How Many Kids Can Fit Into a Cubic Meter?

     We've been studying volume lately.  I love to put together a cubic meter using some of our meter sticks.  The kids have to hold the sticks together at the vertices.  Then, we see how many students can get into the cube, kind of like the phone booth gag of years ago.
     My students particularly enjoy seeing what such a large unit cube looks like. They like to speculate how a rectangular prism of, say 3 by 2 by 4 meters would fill the room.
     I like how clearly they can see the three-dimensional characteristics of volume and, of course, how much they enjoy crowding into the meter cube!

     I mentioned that one day I'd love to have someone make a hinged or foldable or disassemble-able cube that could be put together and apart quickly and easily.  Volunteers, anyone?
Growing Grade By Grade
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Venn Diagram Power!

     The Venn diagram is simple, straightforward, and has been around for a long time.  Maybe that's why I have been bypassing it for other strategies to develop critical thinking.  Recently, though, the power of the Venn struck me again and I'll be using it more often as the powerful, engaging, critical-thinking tool that it is.
     Our science state standards ask students to compare the characteristics of various ecosystems. I wanted students to collaborate, research the ecosystems, and make a display, all within two to three class periods.  I decided to have students make their display using a Venn diagram.
     I was really pleased with the outcome. I put students in groups of three. They did their research while we were in the computer lab, but to be honest, they had a head start because we had been studying ecosystems. Their research became more focused with this activity.  I made a model display myself to demonstrate different components of a good display, such as strong content, clear handwriting, titles and labels, and even borders.  I had students make a rough draft, then gave them a piece of bulletin board paper for their final product.  You can see their results here.

    How have you used Venn diagrams?  Please consider sharing.
    Here's to the power of the Venn!
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Exponential Notation...What Does It Look Like?

     My class and I had fun making models of exponential notation, or exponential growth, using base ten blocks.  I made task cards for groups to use.  They were given a base factor to use and modeled that base as far as they could, usually to a power of between 4 and 8.  For example, one group did the powers of 2...2 to the first power (2), to the second power (4), to the third power (8), and so on.  Groups with larger base factors couldn't go quite as far as the twos!  Below are pictures of our results.

     I like this activity because it's such a strong visual for an abstract concept.  Maybe we'll pool all of our base ten blocks and see how far we can go with the same base!  Stay tuned!

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Getting Absentee Work Returned

     Do you have trouble getting students to ask for and return work when they've been absent?  It's always been a challenge for me.  I've tried a number of different ways with only moderate success.  The problem is not just having students ask for the work.  I can remind them of that.  It's also keeping an accurate record of what is whom...when...and when it's due back to me. 
     Last year, I thought about printing all of that information on each activity.  That sounded like a lot of writing!  I then thought about labels. I printed some labels with the information I needed students and parents to have for the activities.  When a child came to me for missed work, I quickly filled in the blanks. That worked for about a day.  Unfortunately, my "Teflon brain" could not remember everything I had sent out.  Frustration!
     A friend and colleague suggested using my iPhone to help!  She explained that if I quickly took a picture of the work I was giving to each child, I'd have a great record for myself with almost no work.  When the work was returned, she said, just delete the photo.  Brilliant!  You can see the system in action below.

     So, how did it work?  I'd say pretty well.  I'm thinking about trying it again this year.  It doesn't account for notes and things for which I don't have a printed sheet - and quizzes and tests will be my responsibility to find time and administer.
     Do you have a system that works for you?  Please let me know!                       
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A Few of My Favorite (Math) Things

     I've made a decision to pull out the "fun stuff" more this year.  With the focus on Common Core standards and the time spent creating them, I've rather forsaken them in the past few years.  No more!  Kids only get one chance in 5th grade and I want them to have at least pleasant memories while at the same time practicing the skills they need.
     To score as one of my favorite math things, an activity has to be rock-solid in addressing curriculum skills.  I particularly love games and activities that improve number sense.  Winning activities also need to be continually"fresh"; that is, every time students play, it should take them in a new direction.
     One of my favorite activities is the game Contig.  I did a blog post about it last year, but my kids and I love the game so much, I decided I wanted them to be able to play it at home.  I put together a class/home version this summer.  You can get it here.
     Another favorite is the Everyday Math game "Factor Captor".  It really challenges kids to use the factor/divisibility relationship. There's a beginning and an advanced game and you can find it online. 
Kids an do an awful lot of math playing games!

      I'll let you know what other favorites make their way back into the classroom this year.  What are some of your favorite things?

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The Gobstoppers Science Experiment

    While I was looking for a way to let my students practice the Scientific Process, I came across The Gobstopper Experiment.  After getting the general idea, I tweaked the activity to fit my class.  The kids loved it and I was very pleased with the way they handled themselves in the "lab" setting.
     I put together a simple sheet of directions with four diagrams, which are a main part of the activity.  After reviewing what each student should do, they collected their materials, and began.  Here's what happened:
We started with dry candies and added a little water.

 Our candies started dissolving some of their color.

Here's what the dish looks like after about 5 minutes. Isn't that cool? The colors dissolve into triangle spaces. Here's why: Each candy has a waxy coating. As they begin to dissolve evenly, the waxy coating acts as a barrier. Shhhhh...see if the kids can guess what's happening!
After another 5 minutes, it begins to look like this...and eventually the petri dish was a mass of color.

We finished writing up our experiment and put it in our notebooks.

I really like this activity for several reasons:
     First, it's really inexpensive!  Less than a whole box of Gobstoppers served both of my classes.  I had eight petri dishes and we used the bottom half, but we could have used the top half if we'd needed to.
     Second, the directions and diagrams were simple to create.  Third, it was easy to see whether students could follow "lab" procedures correctly and follow directions correctly.
     Give it a try and let me know how it works!
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