Hands-On Science

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Let me begin by saying that it has been several years since I have taught Science in my classroom; this is because I have ‘team taught’ in this time period. I took care of Social Studies/History while my teaching partner taught Science. This year, due to scheduling conflicts we weren’t able to continue. However, when I did teach Science all those years ago, it was rarely hands-on. And this was a HUGE disservice to students.

This year my school site is trying to focus on NGSS and really having kids EXPERIENCE Science. I love this focus. However, I have found that this shift is proving difficult for both my students and myself. Why? They have rarely done continuous (almost weekly) hands-on work. This is not a slight against my colleagues, I’m right there with them.

The push for all things testing (looking at you standardized tests and those that love them) has left us choosing to teach the testing subjects (mainly Math and ELA) or teach it all. Yes, CCSS has us shifting to more inclusive lessons, but as many districts purchasing curriculums for all subjects it’s not as easy as one would think. However, I digress.

Chemicals Reacting to White SubstancesChaos. That is the only word that accurately describes my classroom during Science. The kids lose their minds when given the opportunity to explore. For example, last week we were exploring different ‘white substances’ (insert El Chapo joke here) and their reactions to chemicals (water, iodine, and vinegar). Before we began we reviewed classroom norms: safety goggles on, observe, take notes, etc. I should have included ‘NO eating anything!’ Yeah, one of the substances was sugar and a few students decided it would be a good idea to taste test the ‘white substances’. Don’t get me wrong, they had a great time! They loved dropping the chemicals on the substances to observe the reactions. They were excited and engaged. That’s what we want, but they weren’t being very scientific. They were so ‘excited’ they observed all the reactions without taking a single note! #FrustratedTeacher Then, they started to ‘play’ with some of the mixtures. In their defense, they were observing what happened when the chemical and substance was thoroughly mixed. They did make some good observations, but still NO notes.

In the end, the lessons was a moderate (that’s being generous) success. And last week at our staff meeting we were talking NGSS. I brought up what I’d noticed. Another 5th-grade teacher noted that some of her students also ate the sugar. A 2nd-grade teacher noticed that her students lose their minds, too. It felt good not to be alone in this. After having a few giggles about our experience, it was nice to hear that everyone is still on board with the hands-on explorations. We know that this year might be tough, but the more we do it the easier it will become. The bottom line is that our students deserve the BEST education we can give them. Experiencing Science is part of that.

Manipulate This!

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img_2277I don’t use manipulatives enough in math. Over the past few years, I have used fewer manipulatives than ever before. I take partial responsibility for this. I should have incorporated more into my lessons. However, other factors contributed to this: my district not providing any manipulatives, adopting a half curriculum (half because the state doesn’t recognize it) that makes no mention of using any, and the pressure to keep moving along the curriculum/pacing guide. Well, this year I am making a conscious effort to do better.

No more excuses. Last week my class explored decimals and multiples of ten. I didn’t think they were really understanding that they moved the numbers a column (base-10 number chart) because we have a base-10 number system. They could do it, but were they understanding the why? The answer was, no. So, I broke out the base-10 manipulatives (rods, flats, etc.) to illustrate this. THEY worked as a group  (table groups) to prove that 0.26 x 10 = 2.6. Yeah, that lesson was a total failure! Each group created 10 groups of 0.26, but when they combined them they grabbed everything; including the unused manipulatives.

I did not want to give up the opportunity for them to make a connection. I regrouped after the failed lesson and reflected on what went wrong – management on my part. The next day we tried it again with greater success. Once they had their 10 groups of 0.14 I had them clean up the extra pieces (duh). They still weren’t completely making the connection, therefore, several conversations were had. Several finally saw the connection.

I’m not saying that this lesson hit it out of the park, obviously, it didn’t. I do need to make sure the students are getting more and more exposure to the manipulatives. With practice, we will all get better.

For as much as I write about my successes, I need to also write about my failures. This is a lesson that I am still thinking about nearly a week later. How can I make it better next time? Where did I go wrong? Any and all suggestions welcome.

Fail Forward

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Today ended the first week of the 2018-19 school year. For the most part, it was a great success. I had fun, the kids had fun, and it was low pressure. I did have the option to give a reading test this week, but I thought, “Who wants to take a test the first week of school?” And honestly, it won’t do any harm to wait until next week (but that’s another blog post altogether).

Along with all of this week’s successes, I did have a few failures. The biggest one was when I, ambitiously, decided that we would do two mini-reports (created by Jon Corippo). I thought two short articles on cats would be doable for a quick mini-report in one day…done as a group…Oh, how wrong I was.

I quickly realized while reading the first article with the class that it wasn’t going as planned. And for some insane reason, I powered on with the second article. What? Yeah, not sure what I was thinking (well, clearly I wasn’t thinking!). I did, however, extend the cat mini-report for a second day and scrap the dog report for next week. I also realized that I need to work up to two articles.

So…Next week we will read one article on dogs. We will take notes together. Together we will begin writing our mini-reports. I will have them do a portion of it on their own. Yeah, I’m learning. All it takes is one painful mistake for me to remember where to start. THEN, the exciting part is watching how far they will grow!

Get Them Hooked Early

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Today was my first day back with students for the school year. I purposefully planned a fun day. I am a ‘different’ kind of teacher. I am definitely NOT your run of the mill, follow the textbook teacher. I want the kiddos to really get that message. We did art, a Breakout, and created TERRIBLE (on purpose) presentations and presented them.

At some point in the afternoon, one of the boys stated that he wanted to write a book. I thought this was great. I told him that I started playing with an app over the summer that created books. He thought that was interesting. Then, I showed him a short book I created on Book Creator.

Book Creator example by me

The book isn’t particularly good. I was exploring the tool and thinking of ways to use it in our classroom. However, when I showed the boy that some of the possibilities: voice overs, inserting your own image and text his eyes nearly popped out of his head. He looked at me, mouth wide open, and said, “I want to do that!”

I got him hooked! I can’t wait to use this in the classroom. The students will have so much fun creating their own books. THIS is going to be an EPIC year!

Classroom Theme

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Each year teachers show off their cute rooms on various social media platforms. I am NOT one of those teachers. I don’t do color schemes or themes. It’s just not me.

I hate that teachers spend their hard earned money on their classrooms. And so many companies and sites exploit this trend. One site that pays other teachers (not mentioning the actual name as I’m not a fan) has sales! What? We are all in this together. Yes, you took the time to make a cute worksheet, but many teachers also create lessons, curriculums, and experiences and share it all for FREE. Yeah, I’m in this camp. Last winter I spend over two weeks designing a Hyperdoc for a novel study (Tuck Everlasting), which I shared for FREE. Then there are all the glossy magazines we get that entice us to buy items for our classrooms. I’m over it!

However, it appears that this year I have a theme. It’s my Bitmoji. I started off by creating a few images for signs in the classroom. I figured it gave the room a bit more of a whimsical feel. And well, I just sort of ran with it. The best part is, with the help of Google Slides and Draw I didn’t have to buy anything, which makes me happy!

Not into Bitmoji? No problem. Google can help you find free to use images to fit all your needs. Simply customize your Slide or Draw to 8.5 x 11 in and you’re ready to go!