December 26, 2011

Mitten Science

Mittens keep our hands warm, but are mittens themselves warm? That's the question Selina Smith of the Classroom Magic blog posed to students in her mitten investigation.

Using inquiry science, students discovered that  mittens keep our hands warm because they trap our body heat, but mittens alone are not warm at all. Selina pairs this investigation with the book, The Mitten, by Jan Brett. Visit her blog to download the complete directions and handouts for the activity.

More Mitten Investigations
Selina's blog post intrigued me right away. I like her original question because it's easy to understand and can be explored with a simple science experiment. This activity also started me thinking about other mitten experiments that would be very easy for students to explore. A great follow up to her activity would be to have students brainstorm a list of mitten questions to investigate. Here are a few mitten of MY questions:
  • Are thin cotton mittens as effect as thick thermal mittens for keeping hands warm?
  • Do gloves keep hands as warm as mittens?
  • Do hands get warmer the longer they are inside the mittens? 
  • How does the outside air temperature affect the temperature of hands inside mittens? (If you are wearing mittens indoors will your hands be the same temperature as they would be if you were wearing them outdoors in cold weather?)

Designing Reliable Experiments
If your students are new to science inquiry, I would suggest choosing one experiment to do as a class. Later your students can choose another question to explore with a partner or a team. Download the Science Experiment Lab Write up from Teaching Resources before you begin.

To get started, give each student a blank copy of the form. Work through the various parts of the write up together, starting with the question and hypothesis.

Discuss how to design an experiment that will be reliable because this may be a new concept for elementary students. They tend to think that if they do an experiment one time, the results are "proof" that their hypothesis is correct. Experiments can be made more reliable by changing only one part of the experiment at a time (the variable), repeating the experiment, and measuring carefully.

After you design the experiment, let each team carry it out and record their results. Walk them through the remaining steps to draw conclusions and complete the science lab write up.

Can you think of other mitten questions to investigate? How would you use this activity in your classroom? Visit the Science page on Teaching Resources for more investigation ideas!

Visit Teaching Resources at

December 6, 2011

A Simple Solution for Fast Finishers

By Angela Watson, Guest Blogger

None of us will ever have a class in which all students work at the same pace. That's okay! The goal is to make sure everyone is engaged in meaningful learning activities. For some kids, that means providing extra projects and assignments while they wait for their peers; for other kids, it means teaching time management and how to get things done on schedule. This is not as difficult as it sounds! Predictable classroom routines, clearly defined procedures, and lots of positive reinforcement will make a huge difference in how smoothly your classroom runs.

An easy way to support kids who finish quickly is to teach your class to always look at a When Finished sign after they complete an assignment. The sign I use is posted on my board and lists several assignments I typically have students complete when they are done with their work early. I use a red magnetized arrow to point to the assignment kids are supposed to complete. If kids need to do more than one thing, I'll use two arrows, one which says "First" and one which says "Then" to specify the order things should be completed in. For example, sometimes I like to have students show me their work before they start their next project, so I'll move the arrow that says "First" so that it points to "Show your work to your teacher" and I'll move the arrow that says "Then" so it points to "Get your book box and read silently." The bottom portion of the sign allows me to write a customized assignment on the board underneath if needed.

The When Finished signs keeps me from having to write out the same tasks over and over, and keeps students from wondering what they should be doing. Students' time is never wasted...and I never have to hear, "I'm done! Now what?"

You can download the When Finished sign for free right here! Or, visit the Routines and Procedures page to learn how to teach other expectations, such as lining up, getting drinks, passing in papers, cooperative learning, and arrival/dismissal routines.

Angela Powell Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years, and currently works as an educational consultant and instructional coach in New York City. She is the author of two books, including The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable. She provides free teacher resources--including photos, printables, and activities--on her website,

December 5, 2011

Christmas Paper Chain Connections Craftivity

I love dreaming up new seasonal activities, but I always try to make them educational. A few days ago I remembered how I used to love to make paper chains to decorate our Christmas tree, and I realized that this craftivity could easily be adapted to the classroom by having students write on the slips of paper first. In fact, this idea would fit perfectly into a lesson on making connections while reading!

Making connections helps the reader make sense of what he or she is reading, and we often teach our students about three different types of connections: text to text, text to self, and text to world. Children are often taught to recognize and distinguish between these three, so I created a printable to make it super easy for students to record and classify their connections. (For some great mini lessons on teaching connections, read Stephanie Harvey's book, Strategies That Work.)

You can use this activity just before the holidays and have students create paper chains to decorate their Christmas trees, or you can do the activity at another time during the year and make paper chains for fun. The Paper Chain Connections activity can also be used with a "reading marathon" right before the holidays. Everything is fully explained in my free holiday lesson packet called Christmas Decoration Connections. You can download it from my Seasonal page on Teaching Resources during December, or my TeachersPayTeachers store any time of the year. If you download it from TpT, please take a moment to rate it. I hope you and your students enjoy this activity!

Teaching Resources ~

November 24, 2011

Sharing the Joy of Giving!

Holiday Giving Project

One of the things I miss most about not being in the classroom is the opportunity to teach my students about the joy of giving. I want to share with you a wonderful activity that I did each year with my class, and I hope you'll consider doing this with your class as well. It's one that takes a bit of coordination, but I've created a free packet of materials to help you with the process.

Every year in November I worked with a local agency or our guidance counselor to find  a needy family in the community (not at our school). I tried to find a family with several children who was having a difficult time and who could use our help during the holidays. My students did not know who the family was other than their first names.

I sent home a letter explaining the project, and any of my students who were able to do so would contribute cash and gifts based on that family's needs. I also asked for donations of wrapping paper, boxes, and bows. You can download the project description and a sample letter from TpT Store.

Our Holiday Giving Project was so exciting and such a special time! I asked my students to bring in their items a few days before we got out for the holidays so we would have time to wrap them. We started by creating dozens of small cards with the family members' names to attach to the gifts. My students folded rectangles of white construction paper in half, decorated them, and wrote holiday messages inside.

Then had a gift wrapping party one afternoon during the week before the winter holidays, and I taught them all how to wrap a present with style! You would think that 5th graders would know how to wrap a gift, but I learned the first time I did this project that most had never been taught. Boy did we waste a LOT of wrapping paper that year! After I realized that they didn't know how to wrap a gift, I taught them what to do. First I showed them how to cut the wrapping paper so that it was just the right size, and then I demonstrated how to fold and tape the paper so it looked attractive. Yes, that's me in the picture below!

Next, I borrowed a box of crayons for each student from the supply room, and they had to practice wrapping that box until it was perfect! Then each student chose a partner and they teamed up to wrap gifts. They had so much fun!

At the end of the day, we took a class picture of everyone holding the gifts before I loaded them into my car. You can see the joy of giving all over their faces - what a wonderful lesson for students of any age! Everytime I look at these pictures my heart just melts because I miss these kids!

Mrs. Candler's Awesome Class of 2010!

November 17, 2011

Drum Roll for the Winners Please!

Last week I announced a contest you could enter to win one of three autographed copies of Enemy Pie, one of my favorite kids' books. To enter the contest, folks had to answer one simple question: "What is the grossest thing you have ever eaten?"   

I have to give credit to the author, Derek Munson, for coming up with that one! He told me that he often asks this of the students when he does school visits but he's never asked teachers this question. 

I think we both expected folks to write a few words about their grossest foods, and I had no idea what those foods might be! But holy smokes! We never dreamed that over 150 people would respond with the most amazing tales ever! You guys have eaten some seriously gross stuff and you really know how to tell some great stories!

Congratulations to the three winners below! Two were selected from the messages on Facebook and one was selected from the entries here on this blog. I wanted to you read what they wrote in case you didn't catch their stories earlier. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • Melissa Monroe wrote, "Aspic anyone? On trip to Russia I was served a plate with this clear, gelatinous mound perched atop a piece of lettuce. It had an unappetizing brown hue, and floating inside were pieces of egg, fish, and some other unrecognizable things. Not wanting to offend the host I tasted it. To this day, just thinking about its cold, slimy texture and fishy flavor gives me the heebie-jeebies! I'm shuttering right now as I write this. Apologies to those aspic lovers out there."
  • Kim Wasson Compton wrote, "I accepted a dare while I was a teenage waitress at a summer camp. Trying to impress a table of cute boys, I ate their concoction of food they prepared from "all" the leftovers at their table (peanut butter, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread, coffee grounds, sugar, grape juice, veggies, get the idea!). Needless to say, I wasn't feeling well for the rest of that day!"
  • Mrs Hopper wrote, "I love this book. I work at a school that is in an impoverished area of California. Fighting is prevalent at our school and students at a very young age are accustomed to seeing fights in their daily life outside of school. I love the underlying message behind this book. We have a lot more in common than we realize. My students always enjoy this book and I always pray they take the lesson away and keep it for a lifetime. I would love to win a copy. The worst thing I ever ate was a fly. It flew into my open mouth during PE while I was doing jumping jacks. I swallowed it before I quite knew what was going on. Actually, in reality all I know for certain was that it was a flying bug. I always assumed it was a fly. I learned to exercise with my mouth closed and breathe through my nose."
Mrs. Hopper, Melissa, and Kim, please contact Derek to let him know where to send your copy of Enemy Pie. You can find his contact information here on his Enemy Pie website.  

Thanks to everyone who shared a story, and thanks to Derek for generously offering to give away three autographed books!

November 10, 2011

No Names on Papers? Problem Solved!

Are you frustrated with students who forget to turn in papers or who forget to put their names on their work? I used to get so annoyed when I took a stack of papers home to grade, only to discover that three students had not turned in their work and three more turned in a paper with no name!

But then I got smart and got organized! I devised a system where students turned in their papers by placing them into "paper drops," laminated brown envelopes with student checklists attached. At the end of the class period, I quickly pulled out the papers and checked off who had turned theirs in so I could solve the mystery of the missing papers before they went home for the day. Then the papers went right back into the envelope so I could keep them together for grading later.

The entire Paper Drop System system is described in this packet and includes the printables you need to make it work for you. You can also download a customizable checklist from the Classroom Management page on Teaching Resources. Paper problem solved!

Visit Teaching Resources ~

November 9, 2011

Free Fall Math Word Problem Puzzlers

If you haven't implemented a math word problem solving program this year, I have just the thing for you!  Download these two Fall Math Puzzler printables to try out an easy and effective program that helped my students soar to success in math. With this method, your students solve just one problem a day, Monday through Thursday, with Friday being reserved for in-depth problem-solving lessons or additional practice with challenging puzzlers. It takes just 10 or 15 minutes a day, and you will be amazed at the results!

The Fall Math Puzzlers freebie includes two versions of the same activity page. To decide which version is right for your class, click here to download both pages and print them out. Then try solving the problems as if you were one of your students. Adults would solve these problems using equations or number sentences because we easily grasp what to do. But your students would be more likely to solve them by drawing pictures or illustrating them in some way.Thinking about how they might solve each problem will help you choose the right level for your class.

If you want to differentiate instruction, you can use both activity pages in your class, assigning the first page to some students and the second page to those who need a challenge. However, don't give both pages to the same student because they have similar wording with different numbers.

The Daily Math Puzzler Program
There are four levels in the complete Daily Math Puzzlers program, and each ebook includes enough printables and lessons for a year's worth of instruction. The easiest Level is A which is about right for 2nd or 3rd grade, depending on your students. The most challenging level is D which may be appropriate for 5th or 6th grade.

To see examples of all of the levels and test them with your class, download my free Problem Solving Assessment pack. Administer the pretests to your class as described in the directions. Answer keys are included. If you decide to implement the full program, you can use the post tests to assess student progress at the end of the year.

For more problem-solving strategies and additional Daily Math Puzzler activity pages, visit my Math Problem Solving page on Teaching Resources. Problem solving can be fun when students solve just one problem a day!

November 7, 2011

8 Strategies to Motivate Kids to Love Problem Solving

Here are 8 strategies that helped my students feel more comfortable with problem solving. These techniques thawed their attitudes towards math and motivated them to actually enjoy problem solving!
Students often fear math, and are especially intimidated by problem solving. These feelings prevent them from being able to relax, think clearly, and apply what they've learned to problems they're trying to solve. The resulting brain freeze serves to reinforce the idea that mathematics is scary and difficult. Math standards keep getting tougher, and students are expected to be proficient at solving complex problems far beyond what we were expected to solve at their age. How are we to help our students become confident problem solvers when math continues to get more challenging?

Strategies to Thaw Math Brain Freeze
Fortunately, there are many tools and  strategies you can use to show your kids that math isn't all that scary after all. Here are 8 strategies that helped my students feel more comfortable with problem solving. These techniques thawed their attitudes towards math and motivated them to actually enjoy problem solving!
  1. Implement a problem-solving program in which students solve just one word problem a day, and start with easy problems they can ALL solve without difficulty 
  2. Mix up the types of problems and present challenges that require different problem solving skills and strategies. This will require your students to tap into different types of math content and skills to solve them. 
  3. Keep problem solving sessions short at first - no more than 10 to 15 minutes a day - but as students start to look forward to these sessions, you can include longer problems that require more persistence
  4. Refer to word problems as "puzzlers," "brain teasers," or "stumpers," and present them as fun challenges rather than dreaded math problems
  5. Alternate cooperative learning strategies with independent work to add an element of fun while ensuring individual accountability
  6. Allow students to use calculators during problem-solving sessions
  7. Require students to show their work with pictures, symbols, or words, but don't require them to write complete sentence explanations for every problem they solve.
  8. After giving students time to solve a problem, reveal the correct answer up front and then spend the remaining time asking students to share strategies. Ask, "How many different ways can we discover to solve this problem?" Call on several student volunteers to come to the front of the class, one at a time, to demonstrate how they solved the problem. This will highlight the variety of different ways a problem can be solved. 
Daily Math Problem Solving and Growth Mindset
I've had great success with these strategies, and when I've shared them with teachers, they have experienced similar results. They've told me that their students now look forward to their daily problem solving sessions! In the same way that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, it seems that a problem a day keeps the brain freeze away!

August 2017 Update - I'm in the process of updating the Daily Math Puzzler program to align it with best practices for fostering a growth mindset. On August 31st, I'm presenting a webinar called Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter, and I'll dive into recent research on this topic and bust some math myths about problem solving. If you miss it, you can purchase the professional development version of this webinar from my TpT store here.

Problem Solving Assessment Freebie
One of the free files I share during the webinar is my Problem Solving Assessment pack which can help you evaluate your students' problem-solving abilities. It includes both a pretest and a posttest on 4 different levels. Believe me, you'll learn a lot about how your students solve problems when you score their tests! If you don't have time to watch the webinar now, sign up HERE if you'd like a copy of this freebie sent to you by email.

What are some of your favorite strategies and tips for helping kids to thaw out math brain freeze and enjoy solving problems?

October 29, 2011

Hands-on Water Cycle Fun!

Hands-on Water Cycle Fun! Create a mini water cycle using a rotisserie chicken container and demonstrate cloud formation in a jar.
Now that I'm retired, I often miss working with children; children are my inspiration and the classroom is my laboratory! Recently I accepted a position at a local school to work with kids during their year round intersession program, and I had the pleasure of teaching science to 5th graders for 3 days. I had a wonderful time teaching them about the water cycle and weather, especially since I was able to incorporate a hands-on activity and an exciting demonstration into our lessons.

One activity was adapted from a terrific idea shared with me by Pat Calfee, a former elementary teacher who is now an educational consultant. When Pat was teaching 2nd grade, she used plastic rotisserie chicken containers to have her students create mini water cycles.

Because 5th graders need to know the full water cycle including transpiration and run-off,  we modified our mini water cycles slightly. Each team set up their own mini water cycle by adding a rock to represent a mountain, grass for the vegetation, and a small pond made from aluminum foil and filled with water.

On a sunny day, the best way to power up the mini water cycle is to close the container and put it in the sun for several hours. As the water warms up, it evaporates and then condenses on the inside of the plastic lid. The water then "rains" on the environment inside the container and runs off to form little ponds. Unfortunately, the weather called for rain on the day we were doing this (Murphy's law!). So I brought a large lamp from home that gave off a lot of heat, and we put the containers under the lamp. Soon we were observing evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation, and run-off!
Hands-on Water Cycle Fun! Create a mini water cycle using a rotisserie chicken container and demonstrate cloud formation in a jar.

Hands-on Water Cycle Fun! Create a mini water cycle using a rotisserie chicken container and demonstrate cloud formation in a jar.
Those containers were a super way to give students hands-on experience creating a water cycle. It was wonderful to be able to have something concrete to observe when discussing these concepts.

Another way to observe a water cycle in action is to create a Cloud in a Jar. This is a teacher demo since it involves boiling water and a lit match, but it's a fun way for students to observe how clouds form. You can find the directions for this activity in my Science File Cabinet on Teaching Resources. The directions include a set of follow-up questions to help students grasp the essential concepts.

A great way to help kids identify examples of condensation, evaporation, and precipitation in everyday life is with my Parts of the Water Cycle Task Cards shown below. I've even added images of all 32 task cards that you can upload to Plickers and use for assessment questions!

What are your favorite activities to teach the water cycle? Please share!

October 26, 2011

Daily Report Homework Solution

Do you have a few students who can't seem to complete assignments and turn them in on time? Yet when you talk to their parents, you hear the story, "But he said he finished all his homework!" Sadly, these students may feel they are telling the truth because they forgot they even HAD homework. The problem with this scenario is that the problem can't be solved without the parents and teacher working together closely for a few weeks to find out where the system is breaking down. Parents can't make sure kids are doing homework if they don't know about assignments until the end of each week or, worse, when mid-term reports come out.

I created this Daily Report to help me stay in touch with parents and to make sure that problems are caught right away. Each day the student writes his or her homework down in a notebook or planner and brings it to show me along with this Daily Report form. I complete the boxes by writing an S, N, or U to show how the student's day has gone, and the student takes it home his or her parents to sign. If parents will set up simple incentives, like allowing the child to stay up late on Friday for a certain number of Satisfactory ratings, this report works very well to stop problems in their tracks.

You can download this Daily Report by clicking on the image above or by going to my Odds N Ends page on Teaching Resources. It's not something you want to use all year, but it is quite effective for getting students back on track. I hope you find it to be useful!