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Saturday, February 22, 2014

The ABCs of Architecture

It's about time, teachers, for the ABCs of Architecture.   As an enrichment specialist for my district, I work with students in 2nd - 5th grades. The focus is not limited to academics. My fourth graders endowed with artistic talent embarked on an architectural adventure that resulted in a published book. It was an awesome experience for all involved.

Two local groups, the Preservation and Conservation Association (PACA) and the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), asked me to conduct a project in which elementary students would learn about local, historic buildings.  In the process, they hoped to impress upon the students the value of preservation. They offered to subsidize a field trip for my 4th graders, complete with chaperons from their groups! How could I possibly say, "No?" 

My students began with a study of basic architectural elements, such as lines, shapes, textures, and form. Inspired by Diane Maddex's book, Architects Make Zigzags, Looking at Architecture from A to Z,  we made it our goal to produce an alphabet book about architecture found on historic buildings in our hometown.  

The next step entailed finding an architectural term or terms for each letter of the alphabet.  What followed was a flurry of old fashioned research as my charges constructed an impressive list.  We only had to stretch to find a term for X, settling on railroad crossing.  You may have just done an eye roll, but I was quite proud of my students' reasoning. They learned that our community grew around a railroad crossing for the Illinois Central railroad.

Armed with their alphabetical lists and sketchpads, we embarked on a bus and walking tour of the downtown region.  Can there be anything sweeter to a teacher's ears than the zealous exclamations of 9 & 10 year olds as they recognize a cupola, gargoyle, or keystone?  While our hosts gave us facts and fascinating stories about the buildings on our tour, my students sketched.

Back at school, the 4th grade crew drew pen and ink illustrations of the elements they sketched.  They composed the text explaining their terms and identifying the buildings upon which they were found.  PACA and HPC provided enough funds to allow us to professionally bind several copies of our books.  Those copies can now be found at the city library, our school library, in the offices of PACA and HPC, and in the city building. Each student received a copy fresh off the school's copy machine.  

Following are some excerpts from our book:

And finally, here are some of the comments my students had at the end of this project:

In my opinion, this project was the embodiment of enrichment.  

Until next time...

If you love enrichment, you may be interested in these units:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Anchor Charts Aweigh!

It’s about time, teachers, for anchor charts. 

I’ve been focusing on anchor charts lately.  It’s a love/hate relationship for me.  Let me explain.
· I am a visual learner, so anchor charts are a natural fit for my classroom and me.  If I had a photographic memory, such visual reminders would be superfluous.  But, alas, there is no camera in my brain.  I assume the majority of my students also lack an Instagram intellect.  Thus, I ♥ anchor charts for providing the cues.

· In my district, it is permissible to have anchor charts posted in the classroom during standardized testing.  Permissible, that is, if they were hanging prior to the start of testing.  That is a distinct advantage for visual learner students.  Gotta ♥ that!

· Creating anchor charts with my students allows me to model my thinking; a teaching strategy I ♥.  Similarly, I can evaluate their thinking and understanding by observing their reactions and contributions.

· Anchor charts can be dynamic.  As we delve into a subject, we can add to the anchor chart.  It’s another way to scaffold learning.  ♥

· Some of my anchor charts are static.  As such, I introduce the chart to my class, explaining its tenets, and post it at a learning center.  This promotes independence for my students and allows me to conduct small group instruction with minimal disruption.    These charts can be stored and used year after year.

· Anchor charts  are concise.  Teaching my students to be succinct is also a valuable lesson.  I ♥ bulleted lists!  (In case you couldn’t tell.)

So what’s not to like about anchor charts?

· Charts should be neat and organized, with simple graphics to enhance their meaning.  I can barely draw a straight line with a ruler!  Although my 1st graders think my stick figures are wonderful, I’m pretty sure my upper grade students are stifling their snickers.  Then I peruse Pinterest and see all the adorable anchor charts with hand drawn graphics and feel utterly inadequate. 

· There can be too much of a good thing.  Like most elementary teachers, I embrace trends with enthusiasm.  So my room began wearing anchor charts everywhere.  I even considered pinning some to the ceiling like my dentist does.  The sad effect is that my students were on visual overload and the anchor charts ceased being helpful.  It can be difficult to find the balance between just right and too much.  Just ask Goldilocks.

· As helpful as anchor charts are, they present the age old problem of storage.  Where to keep these instructional aids in an already overcrowded classroom is a perennial problem.  Of course, I could recreate them each year, but for some of them, that seems wasteful.  For example, I have a set of 20 poetry posters that are very helpful when my students are challenged to write a specific form of poetry.  Fortunately, while wandering through Pinterestland, I found a wonderful solution:  an anchor chart binder.  It's perfect for my pre-printed, 1 page, poetry posters.  

I've got an idea for storing and organizing all those large, poster size, anchor charts, too: install a dry cleaner's automated line.

I think my principal will go for it, don't you?

♫♪ Anchors Aweigh, my friends, Anchors Aweigh. 
♫ Send those charts whirling around, ♪

‘Til the perfect one is found. ♫♪