Month: January 2018

Wave Stations

This week my 6th graders are learning about waves and wave behaviors. Rather than just talking about how waves interact and the different places we see effects of waves, I had them move around to different stations to actually SEE what happens.

I got the station ideas from the Coastal Carolina University website. The have a NSF Fellows Program that has many great lesson plan and activity ideas!  You can look around here. The direct link to the lesson plan I used is here

Station 1

Students fill a pan halfway with water. They place blocks in the pan and use a dropper or ruler to make waves. Students then observe how the waves move. This station demonstrates diffraction – the waves spread and move around different barriers

Station 2

This is the classic “broken pencil”. Students look at how the light travels at different speeds through different mediums, which is refraction.

Station 3

Using two meter sticks as a track, students roll marbles and watch how they transfer energy, similarly to waves. It also demonstrates reflection of waves. This is very similar to a momentum activity I’ve done, which you can see HERE.

Station 4

Shine a flashlight through tissue paper and watch what happens! Students look at how certain light waves with still come through and how others are absorbed. Light will also appear a different color!

Station 5

Stretching out a slinky, students pull back a few rings, then let go to watch the wave! They time how long it continues to send the wave back and forth before stopping. This demonstrates wave reflection, but also how the energy is absorbed into their hands.

Station 6

Students use a mirror and a flashlight to try and reflect the light onto the ceiling. Playing around with the flashlight can demonstrate how the law of reflection works. If you hold the flashlight at a larger angle, you can see that the light is reflected with the same angle!

Station 7

Using ear cancelling headphones, or even just plain ear muffs, students noticed how much the sound waves are absorbed. Wearing the headphones muffles the sound quite a bit in a noisy classroom!

Station 8

Cool shades! Putting on sunglasses demonstrates how certain materials will absorb light waves, making light appear dimmer with less glare.

Students enjoyed participating in the different activities. Afterwards, while discussing each station together, I had the students try to identify the wave behaviors they saw. They did pretty well, and now have these pictures in their heads to connect to the ways waves can react.

Now if only I could wear those noise cancelling headphones everyday…

Ex-CELL-ent Analogies

We are in the midst of learning about cells in my science class. Every year I have students that struggle to understand how all the parts of the cell work together. We look at pictures, we label cell organelles, we color diagrams, but that still isn’t enough for some to connect the dots. Students can’t see inside a cell with their own eyes. Most classrooms don’t have the microscope power to see details either.

How does a teacher help students make these connections? Make comparisons to something students are familiar with! Using analogies in the classroom is a great way for students to better understand many concepts. When students can make their own cell analogies, it is even better.

Cell Analogies Activity

To introduce the activity to my class, I showed students this slideshow by Chad Foster on SlideShare.  My students thought the idea of a cell as a restaurant was hilarious – but they were understanding the connections! After we discussed the restaurant example, I had students work in groups to come up with their own analogy.

I helped provide a few ideas to get them going:
  • Sports Team
  • City/Town
  • Backpack
  • School
  • Supermarket

I also wanted students to use at least 4 different cell organelles to make their comparisons. What would the nucleus of the cell be in their analogy? How would the cell membrane be represented? Some groups immediately took off and came up several different ideas. Others though struggled at first. With these groups, I asked them – since the nucleus is the control center of a cell, what could be a control center in your example? The prompting helped them come up with their own ideas!

One of my favorite analogies made was a group that decided to compare a cell to a soccer field. They said the vacuoles of a cell are like the coolers the soccer moms keep – they store all the food!

Here are the posters in progress – I didn’t get many pictures because some of the groups got so into making details on their posters that they didn’t have time to finish!

A cell is like a city…
Cellopolis!

We will be working on these ex-CELL-ent analogies again this week!

Sort It Out

 Last week I had the privilege of presenting a session at a STEM education conference here in Indiana.  Now, whenever I go to a conference, I enjoy doing hands-on activities. And I don’t like sitting through sales-pitches. You know the ones that show you a bunch of awesome ideas, only to find out that to actually do any of those activities, you need to purchase the kits that cost thousands of dollars each? Instant downer since there is a 1% chance my school will ever be able to afford it. So I created a session where I shared a few STEM/Engineering Design activities that could be used in many different classrooms, on a very low budget, any time of the year.

I’m not sure I should say this, but I was shocked at the number of people that wanted to attend my session. We filled up the large conference room! I would like to believe this was because my session description was so intriguing. Or maybe it is because most teachers want quick, easy ideas that are still awesome. However, it probably did help that right next store the conference was giving out snacks during the break and I was the closest session…

Sort It Out Activity

One of the activities I shared was Sort It Out. This is a great way introduction to engineering design for your students. I have tried it with as young as 3rd graders and as old as adults! It can be easily adapted or changed to fit the needs of your classroom.

The original idea for this came from tryengineering.com . This link will take you to the activity that has a the full lesson plan pdf, student worksheets, and a powerpoint! Background research about how coins are made and sorted is included which can be a great extension.

Although all of these are very helpful resources, I often like to make my own worksheets that are less wordy and allow more space for students to work. When I originally did this lesson for 3rd graders, I had to adapt it quite a bit. Here is the Sort it Out pdf worksheet that I have used in the past!

The idea behind this is that there are a bunch of coins that got mixed up and a device needs to be created in order to sort these coins. 

Here is the prompt I use:

Mrs. O’s coins are all mixed up! She needs them separated easily in order to use the coins for different things in class. Can you help design a sorting mechanism that will make the job easier?

The materials I use for this are:

  • Cups
  • Construction Paper
  • Toilet Paper tubes
  • Cardboard
  • Foam board
  • Plates
  • String
  • Felt
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Again, these materials can be flexible – use what you have! For example, sometimes I use plates, sometimes I don’t. I don’t always have all these materials on hand, so I simply switch it up. It keeps kids creative!

Students first plan out their ideas individually and sketch everything out. Then, students are 

placed into groups and come up with one team design. If you are doing this in younger grade levels, it can be helpful to plan out roles for each group member. For example, one person might be the “Materials Director” and the one in charge of getting materials and recording what is used. Another might be the “Time Manager” or the “Spokesperson” for the group. This way, each member knows how to contribute to the group’s project.

Students then design and build their device! Obviously, you can limit the amount of time they have to work on each part. When coin sorting devices are ready to test, simply give each group a handful of coins and ask them to demonstrate!

Adaptations and Extensions

  • Only use quarters and dimes – using the largest and smallest coins may help younger students out. By using all four coins, you can challenge your students!
  • Time how long it takes for the device to sort a certain number of coins. Whose can sort a certain amount of coins the fastest?
  • Connect this to math by discussing diameter, circumference, or mass

The adults at the conference loved this idea. I even had some good devices created during the session, like this one! The point is to make it your own for your class and get those coins sorted!

New Year Cleaning Spree

I don’t think I’m the only one that gets a fierce urge to clean like crazy in the days after Christmas. It seems like once the holidays are over and we are getting ready to start a new year, I want to start fresh, clean and organized. However, even though I have the urge, I can’t/don’t actually act on it. Or that urge only lasts for a few hours, and then it is gone. After all, Christmas break is for relaxing too. Most of the time, those cleaning days get pushed back until the last day or two before school starts again. Everything I meant to do in small amounts over the two weeks gets crammed into a few 2 hour periods when the kids are napping or in bed for the night. Of course, I hardly make a dent into my ever increasing task list. But that’s ok! Because having an impromptu dance party with my kids is way more fun and memorable than having an organized pantry.

I did manage to complete a few things done that didn’t take up much time and made a big difference. Here are 5 organization and cleaning projects that will take you 20 minutes or less and leave you feeling accomplished!

1. Clean the washing machine

After several months and who knows how many loads of laundry, my washing machine seems to start smelling like… well… not clean laundry. Having hard water doesn’t help either. I stumbled upon found this advice from Practically Functional on how to make sure my washer is clean, fresh and can keep doing its job! Although the project takes several hours, it only takes a few minutes of actual work to clean. It was easy to do on a day we were all at home inside (and we had a few of those this break because of the super freezing cold temps!) Just look at the difference!

 

 

2. Do a quick toy sort

My kids accumulated a lot of toys this fall. Between two birthdays and a few Christmas celebrations, all of a sudden our living room is overflowing with toys! We needed to organize and  gather some toys to store in closets to rotate out later. I also wanted to give away some things. My 3 year old briefly helped sort through a few bins of toys. I wasn’t sure how this would go, but I asked him “What can we give away to kids that don’t have anything to play with?” He willingly put several things in the bag! It took 10 minutes and I could easily do this a few times a year with the kids.

3. Organize the pantry

This is the project I meant to do all break but didn’t end up starting until the last day of vacation! I was dreading it because I thought it would take forever. However, I wanted to start a meal plan for the next week and desperately needed to go through what we had in the depths of the pantry. I started with one “easy” shelf of cereal and soup. It took less than 2 minutes to organize, so I felt motivated to do the next shelf! 20 minutes later, all the shelves were done. I surprised myself on how quick it went! Items were thrown away, organized by expiration date, and I actually had a good idea of what was in the pantry (which is always helpful!)

4. Make a meal plan

As mentioned, this goal was what started the pantry organization. I try to make a meal plan for most weeks, but hadn’t been doing much planning in the past month! After quickly assessing what freezer and pantry food we had, I easily came up with a meal plan for the next 2 weeks. This plan tends to be very flexible since schedules can quickly change. However, sitting down for 10 minutes of planning saves a lot of frustration and time later in the week!

5. Sort through papers, files and documents

Special shout out to my husband for this one! I can’t take any credit for this task being done… We have a big file where we keep many of our important documents and receipts. My hubby spent some time one evening organizing, sorting and shredding a whole stack of these papers! This is hugely helpful and now we are prepared for tax season. To be fair, I’m not sure how much time this took, but even 20 minutes at a time will help with this process!

Teacher Resolutions

I’m not very big into making New Year’s resolutions. When you’re a teacher, you view the year a little differently… the “New Year” starts in August, or maybe even July, rather than January. Recently though, the conversation of resolutions keeps coming up in online articles, tv shows and even in conversations. It got me thinking about how as teachers, it is pretty cool to be able to “start over” halfway through the school year.

Now I know coming back in January is not quite like the beginning of the school year, but I see this as a good thing. The students already know the procedures, rules and routines of the day. All the beginning of the school year craziness doesn’t exist in January, so you can actually focus on a few ways to change and improve the classroom, your teaching methods, or just your attitude.

Here are a five New Year’s Teacher Resolutions

1. Get Organized

I always intend to get everything cleaned up and put papers perfectly in the appropriate folder and binder during the summer months. That NEVER happens. When the last day of school rolls around, I’m frantically finishing grades and stuffing things in closets before the cleaning crew needs to come through. If I would simple spend 10 minutes at the end of each week organizing, recycling and putting away materials in their proper places, I would not have this problem. This applies to my home too. Spending a few extra minutes each night or even weekend would go a long way!

2. Don’t grade everything

Let’s face it. Some of the homework we give to students is busy work. Sure it may be helpful or good practice for the students. But is it completely necessary for me to grade every piece of paper the students complete? Absolutely not. Families also appreciate it when their child doesn’t have hours of homework every night. So I plan to be selective with the homework I give, make time in class for students to self check, and not grade everything!

3. Pay more attention to students’ lives – not just their grades

Students love when they are actually heard. I’ve noticed that if I can spend two minutes with a student in a conversation about something other than school work, their attitude changes. Sometimes I get too busy with trying to get things done that I forget to take the time to really talk with my students. A few minutes here and there can make a big impact.

4. Roll with it

During even the most normal school day, things do not go as planned. The copier will break. The administrator will walk into the classroom right as a demonstration for the class failed. The perfectly planned lesson will end up taking half the amount of time as you though. And it’s OK. Getting frustrated or upset only makes my day worse. And if the students see me get flustered, they get flustered too. So when things get a little crazy, I will be flexible. That’s what YouTube is for anyway.

5. Stay Positive

Sounds easy, right? But if you have even worked in education for a fraction of the year, you know how difficult this can be. Student issues, parent problems, colleagues complaining – all of these things can bring me down quite easily. Thinking about one exciting, fun or encouraging thing going into the day makes it that much better walking into my classroom. And when I leave at the end of the school day, reflecting on what went WELL instead of the stresses can make the rest of the night a much more pleasant evening! It takes conscious effort to do this and some days can be extremely difficult – sometimes it means saying a prayer and just giving the problems to God. However, it can make a huge impact on the way I teach!

Even though I wrote these resolutions from a teacher perspective, I think they can apply to all areas of life – inside the classroom and out.

Whatever your resolutions (or if you have any at all), may your new year be full of blessings from God!