Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fall Art

In today’s post I will be describing a seasonal art project that I did with my fourth graders today.

I love fall. Fall in south-eastern Quebec is filled with beautiful, and vibrant colors, which often stand out on a somber and cool background. This provided me with the inspiration for the art project I wanted to do with my students. We discussed the colors and the beauty of the season that we have been experiencing. Some students asked me questions, like, “What do I do if the leaves have fallen from the trees already?” I responded by asking them what they think it should look like and to tell them that if this is the way they want to represent autumn, it was fine with me, it is their art project.

My art objectives were the following:

-        To mix media types
-        To reinforce lessons we have had on color schemes
-        To allow the use of only one tool for completing their projects
-        Not to provide a template or an example

My personal objectives for my students were:

-        For students to feel comfortable creating without an example
-        For students to feel freedom when working on their pieces

The materials I provided were the following:

-     -   Black construction paper 8 ½” x 11”
-     -   Pieces of brown, yellow, orange, red and green construction paper
-     -  Water-based paint (such as tempera) in yellow, orange, red, blue, green, black and white. 
   - An empty pallet to mix the paint on. 

The only tool students were permitted to use were their glue sticks.
The instructions I gave were:

-        You must use the black construction paper as your canvas. It must be in upright position.
-        You may not use scissors or paintbrushes.
-        You must use both construction paper and paint in your artwork.

I then let the students loose. Students took the materials they needed and worked using different strategies, blending the media in different ways to complete the task assigned to them. There were no two pieces that were alike and they all adequately represented the season’s beauty.

When everyone’s work was displayed on the bulletin board, we observed it and talked about the color schemes that we used, how students were able to create different effects with their fingers when painting and how the media were mixed to produce different effects.
We also talked about how it felt to create these pieces. Students felt creative, free and some said it reminded them of younger days when they could finger paint and create what they wanted to.

This project has allowed me to evaluate student understanding of colors, textures and their ability to follow instructions. It also helped me to get to know their little character traits, such as a serious dislike of touching paint with bare hands.

If you decide to try it out with your students, let me know how it turns out!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Getting class birds and teaching with them

As a follow-up to my Birds on the Brain post, as promised, here is what I have learned about finding birds for in the classroom, as well as the materials needed in order to take care of them. Also, I will go through the advantages and disadvantages of having different types of birds in the classroom.
My three year old daughter, meeting Junior when he first moved into my fourth grade class.

When I first started this adventure, I began by looking for zebra finches, since I had previously had a pair and knew that they are low maintenance. I searched on, a Canadian equivalent to Craig’s List. There were several people who were looking to sell finches. There were pet shop owners, elderly people who were too busy or unwell to look after their birds and there were breeders who wanted to sell their finches. I found that for the type of experience I was looking to obtain for my students, I needed to be sure that the birds I purchased had already reproduced.

I decided that it would be best to buy my birds from a breeder, who was trying to downgrade and lower the number of birds that she kept for reproduction purposes. Because she was a breeder and already had an extra cage for the finches, she was selling the birds fully equipped with the cage, the nest stuffing, bird feeders, water containers, some bird food and lots of information to help me take better care of the birds. As a bonus, when she learned that I was purchasing them for my classroom and that students were going to benefit from the experience of having the birds in the classroom, she accepted my very low offer of only $30 for everything.

The finches have been incredible.

Advantages of having zebra finches:

They are low-maintenance, they require little attention and they are not noisy. They make the littlest chirps once in a while, which are endearing and not at all annoying. The finches are not demanding at all. In addition, they laid eggs almost every month for the first few months after I got them and my students had the opportunity to see the chicks hatch and grow to maturity.
Ping and Pong, my first zebra finch couple

Salt and Pepper, two of Ping and Pong's chicks

My next feat:

This year, with older students, I wanted to find another breed of bird that I could use in class to deepen my lessons with my new students. 

Originally, I had several criteria for my search:
I wanted a bird that we could handle and take out of the cage.
I wanted to use a bird to help calm and soothe my students.
I also wanted to have a different type of bird that the students could compare the finches to.

Lastly, I wanted for my students to experience the hatching and growing of another type of bird than finches.

I made a lot of phone calls. I called pet shops, breeders and people from I asked questions about all types of birds that may meet my needs for in the classroom. I read blogs, consulted various websites and realized that I could narrow down my search because I didn’t want a bird that lives too long (I can’t handle a fifty year commitment to a bird) and I wanted a bird that would be friendly and would not become aggressive with students. I also wanted to choose a bird that wasn’t too noisy or too expensive to take care of.

I visited Bourke parakeets, because I was told that these were ideal for in the classroom because they can usually be handled and they are quiet birds. When I saw them, I was not drawn to them at all. These little pink budgie-like birds were cute enough but very fearful and didn’t seem to want to be handled.

I saw Quaker parrots and Catherine and Celeste Touis, but I was told that these could be aggressive and that their nibbles hurt.


I decided to go for lovebirds. Peach-faced lovebirds, to be exact. I learned that the peach-faced variety is the least expensive to purchase from pet shops or from breeders. I finally found an individual on that had two breeding pairs for sale. When I went to visit them, I originally wanted to purchase one pair of breeding birds and a baby lovebird that hadn’t found a mate yet.

(Fun Fact: Lovebirds who are already in pairs are difficult to handle. They are so attached to one another that they hate to be separated. However, when you have a single lovebird, it becomes attached to you!)

Jewel, Junior's mother

Blue, Junior's father

When I was visiting the birds, the owner wanted to sell them with the cages. He was selling them for his teenage son who had promised to take care of them but didn’t. He also had some babies from the breeding pairs for sale. I made an offer to purchase one pair and one baby with the cages. When he learned that I was a teacher and that the birds would be going into a classroom, he offered to sell both pairs, a baby and the cages, nests and equipment for only $130. (Lovebirds, in the pet store, usually cost at least $75 each.) I jumped on the opportunity and brought the birds to school with me.

Advantages of having lovebirds:

They are an entirely different type of bird from the finches. Their anatomy is different. They use their beaks to move around and climb things.

The single bird, whom we named Junior, is comfortable staying on students’ shoulders when they work and on my shoulder when I am teaching. The kids are already used to seeing Junior lose in the classroom. They have already become quite attached to him, and he to us.

The lovebirds are beautiful birds that are still somewhat low maintenance and are rather inexpensive versus the other types of birds that may have been interesting for a classroom setting.

The lovebirds have an interesting demeanor. It is very educational to watch them prepare their nests, to observe their interactions with each other and it will be an awesome experience for students to learn how to hand-feed the babies.

Disadvantages with lovebirds in the classroom:

With the number of them that I have in the classroom (5 in total), they can be quite noisy. Junior on his own doesn’t make a sound. The pairs, however, like to communicate a lot, especially in the morning. They are less noisy when I am in the classroom but when my colleagues enter the room to teach the birds do not behave the same way with them as they do with me.

Lovebirds require grooming if you want to be able to handle them and take them out of their cages. I have learned from YouTube videos how to trim the feathers on their wings to keep them from flying away and hurting themselves. It is quite simple and easy to do. Junior slightly nibbles on and tickles the students but if his beak gets a little bit sharper, I will have to file the tip to make sure he doesn’t accidentally hurt one of the students. Junior got used to me quite quickly and I am not worried about doing the filing myself. 


So far, I have enjoyed having both types of birds in the classroom. My students are drawn to both types of birds for various reasons and look forward to the greeting them and taking care of them every day.

Jewel, on my shoulder while I was teaching
My unit, Birds of a Feather Unit, available for purchase on TpT, has proven to be useful and interesting to the students. It has helped them to make connections and to organize themselves for research projects, persuasive writing and sorting information.

Birds of  Feather unit, available on TeachersPayTeachers

If I were to do anything differently, I would have stuck to one pair of lovebirds and one baby, rather than two pairs, thus reducing maintenance time, cost and noise. Otherwise, I am enjoying this project and am loving the kids’ engagement and motivation for the projects revolving around this topic.

I would recommend this project to everyone!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Birds on the brain

In today’s post, I will be sharing how birds can contribute so much to a classroom setting, to students’ learning and motivation, and how they can be the source of many engaging and pertinent lessons and activities.

Last year I got a pair of zebra (mandarin) finches for my classroom. They are a breeding pair that my students and I named Ping and Pong.

Ping and Pong (Zebra Finch couple)

 In the few months that we had Ping and Pong in the classroom, they had several sets of babies. 

First set of baby finches

Looking at the inside of a rejected finch egg and comparing it to a Canadian dime.

The contents of a finch nest

Salt and Pepper, two females babies from Ping and Pong

I created my Birds of a Feather unit for grades 1 to 3 to use with my students. It was very effective and engaging. The kids loved it! 

Students were able to use the Bird Observation journal that is included within the unit to note their observations and write about the changes that they saw the parents and babies go through. 

Students learned about grammar, the difference between facts and opinions and practiced writing instructions on how to take care of birds and shopping lists for items you need to have if you want to have a pet bird. The students liked coming into class, hearing the birds chatter away gently and mostly found the birds to be soothing to have in the classroom.

This year, I am teaching older students. I wanted to find a way to make the project a little more interesting and age-appropriate for my fourth and fifth graders. I purchased two breeding pairs of lovebirds to provide the opportunity to my students to compare the daily maintenance, care and joy of having lovebirds versus that of finches. With them I got a baby lovebird, which is a chick from one of my new breeding pairs, which the students can manipulate and handle and have on their shoulders while they work.

The birds, while adding life to the classroom, are also adding a feeling of being grounded and a sense of calm. The students are motivated to learn about them and to learn anything that may have to do with birds. I used my purchasing of the birds as a math situational problem for my students to solve. I have asked students to write letters to convince me to let them be appointed with bird caretaker jobs. Students also started inquiry-based projects, researching information to answer their own questions about our class birds, as well as other birds in general. Our guided reading groups are named after birds. Students had to come up with names for our new birds. (They had to choose book characters that went together for each pair of lovebirds).

Blue and Jewel

Romeo and Juliet

As a result of all of this students’ interest-based learning, I have created activities to complement my Birds of a Feather unit, including activities about the anatomy of a bird, updated bird observation journal pages and no prep persuasive writing activities. I have also added a KWL chart and a bird comparison chart. Lastly, there are new math problems that are appropriate for fourth grade that you can download as a part of the unit, or as a freebie.

Follow me on Facebook at Miss Chantal Cares to be notified as soon as the new sections are added to my TpT store, or simply follow me on TpT.

Also, I will soon be posting about how to obtain birds for the classroom, as well as the realities of taking care of them in a classroom environment.