5 Winter Games STEM Challenges
     Are you ready for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics? If you are like me, then you probably super anxious to watch these sporting events take place. I hardly ever watch T.V., but I absolutely LOVE the Winter Olympics because: 
1. The games are so competitive and fun to watch.
2. The athletes are super inspirational. We all need a pick-me-up... especially after the holidays, right?

     I am very excited to be teaching my class about these winter sports this year. You see, we live near the beach, so we hardly ever get snow. This is a great cultural experience for us, and it is also a great way to sneak in some learning. We are going to particularly focus on learning about forces and motion. 

     I designed these 5 Winter Games STEM Challenges with your classroom in mind. Each STEM challenge comes with a 5E lesson plan, science experiments, reading comprehension passage, STEM challenge, and a response sheet. They have simple materials along with a materials checklist. It also includes pictures and teacher tips to help those of us who are a little more STEM challenged. :P

      Okay, so let's get down to business. Let me show you what these STEM Challenges are... 

1. Speed Skating: In this STEM challenge, students will learn about the center of gravity. They will do a simple experiment on a wall. Then, they will read about speed skaters and finding their center of gravity. Speed skaters use their center of gravity to stay balanced when turning quickly around the ice rink. Students will create a pipe cleaner speed skater and experiment by finding its center of gravity. All you need for this STEM challenge is 3 pipe cleaners and 1 hard life saver per student.

2. Bobsledding: This STEM challenge begins by asking the question, "Why do bobsledders stay low?" Students then conduct an experiment called "Don't be a Drag!" They simply take two sheets of paper, crumble one up, and drop them at the same time. Then they read about the science that goes into the sport of bobsledding. Drag slows the team down, so in order for them to have the quickest time, they try to do everything they can to keep from having drag.

Here's the best part... The kids will get to make their own bobsled with gummy bears! This is seriously the cutest. My kids had so much fun playing with these at home! I cannot wait to do this with my class.


They engineer a half pipe (mine looks kind of ugly here), and then they slide the bobsled with the bears laying down and standing up. It's really neat to see the bears lose their center of gravity when they are standing up. They usually topple over.

3. Alpine Skiing: For this STEM challenge, I used a cheap cookie pan from Walmart, 3 pipe cleaners, some tape, a hard life saver, a candy cane, and a box to elevate one end of the cookie pan. The kids will learn about unbalanced and balanced forces with a simple science experiment. Then they will read about how alpine skiers use these forces to make their sharp turns. Students will then design their alpine ski slope and race other students in the Ski Slope Challenge.
     The next two challenges are probably my most favorite. The fun won't last long though, but it's the perfect amount of time for those Fridays when we have finished early. 

4. Curling: In this STEM challenge, students will learn about friction. The curlers sweep ice pebbles to decrease friction and help the curling stone move towards the target. The students will conduct a simple friction experiment, then they will read about the sport of curling. Next students will play a game of curling with a frozen sheet of ice on a cookie pan (this was really easy to do). They will use a candy cane to launch a life saver gummy. You can use a  toothbrush or a straw to guide your life saver. The kids then tally up their points to see who wins. My kids played with this until it melted.

**To create a sheet of ice, I put the pan in the freezer first, then I poured the water into the pan. I recommend drawing the targets with permanent marker before pouring the water over it. That's something I will be sure to do next time. 



5. Hockey: This is a super fun game! Students will get a reading passage to read about the sport of hockey. Then, they get to play hockey with another student. They will tally up their points to see who wins. I prepped my pan the same way I did for curling, and again, I would recommend drawing in the goals. This is something I didn't think to do before I froze the water, but I will definitely be doing this next time.

**This is one of those games that can be differentiated for children of all ages. As you can see, this was a fun fine motor game for my three-year-old. Let's think of differentiating it this way: K-1 students can keep score by adding one for each goal. 2 - 3 students can keep score by adding two or five for each goal. 4 -5 can keep score by adding fractions or decimals for each goal.  
I'm telling you, this resource is one that your students will remember you by. It will not only teach them about winter sports, but it will also teach them science, technology, engineering, and math! They will not even realize they are doing all of those subjects! They will just think it's fun. I think that's my most favorite part about this whole resource.


Grades are Not Defining: An Open Letter to Parents, Students, and Teachers

     Moving from second grade to third grade has been one of the most rewarding, yet one of the most difficult choices I have had to endure. I love teaching, and I love everything about it. The most challenging thing for me this year has been the grades. Not the actual grading, but the giving of grades.
     Not all students measure up to the perfect 100%, and to be quite frank, they shouldn't. What is most difficult is teaching my kids that they are still talented and gifted in so many ways. Grades are not defining of character. They can show different traits such as organized/disorganized, etc., but they don't measure everything about the whole student. It has been such a huge stress for me because this is the first year that my students have received letter grades. Their little hearts have been encouraged with good grades, or they have been disappointed by bad grades. It's been difficult guiding them through their first disappointments.
      I have so much to say, so here's an open letter to parents, students, and teachers.




Dear parents, 
     Watching your child grow up is an exciting adventure that I'm sure you want to be a part of almost every single step of the way. We love our kids, and we take pride in them. We know our children are capable of great things, but when put to the test, sometimes, they don't measure up like they should have. This is especially true in school. It's easy to feel like it's something that we could have done to prevent it. Guilt sets in and we begin the 'If only...' statements. Ignore it and remember these three things:
  1. Grades do not define your child. Your child is worth so much more. Most teachers realize that children bring many gifts and talents that cannot be measured in the classroom to the classroom. There’s the talented storyteller, the detailed drawer, the kid who wants to lead the class in a community project, the kid who always shows compassion to students who are at a disadvantage. There’s the kid that tells hilarious jokes, or sings on key. There’s the kid that always listens to friends, and the kid who is talented at every, single sport. Your child is so much more than a grade.
  2. Grades do not measure your parenting skills. Poor grades do not mean you are not trying. Great grades do not mean that you are forcing your child to study every night. Grades are grades. Children are responsible for their own grades. You are not. Sometimes parents can’t make it home in time to complete homework with their children, and most educators recognize this fact. Many schools are opting for no homework. The most important thing you can do for your child is not homework or studying, but talking about school and making it important.
  3.  Grades do not determine the success of your child in the future. A recent study showed that students who made average grades in school were most successful monetarily as adults. This is because they found their true passion and learned how to thrive in a world full of average. Success is dependent on the actions – not the grades. 

Dear students,
     You are brilliant! Even if your grades are not where they should be, you are still brilliant. This is because you know what mistakes you've made, and you know what you are going to do to keep from making those same mistakes. This is because you are not your grade. I want you to remember these three things:
  1. Grades do not determine your worth. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You’re worth is measured on how you perceive yourself. No one, no grade determines, how amazing you are; you’re already a rock star. Own it!
  2. Grades only measure your mastery of academic content. There’s this huge misconception that all students must have A’s and B’s. That’s just not the case. The average is a C. There, I said it… 70%! My personal goal is to have an 80% or higher. I’m not sure that I have ever achieved this as a teacher, but I’ve set my goal just a little higher than reality so that reality is also just a little bit higher. Just so you know, there are no grades for integrity, cooperation, leadership, confidence, attitude, creativity, loyalty, resilience, etc. Grades only measure the academic content in math, reading, writing, social studies, word study, English, language courses, sciences, etc. Your friendships, your attitude, and your warmth are valued much more than your grade will ever be.
  3. Grades do not determine your success in the future. As a failure of multiple subjects in school, I now own a successful business and am a successful teacher. If I had let my grades define me, I would have placed false limitations on myself. I would have never taken the chance to go to college and earn a degree, nor would I have ever decided to take a chance on owning my own small business. By telling myself that those failures were crap, I moved on, and learned to not make the same mistakes I made in the past. 

Dear teachers,
     You are an amazing teacher! Your grades need not to reflect that; the relationship with your students is more valuable than any grade will ever be. Get to know them, enjoy them, and celebrate their victories in and out of the classroom. Always remember these three things:
  1. Grades do not define your students. Teachers, we are so guilty by saying “These kids are the level J readers”. Know that all of the children in our classrooms are unique. They ALL have their own special gifts and talents – even if it is burping the alphabet. That takes a lot of dedication!
  2. Grades are based on the mastery of the content. Most teachers know that grades should be measured on mastery of content only and not for completion of assignments, but some of us still do it because we feel sorry for our kids who are making D’s and C’s. I know this is true because I’ve been guilty of it too! Just remember to ask yourself the next time you put in a grade, “What standard am I measuring?” This is a game changer!
  3. Grades are not the only measurement of how successful you are as a professional.  In a perfect utopia we want all of our kids to have A’s and B’s, but this isn’t a perfect world we live in. Yes, grades are somewhat of a reflection of who we are as educators, but we all know it is not the end-all-be-all. We are inspiring, mentoring, coaching, and nurturing our students daily to be life long learners. The love your students have for you is, in my opinion, the upmost important measurement.

The Engineering Process

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        Coaching a competitive STEM team for four years has been like an ongoing professional development. I’ve failed so many times and learned from those failures each year!

My first year coaching, my team consisted of over 40 K-2 students. For our end of year celebration, we created bottle rockets, and decided to invite their families, the administration, and the local news to the school so the students could showcase their rockets. It was going to be out of this world amazing That is until every single one of my students’ bottle rockets were created wrong. Every. Single. One. They all failed, and their coach, me, taught them ALL how to do it.  
         You know, I expected some tears, but what I got was an incredible opportunity to teach the students about the Engineering Process. The Engineering Process is much like the Writing Process. It should be taught and practiced by all students regardless of their age.  

We are training our students to think in a particular order so that GRIT becomes a habit. 
 
         The Engineering Process does not come natural for students. It should be explicitly taught. Neglecting this process is what leads to tears, bad attitudes, and self-disappointment. By teaching this process to our students, we can help them understand that mistakes are opportunities to learn. Hello? This is what life is all about! So what is the Engineering Process you ask? These are the steps, and I’ll discuss what each one entails:
1.      Ask (Prewriting): Just like Science Inquiry, it all begins with a single question; however, this is not the same thing. This “Ask Step,” indicates that the engineers should ask themselves what they know about the challenge they are trying to complete. Let’s say you have a hypothetical challenge like: “You must create a bridge that holds the most weight.“ Students would ask themselves, “What do I know about bridges? What about bridges that hold heavy stuff?” Then they would write their thoughts in their journal. This is supposed to be a quick brainstorming-like step. I typically spend about 5 10 minutes warming up with thoughts. You can do this as a think-pair-share with younger students to help support students who are struggling. 

2.     Imagine (Writing): In this step, students use their wildest dreams to think outside the box to try to solve a problem. Students can work individually or in teams to draw out several different ideas. Once they have several ideas (I try to keep it at three ideas), then they can choose which idea they would like to try. For younger kids, you can have them draw it out and circle their winning idea.
3.    Plan (Revision): This is the most vital step because without a plan, your classroom will end up a mess and you will run out of supplies (trust me, I know from experience). In this step, I have my students draw and label their models. Then, they have to give me a complete list of materials that they would need, that is only if the materials were not preset. You can integrate math into this by placing a price tag on the materials, but you may already have math integrated into your STEM Challenge, so the choice is up to you. I think this step is the most important to teach to our students because we live in a society were we need instant gratification. Therefore, students are neglecting a plan because they are flying by the seat of their pants. This instills responsibility and creates a greater work ethic.
4.     Create (Editing): Now this is the fun stage! The students get to engineer and create their STEM designs. If working in teams of three or more, I give the students Team Jobs. If they are working individually or with a partner, I don’t assign anything. Students capitalize on their speaking and listening skills during the “Create Stage”. They have to learn how to communicate during this process. For optimal STEM Teams, I recommend explicitly teaching listening and speaking strategies prior to STEM Challenges. I’ll save that for another post.
5.    Improve: (Publishing): We’ve finally made it to the last step. This is the step that I didn’t know we were stuck in during our epic rocket launch. In this step, students will test their STEM Designs and record their data. I have my students test their design. For each time they test their designs, they record their data and write about what worked, what didn’t work, what they’d like to try next time, and what they hope the improvement will accomplish. They repeat this improve, record, and reflect stage three times. After the third improvement, they test it one more time to see if their improvements worked. After the students have completed their final test, I like to integrate some writing into their STEM Challenges by having them reflect in their Science Journals about what worked, what didn’t work, what they’d like to try next time, and any burning questions they still have about the STEM Challenge.
So there you have it! The Engineering Process is a process that should be honored and taught to all students of all ages. If there is anything that I have learned from being a STEM Coach, it is that ALL students of ALL ages, colors, abilities, and backgrounds can do STEM! By breaking the Engineering Process down for your students, you will help them all achieve!
 


13 Back to School Must Haves

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Teachers, it's back to school time for some of us. For others, there are a few more weeks. Wahoo! I'm excited to be moving to a new school as a third grade teacher. I have a brand new classroom that is super empty. I'm trying to learn my way around the school. It's a huge campus, and it's easy to get lost. I have so much to learn about my new school and third grade! 

Fortunately, this will be my fifth year teaching. I have learned what not to do as well as what to do at the beginning of the year (I always learn something not to do). I have 13 non-negotiable beginning of year ideas/tips that I will continue to do this year. You want to know what they are? Here goes...



These classroom essentials are non-negotiable in my room!



1.    WIGS/PIGS

WIGS is an acronym for Wildly Important Goals while PIGS is an acronym for Personal Important Goals. Let me explain my own personal story so you can understand why this is a non-negotiable for me. When I was about 10 years old, I didn’t have much. I was struggling in school and I didn’t have much of a home-life (at the time). I did however have a natural talent for running track. I had made it to the Junior Olympics that year, and I knew that I was destined to be in the Summer Olympics in 2004 or 2008. After the 96 Olympics were over and out of my town, I lost my vision and ultimately abandoned my dream. This is because I didn’t “see” my goal everyday. Four years is a long time to stay focused on a goal. My point is, if we don’t have these WIGS in our sight everyday to remind us of what we are trying to accomplish, we are going to lose sight of the big picture. This is definitely going in my classroom this year to keep my students and myself on track throughout the year. Personal goals are just as important because, if a student is anything like me, then they may not succeed in making academic goals all year long. All students must feel valued in EVERY aspect of their life. 

2.   Classroom & Professional Mission Statement: Again, this is to hold each one of us accountable. It is our purpose for why we exist in our roles within the classroom on a daily basis. The best accountability partners will be my kids this year because they are sure to never forget. 

3.    Leadership Roles: No, these are not jobs, no one is getting paid for anything. These are roles. I let my students create the jobs last year and we had great success with everyone participating.

4.     7 Habits of Highly Effective Kids: These are from Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I teach at a Leadership Academy and I have got to post these to encourage each student to create these habits.

5.    Leadership Notebooks: These are non-negotiable for me this year because I witnessed an enormous amount of growth in reading last year with my students. We had great success with students holding themselves and each other accountable. They designed their own action plans to accomplish academic goals they set based on their data. The students knew exactly what they were working on and followed through. It was an incredible tool for us!

6.    Classroom Library: Well this is a no brainer! We have to HAVE a classroom library to allow our students the opportunity to read, research, and quench their curiosity as many times as possible throughout the day. Our library is open to all students, and this year, I think I may suggest a classroom librarian. Anyways, I am going to try to place the bookshelves on each side of the promethean so that the books are front and center of the classroom. I also created some classroom library labels to add to my baskets this year. I’m hoping that I can keep it a lot more organized this year.

7.   Technology Center: Having a specific area in the classroom where drinks and snack are not allowed will be perfect for us. I have never had a drink/food spill on any of our equipment, but just in case I’d like to keep it that way. Plus, by having all of the equipment in one area, this will help our IT locate the technology with less class interruption.

8.    Small Group Center: Well this is also a no brainer. I’ve added a supply caddy to my small group center this year to keep supplies in one central location. I am going to print out pictures of the supplies and use box tape to tape them onto the caddy so that my students know exactly how to put the materials back.

9.     Meeting Area: This year, I am trying my best to clear out more floor space to add more squishy mats so that we can all sit comfortably on the floor at our meeting space. For some reason it seems like my meeting area shrinks every year. I’m not sure if it’s just the extra furniture, more classroom pupils, or a combination of the both, but I did throw out some furniture that I’ve not been using this year. 

10. Vision Board:This is one of my most favorite parts in my classroom. Every year, I add more and more to my board. This is a vision board for my students, and a hall of fame for myself. Every time we do something special in my classroom, I love taking pictures. I print these pictures out to hang on my board. We have field trip pictures, Science Olympiad pictures, pictures of some fun things we did in class (like hop out of the window and catch a bullfrog), etc. It has everything! My kids get to know me immediately, and they have a vision of themselves doing something amazing because, let me tell you, these kids want to get on the board. They eventually will.

11. Word/Writing Center: This year I have created a space where I have raised my round table to a standing table. On the writing table, there is a caddy with writing supplies and pictures exactly like my small group center. There are also color-coded parts of speech words on index cards. Next to it, I have placed a pocket chart. Students use these words to practice their words using the Word Work binder, and then they use the words to build sentences on the pocket chart. All around that area are parts of speech and writing anchor charts.

12.                  Student Work Display: Student work will be displayed low to the ground where all students can easily see other student work up close and personal. This will help all of the students to see examples from other students and hold them accountable for excellent work.

13. Student Self Portraits: I bought these little frames and am going to let the students decorate them to their own liking with stickers, paint, markers, etc. I’m going to take their picture and hang it up on the wall so that they have their beautiful smiling self up on the wall each and every day.



These are the non-negotiables in my classroom this year and I have to have them because I know that they will make the environment of my classroom much better.



Sound Science for Early Elementary

Teaching the science of sound to young students can be frustrating and difficult for teachers because our little learners are still concrete learners, and it's hard to illustrate sound when it is invisible! Every year when it is time to teach sound to my second grade classroom, my colleagues and I usually begin our planning with, "Ugh... Not this again."

Over the years I have learned that teaching sound doesn't have to be painful. It will get noisy, but it is a productive noise. My first year of teaching sound, I began and ended by reading one book. It was ineffective to say the least, and I knew it. I just wanted to target that standard and say that I "taught it" because quite frankly, I didn't know how to teach it.


Last year was the first year that my students and I both enjoyed learning about sound. I can say that I felt like they truly understood the concept, and the best part about it, is that they were excited to share their experiences about it with their friends and families! Without further ado, I am going to share some ideas for each multiple intelligence so that you can differentiate and target every learner.

I. Musical/Rhythmic: My kids love this Fun Science - Sound video. Not only is this kid hilarious, but he actually demonstrates sound through art on his video so the students have a nice visual. They have no clue they are learning and they LOVE it! It is sure to give your students a good laugh!

II. Bodily/Kinesthetic: This experiment is so simple. All you will need is a working voice box and your hand. Have the students place their fingers on their throat, then have them whisper anything like, "Sound science is super!" Using a triple vinn diagram, list descriptive words of what it felt like. Using the same method, have them say the same thing in a famous mouse (with really big ears) voice, and a deep manly voice. List descriptive words for each on the triple vinn diagram and compare and contrast each. Students will be able to FEEL the vibrations moving quickly and slowly. This is also a good time to discuss pitch.

III. Naturalistic: Take your students outside and observe different animal sounds. You will notice that smaller animals typically make higher pitch sounds while larger animals typically make lower pitch sounds. This is because there is less space for the sound vibrations to move in smaller animals while there is more space for it to move in larger animals. You can probably make some predictions about different animal pitches and organize them from highest pitch to lowest pitch based on size; however, this does not always hold true. An enormous whale can create very high pitched sounds.

IV. Verbal/Linguistic: Reading is always helpful for this multiple intelligence. This non-fiction read aloud on Youtube has a great example of a story you can read to your class. You can also use these Sound No-Prep Worksheets that I created to help reinforce vocabulary. My kids enjoy these because they feel like they are playing games.

We've only discussed four MI, so to target the next four MI I use these Sound STEM activities.
V. Visual/Spacial
VI. Logical/Mathematical
VII. Interpersonal
VII. Intrapersonal

These STEM activities are super engaging and rich with opportunities to dig deep about sound in creative ways.

To start with, I always begin by having the students create a three pitched instrument. I don't tell them whether it has to be string, percussion, or wind. I simply let them get creative and choose their own instrument. Warning: the classroom can get a little noisy and messy, but it is worth all of that! You will be amazed at how creative the kids can get. Then, I always let them demonstrate their instrument and improve on it. We create a class band and try to play hot cross buns. It's always fun and we usually never sound that great, but the kids enjoy it, and that's all that matters.



The next STEM activity I introduce is for determining how sound travels best. What material is the best conductor for sound to travel? We make the cup telephones, but use different materials for the string such as floral wire, ribbon, yarn, string, etc. Then we test out the materials and organize them from best to worst.

The next STEM activity I introduce is for determining which is the best insulator for sound. I always tell my students about the experiences I had with my Dad as a little girl when he was recording music. The walls, the floor, and everything else were covered in materials because they were preventing echoes in the song being recorded. My students create a sound proof box. I have an apple watch, so I place my phone inside the box, and I play a song. The students get really quiet and listen. After we have tested, improved, and tested again, we then organize the materials from best to worst insulators. Then we can compare the insulators with the conductors.



Finally, I like to get that cultural piece in there, so I read The Rainstick A Fable and we create our own rainsticks out of a piece of the cardboard paper towel holder, tape, and different sized beans, rice, and pasta noodles. We use floral wire for the inside, but you can also insert toothpicks through the paper towel holder for the beans. After we place the wire inside, or put the toothpicks through, we select a variety of beans, noodles, and rice to place inside to fill it up about a quarter to a third of the way. Then, we tape up the top and bottom of the paper towel holder, and students can decorate the outside of their paper towel holder. They look forward to this every single year.

I hope that these ideas give you some inspiration and help you look forward to teaching Sound Science. Below are the following resources that were mentioned above.

Sincerely,
Sarah

Fun Science - Sound
non-fiction read aloud on Youtube
Sound No-Prep Worksheets
Sound STEM activities 
The Rainstick A Fable

I Lost My Dog!

"Whoever said diamonds were a girls best friend never had a dog." 

     On December 22, 2016 at approximately 7pm, I let my dog outside for the last time. I didn't know it was going to be the last time, and I surely didn't want it to be for the last time. This little guy is my best friend! 


     He was born on February 24, 2008. I took him to my new home just six weeks later. He was the cutest ball of fur I ever held! I was nervous and afraid of being in a new town and all alone. That fluffy little 6lb. dog made me feel safe and kept me company. I remember taking him with me everywhere I went because he was so small and ignorant to the world around him. We went to fairs, stores, and mostly on walks all around our neighborhood and park. He followed me everywhere I went. I called him, "My Minion." I'm not exaggerating when I say that I could walk him off of a leash and he would follow me. 


     I had recently moved eight hours away from my parents house into my new home with my new (at the time) husband. My husband was gone for months at a time due to work. I was left in a new town alone. Although nobody knew, I had anxiety about meeting new people and being alone. The longer I had Pongo, the better my anxiety became. He gave me a sense of security and reassurance that everything was going to be okay. 
     Fast forward eight years, 13lbs., and two children later...
     I know have a career, my kids are in school, and this new season of life has been difficult for our little guy. He spent countless hours in his kennel patiently awaiting the arrival of his buddies. He was such a good boy. I encouraged him to play outside so he could get some exercise. I felt guilty that I couldn't show him the attention that I thought he deserved. My attention is demanded by a grown man, little people, my business, and so much more.


     The thing is, is that I didn't realize this until after he left. It is like my brain has been stuck on autopilot, and I have been going through the motions to get through the day-to-day routine. My boy has ran away, yes. But I have faith that we will find him. I feel that in some ways this has been a blessing to me and my family as we have all been dealing with this in our own ways. In the past two weeks, my daughter has learned empathy. My son has learned to persevere. My husband has been more compassionate. I have learned patience and so much more.

     I am hopeful that we will find our boy. We have had great success networking in our wonderful, little community. There have been so many people searching and helping us in the search. We have had several sightings, and I know that they will soon lead to his rescue. I am going to continue being patient and have faith that this will all work out.
Please pray for him!