Thursday, May 30, 2013

Menus -

       I belong to a listserve through NSTA and a teacher posted today asking for ideas about menus.  I've used menus for years, in all subjects.  My process is to create projects that meet both standards and the multiple intelligences.  I love MI theory.    It does take practice and when I started out years ago I would work with a partner on it.  Technology is not something I specifically build in, but all of the projects below were researched and written on the chromebook.  This specific project was designed to be used by a sub while I was away at the STEM conference and because of it, I needed something that would be productive, but independent.  It is the first time I've used it, and next year I'll probably tweak it to reflect our STEM magnet and include a build of some kind. Sometimes all of the projects are required, sometimes the starred projects are required, and then choices for several more are included.

     Rubrics for menus can be challenging and I constantly rework those.  I also work very hard to demand quality work from the kids. I hope this helps.

************************************************Painted Lady Butterfly***********************************
Logical- Mathematical - Just the statistics.  Create a science identification type page (an example would be pg. 30 in the bird book.  For the Painted Lady Butterfly please research and write about the following topics: Range (where in the world can they be found), Markings (what do they look like?) Length, Weight, Wingspan, Habitat, Food, Attractions (what attracts them to an area?).  If you come across any other statistics related to your butterfly feel free to add them in.  Illustrate your page. An example is to the right.(*** An entry from a science identification book was included, but removed for this because I couldn't get it to upload. ***)
Completed student work

Spatial - Draw a diagram of the caterpillar and label the parts of the caterpillar.  Draw a diagram of the butterfly and label the parts of the butterfly.

Completed Student work
*Linguistic - Metamorphosis means change. Our caterpillars are undergoing a metamorphosis to a butterfly.  Since you have begun school as a Kindergartner you too have undergone a metamorphosis.  Read Wings of Change.  How does this book relate to you changing from a small child to now, and from now through your teen years.  Write a 5 paragraph essay relating metamorphosis to three areas of your life.  Be sure to include a solid introduction and conclusion.

Musical - Use a children’s song (like Row Row Row your boat, or Twinkle Twinkle little star) to write a song about the life cycle of a butterfly.  Use scientific words to explain the process. While writing down lyrics think about how many syllables are in a line of the song, and then replace them with a similar number of syllables or words to explain the life cycle.  Type up your lyrics and be prepared to present your song.

Student work
Interpersonal -  With a partner, research the plants that can be found in a garden to attract a butterfly.  Find out information about each plant and what it needs to grow.  Draw a garden design to show how you might lay out those plants to attract butterflies.  Pay attention to how big those plants will grow and how much space or sunlight they will need.  Show the plants at a full grown size. A garden design is included below.(** A garden plan was included to show how a landscape architect might depict a butterfly garden.)

Intrapersonal - Poem  - Write a list of 25 words that could be used to describe the whole caterpillar- butterfly process.  Don’t just use adjectives, also use science words. Write a 4 stanza poem describing the change from caterpillar to butterfly.  Include powerful descriptions and visual images.
Completed student work - Daily observations and drawing.

*Naturalist - observations -  Create a log of your observations. Date each entry and include drawings when things change. Final draft in the booklet provided please.(**Each student had a caterpillar to record observations daily.**)

UPDATED:  The listserve made mention of a mastery classroom.  While that is not something I have researched, I have set up menus using this process. The mastery classroom is where you set up a minimum amount for a C, B, or A.  These do take a lot more time than this menu, but can be a great way to hold students accountable for knowledge level work.  Definitely worth looking into more, although I wouldn't do it with children younger than about 4th grade (and then with parents signing off on completed assignments as well so there isn't any surprise). Just my 2 cents. :-)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Field Day got me thinking...

     Today is our Field Day.  Which got me thinking. What if our STEM magnet had an Engineering Field Day?  We could call it the Engineering Olympics or I love Engineering Day (celebrated during engineering week?). Disclaimer: I am in no way advocating getting rid of a traditional field day because I strongly believe our children need to enjoy physical activities in their life.

     Students could rotate through challenges (divided into two teams, or four if there are enough materials).  Examples could be something like this:  where they are given a set amount of time and materials to accomplish a task.

     Another idea could be to build a marble run out of PVC pipes that is self-standing and the marble has to roll for a total of two minutes. 

     How about taking NXT robots that are already built, and have the kids mathematically deconstruct the maze to see who can program it the fastest?

     We could give the kids directions to a build they've never seen like solar ovens and they could race to build it and then could set them up to cook a hotdog or marshmallow. Can you race to build an oven?  Should you?

    This could also be a day where we either rotate stations, or  rotate teachers in a grade level to allow students that experience. Sometimes our grade level will host a day where students go to 3 of the 6 of us to do an activity specific to the theme. It would also take the "race" aspect out of it.  It is a nice change of pace periodically.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

STEM conference - NSTA, St. Louis day 3

     Again, the day started with a class by a company. This was the K'Nex Force and Motion kit class.  I do need to add this to my list of things to buy eventually. I used this back when I taught in Washington State, and they have revamped it a bit.  I like that the kit can essentially cover 4 groups and can be built and experimented with in one class period easily. My partner and I built the rubber band car. We could change variables like  weight, tires, floor surface, add parachute, etc. and test them for distance.
     My next presentation was called "Rewind! Designing Successful STEM Lessons in El. School." This was a group of teachers from a STEAM school who obviously worked well (and hard) together to create PBL type projects for their students.  Their explanation of what they were doing made me realize that my school was on the right track, and doing a strong job. Above is an example of an anchor chart they use to demand strong argumentative writing from students.  I liked their acronym, and they shared that it too came from a book (which I found but didn't purchase). 

     Even though it was threatening to rain all day (and we did experience light rain) we decided to use our lunch time to grab a short paddle boat tour and see the Mississippi. We realized there were so many different types of brides along St. Louis, and the newest cable-stay bridge is still in the process of being built.  I took a bunch of different pics for my bridge building unit I sometimes use at the end of the year (just not this one).

     The St. Louis waterfront is very industrialized, which makes sense given its history.  Above is a picture of a barge getting grain deposited into it for the trek down river. 

     As we returned down river we saw the wonderful view of downtown with the arch and the Dredd Scott courthouse.  When we disembarked we dashed back the couple blocks to the Convention Center and more presentations.
      My 3:00 presentation was called Taking STEM Outdoors. I hadn't realized in picking this class that I had already bought both of this man's books, one called Bringing Outdoor Science In, and the other called Outdoor Science, a practical guide.  We were essentially a group of nature lovers listening to this man run through a ton of ideas.  While he was speaking he had tasked two teachers with building a butterfly net out of a hanger, dowel, duck tape and fishing line. This is what they came up with. I thought it was pretty smart (although I would take out the fishing line). He spoke about funding natural science ideas, especially gardens and a couple of apps that I didn't know, but will go find our building's supply of ipod touches and make sure I can use them. He spoke a lot about the various citizen scientist websites (the dirty north app specifically) to involve kids in backyard science.  This has been something I've been interested in for next year, but hadn't yet researched. He also shared some books (one I need to find about biomimicry) that might be useful in the classroom..
     At 4:30 I started in one class, but left after the tone of the class rubbed me wrong.  Let's just say that when speaking to a bunch of elementary teachers (it was in the 3-5 section) don't start off by insulting us and telling us we're teaching wrong.  It doesn't sit well.  So off I traipsed to my 2nd choice, and I struck gold.
    This class was hosted by two folks from Pittsburgh from a group called Asset Inc that do professional development.  They did a version of the straw tower that can hold an egg (only they used a golf ball) and they added costs for each piece of materials used.  The goal was to be the tallest tower with the golf ball in the top 20%  and be the cheapest per inch.  I liked that it took the tower challenge beyond the basics (I'm getting tired of the regular tower challenges honestly) and saw room in this one for some changes.  I did have a picture of our finished one (at a whopping 12 cents per inch) but it was accidentally deleted when I got home. These were lovely ladies who also offered us materials for this challenge as well as their other class about the Big Bad Wolf (yes, I've seen it on pinterest too).They also offered an idea to check out which I hadn't heard of yet, so I need to research that one too.
     THEN, even with it being the 5:30 class on the last day of the conference, I went to Ideas in Motion by Greg Brown.  I have never had SO.MUCH.FUN! He works for a group at (resource area for teachers). If you are local to them (California and Denver) you can join for like $25.00 and take a bunch of classes like the one he taught us. I had a blast because it was the only class that embodied the Maker Movement I'm so currently obsessed with right now.
We first made this contraption which, when rolled on its side, stores up motion in the rubber band and then will return to you.  I could easily use this as a hook lesson for Force and Motion (and it is supper cheap).  The second activity involved a tube, a medical glove, and a straw. I didn't get any pictures because like everyone else in my class, I was too busy playing my new bagpipe type instrument.  We teachers made a lovely din with our new toys.  Definitely something to share with whomever teaches sound (I think 3rd grade). 

     After my class, two of us headed to Pi  -- let's be honest, where else would I have eaten, and had a cornbread type pizza. It was delicious.  Then back to the hotel to pack, prepare to leave, and start reading all of my new books and planning all of my new plans for next year.  
     This was an excellent experience, and I am so pleased that our lead teacher and principal find these trips to be useful to our staff. I am definitely lucky to have a district support us in such a way.

STEM conference - NSTA St. Louis day 2

     Day two started with a couple of vendor classes - not bad, but obvious sales pitches, and then came the teacher/school led classes.  
     My very first class was canceled, and we didn't know so were sitting there waiting. I finally gave up and went to my second choice called Robot Adventures, Scientist in Residence.  It was mostly about how a district in St. Louis was implementing STEM in a summer professional development model, and they spoke about their use of NXT robots. I did get a couple of ideas - like using them for area and perimeter, and then one lady shared that she had purchased shower board from the big box home store, and had them cut it into 3 large pieces to cover her tables.  She then used electrical tape to draw mazes for the robots, but more importantly the kids were required to do the rotation calculations on those tables.  They erase for the next class and the boards will fit right on top of the desks.  Worth it right there. 

     Then I hit pay dirt! My second class was from the lady at Venspired. I've been following her on twitter and facebook for awhile, so was pleasantly surprised to see she was teaching my class.  Her class was called 'STEMulate thinking with Project Based Learning, and she shared about 6 projects.  A couple of them I had done before, but several were new, or expanded upon, so I was stoked. Her links can be found at .  Check the left side for project descriptions
     At that point it was time for lunch, and I buzzed through about half of the vendors.  I met up with the other three teachers from my school, and we headed out for our lunch outing to the courthouse.  

     This courthouse was the original place where Dredd Scott was heard (the two slaves who sued for freedom because they were taken to a free state and didn't want to return).  Unfortunately the courtroom where it was heard is now two rooms and a hallway (the ceiling was sagging so the walls were necessary to maintain the structure).  The above photo is a replica of the original room, and also houses a lot of photos from the time period.  According to the ranger they didn't know at the time that it was going to be such a pivotal case, so very little was kept. Although honestly, how often does a courthouse replace the bench where cases are heard. I figured I was missing something in the history of this court. 

     We moved on into the rotunda, and I know you're wondering why my colleagues were lying on the floor....

     Well, how else do you take pictures of the dome?  

     Walking around upstairs I did see evidence of other "fixes" for sagging walls.  This beam (above) is reinforced with a giant bolt to keep the wall from collapsing.  The upstairs also housed two more replica courtrooms, and downstairs had a small museum of St. Louis life.

     By 3:00 I was back in a class called "Moving Beyond the Acronym.  It was an interesting take on STEM.  The leader of this class authored a book (I later purchased) called Everyday Engineering: Putting the E in STEM teaching and Learning.  Richard Moyer stood up front and led us through exercises involving ordinary objects (like a Bic pen).  The picture above was a quick lab using a protractor to measure the elevation at which the marble moves the index card the greatest distance (key to this one was folding the card lengthwise so the marble doesn't just blast right through the bottom).  

     My 4:15 class had a lot of possibilities. Teaching Science in Reading and Language Arts.  I've been on the prowl for novels with science themes running through them for my ELA class. In my experience finding the non-fiction is easy (and will be built up due to common core standards), but the fiction novels that are also examples of GOOD writing can be difficult.  While I didn't find any for my classroom, I did find a couple for 4th grade (City of Ember - duhhh. Why didn't I think of it and Walk Two Moons). One I might be able to use is from Eric Carle called 10 Little Ribber Ducks about the toys that were released into the Pacific Ocean and then ended up around the world thanks to ocean currents.  While I've always talked about those ducks and showed kids the websites marking where they were found, I haven't read this book as a hook before.  I'll have to find a copy in the library...... or Kindergarten to check out. 

     My 5:30 class was again TREMENDOUS.  I wish I felt that I could share her slides, but the ones I took pictures had her students in them and I don't feel that is ethical to share. BUT Elementary Students as Builders, Creators, and Innovators had a lot to offer. Melinda Huffman-Schwartz teaches at an Episcopal school as a STEM coordinator. Her students are K-4, and while I teach slightly older kids I now have a lot to share with my colleagues at lower levels.  I learned about the Lego Showcase Grant, the book Blocks and Beyond, found out about Lego grid paper, a book called Loco motion by Ed Sobey and the projects completed by students.  I also learned about saws and drills with guards that might benefit my kids with our pallets, and a circuitry product called Little Bitz that might be worth stocking up to maintain electronic practice learned in 4th grade.  This lady was a wealth of info for younger grades, and mentioned she might come check us out because she was headed to SC soon. *** Updated - some of her projects she shared can be found at

     By 6:30 when class got out I was pooped, but ready for dinner. I highly recommend the restaurant Mango (peruvian food) specifically the Lomo Saltado. YUM.

STEM conference - NSTA in St. Louis day 1

     On Wednesday, May 15th, four of us from our STEM magnet took off for St. Louis.  I was extremely excited for the opportunity to go our there.  I was hoping to learn what other schools were doing to implement STEM, and hopefully connect with other magnet schools.  

     When we arrived we headed for the hotel, and then got our packet of materials to peruse.  Then we did what any tourist in St. Louis would do.... we headed for the arch. We took the metro one more stop (not realizing that we could have walked over in the same amount of time) and found ourselves up the hill from the Mississippi River. We walked down the hill (oohing and ahhing over the Eads bridge and snapping architectural and structural pictures -- we know we're geeky, but isn't that why we were chosen for STEM? We came across this statue of a man raising his cowboy hat but completely underwater.  It took a few minutes, and I think the Kindergarten teacher googled it on her phone, but we realized we were standing on a flooded street, and the statue was normally of Lewis and Clark and not typically underwater.  We all had to stand in the water (completely frigid temperature) and then headed for the arch.


We headed through the National Park (yes, I got my National Park passport stamped) and stopped every once in awhile to take pictures. 

          When you go into the visitor's center, located under the arch, and buy your tickets, they ask if you are afraid of heights or claustrophobic.  THERE ARE REASONS FOLKS.  If you're smart, or if someone tells you, there is a little pod thing next to the desk you should really check out. We didn't know this, and the Kindergarten teacher realized pretty quickly that YES, she was claustrophobic.... but she handled it well.
After buying tickets you go to the tunnel to wait in line in front of what looks like a small elevator door.  When these doors open you are greeted by a pod straight out of the 70's.  Stark white with five white seats, this is what will carry you to the top.  I had pictures of it, but they seem to have been deleted accidentally so I'll post them when I get them from my friends. Once at the top, the view is wonderful.  The Mississippi on one side, and the city on the other. 

     After the arch we headed for dinner and planned our classes for the next day.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that they scheduled vendor time from 12:30 - 3:00 which became our time to do a couple tourist type activities, but we were there to learn. So we picked classes for every other time slot (sometimes with two or three possibilities to attend).  My goal was to stay long enough to see if it would benefit my school or students and if not then move to the next one.  This strategy ended up working well overall. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Planning for Next Year

     State testing has concluded for my classroom, and just like every year, those tests tend to remind me how close I am to completing my time with these kiddos, which leads to thoughts of next year. Even though I know I will continue in my fifth grade STEM position, I do not know if I will continue to be "only" math/science, or if we will move to a self-contained model.  Always in question at this time of year is which teachers will be teaming together.  We've had our faculty "end of year requirements" meeting, so I have a long to do list to prepare my classroom  for summer, which led me to the spending of teacher supply money (separate from what I am given for student classroom supplies like crayons and scissors) as well as our PTO request forms.
    We are  lucky to have a very involved PTO who each year grant us requests from out wishlists.   So here is what I'm thinking for the fall:

 This kit offers blueprints, and balsa wood cutter, and about $125.00. My thought was to get two (recognizing I may have to buy one myself) and relate it to area/perimeter, scale (not a fifth grade standard, but something that fits in and would be good to introduce) and perhaps character setting.  I might NOT have the kids follow the directions, but may also look for a source of cheap balsa wood sticks (not finding it yet) to allow groups to design one based on their own.  I'm still mulling it over.

Another possibility is the Engineering Is Elementary  books on the Earthquake and the Oil Spill. If you have any experience with these I would love to know because I need to know if they are REALLY good. I'm going to try the Stick in the Mud book again, but I'm going to have to work on it because it didn't go well for me this year. The earthquake one looks good, and would pair with a novel we read very nicely, but do I really need two landform type simulations?  The oil spill unit might be workable with our ecosystems unit, especially for how people impact the environment.  

     The Snap Circuits kit also appeals to me.  Electricity/circuits are not a 5th grade standard, but after perusing so many maker projects I think I need to keep the ideas in the students' minds as something to
continue to investigate.

     I've started compiling a list of novels that I already use, or need to get in the future that are fiction and carry a math/science/engineering theme of some sort.  I have a couple already that I'll blog about next year, but if you have any wonderful suggestions let me know.  One idea I'm kicking around is to use a variety of survival novels right at the beginning of the year and have the students work on a lashing project we did this year. I'll write more about that this summer as well as I plan for the unit, but I'll have to find a source for long bamboo poles.  I doubt I'll add novels to the wishlist at this time, but may decide to use a different allocation for those. 

    If you have any opinions of the above products I would love to hear from you.  Next week I'll be blogging from the STEM conference in St. Louis.  I'm  excited to be going and can't wait to gain a lot of new ideas.