"I hate this stu…..yes! Army books!"

Remember I said that I can’t handle projects longer than 4-5 weeks? I mean it. March was jobs month in fourth grade. A unit I’ve been planning for nine months. And, I think it came off fairly well. I’m here sharing about it and one of my philosophies is that if you survived it, something about it must have been good.

I wanted the kids to do an integrated, but simple research project. It started as a musical idea related to work songs, like sea shantys.

Five week limit.

So I went to “jobs across the state” and ditched the music integration. The idea was to explore a bit of history, economics, culture and to open up the topic to things that interest the students. I made a research guide that asked four basic questions: why does our state need people doing this job? what skills and training are needed to do this job? where in the state is this job done? (region, city size), and to explain the historical context of the job if applicable.

I checked out a slew of books from the library. I could say a lot about the public library. Maybe later. I should keep track of these ‘maybe later’ blog post ideas…..I’m still new to this! (I hope I’m doing okay here….) Sorry, off topic.

So at the public library I’m very comfortable navigating and getting what I need, but when one of the delightful ladies asked what I was up to and if she could help, I accepted. I’m glad I did, because the unit wasn’t fully formed at the time and she had a lot of great job suggestions. I basically checked out tons (at least 60) job books. Traditional such as community helpers (fire fighters). Common, but not often discussed in school (beautician). From the past (colonial dressmaker). And then I started to dig a bit deeper…..farmers, engineers, and my big success: military!

I say this was a success because the week before this project started I clued the kids in about the upcoming research project and I got “I hate this stupid school. I’m not coming next week.”


Next week arrives and I start passing out the books and research guides. The directions were simple. Keep passing the books and when a topic looks good, write it down on your research guide.

“Cool! Army books!”

I am a hero. And it wasn’t a disaster.

I’m also long-winded…..this will probably go into two parts. Which is good because I’ll take the pictures I want on Monday. So the kids use their research guide to list their topic, potential resources, and describe the product. They also review the scoring rubric. Listing the resource ideas was a bit of a review step. I knew we were using all text for this project, but we’ve discussed the idea of possible sources so much I wanted to see what they would remember. They started to answer the questions and there were some questions from them. And some students who tried to answer without actually reading. And those that did read. And the one who crumpled her paper and said she wasn’t doing it. You know–a regular class of fourth graders in March when they start blooming right along with the daffodils.

Two weeks wasn’t long enough. Because that’s only 40 minutes of work time. I wish I had the time to go deep enough. I wish I were brave enough to MAKE the time to go deeper. But I don’t want to interfere in precious classroom time that is so heavily scheduled. That’s another issue. We took two weeks to use the books and find answers to the questions. I was fine with simple sentences. These classes are two that struggle with self-monitoring and self-control. The fact that I didn’t have “I hate this stupid school,” in the environment was a win.

The last two weeks of the unit students worked on their product. They had to do something, again, very simple. On a 5×8 card they needed a title, border, paragraph and picture. It took two weeks for most of the students to complete. A few faster and a few still not finished. And a few who lost their paper and started over with bitter complaints.

I’m considering breaking my five week rule. I feel like the unit still needs some depth that I didn’t tap during the research weeks. I would like to debrief the unit and discuss, but that’s not the structure of class that this group of students will benefit from. I might just have to let it go and call it good and hope that my individual conversations with students are enough.

More on the product next post–I’m kind of proud of it!

April 8, 2011
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