Saturday, January 30, 2010

Full Moon Crazy

Today was a "full moon" crazy day with the students (and a Friday) know the day where you lost everyone the moment they set foot into the classroom and it just gets worse as the day goes on? In those situations I really try to remember that a sense of humor goes a long way. Of course I had "a lot I wanted the class to accomplish" and it took me part of the day to find my sense of humor....the question is what do you do on a day like that?
For me I immediately reduced what I wanted to accomplish for the day to...take a quiz, listen to the lyrics of a magnet song, and play BINGO (I lost the students at the magnet song...behavior wise...but got them back with Bingo).
General on my "full moon" crazy days, when everything is going wrong, I can always count on asking students to produce science related posters or drawings (with captions) to put outside in our hallway. Today the kids were too chatty to let them work independantly so Bingo was a good activity. They had to stay quiet to hear the definitions :) I didn't get their notebooks caught up like I wanted and I didn't get my grading done but I did keep my sanity.


This week we made electromagnets. We watched a video that I found on a google search on how to make them that I showed it to students (I have made them for several years but I was trying to show students how easy it was and if they forgot they could look it up). We read our RH assignment about electromagnets and their uses and then started to build our electromagnets.

Pictured above is the tray of supplies that each table received. We found that metal paperclips worked better then the plastic coated colored paperclips that I have pictured.

The tape on the fingers was an idea I got one year from another teacher. We have battery holders in our science kit but the clasps were hard for the students to use (discovered last year). The batteries heat up when held and the tape is a way to keep fingers from getting too hot. The students loved putting tape on their fingers and comparing how hot the batteries got (they never got hot enough to worry about...but you know how students over react :)

The next day we reviewed electromagnets, uses, and how to make (focusing on how to make them stronger and weaker - which is one of the standards).

Students made a foldable for the right hand side of their notebook. The cover had to have a picture of an electromagnet and under each flap they had to indicate what they could do with each of the materials to make the electromagnet stronger or weaker (pictures above).

Student Choice

This week I gave students their first "choice" assignment. They had a choice of one of three activities for their right hand assignment. These were all assignments they had done before so they knew what to do.

This was right after we did our magnet study and students had to choose between an acrostic (Magnet), web, or storyboard. They had to have six (good) magnet facts, illustrations, and color (and it had to be done within the time frame given - 30 minutes).

What was interesting was that a lot of the students choose the acrostic...thinking it was "easy"...when in fact the storyboard and web would have been easier. It was a good lesson for students to learn...looking at the assignment strategically.

I surveyed the students and they liked being given a choice and I liked seeing how students worked within the parameter of choice.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Administrators as Classroom Helpers

In my first year of teaching I had two classes I didn't know what to do with. They were out of control behavior wise and they wound up not doing a lot of the same experiments and activities as the other students because of their behavior. Part of the problem was that I was a new teacher with no experience and another part of the problem was that I wasn't looking for another way to tackle the problem (other then to take away the activity/experiment).

When I moved down to fourth grade the behaviors were not as extreme as in my sixth grade class so everyone pretty much got to do all the activites.

This year, however, I have a group of students (fourth graders) who have behavior issues that had me thinking, "Oh dear, I am going to have to threaten and follow through on taking away an activity." That is when I started thinking outside the box a little. I realized I could do the activity/experiment if I had another set of adult my attention wasn't divided between the activity and the behavior.

I could have asked a parent but decided to go to my principal and asst. principal (because they have more clout in the students eyes) and explain the situation...basically that I wanted these students to participate but they couldn't unless I had another set of hands and their presence to reduce behavioral problems. They were both agreeable to coming in and helping out for 30 minutes or so (based on their schedules). I threw in the added suggestion that they could knock out a classroom observation or two this way...hoping to give them an incentive :)

My Assistant Principal (pictured above) came in to help students in this class make rain gauges. She has since helped us with several other activities (with our principal volunteering to step in if she couldn't make it).

It made all the difference. Behavior problems during experiments reduced drastically and all students were able to participate.

The only reason why I am blogging about this is that it NEVER would have occurred to me to go to my administrators and ask for help like this in my first year of teaching. It was a middle school so there was quite a lot more distance between administrators and staff (then in my current elementary school setting) but I think if I had asked I would have gotten that situation even some of our tough (but lovable) support staff would have enjoyed the opportunity to help and "straighten out" some of my more disrespectful students.

The lesson I learned from all this is to look for ways to make things happen instead of look for reasons it can't.

Rice Round Up Game

This is a fun game that demonstrates that a magnet's field can go through objects. It can be found in the TOPS Magnetism Book ($16) from their website.

I am a huge fan of the TOPS books (I have and use their electricity one as well) because the experiments are simple and use common household items that are not expensive.

It would be worth purchasing the books that would apply to your grade level out of grade level money, asking the media specialist to purchase them for your professional development library, or hitting up your science lab teacher or coach to get them for his/her classroom (then you can borrow without spending your own money). Worse case scenario...and I have done this find teachers in your grade level who would be willing to each buy a different book and then share when they arrive.


This is a fairly simple game but the set up needs to be explained. This is how I did it.

I showed students step-by-step how to set up their board (I had already premade the circles) and how to play. I left a sample board set up at the front of the room so that students could reference it as I was helping others. My last class of the day is short and I set up all the boards for them when they were at specials, which sped up process of playing.

I partnered students using their clock partners and gave them their tray of supplies - 2 coat hangers (plastic not metal or you could use two rulers...not the bending ones), textbook, plate of rice, one magnet, staples, and a file folder.

After they had set up their board they could take turns practicing until all boards were set up. When that was done they had to decide who would go first. The person who went first had to put their hands on their head while their partner put the rice in the circle. Their partner was to watch them careful to ensure no cheating throughout the game.

I set the timer for 5 minutes (which I found too long so next time I would bump it down to 4 or 3 minutes) and said "Go". If a child was done early then their partner could practice until the game was called at the end of the five minutes.

Students then switched with their partner and the timer was set for another five minutes. The person with the most rice in the second circle was the winner.

What I did was after the first round I had students switch magnets - some had bar magnets, some small circle magnet, some large circle magnets to see if that made any difference. We discussed their opinion about which magnet worked better and why (no right or wrong answer).
This was not an "all day" activity but could be used like I did in conjunction with a Bill Nye video or quiz/test.

Magnet Lesson

This was a short week. We had Monday off for MLK Day and then Friday off for a teacher professional development day (which equaled an all day meeting...sigh...really could have used the day in the classroom).

We spent three days working with magnets.

Monday - Intro to magnets. Flipchart from Promethean Planet. I embedded video clips from streamline into the presentation. Watched Brain Pop. Read LH notebook page. Students partnered up (clock partners) and tested items in the classroom with magnets and recorded their results on the RH side (last picture above).

Tuesday - We did two experiments today (first and second picture above). The first was making a temporary magnet by stroking a nail with a magnet. We were trying to determine if the number of strokes affected how many paperclips the nail could pick up. Students recorded their results on a lab sheet I made for the LH side of the notebook. After students finished that they created a floating paperclip (idea from the TOPS book Magnets - A free copy of that lesson plan can be found on their website) and passed various objects between the floating paperclip and magnet to see what would break the magnetic field (pictures four and five above).

TIP - I found students in my first class were rushing through the first experiment to get to the floating paperclip experiment. What I did after that change it so they couldn't get the materials for the floating paperclip experiment until they showed me the completed lab paperwork for the first experiment.

The RH side of the notebook I left blank. On Monday we will review magnets and then students will have a choice of assignments on that side - web, acrostic, or storyboard.

Wednesday - Watched Bill Nye (Magnetism) and played Rice Round Up (also found in the TOP book) - (third picture above)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Newsletter - Another Hallway Idea

This was an idea I got from our fifth grade teachers who all post their newsletters outside their classroom doors.

Hallway Display Idea

This was an idea I got from another teacher and I thought was a great way to display what was going on in the classroom each month.

Weekly Lesson Plans (Light)

This was not an "inspired" week. We had report card grades cut off by Friday (and inputted into our system by Tuesday) so a lot of the activities were designed to either get students caught up or give them extra credit. In order to avoid spending hours grading notebooks I graded on the spot for two days (Thursday/Friday)...which went rather well and I am looking forward to no stress this weekend :)

I have highlighted activities that I thought went well this week and might be worth a read.

Monday - Started off with a ball toss greeting of "good morning" (the rest of the week will be review questions - see earlier post with soccer ball). Today's lesson was on Transparent, Translucent, and Opaque (definition and types of objects). Went through a Promethean Planet flipchart that I had modified on the subject. We read the left hand notebook sheet out loud. Showed the Discover Education Streamline video Out of the Darkness - Intro to Light (approx. 20 min - would not recommend for heavily distracted students as it moved slowly but it did review light nicely). Discussed connections to what we have been learning. Students then made transparent, translucent, and opaque cards (using left over laminating film, black construction paper, and waxed paper). They got to use a flashlight with them and then taped them to the right hand side of the notebook. Here is a link to another post for the same activity that I did last year.
Tuesday - We watched the Bill Nye Light and Color video and then went to the computer lab and played this online game related to light (the game requires reading which might be overwhelming to struggling readers...I didn't think it was that overwhelming but my struggling readers were definitly not as thrilled with the game as my stronger readers) . It is quite a fun game which takes students through several modules and they can't move on until they have completed each task related to light. The students enjoyed it. I timed my last group going through and it takes about 20 minutes to complete (definitely have something to do for the early finishers though).
Wednesday - We started with the ball toss review. Then we reviewed transparent, translucent, and opaque. We then did a table activity with those terms - I had taken a sheet of paper and put one of those three terms at the top and numbered the paper to ten (I only used opaque once and the others twice). I folded it in half and put table numbers on them. I gave it to one person at each table, with the instructions that they could not open it until I said go and the timer was started. I explained that they would have five minutes as a table group to find ten objects in the classroom that fit their category (transparent, translucent and opaque). Once they were done they were to come back to their seat. Table groups got to present in the order they sat down (this got everyone back to their seats). My students love anything that gets them up and moving and they enjoyed this activity. They found things that I hadn't thought of (clear rulers, fire alarm casing). I let them tell the class five of their objects when everyone regrouped. I then had everyone show me their light web page in their notebook and the light notecards we had done. I was trying to get an idea of who was finished and who wasn't (this varied greatly between the classes I have). We then read the AIMES booklets I had taped down in the notebooks about light and light energy. This was a review of what we have already covered but it gave students an opportunity to read out loud and make connections. Once we were done I put them in clock partner groups for the rest of the class to work on a LIGHT acrostic for the hallway. I am changing out hallway displays and wanted to have something "science" related (I tend to put a lot of my reading/ELA work out there since most of my science work is put in the notebooks).

Thursday - We have to have our grades cut off by tomorrow so I gave students time to complete notebook pages. I made a worksheet using the textbook (Light chapter) that students completed for a grade (this was an opportunity for some children to bring up grades if they needed to). Once they were done they were to check and/or complete the notebook pages I had listed on the board. I sat at my desk with my grade book open (I use and I called students up to check their notebook and give them a grade in front of me (or told them what they still needed to do). That went over VERY well. The students liked coming up individually, they worked well independently on the activity, and I told them their grade for the quarter and provided feedback about how they were doing in class. I did not do this for my second class. They need to be monitored while working independently so I circulated while they were working on their textbook activity.

Friday - This was a complete catch up day. I teach five classes a day (three of them science). Each science class had something different in order to get them all caught up before the next week started. My first class is the class that is almost completely caught up (they have me for an hour) so they watched an enrichment video (Bill Nye - The Sun), finished their light acrostic for the hall and watched The Magic School Bus Sees the Light. The next class is also an hour but they take longer to settle and get work done. So really with all the distractions and refocusing it is more like 45 minutes. They had not done the computer lab activity on Tuesday (we tried with our lap top labs that day but it took over a half hour to download a recently installed program on our network drive). So that class went to the computer lab today (approx. 25 minutes) and then we came back and watched The Magic School Bus light video (this worked out well for me...I was able to finish up grading in that period - notebooks, textbook activity from yesterday). The third class hadn't started the LIGHT acrostic (but had completed their notebooks, which I had graded and put in the computer) so they watched the Magic School Bus and then worked with clock partner groups on their acrostic (most did not finish...but I'll leave it for "if you are done" early work next week).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tape - Recommendation

The walls of our school are notoriously hard to get things to stick to. I have tried everything short of a glue gun (which we can't use because the walls are not a high gloss and the glue will take the paint off).

Finally I came across this great 3M painters tape for hard to stick surfaces (it is easily identifiable by its green color). I have not had a problem since. I've tried other painters tape (the blue 3M and Duck brand) but they don't have the sticking power of this green tape.

Most of the teachers at our school use this tape exclusively now to hang things on their wall and showcase student work in the hall. In fact, I ran out and had to run to the store today after school to get some because my left over blue tape was just not working (hence the post).

If you are looking for a good tape for school walls I would highly recommend it (cost with tax is $9.30 a roll).

Friday, January 8, 2010

Secret Messages - How To (Light and Color)

This was fun activity that I got from Roper Mountain Science Institute. They suggested red theater gel to reveal the message, which can get pricy. Another idea I heard was to ask movie theaters to donate left over 3D glasses, which also have a red filter. A guest speaker we had last year said red jello would work. Tried it this week and it worked like a charm. The students thought it was very cool.
I found my "attention challenged" students had trouble focusing on making their own secret messages so I was very glad that I had made extra copies of the sheets from the GEMS Color Analyzer book that they could color and then check under the jello.

Ball Toss Review

This is a copy of a comment I left on Mrs. Gannon's Social Studies blog about review games.

When I was in grad school one of the ideas for math was to take a black and white soccer ball and number it 1-12 on the blank white hexagons (pentagons?). Then students tossed it back and forth to each other and had to multiple, divide, add or subtract (depending on the skill level of the students) whatever two numbers their left and right hand thumb was on.

I got the ball from Walmart (the only place that seemed to have the old “black and white” soccer balls) and did this with my math class when I was student interning.

I moved into science and still had the ball so I decided to come up with 24 “must know” science questions for each unit and play the ball toss game that way. I would list 12 questions for the right hand thumb and then 12 questions for the left hand thumb. At the begining of class, for a warm up, I would have students stand and I would toss it to the first student, they would tell me what number their right hand thumb landed on and I would read the corresponding question off my list. If they got it right they passed the ball to another student and sat down. If they got it wrong they passed the ball to another student and stayed standing. I would alternate days – one day right thumb the other day left thumb.

By the end of the year I had about 120 questions that students should be able to answer cold. We would play the game more frequently as we got closer to the end of year state test.

The kids love to get up and moving and any opportunity to throw a ball in a classroom is usually a winner.

Some rules I discuss ahead of time – They stand up behind their seat with their seat tucked in. They are not moving around the classroom. They are not to throw it so high that they hit the ceiling or so low they hit another child. We practice throwing the ball so that studnets can see what “normal” throwing looks like. They are to be very careful around any student near computers. They can not take forever to throw the ball to another student they are to release the ball as soon as possible after answering the question. You are not allowed to talk after you sit down. That doesn’t take long to establish and enforce. If students start acting up I just take the ball way and say “We’ll try it again tomorrow”. They like doing the ball toss so normally the next day I get much better behavior.

I highly recommend this as a fun warmup for any class!


- Make questions with short answers. I mistakenly put "Name all the planets in order" and that requires too much think time and slows down the review drastically.

- To speed up the review don't leave people standing. If they get it right they sit down. If they don't know it have someone in the room help them out and have them sit down.

- If you don't have time in class you can do it during homeroom in the morning or in the afternoon right before dismissal. Another option is to only do it on Friday's and do the round twice - everyone stands for the right thumb question and after that round everyone stands for the left thumb question.

- Spend some class time and have students work with one of their clock partners to come up with questions using their notebook. Let the partner groups run the ball toss review for the week.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Week In Science - Light, Electricity and Magnets

Monday - We started our new unit on Light, Electricity and Magnets with our title page and a sneak peek of our vocabulary for the unit, which we then put together in our BINGO boards. I put together a PowerPoint of the vocabulary with pictures and went through it while students wrote the words on their bingo board. Students became excited for the unit because I was able to show them pictures of things they will be putting together in the unit (electromagnets, series circuits, etc.).

Tuesday - Properties of Light. Revised several Promethean Planet resources into a lesson. Students read their notebook page on the left hand side. We did a couple of in class examples of light traveling in a straight line with a flashlight and how distance affects brightness. I went over how to make a web using information from the left hand side with students. Then students were tasked with making a web on the right hand side using the highlighted key points. I showed the BrainPop video "Rainbows". Students went outside with Prisms.

Wednesday - Refraction, Reflection, Absorption. Had made waves of light out of paper that I had laminated.. Demonstrated how light refracts (covered with prisms the day before), reflects, and absorbs. Had students take turn with my waves of light (students wearing different colored tops got to come up and other students got to put the waves down the shirt of the colors that got absorbed and then "refracted" the light color that we see). Students made an "r" with their pointer finger (and said "refraction" - think of how the little boy in the shining would have done "redrum" and that is how I had them do it, they hugged each other to demonstrate absorbption, and bounced off each other for reflection.

Thursday - Reviewed light to date, read the left hand assignement from yesterday (I am putting some AIMES rubberband books about light on the right hand side next week). Practiced our Refraction, Reflection, Absorption. Watched Magic School Bus Makes a Rainbow with students. Made connections to what we have been discussing in class.

Friday - Quick review. Students took 10 question quiz. We made secret messages using the book Color Analyzers - Investigating Light and Color (GEMS Teacher's Guide for Grades 5-8) and red jello. This tied into our discussion of absorbtion and reflection of light. Students made their own secret messages.