Saturday, 28 January 2012 17:45

The Symbol & Landmark Project (Part 2) (2nd in an Occasional Series Featuring Engaging Classroom Projects) (Teaching Tip #57)

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This week I describe the specific unit plan for the Symbol & Landmark Project, an engaging social studies unit that helps kids find relevance in their work and allows them to make a personal connection with important content. I introduced the project last week, and next week I will share pictures of some projects my students have created.

Here is the day-by-day sequence of activities. The unit typically takes two weeks to complete.

  Day 1: I introduce the project to the students using a variation of the problem-based learning approach. The paragraph at the top of the introduction sheet congratulates the students and explains that each of them has been selected to create a symbol or landmark for our school that represents an important ideal that our school promotes. The kids must create three possible symbols or landmarks, explain why they are choosing one over the other two, and compare their final choice with two well-known national or state symbols or landmarks.

The bottom of the sheet is divided into two columns. On the left side, the “What I Know” column, students are given about ten minutes to write, in pencil, a series of bullet points showing what they already know and understand about the project. For example, they may write sentences, such as “I know I am creating a symbol or landmark for my school.” On the right side, the “What I Need to Know” column, the kids write down any questions they have, anything that confuses them, or anything they need to learn before they can begin the project. Sample sentences include, “What is a landmark?” and “What does ideal mean?”

This task gives students a chance to process the various aspects of the project and demonstrate valuable reading comprehension skills. After their independent completion of the sheet, each child joins a partner, and the pairs discuss the sheet. At this time, the kids use pen to add any ideas their partners might suggest or that they might discover on their own as they talk with their partners. Working on the sheet independently in pencil and then cooperatively in pen allows us to see how much we were able to do on our own and how much we did with our partners. This type of feedback can help students who do not produce very much on their own do a better job next time.

Days 2-4: On each of these three days, we read a section in our social studies text as a whole group. Every time we come across a description of a new symbol or landmark, we add it to our note-taking sheet, which is organized into three columns. In the first column we write the name of the symbol or landmark, in the middle one we draw a quick sketch, and in the third we write what the symbol or landmark represents. Motivation and engagement are high during this activity because the kids are reading with a purpose. They are eager to learn about various symbols and landmarks because each one is a potential inspiration for something they may want to create for their projects. For the final few minutes of these class periods, I like to give the kids some time to brainstorm.  

Day 5: The kids choose three possible symbols or landmarks they may want to create. They give their ideas names, draw sketches, and state what each one represents.

Day 6: Each child chooses one of the three possibilities from yesterday and announces a final decision. The kids then spend time creating a colorful design for their symbol or landmark.

Day 7: The kids complete a “Written Explanation” sheet, in which they describe the various parts of their final design, explain why they chose this idea over the other two possibilities they created, and compare their project to two natonal or state symbols or landmarks. This last component brings into play the important higher-level thinking skills of comparing and contrasting.

Day 8: We have a Gallery Walk so that everyone can move around the room, study, and compliment the work of their classmates.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.