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Force and Motion: Roller Coasters

I had planned some new posts this month, but last week I decided to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those unfamiliar, I have committed to writing a 50,000-word novel during November! A bold undertaking for someone who hasn't written a novel before.

Since I don't expect to have time to publish new content on my blog this month I have decided to re-run a few older posts. I hope you enjoy them!

First up is a peek at roller coasters that were part of our Force and Motion studies a couple years ago. This was an activity that everyone loved.

Here are some pictures:




The tracks are made of foam pipe insulation, which I ordered from Amazon here. On this day we were making bumper coasters. The kids would release a marble at the highest point, it would hit another marble on the track, and the goal was that the marbles would NOT go into the cup. They learned a lot with this hands-on activity about potential and kinetic energy.

The activity came from If you are not familiar with this site click right over to check it out!

TEASER: When my novel writing adventure is completed I will be getting a brand new newsletter (titled "STEM SNACKS") up and running. I will be offering some freebies through the newsletter as well as hopefully bringing you along on my new STEM venture. Stay tuned!)

OH! And don't forget to turn your clocks back tonight. Enjoy that extra hour Monday morning!

STEM Recommendation: Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters

One of my favorite things to do in STEM challenges is linking the activity with a book. Over the last few years my favorites have included the series of picture books written by Andrea Beaty. Not only do I love the stories my students have felt the same way each year.

If you haven't used these books, please click each picture to learn more about them. (Disclosure: these are my affiliate links, which means I have the potential of receiving a small amount of $ from Amazon. There is no additional cost to you!)


While I certainly recommend these picture books to you I want to talk in this post about a new book that was published October 2nd. As soon as I heard about it I did a pre-order so it would arrive in my mailbox that day! I had definitely hoped that the picture books will continue with the stories of other students in Iggy, Rosie, and Ada's classroom. I had never even considered chapter books, but that is exactly what Ms. Beaty is doing.

All three characters are part of this new story, though Rosie is the main character. I love that the three of them have been working together on projects. We also get to meet the Raucous Riveters, a group of WW2 riveters which includes Rosie's great-aunt Rose. These ladies are great! They also have a problem for which they need Rosie's help.

My students picked up quickly that Rosie had changed from the picture book in that she now has a "growth mindset" towards her engineering endeavors. This is also a great book to get into inventors and inventions, and of course having a female engineer / inventor is a bonus.

This book is 22 short chapters, so we read it in 5 days. In the future I'll be suggesting some possible activities to go with all of these books. And, I am anxiously waiting for the next chapter book. This one stars Ada Twist and will be published April 16, 2019. It's available now for pre-order!

Until next time . . .

Rainy Day STEM

During the past week we had two rainy day dismissals - it's a nightmare! We have a problem at my school because there is only one entrance. As you can imagine, traffic backs up on the best of days. Rainy day dismissals take about twice as long - this is Florida, so we deal with lots of lightning.

After having to stay inside for recess on the first rainy day I decided that the second day our recess would involve a STEM challenge. Building boats seemed appropriate during the deluge!

I gave each team one sheet of foil and one piece of craft foam. The challenge was to construct a boat that will float and hold 30 pennies.

I counted out 20 pennies in each of the little containers (Dollar Tree find). As you can see, some teams got up to 60 pennies -- this was after improving their original designs. Best of all, they had a great time working together and nobody complained that we were missing recess!

Scientific Method

During our first week of school, we learned about the Engineering Design Process, so this week was about the Scientific Method. We conducted an experiment that lasted all week - and students could hardly contain themselves with having to wait until Friday to find out what happened!

Photo by Mike Dorner on Unsplash

I prepared by getting a banana and letting it sit in my kitchen for a few days. When I took it to class it had a lot of brown spots on it. I explained that I don't like to eat bananas like that. This led to our question.

1. Ask a Question

How can we keep bananas fresh for eating?

2. Hypothesis

We brainstormed some ways that might keep the banana fresh: refrigerate it, put it in a plastic zipper bag, put it in a plastic produce bag, and put it in a paper bag.

Each student wrote their hypothesis in their science journal.

3. Experiment

I brought five fresh bananas and we placed one in each of the containers. We placed the fifth one on a shelf in the classroom to see what happens to a banana left out in our kitchen.

4. Observe

On day three we observed the one on the shelf and the two in plastic bags. Students recorded what they noticed. The paper bag was stapled shut and the banana in the refrigerator was tucked away where we would not see it. Those were our mysteries!

5. Conclusion

On day seven we opened everything, passed around the fruit to check smell and texture, and concluded that the banana in the refrigerator was the freshest. At first, students were fooled by the brown skin. Then I peeled it and took a bite - it was firm and fresh!

One student shared his thought that it was the cold temperature that kept it nice. All the others had been warm. (We applauded his thinking)

I also told them that the mushy bananas could still be used - in baking. They thought it would be a good idea for me to take them home and make something with them, so on Monday, we will share some banana bars that I baked.

This is always a popular experiment - I've been using it for years at the beginning of the year. The kids can relate to bananas getting too old to eat, and they get excited about what is happening to ones they can't see.

Do you have a go-to beginning of the year science investigation?

First Week of School

What an amazing first week! I started with 19 second graders on my roster and ended the week with 22 on the roster! I am the inclusion classroom, with another class designated for overflow. Due to a mix-up three ESE students were placed in the overflow classroom, so had to be moved to mine. I have 9 ELL students and 7 ESE students (of course, some are both). And, my kids are wonderful. It has been fun getting to know them this week.

We've spent most of the week working on procedures and routines - and as my roster changed I had to start that all over! One of the highlights of the week was actually being able to slot in my first STEM challenge on the first day of school. I found it was much easier to do this now that I am self-contained. After years of math & science (which I love) it is so much fun teaching reading again.

Of course, there are always issues. I have one student with serious behavior problems; I am calling the office for help multiple times each day :(   On Friday the principal took him in hand, and man! is she tough! I actually had an opportunity to teach a lesson, nearly impossible with him in the room. Don't know how that's all going to work out! Another student comes to school and goes to sleep at his desk almost immediately. He has missed reading class every day. He sleeps so soundly I can't wake him up - and Friday the fire alarm didn't wake him. Have to contact his parents about this and find out if it's a medication issue. And to top off the week, another student had a possible seizure during our block time (specials). Apparently he has never had one before; our nurse told his mom that he has to see a doctor. He is such a sweet little boy and hopefully everything will be fine.

Back to our STEM challenge. I always like to start with building the highest tower with plastic cups, using the shot glasses from Dollar Tree. This helps me introduce the norms for group work, the Engineering Design Process, and the need to build structures with a strong foundation.

Have you started school yet? If so, what's the funniest thing that has happened so far?

Open House is in the Books!

Friday was our Open House / Meet the Teacher from 4:00 - 7:00. Out of 19 on my roster 13 made it to the classroom. Not too bad!

I've spent a lot of time this past week getting my room and myself prepared for next week! I must tell you, I didn't take any pictures at the beginning of the week - they would have been too awful :)

Our rooms were painted this summer, which meant packing up everything, cramming all the cupboards full, AND rooms have not been cleaned! With quite a large number of new teachers, the custodians have spent the week moving furniture and belongings into new classrooms. It's been a mess!

On Tuesday I was not sure if things would be ready by Friday. One of the big problems was this set of cubbies -- it was moved away from the wall for painting and the custodians weren't allowed to come move it back. All my textbooks need to be stored in the bottom rows! I was panicking. Thank goodness my neighbor across the hall said he'd move it for me. With that done I could finally store all the text books.

The new thing for me this year is that I will be self-contained! I'm really excited about teaching reading for the first time in about 8 years. I am also looking forward to having just my own homeroom class all day. I have spent the majority of my teaching career as the math / science teacher, and while teaming is great I'm embracing the change. I also get to be the 2nd grade inclusion teacher.

Hopefully I'll share a few pics next time (sometimes you just have to acknowledge that things aren't going to be all in place for day 1!).

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