December 11, 2013

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy

Guest blog post by Julia Cook

Our country has been plagued with several disasters in the last few years. There was the Joplin, Missouri tornado in May of 2011, we’ve had numerous catastrophic wildfires, Hurricane Sandy tore the east coast apart in October of 2012, and then there was that day…

I remember that horrible day…December 14th, 2012…The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.  My eyes filled with tears as I watched this horrific event unfold on television.  How could this happen?  How could we ever let anything like this happen?

Three days later, I found myself in front of 400 children doing an author visit at a different elementary school that was thousands of miles away.  When the kindergartners and first graders walked into the gym, sat down on the floor, and looked up at me, I lost it.  I couldn’t talk.  I couldn’t even breathe!  My heart felt like it had a hole in it…a big, empty hole.  Our world can be so cruel.  I made eye contact with one of the teachers.  Her eyes screamed “There’s a hole in my heart too!”

At that moment, I knew I had to find a way to reach out. Parents needed to know what to say to their kids and how to say it. Teachers needed to know what to do, what to say, and how to act.

When a disaster occurs, it affects everyone at different levels of intensity, much like the ripple effect when a rock is thrown into water. With natural disasters, most humans feel responsible for helping. We empathize and then focus our efforts on comforting and rebuilding. But we realize deep down that what happened could not have been prevented. Sandy Hook was different…disasters caused by man happen by choice.

The Ant Hill Disaster
In the months following, I wrote numerous articles and gave several media interviews surrounding the topic, “Helping Kids Cope with Disasters and Violence,” but the gnawing of hole in my heart continued.  I knew I needed to write a book, one that spoke to children about living through and living after a disaster. I decided to use ants as a metaphor.

Ants are masters at working together and rebuilding. Also, ant hills can be destroyed by humans as well as by storms, so the metaphor applies to both natural disasters and those caused by man. By writing this book, I could demonstrate empathetic understanding for children, as well as model positive parent and teaching strategies.

But this book would be very different from the others.  All of my other stories were proactive.  The Ant Hill Disaster is reactive…reactive to the hole inside my heart…inside all of our hearts.

After the Ant Hill School is destroyed, a little boy ant is afraid to go back to school.  His mom caringly explains to him that sometimes things happen in life that we have no control over, but we have to find a way to keep living and growing.

Helping Kids Cope with Disasters and Violence
The Ant Hill Disaster thoughtfully addresses fears associated with both natural and those caused by man. It models effective parenting and teaching responses. This book can help assure children that through love, empathetic understanding, preparation, and effective communication, they can stand strong, even in the midst of uncontrollable events.

When disasters, both natural and man-made occur, parents are faced with the challenge of discussing tragic events with their children. Although these might be difficult conversations, they are important and necessary. Always remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to talk to your child about traumatic events. At the end of the Ant Hill Disaster, I included tips for parents to help them talk about tragic events with their children. You can download a page of these tips on the right. Always remember: you are your child’s coping instructor!

I had the great honor of reading the Ant Hill Disaster over the phone to Michelle Gay who lost her 6-year old daughter in the Sandy Hook tragedy. She graciously agreed to write the forward of the book and I want to share her thoughts with you.

Foreword to The Ant Hill Disaster by Michele Gay

On the evening of December 14, 2012, my husband and I were faced with the unimaginable task of telling our older daughters of our family’s loss.  Our precious daughter and their little sister, Josephine, had perished in the tragedy at her school, Sandy Hook Elementary.  

Though a mother and former elementary school teacher,  I grasped for words that could explain the events of that morning... but there were no words. 

What I did manage to say was that I knew our Joey was in heaven and we would find a way to carry on together. That we loved them, and so did she, that we would never allow her sparkling personality and loving spirit to be lost in this tragedy.  

We came together with family, friends, neighbors, and our community to defy this tragedy with our love.  

In the weeks following, we sent our daughters back to school, confident in the love and support they would receive in our community. I volunteered to stay. I wanted to deliver a message: that we were meant to carry on together. And so we began our journey.

Julia Cook’s Ant Hill Disaster honors this journey out of loss and into hope. She lights the path for the youngest of readers with words, colors, and a familiar setting that young children understand and need. Her adorable characters model team work, empathy, and compassion in a child-friendly story that may translate to a tragic event in their own community or another, man-made or natural.   

Ant Hill Disaster is a message of hope and love that will touch and inspire young children and the adults who love them.

     Michele Gay
     Mother of Josephine Gay, A Sandy Hook Angel
     Co-Founder of Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative

Words to Comfort Us from The Ant Hill Disaster

“We breathe in and breathe out, we hold onto each other.
We shed a lot of tears, and we love one another.
We’ve all come together as a strong team of ONE,
 We’ve rebuilt our lives, and we’re get things done!
They say that when change happens, it makes everyone grow.
Our pain is never forgotten, this we all know.
But together we somehow are learning to cope.
Because disasters will NEVER diminish our hope!”

To me, it is an absolute must to align the information contained in my books with the best research-based topic information available. This led me to contact the ALICE Training Institute. For more information on disaster preparedness visit the ALICE website:

Julia is nationally recognized as an award-winning children’s book author and parenting expert. She holds a Master's Degree in Elementary School Counseling, and while serving as a guidance counselor, she often used children’s books to enhance her classroom lessons. Julia has written dozens of books that teach students to become life-long problem solvers and enable them to deal with difficult situations in their lives. She enjoys visiting schools and talking with kids; in fact, she's done over 800 school visits! You can learn more at her website,

December 7, 2013

Bring Some Passion Into Your Classroom!

Guest blog post by Jen Runde

Have you heard of Genius Hour? If you are looking for a way to bring a little more motivation, excitement, and real learning into your classroom, Genius Hour is the answer.

Genius Hour allows your students to explore their passions.  For one hour a week, they read, research, plan and design their passion projects. Students can take on any topic they are passionate about, and create a project they can share with the class, the school … the world!

Genius Hour is based on inquiry. Students need to develop a question related to their passion that they can research.  Simple questions that they can find the answer to easily should be discouraged.  Inquiry questions should lend themselves to the creation of a project – a passion project – at the end.  Projects can be media based (movie, slideshow, etc.), or something physical they build, design, or create.  At the completion of your Genius Hour timeline, these projects need to be shared with an audience. Throughout the entire process, students will be engaged in research, reading nonfiction articles, planning through graphic organizers, writing, and reflecting – all integral areas of our Language Arts curriculum.

I introduced Genius Hour in my classroom two weeks ago, and my students haven’t stopped talking about it. I dedicated a bulletin board space to it (well, actually a blackboard space because I’m out of bulletin board space).  This is where we will post our handouts and weekly inspirations.

For our first Genius Hour, I asked my students to close their eyes and think about something they were really passionate about.  I then handed out sticky notes and had them write down their passions and post them on our board.  I then showed them the video from Kid President, “A Pep Talk from Kid President.”

I also showed them the video found on the Genius Hour site. That video is aimed at teachers so I wouldn’t show it in a class with younger students, but it was perfect for my grade 5/6 students and it gave them a great overview of the project.

I then handed out a second sticky note (in a different colour) to each student and asked them to think about how they could turn their passion into a project – something they had a question about and could build a passion project on. They then posted this second sticky note on the board.

I gave each student a folder and small notebook to keep during the duration of our project. The notebook is for all our notes – graphic organizers, written research, written plans, and a weekly reflection. The folder is to keep any sheets or printed work they have. Their excitement about this project was evident when they immediately began to decorate their folder covers.

For our second Genius Hour, the students were to come with 2 possible inquiry questions for their passion projects that they have discussed with their parents. During this second genius hour, I met with each student to approve one of their ideas. I did have to work with a few students to tweak their questions to make them a little deeper, but most were ready and it was a smooth process. By the end of the class, each student had a question, a direction to head in, and a solid idea for their passion project. In our next genius hour, all students will be able to start on their research.

Some of the inquiry questions my grade 5/6 students have come up with are:
  • How were medieval castle walls constructed?  (passion project idea:  constructing a model of a castle wall)
  • Can I create new dessert recipes?  (passion project idea:  making a cookbook)
  • How do you make doll clothes?  (passion project idea:  a sketchbook of doll clothes and two handmade outfits)
  • What was the inspiration behind the movie, Star Wars?  (passion project idea:  a media movie or slideshow showcasing pictures and information)
  • Can I design my ideal bedroom?  (passion project idea:  an interior design board complete with swatches and furniture ideas, where to find or make items, and pricing options)
I am allowing my students to work at home on their projects (if they wish) as I am not assessing the final physical projects, but rather their process and presentation. If they are working at home, they do need to have all needed materials at school each week for Genius Hour.

Genius Hour has become MY passion project.  And if I continue to show and model that passion to my students, it will continue to motivate them. If this is something you are interested in doing in your classroom, you can make it work.  Timelines are flexible (we are taking 12 weeks (12 in-class hours) for our first projects. If we do a second project this year (which I am planning on), we will have a slightly shorter timeline. Class structure is also flexible. We are doing this whole group every Friday in our language block for our 12 weeks, but it can be built into your literacy centres, or completed during your computer lab time (if this is something you have).

You can get a copy of all the handouts I have given to my students HERE and HERE

I will also be posting a weekly update on my blog:  Runde’s Room (link:
  • Passion Projects in the Classroom – Week One 
  • Passion Projects – Week Two
You can click on any of the links in this post to get started on your own Genius Hour path.  It is hands-down the BEST addition to our classroom this year.  I hope I have inspired you to ignite that passion in your students.

Jennifer Runde is a teacher with twelve years of experience in the upper elementary grades.  She currently has a grade 5/6 class in Ontario, Canada.  She enjoys creating fun and interactive lessons that keep her students engaged in the learning process.  Follow her blog, Runde’s Room, to see what she has going on in her classroom, and find some fun ideas for math, literacy, and technology that you can implement in your own class.

November 20, 2013

Teaching Kids to Express Appreciation

Two Holiday Freebies for You!

How often do we take time to tell others that we appreciate them? We might let our family members know we care, but do we provide time for students to express appreciation in the classroom?

Team greeting cards are a simple way to encourage students to show appreciation for each other, and it only takes about 15 minutes to implement this strategy. Students in teams of three or four will pass cards around in "roundtable" fashion and will write words of gratitude and appreciation on them before returning them to their owners. This activity worked so beautifully with my students that I created these two freebies to share with you. You can use the Team Thanks gratitude before the Thanksgiving Holidays and Gifts of Appreciation before the Winter Holidays. Click the freebie covers below to download them.

Prewriting Activity: What Do We Appreciate?
Before you begin the activity, lead a class discussion about gratitude and the importance of showing appreciation. Ask students to help you brainstorm different things they appreciate about each other. They might like someone's sense of humor, their willingness to help, or their creative ideas when working together. Create a long list and leave it on the board during the next part of the activity.

Team Thanks
Gifts of Appreciation

Team Card Write-Around Activity
When you explain the activity to your students, tell them that they will be passing cards around the team and writing words of appreciation on the cards. Let them know upfront that you expect everyone to write kind comments and that you will be reading what they write. While they are writing , monitor the activity to be sure that no one writes something that might hurt another child's feelings. You know who to watch! While students are writing, you may want to play soft instrumental or holiday music to set the tone. Here are the step-by-step directions:
  1. Choose the appropriate type of card depending on the season of the year. Give each student one card. Both packets have several variations, but you can give all of them the same card if you like.
  2. Ask each student to write his or her name on the front of the card. 
  3. Set a timer for about 2 minutes. Ask all students to pass their cards to the left and open the card they receive. They should notice whose name is on the front and think about what they appreciate about that teammate. Have them write a few sentences of appreciation on the front inside flat and sign their name to their comments.
    Note: If they are having trouble thinking of something to say, suggest that they start with the words, "Thank you for ..." which makes it a little easier for some students. 
  4. When the timer goes off, ask students to fold the card back before passing it to the next person on the left. This keeps the next person from seeing what they wrote. 
  5. Ask everyone to check the name on the front before they begin writing. Set the timer again and allow about 2 minutes to write words of appreciation. 
  6. Repeat this one more time and then have students pass the cards they are holding back to the person whose name is on the front.
Expressing Appreciation Year Round
My students really enjoyed this activity, and they treasured their cards. I often did this activity right before I switched the students to new teams, and sometimes they didn't want to change teams after they read the comments from their teammates! If you want to do this activity later in the year, you can find a generic card called "Our Team Rocks" on my Teambuilding page on Teaching Resources. I hope your students enjoy it as much as mine did!

November 17, 2013

Cooking Up a Caring Classroom

Raising academic standards is certainly a worthy goal, but sometimes it can have unintended consequences. To find time to teach the rigorous reading and math Common Core standards, many schools are cutting back on physical education, the arts, and life-skill lessons. Yet we need to remember that we aren’t teaching programmable robots – we are teaching children. Our students arrive in our classrooms with unique social, physical, and emotional needs that can’t be ignored. The key to teaching the whole child is fostering a caring classroom environment while upholding high academic standards.

Implementing Class Meetings 
How do we find time in an already packed day to teach social skills and foster caring classrooms? For me, regular class meetings were the answer. They provided the perfect opportunity to work through the social and emotional issues that popped up throughout the year. I started having just two meetings per week, one on Monday and one on Friday, but they were so effective that I soon implemented daily morning meetings. For about 20 minutes each morning we gathered on our carpet to set purposes for learning and work through any classroom issues. Often I read aloud a children’s book that provided a springboard for discussion of deeper issues. It was during those times that we became a family of classmates who listened to each other and cared enough to work things out.

Julia Cook – Inspiring Kids to Become Life-long Problem Solvers
Fast forward to October of this year when I had the pleasure of meeting Julia Cook, a former guidance counselor and the author of dozens of books that deal with social and emotional issues. How I wish I had known about Julia Cook when I was still teaching!
Julia and I connected at the Elementary School Conference, and it didn’t take long to discover her passion for writing books that enable kids to become life-long problem solvers. You might be familiar with some of her more popular books like My Mouth is a Volcano and  A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue, but you might not be aware that she has written over 40 such books and many of them have teacher guides to go with them. I only had to read a few of her books to fall in love with them! Julia truly has a gift for digging into the heart of each issue in ways that appeal to kids of all ages. As I began to explore her complete collection, all I could think about was how perfect they would be for class meetings! I could imagine reading one book per week depending on the needs of my students, and using the book as a point of discussion throughout the week.

Ideal Books for Class Meetings
Julia’s books are ideal for fostering class discussion because each one is short, engaging, and focuses on just one topic. Whether the characters are children or animals, they are appealing and they face issues to which most kids can relate. Not only do they teach kids how to deal with problems, the books include proactive strategies and actions kids can take to avoid having those problems in the future. For example, It’s Hard to Be a Verb gives overactive kids strategies to help them focus. The term “ADHD” is not mentioned in the book, but anyone teaching children with ADHD would find this to be a helpful resource.  Another of my favorites, Teamwork Isn’t My Thing and I Don’t Like to Share, includes specific strategies to help kids work more effectively in teams. As a further bonus, many of Julia’s books have a companion teacher guide that you can purchase with activities and ideas to extend learning.

Julia Cook Book Titles and Topics Checklist
After I realized that Julia’s books would be ideal for class meetings, I asked her if she had a chart with all of her book titles and the corresponding issues addressed by each book. She didn’t, but she agreed that it was a terrific idea. One of her publishers, the National Center for Youth Issues, offered to create this chart as a helpful guide for teachers. You can click on the image on the right to download the Julia Cook Titles and Topics Checklist for use in your classroom. Use this chart to help you locate the books you need for specific topics. You’ll even find the ISBN number for each book to help you locate it! After you read each book to your class, check it off  in the right hand column to keep track of which ones you’ve read to your class.

Create Your Own Class Meeting Collection
Your library may not have all of the books you need to use them in class meetings throughout the year. When Julia learned about my blog post, she wanted to offer a special deal to my followers so they could create their own customized class meeting collections. If you order at least 20 books from her website (any combination of children’s books or teachers guides), she will give you free shipping and 10% off your total order! Since shipping alone is normally $2 per book, this is a huge discount. To take advantage of this offer, order at least 20 books from Julia Cook Online. When you check out, enter the words “Cooking Up a Caring Classroom” in the field where it asks how you would like the books to be autographed. Julia personally processes all orders, and when she sees this code, she will give you the 10% discount and free shipping. You can also email her in advance to tell her that you’ll be placing a Class Meeting Collection order.
Recipe for Success
Some might argue that implementing the Common Core means there's no time to teach social skills or help kids become life-long problem solvers. However, I would argue that it's more important than ever that we find the time to teach life skills. The new standards require students to become actively engaged in their learning, often working with others to accomplish a task. If we don’t take time to teach kids to work together effectively, those lessons will be wasted and academic progress will suffer. We must teach the whole child and not focus on academics alone.

Thankfully, each of Julia’s books offers a recipe for success to enable kids to deal with important issues.  To learn more about some of Julia's books, please check out the blog hop below. Clicking each title will take you to a post with a description of the book and some teaching tips.

How can you find the time to teach social skills? Look over your daily schedule and talk with your administrator about how you might be able to work a few class meetings a week into your plans. If you absolutely can’t find the time, how about reading one book each week as a part of your literacy instruction? Reading just one book per week will help you cook up a caring classroom of students who are destined for success!

November 10, 2013

Investigating Gummy Bears

Guest blog post by Amy Alvis

I was looking on Pinterest for a lab to use with my students to teach them the scientific method. The students will have science fair project to do at the end of the year and I wanted to take them step by step through the process so that they will know exactly what to do for their projects. 

I found a gummy bear science lab by Sue at Science for Kids: Adventures of an Elementary School Science Teacher. It is an awesome lab, but I wanted my students to have a more complex scientific method model to work with. Click the image below to download the lab worksheets I created for this activity.

I gave my students the question we were going to test: What solution will make the gummy bear increase its mass and length the most? Next, they came up with their hypothesis. Since we had not gotten to our physical science unit yet, I explained was a solution was. We then brainstormed ideas about what solutions they wanted to test. They decided to test sugar water, salt water, vinegar and water, lemon juice and water, food coloring and water, rubbing alcohol and water, and soda and water. 

We then discussed what materials we would need to conduct the lab (we added things as we did the lab and saw that additional things were needed). Next we discussed the control (plain water) and the variables. They listed the dependent variable (mass and length of gummy bear), the independent variable (the solute - what was added to the cup of water) and the constants (amount of water, amount of solute, and time the gummy bear will be in the solution)

We filled in the procedure as we did the lab. The students worked in group of 3 or 4. The first thing we did was find the mass and length of the gummy bears.

The students measured out 50 ml of water to put in each cup.

They then added the liquid/solid to create their solutions. We put in 1 T of each of the liquids and we added sugar and salt to the water until it was saturated. Make sure that the salt solution has reached its saturation point. The groups that didn't add enough salt didn't see the same results as the groups that did.

The students then added the gummy bears to the solutions and we let them sit overnight.

The next day, the students found the mass and length of the gummy bears after their overnight soak in the solutions.

They then recorded the information on their lab sheets.

 This was the first time I had done this lab and it surprised me that the gummy bears grew so much.

Once the data was collected on the lab sheets, we transferred the data to a chart that the students added to their science journals. Most groups found that the vinegar, lemons, and food coloring made the gummy bears gain the most mass.

They finished the lab by writing down their conclusions on the lab sheet. If you didn't download the lab sheets for this lesson, you can click this link to download them now. Thank you to Laura Candler for allowing me to do a guest post on her blog! 

Amy Alvis lives in Indianapolis, Indiana and teaches 5th and 6th grade math, science, and social studies. She is the creator of the blog Math, Science, and Social Studies .. Oh, My! You can find more free activities for these subject areas by visiting her blog.

October 30, 2013

Tips for Grading Cooperative Learning Lessons

Almost every job or career involves working with others, and cooperative learning lessons are perfect for helping kids develop necessary social skills. However, evaluating the products of those activities can pose a challenge for teachers.

When it is appropriate to grade cooperative learning lessons, and how can we grade them fairly? In my experience, the answer to that question depends on the type of lesson as well as its purpose. When it comes to grading, cooperative learning lessons seem to fall into two different categories: cooperative learning activities for practice, and team projects that result in a product. Let's look at grading options for both types of lessons.

Cooperative Learning for Practice 
Most of the cooperative learning activities I used on a daily basis were simple partner or team strategies for practicing skills or stimulating higher level thinking. In general, I don't believe in grading the products of these types of lessons. When students take turns completing a worksheet or teams work together to solve a problem, there's really no way of knowing how much help each student received on the assignment. Working together, they may score 100% correct on the activity page, but do they all fully understand the concept? There's only one way to know for sure - you have to follow up with an individual test or quiz.

Other cooperative learning activities such as this electricity investigation allow students to explore concepts in an open-ended manner. I personally don't see a need to grade these types of activities, although students can expect some sort of assessment of skills learned later in the lesson.

Cooperative Learning Projects with Products
Team projects are completely different. Many of them are complex and are designed to result in a product, whether it be a team poster, a Prezi presentation, a team skit, or a spreadsheet of data obtained during an experiment. Team projects are not generally assigned for the purpose of practicing a skill that will be tested later, so some type of grading method seems appropriate for these products.

But grading team projects fairly presents a challenge for teachers. How we graded these projects fairly when their products reflect different amounts of participation and skill on the part of each team member? We want to hold students accountable for their contributions, but we don't want to unfairly penalize them for others' poor quality work.

Many teachers address this issue by assigning roles when students work on projects and simply grading each student's part in the project. That strategy is effective when the tasks can be divided into clearly defined roles, but some projects are too complex to be broken into separate "grade-able" parts.

Using the Team Project Evaluation
After struggling with this dilemma for a few years, I created the Team Project Evaluation Form shown below as a way of evaluating the participation of individual team members in group projects. The completed form was attached to a photo or copy of the team project, and the grade I assigned each team member was based on a combination of his or her participation and the quality of the final product. You can download this form for free from my Cooperative Learning page on Teaching Resources.

Here's how I used the Team Project Evaluation in my classroom:
  1. After a team project was completed, I gave each person a copy of the form. They completed the top part independently by describing their contributions to the project. I asked them to list materials they brought from home and tasks they completed while working with their team.
  2. The next step was the kicker. Everyone had to pass their papers around the team and get all team members to sign the form to show their agreement. If the team member did not agree or felt they left something out, the two would quietly confer to resolve the situation.
  3. After they received their papers back with the signatures, students responded to the last two questions independently. These questions are reflective, asking students to think about how they might improve and how their team might work more productively in the future.
  4. Next, students turned in their forms altogether attached to the team project or perhaps to a photo or other representation of the project such as a rubric. For example, if they did a skit together, I would have evaluated the skit separately using a rubric to keep my grade for the product as objective as possible. Or if they completed a lab report together, I would grade the lab report objectively based on the content and responses. 
  5. After reviewing each students' evaluation form, I added my own comments and assigned the final grade. The final grade for each student was different, and it was based on their completed evaluation form as well as the more objective assessment of the actual product. 
Feel free to adapt the Team Evaluation Form to your own needs. It worked will when I taught both 4th and 5th grade, and I suspect it would work well with older kids too. I don't have it in Word form, so you'll have to create your own version if you want to change it.

Cooperative learning lessons are terrific for teaching kids to work together, but we do need to be sensitive to the fairness issues involved in grading work that was completed together. It's important to think about the purpose of the lesson so you can decide whether to grade the product or perhaps provide an individual skill assessment later. If you have any other ideas for grading cooperative learning lessons, please share them!

October 24, 2013

Exploring the Scientific Method with Toy Cars

Guest blog post by Ari Huddleston

Looking for some major student engagement? Teaching students about forces is a lot of fun because you can use toys! You can use playground equipment, pull-back cars, toy cars, marbles, balloon rockets, yo-yos, and spinning tops. During our study of force, my 5th grade classes completed a 2 day experiment using the scientific method to determine if mass affects the distance a toy car will travel down a ramp.  I wanted to focus specifically on science process skills with this activity.

My classes are still not ready to go through the scientific method independently, so we do parts together.  I will release them over time as they show they are ready for independence.  Students record everything in their science notebooks.

Day 1
  1. I gave students the question. 
  2. They wrote their own hypothesis in the format I prefer.  "If _______, then ________ because _______. 
  3. We shared hypotheses. 
  4. In groups, they discussed how the experiment should be set up.  I loved hearing many of my students insist on performing multiple trials. 
  5. We came back together to write the procedures. 
  6. They wrote the materials list by going through the procedures and seeing what is needed. 
  7. We discussed and identified the independent variable and dependent variable.  Some students are improving at this, but some still need help. 
  8. We discussed how data should be recorded. 
Day 2
  1. We reviewed students' lab team roles. {Download free lab team role cards here.}
  2. Students got to work conducting their experiment. There was 100% active engagement in all groups.
  3. Students worked on the bar graph of their data in groups.
  4. Students individually wrote their analysis of what they notice by looking at the data.  We always use a sentence stem of "I notice _______."
  5. Using a sentence stem, students wrote their conclusions.
  6. Students completed a reflection by drawing labeled diagrams of the experiment.

Was their data perfect? No. Did they get the same results? No. Were they scientists? Absolutely! This was a great opportunity for students to THINK and use their science process skills. Remember that science is not just about learning content, it's about experiencing the content!

Frequently Asked Questions

What were the procedures your students used?
  1. Set up a ramp.
  2. Tape a 1g gram cube to the back of the car.
  3. Roll it down the ramp and measure the distance from the bottom of the ramp to the back of the car.  Record your data.
  4. Repeat Step 3 two more times.
  5. Tape a 20g gram cube to the back of the car.
  6. Roll it down the ramp and measure the distance from the bottom of the ramp to the back of the car.  Record your data.
  7. Repeat Step 6 two more times.
What materials are needed for each group?
  • ramp, toy car (preferably a truck), measuring tape, tape, 1g cube, 20g cube
What results did your students get?
  • Well, they varied a bit. It was clear that the different masses affected the distance the toy car traveled. I had to work hard when I first started teaching to become comfortable with the idea that students will not always experience the exact thing we want them to experience, especially in science labs.  Make sure you have explanations for it and have tried the experiment yourself so you know what issues might arise. 
  • Any time an experiment does not go just the way it should is the perfect opportunity to discuss variables outside of their control, things students may have done to get inaccurate data, and how the experiment could be improved.
Thank you to Laura Candler for allowing my to do a guest post on her blog! I'm Ari from The Science Penguin.  I live in Austin, Texas and teach 3 classes of 5th grade science.

October 17, 2013

Teaching Children Not to Be Rude!

Guest Blog Post by Julia Cook

As a school counselor, I would often have kids come into my office and expect me to wave my magic counseling wand and solve their problems for them.  A good counselor, a good teacher, a good parent gives the wand to the child and teaches her how to wave it herself!

Rudeness is a learned behavior. Infants are born adorable, innocent, and teachable, but they are also selfish since all they know is their own tiny world. Without adults guiding them, they will never grow out of this self-centered perspective and will grow into rude children. It takes a village to help a child realize that the world is full of other people, and other people have feelings.  Having good social skills is necessary for school success. Good social skills affect how the child will do on the playground, in the classroom, in the future work place, and in life in general.

What causes people to be rude?
Before we can help students overcome rudeness and learn to be more caring, it’s helpful to understand why people are rude. According to The Civility Solution – What to Do When People are Rude, by P.M. Farni,  there are 11 causes of rudeness:
  • Individualism and a lack of restraint – I’ll do it my way and I don’t care about what you think!
  • Inflated self-worth – People who are self-absorbed don’t value others except as a means to fill needs and desires.
  • Low self-worth – Being hostile and defensive is often a sign of insecurity
  • Materialism – The quest for money and possessions is more important than showing kindness
  • Injustice –An injustice may create feelings of envy, demoralization, depression, or outrage.
  • Stress – People who are overworked or overwhelmed may be indifferent to those around them.
  • Anonymity – If I don’t know you, it doesn’t matter how I treat you.
  • Not needing others – We are becoming content with electronic isolation
  • Mental health problems
  • Anger
  • Fear
How do we teach children not to be rude?
We fail to guide and protect our children when we don’t teach them manners and respect for other people. One of the most valuable tools that we can give kids is the ability to connect with and relate to others. Rudeness damages others by creating stress, eroding self-worth, creating relationship problems, and making life difficult.  When we are treated rudely by others, we often become vulnerable and self-doubting.  Teaching children to be polite is not an all or none, but a continuum. Teaching a child just one single strategy toward politeness will better that child!
  • Start by setting a zero tolerance for rudeness in your classroom. Explain to your students that it is your job to help them grow to become the best that they can be. Let students know that rudeness is a damaging learned behavior, and you can and will teach them to unlearn it!
  • When you see a child acting rudely, go back to the list above and try to figure out why they are choosing to act that way. If you can figure out the cause, it is much easier to develop the most effective solution. Use incidences of rudeness as teaching opportunities to better your students.
  • Model politeness in every way possible – you are their coping instructor! If you are ever rude, recognize your behavior publically to your class and apologize.
  • Show and feel empathy – based on the cards that child was dealt in life, he may be playing the best hand that he can to win the game of life. Teach children from where they are in the world, not from where you expect them to be.
  • Read stories to your class that model positive behavior that counteracts rudeness. Have students point out how the characters acted rudely and discuss why they may have chosen to act that way, if they knew they were being rude, and what they did to overcome their rudeness.) Often times, if a child in a story book has a problem and learns to solve the problem, the reader can identify with the strategies used in the book and apply them in real life.

Your Thoughts are Private, but Behavior is Public
I often tell kids that “Your thoughts are private, but behavior is public.”  You can think whatever you want to think, but the minute you let your thoughts out of your head through your words or your actions, they become public information. A great visual to explain this is the Toothpaste Squirt.

Toothpaste Squirt Lesson

Materials Needed:
  • Small tube of toothpaste
  • Small plate
  1. Choose one student to come forward and squirt all of the toothpaste onto the plate.
  2. Ask the student if he/she can then put all of the toothpaste back into the tube.
  3. Explain that once the toothpaste comes out of the tube, you cannot get it all back in.  This is much like a put-down or rude comment.  Once a put-down comes out of my mouth and goes into your ears, I cannot take it back.
  4. Go onto explain that for each put-down a human hears, they must hear 10 pull-ups (or sincere compliments) to get back to where they were emotionally prior to the put down.  (i.e. if a child gets 3 put downs in one day, he must get 30 compliments to get back to where he was…30!)
  5. Reiterate that thoughts are private, but behavior is public and the next time you think about giving a put down, think again and screw your lid to your toothpaste tube on tight!
The most important skill that we can teach children to help them succeed in life is the ability to get along with others in society. To do that, it takes a village. If we fail, the rest of the world will let us know, and our kids will be subjected to a life of ridicule, isolation, and despair. As a teacher…you are your students’ coping instructor! Model politeness, say NO to rudeness and keep making a positive difference!

Julia is nationally recognized as an award-winning children’s book author and parenting expert. She holds a Master's Degree in Elementary School Counseling, and while serving as a guidance counselor, she often used children’s books to enhance her classroom lessons. Julia has written dozens of books that teach students to become life-long problem solvers. Many of her books can be used to teach kids not to be rude, including Cell Phoney, My Mouth is a Volcano, Teamwork Isn’t My Thing and I Don’t Like to Share, and I Want to Do it My Way! She enjoys visiting schools and talking with kids; in fact, she's done over 800 school visits! You can learn more at her website, Julia will also be presenting two sessions at the Elementary School Conference next week. 

October 4, 2013

7 Reasons to Incorporate Movement, Songs, and Stories into Your Teaching

Guest blog post by Steve Reifman

Several years ago I started reading about the results of recent brain research and its implications for student learning. The more books I read, the more my interest in this topic grew. Before long I came across a wide variety of recommended teaching practices, and I eagerly incorporated them into my classroom instruction. Without fail, three types of effective, brain-friendly strategies consistently stood out as unusually engaging and powerful - those involving movement, songs, and stories.

Children simply reacted differently to lessons and activities that included elements of movement, songs, and stories. In fact, the entire classroom environment became transformed and the learning gains immediately evident. Because of my belief in the promise of movement, songs, and stories as learning catalysts, I began a quest to find, adapt, and create as many activities as possible that incorporated these elements. In this post I describe seven reasons why these types of activities have such a strong impact on both student learning and the classroom environment.

I want you to have access to the activities I describe below, so I'm offering a free sampler of my new book that includes these lessons mentioned below. You may want to download the Rock It! Transform Classroom Learning with Movement, Songs, and Stories Sampler and refer to it as you read about the strategies.

  1. Forges an Emotional Connection
    Educator Jeff Haebig explains that emotions drive attention and attention drives learning. Activities that include movement, songs, and stories resonate with children on an emotional level, engage them deeply, and enable them to make a personal connection with academic content. As a result, they pay closer attention and remember more. One of my favorite examples is “The Story of Peri Meter” because kids love hearing about this unique individual whose personality helps them understand the concept of perimeter.  
  2. Builds Self-Esteem
    Students who tend to experience difficulty with more traditional forms of learning usually find greater success with activities that incorporate movement, songs, and stories. For example, I have found that participating in “The Synonym-Antonym Sidestep” and “The Jumping Game” (see sampler) will do more to help children learn synonyms and antonyms than several days’ worth of paper-and-pencil instruction on the same topic. With this greater success comes greater confidence and improved self-esteem. We, as teachers, can capitalize on these moments of success to create a carryover effect to other parts of the school day.
  3. Improves Team Bonding
    Many kids are fortunate enough to experience the happiness and satisfaction that come from being a valued member of a successful team - playing Little League baseball, performing in a youth orchestra, or acting in a school play. Our classrooms can provide the same kind of bonding experience with the addition of activities that incorporate movement, songs, and stories. Students feel a greater sense of “connectedness” to the class and to one another. I have noticed this to be especially true when we sing “The Book Parts Song,” and our other learning tunes.
  4. Adds Novelty
    As adults, we appreciate a clever turn of phrase on a billboard or a unique combination of ingredients on a restaurant menu. The same holds true with children and their classroom learning. Activities that include movement, songs, and stories score high on novelty value, and kids love it when their teachers present information in a way that is a bit out of the ordinary or off the wall. For example, my student love it when I wear a Hawaiian shirt and play Hawaiian music as I describe the “Multiplication Hula” strategy for correctly placing the decimal point when doing multiplication problems involving money.
  5. Involves Multiple Learning Modalities
    Typical paper-and-pencil schoolwork addresses only two of the “intelligences” popularized by Howard Gardner, the linguistic and logical-mathematical. Movement, songs, and stories also address these intelligences and bring into play the bodily-kinesthetic, musical, and spatial, among others. The more modalities we reach, the more successful students will be. We hit the “Teaching Grand Slam” when children participate in activities, such as “Place Value Jumping Jacks,” in which they see, say, hear, and move through the content at the same time.
  6. Creates Memorable Experiences
    Educator Dave Burgess says, “Lessons are quickly forgotten; experiences are remembered forever.” Infusing classroom activities with movement, songs, and stories turns potentially dry academic lessons into engaging, multi-modal experiences that kids will remember and talk about with their family and friends. For example, my students’ ability to locate ordered pairs on a coordinate grid increased dramatically when I stopped providing mere explanations and started taking the class on a “virtual field trip” to the local farmer’s market where they could walk through an actual grid and select fruits and vegetables of their own.
  7. Increases Enthusiasm for Learning
    In addition to all the other academic and social-emotional benefits I have described, these activities are an absolute blast. Playing active games, singing songs, and sharing stories puts smiles on children’s faces, enriches their days with excitement and joy, and helps make school a happy place for them.   
Teaching is a difficult, demanding job, and we need to find pleasure in our work to be at our best in the classroom. Movement, songs, and stories can really help our students learn, and what’s even better, we can all have fun along the way. These activities create situations where children are completely focused and well-behaved, work with purpose, and learn enthusiastically. I’m not sure how we can beat that.

Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, author, and speaker with almost 20 years of classroom experience. He has a Master’s degree in education from UCLA, and has traveled to Japan as a Fulbright Memorial Fund Scholar. Steve has written several books, including an award-winning middle-grades mystery novel, Chase Against Time. His newest book for educators, Rock It! Transform Classroom Learning through Music, Songs, and Stories has just been published by Brigantine Media. Check out Steve's website at