Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thanksgiving STEM Challenge: The Great Turkey Race

What do you do during those few days right before Thanksgiving Break?  Get your kids to collaborate, think critically, and have a ton of fun with a STEM Challenge, of course!

This Thanksgiving STEM Challenge encourages students to help prevent the turkeys from becoming Thanksgiving dinner by building a fast-moving turkey stunt double out of common household items within a limited amount of time.  The students work through the STEM Design Process - building a prototype, testing these turkeys by "racing" them, and then making improvements to make the turkeys faster.

Your classroom will be buzzing with positive activity throughout this challenge.  Students get excited to sketch and share their ideas with each other to make the fastest turkey.  The element of limited time also causes the students to have a sense of urgency that keeps this activity at a high energy level!

The middle school kids in grades 5-8 are expected to identify the need, research the problem, design a solution by writing detailed procedures and sketching prototypes, build and test a prototype, and troubleshoot.  The younger students in grades 3-5 are asked to follow the same steps - but in a simpler way.  These kiddos will Ask, Imagine, Create, and Improve.

The most awesome part of facilitating a STEM Challenge, for me, is to witness the extraordinary creativity that your students will exhibit during this type of an activity.  As adults, we have lost a lot of our imagination - so when we see a handful of random household objects listed as materials, we think: What do you do with these???  We think there has to be one certain way to make whatever it is we are being challenged to design. But, the kids will be able to come up with design ideas beyond what we could have ever imagined!  There might be a couple kids that need a few minutes to grease the wheels of innovation, but once they get going there will be no stopping their enthusiasm!

Starting STEM in elementary is a fantastic way for kids to fall in love with science.  The kids learn how to cultivate their thinking by following the STEM Design Process during a time when they already think outside of the box!  These steps will help them create even more advanced prototypes and troubleshoot at a higher analytical level as they get older - hopefully leading them to successful career paths!

Do you love doing STEM in your classroom?  Check out this free STEM Design Process Poster for elementary science! (Coming Soon to my TpT Store as a freebie!  Follow me on social media or my store to get a notification when it is posted!)

Love this activity but don't have the time to design it yourself?  A student handout, corresponding presentation, and detailed lesson plan is available in my TeachersPayTeachers store for grades 3-5 and grades 5-8 in either PowerPoint or SMART Board formats!

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Veterans Day Class Project: Thank a Veteran FREEBIE

Are you looking for a class project for Veterans Day? I have a fantastic freebie to help get your class started! This project targets veterans who have served in past military conflicts. These veterans sometimes feel like their service and sacrifices have been forgotten. I know that your students' letters would definitely brighten the day of these veterans! Once you collect your students' final drafts, please send to the veterans through Operation Gratitude.

Operation Gratitude annually sends 150,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment, hygiene and hand-made items, plus personal letters of appreciation, to New Recruits, Veterans, First Responders, Wounded Warriors, Care Givers and to individually named U.S. Service Members deployed overseas. Their mission is to lift the spirits and meet the evolving needs of our Active Duty and Veteran communities, and provide volunteer opportunities for all Americans to express their appreciation to members of our Military. Each package contains donated product valued at $75-100 and costs the organization $15 to assemble and ship. Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude volunteers have shipped more than One Million Care Packages.

1. Please make sure your letters will fit in a standard size business envelope; please avoid using greeting cards as they will not fit. ***IF YOUR LETTERS ARE TOO LARGE TO FIT IN A STANDARD ENVELOPE, THEY WILL NOT BE MAILED.***
2. Include your own name and address in the body of the letter.
3. Do not write about politics, religion, death or killing.
4. Please do not use glitter.
5. This is strictly a letter-writing effort to thank Veterans; please do not send any care package items for Veterans.
6. All letters will be screened.
7. Send multiple letters together in one large mailing envelope or box.

Please send as many letters as you would like by regular mail only to:
Thank a Veteran
c/o Penny Alfonso
1970 Rangeview Drive
Glendale, CA 91201

I had the privilege of planning the 8th grade class trip to Washington, D.C. for five years, so I love Veterans Day. It is a chance for teachers who may have experienced the awe-inspiring stories of those brave soldiers and who may have visited the breathtaking war memorials in D.C. to convey those feelings of respect and admiration for our uniformed men and women to a younger generation. My favorite thing about taking the students to D.C. was seeing the transformation that occurred during the trip. Students returned so much more mature with a greater understanding of our country and the sacrifices that our military men and women make for us on a daily basis. Witnessing the Changing of the Guard at The Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery and finding relatives' names on the Vietnam Memorial allowed history to become real for these students.  Veterans Day is a teachable moment that can be really powerful for our students if implemented in a thoughtful manner!

Interested in having your students do this project?  Download this friendly letter template for FREE from my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

You may also be interested in this fun, fast-paced Veterans Day QR Code Trivia Scoot Game also available in my TpT Store! Or, this Veterans Day Bulletin Board Class Project Idea - read about it here!

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How to Teach Good Procedure Writing: PB and No J Scientific Method Demonstration

I love teaching the scientific process
to start off the beginning of the year. It's the foundation for all other good scientific work that we will do throughout the entire academic year. I introduce the importance of good procedure writing with a fun and memorable demonstration called PB & No J.

Students are asked to write some steps for how to make a peanut butter sandwich as a type of pre-assessment. I usually walk around the room to observe the different skill levels of the students, since many of my students come to me with various scientific inquiry experiences. Then, I have a few volunteers to participate in the first part of the demonstration. Students experience poorly written procedures when trying to make a peanut butter sandwich. The student trying to make the sandwich in this demonstration automatically adds the unwritten steps since they have probably made a peanut butter sandwich before. It's a lot of fun for the class when the teacher polices this demonstration and calls the student out. "Did the instructions say to do that?" The classmates usually start shouting out ideas for what should be done, but as the teacher and facilitator, you want to get the point across that there is a lot of wiggle room with these procedures. You just
never know what should actually be done and need to do some guessing. That does not make for a clear and consistent procedure. I do allow students to be creative in opening the peanut butter jar and eating the sandwich - as long as it isn't with their hands. Always pick a student for this part of the demonstration who is generally outgoing and boisterous. You will know the perfect kid for each class who will help make this activity memorable.

The second part of the demonstration shows the students an example of well-written procedures. I usually try to over-emphasize on the detail, and then try to tell the kids that their procedures need to be a happy medium between the poor procedures and the extremely detailed procedures. Once the students have experienced both demonstrations, then I have them review the procedures they had written at the beginning of the activity. I ask them to self-assess on a rubric, and then have any super confident junior scientists try their hand at reading their procedure for someone to follow in front of the class. This is a great opening for a few other lab experiences that will provide the opportunity for students to continue refining their procedure writing skills. I can tell a HUGE difference in the student writing when I explicitly teach procedure writing with this activity versus years when I only mentioned how it was important to include detailed steps. PB & No J definitely makes an impression!

Do you love this activity but don't have a ton of time to think about writing all those procedures? Download the handout with a self-assessment rubric and t-chart as well as a corresponding PowerPoint on my TpT store here!

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

10 Back to School Ice Breakers Your Students Will Love

Ice Breakers.  The bane of a teacher's existence during the first week of school.  You have a bazillion things to cross of your list to get ready, you meet with your team, and you discuss which ice breakers you want to incorporate during the first week.  What did we do last year?  Do you remember?  Those are frequent questions tossed around in this first meeting of teachers who still are transitioning from summer to school mode.

Try these 10 Back to School Ice Breakers that your students will love!  These activities cover different areas of thought, so students do not feel like they are repeating the same information with each ice breaker.  Students have fun, they get to know each other, you get to know them, AND you save time to cross other things off your list.  It's a win-win for everyone!

Two Truths and a Lie is one of my favorite back to school activities!  It's always so fun, even as a teacher, to try to guess which statement is the lie. You can really find out some interesting tidbits about your students with this one.  You can also use this activity with clickers to have students vote on which statement they believe was the lie.

Would You Rather... can be conducted by having students get up and move to different sides of the room based on what they would rather do in each scenario.  This allows students to really visualize how many would pick one choice over the other.  The best part of this activity is the classroom discussion that will be generated.

My No Good, Very Bad Day is a spin on the classic Skittles Ice Breaker.  The student shares one of the worst experiences he/she has had based on the color of the Skittle.  Students can share in small groups rather than in front of the entire class to make even the quietest student more comfortable.

This Fear Factor Ice Breaker is a 4-Corner Activity.  Students are presented with different phobias in the form of the "Are you afraid of.." question.  Students then vote on how afraid (or not afraid) they are of the various things by moving to the different corners of the room.

The Marshmallow Challenge is a fantastic team builder that is great for any subject area or age group even though this is a STEM activity.  This activity does require some prep ahead of time, but it is so worth it!  Read more about this activity on this blog post.

Super Sleuths can be differentiated based on the grade level.  Students write down three personal characteristic clues that their peers could use to identify them.  Younger students can write down more obvious clues (color of shirt) while older students can be more detailed (freckle on my left cheek).  Shuffle the cards and allow students to be detectives to determine who matches the clues!

What Would You Do is another take on the classic Skittles Ice Breaker.  This time, students are asked to share what they would do in different situations - say, for example, if they were president.  This is a more introspective ice breaker that really encourages students to think!

Have You Ever?  is an interactive game where students are presented with a range of questions - from common experiences to create bonds among students to uncommon to allow students to stand out and create discussion.  Students move to one side of the room or the other based on if they have or have never experienced the proposed scenario.

Find Someone Who... allows students to mingle with each other around the room to find people who fit each experience.  It's always fun to see who can gather the most signatures on their sheet or completes the entire sheet the fastest.

My Favorite Things is an ice breaker that uses M&Ms.  Students pick out three differently colored M&Ms that they will eventually find out corresponds to a favorite thing prompt.  Students can share aloud in small groups or as a whole class.

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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Classroom Expectations Cookie Lab

Most teachers have high expectations for their students.  But, how can you convey these expectations in a fun and memorable way?  I have found that this Classroom Expectations Cookie Lab is a fantastic back-to-school activity that makes a lasting impression on students.

This lab activity allows the teacher to discuss three important aspects:
1.) Effort
2.) Condition of the Work
3.) Quality of the Work

You will need two sandwich cookies per student, one piece of paper towel per student, and a lot of theatrics on your part!  The more dramatic you can be, then the better chance you have of students remembering your expectations throughout the school year.

You will want students to think this is a very serious lab.  They will need to follow instructions very carefully.  The first part has the student picking up the cookie - one hand on the top and the other hand on the bottom part - and then twisting it apart.  Ask students to lick the filling off of the cookie and then put the two sandwich pieces back together.  What's missing?  The filling.  Discuss with students how missing answers on assignments and quizzes is like missing the stuffing in your cookie.  You would expect the cookie to have stuffing as much as the teacher would expect you to make your best effort to answer every question.

The second part has students taking one of the sandwich pieces from the first cookie and really giving it a good lick.  Encourage students to really lick the cookie and get lots of saliva on it.  Of course, this receives lots of "yucks" and "eews" from the class...but it is a great set up for the next step.

Then, ask the students to turn to a neighbor and trade their cookie pieces.  Students might be a little hesitant to do so, but you can encourage them to only touch the sides of the cookie.  Once everyone has traded then ask the students to eat the cookie piece they just received from their neighbor.  They will look at you like you are absolutely nuts!  Pause long enough to garner some objections from the students...and then say "Just kidding!"

Most students will breathe a sigh of relief that they don't have to eat their neighbor's saliva-covered cookie.  And then you will probably have one student who is busily chewing his/her neighbor's cookie.  There is always one.  And, that student becomes what legends are made of around school!  Honestly, I have students who know that little Jimmy chewed the cookie three years ago.  I suppose they remember this story from when their older siblings shared what happened during this back to school activity.  But, we wanted a memorable back to school activity - right?  So there you go!

Talk about how disgusting eating a neighbor's cookie would be.  Then segue into how this is true for the work that is turned into the teacher.  Discuss how the work should be in good condition.  No stains, boogers, dog bite marks, etc.  You could really play this one up for the kids...and they get a kick out of it!

The last part has the students taking the second cookie and wrapping it up into the paper towel.  You want to make sure it's not wrapped too tight or else you will have a cookie crumb explosion everywhere when you give the next instruction.  Ask the students to make a fist and pound down on the wrapped cookie.  I usually give the kids around 30s or so - coaxing some to put some muscle into it or warning others to take it easy.  Once you think they have crushed the cookie enough, then say "Stop!"  Have the students carefully unwrap the paper towel.  What do they see?  Students should say how their cookie is crumbled.

Relate the crumbled cookie to the quality of their work.  They would expect a package of cookies to contain high quality cookies without being crumbled.  The teacher expects high quality work.  Discuss what you think constitutes high quality work in your classroom.

Close this activity by stressing how you know each student in the room can be their best and that you expect it!

Love this activity but short on time?  Click here to download a scripted lesson plan and a corresponding PowerPoint in my TpT Store. sig signup3 photo blog sig signup3.png