Science Weekly Five for K-2 teachers!

Science! I love teaching it, and I know many teachers do too. But isn’t it so stressful to organize?? Compared to the rest of my day, science time is total chaos.

My district uses the FOSS curriculum, which means a lot of open-ended, exploration type activities. This is great for the kids, but it’s a nightmare for me! I’m always running around trying to make sure the whole group is following directions, has enough materials, and isn’t just throwing pieces of wood at each other!

After my third year of teaching, I finally decided to rethink how I do science this year. There are two things to think about – the content I teach, and how I manage the hour. As far as content goes, I have been trying to make my science content much more inquiry-based (you can read more about my thoughts on teaching inquiry-based science content here). But that is only half the battle. I also struggle with whole-group science, because it turns into behavior problems, confused kids, and an inability to differentiate for kids’ needs!

Enter my newest solution! This was inspired by the amazing Science Penguin, who blogs about teaching science to older kids. She has tons of cool resources on her blog, so make sure you check out her entire website. One resource in particular stuck out to me – the Science Weekly Five. It uses the Daily Five model (or as she calls it, the Weekly Five) to organize your science block. If you teach older kids (3rd grade and up), I highly recommend her Science Weekly Five!

But her brilliant station ideas don’t quite work for younger kids – kids who can’t read directions, or write in a journal, or work in partners, without their omniscient teacher helping them 24/7. So I decided to make my own version of the Science Weekly Five for K-2 teachers!

Science Weekly Five for K-2 teachers

This has completely changed how I teach science, for the better! It has you break kids into five groups (or let them choose their own groups, if you are brave). Then they can rotate between five independent science areas that really allow for hands-on, inquiry-based learning! The rotations incorporate a lot of what we don’t seem to have time for in other parts of our day – creativity, engineering and problem-solving, inquiry-based research, technology, and hands-on investigations.

3 of 5 stations Science Weekly Five

Included in the packet are an overview of the K-2 Science Weekly Five, “I Can” posters for each station, implementation tips, signs for your classroom, parent letter, and several other resources. If I left anything out, please let me know and I will be happy to send it to you!

Science Weekly Five overview

As soon as I started teaching science this way, I saw huge gains in my kids’ engagement during science time. I was also SO much less stressed. This allows me to work with small groups on our investigations, while the other kids are engaged in authentic science learning. It also incorporates literacy and math – which is awesome, because cross-curricular learning is the best for kids!

You can purchase this packet on my Teachers Pay Teachers store here, or by clicking any of the photos above!

Here are some photos of my students hard at work in their Science Weekly Five centers! I hope you enjoy teaching this as much as I do.

Research

Research – learning all about winter animals!

Engineering

Engineering – using pattern blocks 

Create

Create – making winter scenes with paint and packing peanuts

Investigate

Investigate – learning all about snow!

Extend

Extend – using Chromebooks to read and learn

Book study! Starting with Science: Chapter 1, Understanding Inquiry-Based Science

Book Study Teach Run Eat

I am so excited to start this book study! The concept of teaching inquiry-based science is a really tough one, and thinking about teaching it with K-2 students is even more challenging! So this book seems like it’ll be the perfect place to start. For the next 7 weeks, I’ll be posting a summary and relevant resources from each chapter of the book Starting with Science: Strategies for Introducing Young Children to Inquiry by Marcia Talhelm Edson. I’ll also add a few of my thoughts in there as well!

Chapter 1: Understanding Inquiry-Based Science

My biggest take away from this chapter is that inquiry-based science is less of a thing to do as you teach, and more of a way of thinking as you teach. Teachers who use inquiry-based learning practices believe that “children learn by exploring, by raising questions, and by actively constructing knowledge” (Edson, 2013, p. 5). Before I launch a science unit, I want to make sure I answer those questions:

  • Will this allow my students time to explore, or will I give them specific directions that they can’t stray from?
  • Will it help them raise questions, or will they just look to me for answers?
  • Will they be actively constructing their own knowledge, or will I require them all to follow the same steps to get to the answer?

The book gave a great example of a lesson in which a teacher read a book about shadows, then turned off the lights (exciting!) and made shadows with shapes on the overhead projector. The kids were excited, and seemed engaged, but they weren’t actually doing science. Science was being done to them. Alternatively, the teacher could have handed out multiple flashlights and let the children explore making shadows on their own. While they may not have been able to explicitly state the objectives at the end (“Light blocked by an object will make a shadow”), most kids would have come to the same conclusion with their own five senses. This is fundamental for inquiry-based science.

The other major point of the chapter was to emphasize the importance of choosing appropriate topics in inquiry-based science. The topics should be relevant to the students’ lives, and for young children, this means very directly relevant – since they are still such concrete learners. For example, teaching about habitats by studying the rainforest (which, for most of us, is miles away) is much less relevant to students’ lives than learning about the garden in their schoolyard. Using situations that arise in the classroom – such as the death of a classroom pet, or a parent visit – to launch learning units is inquiry-based science.

The book provided a great list of questions that you can use when choosing a topic for your science units. The questions included “Why is this topic especially worthwhile for this group of children?” and “Can the children actively explore this topic through their senses, close observations, and scientific investigations?”

I think that this will be hard for many teachers to do, though, particularly for those of us who are expected to teach a prescribed curriculum, such as FOSS Science. My units are set ahead of time, and I am supposed to follow the scripted lesson plans provided by the company. The conclusion here is clear – scripted science curriculum is NOT inquiry-based science.

Fortunately, a lot of districts are beginning to incorporate the Next Generation Science Standards (including mine)! These standards are more like the Common Core, in that they provide rigorous, deep learning standards but do not require a scripted curriculum. (In fact, there are no boxed curricula for them on the market right now!) Hopefully, many districts will realize that writing or purchasing scripted curriculum, in which every class does the same thing at each grade level, is not good science teaching. Instead, teachers should be trained to use inquiry as the backbone of their curriculum.

I’ll leave my summary there for now. But since I brought up the Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS), which I am pretty excited about these days, here are some great resources for incorporating them into your classroom, if you have the freedom to do so!

50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Keep a nature journal

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

6. Keep a nature journal.

Nature journals are a quick, easy way to get kids outside, grow their observation skills, and connect them to the place where they are. I was reading an article from Community Works Journal called “Nature Journals: An Enduring Marriage of Art and Literature,” and came across this passage, which perfectly describes why nature journals are so beneficial for the classroom:

Out of concern for increasing problems among today’s children, including attention deficit disorder, obesity and depression, there is research supporting the idea that alienation from the natural world could be a factor. A malady called “Nature Deficit Disorder” has been described by author Richard Louv in his book, The Last Child in the Woods…Louv’s recommendation is to change the education of young children from the current emphasis on technology, and instead encourage more direct exploration of the outdoors. I believe that Louv would agree that nature journaling offers an important avenue to help introduce children in a very personal way to the natural world that seems foreign to so many of them.

Nature journaling is a perfect aesthetic activity for children at school, whether they are kindergarteners sketching flowers in the school yard, middle school science students observing and recording various species of leaves and bark, or high school AP Studio Art students deriving inspiration from nature to design a beautiful journal page. Allowing children to experience the commitment to a nature journal as a labor of love should be a common opportunity for each child.

And to put it more concisely:

The natural extension of visually studying nature is to feel appreciation for it and then seek to learn more about it.

Exactly what I want for my students!

I created a simple nature journal for kids to use, which is available to download here or by clicking the picture below. But any old notebook or sketchbook would work just as well!

naturejournal

Education for Sustainability: a bit more on what it means

Education for Sustainability

A few days ago I shared with you my definition of Education for Sustainability (EFS). Of course, EFS can look like different things to different people, depending on who, what and where you teach. But in general, it’s a whole new way of looking at how we teach. As the Sustainable Schools Project puts it, EFS is learning that links knowledge, inquiry and action to help students build a healthy future for their communities and the planet.

Here are a few more ways to describe Education for Sustainability.

EFS 1

Education for Sustainability is place-based.

  • Many districts (including my own) ask teachers to use prescribed curricular programs, written and sold by companies far removed from local classrooms. While these curricula are often research-based, they can leave both students and teachers bored and unchallenged.  Teachers approach their subject by saying: “on Day 1, we will do this; on Day 2, we will do this,” no matter what their students seem to need.
  • In contrast, EFS asks teachers to approach their subject by saying: “What is happening in our classroom or community? Can I use any of it to meet learning standards and benchmarks?”
  • Here’s an example. My reading curriculum has as one of its benchmarks “Great readers ask questions as they read.” It then asks the teacher to read aloud the book Baby Talk by Joy Cowley. This is a book about animal babies of all kinds. Instead of teaching this book automatically, I could make note of what students have been wondering and discussing in the classroom lately. Have kids been asking about why the leaves are falling? Find a book on why trees lose their leaves, and use this to stimulate questions as we read.
  • Teachers can look at what is going on in their wider community as well, and listen to students’ conversations to help determine where to steer their lessons.

EFS 2

Education for Sustainability integrates the curriculum.

  • One of the biggest take-aways I got from the EFS Institute was the importance of having a wider theme that threads throughout your entire curriculum. Research supports integrated instruction. It’s better for students’ brains and their interest level.
  • A de-emphasis on having separate times for social studies, science, math, and reading makes sense. In the world outside of school, whose job requires an employee to do math for 45 minutes, then completely stop what they are doing and switch into reading mode? This isn’t how students will think and learn when they are out of school, and it shouldn’t be how we teach them in school.
  • To tie your curriculum together, the EFS Institute suggested that teachers come up with a “Big Idea” that threads throughout the year. Here is a list of Big Ideas that relate to sustainability. Having a Big Idea will give meaning and purpose to your curriculum. It will make sure that everything you teach is related in some way to the bigger idea of sustainability and understanding one aspect of how the world works.
  • Here’s an example. Let’s say you decide that your Big Idea is Cycles, because you want your students to really grasp the idea that every organism/system goes through different stages. From here on out, every time you begin a unit or delve into a lesson, you can start by saying “How will this help them learn more about cycles?”

EFS 3

Education for Sustainability empowers students (in several ways).

  • First, it encourages students to ask questions. When you are not stuck to a prescribed set of activities, you can really listen to kids’ questions and use them to steer your teaching. If kids are really interested in where water goes after you flush the toilet, you can use this curiosity to delve into understanding our water supply. If kids are really interested in why some families are homeless, you can use this momentum to explore the root causes of poverty.
  • Second, it helps them understand how the world around them works. Because Education for Sustainability asks students and teachers to look at what is going on in their community, they will leave these investigations with just that – a better understanding of their community. For kindergarten, this might be a better understanding of their classroom and how to be a good friend. For fifth grade, it might be an awareness of how climate change is affecting their city’s food supply. For high school, it might be knowledge of how the country’s political system.
  • And last, it teaches students that they can make a difference. Instead of just learning about problems in the world, EFS asks teachers and students to come up with solutions for these problems. Instead of just tallying the number of cars idling in the parking lot, it asks students to put up signs reminding drivers to turn their cars off when not in use. Instead of just discussing the number of homeless people on the street, it asks classrooms to raise money for local homeless shelters.

Now I know that is a lot of information. But hopefully it gives you a slightly better understanding of Education for Sustainability. The Sustainable Schools Project has TONS of great resources, including some curricular examples, if you want to read more.

And while all this is really exciting, I know there are lots of teachers who will say “But my district requires me to teach exactly what is in our teacher manuals.” Have no fear. As a teacher from just such a district, I’ll talk next time about how I am going to implement these huge and amazing ideas into my classroom – one tiny, manageable step at a time.

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

As I mentioned before, I am continually frustrated with the lack of space for curiosity and creativity in the classroom. Teachers are pressured to fill every minute with minilessons, assessments and benchmark objectives – at the expense of real, engaging education. This means that elementary students spend more time with their butts glued to their desks, writing a “readers response” and making “text-to-self” connections, instead of talking about books they love. They spend more time deciphering specific directions for how a science experiment should be done, instead of being allowed time to experiment with hands-on science materials.

I could go on and on, but I won’t, since I did so in a previous post. Instead, I’ve decided to start sharing some resources for how busy teachers can fit in small ideas that bring curiosity and wonder back into the classroom. I call it my “50 Ways to Wonder” project.

Each week I’ll share a different resource or idea that is both easy and inexpensive for teachers to implement in the classroom. I’ll try to make the ideas for all ages (at least K-5), and something that is feasible. For as much as we would all love to build a school garden from scratch, those types of projects are just not feasible for elementary teachers who are juggling six subjects, 30 students, and an inordinate amount of meetings and paperwork.

Thus, I’ll try to keep these ideas short and simple. Hopefully a few teachers can use these ways to bring joy and wonder back into the classroom, encouraging kids to have fun, be curious, and love to learn!

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

So without further ado, here is the first way to bring wonder into the classroom!

1. Have a Wonder Wall.

Kids are naturally curious, which leads to lots of questions throughout the day. Teachers don’t always have time to answer every question, particularly if they are ones that we aren’t equipped to answer without a little research! A Wonder Wall serves as a great place to store these questions until you can find time to answer them. Writing them down gives your students the message that you do take their curiosity seriously – and further encourages kids to ask more questions!

A Wonder Wall can be as simple or as fancy as you’d like. I just stick a blank piece of chart paper on the wall and title it “Wonder Wall.” Then, whenever a child asks a question that I can’t answer (perhaps because I’m reading a book out loud, it’s in the middle of an unrelated activity, or because I just don’t know the answer!), I write their question on the chart paper.

Here is my current Wonder Wall. Just search “Wonder Wall” on Pinterest to see much prettier versions of this same idea. 🙂

Wonder Wall

When the paper is filled up, I dedicate one Writers Workshop period to investigating the answers to these questions. Finding the answers can take many forms – including looking for related books in the library, interviewing someone in the school who might know (like the music teacher or the librarian), or searching on the internet (with my help, of course). In the future, I think I’ll incorporate more writing into the research part of the Wonder Wall, encouraging my kindergarteners to write a letter to a community member who might know more about the subject. (For example, our town is right next to a major university, so I could foresee writing a letter to a professor who studies the topic.)

I hope you find these ideas helpful… Happy wondering!

Making room for joy and wonder in the classroom

teachingjoyandwonder

As a kindergarten teacher, I find that most people are surprised when I tell them how much is expected of five-year-olds these days. Most of us remember kindergarten as a place for coloring, playing with playdough, and taking naps. The majority of our time was spent running around the recess playground and learning how to make new friends.

Nowadays, the majority of time in kindergarten is spent in academic pursuit. In one seven-hour day, my kindergarteners get exactly 20 minutes of free play and 20 minutes of rest time. That is 40 minutes of unstructured play, out of 420 minutes, each day. The rest of the time is spent on academics – reading, writing, phonics, spelling, math, computer, library, music, art, gym, and a small bit on science and social studies. (That doesn’t include 20 minutes for lunch and 40 minutes for recess each day – but lunch and recess are a chaotic whirl of overcrowded, yelling groups of children, which hardly counts as downtime for a kid.)

While I am a firm believer in the importance of learning throughout the day (I am a teacher, after all, and I love teaching Writers Workshop and Guided Math and everything else), I am also constantly frustrated with how much is demanded of these little guys. By the end of the school day, my students are visibly exhausted, both mentally and physically. And many of them go home to even more structured activities, like gymnastics and soccer practice and piano lessons. I know this is a much lamented problem, but the level of concern doesn’t seem to be changing our expectations of kids in school. As a public school teacher, I can attest to the fact that what is expected of my kindergarteners (from my district administration, from state standardized testing, from Common Core standards) is unreasonable, and is too much.

Think about what you remember most from elementary school. For me, it’s the weeks we spent studying the rainforest in third grade, learning about beautiful animals like quetzals that require our protection. Or the time in sixth grade that we dressed up and acted out the Greek myths, turning over our desks and building props out of cardboard and paint. What will kids remember from my kindergarten class? If I followed the required curriculum to a T, they might remember lots of time spent writing and editing personal narrativesidentifying the number of vertices and sides of a 3D shape, and learning the difference between plywood and particle board.

Don’t get me wrong – these are important endeavors in learning. But I think they need to be balanced with time for free play and exploration. There is so much evidence out there already on how children learn best through play, but play time is decidedly NOT written into the curriculum.

I realize that most of what I’m expected to teach is currently at the whim of politics and corporations. I am fortunate, though, to teach in a school with a very supportive principal who trusts teachers, and gives them room to use their professional judgment on the best way to teach children. Therefore, I have made it my goal this year (and all the years in the future) to make as much room for free play and exploration in my classroom as possible. I’ve decided to start sharing some of my ideas, since there’s not a lot out there on how to bring more joy and wonder into the classroom. I’ll start by listing some of the resources I’ve used when learning how to create space for exploration and guided inquiry in the classroom, and later share lesson ideas, both large and small.

Here are some resources that have inspired me so far:

Websites by Teachers

Books

Pinterest Boards

I’ll end with a quote that has been floating around out there that gives a nod to our need for balance between exploration and structured learning. More ideas for how to find this balance will come!

mudpuddles

Celebrating MLK Day in kindergarten (and teaching tolerance throughout the year)

Tomorrow we have off school to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Kindergarten is often the first time that students are introduced to him and the movement he helped start in our country. Learning about MLK and other heroes of the civil rights movement is a great time to discuss concepts of tolerance and diversity, both in and out of the classroom. It’s also a great time to discuss discrimination and injustice in the world – which many think are concepts too heavy for a kindergarten classroom. But these are ideas that kids will encounter constantly as they grow up. I firmly believe that kids have an innate sense of “fairness,” and when given the chance, they have lots to share about the things that are unfair in our world.

I also think it’s extremely important to teach tolerance throughout the year, rather than isolating it during MLK week or Black History Month. This unit began in the beginning of the year, as part of my effort to build community in the classroom. We continued the second half of the unit this month.

During one of the first weeks of school, we read the book The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. The book talks about a girl whose community is filled with people of many different skin colors. Instead of using the words “black” or “white” to describe their skin color, she uses different shades of brown. We compared our skin colors to each other’s, and each kindergarten then picked out a skin-color crayon that most closely matched their skin. Here are their matches:

Then we used the crayons to color in portraits of ourselves, and hung them in the hallway for all to see! After we took down the posters, I made them into a big book that is a popular choice for Read to Self time.

We took a photo of our beautiful skin!

When January began, we revisited this book and again discussed how our skin colors can be all different – but we have much in common! We read several books on Martin Luther King Jr. and the fight for equal rights for people of all skin colors. You can see some of the videos we watched: this one and this one (made by a kindergartener)! We also read the excellent book The Skin You Live In by Michael Taylor, which talks about how skin is for running, jumping, and playing in, not separating people.

We then listened to an excerpt of MLK’s I Have a Dream speech. I explained that it wasn’t a dream like we have at night while we’re sleeping, but instead a hope or wish that he had for the world. Then each kindergartener came up with their own dream for the world. We drew pictures of that dream and hung them up in the classroom for all to see.

To finish the unit, we met with our third grade reading buddies who are also studying Martin Luther King Jr. and how skin colors can be different. As a group, we looked at two eggs, a brown one and a white one. We talked about what was the same and what was different about each, then cracked them both open to see what they looked like on the inside. They were the same! We talked about the lesson this teaches us about how skin color may make us look different on the outside, but we have many things in common on the inside.

a journal entry on what we saw inside each egg
P.S. I put together this unit myself but I got lots of ideas from amazing teachers on Pinterest and other blogs. I also downloaded this excellent free MLK unit from Eberhart’s Explorers.

The way human beings learn.

Another wonderful tidbit I learned from the book Number Sense Routines by Jessica Shumway is the importance of math talk! Teachers often encourage quiet during math time, in order to allow little math brains to work. But so much of learning, especially in the primary grades, comes from talking and thinking aloud! Math learning is no exception. The book included this quote, from Ralph Peterson, author of Life in a Crowded Place (another book on my to-read list!). I’m going to print this and put it up in my classroom!

 

How number sense develops in kindergarten

In my quest to devour as many teaching books as possible over winter break, I’ve been reading the fantastic book Number Sense Routines: Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K-3 by Jessica Shumway. It’s filled with ideas on how to incorporate routines that build number sense every day. My district uses the Everyday Mathematics curriculum, which touches on a lot of the teaching practices that help grow number sense. But it doesn’t seem to have an orderly, progressive and easily understandable description of how number sense develops as children’s brains grow. How do I know when kids are ready to start decomposing numbers? If a kindergartener can count to 50 but can’t do one-to-one correspondence [pointing to one item at a time while they count up], is he ready to start decomposing teen numbers? Will a kindergartener be able to point out which amount is more and which is less, if she can’t count?

Fortunately, the Number Sense Routines book explains all this! They include a wonderful description of the number sense learning trajectory, which I decided to write up in a cute flow chart. I printed out the chart and have it in my lesson plan book. I use this to plan what’s next for each of my math groups, based on where they are on this flow chart. For example, if they are still working on one-to-one correspondence, I know they aren’t yet ready to tackle composing and decomposing numbers.

Click here or the picture above to download the chart. Hope it helps you too!

Nourish: Food curriculum for upper elementary and middle school teachers

A friend of mine showed me a new food curriculum called Nourish. It looks fantastic. It’s geared towards upper elementary and middle schoolers, so I won’t be able to use it this fall (I’m teaching kindergarten). But it has some really great ideas for teaching about where food comes from, eating in season, food advertising, and other important food literacy concepts. It also has a bunch of graphics called Food Tools that are perfect for teaching about food systems. Here’s one graphic I love and might actually print out to put in my classroom…

The curriculum also has a half-hour video that goes with it. Seems pretty awesome!