50 Ways to Wonder: Science kits for the playground

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

In 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!

8. Make science kits for the playground.

I don’t know how recess works at your school, but at mine, it’s complete chaos. All kindergarten classes have the same recess times, so there are usually about 65 kids running around on one tiny playground. Despite their best efforts to institute rule-following, the poor recess teachers spend their whole time fielding complaints about hitting, tackling, and going the wrong way on the slide. It’s not the recess teachers’ fault though – most of the kindergarteners, especially at the beginning of the year, don’t have the social skills or the independence to organize games together, or do anything except run around like recently-freed monkeys in a zoo.

Don’t get me wrong, I really value recess and think it’s incredibly important for kids to get outside and have time to move their body. If it were up to me, we’d have a recess at the end of every hour of learning (well, ask me that question in the middle of winter, and I would NOT be as excited to facilitate putting on of snow clothes at the end of every hour…)

But when my kids come in after recess, they are mostly just sweaty, and more hyperactive than before they went outside. The environment of five dozen kids running around screaming is not exactly rejuvenating for them.

So rather than complaining about recess (I need to save my complaining time for even bigger problems in public education), I decided to slowly work on this problem, starting with something very small – science kits. The idea came from the nature center where I work in the summer – small bags that kids can take out into the field to investigate the natural world. I figured if kids can use them out in the woods at the nature center, why not make something similar for the playground?

So I went to Michaels, bought four cheap canvas bags, and filled them with magnifying glasses, small notebooks, and a bug catcher. It took me less than an hour to put them together.

They turned out to be a huge hit. Kids were so excited to have something to do besides run around on the playground, and the bags were filled with enough items that 3 or 4 kids could share each bag. Every day I pulled name sticks to pick four people who would be in charge of bringing the bags out to recess. I thought I would have to make a big deal out of not forgetting the bags on the playground, but the kids felt so much pride in bringing them out that they almost never forgot to bring them back in. (I think it was also because they played with them for the entire recess time – instead of just discarding them after a few minutes, and forgetting about them by the time the bell rang.)

The science kits also had the benefit of engaging students who love to investigate the natural world. I saw students working together to create bug homes, identify (often imaginary) animal tracks, and use notebooks to sketch leaves and rocks.

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Using a bug catcher to capture ants crawling on a tree

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Working hard to create a bug home

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Look at these kids at recess! No running around screaming here, just good old fashioned exploring

Below is a photo of what I included in my science kits, as well as a list of other ideas. In the future, I’d love to create other playground kits, including a reading kit and a nature journaling one.

TeachRunEat - science kits for the playgroundIncluded in my science kits:

  • Bug identification cards
  • Small notebooks
  • Bug catcher (actually just a cheap craft box from Michaels)
  • Magnifying glass
  • Pencil
  • Animal track identification cards

Other ideas you could include:

  • Field guides
  • Binoculars
  • Compasses
  • Butterfly nets
  • Flashlights
  • Nature log (for recording animal and plant sightings)
  • Colored pencils
  • Nature journals
  • Maps
  • Jars or boxes for building collections of rocks, leaves, etc.
  • Nature scavenger hunt checklists

Here’s a few more links on creating science kits for the playground: Fun Field Bag Supplies for Kids, and Scavenger Hunt Bingo.

Scientist of the Month!

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Seriously, how did teachers do it before the invention of Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers? If you are a teacher that has not discovered the wonders of these two websites, I urge you to go explore them! You will probably develop a ruthless addiction to both sites, because they offer endless ideas and teacher-made resources, often for free!  There have been so many times that I think “man, it would be so cool if I had {insert awesome idea} for my classroom, but I’ll never have time to make it!” And then, I type the words into Pinterest and voila! Another brilliant teacher has already made the exact thing I was hoping to have. Amazing.

Here’s an example. This spring I talked to my kindergarteners a lot about being a scientist when they grow up, but I realized that I never really explained what that meant. So in a frantic attempt to give them a better understanding of what it means to “be a scientist,” I read them a book by Jane Goodall. Well then for several weeks they thought that being a scientist meant living in the jungle with chimpanzees! While that is certainly one option for scientists, there are obviously many more routes that science-inclined people can take.

So, I decided the best thing to do next year would be to have a featured “Scientist of the Month.” During the first week of each month, we could read books and watch clips about this scientist. This will be a great way to get more nonfiction books in my kids’ hands (you’re welcome, Common Core) as well as get them exposed to all kinds of scientists – including female ones!

Well, it’s not enough to have a brilliant idea like Scientist of the Month. Turns out you actually have to make a plan for which scientists will be featured, and put together some info for the kids on each one. Thus, “make Scientist of the Month packet” got added to the bottom of my supremely long list of summer projects.

But wait! Thanks to the miracle that is Pinterest, I learned that another teacher had the same brilliant idea, and is giving away her Scientist of the Month stuff for free! She did all the work of choosing scientists, finding pictures of them, and putting together biographical information on each one. So awesome.

Scientist bios

So if you want to do the Scientist of the Month idea too, go on over to The Teacher Garden to get pictures and bios on each scientist. And for a lovely title poster for your bulletin board, click on the image below to download it (or click here if the link doesn’t work). Hooray for the internet, and teachers who make my workload easier!

Scientist of Month

50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Visit a “Sit Spot” every season.

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!

5. Visit a Sit Spot every season.

The idea of a “Sit Spot” came directly from the Cultivating Joy and Wonder curriculum from Shelburne Farms (which is free to download – such a great resource). I used it this year for the first time, and I really liked it because it can be done no matter what type of schoolyard you have – concrete, prairie, garden, playground.

Sit Spot

Talk to the class ahead of time about how many scientists make observations of the same place over time, in order to have a better understanding of what goes on in their environment. By visiting the same spot every week, month, or year, they can observe what has changed, what has gone missing, what has grown or been replaced.

Explain that you’ll be doing the same thing at school. Go out into the yard, parking lot, or other surrounding area and help kids choose their own Sit Spot. They will be returning to this spot again and again. They should take careful notes (or drawings, depending on the age) on what they see, smell, hear and feel.

Be sure to return to the same Sit Spots at least once a season, and make time for the students to share after each Sit Spot period. They can use previous entries to compare and contrast their spot in each season. Ask probing questions like “Why do you think there are no flowers in your spot anymore?” and “What has stayed the same in your spot?”

This short activity takes only about twenty minutes, tops, and really encourages students of all ages to notice patterns and changes in their environment. Plus it brings in just a little bit more questioning and wonder to the classroom!

50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Teach the word “hypothesis.”

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!

3. Teach the word “hypothesis.”

It’s a common misconception that young students shouldn’t be taught big words. Who hasn’t met a five-year-old that can’t tell you the difference between a brontosaurus and a stegosaurus? Kids are drawn to big, complicated words, and they are often ready to handle the big, complicated concepts that come with. Early on in the year I teach my students the word “hypothesis,” defining it as something like “your best guess answer to a question, based on what you already know.” I then make an effort to pose lots of questions that allow them to form a hypothesis.

My favorite way to introduce new units is by posing a question or two, letting the students form hypotheses, and then giving them time to look in books to find the answer. For example, I kicked off my unit on turtles by writing the question “Why do turtles have shells?” on chart paper. I asked each student to draw or write a simple answer to the question, then gave them time to browse through lots of non-fiction books to look for evidence that proves them either right or wrong. I usually ask them to search with a partner, in order to stimulate dialogue on the topic.

teachthewordhypothesisIt’s amazing to see kindergarteners scrutinizing photographs and captions to find evidence that turtles use their shells for protection. I hand out sticky notes to each pair, suggesting that they mark any evidence they find in the texts. After about ten minutes, we come back to the rug and share what we learned. I usually follow up by reading a simple non-fiction text that will give us a definite answer to the question posed. But sometimes I leave it open for debate!

50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Use science journals

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!

2. Use science journals

Science journals are a cheap and easy way to give your students somewhere to write down all their questions, observations, and thoughts about the world, without you having to manage lots of papers or activities. I just bought cheap notebooks and used rubber cement to glue these covers on the front. They have lasted all year. You can have students use science journals for all kinds of science-related activities, including:

  • making KWL charts at the beginning of a unit
  • recording observations about animals or plants
  • drawing what they see on a nature walk
  • writing down questions they have
  • recording results from science experiments
  • writing new facts from non-fiction books
  • reflecting on what they learned at the end of a unit

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I keep my students’ science journals where they can easily access them , and encourage them to use them however they see fit! Some teachers do very involved science journaling, which I admire and wish I had time for! I keep it simple, though, and basically use them for my students to record what they observe about the world.

Here are some places to find more info on science journaling (also called science notebooks).

The Science Penguin
Science Notebooking
Kristen’s Kindergarten
Little Miss Hypothesis
Kindergarten Kindergarten

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!