Monday, April 13, 2015

Awesome Engineers

I'm back! Somehow taking a little time away during spring break week turned into three weeks. That was mostly due to the exhaustion of administering the state tests! We finished last week, thank goodness, so I am trying to get back into the swing of blogging.

I wanted to share an activity that we did in my class the afternoon of the first testing day. I knew we needed to do something that the kids would have fun with and that they could talk and move after spending the morning sitting silently and working on their test. Fortunately I came across a great activity; they absolutely loved it!

We started by dividing into 6 teams of three. I let them form their own groups with the only requirement being that each group had to have at least one boy and one girl. Then I gave each group a bundle of 15 pipe cleaners.

Their task was simple. Using the pipe cleaners they were to construct the highest free-standing tower they could. I told them to begin, and then timed them for about 3 minutes. I rang a bell and told them to freeze and not touch their pipe cleaners.

Telling them that their engineering firm is having difficulties and does not have enough money to fully support the project I directed them to continue working without all their resources -- by putting one arm behind their back.

I gotta say, it was so much fun watching them try to work together with three hands instead of six! After another 2-3 minutes I stopped them again. This time, their boss has solved the money problem by taking the company global. Now they are all working in Japan! Unfortunately, they all speak different languages and can't communicate with one another verbally. That means no talking while they work.

They quickly adapted and began motioning to one another and trying to model what they wanted team members to do. Most of them were doing pretty well -- right up until the next "freeze." This time I told them the company had hired translators, so they will now have all their resources AND be able to communicate easily. However, the deadline for the project was fast approaching and they only had one more minute to work.

We had great discussion after this project about what happens in the real world to construction projects. We also talked about design changes to get the towers taller (they realized it revolves around having a strong base).

All in all, a great post-testing activity! If you are interested in trying it in your own classroom, check out this link.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fiction Friday

This week has been Spring Break for me, and it has been a wonderful time of spring training baseball, relaxation, and reading! After scrolling back through Goodreads, I selected a few of the books I have read this month to share today. I have been thinking a lot lately of the great responsibility we teachers have to point our students toward books that will engage them in the joy of reading. This school year in particular I have watched students embrace books that I have read and told them about, that we have read together, that my teaching partner has used in reading class -- many of our students have fallen in love with series or with particular authors this year. Here are a few books I've been talking about or have added to our classroom library.

1. Bone by Jeff Smith

I am trying to expand my genre horizons this year, and graphic novels is one I've not read very much. I kept hearing about Bone, so picked up this compilation from Scholastic book clubs. After reading it, I put it in our library without saying anything about it. The first day one of my newest students grabbed it and rushed to tell me she had these books at her old school and was so excited to find it here!

2. Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Patterson

This is one of those modern classics that I had read years ago and decided to refresh my memory. I vaguely remembered that it was a sad story, and did not remember that it was a Newberry Award book. This story of friendship and imagination is one I'd tend to recommend to 4th grade and up.

3. The Way to Stay in Destiny by Augusta Scattergood

I read Ms. Scattergood's debut novel, Glory Be, in 2013 and loved the story. In fact, I wanted to read it to my class last year and ran out of time but plan to start it with this year's class next week. When I saw she had another book out I put it on my to - be -read list immediately. A couple weeks ago I was able to pick it up at our school's book fair. It did not disappoint! I read it in one sitting because I became so engrossed in the story. I'm pretty sure this one will be a read - aloud next year. A bonus is that it is set here in Florida in the 1970s.

4. The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis

I kept hearing this book (published in 2000) mentioned but had never read it until this month. I loved this story of a middle class black family living in Michigan who travel to the mother's home in Birmingham. They happen to be there when the grandmother's church is bombed, killing two little girls. This book was made into a movie, which is now on my list to see. Oddly enough, I also had not connected this book with "Bud, Not Buddy" a favorite by the same author! Here is a trailer for the movie:

What great books have you been reading?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Break At Last!

I made it! Spring break is finally here. I'm going to take a brief break from my math lit series this week, but I do have a Fiction Friday post scheduled for the 27th. I'll be heading out to Grapefruit League spring training in a couple days to relax and not think about school!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Math Lit: Pigs will be Pigs

I am a long time fan of Amy Axelrod's pig family! While they are all fun to read, I am planning to use this one as a springboard for reviewing money this week. Since we do not have "money standards" in third grade I look for fun ways to help my kiddos review money concepts and this definitely fits.

In this story, the Pigs are hungry and the cupboard is bare. They want to go out to a restaurant, but they are also out of money!

The family has a great money hunt -- you know, checking the couch cushions, finding change in the washing machine -- and find some bills and change. When I read this book, I have my students grab their whiteboards and markers and keep a running total of the money they find.

When they get to the restaurant the menu is included, which is perfect for students to calculate the total of what they order. As an extension, they can come up with different orders that will also stay within their budget.

Just a little bonus -- the ending of the story has a wonderful illustration that will make you laugh and probably lead to some more great discussion!

Do you have a favorite Amy Axelrod book?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Math Lit: Biggest, Strongest, Fastest

This week I'm featuring "Biggest, Strongest, Fastest" by Steve Jenkins. These are the kind of facts that many of our students just adore being able to share with people less in the know :)

This book details the "world records" of the animal kingdom. It is filled with math -- comparisons, scale and proportions -- and could be extended with activities. Just to suggest one -- use some long pieces of paper and model the exact length of some of the animals to give students a concrete idea of the size.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Time for STEM!

Each time we did a STEM activity throughout the fall my students would ask to do more; not every month but every week! I loved the idea too, but since this has been my first year implementing STEM in the classroom I didn't think I could manage it very well at the beginning. As the year progressed though I could see the value of what we were doing with these activities, so I began to think about making it part of each week's plans.

It has been working out very well! I made Wednesday our STEM day, and my kiddos look forward to it each time. It has been especially exciting for one of my NES (non-English speaking) students. STEM is so accessible; all I do is say the word and his eyes light up and his whole body quivers!!

Recently we spent a couple Wednesdays working with catapults, talking about forces and motion. We had already finished our study of Energy in science class, so we were able to use that knowledge. On week one, we used catapults that I made a few years ago in a workshop.

Students launched pieces of sponges and measured the distance. It was such a great way to practice measurement skills! Students were very engaged in trying to determine a way to get longer distances, there was so much conversation going on AND great teamwork.

At the end, I told them that next time they would have a chance to make their own catapults. I'll share that experience in another post.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Math Lit: Too Many Kangaroo Things To Do!

It is Kangaroo's birthday, but no one seems to have time for him. Emu has too many emu things to do, the Koalas have too many koala things to do, and so on. Each group of animals seem to have taks to accomplish, and everything can be calculated using multiplication.
The multiplication is represented with pictures and symbols on a full page in between the parts of the story. At the end, it turns out that all Kangaroo's friends are preparing for his birthday party -- they were really doing 100 Kangaroo things! 

This is a fun story for working on multiplication, and since everything adds up to 100 it could also be part of your 100th Day of School activities.

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