First, I went out and bought the teddy bears, backpacks for the teddy bears, 6 postcards per bear, large postal envelopes for each bear, and postage for all the postcards and large envelopes. In order to pay for these I had written a grant for this project the year before. I went to the local craft store where the bears were about $1 and the little packs were really tiny tote bags. I slipped each arm of the bear into the handles of the tote bag to make it a backpack.
Introduction to students: I told them that we would name and dress up the bears in order for them to travel around the world. We would send them on their travels and hopefully they would return to us before the end of the year and we would donate them to the local police department. The police would be able to give them to children during traumatic situations. Each bear would carry a backpack that held self addressed stamped postcards that would tell us of their bears adventures. There would also be a letter attached that explained the project and the bear would ask that the host would fill out the postcard telling the location of the bear and any exciting places that the bear had been. The host did not have to use the postcard and could send photos if they wanted to do so. Whoever had the bear on April 15 was asked to mail the bear back in the large postal envelope. We would then study the places that the bears visited in order to learn more about the world in relation to where we were.
Preparation: Each student was given a bear to take home and dress up. Everyone seemed excited about doing this (even the boys) and brought back bears wonderfully dressed up with wonderful names. I had the students address the postcards to themselves in care of the school. This was great practice in writing addresses. The large postal envelope was also addressed in the same way. Postage was put on all postcards and the large envelope. Postcards, envelope, and letter were tucked into the packs.
The Beginning: Students were told to find someone to give the bear to and explain the project. When the host was tired of having the bear, they were asked to pass it on to someone else. At first my students were very doubtful about this whole project but they were used to my crazy ideas and just went along with it. That weekend I actually took my bear on a hike in NC and took a picture of him by a waterfall. There were two college girls (from the Midwest) with their families who were curious about what I was doing. When I explained the project, they asked if they could take the bear and away he went. When I returned to school that Monday, all of the bears had been given away and we just waited.
During the year: Within two weeks, the postcards started to come in. Many people did not use the blank postcards we enclosed but sent postcards of actual places. Some people even sent photos of the bears in different places and souvenir items as well. As we got these postcards, we marked on the map where the bears were seen and the owner of the bear had to find 3 important facts to share with the class about this place. My students looked forward to the mail each day and made learning fun in the class. My low ability readers were actually trying hard to read their postcards.
The End: By May, all of the bears had returned home. We had a display of bears, postcards, and souvenirs set up and we invited other classes to see our display. The owners of the bears shared some of the stories and explained the souvenirs to the visiting class. The last week of school I asked the local police chief to come by the classroom so we could present the bears to him but it was kind of sad for us to let the bears go.
This activity was reported in the PTSA newsletter and the local newspaper. We had photos of bears riding in Christmas parades, and traveling all over the world. The photo shown are some of the bears used in this project. One bear traveled from South Carolina to China. Another bear traveled with the military in a plane to Antartica (we have a picture of the bear sitting in the cockpit!). Students from other classes were interested in hearing where the bears’ last sightings were and my special education students went from wanting to “dissolve into the woodwork” into being the envy of the general ed students. I have to admit that I felt this was one of my most successful lessons.