Elementary Lesson Ideas

English Language Arts

Grade: 2-5
Subject: English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to write a sequenced story with a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
Original Post: Use What Their Mamas Gave ‘Em: Students’ Cell Phones in Education

Teachers often use add-on writing activities to build students’ reading and writing skills. One student starts the story with a sentence or two and then passes it on. The next student has to read what’s already been written and continue the story, then pass it again. Depending on students’ levels, the story can be passed through just three students or go through the entire class.

It’s a simple enough activity, but it can be expanded exponentially by integrating Twitter. One student could tweet the beginning of the story (limited to 140 characters), another could tweet the next piece, and so on. You could make it a lot more interesting by using Instagram — students would have to include a photo of something they see or of an illustration. Teachers could use a single phone at a center or several phones within class. Better yet, the activity could be a homework assignment — each student could be assigned a specific day to tweet from their parents’ phones and, after a month, the class story would be finished. (Throughout the month, students could even make predictions about how they think the story might end.)

So what’s the point of using Twitter, when you could do virtually the same activity without it? First of all, student motivation is sure to increase. Tweeting is more fun than passing a paper around, plus the kids have an audience of followers, which could include parents and family members around the world.

Also, unlike with a paper that gets passed around the room, you could even partner with a class (or several) in another country, having those students contribute to your story as well.

Grade: K-3 (or students at those reading levels)
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to read sight words.
Original Post: Screencasts Turn Students into Digital Teachers

In most Kindergarten classrooms, you’ll find a computer center. Usually, what I’ve seen are two or three computers where kids put on headphones and play Starfall or sight-word games. In fact, even when I taught in middle school, I had some students who still needed sight-word practice, and I would send them to a computer station to practice while I worked with other students.

However, as teachers, we rarely have time to sit with students and listen to them as they play these games. Wouldn’t it be great if we could record exactly what they’re doing to double-check their accuracy?

Why not sit a student at a computer, start up Jing, press record, and play a video like this one (you could even use Jing to create student-specific videos like this):

Meanwhile, you could work with other students. At the end of the day, you can go back to that Jing video and check the student’s accuracy. You can make time to meet with him/her to review any misunderstandings. If the child read everything correctly, you could use the screencast to help other students learn sight words in the future. You could even show the video to parents at conferences, to show them how their child is doing as well as to model activities they could do at home.

Grade: K-5
Subjects: English Language Arts and Science
Objective: The student will be able to

  • research and report on a topic;
  • understand that different animals live in different places and have body parts that they use for different purposes.

Original Post: Powerpoint Schmowerpoint: Teach kids to create really engaging presentations

At some point in every child’s early elementary years, they do a research report on an animal. Wouldn’t it be great if these kids could express their own personality in these reports and share them with the world?

With blabberize, they can. Students can write a research report on an animal, as always, but, rather than reading the report to the class, they can upload a photo of the animal to blabberize and then make the photo talk. Students can act as the animal and record a first-person narration that includes animal facts.

Grade: K-2
Subject: Writing
Objective: The student will be able to adjust his/her use of written and visual language to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences for different purposes.
Original Post: Use FREE Blogging to Increase Your Students’ Writing Scores 20 Percent

Some teachers aren’t sure when they should start having students blog. My suggestion: as soon as they start writing. Kathy Cassidy has her first-grade students blog from the beginning of the year. Their blogs are similar to what you’d see in an average first-grade writing journal – one sentence about an experience they’ve had, accompanied by a picture. Ms. Cassidy has her student create those pictures using a computer program. Other teachers might want to follow suit, using the FREE TuxPaint. My students used to just take photographs of their drawings and publish the photos on their blogs.

Giving younger students a blog gets them thinking about writing for an audience early. Most likely, this is a skill they’ll have mastered by early middle-school, when writing teachers often struggle to introduce it.

It’s also a great way to get students excited about literacy early. And most teachers know that instilling an early love of reading and writing is the best way to create life-long learners.

Grade: PreK-2
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to read grade-level appropriate text.
Original Post: iPad Dream at Realistic Price: the $250 Android Tablet

When young students are learning to read, it’s very important that they’re read to a lot. The Nook comes with a couple of children’s books already installed, and these stay on the Nook (in the “library” app) even after it’s rooted. Students can open these books and either read to themselves or have a recorded voice on the Nook read to them. In addition, there are tons of similar FREE and low-cost children’s books available for download through the B&N Nook app and the Kindle app.

Grade: 3-5
Subject: Writing
Objective: The student will be able to plan, draft, and write a story based on a prompt.
Original Post: iPad Dream at Realistic Price: the $250 Android Tablet

Have students use the FREE version of the Thinking Space app to create a mind map for a writing assignment. When they’re ready, have students draft their product on Google docs or on their student blog.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Reading
Objective: The student will be able to describe a character’s behaviors, values, and beliefs.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Anyone who has taught in a K-12 classroom knows that no matter what subject you teach, you teach reading. Reading comprehension is ingrained in nearly everything we do as adults and, as such, is embedded into every K-12 subject.

But, often, teachers complain to me that technology is destroying reading and, specifically, reading comprehension in 21st century students. Kids are so used to immediate gratification — to getting everything in snippets, to 120-character tweets, to Google synopses, and to Facebook status updates — that 500-page novels are a bore. “Can’t we just watch the movie?” they’ll ask. (I think this last question has been around a bit longer than the internet; I remember my own peers asking it 20 years ago.)

It’s true that technology has changed the way we process information, including the way we read. There’s a plethora of recent research studying how these new technologies have affected the way we interact, process, and analyze. There are studies suggesting that, as a society, our very brain chemistry is changing. Good or bad, this is happening. As teachers, there’s virtually nothing we can do to stop our students from having Facebook accounts or using their cell phones. But our job is still to teach them to read, understand, and appreciate tons of different writing — literature, science journals, historic papers, daily news, math proofs, websites, etc.

Frankly, it’s never been easy to get most students to love The Odyssey. But now, technology has given us a golden opportunity — a chance to hook most of our students into reading novels, textbooks, newspapers, and virtually anything else. We just have to do what great teachers do best — get a little creative.

Reading is all about empathy. If we feel for the people we’re reading about, if we can imagine what they’re feeling and thinking and hoping, if we can relate to them, we’re hooked. And social networks can help students become empathetic. They can allow students to walk around in someone else’s skin, virtually.

Say, for example, that your class is reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Assign each student a different character in the book. The student’s assignment is to pay particular attention to that character — their beliefs, actions, motivations, voice. Everything. And then, to become that character. Have each student create an Edmodo profile, posing as their assigned character. Then, as you read the book throughout the semester, students must post updates, comments, related links, videos, etc., on the class social network. They are to become their assigned character, interacting on a social network. (It’s great if the teacher takes on the role of a character as well.) What link would Ron Weasley share with his peers? How would Draco Malfoy react to it? These are all high-level questions students will have to ask, think about, and answer through the class social network. Best of all, they can be funny or ironic or touching — all motivation to try their best at the assignment. Your class Edmodo wall might look something like this:

harrypotter-edmodo

Grade: 1-6
Subject:
Science and English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to communicate the procedure of a science experiment.
Original Post: Timelining for Every Classroom

When I taught 4th grade to mostly English language-learners, it was always difficult to get my students to write out the procedure of a science experiment, even right after they had completed it. We spent a lot of time learning to read and write directions in class, and a timelining tool could have helped with that process.

To start, a teacher can tell students they’re going to do an experiment as a class and record the steps. The teacher can take photos of the students completing each part of the experiment and then display them, out of order, on a projector. The teacher can then ask students to work as a class to organize the images and write step-by-step directions for what the class did in each step.

The teacher can use a simple timelining tool, like TimeToast, to record the students’ directions and can post each step with the corresponding image. Afterwards, students could work alone to complete a similar assignment (older students could create TimeToast timelines, while younger kids could emulate this in their notebooks).

Math

Grade: 1-4
Subject: Math (place value)
Objective: The student will be able to identify digits as ones, tens, hundreds, or thousands.
Original Post: The $55 Interactive Whiteboard

Most teachers find that base ten blocks are a perfect start for studying place value. But it’s difficult to use them for whole-class lessons since not everyone in your class can see the set you hold at the front of the class. That’s why the digital base ten blocks found at the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives are perfect add-ons for any place value lesson.

Grade: 3-5
Subject: Math (algebraic thinking)
Objective: The student will be able to verbalize his/her understanding of the mathematical meaning of the equal sign.
Original Post: Harness the Power of Social Networking in Your Classroom, Safely and for FREE

One thing that we teachers rarely do is ask simple questions, just to see what our students are actually thinking. One of the most eye-opening days of my career was when I gave my fourth-graders a paper with a simple question on it: “What does = mean?” The answers were more varied than I expected, and that worksheet turned into a weeks-long discussion that’s documented here. (Sorry — I didn’t have a social network at the time, so I had to document the conversations from memory.)

Give students a worksheet with three questions:

1.)    What does = mean?

2.)    True or False: 4 + 3 = 7

3.)    True or False: 9 = 5 + 4

After they complete the worksheet, have students log onto the class’s social networking site, where you’ve posted the same three questions. Ask students to post their responses and reply to at least two other students. (The reason for the worksheet first is to give students time to form their own opinions before they read other students’ answers.)

Based on students’ responses, continue to post questions like this: “True or False: 5 + 4 = 7 + 2″ and encourage discussion. Keep posting similar questions, trying to lead students to the conclusion that the equal sign means “the same amount as.” Don’t just tell students what it means — ask the right questions to lead them to discover the meaning for themselves. When they come to the conclusion on their own, their understanding will be much greater.

Lessons like this have two benefits, as I see it. First, in order to understand math, it’s extremely important for students to learn to verbalize their mathematical thinking and be able to explain it, step-by-step. Second, having students’ thinking documented online will give you and your students some great insights. It is also a good tool for parent-teacher conferences, as well as when identifying learning disabilities in students.

Grade: 2-12
Subject: Math
Objective: The student will be able to use grade-level appropriate mathematical operations to solve a problem.
Original Post: Reverse and Improve Your Instruction with Screencasts

Often in math class, a student will struggle with a particular operation or problem type. In 4th grade, a few of my students had consistent problems with subtraction and division. Screencasts are perfect for offering these students one-on-one tutoring, without having to schedule the time.

Create a screencast with a sample problem involving the operation the student has trouble with. Give the struggling student a worksheet with an identical problem, but with the numbers slightly different. Have students follow the screencast step-by-step, pausing it to complete each step on their own worksheet (for younger students, it might be a good idea to tell students when to pause the screencast during the recording).

You can create one such screencast and use it with several students over several years. The students can watch the screencast in class, using headphones, or at home, with parental support.

Grade: K-5
Subject:
Math (or Science)
Objective:
The student will be able to explain and demonstrate how things change over time.
Original Post: Moving Beyond Bar Graphs with Data Visualization

With younger students, I think it’s important that they still create their own charts and graphs by hand. But visualization tools can allow teachers to take students a little further into data analysis.

As a 4th-grade teacher, I always taught a math unit called “Changes Over Time.” As part of the unit, students grew small plants and collected data for graph creation. Students started by each planting their own seed in a small paper cup (or re-used milk carton) filled with soil and labeled with the plant’s name (I had students name their plants).

Every day, students would record the overall height of their plant, the number of leaves, and the date. After about a month, each student would make a simple graph demonstrating how their plant’s height changed over time.

With the Google Motion Chart Gadget, though, I could have taken this lesson a lot farther. Students could have shared their data and then compared how the entire class’s plants grew.

To create a visualization, a teacher could create a Google spreadsheet document and label the columns as follows: The “A” column should be the plants’ or students’ names. The “B” column should list the dates that you recorded data. Then label a column for each of the remaining variables – plant height and number of leaves. Depending on your students’ level and your equipment availability, here are some ideas for how you could create a class-wide data visualization:

  • share the Google spreadsheet, and have students open it individually to add their data
  • project the Google spreadsheet on the board, and call students up to enter their data, one by one (after the first few students, you might want to have the class start working independently on an activity, such as creating their hand-drawn graphs, as students enter their data because it will take a while)
  • project the Google spreadsheet on the board, and have students read their data aloud as the teacher enters the data (again, you may want to have students working independently after the first few students model what to do)
  • have each student (or student group) create their own Google spreadsheet; the teacher creates one as well, and projects it on the board; the teacher enters all students’ data into his/her spreadsheet as a model; and students copy all students’ data into their individual spreadsheets

Once all the data is entered, click insert > gadget > motion chart to create the playable graph that will show students’ named (and colored) dots moving as time passes. You can use the chart to start a conversation about how the variables are connected, how the plants changed over time, and how different students’ plants compared to one another at different times. (When played, students will likely see the visualization as a race, watching their dot overtake or fall behind their classmates’.)

Science

Grade: 3-5
Subject: Science
Objective: The student will be able to illustrate how energy flows through ecosystems.
Original Post: From Trash to Treasure: Three Easy Steps to Convert Corporate Garbage into FREE Classroom PCs

At the beginning of a unit introducing energy in living systems, have students use Dia diagramming software to illustrate how energy is transferred from the sun to plants to animals. Based on their grade level, this diagram can be simple or extremely detailed. At this point, the diagram doesn’t need to be accurate. Students can create the diagram alone, in groups, or even whole-class. Students could print it out for their notes or present it to the class.

The diagram should be a living document. As students proceed through the unit and learn more about the interdependence of organisms, they should edit and add to their diagram as needed. For example, as you learn about different plants and animals throughout the school year, students could add them to their diagram.

The beauty of having the diagram in electronic form, rather than on paper, is that it’s easy to edit and make much, much larger as students learn more. It’s also easier to keep organized, as many student-drawn diagrams will get very messy very quickly.

Grade: 3-5
Subject: Science (electricity)
Objective: The student will be able to create a simple circuit with a switch.
Original Post: The $55 Interactive Whiteboard

In my heart, I’ll always be a fourth-grade teacher (4th grade ROCKS!), and one of the main science objectives at that grade level is basic electricity. Students learn how circuits work and, at least in my classroom, they built simple circuits, with switches, to turn on a lightbulb. That’s why the idea of having students build their own infrared pens to use on the Wiimote Whiteboard is so intriguing to me. To buy the parts in bulk for a classroom wouldn’t cost too much (plus, you could always have students work in groups of four), and students could use the pens they built for the remainder of the year in class.

Grade: K-2
Subject: Science
Objective: The student will be able to observe and explain that different materials have different properties.
Original Post: Make Your Students Mythbusters with Video Lab Reports

Kindergarten teachers are masters at recruiting helpers from upper grades. Several of my fourth-graders used to regularly give up their recess to read to their younger peers. So why not use this partnership for technology projects?

I once partnered fifth-graders with first-graders for podcast creation, and it worked great. This is one way to integrate film-making into lower elementary classes. It’s important to introduce students to technology tools early and give them the opportunity to try to create videos. However, many of them (especially those in Kinder and first grade) will need hand-holding. Teachers rarely have the time, but partnering with an upper elementary class could be the perfect solution. Perhaps a fifth-grade teacher at the same school would be willing to bring an entire class in for an hour. Or you could just have older students volunteer during recess, and rotate your younger kids through a “video center,” where older students are in charge.

Here’s how the interaction could be structured:

  • Using your science content, write out instructions for an experiment and a list of questions for the older students to use.
  • Have them partner with younger kids individually or in small groups.
  • The older kids videotape the younger students as they follow the older kids’ instructions to complete the experiment and record their observations. (For example, testing what materials will float and what materials will sink.)
  • The older students then read the questions to the younger kids and record their responses.
  • The students work together to edit a short video showing what the younger kids did and learned.

Teachers can use these videos later in the year, to see if students’ conclusions change after watching just the experiment. They can also show the videos to parents to explain what and how students are learning in science.

Grade: K-5
Subjects: English Language Arts and Science
Objective: The student will be able to

  • research and report on a topic;
  • understand that different animals live in different places and have body parts that they use for different purposes.

Original Post: Powerpoint Schmowerpoint: Teach kids to create really engaging presentations

At some point in every child’s early elementary years, they do a research report on an animal. Wouldn’t it be great if these kids could express their own personality in these reports and share them with the world?

With blabberize, they can. Students can write a research report on an animal, as always, but, rather than reading the report to the class, they can upload a photo of the animal to blabberize and then make the photo talk. Students can act as the animal and record a first-person narration that includes animal facts.

Grade: K-5
Subject:
Math (or Science)
Objective:
The student will be able to explain and demonstrate how things change over time.
Original Post: Moving Beyond Bar Graphs with Data Visualization

With younger students, I think it’s important that they still create their own charts and graphs by hand. But visualization tools can allow teachers to take students a little further into data analysis.

As a 4th-grade teacher, I always taught a math unit called “Changes Over Time.” As part of the unit, students grew small plants and collected data for graph creation. Students started by each planting their own seed in a small paper cup (or re-used milk carton) filled with soil and labeled with the plant’s name (I had students name their plants).

Every day, students would record the overall height of their plant, the number of leaves, and the date. After about a month, each student would make a simple graph demonstrating how their plant’s height changed over time.

With the Google Motion Chart Gadget, though, I could have taken this lesson a lot farther. Students could have shared their data and then compared how the entire class’s plants grew.

To create a visualization, a teacher could create a Google spreadsheet document and label the columns as follows: The “A” column should be the plants’ or students’ names. The “B” column should list the dates that you recorded data. Then label a column for each of the remaining variables – plant height and number of leaves. Depending on your students’ level and your equipment availability, here are some ideas for how you could create a class-wide data visualization:

  • share the Google spreadsheet, and have students open it individually to add their data
  • project the Google spreadsheet on the board, and call students up to enter their data, one by one (after the first few students, you might want to have the class start working independently on an activity, such as creating their hand-drawn graphs, as students enter their data because it will take a while)
  • project the Google spreadsheet on the board, and have students read their data aloud as the teacher enters the data (again, you may want to have students working independently after the first few students model what to do)
  • have each student (or student group) create their own Google spreadsheet; the teacher creates one as well, and projects it on the board; the teacher enters all students’ data into his/her spreadsheet as a model; and students copy all students’ data into their individual spreadsheets

Once all the data is entered, click insert > gadget > motion chart to create the playable graph that will show students’ named (and colored) dots moving as time passes. You can use the chart to start a conversation about how the variables are connected, how the plants changed over time, and how different students’ plants compared to one another at different times. (When played, students will likely see the visualization as a race, watching their dot overtake or fall behind their classmates’.)

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Science
Objective: The student will be able to understand and report the details of a specific scientist, animal, element, or concept.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Just like you can assign each student to be a literary character or a historic figure on a social network, you can extend that idea to science. You could assign your students to be famous scientists, scientific principles, or even scientific theories. What would Evolution say to Creationism? If you’re teaching marine biology, you could assign students to be different marine animals. How would they interact with one another if they had personalities, could speak, and could access social networks?

My absolute favorite idea for a science social network, though, was sparked by a video called “Chemical Party.” The video personifies chemical elements and compounds, and it got me thinking, “what would neon post on hydrogen’s wall?” Wouldn’t it be great if your chemistry students were asking this question at home on a Friday night?

Grade: PreK-3
Subject: Science
Objective: The student will be able to design an experiment to test an original question AND will be able to communicate the results.
Original Post: Digital Storytelling for Beginners

Starting in pre-school, students can begin to design and test their own simple science experiments. In your schoolyard, have your students sit around a tree, a garden, or a patch of grass. Give them hand lenses. Have them record what they see and what they wonder in their science notebooks (for pre-literate students, these notes will be illustrations).

After the students have made several observations, go back into class and discuss what they saw and what they wondered about. Write down their “I wonder” questions on sentence strips. In the next lesson, sort the questions into testable and untestable questions (with younger students, you may have to lead the sorting but older kids can begin to sort questions alone). After the sorting, have students choose a testable question to test. For example, “how long will it take a snail to walk across my desk?” or “do all flowers have the same number of petals?”

Allow students to test their questions. During the testing, have students use old, donated cell phones (without SIM cards or service plans) to take photos. When they’re done, have students report what they did and what they learned by creating a Little Bird Tale. They can upload the photos they took, take photos of their illustrations to upload, or create new illustrations using the website. Then, they can record their voice narrating each photo. Older students can add text to accompany their photos.

Grade: 1-6
Subject:
Science and English Language Arts
Objective: The student will be able to communicate the procedure of a science experiment.
Original Post: Timelining for Every Classroom

When I taught 4th grade to mostly English language-learners, it was always difficult to get my students to write out the procedure of a science experiment, even right after they had completed it. We spent a lot of time learning to read and write directions in class, and a timelining tool could have helped with that process.

To start, a teacher can tell students they’re going to do an experiment as a class and record the steps. The teacher can take photos of the students completing each part of the experiment and then display them, out of order, on a projector. The teacher can then ask students to work as a class to organize the images and write step-by-step directions for what the class did in each step.

The teacher can use a simple timelining tool, like TimeToast, to record the students’ directions and can post each step with the corresponding image. Afterwards, students could work alone to complete a similar assignment (older students could create TimeToast timelines, while younger kids could emulate this in their notebooks).

Social Studies

Grade: K-3
Subject: Social Studies (Geography)
Objective: The student will be able to compare and contrast different parts of the world.
Original Post: Wiki-Wiki What?!?

Teachers of younger students might assume that wikis aren’t a tool they can use in their classroom because their students aren’t writing enough to create their own content. However, the beauty of wikis is that anyone can edit them — not just your students. In fact, done well, wikis give students a chance to interact with the world. With a wiki, a student has the power to ask a question and gather answers from around the globe. One first/second grade class created a wiki to find out what 1,000 looked like. More than a thousand people from around the world added their names to the blog, so students could see a list of 1,000 names.

Wikis open the world up to students, which is perfect for kids studying geography. For example, with the help of her dad, a third-grader started Abby’s Travel Logue wiki to help with a school project. At school, Abby created a journal that she mailed to people in other cities, asking them about where they live. As she sent the journal off in the snail mail, her dad helped her start a wiki asking readers to answer the same questions, but post their answers on the wiki. The response was so astounding, they had to start a second page to hold all the information.

Grade: 3-12
Subject: Social Studies
Objective: The student will be able to understand and report the details of a specific historic figure, country, group, or event.
Original Post: Turn Social Networks into Learning Networks with Edmodo

Social studies teachers have started some of the most creative social networking sites I’ve seen. It’s easy to see why — social networks can make history come alive for students, through role play.

When I was a kid studying the American Revolution, our teacher assigned each of us a historic figure to research. One student got Thomas Jefferson, another was assigned Ben Franklin, and so on. We all wrote papers and made posters. Then, we stood in front of the class and talked for 5 minutes, during which only about 3 kids paid attention. With social networking, this assignment can become more interesting and much more meaningful for all students. Instead of (or in addition to) writing a report, each student could be assigned to create an Edmodo profile, posing as a historic figure (like this Thomas Jefferson profile). Then, students could be required to interact with one another as that historic figure. How would Ben Franklin respond to Thomas Jefferson’s comment about democracy? Students would have to understand a lot about their own historic figure, but they’d also have to know a good deal about other figures in order to converse with them. Deeper, higher-level thinking would be required of students, but the assignment would also be fun and motivating for them.

Social studies social networks don’t have to stop with historical figures, though. No matter what time period you’re studying, students can be assigned to act as countries, groups of people, or even historical events. “If Historical Events Had Facebook Statuses” is a funny look at this idea (be aware, though — it was written for an adult audience).

historical-facebook

Grade: K-5
Subject: Social Studies
Objective: The student will be able to compare and contrast his/her culture and community with that of another geographic area.
Original Post: Skype’s New Education Site Connects Classrooms Across the Globe

You can use Skype a lot like teachers in my day used classroom pen pals. On Skype in the Classroom, post a request for a partner class from a geographic area you’ve been studying. Depending on your students’ age, you might try to partner with older students (it would be difficult, for example, to have two Kindergarteners answer each other’s questions, but a 5th-grader can work pretty well with a Kinder kid). Once you find a suitable partner class, work with the teacher to schedule Skyping times and to partner up students (or pairs of students).

Tell students they’re going to interview kids from another part of the world and then they’ll create a presentation for the class about what they learned. With younger students, give them specific questions to ask their Skype buddies. For older kids, a general rubric scaffolded with pre-Skyping class discussions should be enough. Encourage students to have a conversation with their Skype buddies, rather than just interrogating them with a list of questions — you might be able to do this with a low-stakes first meeting, where partners complete simple team-building activities with their Skype buddies.

In upper elementary classes, your students might be asked geographic questions about their community as well. This is a great way to motivate your students to understand local geography since they’ll be responsible for teaching others about it.

Technology

Grade: K-3
Subject: Technology (tinkering)
Objective: The student will be able to create an object to solve a problem or answer a question.
Original Post: Let Them Tinker

Given time and materials, it’s amazing what younger students will build. Work with students on safely using tools like wood and wood glue. If you feel comfortable, allow older kids to use hammers and nails. Then set them loose in a room full of recycled, donated supplies.

Guide students with an objective, like “build a toy you’d like to play with” or “build something for our school garden.” But be sure their goal has a real-world connection. When young students see that they can build something that will be used, their motivation and self-esteem goes through the roof.

As problems arise, it’s a great opportunity to teach problem-solving skills. For example, maybe a student will build a bird feeder and then notice that squirrels are stealing all the food. How can the design be improved to keep the squirrels out but let the birds in?

All Subjects

Grade: K-3
Subject: All Subjects
Objective: The student will be able to master a variety of objectives while solving problems for a fictional zookeeper.
Original Post: Let Them Play: Video gaming in education

Thematic units are a big part of many lower elementary classrooms. If we look at video game structure, we can use gaming design principles to help create strong thematic units.

One of the benefits of working with young students is their unparalleled imagination. You can put students into a completely imaginary situation, and they will become totally enraptured in this fake world. Coupled with a thematic unit, you can take the principles of video game design to a whole new level.

In lower elementary grades, there are various animal-related science standards — understanding what animals need to live, the characteristics of various organisms, and the life cycle of animals. Plus, kids at this age LOVE animals. So why not create a thematic unit around the idea of zoos?

On the first day of the unit, post a large sign outside your classroom door with an appropriate name for your class zoo. Decorate the outside of your classroom so it looks like a zoo (if you have windows in your classroom, use construction paper to emulate zoo cage bars; add paper green grass along the bottom of the wall in the hallway leading to your classroom; etc.). Before students enter your classroom, tell them that you got a very important call from the local zoo. They heard how smart your students were, and they asked the kids to help some of their animals. In order to do this, each student would be named a Junior Zookeeper. Have students raise their right hands and repeat a “Zookeepers’ Pledge.” Then, give each of them a “Junior Zookeeper” badge to wear as they enter the classroom.

Once inside the classroom, have centers set up for various subjects and objectives, but continue the zoo theme with the decorations and activities. At each center, have a letter from a zookeeper explaining the zoo’s problem and asking students for help. (If you’re really ambitious, you could have videos from the zookeeper — you or a friend dressed up — at some of the centers.) At a math center, the zookeepers need help sorting animals into the right habitats. Depending on age, students can sort different species or different sizes of the same species. At a writing center, the zookeepers need help writing the signs that will be hung on a specific animal’s exhibit. Have younger students read books to get information about the animal, while older kids can do research on the internet. Then, have students write and design exhibit signs.

Every day, you can create new lessons in each subject area that align with your objectives and timeline, but also have students solving problems for the zookeeper. As a culmination activity at the end of the unit, tell students that the zookeepers are thinking about adding a new exhibit to the zoo and need some ideas. After a field trip to the zoo and/or some research, have students write a proposal for a new exhibit and make a 3D model of it. You could even ask the local zoo to send a zookeeper to your class to speak to students or judge their projects.

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