Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

Making Our First Glogs

One of my goals for this school year was to learn how to make a Glog. I had heard about them, and seen a few, from others on Twitter, which is where I get most of my technology ideas. It took me a while to get around to doing it, though. I have been gradually working my way through the new Being a Writer materials. This is our first year with these materials. In March we began a new unit on writing non-fiction. The first project was to research and write about countries around the world. This seemed like the perfect place to try out the Glogs.

If you aren’t familiar with a Glog, it is an on-line poster. You create a Glog on the GlogsterEdu website. They can be embedded into wikis and blogs. As I read about GlogsterEdu from others in my PLN, I was very intrigued. With advice from others, I watched a couple YouTube videos to learn how to do this, and I created a sample poster to show to my students. I had the kids partner up to get things started, but ultimately each student made their own glog.

We started out with pencil and paper. We did our research by reading library books to learn about other countries. Students were able to choose whatever country they wanted, and several chose the same country. I created a organizational web so students could collect and organize their information before we moved to the computers.

When I began to look at the developing Glogs, I realized that some kids were into adding lots of unrelated animated graphics, but were not including much content. At this point I created a Making a Glog poster with my expectations and a checklist for students to use as they edited their work. Later, I used this checklist as a rubric to evaluate our finished Glogs.  Check out my file cabinet for PDFs of these documents.

This turned out to be a really wonderful project, and I was very impressed to see what the kids did with it. Their Glogs were way better than mine. They figured out how to find and embed photos and links in their Glogs. To make it easier for people to see our work, I created a wiki for this project and embedded all the Glogs. I also embedded the Glogs on each student’s Kidblog.

We had Core Knowledge Night, which is an open house type event, on May 5th. One of the problems with on-line projects is being able to display them for visitors to see. I set up three laptops with display boards. I also talked to the class about showing their work to their parents and other visitors. We had lots of people that took the time to see our work.

I will definitely be using Glogs in the future. The kids really enjoyed making them. It was a great way to demonstrate their learning. I also found that several students who often struggle academically really excelled with this project.

May 22, 2011 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Our Castle Project for 2011

This school year I have been writing and posting on my new blog, Day In the Classroom.  I recently realized that some people are still visiting this blog, so I am going to double post to both blogs.  This post includes  some  material from a post last year about the castle project that I do with students.

Phillips is a Core Knowledge School.  We are also a public school, so we teach the regular school district curriculum, and in addition we teach most of the Core Knowledge Content.  Core Knowledge is based on the writings of E. D. Hirsch, author of Cultural Literacy.  You can learn more about it by visiting the Core Knowledge Foundation Website.

Our first graders learn about ancient Egypt, the third grades can tell you about the Roman empire, and in fourth grade we learn about the Middle Ages.  As part of our study, my students build castles.  We  completed our castle project last week.  It is completed as a homework project, and it is one of the highlights of fourth grade, or so some people tell me.

I have done this project for fourteen years.  I did quit for a few years because the castles had become so elaborate and huge, and they had become “Dad Castles” instead of “Kid Castles”.  I make it a point to tell families that they may assist, but it should be mostly the child’s work.  When students bring their castles, we always interview them about how they planned and built their castle.  When asked what they liked best about the project, many respond with something they did with their parents, so I do allow family help.

I have restrictions about the size of the final castle.  It had gotten to the point that some castles were the size of two or three student desks.  I now request that they are no larger than the top of a student desk.

Because I didn’t want to cause a hardship for any family, for a few years I offered the option of making a poster instead of a model.  Only one or two students per year ever chose to do that.  When other students asked them why they made a poster rather than model, the answer was that they thought it would be easier.  Since I don’t want to offer a “lazy option”, I dropped that this year.

We begin in class by learning why castles were built, and how they were built.  Castles weren’t just houses, they were war machines.  We learn about the planning that went into the defense of these castles, and children are encouraged to include these details in their models.

I am a big consumer of manilla folders, and I use them for this project.  I staple step by step directions for the project on the left side of the folder.  You’ll can find a copy of these directions in the file cabinet.  On the right side I include diagrams labeling  the parts of the castle.  We do several in-class lessons about the parts of the castle, and whether it was for offense of defense.   I also include ideas about possible ways to construct a model. Most of my ideas come from the books, Knights And Castles, By Teacher Created Materials and The Middle Ages Independent Learning Unit, By Lorraine Conway.  You can read more about the resources I use in my previous post on this blog, titled Medieval History for Kids.

The kids and families never cease to amaze me with their creativity.  I have seen castles made of wood, cardboard, styrofoam, sugar cubes, marshmallows, sand (that was not such a good idea), clay, craft sticks, and rocks.  Every year, there is some new idea that I would never have thought of and have never seen before.  This year one of my girls brought the mold that they used to make all the blocks that they built the castle from.    She explained to us how she mixed the “cement”, formed the blocks, removed them from the mold, and let them dry.  It was fantastic.

We do a lot of writing.  We write about why castles were built.  We write about the kids’  thinking and planning for their castle.  Kids write a description of their work to be displayed at Core Knowledge Night.  At the end we write fairy tales about what happens when an evil wizard shrinks us and our castles become real.

On the day the castles are due, we invite students from other grades to come see them, which is why kids come into 4th grade asking when we’re going to build castles.  All the castles pictured in this post were created by my students from this year.  I made this Animoto to celebrate our castles and Core Knowledge Night.

Our castles were due Wednesday, May 4th, which was the day before we had our big school celebration, “Core Knowledge Night”.  Now we have them displayed in the office, library, and above our lockers.

May 15, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Barbara’s Got a Brand New Blog

Teachers in my school district return to school on Monday, and the kids begin on Thursday.  To go with my new school year, I have a new blog.  It’s called Day In the Classroom, and you can find it at  Like Prospecting for Treasure, I will be writing and reflecting on the things we are doing in the classroom.  My goal is to post more frequently, while projects are in progress and at their conclusion.  A lot of changes are taking place in our school district, so I will appreciate your input, as I work to adapt these new requirements to my classroom. 

I’ve written my first post about my strategies for getting ready for the new school year.  Check out my new blog to see the Animoto I created, to welcome my students to 4th grade. Please join me at  Day In the Classroom, and see what’s going on this school year.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

My First Technology Conference

This was everything I needed to attend my very first technology conference.

This summer, many of the people who I follow on Twitter have attended great technology conferences.  I’ve been jealous, as I’ve listened to them tweet about their experiences in Denver, Philadelphia, and lots of other places.  I am a classroom teacher in Iowa.  I don’t have a technology position, and although my principal is very supportive, there is no budget for me to travel to a conference. 

This past weekend, I finally got the opportunity to attend my very first technology conference, and it was completely unplanned.  In fact, I inadvertently wandered into my first session when I clicked on a link posted on Twitter.  I found myself listening to and seeing via webcam, Terry Freedman, an educator from the United Kingdom. 

That was the very first session that I attended at the 2010 Reform Symposium.  This was an international conference with people from 59 countries participating.  I was actually still in bed at the time, and it was possible for me to attend, because it was a free on-line conference, through the “magic” of Elluminate.

I have been exploring and using technology in my classroom for about a year now.  I have tried a lot of different things in that time, but I had never seen Elluminate before.  While others may take this for granted, I was so impressed by the fact that you didn’t just sit in your home and passively view these presentations, you participated in them; adding comments to the chat, voting, expressing opinions, and adding your thoughts to the whiteboard. 

I  attended Jerry Swiatek’s presentation, and listened to Tom Whitby and was inspired to involve my kids in sharing and teaching teachers and other students to blog and do other things we are learning to do..  On Sunday, that was reinforced by Monica Hardy and her students.

Sunday morning I got up in time to hear Kelly Hines, a teacher from North Carolina, who I have followed on Twitter for some time.  Her topic was “Tech in 10”, and was full of practical quick ideas, many of which were new to me.  I want to try the Fakebook, a template based on Facebook, to analyze a character or famous person from history. 

She talked about using Skype to connect with classes around the world, and she opened the discussion up to questions.  I raised my hand, by clicking a button, and found myself part of the conversation, when a microphone opened up to me, so I could ask my question.   This all took place while I was sitting on my couch, in my nightgown, sipping a cup of tea. I was a little unnerved at the time, but that was amazing.   This was one of my favorite presentations because there were so many quick easily do-able ideas to try.

Later that day, I was able to learn from Nick Provenzano, Paula White, and Tim Gwynn.

The downside to attending an on-line conference from your home, is that some sessions were interrupted by phone calls and other demands of daily life.  But today I was able to begin catching up on missed sessions through the archived presentations.  I’ve been able to view George Couros, Joan Young, Russ Goerend, and Nate Kogan in this manner. 

The quality of the presentations was excellent.  Most of the sessions that I attended had seventy to one hundred twenty  people taking part.  There were so many new ideas from people who are actually doing this stuff.  Many of the people presenting and participating in the sessions were people I “know” from Twitter.  It was fun to hear their voices, and learn more about their ideas.  For me, these people are the rock stars in the use of technology in education. 

Others have blogged about the high quality of the information shared, all of which is true.  I am also thrilled by the sheer awesomeness of this whole experience.  I am amazed that we have the technology to make this event possible.  I am so impressed by the vision, imagination and tireless work and dedication of Shell Terrell, Kelly Tenkely, Jason Bedell and Christopher Rogers who organized this whole thing.  It was one of the coolest things I have experienced in a long time, and right from my own living room.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , | 12 Comments

Getting to Know the iPad

I have been a fan of my netbooks since I got one a year ago. This summer I am learning to use the iPad. Which one is better?

Yesterday, on my photo blog, I posted a photo of my Acer Netbook and the iPad, with excerpts of this post. I immediately received responses on Twitter, so I decided it’s time to finish pulling this piece together and get on with it. 

My school purchased a ten pack of iPads to be used in the classroom, and we received them just days before school was dismissed for summer vacation.  I checked one out for the summer, and I have been trying to work with it as much as possible.  A friend told me that I would fall in love with it the moment I touched it, and I want to love it, but I just don’t yet. Frustration has prevented that from happening. 

I love the ease of carrying it with me. It is thinner and even more lightweight than my little Acer netbooks, so it can easily slip into my bag.  At this point in time, however, I still find my netbooks much easier to negotiate. The familiar is always easier, so I have forced myself to use the iPad, and through use, things are definitely getting easier.  I still have some serious concerns, however, about its adaptability to the academic tasks I need it to do

For classroom projects, I often place shortcuts on the desktop to make things easier for the kids and myself. You can put shortcuts on the desktop with the iPad, and it appears that we could use it to write on our blogs at  Some of the websites we like to use, however, like Storybird, require flash and do not work on the iPad. The Animotos on our class wiki do not show up or work, and neither do some videos, however I have discovered that if you use the app for Animoto, you can view an Animoto.

I am struggling with logistics of making the iPads work with our other available equipment. How do you print from iPad if you don’t have a wireless printer?  We have Pages installed on them, which is a word processing app, and I wrote most of this blogpost using the iPad.  While this app does not have the number of options that more sophisticated word processing programs offer, my students would be unlikely to utilize those anyway.  I was able to e-mail the document to myself in a word format, and then open and save it to one of my other computers, where I can print it.  This isn’t, however,  an easy or practical way to handle documents written by 29 students.  I’m also concerned that It does seem kind of sensitive, and I found myself ending up places that I hadn’t intended.  I am worried about students losing the work that they have spent time writing.

I thought that maybe using Google Docs would be a better idea, but I discovered that while you can open and view a Google doc, you cannot edit it or create a new one.  

If I put a Word document in dropbox, will I be able to work on it on the iPad?  I am excited that I can download an app for on it. That would enable me to make photos and other documents available for kids to use.   But first I have to convince my school district to unblock dropbox.

I do think additional apps will add to the usability. Since it does not belong to me, I have to have permission to add apps and download books onto it.  I am trying to select apps that support our academic goals.  I am planning to add the following:

  1. Multiplication by Sierra Skyware, Inc
  2. Math Master by Tapware
  3. Math Quizzer
  4. School Notes Pro
  5. Textropolis
  6. Spell & Listen
  7. Popmath Basic Math by popsoft
  8. Monster Mix and Match, by Critical Matter
  9. Things for Ipad


You can read more about these apps by reading: 

FREE iPad Apps for Educators and Parents

40 Amazing Ipad Apps for Kids

20 Amazing Ipad Apps for Educators

And thank you very much to Joe Fahs,( @Mpondo on Twitter) and other members of my PLN who shared these with me.

I do enjoy reading my Google Reader on the iPad, and if I had any good books downloaded to it, I’m sure I would enjoy that.  One thing I can tell you.  Even though I may have mixed feelings about the iPad, the kids will love it.  Twice now I have had people approach me at Caribou Coffee, my favorite hangout, and ask about my iPad.  I put it in the hands of a fifth grade girl who came over with her mom, and she absolutely lit up.

I’m writing at Caribou Coffee right now.  When I was deciding which computer to bring with me, I settled on my Acer Netbook.  I knew it would be easier to write, edit, and add photos and links.  So I’m still not in love with the iPad.  I’m having fun with it, and it’s okay as a supplemental computer, but it certainly isn’t the most versatile one that I own.

In the photo above, the design you see on the iPad was made using the Glow Doodle app.  This is one that I know the kids will like.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

The Kids Present Their StoryJumper Stories

Each student presented and read their StoryJumper story to the class.

Tuesday was our last full day of school, so that was the day for the kids to present and read their StoryJumper stories to the class.  I wrote about writing with StoryJumper in an earlier post.  I wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out.  Everyone had been very excited and interested in creating these books, but there was also a lot of talking, which isn’t surprising during the last three weeks of school.  In fact, there was so much talking, that when I had checked on their progress about a week before, I was disappointed to see that most weren’t very far along.

Each person presented and read their StoryJumper book out loud to the class using the digital presenter. By the time the first three kids had presented their book, I was on the phone calling my principal to see if she had time to come up to see what they had done.  She is in our rooms frequently throughout the day, so she had been checking on their progress throughout the writing process.

Many of the kids were not finished, which is okay, because they can continue working on their books during the summer.  Even so, they had pages of writing, with illustrations to enhance their story.  My little authors really knocked my socks off.  Their stories were interesting, with good plot lines.  In fact they were interesting enough to hold the attention of the class while all 24 people presented.  Our Special Ed teacher, with whom I collaborate, pointed out that if we had asked the kids to write a five  hundred word story, they would have had a fit, but that’s really what they did, and they had a ball doing it.

We decided that next year we will devote some time to letting the class explore the mechanics of creating illustrations using the backgrounds and props, before they actually begin their books.  Creating their illustrations took much longer than I anticipated.  At the risk of thwarting their creativity, we may also talk about how to select backgrounds and font size so that the pages can be more easily read.

I always do a lot of writing with my students, but this year we have definitely surpassed anything I have done before, and that is largely because of the technology that we have explored and utilized.  We’ve written comments on our class wiki.  We’ve used Wallwisher, Storybird, KidBlogs, and now StoryJumper.  It has particularly made a difference for my struggling writers.  Using the computer removes any roadblocks caused by the physical act of writing.  It also makes reading their work so much easier.  This was apparent when every single student, including those with writing IEPs were able to read their StoryJumper book aloud to the class.  Is their writing perfect?  Is every sentence capitalized and punctuated correctly? Are all words spelled right?   No.  But they are writing, and I couldn’t be more please with their progress.  We are definitely going to do this and more next year.  I will be introducing blogging and digital story writing much earlier in the school year.  Imagine what we can accomplish if we have all year to explore and grow!

June 12, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

My First Year of Teaching With Technology: Where Do We Go From Here?

It is the last week of school, and this is a great time for reflecting on and evaluating the new things I have tried in my fourth grade classroom this year .  It is also a  time for making plans for next year.  I am amazed by how much my teaching and personal life have been transformed by my venture into using technology in my classroom.  It all started last summer with an on-line technology class, Using the Internet in the Classroom, and has continued throughout the year with my continuing professional development via Twitter.  At the beginning of the year I was trying something new almost every week, to the point of exhaustion.  Since January I have continued to explore new resources and new ideas, but at a slightly slower pace. 
By far the best thing we have done this year is the blogging, which is interesting since that is where I began.  The way I’m utilizing blogs has changed greatly since last April when I set up my classroom blog, Ms. Day’s Fourth Grade.  Our very first blog post was last May, following our annual field trip to Living History Farms.  Keep in mind that prior to that, I did not know what a blog was, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach classroom blogging, but my goal has always been to keep the kids writing.  I started out by writing a question and having the kids respond through a comment.  This worked ok, but it didn’t keep my students’ writing at the forefront, and they had little flexibility in deciding what to write and therefore, little ownership.   At the beginning of second semester,  I began having the kids write as the  “Guest Blogger” on our class blog.  We were working on opinion pieces so they were to write on a topic they felt strongly about.  This worked for some kids, but not for others. 
Then I learned about   and after spring break, every child began to have their own personal blog.  I have seen real improvement in their writing since we began this latest venture.  It has also been very gratifying to receive the feedback and support that we have, from their third grade teachers, parents, our principal, and members of my Twitter PLN.   The kids have been excited about their blogs, but I was really hoping,  that more kids would go on-line from home to write on their blogs, or that they would write additional posts when they had free time at the computer center.  I have had only two students do that. 
I know how I feel about the things we have done, but I’m not always sure how the kids really feel, so I decided to have the class complete a survey about the technology we have used this year.  I created it on a Googleform and embedded it in our ReadtheWeb Class Wiki.  That is something else I learned this year, and I blogged about it in my post, Using Google Docs to Create and Embed an On-line Quiz.   As I was getting ready to analyze the data, I clicked on summary, and accidentally learned it was already done for me.  I often learn by hit or miss.  I am so glad I decided to survey the class, because I have really enjoyed seeing what the kids have to say.

Students were asked to rate each website on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1=I didn't like it and 5=I loved it.

They have really liked the Kidblogs, Storybird, and StoryJumper.  When asked what was their favorite thing that we did involving technology this year, one student wrote, “I liked the StoryJumper the best, because I love to write and the StoryJumper brought out my best story yet.”  How could a teacher not love a statement like that. 

No doubt about it, they love our class wiki with all the links to games and other resources.

Our ReadtheWeb class wiki is very popular.  Our wiki has pages for different subject areas.  With the help of teachers on Twitter, I have collected links for math and language websites here.  When students do not have a specific assignment at the computer center, they may use the wiki to play games, which build reading and language skills.  We have a link to the wiki on our class website, so students can also go on from home.  Someone said, “I like the ReadtheWeb wiki, because I got to play fun games, and learn at the same time.”  
When asked “What did you learn this year about computers and/or the internet, that you didn’t know before?  One of my students said, “I learned that there are kids’ blogs.  I only knew about websites for adults only.” 

Our webquests were not nearly as popular.

Not nearly as popular were the webquests we did.  The kids have better memories of “Mountain Trek” which was our first technology experience, than they do of the American Revolution webquest.  One of the things I liked about a webquest was that it controlled where the kids went on the internet.  I felt that it kept them more accademically focused.    I asked the kids if they felt 4th graders were old enough to do their own research and find their own websites, because this is a direction that I think I will be going next year.  I am very interested in learning about Glogs, and having kids collaborate on Googledocs.  I have seen examples of these from other teachers on Twitter, some from kids younger than mine.   I am thinking about having kids take more control of their research. 
One student responded with, “Yes, because there are some things that we cannot find on the websites you give us.”  Another said, “Yes, because if they do that they will not be bored, plus they will learn more, also.”  
Next year I want to do more in the way of  teaching actual computer skills;  helping kids to learn how to use search engines, upload photos, and add links to their blog posts.  I think all these things will make the things we do more personal and meaningful.  I think their Kidblogs could become a personal portfolio for each student.  It would be great to have kids present their work to parents at parent teacher conferences. 
When I asked the kids about what they have learned this year, someone said, “I learned how annoying technology can be sometimes.  But it can also be fun, if it works correctly.” 
Boy, isn’t that the truth!  We have three aging Dell desktops, an ancient Dell laptop, and five — year old HP laptops for 24 kids.  Next year I will have 29 students.  I am concerned about how to make this work with five more kids. One of the laptops is designated for a special needs child who will be in 5th grade next year, so there will be one less computer.   This cart of laptops is actually for the entire school, but they have been housed  in my room most of the time, since only one other teacher has shown any interest in using technology.  While I keep sharing the things I am learning with my colleagues, I also worry what will happen if anyone else on staff gets the technology bug.
My school has just aquired ten new IPads.  One of my projects this summer will be learning how to use them.  We can have a lot of fun with those.   But I’m wondering if any of the other teachers will be interested.  It would be fun having someone to share ideas with face to face, but with such limited resources, it would be hard to do the things I have done this year if I had less access to the equipment.  
While equipment concerns are sometimes frustrating, I have learned that once you start on this technology trail, there’s no turning back.  For me personally, incorporating these new ideas into my classroom has revitalized my teaching.  I am excited about the things we are doing and learning, and I know I communicate that enthusiasm to my students.  So many times this year I have begun lessons with the words “I want to show you something  I just learned.  It’s really cool . .”   So no matter how many kids we have, and how little equipment, somehow I’ll make it work.  There’s no stopping now!

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Creative Writing With StoryJumper

After bringing our Medieval History unit to a close, and following our big celebration of Core Knowledge Night, I needed to do something to excite and hold the interest of my students during the remaining four weeks of school.  Earlier this year we wrote digital books on and they had a ball!  It’s a great website, but I was less than satisfied with the quality of my students’ writing.  They loved dragging the photos into place, but their stories seemed to be a matter of drag a picture, write a sentence, drag a picture, write a sentence.  I wanted their books to be more story centered, and less illustration centered.  After blogging about our experience with Storybird,  Blake Williams, one of the co-founders of StoryJumper, contacted me and told me about  is a creative writing and book publishing website for kids.  It allows anyone to create and publish a kid’s book, both online and also in hardcover.

The StoryStarter Workbook can be printed off or downloaded to your computer as a PDF file.

One of the things I really like about StoryJumper is that there is a complete downloadable lesson plan for 7 step story creation.  This first time, I stuck pretty close to the lesson plan.  There were lots of chuckles from the class as I revealed the lists of possibilities for character building, setting, and plot structure ideas. I can see lots of opportunities to use this 7 step plan with the class.  After they have learned how it works, we could build on the original plan and brainstorm possibilities of our own to get everyone thinking.

I also like the prewriting that is involved with this website, before we ever get to the computers.  This seems to work better with my class, not only because the quality of their writing is improved, but we also have only nine computers to work with.  This way I can rotate my authors through the computer centers, while others are still working on their first drafts at their desks.
StoryJumper lets you set up an on-line class and assigns screen names to the students, which adds to security.  The teacher can decide whether to permit home access to the stories.  If you choose home access, you can print off a note to go home with each student, that provides information about accessing the website, as well as a password for the child to use from home.  All the teacher has to do is print off these notes.  It is already done for you.  To me, that is a really big plus.
After we had our writing under way, the website also provides step-by-step directions on how to build their story on the website.  There is a video available, but we had trouble getting that to work.  This may be due to the weak wireless internet in our building.  Our wireless internet was down on Thursday, and we struggled with it again on Friday.
Once the students are working on line, they select backgrounds, props, and use text boxes to add in their writing.  They can resize, rotate or flip scenes, props, and text boxes. They create a cover, dedication page, and can easily add and move between pages.  Your own photos can be uploaded and used as scenes or props. We aren’t doing this at this time, but that opens up a lot of possibilities for future projects. 
We are now six and a half days away from the end of the school year, and my class is totally engaged in this project.  I think that’s saying a lot.  Most of the problems we’ve encountered are due to the limitations of our aging equipment.  We’ve had some problems with writing showing up in places we didn’t want it, but kids are helping kids, and the project is going well.  I’m hoping we will have most of the story creation finished by the end of this week.  I want each child to have time to present their StoryJumper book to the class during that last two and a half days of school. 
Once the project is done you can decide who to share the book with.  It can be kept private, shared with friends and family, or submitted to be included in the StoryJumper public library.  For a reasonable fee, you or parents can also choose to have a hardcover book published.   This is a great website for the upper elementary student!

May 31, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , | 5 Comments

Core Knowledge Night: Wrapping Up Our Study of Medieval History

Our classroom was full of castles of every shape and size.

Thursday, May 6th was Core Knowledge Night.  This is the time when we show families all the projects we’ve been working on.  For fourth grade we displayed things we had done for the American Revolution and the Middle Ages.  We had our Giant Medieval Paper Dolls and their letters on display in the hall.  I wrote about this project in an earlier post.

After reading The Door In the Wall, each person designed their own coat of arms.  There are several resources that have good information about heraldry.  I like to use Medieval Times from Teacher Created Materials, Inc.  Page 27 has a key to some of the symbols that were used in heraldry.  You will find a pattern to use for your shield on page 28.   The size of the shield we make is usually dependent on the supplies I have on hand. This year I just ran the shield pattern onto cardstock, and we have displayed them on our lockers.  Other years I make them larger, and students trace a pattern onto larger posterboard or cardboard.

Each person created their own coat of arms, and we used them to decorate our lockers.

Our castles were due on Wednesday, May 5th, and they were incredible!  Every child completed the project with two making posters, and the rest building models.  We had castles made with cardboard, wood, sticks, sugar cubes held together with frosting, and styrofoam.  They were very impressive. 

A Motte and Bailey Castle

One of the girls made a motte and bailey castle.  These were the earliest castles built, and they resembled our early American forts.  The keep was built on a hill (this was the motte) that was often made with the dirt that was dug from the moat.  The castle and bailey (the yard) were surrounded by a wooden fence.  The drawback was that attackers used to burn the castles down, which is why they began building them from stone.

Visitors from other classes come to check out our castles.

We had lots of visitors in to see the castles on Wednesday and Thursday.  All the kids were able to explain the construction of their projects.  Each student presented their castle to the class.  We interviewed them and asked questions about the materials used, who helped, what they were proudest of, and how their castle is like a real castle from the middle ages.  I always take lots of pictures, and this year I experimented with a Flip Camera that was just acquired by our school.
On Thursday we wrote a fairy tale about our castle using the following story starter:
  • It was the day of the Core Knowledge celebration, and room 205 was full of castles.  Ms. Day’s 4th graders entered the classroom, but Ms. Day was nowhere to be found.  Instead, there was a very strange looking substitute sitting behind the desk.  Instead of a school bag, she carried a cauldron.  Instead of a Phillips sweatshirt, she wore a long black gown and cape .  Instead of a pencil, she carried a wand.  Her name was Miss Magica.  Miss Magica put that wand to use, just as soon as the class began talking.  There was a crash and a bright flash of light.  It started with a tingling from your fingertips all the way to your toes, and before you knew it you found yourself shrinking so small that you could fit inside your castle.  There was another flash and crash, and the wind began to blow.  Your castle with you inside, had been transformed into real stone and wood, and was spinning through the air, back in time to a land far far away.  Write about your adventure!
We worked all this week to  finish writing and post our fairy tales on our Kidblogs. We have also included a photo of each person’s castle.  You can read their fairy tales and see more of their fantastic castles  by visiting  We welcome your comments.
It’s been a very successful unit.  The kids have learned a lot, and they have been enthusiastic, but I think we’re all ready to move onto something new.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Starburst Pictures

After drawing and coloring our Starburst Pictures, the children cut them out and we posted them on the bulletin boards.

Thursday night I saw this link for Starburst Pictures  on the Teaching Ideas website and tweeted by @Cristama on Twitter.  The website includes step by step directions for constructing the designs.  After a crazy week wrapping up our projects for Medieval History and preparing for Core Knowledge Night, which I will write more about in my next post, we needed a change of pace. 

We tried this project on Friday.  We did it as part of our math lesson.  After working on problem solving for a while, we reviewed geometry vocabulary; points, lines, line segments, angles, and vertices.  We discussed obtuse and acute angles.  (I am an expert at finding ways to connect things I want to do to district curriculum.)  This activity  also proved to be good practice in following directions.  The step by step instructions included in the lesson plan, make this easy  A few of us had to start over, because we had trouble with the directions. The kids were surprised and delighted with this little diversion from long division.  Thank you @Cristama!

May 8, 2010 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment