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Whale of a Project

School: Summit View Elementary

City/State: Highlands Ranch, CO

Grade(s): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Format(s): Report, Visual arts

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Technology, Visual Arts

Project Overview

Elementary students (1st-6th) in a Significant Support Needs (SSN) special education class engaged in an expedition centered around the Sanctuary Ocean Count Project in Hawaii to learn about whales, culminating in a multi-disciplinary project with the SSN teacher, Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) and Art Teacher.

The class consisted of eight students with cognitive disabilities and a range of needs including autism, deafness, physical disabilities, vision impairments, and students who use augmentative communication devices. Using a co-teaching model with the SSN teacher and SLP, students dove into research. They attended a weekly Super Star Art (Adaptive Art) class to work on projects that corresponded with the case studies. Every student was individually challenged through facing sensory fears (paper mache) and the introduction of new motor skills (coloring on clear pages, cutting on lines for seaweed).

Throughout the case studies, students were challenged to research a whale, write an informational piece about whales, visually demonstrate the length and weight of a whale, write a creative story and illustrate with watercolor, demonstrate proficiency of content-specific vocabulary, and create a life size replica of an orca. Students spoke via face time with an expert, a marine biology student in Hawaii, and used texts, videos, and websites to gather information.

Students were given multiple opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary, as well as characteristics of baleen and toothed whales through matching and labeling games. The research summaries and creative stories went through multiple drafts, demonstrating complexity and craftsmanship.
The culminating product for this expedition was a collaborative effort with the art teacher to create a replica of an orca using wire mesh and paper mache, make seaweed, coral and color fish, seahorses and starfish. Contributing to beautiful spaces of the school, the 11’ whale and habitat are proudly displayed in a skylight in the main hallway.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Excellent and unique example from an SSN Class that shows great perseverance
  • Good model of interdisciplinary work where each component holds unique weight
  • Ilustrates a well-planned expedition with accommodations for each student
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