In 1869 John Wesley Powell led a bunch of guys in canoes on an expedition to explore the untamed and unmapped Colorado River. In 2015, Tom White is about to lead a bunch of fourth graders in one canoe on a quest to prove that the Common Core can inspire fun and creativity in the classroom.
Okay, so there’s no real comparison.
My job’s way harder.
Here’s what we’re doing. We’re building a plywood canoe in our classroom. Along the way, the kids will each make a one-tenth scale model using exactly the same methods. When it’s finished, they’ll have to “prove” that it will float by computing the mass, weight and density. They’ll present their evidence to Bill, the guy that runs the local pool, and if he’s satisfied he’ll let them paddle it around in the deep end. They’ll also work in teams to present their findings on tri-fold science fair boards at our district’s STEM Expo at the end of March. Then they’ll auction off the boat and give the money back to the Parent Club, who loaned it to us in the first place. They get to keep their models.
Why am I doing this? I want to show that teaching to these standards lets us do what we got into teaching for in the first place: doing fun and important activities with kids.
Which standards am I addressing? Let’s start with ELA. The plans themselves are pretty complicated. They’ll have to read them closely in order to know what to do:
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
And they’ll have to explain those procedures to each other in order to get the boat built:
Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
And of course, those plans include plenty of visual information:
Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
Moving on to writing, the main focus will be on convincing Bill – with mathematical evidence – that their craft will float:
Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
They will also produce a coherent, polished product for display at the STEM expo:
Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)
With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 4 here.)
And then there’s math! Let’s start with measuring; we’re using the metric system and converting the measurements of the class canoe – which is in centimeters – into millimeters for their scale-models:
Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec. Within a single system of measurement, express measurements in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit.
And at some point they’ll have to figure out the area and volume of the canoe:
Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems. For example, find the width of a rectangular room given the area of the flooring and the length, by viewing the area formula as a multiplication equation with an unknown factor.
The bottom of the canoe is curved, and is drawn by creating a line plot:
Make a line plot to display a data set of measurements in fractions of a unit (1/2, 1/4, 1/8). Solve problems involving addition and subtraction of fractions by using information presented in line plots.
And then there’s the fiberglass glue that we have to use. It comes in two parts, which have to be measured in an exact ratio:
Understand a multiple of a/b as a multiple of 1/b, and use this understanding to multiply a fraction by a whole number.
Without really trying, I found eleven separate Common Core standards that we’ll address over the next five weeks while working on our canoe. That’s a lot of learning. And a lot of fun. I’ll keep you posted!
Eat your heart out, John Wesley Powell.