Sunday, January 20, 2019

Keep them Curious! Ideas for Integrating Hands On Learning and Test Prep

I believe children are innately curious creatures. I spent some years working with preschoolers.  I would take them on walks and would watch and listen to their inquisitive minds at work as they found little treasures along the way.  An odd looking rock, worms wriggling about after a storm, even their own shadow would set the wheels in their brains turning.  Observations and questions would come spilling out. Many I had no answers for.  They had such joy and fascination with the world around them. Such little scientists!

Now I teach 8-9 year olds in a public school setting. 
Our days are full, our schedule is tight, our pace is fast. 
Is there time for curiosity between the reading groups, the math lessons, the many tests? 

An April 2018 article published in Pediatric Research suggests that curiosity may be an important, yet under-recognized contributor to academic success.  

I feel strongly that it is up to the adults in the school setting to find the time to allow students to observe and wonder, to think and ponder. 
Isn't that what school is supposed to be about? 
The state curriculum guides and pacing charts are going nowhere. 
How can we get creative with our time and find space in our day to let kids be kids. 

One way that has worked for me is to set up an Observation Station in my room. 
It is a designated place that houses our science tools, books and interesting natural or manmade objects or artifacts.  
Students have a scheduled time to go to the observation station twice a week during our Reading Round time.  

The items I put here can vary.  Many times, they are somehow tied to a science or social studies unit we are working on. 

Students can examine the materials here.  I give them a sheet to record a picture and any notable
observations they have made.  Magnifying glasses, rulers and scales are available to help them. 

I leave out clipboards, sketching pencils and coloring tools.  
They amaze me with their detailed diagrams. 
They are even adding those nonfiction text features I've been teaching them about: 
captions and labels. 

Working alongside other students allows them time to communicate their observations and questions. 

Their second day at the station is centered more on reading and research. 
Many times I will have a print out of information with some questions to answer. 
This serves a double purpose: I get the reading comprehension practice in  and they get to discover some possible answers to questions they may have thought of during their first day. 

Many of the objects that I put out in our Observation Station are natural and easy to find. 
Last week we examined snow. 
Students "played" with it....yes, they actually got to play...and isn't that how kids learn best. 
 Through touching it, they got to witness it change states - from a solid to a liquid. 

They got to watch the mercury in the thermometer drop as they covered it with snow. 

We scooped some snow out into little dishes.  By the end of the day it was liquid water. 
When we came back the next day, the dishes were nearly dry. 
A solid, a liquid, a gas... the water cycle at work. 
The perfect lead into our next science unit. 

Students read an article about snow the next day along with other nonfiction books about the topic. 

Students love the observation station and often help me figure out what I should put out next. 
Now I just need to figure out how to find those dinosaur bones they keep asking about!

I've put together some of the materials I have used in this station and have added it to my TPT store. 

Keep them Curious! Observation Station Materials and Reading Passages

I would love for you to try these materials out yourself and I'd love your feedback. 
Email or comment if you would like me to continue adding this resource to my store. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Martin Luther King Jr. : Let's Be Dream Catchers!

Martin Luther King Day is right around the corner. 
Here is Kid President's thoughts on the day: 

I love his message..isn't it cool that we can change things? 
I love this kid too.
Check out his other videos.
They all have positive messages that kids today need to hear. 

Recently, my students celebrated New Year's Day.  We read a procedural text on how to make a Dream Catcher. We followed the directions to make them.

 Then we brainstormed the dreams we wanted to "catch" in 2019.

My kids had so many different ideas.

Here is one of my favorites:
What a sweet kid!

We displayed them all so they could share their dreams with everyone!

Here is a different template I have used with my kids before.
In this one, kids brainstorm three different dreams:
One for themselves,
for their school and for the world. 

I use this Dream Catcher lesson as a springboard into learning about Martin Luther King. 
Here is a poem that I like to use during our Poetry Station Time. 

You can find all these activities bundled in this "Let's Be Dream Catchers" set. 
Click the link below to check it out!

We are Dream Catchers: Martin Luther King Poem, Writing Ideas and Craft

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Making Inferences: What's My Teacher Been Up To?

Ready or we go! 
The calendar has been turned to January. It's time to think about getting back into the classroom. 
I will begin 2018 by teaching the very important, but difficult reading skill of making inferences. 
This is a tricky skill and I know my kids (and myself) will be struggling to deal with being back at school after our break. A couple of years ago I came up with an introductory lesson for the skill of Making Inferences. It will be perfect for our first day back. It is a fun activity that I call, " What's My Teacher Been Up To?"  It is a great one to use on the first week back from winter break, but can also be used any time of the year.  
I prep and prepare a number of "evidence" bags that contain clues about what I spent my Winter break doing. 

Inside each bag are clues that tell one of the things I did during my days off.  Students work in a small group to evaluate the clues and connect them to make an inference. 

I added multiple clues to each bag. One had a ticket to a museum I visited, a map of the metro we took to get there, and a photograph of my son in front of one of the exhibits. 

Receipts make good clues.  They often include a location plus a date and time. 
I included one for the bowling we did. Students could find clues and make inferences about the number of people who played based on the shoes we rented. 

Students recorded clues and background knowledge on a recording sheet and made inferences. 

Working in a small group helped them to practice 21st Century Skills such as communication and collaboration.  Each group got a chance to share their inferences and were able to give each other feedback. 

It was a great way to introduce a tough skill in a concrete and fun way. 
Choosing high interest activities helps my students and myself get back into our school routine. 
I'm looking forward to hearing and seeing my students work through the clues. 
So, if you are dreading going back, think of a way to make it fun!

I have put other "Making Inferences" lessons and materials together and have added them to my TPT Store.  You can click the link below to check it out. 

What are some of the activities you plan on your first day back from break?
Please share!

Monday, December 31, 2018

How I Encourage Positive Behavior While Reviewing Math Skills

Are you dreading gearing up for your first day back after winter break?
If your kids are like mine, they will need some encouragement to get back into the routines.
We will have to review rules and what it means to be respectful, responsible and productive all over again.
My plan is to reinforce positive behaviors with a classroom incentive that will also help me reinforce math measurement skills.

In my county and state, I am responsible for teaching students measurement concepts. My third graders need to learn about both standard and metric units of length, weight, and capacity. That includes inches, feet, yards, centimeters, meters, cups, pints, quarts, gallons, milliliters, liters, ounces, pounds, grams and kilograms!  
Wow, that's a lot of information to keep straight in their little brains.  
I can totally understand why my students get these units confused!
We only get a matter of weeks to cover our measurement unit....certainly NOT enough time. 

In an effort to figure out a way I could review and reinforce these measurement concepts on an ongoing basis, I came up with "Measuring our Manners". 
With this plan, I got to monitor, encourage and reward my students' positive classroom behaviors while reinforcing measurement concepts.  I love it when I can maximize my teaching time and integrate learning. This did just that, and my kids were very motivated and engaged throughout it all. 

Here's how it worked. 

First I created a chart that we would hang in our classroom.  It included an area to record our goal, plan and progress. I laminated the cards so we could use a dry erase marker to write on it and I hung it in the classroom.

Our first "Measure Our Manners" goal was to build a chain that measured one meter in length. 
I explained the goal to my students and we reviewed how long a meter was.  I have a slide show that I use with visuals of all the measurement units. We would refer to that a lot.  
Students would show me how long the chain would be....their body benchmark is their arms opened wide.  Then I explained that to build the chain, they would need to use their positive behaviors. 
We are a PBIS school and we focus on being productive, respectful and responsible. 
Measuring our Manners is a whole class behavior tracking plan, so students would need to work as a team to remind each other of how everyone should be behaving.  Students would be rewarded with a link to add to the chain as I witnessed positive behavior in action.   Before beginning, we also talked about what problems we may have along the way.  They recognized that they needed to work on their voice level and so we made that our goal. We discussed how we could appropriately remind each other about using a lower level voice if needed. 

We added a part/part/whole box to the chart to help us keep track of our goal, how far we got, and how much further we had to go.  
Then we were ready to measure our manners!

Here is what our chart looked like after awhile.  

Students could earn a link for a positive morning session, lunch time, and afternoon session. I would also add a link for other random acts of goodness during the day such as if they received a compliment from another teacher or if the class worked extra hard on a school job. 
We measured the chain once a day, either at the end or beginning of the day. A student would get picked to figure out the new numbers for the part/part/whole box. 
That was also the time we reviewed the measurement unit. 

When we met our goal and the chain measured one meter, we would get to vote on a class celebration!  We kept these simple,  like extra recess, bring a stuffed animal to class, eat lunch outside, etc.  My kids always had lots of ideas.  Once they even chose to have nap time! 
I was certainly on board with that one!!!

After the first goal was reached, we planned another one.  
We ended up measuring our manners using all the measurement units.
Kids never got tired of it!

We used unifix cubes to build a yard. 

We got out our balance scale to measure 100 grams. 

We traded out gram weights for ten or twenty grams along the way. 
Our toucan kept reminding us that "you can" do it!

We even measured our manners using capacity. 
Each good behavior was a cup of water added to our gallon jug.  

This ended up being a review of science too.  After spring break, we came back to find that we had less water in the jug then when we left.  There was all kinds of speculation...NO, no one came into the classroom and drank it! 
We finally figured out that some of the water had evaporated!
Good review of the water cycle!


There are other ways to measure manners too....You could add pennies to a jar until you reached a dollar.  How about adding degrees on a thermometer until you reach a certain temperature.  
You will find lots of opportunities for meaningful math talk. 
Students engaged in lots of good math discussions through using this system. 
We answered questions like:
 If each link is 2 centimeters long, how many days would it take for us to reach our goal? 
How many more cups do we need to make a gallon? 

I used this system to reward my class for positive behaviors, but also would hold them accountable for negative ones too. There were times when the class had to subtract instead of add units. 
I found that kids began to hold kids accountable. No one wanted to be the one to cause us to take away a cup, a gram or a link.  Situations like this created opportunities for us to discuss ways we could help and support each other in using good behavior.  

I've added this file to my TPT store. 
It includes the "Measuring our Manners" printables, a measurement unit slide show and measurement sorting cards.
Click the link below if interested: 

Measure Our Manners: A Behavior Management Plan Using Metric and Standard Units

Are you looking for a way to teach the metric system?
I explain my approach in a blog post.
Check this link out to read all about it...

Teaching the Metric System

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Easy Personalized Christmas Ornaments for Kids to Make

It's that time of the year!  
Some call it the season of peace, but as teachers we know it is really the season of panic.
Christmas is right around the corner. 
There is still so much to do and figure out....crafts, parties, presents, the list goes on and on. 
One thing that is now thankfully checked off my list is the question of what my kids will make for this year's ornament. 

I thought I'd share two quick, easy and relatively inexpensive ornaments you can make with your kiddos.  My favorite ones are personalized in some way.  These two fit that bill. 

The first one is the Fingerprint Christmas Tree ornament. 

Here is what you need: 
White or Silver Ornaments ( I got mine from Walmart)
Acrylic Paint.. (Also need yellow paint for the star)

The ornament tray makes a great holder for this craft. 
It keeps the ornament in steady position when your child is working with it. 

Older kids can print this themselves. 
Step One: 
 Dip the child's  finger in the paint and then make a line of fingerprints to form a tree. 
I help guide my third graders with this step. 

Continue adding fingerprints until you have a tree!

Step Two: 
After forming the tree, use brown on a finger for the tree trunk and yellow for the star. 

You can stop there, or have students add dots of color around the tree. 
Don't forget to add the name and date with a Sharpie after the ornament is dried. 

Step Three: 
Add a bow for a festive final touch. 

This second ornament is a favorite of mine. 
So quick, easy!

Here's what you need: 
Wooden Ornaments
Modge Podge and brush

Step One: Position the ornament over the photograph you are using.
Trace to form the shape of the ornament.

Step Two: Cut out the shape of the circle.

Step Three: Paint the Modge Podge over the wooden ornament.
Think of it as glue.

Step Four: Press the photograph onto the ornament.

Step Five: Use a brush to add more Modge Podge to the top of the photograph.
Don't worry....this will dry clear!

Add ribbon, bells, etc to decorate it.
Add the year using a Sharpie...then it's ready to hang on a tree!

My kids LOVE crafting and I love spending time creating right along with them.
Do you have a holiday craft that you like making?
Would love to hear!
Comment below or email at