Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf, part 3

I wrote posts about my first adventure into project-based learning.  In case you missed them- Part 1, click here;  Part 2, click here.

Just a reminder of the project’s driving question:

As architects, what is the cheapest house we can build to protect the three little pigs from the Big, Bad Wolf?

The next part of the project involved designing a house for the three little pigs from the material list.  Before we designed houses, we needed to feel the force of the “Big, Bad Wolf.”  We tested out different materials with the hair dryer.  Most materials struggled with the hair dryer.  The students began discussing they needed a combination of materials to build a strong house.  We also went outside to see how a leaf blower affected the materials. (side note:  We will not be using the leaf blower until the closing event of the unit because the class feels most houses might crush under its force. )

leafblower test

I wanted each student to have time to think individually so they all spread out in the room to design individual plans. I asked them to label the designs with the materials needed for each part of the house.  I knew that coming together for one house design would be difficult as 2nd graders but it is a necessary life skill. COMPROMISE is a social skill that takes practice.  One of the benefits of project-based learning is learning to work as a group.

Here are some pictures of individual house designs:

House design 1

    House design 3house design 2


After finishing individual plans, each student met in their group to share their plans.  They talked about what strength each plan had and worked to create one group plan.

Here are the group plans:

Group 1 plan

Group 2 planGroup 3 plan

Group 4 planGroup 5 plan

The next day, the students had to estimate the cost of building the house. They had to figure out the cost of each item on a calculation sheet and then find the total estimated cost BEFORE they started building.   The sums grew large FAST!  Here is one example:

A group needed 24 craft sticks.  The craft sticks are $12 each. That’s a HUGE problem for 2nd graders.  Here’s how they solved it:  “We know that 1o twelves equal 120. We need to add 24 because we need two more 12’s which is 144.  Now we can double that answer to get 24 twelves.   144 + 144 = 288

How amazing! 🙂 Some groups need a little guidance for the larger sums but they were determined to find the total cost. They didn’t mind that it was hard to solve.

Here is one example of a completed estimated house cost.

calculation sheet


The next post, part 4, will be about building the houses and the Big, Bad Wolf test (hair dryer).

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf, Part 2

I am writing several posts about my first adventure into project-based learning.  If you missed Part 1, click here.

Just a reminder of the project’s driving question:

As architects, what is the cheapest house we can build to protect the three little pigs from the Big, Bad Wolf?

Before I started the project, I sent an email to my classroom parents to see if anyone was an architect or if they knew an architect.  I was pleased that one student had a relative who was one.  He lived in another state so we sent him a list of questions about architects and designing a building to protect against the wind.  He was AMAZING! He wrote us back and talked about the role of architect and how one would become an architect. Then he describes “wind loading” and how architects use angles and different roofs to help with wind.  He said  flat, hipped, and domed roofs were best.  On a side note, I learned a lot too. I did not know two terms: wind loading and hipped roof. I love learning new things! My students enjoyed that I was learning with them.

I did not want to tell the students what each roof looked like so during centers, one center was a research center. The students wrote down the terms: flat roof, domed roof, hipped roof and angled edges. They looked for images for each term and drew examples on their notes.  Here are pictures of a few students researching these new terms.  As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  It helped them so much to see examples. I knew this would help them later in their house designs.





After research, students were introduced to the building material menu and costs.  They were very interested in the materials and started discussing possible building plans right away. Here are a few pictures. Can you tell that they are discussing which materials would be best?




They were beyond excited.  After viewing the material menu, we reread the driving question and then each student worked on designing a house to share with their group the new day.  They were asked to include labels describing which materials they used for each part.  I will share house plans and the group designs along with the math work to show the estimated cost of building the house in the next post.

Click here for Part 3!

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf? Part 1

I have been reading books and researching sites about project-based learning for over a year but it wasn’t until a month ago that I implemented my first unit.   I participated in a summer book club from my school and  read the book PBL in the Elementary Grades by Buck Institute.  It is a GREAT book and helps break down pbl so you can plan a unit.  I decided to plan a unit around science and math. I saw  a few posts from kindergarten and first grade classrooms where they built houses and then used a hair dryer to act as the Big, Bad Wolf. I liked this idea but wanted to add 2nd grade science standards and also incorporate math in the unit.

By assigning a specific cost to each material, I knew I could naturally meet the CORE standard of adding within 1,000 and also work with understanding multiples.  I knew force and engineering would be integrated as well as how geometric shapes help with wind resistance.

While I had all of this planned, I was sort of lost on how to really start it.  That is why I love Twitter!  I was in a chat called #2ndchat. The topic was creating engaging science units and also collaborative projects.  I was so blessed when @lesahaney became interested in my pbl project.  I shared my overview and plans with her.  Later we skyped and the project EXPLODED into a much deeper unit.  We made our plans and she was so kind to answer all my questions about pbl.  I was excited!

Every year, my team teaches a fairy tale unit.  This tied in well with my pbl project! After reading The Three Little Pigs, we started discussing the houses.  They talked about the different materials the pigs built the houses from and also the wolf’s strong breath.  We talked about who designed houses which lead to a discussion about architects.

From there I posed the question:

As architects, what is the cheapest house we can build to protect the three little pigs from the Big, Bad Wolf?

I never imagined the journey we would take from that moment on…

Click here to read Part 2. 🙂 Until then, please visit my classroom twitter page @missmacsowls and Lesa’s classroom @2ndGrSuperStars page to see pictures and tweets about the project.

Here is one of my favorite pictures so far. Can you tell they are excited about the results of their house test?


Don’t Let that Little Twitter Bird Fool You!

Twitter_logo_blueI know that little blue bird looks cute and all but don’t let its size fool you. That twitter bird is powerful! Let me tell you what happened after I sent out a simple tweet!

I teach in one of the schools that ended up spending the night after the sudden snow/ice storm January 28th. We realized that we were going to be stranded so I sent out this tweet:

“Very exciting day. Some of us are still stranded at school. The kids are being real troopers. 🙂 I think they think it’s an adventure.”

Somehow CNN found our classroom twitter page. They quoted our tweet in their article.


BUT wait! That tweet was not finished yet!  I get called to the office the morning after our “surprise” sleepover and it is an assistant for Greta Van Susteren. She said the FOX news office has been following our tweets and wanted to interview me that night about the event. THIS STARTED FROM ONE TWEET!  

Tweets are powerful. Twitter is the most powerful and classroom-changing tool I know of. I know, I know, I was just like  you. When will I find time to use it? I don’t even understand it. How can it help me? I promise if you give it a chance, you won’t regret it. Here’s my story.

My twitter journey: 

I joined twitter several years ago. The first few months, twitter was mainly a resource to find new ideas and educational resources. That was amazing by itself. I was hooked and knew I found a place where I could grow as an educator. I knew my classroom and teaching practices would change and they have!

Then I slowly started interacting with a few of those I followed. I started sharing my classroom with the world. I watched a few chats. Yes, just watched or “lurked” as it is called.  I will be honest, I had no idea how anyone understood what was being said it was going so fast. HOWEVER, I saw retweets from chats and knew it was changing classrooms and teachers, so I kept trying.  All these years later, I cannot imagine teaching without my  PLN on twitter. I am now a moderator on #2ndchat (bi-weekly, Wed. @7pm central http://2ndchat.wikispaces.com). Imagine that! I was the one shaking my head at the speed of a chat and now I help moderate one!

Through the power of twitter, I see past limits I may have placed on myself and my students. Those walls are gone! I know if I have an idea, I will find someone on twitter that will not only support me but might join me in trying it!

In the past few years, I have collaborated with many amazing educators. Twitter is powerful and life changing for any educator who is willing to keep trying it.  My class joined global projects for all ages and global projects just for 2nd graders. We wrote and shared stories, compared science experiments, created and shared math problems,and we are currently working on a project-based learning unit with another class.

Could I have used these activities with just my individual class? Yes. Would the students have been interested and engaged? Yes. Did they benefit and learn more because it was a collaborative project? ABSOLUTELY!  My students learned more with other classrooms than they would have just within our four walls. We learned that other students can experience the exact same lesson but ask different questions, arrive at other solutions and in turn we learn them all.

How to start with twitter:

1. Just start.

  • It’s as simple as that. Create an account and write a short profile.
  • If you have a friend on twitter, ask them to help you find people to follow.
  • Search for your interests or grade level. @cybraryman1 has tons of resources about twitter. He has a list of educators that you can begin with. You will quickly add more. Here is his twitter PLN (Professional Learning Network) page: http://www.cybraryman.com/gradelevelpln.html

2. READ!

Sign on and read tweets of those you have followed. They will share resources, blog posts, lesson ideas and conversations with others you will want to follow. I just read for the first few weeks. I found many new ideas in one place and you will too!

3. Start a conversation!

If you have a question about a tweet or a shared idea, ASK!  Make sure you have their twitter name in the tweet or they will not know you are talking to them. You will notice the “reply arrow” under the tweet, just like in email.  It will automatically place their names in the tweet.

4. Share!

Did you do something cool in your room? Have you learned something new? Do you have a favorite website or app that helps your students learn? SHARE! We can learn from you!