Friday, June 14, 2013

Where in the World is......? Geography Project

There are some projects that I will definitely miss doing not being in the classroom next year. One of the ones at the very tippity-top is my "Where is Sammy Seagull?" project. Oh man, I just loved this project and I think it was almost all of my students' and parents' favs, too. You do have to have help from parents at home, but it is stretched out over the course of the year, and once parents begin to have fun with it, it really takes off!

Geography is one of those standards that can be difficult to teach. I don't like having my students just memorize facts, but with geography, well, you kind of have to. I always try to figure out how to make the standards interactive, and when I first started teaching, I had my students color in the states, countries, or continents on their own maps as we learned where they were. Yeah, they like coloring, but over the years I realized that if kids don't have something to velcro their new learning to, they will just forget it once you stop talking about it. Hence, I came up with Sammy to be the "sticky" to which they could stick their new geographical knowledge :)

When I taught 3rd grade, continents are really the only geography that is required, and the only states required are where our "famous people" are from, but I feel that it is important for students to learn about US geography at an early age because anything you talk about landforms, you mention the states, anytime you talk about habitats, they have to know WHERE you are talking about when you mention states. I have a huge US and world map hanging up, but I really wanted my students to be interested in geography and remember without always having to walk up to the maps.

Over the years I have used Sammy Seagull and Buzz Bee depending on my classroom theme. I had an ocean theme one year, so I chose Sammy Seagull to be our mascot. You can choose any mascot, though. When I taught 2nd grade, most of our team participated, so one teacher had a space theme and used Arnold Astronaut, and another teacher had a rainforest theme so she used Molly Macaw.

I tell the students that Sammy (or whoever your mascot is) will be flying around the US and hopefully he will make it to other countries during the course of the year. Each place he flies to he will send us a postcard telling us about where he was and what he saw/did. Or friends and family who see Sammy will write us a postcard telling us where they saw Sammy and what he was doing, along with some information about where they live. When Sammy mails these postcards to us, they will be taped up to the maps using a thread to tie the postcard to where it was from. We send off Sammy using a helium filled balloon with a picture of him attached along with our school address with my name, and watch him fly off until we can't see him anymore.

A pretty simple project, but parent help is needed. I send my parents a letter home (or email) explaining the project and how it will only work with their help. They in turn can tell their family and friends who can tell their family and friends, and before long, MANY people are ready to see or pretend to be Sammy. We have received so many postcards during the year. The last few years I did this, we received well over 100 postcards, and one year we received almost 200! And we received postcards from several different countries. The kids love it! You may think that 3rd graders would know that Sammy couldn't do this, but when they postcards start pouring in from friends or relatives who have "seen" Sammy, they become believers :)

I ask the parents to let their family and friends know that when they send in a postcard, either pretending to be Sammy or just saw Sammy, to include the student's name they know in our class on the postcard. This REALLY gets the students excited! They just put the child's first name (and last initial if we have more than one). Every time a postcard comes in, they are all chomping at the bit to see who is mentioned. Now, not every student will get his/her name on a postcard, but I have never had anyone upset about that. For the majority it is just seeing where the postcard is from. At the end of the year, we welcome back Sammy, and the students then choose a place where he visited to complete a little research project on. They can work alone or with a partner. I let them choose how they want to present the information. And then I let the students take the postcards home. If they have their name on a postcard, they get that postcard. All the cards without student names, I pass out to make sure every one receives at least one postcard.

It can be overwhelming because sometimes the postcards come in droves, and sometimes they trickle in. I try to share the postcards every other day. I would only share 3 at the most at a time. If you share too many the students don't really focus on where they are from, and I would type up the postcards and put them on our class homepage that Friday afternoon. That way when friends and family can "see" their postcard on our website, it encourages them to send more and tell more people about it. I think including the postcards on our homepage really helped us to receive lots of postcards.

Examples of Postcards
This is what was written on the back of a postcard from Paris. I then typed it up to put on our class homepage. The person who wrote it had written it in 1st person pretending to have seen Sammy, so I did change the point of view when typing it for our class homepage:

Paris, France- While flying around Paris taking in all the sights, Sammy flew into Sadee’s mom’s boss, Ms. Barbara. She was having dinner at the Eiffel Tower. It was a cool evening, and Sammy thought that it may end up snowing. Sammy loved this beautiful city with all its wonderful food! Sammy also met up with Ms. Barbara again at the Sacre Coeur Basilica. This cathedral is very old. It is also the highest point in Paris. Below the cathedral is a courtyard where local artists paint tourists. Tourists and locals enjoy the cafes and watching the artists paint. Sammy loved his time in Paris!

This was written by someone who was pretending to be Sammy.
Illinois- I decided to fly along some of the famous Route 66. When established, it ran all the way from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California. It was a total length of 2,448 miles! In 1985 it was officially decommissioned, and now a section of it has been declared a National Scenic Byway and is called “Historic Route 66”. I ran into someone who said to tell Matthew, “Hey!”

If you are interested in trying out this, we have our parent letter that we use in our TpT store as a freebie. It also includes a few more examples of postcards and a few helpful tips.

We hope you will try this project out and let us know how it goes! Do you do a similar project? If so, we would love to hear about it. 

As always, thanks for listening to us!

2 Brainy Apples


  1. I love this idea! We have often talked about how geography has just gone by the wayside in Georgia :-( Thanks for sharing this fun project

    room 4 imagination

  2. I agree that geography has taken a backseat :( What I love about Sammy is that it takes just minutes a day and often times the students will go home and do their own research :)

  3. I am already picturing my back to school bulletin board for this!!

  4. My last few years in the classroom, I had almost an entire wall dedicated to Sammy! I had a huge US and world map that took up a lot of space, and by the time all the post cards made it up on the wall, you could barely see a little wall peeking through :) It was like post card wallpaper!


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