This past week, I planned to teach my students about timelines. I always start by asking them what they notice about the word (hoping for someone to say that it has two smaller words inside). We talk about why people would want to use timelines and the different kinds there are. Next, I read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This book lends itself to teaching about timelines because the events in the story are in order by the days of the week. After reading the story, the kids put the events in the story in order on a timeline. While this is a great introduction to timelines, I started thinking that I need to go deeper with this skill. Just placing events on a pre-made timeline didn't sound all that challenging.
My friend Jen, who teaches 3rd grade, suggested that my students could put their birthdays in order on a timeline. I thought it sounded like a great idea and tried to think of different ways to make it work. I thought about typing up a pre-made timeline with all of the months in order and evenly spaced apart. Then, they could cut out cards with each child's birthday and picture on it and place them in order on the timeline. Wouldn't those look so nice in the hallway?! The more I got to thinking about it, though, I realized something important. I really need to let go of "pretty". Even though these timelines would look nice and neat with their even spaces and typed out months, I wouldn't be asking very much of my students. So instead, I decided to just let go and leave it up to my students. I would have them work in groups of four at their tables and they could make their timelines any way they wanted, with any materials that they wanted. I let them choose from butcher paper, sentence strips, computer paper, anything. I did give some guidelines that they needed to follow such as: the months had to be in order, they needed to somehow make them evenly spaced, and they needed a line to place the cards on. The kids were really excited about this project!
As they started working, I noticed that all of the groups were doing their timelines a little different from each other. Some were taping sentence strips together, some were gluing strips of butcher paper together, but they were all making timelines.
I saw problem solving (one student asked if their group could use a yard stick because they couldn't make a straight line, another group realized that they didn't have enough paper for their timeline when they ran out of space by September). I walked around and gave them support but didn't just jump to solving the problem for them. I let them work it out and see what they came up with. By the end of the activity, my class had successfully made 6 timelines. They weren't totally perfect, neat, or "pretty", but they were MEANINGFUL. I realized that the kids had learned so much more by creating their own version of a timeline. I was so extremely proud of them.
I plan on hanging these in the hallway tomorrow at school. When I look at them, I will remind myself to keep letting go of "pretty" and keep striving for the most meaningful activities possible!