Saturday, September 24, 2016

Erosion Extravaganza!

Although I've taught fourth grade for the last 20 years, either my grade level partner or a science teacher had taught science. My specialty was Social Studies. . . soooo . . . new partner this year and new science standards, I was eager to learn more about NGSS and start teaching science!
Since our earth science unit, Earth's Systems, connects so perfectly with our Social Studies unit on geography and landforms, we decided to start with 4-EEE2-1: Students can make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering or the rate of erosion by water, ice, wind, or vegetation. 

My partner and I planned an Erosion Extravaganza day! The class had already learned about landforms and formed them using Play-Doh (you can read about that here). After watching this erosion video,

we divided up our grade level into 3 groups: one group explored erosion and weathering using chocolate chip cookies. The second group was outside experimenting with sand trays and the effects of water on landforms, and the third rotation was annotating passages and taking notes on erosion and various types of rocks. (We had our teaching assistant and two parent volunteers supervising in that room).

During our cookie rotation, we reviewed the 3 types of physical/mechanical weathering:
  • Temperature: rub hands together to make heat, then hold a section of the cookie (chocolate chips melt)
  • Wind: rub two cookies together to see how wind rubs against rocks, creating deposits
  • Water: place a chunk of cookie in water, crumbs disperse and start separating from the main chunk (rock deposits form)
Some kids decided to drink their water (eww!) and they noticed how the cookie crumbs stuck at the bottom forming deposits once the water was gone! 
The sand tray group filled an aluminum cake pan with 2-3" of sand. (The trays were 2 for $1 at Dollar Tree and a 50 lb. bag of sand was $4 at Home Depot). After patting down the sand, students built landforms in the tray. They recorded their observations and predictions in their Science Notebooks. Students cut the recording sheet in half then glued it into their notebooks. You can download your copy of this recording sheet by clicking on the picture below or here

Next, they poked a hole in the bottom of a paper cup and attached it to a ruler (forming a ledge on top of the tray). Originally, I was going to have students put a few library books in a gallon ziploc bag for protection, to be used to raise the sand tray. However, we used 3-ring binders instead. After raising/slanting the tray with 3-ring binders under one end, students slowly poured water into the cup and observed how the stream changed the landforms. They recorded the results in their Science Notebooks. We ran out of time,  but next time students will try other variables: the degree of the slant, size of the holes in the cup, position of cup, etc.
I love that now when we look at landforms during our geography unit, students are calling out "weathering!" "erosion!" They are amazed at the power of nature!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Apples are Not Just for Eating!

There's nothing like a good STEM challenge created by my friend, Kerry Tracy, to motivate students and engage them in problem solving and engineering design. 
Aligned with the NGSS, this activity challenged students to create headgear (using limited materials) to hold an apple during a relay race. Student used pipe cleaners, tape, rubberbands, cardboard, tape, and string. These challenges always amaze me at how readily students jump in and start exploring with materials.
Some of their headgear were very creative! However, not only did the apple have to stay balanced on the child's head, but it had to be easily passed to the next team member.
This student got very creative: while he was running, his apple started to slip out of his holder, so he kept readjusting the tilt of his head to balance the apple!
 Whoops, this student thought he'd take the easy way out by just sticking his apple in a bag on his head. The criteria said the apple must be visible, so he cut a hole to display his apple, but it was a tad bit too large so when he started running, the force of the apple started ripping the bag. it was hilarious!!
After a couple relay rounds in teams, students discussed and revised their designs. These revised headgear were definitely much more sturdy! This was a great introduction to the engineering cycle; we plan to do many more STEM challenges this year! Each challenge comes with planning & recording sheets, as well as discussion questions. You can find Apples-a-Head & more fantastic STEM challenges here

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What's my Number? A Place Value Game

For some reason, place value is sometimes a difficult concept for students to grasp.  Place value flip books? Check. Building with Base 10 pieces? Check. Number lines? Check. Most of you know that I'm big on getting kids to think & justify their thinking: time for a GAME!
Just the word "game" has my class excited about whatever we are learning!  Always a favorite "board game" is Mastermind, the logic game where players have to guess their partner's color pattern. They use logic to make deductions about the pattern.  In comes Digit Mind, the place value version of this game!

With a partner, students pick a "secret" 3-digit number.  Each time someone guesses, the other person tells how many digits in the guess are correct and how many of those digits are in the right place.  (But they do NOT tell which digits are correct.)
This becomes a process of elimination, using previous clues. After playing a couple rounds of class vs. the teacher (which they LOVED), partners were ready to pair off. The best part was eavesdropping in on their conversations. (I always encourage kids to think aloud!) You can see from the photo above, this student started boxing numbers he felt were correct, or a pattern. I overheard, "Well, I'm going to try the 3 again, since one of the digits was correct and in the right place." After guessing 239, he was excited because two of his numbers were correct and in the right place." On the next guess, he kept the 39, but tried 439. "Oh no, now I only have one digit in the right place again so it must be the 3 in the tens' place." And so on. . .  (Now of course this is not to say that other students were not just wildly guessing any combinations of numbers! LOL) 
You can grab your copy of the directions here.  

What kinds of games do you use to make math understandable for your students?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Let's Get Logical: Back to School Style

So much focus these days is on memorization of facts, but that does not require real thinking.  (In fact, Dr. Jo Boaler from Stanford University, claims that it is even harmful to children!) To read more about the latest research on effective math practices, click here
Getting children to practice thinking and forming logical conclusions is helpful in so many areas (plus it's fun)! My students LOVE using School Supplies Logic Task Cards! They read clues regarding the amount of objects in a group, while using pencil, ruler, and scissors tiles as manipulatives.
 Although some students may not need the physical tiles, actually moving pieces around to compare, and building amounts and touching the school supplies helps to make the abstract problems become concrete.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Play-Doh in 4th Grade? Yes, please!

I know I have work to do when I mention science and students groan. Whaaaat?! Who doesn't love science? Solution? Play-Doh! Linking up today with Laura over at A Grace-Filled Classroom for Classroom Ideas.
One of our fourth grade Earth's Systems NGSS standard (4-ESS2-1) is to make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering or the rate of erosion by water, ice, wind, or vegetation.  Since my husband and I are BIG National Parks fans, we try to visit them and get out into nature as often as we can! (And I'm sure you know that 2016 is the centennial of the national parks so all fourth graders & their families are FREE!! However, fourth grade teachers are not free. . . sigh. . .)

Anyway, landforms and the effects of weathering and erosion is SO cool to see in person. I never get tired of looking at majestic mountains,  hiking through deep canyons or being awed by natural landforms. Since I take A LOT of photos, I put them altogether in a powerpoint to show my kids. Many of them have never been to a national park, and their mouths dropped open when I showed them the pictures. This evolved into my Landforms Photo File, which includes all the teaching points to go along with the pictures. (This is my cheat sheet as I teach!) Click on the photo below to learn more.
But looking at pictures is not enough; I wish my kids could experience the landforms, as well. In comes the Play-Doh. (The Dollar Tree had 4 packs for a dollar.) As we learned about each landform, students worked in partners to build, mold, roll, pinch, and shape the landforms.
 They LOVED working with the Play-Doh & it doesn't stick to the desk or stain hands. Easy clean up and rapt attention!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Teaching Mathematics for a Growth Mindset

I can't believe this is the last chapter of our summer book study! (And since Labor Day is this weekend, it is still summer, right? Although we've been back at school for 3 weeks. . .it's still 103 degrees here. . .) For those of you who have been following along for the entire book, THANK YOU! If you missed a few, you can catch up here:
Mathematical Mindsets has by far, been one of my favorite professional books! Every chapter made me rethink my mathematical practices and my kids are definitely benefitting! At Back to School Night, numerous parents told me how excited their children are about math (and this had never happened before!) and they already knew about growth mindsets because their children have been sharing how mistakes grow your brain!
Establishing positive norms in our classroom from the beginning of the year is crucial to students' understanding that their ideas are valued.  Boaler suggests posting these norms in the classroom for frequent reference:
As teachers, we need to support these norms with action. And because we work so often in groups, emphasizing listening, collaboration and compromise, as well as building on each other's strengths will only enhance group work.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Math Assessment for Growth Mindset

We're getting close to the end of our summer collaborative book study. Today we're reviewing Chapter 8: Assessment for Growth Mindset. This book is FULL of gems & my brain is hurting because I'm rethinking so much of how I "do math"! If you missed some of the other fabulous chapters, you can catch up here:
Chapter Summary
Chapter 8 begins with convincing evidence that we must change the way we assess mathematics! "The knowledge needed for success on such tests is so far from the adaptable, critical, and analytical thinking needed by students in the modern world that leading employers such as Google have declared they are no longer interested in students' test performance, as it in no way predicts success in the workplace. (Bryant, 2013)" p. 141 Hey, if Google says we need to rethink testing, then. . .
What was also interesting were the numerous studies that show not taking tests but focusing on meaningful feedback and problem solving led to higher scores. These results are attributed to having a growth mindset; these children had been taught to believe in their own capabilites and the feedback they received was helpful to their learning. (Read: no "good job")
My Takeaway
Have you seen the documentary, Race to Nowhere? It's a powerful film, highlighting the stress students are placed under in U.S. schools. I've experienced firsthand, the craziness of high school through my oldest daughter. Everything she did in high school was "for my college resume." What?! I had never heard of such a thing. That fear of not getting into the best universities is what motivated my daughter and all her friends: the classes they took, the clubs they joined, the activities they pursued. She admits that she memorized material to pass tests but couldn't recall any information later. It saddened me to never hear her talk about the joy of learning.  True, she graduated with a 4.0+ GPA & she goes to an excellent university. But my heart broke when she called me during her sophomore year and said, "I don't know why I'm here. Everyone is smarter than me. I don't know what I want to do with my life." Just like the premise of this film, with all our teaching, we need to be asking the questions, "What does it take to produce a happy, motivated, creative human being?"