25 April, 2012

Celebrating Earth Day: Recycling Paper

Reduce, reuse, recycle.  We can all recite the mantra, and we all try to do all three of these things with and for children.

We try to reduce what we use in the classroom, and reuse whatever we can.  We use cloth napkins instead of paper and wash them to use again.  We use metal spoons instead of plastic, and we use the same book bags and lunch boxes every day.  We reuse all sorts of items, especially for art projects.  We use soda bottles to make bird feeders, cardboard boxes to make space observatories, and old CDs to make mobiles.

And recycling?  Of course we recycle!  We have lots of buckets and bins, and we dutifully sort our items and place them into the bins.

But . . .

Recycling is a difficult concept for young children to wrap their minds around.  They can understand reducing and how to do it.  They can also easily reuse items, and believe me, they love to do this!  Recycling however, is something that is usually done far away (at least in their minds), by big machines at a recycling plant.  Gathering items for recycling is great, but the actual recycling process is not something children can usually see first hand - at least not without taking a field trip.

Well, mostly this is true, but recently I learned how individuals can recycle small amounts of paper, at home or at school!  To do this you will need . . .

  • an old blender (one that you will no longer be using for food items)
  • water
  • some old window screens.

I decided this was a perfect activity for Earth Day.  It allowed my students to see recycling, first hand!

There was one tiny problem.  It was impossible for me to take pictures while I did this activity with the children - as my hands were too wet and covered with paper pulp.  Please bear with me as I explain, and try to imagine the steps.

1.  Tear old paper into small pieces.  (This could be a good practical life activity.)

We used our old sign in sheets, and the children happily tore them up into pieces about 1 to 2 inches squared.  This does not have to be exact by any stretch of the imagination, but smaller pieces work better  - because they fit better into the blender!

2.  Place the pieces of old paper into the blender.  Add a handful of paper scraps at a time until your blender is approximately 1/3 full.  Please note: the paper must be placed loosely into the blender.  If you pack it in tightly, the blender won't work.

Add other natural elements to the paper mix.  You might choose to add rosemary or lavender leaves to make your paper smell lovely, or other flowers to add some color.  A few of my students added grass which added interesting texture to the finished paper.

3.  Add about one cup of water to the paper

4.  Blend paper, leaves, and water until you have a slightly mushy and somewhat soupy (think a bit too watery chowder consistency) mixture of paper pulp.  You may have to add more water or more paper until you are happy with the consistency.  There is really no right or wrong way to do this.  Just experiment and see how it works best for you.

5.  Pour the paper pulp onto an old window screen.  You should do this outside or over a towel so water won't drip all over you or your child.

6.  Gently press your paper pulp, squeezing out as much of the water as you can.  The paper mixture is very delicate at this point.  It can easily stick to your hands and tear.  If it does sticks and/or tears, don't worry.  Just press it back together!  If that doesn't work you can pour a bit of water back over the top of your paper pulp and start the pressing process again.

Here are of a few pieces of our recycled paper, drying in the afternoon sun.  I love the free flowing shapes and colors of the children's work!

Here are a few good paper making links you might want to check out:

A demonstration for 4th graders, how to make paper

A lovely explanation of how to make recycled paper, with photos!

Good luck with your recycling projects, and Happy (belated) Earth Day!  

17 April, 2012

Problem Solving like MacGyver

Remember this guy?

If you do then you, like me, were most likely a child born in the 1970's who enjoyed watching television in the 1980's - including MacGyver.  If you didn't happen to watch this show, suffice it to say, MacGyver could get out of almost any situation using whatever everyday objects he had on hand.  

This past week, my students were little MacGyvers, solving problems using their creativity and their wits!  

It all started the day when we began listening to The Twizzlecaps story.  My students were really enjoying listening, and couldn't seem to wait until the next chapter.  

Please, can we just hear one more?  

We were listening to a few chapters about a baby owl who had fallen from his nest and broken his wing.  The owl parents and other birds in the forest are beside themselves with worry because they think the sly fox will come along and eat the baby owl.  Mr. and Mrs. Twizzlecap offer to help.  They know the owl parents cannot lift the baby back into the nest or help him with his broken wing because they have such sharp talons.  Mr. and Mrs. Twizzlecap on the other hand, have soft fingers that could be good for helping and healing - if only they could find a way to get the baby back into the nest!

I paused the story there, but later during lunch the children and I discussed how they thought the Twizzlecaps would try to get the baby owl back into the nest.  I reminded them the Twizzlecaps could not buy any supplies for their rescue attempt, but rather had to use only materials they could find in the forest.  The children had many good and very interesting ideas so the next day I asked them to draw their solutions.  I took dictation, and wrote down their explanations. 

They should build a big see saw, put the baby owl on one end and jump on the other end.  Then the baby owl would be "whisked" (he made a whooshing noise that I cannot replicate with words)  right back into the nest! 

Mr. and Mrs. Twizzlecap should jump on the fox and distract him.  Then the fairies can use a rope to pull up the baby owl.  (See the fox in the bottom right corner?)

They should use a big piece of bark and make a long ramp.  Then the baby owl can walk right up the tree. 

They should build an elevator, and just pull him up!

The Twizzlecaps  should put something sticky on his [the baby owl's] feet, like some tree sap maybe, and then let him walk right up the trunk of the tree!

We headed outside to try out some of the children's MacGyver-like solutions.  Please note I do not have an owl toy in the classroom so we had to use a little blue jay instead.  The children didn't seem to mind.

Using a "rope"

Building a ramp

Making an elevator

Building a see saw type contraption

"Whizzzzzzzz!"  See the "owl" flying right back into his nest?!?!  See the little fox in the lower right corner of the picture?  The baby owl flew right over his head!  Well, almost.  

By letting the students solve the problem of how to rescue the baby owl and return him to his nest, the students became not only more engaged and involved with the characters and the outcome of the audio story, but also used their imaginations to come up with creative and innovative solutions to a problem.  And did you notice, they also snuck in some learning about simple machines!  

Watch out, MacGyver.  I think you've got some competition!

15 April, 2012

A Fantastic Resource: The Twizzlecaps Find Fairyland

Have you ever found a teaching resource that is so fabulous, you simply cannot keep it to yourself?  Sorry to stand on my teacher soap box and say, "You should definitely use this amazing resource," but you should because it is so wonderful!

The Twizzlecaps Find Fairyland is an enchanting story about two little fairies who don't know they're fairies.  They are looking for a new home in the woods.  The story tells us that home "must be near food and water."  So begins this tale which is not only a sweet and wonderful story, but is also full of information about nature, woodland creatures, medicinal plants, and forest survival skills such as when and why to use a wooden splint and where to take shelter during a storm.  The story is peppered with enticing sound effects that make the listener feel she is really in the woods with The Twizzlecaps and their forest friends.  We hear the sounds of the babbling brook, the chattering birds, the flapping of owls' wings and more!  The story is divided into chapters which are bookended with introductory and closing bits of music. 

Please note: This is an audio story only.  I found the illustrations on The Twizzlecaps Facebook page , and with the author's permission, posted them.  Apparently there was a written version of the story along with some extension activities, but it is no longer available.  Initially I was disappointed to hear this, but after listening to the story, I think it is even better not to use an illustrated story while listening.   Beautiful though the illustrations are, it is wonderful for the children to use only their imaginations to see all the characters and locations in the story.  In fact, I have not showed my daughter or my students the pictures because I am sure what they have created in their minds is even better!  

You can find The Twizzlecaps story here on their web page or here on the Scholastic.co.uk resources page.  I think you can listen to the first three parts of the story on the Scholastic page, for free, but to hear the other 27 chapters, you will have to pay to download the story.  If you're not in the UK, don't worry. The author uses PayPal, and when I purchased my copy of the story, the conversion worked out to something like $8.  Please trust me when I tell you it was well worth $8!  (And nope, I am not a paid endorser, just a very happy customer.  My daughter loved the story and my students are loving it too!  We spent a large amount of time this past week acting out scenarios from the story.)  The author assures me the purchase price money is going towards the production of more stories and the creation of an interactive web site - all of which sounds pretty spiffy!

So, hop on over to The Twizzlecaps web site, and listen to the free samples.  My guess is you will love it as much as my daughter, my students, and I do!  


Turtles: A Mini Project

In the Reggio Emilia approach to education, teachers do not choose themes around which to base lessons.  Rather they let the interests of their students lead them.  When many students or small groups of students express an interest in a particular subject, the teacher encourages the children to explore that interest in many different ways leading to learning in many different areas of the curriculum.

Last week a little fellow in my class brought in a baby turtle he and his father had found outside their gym. My students were fascinated, and so our study for the week (and beyond) became about turtles!  While this was not a true project in that the children did not do an extended length and very in depth study of turtles, they certainly are enjoying their work, and their learning - and in many curriculum areas too!

Thanks, little turtle!

I didn't have many turtle books on hand so the first thing we did was list what the children knew about turtles already, from observation of this turtle or from observation or reading outside of school.  I took dictation, and added some pictures to help the children remember what the list said.  

Then while the children were in PE, I ran down to our school library and scooped up a few turtle books. There were not any that were solely about turtles.  However, there were quite a few about reptiles that included small sections about turtles.  Of course after looking at these, the children wanted to know what made a reptile a reptile.  We listed the criteria for reptiles, and I added more of my stellar artwork.  LOL.    

During snack we played "reptile or not a reptile" with the children naming animals and then others looking at the criteria list to see if it was or was not a reptile.  They loved this, and seemed most amused when they figured out that dinosaurs must have been reptiles.  

I found a few fictional turtle stories.  All the children loved Franklin

and this silly little turtle who dresses up as a penguin.  

I told the children the story of The Tortoise and the Hare.  I know what you're thinking, a tortoise is not exactly the same thing as a turtle, but . . .

I set up a small table in the classroom with some little loose parts (turtle beads, sweet gum tree seed pods, small polished stones, some Safari Ltd Toob turtles, and some small glass shapes.)  I added some real turtle shells which the Science teacher kindly let me borrow, and set up a turtle table.

The children also dug up some earthworms and fed the baby turtle.  The were ecstatic when he ate one, right in front of them! 

We learned a very silly turtle song.  Perhaps you know it.  Here is a video that is very close to the little version I do.  (Just in case you want to sing the turtle song too!)  

I had a little turtle
His name was Tiny Tim
I put him in the bathtub 
To see if he could swim

He drank up all the water
He ate up all the soap
And now my little turtle
Has bubbles in his throat

Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles,
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles,
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles, bubbles,
Bubbles, bubbles, POP!

The children also created their own tiny turtles, out of air dry clay.  After all the classroom activities about turtles, the children were anxious to get to work!

They did have to take some time out to play with the clay tools though.  They especially loved using the garlic press to create "worms" to feed the turtle.  

They also talked as they worked, about the tongues of snapping turtles, which we had learned are designed to fool fish into believing they are little worms.  Then when the little fish head over to eat up the small worm, snap!  The snapping turtle gets a meal!  

The children began their clay turtles by creating a turtle shell.  I asked them to closely observe the real turtle shells and see what they noticed about them.  I asked the children questions to encourage them to look more closely?  

What colors do you notice on the shell?
Are there any patterns on the shell?
Any shapes?
What shape is the shell?

With a little encouragement, the children did notice the turtle shells were an arch shape!  Yes, the children recalled that specific shape, and knew why the turtle shells might be arched.  They recalled that arches are strong, and would provide the turtle extra protection!  (You can read about our earlier study of arches, here.)

The next day the children created the turtles' bodies.  It was interesting to see what the children thought turtles would look like without their shells.

After the clay dried I used hot glue to attach the turtle bodies and shells, and the children painted them.  They seemed very pleased with the results!

I love this little turtle!

Another activity I thought of doing, but haven't had a chance to do yet is to have the children crawl "along the line" as turtles.  They could put our Bilibo on their backs, and creep along to a song like this . . .

I hope you find these turtle resources helpful!  Maybe the next time a child unexpectedly brings a turtle into your classroom, you can pull up some of these activities and do some project type work.  


03 April, 2012

Clearing Trails: Turtles, Poison Ivy, and Heavy Equipment

This past week was our Spring break and so of course, I had a project!  It is a giant project and although I knew I would barely make a dent in it, I was very excited to begin!  The project is as my post title suggests, clearing some trails through the woods behind our school.

I did some research into trail clearing before I began to even think about this and I found out there are a variety of ways to tackle this project.  Some people suggest machetes, some suggest chain saws, and yet others recommend heavy equipment.  Not having any of these readily at hand, I worked with more basic tools, a rake, a small branch saw, and a shovel.  As I said, I knew I wouldn't make serious progress, but I had an achievable goal in mind, dig out our entrance to the forest, the gate!

Here are some shots of our gate, early last Fall and over the Winter.  See how the gate looks so much lower than the ground just before it?  That's not just an illusion created by the photographs.  The ground is a good step and a half higher on the playground side of the gate.  This shouldn't be a problem because the gate opens into the forest, but it is because (I am guessing) over the past years, soil and debris have washed down the step and a half, and completely blocked the gate!  Additionally all sorts of roots (especially poison ivy) hold the soil and debris firmly in place.

Early Fall
I tried to dig it out this past January, and instead of simply digging out the soil, debris, and roots, I dug out a hibernating turtle! I felt terrible.  He looked at me as if to say,

This is not actually the turtle I dug up, but his expression is quite similar!

 Hey!  I was sleeping!  What is your problem?!?! 

Needles to say, I decided to wait until Spring before I again attempted to clear out the gate.

So this past week, Spring arrived along with our Spring break so I decided to again tackle the gate, and begin to clear a trail.  I assembled my tools, and began.  About 6 hours later, I had managed to clear and open the gate (thankfully, without disturbing any turtles), and begin to clear a path into our woods.  Doesn't it look inviting?  It seems to me to look especially inviting because it has been very hot this past week, about 90 degrees F!  Let me whip out my calculator so I can convert to Celsius for you non-Americans.  Hmmm, it seems that is about 32 degrees C.  Yuck, right?  

So my natural instinct was to head right through this lovely gate and into the shade of the forest.  Well, except for this . . .

Yup, this is pretty much entirely poison ivy.  If you don't happen to have poison ivy in your area, be very grateful! It is nasty stuff.  If the plant oil touches your skin, you will most likely break out into a yucky and very, very itchy rash, from 24 - 72 hours afterwards.  It really only takes brushing against any part of the plant, leaves, stem, or roots, and I am toast.  The plant oil also sticks to tool handles, latches of gates (wonderful), items of clothing, pets' fur, shoes etc.  It can remain a "danger" on these items for more than a year!  

Leaves of three, turn and flee!
I was prepared for the poison ivy in our woods.  I wore long sleeves, hiking boots, a long sleeved shirt, and gloves. I came armed with not only my tools, but also weed killer.  I tried my best not to touch any of the plants, but I must have inadvertently touched some because my forearms, neck, and my chin are covered in poison ivy rash.  Rats!  

So after itching a lot, slathering on tons of calamine lotion, and generally being absurdly angry at a plant, I began working on plan B.  I realized that not only was clearing multiple paths by hand going to take a ridiculous amount of time, but that if I did so, I would most likely spend the better part of the next decade  covered in calamine lotion. I started calling local tree companies, and through one of them found a man who owns a marvelous sounding machine.  Though I have never seen it, it sounds like the kind of machine you would not want to see featured in a movie about how builders are clearing a rainforest in The Amazon.  It does sound however, like a marvelous way to create trails, and like it would spare me  (hopefully) some weeks and weeks of itchy poison ivy rashes.  

So the next step in creating trails in our school's essentially untouched forest, is for me and a few other teachers I have recruited to don protective gear, and mark out where we would like our initial trail to be.  The we will ask Dave, the man with the marvelous mulching, munching, brush clearing, poison ivy sparing machine how long he thinks it would take him to clear it.  Then we can spray the trail, trying to get rid of the poison ivy, and figure out how we would like to edge it - keeping in mind this area floods nearly every year.  

Piece of cake, right?  

But whenever I get really overwhelmed by the task or freak out at the acres and acres of poison ivy, I remind myself how amazing these trails and access to these woods will be for children.  I took my own children down to the creek in the woods, during a short break from our gate excavation. (And before you ask, they did not get poison ivy rashes.  Phew!)  In the forty five minutes of so that we were down there we saw . . .

a frog
a snake
an owl
two box turtles
raccoon tracks
sticks chewed by beavers
deer tracks
countless birds and insects.

And that is only the wildlife!  There also obviously many varieties of trees and plants, and once we get rid of the poison ivy, we can plant more shade loving native species.  

Not to mention the benefits of climbing fallen branches, exploring a "wild wood", and all the other benefits of connecting children with nature!  

I will be writing much more about trail clearing, poison ivy killing, marvelous machines, and connecting children with nature in the woods at our school, in the weeks to come.  Until then however,

I think I should go and put on some more calamine lotion!