Science Fair

Every year, our school has a different academic theme. Every 4-5 years, it is science’s turn. And this was the year. This also means this is the year I am in charge of many extra activities for our students to participate in. This past week, our school held a science fair. This was an evening open house event for parents to come and see the different projects students have been working on (some since September!)

Putting together a night like this was not easy, but overall, I would say it was worth it. Both students and families enjoyed seeing the different projects and taking part in different STEM activities.

Here are some ideas that helped make our science fair a success this year:

Start planning early!

We began having meetings in October to plan for an event taking place at the end of February. My committee consisted of 3 other teachers and myself, which is not large by any means. However, 6 weeks before the event occurred, we had ideas for all activities, an outline for the night and each person knew which items they would be responsible for. We did end up making a few changes in the days before, but this were not a big deal since everyone knew their responsibilities.

Inform teachers of expectations

We made informational packets for each grade level teacher to inform them of guidelines for student projects. Obviously, the guidelines for 1st grade looked very different from the 8th grade. Our goal was for students to learn at their own level. Some classroom teachers allowed their younger students to simply research a science topic and write it, displaying what they learned on small posters. Other teachers in the middle grades walked through the scientific process by doing a whole class experiment. Students were responsible for collecting their data during the school day, then they did their write ups and posters in class with teacher supervision. Middle school students were responsible for coming up with their own experiments. Although I walked them through each step throughout the year, most of the work was done by themselves. They displayed their work on trifold display boards. Differentiating the projects in this way made sure students were learning at their level! Students also were very proud of their final projects

Include activities for the family

From the very beginning, we promoted our fair as a family event. We encouraged families to come together to see the student experiments! Creating simple stations for students and families to “do science” together helped! We decided three activities were enough to provide variety, but still not overwhelming for us to plan and staff.

  1. Snowman Paper Challenge – using 2 pieces of plain paper and a small amount of tape, families had to create the tallest snowman, making sure it still had the shape of a snowman
  2. Density Exploration – We had three different liquids in beakers with a variety of different small objects. Participants predicted if they thought the objects would sink or float and then tested it out!
  3. Oobleck! – This station was by far the biggest hit. Participants could mix up their own batch of the mind -boggling non-newtonian fluid and play around with it. Parents and students alike had fun with this one!
Announce Winners!

During the day, our middle school projects were judged by volunteers associated with the school. These judges all had science backgrounds and used a rubric to score the different projects. At the end of the night, we announced the winners to the families! Students won a ribbon as a prize and I also gave them a “100 Grand” (since no prize money was involved). Even though the prizes were not huge, the build up to who the winners might be was very exciting for both students and families!

There are just a few basic tips that helped our science fair night be a success!

Music to My Ears

This is an activity I almost didn’t do with my class. I found this great resource for sound and pitch on PBS Design Squad and liked it, but wasn’t sure if I woudl do it. One of my classes this year has been somewhat of a challenge for me. They struggle with socializing. Although that is not anything new for middle school, this class seems to be the extreme. We’re working on it, but it makes me a little hesitant at times to try new activities when a lot of instructions may have to be given.

String Thing Game

I found this cool inquiry activity online and knew it was perfect for investigating pitch. But did I really want the students to work together on the Chromebooks to see what kind of noise they could make? It was a Friday after a pretty crazy week and to be honest, I did not have any other activity prepped, so this was it. And it was amazing! The student pairs worked quietly, stayed on task and LOVED doing it. Of course there was noise in the classroom – it is a sound game – but it was that awesome hum of productiveness. It was music to my ears!

String Thing Game, created by PBS Design Squad, has students explore how changing the length, tightness and type of string creates different pitches. Students can manipulate the features and to create different sounds and pitches. First, I had students just explore. How could they make a sound lower? What happened to make a sound higher? There are also demo songs where students can see all the different strings. Once they played on it for several minutes, I gave them the worksheet that the site created which asks specific questions on how different sounds are made. Finally, students attempted to make a song or tune online.

I originally had planned to only do this for 10 to 15 minutes, but when I observed how well the students were doing, I let them continue working until the end of the class! I even had students come up to me the following Monday to say they had played it at home. Win!

Build an Instrument

On Monday, I had students work in the same groups to create their own musical instruments and Build a Band, using their knowledge from the game. Cardboard boxes, rubber bands and wooden dowels were the only materials needed. I challenged them to create a song using four “strings”. Some groups immediately knew the song they were singing and could adjust the bands accordingly. Others decided to put the bands down, and then try to come up with a song. Although rubber bands are a little tricky to keep “in tune” because they can stretch or become looser, most students recognized how to adjust the pitch. I’m not saying that all the songs were perfect, but when the groups “performed” their songs, most students could figure out what tune was being played.

The class had so much fun with this activity – they could be social and musical at the same time. Yet they were still learning! Thanks PBS Design Squad! I’ll definitely be looking to them for more lessons in the future.

Last Minute Non-Candy Valentine’s

How is it already Valentine’s Day again? If you are like me, you probably have not done anything to prepare for this holiday inside or outside your classroom. And this year, I’m not too excited about getting my students all sugared up on candy hearts and chocolate and other typically Valentine’s Day treats. I don’t want my own kids to have those either. Plus, I have a few students in my class that have nut and/or dairy allergies which eliminates a lot of options for candy!

This go me thinking about some other possibilities to give to my students this year and for my own kids to hand out. (Yes, my 3 year old and 1 year old will give little Valentine’s treats at their day care!) I started my search for a few possibilities and came up with this list of last minute non-candy Valentine’s that are perfect for the classroom (and not too expensive!)

1. Bag of Chips Valentines from MeetPenny.com

Grab a box of the variety chips pack and staple the cute tag on top. MeetPenny.com shares several other ideas on how to create quick, inexpensive Valentine’s that kids will still love! These are a great idea for any classroom since you can avoid allergies with the different types of chips. Check out the site for more ideas and you can request to download the chips tags too!

Free printable Valentine's Day cards to attach to a bag of chips. Very cute and super simple!
From MeetPenny.com

2. Dollar Store Finds

Cars, glowsticks, dinosaurs… my son would love to get any of these Valentine’s! I especially like the idea of a glow stick. Even my middle school students would love to get one! Life As A Mama shares some good Valentine’s day finds on the cheap.

3. A Bouncy Ball!

Picture from LessOrdinaryDesigns.blogspot.com

Another brilliant non-candy idea. Although, I’m not sure I would allow them to be taken out of their bags in my classroom. I have images of bouncy balls flying all over the place and children running around trying to catch them. I think these are better left to be taken home! Still, it’s a simple, yet awesome Valentine! If you go to the site, you can download the cute tag for free!

4. Like crazy straws? Who doesn’t!

crazy straw valentines
From Gingersnapcrafts.com

This idea is so easy! Kids can have fun sipping their milk at lunch with these little guys. If you head on over to Gingersnapcrafts.com, you can even get a free printable download. Even easier!

5. Bear Hugs

IMG_1126
Picture from Ladyslittleloves.com

I actually did this idea a few years ago when my son needed something to bring to daycare, but I like the idea of “Bear Hugs”  from Ladyslittleloves even more. Teddy Grahams will definitely be a hit with any age. Head on over to the cite to download a free printable!

My version from a few years ago!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Olympics are Coming!

 

The 2018 Winter Olympics are just around the corner. I feel like the games sprung up on me pretty quickly this time around. Didn’t we just have the summer games? But that’s ok, because I do enjoy watching the different events, especially the more unique ones! I mean, where else would you get to watch curling? Or the Biathlon?? Super cool.

Maybe this week you will be doing things in your classroom that relate to the games. You really can tie them into any subject area! 

Science and STEM

I plan to try at least one STEM activity I found some good ideas here from a TpT site that I may try. During the 2014 Olympics, NBC posted many videos about the physics of the events. Show some of these to your students as introductions to your lesson to get them pumped up about certain events and the science behind them!

Math

You can take some of the information and create math problems. A great resource to use for that is here  from WorkandMoney.com. For example, did you know that 3,000 athletes will be competing in the games. There are 15 “disciplines”, or types of these events. In total, there will be 102 events!  

Just a few math ideas:

  • Find out how many medals are expected to be given out (If each event gives a gold, silver and bronze medal)
  • Calculate the percentage of gold medals the US wins (or total medals) as the games play out
  • Keep track of all the different countries that medal
  • Find how heavy those medals are and simulate it with other materials in your classroom
Social Studies or Economics

Why not make Olympic connections in your social studies or economics class? The history of the games is a great place to start. Assign mini research projects on the various countries competing. Students also may enjoy calculating the cost of traveling to PyeongChang for a “visit”.

Writing

For some writing projects, ask students what event would they most enjoy competing in for these Olympics? Maybe you can watch some of the highlights of the opening ceremonies on youtube later and students reflect on which parts they found intriguing or confusing, etc.

For more ideas as we go through these games, you can follow my Pinterest board here

Enjoy the games and Go USA!

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!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

May your day  be filled with blessings from God. Take time to celebrate the greatest gift of all – Christ’s birth!