Friday, October 28, 2011

Next Generation Science Standards

Next Generation Science Standards are on their way, and will be to science what Common Core is to Language Arts and Math.  A representative from our district was chosen to participate in the process and so when she is able, she passes along great resources to our science cadre.  

The book Ready, Set, Science:Putting Research to work in K-8 Classrooms is one of those resources and is available FREE on pdf through the National Academy Press.  It is a fabulous book and something I think that any teacher K-6 should read.  As a bonus, there are sample lessons mixed throughout the chapters that support the big picture idea being discussed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Vocabulary Building

There has been a huge push in vocabulary instruction at our school over the past year.  We've focused on latin roots, affixes, word walls, etc. to help students with word attack.  My students have enjoyed playing what I just call "Free Rice."  The program donates rice to those in need while anyone can build their vocabulary base.  It is really a rote type of activity, but there is a little friendly competition that goes on to see who can score the highest in the rounds they play.  It gets advanced enough that even adults find it annoyingly addictive!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Teaching Math with Music

For all the students out there that need more than traditional instruction when it comes to math, Peter Weatherall has a series of songs/videos to help them remember vocabulary, rules, and formulas. Most of these are written with ELL students in mind, but they are definitely a favorite for my regular education class.

Here's a part of tomorrow's lesson on parallelograms.

Peter Weatherall's site

Other favorites...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Disney Products for the Classroom

A couple of years ago, my hubby picked up this great science video on energy at an NSTA conference.  Disney calls the series "The Science of Imagineering" and in true Disney style it's amazing!  So as I kick off our 2nd quarter theme on Energy, I had to share this fabulous series that brings real life jobs of science into the life of kids.  By the time the video about energy is over, I have a classroom full of kids itching to become engineers...I LOVE IT!

So last night as I was searching for the other titles in the series, I found that Disney has a educational page for teachers.  I don't know why they wouldn't, but I just had never come across it before.  They also have a catalog of other products including a line of smart board materials, a series from Bill Nye, and some items that you can get other places as well.

Here's the catalog...this is just one of the imagineering videos...I couldn't actually get a clip from the catalog jpg.

I can't wait to get back and see what else they have available!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Toys that Teach

I'm a huge fan of playing!  I think all kids learn skills through play, so why not make the play educational.

This link is just out in time for the holidays that links the top STEM toys for kids broken up by age level.  If STEM isn't what inspires the kiddo in your life, check out some of the following companies that also sell toys that teach.

Fat Brain is a relatively new company, but have bought from them before and have been quite satisfied.  This company also allows you to see where toys are made.  This was very important to me when my own children were younger and I refused to buy any toy manufactured in China.

This company has a wide selection of toys for both boys and girls.  They supply many art types of activities for all those budding artists out there.

I was just there today and I had to drag my five year old out.  They have so many toys to use in the classroom, or at home, that teach everything from music to science to phonemic awareness.

 The Cricket Company is known for quality kid magazines, but they also carry a line of gifts as well.

Khan Academy

For 3 years now I've been uploading my math lessons to my classroom website so that if students are absent they don't miss out on the lesson.  Then this past year I heard a story about the Khan Academy and how schools in California are making his online community part of their daily math instruction.  The story behind this new and innovative resource is that the founders niece needed some math tutoring so her uncle would use his pad and upload the sessions to YouTube.  They received so many hits that Khan received national recognition and a grant from the Bill Gates foundation.  He has expanded to add science lessons as well.  I haven't spent an enormous amount of time exploring all that it has to offer, but it is definitely something that could be utilized so that students in more rural areas receive a quality math education.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Science Fair Season

It's that time of year again!  It's Science Fair Season.  If you need some inspiration, the book I just linked will definitely make you feel empowered to lead kids to do amazing things in the science lab.  It literally brought tears to my eyes and reminded me how this time of year is truly important for our future scientists.  Although I always hope that students want to find out more about the labs we've done in class, they were so excited today when I broke out the idea books.  65 books lined the white board tray.  I could see some of them salivating waiting to hear the words "get started" fall from my mouth.  The questions that they were coming up with made me feel like I've done my job so far this year.  They were insightful, creative, and age appropriate.  I always hate the "I want to give plants milk, juice, and water to see which grows the most."  It makes my room smell and they already know the answer to their question.  This year I had some girls asking about the effects that an oil spill has on an aquatic plant's oxygen production.  They never cease to amaze me!

Here are the 20 Most Impressive Science Fair Projects of All Time!

Here are some awesome science fair idea sites online.
Science Buddies 
All Science Fair Projects
Science Fair Adventure
Discovery Education
Steve Spangler Science

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Discrete Math -Network Theory

Today's math topic is one of my favorites of the year.  I think I enjoy it so much because I teach it sort of like I teach science...through inquiry. I begin with the story about the Konigsberg Bridge.  It was a real life problem that came about in the 1700 about wanting to cross each of the bridges in the city only once.  Students get a copy of an illustrated map, then using chips they are able to track where they have and have not travelled.  Part of the reason that I love this problem is that there is no answer to the puzzle!  Students are so accustomed to expect an answer that they try to make it work even when it won't.  During my prep today I was looking for some interactive problems and found this!  I love when I find stuff already made for me online!

Here are some additional resources for Euler paths/circuits and Hamilton paths/circuits:
Cut-the-Knot ~interactive
Twists and Turns ~Networks and other discrete math
Amphi Schools ~ Multiple grades and resources

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

No Heat Lava Lamp

This cute science activity is taught by a kid and the science behind the lava lamp is explained.

Stop Faking It!!

The Stop Faking It books put out by the NSTA are the best books I've found to teach adults about the hows and whys of science in a way that makes sense.  Then, as if it couldn't possibly get any better, they've started writing classroom companions.  This past week I finished the book on chemistry and have read the one on weather.  Last night I started the book on force and motion.  As I continue to study for the state content test, which by the way covers all areas of science, these have been a truly incredible resource for me.  And, I'm sure that as my understanding deepens, my teaching of science will be better as well.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Geometry project

Any opportunity I have to give students to compile, analyze, synthesize, and create with activities, I jump at it!  I notice that my students are so accustomed to skill based math work, that they really struggle when I ask them to think outside the box.  This project incorporated multiple geometry skills that we reviewed during 1st quarter.  Students had to create a vacation place with geometry specifics that included finding perimeters, area, angle measures, parallel and perpendicular lines.  Here's what they came up with...

Here is a project that I've used in the past that also incorporates geometry.  In this activity, students use a full page of graph paper.  They use all 4 quadrants and demonstrate understanding of translations, rotation, reflection, dilation, reduction, and labeling coordinate points.

Thinking Maps with depth

I love the Thinking Maps program and have used them for the past 10 years. I've been a trainer for the past 7 years, and I still learn something every year that makes them even more powerful. Today when we returned for staff development day, our new principal, who was just trained during fall break, used them in our staff meeting the way they are meant to be used and most powerful: layered. If you've never seen this program, you can check it out here. One of the reasons I love this so much is that it is common language that uses 8 maps for every type of thinking. It pushes high kids, it supports kiddos with learning disabilities, and because the program is used schoolwide, it provides ease of use from year to year.

Besides layering, the outside frame of reference is used to reflect, question, analyze, and make conclusions. Here are some examples that my students did in a step book after reading a content rich piece. They had to use each type of "thinking."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The JASON Project

So I'm getting ready to go back to school tomorrow after a 2 week hiatus, aka Fall Break, and I have to say I'm really loving the FREE ONLINE curriculum put out by the JASON Project.  It is seriously everything I  could ever want in a textbook.  I can't post all of the ultra cool pages since you have to sign up and sign in to access them, but there are 10 interactive games/labs just for the energy unit.

Here are a couple pictures from the link.  There are also labs online...not just a here's an experiment to do...but full on labs with critical thinking questions.  There are animations, video clips, journaling ideas, and of course the digital textbook itself.  There are units for energy, force and motion, weather, geology, and ecology.  The "textbook" is downloadable into a pdf file and includes cross curricular links for other typical topics that middle school students study.

This is a picture from one of my favorite activities.  It asks students to describe the energy transformations that are happening in this picture.  Then students are asked to design and create one (Rube Goldberg machines) of their own.  So POWERFUL!

Mentor, create, study!

In Arizona, teachers must be highly qualified in specific content areas in order to teach junior high.  Several years ago I took and passed the middle school math test since our 6th graders work one to two grade levels ahead in math.  I never wanted anyone from the district to come to me and say, "Sorry, you teach multiple groups of students 7th/8th grade math, you are on sub pay until you pass the test."  This year I'm studying for the middle school science test.  I've been working closely with science curriculum for the past three years and figure if I'm going to make the jump to junior high, I'd try to be qualified in both since I feel quite connected now with the science curriculum.

Last year when our principal asked that I find resources for some teachers, I created a thorough website that links online, interactive/content links for every science P.O. (ok, let's be honest, most P.O.s) taught, kindergarten through 6th grades.  I learned so much about the progression of science education by making this resource, that I began to use many of the resources to help myself prepare for November's content test.  So what started out as a way to help mentor, has now provided endless resources to help me prepare for the science test.

Hope others will find helpful links here as well.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ignite the Fire

I got my new iPhone today, and thought of you Steve Jobs.
I hope that I am one day brave enough to nurture a child like you in my classroom.

Invaluable Resource online and FREE!!

This resource, also for science, is so amazing for any middle grade science teacher.  But if you are into using interactive notebooks, it is absolutely priceless.  This year I began using an interactive notebook for a number of reasons, but mainly because the junior highs that we feed into use them.  The Middle School Science site puts all of the lessons, printouts, and management techniques online for the taking.  I've used her format for my first go at using these and am in LOVE.  It is great for scientific method, measurement, and many physics topics typically taught in 5th grade here in Arizona.

Educational Innovations

This catalog has the greatest science supplies.  Each one I've ever ordered comes with lesson plan/activity guide for how to use it in the classroom.  The following items I've used when teaching our science unit on energy:


This product comes with 2 seemingly identical black squares.  I pass them around so that students can see that there is really nothing different between them.  This then becomes the spring board to a discussion about heat transfer.  It also leads into some inquiry based labs with other materials.


Kids absolutely love this little toy!  The Newton's cradle is way to show energy transfer, and to start the discussion of the different energy forms.  The cradle eventually slows to a stop, so students are able to revisit the Energy Conservation Law and learn that energy can be transferred into a variety of different forms, including sound.


This year I'm utilizing the windmill generator show here.  Over the past several years, I've had students learn the design process by having them create the perfect blade design.  It becomes a contest and a very heated one at times.  I've built my own contraption using PVC pipes, but wore it out.  Last year I used a different product by this company (they no longer carry it) that was nice, but not very user friendly in a classroom of 25 students all wanting to test, tweak, and test again. So this year we will be trying out the Windmill Generator, but I also hope to utilize some of the solar products as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Live Scribe

I've been using the Pulse Pen for a little over two years now.  If you have never had the chance to see it in action, it's amazing and its uses are nearly endless.  I utilize the Pulse Pen and LiveScribe software to teach math lessons that I upload onto my classroom website.  It's great for students that are absent, and those that need review, want to study for a test, check on difficult homework problems, and would like to preview the topics before class starts.  Once I started singing its praises, one teacher bought one for her own high school age daughter, a parent of one of my former students bought one for her son with learning disabilities, the principal bought one for classroom observations, and a college professor used mine once to collect discussions from each of the groups working on a lab.  It is a great piece of technology that continues to update and provide more digital tools. Below is the demo I found from You Tube.

Livescribe SmartPens

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Top 5 Middle School online picks!

I've now been out of school on fall break for a week and two days.  I've spent way too much time on Pinterest (my new favorite fad) and what I've found is that there is so many GREAT ideas out there that I would have died for as a new teacher, but relatively little for upper elementary grades.  This is nothing new.  Since I began teaching 6th grade six years ago, I haven't been able to much in the area of resources.  I think this is a shame because the middle grade students still enjoy stickers and the chance to color.  The difficult task is finding a way to balance the rigor of the content with the cutesy resources so readily available for primary classrooms.

So as part of my first post, I am sharing what I find to be my top 5 resources for teaching to the middle.

1. First up is a fabulous resource for math.  Not only for middle grade students, but also for students kindergarten through high school.  Illuminations is a website put out by the NCTM, and there is nothing that I've used that I didn't absolutely love!!  The activities provide depth, teacher background knowledge, suggestions for assessments, enrichment, and internet resources.

2.  Crayon Physics is a definite top pick among my students.  The demo is free and provides plenty of time to explore science without being asked to upgrade.  This site has students use the mouse to draw in parts of a picture.  The purpose is to get the ball to the star in the kid like drawing.  (It may take a while to download if you are on a network system.)

3.  The British Museum has a series of page that highlight many ancient civilizations and their culture.  These pages are appropriate (and written for students aged 9-14.)  They are each divided into different sections to include geography, religion, art, daily life, technologies, and other areas unique to the specific culture.  Usually in each section there is an interactive activity for students to do.  The best link, however is the "Staff Room" which provides great resources for the teacher.  The Main site is here, set up by theme.  Or, you can visit each of the civilizations individually:

4.  The Exploratorium is a science museum in San Francisco, but their online resources and books for middle school science are an even better than the experience in the museum itself.  For years my husband taught 8th grade science and pulled many of his labs for kids out of the Snackbook.  I also have a copy, and have to say it's a little worn out from so much use.  This link is for the science "snacks" online, and there are many, but there are even more in the book itself.

5.  Learning to type is becoming more and more important for students in the upper elementary.  Dance Mat Typing is the best free program I have found that teaches the fundamentals with a cute animal theme. There are four levels with 12 stages in all.  It goes through the traditional practice rather than "hunt and peck games" teaching students to keep their hands on the home row.  The best part is that this "game" is really appropriate for younger children as well.

There it is!  My top 5!!  Now there is definitely more out there that I will be sharing in the days to come.

Linking up to:

Fantastic Finds@Thinking of Teaching