When I noticed that we were halfway through our Sharing The Planet unit I couldn’t help but channel my inner Bon Jovi and belt it out as most people do when they think of that song…
Although I have not been livin’ on a prayer, I have been livin’ on some well-thought-out and planned inquiries with intentional use of technology. So in order to celebrate making it halfway, I want to talk about the successes I have had so far and some changes that I have made as a result of student-driven inquiries.
Before the Unit
When I came to my team with proposed changes for the unit to add more technology-rich learning, they were all very open to listening to what I had to say and thought it sounded great. However, when it came down to it, they decided not to buy in to it completely. Since the changes I proposed did not affect the unit as a whole but only minor things, we decided that it was ok if it was a little different in each classroom. At this point I was a little disappointed that they did not want to join in, but I’m glad I stuck with it and continued on because I already see the positive impact adding these tools/skills have had on the learning that is happening in my room. Now as we are 4 weeks in, my teammates are also noticing how it is going in my room and they are beginning to see that what I originally proposed was not as much work as they thought, and has made the unit go a bit more smoothly. Hopefully in the end, I can get everyone to buy in to these ideas, so next year we can all do it together.
One big change for the unit that my team discussed beforehand that I am pretty excited about is that we are creating a Grade One class garden! In order to facilitate this, we read aloud a book Our Organic Garden to get ideas and plan it out. From this, my class decided that we would start a compost bin where we save all our food trash to put in it to help our garden grow. My class also worked hard to organize ourselves for what and how we would grow things. They decided to measure the boxes into 1 foot squares, and then chose what plants we would put inside each box. To get ourselves ready, we purchased seeds, and planted in egg cartons so we could later move them to our outside garden space when it was ready. Every day at 2:30 when our grade level has open Exploration time, small groups of students spend time in the outside garden exploring with a teacher and preparing it for planting.
The first week kicked off with a bang of excitement! We began by learning about the difference between fiction and non-fiction and then sorting our entire class library. This took a bit of time and it was not as black and white as I expected. But it was really great to see the conversations happening between kids as they debated on which box we should sort the books into. We then moved into learning about how text features help us find information we are looking for. A small change I made here was a digital literacy lesson around the features we see when we read online as well. Starting off the reading this way made it much easier for my students to search online later in the unit.
For writing it was pretty cut and dry. We used what we learned about the difference between fiction and nonfiction to help us start deciding what our nonfiction writing should look like. Students made a list of some topics they were experts at or knew how to do and then began writing to teach all about them using what they learned.
The BIGGEST success this week was our unit provocation. As a team we decided we were going to let our students have full agency over their learning. In order to do this, we decided to collect student questions first, and then use those questions to determine our key concepts and lines of inquiry. In order for this to happen, we had to have a clear way for students to record wonderings and share them with us. I decided to try it out with tech by app smashing Popplet and Seesaw. This is how it went:
- Students went on a nature walk and took photos of things that interested them. While walking, they wrote questions in their science journal.
- Students added plant photos and questions to a Popplet and then recorded and explained it on Seesaw to share.
- I listened to all of the questions on Seesaw and added them to a class Padlet in random order.
- Students accessed the Padlet and looked for commonalities they noticed to help sort them.
- Students chose the color code to sort them, then changed all the colors.
- Then we moved all the colors to group them together.
- The colors determined our lines of inquiry for the unit.
This was such a success for a few reasons. When the kids app smashed Popplet and Seesaw and explained their questions, I was able to understand what they were asking better because I had the pictures as a reference. Also, when asking kids to write out questions, the questions tend to be more simplified because of their lack of ability to write out the words they want to ask about. Having them say the questions using Seesaw, made it so that the questions were not hindered by lack of spelling ability and instead they showed much deeper thinking than I expected. I have to admit, allowing them to color code and move around questions on Padlet was a bit scary for me, and I was VERY nervous about it. It was the first time my class collaborated on a shared space like that, but it was so much easier and better than I expected! What I thought could be too hard for little ones, ended up making our questioning deeper, gave kids more agency, and helped them to organize their thoughts better as well.
During reading this week, we dove deeper into how to use text features of non-fiction books to help us learn about topics. During writing students began transferring the learning about text features from reading and started added some different kinds of text features like chapters, headings, pictures with labels, diagrams, a table of contents etc. into their teaching books.
The big success this week centered around learning about the scientific process and putting it into action. As a class we watched the Brain Pop Jr. video on the Scientific Method and then discussed what we learned. After watching, students were excited to begin an experiment of their own. We decided that we would try to find out how plants grow. As a class, we discussed it and students decided that plants need water, soil, and sun to grow. We then co-created a plan for how to test it out. Students decided we could plant mung beans and give them the things we said to see what would happen. I also gently suggested we try planting other plants and eliminate one of the 3 needs to also see. Then students worked in groups to plan out the steps for how to perform it and set it up. Over the next week, students really were able to focus in on making good observations using our 5 senses. They drew detailed pictures with labels, and also wrote descriptions under them to see how they changed each day. When it came time to draw conclusions, students were very thoughtful and decided that plants can grow without certain things, but they will not be the best they can be. There was so much learning that took place as a result of this process as well as many new questions that came up as well.
The next big success for this week was students beginning to research their wonderings and add answers in our class Padlet of findings. This week, I only taught them how to add answers they found in books. Students took photos of the book pages, added a title, and created a description to explain the answer to our question. I was again pleasantly surprised to see how engaged, self-motivated, and able my little ones were to do this task. Adding this collaborative Padlet has really helped us to organize our learning in a shared space.
One change I made this week was that we did not set up an iPad to create a stop-motion of our mung bean plants. We watched a few time-lapse videos and kids were interested, but really didn’t care to explore to create our own using the stop-motion app. So, I decided to skip it to keep my motto to not just use tech for tech’s sake.
During reading this week, students began digging deeper into nonfiction texts. They began to discuss their new learning with others, reread to learn more, and also know how to figure out the main idea of the books and sections. In writing this week, students focused on setting goals. We used a checklist to see what they were doing well and then also set a goal for one thing they would focus on getting better at during the week. They then met with partners to discuss their goals and check in with each other along the way.
The big focus this week was the plant life cycle. Students spent some time researching the stages and added our new resources to our class Padlet. A change I made to help facilitate research was to create a class list on Epic for students to have access to E-books on the topics they wanted to find out about.The big success with this week was that students then learned how to add to our Padlet from a website or E-book. To add from a website, kids learned to copy and paste the link to the site, and add a title and description to show how it answered our question. To add information from an E-book to our Padlet, they learned how to take a screen shot, then make a title and description.
After researching and learning the life cycle, students got really interested in seeds. They started to wonder how our plants that didn’t use soil were growing. So, we dissected some lima bean seeds. This process was super engaging and students were able to come to conclusions to answer the question when they found out that inside there is a small plant and a food source for it to begin to grow.
A few changes I made this week were the result of student agency. The first change was that students started asking questions around seeds and the different kinds, why people eat them, and what fruits do. So I decided to set up 2 stations in the room. One was simply for dissecting different fruits and veggies to see if they had seeds to grow. Another was a viewing center with microscopes so they could look at what they dissected closer. This center area was such a hit! Students began dissecting and taking the seeds out to try to grow them. We also discovered that some plants don’t have seeds and instead we eat the roots like ginger, potatoes, and carrots. This small change has led to so many new personal inquiries that my students have set out to find answers to whenever they get a chance at school and they even began taking action at home as well. The last change this week is that we got some new ant friends! My students were very interested in how ants help plants, so we decided to start an ant farm so we could observe them.
That leads us to our most recent week of learning. In reading this week, students focused on correctly saying tricky words we find in our non-fiction books and finding out what they mean. Students used our tricky word friend strategies, their partner, and the glossary, to help them word solve and determine meaning so they understood what they were learning about even better. In writing this week, students focused on adding details. Students added comparisons, examples, and other kinds of writing to their teaching books to make them better.
This week centered around beginning to learn about the plant parts and their functions. One big success was our flower dissection. Students started the week with the dissection to see the plant parts they had researched about. At first they thought plants only had roots, stems, leaves, and flowers, but as a result of dissecting, they realized that there are many more. This led to a class inquiry into the parts of a flower and what each part of a flower does.
Our next success was our stem experiment. We purchased white carnations and placed them into different colors of water to see what would happen. Upon seeing the flowers change color, students realized that stems don’t just hold up the plant, but they also transfer nutrients and water to the leaves and flower as well.
In order to find out the function of roots and stems this week we also did some more research. To go along with this research I thought I would make a small change to add a digital citizenship lesson around citing our sources. It was a big success! Students collaboratively researched on iPads while marking down their learning and where they found it along the way. This will help out for next week when in writing students begin to write teaching books about plants and created a works cited page to go along with it.
Two changes happened this week. One was that I decided to do a check-in assessment for their learning about plants. I created a Seesaw activity where students needed to label the parts of a plant and also record their voice to tell about their functions. This check in was very helpful to see what they already knew about the function of plant parts. I will have my students revisit this assessment at the end of the unit and make a comment on their post to reflect on any new learning they have had as a result of our research and experimentation. The next change is that we began our class garden outside. This was quite an exciting time! Students saw that our plants that we planted in egg cartons before the unit were starting to droop. After doing some research they decided we needed to give our plants in the egg cartons more space to grow better. As a result, we moved all of our plants from the classroom, to our garden outside. This is actually pretty perfect timing as we are on Spring Break next week so we won’t be in the classroom to water them daily as they need it. We look forward to coming back from break to a garden that is happy and lush!
If you are still reading this post, I apologize for how lengthy it was, but let me share a few final thoughts. As you can see, I feel this unit so far has been a huge success! I could write even more than mentioned above about all of the quality learning interactions I have seen with my students, but I won’t because this is already a bit long. If I am really honest, I feel like this has been the most successful unit I have taught all year. I think my intention to keep student agency and purposeful tech integration at the heart of it has led to this. I really cannot wait to see where the next 3 weeks take us!