Each year, I lead our 4th graders through a natural disasters research unit and each year I ask myself, what can I change to make this better.
With a little help from an amazing online simulation game as well as migrating our work to GAFE, I finally feel like we've got something truly awesome worth sharing. What follows below is a rough outline of the unit for you to incorporate, adapt, make your own, and otherwise improve for your own needs and the needs of your students. What I'd like more than anything else, however, is to give my students a chance to skype with classes in other parts of the country (or world!).
For those of you interested in the materials used by students to collect notes throughout the research unit, I've included screenshots of the handouts below. The word survivor suggests someone who has emerged alive from a plane crash or a natural disaster. Corporations often partner with government after natural disasters, as many companies did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We cannot stop natural disasters but we can arm ourselves with knowledge: so many lives wouldn't have to be lost if there was enough disaster preparedness. While natural disasters capture headlines and national attention short-term, the work of recovery and rebuilding is long-term. Disaster preparedness, whether it's in anticipation of potential weather-related incidents or terrorist incidents requires a skill set that in my mind someone has to be trained for,. We've even got a component that's begging for your involvement, so I hope you'll help!
Things are a lot better when we share, and I'm confident that what you'll bring to the table will be something better than I could even fathom, so I can't wait for you to let me know all about it!
While researching natural disasters aligns in part with their Science curriculum, it's mostly a topic I've stuck with because it's so engaging for the students. Following the steps of the Big6, students begin considering what information needs to be researched and what sources are available to support each step of the process.

Information on each disaster is broken down to procedures for before, during, and after the natural disaster and all of the facts are bulleted, making the information less intimidating and easier to work with. I show the class an example of a disaster poster for a not-currently-recognized natural disaster (that being a Martian attack) and point out key features including the organization and legibility of facts, use and citation of an image (via our subscription to SIRS Discoverer), and employment of appropriate font and colors to draw the audience's attention.
So, if you happened to teach in a part of the world affected by these disasters, considering the role you might play in our research and work. If you also teach a natural disasters unit with your students and have other activities you think are awesome and meaningful to the students' learning, please considering sharing your thoughts in the comments below. Matthew (aka The Busy Librarian) is an elementary teacher librarian, an avid gamer, a persistent reader, an author (of this blog and a forthcoming Wii Learning professional resource), an exceptional father, and a first-rate husband. But the word can also refer to the loved ones of murder victims, and this was the sense in which it was used at a four-day conference in early June at Boston College. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Natural disaster preparedness and response programs have become trapped in a homeland security bureaucracy. The Technology teacher and I have teamed up for students to do green screen news broadcasts "live" from a disaster taking place. In the past the project has incorporated more robust research of disasters in terms of detailed facts and statistics collected. Students complete pages of the packet (see below) leading up to the actual research, but stop prior to that so that we can assess prior knowledge via a pre-test before moving forward.
As students skim the facts on the site, I remind them to view the information through the mental filter of "what information would I need to know if I was a student at a school during this emergency." We save a few minutes at the end of class for students to share out what they learned. It would be awesome to hear you and your students share from experience and to check out our posters (and give us feedback)! I have since adapted the lesson unit so that it focuses more on students using what they researched in order to produce a product from which others could benefit.

In order to keep subject matter sizes balanced, I only allow a maximum of six students per topic. Often this is a chance to spotlight similarities in emergency procedures as well as facts unique to specific disasters.
They can use different computers to access the same Doc, but this year I'm considering having each student create their own poster. We're using a video game featured through Games for Change as a method of determining prior knowledge as well as a motivation to focus on research details in order to improve performance. The reason for the specific five natural disasters listed above is because these are the simulations available on the Stop Disasters game, a game in which, this year, I decided to incorporate as a sort Pre- and Post-Test assessment of knowledge gained through our research. I tell my students, "Today, I expect you to fail and I want you to know that that's completely okay." The students do not have any knowledge at all of evacuation and preparedness procedures for a natural disaster.
While they could (will) learn a lot simply by playing Stop Disasters, it is not necessary in order to complete the game. Aside from selecting which disaster each student will research, the students also explore images of the disasters and have an opportunity to share what information they already know (or think they know) about each disaster. I'm collecting three pieces of data during this atypical pre-test: total cost of damages, total number injured, and total number of casualties. The students compete on easy, which limits them to a small map and a shorter time frame (sufficient enough for us to play one game within our time constraints for class). In order to earn a passing grade for the class, students need only to share their final scores as I record the data to a GoogleDoc.

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Rubric: Emergency Preparedness Survival


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