Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Our Unique Adventure--October 09

(Wow! Is it time to plan October already?!?!?!?)

As I'm sure I've stated before, we are using the middle school level of the Unique curriculum this year. I am just finishing up the May unit on Sounds, which took us from mid-August to the end of September. There was so much for us to learn that we won't be able to finish it before needing to move on. Sorry, Alexander Graham Bell, guess we'll have to try learning about you later. And we really don't need to know how to protect our ears and hearing, do we?

So now I'm on to planning for the October unit (notice we skipped September's unit which was mainly about Abraham Lincoln as well as our freedoms as U.S. citizens; this was a team decision as my staff are really excited about the October unit; in addition our state assessment emphasis this year is on science; plus silly me thought we'd get through the sounds unit in August, only to learn that each chapter takes us at least a week). This one, at least for middle school, is about the plants and animals around us and focuses on biomes, specifically the 5 primary biomes of the United States/North America (tundra, deciduous forest, taiga, grasslands, and deserts). This looks like a really fun unit. I haven't made it all the way through the provided curriculum materials yet but have lots of ideas for things we will do. I'll add more to this post as we come up with them. I'm planning on this taking all of October and probably most of November too (6 chapters plus an introductory set of lessons). There is a lot to learn with this unit. I wish the overview section was a little more detailed about what future units will cover so I know how to pick and choose and schedule. In addition to watching my blog, keep an eye on the blogs in my Blog Roll as a number of those folks also use Unique and will be posting their ideas too.

First of all, we will be learning to differentiate between living and non-living things. I just posted an activity on Adapted Learning to that effect (a simple book; search on living vs non-living). We will also do sorting activities using magazine pictures and photo cards which I just happen to have already. I may throw in a quick lesson on things found in nature vs. man-made things too. And we'll do some work on the seasons, especially as we're in the middle of a seasonal change here in Kansas. I love that the easy reader story is about a migrating robin as many of the birds in our area are starting the annual migrations.
Added 10/4/09: We had fun at the nature center checking out living and nonliving things. The museum actually encompasses several different biomes so that was neat too. And we explored a grasshopper we caught and released as well as brought back a few plant and seed samples. They are going into our sensory bin for exploration next week along with a (very dead) locust we found outside the school on our way in.
For seasons we did a fun art project based on the book A Tree for All Seasons. The kids drew four trees (we did the trunks then supported the kids to hold the marker and draw the branches); we left the winter tree bare, lightly balloon stamped light green on the spring tree, balloon stamped darker green on the summer treee, and chose fall leaf colors to balloon stamp on the autumn tree. The kids really liked doing this.
The first chapter has a companion activity about labeling a map with biomes, plants, and animals. We are adapting by using a black-and-white outline map of the US. We will trace on the boundaries for the different biomes. Then the kids will use tactile materials to fill in the boundaries (glitter or cotton for tundra; raffia or shredded paper for grasslands; fall leaf confetti for forests; sand or yellow glitter for desert; mini stamp of pine tree for taiga). We'll also find a way to make our state (Kansas) stand out (maybe outline with dimensional paint?) so the kids can start to recognize that too (we've worked on that before). We'll mount the map on a big piece of construction paper and then have the kids match colors to add the pictures of the biomes, plants, and animals in the right places. We'll use step-by-steps to request materials, switch adapted scissors for cutting, and have lots of tactile fun with the glue and materials.
Added 10/27/09: Support videos for the Seasons topic: Wintermood on YouTube has some beautiful videos based on Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Summer, Spring, Winter, Fall). My kids' favorite is Autumn. Wintermood has a number of lovely videos using a variety of classical and instrumental music. We've been projecting it onto the wall over our swing/sensory area with the music through the surround sound for a fun and relaxing sensory experience. It shows well on an IWB too. For those who can't access YouTube at school, try using Media Converter or Zamzar to convert to .wmv or whatever format works best for you. YouTube also had a number of decent videos related to ecosystems, biomes, forests, etc. available. Many of these were linked from SchoolTube and TeacherTube so try those sites as well.

We will also be taking a few field trips related to biomes. The science center in Wichita has a whole section that is essentially about the Kansas biome/s, including an area where you can explore making rivers (complementing one of the provided supplemental activities). There is also the zoo, the nature center, and the pumpkin patch. If I can find a nearby orchard that has apples on the trees (seems there was a problem with the apple trees around here this spring), we might also go apple picking and do a related cooking project.

One of the companion activities is to make a desert plant terrarium. The website referenced by the curriculum also describes how to make a couple of other types of terrariums. I think we'll take the kids to a nearby plant shop that sells really cool plants cheaply and specializes in terrarium plants and try to make a couple of different biomes. Not sure if we can pull off the tundra, but I'm sure we can do desert, deciduous forest (OK, not the trees but the kids should ge the point), grasslands, and maybe taiga. And we might get adventurous and try some water plants too.

The unit also suggests making dioramas. This is right up our alley since it involves lots and lots of choices and we can make it tactile and multi-dimensional. And 5 students means they can each make a different one (hopefully they each LIKE either all different ones or more than one so we won't have overlap).

If we have time we'll do reports on our favorite animals and/or biomes.

I need to go hunting for various smallish manipulatives related to the plants and animals of the biomes we'll be studying to use as math manipulatives, etc. And hopefully we can score some old nature magazines to cut out pictures in order to do same/different, more/less, and sorting.

We'll be using simple and high use words from the reading material as sight words and phomemic awareness prompts to build our vocabularies and work on reading skills.

And there are all the sensory things you can do related to the biomes: cold (I'm thinking about getting some of that "insta snow" stuff; expensive but really neat), water, grass, rocks, dirt, bark, leaves, sand, cacti (not too spiky), etc. And we can certainly tie in weather concepts (yay as that's on our science assessment this year).

Adding all of that to our second annual Mad Scientist Party (check here and here for what we did last year), a birthday party, some inconvenient days off, IEPs, Thanksgiving, and whatever else crops up and it's going to be a B U S Y fall. Just the way I like it.


  1. I'm jealous of all of you using the Unique curriculum. It sounds really interesting. The district where I work is full inclusion, and so my students spend some time in general education classes. I have a push from at least one parent that my students spend more time in the 7th grade classroom, so I'm modifying 7th grade in my school the best I can.

    Are you located in a public school? Do any of your students attend general education classes?

  2. I'm in a public school. None of my current kids are in inclusion classes, although we have lots of time with peers who come into my room. I would love to do more inclusion but it's been tough to find classes that are meaningful to the kids and/or teachers who will collaborate (small school, few choices). Plus it's really hard to fit in the instruction for our state assessment burden (which is HUGE) as well as accommodate the community schedule. In addition, many of my kids prefer the predictability of our classroom or have care schedules that make inclusion classes difficult or have parents who don't want them put into inclusion settings (either to protect their kids from ridicule, which doesn't happen at our school but you can't convince the parent, or because they are medically fragile and shouldn't be exposed to all those extra germs). For my current gang our classroom is actually the least restrictive environment. And yes, I know they need to be "out in the world" to learn how to function there; believe me we spend a lot of time in real world and social settings, just not necessarily in classes. The kids have lots of friends/peer supports. This is working for us right now. We always seem to roll with changes, though, and look forward to new opportunities as they arise.