Author Jennifer Armstrong Visits the Fairfax Community Library

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BFA 6th grade students recently attended Jennifer Armstrong’s author visit with other Fairfax Community members. Ms. Armstrong presented her book, Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, which was this year’s Vermont Reads 2016 selection — A Statewide Community Reading Program from the Vermont Council on the Humanities. Mrs. Armstrong not only discussed the research and writing that went into her book but also gave a visual presentation on her trip to Antarctica. Resources for this learning opportunity were provided by a grant obtained by Nicole Vance, Program Planner at the Fairfax Community Library. Ms. Vance also planned and hosted the author visit in the library and provided copies of the books for the classroom, students and community members. She also led a recent book discussion as well as offered various winter themed activities for all ages to support the book.

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Students asked great questions during the presentation and each received a signed copy of the book.

Ms. Armstrong talked with the students about the various projects they had completed in their 6th grade classrooms over the last 7 weeks and she was excited to learn how they incorporated math, science, reading and creative writing into an engaging unit based on Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World. A student display was on hand for Ms. Armstrong and the community to enjoy and see about what the 6th grade had been doing to extend their learning beyond the book.

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The Backstory

Ms. Armstrong’s presentation was especially meaningful to students as they have been engaged in several interdisciplinary learning experiences while exploring Antarctica.  The BFA 6th graders were involved in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) project that involved testing insulation layers of a prototype coat that could hold a temperature of 18 degrees celsius for 30 seconds while encased in ice packs. Examples of the student work were on display at the author visit and for the community.

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After earning about the harsh Antarctic geography and environment, students tested nylon, denim, wool and fleece materials with digital thermometers; data was graphed, material budgets were evaluated and the results were analyzed. Students tested material types and numbers of insulation layers in order to construct their coat prototype as part of the engineering design process.

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Students worked in engineering teams to define and check design criteria and make decisions based on their data. Groups worked in both their math and science classes to complete and design the layered prototype coat for testing, improvement and retesting.

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Design teams had to carefully consider the cost of their prototype and make decisions to optimize their product. Groups worked together to create advertisements and slogans to market their coats. Students were self assessed on their group work and also with learning scales based on the NGSS Engineering Design performance expectations.

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As a literacy extension students created their own digital account of Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World. After choosing a crew member, students completed biographical research to develop a backstory and as they read each chapter of the book created journal entries as their chosen crew member. Although the ‘diaries’ were based on the actual events and settings in the book, students wrote creatively with humor, anxiety, sadness and joy about the harrowing experience of being stranded for more than a year and a half in Antarctica. Illustrations were then added in Book Creator and the project was uploaded to iBooks as a finished publication.


Learning Target 3. Flexible Learning Environments: FWSU maximizes flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom, foster creativity, innovation and personalized learning opportunities for all.

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