imagepictures of their animals (for the movie) and then we put the students into groups so they could work with their group on facts about the rainforest.  The group had to work together and decide on which facts they should write about the layers of the rainforest.  I don’t have pictures of those because we put them up on the bulletin board outside the classroom.  The collaboration part was a little hairy as the students hadn’t ever done something like that before and were a little unsure of what I wanted them to do.  I am confident that if I continue to work with them, they will improve in their group work skills!

Tomorrow we will put our movie together!  I am going to record the students with masks on as their animals!  They are going to present their facts and their pictures.  After I get this activity under my belt I will continue to branch out into other movies with the kindergarteners!