Saturday, 11 February 2012 17:45

Show Me the Monet (Part 1) (3rd in an Occasional Series Featuring Engaging Classroom Projects) (Teaching Tip #59)

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The California Earth science standards for third grade focus on astronomy. The primary standard reads as follows: “Objects in the sky move in regular and predictable patterns.” The five substandards that develop this idea further mention constellations, the lunar cycle, the definition of a telescope, the planets that orbit the Sun, and the Sun’s position in the sky.

For two of these five substandards, I have created week-long projects that integrate art and science. The first project begins when I present my students with an introduction sheet that contains the following scenario:


“Congratulations! The PTA has just asked you to create a painting that will be used to decorate a wall in one of the school hallways. Your painting must include the nine planets and the Sun. (Note: We included Pluto in this project.) In your painting the nine planets must be arranged in the correct order from the Sun. Also, the parent in charge of organizing this display is a huge fan of Claude Monet, the famous Impressionist from France. She wants all the paintings to be done using Monet’s unique style.”

The bottom of this 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 painting for the walls of my school hallways.” 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, “Who is Claude Monet?” and “What is the correct order of the planets?”

This problem-based learning 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 discover 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.

All this takes place on the first day of this week-long project. On Day 2 we research the order of the planets from the Sun, watch a short astronomy video, and use a few brain-friendly learning strategies to commit this order to memory.

On Day 3 we turn the room into a small art gallery and display 10-15 of Monet’s paintings so everyone can walk around and take notes about his unique style. We then come together to create a list of Monet’s features to which we can refer the next day. I also read aloud a book about Monet’s life and painting style.

On the fourth day we paint. We take the entire afternoon, and the kids mix their own colors and combine what they have learned about astronomy with what they have learned about Claude Monet’s style to create their projects. I emphasize to my class that this is a high-level problem-solving challenge, and enthusiasm for this project is incredibly high. Students enjoy combining two topics that tend not to be mentioned together very often.

Next week I will share with you photographs of some of the projects my students have created.


New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.