March 30, 2016

Earth Rounds: What Fraction of the Earth Can Support Life?

What fraction of our planet can support life? Create edible Earth Rounds to find out!
Sometimes kids think Earth has unlimited resources and they don't realize that only a small part of our planet is habitable. Edible Earth Rounds is a tasty activity you can use to demonstrate this concept, and it's a great way to sneak in a fraction lesson, too! Each student will use half an English muffin or sandwich round to create a model of the earth. They'll use jelly to represent the part of our Earth covered with water, peanut butter or almond butter for the land, and other food items to represent the uninhabitable and habitable parts of the land. Check out the photos below for a quick overview of what's involved.

When you introduce the activity, you might want to spend a few minutes discussing the terms "habitable," "inhabitable," and "uninhabitable." Did you know that "habitable" and "inhabitable" are actually synonyms? Usually the prefix "in" means "not," but apparently "inhabitable" is the exception to that rule. Therefore, the only form that means "not able to be inhabited" is "uninhabitable." Are you confused yet? :-)

March 26, 2016

10 Ways to Power Up Any Lesson and Maximize Learning

Imagine someone asked you to describe the best lesson you ever taught. Which lesson would you choose? What do you think made that lesson so awesome?

Let me guess. It was probably fun for both you and your students ... maybe a hands-on math lesson, a science investigation, or a cooperative learning activity.

But I'll bet it was more than just fun. Your best lesson was probably rigorous and challenging, too, and one reason it was so memorable was because you could see that your students were GETTING IT! We all love those "light bulb" moments where everything clicks into place and the magic of learning happens.

So what makes a lesson really amazing? I used to think hands-on learning and active engagement were the critical factors. Clearly my students were having fun during these lessons, and it looked like they were learning, too.    

But you know what I discovered? A fun lesson isn't necessarily an effective one. You're nodding your head right now if you've ever taught a highly engaging lesson, only to realize the next day that your students didn't actually LEARN the key concepts. For example, kids can have a blast creating wind-powered cars from straws, spools of thread, and paper, yet not have a clue about wind as a renewable energy source.

March 21, 2016

Sweet Statistics: Jelly Bean Data Analysis

Jelly Bean Egg Challenge is a sweet statistics lesson that requires students to measure, estimate, collect, compile, and graph jelly bean data in order to analyze it and draw conclusions.Give each student a plastic egg filled with an assortment of jelly beans, and let the fun (and learning) begin!
I used to think jelly bean math activities had no place in the upper elementary classroom. Sure, sorting jelly beans and graphing them by color is fun, but who has time for “fun” holiday activities when you have a rigorous curriculum to teach? But that was before I realized that you can do a whole lot more with jelly beans than just graph them! In fact, you can turn a fun candy-themed lesson into a powerful learning activity just by sneaking in some challenging academic content!

For example, the Jelly Bean Egg Challenge is a sweet statistics lesson that requires students to measure, estimate, collect, compile, and graph jelly bean data in order to analyze it and draw conclusions. Give each student a plastic egg filled with an assortment of jelly beans, and let the fun (and learning) begin!

March 10, 2016

STEM Engineering: Will building a tower with newspaper REALLY benefit my students?

Awesome STEM engineering project with basic household materials! Fun way for kids to practice essential science skills (measurement, creating a hypothesis, conducting an experiment, using science tools, thinking like a scientist, and more) in a short amount of time.
Guest post by Sarah Wiggins

You've probably noticed pictures of STEM engineering challenges floating around the teacher blog world recently, especially if you happen to be on Pinterest. There are so many pictures of plastic cup towers, coffee filter parachutes, and other cardboard contraptions. Perhaps you've plunged into the fun headfirst, or maybe you are still standing on the diving board wondering, "Will this activity really benefit my students?"

Short answer: YES! After looking at pictures of STEM projects, you might conclude that STEM engineering projects are simply arts and crafts on steroids. Really, they are so much more. Students who participate in STEM gain valuable skills that carry over into all parts of school.

8 Reasons Stem Challenges are Beneficial 
  1. New Challenges
    Each engineering challenge gives students something new to solve and more than likely, it is a challenge they have never tried before.

  2. Critical Thinking Skills
    Students aren't just scanning a passage for an answer or solving math problems with a step-by-step process. They are actually coming up with a brand new solution. They can't just copy an answer or guess. They have to manipulate the materials and THINK!

March 6, 2016

Plickers 102: Innovative Ways to Use Plickers

Plickers is SO MUCH MORE than an assessment tool! Read this post to learn some amazing new ways to use Plickers!
Can you tell I'm a little obsessed with Plickers? It's a strange obsession, since I'm no longer in the classroom and I can't even use Plickers with kids! However, seeing teachers get excited about it when I shared it at the Elementary School Conference was almost as fun as using it with kids! To tell you the truth, I was hooked on Plickers when I tested it out at home. That's when I truly understood how it worked and and saw its enormous potential. Since then, I've been enthusiastically sharing what I’m learning about Plickers with other educators.

If you aren't familiar with Plickers, read my original post, Plickers 101: Digital Exit Tickets and More, to get an overview of how it works. Plickers is a free program that’s a cross between hand-held "clickers" and paper QR codes. It’s an amazing formative assessment tool that provides academic performance data in a flash.

But as I discovered recently, Plickers is SO MUCH MORE than an assessment tool! Plickers is also a powerful way to connect with your students and to increase engagement throughout the learning process, not just at the end.