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links and resources

Handbook of Bible Festivals by Galen Peterson


other STF links

iWhy: Why Do I Still Teach in a Lutheran School? (Feature)

STEM in the Early Childhood Classroom (ECEnet)

Electives in the Middle School (MIDnet)


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Students Love Projects

“Teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning.”

This quote really resonates with me and inspires me to find ways to help children fall in love with learning.

Students learn better when they have an opportunity to talk through their learning and, even better, teach it to a peer.I always look for ways to teach and engage my students. I want them to be excited about coming to school each day and excited about what they will be learning. I love to develop lessons that give my students an opportunity to work collaboratively and to publish or share their learning. A few examples of this are celebrating different Jewish festivals, a Famous American Wax Museum, periodic class newscasts, and Passion Projects.

My classroom is set with tables and several different flexible seating options to foster cooperative learning. Students learn better when they have an opportunity to talk through their learning and, even better, teach it to a peer; seating in my room is designed to foster opportunities for students to work with others, either through collaborative projects or just helping one another in everyday homework assignments and lessons. 

sukkotJewish Festivals

Students in my class have opportunities to participate in celebrating three Jewish festivals that I have adapted from the Handbook of Bible Festivals by Galen Peterson. “These celebrations provide a hands-on learning experience that enable the students to understand the history behind each holiday. It offers experiences from yesteryear with application for today” (Petersen, 1997, p. 4).

We begin in September with the celebration of the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah). This feast teaches the students about the importance of trumpets in biblical days. Students make and decorate trumpets of their own out of paper towel tubes, and they eat apples and caramel dip because it was customary to eat sweet foods during this festival.

sederAround Thanksgiving, we celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). This feast reminds students that the journey the Israelites made in the wilderness was temporary and that their ultimate home was with God in Israel. We decorate a portion of the church fellowship hall like a Sukkah, which means tabernacle, booth, or hut. This reminds students of the way the Israelites lived in the wilderness and how the city of Jerusalem was decorated during this festival. Studentschoose a Psalm of Ascent (Psalms 120–134) to read with a partner as we walk into Jerusalem (the church fellowship hall) following the cloud held by our pastor. Students then learn more about the significance of the Feast of Tabernacles. We end the time with a large feast of Thanksgiving-type foods for lunch.

On Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the Feast of Passover. I turn the lights down and arrange a couple tables to create one long banquet table. After that we gather around as a whole class to celebrate a mini version of a seder meal. We read through a Haggadah play about the celebration while tasting different ceremonial foods. Grape juice for wine, horseradish as a bitter herb, parsley representing the flourishing of the Israelites in Egypt, charoset (a sweet apple and nut mixture) representing the mortar used by Israelite slaves, and matzah crackers for unleavened bread.

Famous American Wax Museum

nellie blyAnother favorite activity of my students is the Famous American Wax Museum. This is a six-week project that I work on in the second semester of school. This takes up most of our time for reading and English, but is well worth it.

I invite parents, grandparents, and other classes to come to the Wax Museum. I introduce the project right before Christmas break. This gives students time to think about who they want to be and to find a “Who Was” or “I Am” book on their famous American. I follow this weekly plan:

The night before the Wax Museum, I hang up all the backdrops in the fellowship hall. (This could also be done in the gym.) The day of the Wax Museum, the students come to school in their costumes and bring clothes to change into afterwards. Before the Museum begins, I go around and have each student give their speech in front of their backdrop while I record them and take a picture. I also ask them why they chose this famous American.

More projects

My students also create a weekly newscast, edited using iMovie. I start the school year with showing my class examples from years past and then work as a whole class to create the four different sections: Quote of the Week and Memory, Classroom Events, Sports, and Good News. Each group works on their own section, and then I assign one student from each group to work as an editor on the editing team to put it all together. After the class seems to have a good grasp on how to make a newscast, I assign students to groups that will work together to complete an entire newscast. These groups will take turns each week to create a newscast that we share with the parents on our ClassDojo

I can’t possibly teach everything my students are interested in learning. That is why I have incorporated Genius Hour into my literacy centers each week.A final activity that I have revamped is Passion Projects. I can’t possibly teach everything my students are interested in learning. That is why I have incorporated Genius Hour into my literacy centers each week. Students chose a topic they are interested in and form it into a question that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. They then spend time each week researching the topic. When they feel they are ready to present what they have learned, they may choose how they want to present the learning. Students may prepare a poster, give a speech, present a slideshow, or determine another presentation method. In the past, I required students to create a slideshow and a speech that they then presented to their classmates and parents. This was a good format, but I felt it took away from their choice in how they wanted to present their passion project.

Ultimately I try to create a classroom that the students want to come to every day—a place where their love of learning is fostered.

Sara Maxon is a fifth grade teacher at Concordia Academy in Omaha, Nebraska, where she has taught third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades as well as physical education over the course of 17 years.

Photos courtesy the author.