Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Tips to Managing an INQUIRY Based Classroom!

If you haven't heard of inquiry, then you haven't been listening at your staff meetings. Inquiry and inquiry based teaching seem like the new buzz word/phrases in education this year. Now I've been teaching for nine years and lots of words come and go, is this one here to stay? Who knows, but I can tell you I absolutely love this model of teaching. My students are thinking for themselves, engaged in their work, proud of their accomplishments, and have become better communicators! Want to try it out in your classroom? Below are FIVE tips to get started. Please note, I am not an expert, but as a newbie, I am happy to share what I learned this year!

#1. Student independence is a huge piece of inquiry. This not only refers to independent actions, but it also refers to independent thoughts. When we encourage students to think on their own, we really are encouraging them to wonder and inquire about the world around them without worrying about the right answer or what the teacher will say. When students express and explore their own thoughts, their learning takes place at a much deeper level. Creating an independent classroom environment empowers the learner, allowing them to extend their learning beyond the given task.

#2. The teacher is still involved. Keep the lesson short, don't give everything away. Allow the
students to want to create and explore questions in their heads and out loud. Let me start by saying an inquiry based independent classroom is NOT a free for all. The teacher doesn't sit behind the desk and browse Facebook all day, but instead the teacher learns with the students and checks in on groups at all times. Sometimes, during scientific investigations, I like to sit a student desk and see learning through the students' eyes. Do I stay in that one space? No, but it is a great place to blend in and really listen to student discussions.

#3. Be ready for NOISE. Self discovery is great, but students communicating and problem solving TOGETHER is even better. After all, aren't we trying to teach students content as well as life skills. So much can come from a student verbally explaining his/her thinking. Through trial and error this year, I've found out that a strong inquiry based classroom works cooperatively, understanding that two heads are better than one. Often, the teacher is the last resort resources, due to the fact that independent students enjoy seeking and finding answers on their own. 

#4. Get organized! Students will be using classroom materials and the cooperation of their peers to solve problems. When puzzled or stumped, students are able to direct themselves to a resource that will help them to solve their problem or answer their question. Accessing books or information on computers or tablets is a part of everyday life in an independent classroom. These materials should be in a consistent locations that is accessible to all students. Getting students in the routine to get their own materials is a huge step to independence. It may take double the time, but it will be worth it in the long run.

#5. Model, model, and model again! In fact, even try to role play a scenario. Some students may think it is silly, but before long, you will notice students mimicking your actions and dialogue. Getting students to speak academically to each other to find answers and gain perspective from their classmates, is a HUGE goal of mine. Seriously though, if I hear, "Can you help me get the thingy to work, my group is stuck?" one more time, I will fall over. Academic vocabulary comes from modeling everyday. Turn it into a game, have students copy down vocabulary words, role play scenarios, do anything to get the student to start speaking like a student. 

I know that seems like a dream, but I promise, it won't happen over night. Try, try, and try again. If it doesn't work the first time, refocus yourself and your class and model some more.  Just this year I stopped being so Type A, and let go of some of the control in my classroom. It is the most I've ever seen my students grow and we still have TEN weeks of school left. My fourth graders will make their fifth graders teachers proud next year! :) 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Leprechaun traps were ready and set!

My fourth graders couldn't have been more excited to receive the take home STEM optional assignment. Believe it or not, I heard a ton of positive feedback from the parents too! I have around 75 students and over 30 completed traps. On St. Patrick's Day, we all met together for a triad meeting and each student presented their trap, told about the simple machine they incorporated, and showed how a magnet would help catch a leprechaun. Each student showed amazing engineering skills and so much pride in their invention. Check out some of their projects! 

And guess what? The next day every single trap was set off, but no leprechaun was in sight! However, we guessed the leprechaun was impressed with all the creativity he saw because he left candy, stickers, tattoos, pencils, gold coins, and jewels! 

We even spotted some footprints! 😂

Overall, this project was a huge success and the students will remember it for years to come! The way they incorporated magnets and simple machines truly amazed me! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Science, Stem, and lots of Magnets!

My class is just finishing up our magnet unit and I have to say the learning that has been going on in this classroom amazes me! I am so proud of my students, and lets face it, myself too! I can honestly say now that the change from eight years of ELA to Science/Social Studies this year, might have been just the refresher I needed in my educational career. I am excited to come to work, excited to see my students wonder, learn, and discover, and am blown away by the expectations of the new NGSS

We've been drawing diagrams, collecting and analyzing data, explaining our thinking, and proving our answers. Check out this gorgeous diagram below explaining what the student learned in the static electricity center.

Some examples of our magnet centers. I will post more about them soon, I promise!

Have you heard of Gizmos? They are interactive stimulation lab activities that are awesome! They work from 4th grade all the way up through middle/high school and are math/science focused. 

Luckily Gizmos work on Chrome Books and our students love them. In one half of the picture below students are learning about materials that are attracted to magnets and other materials that are repelled by magnets. In the other half of the picture, students are discovering how to use field lines to tell if magnets will be attracted or repelled. Pretty high tech four fourth grade, isn't it! ;) 

So that's what we've been up to in the classroom over the past few weeks. I have so much more to blog about and share with you. Do you teach about magnets? My students also really enjoyed working on homework that applies directly to our current unit. I also feel that it is a great home/school connection and I received a ton of positive feedback from parents on the quick, meaningful, reading passages assigned. Check out the packet on magnets. Not only are these packets created with short passages, but also ELA standards are addressed when the student has to create a one-two sentence summary, diagram, and find choice vocabulary to help them remember the content. 


Sunday, December 13, 2015

May your Days Be Merrrrrrry and Briiiiighhhht!

I am so excited to join in on this fun giveaway. I'm sure this time is hectic for everyone, but being a full time teacher and a parent to two (three if you count my husband) needy children, half of the time, I don't know if I am coming or going.

It sure seems like my students have been eating candy canes for breakfast and pure sugar at lunch because everyday is a crazy day in my classroom. Besides everyone being sick and spreading germs, we have been trying to cruise through our curriculum. We are onto Social Studies now and having fun learning about the different cultures in the United States. 
I will talk more about that in a later post, but for now I wanted to share with you the miracle going on in my classroom. How am I keeping sane? Well let me tell you about the amazing Dollar Tree.

Do you have a Dollar Tree around you? Well if not, you can order online and in BULK!

The best thing about this store is it is a true dollar store. Everything is actually one dollar.  This really helps me out when it comes to prizes. I love that I can get 12 pencils for $1. It makes buying for 75 students much more manageable. I am all for fun celebrations, but it is just unrealistic for me to fill gift bags for 75 students or buy them all presents, but I do love surprising my students every few days with a new pencil, a fun eraser, a finger flashlight, or even a gel pen. Something so little can make a huge impact on behavior, appreciation, and attitude.

My students know I have the prizes and they have to work together as a class to earn them. Of course it's extrinsic motivation, and probably not the best idea of bribery...but it is getting me through December...alive! Plus, let's face it, by this time of the year, everyone could use some more pencils!

Do you know what else would be great? How about coming back from Christmas break and having everything planned out for you? I am happily donating a Gingerbread themed ELA Unit to this raffle below. It is one of my best sellers, great for sub plans, or an easy no-prep lesson, and the students LOVE the new information!


Fill out the raffle copter below and be sure to check out the other tips for staying "Merry and Bright" around the holiday season!

This contest runs from December 13-15! Enter below:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Scientific Explanations: The NEW Lab Report!

Are you still using the scientific method? Do your students create daunting lab reports that are carbon copies of each other? Sure some of those skills are important, but with times changing, technology taking over the world, and students being forced to think harder and deeper, we need to prepare them for more. You are probably wondering, how is this possible? Well, let me tell how science has changed this year for me. If you missed my past few post, go check them out in order here:

Force & Motion: Using Gradual Release to Foster Independence: Analyzing Data/Evidence - See more at: http://pinkadotselementary.blogspot.com/2015/11/using-gradual-release-to-foster.html#sthash.XJpPcHYh.dpuf

 I've learned a few things over the past month of school
  • Students love to be challenged, no matter their level
  • All students love Science class
  • The more time and work you put into a lesson or concept, the better the outcome
  • If you have high expectations for your students, they will reach them 
  • Collaboration and discussion are powerful tools for all students
  • You can combine math, reading, and writing into Science without even trying
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Science-Force-Motion-How-Does-Force-Affect-Motion-Scientific-Explanations-2234133My students and I have grown so much in the past month by using the claim, evidence, and reasoning writing. They love doing scientific investigations as it is, but now it makes sense to them how they can explain their thinking. They are also excited to step away from the "lab report" technique and have a chance create graphs and collaborate with peers while showing their thinking.  Our district is using this response format throughout high school, so students will have a solid start on the process after fourth grade. I'm exciting to watch them grow in their writing and science throughout the year.

Does this sound like something you'd like to try? Check out my new product! This version focuses on Force and Motion, but others will be available shortly. In this product you will find everything you need to get your students completing scientific investigations collaboratively in groups, thinking of scientific principles, and explaining their thoughts like true scientists.
Force & Motion: Using Gradual Release to Foster Independence: Analyzing Data/Evidence - See more at: http://pinkadotselementary.blogspot.com/2015/11/using-gradual-release-to-foster.html#sthash.XJpPcHYh.dpuf

Force & Motion: Using Gradual Release to Foster Independence: Analyzing Data/Evidence - See more at: http://pinkadotselementary.blogspot.com/2015/11/using-gradual-release-to-foster.html#sthash.XJpPcHYh.dpuf

Monday, November 23, 2015

Force & Motion: Using Gradual Release to Foster Independence: Choosingand Understanding Scientific Principles

If you have been keeping up with our blog you've seen my progress in writing scientific explanations. This is post #3, be sure to check out post 1 and post 2, before reading below.

The reasoning section on the scientific explanation is my favorite section. It allows me to see if the students can make sense of the information presented or not.

One way that we have had success discussing principles is by working together in collaborative groups to illustrate the principles. One of my PLC members actually came up with this idea on a whim and it was brilliant! We gave each group a small white board and a dry erase marker. As we referred to our “Scientific Principles” anchor chart, I challenged each group to come up with an illustration displaying the principle. The creativity and collaboration was amazing! I set the timer for three minutes and was completely impressed with the results. (I wish I took pictures, but I was living in the moment and completely forgot!) After the timer went off, each group showed off their illustration and a member presented and explained to the class. There were definitely some “ah hah” moments created during this quick lesson.

Another activity that we completed that worked out great was using The Owl Teacher’s Causation Cards for Force and Motion. These fit into my scientific principle section perfectly and the students had a blast while working. These task cards are almost like playing an “I have, who has” activity, but combined with a drama, humor, and learning. They discuss scientific ideas, definitions, give examples, and are full of fun. My fourth graders enjoyed this activity so much, we ended up switching cards and repeating the activity at least three times per class!

When having the students choose a principle that relates to their claim and investigation, the students have been able to pick one out pretty independently. I think they developed a deeper understanding of principles because we took time to read them, discuss them and even illustrate them. This
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Science-Force-Motion-How-Does-Force-Affect-Motion-Scientific-Explanations-2234133section in the scientific explanation can be pretty “gray” because sometimes students tend to add fluff or overlap the information they already stated in the evidence section. Sometimes my students feel so relieved that they are making sense of the investigation, they tend to write and write. I keep the space small on our worksheet to keep their answers concise. If you look at the picture of student work, you will see the student referred to our anchor chart and copied a principle down. I have the students start with a sentence starter: “This happened because in science, _______” and then state the principle. Sometimes students go a step further and explain more information or make a connection to the experiment. For example, on the reasoning section for the Box Push investigation, a student wrote, “This happened because in science, the greater the force, the greater the change in motion. The more hands that created force during the investigation, the father the box went in the given amount of time." I thought that was a great response and really showed student understanding by actually connecting the principle chosen to the investigation.  Sound interesting? Check out all of this and MORE in my new product!

Thanks for stopping by! Come back tomorrow to see how all three pieces piece together into a complete scientific explanation!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Force & Motion: Using Gradual Release to Foster Independence: Analyzing Data/Evidence

So in my last post, I talked about scientific explanation writing and the importance of teaching using the gradual release model. I talked about the first step, claim writing. You can reread or read that post <here>. Today I am moving on to the next step, evidence.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Science-Force-Motion-How-Does-Force-Affect-Motion-Scientific-Explanations-2234133When teaching the format for writing Scientific Explanations, we complete one together for reference. We start with the claim and thinking about what we want to prove. Most of the time, the claim is directly related to the standard. Next, we complete a quick scientific investigation. I have the class do a lot of thinking on their own, partner talk, and whole group discussion. Most of the time we build on each others statements and try to put our words into “kid friendly/scientific” language. In the beginning, students copy down the information from the chart paper, each time I gradually take sections away leading students to complete independence in writing their explanations following this scaffolded frame. If you want to test this out in your classroom, check out my new product up on TPT. I've been working on it for weeks and wanted to test out everything in my classroom before putting it up for sale. It will have specific instructions for writing scientific explanations as well as four different labs that are easy, engaging, meaningful, and fun! It has been a life saver for my team and I and I am finally feeling confident, planned, and knowledgeable while teaching Science.

When looking at evidence I always try to have my students look at data, discuss it into groups, and put their thoughts into words. If a student does not understand what the data means, they will not be able to explain it in writing causing a larger road block in this scientific explanation process. This year I am trying to incorporate mathematical computation and data analysis into my Science class as much as possible, so we are using, creating, and analyzing graphs whenever we can.

When students record their data on a chart, I like to give them the opportunity to create a graph. It is a huge help for some students, especially my visual learners! Sometimes we even graph whole class data. Students love this opportunity because they can see how they compare to other students who preformed the investigation. Of course we then discuss that Science is not a competition and go back to the actually meaning of the investigation.

When students take their time to explain evidence, I want them to look at their data, make sense of it, and explain it…clearly. Taking the fluff out of scientific writing is a struggle with not only my students, but also myself, but we’ve been getting better. This is a sample of a student’s evidence section from the “Box Push.”

“Every time the investigation was tested, the data showed the more force, the greater the distance. I know this because both groups showed the distance increasing because there were more people pushing the box, which equaled more force.”

I was thrilled with response. The only thing that would have made this better was putting actual numbers in the answer from the data chart. Even so, this was a huge step for this group of fourth graders. #soproud

Come back tomorrow to read about using scientific principles in an explanation and also to see how to get students familiar and testing the principles.