Retuning our Wonder Wednesdays

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Wonder Wednesdays have been a fixture in my sixth grade classroom for the last three years, mostly because it’s one of those learning adventures that I began tentatively and then was swept forward by the enthusiasm and curiosity of my students.  I have learned that if my kids are excited about doing something, my best teaching bet is to just go with their flow.

So, every Wednesdays, we gather together to share what we learned through their Wonderopolis of choice.  This is usually a lively discussion time – a noisy share and respond session.  Our first Wonder Wednesday of the year was a success, on the surface.  My kids loved their chosen Wonders and I heard many positive things as I listened to their conversations: engagement, curiosity, and investment.  But there was something missing, there was a surface quality to their answers, an inability to fully explain what they had learned.  Later, reading through their written responses (here’s my template:,   I knew that we would have to go back, and take another look at how I had launched this project if we were to make a meaningful experience of this yearlong project.  Because, even though we had spent time exploring the site to figure out how to find topics and navigate through the text, my kids were clearly missing information and, more importantly, making connections and inferences and asking new questions based on what they were reading and viewing.

First, we compared notes – how did we read our Wonderopolis? what features of the page did we pay attention to? how did we sift through the article to discern what was our new learning and what we already knew?  Some glaring missteps became immediately clear: few viewed the videos, even fewer studied the pictures, and fewer still made use of the glossary to clarify the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Time to reteach!

We began with a Wonder I knew would grab their attention:

# 1518: Do Bulls Hate the Color Red? 

Then we examined some strategies one by one – how could these help us get the most meaningful information out of the Wonder of our choice?

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After some discussion and questions, we went back and explored #1518 more carefully.  We began with the video and photographs, jotting what we learned; then moved on to read the text, pausing to look up words which were unfamiliar.  Since we also used the “listen” feature for pronunciation.  Finally, each student used their notes to jot down one new piece of information that they had learned.  When we compared these notes to the ones completed for homework, my kids realized that they were able to connect the information from the visuals to what they had read to jot down richer notes that were more detailed an interesting. Best of all, when they were sharing these notes, they had a much better understanding of the topic itself, and could answer questions or pose inferences.

Big improvement.  Tomorrow, my kiddos will show up a new set of Wonders…I can’t wait to hear what they have learned!

Some notes about our Wonderopolis year

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Three weeks from now I will be back in school, and today would be Wonder Wednesday.  My classroom will be abuzz with sixth graders sharing their Wonders with their table groups, asking questions, and marveling at new facts and ideas they have discovered.  All thanks to the incredible website Wonderopolis.

As Donalyn Miller so succinctly put it, when kids think about reading non-fiction, they think about dead Presidents and whales – dry and boring stuff they have to read in order to write dry and boring reports.  My sixth graders’ eyes generally glaze over when I mention non-fiction, and yet this kind of reading is critical to their lives, inside and outside the classroom, for years to come.   Introducing non fiction via Wonderopolis is such an engaging way to begin our year long work with this genre, one in which they learn digital literacy (navigating their way through the site and searching for further information through links provided) and well as features on non fiction which we will explore in greater detail through out the year (domain specific vocabulary, formulating questions, etc.).

In our classroom, we begin with a whole class investigation of how the site works.  I use the overhead projector to navigate the site, exploring the features as well as answering questions.  We learn how to “read” the site, explore “fun” options, and search for topics of interest.  By the time this session ends, my kids are excited and ready to begin exploring the site themselves.

For the first quarter or so of the year, my kids choose a Wonder based on their own curiosity about a topic, and come to their language arts class ready for Wonder Wednesdays, where we share with our table groups, and then have a quick round of “woah!” where students share what they found most interesting or surprising and why:

Then we move on to a different type of approach, where my students read two different Wonders on the same topic and compose Venn diagrams to show what they’ve learned and conclusions they have reached.  What core information needed to be presented for a reader to understand the larger topic?  What was more specific information and vocabulary for each topic?  What were some burning questions that you were left with or new ideas you have now learned?  Are their new Wonder topics you would like to research?

Finally, we end with Wonder Circles, where groups create new Wonders based on research both from the Wonderopolis site as well as other sources.  By this time, we have focused on non fiction as a genre and have experienced  two book group cycles focused on non fiction, and we’ve become very familiar with the site itself.  So, we’ve laid the groundwork for a tricky collaborative venture like this, where the focus is navigating through digital sites, gathering and then synthesizing information, and finally creating something new.  In the final stretch of the school year, my kids are usually ready for an adventure like this, where the goal is not perfection but collaboration and challenging themselves.

I am so looking forward to another Wonderopolis year!

Wonderopolis update

     We have been working with Wonderopolis for a whole quarter now, and I am so glad that I took the plunge and went ahead with this particular learning adventure.  The daily topics are so high-interest, that this homework assignment is one that they actually like doing – with 493 (as of today) Wonders to choose from, there is something to pique everyone’s curiosity, and I think the format is just so student friendly that looking for a Wonder to explore is part of the fun.
     The Wonder Trackers   we work on help to give a purpose and focus to the explorations.  The notebooks below illustrate how engaged my students are, and how our weekly assignments have become a dialogue in nonfiction study.

      The next step, I think, will be both important as well as tricky.  Here are some ways in which I could extend this project:
1. Maria at Teaching in the 21st. Century  wrote  a fabulous post about using Wonderopolis in a unit on persuasive writing, this is something I want to take on as well – partly as a skill building  exercise for the NJASK.
2.  Extending a topic covered by a Wonder into a research project – in other words exploring some of those questions they’ve already generated in their Wonder Trackers.
3. Creating a Wonder of their own.  I will be attending a workshop on digital writing in March, and hope that it will give me the tools (and the confidence!) I will need  to experiment with this project.
     I’m curious about how other teachers have used Wonderopolis in their classrooms…would anyone care to share ideas????

Wonderopolis: Take Two

We are about to begin week three of our adventures with Wonderopolis, and here’s what I notice:

  • my students are definitely engaged – even the reluctant readers have found topics to interest them, and their “wonder trackers” show evidence of close reading and comprehension.
  • some students have detailed “wonder trackers” and some are very skimpy – we will need a mini lesson on standards for these, as well as guidelines.  I will have to demonstrate what good summation sentences look like – how to write about what you’ve learned.  I think I will use some of the best examples of this from students who have written  exemplary summations – these are always the best mentor texts to teach from any way, since they come from peers in their midst…much more powerful than anything I could demonstrate.
  • the questions I had formulated about the video and questions before reading seem to really focus my students’ attention – many have said how these prepared them for the learning to come – activating prior knowledge, preparing schema – all pre- reading strategies that we’re working on in non-fiction, so this is extra practice.
  • the questions at the end need some work – again, some are able to ask those higher Bloom’s questions, some are not there yet…so we need mini lessons and practice with this.
  • vocabulary – I’m still not entirely sure I have found an effective way to address this – but I’m working on it.  Leaving anything optional (i.e. choose 5 words) always guarantees that a certain section of students will simply opt for the ones they know…so I need to think this through this week.

All in all, using Wonderopolis once a week with students choosing a topic of interest has been doable and worthwhile.  I need to make class time for discussion, as well, since every one of them is keen to do this – perhaps on Friday, after our spelling quiz would be a good time.  We could toss up our topics and create a class Wordle as well, which might be a fun way to end the week!

Launching Wonderopolis in Language Arts (finally!)

     I’ve been following Maria at Teaching in the 21st. Century  as well as Mary Lee at A Year of Reading in their adventures with Wonderopolis for some time now, marveling at how they’ve used the site in their classrooms and wrestling with how I could do the same in mine.  Our 50 minute language art block is jam packed with stuff to cover – grammar, spelling, reading workshop, poetry – how could I fit another component in??  But I loved the site, particularly the way in addressed many of the Common Core Standards I want my curriculum to incorporate, such as:

Key Ideas and Details

  • 1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • 2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • 7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1
      I thought of posting a link to the site on our class web page, and using blogger as a format to document learning, or perhaps using our wiki page for a similar sort of web based documenting system.  But I’m not sure we’re ready for either one of these projects yet – we need some time to simply explore the possibilities as a class.  Since this is something new, I want to start small rather than hit my kids with a huge project that will take time away from other, equally important, things we are just about to get going with – such as  book clubs, our poetry anthology, our spelling and word study and so on. 

My launch tomorrow will go this way:
1. Call up the site and navigate through/explore it with my kids using the projector.  I see this as our time to ask questions, figure out all the components, and generate some ideas about extension activities we could use Wonderopolis as a springboard for. 
2.  Use a minilesson to set up our reading journals to track our reading in the following way:

     My kids will be responsible for checking out the site all week – Monday through Friday – and tracking their learning for the one “Wonder” that really captured their attention/interest the most.   I like Karen’s  idea of a “wonder jar”which I had I read about some time ago in Literate Lives .  This might be a good way to catalog our learning and make sure that that learning builds continuously.  So, I’m trying to figure out this component of Wonderopolis as well.
     Lots to think about… but, I can’t wait to get started with this new learning adventure!