The Snowflake

A simple snowflake will drive our learning journey through the next eight days until Christmas holidays. Doug Peterson’s blog post “Coding Snowflakes” gave me the inspiration! Feel free to follow along with us. I’ll update this document  with all of the Ontario Curriculum expectations we’ll cover as our journey unfolds. 

Today, as the students entered the classroom at 9:05, snowflakes were falling (on the SMARTBoard). It’s been too cold to snow outside! The conversation led to snowflakes and many questions came to light (many of which I did not have the answer to). I posed the question: “What is a snowflake” and the journey began! Some students conversed, some went immediately to the laptop cart, and some asked for paper to record their thinking. After five minutes the kids were fully immersed in their learning. At this point, our principal, Don Grant popped in for his morning visit and I had the kids share their learning. Conversations arose about the water cycle, global warming, ice crystals, the atmosphere, and a scientist. The kids were “digging deep”, inquiring, questioning, sharing and learning… and so were Don and I.

It was time to consolidate some of their learning. I encouraged the students to open up a new Google Slide deck and summarize their new learning into one paragraph titled “What is a Snowflake”. At 9:45, Madame Erdman arrived, it was time for French! After arriving back from French, my students helped to edit this blog post and read Mr. Peterson’s blog post as well. They can’t wait to code their own snowflakes! 

After indoor recess (it’s -30 in Thunder Bay) we headed down to the gym for some (snowless) floor hockey. Upon returning to the classroom, we watched this video on “The Science of Snowflakes”.  The students continued to take jot notes to help them understand how snow flakes are formed. They also started to recognize all of the math (symmetry, angles, shapes, patterns) that can be found in snowflakes. We discussed the term “randomness” versus order and patterns.

During second indoor recess the kids had their first attempts at creating their own paper snowflakes:

 and after recess they began to compile their jot notes and research into a short report title “What is a Snowflake”:

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Finally, to end the day the kids tried their hand at coding their own snowflakes:

After finding just the right background for their “favourite” snowflake creation, the students were able to select an appropriate setting and watch their snowflakes magically fall. They sent me their creations via Google Classroom and tomorrow they’ll surprise their parents with a holiday “flakey” email!

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Day 2

Today we started the day with the kids self selecting Snowflake poems. We talked about the importance if narrowing our Google searches and using text features to help us filter the number of poems we have available to us. The kids read a number of poems for enjoyment and took screen shots of the ones that most “resonated” with them. They did a pair-share and many great discussions came to light.  As we discussed their poems as large groups and within smaller groups, it was incredibly rewarding to hear how rich the conversations were and how deeply the students were digging for meaning.An incidental Christian Living lesson transpired as may of the students had picked this poem:screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-6-38-28-pm

The kids were now ready to respond to their reading. They returned to their assignment in Google Classroom and quickly got down to work.screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-6-45-22-pm

The kids are just finishing up their edits. Watch for updates coming soon!

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In math, we continued our investigations of snowflakes and their geometric properities:

Day 3

This morning before school I received this tweet

which would become a key resource for my procedural reading snowflake idea for the afternoon. We finished our final edits of our Snowflake poem responses 

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and the kids pair-shared their work. As they finished and handed their work into Google classroom, they tried their hand again at coding snow flakes. They have quickly become more skilled!

In math, we shared our geometric and mathematical findings when investigating our shared snowflake..

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Finally, to end Day 3 of our “Snowflake Inquiry”, I challenged my kids with the following assignment:

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I kept my mouth closed, circulated, observed and didn’t say a word. It was great to watch the kids select which tools they would use to help them create their snowflake. I watched problem solving, collaboration, team work, reading for understanding, trial and error, risk taking, innovation, use of multiple tools and multiple platforms. When kids struggled, others helped. A big “ahah” was when I heard many times “You need to read the instructions carefully”! Below are their final products!

Day 4

It snowed today! So I began the morning with the following tweet as “food for thought”:

As the kids read the provocation on the SMART Board, they naturally began to discuss, do some rough calculations in the math notebooks and ask questions. The bait was set and the kids took it, hook, line and sinker. What followed was a day long math inquiry.

I had the students start by making a reasonable prediction based on their schema about snowflakes and the world around them…

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I was impressed by their reasoning and ability to use their common sense to arrive at estimates ranging from a couple of minutes to 3-4 hours. They considered such variables as wind speed, the mass of the snowflake, the stages of a snowflake and the relative position of clouds from the ground.

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Next, I discussed with my students the information they would require to help solve the question more accurately.screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-11-19-33-pm

They worked in pairs to brainstorm the information they required and I challenged my students to arrive at only two questions that we could Google the answer for.We gathered on the carpet and the kids pitched their questions, while I recorded (many of the students had the same questions). Upon compiling a list of potential questions, I had my students each vote on the two questions they believed they needed the answers to the most.

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With “How fast does snow fall?”  being the most popular, we Googled the first question.

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The first search result proved helpful, but we continued to read a few more webpages to confirm the information presented to us. Many great incidental math learning opportunities evolved. We reviewed range, what 95% looked like, what mass meant and what surface area was. We also converted feet to meters and someone asked if a foot was one third of a meter, which led to a discussion on fractions

The students proceeded to record their new learning (information) on their sheet of paper. Most had a solid understand that a snowflake travels at an average rate of 1 meter per second to 2 seconds. 

At this point, I thought, to help move our learning forward, I’d pose a simpler question, and so on the back of their paper, the kids added this question: If it was possible, how long would it take for a snowflake to fall from the ceiling to he floor in our classroom? Prove it. The students were able to quickly estimate the height of our ceiling to be 9-10 feet or 3 meters and solved the question. This would create content as we moved toward solving the “bigger” question.

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Now that the kids were ready for the answer to their second question: “How far is a snow cloud from the ground?” This answer wasn’t as easily found. Together we did a lot of Googling, researching and discussing. Our math investigation turned to an mini lesson on different types of clouds and latitudes. After understanding that snow clouds are typically “Nimbostratus” clouds. The following graphics proved helpful:

I had the students arrive at their own conclusions and record their new learning (information). Most came to the conclusion that most snow clouds are 1500-2000m above the earth’s surface. 

After almost two full blocks dedicated to solving our problem (with the exception of a French class, gym and short body break), it was time for lunch. I debated whether I’d continue with our math challenge into the last block. Part of me really wanted to as the class was on a roll, but I was worried about the kids hitting a “math wall”. I decided I’d play it by ear and get a sense of my students after lunch.

They came back in seemingly ready, willing and WANTING to solve their problem. The snow outside was falling, the time seemed right. I let the kids have at it…

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I really thought they’d have no problem with the question. Boy was I wrong! As I circulated to listen to their math talk and overlook their calculations some kids were arriving at the conclusion that snow would take 30- 50 seconds to fall 2000 meter to the ground while others thought it might take 4-5 hours! Yikes! I let them struggle… but not a lot of progress. They were hitting a wall. Their math brains were shutting down.

It was time for a little brain break.. and perhaps time to move on. We did 10 minutes of “Calm” mindfulness and during that time I debated my next move. I had the kids gather at the front of the SMART Board and reviewed what we already knew; how fast snow travels very second (1-2 meters) and how high in the sky clouds were found (1000-2000m). We also reviewed that it would take 3-6 seconds for snow to travel from our 3 meter ceiling to the floor.  I asked how long it would take for snow to fall 100 m. The kids thought out loud “100 seconds”… “200 seconds” “That’s 1 minute 40 seconds”, someone said. Light bulbs! Wait time…. “Ya and… 200 seconds equals….” “Hold it Grace”, I said. “Give your classmates time.” Wait time…. more light bulbs. More hands went up. Then I said “If snow falls at a rate of 1 meter a second, it will take 100 seconds or 1 minute 40 seconds. If it falls at a rate of 1 meter per 2 seconds it will take 200 minutes or…..” “3 minutes 20 seconds”, (many) of the kids yelled. 

They were ready to go back to their calculations. “Ok, I think the clouds are 1800 meters in the air, snow travels at 1 meter a second, that’ll take 1800 seconds. I need to divide that by 60 to find out how many minutes that is”. BOOM!  I circulated…”Mr.C, we say it’s 45 minutes” ” We’re going with 55 minutes because 1100 m times 3 seconds equals 3300seconds divide 60 equals 55 minutes!”  SWEET! It was now 3:00, many light bulbs were shining and the kids were DONE!

Is was time to regroup and read them …… “The Snowflake”.

Days 5 and 6

After a great day of math (and reading, writing and Science) I figured I’d switch gears and challenge the kids to take the perspective of a falling snowflake and write about their journey as they travelled towards Bethlehem to witness Jesus’ birth. I told the kids that I wanted them to be creative, use their new understanding of snowflakes, their understanding of the nativity story, technology and the many other tools they had available to them. My “vision” was to have my students create a story that they could share with their family  this Christmas morning and perhaps for years to come!

The kids were excited, eager and enthusiastic! Some went immediately to the laptop cart to research and read about the nativity story, others opened a Google Doc and began their introduction, a few took a piece of large paper and began brainstorming, others started to sketch and some sat and discussed. Some elected to work in pairs and many wanted to tackle this project on their own.The kids were productive and engaged. The first block quickly flew by and as my students returned after first Nutrition Break, they all got back down to work and so I let them go….

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I circulated to listen, observe, give feedback and question to push my students thinking. What stuck me was that many students decided to start with their illustrations first, many electing to use pastels. Many students were using Google images to gain inspiration for their own illustrations while others were using YouTube to get step by step art tutorials. Kids were taking pictures of their illustrations in Photo Booth and then photo editing their work in “Photos”.  I was impressed to hear the kids talking about the importance of their introduction to “hook” the reader. I had to reel some of my students in as many were getting so caught up in their journey through the Solar system (yes they recognized that this would not be possible if they were a snowflake, but we decided that their stories could have some fictional elements). The kids were all over the map when it came to completing their task but whatever they were doing was working for them and I was there to support and guide them. 

The second block blurred into the third and the kids were eager to continue working. At this point I had to remind each all of the students of the main purpose of the task: to tell the story of Jesus’ birth. I had a few students share where they were “at” (some shared their written introductions, others talked out their story lines while a number of students shared their illustrations to help tell their story) and collectively, the class gave feedback. At some point we did some mindfulness (using Calm) and body breaks (using Go Noodle). The kids were excited for me to circulate with both my camera and phone to document and share their learning.

The kids continued to write and illustrate their stories the following day. I noticed  how seamlessly Reading, Writing, Art, Media Literacy, Science  and Christian Living were all being covered during this time. The process continued throughout most of day 6. I judged the kids energy, focus and engagement and gave them “breaks” by working in  physical education, their independent reading, mindfulness and body breaks and mPower (a math game that is self paced and self directed, based on the Ontario Curriculum math expectations). The day flew by and the kids progress was steady. I was confident they would finish this large project in time for Christmas so they could share their wonderful stories with their parents!

Day 7

Today was crunch time! It was time for the elves to get busy and finish up their virtual books by the end of the day so I could give them my final feedback and they could make their final edits on Friday (the day before holidays). I received this tweet when I arrived at school:

So we started the day with a great non fiction read aloud which led to more discussions about innovations, science and biographies. 

As the day progressed and the students started to finish their stories, the kids did some pair sharing and shared feedback. i provided feedback on sticky notes and directly within student’s Google slides. Some were getting very close to finishing, so we gathered around the SMART Board to have students share their stories with the intent of providing a few good models. The kids worked for the better part of the day (with some well needed “breaks” worked in) to complete their Snowflake Adventure stories. One individual completed his final edit after receiving feedback and asked if he might be able to colour print his story at home to gift his parents with a paper copy of the book as well. I was confident that my students would meet the Friday deadline as the day ended.

Day 8

My kids returned for the last day and one student handed me his paper copy, colour  printed book:

He was so proud to share it with his classmates. They were all now more motivated than ever to complete their own books so they could share them with their parents on Christmas morning! By the end of the day, all of my students had completed their stories in Google Slides. Many of the kids shared their stories with one another and they were excited to share the with their parents, family and friends! I love the fact that my students will be able to share their stories for years to come!

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Merry Christmas!

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About mrcameron14

I am a Grade 6 teacher of 18 years in Thunder Bay Ontario, Canada. Passionate about sharing with teachers throughout the world. Teaching students how to use technology 4 good and to make a positive difference in the world. Apple Distinguished Educator 2013, SMART Exemplary Educator 2013, Google Educator 2015.
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One Response to The Snowflake

  1. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs | doug --- off the record

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