Tuesday, September 25, 2012

STEM Exploration During Overtime

At my school we have a 45 minute period during the day called Overtime.  Our school is a STEM focus school so we usually use this period to do STEM-related activities.  For those of you not familiar with STEM it stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

I am very proud of the activity my students worked on for the past two weeks so I thought I would take a break from a literacy-based post and share a science activity.  Of course this science activity does have writing integrated into it!  If you use Smart Board software, you can click here to find the entire notebook file titled egg marine challenge.

I also planned out how to use cooperative group strategies during the activity.  One of my professional goals this year is to improve my use of cooperative groups.  I know I need to have defined roles and procedures for group work so I did research them before introducing this activity to the students.

These are the roles I chose to use for my students. The opposite sides of the tents have a short description to remind the students what they are supposed to do.  The students each chose a colored stick. The color of their sticks matched to their role.  I did a random selection for roles this time, but I intend to do planned roles next time. You can click here to go to the link for the cooperative group placards.

I use a simple class roster to record what role each student played in the activity.  This way I can make I sure I do not repeat roles until each child has a chance to perform each one.  There is also room where I can put notes about how a student performed that particular role.

The student who has the role of encourager completes this number line by crossing off points if his or her group is not cooperating.  This file is found is found in the same link as the role placards above.

The group leader reads and discusses this rubric with his or her team at the completion of the activity. You can click here to view the file that contains the collaborative work skills rubric.
Now for the STEM activity...the egg marine challenge.  I learned about this exploration through Camp Invention. I thought it was simple enough for the beginning of the year, yet interesting enough to keep students focused. The scientific principle of neutral buoyancy is explored in this activity.  Before I explained the activity, I used Discovery Education to teach the students some background information. They watched clips about real-world situations that use neutral buoyancy such as submarines, scuba divers, and robot fish. They learned how a fish bladder keeps them from floating to the top or sinking to the bottom. 
Their goal for the activity was to create an egg that had neutral buoyancy by filling it will materials or attaching materials to it.  The egg could not float above the water or touch the bottom of the container.
Students looked through the bag of materials and described their predictions before they began the activity.

Some of the initial eggs floated and some of the sank to the bottom.  Students did a wonderful job of redesigning their eggs after each try when the egg did not achieve neutral buoyancy.

As you can see, the students designed some very creative eggs. They never gave up and they squealed with delight when the eggs almost suspended in the water.  The students have been doing research at home and sharing their ideas with their teammates each day.  They have not completed the activity yet...who knows if they ever will!  They have been fantastic scientists who do not give up!

Various Anchor Charts

I don't really have a detailed post--just some pictures of anchor charts that you may want to use in your Reading Workshop or Writing Workshop. I created these charts based on the Lucy Calkins' books, Pinterest, and the Being a Writer program.





Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Power of Partners

Lessons 11 and 12 in Lucy Calkins' Building a Reading Life focus on creating and using reading partnerships.

Students learned what they can do with their partner to discuss and interact with their books.  I modeled each activity and then they practiced. I've used reading partnerships in the past, but by providing students with specific ideas for how to interact, it made the partnerships more focused and purposeful. Students were on task for the majority of the time I heard great conversations about reading.
Show each other your sticky notes and talk about what you marked.

Read a favorite part to your partner.

Act out part of your book.

Partners reading the same book aloud.

Taking turns reading aloud together.

I created my partnerships by pairing up students with similar reading levels.  The books in their reading baggies are at their reading levels and partners have a couple of books that are the same. One partner is written in yellow and the other is blue.  This is so I can sometimes give the yellow partner a task and the blue partner a different task.  I find this more user friendly than having the students remember who is Partner A and who is Partner B.

This girl went to do her weekly book shopping in the classroom library and I questioned her choice to get two of the same books.  She replied, "I got my partner exact copies of my books so we can do it together."  I was so excited that she has made her reading life one that includes her partner!

Different Students Different Styles

Differentiation is hard.  It is especially difficult when you have only one or two students who are significantly lower than the other students in your class.  One of my students, M, has severe cerebral palsy and has no verbal communication. She uses a binder filled with pictures to communicate.  She will point to pictures to say what she wants or needs.  She can have conversations with her classmates. She can answer questions.
One of the exceptional needs teachers at my school gave me the idea to use one of M's "picture pages" as a way to offer a word and picture bank for my third grade student, J, who is at a pre-primer reading and writing level. 
J has limited verbal, writing, and reading skills. He always dictates his writing to a scribe. We have been working with J to help him realize that scribble scrabble is not writing.  Most of the time when he is writing he will write his name followed by a row of yeyeyeyeyeye. When he does this we ask him if this is how writers write and he will reply, "no it's scribble scrabble."
So to help J become more independent (let's face it--I cannot do 1:1 dictation to a scribe every day), I showed him the picture page/word bank. I modeled how to use it and create a sentence.  I had him practice using this for a verbal conversation. He struggled turning the pictures he pointed to into a written sentence.   I decided to give him chips to place on the pictures to help him remember what he wanted to say.  This worked and he was so happy to write a sentence independently!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Good Readers

In a previous Reading Workshop minilesson, my students practiced What Good Readers Look Like. They are doing a wonderful job of getting to their sweet spots to read independently.  I noticed that there were some differences between my first block of students and my second block of students though.  Block 1 is very focused on having personal space and quiet.  Block 2 is more focused on being near someone else and having to keep their eyes on their books.  I decided that the two blocks should have the opportunity to share their good reader tips with each other! 

So I gave them pieces of sentence strips and had them write down their tips telling what they think good readers look like.  I color-coded block 1 with yellow and block 2 with blue.  The students enjoyed reading the display and learning new tips from each other.  It was also a very easy way to post authentic student work in the classroom.

The letters are paint chip samples with a foam alphabet sticker.
Must easier than the diecut machine and reusable.

Sticky Note Super Stars

Like many teachers, I was wary of having my third graders use sticky notes to record their thoughts while reading.  I was pleased with their jottings during minilessons and read alouds, but I was hesitant when they started to use them independently.  I hadn't planned on them using the sticky notes so early into Reading Workshop since this was an unfamiliar framework for them.  They asked if they could use them so I just took off the training wheels and let them go!

One of my quiet students had been reading one of the trade books that is part of our Social Studies series.  The book is a Level K so he is slightly below grade-level.  I was so proud and pleased when I conferenced with him and he showed me his sticky notes!

Is voting free?

This picture is in our Social Studies book.

Why does the bell have a crack in it?

Why isn't North Carolina there?

Why are they wearing weird hats?
His questions were directly related to the text.  He was making notice of the text content, maps, and photos.  He made connections to previous lessons.  The idea I told him to work on for our next conference time was to try to find other points in his book that stand out besides questions he has about the book.  I reminded him that we had also practiced envisioning.