Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Monday, September 22, 2014

7 Ideas to Teach Students about Moon Phases

Here are some common misconceptions I've heard from students.
1. You can only see the moon at night.  (Let's go outside tomorrow morning and take a look.)
2. The shape of the moon changes.  (The APPEARANCE from Earth changes.)
3.  The moon does not rotate. (Dark side of the moon, anyone?)

My Massive Fail
Who has sent home the moon calendar where students are supposed to draw what the moon looks like every night?  Who has ever had 1/4 of their students complete it? I would have been thrilled at 1/4.   I tried my first two years teaching and I think maybe 2 out of 120 students did it.  The third year, I made it optional for extra credit (the ONLY time I've done extra credit).  One student took me up on that.

So clearly, students wouldn't be making these observations on their own at home and joyfully bringing in their observation sheets with their expert analysis to discuss.  Fine.  So, I took a new approach the next years.

A Different Approach
1. StarDate Website
This website will flat out show you the moon phases for each date: http://stardate.org/nightsky/moon. You can use the site to make observations and analyze patterns.

2. Oreo Vocabulary Introduction
To introduce the names of the phases, I love the Oreo activity.  Be sure that students correctly have "Light start on the right" and label "waxing" and "waning" correctly.  I have additional information in Hands-On Science Vocabulary Instruction about introducing new terms.

3. Moon PowerPoint and Styrofoam Ball Model
I love this Moon PowerPoint and Activity.  This is an old-school activity, but it sticks around because it's a good one.  You go through some basic information about phases of the moon and observe changes using a model (styrofoam ball on a pencil).

4. Visual Interactive Notebook Explanation
I love this notebook activity from Grade 5 NGSS Interactive Science Notebook Activities.  These illustrations show two things: the part of the moon that is lit by the sun at any given time AND how the moon appears from Earth.  Students need to understand that half of the moon is always lit, we just can't always see that half.

5. More Than One Cycle
Students need to understand that once the moon goes through the phases once, it begins again.  This cut and paste activity from Super Science Test Prep Lessons is great.  You can also just have students draw circles in their notebooks to show the changes in the appearance of the moon.
6. Making Predictions
In Texas, students in 4th and 5th grade need to be able to make simple predictions in the lunar cycle.  The math is pretty simple because these are just approximations, but some of my students have struggled with this.  I teach students how to make predictions for new moon, full moon, first quarter moon, and last quarter moon.

The illustration and chart below help show students that it takes approximately 15 days for the moon to revolve halfway around Earth and about 30 days for the moon to fully revolve around Earth.

While I worked with some struggling learners on making predictions, I challenged my other students with more complicated situations.

7. Clock Approach
So in the middle of an evaluation lesson my third year teaching, we were using styrofoam balls to look at a model of the lunar cycle, and a student asked, "Why is it called first quarter when we see half of it?"  Legit question, bro.  By some miracle, I was quick on my feet that day (while sweat beads dripped down my neck).  I drew a clock and showed them why we might refer to phases as "first quarter" and "third quarter" or "last quarter".

Note: Be careful with this because you don't want to confuse students as to which direction the moon revolves around Earth.  It's just an explanation as to why some phases are called "quarters".

I hope these activities help you and your students in your study of the lunar cycle!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Introducing Science Vocabulary: An Interactive Approach

The Problem

Students copy definitions from the overhead.  Yeah, that was my class.  They were quiet... but only because they were falling asleep.

About a year ago, I was sitting around thinking about science vocabulary.  (What else would I possibly think about?)  I felt like I was a strong teacher when it came to reviewing science vocabulary, but my introduction was missing something.  A lot of my struggling learners needed something more concrete, something they could get their hands on.

Last year, I taught my 5th grade students about properties of matter as our first big unit.  I remember how my struggling learners were still getting some of the parts confused.  Really confused.  We had done labs.  We had drawn pictures.  We had motions.  We had games.  But they needed something else.

In a small group, we did hands-on examples of the vocabulary terms.  Relative density, physical states, physical properties, mass, volume, all of those concepts that were so far above their heads were now in reach.  Quiz scores went up that week for those students.  They felt better; I felt better.  I vowed to do this at the beginning of units instead of waiting until it was time to re-teach.  Hands-On Science Vocabulary Instruction was born.

This was a very informal process for my class last year.  Over the summer, however, I worked to make a complete eBook with ideas, photos, and printables to introduce new science terms.

Why does this work?
  • Students with little science background knowledge get a foundation on which to base the new terms.
  • Students use Interactive Science Notebooks and complete Output for each activity to reflect on new learning.
  • The activities are quick, engaging, and to the point.
  • Direct instruction is collaborative and interactive.
  • After direct instruction, students APPLY their new learning to the activity they just did.
  • How can you understand the terms regarding solutions (solute, solvent, dissolve, mixture) if you don't really know what a solution is?
How does it work?
There are four parts to a lesson:
  1. Activity Time: Complete a brief activity (10 minutes or so).  Students draw a picture of it in their notebooks.
  2. Direct Instruction: Teach students new terms using motions, partner talk, and writing in notebooks.
  3. Application: Students go back to their drawings from the activity and label and describe parts of their drawings using their new vocabulary.
  4. Student Output: Students complete and I Learned page in their notebooks.  
What does it look like?
Let's keep with the mixtures and solutions example from earlier.

Step 1- Activity
Give students a bottle filled halfway with water.  (I add food coloring because it's more awesome.)  The students pour in sand and salt.  Put the top on and shake, shake, shake.  They put it down, let it settle, and drawing their observations.  

Step 2- Direct Instruction
Use motions and call and response (from Whole Brain Teaching) to teach new terms.  Students write definitions in their foldable or on the next notebook page.

Step 3- Application
Students go back to the page with the drawing and add labels and information using their new terms.  The part that was added is shown in the above photo on Post-its.  (Students don't need to use Post-its, necessarily, but it helps to show y'all what I mean.)

Step 4- Output
During Output, students show what they learned in any way they choose.  I have more information on my blog about Output.

Want to learn more?
Find my eBook at The Science Penguin on TpT.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Classroom Management: It's All About the Attitude

Classroom Management.  It's all about the attitude.  No, not my students' attitudes, MY attitude.
In this post, I want to share my personal journey with classroom management.
Rewards and consequences are not the center of classroom management.  You are.

The Problem
My first year teaching was rough.  The kids gave everyone in the building a run for their money and they flat out ran over me.  They didn't care about marbles, referrals, bad notes, good notes, or tokens.

My problem was the toughest cookies could give a crap about getting a yo-yo for 50 points.  It wouldn't have mattered if I had a clip chart, coupons, or cold hard cash.  Students won't care about their behavior if that's your only "go-to" when trouble knocks at the door.

I had developed a serious misconception about classroom management.  In college, we wrote out our sweet little management plans with consequences and rewards.  The kids were supposed to love school, want to earn rewards, and give up after their first warning.

Ha.  Ha freakin' ha.

I blew it that year.  And I didn't want that to every happen again.  I loved teaching, but I couldn't teach with so many issues.  I read a lot of realistic books over the summer and thought about the qualities that make a teacher good at management.  It was all in the attitude.  My classroom management improved greatly in the following years and it had nothing to do with what "management system" I used.  It had to do with my attitude.

The Solution
My focus on rewards and consequences sits far, far below my focus on attitude.  Staying upbeat about learning, not tolerating nonsense, being interested in what students are doing, and developing mutual respect with my students became #1.

Mutual respect goes a very long way.  Kids will tell you the truth.  Kids will put forth a little extra effort, just for you.  Kids will be regretful that they disappointed you.  Kids will do better.  Kids will grow as learners and people.

(Side Note: Has this worked with every student?  Almost.  Out of 70 students last year, I feel like I had almost all of them "on my side".  But there was this one student...there's always one, isn't there?  As much as I'd like to write a post about how I Stand and Deliver Dangerous Minds into Freedom Writers, I didn't with him.)

My classroom climate changed.  It wasn't me vs. them all day long.  We were on the same side pretty often.  There were issues that came up.  With 11-year-olds, that's bound to happen.  With respect on your side, you can tell a student what needs to be said about their behavior...they are just more likely to hear you.  We kept on keepin on!  It won't always be rainbows and sunshine, but we can develop positive relationships with students and they will grow!

When things aren't going so swell with my students, I ask myself some questions before going after the newest, hottest "management system".

If you want to play along, here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. What's your attitude like?
2. What are your students' attitudes like?
3. Do your students enjoy being in your class?
4. Do YOU enjoy being in your class?
5. Do you and your students have mutual respect?

I wish you all a FABULOUS school year!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Scary, Scary Output of Science Notebooks: Advice for Teachers

I get loads of questions about the Output aspect of notebooking.   {Learn more about what Output is.} If you read no further, read this:
Be flexible.

Allowing time for student output is a crucial part of science mini-lesson with notebooks.  Here is some advice I have about Output.
  • You don't have to make your students say, "I'm going to choose Acrostic for today's output." 
  • Teach them the different options for a few weeks, then set them free.
  • Model output at first.
  • Show examples of what other students are doing.  Those ideas will stay in their heads and you will see creativity increase over time.
  • Provide specific verbal feedback as you walk around.  
  • Many students will do a combination of things.  Maybe they draw and write.  Go with it!
  • Meet with students during your 10-minute Output time to check for understanding.
  • The easiest Output to start with is providing a sentence stem.
  • Drawing and doing a Quick Write about what they learned was the most popular "I Learned" page for my students.
  • You may want to encourage individual students to mix it up a bit, but forcing an Output on students doesn't end well.
  • Remember this is their time to CHOOSE how to process and apply new learning.
  • Be flexible!

    Output Idea Examples
    Four different students will have four different ideas about how to process their learning.  Output is automatic differentiation!  If the students just learned about how sedimentary rock is formed, here are four ways they might process it in their Output.

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