Friday, April 4, 2014

Why Teach?

Why did you want to become a teacher? This is a question that I've recently been faced with. It's something that I don't think we think about as teachers everyday - but we should. We need to keep our overall goal in mind - it needs to be in our minds and hearts every day.

Why teach? It's easy for teachers to say, "I want to make a difference." Great! But, a difference in what? What difference? And how will you be the one to cause that difference? For me, the answer is so much more complicated than just "making a difference".

I want to build students' knowledge banks. In every way possible. I want them to know WHY we teach them the things we do and to understand that sometimes in life, you have to go through things that you might not find particularly "fun", and that these experiences can ultimately lead them to what they were born to do with their lives (-or sometimes- what they were NOT born to do!). I want them to experience failure and truly understand what it means to learn from these failures. I do this by creating experiences for students on which they are free to test their own theories or ideas. Science is a perfect platform for failure! And I mean that in a good way. 

I want to take reluctant readers and turn them into can't-put-it-down-nose-in-a-book readers. I want them to understand that they "don't like to read" because they haven't found the book that speaks to them and more importantly, I want them to understand that YES, there IS a book out there that they will love. And it might not be a chapter book! And that is completely OK. I want my students to understand that reading is so much more than sitting on the couch snuggled up with a book - it's literally survival. From ordering food off of a menu to knowing what to put on your job application to being able to read the instructions on your prescription - reading is survival.

I want to develop scientists that have a sense of inquiry and curiosity. I want my students to question everything and accept nothing -- until they have their own proof. I want them to understand the difference between asking quality questions - questions that allow for TESTING a theory - versus asking questions that cannot be answered through completing a scientific test. I want students to use their observations and their inferencing skills to make plausible conclusions about the things they encounter. Students need to explore the world around them and they need to know that it's OK to ask why! We ask why A LOT in my room. And we try to develop these why questions into questions that we can test to get to the bottom of the problems that we come across, or new concepts that we don't understand.

I want to create mathematicians and squash the "math is misery" myth. Math is power and knowing that is so important. Math isn't just a subject in school and it isn't something we force upon our kids because we are mean - it's teaching them strategies to solve problems and get around in life! We need to reiterate this to them and demonstrate that math is used every day by providing students with authentic examples of times that we use math in our lives. I want to involve parents and help them to see how the different strategies that we teach students today aren't meant to confuse them; they are meant to help them conceptualize WHY we put a zero underneath the first set of numbers when computing 2-digit multiplication problems. I want to help parents get OFF of the "I'm Not Good at Math" train. When students hear their own parents say that, what in the world do you think that does to their attitudes about math??! We need to get it together and work on making sure we are ALL "good" at math! Math rocks and I want students to realize that. Challenge students to teach their parents all about the "new" strategies that are used in their classrooms! Host a community math night or send  home instructional sheets with steps on the different strategies (and their explanations) - whatever it takes to get rid of this math is misery mentality!!

I want students to LOVE writing. To use every experience that they go through as a jumping point for a great story. And I want them to understand how to take a trip to the grocery store and turn it into an epic event. I want students to use descriptive words to be able to articulate their experiences in a way that has readers smelling their food and feeling their emotions. I want to help students to become writers that can factually debate about a topic that they care about and to answer a question thoroughly and accurately. I want students to understand why it is so important to be able to write. To get into a good college, to land that dream job, and to express their thoughts in an intellectual way. Or to write the next great novel, comic book, short story, or children's book!

I want students to understand what it means to be accountable. Students should be taught from a young age all about accountability. It doesn't matter where you come from, it's all about where you want to go. And understanding that YOU and ONLY YOU have the power to be successful is in itself very powerful! Students need to hear this and they need to hear that there is at least one person in the world that believes they can become an accountant, or astronaut, or veterinarian. And even if that one person that believes in them is they themselves, it's enough. Being a consistent leader is a good way to develop accountability. Be consistent in disciplining students for the choices that they make. Consistency is key in the classroom, in my humble opinion.

I just want to help students reach their full potential - and even exceed it - no matter what their story is, no matter where they came from, and no matter who their parents are. I want them to become their own people, capable of making good decisions, and able to contribute to the good of society. I want them to believe in themselves and to be passionate about life. And to have tools and skills they need in order to succeed and live happy, healthy lives. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

We Have LOTS of Energy!

We have been working hard on our energy unit. I have been very diligent in providing students with lots of different activities - from hands-on experiments to reading nonfiction texts - in order to provide them with authentic experiences through science. We love, love, love Bill Bye, but I do not like the idea of showing a video and throwing my hands up. We have some really good class discussions based on what we see in Bill Nye's videos! I have the students use sticky notes (which they LOVE) to write down a good piece of information that they learned from the video, and a question about something they saw or a concept they learned about. Then we talk. We talk about what we learned and we try our best to answer questions - even if we don't really know the answers. We talk about our hypotheses about the questions that we have and then over time, throughout the unit, we hopefully clear up any misconceptions. 

Getting students to think critically and to ask "juicy" questions is NOT an easy feat, people. It's a learned skill that takes a TON, TON, TON of practice. I am nowhere near where I want to be in this aspect. But I push my students more and more every day - I push them to explain more, to go deeper with what they are trying to convey, and to question everything that they learn about. Sometimes, it's so difficult for me to articulate to them what I want them to articulate! Ha! It's a vicious cycle that I continue to challenge both myself as well as my students!

Roller coasters lend themselves so very perfectly to energy. After all, without potential and kinetic energy, they wouldn't work. So I LOVE letting the students build their own roller coasters using some plastic tubing and a BB as their car. Then we talk about what in the world this has to do with energy. They LOVE coming up with elaborate coaster ideas! 

After the first day of roller coaster design, we get a little more involved with it. We start to design virtual roller coasters. I found a really great website that we use to do this - click here to check it out. And {most}of the time, they fail the first time around. Their car either flies off the track or it doesn't complete a loop, or it gets a poor safety rating. Failure is such a beautiful thing in science. Love it. It helps them LEARN! Once a failure occurs, I make them talk about WHY it failed {and what it has to do with energy} and then re-design their coaster. They love it, I love it, and everyone is happy, happy, happy.

Though there is so much MORE to roller coasters than just kinetic and potential energy, we don't really go there. I mean, come on, we're in fifth grade! However, it never ceases to amaze me how much this activity sparks so much curiosity in these kiddos. I hear things like, "What is velocity?" and "What does this have to do with gravity?" For those students, I lead them down the path that they can take in order to find the answers to these questions. I don't want to push this complex material on fifth graders, but I certainly support those students that are able to generate this type of thinking. 

Having so much fun in fifth grade science this year!!! If you have any good suggestions for books on critical thinking, post away. I welcome all the help that I can get! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Nature of Science

If you're anything like me, you're doing it wrong. Teaching science, that is. For the last two years as a science teacher, I have been on a quest for the best activities for "doing science". Hands-on, "fun", engaging, and meaningful are the words that I used to use to describe my lessons and activities. I read a ton of literature on how to get students to think like scientists and how to make my lessons focus on critical thinking. And it never really clicked. Until now.

FINALLY. I. Get. It. Science isn't something that you do. It's everything, all day, every day! Thinking critically is just a small part of science. What is critical thinking, anyway? There are so many different interpretations, but for me, critical thinking is just being able to independently solve problems that you face by using your background knowledge and whatever tools you have available to you. This starts with science, I believe! Scientists solve problems every day and it's important to teach students to think like scientists so that they can solve real world problems that they will inevitably face throughout their lives. Teaching students how to think like scientists really does change the way at which they look at life. It's all about getting students to be very curious about the world around them and to teach them how to ask testable, scientific questions. But for me, this isn't something that comes naturally as a teacher. I have to work at how I deliver the content to students. And it is so hard!!

Through reading, reading, and reading some more, I have been able to pinpoint some key strategies to help students. Prompting students with a very intriguing question is key. Developing that initial interest and curiosity is necessary in order to get students to really be interested in what they are doing is crucial to the main goal of the lesson. The next part is probing them with deeper questions until they start to probe the questions themselves. This will come over time and isn't something that happens overnight. Another big part of critical thinking is to provide students with just enough information to get them started and then BACK OFF! This is a very difficult concept for me because when a student comes to me with a question about what they are doing, it's so easy to just tell them the answer! But instead, it's so important to let students figure things out for themselves, let them ''do it¨ wrong so that they can learn from their mistakes. Even answering a question with a question is a good thing for developing critical thinking skills.

Though I started this year out VERY strong with these critical thinking skills, I let the difficulty of practicing this technique get the better of me and I haven't been as diligent with practicing these skills daily. So, after Spring Break, we are retracting a little. We are going to practice these science processing skills covering content that we've already learned about. We will just be taking it to a deeper level.

I have a very, very long way to go until I am by any means comfortable with this. But it really is all about growth and learning. I love it!!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Differentiation in Science. And Volume!

As educators, we know how important it is to differentiate our instruction in order to make sure that every student reaches the learning goals that we set together. Sometimes, a class discussion reaches all students, but very rarely is that the case. Students need to be engaged in what they are doing - not just told what they should know.

This makes for a very challenging dilemma for us as teachers! How do we do this? How do we teach so that every child learns the same thing - but present it to them in a different, tailored, individualized way? The answer is just as complex as the question itself. And there isn't just one "right" way to do it.

For me, it looks a lot of different ways. I typically have a class discussion to review what we've learned and to also talk about what's coming up. I offer a time to ask questions about what we've learned and that can actually take up more time than I ever plan for!! I love that because it lets me know that the students are thinking like scientists and becoming increasingly curious about the world around them and how to fit what they are learning into their own lives.

We ALWAYS do hands-on activities. ALWAYS. We always get up and move around and go outside and look at things and explore. So that's usually the next part of my science workshop. Actually working. We just wrapped up the volume portion of my properties of matter unit. It's a lot of math. A LOT. And they didn't even complain about it! Instead of just having the students work out problems on a worksheet, we measured the volume things that we might use in science. For example, how much water would I need to completely fill up our class fish tank?  Then we talked about the science cabinets in our classroom. How much stuff could we fit in there? We measured and measured and measured some more. Then we got really ambitious and we wanted to know how much stuff we could fit into our classroom. We first reviewed that volume is the amount of space that an object takes up, but that it also tells us - if packed tightly with no spaces - how many cubic units could fit inside. {We also talked about what a unit is and we agreed to use feet - or cubic feet - to measure our classroom.} This was very challenging for us because my classroom isn't a perfect rectangle or square. So we had to break up the room. I had the students work in groups so that I could walk around and help with strategies to solve the problem.

This is very typical. I assess the students before I group them so that I know which groups need a little extra help, the ones who get it and need more, and the students that are right where they need to be and can complete the task on hand.

I got carried away. Back to differentiation. So the idea is that you have assess what students already know, give a lesson, demonstration, or a class discussion and then you break the students up so that they can practice with the concept and hopefully even take it a step (or two) further. Taking it a step further is only possible through teaching students how to think critically, which is a whole other ball game altogether. {More on critical questioning later!}

Overall, the main point of this post is just to demonstrate one way to differentiate instruction. I  love the workshop model in all subjects  - yes, even science. No, it is not easy, but if it were easy, it wouldn't be challenging for me - which is one thing that I love about my job. It keeps me on my toes.

How do you differentiate your instruction in science? PLEASE leave me comment and let me know - one main reason I started this blog is to collaborate with other teachers to gain insight so that I can continue to grow as an educator! I heart comments!!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


TpT is having a HUGE sale on their site tomorrow thru Friday. I am so excited to also add 20% off of what they are already offering. Click here to check out my store and to take advantage of this awesome crazy deal!

Got lots of stuff in the works and just running short on time these days. Been pretty negligent of this little ole' blog, but I'm still here cranking it out. Look for a new HUGE classroom pack in the upcoming weeks. Also in the works - a GIGANTIC science fair packet, complete with a writing section that will align with Common Core. So excited to implement this event and will post more later explaining what we will be doing.

Don't forget to take advantage of the TpT sale!!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Frog Dissection!

Our Human Body Unit has come to an end and boy, oh boy did these kids eat up every second of it. And I must admit I LOVED it, too!! Last year, I did my human body unit a LOT different than I did it this year. {This year was MUCH better - more informative, organized, and generally more fun.} I bought a FANTASTIC human body unit from Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy to help me along and let me tell you that it has helped exponentially. There are a ton of great slides for my informational lectures/discussions and then just some really great activities to accompany each human body system that we study. I also brought in some of my own stuff - like my Human Body Lab Stations - and some other really fun activities that I've found in my quest to having the most awesome human body unit ever in the history of teaching. {Not really.}

Yesterday and today was frog dissection. We loved it. I will spare you the gory pictures, but here is a pic of my room set up. It's very medical looking!

I made a presentation to accompany my dissection and I offered it free last year, but just wanted to offer it again in case anyone out there is also dissecting frogs. The material is great for grades 5-8. Also includes safety rules for your lab! Click here to download this fun presentation.

I have been neglecting this blog - but for good reason. I'm crazy busy with school, being a mom, a wife, and trying to maintain at least somewhat of a social life. We're also in the process of trying to buy a house, so it's just crazy all around.

I don't have anything in the works academically-speaking, but I have a TON of clipart in the works, and lots already posted in my TpT shop. I also have an Etsy shop if you prefer to purchase from Etsy! I'm in love with designing clipart and wish I had more time to devote to it. I've got some Valentine's Day stuff up and I should have St. Patty's Day done before the end of the weekend.

Thanks for stopping by! Properties of Matter is coming up and I cannot wait to put my hands-on, fun, and engaging unit to work! {Click here to check that out!}

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Crazy Time!

Christmas is always so hectic. Sometimes, I feel like throwing my hands up and saying "Ok, do whatever you want." Wait. That sounds a lot like what I actually did on Friday! My team had a crazy day. First, the spelling bee took an hour longer than expected. Then, our math teacher's son got sick at daycare and she had to bolt outta here to go be a mommy. With no time to get a sub. EEEK! So, the three other teachers (myself included) decided to watch a movie for the rest of the day. The kids loved it (duh) - and yet I still didn't get anything done in the 2 1/2 hours I had left in the day. How does that happen!!!???

Well, anyway - I wanted to share a couple of things. I finally got motivated and revamped my Light Unit.

I use the Carolina Biological kit for some of my experiments - but some of those lessons in that unit plan are SO advanced, I don't even understand them. I still use a lot of the lessons that are already made, but I needed something extra, something more to make it my own. So I created a vocabulary activity pack to help reinforce key ideas and terms that students learn about throughout this unit. I made some Interactive Diagrams - activities that have students completing a diagram that's started on the sheets. This helps to show me that they truly understand the concepts. I have them do these after we have learned about (and practiced with through labs) a particular concept.

I am also reviewing concepts every single day, so that they don't forget them. We do lots of little quizzes and exit/entrance slips seem to really be helping, too. These concepts are crazy - so the more I drill them in to their heads, the better off I think we'll be. 

I have to admit that this is my least favorite thing to teach because the concepts are so difficult. But I really feel like this packet is helping.  Click here to check it out on TpT. 

I love Christmastime. It's times like these that I long for a self-contained room. I see so many cute activities and fun things going on and I just get sad. :(   I know I could probably cook up some Christmas/Winter-themed science experiments, but I am already pushing it trying to get this light unit wrapped up by next Thursday, so trying to add something else that has nothing to do with light just isn't feasible for my schedule. 

Well, it's a good thing I have a kid - because I can put these creative things to use at home! I designed my own Christmas card this year and am hoping to actually get them in the mail BEFORE Christmas....We'll see if that happens. I also found a cute, cute little footprint tree. We are going to go to the paint-it-yourself store and paint a little footprint tree plate for Santa's cookies. Speaking of Santa....I also helped Mr. Claus design some letter head this year. I'm super excited for Santa to come visit us and leave a little something for my sweey itty-bitty (who won't even know what's going really, is this more fore me?! Yep!!) She's been a super-duper good girl, so I know he is going to leave lots of goodies for Olivia...and Mr. Brown if he plays his cards right! 

I hope everyone is enjoying their month of Christmas!! I hope to have more goodies {and even a few freebies} before the end of the month. 

P.S. I'm linking up with Tara from 4th Grade Frolics to show off my Monday Made It!! :)