Solar Power and S,Mores

As part of our Energy unit, my students recently made solar ovens and cooked S'Mores for themselves. It was, of course, a huge hit and they want to try cooking more things this way!

Our first step was to construct the ovens. Last year in my STEM lab I had ordered a package of these boxes (100). I teamed the kids up in groups of three to share an oven; they each made their own S'More treat.

Click the picture to find these on

We had previously discussed what colors we wear if we want to stay cooler, so we applied that to our ovens and put black paper on the top.

For the inside of the ovens, we used sheets of foil. I picked up a box of individual sheets at the Dollar Tree. For a dollar, I did not have to rip off pieces of foil -- it was well worth the money!

We left our ovens out in the sun for about 30 minutes and found that our chocolate was nicely melted. When we made the treats we used mini marshmallows, putting 3 on each one. That seemed to be just right.

The proof is in the eating -- and they loved them! We saved our ovens so we can try this again with something else. I'm thinking of trying cookie dough next, and maybe hot dogs toward the end of the school year.

Sub Plans, Part 2

Welcome to the second part of my emergency sub plans! In this post, I am going to share my first day of planning (I have five separate days planned, which I hope I do not need!).

My plan starts with a written explanation of the day. I'm going to post it here, slightly redacted:

Sub-Plan for Day One

Log in the computer with: nsa-rces-teach  password: sub@1234

Turn on the projector. Open the folder marked “Day One” and open the PowerPoint presentation. Click slideshow.

After school, you will go outside to my duty post. Check with Mrs. Snell to find out where I am stationed today. You are on duty until 3:50.

8:25 – 8:35  Have the “Get Ready to Learn” page showing as students come in the classroom. Go around the room and put a checkmark on today’s date in their agendas. This shows that you saw any notes. They put away agendas as soon as you have marked it.

8:35   Stand and pledge the flag.

8:36   Advance the slide show. You will be on a video page – please play the video, then continue with the slideshow.
For science you will show the science video.

9:05   SOARS time. Students will leave to go their groups and new students will enter the classroom. Advance the slideshow for the new group. If SOARS has been cancelled today students will complete the engineering Word Search activity.

9:27   Students return to homerooms

9:35   Advance slides to Math Class. The lesson begins with a read-aloud math story. Follow up with the word problems on the ppt. Have one student from each table pass out whiteboards to their group. Markers and erasers are in the pouches. There are two ways students will solve the problems. After each, give them another problem to solve the same way. After the math lesson, students will have MATH rotation time. If the groups were not moved on the board (students will tell you!), just move the groups over one space. Have students put away materials and return to their seats at about 10:25.

10:30 K’Nex building materials. The boxes are in the cupboard next to the cubbies. Place one box on each of the three tables for students to use. Clean up and put back in the cupboard at 11:00. Remind them to carefully check the floor for pieces. Lunch captains will pass out lunch tags.

11:10 Drop off students at Cafeteria door A (pick up at 11:40 at door B)

11:45 – 11:55   Read Aloud any picture book from the bookshelf or continue with a chapter from our current chapter book – students will let you know what we are reading. 

12:00 – 12:50   Block. See the list posted by the door to find today’s class. Go right to recess (playground) from block.

12:51 – 1:21 Recess. If an indoor recess is needed, students may use the boxes of blocks.

1:22 – 2:15  Switch classes. Ms. Snell’s class has math class. The slideshow will repeat lessons so just keep moving forward. Mrs. Gonzalez (ESE) will be in during part of math class. She works with a small group of students during math rotation time.

2:15 – K’Nex as earlier

2:45 – 3:20  Science and then switch back. My homeroom will get their book bags and pack. They stack their chairs at 3:25 and usually line up in front of the cubbies until the dismissal bell.

Please leave me a note here about how the plan worked for you and any compliments or complaints about students.

            Thank you for being my emergency substitute!  -Julie Sawyer

Now that I have this template created, the other days are easier. Of course, I will be changing up activities but the format is the same. The only change is Wednesday. Students dismiss an hour earlier and teachers have PLC meetings those afternoons.

Once I finish up my Day One powerpoint I will share it with you - including the video of me telling my students that I am absent! I'm planning some humorous reasons, 'cause we love to laugh!

Reflections on Q1

Thursday will be the last day of this first quarter of school, with Friday being the teacher's workday to get report cards finalized. Seems like a good time to reflect a bit on the craziness of the last two months!

While the year began in a fairly normal way, it seemed like we had a lot of chaos from the eclipse on. My district went the direction of treating this amazing happening like we were all in mortal danger -- because apparently, we don't know that we should never look at the sun. In response, many parents freaked out and took their children out of school for the whole or part of the day. A great educational opportunity was missed in many ways -- and we are in Florida, with only a partial eclipse. My class watched some of the NASA coverage so we could see the total eclipse, so at least we experienced a little bit second hand.

The next big thing was Hurricane Irma. We ended up being out of school for a total of six school days - an unexpected ten-day vacation - which left us with two days to make up through a combination of extra instructional minutes already built into our schedule and two days waived by the state. As a second grade teacher, I don't feel the pressure to get everything in before high-stakes testing. I just figure that the 14 days of review at the end of our math timeline will give me ample time for anything I haven't taught yet. Third grade and up has to figure out how to cover everything before the tests begin.

When we came back after the hurricane, I treated the first day as if it were the first day of school all over again -- went over rules and routines again and such. Kids were a bit antsier!

Then Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Our area has a large Hispanic population, mostly from PR. We are already seeing students coming in a trickle. Predictions are for thousands. In fact, we expect our entire county population to change over the next year. Many think that over half a million will move to central Florida and most will stay. Recovery on the island is uncertain, to say the least. Right now many children are arriving in our area to live with family members already here. The impact on our schools will stretch us, I have no doubt.

Combine all this with more and more tasks and responsibilities piled on teachers, a lack of communication from above, and lots of teachers feeling stressed -- we have had a few leave, and currently have several subs while waiting for positions to be filled. Fun times!

How's your year going?

October STEM Plans

In second grade science, we have just begun a brand new unit - Energy. It only lasts 13 school days in our timeline, so there is not a lot of time to fit in the many STEM activities I'd love to do. I'll be posting about the ones I choose. For solar energy, we will be making solar ovens to cook s'mores. We will learn about closed and open circuits when we make circuits using playdough and modeling clay. We will also be using an MEA (model-eliciting activity) titled "An Energetic Place To Live." This will be my class's first MEA of the year. An MEA is an interdisciplinary problem-solving activity. Students work in teams using science and math. If MEA is a new concept for you I am sharing a link with a bit of information here.

I hope you will join me for a snapshot of what these activities look like over the next couple weeks. I'll also be posting the second part of my emergency sub plans posts. Later this week I'll share some very specific stuff that I am putting in my binder and on my computer. I hope it will be helpful to you as you plan for those days too.

Have a wonderful week!

Emergency Sub Plans?!

So, here we are several weeks into the school year and fortunately I've had no emergency absences - you know, the ones you didn't plan for but wake up and realize there is no way you're going to school today. What do you do in those situations? I've seen teachers show up on campus in their sweats or pajamas to get their room ready for a sub :)

That is just not an option for me. I have a 40 minute commute and if I'm sick enough to stay home I'm certainly not well enough to make the drive. And I hate throwing together a plan and emailing it to my partner with the idea that someone can execute it.

This year I'm working on something new for my sub binder. I have decided to put together five days of plans (not expecting that many days out!) and all the materials to go with them. These are not for planned absences - if I have those I can write a plan that will basically keep working on what we have been doing.

I thought I'd share some of the things I am putting in my binder in case it helps you with your own sub plans. It all begins with a cover for the binder - matching the other binder covers for the current school year (this part is of course vital!)

Inside I have several plastic page protectors and a set of dividers with a tab for "day 1" through "day 5." Each tab has a copy of the daily schedule. In my district, students have a shorter school day on Wednesdays so that schedule is quite different from the other days.

At the front of the binder are some information sheets. First is a seating chart for each class. This is one thing that has to be updated. I changed seating about a week ago so I printed a new copy for the binder. I keep it in a page protector so it's easy to switch out. Next, I have a copy of the "student dismissal categories" form that we have to complete at the beginning of the year. Each of my students is marked with how they go home from school.

The third thing in the binder is the duty post descriptions for this year. We all are on duty after school and subs are expected to take over that duty. 

Next time I'll get into the nitty-gritty of the daily plans. I'd love to hear your ideas too!

I'm Back!

Wow! Irma definitely put a hiatus on lots of things - thank goodness Maria didn't hit here too! Now I'm going to try to get back on schedule. We ended up being home for ten days with the weekends, so last Monday kind of felt like the first day of school again. I spent two days reviewing rules and routines. I also reviewed previous work for those two days. By Wednesday we were getting back into the swing of things and went on with new lessons. When we went back to school I still had at least one colleague who was without power :( Thank goodness she finally got it back midweek.

I had some questions from a reader of one of my posts about STEM and thought they make a good blog post, so here they are:

" I teach 2nd grade and want to integrate more opportunities for STEM. After reading through your Force and Motion, Part 1 and Part 2, I was wondering how much of a role you played and how much your students did. For example, at the end of Part 1, you mentioned you decided the carpet was causing too much friction to reach the goal of 4 feet, so you'd be moving out to the tile. Was this your decision, or did the students come to this through some discussion? Similarly, in Part 2, you mentioned the change in the number of books to increase the distance traveled. How did that get determined?" from Tammy.

Great questions! First, about friction. This activity was part of our force and motion unit, and friction is a vocabulary word and a concept covered in this unit. Since we had already explored the role of friction, it was students who realized that it was slowing down our cars. Of course, if no one came up with that I would have guided them toward the realization!

When we started the activity (part 1) the problem was to build a ramp that would have the car moving as fast and far as possible, with the 4-foot mark being a goal. Moving through the engineering design process included making a plan. As students talked with their team about how to accomplish the goal with the materials they had, again there were students who came up with the idea of making the ramp higher. My part in this was to tell them to use their science books. I wanted them using them so every team would have the same materials. These are the only textbooks we have!

Thanks, Tammy, for the questions and inspiring my post!

The Hurricane Irma Edition

I got a little behind in my blogging as we prepared to be hit by Hurricane Irma here in central Florida. It was a big storm but we were so blessed to have minimal damage to our home - and to never lose our power! Cleanup is underway. All schools in the state were closed Friday and Monday, and my district is closed on Tuesday also. Many of our buildings were used as shelters, and now all must be inspected before we know they are safe for our return. I fully expect to be back in the classroom on Wednesday.

So what do you do when you have three days off - unexpectedly? I tried to get a bit ahead with lesson plans and gathering resources. I tweaked my plans to push lessons three days ahead and am not worrying about the timeline! We do not have to make up these three days as our superintendent says we still will have our instructional time in. (Hope we don't get hit again, 'cause we might end up with makeup days if that happened.)

In science, we are still working on our force and motion unit and we have some great object lessons about wind force. After we finish up with magnets this week we will be doing some activities that explore the force of the wind - very timely.

If you are a Florida or Texas teacher I know you can relate to this. And, I still plan to blog about our work with magnets either at the end of this week or beginning of next.

Take care, and stay safe!
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