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: 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!

Making a Dumbwaiter


This challenge connected our field trip to Monticello and our learning about Thomas Jefferson with simple machines. We had seen the dumbwaiter that Thomas Jefferson made in his dining room to bring wine bottles up from the cellar. When we were at Monticello, I told the kids to pay careful attention to the dumbwaiter because they were going to have to make one the next day for Challenge Friday. Their immediate reaction: “Are you kidding??? How are we supposed to do that???” and “Um, you’re going to give us more pieces, right?”

On Friday, we began the discussion by remembering the dumbwaiter that we had seen the previous day. We talked about what purpose it served and how it worked. I showed the kids a quick video on youtube about how pulleys work. I showed the video in English and in Spanish, because I have a student who just moved here from Honduras and speaks only Spanish. Then I drew a diagram of a pulley on the board and had the kids help me label the parts in English and Spanish – wheel, axle, rope, load, and effort.

Then I showed the kids a little Lego minifigure I have of Thomas Jefferson. (I think it’s really some random revolutionary war soldier, but it serves the purpose fairly well!) I also showed them the additional pieces I had added to each of the challenge bags: a chain to act as the rope, a golden goblet to be the bottle of wine, a wheel without a tire (so there will be a groove for the chain to fit in), and an axle for the wheel. All the other pieces from previous challenges remained the same.

The kids set to work immediately building a pulley system and platform that would lift the golden goblet up to the table where Thomas Jefferson sat. When questioned on the parts of the pulley, they could accurately identify the axle, wheel, cable, load, and effort. I had them work with partners again, explaining that I really wanted them to continue having the experience of working through shared ideas, disagreements, and compromise.

In the end, all partners were able to build a simplified version of a dumbwaiter successfully. They had fun with little Thomas Jefferson receiving his wine to take with his dinner!


Thomas Jefferson Week

Our third grade classes went on a field trip to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, this week. To prepare for this trip we had Thomas Jefferson Week in my language arts classroom! All week long, we read about Jefferson, wrote about him, discussed him at Morning Meeting, played games that he actually played when he was a child, and debated his most important accomplishments.

List of the things the kids knew about Thomas Jefferson

List of the things the kids knew about Thomas Jefferson

We began on Monday with our Morning Meeting share: “What do you know about Thomas Jefferson?” Then we started reading about his childhood and the major events in his younger years that influenced him later in life. I went to every public library in Charlottesville and checked out every book about Thomas Jefferson that I could find. There were more than enough for one for each child. I ranked the books from easiest reading level to hardest and passed then out accordingly. We discussed use of the index (if there was one) and how it could be used to locate information quickly. I then gave the kids a checklist which they glued into their notebooks. The checklist included the four pieces of information that they needed to locate in the book. They had to write one sentence for each: when was he born, what did he like to do as a child, what major event happened in 1757 when he was 14, and what happened in 1760 when he was 16. I had previously checked in each book to be sure that this information was included. Finally we talked about what a biography is and where information about childhood would most likely be located in a biography (how biographies are organized). Then the kids set off to work. They could choose to either work by themselves or with partners.

Searching for information about Thomas Jefferson

Searching for information about Thomas Jefferson

Notebook with checklist for things the kids needed to find in the book

Notebook with checklist for things the kids needed to find in the book

When they were finished reading and writing their four sentences, I introduced them to a board game that Thomas Jefferson had played with his family. It was called “The Royal Game of the Goose.” I recreated five versions of it on poster board and taught then how to play. The kids loved it and continued to play it every day first thing in the morning (before Morning Meeting) and after completing their reading and writing assignments each day.

"The Royal Game of the Goose" - a game played by Jefferson and his family

“The Royal Game of the Goose” – a game played by Jefferson and his family

Morning Meeting share from Tuesday

Morning Meeting share from Tuesday

On Tuesday, our Morning Meeting share connected yesterday’s learning to each child’s life: “How is your childhood like Thomas Jefferson’s childhood?” The kids remembered great facts that they had learned. One student said, “I love reading and he did too!” Another said, “Both of our dads taught us to hunt and fish.” Still another shared how his father had died and so did Thomas Jefferson’s when he was a kid. In reading, the focus turned to his accomplishments as an adult. They had to find and write one sentence about the following six things: the connection between Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, why the Declaration of Independence was important, the Louisiana Purchase, why the Louisiana Purchase was important, when he became president, and the connection between Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia.

Using the index to locate information quickly

Using the Table of Contents to locate information quickly

Morning Meeting share on Wednesday

Morning Meeting share on Wednesday

On Wednesday, the Morning Meeting share was “Why do you think the Declaration of Independence was so important?” The kids, once again, showed that they had retained their knowledge acquired from the reading activity the day before. They shared ideas such as “It gave us freedom,” “We became our own country,” and “We weren’t controlled by England anymore.” The reading activity later in the day was focused on Monticello. The kids were again given a checklist with the expectation that they would write one complete sentence for each item on the list: “who built Monticello, what does the word ‘Monticello’ mean, name three things that Thomas Jefferson invented, when did Thomas Jefferson die, and what was important about the day that he died.” I also read to them what the inscription says on his tomb and why that’s significant (because they are the three things that Thomas Jefferson wanted to be remembered by, and none of them are things he did when he was president).

Searching for information in the book

Searching for information in the book

Using a timeline to locate information

Using a timeline to locate information

On Thursday, we went on our field trip to Monticello. We intentionally planned it for a Thursday to give us three days to prepare the kids for the trip, one day for the trip, and one day after to reflect on the trip. Our Morning Meeting share was “What are you looking forward to seeing on the field trip today?” I was surprised at the wide variety of answers that they gave. I was expecting them to say simply, his house or his grave. Some did say those two things but many kids said that they wanted to see the artifacts that Lewis and Clark had given him that are displayed in his house, the polygraph machine that he invented that allowed him to make a copy of everything he wrote, the gardens around his house, the piano and violin that he and his family loved playing, the slaves’ rooms, and his library of books. I was very pleased because their answers demonstrated all the things they had learned over the week.

While we were at Monticello, the kids had such good behavior. I was very proud of them and how they represented our school. They were truly interested in everything they saw and heard from the guide. They had their hands up to answer every question the guides threw at them and later the guide told me that out of all the groups that she had ever given a tour, they were the most knowledgeable, respectful, and attentive group of kids she had ever seen. She couldn’t believe that when we went in the parlor, the kids immediately recognized the game that was set up on the floor. They cried out in excitement, “It’s The Royal Game of the Goose!” Another noticed the piano and said, “It’s the pianoforte!” At the end of the tour, she asked if they knew what was written on his tomb, and the kids all raised their hand excitedly. She called on three different kids and they cried out in order, “The Declaration of American Independence, Religious Freedom for Virginia, and Father of the University of Virginia!” The tour guide just stared at then in amazement and I was so proud that they had remembered all the things we read, wrote, and talked about.

While in the house, the tour guide showed them the dumbwaiter that Thomas Jefferson had build in the dining room to bring bottles of wine up from the cellar below. I told the kids to pay careful attention to the dumbwaiter and how it worked because they were going to have to make one for Challenge Friday the next day.

The day after the field trip, the kids drew one thing they saw at Monticello and wrote about at least one thing they saw, learned, or liked about Monticello. We will send these to Monticello. Then we built dumbwaiters for Challenge Friday, but I’ll give more details on that in the next post!

Drawing Monticello from a big nickel

Drawing Monticello from a big nickel

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Drawing the gardens that she saw on the field trip