July 31, 2016

Back-to-School TpT Sitewide Sale

My entire store is on sale, including my Back-to-School STEM Challenges!

Click here!

Also, there are three ways to win a $100 TpT gift card giveaway. All are described here, and the Raffle-copter below is one chance. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

July 28, 2016

Back-to-School Ice Breaker

BTS Ice Breaker, grades 4 -8

I have a confession to make: I hate ice breakers, and I have always hated ice breakers.  When I see those dreaded words at the top of a meeting agenda, it sends an icy chill down my spine -- apropos to its name I guess! Always desperate to escape this forced bit of "fun", I start to plan a way out. Perhaps I really need to use the restroom, or there's an important call that simply can't wait a second longer!

To my mind, these are the biggest ice-breaker offenders:
  • - They are forced and unnatural

  • - If you get stuck in an uncomfortable conversation with someone, you're trapped until time is called ... and doesn't that always feel like forever?!

  • - The questions are tired and old. They frequently yield information I don't find interesting and don't find interesting to share about myself. 

  • - There's too high an expectation that they're going to be a big hit, so when it falls flat, it feels a little like the birthday scene from Office Space:

So I set out to make a better mouse-trap, as they say, to minimize the things I hate about the typical ice-breakers. What I've made is a little like speed dating, with a lot of moving around, and quicker interactions that feel a little less stressful. 

Plus, kids actually get to talk to everyone in the class and it comes with a set of 40 questions, so no one has to listen to the same answers over and over! Another thing that's great about it is that students will hear a lot of different questions they can keep in their "back pocket" for if/when they need to break an awkward silence at lunch or in the halls!  

As a public service to all those who have felt my pain, I'm sharing it for free in my store. :) 


But ... where are the BTS STEM Challenges? 

You make an excellent point. STEM challenges are a fantastic, organic way for kids to get to know each other, so why on Earth wouldn't I mention them in a BTS blog post?! Especially since that's almost solely what I write about??? And since I've made a set of challenges especially for the season??? 

It's killing me, actually, that I can't tell you more about it here, because I wrote about my Back-to-School STEM challenges as a guest post for a colleague's blog that goes live August 4th. This means I really can't post about them here too. 

Two things to tide you over: I will link the product below, and as soon as the guest post is live, you can check back here for a link to that post! You can also get a sneak peek on my YouTube channel!

Full of awesomeness! Click here!

I'm linking up this month with some of my favorite bloggers! Check out their great ideas!

photo credit: Social via photopin (license)
photo credit: Friends via photopin (license)
Clipart: Hidesy's Clipart 
Fonts: Khyrs Bosland

July 20, 2016

STEM Challenge Materials: Get 'em FREE or Get 'em CHEAP!

It's time to talk -- or sing -- materials! Watch the video embedded below, and that will make a whole lot more sense! 

(I cannot wait until I get 100 subscribers so I can set custom thumbnails.  The four choices YouTube is giving me are killing me. If your'e enjoying the videos, please, please subscribe!)

As is the (new) usual, the video contains the all the details, with the written summary found below.

The Best Materials are Free

If you plan ahead, you can ask parents to donate materials for your challenges. Although specific materials vary by challenge, there are some basics you'll use quite a bit.

You can find an editable parent-request-for-materials letter in the freebie below:

Click here for FREEBIE!

Amazon.com Wish List

A great way to make it easy for parents to help you is to create an Amazon Wish List for your class. I've linked an example here. You can click through it and basically copy onto your own wish list anything you like.  (If you've never created a public wish list before, the video walks you through it.)

A Few of My Favorite Things

I've linked some of my favorite supplies that can be found on Amazon below. 
Full disclosure, I am an Amazon associate which means I can receive small referral payments for items I recommend if they're purchased through my referral links, so if that rubs you the wrong way, we can still be friends; just don't purchase through these links :)  

Comparison Shopping

I did a quick comparison of some of my STEM basics between the two places I shop most often: Dollar Tree and Amazon.com. Obviously, Amazon can't be beat for convenience, but it can be beat for cost!

As always, reach out in the comments or by email if there's a specific question or topic you'd like me to address. :)


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July 14, 2016

STEM Challenges: Your Role as Facilitator, part 2

This is part 2 of your role as facilitator (for part 1, click here).

Below you'll find my "Dos and Don'ts" for what to do after the students are done building. The video offers full details, and there is a written summary below. 

Your Role as Facilitator, part 2:

Summarized thoughts:

Things to do when the challenge ends:

1. Gallery walk

Have students line up and snake through the room, quietly observing designs. Note: have them keep hands folded behind backs so they remember not to touch! This should be short: ~2 min.

2. Q & A session

Give each group time to present their designs. Typically, I give 30 - 60 seconds to describe the design, followed by Q&A. At the beginning of the year, I ask most of the questions and gradually pull back to where I ask almost none, letting the students take over.  

Consider having each group call on someone from the class to ask one or two questions. This ensures each member has a chance to practice oral communication skills and take ownership of the design.

Examples of what to ask are in the embedded video.

3. Broader discussion (whole class or in groups)

I have a set of eight questions I like to use whole-class, or in groups, to help students reflect on how well they worked, successes & failures, etc. See the video for details. 

4. Record & reflect on first iteration

It's important that every student record & reflect individually on the designs, even when they work in groups. This information should be used to inform modifications for the second iteration, not as a replacement. You can also gather valuable information from their reflections to help you decide whether to tweak materials or the criteria & constraints prior to the next round. See the video for details. 

5. Extension activities

The specifics of a challenge will determine the extension activities which can be used to review or introduce new concepts across multiple subject areas.

That said, there are a few standards that work with most challenges:

- Ask/answer math questions related to the designs.

- Create process flow maps for building designs. 

- Research

- Writing

- Scientific inquiry/experiments

See the video for more details. 

As always, reach out in the comments or by email if there's a specific question or topic you'd like me to address. :)


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