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All Hands-On Science: Make a DNA Model!

As part of our genetics studies, we had a parent volunteer visit our classroom and help us make DNA models. Our helpful mom briefly explained how the different combinations of all traits come from the DNA strands.

She supplied students with chenille sticks: full-length sticks and some cut into thirds. 

We folded two of the short sticks together to make the "rungs" of the DNA ladder. then 

We attached the rungs to the full-length sticks, twisting to secure. Finally, we gave the entire DNA ladder a gentle twist. 

It was a great hands-on model of a concept that can be nebulous for kids.

Growing Grade By Grade
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In Case You Missed It: A Fun and Effective Math Tool - Bracelets!


What teaching tasks make you heave a sigh and pray for strength? Finding that evidence in the text? Test prep? Getting a name on the paper? Or...

Basic math facts, you say? Let me just say, this is one of mine.

I know that basic math facts are important. Knowing them fluently is evidence of number sense and is a powerful tool.

But they can be a struggle to teach and to learn. From addition to subtraction, right through multiplication and division, mastery of those essential little concepts can elude the best teacher and student.

First, The Method

Enter fact families! Fact families look at the relationships between number "families", or groups. They look like this:

Understanding the relationships between these number families addresses the concepts underlying the facts. It is great for developing number sense

Next, A Fun, Fashionable, and Effective Tool

You can't work on basic math facts all the time. What can students do when they're not actively working on a learning those facts?  Fact Family Bracelets!  They are a fun, portable, and social way to get extra practice!
kids with arm bracelets

To prepare the bracelets, copy one set per child onto card stock and laminate.  Cut apart only as needed, depending on the families that the student needs to learn. Tape a bracelet around the child's wrist.  

Encourage your student to practice saying or writing the four related math facts whenever they have a few minutes. When a fact family is mastered, you can tape the bracelet into a math journal or onto a display board to admire.  Then, on to the next bracelet!

Invite The Gang!

Share what you're doing with your school!  Encourage other teachers, administrators, and volunteers to ask the child what the bracelet is about.  How encouraging for a child when the principal or another adult shows interest in what they're learning as they stop and talk to him/her...based on their really cool bracelet!

If you'd like to try out Fact Family Bracelets, you can find them here. I'd love to know how they work for your students! Best wishes!      

Growing Grade By Grade
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Big Concept...Easy Display

     One of the foundational concepts of our science curriculum is...where do we get energy?  We can trace it all the way back to the sun!  I keep this small display up in the classroom all year and we refer to it often.  It really does seem to give students a "home base" from which to work.

     Do you have a small display that makes a big impact?  Share it with us!

Growing Grade By Grade
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How To Create Global Learners With New Languages

     My students are growing into global learners. One thing we do is dabbling in new languages. I designed our Language Board as a template. All I have to do is insert the correct phrases for the English equivalents.

     We spend about six weeks on each language, including Spanish, French, and German.  We're fortunate to have students and parents who speak these Spanish and German and who love to help out. I also supplement with online phrase generators.  Can you think of another language that we might include?

     What do you do to develop global learners?

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New Students...or Visitors?

     Wow, what a great science class today!  A parent guest-speaker brought in several live specimens for my students to learn about. They included a hissing cockroach, a millipede, a ball python, a corn snake bred to a reddish color - hence, his name "Lava" - 2 guinea pigs, and a gecko.

     Our very experienced parent presenter let students touch and enjoy and ask questions.  It was a great day for all of us!   Do you have guest speakers who come to your class?  Tell us about it!
Ball python

Corn snake bred to a reddish color.

Hissing cockroach

Growing Grade By Grade
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Where is Worksheet City?

     I've found a way to remind students that I expect certain behaviors during our most active, hands-on activities.  This works especially well when using science equipment or manipulatives. 

     I begin by reminding them that our manipulatives are "tools, not toys" and are to be treated with care and respect.  I then tell them that anyone who chooses to misuse materials or not follow directions will earn a one-way ticket to "Worksheet City". 

     This means that, instead of the fun, hands-on activity we're all engaged in, that person will have to do a boring worksheet or two to learn the same thing.   So far this year, no one has hopped that train and there was only one customer last year! 

     This is meant to be a low-stress, class-joke way of encouraging correct behavior while still having real consequences.  Do you have a similar system in your classroom?

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The "Suds" Experiment...Not What You Think!

My kids loved this experiment where we asked, "Which dish soap makes the most suds?"  Through discussion, they decided that the most suds was the best cleaner.  Not sure if that's true, but I went with it!

     I put students in groups of four and every person had an empty water bottle. I provided four brands of dish soap. They had to decide who was using each brand.

     Their written directions told them to add 1/2 cup of water to the bottle and 2 drops (not 2 squirts) of one of the dish soaps I provided. They closed their bottle and shook for 15 seconds, then measured the height of their suds.  They recorded the data for everyone in their group for comparison.

     I love teaching kids how to analyze data. Analysis is basically making true statements about their conclusions. For this activity, I required at least two analysis statements. Their conclusion was to answer the original question.

     You can get a FREE copy of the Student Write-Up for the Suds Experiment by subscribing to my newsletter. It gives you access to my FREE Resource Library! The write-up has teacher information and a front-to-back student sheet. It looks like this.

     Yes, we had fun! We also followed the Scientific Method and it was a real-life product comparison activity. Who could ask for more? I found this great, almost free, experiment on Pinterest this summer, but I don't know who to, thanks to whoever posted this!

Growing Grade By Grade
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Make A Rules of Divisibility Flip Book

     It's time to learn the Rules of Divisibility as part of our study of factoring! We factored all of the numbers from 1-100. We discovered what makes a number prime or composite

     We combined what we discovered in a layer book. You can find directions to make the book here. Each page, or layer, has a number on it. When you lift the flap, you find the rule for that number. I used the last page to emphasize a "Major Math Concept", which you can see in the picture.  I try to drive home the relationship between factors and divisors.  

     The kids are actually referring to it frequently, which makes me happy!  

     Who else has used a tool like this for math?

Growing Grade By Grade
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A Simple Team-Building Routine With Big Results


     I learned this team-building strategy from a fellow teacher and adapted it for my 5th graders.  

     I call it "Triple H"- it stands for "Hug, Handshake, or High Five".  Every Friday as my students are lined up to go home and I'm telling them good-bye, each child and I share one of the three gestures - student choice.  OK, we also add fist bumps as a choice, but that ruins the acronym!   

     Triple H gives me a chance to let the kids know that even if we've hit bumps in the road during the week we are still a family and I care for them.  

     I've always been too focused on getting academics covered in the classroom and I really needed a custom or ritual like this. I'd heard that the single most important indicator of success for a child is the relationship with the teacher. A regular team-building activity or ritual would strengthen our classroom family. 

     I like that Triple H is not invasive, the student gets to choose what we share, and I have a moment with each individual. What has been surprising to me is the number of hugs I get! Both girls and boys seem to value giving and receiving a hug before the weekend. 

     We used Triple H for most of a year. I believe that my kids appreciated the weekly check-in. I was really touched one Friday when I'd been out for a meeting. I returned to campus right at dismissal and waved at a group of my students who were waiting for rides. Two students waved back anxiously and said, "We didn't get to do Triple H! Can we do it Monday?"

     Do you have a classroom custom like this?

Growing Grade By Grade
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The Order of Operations: A Global Collaboration Tool


     When I ask, "What is the order of operations?", many of my students chant, "PEMDAS!" or "Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally!"  While this is a way to remember the steps in the algorithm, this is one of those concepts where I want students to fully understand not just how to do it, but why we use it.
     We discuss examples of doctors, mathematicians, and scientists around the world wanting to work together to solve big problems, but coming up with different answers.  It helps kids see that, if everyone is on the same page, we have a common language and we can truly collaborate.

     This is why I call the order of operations a global collaboration tool. It's a globally accepted definition and the order in which all mathematicians calculate operations. It allows us to work together toward common goals.

     Download this FREE readable that helps kids understand more about the order of operations. It's full of information and classroom help.

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Having Fun Learning About The Scientific Process

     Our first science activity of the year was "How many drops of water can you fit on a penny"?   We discussed the steps of the Scientific Method: 

  • Set a Purpose or Ask A Question 
  • Research 
  • Hypothesize
  • Experiment
  • Record and Analyze Data
  • Draw A Conclusion  

     Materials are inexpensive and readily available: 

  • napkin
  • dropper
  • penny
  • a cup of water to share at the table

      I like this activity for so many reasons. It quickly gives students experience with the Scientific Method, it leads to other questions, such as, "Why does the water look like a bubble? or Why does it take so long for the water to spill off the penny?", it gives them experience using equipment, and because they like it!  Happy Science!

Growing Grade By Grade
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How To Have A Winning Estimation Jar!

       My students love it our weekly Estimation Jar! The competition motivates them and, up until this year, so did the candy treat for the closest estimate!  

     This year, I'll try more inedible treats like I've seen on TpT and Pinterest. Winning a pass to sit with a friend, extra computer time, or permission to take off your shoes really motivates my kids.

What To Estimate

     I rotate between the Standard and Metric systems. I hit all of the attributes: length, capacity, and weight for Standard; length, volume, and mass for Metric. We estimate things like:
     I fill the Estimation Jar each Monday and write a specific question on a student slate. I often tape a tablespoon, ruler, or cup to the jar to help students visualize.  A pail of blank papers and a pail for each homeroom class completes the arrangement.

     Note: Some items are better displayed where kids can handle them. For Standard weight and Metric mass, I might use a stapler or a book. I would tape an ounce or gram chip for them to use for comparison.

     Each Friday, I quickly put all the guesses in order by homeroom. We discuss the question and some of the answers before I announce the winner. My students really look forward to it. I believe it strengthens their measurement and estimation skills. The regular practice keeps it uppermost in our minds.

     Consider an Estimation Jar for your classroom. You'll see it help strengthen your students' math skills.  Start counting!

Growing Grade By Grade
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Take Attendance AND Lunch Count In One Step!

     Nothing chaps my hide like when the office calls to remind me to send in my attendance and lunch count. I get so mad at myself that I can't find a way to remember this daily chore.
     I'm trying this idea to take attendance and count lunch choices in one step.  On the side of a filing cabinet, I taped the "School Lunch" and "Lunch Box" signs, plus the dividing lines.  I wrote student names on colored craft sticks and added a piece of magnetic tape to the back. 

     As students arrive each morning, they will place their craft stick in the correct area.  I'll know who is absent if a stick is not moved.  We'll see how it works!

Growing Grade By Grade
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A Class Community Idea: Drop a Note for a Friend!

     I've found a class community idea that lets students report bullying, feel supported, and speak up for someone else.
     Our classroom "Drop a Note for a Friend" box gives students a low-risk way to share concerns about any bullying incidents they may be aware of and any instances of unkindness. The incidents can be directed at the reporting child him/herself or someone else.

   The anti-bullying program at our school teaches that "silent witnesses", the ones who are aware of bullying incidents but don't report them, are just as harmful - and accountable - as the bullies.

     The box is simple. I just repurposed a tissue box with a printed sign. It's in an out-of-the-way spot by my desk, so students can let me know what is happening to them or to others by dropping a note into the box without others seeing them do it. 

     Drop A Note For A Friend serves three purposes: 

1) the reporting student feels safer 

2) being aware allows me to keep an eye on specific situations and do a little friendly questioning

3) actual incidents get reported more frequently  

     Will I get some unsubstantiated claims?  It's possible, so being aware is even more important.  I like knowing that my students can communicate with me on this important issue.

     What do you do in your classroom to counter bullying and empower students?

     Subscribe to my newsletter and get access to more ideas, tips, and strategies for your classroom!
Growing Grade By Grade
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Easy and Affordable: A 21st Century Lesson

     An easy and affordable way to integrate math, social studies, and 21st-century global awareness is to display several clocks, each one representing the time in another time zone. The large clock in my classroom is the one provided by the school. The smaller ones were $4 or $5 each at a dollar store or Wal-Mart.  Choose several different spots on the globe and find the time on a site such as  Add labels and you're done!

     Discussing time zones and calculating time can be several lessons.   It can also be a brain break when you ask questions such as (using my clocks below): 
  • When we go to lunch, what time will it be in London?   
  • What do you think students in California are doing right now?  
  • When students in Beijing go to bed, what are we doing?  
  • What are we doing when English students are having lunch?  
The possibilities are endless and fun!

(Looks like California is losing a little time; need to fix that!)

Growing Grade By Grade
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Easy Back to School Bulletin Boards and Displays

     It's time to get ready for the new year!  This interactive bulletin board in the hallway outside my classroom displays inspirational quotes.  The bottom sign encourages students to write their feelings about any quote.  You'll see a little "pen pocket" to the right.

     Last year, I used a "Math Graffiti" theme for the whole year and changed out the question every few weeks (pics below).  I got a lot of interesting responses all year long!

Some of my favorite quotes!

Students (and teachers) can add their thoughts below.

Other captions might ask: What's your favorite number and why?  Write a fact about yourself that uses numbers. 

I'd love to hear about your bulletin boards!

Growing Grade By Grade
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