Sunday, November 28, 2010

Science Experiment Idea

It is no secret in my class that I like to drink diet coke from a bottle versus a can (mainly because I fear things falling into the open can). I also like my diet coke SUPER COLD. The other day I grabbed one from Walmart and thought to myself, "I wonder if there is a difference in temperature between soda in a can or in a bottle?" (and do they loose temperature at the same rate).

I thought I could tie this question in nicely with our unit on light we just started. We have been exploring properties of light (it contains energy) and what happens when it hits objects. Using information we have studied students would be introduced to the question and then they would have to make a hypothesis.

I thought it would be a nice easy classroom experiment. All you have to do is take a cold 12 oz bottle of diet coke and a cold 12 oz can of diet coke and then have students record the temperature of each every 5 minutes for about twenty minutes and discuss the results and what part light might have played in the experiment.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Science Fair - Grading

In my previous post I talk about science fair preparation, in this one I am going to address how I handle science fair grading.

I give a homework grade for the question they turn in during the planning phase (doesn't matter if it is a "good question" or not...they get the full points). I know some teachers require that students turn in their materials and procedures list at benchmark points but I don't. My life is busy enough without adding yet more things I have to review and grade! I figure if they have a decent question they will be fine. I have absolutely no interest in micromanaging their science project. The only requirement I have is if they change their question to run it by me first.

I have a grading rubric but it works slightly differently. All children who turn in a project get a 70% automatically (I don't ever fail a child if they made some attempt and I never make a science fair project such a large amount of their final grade that they can never recover from it). The grading rubric brings that 70% up all the way to a 100% based on what they have (do they have a completed log book...exactly as the instructions state....they are up to an 80%....etc.). Students have an opportunity to get extra points on their project by turning it in early (helps me out grading) and if they get their science fair checklist signed by a parent.

I grade at the time they present in class. Students hand me their log book and go to the front of the room with their board. They present to the class as I thumb through their log book and mark off the rubric. One year I had over 80 boards and this streamlined my life greatly. I tried grading afterschool once but it became so overwhelming I almost cried!

Please note that there are a million different way to handle your science fair grading I am just sharing mine for those who might be starting from scratch. The bottom line is you have to find what works for you and your students.

Science Fair - Preparation Week

I apologize for not posting recently. Most of my notebooking has simply been a repeat of previous years with some tweaking. I'm trying to avoid repeat posts but that has left me with no material for this year! Luckily we went off schedule this past week in preparation of our upcoming science fair and I thought I would do a post about that.

Our district had isolated community judges for our science fair years ago and set up a schedule for all the schools (for the sake of organizing the judges time). Unfortunately our school got one of the worst dates (right after Thanksgiving break). Science fair projects are mandatory in grades 4 and 5 and, up until this year optional in the lower grades. This year the lower grades are encouraged to do a class project but nothing except 4th and 5th grade projects will be accepted into the science fair.
This means that the first time a child is introduced to a science fair project is in my grade level (4th). No pressure!

Students learn about inquiry at the beginning of the year and we do several projects, however in preparation of the science fair we put aside a week in November (several weeks before the project is due) to really go over what makes a good science fair project. We even host a science fair informational night for parents within that week....which is an excellent parent involvement event (which I usually add to my goals for the year - "Plan one parent involvement activity").

We start out the week with a review of inquiry vocabulary - fair test, variables, graphing, etc. and a review of the science fair packet (most of the information can be found online on my classroom web page). I also review a sample board. The main point we are trying to make is that a science fair project starts with a question you are trying to find the answer to by conducting an experiment (with the end result learning something new). We show them a good BrainPop on the subject (which has a trial subscription for anyone who doesn't have a classroom one).

This year, on second day, I pulled in our laptop labs and used a site called GIZMO (online simulations for math and science). Our district had purchased a district wide license and teachers in upper elementary and middle school received subscriptions. I liked their "plant growth" GIZMO because students could change various variables and see the effect on the plant growth (I believe they have a trial subscription as well). At first students changed multiple variables in the simulation and then we went over how only one variable should change and students practiced trying to get the highest plant by only changing one variable (this could be done in a computer lab if you don't have laptop labs). Students can also be paired up on a computer if you don't have enough. IMPORTANT NOTE - Make sure students have a pencil and paper to record their highest plant and all the variables and a place to note the one variable they changed. I didn't in my first class and the kids played without purpose and it showed when I asked them questions.

Then we conduct a science experiment. This year I told the kids that I went to a training once where we were turning a liquid into a solid using freeze pops, ice, and salt. The pops froze but I was wondering if more salt would cause the freeze pops to solidify faster. We set up the experiment and talked about the variables, materials, etc. and did it in class. IMPORTANT NOTE - This gets very messy so it is best you do it outside (Picture Above). My favorite part of this was discussing the problems we encountered and other projects that could be done based on this one.

We had student put together a mini science fair board on the project and a mini log book. The hope is that they would take them home and use them as a guide when doing their project. The project took one day and the boards/log books another.

The last day I pulled in the lab top labs again and I showed them a kids graphing website that they can use. I put together data for two graphs (bar and line) and the kids have to use the information and create two graphs.

I like putting aside an entire "Science Fair Information Week". I feel like we review everything the students need to know and give them time to practice. Nothing is worse then telling students some large project is due without first giving them practice with something similar!

At the end of the week students are required to turn in the question that their science fair project is going to be based around. This gives me an opportunity to review their questions and help them find problem areas. Traditionally I get about 10 questions that aren't any good (i.e. I am going to do my experiment on fingerprints...or hurricanes...or volcanoes). I have classroom resources (and websites) that I direct students to look through if they need to come up with another topic.

Probably the one thing I don't like about science fairs is the fact that some amount of parental support is needed at home. I try to identify students that don't have that support and work with them before school (or after) or during their specials time. I know one fifth grade teacher lists after school hours she is available for help on science fair projects. Last year I had four students that I helped from start to finish and only two students didn't turn them in. I have a friend who teaches at a Title One school who struggles because her involvement is much greater.

I am not a fan of at home science fair projects in generally (both as a mother and teacher). I fully support them in the classroom and encourage teachers to plan at least ten throughout the year to really drive home those inquiry standards. Unfortunately "it is what it is" and as long as I feel I have prepared the students for the expectations I sleep better at night :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Random - Class Parties

We got one of "those" emails at school yesterday....the one that tells us we can't have a Halloween party. No problem....we've been getting those for years. Most teachers plan a party but don't make any reference to Halloween thus being able to say, "We aren't having a Halloween party." (I love that teachers can find the loop holes in just about anything! We are like miniature lawyers in the classroom when wording is vague :)

In our school district we are about to go on a week fall break and it is the end of the quarter so our parties are called an "End of Quarter" party (and we have four of them a year). Other teachers are calling their "party" a Fun Friday.

This email was a little different and seemed to indicate that ALL parties were not allowed. Whoa!!!!!! That caused a little stir in our world (mostly because notices have gone out to parents, children are excited about it, etc.). The emails started flying back and forth.

The second email was an allowance of this Friday's non-Halloween parties but with a caveat about "no junk food" and "no hard candy" (even if given out and told to eat later....DARN...our loop holes are closing :) and a promise of "discussions at the next staff meeting in conjunction with the districts health and wellness plan." Ugh!!!!!!

Now I am fan of less junk not get me wrong...and I often request health snacks in my letter home (fruit, veggie, cheese tray) but lets face it....I teach elementary school and I also get chips, cupcakes, etc. I don't stress out about. We are talking about one day out of nine weeks, on a Friday, usually outside, involves parents, at the end of the day (last 30-45 minutes)... which I think is all very reasonable and is in no means excessive or puts anyone out...but it looks like I will have to defend my position at the staff meeting...which means reading the district's health and wellness plan this weekend in order to argue intelligently...which I always tell students they should do.

But lets go back to parties....

As stated before, we (by which I mean my team) have four "End of Quarter" parties a year. Last year the first two were sort of "pot luck" (everyone brings whatever snacky and we eat at the end of the day). The third (just before spring break) we had an ice cream party where we (the teachers) provided the vanilla ice cream and the students provided the toppings (which was a lot of fun and the kids loved it). The last party was a hot dog and fixin' party where we provided the hot dogs and they provided everything else from cole slaw to shredded cheese to condiments (also a lot of fun and replaced our lunch for the day). We set up two crockpots in each classroom and students went down an assembly line making their hot dogs.

I loved loved loved the last two theme parties and have been thinking that all our parties need to be themed now. With talk about healthier eating, particularly around Halloween, I was thinking that next year we could have a "salad party". Teachers provide the lettuce and the students provide the toppings (tomato, ham, cheese, croutons, dressing, etc.). Students could opt out and provide their own lunch if they don't like salads. Another theme I was thinking would be fun would be a "Color Group" party where you would assign a specific color to a group of students and they would have to bring in food that matches that color. You could assign points for the groups and they could earn extra points for their color group if they bring in something healthy. The color group with the most points would win something cheesy (like front of the line privileges, etc.).

Sorry for the rambling....I had the party thing on the brain and I thought I would share. I would love to hear any other themed ideas that teachers have done in their class or other experiences with party rules.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pop Ups

A friend of mine showed me this pop up site that I thought was pretty cool. It could easily be incorporated into a notebook...particularly the animal ones in conjunction with learning about the animal in science

There are some boat ones that I thought might be fun if you studied explorers in Social Studies.

I am not sure how hard they are to make but I thought I would give it a try and see if I think fourth graders (and myself) are up for the challenge :)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Posting Standards/Objectives/Essential Questions

I saw this in a classroom and really liked the set up. She had a parent volunteer make it for her after explaining what she needed.

The volunteer had taken a cut down sheet of poster board and laminated it. She used double sided tape and plastic sheet protectors.

The orange one was for one subject area and the purple is for another that she teaches.

She simply slides in the standards, objective, and essential question in the plastic sheet protectors.
Those are mostly on display for the folks coming in to observe. She does a more "child friendly" version of these on her flipcharts at the beginning of her lessons.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

How To - Rain Gauge

I had made the larger one in the last picture at a science professional development program at Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville, SC. One of the teachers in the class said that she made them on a smaller scale with empty soda/water bottles so I thought I would give it a shot.
Teacher Tips:
- Have students bring in the bottles. Collect until you have enough. Kids love doing contributing to a project and mine always asked if we had enough yet.
- I took all of the bottles home in a large trash bag and precut all the tops while watching tv (and made the drainage holes). I kept the top and base together by using small cut pieces of packaging tape so that students had a matching top and bottom (they would just take off the tape when we started the project).
- I modeled what I did at home in front of the students in case they wanted to make one on their own at home.
- Make extras of EVERYTHING (bottles and cut pieces of duct tape).
- Pour aquarium gravel into a shoe box and have students use a dixie cup to scoop out (aquarium gravel can usually be found in one of the life science kits).
- I like the red duct tape but at Micheals you can buy all different colors.
- Start the zero point on the ruler just above the gravel. The intent is for students to fill the bottle up with water to the zero line. They would then put it outside and after a rain record how much rain fell (they they would tip over the rain gauge and drain out all the water and then refill water up to the zero line again)
- It helps to have another adult (parent volunteer or adminstrator) help with this project.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I went through my posts and added some labels to make searching for items a bit easier. I added the units that I teach and if the post has something to do with that unit I labled it as either:


Hope that makes searching easier!

Labels are located to the right of the screen ------------------->

How to Make - Wind Vane

When making these I highly recommend using white card stock for the fin and tail. I trace the shapes on card stock and have the students cut them out. If a student is done early you can have them decorate the nose and fin. I try to get students to make a compass rose on their plates (they learned how to in Social Studies so this is a great tie in).
Check your science kits (across grade levels) for the modeling clay but you can purchase from Walmart (approx. $4).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weather Tools - Other Schools

These are pictures I took in another fourth grade class (not at my school). I really liked the wind vanes (some of her students got creative and added some flair to the top of their projects). I found out that they came from the Delta Science Kit for weather (which we don't have at our school...need to follow up on that :)

The kit only came with supplies to do 15 wind vanes so she broke the class in half with one group making wind vanes and the other making anemometers.

Those windvanes are much sturdier then the ones my students make since they are mounted on a dowel with a ball and a macroma (sp?) pin.

I like how she had the students color the cups for the anemometer (I only have them put their name on one). She used the paper dixie cups and I use the plastic ones (marker wouldn't take as well on the plastic). She tried my stapling idea but actually felt it dragged down the straws more then taping (which she did last time). I thought maybe I did the taping incorrectly and she promised to show it to me the next time I was in her class.
I don't buy the paper dixie cups only because they always come with designs but when I was looking over her anemometers I thought that the paper ones might be lighter then the plastic (need to get out that scale!), which might work better because I also suffer from straws being dragged down (but I don't stress too much about it). If I had the kids color the cups that would effectively cover up the design.

I ran into another friend who just moved to the fourth grade this year and she said that she made anemometers with her second grade class that required no taping or staples. I'm excited because she promised a quick tutorial that I could post here.

Recycling Paper

This is a copy of an earlier post I did about using recycled paper in the notebook. Since one side is always glued to the book it is a good idea to conserve where you can. My principal is a huge fan of this part of notebooking since it supports his efforts to reduce paper consumption ($$).

During one of our back-to-school meetings where all staff was present I told teachers that I would be recycling paper into our notebooks. I set up a bin (the top lid of a paper box with recycle written all over it) in the copier room and asked teachers if they have messed up a copy to please but it in the box because I can use the back side. It worked out great. Everyone was making back to school copies and I have plenty of material to work with.

Last year I started recycling late and even though I set up a box nobody really contributed or people chucked it. This year I will have plenty of material to work with.
It has been three weeks and I probably should have told folks to make sure the copies are all going in the same direction. Currently when I grab a stack I have the blank side every which way, which is irrating when you are in a hurry and you have to sort the stack so all the blank sides are going the same way. We have a staff meeting this week and I will clarify, which should help. All in all it is going well though.

Spiral Notebooking

A friend of mine is teaching third grade and is notebooking with spiral bound notebooks. On the day I visited her classroom her children were doing an experiment with "mock rocks" based on an activity in either the Foss or Delta science kit.

She choose to use spiral notebooks because it allowed for more space with glueing and writing. I think the intent is that she would use one for each of her units (so they were the small spiral notebooks - 70 page count I think). I did see that some of the pages had started ripping out just by the way the students were handling them. I think that will improve with time as they move into their next unit/book.

Hallway WOW - Wonderful Outstanding Work

The fifth grade teachers put up these displays this year for their classes that I thought were kind of fun. I caught two of my former fourth graders adding work and took pictures.

The displays are made with file folders in the first few days of school. Students completed an "about me" sheet that was attached to the first part of the file folder. The entire file folder was then laminated. A gallon sized storage bag was added to the bottom part of the file folder. As students complete work they can add them to their bags. In this case students were adding brochures they had done on matter for science class.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Random Idea - Listening to Speeches

Tomorrow President Obama is giving his Back-t0-School Speech. Many teachers across the nation will be showing the event live in their classroom. Unfortunately while teachers are tuning in students may tune out. Here is an idea I got from another teacher about how to engage students while listening to speeches and public addresses.

Prior to the speech ask students what kinds of words they think might come up in the President's speech on the topic of back-to-school. Brainstorm 10-20 words and then make a list (i.e. school, education, future, etc.). Have them try and think like the President. What might he say to try to motivate students from all levels and backgrounds? Have students copy that list on a piece of paper. During the speech have them listen carefully and put a check next to any word that the President uses that is on the list. If he uses it it more then once the word gets checked again. Note any words that seem to come up a lot that you didn't list. After the speech compare your results and discuss why they thought some words were mentioned and others were not. Did the words used help convey his overall message? Could they summarize his speech using words on the list?

I did this with the President's inauguration and it worked like a charm. All the students were keyed in and checking their word list. The discussion afterward was certainly more engaging then if the event had been strictly passive on the student's end. This is one of those ideas that could be used from elementary to high school.

YouTube Downloader

I use a YouTube Downloader quite a bit to download songs or snippets of video related to the subject I am teaching.

There are several kinds of YouTube Downloaders but I like the one found here.

We (the teachers) have access to YouTube at school however it is dicey at best to try to stream from YouTube. If there isn't enough broadband width the video will pause and try to catch up with itself. Sometimes the advertising bar along the bottom pops up with inappropriate ads for the classroom (alcohol, condoms, etc.). The YouTube Downloader eliminates this and is easy to use.

I always use it from home, since my internet is faster. Above is a screen shot of the icon on my desktop and what it looks like when I open it up. I simply copy and paste the address of the video I want to use and tell it where to copy on my computer. It will download it as an MP4 file. I can play an MP4 at school but most time I convert it to a WMV (Windows Media Video) so I can embed the video in my Promethean flip charts. To convert it you would use the same YouTube Downloader and tell it to convert the video (look at the screen shot above - under "what do you want to do?" you have two choices "download" or "convert").

Most recently I downloaded several songs from YouTube that were made up to teach the scientific method. I had taught my version of the scientific method (with fun hand gestures) andthen showed students all the other versions I had found. They had to compare my version with those from other teachers. It was great to show that students all over the country and in different grade levels are learning the scientific method.

Here are links to the songs I used:

Friday, September 10, 2010

How To - Make An Anemometer

The first time I made these anemometers was when I was teaching sixth grade and the instructions said to tape the cups to the straw. That was a disaster and I was running around like a mad woman with the only stapler I had trying to quickly staple 96 cups to straws. Oh the memories :)
I wised up when I moved to fourth grade. What I do now is pre-staple everything. If I was a rich teacher with unlimited resources and time I would purchase 24 staplers and let the kids make these from scratch but the reality is I don't. NOTE - Try to find straws that aren't flexible. You can use the flexible straws but the cup tends to drag those down. Look for supplies at The Dollar Store, Dollar General, or Big Lots to save money.
I usually pre-staple at home, while watching tv, with a large trash bag next to me, as I finish a set I put it in the bag. Last year I had to make well over 80 (I got very good at it). NOTE - Make about 15-20 more then you actually need. Sometimes the staples come out or the child does something to destroy it and it is easier to hand a child an extra then it is to try to fix or lecture the student.
I give each student a set and then I model how to make one up front in case they want to try it at home (you could have children come up and try the stapling part). The students are then responsible for putting the pin in, getting it into the eraser, and decorating a cup with their name. While this sounds fairly simple it always takes a surprisingly long amount of time (which is fine....just an interesting observation). I then take them outside to test them (great photo op by the way). As irony would have it the day we test them the wind is never blowing. I make them hold them up in the air anyway and time for one minute and we generally all conclude that the wind is blowing at 0 miles per hour. Then the fun begins...
We have several outside vents around our school and I then let students see how fast they can get their anemometer to spin at these vents. This makes everyone happy.
Students get to take them home with them. One year one of our second grade teachers saw us out there and asked one of my classes to come in and teach her students how to make them (they study weather as well). That was a fun lesson as we buddied up a fourth grade student with a second grade student to do this. I was seriously impressed at how kind my fourth graders were with those second graders.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Notebooking with Early Elementary

I know a first grade teacher who wants to start notebooking with her little guys. She has enough experience to know that a normal compostion book will not work. She asked her group of students to purchase a primary composition book that has a large space for pictures on top and young child friendly lines below.

The problem she ran into was that the local stores don't stock them in the quantity that she needed and none of her parents could find them.

She ended up having to purchase through the internet. This can get pricy...I saw them from anywhere from $4+ to $2+ (depending on how many you ordered). I believe that she got the funds approved through her principal (she is at a title one school) and is currently waiting for the shipment to come through.

I am excited to see how she will incorporate notebooking in this young grade.

Social Studies Notebooking

I ran into a fourth grade team in another school who have started notebooking in social studies and I liked the activity they were doing the day I was in their classroom. They were using the textbook whole group to answer questions in their notebook. The teacher had used the left hand of the sheet to give them the specific (key) questions they had to focus on and the right hand side was used for the students to answer.
I thought this showed how you could still use the textbook in the classroom and notebooking. By having students focus on specific standard related questions you've given them a purpose to their reading and the material becomes more engaging.