Friday, January 31, 2014

Project Groundhog!

Project Groundhog began in 1994 with a group of teachers in Newfoundland, Canada, as a way to use the World Wide Web in their classrooms. It has become an international project for teachers and their classes in grades K to 6. The purpose to find out if the groundhog as prognosticator is myth or truth.

For the six weeks following Groundhog Day, February 2nd classes record the daily temperature and sky conditions in their school community. The data is collected weekly online on the Project Groundhog website. In addition to the collection of data, classes in teams of 6-8 communicate with each other what they have learned about the groundhog. At the end of the six weeks, each class examines their data and makes a judgment about whether the groundhog was correct in his prediction. Lots of science and social studies goes into this project and it’s a way to get past the boring winter months in school. I discovered Project Groundhog in 2003 and made sure each of my classes after that got a chance to participate.

Some people may think I’m off my rocker to get this excited about a rodent. But this rodent is no stranger to me. In reality, we have a groundhog or two (or three) that lives in our yard and whose photo I have been able to snap a few times. My class named him Bacon, because another name for groundhog is “whistle pig.” Get it? Pig = Bacon. He helps us out in our volunteer work. My hubby is a steamboat captain for the Steamboat Classroom, S.P.L.A.S.H. (Students Participating in Learning Aquatic Science and History), and when he is asked to predict whether or not the weather will be good on trip days, he always makes sure to consult Bacon first. The email headings always say, “Bacon says…”

I have always loved Groundhog Day! Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Punxsutawney Phil and his weather predictions. Even when I was old enough to understand that all the hoopla surrounding him was just for fun, I made it a point to recognize Groundhog Day as a winter holiday and wish everyone I met, a happy Groundhog Day! By the time the movie, Groundhog Day, came out with Bill Murray in it, I had already indoctrinated my own children in the fun, as well as my school children. We always had a party and sometimes sang Groundhog carols, especially rewritten for the occasion. As you have probably guessed by now, I saw the Bill Murray movie when it came out and have it on DVD for posterity. And any time I can catch it on TV, I’m there.

When I taught fifth grade, Project Groundhog was a perfect reason to have a little educational fun, as well as to reinforce our math and social studies’ skills. After we registered, and were assigned to a team, we researched the areas where our teammates went to school and learned where the states and provinces were on a map of North America. We’ve been partners with classes in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Newfoundland, Manitoba, Alaska, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia, New Hampshire, Arizona, California, New Jersey, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana. I always put up a big bulletin board with our team’s states highlighted and photos or data that they shared with us. We emailed our teammates descriptions about our school, community and city, and what we learned about the groundhog. What a blessing that was to have the kids discover the treasures that were in our city, and have to advertise them! Some of our reading, science, and writing time was spent reading about groundhogs and writing reports, stories, poems or songs to show what we discovered. It was easy to integrate Groundhog Time into the lesson plan because it hit so many standards at once!

Each day, at Morning Meeting, someone was assigned to get the high and low temperature for the day, as well as the weather that day. If school was closed, they were required to record the high and low temps from TV or radio and fill in their data sheets. Every day we averaged the temperatures to get one sample temperature for the day. This was done in Celsius as well as Fahrenheit, since the project headquarters was in Canada. At the end of the week, we averaged the averages to obtain one weekly temperature that we could enter as data along with the number of sunny, snowy, rainy and cloudy days per week. Fifth grade is the time students learn how to average and this was a great opportunity to practice that skill in a meaningful way. If you didn’t know how to get the average in my class at the end of the six weeks, you were brain dead!

At the end of the six weeks, we examined our data, researched and discussed what typical winter and spring temperatures were common in our city, and decided, after much debate, whether the Bacon the groundhog was a good indicator of an early spring or late winter. It was about 50-50 when you examined the data we collected over the years, which is a better than Punxsutawney Phil!

I hope this year you will participate or at least have it on the radar for next year. It’s a worthwhile interdisciplinary project and a lot of fun too!



A South Pole Groundhog Day -



Still learning!

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