Tuesday, April 23, 2013


In my previous post, I described how fun it can be to recreate games that kids already know with new rules adapted to the curriculum. We did just that again this week with a modified version of Battleship that simulated the conflict during the French and Indian War.

Because the French and Indian War was not a naval battle, I gave each student a grid and allowed them to set it up as they liked. Each student was also assigned a country - either Britain or France. We color-coded each of the squares as either French territory (blue), British territory (red), or disputed territory (purple). Because the grid was an 8 x 8 arrangement of 64 squares, I gave the students the following parameters to keep the game fair:

  1. You must have 20 blocks of your own color, 20 blocks of the opposing color and 24 blocks of disputed territory.
  2. You can arrange the blocks in any way as long as the French blocks are all together on one side or corner of the board, the British blocks are all together on the opposite side or corner of the board and  the purple disputed blocks are somewhere in the middle. 
Also on the grid handout were three forts which were exactly 3 blocks wide and 1 block tall, and two settlements, which were 2 blocks wide and 1 block tall. Once they had finished color-coding the area of the map, they could cut out the forts and settlements and arrange them anywhere within their own or the disputed territory. For a faster set-up of the game, you can also provide the students with pre-colored grids, even labeled with place names and boundaries if you wish. 

Now they were ready to play the game! To create the "boards" for the game, I used basic file folders. I set up another identical grid with letter and number coordinates and printed it in the copier on transparency film. I stapled two sheets in each folder - one on the bottom for the students to slide their own grids underneath and a second to the top flap of the folder for keeping track of their own called coordinates, hits and misses.

With the grids printed on transparency film, the students can mark both boards with dry erase markers, eliminating the need for pegs or bingo chips. We simply used Xs for hits and Os for misses. This was a lot neater and made for a lot less preparation!

The final boards looked like the image below. I decided to assign a point value to all possible outcomes to make things a bit more interesting. In our game, we used the following scoring system:

  • hit opposing territory (empty square) = 2 pts.
  • hit disputed territory (empty square) = 1 pt.
  • hit your own territory = 0 pts.
  • hit anywhere on a fort = 10 pts.
  • hit anywhere on a settlement = 5 pts.
Students kept track of their points on scrap paper or on the margins of the grid in dry erase.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much the kids enjoyed setting up the boards and playing the game. Even though their boards did not exactly imitate the land boundaries of the French and Indian War, the idea of disputed territory certainly stuck with them. I even overheard someone call out at one point, "This must be the Battle of Quebec because I am really kicking your butt!" :)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Flap Maps

Sometimes, to really visualize a territory or battle, you just need a good map. But sometimes, in order to effectively study, you also need to hide your information to really assess your own recall and understanding. As a visualizing tool and a study strategy, we recently made "flap maps" to show the expansion of New Spain into New Mexico and Florida. Using just Microsoft Word, these maps are really easy to make and get the kids moving with some color-coding, cutting and gluing.

In essence, a flap map is just an outline map with titled text boxes scattered around at key points. The students then color-code the map according to a self-made key. I then send them a second document with text boxes in the same arrangement as the titled text boxes on the map page. When the students have finished with the initial sheet, they fill in key facts about each of the named sites. When the fact sheet is printed, it will line up perfectly with the map boxes. The students can then cut out three sides of each text box on the map page.

Once the students have glued the fact sheet to the back of the map page, the map text boxes are now "doors" or "flaps" that can be opened and closed. When opened, the facts from underneath are revealed for studying. The map can also easily fit into student binders and folders for quick reference later!

Below are some images of the Word templates I created, as well as a few pictures of the finished maps.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pin - the - ?? - on - the - ??

I like incorporating games into classroom instruction and one really easy way to make it transition seamlessly is to use games the students already know.

When reviewing Jacques Marquette and Robert La Salle's exploration of the Mississippi River for France, I wanted an engaging way to review which facts belonged to which explorer. I decided to play a version of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey with "fact canoes" in place of tails and a Mississippi River with images of the explorers in place of the donkey.

I was a little leery that the kids would find it too juvenile, but we ended up having a blast! I presented each fact and asked the student whether the fact belonged with Marquette or La Salle. They responded, then they were blindfolded, took their spins and attempted to stick the canoe in the river with the explorer that matched.

The set-up was really simple -- I typed up some images of canoes with facts, pictures of the explorers and I cut out a long construction paper river. I attached the pieces to the whiteboard with magnets for easy removal when other teachers needed to use my classroom. The game only lasted about 10-15 minutes, but it was a fun way to wrap up after the notes and video segment we completed at the beginning of class.

Of course, this got me thinking about all of the things that could be "pinned" onto something else. Younger students could sort shapes and colors into a chart. They could place letters in a puzzle. Older students could pin the element to the periodic table or the organelles to the cell. The possibilities are endless!

Alphabet Books: Bringing Together Younger and Older Students

One of the many benefits of teaching in a school with a wide range of ages is the ability to collaborate across many grade levels. Older students are often excited to engage with younger students, just as younger students often look up to their older peers. In order to capture this natural energy and opportunity for community building, I like to create alphabet books each year about a concept or theme, then share them in with younger students either live or through circulation in the library.

This year, I had to cover everyday life during the colonial era, but had much difficulty finding sources, activities and materials appropriately challenging for middle level students. A quick Google search will make it abundantly clear how much of what is out there is for primary students. I figured that I might as well embrace the over-arching trend and use the alphabet book as a final project for this particular section.

I provided the students with several sites about colonial life, most notably PBS's Colonial House materials and Colonial Williamsburg's history site. From there, students refreshed their previous knowledge of colonial occupations (see post about classified ads project), as well as vocabulary terms and concepts. I assigned each student a few letters and they designed a page for each letter, designating a word for each letter. I scattered a few sample alphabet books about countries of the world, musical instruments and science topics around the room just to demonstrate the basic format, then let them go wild.

Between all 48 students, we were able to generate three unique books for the library, each with creative ideas for the letters. Some students tackled more abstract themes, like agriculture and slavery, while others chose figures and events, like Jamestown, John Peter Zenger and the Salem Witch Trials.

I bound the books together with a simple plastic comb binding machine and shared it with the school library. Shortly after, our librarian asked for the electronic files of the pages so that we could attempt converting it into its own ebook! Who knows, maybe younger students will soon be able to check-out our alphabet book both at the library and electronically! If this works well, we might just have a lot a ebook publishing in our future!