Monday, March 7, 2016

Bringing a zoo to YOU!

How do you bring standards to life so that your students are so excited about what they are learning...that they can't sleep or eat without thinking about it? do Genius Hour! However, in being realistic, I realize that I can't do Genius Hour every day all day (although I'm working on a plan for that too). In the real world, we have to combine studying things students love with finding a way to help students fall in love with what our state standards require us to teach.

Insert virtual zoo here! That's right a virtual zoo. Any idea what I'm talking about? It's okay, most people wouldn't know either. Since January, students in the Light Bulb Labs have been working on
creating a sort of "virtual zoo". A zoo that could be brought to life anywhere. We began this exploration by thinking about what we know about the word "virtual" (which was close to nothing) and the word "zoo". After a major ideation session, we were ready to look for common themes. Here are just a few of the items we came up with.

A virtual zoo should:
     -Have a variety of animals
     -Show different habitats where animals live
     -Be beautiful
     -Be fun for kids and adults
     -Teach visitors about animals and habitats
     -Have "kid" things to do (they did not love finding out there was no petting zoo)

Upon completing or list, we began diving into an intense six weeks of studying everything we could about Life Sciences. We met all of Ohio's New Learning Standards for Life Sciences in Grade 3 plus a few outside our grade band of study. We used tools like Brain Pop, Magic Treehouse Books, Zoobook Magazines, Non Fiction texts, National Geographic Kids websites, webcams and many, many more. We became experts first in habitats that included, a Non Fiction informational poster as well as a classroom made diorama all while practicing what it is like to truly collaborate. Next, we taught each other what we had learned at a Silent Museum within our classroom.

We read various types of book both Fiction and Non-ficition to develop our reading skills, as well as learn about various animal species. These books took us on Artctic Adventures with Balto, to transporting in a Treehouse to the prairie, then back again to the story of a unique and special "Wolf" and even taught us about perserverance and struggling to surive with one of our favorite dogs, Squirrel. While completing this rigorous work, students kept track of their work on their own calendar agendas and completing many literacy activities including a character traits book discussion. 

One of the most exciting parts of this adventure was the day students chose their very own animal to become an expert on. Boy oh boy, was it a nerve wracking day watch student after student select animals that I have never even heard of! How will I help them research I wondered? I should have calmed my fears that day by remembering that I'm not in charge...they are. They found everything they needed to complete a five paragrahing informational report about every one of these curious creatures. To make this task seem a little less daunting to our 8 year olds, who only recently discovered the purpose of a single paragraph, we introduced topics of study during our Writer's Workshop. For example, they researched the habitat, diet and predators and then wrote one paragraph about those. Before we knew it, they task of 5 paragraphs was complete and the sense of accomplishment was over flowing. In addition to writing about their animal, they also had to paint a portrait of their animals habitat as well as create a 3D model of their animal to display at the zoo.

Throughout this experience, we were integrating technology in many ways. To create a more authentic "Zoobook" magazine, we used an app called PicCollage to create images of our animals. We then used those images and our Google Docs of our animal writing to create books in the app Book Creator. This amazing app creates beautiful books that can be read on any ePub reader! In addition, and by far my favorite part was creating Augmented Reality using an app called Aurasma. The students chose "trigger" objects which launched a video of them telling about their animal and when tapped, linked to their Google doc of their animal writing. It was incredible!

As if all of that was not enough, we needed an authentic audience. Who loves! So we invited a few first grade classes to enjoy our virtual zoo between their Carnival of the Animal rehearsals. At our virtual zoo, 3rd graders were partnered with 1st graders to complete a zoo ticket. This ticket required them to move through five stations. 

1. Make-Make your favorite animal out of playdoh
2. Learn-Learn about 3 new animals in our zoo using the Aurasma app
3. Watch-Watch animals in their natural habitat and take sketch notes
4. Read-Read eBooks about your favorite animals and graffti our garage door with new facts
5. Art-Color animal fact sheets to add to our zoo or take home
The students had a blast! It was difficult to tell who was having more fun or who was leading whom. Either way, there was a ton of cross grade level learning and a wonderful opportunity to share the hard work we had completed. Since this event was our big culminating event, we wanted to make sure our families had the chance to celebrate their child's work. So we took all our trigger images and the links to our ePub books and are currently creating a "Zoobook" that will head home with our students... so that they can take their "virtual zoo" anywhere!

As we do with every unit, we ended with a time of quiet reflection and thoughtfulness. It's always my favorite part of the project. To hear what students thought went well and where we can improve never fails to amaze me. Overall, this was a total success and I know that our students were passionate learners who were studying things they love...and at the end of the day, shouldn't that be what school is all about?


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