The culminating task for our unit on strong and stable structures was the highlight of my first four months back in the classroom. My colleague and friend, Catherine Little, who is currently teaching science at York University at the Faculty of Education, generously offered her time and expertise by facilitating the launch of this culminating task with my third grade students.
Catherine launched the task by first reading the picture book, A Chair for Baby Bear (2004) by Kaye Umansky and illustrated by Chris Fisher (Barron’s Educational Series, ISBN-13: 978-0764157899). In this story, after Goldilocks breaks Baby Bear’s chair and flees the bear’s cottage, Baby Bear goes to town with Papa Bear shopping for a new chair. In town, Baby Bear was unable to find a chair that was “just right” for him. Catherine stopped at this point in the book, and presented the task to my class. They were to make a chair for Baby Bear using only newspaper and masking tape!
The students had to apply everything they learned about strong and stable structures to create a chair that was just right for Baby Bear. The knew they were successful when they placed a stuffed toy bear on their chair. If their chair were stable, the stuffed bear and the chair would not fall down!
After the students reflected on the process and self assessed their designs, they wrote a procedure or recount for “Professor Catherine” to share with other third grade students she will visit. The students were so proud of their chair. They were focused and I was able to assess what they learned about strong and stable structures, not by giving them a unit test on the topic, but by observing students build their chair, conferencing with them and by reading their self assessments and procedural writing. This is what I love most about teaching and learning!