Thursday, July 24, 2014

Filtering Soil

I'm supposed to teach each grade level about soil anywhere from 1-4 times during the year. Since I try to never repeat a lesson with my students from year to year, I sometimes find it remarkably hard to find new and exciting ways to teach the TEKS.

{That said, if you have any additional ideas to teach ANY of the concepts I post on this blog, PLEASE comment or e-mail me about them! I love new ideas!!}

One of the 4th grade geology TEKS is to study the properties of soil, including its ability to retain water. Because no other grade has that specific wording, I decided to run with it in 4th grade and do a soil retention investigation.

What I used per group of students:

  • 3 coffee filters
  • 1 beaker
  • 1 plastic cup with topsoil inside
  • 1 plastic cup with sand inside
  • 1 plastic cup with peat moss inside
  • 1 scoop
  • 1 graduated cylinder
My initial plan was for students to test the water retention ability of each type of soil three times, since we talk every single year about how repeated investigations increase the accuracy of results. Unfortunately, I found that after I explained how to do the lesson and the students created their results table in their notebook, we only had time to do each soil once. {I actually did plan for students to investigate with modeling clay -- to represent clay soil -- too, but because of time constraints and the fact that it was, by far, the messiest, I nixed that pretty quickly.} 

What to do:
  1. Put the coffee filter into the beaker. Hold it up so it doesn't touch the bottom of the beaker. 
  2. Put 1 scoop of the soil into the filter. 
  3. Measure 30 mL of water -- totally random number that I made up! -- in the graduated cylinder and pour it into the soil in the filter. 
  4. Time the drainage for 1 minute. 
  5. At the end of the minute, take the filter out of the beaker and throw it {and the soil inside} away. 
  6. Pour the filtered water from the beaker back into the graduated cylinder to measure it as accurately as possible. 
  7. Record results in the science notebook. 

Next time we do this lesson, I plan to already have the table made for them so they don't have to waste time writing it in their notebook.

{I really struggle with this... My district states that students are supposed to record full science investigation write-ups in their notebook regularly during their 4th grade year. But because I only get to see them for an hour, I often have to choose between writing everything and actually doing the investigation. So frustrating! Sometimes I continue an investigation into the next week, but because all the investigations last about an hour, I often don't have time for that, either... Sigh. It sounds like I need to re-think my lessons, huh? Whoops.}

At the end of the lesson, students graphed their results by how much water the soil was able to retain. This required a bit of math, since they actually measured the amount of water that wasn't retained... ;) I love sneaking some cross-curriculuar things into Science Lab! If students had gotten to test each soil more than once, I planned for them to average the mL of water retention prior to graphing... so much goodness!

What are your thoughts? Do you do a version of this investigation? What's different/the same? Would you be wiling to try this lesson? How would you tweak my idea to make it better?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stream Tables

I think stream tables are a wonderful way to teach students about water erosion and deposition {except for the part about how messy they are!}. I was lucky enough to be able to purchase some for my classroom through Nasco, but Amazon has some, too.

First, I have students cover their work area with a trash bag. It really helps with clean up later!

Then we just followed the instructions from the stream table kit from Nasco, but in case you aren't familiar with it, it says to add 90 mL sand to the table. From there, we add water in 30 mL increments and sketch the erosion and deposition as we go.

After 30 mL of water

After 90 mL of water

After 120 mL of water
I used to do one stream table with each individual table team in my room {6 total}, but because our time in the lab got cut short on that lesson day this year, I ended up doing one table and letting the students help and sketch. To make it so that everyone could see without risking a herd of students crowding around the one table, I just used my iPad to take a picture of the top of the stream table, and then I displayed the picture on the Promethean board so students could see and sketch in their notebook. It worked out so well that I think I'm going to do it that way next year, too! I loved being able to have students come up to the board and point out the erosion and deposition in our stream table.

How do you teach erosion and/or deposition? I'm always looking for new ideas!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Google Calendar

When planning for the school year, I used to write the name of each lesson I planned to do in a calendar. I called this my "skeleton." It was my way of making sure I could fit everything in that I needed to fit in, and being able to plan around holidays and other such events.

I used to keep my calendar, a copy of the TEKS, and a few other things in a big binder. I would carry that binder to every meeting, PLC, and workshop I had. It was nice to have everything in one place. But you know what? That binder was heavy, and it started to become a pain in the you-know-what. Since I made a commitment to use less paper in the classroom, I knew that it was time to kick the big binder to the curb. I needed an alternate way to carry all my stuff with me -- this time, in the cloud.

Confession: I am not a big Google fan. Even though I use a few of their apps + Blogger for my class blog {and this one!}, I just think Google is hungry for all my personal information. It's a huge hassle for me to remain somewhat anonymous on this Google account, since they're always asking me for my full name, birth date, address, blood type, SSN, and the rights to my firstborn... Oh? Did I take it too far? ;) Maybe Google doesn't quite ask for all that stuff, but they get pretty close! Anyway, it pains me to admit that Google does have some great tools for education. One tool I've been using of theirs is Google calendar.

I teach 5 different classes per week, and I color-code each of those classes. For instance, everything about my Monday class is red -- the notebook that I make to go along with the kids', a folder with examples, the label on the plastic container with copies I've made for them in advance, etc. Tuesday is yellow. Wednesday is green. Thursday is blue. Friday is purple. It just makes sense in my head, and I've found that one of the keys to organizing is doing what works for you. 

Here's how I use my color-coding and Google Calendar to replace my paper and pencil calendar:

First, I went through the entire school year and marked every school holiday appropriately. I chose a color for this that wasn't already in my system -- orange. It was easy for me to see with a quick look that, for instance, that May 26, 2014 was Memorial Day.

After that, I created an entry for each school day of the year. I write the name of the lesson I plan to do on that day and color-code it appropriately.

Does it take some time to set up? Sure. Just like any other organizational system. But once you get it set up, it's heavenly!

I color-coded my weekly recycling club meeting in teal, and any personal notes are recorded in gray. I always make my personal notes "private," so when others mouse over them, they see a lock next to the name and cannot read anything other than the title.

Notice there's a box that says "lesson notes" on Tuesday. I love to make notes about lessons -- what worked really well, what definitely needs to be changed next time, if there was a schedule change that day {so I know how much time this lesson took to complete}, etc. I put those in gray and lock them because no one else needs to see my lesson notes except me. :)

I started using Google calendar at school around January 2014, and it has worked beautifully for me so far. It's great because I already have a Google account, which means I already had a Google calendar to begin with {it was just blank}. I love that I can color-code and make things public or private. I also have the ability to share the calendar with others by e-mailing certain events to them or embedding the whole calendar on my class website.

In the past, my blog consisted of telling the parents a short blurb each week about what their child learned in Science Lab. Now, I'm thinking I can just embed my Google calendar into the blog and let it do the work for me.

When I go to meetings or plan with another team, I take my iPad with me. I use an app called Sunrise to help me access my Google calendar. It's totally free to download, it syncs with my calendar automatically, and it keeps my color-coding so that it makes planning on the go quick and easy.

There are several free apps that work well with Google calendar, but Sunrise was my favorite.

Do you think you could use Google calendar to plan? What other tools do you use to keep your planning paperless?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Circuit Quiz Cards + Freebie

Ahhh... it's good to be back! Hope you had a restful and relaxing month {and Independence Day, if you're in the US}!

Today, I want to show you one of my favorite review/circuit activities -- the circuit quiz card.

We learn about insulators, conductors, and circuits before making these circuit quiz cards. A few weeks before the reading and math STAAR test, we make these circuit quiz cards in class. I ask my students to write math questions on their cards, but you could really put any questions you want on them.

To start, you need this quiz card template. Two cards will fit on one piece of paper.

What You Need:
  • Card stock (the number of pieces is up to you... I have 100 kids, so I use 150 pieces so that everyone can make up to 3 cards) with this template printed on it
  • Foil
  • Hole punches
  • Circuit testers {a multimeter tester like this one works... this one has a very sharp point, but it's way cheaper and requires AAA batteries that you can replace each year...}
  • Tape

What To Do:

1. Print your template on card stock and cut each page in half. Each half page is now its own quiz card template.

2. Punch a hole in the top sheet of card stock where the darkened circles are {there should be 4 total holes}. Fold the card on the dotted line. Write a question above the solid line. Write answer choices next to the three bottom holes.

3. Open the card. Tape a small piece of foil over the holes of the incorrect answers. Use a long strip of foil to connect the question's hole and the correct answer's hole. This is where knowledge of insulators and conductors comes into play -- if the kids use too much tape, the tape will insulate the foil, and it will not make a complete circuit. They also have to be careful that the foil from the incorrect holes doesn't touch the foil of the correct holes, or every answer will appear correct!

Adding the foil strip
4. To test their answer, students will put one probe from the multimeter tester on the question's hole, and the other probe on the foil of the answer's hole. If the answer is incorrect, nothing may happen on the multimeter tester. But if the answer is correct {and the circuit was set up correctly}, there should be some type of reaction on your device -- for instance, the continuity tester will light up, while the multimeter tester's needle will jump.

This student is using a multi-meter tester {as opposed to the continuity tester}. Looks different but works the same for this activity.
I let my students make up to 3 of these. Afterwards, they can start using their friends' cards to quiz themselves. We emphasize the importance of writing a good, on-grade-level question, and about how we actually DO the math problem before checking our answer with the multimeter tester -- we can't just jump straight to checking!

The kids seem to have a good time with this activity, and I love that you can connect science to any subject with it! At the end of lab, I send students back to their homeroom with their circuit cards and a few testers. The homeroom teachers are gracious enough to allow the students to grab a quiz card and tester during free time to practice. After the STAAR exam is over, I let the kids take their quiz cards home, and I pack the multimeter testers away for another year. :)