Challenge Friday: Microscale

This week we studied the word “scale” and how it’s one of those many words with multiple meanings. We read books about map scales and learned about how scale is used to determine size or distance. This led us to studying the prefix “micro” and how microscale means building a tiny version of something. The kids brainstormed other words that they were familiar with that used the prefix “micro” (such as microscope, microwave, microscopic, microbe, etc).

I informed the kids that their challenge this week was to build something with Legos in microscale. I explained that microscale in Legos is even smaller than normal Lego size. The normal scale for Legos is something built to the size of the minifigures (the little Lego people). Most cars, houses, etc are built to fit the size of the minifigures. This is called minifigure scale. Microscale for Legos would be even smaller than that. I showed them some examples that I had made of the Taj Mahal and the Washington Monument.

We also went to a website called Lego Quest Kids where there are different Lego challenges presented to kids all around the world. We looked through the selections from kids for the Microscale Challenge. Finally we looked through several Lego books, The Lego Play Book and The Lego Ideas Book to get further ideas. After seeing many examples, the kids were bubbling with excitement to try and make something in microscale as well! I gave them the choice to work alone or with a partner. They could make any object or scene that they wanted but they had to try to make it as small as possible.

Kids made models of lighthouses, cities, skyscrapers, farms, the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, and more! Some still made theirs to minifigure scale instead of true Lego microscale, but compared to the real-life versions, it was microscale!

Challenge Friday: Visualizing with Legos

Since we’ve been working on visualizing text all week, it seemed appropriate to make Challenge Friday somehow related to visualizing. I also needed to give the kids a quick quiz to see how they are doing with visualizing text independently. I decided to find a way to combine the two.

First, I used five different books to create leveled passages as I had done earlier in the week. Then I created two questions for each passage that were in SOL-style multiple-choice about visualization. The kids would have to answer those two questions and then draw a picture of what the text said. The questions were about the details in the passage that helped you to picture things. For example, “What detail best helps the reader to picture what the cat looks like?” and, “What did the cyclops’s voice probably sound like when he said, ‘I’ll eat you all!’?”

Some kids, who throughout the week seemed to have no problem visualizing text, had trouble with those two questions. Some didn’t understand how specific details can be used to visualize specific things. Others just didn’t read the question carefully or didn’t know what the question was asking. Their pictures were also very helpful because it showed which kids focus on one detail and ignore all the other description and action around it versus kids who notice all the details and use all of it to make their pictures. It all showed where misunderstandings were in vocabulary or phrasing of certain sentences. One student who read this sentence about a cyclops, “He was fifty feet tall,” showed a huge misunderstanding in his picture. He had drawn a dark cave, which it DID mention in the text, but in the cave was a person with a label that said, “this person walked 50 feet.” All of these observations about each student’s answers to the three parts of the quiz really helped me to see how they were visualizing and how I can help them pay attention to the details in the text better.

After I had gone over the quiz with each student, we met on the carpet to talk about challenge Friday. Their challenge today was to make the scene from the passage they had read on the quiz using Legos. It was particularly challenging because the scene that they made had to match the details from the passage that they read. I gave the passages back to them so that they could refer to them as needed. It was fun to watch how they creatively used the pieces to match the color, size, and objects from the passage. For example, one student read a passage about a man who walked through a river and was wearing heavy rain boots. She attached two blue flowers to the bottom of a Lego minifigure’s legs to be the rain boots. Other students used flagpoles and sticks as swords for their minifigure to battle a hydra.

(on a side note, doing these passages that came directly from the leveled books in my classroom library also encouraged the children to try books that they otherwise had ignored on the bookshelf. I have had many students ask me this week about where the book is that their passage came from because they would like to read the rest of it.)

Contractions and Comics

We’ve been learning how to write contractions in our language arts word study time. I showed the kids how contractions work both in English and Spanish. After making a list of contractions in both languages, we compared the kinds of contractions by the rules the contractions follow in both languages. The kids noticed that, in English, contractions always use an apostrophe where the missing letter is. In Spanish, however, this is not always true. There are certain colloquialisms that do use an apostrophe when two words are put together to form a contraction, such as the words “M’ija” (mi + hija) and “pa’ que” (para + que). However there are other words that lose a letter when they make a contraction but they don’t use an apostrophe, such as “al” (a + el) and “del” (de + el). Then there are also several words that GAIN letters when they are put together, like “con” and “mi” go together to form “conmigo”. It was really interesting to watch the kids make these comparisons.

After practicing contractions for a few days, I introduced the kids to a free app for iPod touches, iPhones, and iPads. It’s called “toonthat”. It’s an app that let’s you take pictures of things and then add talking bubbles or thought bubbles and other special effects to create a comic. It’s very easy to use. The first day, we just practiced using the app and learning how to make comics. The next day, I added a requirement that their comics had to use contractions. They loved the idea!

Their comics turned out great and every day they beg me to let them make more contraction comics during their free time! They share them with their friends and make each other laugh. Some of them take pictures of each other. Others use stuffed animals as the comic characters. Still others make scenes from Legos and Playmobils and use the figures from both as the characters.

When I was introducing the app to the kids we talked about making sure to ask someone’s permission before taking a picture of them, and then make sure the comic is approved by them before showing it to anyone else. We talked about appropriate school language and what it means to be “funny at the expense of someone else”. I told them it’s much safer to use stuffed animals or toys as the characters because then you don’t have to worry as much about hurting someone’s feelings. I also shared a bunch of comics that I’ve made using my puppies and Legos as the characters.

Visualizing Text

Our focus in reading this week has been on visualizing text. We started on Monday by talking about what visualizing means and how it helps you when you’re reading. Each day we repeated these three pieces of information:

1. Visualizing means making a picture or movie in your mind of what the text says.

3. It can help you know when you DIDN’T understand something you just read, and can be the red flag that you need to re-read it.

I explained that I often have trouble with reading comprehension and that this is my best strategy. I try to watch a movie in my mind of what I’m reading. I know that when my mind is blank and I can’t picture what just happened, that means my mind was distracted while I was reading and I need to go back and re-read.

On Monday, we started by doing a read-aloud of a picture book without showing the pictures. I stopped at three different places along the way and had the kids talk about what picture they saw in their minds and which words led them to that picture.

On Tuesday, we reviewed what visualizing is and how it helps you as a reader. I used the same picture book to re-read some selected pages and have the kids again practice sharing their mental pictures. I modeled with the first passage and did a “think-aloud” of what was going through my mind as I read that page. Then I read a different page and had the kids do a “think-pair-share” of what they saw in their minds. We repeated this several times.

Today, Wednesday, I typed the beginning to five different leveled books on half sheets of paper. The kids were given the passage from the book that was on their reading level. They glued the text in their reading notebooks and then had the following directions:

1. Read the text.
2. Imagine by making a picture in your mind of what the text says.
3. Draw the picture that you are seeing in your mind.

I modeled again what this would look like and was very clear with the students about the pictures they were going to draw. I told them that after everyone was finished, they would have to share their picture and show how each part of their picture matched the text. We talked about the importance of re-reading to check for missed details. We also talked about making sure their picture matched the text. I reminded them that this is not art work that is going to go in an art museum or even out in the hallway. We’re not looking for amazing pieces of art. We’re looking for pictures that match the text to show that what you are visualizing came from what you read.

The kids set to work reading, re-reading, and drawing. After 15-20 minutes, when most students were finished, we did a partner share to show how our pictures matched the text. Again, I modeled using a student’s picture how each part of the picture came from the text. I gave example sentences like, “This dog is white with black spots because this sentence right here says that the dog was white with black spots.” And, “I read that there was a lady that lived next door who sang really loud so I drew a house next to the dog’s house and put a lady in front with music notes around her.” I told the kids clearly that I DID NOT want them to just read all of their text out loud and then show their picture. The point was to show how the picture matches the text. The kids did a fantastic job sharing their pictures and after 2-3 minutes, I asked if anyone wanted to give an example to the whole class of how they visualized the text.

Tomorrow and Friday, the kids will read a book of their choice ON THEIR APPROPRIATE READING LEVEL. I will stop them every 5 minutes or so and have them choose a particular paragraph or sentence that they visualized really well and have them share their mental picture with a partner.