Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Made to Make a Difference--Inspired by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

We are busy at school getting ready for Amy Krouse Rosenthal to visit our school on Friday. The whole school is very excited and we have all really taken to her work. I have been involved in school author visits for over 20 years and it is always fun to see kids excited about the author and the books.

If you have been teaching for a while, you remember author visits of the 80s where we decorated every bit of the school and spent months and months doing book "extensions'. The building looked great and the visit was quite an event. But we sometimes went overboard a bit and often the work we did to get ready didn't  really tie into curriculum as well as it could have.  Then we died down for a while-realizing we went a bit crazy- and there were a few years where the students hardly knew about the author who was coming to visit.

This year's visit seems to be the perfect way to get ready for an author visit. Our kids are excited. Everyone in the school knows her books and her videos. Our amazing art teacher, Drew Jones has planned the entire annual Art Show around art inspired by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (either her books or her video.) It was such a great connection--since her website defines her as "a person who likes to make things". We took this idea of making things and ran with it. I will share more details around the art projects that will be part of the art show later in the week, but today I wanted to share a yearlong project that our 4th graders have been working on that will culminate at the Art Show.

The project is called "MADE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE"  --a name that was created by one of our fourth graders.  When we learned that Amy Krouse Rosenthal would be visiting, we worked to figure out how to integrate social studies, language arts, media literacy and art standards to create a project that would be worthwhile for the students.  I have been involved in Make a Difference projects before and they each take on a different angle.  This project incorporated things we had done in the past along with new things that evolved as we went along. We have been having a ball.

This project began with two of Amy's videos--17 Things I Made and The Beckoning of Lovely.  These started great conversations about things we make and ways to make the world a better place.  We started the year with Heart Maps. In art, students spent time thinking about things they cared about --things they were passionate about.  Students had a choice about how to create the heart map and these started lots of conversations about the issues we cared about --those both close to home and those that are more global.

Linda Kick talked to students about
her business and ways she tries to
make a difference.
Throughout the year, we've tied in the idea of making a difference.  The citizenship goals were a key for us. We didn't want our students to collect money for a charity that we, the adults chose. Instead, we wanted them to think about issues they cared about and how they could make a difference.  As part of this thread, teachers read great picture book biographies of people from history who made a difference in their own way. We also shared sites about kids who make a difference such as Hannah's Socks. We hosted local speakers who shared ways that they made a difference using their passions and interests. Melissa Hoover, a local landscape artist, talked to the students about her business as well as her volunteer work on community gardens.  Linda Kick, owner of a local cupcakery, shared the ways she uses her baking to make a difference such as the upcoming Purple Cupcake Day.  And Nathan Eckhart shared the work he did on a trip with Tom's Shoes for a shoe and skateboard drop in Africa.  Our goal was not for our kids to learn specifically about these causes, but instead to start paying attention to the world around them, their families and friends, and the things that they cared deeply about.  In the midst of this, they learned a great deal about research, nonfiction reading, skimming and scanning, and more.
Candy Rings made by a 4th Grader

In January, students started brainstorming things they could make to sell at a fair to make a difference.  We shared many craft books and asked students to pay attention to things they love to  make. The plan was to have a sale to sell these handmade items to support a cause.  At about the same time, we worked with kids to begin researching nonprofit organizations that connected in some way to the things that were important to them. This involved more online reading and research work that we had originally anticipated and we learned a lot about the skills our students have and still need. Students were amazing at the work they did to learn about different organizations out there.
A Stress Buddy made by a 4th Grader

So, we have been busy "making things to make a difference." As part of the social studies economics study, students have learned about production, profit, and more.  Students have committed to making 30 of an item to sell at our Art Show on Thursday. These items range from "Stress Buddies" to bookmarks, to masks,  They are all creative and I think they will sell well. Each child will set up a "booth" with a sign telling about where the money from their sale will go and why they chose the charity they did.  Students were very thoughtful about where their money would go. The list of charities that this sale will support is amazing.

Along with the item a customer purchases, the customer will also receive instructions on how to make the item at home.  Students worked on Pages, after studying good how-to writing, and created a one-page sheet with explicit steps on how to make the item.  We felt that buyers might be interested in making the items at home.

We are excited about the project.  Needless to say, we are all feeling a little bit of deadline stress this week, but we know that the learning has been incredible for our students.

A local newspaper summarizes the project here if you are interested.


  1. Franki ~ This is so meaningful, and what an inspiring way to build community. The celebration of your author visit (I love her books!) became so much more than you had planned and turned into projects that will live in their minds and actions forever. Thanks for sharing.
    Mary Anne

  2. This is super cool, and you're going to have so much fun. How lucky that you get to hear her speak!

  3. Oh, this is so exciting. I would love to be a fly on your wall at this visit. Super fun!

    Another book the kids at our library have been loving is: This Book Made Me Do It, by John Woodward - a DK book, in the same line as Show Off, by Sarah Hines Stephens.

    Have a great visit and share more!

  4. Wow, I just love the integration and collaboration with your building to make a difference and use the arts. Enjoy and celebrate such learning.

  5. I laughed when you remembered back to author visits of the 80s. Hilarous. I remember those days as well: the door decorating contests, the walls and walls of art, and paper, paper, paper. It was always hard for me as I'm not very "crafty" to say the least. I love the way your building has collaborated to create a meaningful visit. I'm sure students have enjoyed the work and look forward to meeting Amy Krouse Rosenthal. In the budget crunch of education we've lost our author visits, and I miss them. They were so powerful for creating fresh energy in our workshops. Sigh.


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