Monday, April 30, 2012

Science Investigation: A Soil Study

We started our study of Soil this week.  This is one of my favorite science units and I always run out of time for all that I wish I could do on this topic. 
My hook into the unit is the reading of the story, Dirt Boy.  This is a laugh out loud story of Fister Farnello and how his love of playing in the dirt got him into big trouble.  You must get this one. Watching the faces of the kids as they hear this story read aloud is really priceless. 

After reading the story of Dirt Boy I give my students a dish of dirt (soil from my bought soil does not work for this investigation), a magnifying glass, a popsicle stick and a recording sheet.
Here are the soil samples I gave them.  I make sure that it has plenty of organic material in it.

Here is the Soil Study investigation sheet.  I used some AIMS materials (love their stuff!) and cut and pasted what I needed to make a recording sheet to fit our state objectives.

Then the kids were given time to examine the soil and record what they found in it.

We talked about how scientists use their senses to observe matter.  They drew pictures and wrote labels to describe what they saw.

They shared their findings with the group and I introduced the words: organic, inorganic and humus. Lots of brand new words associated with this unit. I will share the vocabulary cards on another post.

Yes, this child wrote drew and labeled "poop" as something found in the soil sample.  Not sure that's what it was but didn't feel like taking too close of a look myself so we went with it.

Here are the recording sheets we used.  I ran it back to back and we folded it to make a booklet.
We categorized what we found as organic or inorganic on the back tree map. 

Head here to get these materials to try out with your students:
I'll share more soil investigations soon. Would love to see anything others are doing with this unit. Please share!!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday's Words for the Week

I grew up realizing how powerful words were. My parents were German immigrants who came to America not speaking any English.  I'm still amazed by their fearlessness and awed by their ability to have been able to teach themselves a new language.  My mother made it her mission to learn how to speak and write English fluently. She spent many hours in the public library where she  immersed herself in the language and became an excellent and skilled English speaker and writer. 
Later in her life she was stricken with Parkinson's Disease which ultimately took away her ability to read, write or speak.  All she had left were her thoughts...words unspoken and unwritten yet still so very powerful.
So this week I was talking with a friend about something I'm dealing with that is coming up soon.  I was telling her how I was feeling such dread over what I was needing to do.  And she looked at me and said, "Doris, you know you  feel the way you feel because you think the way you think."   I let those words just hang in the air before I said anything back to her. 
  I have been mulling over  those words she spoke to me again and  again this week.  I must have whispered them to myself a hundred times. Powerful words that can change your perception of any situation you are in.  So here are Sunday's words again....


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Famous American Paper Bag Book

Hello!! I'm finally back with a school related post! Are you all as crazy busy as I am? You can feel the tension build as we are getting closer to state testing time.  If you're like me you're feeling totally optimistic that all your kiddos are going to pass with flying colors!  It's kind of like this:
HAH! Well, maybe not so much...but I refused to get sucked into the stress of the test so I'm teaching the best way I know how and that will need to be enough.  Who's with me on this?  It makes me sad to see talented teachers start doubting their effectiveness because their kids aren't making the mark on these tests. It's a shame, let us not do that to ourselves!

Ok, so off my soapbox and  onto a post on Famous Americans and a paper bag book.  I shared this on a previous post last year but decided to post on it again because I think this type of study guide lends itself to so many possibilities.  What you do is simply cut off the tops of paper bags and then staple the bags together to make the number of pages you need. I gave my students the title page and they glued it on the front cover.  
**PLEASE HELP HERE: Why are my pictures always flipping this way.  The picture was taken the other way but Blogger keeps flipping it.  Any suggestions?

There are certain famous Americans we focus on and certain points students need to know about each. I generally take students down the time line.  I introduce a couple of famous Americans a day. We read biographies, our text  book or view powerpoints/smartboard slides about a person and then we fill out the slip and they glue it onto the next page.   They get a picture of the famous American and they glue it on an index card.  On the back of the card they must draw symbols and write a label that relates to that person.

Then in the bag it goes.  I love using these cards during review sessions.  We take them out and sort them in different ways.  Students can use them to create a timeline of famous Americans, we can group them by founding fathers or people who helped defend the rights of all citizens.  Sometimes they take them all out and I tell them a clue and they hold up the Famous American card that matches. Lots of review practice and something for them to take home to work with for testing review.
We also focused on vocabulary that related to this unit.  These are some hard words!  It was funny because I had a high school principal come to observe me teach and she told me that her high school teachers were teaching the same words! We expect a lot from our third graders!  I always make my kids draw a representation of the word. They must show me meaning in their illustration. I think this helps them build a better understanding.
We cut these apart and they are ready to be worked with.  Parents always want to know how to help their kids study.  These cards are something the kids can do easily as home practice.  We even write the matching word on the back of the definition card so they can check themselves.  This makes it a  very independent activity.  No excuse not to be studying! They can even play memory match with the cards with parents if they want to.

We store the word cards in a ziplock snack bag and then it goes in the last empty page of our book.

All ready to go home for practice and review!  I like the concept of this paperbag book and can see how it could be used for both science and social studies units. 

We will be pulling this out again next month in preparation for the SOL test.
Interested in the materials to make this with your students?
You can find this file at my TPT store.
Check here:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday's Words for the Week

I'm part of a Life Lessons group. We are assigned something to read or view one week and then we meet to hang out and discuss how it fits into our lives the next week. The Life Lessons groups have a more spiritual than religious focus although we often refer to scripture. It just seems to fit. I love hanging out with this group. We eat, drink, share, laugh, cry and I always leave feeling uplifted and enlightened.
Our last lesson's central theme fit in nicely with our celebration of Earth Day. We are reading the book, Simplicity Lessons by Linda Pierce. Our lesson dealt with the idea that America's high consumption lifestyles are unhealthy for us and for the planet. Chapter Two in this book is entitled: Do You Own Your Stuff or Does It Own You? In in Pierce writes, "With fewer possessions, it's much easier to develop a genuine love and appreciation for the things you keep in your life." We discussed how we complain often about lack of time yet we spend it accumulating things, things we may not need. Things that take our focus from what is really important in life.
When I am troubled I always head outside. It is where I feel closest to God and where I can hear Him speak the clearest so I love these words from Dale Carnegie.
We discussed in our group how in many instances we would be as happy or happier with less materialism in our lives. The key is to pay attention to what provides the real quality in our lives. It is about mindful living. This awareness brings great fullness to lives and creates an understanding of what this life is really about.
Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday's Words for the Week

Well, it's back to work tomorrow. Did you have a fantastic spring break? For the most part, mine was wonderful. I got a few things done around the house and had time left over to connect with my friends and family.
There were some sad moments too. I went to yet another memorial service which was just heart wrenching. can be one of the most important life lessons for the living. Is there anything that brings more clarity to what is most important in this life? There is a line in a song that goes, "Break my heart so it will move my hands and feet." Perhaps sometimes we need our hearts to be broken in order to get ourselves moving in the right direction. I vowed that I would live for the moment this year as my New Year's resolution. This past week's memorial service was yet another reminder of the importance of living in the now and appreciating every minute.

So I must admit that a small part of me is bummed about having to go back to school tomorrow, but then I think at least I have a tomorrow. I won't wish it away, I won't waste it. I promise to find something beautiful to enjoy, some small pleasure to savor for those who can't. If I can find someone to love, something to share, and a smile and kind words to give then I will be assured a day worth living.

Have you read this one? Max Lucado has written many inspiring books. I found this one at the library this week. It is really good!

Have a wonderful week back, my spring break friends!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vocabulary and Comprehension

Do you have students who are able to read every word on a page yet struggle to answer questions about what they have just read? I do. These kids are fluent readers with no issues decoding the words on a page. They are not showing up as red flags on any reading screeners we have administered yet don't understand what they just read. They are the ones in jeopardy of not passing the state reading test this spring. One of the missing pieces for some of these students may be in the area of vocabulary knowledge. Here are some great books on the topic of vocabulary as it relates to comprehension.
This one is a very practical look at the subject:

This one is great in relating the research done on the topic: This is my favorite and is a good balance of research and practice: So what are the experts saying about vocabulary acquisition? For one, we have to learn LOTS of new words! This means lots of multiple exposures to words, what they mean and how to use them.

We learn words related to basal stories we are reading during whole group reading. My students are given the word and a child friendly definition. They must draw the "meaningful illustration" to match the defintion. This is research put into practice. Research indicates that a visualization of a word will help them recall it. We call the pictures the "glue" that cements the word into the mind!

These word cards are then manipulated a lot during that week. Students keep them in vocabulary baggies for the week and take them out to match definitions and then to use them. Lots of sorting goes on here: we can sort them by parts of speech, by number of syllables, into abc order, etc. We always go back to meaning though. Lots of examples of usage...lots of discussion.

At the end of the week, these words are glued with the word and definition
matching onto a piece of lined paper and then this page is added to their three pronged vocabulary notebook. At the end of the year they will go home with all these words that they learned this year.

Along with the vocabulary notebooks, we also are always collecting words.
We do it on this big chart which stays up. As I read books aloud to students, we pause when we get to a "pizzazzy" word. I give them a kid friendly definition and it gets posted to the poster on a sticky note.
This poster is hard to see here but it is boxed for the letters of the alphabet. Kids are great about telling me "We should add that to the pizzazzy word chart!" when we get to a good word.
Right beside this poster is our vocabulary strategy poster. These are strategies that I took from Jan Richardson's Next Step in Guided Reading book.
Finally, we also collect words into our reading journals in our small group guided reading clubs. Again, the word and child friendly definition is inserted. They draw lines to separate the words they collect from different stories they are reading with me.
I love the way the kids then try to use these words as they write during writer's workshop. You will also be surprised at how excited some get when they run across one of these words in another story. So, how do you handle teaching vocabualry in your classroom. Please share!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Twas the Day Before Spring Break

Twas the day before springbreak and all through the school, the kids were so excited they forgot all the rules! Ha! One of my kids wrote that on a card he gave me. I thought it was so funny and so TRUE! The day before a break can be a tough one for kids and their teachers. My day actually started on a good note as a little girl in the class brought me this:
Kids were definitely wound up as they came in but I already had my plan in mind and it involved candy. A good way to get the kids' attention. First we reviewed our student responsibilities. We use a PBIS behavior system in our school:

We are the Wildcats so they needed to be PRRing all day in order to earn the right to fill their Bunny Cups with this:
I showed them the stash first thing in the morning and then held it over their heads all day long.
I showed them the chick tickets (post it notes). They needed a ticket to be invited to this filling station. In order to get the ticket they needed to be PRRing with wildcat pride for the entire day. PRRing stands for: productive, respectful, responsible. These were at the filling station too:
They loved these bug eggs!
Most of the activities I planned did relate to spring. With only about 8 weeks of third grade to go I did end up keeping the focus on the curriculum though and found ways to tie it all together.
We worked on our language arts skills through the poem: "Patience".
I gave them a recipe for Robin Egg Nests. I had them read it and then we analyzed it. A recipe is often found on the third grade spring test. So I formatted a few SOL type questions for this recipe and we worked through reading strategies as we read and answered them. Then we set up the cooking station:
Kids came over to help cook in small groups while the others worked on their poems. We followed the recipe for the spring treat. Lots of good teaching points were made through this activity. We worked on fractions as we measured, we touched on vocabulary and science concepts like physical changes. Kids loved doing this and thanked me again and again.
They ended up looking like this:
We wrapped them in sandwich bags and tied them tightly with a pipecleaner. All ready to take home!
I gave them an opportunity to make a bunny cup next. Again, we read a how to on this and sequenced the steps in a flow chart. We're using lots of graphic organizers (they always appear on our state test).
Kids got to show of their originality as they created their cups:
They turned out adorable!
Time for filling! Those who earn the "chick ticket" got to come to the filling station:
We ended our day outside with a math Easter egg hunt. The eggs were numbered and the kids worked with a partner to find an egg, crack it open and solve the math problem.
A good opportunity to review lots of different math skills.
Kids were given a recording sheet to write answers on.
I told them they needed to get at least 18/23 correct in order to find a special prize on their desks when they got back from spring break. They took the hunt and the math seriously and all were productive! I've done the hunt after Easter too, kids just love it and it is great review. These math problems and the recording sheet are available (see the previous posts if you would like to try it).
I was happy with how my day went but even happier that my Spring Break has begun!!! Have a great Easter everyone!