January 19, 2017

#KINDNESSNATION Campaign



No matter where you stand politically, if you are in the classroom, you have undoubtedly noticed signs that the world is sorely in need of a littlemore kindness, empathy, and willingness to listen and learn from each other, even if (or maybe especially if) the other person holds opposing views and beliefs.

I was so pleased to be invited to join a campaign with a group of sellers on Teachers Pay Teachers to create forever freebies for this purpose. We aim to make it easier for teachers to access resources on important topics like kindness, empathy, and civics in order to create positive classroom communities that we hope will extend into the greater community. 

All you have to do to find these free resources is go to Teachers Pay Teachers and search #kindnessnation or #weholdthesetruths.

My freebie offering is listed for grades 5 - 8, but if you like to encourage personal reflection and critical thinking, it could work potentially work for 4th as well. It's free, so there's no harm in checking to see if it's a good fit for your kiddos, regardless of age:






What you see below is a small sampling for elementary, followed by secondary resources. More free resources are being added to TpT all the time, so be sure to check it out!  You can also check my Facebook page where I'm posting great free resources I find all weekend long!



Check out these elementary resources (secondary resources follow the elementary set):






An InLinkz Link-up


Check out these secondary resources:



Valentine's Day STEM Challenge: Cupid's Quiver

Valentine's Day STEM Challenge: In Cupid’s Quiver, students design a bow & arrow - or darts - to help Cupid deliver love potion (paint). Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.




Valentine’s Day just feels too soon after winter break to have another class party! STEM Challenges are the perfect alternative! Teachers tell me all the time that they use them this way and their kids love it! So you can still embrace the holiday, but forgo the party! Cupid's Quiver will keep your students engaged, thinking critically, and working on hands-on problem solving -- happily!

Premise

In Cupid’s Quiver, students design a bow & arrow to help Cupid deliver love potion (paint). If you have young students, you can just have them design the arrow portion and throw them like darts at your target.

Where Can I Find Out More?

As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Cupid's Quiver:








Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! I have five Valentine's Day STEM Challenges ready to go! You can find an overview of each on this blog post.  Each individual challenge will get its own video walk through and blog post starting with Cupid's Quiver on January 19, 2017 and ending with Cards in the Clouds on February 12 (all but the last will post on Thursdays).


You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!








January 12, 2017

Winter STEM Challenge: Frosted Forest

WINTER STEM Challenge: In Frosted Forest, students aim to build the "iciest" tree possible in their class's Frosted Forest!  This challenge is all about triangles and has a VERY wide range of difficulty options. Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.



Mid-January already? Time just flies by, doesn't it? I am happy to share another winter STEM challenge with you this week: Frosted Forest. This one is heavily weighted toward math, so I think of it as more of a STEM Challenge!

If it's not winter where you live, feel free to call this Triangle Tree. There's no need to wait for winter to try this challenge out!

Premise

In Frosted Forest, students aim to build the "iciest" tree possible in their class's Frosted Forest!  This challenge is all about triangles and has a VERY wide range of difficulty options. You can keep it very simple by just measuring sides and assigning points to icicles based on the longest side, or you can add layers of complexity to tailor this challenge to your students. I cover all the details in the video walk through, so read on!

Where Can I Find Out More?

As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Frosted Forest:






Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! For those who are familiar with my work, most of my challenges are available in bundles of 5. This will eventually be true for Frosted Forest, but it won't be ready this winter; I have three of the five challenges planned, and just enough time to complete two. Snow Scoop is already completed, and you can find it here.

What I do have ready is the Winter/Christmas Bundle you see to your right.You can find the overview of each on this blog post. I'll also be posting at least one more brand new winter challenge in the next couple of weeks. Snow Scoop is also available as part of the Mega Bundle you see below.


You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!





January 4, 2017

Winter STEM Challenge: Snow Scoop

WINTER STEM Challenge: In Snow Scoop, students essentially build a snow shovel, aiming for the most efficient removal of "snow" possible, with a couple of tweaks added in! Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.



Winter Break goes by too fast, doesn't it?! By now, you're either already back in school or getting pretty close. I hope your break was restful, joyful, and rejuvenating! Because I don't want the rest of your winter to feel long & dark, I'm creating a couple of new challenges to keep the enthusiasm for learning up this semester! This is the first!

Premise

In Snow Scoop, students essentially build a snow shovel, aiming for the most efficient removal of "snow" possible, with a couple of tweaks added in!

Where Can I Find Out More?

As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is the best way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Snow Scoop:







Are There Other Challenges Like This?


Of course! For those who are familiar with my work, most of my challenges are available in bundles of 5. This will eventually be true for Snow Scoop, but it won't be ready this winter; I have three of the five challenges planned, and just enough time to complete two.

 What I do have ready is the Winter/Christmas Bundle you see to your right.You can find the overview of each on this blog post. I'll also be posting at least one more brand new winter challenge in the next couple of weeks. Snow Scoop is also available as part of the Mega Bundle you see below.


You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!





January 3, 2017

December 2016 Update





I know you are going to miss some of the things going on in my blog, YouTube channel and TpT store. Who has the time to keep up with their own lives, let alone someone else's whole deal?!  Hopefully, these monthly updates will make it easier to catch all the updates and teaching tidbits to make your teaching life that much better! (Click: November Recap to see last month's updates.)

VIDEO ON TPT (and YouTube)

I've been keeping up with my weekly videos, and even threw in some extra this month! You can find them on my YouTube channel or in my TpT video library. 

Reindeer Relay


Sleigh (or Sled) & Slope

Snowman Stretch

Frozen Fortress

The STEM Challenge Cycle

STEM Challenges: To Assess or Not to Assess



NEW PRODUCTS










BLOG POSTS AND GUEST POSTS












COMING IN JANUARY

I'll be posting video walk-throughs for two new winter challenges on YouTube and TpT. I'm still hoping to complete last month's goal to final finish one resource for the Speak, Listen, Draw series, but before I do that, I will make a few updates to the Valentine's Day STEM Challenges.


WHAT ELSE?

I also participated in a fun resource giveaway with a couple of my TpT friends. We had so much fun playing Santa, we're sure to do it again and I don't think we'll wait a whole year to do so! Be sure to follow me on Facebook & Instagram so you won't miss out on opportunities like that in the future! 

If you want to receive notifications of these monthly recaps, you can follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers. I send a monthly note linking back to this post so all the links are easy to find (see the image below)! You can also follow this blog.






 

January 2, 2017

Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Prompts

Martin Luther King, Jr. quotations are perfect to inspire quick writes and introduction paragraph hooks for grades 5 - 8.
Holy Moly, it's been a loooong time since I did a post about writing! It's so difficult to be torn between my two great loves: science (especially STEM challenges) & writing! There's only so much time in a day! So, without further ado...

Martin Luther King, Jr. put together some of the most beautiful, powerful words the world has ever known. When I revisit some of this writings and quotes, I am struck by the wisdom and, unfortunately in many cases, how much those words still ring true today. 

In my opinion, one of the best ways to teach students to hook readers into persuasive and expository essays is to start with a quote. It's kind of like sanctioned cheating: we get to benefit from someone else's awesome writing. A little of that person's genius rubs off on us -- genius by association!

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s works are a treasure trove of quotations that can make your students' writing sparkle and shine. Beyond that, they are fantastic to inspire writing prompts and discussions on their own. 

I used to give my 7th students a big printed packet of MLK quotes in January along with an essay assignment related to a topic like peace, education, social justice, equality, poverty, etc. It was their job to go through and select 1 - 3 quotes that they wanted to use in the essay. As they would read through the quotes, many were shocked that the wisdom, brilliance, and beautiful words came from just one man. One student even told me she had known the facts and history, but after reading so many of his quotes, she felt like she understood who he actually was. It was one of those magical teacher moments I continue to cherish.

Quick Writes Inspired by Quotes

In order for students to use quotes effectively to hook readers, they'll need practice reading and responding to quotes throughout the school year. January is a perfect time to start (or continue), using MLK quotes! A simple approach is to select one quote a day for a quick write prompt or class discussion. You can do a search for MLK quotes online, and you'll get plenty of results! Here's one site where you can find quotes

I usually give students an optional prompt along with the quote in case they "can't think of anything to write." (Don't you just hate that!) I also allow them to ignore the prompt (when the writing purpose is quick writes and/or practicing responding and connecting with quotes). Over time, many will choose to do a free, quick-write as they become more comfortable connecting authentically with the quotes. As long as their responses are related to, or inspired by, the quote, I'm happy. 

Then, every 1 - 2 weeks, you can have students look at their quick writes over that period and turn one into a final draft for grading, if you like. This gives students choice, and it's so much nicer to for you to grade essays that are on varied prompts! 

For the last two years (at least), I have told myself I would put together a resource with writing prompts inspired by MLK quotes. Finally, in 2017, I made it happen! So, if you're looking to save yourself a little time in the weeds, check it out:




The 25 prompts are broken down into 5 topics:
- New Year's Resolutions / Goals (4 prompts)
- Love & Hate (4 prompts)
- Character & Education (7 prompts)
- Citizenship & Service (7 prompts)
- Dignity & Hope (3 prompts)

Each prompt comes in 3 versions: lined paper (Print & Go), Writers' Notebook Inserts, and Projection Slides. You can click on the image if you'd like more details.




Credits:







I'm linking up this month with some other great bloggers. Check them out below!








December 29, 2016

STEM Challenges: To Assess or Not to Assess...

Have you been wondering how, or even if, you should assess STEM Challenges?


The main thing I want to put forward today is that we shouldn't assess for sake of assessing or out of habit. Assessments should always be thoughtful and serve a worthy purpose. So, before making any decisions about assessments, ask yourself why are you doing STEM challenges in your classroom? What do you hope to achieve? What are your goals? 


Watch the video version of this post below.


My Goal List (more or less in order of importance): 


- I want students to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

- I want to truly challenge students, so they will encounter frustration and potentially failure. Then, I'll facilitate the analysis & fixing of failure points. Ultimately, I'm hoping these experiences lead students to not to fear failure, become more resilient and adopt a growth mindset.

I want to provide opportunities to demonstrate creativity.

- I will facilitate, not lead, so students know I believe in their ability to solve problems without my help, and they will build confidence and self-reliance.

- I want students to practice working collaboratively, making their ideas heard, and being willing to compromise and/or accept when the group wants to move in a different direction. 

- I want students to make connections to how STEM skills are used to solve real-world problems.

- I want to address Next-Gen Science Standards.


Should we Assess?

Once you have your list, you can determine if you want to assess, and if so, how you want to go about it. My goals would be undermined by assessing the design itself after a single iteration, so I simply don't do that. (More on this in a bit.)

Can I just ask, don't we have enough assessments already?! I'm not eager to add new ones. However, I understand that we want to make sure our students are accountable for participating, and in some cases, we need to justify use of class time for something that looks to the lay person like "fun". 

Regarding participation, I've only encountered two issues that led to issues with participation: 1) group size was set too large (my mistake) and there wasn't a way to actively participate for all in the group. 2) Someone shuts down because their idea wasn't chosen. This is an issue I try to work through with the group as I walk around and facilitate the challenge. Neither issue is helped by assessing the design.


What I Do:


- I look to see that students have made an honest attempt to adhere to the Criteria & Constraints List I provide to guide the challenge. 
- I listen to their discussions as I walk around observing their build time. I probe their thinking with my own questions. I take a few notes on this, but mostly so I remember points to bring up in discussion later, or for anecdotal evidence for conferences and report card comments.
- I take note if there are arguments or anyone is having difficulty working with classmates. I try to facilitate a cease-fire during the challenge (I only intervene if needed; they often work it out on their own) and I use class discussion/meetings to continue to further work on these issues.
- I have all students complete their own design analysis handouts, so I can see how each individual reflects on their designs. This is the only grade I record in the grade book, and it's a completion/effort grade.



Why I NEVER Assess a First Iteration Design:


I know how I was as a student. If I knew the design would be graded, I would play it very safe in order to protect my report card. Secondly, the first iteration is timed. If you were ever going to assess a design itself, it isn't fair to do so on the first iteration. As the teacher, I can't say out of one side of my mouth: Be creative, try new things, take risks, don't worry about failure and ten minutes later, give them a grade that says: J/K...not good enough. Your actions are telling. Make sure your actions support what you say you believe.

I wouldn't give students 10 minutes to write a story and then grade that rough draft as though it were a final draft. I also wouldn't teach a brand new concept in math and grade their practice like a final test. I treat first iterations of STEM challenges similarly. 

Frankly, none of my goals are well-supported by grading the actual design. I don't grade designs beyond their attempt to address everything on the Criteria & Constraints List because I believe all my goals are better met by focusing on the analysis of designs rather than the designs themselves. But if you insist on grading the design anyway, you should only consider it on a second or third iteration with lessons/research time in between. 


Final Thoughts:


I have given this a LOT of thought, but you might disagree with my conclusions; I don't mind that! Your goals may differ from mine, or maybe you have an opinion about supporting my goals through assessment that I haven't considered yet. I'm not so much trying to convince you my way is the right way as I am asking everyone to think through their goals and how they may - or may not - be supported through assessment. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter! We always improve through collaboration, so please share what you think about assessing STEM challenges in the comments or contact me via email (icon at top of the post). I'm all ears!