Not Your Typical Biography Project

Each year, the school I teach at celebrates the arts by having a Night of the Arts.  Each specials class (art, music, GATE, PE, science) creates something unique to share with parents (choir concert, PE demonstration, science experiments) and all of the classes display art/writing pieces that center around a common theme.   This year the theme is multiculturalism.  This is my first year at the GATE teacher, so I want to do something special.  I have definitely spent a lot of time thinking about a unique project my students could create that would not only expose them to new cultures but would also provide a complex and challenging learning experience. 

Then finally the perfect project fell into my lap (actually it hit me on the head).  I was pulling some resources from the shelves in my garage when a box hit me on the head.  I looked down at it and realized it was the multigenre project I created when I was an undergrad at the University of Arizona.   I had reinvented the project and used it once before when teaching in sixth grade in Idaho.  This was definitely the perfect I had been waiting for.

Here is how it works:

Students research the life of a famous historical figure and choose six major events from his/her life.  Then instead of writing a typical research paper, they create meaningful and accurate primary source artifacts that they eventually present to the class.

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For Night of the Arts, my students will choose a famous historical figure from an assigned country.  This way kiddos have some choice about what they research (which is very important when you are looking for by in).  In addition, students will get the opportunity to hear reports about people and cultures from all over the world.

During the project students will create:

Authentic Artifacts 

Students will create long, short, and artistic artifacts to represent the different stages of their historical figure’s life.  Examples of artifacts include birth certificates, campaign buttons, marriage certificates, awards, invitations, newspaper articles, journal entries, portraits, photographs, or obituaries, just to name a few.

Portrail Example

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Campaign Button Example

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Transcript of Interview

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Container, Works Cited, and Rationale

My students will also have to choose a container to house all of their artifacts. The container must be important to the life of their figure.  For example, I have had students in the past use violin cases, luggage, medicine bags, brief cases, and cereal boxes.  In addition, the kids will create a works cited page listing their sources and write a rationale explaining the artifacts they created.  This is such an important part of the process because students must think critically about the reasons behind their choices.

I love this project so much that I decided to share with it with others in my TPT store.  You can find it here.

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Included in the packet are:

– Day by Day Lesson Plans

– Project Description Handout

– Sample Biography (2 levels)

– Research Graphic Organizer

– Student Artifact Samples

– Creating Authentic Artifacts Guide

– Project Completion Checklist

– Scoring Rubric

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My hope is for students to display and present their artifacts and containers at Night of the Arts.   I will definitely take pictures and share how it goes!

I know my students will love it and can’t wait to get started! ! !

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Survival Week

Survival Week has been a blast. My fifth graders just finished reading The Cay and as their culminating activity all 35 students in my GATE class got to build solar ovens, create shelters, classify real plants using a field guide, tie knots, and construct water filters.  These projects were so much fun and allowed my kids to experience what Philip went through in the novel.  In addition, they continue to develop their problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills.

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Shelters

By far, constructing shelters was the class favorite. I gave each group 4 pieces of wood, 3 feet of rope, masking tape, and a plastic tarp. Only one group successful completed the challenge, but it was so much fun to watch everyone problem solve and adjust their designs to create the most stable shelter possible.

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Solar Ovens

The other favorite was making solar ovens. I provided each group with directions, a pizza box, plastic wrap, tin foil, scissors, black and red construction paper, and a Popsicle stick. After groups made their solar ovens, it was time to test them out by making SMORES! Students couldn’t believe that the ovens actually worked (especially since it was only 50 degrees outside).

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Classifying Plants

Students worked in their groups to identify plants using a field guide.  I found this great guide and went out one Saturday and collected ten of the plants from the book.  I then put each of the plants into a ziplock bag and numbered it.  Students looked at the pictures and descriptions in the guide to classify them.  This proved to be very hard for my class. Three groups were able to successfully match 7 of them and all the other groups only matched 4 or less.  I loved this activity because students had to pay very careful attention to detail and the answer was not always obvious!

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Tying Knots

I found the Boy Scout Knot Tying Guide and made a copy for each of my students and gave them two feet of tope.  Students had to use the guide to tie as many knots as possible in 20 minutes.  I wasn’t sure if they were going to like this station as much as the others, but everyone had a great time!

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Water Filters

The final rotation was to the water filter station.  Each student was given directions, cheesecloth, sand, gravel, plastic water bottle, rubber band, and a pair of scissors.  Once students believed they had successful built a water filter, they came me to get a cup of dirty water (potting soil mixed with water).   Some kiddos struggled but they eventually made adjustments when they saw their peers successfully complete their filters.  All of the filters worked great!

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I will definitely be doing this project again next year!

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Westward Expansion – What a journey!

I love project based learning, and I also love love love teaching about Westward Expansion.  Put the two together and I am in heaven.  When I first moved to fourth grade many years ago, I wasn’t all that excited about the prospect of teaching Idaho history.  However, when I realized that I would get to teach about the Oregon Trail, I was elated.

What is Westward Expansion all about?

This is the question my kiddos always ask when I tell them what our next unit of study will be.  Most have never heard of Westward Expansion before let alone Manifest Destiny, Oregon Trail, or wagon train.  This is why building background is so important.

To do this, my students create ABC Books of the Oregon Trail.

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Groups work together to identify several important and meaningful words associated with their assigned letter from their research.   Within each group, they evenly assign themselves letters of the alphabet and use the ABC graphic organizer to track important words and phrases.  It is really important that students write down a short sentences about each word so that they can use the word correctly in context later.

Graphic Organizer

After they have three words and a short description for each letter, they will write a well-written paragraph that accurately uses their chosen words in context.  I always ask that they underline or somehow make their chosen word stand out.   Finally, each student will then draw an illustration that relates to one or more of their chosen words.  Look at these great examples:

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I now have students use this really cute final draft paper.

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In the end, students presented their completed books to the class to show their understanding of this amazing period of US history.

 

Rubric

As a gift, I take each group’s ABC book and create a small hand held version that they can each take home and share with their families.   This is definitely a fun project that I not only love to teach but my students love as well!

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Moving West – Wagons

This year, my fourth graders are taking a journey west in a fun and exciting pioneer simulation.  To help set the stage and get my students excited about this unit, my class and I turned our room into a wagon train.  I think it came out pretty well!

To create the wagons, I duct taped pvc pipe to both ends of each table.   I came in on a Saturday with my husband because I wasn’t sure how challenging it would be and wanted some additional help.  You could do it on your own but having someone there to help is really nice.

In addition to using duct tape, I also used two zip ties to fasten each pac pipe to the table leg.  I am sure that the amount of duct tape I used would be sufficient but I just wanted to make sure that everything was securely fastened.

The next day, students used white plastic table cloths from the dollar store to create the bonnets and tied them using cord.   This was so much fun to watch.  I really wanted to see how students would attach the bonnets on their own so I gave little help.  Most groups were able to problem solve and attach their end of the bonnet successfully but a few groups required a little more help.

I think they ended up looking fantastic and my students had a blast putting them together.

This is the perfect start to our moving west unit!

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