The Great Lesson Journals

Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Thursday, August 16, 2001

Sunday, August 26, 2001

Saturday, September 8, 2001

Saturday, September 15, 2001

Monday, September 24, 2001

Wednesday, October 3, 2001

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The Journal for Wednesday, August 15, 2001

Chris asked me to talk more about how to draw out the students so I'm going to try to explain how my class evolves through time. It's been interesting as this year I teamed up with another teacher so we have 50 students in circle - 21 of which are first graders. I'm losing my voice from talking so much, but that will change as they get more and more independent.

Yesterday was the first day of school. We gave the Great lesson twice to be sure the groups could see and listen. Quite a few parents whispered that their child came home full of stories.

Today I wrote:

Before space was created, nothing could exist. There was no where for it to exist.

Define singularity.

What is another word for singularity?

 What happened during the singularity?

I put out dictionaries and about 7 books that I had found information about The Beginning and pulled up three computer sites on the Big Bang.

I sat at the white board - mine is on the floor and helped first graders write. Many wrote their own, but several wrote every other word with me. Remember that my kids come in over 30 minutes. As they finished they either took a dictionary to a table - in groups or a book. They found great pictures and then were supposed to figure out what the pictures were. Many would come up and tell me what they thought the answers were and I did give them hints about whether to keep looking and in what direction or gave them the nod that they were right.

At about 9:15 we come to circle. I asked someone to read the first sentence. We did a bit of punctuation and capital awareness and then went on to the questions. They knew a singularity meant one. I had to hint a bit about the Big Bang name by holding up a book that was called Big Bang... Then the magic began. One of my third graders said, "Oh, this is what the lesson was all about yesterday." Yes, I replied. Another said, "So the balloon was the singularity." In what way I asked. Well, it was nothing and all the particles were inside it and came out when it exploded. Then everyone did a big ah ha and many talked about what else was in the singularity. I then asked who had a great picture to show. The supernova is always a big one. They knew from reading that it was a star exploding so I asked question about where all the star dust went. I then asked them to find a picture of a nebula and we looked for baby stars. About 30 minutes had gone by, so I read an abbreviated story that Harvey Hallenberg had written in Montessori Life. Before I started I told them we could do a play for their parents if they wanted so they should try to picture how they would act out the story.

After reading I asked them if they could see movements. I got a huge yes from the crowd, but I did not ask for ideas yet. Tomorrow is another day. We went to work at 10:15.

Tomorrow the journal will be:

What is a nebula?

 What is a galaxy?

What is a star?

We will find out the answers and then start to act out our play.

It is interesting because the class I merged into did not do any journals like this last year and although they did research they did not delve as deeply. They did not participate as much as first, but then three did get drawn in and raise hands. I'm anxious to see if more will be willing to read hard books to find out what all this stuff is about. I called their attention to the fact that they had not taken the assignment as seriously as others and that tomorrow I did expect their hands to be up.

We finished the day by reading a wonderful story called The Universe is my Home I think in which 2 children go off to visit another planet. They had a great discussion about whether it was real or fiction. The other group read My Place in Space. Tomorrow we'll switch.

Good day. I hope this helps. I'll try to be more specific as I go on if it does, but right now I'm just surviving. We actually got 16 first graders assessed in the golden material today. Whew!


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The Journal for Thursday, August 16, 2001

Today everyone did wonderfully! Most of the students were peering into books and bringing me pictures and so proud that they knew the answers to the 3 questions. I had purposefully made them easy so that they would all be successful. There wasn't much deep discussion today. A star was described as whirling gasses or as a sun. A nebula was a cloud of gases floating in space or the birthplace of stars. A galaxy was a big collection of stars and everyone seemed comfortable with this knowledge. Singularity is after all so much bigger.

At the end of the day we watched the video Birth of a Star. Of course the words are way above their head in most parts, but the pictures were phenomenal. When it was done I asked for questions and comments. They told me that the sun had spots and flares. That when the sun is quiet Earth may have an ice age. That when the sun was very active satellites and other technical equipment might not work. Then they all wanted to tell me about when different equipment had failed in their homes and were sure that was because of a sun flare. That was cute. They learned that when a star goes supernova that particles race into space and eventually become new stars. Then those stars go supernova and then new stars were born. One child said it was kind of like the particles of Earth that raced into space to cool and then huddled together for warmth. They had watched in awe how our sun would go supernova and then Earth would be the innermost planet and Saturn's rings would all be drawn away. I asked why people were so intersted in space. A second grader answered because they would have no planet. Why? Because it would be too hot. Why? Because it would be close to Earth. Why? She faltered and another said, "Because our sun will go supernova as all stars do." I told them about a new solar system that a colleague had sent me an e-mail about. Then we talked about why it was so hard to find planets, but not suns. Then I closed by talking about how stars have cycles of birth and death like so many things do. I asked why some people said everything was made of stardust. Because we all die and then when a new star is born we will come back a child called out. Well, maybe not us.... Ohhhhhh they said. I thought about reincarnation, but held my tongue. Another day, another age.

Today was wonderful. Next week will be more so.


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The Journal for Sunday, August 26, 2001

This week we mostly worked on getting our work requirements organized and understood.  Everyone has picked a research topic and I gave a lesson on how to research, letting the first years students know that we would help them.  The first year students always astonish me - even though the same thing has happened over and over.  I sat in front of the research shelf and talked about all the choices that were left after the thirds picked theirs.   Then I asked them what they wanted to research and every one gave me an enthusiastic answer.

One thing that interested me was that usually when I only had 7 - 9 firsts, I would ask them to research volcanoes dividing it into 3 groups.  This year as we have 21 firsts between our two classes, I had to allow them to choose whatever as there was not enough volcano materials.  I had bought this wonderful material on how the continents had moved years before and it has been an underutilized material.  I was mystified by this as it looks so neat to me.  Well, now I know that I just had not presented it to the right group.  The young ones were amazed by the fact that continents could move and many asked to research that fact.  I finally had to cut it off as a choice.  (They can always choose it as a free work, later on.)  Here's what they chose:  5 on plate tectonics, 3 on what comes out of a volcano, 2 on the space station, 3 on famous volcanoes, 3 on igneous rocks, 3 on the kinds of volcanoes, 1 on spaceships and 1 on constellations.  We began reading with the different groups last week and writing their thoughts on a white board.  Then they copy and draw neat pictures.  Meanwhile the other students were busy with their noses in their books, except for a couple who never got to it.  Our librarian offers research times to us so I have notes ready to get three difficult students a time with her this week.

I also forgot to mention that last week we did experiments with the first only as the others had seen them before.  They did the old piece of paper over a cup of water trick, explored how water pushes out with a soda bottle with holes, watched how a solid would push the scale down and did the old ping pong ball in sand trick.  This week we explored how heat affects matter.  I do not use a hot plate during the Great Lesson so I always have an adult come in to show this.  We melted paraffin and plunged it into ice water.  We put water onto the hot plate and we put a nail on.  We watched how air could stop the flow of water in a container with holes in the top and bottom.  We saw how water would allow salt particles to enter between them.  The second half of the class will do them next week as one parent was a no show.

Tomorrow I begin journals again.  We did not do any this week as I wanted work to seriously begin and everyone is still in slow motion and they needed all the time they could get.  The first one is on the difference between magma and lava.   Then I'll show them two kinds of lava.  We did not watch a video this week, but hope to see a neat volcano video this week.


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The Journal for Saturday, September 8, 2001

Sorry I missed a week. I've been having a few assistant problems which have been wearing me down, but hopefully they are worked out.

We have watched a most exciting volcano video. This video produced the most exciting questions about these volcanologists who dare to go so close and towns that are covered up and why didn't those people move their trucks. They love the globs of melted rocks and bubbling lava. What was the lava tube and why did magma sit in the caldera? The underwater pictures are amazing. Well, I guess volcanoes have excited and fascinated humans through the ages. We read several more books of myths and space explores and then choose our chapter books. One group is listening to Harry Potter and the other, The Hobbit.

All first graders have finished reports. This is a very unusual year - besides the team teaching. The firsts have usually wanted to do a big piece of construction paper with big pictures, but every one of these firsts, when offered a choice, wanted to make their report in book form and illustrate the cover. All the volcano reports now have made clay volcanoes. The eruptions people have erupting volcanoes, the famous volcanoes are labeled and the different kinds are tall and flat. They have colored mimeographed sheets and used glitter sticks, chosen pictures to show and of course, practiced, practiced, practiced. We have 8 groups of first grade reports so 4 will present this week and 4 next week. I chose who would present by who needed to practice a bit longer and who would hopefully be fluent by this week. I do still have to help the plate tectonic people draw their continents moving through the ages.

As always, the assistants are worried, "They will never read this." I explain to practice them until memorized. Parents usually tell me their child has recited their report to them at home before presentations. They are so excited with the thought of a microphone and an audience that any who were hesitant to read are now reading to themselves, to peers and to assistants around the room.

I have worked with the third graders generally this week allowing the assistants to make the fist grade reports more interesting with props. One group wondered what made the 3 kinds of liquid settle at different levels, so I have explored density and surface tension with them. This was a more teacher led report, where they would read and then we would talk about what the words meant. I used a simple experiments book and we came up with a simple experiment for both. They really like surface tension and I think they will both look at water differently from now on.

Another group is doing shells and the third galaxies. The most difficult part of writing reports is to get the introduction. No matter how many time I say to explain what you are researching in the first paragraph, it is rarely there. This is because they are reading books to find facts. So I sat with the shell people and we found in a book where it explained what a shell was and how it grew and what a shell needed to grow. Again I wrote on the white board as they read. Then I edited the different kinds of shells they had found using samples in the class to demonstrated left handed swirls and right and spirals and other facts they had found, but not totally understood. The second group was doing astronauts. One had copied the book so I reminded her that if she did that again, I would crumple it up and she would have to start again. Once again I had to write an intro of what an astronaut was although one student did start with the fact that they were space explorers and had to have special training so a little bit was there before facts.

The last group really excited me as there the intro was as to what a galaxy was before the different kinds. This really shows me that these two will be the writers as they truly understand how topics are formatted. I only edited their paper rather than writing on the white board - correcting capitals and spelling and adding just a few facts. It's also exciting as it is the beginning of the year and they have no where to go but up.

Next week will focus on reading the reports. "My name is --------- and this is my partner. We are researching _________." They have marked who will read what if their reports are the same so off they go. I'm excited. In our Open House a parent of a second year student said, "Bring your video cameras. They will grow up so fast and they will never be so young and precious again." I agree. The reports will stop most from being a young external part of the class to being an absorbed internal part with most disappearing into the flow of young researchers. Many are already telling me what their next report will be... I will do the Time Line of Life in another week or so. They are ready.


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The Journal for Saturday, September 15, 2001

Last week the students practiced their reports all week with an assistant. My name is-------- This is my partner --------------- We're researching ------------------. Before lunch I went through what we were going to do and what everyone's place was.

We started by sitting down in a totally unorderly manner after lunch. When something exciting is happening I'm still having trouble with 50 children entering the room calmly - especially when I'm alone. They can be calm at the door, but if an adult is not present at the spot where they must sit, then all falls apart. I sat down and spoke about their behavior and my expectations and everyone calmed. I would have asked them to leave and enter again, but parents were already present. I think this was a mistake and we should have left and entered quietly again.

The first two were a second and third mix. They welcomed everyone to the reports and we clapped. The students did not clap nicely, but hooted and made fun with their clapping, so I spoke to them about how to clap and we started again. This time we got good, polite clapping. They read their report on Surface Tension and Density and then asked 2 questions each to the audience. The audience knew the answers and this surprised the parents as they weren't easy and showed everyone - well, most, had been listening. They then did two experiments and sat down. Two thirds went next and gave reports on Galaxies. Questions on reports that cover a great variety are always hard. Which galaxy was the most common stumped everyone. They appealed to the parents, but finally had to give the answer. It's interesting that students like it better when the audience knows the answer.

Then came the first. My little triplet went first. I sat next to him on a low chair as he was so nervous, but he read two pages just fine. Then he showed his picture and left. He gave me a happy high 5 after school. The next three read their rock report. One little girl could not pronounce igneous, but no one corrected her. It was so cute. They were so serious. They showed their rocks and the pumice would not float. Oh well. Then three more firsts got up and read about volcanoes and showed pictures and showed their volcanoes that they had made. Then two more firsts with their space station report with pictures. The last was 2 thirds who had done shells. They showed pictures of the real animal in the shell versus the empty shell. They couldn't believe the moon snail in real life. My team teacher had brought in some mussels as examples of bivalves, but they had died so some got sad.

About half way through the program I had to stand up and write three names on the board. I did not say a word, but this did calm them down considerably. They know that means practicing skills we should know during free time. I tell them that as I have work to do during the day and so do they, that the only time any of us have to practice sitting quietly or walking without touching is during our free time. So I kept about 10 of the 50 in during free time and spoke about how we sat and where our eyes should be and what it would feel like to look out at an audience full of people ignoring you. Then we practiced doing it right and then we went out.

As for everything, good behavior during reports is learned, but I expect things will go better on Wednesday. We have 3 firsts doing famous volcanoes, 3 firsts doing the 3 kinds of volcanoes, 1 first doing constellations of summer, 5 firsts doing plate tectonics, 2 thirds doing the sun, 3 thirds doing the stars and 3 thirds doing astronauts. My team teacher has begun editing the planets and I will join her next week.

Hopefully they will all be done next week so that we can do our great planet report the following week.

I give the second Great Lesson on Monday. We need new research!


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