Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cooperative Groups need to be structured...

Science Groups 

It is time for a repost...I can not stress enough how important it is to have science groups set up for hands-on exploration.  Each child NEEDS a job and a responsibility.  It makes the lesson run so smoothly....  Take a peek into my Science jobs the FOSS way!

For more information about the curriculum I use, check out

1.  GROUPING:  FOSS recommends you have your students into groups of 4.  I usually group them this way - one high student, one lower student and two average students.  I also pay special mind to personalities as well - sensitive, high energy, etc... Laura Candler has a really good resource for cooperative learning where you make cards to help you keep record of who is grouped with who.  I recommend you go to her website: and search for more resources under cooperative learning.

2. POSTER WITH NAMES:  Once I determine who is in the group, I make a poster that shows the students names and group number.  Each child's name is in a certain color - red, green, blue or yellow.   That is because the color will denote the job of the day.

3.  JOB CHART: Next, I put the four jobs in a pocket chart:

Getter1 - gets materials
Getter 2 - puts materials away
Reporter - reports what they did at the end of the investigation
Starter - starts the investigation first

4.  ASSIGN JOBS:  Finally, I put a square in the pocket chart next to each job.  The squares are red, yellow, green and blue.  This way if your name is red, you do the red job today.  Each day the squares rotate so that the jobs rotate.

Hope this works for you as well as it works for me!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Using Squirtle as a Hook for Writing....

 Squirtle the Turtle is longing for some stories....

  Last week I opened up to the students that for writing workshop I would like them to write about Squirtle.  It could be any form they chose:
     Narrative (what they have seen)
     Adventure (make believe)
     Or any other topic so long as I approved it first.  The kids took this idea and  ran with it...

Some topics include:
  • Katie wrote a diary entry from Squirtle's point of view in which he decided to break out of his tank!
  • Lilly wrote about Squirtle's adventures at night...did you know he watches TV? He lovesToy Story.
  • Jordan wrote a tongue twister - Squirtle squats by the squirt shore.  Turtle twisted toward the tortoise shore.
  • Amber and Tim wrote poems (as did my paraprofessional Tana)
  • Broderick wrote all about how the turtle pees on the floor (this really bother him!)
  • Darlene wrote about how we got him and how old he is...
  • Shane and Robert wrote what they have noticed about him - he came from Petsmart, he is shy, etc...
  • Kayla wrote about him secretly being Oprah!
  • Dean wrote a story about him being a Pharoah (he is currently reading the Red Pyramid series)
All of the topics were wonderful and fun to read...I'll leave you with a few to whet your appetite.   Apoem by Tamia...

And a Cartoon by Ben...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Magnetism and Electricity...what's the relationship?

Have you ever stopped to think...what's the relationship between magnetism and electricity?  Why do we teach them together after all?  My little brain has a hard time making connections to higher level science, but this one I get! 

We are currently working on Magnetism and Electricity using the FOSS kit by the same name.  This is my third year teaching it with students (as well as many sessions with adults) and it always blows my mind how Dr. Lowery connects the concepts in such a concrete way. 

On an aside note, I have met Dr. Lowery several times with my journeys with FOSS and I absolutely love the man.  Here we are at the Hotel Roanoke together...bad picture, but still one I treasure....  That's me on the right with my science BFF's Rita behind me and Sherrie on the left. 

Anyway...back to school...I had always played around with magnets when I taught K-2 and knew that this was an important science concept. But I thought it stopped there.  NOW I  know better.  In the beginning of our unit the kids spend a lot of time identifying objects that are made of steel or iron that are attracted to magnets. They are also the same objects that are good for conducting electricity.  This week learned how to create temporary or induced magnetism by chaining objects together.  This will come back again when we learn to create an electromagnet.  Without electromagnetism we would not have so many of our modern inventions - including the TV, Computer, etc...

Now, remember how I've talked so much about MISUNDERSTANDINGS?  We had a big one today - one group showed me this chain:
    They were so proud of their thinking until I pointed out that it was hooked to the desk an iron object and therefore the magnetism wasn't so much chaining but just attaching.    When they took it off the desk and tried to recreate it, it naturally fell apart. 

Lesson learned! 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Meet the Turtle


Today was the day that we brought in the turtle.  I had former students come to meet him as well as current and possibly future students.  My dear, sweet husband helped me set it up in the classroom where I posted a few notes to the kids, placed a brochure and children's book for them to read as well as an adorable mini pillow pet turtl I couldn't resist! 

Critters in the Classroom has a wonderful pdf available that gives great suggestions about how to get a pet, what responsibilities you will need to be ready for as well as ways to introduce the pet to the classroom.  I downloaded the Classroom Pet Rules to have up and ready on the wall from the first day.

Next, I had a poster that gave a little bit of infomation about our turtle.  I knew they would have a million questions so I tried to answer as many important ones as I could.  Besides, the information is there to show class visitors and to reread throughout the day. 
                       What do you think?  Any suggestions? I love to hear from you all...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I love PINTEREST....


        Let me share with you my favorite new find from Pinterest....Sesame Street Videos with celebrities.. I can't wait to share this with my students!  Even though they are in fourth grade, I know they will enjoy it.  They are so into popular music they will actually "get" the humor of it - and they are old enough to enjoy it.  Yes, I know...some may make fun of Sesame Street, but I think most will secretly enjoy it!  First of all it is Jason Mraz...and second it's about going outdoors.  Check it out...

Pin AddictNext I'd like to share with you the new link on the side bar....Teaching Pin Addict.  It is created by the people who brought you Teaching Blog Addict (on of my favorite sites).    If you have a few hours to spare (and trust is addicting...) check out this site. It links you up to over 100 Pinterest boards ...all about Education.  My site is included on the list at the very bottom of teaching related pins... If you want to skip that step and go straight to my site it is:

Just is NOT all science but lots of fourth grade related sites for reading, math, science and social studies.  Most of them are NOT my things, but things I like.
       This board is my board of pins from my sites alone:   I just made this and had so much fun reminiscing on all the fun things we have done this year. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pets in the Classroom

Easy Grant Opportunity:

Pet Care Trust Logo
Have you heard of the wonderful program called Pets in the Classroom?  At my science lead teacher meeting, a colleague told us about this wonderful program.  It's super easy and allowed me to get an amazing pet and pet habitat for my classroom.

How does it work?  Technically it is a grant - you fill out the online form online and within two weeks you will get notification in the mail. 

 There are four (4) grant types, including: 1- Rebate Grants in the amounts of $100 (for small animal or birds) or $150 (for reptiles or fish) for purchases at any pet store; 2- the Sustaining Grant in the amount of $50 to maintain an existing classroom pet; 3- Petco Grant, which provides coupons for the live animal, pet habitat and supplies purchased at Petco; and 4- a Petsmart Grant, which provides coupons for the live animal, pet habitat and supplies purchased at Petsmart.

I was lucky enough to be adopted by a parent in my class this year.  Instead of going through Adopt-a-Classroom which has so many stipulations, she donated the $500 in cash for me to use as I wish.  I asked the students what they wanted...and overwhelmingly they wanted a class pet. I had heard about this grant and knew that it would pay for a big chunk of the materials and I could use her money to pay the rest.

      Our school system has told us no animals with fur are allowed so my choices were limited.  These are the options you have to choose from:
       At Petco:  Hamster, Guinea Pig, Hermit Crabs, Fish, Bearded Dragon and Leopard Gecko.
       At Petsmart:  Hamster, Guinea Pig, Aquatic Turtle, Fish, Bearded Dragon, Snake, Fancy Rat and Leopard Gecko.

My students voted and picked to get a turtle.  When we were got the grant, we were given coupons - $90 off a Zilla Deluxe habitat (which had pretty much everything I needed) as well as $90 for supplies that the turtle would need:  water conditioner, rocks, fish, turtle food, wax for his shell, a bridge for him to climb from the water to the rocks and a night light. 

Let me just say...the turtle has the Taj Mahal of cages as my friend and parent in my class Anne said last night...I would NEVER have been able to purchase such a nice habitat on my own.  PetSmart had an associate named Janelle who walked me through the whole process.  She showed me the tank they had and how it was set up, what he liked to eat and how to clean the tank, when to change the light bulbs (he has a day light and a night light) and told me all about his personality.  He loves to dig in the rocks!!!

When I rang up at the cash register, the total cost was $275.  The grant paid for $180 and my adoption money paid for about $88.  I tell you this because I don't want you to be shocked that you may have to pay something extra.  There are stipulations - for example I had to buy the expensive tank ($174 with $90 off).   Some of my colleagues have asked for school funds to pay the balance and not all are as much as the turtle was. 

Our turtle, named Squirtle by the students, is a male African Side neck turtle who is six months old.  He will live for 15 -25 years (hopefully).  I brought him home and set up the tank to get used to it myself over the weekend.  Monday, he will meet the classmates.  Stay tuned!

The money is provided by the Pet Care Trust which is based in Maryland. 

For more information go to

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Formative Assessments at work...

Don't forget to assess as you go....
Yesterday, we did a ramp experiment where we learned that speed is determined by time and distance of movement.  Our investigation today, was very similar with a few changes.

I started off by reviewing what we had learned so far.  I wanted to know if they had gotten the concepts I had taught yet...
  • Force - push/pull, gravity
  • Motion - movement, measured by speed (distance and time) and described by changes in position (directions: up, down, forward, back)
  • Friction - caused by two objects rubbing against each other, some surfaces slow objects down (rough, bumpy) others speed it up (smooth or oiled)
So I asked the kids to do a 3, 2, 1

3 things you know about Motion
2 things you know about Force
1 thing you know about Friction

The next step is to take the samples and sort them.  I mark who got it according to the criteria I had already set, and then am able to find mistakes and misunderstanding.  For example, one of my students wrote that force was the same as speed.  Hmmmm...not so much!  Another thing I noticed, when I took a sampling as a pre-assessment not many kids had mentioned a pull as a force.  This time they all did.  Phew!

Tomorrow - pictures from the friction activity...and a lesson plan as well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Today we explored a little with speed....

Oh don't you love speed?  When we were exploring with roller coasters we wanted them to go faster and faster.  When we watch a race, we cheer for the fastest runner.  And yet, on weekends we wish the time could go s-l-o-w-e-r...

I tweaked this lesson from Delta Education's Virgina Specific Curriculum coming soon....

  We started with a Quick Write in our journals =  What is speed?

Here are some responses...
  • speed is how fast it goes
  • the distance and time it takes to move
  • speed is the distance
  • speed is a motion that is caused by force...slow and fast are speeds
  • speed is momentum when something moves fast. It has speed like a car.
Next I read a passage out of our old text book that explains that speed does describe the motion of an object especially how far it goes and how fast it goes.

Then we gathered materials - each group got:
  • two toy cars (matchbox)
  • a dictionary
  • a mini whiteboard
  • a timer
  • a measuring tape
  • balance scale and gram stackers
In the students journals they made a chart that said:

Mass (gram)
Distance (cm)
Time (sec)


Each child in the group had a job - one would find the mass, one the distance, one time the car and one as the starter (pushed the car).

Then we looked at the data and found that in most cases, the cars with the greater mass went the furthest and longest.

We finished with a reflection question: 

What do you think would happen if you rolled a third car with greater mass than cars one and two? How far would it roll? How long would it roll?

I loved this question and here are some of the answers we got:
  • It would roll farther like 300 cm and it would take 5 - 10 seconds.
  • It would roll 1 or 2 seconds because it is greater and roll less than 100 cm...
  • Well, I know it would go further and faster because it has more force.
  • It would depend on the mass of the car.  But since it would have a bigger mass than car #1 then it would roll faster than 5 seconds and the distance would probably be more than 150 and 98.
  • I think if we had a bigger car it would go faster.
  • It would go slower because it is bigger then the other one and the other one is smaller and does not weigh that much.  It lasts about 3 or 4 seconds.
So you can see...most of us realized it would go farther, but a few need a few more experiences.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Force and Motion Videos

Videos I recommend...

Click to EnlargeEvery now and then you need to take the time to watch a video....Here are some of my favorites...

  Disney has some amazing new videos using the park rides to explain physical science.  My school has the one on Friction and I love it...
Click to EnlargeIf you can stand Bill Nye's fast pace, his videos are terrific.  My kids love him and they do pick up a lot of information from the dvds...  
Click to EnlargeLast but not least, any dvd by Schlessinger is excellent for science.  These are the videos that FOSS is incorporating into their program in the third edition.  You can find these at most public libraries.
What are your favorite DVD's to watch????

Today's Investigation - motion and speed...

Exploring how to manipulate speed....

Today we had a blast exploring how to increase speed using our roller coaster tubes.  I started with a review and we made an anchor chart to show the main points of force and motion: 

Then we did an guided inquiry lesson using our roller coaster tubes.  In order for the students to see that this time we were testing a basic ramp design, I modeled how to make the ramp levels for the students to see.  Then I showed the students how to measure speed with stop watches.  I recommend practicing that for a while.

Then we got into our small groups again and used the sheet to record the speeds each time.  I find that it is important to assign jobs for testing.  Have one person be the recorder, one measure the time, one drop the marble and hold the top of the tube, and one to hold the bottom of the tube.  This seems to work really well.

Here is an example of what the recording sheet looks like.  You can download it for free at the side of the blog where it says:

Q:  How can you increase an object’s (marble) speed?

Plan:  I will….

Use the same materials – tubes, marble and cup. (constant)

        Change the height of the slope each time. (variable)


Smallest slope

Small slope

Medium slope

Tall slope

Tallest slope

Conclusion:  If we increase the height of the slope, then the time will _____________________

Because the speed will ________________________.

What else did you notice?

By the way, my students have so much fun with this unit that today when it was raining, they chose to make roller coasters during inside recess.  A passing adult said, even during recess your kids are doing science!  So true! Love it!

Monday, January 9, 2012


JigSaw Reading Strategy....

      I try to balance investigation with content knowledge in my classroom. Let's face it, sometimes you have to read a book to get the knowledge you need to connect to the investigation, right? But there are effective ways to use a text book and ineffective ways.  One of my favorite ways to use nonfiction text is by using the JigSaw method.

This is how it works: 

1.  First you need to read the text to make sure it covers what you want your students to know. 

2.  I picked these four sections -

Pushes and Pulls, Friction, Position & Motion, Acceleration

3.  Next, I prepare four chart papers with the title and the page numbers at the top of each.
Put one chart paper and one book at each table.  Give each group a different colored marker to use - group 1 red, group 2 blue, group 3 green, group 4 orange.

4. Finally, give the kids about 5 minutes at each table to read the section and record at least one important thing they learned.  Try not to repeat each other.  After 10 minutes, switch to the next poster and repeat the process.
5.  After every group has read and recorded the key ideas, have the final group share the poster they just completed.  Make sure they read all the ideas.