Monday, July 30, 2012

Looking for a way to blast off into the new school year?

Looking for a way to kick off the year and teach students how to use observational skills along with concepts such as variables and inquiry projects? 

Several years ago, my colleague and I created a unit that was based on the great Steve Spangler's You Tube videos involving diet coke and mentos. 

I mean...what great fun! 
My son and I first tried it several years ago in the back yard, then we did it for a birthday party for 7 year olds, and then I decided...I gotta do this in the classroom.

So, we decided to tie it into a unit on introducing scientific investigations. Many teachers like to do this at the beginning of the year as a way to introduce science vocabulary words and observation techniques. 

My students loved it!  Check out my blogs about the experience from last year by looking at the side posting labels.  You can see what it looked like in action. It is such a big hit it is now my student's #1 favorite activity (three years in a row!) as well as my #1 seller on TPT.

Click here to see more about this great investigation!   Enjoy!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Repost - Formative Assessment!

I am on another vacation this weekend..this time to celebrate the wedding of my fourth grade colleague Joe Curtin! So, I peeked back through my posts and picked an oldie but a goodie that I posted back in December. Enjoy!

I am all about authentic assessments. I want to peer into the child's mind and see what she or he really understands about a concept that I have taught. However, one of the drawbacks to this is TIME. It takes time to check work and make comments and provide appropriate feedback. Right?

This fall I was introduced to a new element of formative instruction that will be implemented in all the FOSS 3rd edition NEW units. I sat with my jaw wide open as I thought...this is what I've been waiting for. So let me tell you how it's done!

Step one: When you are teaching a lesson, pick out one or two main concepts that you want them to understand. Write them on the sheet I have provided for FREE in google docs. (right under the Teachers Pay Teachers link)

Step two: Design in your lesson a way for the students to explain what they learned at the end of the day. Suggestions include: answer the focus question based on what you learned today, do a 3,2,1 reflection, a reflection such as Today I learned.... (make sure you tell them to write about the concept you are checking) or a simple Quick Write to explain the concept.

Step Three: After teaching the lesson, have the students turn in their science notebooks open to the page they were working on. Research has shown that this saves 25 minutes of teacher time - looking for the correct page to check! I also make sure that I have all journals turned in before I grade. This is important for the next step.

Step Four: Read the reflection pieces. If the student "gets it", then you only need to mark with a check. If they do not get it, then you write down what they made an error on so that you can get in touch with them tomorrow and clear up the misunderstanding.

The Formative Assessment sheet will look like this:

Quick check Assessment for Science Notebooks


A force can be a push or a pull
Got it!
Needs support
Brian – forces can only be a push
Cindy – pushes cause the force

I absolutely love this formative assessment technique because it keeps me on track. I am able to check in with kids who may not understand a lesson quickly instead of waiting until the final test to see they didn't get it at all.

I have used this technique in Math, Reading, and Social Studies as well. It is a great way to keep track of your student's learning in all subjects.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Raccoon Center

Raccoons have a great sense of touch.  They have finger like digits that allow them to use their paws like hands.  They also have an operable thumb!  Isn't that cool? 

I have created this center today that you can use to connect the racoon's sense of touch to your sense of touch.

The only materials you need are from nature.  I recommend collecting a few items such as an apple, a leaf, bark, a pine cone, some plastic bugs (if you want), a trash wrapper, and maybe a rock.
Put the items in a paper bag at the center. 
Students will need to feel the items in the bag and try to identify what they are and then infer what the raccoon might use it for.

I hope you will like this!

Monday, July 23, 2012


When I was a little girl, I loved raccoons.  They seemed so cute and cuddly!  As an adult, I know now that they are quite the opposite - they are actually pretty pesky!  They often get into trash in suburban neighborhoods and carry many diseases. 

As a science teacher, I try to compile activities that are science in nature...not artsy!  I hope these suggestions will help you in your classroom.


    National Geographic Kids has a great website with a video clip, map showing locations and printable fact cards for kids who love to to collect cards.

    Animal Tracking this PDF is a great idea for a science center where you can have students guess which footprint matches which animal.

Raccoon Diagram from Enchanted Learning.  This site has a lot of information, coloring diagrams and crafty ideas.

Children's Literature:

Product Details

Exploring the World Of Raccoons by Tracy C. Read

Product Details

Raccoon on His Own by Jim Arnosky
Raccoon Moon (Accelerated Reader Program series)

Sunday, July 22, 2012


While I am out of town, Gabrielle from Amazing Science Discoveries has decided to do a guest blog for me.  I hope you enjoy it!

Long Live, the Cacti!

Have you ever wondered how those lumps of thorny cacti thrive despite the waterless and scorching conditions of the desert?

Let’s inspect how well the cactus adapts to survive in the harsh conditions of sandy wastelands where only few plants live.

If you take a close look at the structure of a cactus plant, you will notice that its leaves have shrunk to the point that in some species of cactus, the leaves are nonexistent. This allows the plant to prevent loss of water. If there is more surface area that is exposed to the sun, then the faster that the stored water evaporates from the cactus. Thus, this spine-covered hardy plant has evolved to keep as much of its water from evaporating away from the plant. Its tiny to non-existent leaves reduces its total surface area that is exposed to the sun. Think of the peculiar spines as modified leaves – they drip moisture droplets (when it is available) down the roots.

As for the thick bulbous stem (if you think about it, a cactus is nearly 90% stem!), it accounts for the primary water storage of the cactus. Most of the weight of the cactus plant is due to the stem. The storage capacity of cactus stems is unbelievable. A mature saguaro in the desert can store up to 200 gallons of water when it rains! In addition, the stem is covered by a waxy substance to seal the moisture in and thus control water loss.

The roots of cacti also help greatly to allow the plant to survive under intense heat and drought. Cactus roots spread horizontally. They spread out widely and not vertically, meaning they form shallow roots that do not penetrate deep into the soil. This gives the plant the ability to soak up water quickly through the roots, if there is rainfall. If the roots have spread widely enough, then there are “more” roots to absorb what little water is available. There are also cases of cactus plants that develop new roots rapidly if there is rain. Some cactus plants also possess very large taproots (an example of a taproot is a carrot). Taproots that grow larger than the entire plant above the ground are seen in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places in the whole world. The huge taproots serve as water storage for cacti in those areas.

In short, the cactus is designed in such a way that it resists drying out. It also maximizes water storage when an occasional source of water is present in its immediate environment. Amazing, isn’t it?

For more easy and fun science facts, projects, and activities like these that are perfect for your grade schooler, be sure to check out “The Amazing Science Discovery Series” at

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I am getting ready to head out of town to celebrate my parent's 50th wedding anniversary!  I will be off the grid for several days.  So while I am out of town, I want to share with you one of my favorite blogs....Handbook for Nature Study.

This blog was created as a resource for homeschoolers...but the activities can easily be implemented in your own classroom.  The link above takes you to her current blog about TURTLES!  (I love turtles.)

Her blog includes links to Youtube videos, how to pond dip, ideas for outdoor hour observations and follow up activities. 

I think you will love it!  See ya next week!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Can you make a feather model?

Making models is a skill that is used by real scientists...and is a skill that teachers should be encouraging our students to use.  The next great engineers are sitting in our classrooms everyday!

With this science center, students can create a feather model which they can easily compare to the real thing.

 You will take a feather and trace around the edges.  Cut it out and tape it to a straw.  Next, try to cut out the filaments along the sides.

When you are finished, you will measure and compare length, mass and some other tests.  The reflection piece also allows you to think about why the real feather is better for the birds!

Download this resource here for FREE.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Class Theme to start the year

I have debated between turtles and space all summer...I love my turtle and so do the kids. I had thought....Slow and Steady wins the race.... but today...I definitely settled on space.

 First of is the first science unit we will teach this year.  It hooks the students and gets them excited about school.  We had even made up this cute bulletin board that I found last summer from Clutter Free Classroom.  She had found it from this link for bulletin board design.

Pinned Image

We also have these blow up planets and Mrs. Fultz had a great idea I saw on Pinterest.. I could do that!

Pinned Image

Second...I found a bunch of stuff at TARGET!

I was wasting time while waiting for a ZPak prescription (yes, I have an upper respiratory infection in the SUMMER...not fair!)...and I happened across this:

It was a bulletin board set with the planets and rockets..for $2.50.

Next I found....rocket & planet shapes (for $2) as well as window clings ($2).  They were all in primary colors which are the colors I use year round in my class.  I also found my $1 spot pocket charts in red, green, & blue as well as cute hanging pompoms and a banner in the party section.

Yesterday I had found a great picture on pinterest using these shapes for a Wonder Spot.  I found these at the $1 spot and bought four of them..I intend to use them for what do you wonder about math? reading? social studies? science?
Kids can write on them when they have a wonder and we can use them all year long! it is!  Looking forward to setting up my classroom in a few weeks.

Friday, July 13, 2012

What purposes can feathers serve?

Have you ever really thought about feathers?  What purpose do they serve for the animals that need them?  What purpose do humans use feather for? 

Two words come to mind - warmth and protection. (Well and a slight thought about Grandma's feather bed...also a great use of feathers!)

This science center involves comparing two types of feathers: Flight feathers vs. Downy feathers.

Both feathers serve a purpose...but they are also different enough that you can easily compare them.  Using a Box and T chart to list and compare what the students notice.  You can even provide man-made synthetic materials to observe and compare material that people use for warmth and protection in coats.
This is a science center that you can use to compare downy to flight feathers using man-made materials as well as feathers.  You can download it for free here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Investigating Feathers

In keeping with my owl and eagle is another Science Center that you can download for FREE...investigating flight feathers.

With this center is a task card that explains what to do when they investigate. It gives background information as well as some tasks to try with the feathers.  You will need to have a collection of feathers ...either some you found (and cleaned!) or some you purchase.

Next is a sheet that students can record observations, measurements and reflections in a guided approach.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Owl Pellets - an investigation!

Do you like to investigate owl pellets?  It is always one of my favorite activities!! For those of you who may not know what they are, let me explain.  Owls eat their prey whole - and then spit back up the bones in a fur ball.  You can purchase these lovely pellets and find out what they ate for dinner.
  It is a great hands-on activity to teach in a "real way" the idea of a food web or food chain.

For those of you who are squeamish...oh yes, I know you are out there!  You can also do this on-line.  There is a great website called KidWings.  This website shows owl pellets from a variety of owls...including, the barred owl. At this site, you can get teacher resources to include information about owls, bone charts, and photographs.  There is even a video that explains how to have a successful pellet investigation.

I have created a Science Center using Owl Pellets for the upper grades.  In it you will start with a focus question, some back ground information, data charts and a reflection piece. 

You can download this for FREE on my TPT store site.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Barred Owls Non-fiction Resources

     Did you look at the resources I posted yesterday?  They included many wonderful FREE YouTube clips, children's literature (available at your local library) as well as websites with more information. 

Today, I have two resources available for you.  One is cheap ($1) and one is FREE. 

Cheap resource: $1.00   I have put together 11 pages of non-fiction reading passages on the barred owl. They are written to cover topics:  food webs, food chain, habitat, human impact, comparing spotted owls to barred owls, structural adaptations and behavioral adaptations.  Each of these passages includes a place to reflect on what they learn - either through writing or drawing. 

Free Resource:  This is one of the resources that is included in the cheap resource.  It is a passage explaining some of the adaptations that the barred owl makes behaviorally.  It includes a space to draw what you learn from the passage. 

Next up???  Some hands-on activities using feathers and owl pellets.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Barred Owl

Ever since I read Owl in the Shower with my class this year, I have had a fascination with the Barred Owl.  This is a great realistic fiction novel that tells the tale of the struggle of the 1980's between the logging companies and the naturalists.  It is an endearing story and one that my children loved.
There's An Owl In The Shower (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition)

It is hard to find a specific book on barred owls.  You may have to read a general Owl book, but this one actually has a section specifically about barred owls.  

The Illustrated Owl: Barn, Barred, & Great Horned: The Ultimate Reference Guide for Bird Lovers, Artists, and Woodcarvers (The Denny Rogers Visual Reference series)
This book tells about several types of owls and includes facts and drawings.

Website: National Geographic  has a great section on barred owls including real photographs.

Video clip: 

The vocal calls of the barred owl.

Barred Owl fishing...

More resources to come!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bald Eagles

Here it is!  My first installment for the summer of my Animal Resources.  This one is about Bald Eagles.  I chose the eagle for many reasons.  The first is is our national bird and this week is our celebration of our American Independance...the Fourth of July!  Second is because I have a home on the river (or rivah as we say in Virginia) where I daily observe a family of eagles fishing. The third reason is because it was my college mascot...go Mary Washington Eagles!

Here are some of my favorite resources to help your students learn more about the Bald Eagle.

Websites to find out more information and hear an eagle sound:  All About Birds

Eagle Cams: This site is no longer active but has many awesome clips that were taken this spring in Richmond, Virginia.

Children's Books to read aloud to your kids. You can purchase them on Amazon, or do like I do and check them out from the public library.

Soaring with the Wind: The Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle

by Gordon Morrison

A Bald Eagle's World (Caroline Arnold's Animals)

You Tube Clip

My FREE resource: Bald Eagles and the Food Chain

My Cheap Resource ($1.00) Includes the resource above along with resources to explore:  habitat, food webs, human impact, measurements, structural adaptations, behavioral adaptations and vocab cards.

Hope you enjoy learning about EAGLES....