December 8, 2016

Winter Holiday Learning Fun!

Seasonal activities are perfect for the weeks leading up to the winter holidays. Those days can be kinda crazy, but kids are more likely to stay on task when they are engaged in activities that are fun yet don't skimp on academic content. Here are a few of my favorite activities for this time of year. I hope they add a little fun to your December lesson plans!

Sugar Cone Christmas Trees 
One of my favorite holiday activities was to have my students follow a recipe to make Sugar Cone Christmas Trees. Reading and following a recipe might seem like an activity that's only appropriate for younger children, and it's not normally something you'd find in the 5th grade curriculum.

So, I decided to kick it up a notch by creating a set of comprehension questions to go with the recipe. I formatted the questions to make them similar to the ones on state tests, so the activity serves as a test prep lesson as well. After my students created their sugar cone Christmas Trees, I allowed them to eat their treats while answering the questions. Of course, many students did not want to eat their creations right away so I always provided gallon zip top bags for them to take home their treats.

You can find the Sugar Cone Christmas Tree recipe and comprehension questions in my December Activities Mini Pack along with a materials-request letter to send home to parents.

December Activity Mini Pack
This Sugar Cone Christmas Tree activity is just one of the many activities in my December Activities pack for upper elementary students. It's available from from my TpT store, and as always, you can preview the entire packet online to see if it meets your needs. You'll find loads of activities to use this month along with directions and answer keys. Here's a complete list:
  • Holiday Mug Exchange Directions
  • Holidays Around the World Research Project
  • Christmas Daily Math Puzzlers
  • Dreidel Game Rules and Pattern
  • Dreidel Math Explorations
  • Christmas Word Challenge
  • Silly Winter Stories Cooperative Learning Activity and Writing Prompts
  • Sugar Cone Christmas Tree Recipe and Reading Comprehension Questions
  • Happy Holidays Homework Pass
  • Happy Holidays Book Coupon

Holiday-themed Freebies
I love to share freebies with my followers, so this blog post would not be complete without me sharing a holiday freebie or two. The Christmas Math Puzzler pages shown here are samples from my December Activities Mini Pack that you can download for free from the Seasonal page on Teaching Resources during December. These are two pages of math word problems on different levels, and they can be used for cooperative learning activities or independent assignments.

Also on the Seasonal page, you can  find several other freebies for December, including my Christmas Paper Chain Connections literacy activity, holiday gratitude cards, and more!

I hope these activities will help you enjoy those hectic days before your winter break. Happy holidays to you!





November 8, 2016

Math Mindsets Matter: How Can Teachers Foster a Growth Mindset in Math?

Oh no! I've tumbled down into the rabbit hole of growth mindset research, never to be seen again! All kidding aside, the more I learn about growth mindset, the more fascinated I am with this topic, and the more I realize I have yet to learn.

But as fascinated as I am with growth mindset, I'm even more intrigued by the challenge of putting these research findings into practice. In other words...

How can we use the most current brain research to foster a growth mindset in our students... and in ourselves?

Mathematics is arguably the subject where mindset matters the most, especially when you consider how many adults have experienced math anxiety in the past. Take me, for instance. I always excelled in math, but I'll never forget the horrible experience I had with college calculus. I'll save that story for another time, but let me just say that it totally shredded my confidence about my ability to learn math!

Despite that experience (or maybe because of it), when I started teaching, I discovered that I have an aptitude for teaching math. I love breaking down complex math skills to make them easier for kids to understand, and I love using creative teaching methods to help all students succeed in math. Now that I'm no longer in the classroom, I enjoy presenting webinars where I can share these strategies with other educators.

Mind-blowing Brain Research About Mistakes and Mindsets 
During one of my recent math webinars, a teacher suggested that I read Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets. I had already been planning to develop a webinar about how to foster a growth mindset in math, so I ordered a copy right away. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to read it when it arrived so the book ended up buried on my desk until I noticed it yesterday.

Oh my goodness! Have you ever read a professional development book that was so compelling you wanted to talk about it with anyone who would listen? That's how I felt when I started reading Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages, and Innovative Teaching. I was hooked from the first page!

All I can say is the book is definitely living up to the premise of that very long title. I thought I had a good grasp on growth mindset research, but after reading just a few pages, I realized that I've barely scratched the surface of this topic.

For example, I knew that mistakes should be considered to be a sign of learning rather than as a sign of failure.

But I didn't know that when we make a mistake, our brain responds physically with increased electrical activity and actually grows a synapse! Neuroscientists discovered this by measuring this electrical brain activity in test subjects they observed while working. This brain response happens even when the person making the mistake doesn't consciously realize a mistake was made!

November 1, 2016

Investigating Condensation and the Water Cycle

Step-by-step Lesson and Free Printables 

Most kids are familiar with the terms precipitation, condensation, and evaporation, but very few of them really understand what those words mean. Just ask your students to name three examples of condensation in everyday life and watch their eyes glaze over. Huh??

Most kids understand that precipitation is a fancy word for different forms of water falling from the sky, like rain, snow, and sleet. Most kids also understand that evaporation is what happens when water "disappears" on a warm day, such as a puddle drying up. They know that evaporation means liquid water has become water vapor.

Condensation is a little harder to grasp. If you've taught your students that clouds form as a result of condensation, they may think that condensation only happens in the sky. Do they know that condensation happens all around us, every day? If they understand that water droplets on a cold glass are the result of condensation, where do they think the water comes from? Inside the glass?

Condensation Investigation

Here's a simple investigation that will help your students understand what condensation is, where it comes from, and where it happens in everyday life. The activity works well as an introduction to the water cycle or as a part of a lesson on states of matter. Because this is an exploratory activity, it's best not to provide too much background information before you begin.

October 29, 2016

5 Engaging Ways to Introduce New Content

Guest Blog Post by Rachael Parlett

Imagine that you are sitting in the movie theater waiting for the latest popular movie to begin. With the popcorn bucket on your lap and drink in hand, you are ready.

The lights dim, and the movie commences.  You begin to watch the opening scene and here’s what you hear: “Welcome to this movie. In this movie, you’ll meet a boy and girl. They are going to fall in love and live happily ever after.”

Um…what?  Talk about boring (not to mention a spoiler-alert)! Your interest as the viewer has flown right out the window and you’re beginning to wonder if it’s worth staying till the end. Chances are, it’s not.

Luckily, movies DON’T start that way. In fact, there’s usually a pretty epic scene to start out the movie in order to grab the viewer’s attention. Movie makers know that the first few minutes can make or break the movie. If they fail to peak the viewer’s interest in their opener, the viewer checks out.

Consider this: Your introduction to new content is like the start of an epic movie. And how you choose to introduce that new information can make it or break it.

Our students can be some of the toughest viewers and critics. If we present new information to our students like the above scenario, stating “today we are going to learn about…”, their attention vanishes and their minds begin to wonder if we are worth listening to.

While teachers aren’t trained movie producers, we can still use some tricks and strategies to grab our students’ attention and get them excited about the new information they are about to learn. Here are just a few of the ways that you can hook your learners right from the start.

October 19, 2016

Halloween Word Play - Seek & Spell Fun!

How much time do you spend each week on spelling instruction? If you’re an upper elementary teacher, the answer is probably “not enough.” While you might recognize the importance of phonemic awareness and phonics lessons, there’s just not enough time for true spelling instruction in the upper grades. This is unfortunate because upper elementary students still need lots of practice with spelling word patterns and the basic building blocks of large words, like roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Fortunately, there’s a fun activity for building spelling skills that your kids will love so much they won’t even realize it's a spelling assignment! In fact, they will BEG to play it!

Remember the word game where players try to make small words from the letters of a long word? It’s really simple, and most people can easily find a handful of words with very little effort. But in order to find a lot of words, you have to dig deeper and look for word patterns, word families, root words, verb forms, prefixes, suffixes, and so on. The more you play the game, the better you become at identifying these basic building blocks of language.

A few years ago I introduced this word game to my class as a fun holiday-themed activity. I created seasonal printables similar to the Halloween Seek & Spell freebie shown above, and each printable had the letters of a seasonal word or phrase printed in block letters along the bottom edge of the page. The directions required the students to cut out the letters and physically move them around to try to form new words. Students worked for about 10 minutes on their own, and then I asked them to pair up with a partner to check each other’s spelling and look for more words. Just for fun, I added a scoring system where students could earn points for correctly-spelled words. To prevent guessing, I also deducted points for words that were misspelled. Because I knew they would be able to find far more words than they could spell correctly, I encouraged them to use a spell-checker or dictionary look up any word they weren’t sure how to spell.