On Thursday, I read A Caribou Journey to the class. I did not show the cover or any pictures and asked my students to visualize as I read. Then they used black paper and drawing chalk to show what they visualized. I think they are beautiful!
What happens when you don't put a cap on what young children can learn and understand? You are astounded by their skills and knowledge, that's what. Today, we looked at the Iditarod site to check in on our mushers. We decided to cruise around together as a class and check out other things on the site. One of the things we came across was the Analytics View tab within the GPS tracking. At first glance a person could think that this information was too high level for first graders but I know the level of engagement of my kids and so I took a leap of faith. I showed them Aaron Burmeister's data. We made some assumptions about what it was showing us. We looked mostly at elevation (blue) and speed (green). Then I showed them the data from the musher I am following, Aliy Zirkle. I talked about what I could surmise from the data. Afterwards I gave each group a paper copy of the data for their musher and asked them to sit together and discuss what they could assume based on what they were seeing. I asked each group to find 2 ideas to share with the class and to choose people to speak on their behalf. Once they had the time to review the data and come up with the group's 2 ideas, they presented their thoughts to the class. Their videos are below. I could not believe the ideas they had developed and shared. (Just a reminder: these are first graders who have never seen this kind of data in this kind of format prior to today.) I was so proud of them!
Life is funny. You plug along, doing the best you can and then suddenly a wonderful opportunity knocks on your door. I am so glad I was home when the opportunity to learn and teach about the Iditarod came knocking on my door. I grabbed the opportunity with glee and began searching and planning (and planning and planning) for an in depth unit of study for my first graders. My thoughts in the beginning were about comparing Alaska and Texas, looking at cultural differences, making connections, the race, and of course the dogs. The dogs! That was the hook I needed. Who could resist the dogs? Little did I know at the time, that the information I was learning as I planned would be a minute amount compared to what I would learn while in Alaska. Now that I am back, I want a do over. I want to start this unit of study again but I guess that is what next year is for.
Then something amazing happens in my classroom today. We are tracking our mushers. I am sharing information with the students about why mushers are scratching. We look at the GPS tracking and pictures and standings. We look at the analytics info on the website and talk about speed and rest time. My kids are engaged. They are taking all of it in. But are they understanding? Are they retaining it? Come by and see for yourself. Ask one of them a question and you'll see they are getting it. We've talked about problems and how the mushers have to be creative in solving their problems while out on the trail. We've talked about mushers and the qualities of their character. Sonny Linder came upon Aaron Buermeister out on the trail. Buermeister had dislocated his knee. Linder stopped to help him create a make shift brace so he could get into the next checkpoint. Linder didn't have to stop and help. He could have gone on by. The kids immediately made connections to our Lend a Hand traits. Other mushers have had parts of their sleds break along the trail and had to come up with ways to fix their problems all alone in the wilderness. Being brave, ingenious and willing to persevere through a problem are things my kids are learning from these mushers. But they are also learning that sometimes the best choice is to give up, for your own safety.
The kids think they are learning about mushing, Alaska, dogs, Arctic animals, and the Iditarod, but what they are actually learning are bigger ideas. They are learning about setting a goal and working towards it. They are learning about the importance of helping others even when that might interfere with achieving your own goal. They are learning about problem solving. They are learning about caring for animals and making the right choices for the safety of animals, as well as people. They are learning life skills that will serve them well in years to come. How cool is that? I'd love to say I planned it that way, but...
I am a first grade teacher and I am so excited to participate in this project with my colleagues.