Second Grade Humanities: Wastebasket Dig

Today, the second grade humanities students embarked on their first dig.  Each group of 4 or 5 students was given a wastebasket from a TJ classroom.  Each student had a pair of gloves and a recording sheet.  Here are the supplies before the students arrived:FullSizeRender FullSizeRender_2


The students put on their gloves as soon as they arrived and immediately got to work, excavating the items from the wastebasket. They knew that to reconstruct the day of the class who had generated the trash, they needed to be careful to excavate the items in order.  They painstakingly recorded each item on their recording sheets.FullSizeRender_4 FullSizeRender_4 (3) FullSizeRender_4 (2) FullSizeRender_3 FullSizeRender_3 (4) FullSizeRender_3 (3)

The kids also analyzed the artifacts as they excavated, knowing that at the conclusion of the dig they must know:

What grade level generated the trash?  Who is their teacher?  What are they studying in language arts, math, science, and social studies?  What did they do on the day they used this wastebasket?  In what order did the events occur?FullSizeRender_2 (4) FullSizeRender_2 (3) FullSizeRender_2 (2)

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Some of the papers provided interesting clues as to the origins of the trash.  Which grade level studies sea animals and fractions?FullSizeRender_1 (4) FullSizeRender_1 (3) FullSizeRender_1 (2)

Lots of classes seemed to have things to celebrate.  After all, it was Valentine’s Day week and the 100th day of school.

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In the end, this trash really was our treasure!  The kids aren’t finished yet — they will be drawing conclusions next week — so I won’t spoil the outcome by thanking my helpers.  Stay tuned next week to hear about how they classify their findings and what they conclude about what they uncovered.FullSizeRender_3 (2)

Second Grade Humanities — Artifact Battleship

This week in second grade humanities, we talked about gridding. We discussed how an archeological dig destroys a site, and how keeping records during a dig is so important.  I showed the kids a sample site grid and we talked about how grids help archaeologists remember exactly where items were found.  The kids remembered that context is super important, and that knowing which items were found together makes a huge difference.

To practice working with a grid, we played Artifact Battleship.  Each student “buried” a spear, pottery, jewels, coins, and bones.  They then played against a partner to try to excavate their opponent’s items, calling out coordinates to find out if that spot was a “hit” or a “miss.”  The noise level rose quickly and it was often hard to hear, which led to me suggesting that the kids use words instead of just letters (saying “Apple 3,” instead of “A3,” for example).  This suggestion resulted in some rather creative word choices.  “Ignorance 8” was a hit.  “EvenThoughTheSoundOfItIsSomethingQuiteAtrocious 4” was a miss.

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If you’re interested in playing at home (hey, it could happen!), you can find the board here:  Artifact Battleship.  And you can check out a quick clip of Mya, Preston, Quinn & Ashwin playing Artifact Battleship here.

Next week we will undertake our Wastebasket Dig.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!

First Grade Inventions — Rube Goldberg Machines

This week in first grade reading, we began with a reminder that the inventions the kids will be making need to be simple.  Easy to make, easy to use.  Then we talked about inventions that are the exact opposite — Rube Goldberg machines.  I explained that Rube Goldberg designed complex machines to accomplish simple tasks.  We watched this clip of seven-year-old Audri’s monster catcher Rube Goldberg machine for inspiration.  I also love this OK Go video, but we didn’t have time to watch it in class.  We needed to get to work on our own Rube Goldberg machines!

I gave each group some random materials including wooden train set pieces, small cars, plastic cubes, dominos, and one small hippo figure.  Their job was to design a xomplex machine to help Danny do something simple.  Many of the groups decided to try to help Danny get to school.

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They met with varying degrees of success.  One of the major challenges, of course, was that each time the machine failed, a lot of work had to be done to re-set the different elements.  Here is a short video of Nicholas, Katie, and Eli’s machine in action.

I heard enough “this is hard” and “wow, this takes soo long” to convince me that the kids have a new appreciation for inventions that are simple and that make life easier.  Next week, back to the process of designing our own inventions!

National Math Festival — April 18, 2015

Have you heard the news?  The first ever National Math Festival is coming!  The event will be held on the National Mall on April 18th, 2015.  The schedule is packed with events that look like loads of fun (I know my kids are delighted at the idea of “the math behind minecraft.”).

Check it out here:

Kindergarten Math: More With Place Value and Big Numbers

We had so much fun working with big numbers last time, and we picked up right where we left off.  We reviewed how to read big numbers and practiced reading numbers with zeros in them.  This is challenging for most of the kids.  Write down a number in the millions and ask your child to read it (example:  9,876,543).  Then write down one with zeros (example:  9,087,605).  Did they find the latter more difficult?  I imagine they did, at least based on what I observed in class today.

To practice, I gave each of the student a card with a digit on it.  Then I shouted out big numbers and the kids put themselves in order to form the number.  They worked together to make sure they were each in the correct spot.  Here they are showing 3,215,746:

FullSizeRender (37)It was nice to do this in an active, collaborative way!

We spent the rest of class talking about expanded form.  I explained to the kids how to write out each part of the nubmer with just one digit followed by zeros.  They seemed to pick it up without much trouble, so the homework should (hopefully) be relatively straightforward.

Second Grade Humanities: Stratigraphy Sandwiches

Today in second grade humanities we discussed stratigraphy.  We talked about how looking at the layers of the Earth is really important to archaeologists.  We learned that the oldest layer is on the bottom and the newest layer is on the top.  To demonstrate the concept, we built our own Stratigraphy Sandwiches.

Here are the supplies, just waiting for the kids to arrive:

FullSizeRenderThe first thing the students did was set one piece of bread on their plate.  The bread represented a field in Virginia.

Next, I told the kids that a flood (the field was near a river) had occurred, causing a layer of mud to settle over the the field.  The kids spread a layer of chocolate frosting on the bread to represent the mud.



FullSizeRender_3A group of Archaic people came to camp at the site.  They left a circle of rocks from their fire pit and some charcoal from their fire.  The students placed a circle of chocolate chips on the site to represent the rocks, and sprinkled sprinkles in the middle to represent the charcoal.

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After a time, the Archaic people moved on, and a layer of dirt and rock covered the site.  To represent the layer of dirt, the students placed another slice of bread on top of their “sandwich.”

Later, another group, this time the Powhatan, come to the site.  They built shelters.  The students used their knives to dig holes in the top slice of bread to represent the post holes the Powhatan dug in the Earth.

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The Powhatan made pottery, some of which was broken or destroyed.  The Powhatan dug holes and threw the broken pottery in the holes.  To represent this, the students dug more holes in their bread and buried pieces of “pottery” (M&M’s) in the holes.

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The Powhatan moved on.  The proximity of the site to the river resulted in another flood.  To represent the flood, the students spread a layer of blue frosting on top of their bread.  For many of the kids, this resulted in some redistribution of the “pottery.”  We talked about how this can happen at a real site, and how archaeologists need to account for this type of movement when they excavate and analyze artifacts.

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Through time, I told the kids, other layers of dirt accumulated, until the present and final layer of dirt covered the site.  To represent this final layer, the kids placed one last piece of bread on top of their sandwich.

This led us to present day, when an archeologist, suspecting that the field was a prehistoric habitation site, conducts random samples and surveys.  The kids took samples of their own, randomly poking a straw through the three layers of the sandwich to see what they could find.  When they came across a sprinkle, a chocolate chip, or an M&M, they knew that they had found an area that could have been a habitation site.

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The archaelogist decides to conduct a test excavation at the site.  To represent this, the kids cut a small square out of their sandwich and examined the stratigraphy of the square.  It was easy to tell the layers apart.  We talked about how it’s not always so easy in real life.

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I asked the students what would happen if I put their sandwiches in a blender.  Would they be able to examine the layers then?  Could they tell which items were found where?  They agreed that it would then be impossible to tell.  We compared that to when a habitation site is bulldozed or looted.

What would happen to the sandwiches if we separated them, layer by layer, to excavate the contents within?  They certainly wouldn’t be sandwiches anymore.  This is true at excavation sites in real life — archaeology is a destructive process.  Procedures at a dig are precise because once a site is excavated, it is destroyed.  There are no second chances.

After all that working and talking, it was time to eat our stratigraphy sandwiches.  If you thought the kids would hesitate to dig in to a three-layer frosting sandwich, you thought wrong.

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All in all, we learned a lot and may have had a bit of fun along the way.  A successful endeavor, if you ask me.

FullSizeRender_2 (2)And apparently Grace agrees.

First Grade Reading: Inventions

The first grade readers are busily working on their inventions unit.  They’ve been trying to generate problems that inventions could solve.  For some, this proved somewhat difficult.  (More than a few students actually lamented “But I don’t haaaaaave any problems!”  It was difficult to muster too  much sympathy.).

To give them a little nudge, last week I presented the kids with several problem scenarios:

  1. The merry-go-round on a local neighborhood’s playground has been removed. Too many children have been injured while playing on the equipment. Your task is to design a safe merry-go-round to keep children from getting hurt.
  2. I have a long, steep driveway that slants toward the street.  I have to carry the garbage can to the end of the driveway each week for trash pickup. The can is big and heavy and it’s both impossible for me to lift and  difficult for me to drag through the gravel driveway. Your task is to invent something to make this job easier.
  3. One of your chores is to feed your cat.  You don’t like the way the cat food smells or feels, and you especially don’t like washing the spoon when you are finished.  How can you solve this problem?

The kids talked about the problems and tried to come up with solutions.  The first problem was the most difficult, though there were many inventive solutions, like trampoline walls and seat belts.  The second problem was the easiest, and in every group someone came up with the idea of adding wheels to the trash can.  The third problem gave rise to lots of creative ideas.  The students were impressed to learn that the problem was drawn from the real life of Suzanna Goodin, who invented the Edible Pet Food Spoon as a solution when she was in the first grade.

To wrap up our session, the students worked in their Inventor’s Notebooks, identifying problems they could solve with a simple invention they can make at home.  The kids will be creating inventions of their own, but not for a few weeks now.  More information to follow!