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

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.

Last fall I created a private Facebook group for teachers who wanted to share ideas for using Plickers, and in a few short months that group has grown to over 700 members! Not only do the teachers help each other with technical issues, they are sharing some truly innovative ways to use Plickers in their classrooms. If you're interested in joining the group, you'll find that information at the end of this post.

Within a few days of starting the group, I realized that 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.

Free Plickers Webinars
Plickers can be a little tricky to set up, so I decided to host a webinar with information about how to get started. I knew that one webinar would not be enough to dig into the more innovative ways of using Plickers, so I scheduled a second webinar for those strategies. In that webinar, I also explained how to set up Plickers to keep non-academic data from being included with your academic data. Of course, I checked with the group members before sharing their strategies and photos, and all contributors were happy to be included.

Both live webinars are over, but their recordings are still available for viewing. Plickers 101: Plickers Made Easy and Plickers 102: Beyond Assessment can be found on my Interactive Teaching Made Easy page on Teaching Resources.

Innovative Ways to Use Plickers

Here are some of the most innovative and interesting ways teachers are using Plickers. I introduced the first six strategies during the Plickers 102 webinar; watch the recording if you’d like more information about them. The other strategies were shared in the Plickers Facebook group.

1. Team Plickers Showdown
Have you ever thought of using Plickers as a part of a cooperative learning activity? Showdown is a terrific strategy for practicing or review academic content in teams, and adding Plickers makes it even more fun! It’s similar to the original Showdown activity I described in my post, Show What You Know, with the addition of team Plickers response cards. Watch the Plickers 102 webinar for a complete explanation of how to set this up and when to use the activity.

2. Lunch Count and Attendance
Plickers makes it easy to take your daily lunch count and attendance at the same time. Just create a generic lunch count question with up to 4 responses and change the lunch choices each day. If you make it part of your daily routine to take the lunch count right after the tardy bell rings, you’ll be able to use the results to check attendance.

3. Poll Questions and Voting
Plickers makes it easy for students to respond anonymously to any poll question. It’s the perfect tool to use for class meetings or when asking students to vote on just about anything.

4. Choosing Groups or Topics
If you have a problem with kids choosing project groups or writing topics based on what their peers choose, use Plickers to keep the results private until you are ready to share the results. Students are far more likely to choose what they want to do and not what their friends are choosing.

5. Writing Workshop Status of the Class
Teachers who use writing workshop often start by conducting a “status of the class” to check in with students about where there are in the writing process. Once again, Plickers can be a big time-saver! Instead of polling each student individually and recording their responses on a paper chart, why not use Plickers to scan and record student responses quickly? Enter the question, “What will you be working on today?” Then include up to 4 options like “rough draft,” “need a conference,” “editing and revising,” “final draft.” You can even export your data to a spreadsheet and print it if needed.

6. Social/Emotional Status of the Class
Jessica Vasquez uses Plickers to conduct a social/emotional status of the class each morning. She starts the day by posting a question about how her students are feeling, and she includes a range of responses like, “worried,” “excited,” “calm,” or “scared.” While scanning their responses, she makes a note of students she wants to speak with with privately to find out what’s going on. You could also include words that describe physical responses like “sleepy” or “hungry.” If you don’t have time to talk with students individually, have your students write a short journal entry or letter to you to explain why they choose a particular response.  

7. Choose Your Own Adventure Stories
How about using Plickers when reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book to your class? Tami Terry shared this strategy with the group last week. At each point in the story where the reader has to choose between two actions, she identifies one as the “A” option and the other as the “B” option. The kids vote for A or B with their Plickers response cards, and the results of that quick (and private) poll determine which page she turns to in the book.

8. Parent Survey at Open House
Angela Sievers shared that she recently used Plickers to conduct a parent survey during open house. She said that the parents loved using something that their children were using during the day. I also think it’s a great way to show parents how you are using technology in the classroom, too!

9. Student-Generated Questions
Melinda Harvey shared that after reading about how New Netherlands became New York, her fourth graders generated multiple choice questions, including answers and non-answers for Plickers. She entered their questions and used them the next day as a review. How did it go? “The kids loved looking for their questions, and got a kick out of seeing the non-answers. Some were silly, some were connections to other curriculum areas, some were very astute! I will definitely try this again!”

A Shout Out for the Plickers Facebook Group
I want to thank everyone who shared the strategies and photos I used in both webinars and in this blog post,  as well as the teachers who continue to share in the Plickers Facebook group. If you are not a member and would like to join us, sign up using this Google Doc Form.

Now do you believe me when I say that I'm a bit obsessed with Plickers?! :-)  The concept is genius, and I’m thrilled that the program is free! How are you using Plickers in your classroom?