The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

Cathy Muus
4th grade
Twin Falls School District

Content Area Objectives Addressed:

Students will read the book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, with their teacher.

Students will collaborate with a third grade partner and create together a story following the Harris Burdick formula.

Students will illustrate their individual story in the same fashion as Chris VanAllsberg.

Technology Objectives Addressed:

Students will be able to:

1.     successfully use the movie button on  a digital camera

2.     become proficient in the use of the AlphaSmart

3.     use file management techniques to save work from the AlphaSmart

4.     transfer files from the AlphaSmart to Word application.

5.     open their saved Word document and edit their story sent from the AlphaSmart.  This involves background colors, fonts, size, and boarders.

6.     access and send e-mail.

Activity Description

What was the process that your students went through to complete this lesson?

1.   I discussed literary elements with the students.  We talked about fantasy and mystery.  We reviewed “plot” from previous stories.  We reviewed character setting. 

2.   I explained that we would be doing a project with Mrs. Sato’s third grade class.  I told them that we would read The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. 

3.   We shared our remembrances of Ms. Roberts, our vice-principal, introducing us to this book during the winter.

4.   I read the introduction to the story:

           One day a publisher receives a visit from a mysterious man who left a series of pictures and one sentence with him.  The man, Harris Burdick, agreed to leave the artwork overnight with the publisher.  He would return the next day with the rest of the stories and see if the publisher was interested in them.  Harris never returned, and the publisher kept the pictures, wondering about the “untold stories” that had disappeared also.  Over the years, the publisher’s children had written many stories to go with the unclaimed pictures.

 “When Chris Van Allsburg was invited to the home of Peter Wenders, he discovered fourteen drawings that were, like pieces of a picture puzzle, clues to larger pictures. But the puzzles, the mysteries, presented by these drawings, are not what we are used to.  They are not solved for us, as in the final pages of a book or a film’s last reel.”  (inside cover of the book)

5.     Mrs. Sato and myself read the book to the students in two groups.

6.     We discussed the “mood” of the text and the pictures. We studied the light and shadows on the pages.  We also examined how the neutral colors added to the mystery. We discussed how art (illustrations) could enrich the words of a book and extend the story.

7.     I was working with 50 students and one other teacher.  I worked with half the group at a time.  I explained the whole process to both groups and then split into two sessions.  One group stayed with me and worked in pairs (one third grade student and one fourth grade student). Each pair was assigned a page from the book.  Their assignment was to finish the story. They used the AlphaSmarts to write their story.  When they finished, the story was transferred to a Word document. 

8.     While the students waited for others to finish, they returned to their desks and worked on an assignment. They worked individually on a prediction as to where Harris Burdick actually ended up.  As they finished this assignment, they met in groups with Miss Rehn (bit teacher from CSI) and shared.

9.     The other half went with Mrs. Sato and worked on an individual assignment.  They were to create their own title and sentence.  An illustration was to be included, also.  They worked on a rough draft first, and then applied that to a finished product.  The students were told that the finished pages would be put together to form a book and given to Mrs. Roberts.

10. After both groups finished their tasks, my room began to edit each story.  These stories were then sent to Mrs. Roberts via e-mail. 

How did you monitor student progress?
I facilitated both groups by roaming the room and joining pairs to read work in progress.  I also checked papers as they came in. 

Was there a template or an example that students were expected to follow?

Harris Burdick story assignments

Harris Burdick rough draft

How much time did you dedicate to this project?
Total- 25 hours and 45 minutes

April 15 - 30 minutes in Barnes and Noble looking for Harris Burdick  books.

April 15 -  2 hours 30 minutes- creating and designing forms and making classroom copies

April 15 -  one hour and 45 minutes Internet search for Harris Burdick sites and lessons

April 16  -  3 hours planning lesson and discussing plans with Mrs. Sato. Discussed procedure for including her students with disabilities.  Partners were chosen to ensure success.  More BSU forms copied and given to Mrs. Sato (yes, this is a Sunday!)

May 5 - 15 minutes to show three students how to take movies with digital camera so they can film Mrs. Sato and me reading to classs

May 5 -  one hour- read book to class and discuss first stage of the project

May 9 -  one hour Internet research- plot, character development, mysteries (found great stuff, time to quit!)

May 9 -  one hour preparation for lesson- lining up stations and cutting paper

May 9 -  one hour  (1:00 to 2:00)  First session of project- half the class with me and half is with Mrs. Sato.

May 9 and 10 -  2 hours working with disks and saving each story

May 10 and 11 -  4 hours – each student editing their story- some stayed after school by choice!

May 11 -  one hour Second session (BSU Taping)  45 minutes of interview and talking with Stan

May 12, 15, and 16 -  3 hours-  Finish editing and sending individual stories by e-mail

Approximately 2 more hours of free class time for individuals to finish drawings and titles

1 and a half hours compiling and binding book (made copies of pages to keep)

How was the final product presented?  
A spiral bound mystery book created by Room 11 and Room 12.

Who was the audience for the final product?
The classroom and the vice-principal were the audience.

Learning Issues

What prior knowledge was required on the part of the students in order for them to be successful in this project? (include curriculum and technology knowledge)
Students needed to know some basic information concerning literary elements of a story. 

Students needed to know file management in order to save and retrieve stories. (not even one was permanently lost!)

Students needed to know how to use an AlphaSmart.

Students needed to know how to transfer information from AlphaSmart to computer.

Students needed to know how to create rough drafts and then turn in a final copy.

Students needed to know how to write a paragraph with topic sentence and supporting details.

Resource Management

What was the student to computer ratio?
Fifteen AlphaSmarts to 28 students.  Four computers to 27 students

How did you schedule your students’ computer time?
We made a huge effort to block several times during one week.  Mrs. Sato and myself planned our sessions carefully so the students would have time to finish, but not get too restless.  We used fifteen AlphaSmarts at a time and one computer for transfer.  Throughout the week four computers were used for editing.

What was the location of the computers and other technology equipment used by students?  
The computers and AlphaSmarts were in my classroom.

How would you suggest beginning teachers obtain computer resources for their students? (Knowing some of your strategies would be valuable for our pre-service teachers.)
I would suggest letting desires and wishes known to your supervisor.  Sometimes equipment is available that only administrators are aware of.

Also, watching for grants available proved extremely valuable in my circumstance.

Attending conferences can be helpful in locating ideas and resources.

Don’t be afraid to try new things!

Rate the level of access for students to use computers/other technologies as they needed  --high, medium, low
High- due to availability of AlphaSmarts  (We did need to get an infrared device attached to one computer in order to read data.)

Rate the level of supervision required for students during the project, specifically for computer and other technology use –high, medium, low
Medium for the majority          


What hardware was required for your project?
PC-  Four worked out o.k.
Fifteen to twenty AlphaSmarts

What software was required for your project?
Microsoft Word and e-mail


What kind of assessment did you use for this project? (Include a copy if you can.)
I used their individual creations that were put together to make a book.  I also used the saved stories sent to Ms. Roberts..

What categories did you assess? (I.e.:  content, screen design, depth/breadth, etc.)
Content of stories
Word documents


How does the product that you submitted compare with other students’ products for this same project?
The quality of each individual slide depended on the ability of the student.

What did you like best about this project?
I had a blast with this project.  
I liked the creativity the students used in designing their stories and illustrations.
I really like the bond created between third grader and fourth grader (they talked at recess and in the halls).
I liked seeing them learn something new.  They felt important sending E-mail!

What did the students like best about this project?
They seemed to really like working with another class.  And of course, they liked using the AlphaSmarts.
They also liked sharing a part of themselves with our vice- principal.
They really seemed to enjoy creating the stories.

Rank the level of student involvement in this project –high, medium, low

Rank the level of student interest in this project –high, medium, low High

Would you teach this lesson again?