Challenge Friday: Geometry 3D Shapes


The kids have been studying geometry in math. The kids have to know the names of solid figures, such as sphere, pyramid, cube, cylinder, cone, and rectangular prism. For each shape they have to know how many faces, edges, and vertices it has. So for Challenge Friday, our mission this week was to make one of the solid figures out of Legos and then write about it, describing it by its geometric properties. After making one, they could make another if they had time.

Although cubes, pyramids, and rectangular prisms were very popular, some kids found very creative ways to make cylinders, cones, and even spheres! We met in a share circle after every student had had a chance to make at least one shape. In the share circle, they described their shape by how many faces, vertices, and edges it had, and the other kids had to guess what shape it was. Once they guessed the correct shape, the student revealed the shape they made.

I took a picture of each shape that the kids made and then they glued the picture in their notebooks with their written descriptions.




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.

2. It can help you understand what you’re reading.

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.



Challenge Friday: Designing Yeti Houses


When Lego released the series 11 minifigures, there was a yeti included as one of the 16 in the series. I knew the kids would love that one, so I collected 11 yetis (one for each pair of students) and had them participate in a Challenge Friday activity centered around the yeti. First we read about the yeti to find out what the creature is. We talked about mythical creatures and I showed the children where they could find books about the yeti and other mythical creatures if they wanted to learn more about them (which they very much did in the days to follow). Then I announced the challenge.

We talked about architects and what they do. I emphasized how architects make plans and think through what they’re going to build BEFORE the building actually happens. I explained to the kids that the yeti was hiring them as the architects and he had certain specifications that he wanted them to include. Beyond those criteria, however, they could be as creative as they wanted. They could also be creative in how they chose to include the specifications. This discussion was done in Spanish and the ideas that we we’re discussing we’re written on the board in Spanish. We’ve been talking a lot about cognates and the kids have gotten very good at identifying cognates. They immediately noticed that “arquitectos” and “plan” looked and sounded like the corresponding English words. I kept the chart paper with the specifications written in English up on the board as well so that students could refer to either language while they were making the yeti houses.

The kids set off right away, working on first a plan and then building the actual houses.

While they were building the houses, I wrote a question on the board that we would discuss during our Share Circle that would happen next.

After 20 minutes of building, the kids brought their completed houses over to the Share Circle. They thought about the answer to the question I had written on the board: “How do you know the yeti is happy with his home?” Then they shared with the partner sitting next to them. I called on several partners to share with the whole group. Some students said that they knew the yeti was happy because they “included all of the specifications” in the house, while others said it was because they had provided various forms of entertainment and comfort for the yeti, including flat screen TVs, laptops and video games, hot tubs, and heated chairs.

Finally, we went around and took a picture of each yeti house from directly above to get a bird’s-eye view. The kids went back to their tables and revised their floorplans to make sure they were accurate maps of the houses that they had created.

They really loved doing this challenge and requested to do it again the following week!

Integrating Writing and Art: Authenticity in Descriptive Writing

We are always looking for ways to make writing more authentic for kids, and another teacher and I found just the way to do that while combining the fun and excitement of the October and November holidays. My third grade class teamed up with a second grade class down the hall. It started with the second graders creating a monster out of colored construction paper. They used a method that their teacher had taught them called “drawing with scissors.” Their teacher had taught them about a French artist named Henri Matisse who used this technique in his old age after he became ill.

The second graders had a list of criteria that they had to follow to design their monsters. For example the monsters had to have a height between eight and 12 inches and a width between four and 8 inches. They also had to include an odd number of facial features and an even number of appendages. After designing their monsters, they wrote about them, describing them in as much detail as possible. Their teacher made sure to focus on beginning each sentence with a different word so that the students would learn sentence variety.

Next, we gave the descriptions to my third graders who had to re-create the monsters using the “drawing with scissors” technique. We read about Henri Matisse together before reading the descriptions that the kids had written. They glued information sheets about Henri Matisse into their notebooks and we discussed the text features that were on those pages including captions, titles, and subtitles. I explained to the children that the second graders had had a list of criteria that they had to follow. They were to try to make the creatures based only on the descriptions that the second graders had written.

I passed the descriptions to each child and I gave them a choice whether they wanted to work alone or with a partner. It was very interesting to listen to the conversation that the children had as they were trying to build the monsters based on the descriptions. There was much commentary on which kinds of details were helpful and which kind of details left you more confused. One student said, “This kid wrote that the monster has three eyes, but he didn’t say what color. So what color am I supposed to use?”

After making their versions of the second graders’ monsters, we discussed the details that are most helpful in descriptions. We wrote a list of ideas on chart paper. Then with partners, kids had to go back to their seats and write an idea for a topic sentence that would include the main idea of a paragraph about the most helpful details in descriptions. I gave each set of partners a small pad of paper on which to write their idea for a topic sentence. After several minutes, we met back together to share ideas for topic sentences. We picked one topic sentence and I wrote it on the board in red. Then I told the students that they were going to finish the paragraph by adding four detail sentences to it. They could use the ideas that we had already written on chart paper or they could use their own. They could also choose to work with a partner on their paragraph or they could work by themselves. They had to write the topic sentence in red and then the detail sentences in pencil. As we are just starting to learn about how to write paragraphs we are doing a lot of shared writing and paired writing before I expect the students to do it completely independently. Students who feel ready, however, can work independently if they would like to.

The next day I hung the third graders’ versions of the monsters in the hallway next to the second graders’ versions of the monsters. I also hung up the chart paper with ideas for the most helpful kinds of details that are in descriptions. The second grade class came out and compared their versions with the third grade students’ versions and also talked about the most helpful details that are in descriptions. The teacher later told me that the students were so excited to see what versions of the monsters were created based on their descriptions. One student said, “Oh I see where I could’ve explained that better.” Another student made a comment about how he realized that he didn’t describe something well enough and another one said how she had completely left a body part out altogether.

The next week, I told my students that we were going to do the exact same thing but in reverse. This time we were going to be the ones to create something, write a description about it, and then give it to the second graders to try to make. The kids were very excited! They kept asking me, “What are we going to make? What are we going to make?” Finally, I revealed to them that we were going to make turkeys using the same “drawing with scissors” technique and using criteria just like the second graders had done with their monsters. The height and width requirements were the same as the ones for the second graders. I added that the feathers had to be in a pattern and that the turkey had to have several specific body parts. As before, the students could choose to work separately or with a partner. They excitedly got to work creating their turkeys.

The next day I handed them back their turkeys and gave them paper to write their descriptions for the second graders. We re-read the paragraphs that we had written a week before about the most helpful kinds of details to add into descriptions. I also reminded them of the ease or difficulty that they had had with re-creating the monsters based on a description. I told them to keep this in mind when they were writing their descriptions for the turkeys.

When the descriptions were ready, we traded them with the second graders. The second graders went to work the next day on making turkeys based only on the third graders’ descriptions. The second grade teacher and I were both very happy with the results of this project. We loved that it involved building cross-grade relationships, capturing the enthusiasm of the holidays through art, fostering the four C’s (connectivity, communication, creativity, and critical thinking), adding elements of measurement into art, and making connections between art and literacy through paragraph and descriptive writing. This activity could easily be replicated with nearly any unit or time of year with any grade.