March 24, 2014

Whale, What's Your Opinion?

It's no secret that I'm kind of obsessed with killer whales right now. After watching the documentary Blackfish, I got kind of interested in these majestic creatures who are too smart and too emotional to be held in tanks. I've wanted to share some of this with my students, but honestly didn't have the time with all the testing hoopla.

Well, as luck (or bad luck) would have it, we had to go to school last Monday. That was supposed to be the first day of our two-week Spring Break. But, with all the snow days we've had this year (none of which actually resulted in me seeing snow, of course), we had to make up the day. I decided that instead of drilling them on test stuff, we were going to have fun! And, boy did we!

A day or two before our make-up day, I had two kids draw a huge killer whale on some butcher paper during centers. I didn't tell them what it was for, but it sure sparked all their little curious minds! They were so excited for what was to come.

The next day, I assigned them a partner and gave them some websites to find information about killer whales in the wild.  They wrote facts on post-it's and then put them on the massive poster. They found a lot of facts!! Afterwards, we talked about some of the interesting information and then I showed them some YouTube videos of killer whales in the wild.

Next, I had then write one paragraph about killer whales in the wild. The paragraph had to have a topic sentence, three details and a closing sentence. We used a blank paragraph template, but I totally forgot to take pictures! 

On the actual make-up day, we started by making a blank poster out of construction paper about killer whales in captivity. I had them divide their paper into a PRO and CON section and we talked about what those mean. 

I showed them a thirty minute video on YouTube called "The Making of Believe." It's a behind the scenes video of SeaWorld Orlando and the trainers interactions with the whales. It was important to me to present the kids with both the good and bad of captivity and let them from their own opinions. You can see from their posters that they started off thinking captivity was great! 

Then, I pulled up a website for kids about the negative effects of captivity.  They added the new information we read under the CON section of ther posters. 

Overall, I think they were shocked at te information we uncovered. The fact that the whales harm the trainers, even kill them, was pretty surprising to them. They said that after watching the video SeaWorld made, they would never think that! Which led to a great discussion about bias and how companies only share things that make them look good to the consumer.

I had te kids write another paragraph using the template about killer whales in captivity. I told them they could include any facts: good or bad or both.

Lastly, they wrote one more paragraph stating their opinion about whether killer whales belong in captivity or not. They had to include reasons that they felt that way.

They worked so hard on their writing and did a really great job! I was very proud of them, because frankly, writing is not their strength. At all. And, try as I might to fit it in, we just don't have a lot of time to devote to it. 

I know it's hard to read because I'm blogging from my phone. Sorry! 

I hung all their work in the hallway. 

I'm so glad I went ahead and taught this little mini unit. I debated about whether it was a good use of time or not. But, I decided that any time I can engage my kids, teach them about hot topics and current events, help them practice research and writing: that's always worth the time. 

And besides, we all need a break from multiple choice now and then. 

Even the teacher. 

Maybe especially the teacher...