Saturday, May 18, 2019

Mining for Gold Gets Even Better!

Gold fever! It's what drew thousands of men to California in 1849 and it still sparks student excitement and dreams of wealth today!
It's difficult for students to fathom the tedious process of finding gold. After examining pictures of gold mining equipment and learning how each tool was used, as well as watching "how to mine" videos, students brainstorm for improvements they would make in mining equipment.
Using everyday materials from our STEAM box and recycle bin, kids worked in groups to design new and improved mining equipment. It was amazing how creatively they problem solved! This group below decided to combine a long tom with pan because they felt too much gold was being swept away in the river and the pan (with mesh) would catch the extra gold dust.
This group below felt a mining pan needed handles and a lid so when they vigorously swirled the water, sand, and dirt in the pan, the gold wouldn't fly out; LOL!
 After designing and building their new and improved mining tool, students used SketchUp to digitally create their tool. SketchUp is a 3D modeling computer program for a wide range of drawing applications.  Kids seem to pick it up intuitively!
 Next, each student wrote about their new design and the improvement features.
Click HERE to download Gold Mining Equipment STEAM Challenge planning sheets.
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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Tried & True Solution for Teacher Tired

We are in the home stretch! Once state testing is over, it's time to start winding down the year. Anyone else ready for summer?!
This teacher meme made me laugh out loud because it definitely reflects how I'm feeling at this time of the school year! LOL
What's the best way to deal with teacher tired? #thestruggleisreal  Let your students take over! Huh? Over the last couple of weeks of school, each student signs up to teach the class a lesson.  I love telling my kids that I'm done teaching and now they get to be the teacher. Their eyes open wide and they immediately begin thinking of all the things they know and are good at.  Students write a lesson plan (teachers in training!) and submit it a couple of days in advance of their lesson. I can review it and foresee any possible problems. Grab your FREE lesson plan pdf  HERE or by clicking on the image below. If you want a Google Slide version, click HERE
Every year I am simply amazed at my kids' talents, interests, and the range of topics. This is the perfect opportunity to allow students to shine in non-academic ways! In the past, students have taught their classmates how to draw anime characters, how to shoot a 3-pointer in basketball, how to fence, make slime, make bread with homemade butter, and how to fold origami!

One year, a student wanted to teach piano to the class. Undaunted by the fact that there was just one piano, she surveyed the class about their experience with music and piano. Based on the results of her survey, she categorized students into novice, beginner, some experience, and experts. She selected specific excerpts of sheet music for each student (!): the novices had only two notes that required only the right hand and she labeled their paper keyboards with notes. She differentiated for each student, up to those who take piano lessons by giving them sheet music that required using both hands (treble & bass clefs, that she labeled: right hand & left hand) and paper keyboards with no notes. After circulating while students "practiced" on their paper keyboards, she called students up to the piano to play their piece. Oh my goodness!! That lesson planning must have taken hours!! 
And don't you love your outside-the-box thinkers? When this student proposed his idea of teaching the class "How to be Awesome", I thought he was trying to be a smart-aleck. Wow, did he ever surprise me! He was completely prepared with a powerpoint presentation on the definition of "awesome". After introducing the dictionary definition, he asked for examples from students. Each slide built on the idea that you make yourself awesome because the definition is as unique as each individual. He also emphasized how awesome it is to be kind, caring, and treating others as if they are awesome! I was practically in tears, as he was teaching! Classmates were cheering :) #bestillmyheart 
Students get such a kick out of taking over as the teacher (& a better understanding at how difficult it is to teach when kids talk and blurt out!) and they gain new respect from classmates for their unique strengths! We all learn so much! (And it makes the end of the school year a whole lot more fun, as well as re-energizing the teacher!)

What special activities do you do to wrap up the school year? We want you to end the year with a celebratory bang! Check out these other free ideas for your upper elementary students and let us do the planning for you!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Health Topics Hit Home

Health always seems to be one of those subjects that is either hard to fit into the curriculum time-wise or I’m unsure how to assess it.
Our health standards not only focus on the more obvious physical parts of health, but also on mental and emotional, or family and social aspects of health. I'm blogging over at The Walking Classroom today to share ideas for all aspects of health. Walk on over! Click HERE or on the photo above.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Tried & True Bookmaking: Sewing Contact Paper Book

Although I don't sew much, other than the occasional hemming of pants or jeans (yes, my legs are short) or sewing badges onto my daughter's Girl Scout uniform, my sewing machine does get a lot of use for BOOKMAKING!
First of all, bringing a sewing machine into the classroom is amazing to kids:  it's a machine!! Plus having a hardback book with pages that are sewn makes it valid as a "real book", just like the hardback books in our class library! Since I tend to be lazy and try to eliminate steps, using contact paper saves the gluing step. Watch the video below for simple steps to creating these fabulous books! 

Depending on the pattern of contact paper you find, it makes the end papers look fancy!
This is the what the sewing binding looks like: (just like a "real book"!) 
Don't worry; if you don't have a sewing machine, you can use your trusty long-arm stapler! It is one of my "can't live without" classroom tools!
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to
Let me know if you try this Sewing Contact Paper book!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Whole Body Learning

Geometry was a daunting subject for me in high school. So when I started teaching, I was determined to think of a way to teach geometry that was fun and interactive. 
25 years ago, I sewed wide strips of elastic to form giant bands. Students use these bands and their whole bodies to form geometric shapes and angles. (A friend later mentioned that Chinese jump-ropes would work just as well!!) Well, that would have saved me hours of time! LOL Anyway. . . I love the higher level thinking these elastic bands lend themselves to: geometric proofs!
A group of three to four students has one elastic band and as I call out various shapes or angles, they use their body parts to form the geometric term. My one rule is that each student in the group has to be touching the band. This becomes tricky when there are more sides than arms or legs! They have to get creative!
The language and conversation between kids as they explain, argue, and form each shape or angle is fantastic to eavesdrop in on! I sure wish my teachers had done something like this when I took high school geometry!

Another great way to promote higher level thinking and interaction with geometric terms and attributes is Geometry Riddles. You can read about them HERE.
You may also be interested in this fast-paced review game of Geometry I Have, Who Has.

How do you teach students the relationships and attributes of geometric figures?
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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Test Prep Boot Camp

It's almost that time of year: state testing! Egads! I always struggle internally with not wanting to waste precious teaching and learning time on teaching to the test, yet wanting my students to be prepared. 
The good news is that if you teach using a workshop model (Reader's Workshop and Writer's Workshop), much of what is tested is already what we teach throughout the year. And we often ask our students to delve deeper than limiting answers to multiple choice tests. Stamina is one of the most important factors in test-taking. The ELA tests often require students to sit and read pages (screens) of information, sometimes taking over an hour! However, if your kids are used to reading independently for long periods of time, this will not be as daunting for them. Having substantial time to read "just right" texts throughout the school year is a great way to build reading stamina. (The same goes for developing writing stamina during the writing process!)

I know many schools spend weeks, even months on "test prep" but I do not have time (nor the desire) for that! The couple weeks before our testing week is spent on test PREP, not test practice. It is not a time for drill and kill worksheets, but for preparing students for what to expect and how to create a plan of action. In comes Test Prep Boot Camp! Similar to workout boot camp, the teacher is the trainer/coach and it is our job to develop the right muscles and stamina to help our kids succeed.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Conversations about Character

Spring . . . the time of year when the school year feels never-ending; especially when spring break is still 2-1/2 weeks away! Teachers are tired and kids often start regressing in behaviors.  Morning meetings and read alouds focus back on conflict resolution, anti-bullying, kindness, tolerance. 
I'm blogging over at The Walking Classroom and talking about revisiting character lessons. You can read about it HERE.  Come visit!

You can also read more great ideas about bullying prevention HERE or click on the picture below.
How do you teach character values with your students?