Thursday, March 2, 2017

Walking for Polar Bears, Part 1: When Little Kids and Big Kids Collaborate

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that my littles love helping animals. Before Christmas, my JK students planned and executed a fantastic Reindeer Rescue Art and Craft Sale to adopt five reindeer from World Wildlife Fund Canada. And when they returned from Christmas holidays, their interest in and desire to help polar animals hadn't faded one bit. So when I received an email from WWF Canada about an upcoming polar bear walk (founded by a 7 year-old boy a few years ago), I knew without a doubt they'd be interested. What I didn't realize was just how big this project would grow to become and all the stakeholders who would join us!

I knew that my SK students had felt a bit sad when they heard all about the JK's reindeer project from them at daycare, so I decided that both JK and SK classes would be a part of our new polar bear project. The JKs asked the SKs if they would be interested in working on a polar bear walk project, then the SKs decided to Skype Mrs. Obach's Grade 1 class and ask them if they would like to join us too. When this project began in January, I had just started teaching pre-service teachers in the Faculty of Education at Brandon University. My kindergarten students were very interested in my "big kids", so I asked them if we should invite the big kids to help with the project. My JK class made a little video that we shared with my BU students and they agreed to work with us too! My big idea surrounding the project had two components: my little ones would engage in project-based learning to develop important skills, meet curricular outcomes, and make a difference in the world. My university students would monitor the evolution of the project through weekly updates and collaborate with our classes to plan a polar bear walk, increasing their comfort level with project-based learning. It worked beautifully!

The most powerful tool we used for our collaborative project-based learning was Microsoft OneNote (a web and app-based digital binder/notebook tool). With my kindergarten learners offering suggestions for the sections, I created a notebook for us to document and share our learning and plan our polar bear walk.  We shared our OneNote with Mrs. Obach's class and both of us were able to contribute a variety of content--photographs, links to resources, videos, and text. We were able to use the pens on our SMART Boards to print information into the OneNote as well, which was great for our beginning writers. Each day we began our learning by reviewing the facts and resources in the OneNote notebook, and it was a game-changing way for us to collaborate on such a large project. At university, I regularly shared the notebook to show the big kids what was happening in the project and discuss the learning taking place. This was the perfect way to build my big kids' knowledge of project-based learning, and demonstrate how it is such an effective approach for meeting the needs of diverse learners.
As it often is, knowledge construction was a key component of the project. We needed to learn all we could about polar bears, understand what was happening in Canada's north, and find out how we could help them. We read books and watched videos, recording important facts in our OneNote. A video call with Andy McKiel and Mrs. Obach's class was especially enlightening. Mr. McKiel had spent a week in and around Churchill and had a wealth of knowledge and stunning photographs to share with us. As always, Skype was an important tool in our project-based learning. We had regular video calls with Mrs. Obach's class to share our knowledge and plan the walk.
My SK students used Duck Duck Moose's Draw and Tell app to share their emerging understandings of polar bears. Check out the sample below.
As we built understanding about polar bears and the challenges they face, our project splintered in two directions. The JK students were really interested in investigating why the ice is melting, and I was really impressed by their insights. (Why don't we just use cold water and make more ice for polar bears? If the ice is melting, it must be because it is getting hot in the Arctic. Why is it getting hot?) We did some research and learned that garbage and pollution are making "bad air" that is causing the earth to heat up. These higher temperatures are melting the ice. The JK students made the connection that helping the earth helps polar bears! They decided to make a video to encourage others to help the earth to help polar bears. Green Screen by Do Ink and Pixabay were invaluable in creating our video. We included the big kids from BU in our video as well as the SK class, and we used Do Ink to green-screen a variety of copyright-free background images from Pixabay.

The SKs decided to scale up our impact and raise more money and awareness for polar bears. Since time was of the essence, I went with their first idea--let's sell Timbits! We decided to sell two Timbits and a white ribbon pin that people could wear to show their support of polar bears for a toonie. In 20 minutes, we sold out and raised $100 to add to our polar bear walk fundraising! Although this was a quick little activity, we fit in a ton of learning.
-shared writing to draft a letter home to families
-printing signs
-surveying classrooms to find out how many students in each and recording the numerals
-cutting our notes in half, counting the correct amount for each class, and labelling them with the correct number and grade
-using non-standard measurement (cubes) to measure the length of each ribbon
-developing scissor skills as we cut 50 pieces of ribbon
-oral language skills as we worked at our sale
-counting the toonies by 2s and loonies by 1s to see how much money we raised
Throughout this process we planned our walk...which was not without a few challenges! Learn more in a future post.

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