Friday, July 25, 2014

"Let's Be Dirt Detectives" A Teaching File

 Calvin always makes me smile. 
 Do you use comics with your kids? In his book, The Highly Engaged Classroom, Robert Marzano highlights the benefits of using humor as a way to capture students' attention.  I will often throw a comic up on the smartboard as the "hook" for a lesson. I've got to agree with them something funny or silly and they are a captive audience. I've used this particular comic strip  before during our science unit on Soil.  Comics like this one are also good exercises in thinking and making inferences.  Students need to be able to study each picture and figure out what Calvin is doing and why. Then of course they need to understand what the word "avoid" means to get the humor in it all. 
Comics may be short in length but often are big in learning opportunities. 

So, I am slowly but surely finishing up the Soil Studies Unit and have added an investigation on Erosion. 
In this study students learn what erosion is and how we can prevent it.
We prepared two pans of soil.  One was a hill of bare soil and the other was a soil hill that included grass.

Students made it "rain" by pouring water over both hills.  Through their observation they were able to conclude that much less soil was lost on the grass filled hill when compared to the bare hill. 

Students recorded their observations with both words and pictures. 

This experiment is just one of a set that I LOVE doing with my students as we study soil. 
Students take on the role of "dirt detectives" as we dig up all there is to know about this topic.

The set below includes all the student lab reports.  We go through the scientific method of Question, Hypothesis, Procedure, Observation and Conclusion with each one we do. 
I've made this bundle available on TPT if you are interested. 

Neat science center

Click the link below if you are interested in grabbing it to use with your students. 

Along with this I am sharing my teaching file on Soil.  I started making these slide show files for most of the social studies and science units that I teach.  It keeps me on track and kind of serves as my lesson plan sequence. They are formatted as PDF files and I display them on my Smartboard and use my Smartboard tools to highlight or write on them. They provide visuals and text that focus right on the big ideas that my students need to learn. I will go over a section at a time and then  if students have access to computers at home,  this slide show can also become part of their study guide to use in preparation for a unit test. 

Click below if you are interested in using this type of slide show as part of your instruction. 

Let me know if you like this type of teaching tool and I will share the others I have made.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Concrete Poetry: Creating Cloud Art

I am back with another great book find. This one is called Splish Splash by Joan Bransfield Graham.  I am always on the look out for books that can serve as good models or mentor texts.  This one is filled with concrete shape poems.  I want my kids to have fun with writing and language and want to give them plenty of opportunities to "play around" with words in creative ways. Isn't that what we want for our budding writers! This book opens up a whole other way of viewing poetry writing.

Take a look...
Check out these fun pages...

This one also works with alliteration through words like: clicking, clatter, clink, crazily...

I love this ocean one.  Words run like the waves in the sea.

And this Sprinkler poem - how clever!

Looking through this book reminded me how much fun my kids had working with the FREE website  Have you all ever tried this one?  It turns words into cloud art!  So cool, and SO simple to use, I can even do it! 

We used it as we jumped into our animal research last year.  I wanted the kids to get into the habit of pulling out key words that related to the animals they were researching.  I had them skim through nonfiction animal books and to record words they thought would be important when writing about that particular animal.
Then we entered those words into Taxedo and it created this awesome animal art! Kids LOVED it and kept doing more and more - I finally had to cut them off.

There are plenty of animal shapes to choose from on Taxedo and kids can pick their font and color.
Check out some of their creations: 

Play around with it will have fun and so will your kids!
Check out the other cloud art you can make....they have lots of other shapes besides just animals to choose from.  Watch out, once you start it is hard to stop!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday's Words for the Week


I have been a long time follower of blogger Bonnie Gray from Faith She writes fearlessly and draws her readers in with her honest, personal style.  I was excited to see that she had a book coming out this spring and looked forward to reading it, especially since I knew it was about "rest".  It had been a long, hard school year and figured I would find some good tips on how to unwind and recover. 

What I didn't expect was all that this book turned out to be for me. Finding Spiritual Whitespace is not your run of the mill self help book, it is a book of self discovery. In it Bonnie shares her own personal and painful journey from brokenness to restoration and rest.  At the end of the chapters she leaves her readers with whitespace prompts and questions to ponder. What you get from this book has everything to do with how willing you are to dig deeply and honestly into your own personal story and journey. I tend to speed through books but  have felt the need to read this one slowly...letting the words sit and soak in and allowing myself time to feel and journal.  There are times this book made me ache and feel as though the seams of my soul were coming undone. Yet Bonnie shows us it is through this process that we become more connected, more real and complete. Like Bonnie, I am craving a space to breathe, to feed my soul, to dream dreams and rest....seeking my own spiritual whitespace. 
How about you? 

 "We live in a culture that brags and boasts about being busy. Into that reality steps Bonnie with a new idea. Whitespace is an important concept and Bonnie has captured it perfectly. If you're exhausted with being exhausted, read this book. If you feel too busy to read this book, then that's probably the best sign of all that you need it."--from the foreword by Jon Acuff.

Has anyone else read this one?  Would love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Soil Study: Investigations and Experiments

Right on! 
Handing out a worksheet might be easier, but where's the fun in that for the kids or the teacher? 

I am super excited that the state of Virginia has decided to do away with the SOL Social Studies and Science tests for third grade.  No longer will we need to feel the pressure to spend time on science testing preparations.  Our children are curious and motivated young scientists; we stifle that yearning for learning when our teaching is limited to the focus of one correct answer and the mastering of  only specific content knowledge.  I'm excited to devote even more time to inquiry based activities that incorporate questioning and active engagement. 

Knowing that I will have more time to spend on investigations next year has motivated me to get busy putting my science teaching files in order. So,  I am super excited to report that I have finally been able to organize my soil lessons and investigations into one bundled packet. Many of my loyal friends and followers have requested these files over the years and have waited patiently for them! Sorry it took so long!

I love teaching this unit! We usually cover this in the spring which seems appropriate since it is the time of the year we are planting and things are coming back to life. I can also see how this would make sense in the early fall when we are harvesting.  The big idea of this unit is that soil is an important natural resource that should be conserved and protected. 

I added some new experiments in this bundle. Here is a snapshot of one of the additional investigations.
I want my kids to understand how temperature changes can lead to weathering of rocks which then leads to the formation of soil.  For this one we consider what happens to water when it freezes. Students are given styrofoam cups with lids.  We fill up the cup completely with water and freeze it over night.  The next day we pull our cups out of the freezer and check for physical changes.  Here is what they will find:

This is a neat way for students to see how water expands and how it can cause changes in rock. 
I like using reporting sheets when conducting science experiments.  It leads students through the scientific process and gives them a place to record observations and conclusions.  

If you are interested in the printables that go with this unit, you can head here!

I will be back to highlight the erosion investigation next.  
Come back and visit!

Comments or questions?
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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Let's Talk Books!

Let's talk books!  I've read some page turners this month.
 My summer job involves writing and research, which for me requires discipline, so I've been heading to the library quite often where I thought there would be less distractions. Maybe not my best idea ever.  There are far  too many  intriguing titles lining the walls and calling my name. I've been allowing myself stretch breaks through the book aisles and love wandering through the adult fiction and browsing the cookbook and gardening section but will always find myself drawn into the bright and cheery children's section where it's easy to get lost in the books. My stretch breaks are turning into minutes...far too many minutes.
But who can blame me...look at the collections of themed books those talented librarians have put together. 
How cute are these baskets...complete with coordinating themed fabric? I would love to add these to my own classroom library. I'm making fast friends with the children's librarians (always a good idea)  and am picking their brains for ideas and book recommendations. 

Here is a new find for me that I checked out and LOVE so much that I may need to buy my very own copy.
It is called Mathematickles!  

  Look at this creative way author,  Betsy Franco-Feeney mixes poetry and prose with math.  
Words take the place of numbers in this fun math themed book. 
Words + math + seasons = Mathematickles.
How clever! I have to share some pages with you.  Here are some examples of mathematickles from the summer section: 

And a couple from the fall pages....

What do you think? Could students come up with their own "mathematickles".  
I bet they could and should.
This book's a keeper.
Check work may be undone but my book bag is full!
I'll share more of these new gems (some great adult books too) in the days to come.
Have you come across some "must read" books this summer?
Please tell...
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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Writing A Home Run Sentence

I am always on the look out for books that will appeal to my boys who prefer sports over academics. Hooking this group of students can sometimes be a challenge. I came across the book, Diamond Life  by poet and photographer Charles Smith and can't wait to use it in class next year. This book contains a collection of photographs and a mix of poetry and free flowing text.  The selections are short one page pieces that are perfect to use as mentor texts.

"I Remember" is a series of baseball memories written in sentence form all beginning with "I remember..."
I think this pattern could be used in all sorts of ways and for many different topics and themes.
I bet kids could write "I remember" free verse poems about their summers or other sports they like to play. 

How about expanding vocabulary through sound words?  
Can you think of ways students could write in a similar style and form about different topics? 
Maybe animal sounds, sounds of fall, sounds of school? 

Charles Smith's book is also filled with shape poems and prose.  I think young writers would love trying out this type of writing too.  Why not let our young writers pick a topic they are passionate about and have a go at creating their own poems. 

I also intend on using this book as the springboard for one of my first writing units in which I will introduce sentence writing. I feel like I need to start with the basic sentence first before going to paragraphing. I have learned not to assume all third graders will come knowing how to compose a complete sentence. Some are still writing in fragments.  I have my students work on learning to write a "Home Run" sentence and then make them more fragments allowed.

I love using props whenever possible and it's easy to incorporate with this baseball themed lesson.
The dollar store carries bats, bases and balls, so for just a few dollars you have props to help 
you hook your students and keep them engaged. 

Students work on composing the Home Run Sentence by starting at first base with the subject, they proceed to second base by adding on a verb and then on to third by adding explaining words, finally they head to home base by cross checking their writing. 

We start with just telling our sentences as we walk the bases.  

I prepare these one dollar pingpong balls as baseballs and write  subjects (nouns) on them. We pick someone to be the "batter" and I "pitch" them a noun.  They use that noun to tell a home run sentence,  adding details with each base they run to. 

Kids then begin working with partners and begin writing these sentences down on the recording sheet.

I have created a file of materials that I am using as I teach the writing of the Home Run Sentence. 
Included are ideas on introducing complete sentences vs. fragments, subjects and predicates and types of sentences.  I always cover this in the early weeks of school so we can quickly move into paragraph writing. 
Interested in trying this approach?
Head to to my TPT store:

Do you use other books that appeal to your more reluctant writers and readers?
I would love to hear. Please share!