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posted: Fri, Jun 19th, 2015
Kailee Coyle's redesigned state seal

A mission from the governor

Governor Chris Christie tasked fourth graders who have studied New Jersey to develop a new state seal, as well as a state song, poem or pledge that highlights important aspects of our state. Using the online presentation website Glogster, students used their knowledge of the state’s regions, famous people, inventions, cities, industry and history to create new seals and write letters to the governor that justified their choices.

That was the problem-based assignment that fourth-graders at Tinc Road recently completed.

“New Jersey really does have a rich history and it’s important that kids are aware of it,” said teacher Joy Spevak. “Before you start talking about other countries [in the later grades], you need to learn about home first.”

The project was designed to improve the writing and research skills of students, allow students to apply the social studies information they learned, and incorporate technology into the curriculum.

Students were immersed in the project for a variety of reasons.

“I didn’t know that there are about 500 cities in New Jersey,” said Anthony Brutico, “or that New Jersey had such a big part in the Revolutionary War.” Anthony’s seal included an image of George Washington, he explained, because the future president’s Delaware River crossing and surprise attack on the forces in Trenton are among the war’s most famous and pivotal moments.

Kailee Coyle, like Anthony, also enjoyed using technology to learn and create. 

“I liked the computer part and making the seal and writing the business letter [to the governor],” Kailee said. “Glogster was fun and you could keep playing with colors, backgrounds, and pictures to get exactly what you wanted.”

The projects and other writing work of the students were presented to parents during the school’s Writing Rocks celebration in early June. 

Anthony Brutico's seal


Change For A Change 

Laura Iacampo’s third–graders had just started reading “Surviving Mount Everest,” a chronicle about a young man’s attempts to scale the tallest mountain on Earth. Then, the second deadly earthquake of the spring struck Nepal. The 7.3 quake was considered an aftershock to the temblor that hit on April 25 and devastated the country, causing widespread building damage and triggering two avalanches including one on Everest itself.

On the class’ SmartBoard, the students compared photos of Nepal and capital city Kathmandu before and after the quakes. (Photos of some of the same historic locales that the students saw appeared in their textbooks.)

Touched by the crisis, the students wanted to help. Mrs. Iacampo and the other third grade teachers – Laura Campione, Kathy Diefes, and Suzanne Murphy – created Change For Change, a fundraiser to benefit the American Red Cross’ Nepal relief efforts. The students collected loose change over the course of three weeks and collected nearly $400.

“The students were thinking about others in their time of need and wanted to reach out in some way,” said Mrs. Iacampo. “It didn’t matter to them that they were on the other side of the globe. The kids learned that a little effort by many people can really add up. When I announced to my class how much money we had raised in total, one student was so moved she started to cry.”

Mrs. Iacampo made counting the money in the classroom’s change jar a class math project. Students were divided up into coin groups – pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters – and put their math skills to practical use.


Learning words to live by

Pam Sexton’s fifth-graders are wise beyond their years. Each has a favorite quote or adage about living life. If you think that 11-year-olds are too young to find sayings that resonate with them you'd be very wrong.

A bulletin board outside Ms. Sexton’s classroom shows each student’s favorite saying and a brief description of what that quote means to him or her. On the surface it looks like a project that could be done in one or two days. In reality it’s part of a series of lessons that has been going on for two years. 

Ms. Sexton has had most of the kids in her class for two straight years. When they advanced from the fourth grade in June of 2014, she cycled up with them to teach them in the fifth grade too.

As fourth graders, she had the students read “Wonder,” a best-seller published in 2012 that skillfully addresses themes such as bullying and the power of understanding, friendship, and resilience. The story follows August, a boy with a facial malformation who begins attending public school in the fifth grade after years of home schooling. (It’s such an emotional and inspirational journey that many of Ms. Sexton’s students encouraged other friends and family members to read the book themselves.)

One of the teachers in “Wonder” often wrote on the blackboard short precepts – rules or principles written simply (usually poetically) that motivate or serve to teach good behavior. From that concept spawned the companion book to “Wonder” called “365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne's Book of Precepts.” 

Ms. Sexton, continuing the enthusiasm in “Wonder” from last year, discussed a different precept from “365 Days” in class every day. Students recorded the daily words of wisdom in precept journals and chose favorite ones each week to write about. The most popular precepts from the year made it onto the bulletin board for the whole school to see. 

“I really think the precepts set the tone for the classroom environment,” said Ms. Sexton. “Writing about their favorite precept each week inspires students to reflect on their behavior and encourages them to be kind human beings and improve the world.” 

Donae Beckford’s favorite precept is “Life is like an ice cream cone. You have to take it one lick at a time.” It’s something that she thinks about often.

“If I’m having a bad day, I try to remember tomorrow is another day,” Donae said. “And I try to always enjoy the cone.”

The whole experience of reading “Wonder” and working with the precepts was a strong one that the whole class enjoyed. All the fifth-graders were excited to find words that spoke to them in very personal and individual ways. “I think it means a lot to all of us,” said Cooper Anderson. “It could change our lives.”

Other favorite precepts of the kids included:

“If you dream it, be it.”

 “Hope is like the sun. When it’s behind clouds, it’s not gone. You just have to find it.”

“If Plan ‘A’ doesn't work, just remember: The alphabet has 25 more chances.”

“Don’t just go with the flow, takes some dares through the rapids.”

“I’d rather live a life of ‘Oh wells” then a life of ‘What ifs.”

 


Creating their own worlds 

These were worlds straight from the dreams (and occasionally nightmares) of Tinc Road second-graders. The students recently developed maps of their own landforms. It was a creative opportunity for second-graders to apply what they had learned in social studies about geographical features (e.g., mountains, rivers, islands, etc.) and reading a map. 

The lands that the kids thought up included such exotic locales as Ice Cream Land, Candy World, Creepy World, and Technoworld.

Students worked in groups of three or four to complete their projects. Each group chose a theme and decided on the names of geographic elements that were related to the theme. After sketching out their concepts, the students then used color pencils to create their final maps – each of which measured 28" X 22”.

Each map also had to have a key with at least seven geographical features clearly listed. There was Black Raspberry River on the southeast coast of Ice Cream Land, and Chocolate Fudge Lake to the west. Candyliscious had Jelly Bean Beach, which sat on the southern edge of the vast Twizzler Plains. Not bad places to visit at all.

You should, however, reconsider your travel plans to Creepy World unless you’re looking for the adrenalin-pumping danger of facing Werewolf Mountains, Skeleton Beach, and Spider Hills.

Besides allowing students to apply their knowledge and have some fun, the project also provided them with the opportunity to work cooperatively.

“So many activities today such as working on tablet computers and playing video games are done alone,” said teacher Cristina DiMaggio. “This assignment was a way for students to work together with their peers in small groups. Learning how to be a part of an effective team is an essential skill for all students to have.”

The completed landform posters were displayed outside the second grade classrooms.

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