"One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar." ---Helen Keller

Friday, January 24, 2014

ICE on the BAYOU ---Gulf Coast of Florida

It is not supposed to do this way down here on the bayou. This is the Gulf Coast of Florida on a bayou off of Choctawhatchee Bay. I looked out after about the first day of temperatures below freezing, well really in the 20's a couple of weeks ago, and saw an ice sheet about 2/3's of the way across our bayou. Wow. I have never ever seen that. My son took these videos later that morning when the sun was up good and it should have been warming up.

The first one shows him placing a golf ball gently down, because surely it would break the ice..right?! Then he tapped it...look how far it went. INCREDIBLE for here.

On the second one, he dropped it a bit harder. AMAZING!

The Great Space Race Freebie

I am beginning to go through all of my science stuff as I getting closer to that retirement date. Yippie!!!!!!!!!!

I thought I would share a freebie with you today. I love the history of space exploration. I don't know why, but it has always fascinated me. I have shared a small portion of that love in these posts. I had a space theme running through my classroom for many years. From my Sunshine Math program to the big production - aka Space Play presented to the parents at the end of the school year.

One activity that I shared with my students was a little history of the United States / Soviet Union Space Race that kicked off before I was born with the launching of the Sputnik satellite. The Space Race was a major event for most of my childhood, and I followed it closely after I was old enough and then studied everything I could get my hands on after that. I would say my love for it began with a LIFE magazine and then really went in to overdrive in about 2nd grade when the little fuzzy TV rolled into the classroom. Thanks Mrs. Bates and Repton Elementary.

Anyway, I am sharing a PowerPoint that I made to go through the major events. This PowerPoint was inspired by a Mini Page. The Mini Page had a series of events that were considered firsts in the Space History and milestones.

After reading through this, I got the idea to highlight some example of the Space Race between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialists' Republic (USSR) from the 1960's. I tried to bring out that throughout that decade it would seem they were beating us, but they were taking chances that we would not take with our astronauts. Depending on the grade level I was teaching determined how in depth I went with the topic. 
However, there is so many things to highlight about the good in our country. I think this was an incredible endeavor and believe it is important to teach to share with the next generation what we can do as a nation. There trip to greatness may be Mars or just solving problems that exist in our world.

Here is a copy of the PowerPoint. I was not so specific in the notes portion, because I just have it stored in the head:)

I took the events then and made a worksheet that could students could follow along as we went through the PowerPoint and add the dates to it. Then the sheet could be cut apart to put the dates in order. Timeline skills!!! Here is a copy of the worksheet.

Below are some pictures of what it looked like. As you can see, easy activity, nothing special. I guess if I were more motivated, I would spruce it up and put it on Teachers Pay Teachers. Truth is I would rather just share and hope that I helped someone else, and I don't know if it would fly with copyright issues on all those prints. Many of those are available via NASA.

Pretty plain as you can see, but it takes care of timelines and historical facts.

This one is a bit more doctored up, but still really plain.

The picture below is the picture on the top of the second student piece. I got it from an old book, but I am sure you can find something similar.

I loved how it had us winning by making it to the moon!!! Go USA!

Hopefully, someone out there shares my passion and can use the idea.

Love this one too. Taken from an old Time for Kids.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Active Word Strategies with Word Lanyards

As I mentioned in this post, I wanted to share some of the best ways to incorporate some movement and active ideas into content vocabulary instruction from the book Word Nerds by Overturf, Montgomery, and Smith. One of my favorites was Vocabulary Lanyards.

Vocabulary Lanyards have the students wear a vocabulary word, synonym, or antonym in a clear plastic container on a lanyard. Students receive a different word each day, but they might have to switch words during the day so that they are responsible for knowing more than just the word they wear.

*It goes without saying that you would have to teach and model appropriate uses of their lanyards and to respect and take care of them.

Throughout the day, you would have activities related to the words. For instance, line them up with...."If you are wearing the word that means _____________, then line up, or "If you are wearing the word that means the opposite of the word that means ____________, line up.

Another idea presented was to have them find classmates with related synonyms and antonyms and huddle up in the classroom.

These are just a few of the ideas, but a good start to see if it is something you would be interested in pursuing.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Early Simple Machines LEGOs "Spinning Top"

One of my favorite things in our labs are the Early Simple Machine LEGO kits. They contain 8 building cards with a lesson attached and then 4 problem solving lessons that promote a free build. They are built around a 4 C model of teaching.

  • Connect - The teacher reads a very short story to present a problem that must be solved by the simple machine that the students build.
  • Construct - Students build following instructions on the building cards.
  • Contemplate - Students carry out the scientific investigation with their build.
  • Continue - Ideas for further study or investigation.

In the Spinning Tops lesson, the students listen to a story where two children are having fun spinning toy tops. However, they quickly fall over and their fingers are tired from all the spinning.  They must construct a launcher that make the tops spin longer. They use a building card to guide them.

Front of card.

Back of card.

After building there launcher, the students are asked to try it out a few times and get the hang of it.


After the students can launch it well, the question is presented for them to contemplate. The tops can work two ways... 

1) The yellow piece is on top and the red piece is on the bottom as pictured above. This means that the disc with the largest surface area is on the top and the disc with the smallest surface area is on the bottom.

2) The discs are reversed with the red on top and yellow on bottom changing the largest surface area to the bottom.

The students predict which they think will spin the longest. Then the practice begins with doing it both ways.

When the students have had ample practice, you call them altogether to discuss the results. We took Mrs. Leach's first grade class pictured in the examples out into the hallway and made two lines and then took one launcher and tested each of the tops multiple times and had a great discussion right out in the hallway. Fantastic class, Mrs. Leach!!! 

  • We talked about our predictions
  • why we would have to spin it multiple times
  • was it a fair test such as did we always turn the handle the same amount of times
  • was the surface the same or did the tops hit cracks in the floor.
Lots of things to consider. 

We then shared some research on the topic.
We found that to spin longer, the larger surface on the bottom works best because it has a lower center of gravity, but we found that the larger surface area on top spins faster. 

To extend the lesson, it suggest making a top with different shapes. I found a site that tells children how to make a top out of index card and a toothpick so that they could go home and try some more ideas.

As you can see, this was a fun lesson for the kids and opens up so many questions for the children to think about in science.

View from the Science Station

Thought everyone might like to see pictures of all three of the schools. All are similar in that they contain similar materials, but yet different because each one has a different layout.

All of the rooms contain 6 large tables used for the Pitsco Missions in our intermediate grades. Round tables were purchased for the center of the room before I came on the scene. The purpose was to be a starting point before the students started their missions. Sadly, they aren't really utilized. They are used by teachers place to place their stuff and a location that I use to put anything out that I want the teachers to use or notice. I do however like them because for teacher training they are nice. In our smaller schools that makes floor space tight for the primary teachers who really like to start on the floor.


Storage is different at all three schools. One is a very large room and has some cabinets. We have made a storage area for our kits in a corner by turning a cabinet sideways and making a huge area behind to store materials as you can see from the two photos below.

One of the schools has a great storage closet. The kits are stored on one side for Kindergarten through 2nd grade.

This is a close up  view of some of the kindergarten through 2nd grade kits.

The following is a close up view of our kindergarten kits.

The picture below is a few of our second grade kits.

The next picture is the other side of the storage closet. It contains the materials that fill the bins out in the lab for the third through fifth grades. 

Along the back wall of the lab, we have some tubs that came with an old science series. We use those to hold supplies from everything to beakers to batteries.

On of the schools is the tiniest of them all. I struggle mightily for storage at this location, but sometimes you take what you can get. All of the labs are very similar in the components of the labs, but yet very different in how you can fit it all in there. We are in our third and final year of the grant, but as you can see each school will be left with a lab ready to go.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Part 2 Why Vocabulary Instruction Is Important

As I was talking about the importance of vocabulary instruction in yesterday's post, I mentioned that I have reading a book called Word Nerds. I wanted to share some information that I gleaned from it as it relates to content vocabulary. The book is a wonderful resource in addressing all teaching of vocabulary, but I am just pulling out things as they relate to content vocabulary instruction.

Here are a few things that caught my eye in Chapter 1 - "What's the Big Deal about Vocabulary Instruction?"

#1 Some words are more important to teach than others.
They break words down into three categories... Tier I words are words the students come to school knowing (clock, baby, and happy). Tier II words are high-frequency words that students will likely encounter in the their reading, but may know well (coincidence, absurd, and fortunate). Tier III are content specific words (isotope, peninsula, and refinery).

The authors suggest teaching Tier III during content time and basing vocabulary instruction on Tier II words.

Many of the ideas in this book would work well for those content words too!!!

#2 Students have to learn words at more than one level.
They have a continuum of word knowledge ranging from no knowledge to  a rich knowledge such as how it used in multiple situations and multiple meanings.

#3 Students learn words when they experience them multiple times.
I know we have all heard that before. I had always heard 6, but they say there is a new studying suggesting that students need exposure to a word 12 times.

#4 Asking students to look up words in the dictionary and write the definition dies not help them learn new words.
Thought brought up...introducing words using student friendly definitions in plain, everyday language helps. I pondered when I read this of my old elementary dictionaries used in the primary grades that were really simple definitions often accompanied by pictures. I decided I liked this idea!!!

#5 When students learn words, they build patterns and networks of meaning called "word schemas".
In other words, students make connections to their own background when deciding what a new word means. ***Prefixes, suffixes, root words all play in here.
Quote from the authors: "When we help build and activate students' word schemas, their vocabulary knowledge grows exponentially."

#6 Students can learn some words through the use of wide reading.
Use a wide variety of texts along with direct instruction and vocabulary activities which this book has many examples.

#7 Students can learn some words through rich conversations with adults and peers.
We need to find ways to use those words in our instruction and conversation with students. That adds to that 12 times exposure needed.
Interactive read alouds are also a great resource for this.

#8 Students can learn some words through word play.
Vocabulary instruction that includes movement and multisensory activities can aide here. I want to share some of the ideas for this particular section in a later post. I think as teachers we have heard many of the ideas shared in the book before and while they are really great ideas, I think this section of movement and word play might be just the missing link in our vocabulary instruction.

#9 Students can learn some words by direct instruction.

#10 Most students need word learning strategies to become independent readers.
as I mentioned with #5 these skills are valuable. If you are using the CAFE to teach reading skills, then you have also got an instant reason to teach those short mini lessons on vocabulary strategies and then apply them to their daily reading.

In a later post, I will share some of the active vocabulary ideas shared in the book. My favorite being Word Lanyards.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Why Learn Vocabulary?

I have talked about the importance of vocabulary instruction before in this post, however, I have been reading a book called Word Nerds. The first chapter is called "What's the Big Deal about Vocabulary Instruction?" I am reminded each day watching the students interact with vocabulary in our Pitsco Missions that it is indeed a big deal.

Beyond what the book had to say, I have witnessed the following example multiple times in one of our missions. The students are looking for the materials listed in their activity and it calls for a canister of rice. Even though in their tub their is a tall plastic container filled with rice, they will still search for the "canister." It cracks me up when they even argue over what a canister might be. Now for those of us 50 and over we probably envision "canister" with the set of canisters labeled flour, sugar, coffee, and tea that sat on our counters as kids.

This generation of students probably hasn't seen this, and as I thought more about this we don't use that word much anymore. How are they supposed to know what a canister looks like?

Another word that came up in a similar setting was the word "percolate." Again, those of us that are older understand how that word because we made coffee in  a percolator. However, when the students read about this word, it was in the setting of the absorption rate of soil. Again, with no background that is tough word for them.

Just with those two examples, we can see that vocabulary instruction is important or at the very least crippling to children when they don't have the background knowledge that we all too often assume they have.

I will address the what the authors of the book Word Nerds had to say about the importance of vocabulary instruction tomorrow. Stay tuned.