By Gina Kennedy

By Gina Kennedy

Math Enrichment Projects that Bring "New Life" to the Standards!

Whereas I constantly strove for improvement in many areas as a classroom teacher, I mastered recognizing that students won't learn when they are bored.  Even though it is virtually impossible to make every math operation as exciting as a thrill ride at Universal Studios, I made it my daily mission to make sure that all learners in my classroom were focused and challenged.

Later, when I served multiple roles outside of the classroom, I had the opportunity to see how other teachers managed their students when they were finished with their math work.  I found that many students were quietly drawing, playing math games (that usually had no connection to the standards they were learning) or they were just simply sitting at their desk reading or visiting with a neighbor (and those were the productive rooms). Whereas this bothered me tremendously, I completely understood because teaching is hard; really hard, and there simply aren't enough materials out there that offer authentic, challenging math opportunities for advanced learners and early finishers.  

While serving students in the classroom, I would spend hours upon hours putting enrichment units and projects together because I enjoyed it.  My peers relied on my efforts, and were sometimes annoyed at my over zealous attitude to go above and beyond the grade level lesson plans; however, my students loved it!  

Task cards are wonderful learning tools for isolated problems, but they usually don't have the depth or challenge many of our learners need.  It is undeniable that they do offer a valuable practice in solving problems, unfortunately they don't often stretch the standards in a rigorous way.  Accelerated curricula wouldn't be necessary if we could take the standards we are provided and add a level of depth to the standards that would challenge all learners.

I have created task cards for all of the 4th grade STAAR and Common Core standards (but both sets are very universal and would meet the needs of most 4th grade curricular).  Each task card includes a test-prep problem as well as an enrichment project.

Each task card includes one test-prep problem that covers a necessary skill students need to know to master a specific standard; but also a "no-prep" enrichment project that that integrates real life situations into the math standard.  

The task cards are perfect for whole group test review and enrichment, advanced learners, early finishers, math group work or for anytime you need that extra motivation to keep your students excited about mathematics.

To purchase the "4th Grade STAAR Test-Prep and Enrichment Task Cards Bundle" at my TPT STORE, click HERE!

Click HERE for  free samples of this bundle!

To purchase the "4th Grade Common Core Test-Prep and Enrichment Cards Bundle" at my TPT STORE, click HERE!
Click HERE for free samples of this bundle!

Both bundles contain "360" different test-prep problem solving questions and "360" different enrichment projects relevant to the standards.  There are similarities to both bundles and similar task cards in each bundle with adjustments made to meet each set of standards.

 With this resource, your students should be challenged, motivated and excited to learn!

Writing "Editing" Teaching Ideas and Strategies that Work!

One of the greatest dilemmas I faced as an elementary teacher involved "Writer's Workshop."  I was introduced to the concept in the 1980's so it certainly wasn't a "new" idea and I was just as intrigued by it then as I am now.  

The "Writer's Workshop"  instructional videos were fascinating with the perfectly well-behaved students who raised their hands like well trained soldiers, the well-dressed teacher with the hair that didn't move and the writing stations that were organized perfectly.  They were one step short of an Oscar Winning Documentary production.  In all actuality the videos were kind of depressing, but regardless, they were a great example of the foundation of the writing process and something to strive for.

Whereas, with severe modifications; my writing classes somewhat resembled a traditional writer's workshops, they were my "Writer's Workshop" adapted to meet the needs of the students in my classroom using strategies that best worked for my students.  Whereas, I spent most of my teaching years in Title One schools, I had a large population of reluctant writers and therefore, I needed to do use strategies that "worked" as the stakes were even higher.  But the rewards of modifying for my students were worth it. My students, I might add, were always on their writing game.  

The "editing" aspect presented with the traditional Writing Process always threw me for a loop.  I had students who could read their own same paper three times and not recognize their own grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization errors three times. Then I was supposed to have that same student "peer" edit another student's paper.  "Houston, we have a problem!"  Not only, was it unreasonable to expect all students to be able to edit each other's work who lacked the skill set to do so, but most of my student's compositions were difficult to read.  Some students simply don't possess great handwriting skills, many nights I felt like a detective more than a teacher solving clues to solve their penmanship. Of course I had the students who could "edit" student work perfectly well, but being a "differentiation" advocate that I am, I certainly believed I owed that student better instructional time than correcting and revising other's work all day.

Editing is a skill that requires many prerequisite skills, and hitting all of those grammar, spelling, punctuation and other language proficient skills hard is mandatory.   Through consistent modeling, writing immersion and feedback some students will become solid writers with great editing skills.  Others as we know, will need much more individualized work.

We always started our workshops out with a game that we called "Find 10".  I created paragraphs or short passages and purposely created ten editing errors that needed to be found in each passage.  The students love it, and were quite competitive I might add. During the first part of the year the I placed the passages on the computer screen with the document camera and the class found the editing errors together.  As we approached "crunch time" the students glued the passages to their writers notebook and completed them individually.  However, making the passages everyday was a tremendous amount of work and hopefully I've saved you some time.  I have compiled seventy-five short passages and paragraphs into one resource called, "Find Ten, Editing Skills Practice" and you can purchase that resource HERE in my TPT store.

For a sample of this resource to use "write" away in your classroom, click HERE!

Other ways I practiced "editing" in my classroom:

1. It is important for students to be able to recognize the difference between "revising" and "editing" and other individual language skills.  I would set up six different stations in the classroom several times throughout the year:
Indenting and Paragraph Division
At each station I would place a passage that needed capitalization editing, grammar editing, divided into paragraphs or simply revised.  I divided the class into five groups and they would work together in each station and edit or revise.

2. I saved my "readable" student rough draft compositions each year and the following year used them as whole class "editing and revising" activities. Of course I hid their names.

3. To save a large amount of marks on a student's rough draft, I would place a "star" before a sentence that had an editing mistake.  By finding the error themselves, they were much less likely to make that mistake again.

4. "Caught'ya! Grammar with a Giggle for Middle School: Giggles in the Middle" by Jane Bell Kiester is a wonderful novel and contains stories and activities that focus on editing and proofreading skills, as well as vocabulary.  It worked perfectly with my "Find 10" resource above.

5. I have also created a "Monthly Editing Task Cards" resource.  Twenty extensive task cards are included for every month of the year.  The task cards focus on monthly "themed" famous birthday biographies, famous monthly dates in history and fun monthly holidays.  The students not only receive a short social studies lesson, but editing practice as well on each card.  The months can be purchased altogether HERE or they may be purchased separately.

6. I've also created an "Editing Test-Prep" resource, with practice editing test and editing activities.  You may purchase this resource HERE!  This resource is aligned to the 4th Grade Texas STAAR TEKS, but would be great practice for any writing curriculum.

7. For those who do not use the STAAR standards, I've created this Editing/Revising Resource full of editing practice tests, revising activities and more.  You can purchase that resource HERE!

Never Underestimate the Power of Science Vocabulary!

     Research has proven over and over again that "science literacy" is the key to student science success.  
     Years ago when I was teaching 5th grade science, I was on a team that visited an elementary school miles away that had developed a reputation of scoring high on the state science exams year after year even though they were a Title One school and had a high Non-English speaking population.  We spent two days watching how they used "literacy" with an emphasis on vocabulary and how well it worked.  New vocabulary words were introduced each week, practiced, reviewed and invitations to use the words authentically in different writing genres were created.  
     Even though science was my least desired subject to teach, that experience was more than beneficial in understanding how to implement science vocabulary more effectively with my science class.  
     Science word walls were authentically created by the students.  By having the students create the word walls themselves, they were able to take ownership of the vocabulary and have a clearer understanding of each concept.

I created a 59-term Science Word Wall and provided an opportunity for my students to illustrate each concept.  This allowed the students grasp a more in-depth understanding of each term.

To download a copy of the free word wall to use in your own classroom, click  HERE !

I assigned the words and terms to different students.  Students presented their words to the entire class and explained their illustrations as well as their knowledge of the scientific concept.  Once we had created our entire "Class Science Word Wall" we revisited the wall frequently throughout the year.

The following strategies are also wonderful ways to involve your students in your word wall as a useful instructional tool:

 "I’m Thinking Of" Game.  A student stands in the front of the classroom as the other students have their backs turned towards the science word wall.  The student in front of the class chooses a word off the science wall and the rest of the class will ask ten “yes or no” questions trying to figure out which science word they have chosen.

"Write Five":   Write five of the science words on the dry erase board and ask the students to pretend they are scientists and connect the words scientifically in a short story.  

“Three Strikes, You’re Out!”  Divide your class into teams.  Choose a word on the science wall and start saying clues such as “This word can be found in any science lab.”  Keep giving clues until one team guesses it right.  But they only get three strikes and after they are out, they can’t win that round.  Choose a designated number of rounds needed for a team to win.

"Word Wall Elimination":   Each student chooses ten words from the word wall.  That is their Word Wall Elimination List.  Start saying definitions of science words from the wall.  If a student’s word on their list is defined they can cross it off.  The first student to have all their science words crossed off wins.  Keep track of the definitions you have stated to see if they crossed off the correct words

"Categories":  Each day choose a different category such as “Laboratory”, “Earth Forces” or etc.  The students must choose all the words on the wall that they think are associated with that category and explain their reasoning.                                                                                                                                                  

Science Multiple Meaning Words

Words with multiple meanings can be confusing for students proficient in English; but are especially troublesome for English language learners or struggling readers. It is important to discuss these meanings with students. When we confuse common definitions with meanings used in science, students’ understanding suffers. For example, in common use, “theory” means a hunch, while in science, a “theory” is a well-established explanation of the natural world based on solid evidence. “Reflections” are commonly thought of as thoughts, which contrast with “reflections” of light rays. Many other words appear in both scientific vocabulary and in everyday speech, including:

Work with students to identify the different meanings and applications of words with multiple meanings.  Whenever you're introducing science vocabulary, discuss any possible multiple meanings that might confuse your students.

I have also created an entire year's worth of vocabulary lessons for 5th graders in which all of the twenty-seven lessons include a well thought out list of vocabulary terms, activities to determine meaning, writing exercises and differentiated enrichment writing projects.

Click HERE to download a free sample from my 5th Grade Vocabulary resource.

To purchase all twenty-seven lessons from my "5th Grade Science Vocabulary" resources, click on the links below:

5th Grade Science Vocabulary for the Entire Year

5th Grade STAAR Science Vocabulary Lessons For the Entire Year

Tales of a "Non-Science" Science Teacher! How to be A Great Science Teacher Without a Scientific Mind!

 Let's face it, one of the dilemmas of being an elementary teacher is that many times you will end up in a self-contained classroom teaching "FOUR" subjects.  Being the heroic, "jack of all trades" teachers that we are, we dive in and make the best of a difficult situation.

       However, that doesn't always mean we like it.  My name is "Gina" and I do not like teaching science.  The first few years of teaching I pretended to be a an enthusiastic "Professor of Science",  I even bought a Science Lab coat at an educational store to add enthusiasm and a realistic touch to our classroom science "vibe". 

As I approached my fourth year of classroom teaching, I determined not only did I not like teaching science, but I really wasn't that good at it.  I was a dedicated,creative hard working teacher in every other way, but I really disliked teaching anything science because it wasn't my passion.  My husband is a true technology geek, we have every modern electrical gadget in our home and when he excitedly tries to show me how it works, I am thinking a root canal would be less painful.  Simply, most things science are of no interest to me, but for eight hours a day I was a part-time professor of science to fifth graders.  What to do?  My first option was to beg my principal to departmentalize, (and that did work many years), or just "give it the old college try" and do the best I could.

      Throughout all of my years in the classroom I lived by one motto, "Teach your students like you'd want your child to be taught."  Therefore, I knew I still needed to provide the most incredible science program that I possibly could.  I decided that there had to be a way to make science interesting and "painless".  

     First and foremost, If there was a way to bring people into my classroom to add to that incredible science program, I would do it.  
For example:
Nutrition Unit: A field trip to the lunchroom, I had the school cooks teach my students about state nutrition guidelines and how they create healthy menus.

Rock Unit: A man from the "Gem and Mineral Society" spoke to my class every year and even brought his extensive rock collection.  Gem and Mineral Societies exist all over the United States in most cities and they have a "speaker program" already in existence.

Energy Unit: I had a wonderful man from the local energy plant come to our classroom every year and he explained all of the forms of energy to my students and provided several student handouts with activities that his company used for their educational programs. Almost all energy companies already have educational programs and supplies in place and ready to present to schools.

Adaptations and Habitats: The "Humane Society" has a "Speakers Bureau" in every chapter that was specifically created to send speakers for free to schools and organizations. I had a different speaker every year and they were all fascinating and the students loved them.

Solar System: Who would have "thunk", but there is an organization called "The American Association of Amateur Astronomers" with chapters throughout the United States. I had two amazingly knowledgeable women present about a broad range of topics from astronomy to Saturn.

Earth Studies: Every community has a greenhouse, I had spent plenty of money over the years at our neighborhood landscape center; so they were more than happy to visit our classroom in the winter when they weren't busy and they even brought a few "freebies" for the kids.

More Ideas....

     Always take advantage of "in-house" speakers.  Your school nurse should be able to present about a broad range of health and anatomy topics.  Your maintenance crew can talk about chemicals and safety or how they use different types of simple machines for repairs. They an also show your class the "ins and outs" of the water or heating system in your building and how it works.  

     If you have a local college, they have a science department.  Contact the science department and ask for students to come speak about such things as force, motion, gravity or any physical science topic.  Through my experiences, the smaller colleges were easier to work with, but most colleges have a program in place to got out to the schools.

     Find out who your local and district Science Fair winners are and have them present their experiments to the class.  Most of the winners are quite excited to share their hard work.

Wacky Science Wednesday!

    Turn your classroom into a "Nonfiction" Science Museum".  I had buckets and buckets of science concept books throughout the classroom for easy access.  

   In my class we had "Wacky Science Wednesday" every Wednesday.  In preparation, I would choose twenty classroom science concept books that were "grade level appropriate" and represented a variety of interests.   Each reading group (two students) would choose a book that best suited them.   After reading their book together, they were to complete a specified "nonfiction book report" that included an array of reading text structures and some type of project that they could present to the entire class. Science-language arts integration at its best!  I have several of these "nonfiction" book report templates with projects in my "TPT" store.

Click Here to Purchase!
Click Here to Purchase!
Click Here to Purchase!

Science Articles!
Let's face it, district science materials and textbooks can sometimes be "boring."  The internet has many current science articles appropriate for kids that are much more interesting and relevant.  I would regularly use these articles in my classroom to teach concepts.  There are many "after reading" strategies you can use for follow-up to these articles and I also have a resource designed specifically for a reading response to nonfiction articles in my TPT store.

Click Here to Purchase!

Involving Parents!

    Don't be afraid to involve your parents in your science journey.  Send home an interest letter to see if any of your parents would be interested in presenting to your class about a particular science hobby they may have or to discuss how they use science in their occupation.  One year I had a mother that loved to organize science experiments, she was a tremendous help.  Click HERE to download this "freebie" letter to send home.

Student Led Experiments!
     Without a doubt, what students love most about science, are the "hands-on" experiments. Why not put the students in charge of presenting experiments in addition to your own.  I have to admit some of the students were better prepared in their experiment presentations than I was for a few of mine.  I used to buy every Science Experiment book I could for kids at Half Price Bookstore, online and even at garage sales.  My students always had easy access to all of those books.   I would have the students fill out a science experiment proposal "approval" form if they wanted to present to the class and I have included the link to that "freebie" form HERE

And last!

I was "project based" learning before "project based" learning was cool.  I created projects for every science concept and my students could never get enough.  Most of the projects also integrate important language arts skills and it is a "win, win" situation.  Check out some of those projects in my store: (all sold individually)
Science Enrichment Projects for Every Subject!

I may not have had a "scientific mind", but my students never would have known.  I obviously had a "twinkle in my eye" when I used to each about the Amendments to the Constitution" or a battle from the Civil War.  But overall, my students loved science class and were happy to tell me so.  Providing the ultimate science experiment doesn't have to be draining, worrisome, expensive or even "routine".  Get everyone involved in the process, immerse the students in science literature, provide as much hands-on as possible, hit vocabulary hard and offer an overall well rounded program.



Cheers to A New Year and Another Chance to Get it Right!

In the words of Oprah Winphrey, "Cheers to A New Year and Another Chance to Get it Right!"  What I love most about any new beginning, is that it is just that, a new beginning!  With every year I get a little more wiser, a bit more erratic and a lot more forgiving.  But, I never get up and I hope you don't either.

It has been a busy few months of holidays.  We spent Thanksgiving week in Orlando with my son, daughter-in-law and two eager, excited grandchildren of the wise ages respectively of 2 an 4. A perfect age I might add as they believe in everything and everything they see and even though they'll probably forget most of what we did, the "magic" of Disney will remain in their hearts forever! 

A few weeks later we headed to Tulsa, Oklahoma as my son received his MA Degree from Tulsa State.  

Then off to Iowa for the holidays!  Of course we always have a "White Christmas" in my hometown and we were not disappointed this year, as it snowed throughout our stay!  

I hope you've taken the past few weeks to enjoy your families and take a break from work. Especially if you still have children at home, use each and every break to spend quality time where it counts.  Kids grow up so fast and every memory you can build is important.

As the New Year approaches, rethink your own actions that have restricted you from being who you want to be, readjust and turn every negative situation into a positive situation, and relieve yourself of things you can't change.  But most of all, "contribute more to the world than you can take."  

It's always important to start the year off right with your student as well!  Here's a quick "New Year's Resolution" form you can use with your students to encourage your students to analyze their goals for self-improvement over the next year!  

Click here to download your  "FREE"  copy!