Posts tagged inquiry
Planning the Perfect Crime Scene Classroom

I know I’ve said it before, but I love hands-on events in a classroom. I love creating learning moments that students will talk about for months (or years) to come.  Last year, while studying inferencing in our reading curriculum my teaching partner and I decided to turn our classroom into an interactive crime scene to really dial up the excitement.  We had such a fun day and the kids were buzzing about it until they went home for summer break.

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We decided to set the classroom up as a crime scene to help explore how making inferences is a lot like being a ‘detective’ when you read.  When you read, you must use observations to draw a conclusion and read-between-the-lines of a story.   At a crime scene, detectives have to use clues to figure out what happened, there is no obvious sign explaining everything. 

Although we set the stage with a few inferencing lessons that introduced key vocabulary, the real highlight was our Crime Scene Classroom.  Here are my top 4 tips for planning your own Crime Scene Day. 

Tip 1:  Make a list, check it twice

Be prepared.  However you choose to set up the scenes in your classroom, have everything ready to go ahead of time.  I would suggest preparing materials for each scene in a large Ziplock bag or ice-cream pail so that it is quick and easy to set up.  If possible, choose Crime Scene scenarios that require very few additional supplies.  Try brainstorming ‘crimes’ that can be committed with things you already have in your classroom.  Are there any rules that you have in your classroom?  What if the criminal broke one or two of them?  I have also planned out 4 easy-to-assemble crime scenes in this packet.    Store your supplies away so that they can be quickly accessed during a prep or recess break.  I've laid out the supplies that I used in a convenient checklist in my Crime Scene Classroom packet

Organization is key!  The  Crime Scene Class pack  has detailed set-up instructions to make planning/set up so much easier. 

Organization is key!  The Crime Scene Class pack has detailed set-up instructions to make planning/set up so much easier. 

Tip 2:  Set it up in secret

I set up the crime scene during my prep time and made sure that none of my students knew about the activity before the walked through the door to begin solving crimes.  The surprise on their faces when they came into our classroom was so worth it!

Setting up the class while students were at recess allowed them to be really surprised when they walked in! Do we look sneaky?

Setting up the class while students were at recess allowed them to be really surprised when they walked in! Do we look sneaky?

Tip 3:  Set the stage

Instead of handing students a workbook and telling them to go solve each crime, I would suggest getting into character and really setting the scene.  This helps students to get excited about the event.

  “Grade Three! Something terrible has happened in our classroom.  Someone or many people have broken into our room and committed crimes.  The police need your help to solve them.  Will you be Junior Detectives for the day and help me to figure out what happened to our beloved classroom?”   

The more engaged you are, the more engaged they will be in return.

Tip 4:  Start together

After I invited students to become Jr. Detectives for the day, we all entered the Crime Scene Classroom together, as one group.  Then, we proceeded to the first scene together.  Here, made observations and inferences as a group so that all students understood how to participate in the activity. By modeling this, students had a good understanding of how to visit each crime scene and make observations without rushing.  (Well, most of them at least!)

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Tip 5:  Be prepared for early finishers

While most of my students moved carefully through each crime scene, one or two finished with lightning-speed.  And the worst part… their work was well done!  I quickly came up with a few tie-in activities to extend their learning. 

  • Write a timeline of the crime
  • Draw a map of how each crime was committed
  • Write a first-person story about one of the crimes

We had so much fun completing our Crime Scene Day, and it was a great way to help students understand what it means to make an inference. 

The plans for the complete Crime Scene Class (along with 2 scripted inferencing lessons, printable decor, planning pages and student workbooks) can be found here

Have you tried a day like this?  I’d love to hear your best tip in the comments below.

 

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Genius Hour in Elementary

Last year, I did my very first Genius Hour in my third grade classroom.  For those who have never heard of Genius Hour, it is a student-directed hour of independent projects that was based on Google's 80/20 philosophy of work.  (More on that here, plus a great video to show parents and kids!).  It gives students a chance to explore their passions and interests and allows them to develop a lifelong love for learning.  It also helps to hone research and presentation skills in a way that is 'outside of the box' and creative.

Most of the blogs I had read ahead of time seemed to use Genius Hour in the upper elementary, middle, and high school grades.  Looking back, I wonder if I was crazy to try it with eight year olds.

Maybe I was. At times, it was insanely chaotic.  I definitely 'bit off more than I could chew' and it was a lot more work than I anticipated. But it was such an overwhelming success with my students that I am set on doing it again this year, and learning from the parts that I was ill-prepared for.

Most of the work came from being under-prepared.  I hadn't fully thought through what it would take to prepare seven, eight, and nine year-olds for independent work.  

Yes,  they are capable of it... but it takes scaffolding and intentional instruction to give them the tools to succeed!  

So, learning from my mistakes, here are four tips for a smoother, well-planned Genius Hour in Elementary!

Genius Hour in Elementary Tip One:  Model Everything

One of the most valuable things I learned in leading Genius Hour in third grade was to model all pieces of the process.  Instead of telling my students to come up with a topic, I participated in Genius Hour alongside them and verbalized my thinking process out loud.

"What kinds of things am I interested in, I'll write them down!  The ocean, hockey, running, cooking.  I love to build stuff.  When I was at the ocean I saw a family flying the most amazing kites, and they were doing loops.  It was so interesting."

I didn't just say "List the things you are interested in," I demonstrated how I would come up with some topics.In future lessons, I explicitly taught how to turn my ideas into an essential question.

"I love kites and the ocean," became my Genius Hour question "How do you build a kite?"

Genius Hour is driven by an essential question that students work each week to solve through research and hands-on exploration.  (Each question cannot be solved by a simple Google search).

Eventually, I even gave a complete Genius Hour presentation.  This way, my students were not caught off-guard by what I expected from a presentation.  I built a simple kite in front of my students, and showed what I had learned on a step-by-step poster.

Genius Hour in Elementary Tip Two:  Narrow Down Presentation Options

I have found that in older grades, students are so excited by the idea that they can choose any way that they want to show what they have learned.  The world is their oyster!

However, when I tried this in Third Grade, most of my class looked at me like a group of deer caught in headlights.  They were absolutely overwhelmed by the number of possibilities.

Should I do a poster?

What about a movie too?

Is a poster better than a movie?

I don't want to do a movie.

What if I code a video game?  I don't know what that means. But maybe my brother does.

Do I have to do all of the options?

I was ready to pull my hair out.  So we had a class meeting.

In our classroom we decided that everyone would have a small poster (I bought the poster board) that showed what they learned, and then they could also have a small model or project if they wanted.

I would suggested narrowing down the options for how Genius Hour can be presented in lower elementary.  As always, allow some students to go 'above and beyond' as they are ready and feel prepared, but don't make this the standard for all students.

Genius Hour in Elementary Tip Three:  Simple Ways to Keep Students Accountable

Genius Hour is only one hour long.

It seems like a lot but it will fly by.  To keep students accountable I used a very simple Work Log where students simply answered the question "What did you do today?"  At times, all they would write down was:

I colored my poster.  And that was enough!  Don't waste valuable time filling in a work log when you could be working on Genius Hour.

Genius Hour in Elementary Tip Four: Check with Parents

This was one of the things that I learned in retrospect.  I allowed students to choose any project of their choice without checking-in at home that each project was o.k. with their families.

It didn't go well for us.

Students assumed that they had access to a computer when they didn't.  Or access to a poster board when they didn't.  Or even a ride to the public library when they didn't.

This year, when my students create their Genius Hour plan, they will also need to have a parent/guardian sign off to make sure that their plan is reasonable.  I don't want to put any undue stress on parents or families, and hope that each project is one that my students can do (mostly) independently.

This years' project plan has a parent approval and suggestion section!  Much needed after last year.  

I've taken all that I learned and created a completed guide for Genius Hour in lower elementary.

It has teaching guides, a day plan, a week-by-week timelines, student worksheets, and rubrics.  Check it out. Hopefully your Genius Hour can run smoothly right from the start!  

Have you ever done Genius Hour in your classroom?  Share your best tip below!

 

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Inquiry Based Science

Let it Grow!

I am a big fan of hands-on learning.  The less I can teach, and the more I can let students discover for themselves the better! When I was in university, I completed my education degree in the inquiry-based cohort, and it has absolutely impacted my teaching style.  There is just so much research suggesting that when students discover things for themselves in a classroom environment, rather than have all of the information ‘deposited’ lecture-style, they make genuine lifelong connections to the learning.

This spring, we are learning about plants through a guided-inquiry unit.  It is guided because I came up with the inquiry questions (true inquiry allows students to come up with their own questions). 

We began by learning some vocabulary and key plant terms.  Then, I posed the question: “How do plants grow and change?”  I put the question on a blank bulletin board, and left room for us to answer as we moved through the unit.

Guided inquiry cards  (Pictured above - included in the whole packet)

Instead of handing them a worksheet with the answers, we began to plant! We planted beans, lettuce, scallions, marigolds, and pansies. Each student cared for an individual bean plant, and tracked its growth, changes, and how they cared for it.  In groups, they took turns being ‘gardeners’ for our group outdoor garden. 

There were so many great AH-HA moments as we used our hands-on garden as the focal point for our learning, and I think we learned more from our mistakes than successes!  My students knew the concept of photosynthesis, but only truly understood the importance of green leaves when their plants were munched by local deer!

We finally figured out why plants need sunlight after our blinds were accidentally closed over the weekend and our plants sat in the dark for 72 hours. 

We tracked the changes on our plants, and marveled at how resilient our bean plants were! 

We could not believe at how our teeny-tiny seeds turned into edible pieces of lettuce!

I cannot tell you how many parents have sent me e-mails or stopped in to let me know that they now have small gardens in their houses/apartments that are being tended to by my third graders.  It makes me smile to think that what we are learning in the classroom is already turning into out-of-school continued education! 

I’ve gathered together my whole unit into a ready-to-go packet that you can pick up on Teachers Pay Teachers.   It has everything you need: vocabulary, life cycle worksheets, inquiry questions, student notebooks, and two experiments. 

Check it out here:  ALL ABOUT PLANTS, inquiry-based science

If you try it out, let me know what you think!  Have your kiddos discovered their “green thumb”? 

- Rachel

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