Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Vincent Van Gogh, Constellations & Coordinate Graphs

Sometimes, our students give us the best ideas. We were mucking through our solar system unit in science, reading about how the night sky is charted, when Charlie said, "This kind of reminds me of how we graph points."

I love moments like this. It's like everything kind of slows down, and our brains begin to connect the dots (no pun intended). Charlie's response was the catalyst for this project. To this day, he likes to say that he added the spice to our fifth grade coordinate graphing unit. And he would be right. 

I went home that night and began to pull resources together for a multi-disciplinary project. There was one Common Core State Standard that had been causing grief...

5.G.A.2 Graph points on the coordinate plane to solve real-world and mathematical problems. 

It was the "real world" part that perplexed me. The next week, we got down to business. We began by reading about Vincent Van Gogh. I chose this artist because "Starry Night" is a painting that most students recognize, and I wanted to bring our study of constellations into the math class. I found two children's books that did a nice job.
In Katie and the Starry Night, a young girls visits famous paintings. When she view's Van Gogh's "Starry Night," the stars come tumbling out of the painting. She experiences the painting as she attempts to round up the rogue stars.

In Vincent Can't Sleep, readers experience the night sky through Vincent's sleepless eyes. This book explores how Vincent's lifelong insomnia provided inspiration for one of his greatest works. 

In addition, we read a straight biographical sketch that I wrote about Van Gogh. 
After reading the books, biography and a quotation biography that I created for my students, students responded to the readings by using the Step Inside thinking routine. You can read more about that here.

We also spent some time observing "Starry Night" up close and personal using our SMART board, so it would be projected big enough for us to notice small details. 

Later on in the week, we researched different constellations. We extended our science learning a bit and read about some of the myths associated with the constellations. I created constellation cards for my students to use. I also curated a list of websites about constellations and uploaded them in our Google Classroom site. 

Finally, we were ready to begin reviewing our coordinate graphing concepts. We practice graphing X and Y coordinate data and applying increase and decrease rules to that data. Students accepted a commission from a wealthy patron who wanted a night sky with one constellation picture created for her home. It must be inspired by Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night."  My kids chose a favorite constellation and graphed it on a small coordinate grid. They recorded the coordinates for their constellations. 

Then, real life came traipsing in all over their artistic dreams. The wealthy patron wrote them a letter explaining that she wanted the picture to be double the size. It had to be larger. At this point in the project, students demonstrated that they could write a mathematical rule for their X and Y coordinates, apply it, and graph them to create an art piece double the size of the original. 

After doing this, they used oil pastels to create their art piece inspired by Vincent Van Gogh. Then, they cut out an horizon scape that I had printed on 11"X 17" paper. They traced these on black construction paper and glued them to the bottom part of their night skies. This made their art look similar to Van Gogh's. Instead of painting a village scape, they used black construction paper cities, forests, lighthouses, etc. for a silhouetted effect. 

The last step of this project was a student learning statement in which I required my students to reflect on what they learned about coordinate graphing, rules, constellations and Vincent Van Gogh.  

What I absolutely love about this project is that I could combine some really rigorous literacy goals with science concepts and equally challenging math goals. And my students were ON FIRE with enthusiasm and engagement. Charlie actually said, "This has something for everyone, Ms. Willis!" And again, he would be right. 

You can find the Starry Night project by clicking on the picture below!

And if you like multi-disciplinary projects like this one, you have to check out the ones below! They will rock your classroom world!

The Thing With Feathers: Children's Literature for Teaching Hope

The other day, while I was wasting time on social media, I saw another post about a child who committed suicide. According to The Jason Foundation's 2017 statistics, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24. When did we lose our hope? How do we talk to our students about hope and connection?

HOPE is this month's Book Talk-Theme Talk in my podcast group, We Teach So Hard. This theme has become one of our recent favorite podcast episodes, but it also feels timely and necessary. We've chosen some stellar hope-themed literature to share with you.

An Angel for Solomon Singer, by Cynthia Rylant, tells the story of how a poor, friendless man wanders the streets of New York City. He misses his rural life he had growing up and wishes for beauty and meaning in his life. Things begin to change for Solomon when he finds a special cafe "where dreams come true." Solomon discovers friendship, connection and hope in the cafe. 
I'm also recommending Train to Somewhere by Eve Bunting. The central character of the story is Marianne, a small girl secretly dreaming of being reunited with her mother, who promised to return for her after she makes a new life for them in the West. Marianne is left at an orphanage. The picture book begins with Marianne riding one of the orphan trains with other children, all of whom will be placed with families at each stop. Marianne's hopes and anxieties about finding her mother at one of the train stops are palpable. At each stop, all 13 of Marianne's companions are adopted. On the final stop, an older couple waits for her. They were planning on adopting a boy. Instead, they adopt Marianne while comforting her with, "Sometimes what you get turns out to be better than what you wanted in the first place."

Both of these books are fantastic for teaching about mood, as well theme. One of my favorite ways to teach mood is to introduce a plot mountain to my students. We chart the story on the plot mountain. I tell my students to think about the part of the story when the character's struggles seem almost insurmountable. That's the summit of the plot mountain. Everything before that is rising action to that pivotal point of struggle. Everything after that is falling action. 

Then, I play excerpts from 4-6 instrumental music recordings. We discuss which music would make the best soundtrack for the points on the plot mountain. Students think about mood, the emotions of the characters during their struggles. There's something about bringing music to literature that really excites kids. They love creating "play lists" for these picture books.

Because I was a music teacher, long ago in another space and time, I used to have a piano in my room. I would play excerpts for students to build a soundtrack for our picture book read-alouds. 

Another way I've approached this is to provide a list of Youtube instrumental tracks that I've curated. Students explore the list and then create the playlist for the book. Finally, they write a reflection that explains their choices and their thinking. 

The illustrations in both of these books are gorgeous...and wonderfully moody. If you choose not to use a plot mountain with your students, simply pairing music selections with specific story illustrations is powerful, too. 

However you choose to teach your students about hope, my wish for you and your students feel truly connected and valued. I've included a free resource to help you when incorporating music into your other academic subjects. Click the graphic to the left!

Be sure to visit my podcast buddies' blog posts about their hope-themed books and teaching ideas. You won't be sorry!

Bringing Hope in Times of Angst // Tried & True Teaching Tools
Hope is a 4-Letter Word // Socrates Lantern
Finding Hope // Rainbow City Learning

If you're looking for a great podcast episode to round out your week, give our Book Talk Theme Talk Hope Episode a listen! Click the We Teach So Hard graphic to listen.       

If you like my arts integration ideas in this blog post, you may be interested in these other teaching ideas...they're creative, rigorous, and engaging!