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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Making an Inference: Are You Prepared to Take the Flying Leap?

Humans have the uncanny ability to grab a few pieces of seemingly unrelated evidence then leap headlong to a startling revelation. An inference! Awesome!

As I searched for a picture for this post, I stumbled across an old book written (and illustrated) by Mark Twain: Sketches Old and New. Alas, he had drawn the perfect frog! Looking a little closer, I saw that the frog was indeed "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." That piqued my interest.

One thing led to another, and soon I sat in front of an adaptation of the story with a couple of inference questions. This little activity, which you can nab for free from my Teachers pay Teachers store, will give your students some practice at grabbing evidence and taking that flying leap. I hope you enjoy it!
Common Core State Standards RL.4.1, RL.5.1, RL.6.1

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March Equinox

Spring is coming to the northern hemisphere! As this two-minute video demonstrates, many people fail to understand why seasons occur. Let's take a look at some educational resources to help your students grasp the science behind the vernal (spring) equinox.

The equinox will occur on March 20th at 16:57 UTC. You can find some basic information (and the local time of this phenomenon) at For a more thorough explanation, go to Equal Day and Night - But Not Quite.

The equinox offers a perfect opportunity to explore latitude, longitude, and how the path of Earth around the sun creates seasons. Since my fourth graders already studied the autumnal equinox in September, we will simply review latitude and longitude and watch a five-minute video, The Changing Seasons. If you'd like complete lesson plans, try Tilting Into the Seasons by Deborah Cubillos. Scholastic also offers Internet Resources for Teaching the Vernal Equinox and Science Myth: Can You Balance an Egg on the Spring Equinox?

To see how sunlight is distributed across the globe on the vernal equinox, take a peek at the daylight clock offered by My students are mesmerized by this!

Welcome, Spring!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Two furry white creatures joined our classroom. That's right: rats!

Chubz and Cheekz were an instant hit! Their friendly, gentle natures (not to mention cute little faces and soft fur) made them the perfect classroom pets.

Our class was participating in the Great Grow-Along, developed by the Dairy Council of the Midwest. With the arrival of two female albino rats from the same litter, my students became animal caretakers and scientists studying the benefits of drinking milk. They loved it!

To begin the experiment, each student generated a scientific question and a hypothesis. Then we followed this procedure:

Week 1 - Introducing Grains
Both rats eat oatmeal. The control rat drinks whole milk, and the treatment rat drinks sugar water (with the same caloric value as the milk).

Week 2 - Introducing Fruits and Vegetables
Both rats eat oatmeal, fruit, and vegetables. The control rat drinks whole milk, and the treatment rat drinks sugar water.

Week 3 - Introducing Meats
Both rats eat oatmeal, fruit, vegetables, and meat. The control rat drinks whole milk, and the treatment rat drinks sugar water.

Week 4 - The Big Switch
Both rats eat oatmeal, fruit, vegetables, and meat. The control rat switches to sugar water, and the treatment rat drinks whole milk.

Over the course of the experiment, we studied nutrients and My Plate. Students wrote descriptive (Images of Our Rat), narrative (A Story About a Rat), persuasive (Can I Have a Rat?), and Informative (Facts About Rats) pieces. We discussed controls (litter mates, same diet, same cage, same bedding, etc.) and variable (milk versus sugar water). Students used balance scales to mass the rats and rulers to measure their tails. They completed tables and graphs. Educational opportunities were limitless!

As you can see from the tables and graphs below, the results clearly showed that drinking milk helps rats grow. (If you ignore the tail data, which was skewed by wiggling rats...)

If you're up for an educational adventure, check into the Great Grow-Along! Contact your county extension office or local branch of the American Dairy Association for information.

Note: I do not recommend trying this activity with rats from a pet shop. For safety reasons, only use rats bred in a sterile laboratory setting.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pi Day - 3.14

My fourth graders are in for a surprise on Friday. We're going to celebrate Pi Day!

To introduce this elusive little number, students will move around the room with tape measures to find the circumference and diameter of various circles (paper plates, lids to various containers, etc.) They'll divide the circumference of each circle by its diameter then find the average ratio to discover pi on their own. (You can grab this freebie by clicking here.)

After I disclose the name of the number they've discovered, we will watch a fun video, Calculating Pi with Real Pies, by Numberphile (3 minutes). Next, we'll create a large bulletin board to display the history of pi from 1700 to 1950 (before computers).

Each student will receive a card with a date, name, place, and contribution. He/she will use reference materials to find the location and color it on the card. Together, we will create an 11-foot timeline to show how people from all over the world have worked for thousands of years to determine the exact value of pi.

The final activity will allow students to learn more about tally tables, frequency tables, and line plots by analyzing the first 100 digits of pi.

Celebrating Pi Day will be such fun! Wont' you join us?