Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thick and Thin Questions

Throughout the year I have been really trying to stress, model, expect, provide examples, etc., of higher order thinking questions...ugh! I went over to It can be like talking to the wall. I can pull my hair out sometimes. That's when I headed over to Hello Literacy (I love this site). You can read more about my post here.

I have those posters posted front and center in my classroom. They are fabulous! I still needed a chart that they could reference at all times, even at home. I went searching on the Internet for an anchor chart that I could also display permanently and continuously add to for reference. I found one on Pinterest (it says from, but I'm unable to link to it to credit properly).

The chart is simple, straight forward, and easy to manage. We discussed the importance of getting those gears spinning in our brains to really dig deep and create lasting learning experiences. Some of my students immediately made reference to our order thinking posters.(Yippee!) I don't know about your kiddos, but food always seems to make lasting learning in my class. Therefore, I made them think about a meal that they have had and that was very memorable or made an impression in their minds. We talked about the why's of such an event. I then showed them a picture of a "thin" hamburger and if any of them wanted one--of course all the hands go up. I then showed them a picture of a "thick" and juicy looking hamburger and asked who would prefer that one--all the hands went up with a roar.

This led to a "deep"--5th grade level conversation about how questions have the same impact on our brains, and how our brains NEED the "thick" hamburgers to really learn things and make them have lasting impressions at a deeper level. Lastly, and most importantly for my kiddos, I had them copy the chart in their Language Arts notebook. Now when they have to come up with questions of their own at home and in class they have a point of reference along with our other posters. In class, I always ask them if the question is "thin" or "thick", and they quickly modify if necessary. I know it is difficult to believe that a simple chart and posters have made such a difference, but they have. (Even my principal was impressed at their level of questioning one day as she made her rounds :))

Gingerbread Christmas T-shirt, Pencil Topper, etc.

I don't know about you, but this school year is absolutely flying by and I don't seem to ever have enough time to do everything I want to get done with my kiddos. What I am getting done, no matter what, is my kiddos monthly t-shirt and pencil based on whatever theme/holiday we decide on (and the only reason these are getting done is because I have the best mom-volunteer that does most of the work!).

This month we decided to go with a gingerbread theme, and I was a bit worried my 5th grade boys were going to moan and complain. Well, I was very wrong. They were as excited as my girls to wear their shirts and have their picture taken--they are too cute.

 Gingerbread Boy

 Gingerbread Girl
Can you believe it is all fabric paint? They look very shimmery and colorful.  

Gingerbread Pencils

The pencils are made from tan felt, some pillow stuffing, and fabric paint. We were so into the gingerbread theme we decided to make their yearly Christmas frame of little gingerbread (about 6in. tall). The frames are made from felt, wiggly eyes, and more fabric paint. Their faces will be in the tummy section. 

Gingerbread Frames

We also made them stockings in the shape of Gingerbread girl and boy. They look so adorable. My kiddos say that they hang all the past stockings around their home for Christmas...aaahhh.

Gingerbread Stocking

I know we went Gingerbread CRAZY, but my kiddos loved it and therefore I loved it. Next week we are going to be eating gingerbread cookies (I love the ones carried by Trader Joe's) with hot chocolate on Pajama Day. I just can't wait!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Water Planet-Solar System

We have begun our study of the Solar System, which will include Earth's water cycle and weather currents. To following are some activities we have done so far:

1. Characteristics of the Planets--the students worked in groups of 4 to sort and classify the pictures of the planets any way they saw fit. Some classified by color, some by size, etc. I then had them classify the planets by their composition. This led to introducing them to the terms terrestrial and gas giants. 

2. Planets in Order---In groups they placed the planets in order by looking at the back of the picture card and identifying the distance from the sun.  We then discussed the inner (terrestrial) and outer (gas giants) planets and how they were separated by the Asteroid Belt  and the Kuiper Belt at the end of our solar system.

3. Expert Groups---each group was to become an "expert" on a planet. They read a sheet with information about their planet. They were to highlight any pertinent information and take notes in their science journal. I then gave them a large chart paper for them to write, draw and display any information they thought was the most important for the whole class to know. As a group, they selected 2 presenters to teach the class about their planet. This gave them each an opportunity to work on the chart based on their own type of intelligence. While the group presented, the class took notes and asked the presenters questions. I was impressed with their charts and with their eagerness to ask clarifying questions.
Students in Groups

Students' Charts

4. Planets on display---the students took all the information they had learned and created a foldable (I got the idea on Pinterest). They got to color the planet template I found online, placed the planets in order, and had to write at least 5 pieces of information on each planet that they thought was very important.

5. Gravity (Isaac Newton)---there is a great investigation in our FOSS Science kit to demonstrate gravity.  They thought it was hilarious that this great idea came from an apple falling on his head. I was able to reiterate the importance of observations and that they NEVER know when they will have an extraordinary breakthrough that will change all of our lives. The investigation uses a ball and string being swung overhead to demonstrate Newton's first law of motion: every object maintains constant speed and remains in a straight line unless gravity (push/pull is exerted on it)--in very simple kid language. This led to discussing the gravitational pull that the sun exerts on the planets and vice-versa.

6. Pendulum Swinger (Galileo Galilie) --this fun and engaging investigation is also from our FOSS Science kit. We discussed Galileo's great contributions to science with the use of the telescope and from research from Copernicus. Students then got the opportunity to test out one of Galileo's observation while he was at Church. They built a pendulum, counted the cycles, and drew conclusions from their investigation. In the process they learned about variables. This was truly learning in action! They realized that everyone was getting different results with the same materials and length of string. They then realized (on their own!) that mass, length of string, and release position all effected the data. We standardized all these variables to have consistency and "true" results. Students then had the opportunity to test out other variables and graphing their results. Their conclusion was that the longer the swing the less cycles and the shorted the string the more cycles the pendulum would complete.  

We were fortunate enough to have the CA Science Center a rail ride away. We saw up-close the magnificent site of the Shuttle Endeavour. We walked around and under it a couple times. We were are perplexed at the material on the exterior of the shuttle, therefore we read more on it. It was truly an exceptional learning experience.

Shuttle Endeavour

What do you do to engage your students learning of the solar system?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Early Explorers

We have been sooo busy. For the last four weeks we have been learning about the early European explorers that set out across the ocean blue. We learned about new inventions, such as the printing press, mapmakers, navigational tools, vessels, crews, lands, peoples, and animals never before seen by European eyes. We learned about what they did and their explorations in search for cities of gold, riches, the fountain of youth, and conquering of new lands and peoples. Some major explorers such as Columbus, Cabata, Cortes, Polo, and Vespucci...just to name a few. The students found it very interesting, especially the part of planting the flag down in the ground and claiming that land for a faraway country. They were outraged at the enslavement and treatment of the natives. They were inspired by the braveness of the explorers.

To sum up their learning, they created a tri-fold presentation of one the explorers. They had to include a flag from the sponsoring country, a timeline, a journal entry, create a model of something of the time, and write a short biography with early life details, sponsoring country, what they "discovered", and any other interesting facts they deemed important. I was very pleased with the results--they learned and had fun--yippee!

 I have included a copy of the instructions that were sent home. I hope it helps. Just click on the picture below to get your copy.

What activities do you do for early explorers? 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Authors Visit our School

Today was such an exciting day! We had the amazing privilege to have author Mary Ting visit our school, talk with us about the importance of writing and reading, and have our books autographed. The best part is that Mrs. Ting is getting ready to publish her next book and our students have the unbelievable  opportunity to be the illustrators of this new book. Now that is FANTASTIC! That kind of opportunity does not come around that often (if ever).  Imagine, how the chose kiddos will feel to see their published illustrations in a book that can be read all over the world. WOW. I can't wait to see who gets chosen.

  Big Things Come in Small Packages is all about the daily adventures of Zoey and her friends Katie, Abby, Megan, and Nathan. I love that the story is told from Zoey's perspective, because children can very easily relate. Our kiddos find themselves struggling to meet our expectations and being the age they are. It is so difficult being a kid--you're not an adult and you're not a baby. This book discusses very serious issues for children from daily problems they face, how to stick up for themselves using their words, and that big things can come in small packages. The dialogue is catchy and very humorous. My kiddos were constantly cracking up. The kiddos especially loved that all the illustrations were from students at Mrs. Ting's former school. I above all love how you can use it for many reading lessons--dialogue, show not tell, plot, chronological events, word choice, humor, realistic fiction elements, etc. It is such an easy and smooth read. I highly recommend this book. 

The week after Thanksgiving break, we had the honor of having another author visit at our school. Her name is E G Ryan

She is the author and illustrator of some adorable children's books that have colorful illustrations, endearing characters, and great themes. She read a couple of her books to our students and talked about her routines as a writer. She talked with the kiddos about where she gets her ideas, how she incorporates her family and friends in the illustrations, and the importance of reading.

I really liked The Dreamies, because of the importance of kids to get out and play. The importance of balance in our lives is what hit home for me. As my journey with my current kiddos is slowly coming to an end this June, and as I prepare to go back down to kinder/first (?), I am definitely going to start getting my hands on her collection. It will make an excellent author study.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Boogie" Juice

Halloween was a day to top it all off. We celebrated by brewing some "boogie" juice. We gathered all of the ingredients and a s a class decided on what to name our items:
  • orange soda= mutant pumpkin vomit
  • orange sherbet= brain swirl
  • pineapple juice= moon juice
  • plastic skulls= victims
  • scooper= monster claw
  • condensed sweet milk (I find this too sweet, so I decided not to add it)

Before you make the concoction, have some Halloween music playing in the background. It definitely adds to the atmosphere. First, place a whole can of pineapple juice in a large bowl. Second, add 1/4 of the orange soda. Third, add four or five very large scoops of the ice cream. Finally, for the grand finale, add the skulls. Swirl everything around and see it get foamy. The kids LOVED it and the aroma of the mixture is delicious. I gave every kiddo a cup with a small scoop of ice cream filled with the mixture of the bowl. They each got a skull with both a spoon and a straw.  All you kept hearing was, "This is the best!" Of course this makes me feel like I made their day!

Other years, I call this concoction the witches' brew. I place all the items in a cauldron, add gummy worms (or any other gruesome gummy I can find), and serve it in colored cups. There are many variations online, but I find this one works the best.

These are great activities that allow for writing to be engaging and meaningful. They will be adding this recipe to their 5th grade Holiday Recipes. By the end off the year, I hope to bind their recipes together like a cookbook so that they have recipes they can do again and as a nice keepsake of 5th grade.

What is your favorite Halloween activity to do with the kiddos?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Caramel Apples

Tomorrow is Halloween! Yippee! Like I have said before, I love the holidays for all the fun activities you can do. Today we made caramel apples. They were absolutely delicious.

The students were asked to bring in their favorite kind of apple washed in a baggie I provided. I brought a crock-pot from home and placed the caramel to melt on low. The room smelled unbelievably scrumptious. When it was time, we all gathered around the crock-pot. I dipped the apple in the caramel one at a time. They then rolled their apples in crushed peanuts (make sure no one has any allergies to peanuts). The echoes of "yum-yum" made me very happy. I knew they were having a grand old time. I also found out that a couple of my students had never tried caramel apples before.

This is the reason I still believe in "fun" activities. I take so much for granted, and so many of my students do not have these experiences. So if it means I have to give up my lunch to provide them with these memories, let it be.

Tomorrow we will be making "boogie juice". I know my students are eager to experience that. I know, I know, sugar overload...but lots of fun! 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Frankenstein Pudding

Some of my fondest childhood memories were the cookery activities I would do with my family and at school during the holiday season. There is so much content that needs to be covered in the day, so much more being pushed in (mind you the school-day is not getting longer), and little to no time for activities that are plain fun.

My students usually come up to the room for lunch time. With Halloween just a few days away, we decided that we would make our Frankenstein Pudding faces during lunch. We used vanilla instant pudding, 1 package of Oreo cookies, and green food coloring.

Very EASY Steps:
  1. make the vanilla instant pudding in a large bowl
  2. add food coloring
  3. have students crush 2 Oreo cookies (without the filling) in a baggie
  4. students draw a face on their cups using a Sharpie
  5. fill up their cups with pudding
  6. finally they add their hair (Oreos)

 Sorry about the half eaten face, I forgot to take a picture before they began to chow down.

 The faces were so cute. The "hair" on top was too funny. They really got a kick out of that.

As you can see from the photos, they had lots of fun. Many times I tend to forget that being in 5th grade doesn't mean they no longer care for silly activities. They are young children with very high expectations on them. This activity was their "massage". We are now trying to figure out an easy, yet delicious, cookery activity for November. Any ideas?

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