Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mummified Apples

Two weeks ago, in the midst of our Egypt study, we started an experiment to see which salt combination would best mummify an apple. 

Egyptians would cover a body with natron (like baking soda) for 40 days.  We learned that different priests would use different combinations of salts to soak the bodies.  So, we put it to the test.  We quartered an apple and set up 4 test cups:

Students worked through the scientific method to develop a hypothesis.  Then we hid the cups in a dark closet for about a week and a half. 

We unveiled our experiment and recorded our observations.  We found that the two pieces that were best preserved were the two that contained epsom salt.  Interesting. 

Since students fought over taking these apples home, I count this experiment as a success!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Community Schools

Want to know what a community school is all about?  
Check it out!

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Yesterday life handed me lemons.  Literally.  It was our school wide snack and my students begged to make lemonade.  How could I say no? So today I brought a pitcher and sugar so we could make our own fresh-squeezed lemonade.  It sure was tasty.  

I like to think that it is the moments that are not mapped out in your planning book, the moments that come up naturally from student inquiry and desire, that build community with your class.  Like with the lemonade.  By helping them make lemonade today, their ideas were validated.  They know that I hear them and that what they have to say and what they think matters.  

Last week, we took another moment out of our day to walk across the street to visit the horses.  Its nice to show them that our learning can come from anywhere, and that it is not confined to the walls of our classroom.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Marshmallow Pyramids & TP Mummies

Our study of Ancient Egypt is proving to be so much fun.  The students are getting to explore and apply what they've learned in super-engaging ways. 

Here is the winning group in our marshmallow pyramid competition.  It is a lot harder than it looks, but they did a great job.  In this open-ended project students learned so much more than just how to build a pyramid.  They talked about structure, stability, building a strong foundation, and working well as a team.  In fact, these boys produced the best pyramid because of how well they worked together.

Groups also competed in a toilet paper mummy competition after we read about the process.  This group did the best job of applying the steps they researched.  Such great fun.

We will be checking in on our mummified apples soon, so stay tuned for the results. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Individualized Homework (Goal Folders)

Does this sound familiar?  Every kid brings home the same math homework on a pre-determined skill (possibly even one that has just been taught that day).  Not only is it unrealistic to think that every child will be able to be independently successful on a newly introduced skill, some children just do not have the parental support at home to utilize for homework help.  The Kindergarten team at my school started something that lead to the whole school adopting a new mindset and strategy for homework that is individualized.  Different students work on different goals at home based on what they need!  I helped develop "Goal Folders" for the 4th and 5th grades.  Take a peek at what it looks like inside one of our goal folders. 
 We sat down and decided on all of the math skills a 5th grader should have mastered by the end of the year.  We created these charts with the goal on the left, then examples on how to practice it, a spot for dates practiced at home, and a column for mastery date.  Each night, students take their goal folder home and decided on one math goal to work on for that night- something they have not yet mastered.  They create their own problems to practice the skill for 20 minutes and write the date. They have to show me their work the next morning (and I have a reward system for reinforcing this).  I continuously assess them on their goals to see if we can mark any more mastered.  Students get pumped up and excited to "master another goal" and beg for specific goal quizzes each week.  One might say "I'm ready to pass metric conversions, can I PLEASE take the quiz?"  They take pride in themselves as they master each of their goals.  Students can even set their own specific goal for themselves.  We may highlight 3 goals together to focus on until they are mastered. 

Parents like knowing exactly what is expected of their child within the year. And they LOVE seeing their child master goal after goal.  I usually launch these at the first parent teacher conferences so I can explain it in person to them. 

Here are the reading goals.  These goals need to be practiced over and over, and you never really master a skill.  You might be having wonderful connections in one book, but you have to keep working on that in your next book too.Once you master determine importance in one book, and move to a harder book, you may need to work on it again.  Therefore, I do not require my students to put dates on the reading goals.  They just need to show me their reading log each morning. 

This system has worked extremely well for us.  One student may be practicing multiplication at home, where another is working on exponents and fraction division.  Each of them is right where they need to be.  How much better does that sound than everyone doing the same thing?!  MUCH.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ancient Egypt Foldable Books

With four weeks of school left, I thought some project-based learning would be a lot of fun for all of us!  I've decided to do a unit on Ancient Egypt becuase it can be taught through several subject areas.  We can encorporate shared reading passages, read alouds, geography, science experiments, and even egyptian math!  Along the way, students are authoring their own non-fiction Ancient Egypt foldable books.  Instructions on how to assemble the book out of two manilla envelopes can be found here:

And here are several pics of our Egypt book.  Students do not have to make theirs exactly like mine.  They may find other interesting information through our research that they wish to include in their book.  I love that they won't all be the same!!

Here is my cover:

The first set of inside pages: (notice that this page has a pocket on the left side from the envelope...this will be used to hold other foldables and research)

The first set of inside pages all opened up:

The second set of inside pages:

The second set of inside pages all opened up:

The third set of inside pages: (notice this page also has a pocket created from the can see this is storage for some of our shared reading passages and other fun activities)

The third set of inside pages opened up:

The back cover is dedicated to Egyptian math.

I am so excited for this unit of study to unfold.  Some fun activities I have planned include mummifying and apple experiment, toilet paper mummies, pyramid construction competition from marshmallows and toothpicks, designing a tomb-robber proof pyramid, writing notes to the principal in hyroglyphics, and making "papyrus."

We start our mummified apples experiment tomorrow, so look for a post with results in a couple weeks!  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day!

Normally we wouldn't be able to spend a whole day celebrating Earth Day, but since we just finished 2 weeks of state testing, it was a nice treat!  The kids really enjoyed all the activities and valuable learning took place too!

We began by brainstorming ways we could help the earth.  They came up with the ideas below.  We also talked about how we have to make every day Earth Day, not just April 22nd!

Then I read aloud my favorite Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax. They were more attentive during that book than they have been in a long while!  After, we watched the movie (the older one).  Student colored Earth Day books marks at this time too.

After the movie, I introduced our Earth Day ReUse Challenge.  Boys vs. Girls would create something beautiful and artistic out of something ugly- TRASH!!!   I'd been collecting boxes and all sorts of reusable trash for a little while in preparation for this.  I didn't expect how excited and pumped up they would be for this competition.  They really surprised me!  They split up and split up the trash and got to their design plans.  

Here are their final creations (both teams seemed to go in the robot direction).  The girls created the vending machine robot on the left and the boys made the robot family on the right, even including a dog!  (And be sure to notice the sharp dressed robot in the tuxedo!)  This challenge led to so much more than the original objective of "REUSE materials."  I was glad to hear them talking about the structure and stability of their bots too!

The next project was a modern artistic representation of the earth via marble painting! 

We posted these in the hall along with their Earth Day pledges.

We also passed out water and energy conservation kits that had been sent to us by Oklahoma Natural Gas.  These kits were free to the students and included such things as energy efficient light bulbs, faucets, and shower heads. 

And what better way to top of the day than with Earth Day Pie!!  Chocolate pudding, oreo crumbles, and gummy worms are a favorite combination for all kids (and us older kids too!)

Happy Earth Day 2012!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Revolutionary Tug-o-War

This activity is done as a kind of "hook" before a lesson on the Revolutionary War.  Students are not told that the tug-o-war they are getting to play is actually a big metaphor for the Revolutionary War until after the game is over.  We then draw parallels between the two to engage learning.  
Here is how the tug-o-war goes:

1.  Form 3 teams:  
  • Red Team- tallest and strongest students (also 2-3 more students than the other teams) (This team models the strong, professional British Army)
  • Blue Team-smallest students  (This is the Continental Army-untrained volunteers)
  • White Team- medium height and build  (same number of students as blue)  (This is the allied countries, like France)
2.  Red team takes one side of the rope, blue team takes the other.  White teams sits to the side for now.  (They will probably be very vocal about how unfair the teams are.  Ask them who they think will win and why.) 

3.  "On your mark, get set....WAIT WAIT WAIT!!!"  Announce there has been a rule change.  The blue team will receive reward, a piece of candy, if they win.  But, sorry there is not enough for the last student on the blue team.  Also, the white team must stand and cheer for the blue team. (This models the colonists greater motivation to win.  The person who doesn't get the candy represents how not everyone benefited from winning the war- like enslaved Africans)

4.  "On your mark, get set....WAIT WAIT WAIT!!!"  Announce another rule change.  Half of the red team must stand several yards away from the rest of the team and can run to the rope once the game begins.(This models the challenge Britain faced in supplying its troops across the Atlantic Ocean)  

5.  "On your mark, get set....WAIT WAIT WAIT!!!"  Yet another rule change.  Tie a strip of cloth around the middle of the rope.  To win, the red team must pull this red flag at least 20 ft into their territory.  The blue team will win if they prevent them from doing this within 30 seconds. (This models the British goal of an offensive war, and the colonists objective just to defend their country)

6.  "On your mark, get set....WAIT WAIT WAIT!!!"  Final rule change.  The white team will be allowed to help the blue team once the game is in progress, and you will tell them when to go. (This models France's entry into the Revolutionary War after The Battle of Saratoga to help the Continental Army)

7.  GO! The blue team may have an initial surge, but when all the members of the red team arrive to the rope, the red team will surge.  As soon as the red team starts to pull the flag to their side- send the white team in to help the blue team. They should take control and be able to prevent the red team from pulling the flag the required distance. 

8.  Read about the Revolutionary War and discuss all the parallels with your class.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Human Timeline

There is so much content to cover in 5th grade History, that we made a timeline to help us keep it all straight.  I made the outline of the boxes, and after reading about each event, groups got together and filled in its spot on the timeline.  This was up in our classroom, but we had to move it to the hall because of state testing.  It was great to have this visual in the room for students to reference so they could see where each event fit in on the big picture!

Then to review before the test we gave each student an event off the timeline and they had to form a human timeline of the events, working together.  I like how it made them actually think about the cause and effect of it all.  Now...hopefully they remember it all on the test!  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Salad from our Garden!

In a previous post, I introduced you to our class garden.  Last Friday, we harvested our lettuce and made a salad!  Students helped in each part of the process: idea, planting, tending, harvesting, washing, chopping, and they even made ranch dressing with things found in the garden!  And guess what! Every student ate their salad!  Shocking, I know, but I think they were so proud of what they've done!  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Authentic Vocabulary

Remember the days when vocabulary was just a list of random words that you had to alphabetize and look up the definitions for?  Not in this classroom!  To really learn new words, students need to get excited about them, notice them in everything they read, and USE them in authentic conversations!  Here is how we discover vocabulary in my classroom:

I have a "Discovering Vocabulary" Word Wall that is divided into sections for each subject area.  Throughout the day students add words to the wall.  For example students may illustrate a word card for "momentum" after a science lesson and add it to the wall.  Words can be chosen BY THE STUDENTS at the end of lessons as a sort of "cementing" activity. 

Our reading words are gathered in a very special way through teacher read-aloud.  I pick three "goldilocks words" (not too hard, not too easy) from the chapter we are about to read and put them on the wall.  As I read the chapter, students listen for the words and get to yell, I mean YELL out "STOP!" when they hear me say one. This keeps them engaged with the read aloud and the words we use will be more meaningful for them since they are taken straight out of the book.  Once we STOP, we use strategies to figure out the meaning of the word together and then keep reading on until we reach the other words.  Throughout the week students look and listen for these words and use them in conversations.  Each time they see it, hear it, or use it they make a tally mark on the word card.  So what if they are using it on purpose just to mark the word?  THEY ARE USING THE WORD!!!!!  Isn't that what we want?  They didn't just copy the definition and move on.  At the end of the week the word with the most tallies is crowned "Word of Fame!"  Additional vocabulary activities can be done with these words throughout the week to enhance learning.  After we finish a book we take all the words we studied from it and move them to our class word wall.   This is such a fun interactive way for students to get engaged with their vocabulary study!  I now hear students using these words all the time and they are even using them in their writing!!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rockin Behavior Chart

We are working towards Rockin' Behavior! 

Usually I use this board to rotate through topics we are studying.  Before I put this up, it was a Greek Mythology pinboard since we are reading The Lightning Thief. Student did research and created a family tree on mythological characters.  But because of recent behavior struggles class-wide, I thought that good behavior is certainly a topic we should be studying.  Now we have a behavior board!  

I found this idea for the Rockin' Behavior guitar chart on Pinterest.  I like it because students can not only move down the guitar, but they have a chance to strive for excellence and move up!  Each day students start with a clean slate on Let's Rock N' Roll and move their clip based on their choices for the day.    

The levels are: 
  • You're a Rockstar! (Welcome to Hollywood)
  • Can I Have Your Autograph? (You're Going to Be Famous!)
  • A Stellar Performance (Keep it Up)
  • Let's Rock N Roll (We're Ready to Learn)
  • Singing the Blues (Warning! Practice Makes Perfect)
  • Speak with Management (Parent Contact and/or Consequence)
  • All Tour Dates Cancelled (Office, Parent Contact and Consequence)
I've taken this Pinterest idea a step further though!  My principal gave me a book to read "How to Reach and Teach Children with Challenging Behavior" by Otten and Tuttle.  It gave me some great management ideas that can be implemented immediately- practical stuff not just theory (we've all had enough of those kinds of books)!  

I am building in 10-15 minutes of free time to the end of each day.  Depending on where students are on the behavior chart, they will get to choose off of different reinforcement menus for their free time.  I've divided the guitar into three zones.  

Zone 1 is for students on "Speak with Management" and "All Tour Dates Cancelled." (The book suggests all choice be positive, but I do reserve the right to have a student miss free time)  They may choose off of this menu: 

Zone 2 is for students "Lets Rock N Roll" or "Singing the Blues."  Here is their menu:

Zone 3 is for students who have moved up the guitar and are striving for excellence.  Here is their menu:

You know what's cool?  Students CHOSE THE MENU ITEMS!  They helped decide what positive reinforcements were deserved at each level.  They also had the idea that if the whole class is in "Rock N Roll" or higher, we can go outside for that 10 minutes.  And if the whole class makes it up to Zone 3, we can have an electronic party the next day!  

I'm excited to see how this works for us, and will keep my loyal readers updated!  
Rocking Out for Now, 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Patriots/ Loyalists Headbandz

"Am I a patriot or a loyalist?"   

"Am I a writer?"   

"Am I an inventor?"   

These are some of the questions I heard as we played "Headbandz" colonial-style.  (Let's be honest...along with some like "Am I bald?")  What a great activity to review the major people of the revolution in an out-of-your-seat way! 

And how did I get this idea?  I stole it of course!  I am so fortunate to work on a team of teachers that share, share, share all of our great ideas and hard work.  I have a feeling this level of teamwork doesn't always exist among co-workers.  This job is hard enough, its so important to use the strengths of your team.  Four brains are better than one, that's for sure!  And why not?  Selfishness on the teacher's part only harms the students. 


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Our Garden

Our class participates in a weekly program called Global Gardens:  In this program, students plan and work in their own garden.  Students learn about science, nutrition, and a lot about peacefully cooperating as a team.  Global Gardens is a non-profit organization here in town that works in schools during the day and also does after-school programs for students.  My class loves our gardening teacher, Ms. Maggie.  If your school cannot get involved in a program like this, I suggest you ask your supervisor for a spot outside and do it yourself!   It is easy to build a raised bed and seeds are cheap.  You could even apply for a grant or seek outside business partnerships (QuikTrip built our beds!)

The important thing to know is that the students are in charge of the garden in all aspects.  They plan what to plant, what shapes to plant it in, how to make the signs, how to paint the bed, and what projects to take on.  All ideas are accepted and celebrated.  Students take ownership and responsibility for tending to their garden and this leads to wonderful things!  Our garden is the Peace Garden and students have chosen plants that will grow peacefully together.  In past years, my classes have selected plants from different cultures to show that the world can thrive even through our differences.  Students become insightful and inquisitive in our garden.  It has also become a favorite reading location and yoga spot.  We've built birdhouses, sunclocks, and compost piles.  We've built confidence and a whole lot of learning in our outdoor classroom! 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Classroom Economy

Students in my class learn about economics, budgeting, and responsibility through a hands on Classroom Economy.  Since the beginning of the year, students have been earning money to spend in our class store.  I hold class stores at the end of each 9 weeks.   I received many donations from my principal, purchased a few things at the dollar store, and created passes for desirable opportunities.  On shopping day, I auction off the most valued items to the highest bidder (this also flushes out a lot of their money, rather than just having set prices).  I then call a few students up at a time to shop the remaining items at set price (students who are being the most responsible get to shop first!)

Students apply for classroom jobs each quarter.  I tried to create jobs around real-world job options to make the experience as authentic as possible.  The jobs earn varying salaries depending on difficulty and frequency/amount of time "on the job." 

The picture below gives more detail on how the classroom economy works in my classroom.  This is posted in the room for students to reference.  Notice that they have to pay bills each month ($50)!  Today was the day to pay bills and many students accounts became overdrawn as they had spent all their money at our class store two weeks ago, and had forgotten to budget for bills.  They were really upset, but I was secretly happy because what a learning experience!! 

Students keep track of their money on a Bank Account Ledger.  I do not actually hand out classroom currency or physical checks each week (as I have done in the past) because it is simply too much work.  Students keep a ledger of their money and every entry must be signed by one of our trustworthy (and mathematically accurate) student economists. 

On Tuesday students received pizza for lunch because one student spent all of their hard-earned money to buy pizza for the class.  Such a selfless act for a student who normally causes difficulty in the classroom.  And today I got to take four students that had purchased passes to Cherry Berry for a treat!  It was so much fun and a great way to bond with the kids in a different setting.  This classroom economy set-up teaches the kids so much valuable information and is fun for all!