Ben’s Bird

Standard Met: McREL K–4 History Standard 4 (Understands how democratic values came to be and how they have been exemplified by people, events, and symbols)

What You Need: Books or computers for researching facts

What To Do: When studying our history, students learn about American symbols, including the bald eagle. Before a lesson on the bald eagle’s symbolism, explain that Founding Father Benjamin Franklin had strong feelings about which bird (not the eagle!) should represent the country.

Pair students and ask them to brainstorm which bird he might have chosen, providing two or three reasons to support their answers. (A student might say: “Ben Franklin would have voted for the pigeon because they’re very common in America.”) After every group has shared its pick, reveal Franklin’s choice for the national bird: the turkey! Tell students that in a letter to his daughter, Sarah, in 1784, he wrote that the turkey is respectable and a true U.S. native. Then, explain that in this lesson, students will learn which bird was chosen to represent our country, and why. With this simple but effective introduction, students will be primed to learn about and remember the significance of the bald eagle. Use this model to pique interest in any unit by opening with a fun fact.

Mapping Our Eccentricities

Standard Met: McREL Geography Standard 1 (Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies)

What You Need: Paper maps of the United States, a list of locations

What To Do: Did you know that there are actual towns with names like Chicken (in Alaska) and Boring (in Oregon)? Asking students to locate wacky places like these adds flair to mapping practice. As students work in pairs or small groups, give them clues about a location or place names, and ask them to race to pinpoint the spot on their map. For example, clues for Chicken might include: The state this town is in has a longer coastline than all the other states’ coastlines combined. If students have learned about latitude and longitude, they could use coordinates to find the exact location of Chicken, Alaska. As they work, kids will learn to read maps fluently, describe relative and absolute locations, and gain a general familiarity with geography.

Digging Up History

Standard Met: McREL K–4 History Standard 7 (Understands select attributes and historical developments of societies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe)

What You Need: For the dig site: wooden frame, sand or soil, artifacts. For the excavation: sieves, brushes, tweezers, plastic spoons, magnifying glasses. For the documentation: clipboards, tape measures, cameras.

What To Do: Imagine the thrill of excavating a copy of a Book of the Dead that describes how to travel through the Egyptian underworld. Ann Moetteli, a gifted and talented specialist for grades 3–5 in the Friendswood Independent School District in Texas, dreamed up the idea of an archaeology dig. With wood and sand donated from local businesses, artifacts from friends and parents, and hours of labor from volunteers, Moetteli now sets up four dig sites every year: ancient Egypt, Pompeii, Colonial Williamsburg, and Utah’s Dinosaur Park.

She divides students into four groups, one for each site. Students use sieves, brushes, tweezers, and plastic spoons to unearth artifacts. After measuring, weighing, and documenting each discovery, they draw conclusions about what the artifacts suggest about the people, geography, and time period. Each group then presents its discoveries to the larger group.

Skype Sleuths

Standard Met: McREL Geography Standard 1

What You Need: A computer with Skype installed

What To Do: During a Mystery Skype game, two classrooms in different locations schedule a time to talk using Skype. The goal? To guess, through clues, where the other class is from.

Ask each class to introduce its location with a few fun facts. For example, a class in Arizona might share that the U.S. Postal Service still uses mules to reach two remote areas in their state. Students vote for the weirdest fact, and the winning class gets a reward, such as the chance to ask the first question or an extra clue from the other team.

At Raymore Elementary School in Missouri, second-grade teacher Kristin Mason sets up Mystery Skype games regularly. She finds classrooms to play with by searching for the hashtag #mysteryskype on Twitter or by searching on Skype’s website. The classes take turns asking each other yes or no questions to enable them to guess the other class’s location. Mason provides question cards to help her students decide which questions to ask. The cards give prompts such as “Does your state border another country?” and “Does your state have two words in its name?”

In addition to bolstering students’ geography and social skills, Mason sees improvements in critical thinking, listening, and the ability to compare and contrast.

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Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock (turkey, flag bowtie); Getty Images/Thinkstock (glasses)