Category: Julie’s Posts

Olden Days – Grade 3

Connecting The Past With The Present 

Anne Jespersen’s students are asked to connect, respond, and reflect to each of her lessons.  This creates an environment which fosters deep thinking questions.  In this unit, Anne wanted to specifically focus on:

  • supporting point of view with evidence
  • applying knowledge to transform thinking

Anne and I decided to start the unit by showing a series of pictures.  We had seen Leyton Schnellert demonstrate this technique many times..  Anne and I modelled (*modelling is one of the most effective ways to collaborate) how to talk about one of the photos, then we asked the students to share their thinking on the other photos.

Olden days introductory photos

The following are the activities with examples of student responses.  Take note of the great care Anne took to include a range of ways to respond to learning.

Anne read Little House on the Prairie and showed clips from Little House in the Big Woods from Youtube.  Along the way, the students responded with:

Students responded to a picture of a pioneer family, looking for similarities and differences to modern life.

Students compared a day in their life with that of a pioneer child.

Students responded to short articles

Miss Christie came in with HOMEMADE bread and made butter with the students

Anne made ice cream with the students

Students, taught by Miss Rice, were weaving during their spare time for weeks!

A slide show is a good way to get students to collect their learning.  The Grade 3s found images of pioneer clothes, food, school life, home life, and transportation.  Their slide show had to reflect their learning by answering ONE of the following questions:

  • How did pioneers live?
  • Why are pioneers amazing people
  • What do I know about pioneers?

The final slide was to be a picture of child with thought bubbles.  In one bubble they would record what they used to think about pioneers/olden days, and in the second bubble they would record their transformed thinking (now I think . . .)

Students were asked to bring in an artifact from home

Anne and Julie model the artifact project

Anne’s parents were invited to the class to answer questions about their experience in school.  Anne’s dad went to school in an urban school while Anne’s mom went to a rural school.  Each student had to come up with a question to ask.

The class dressed in olden days clothes for a visit to Helmken house and the provincial museum.  Upon their return they had to write a letter as a pioneer or about a pioneer – insert example


As a school-wide write (ssw), the Grade 3 topic was to decide whether they would want to pioneer child?  They had to use their learning to support why or why not.

The final activity:

Students were paired in twos based on what they had written in their ssw.  One student who wanted to be a pioneer was paired with one who didn’t want to be a pioneer.  The students read their ssw aloud, then the class voted who had the strongest, supported argument.

Explorers – Grade 4/5

Engagement, Inquiry, and Diversity in Grade 4/5

If the explorers Champlain, Vancouver, Mackenzie, Cabot, Hudson and Cartier were on a ship and it became too heavy to operate, who would get to stay based on their accomplishments?  This is the question posed to Grade 4/5 students in Heather Fawke’s class.  They will plead their case to Grade 3 classes based on research they have done on one of six explorers who explored Canada.


To get the Grade 4/5s excited about the journey they would undertake, I gave them a little background to understand the conditions which preceded the age of exploration.  I pause OFTEN and get the students to think/pair/share, wonder, make connections, compare, and share with the class their thinking.

Now that the students had some understanding of Europe during the Middle Ages, I wanted to show them the conditions that created exploration.

First Contact – a clever librarian in our district found a few sites to help students understand what happened when Europeans met First Nations.  I do not show all of the first video and for all three videos, I stop often to highlight the difference between European land use and First Nations land use.  The videos also talk about how the relationship was mutually beneficial at the start.  I ask the students to look for evidence of the relationship between their explorer and local FN when they begin to research.

Research – Now that students had some background knowledge of exploration, it was time to begin their own guided research

  • Students were asked to pick one of the six explorers to research.  The explorers they may choose from are: Champlain, Vancouver, Mackenzie, Cabot, Hudson, and Cartier.  Once the research was complete, students created a slideshow of the explorer.
    • All students, regardless of ability, were given the option of group research on John Cabot with me OR to work alone.  Heather worked in the computer lab with the majority of the class while I worked in the library with the smaller group.
    • Students could use books, the carefully curated page on the library website and World Book for kids and World Book for students on the school database.

First, they needed to find out the basics IntroductoryGraphicOrganizer.  This was an excellent way to get students interacting with the resources.

Next, we gave the students a big graphic organizer explorer graphic organizer   This was overwhelming!  Heather and I broke it down into manageable pieces which has worked out well with in trials with other classes.

Once the organizers were complete, students started working on their slideshows.  Heather had the students include a route map by grabbing a suitable map from Scribblemaps and drawing the route using the slideshow tools.  Before the slideshows were complete, Heather passed out evaluation rubrics  RubricSlideshow and displayed two teacher-created slideshows of the same explorer to demonstrate a well done vs. poorly done product. The good example  The bad example   Students took a few extra days to improve their slideshows before presenting them in front of the class.  Heather had each child share their project with the class so students could learn about the other explorers.  Next time, we will divide the class and share the load.  NOTE FOR NEXT TIME:  Heather found that using transitions between the slides of the route maps was distracting.  Although we had told the students to choose an easy to read font and colour, some were difficult to read.  This could be fixed by giving them a choice of font and colour.  Heather was generally quite happy about the Slideshows.  Students had adequate information and demonstrated general knowledge of their explorer.  Here are two examples:  Henry Hudson and Alexander Mackenzie.

The Final Project!

After the student slideshows had been presented, we introduced the culminating critical thinking activity –  the HMS KELSET project.  Explorer Overboard  The project had to include a poster of the explorer RubricPoster  Rubrics were passed out for each of the options Rubrics   Students were given two weeks to complete the project at home.

Examples of project boards were shown.  Students presented their posters and projects to classmates where it was marked by Heather and feedback was given by classmates.  Students had three days to make changes before performing for the Grade 3 classes.

Grade 3s were given some background information and what to look for in a good presentation.  Each Grade 3 would vote for one of the 9 Grade 4/5 students presenting.

We found that MOST Grade 4/5 students tried to include too much background information and didn’t focus specifically on the explorers’ specific contribution.  Since this was the only part of the unit done at home, we feel parents didn’t understand this need not be a summary of information.  Rather than using a poster format, we might switch to photos shown on a document camera for easy viewing.  Here are some clips of creative elements we can show to future students:  Interview with John Cabot, video clip 1, video clip 2, George Vancouver reinactment

Exploring diversity in Grade 3

The question:

Anne Jespersen and Julie McManus tackled the question: What does diversity look like in Grade 3?

Our inspiration:

Having read the book,  It’s All About Thinking:  Collaborating to Support All Learners in English, Social Studies, and Humanities by Faye Brownlie and Leyton Schnellert as a book club selection, and attended the Leyton Schnellert professional development sessions, we were motivated to create a diversity project with Anne’s Grade 3 students.  We didn’t want to stand in front of the class giving the students all the information (Anne calls that ‘stuffing the turkey‘).  We wanted to create a solar system guided inquiry unit that could be adapted to different subject areas.

Our first task was to create a question for the learning intention.  We were initially challenged with that elusive overarching essential question.  We came up with:

  • What is a planet?
  • What is a solar system?
  • What are the characteristics of the inner vs. the outer planets?

We weren’t really comfortable with what we had come up with because they didn’t seem all-encompassing enough.

Front-end loading and responding to learning is the key

So, we put that on hold and decided to ‘front-end load’ and see what happened.  It started with a the solar system song and a few YouTube clips.  Students learned about the solar system through videos, read alouds, newspaper articles, guest speakers, and independent reflection.  Here are the links from the Solar System library webpage.  From the beginning, it was never about note-taking or filling in the blanks.  We recorded facts, made connections, and asked questions.  Solar chart   Turtle chart (can be adapted to any subject)  We had taken the Adrienne Gear Non-Fiction Reading Power  workshop where we found many strategies for deeper thinking.  This gave us tools to delve deeper into questioning.   Reading Power resources

Click here for Record Thinking blank sheets and here for examples where Students Record Thinking

Student-led learning

The deeper questioning led to a two column chart for questions and answers. Students wrote questions on sticky notes.  If an answer was found, the sticky was moved to the answer column.   Click on the image to see student questions.Sticky notes

Uh-oh, what if there are no answers?

Anne realized she had no idea how to answer most of their questions.  At first she felt inadequate, but it didn’t seem to bother the students.  They started searching for the answers together.  Sometimes the answers were found, sometimes they weren’t.

What are the by-products of engaged learners?

Students discovered that the most up to date information was needed when they were researching Pluto.  They started to check the copy write date of the books to determine relevance and perspective.  Information about the solar system is updated so quickly that much of the information students needed was found on the Internet.

Celebrate the learning!

All this time, Anne was the facilitator.  She was frustrated that students weren’t producing a beautiful project.  But with some reflection and constant encouragement from Julie, Anne was able to see that some amazing learning was occurring.  In fact, when Sid Sidhu and Laurie Roche from the Royal Astronomical Society came for their yearly visit, they mentioned the students were more interactive and questioning than years past.  Why?  All that deep questioning made learning about the Solar System authentic and relevant to the kids.  They bought into the student directed approach.

Reality check

While this started out as inquiry based unit, it quickly changed to guided inquiry, and then guided, guided inquiry.  Grade 3 students don’t have the maturity to discern a credible Internet site.  The challenge for teachers is to find accessible information for a range of learners at a reading level far below the average reading level on the internet.

So what is guided, guided inquiry?

For our culminating activity, the students came up with 50 questions about the solar system they would like answered.  Anne chose six questions from the 50 for students to research.  Julie found websites to answer the questions.  Anne and Julie got together and realized the need to edit each website to the single paragraph that would answer the question.  Why?  Because the Grade 3s are unable to read through information above their reading level and find the answers.  Anne and Julie guided, guided (scaffolded) inquiry and didn’t feel guilty.  Here are two examples of the final project – Student Product1  Student Product2

Final thoughts?

Anne and Julie don’t really agree with identifying the overarching question before the unit begins because those pesky students kept changing the direction of the unit based on the questions they were asking.  What was valuable was looking through the PLOs and matching them with video clips, Internet sites, printed materials to ‘front load’ information while allowing the students to reflect and ask deep questions.