Follow on Bloglovin

Thursday, February 27, 2014

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Is there any truth to that? Let's find out!

To involve students in a scientific experiment, we'll start with a question, like "Will temperatures at the end of March be higher than temperatures at the beginning of the month?" Students will then make a prediction, or hypothesis.

To practice reading a thermometer, we can ask pairs of students to measure the temperature at a specific time each day (or the temperatures can be located online). Each student will record the temperatures (and perhaps the weather conditions too) on a calendar.

At the end of the month, we can create bar or line graphs to display our findings. My fourth graders are ready to find average weekly temperatures, but younger children may simply graph the five Monday temperatures for a great comparison.

I'm excited about trying this experiment in my classroom. And I'm thrilled to welcome Spring! Curiosity got the best of me, so I took a peek at the temperatures for the first few days of March. Brrr! Definitely fierce. C'mon, Spring!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Geometric Solids

Kids love working with three-dimensional shapes! Yesterday I introduced prisms, pyramids, and other shapes.

My less-than-perfect drawings provided visuals.

Each student built several shapes using toothpicks and jelly beans. I explained that the jelly beans represented vertices (points where two edges intersect) and the toothpicks represented edges (line segments where two faces intersect). Faces could be determined by holding an index card against a two-dimensional side.

Hint: Use round toothpicks. They don't break as easily.

Their exploration of each shape was recorded on a sheet like this:

It was a simple, one-day activity that provided lots of learning and some fun along the way.

Monday, February 17, 2014

When Will All of This Snow Melt?

I look out my window and think, "When will all of this snow be gone?" Although we are supposed to get three to five more inches of the white stuff this afternoon, I know spring is on its way.

At this time of year, it's fun to guess when the snow will be gone. Today I will challenge my students to predict the date that will happen. You can grab this table for use in your class too.

I'll make my prediction public here and now: March 10th for my town in northwest Indiana. (Now I'm not saying that it won't snow anymore after that...)

Check out this map to see the current snow depth in your area and let the predicting begin!

C'mon, Spring!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Writing About Theme

What is theme? Is it a lesson, a concept, a message, or an idea? Is theme owned by the author or the reader? Can a literary work have more than one theme? Can a theme have more than one word?

Since I teach fourth grade, I try to keep it simple. We begin with "The Three Little Pigs." At this early stage in the game, I tell my students that theme is a message from the author, but not all readers will receive the same message. Any theme, however, must supported by at least three connected details. Here are some possibilities for "The Three Little Pigs."

Connected Details
  • The first two pigs didn't spend much time making their houses.
  • The third pig carried heavy bricks and carefully stacked them into a solid house.
  • The wolf blew down the first and second pigs' homes, but the third pig's house was unharmed.
Theme: Taking your time to do something right pays off.

Connected Details
  • The wolf was mean to the little pigs.
  • He blew down two pigs' houses.
  • At the third house, the wolf went down the chimney and got burned by the hot water in the pot.
Theme: If you are mean to others, you will be punished in the end.

Connected Details
  • The first pig doesn't protect himself well with his house of straw.
  • The second pig doesn't protect himself well with his house of sticks.
  • The third pig protects himself well with his house of brick.
Theme: Protection

The third theme uses a single word. This allows me to talk to my students about the fact that some teachers will want a one-word theme. In fact, each of the other themes can be translated to one word. "Taking your time to do something right pays off" could be translated to "industry." And "retribution" could be used instead of "If you are mean to others, you will be punished in the end." For nine- and ten-year old students, however, the longer phrases make more sense.

In my mind, the theme of the Common Core State Standards for Reading: Literature is "constructed response." (Just a little CCSS humor.) Therefore, I believe students should know how to determine and defend themes. Here's an example:

I ask my students to state the theme as the topic sentence, write the supporting evidence as detail sentences, use linking/order words to connect thoughts, mention/cite the text, and conclude with a personal insight. 

After "The Three Little Pigs," my students practice finding themes in simple fables and fairy tales. Here's a freebie for you. It features an Indian fairy tale entitled "How Sun, Moon, and Wind Went Out to Dinner." Simply click on one of the images to grab it for your classroom.

I hope these ideas and resources help you teach theme in your classroom!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Writing a Summary

Summarizing can be so B-O-R-I-N-G! How can teachers give it a little kick?

My students had just finished reading By Freedom's Light, written by Elizabeth O'Maley. The materials for our summarizing activity (CCSS RL.4.2) stared up at me:

I was happy with the first sheet, but the second was just another blank page (that I jazzed up a bit with some clip art). My fourth graders would be less than thrilled, and I wasn't really looking forward to grading them either.

What could I do to spice up this activity? Since they love to collaborate, I thought about completing the first page in groups of three. Yes, that would work. They could debate about the central problem (Sarah hated her stepmother or Sarah faced a moral dilemma on the issue of abolition) and main events. That would get them involved and thinking.

Still, the second sheet seemed too dull. Then it struck me---focus on different purposes for summarizing! I decided to give each student a role: a critic writing a book review, a blogger offering a summary, and a publisher penning a book promo.

I held my breath as my students tackled this activity. Once everyone had settled into their groups, the debating began, just as I anticipated. They haggled (and used rocks-paper-scissors) to determine who got which role then began writing their summaries with enthusiasm. It worked! 

Reminder to self: even the most dreary lesson can be given new life when students are given opportunities to collaborate and choose.

In closing, I'd like to recommend By Freedom's Light for your fourth, fifth, or sixth grade classroom. Set in the mid-1800's near Richmond, Indiana, this little-known historical fiction novel draws the reader into the life of Sarah, a girl struggling with legal and moral implications of slavery, abolition, and especially the Underground Railroad. As a bonus, the Indiana Historical Society has posted a free 55-page novel unit by Nicole Meyers. It offers oodles of excellent activities. Enjoy!