We Made it Xi'an!
Last Wednesday, we mounted the camels one last time and headed through the Jade Gates to Xi'an. We passed through the Gobi desert and faced only one sandstorm (a roll of 1 on our 20 sided die) and then saw a long wall rising on the horizon - a great wall had been erected almost 1000 years earlier by Qin Shi Huang to keep away the barbarians of the North and now it shepherded us safely to the end of our long trip. We had reached Xi'an.
I was not expecting the excitement of the students as their characters neared Xi'an. When we finally arrived their were shouts and exuberant hugs. Imagination is such a powerful tool when students explore history, especially students who are straddling the developmental gap between concrete and abstract thinking. By "being there" they are able to think much more profoundly about the events and cultures they are encountering. When I returned to the classroom, I found this on the white board:
This message had been written in the very busy 5 minutes we had had to get ready for the bus (our camels were a little sluggish over the last miles of the steppe.)
The Four Treasures
One of the things we discovered in Dunhuang was mulberry bark paper. In Charlemagne's court, we have only ever written on animal skins, a very expensive material. Only the very, very rich have books. Here, however, books are fairly common - they are printed with wood blocks on this new material that is made from pulp.
Today we learned about calligraphy and the four treasures of ink, inkstone, brushes and paper. We tried our hand at "making the ink sing." It was a very focused hour for the Herons and they really enjoyed experimenting with brush strokes - many found it liberating to make sweeping, single strokes instead of the type of painting they usually do.
40 Kids and a Truck
Amy N. suggested this as a name for the moving company that we think the Herons and Robins should start. This morning, they moved the Robins back into their classroom in ten minutes! They were all business, working together to move tables, chairs, books and boots back into their upstairs home. It was a lot of fun to watch.
We had an opportunity to do some head scratching geometry on Monday. We watched a video about the discovery of a topological oddity named the "tri-hexaflexagon" by Arthur H. Stone, the math student who stumbled upon the shape while fiddling during a math class.
Vi Hart made the video. I love it because she acts out the different people who find out about the strange shape and start thinking about it and playing with the idea. They even form a club. This spirit of discovery and wonder is something that kids need to feel when they work with math and here it is modeled for them with hand puppets. (It's better than it sounds.) I also had the chance to learn along with the students. I played with the shape this weekend, trying to learn it well enough to teach it to the class. But the more complex hexahexaflexagon, I didn't learn well enough to teach. Instead, I invited students who were interested to watch the video and puzzle it out with me. It's important for them to see me struggle with math and I make sure that I hold my head and smile while saying, "This hurts my brain!" after my third failure. When we finally did figure it out there was a palpable sense of triumph and I've seen many a hexaflexagon being made sense.
Oh, and We Started 4th Grade Projects
We are off and running on personal projects. We use notecards in fourth and fifth grade to keep track of our information. Students learn how to put just one piece of information on a note card and how to code the card so they know where the information came from.
We stress the importance of honoring the people whose work you have used to learn and students add to a simple resources list as they research.
We also learn how to use the text features of a non-fiction book like an index, sub headings, captions and the table of contents to find information quickly. On the flip side, I also stress to kids that just because their exact topic is not the title of a book doesn't mean there is no information in it for them. One often has to dig a little and be flexible to find useful information.