The Disney Wilderness Preserve

A path through the Disney Wilderness PreserveDid you know that the Walt Disney Company owns a 11,500 acre wilderness preserve in the middle of Florida?

Neither did I, until I visited the site with the family this weekend. The Disney Wilderness Preserve is a massive chunk of land near Poinciana, Florida, south of Orlando and the Disney theme parks.

In 1991, The Walt Disney Company planned to develop land that would impact an estimated 4,560 acres of existing wetlands. As part of The Clean Water Act, designed to protect America’s diminishing wetlands, Disney was required to either avoid, minimize, or mitigate this loss. In order to comply with The Clean Water Act, The Walt Disney Company purchased 8,500 acres of working ranch land being considered for home and golf course development and, coupled with an additional 3,000 acres of land purchased by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, worked with The Nature Conservancy to restore the land to healthy wetlands and forests.

Cloudy skies in the Disney Wilderness PreserveInstead of doing what companies often do when complying with the Clean Water Act, creating small pockets of restored land with minimal positive impact to plant and animal communities, Disney decided to do it right with the planning and development of the Disney Wilderness Preserve. This was the first project in Florida to take on a long-term, large-scale comprehensive wetland mitigation endeavor. The land purchased by The Walt Disney Company had been heavily logged, ditched, and grazed since the 1940s when it had been used as a ranch. The Nature Conservancy restored the land to its original state by redirecting natural water flows disrupted by drainage and introducing a prescribed fire program for the area.

The area now hosts more than 1,000 native plant and animal species including the bald eagle, Florida scrub-jay, gopher tortoise, longleaf pine, and scrub oak. Two Florida panthers, members of one of Florida’s most endangered species, have also returned to the area on their own to live and thrive.

Florida cypress trees at Lake RussellOur family visited the Disney Wilderness Preserve early Saturday afternoon. The sky was starting to darken, and the winds were picking up – a sure sign of a storm to come. But we had traveled all the way south of Poinciana to visit the Preserve, so we at least wanted to walk inside a little ways! We ate a quick picnic near the Conservation Learning Center, a combination administrative hub and museum at the start of the walking trail, then headed out on foot.

We hiked along the trail to Lake Russell, one of the last remaining pristine lakes in central Florida. At Lake Russell there were some stately cypress trees with their “cypress knees” poking out from the shallow water of the lakeshore. At this point we started to hear the low rumblings of thunder. I should mention that if you’re going to get caught out in a thunderstorm, one of the places you might not want to be caught is in the middle of a low pine savannah! We weren’t sure if the storm was going to blow by us or come at us, but it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution when it comes to playing with electrical storms. So instead of hiking the rest of the two-mile trail we opted to head back and take a shortcut that would lead us back to the Conservation Learning Center and the parking lot.

Lake Russell in the Disney Wilderness PreserveJust as we were about to reach the Conservation Learning Center, we saw streaks of lightning in the sky, and droplets of water began to fall. Great timing! We had passed one more fellow out on the trail carrying a large expensive camera; we hope he made it back before the rains came in earnest. We signed out and made for our car. We stopped in at a nearby Home Depot on the way home, and that’s when the deluge started! At one point, the winds were pushing through the mesh siding of Home Depot’s garden center, sending clay pots of orchids crashing to the floor and employees scurrying about in a panic. Apparently there had been a tornado warning for our area. The amazing power of the storm was really something to see! And I, for one, was glad to be seeing it in Home Depot and not in the middle of the pine savannah.

So that is my summary of our (shorter than we might have liked) visit to the Disney Wilderness Preserve. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend you pay the site a visit – preferably on a clear day! It’s an amazing and beautiful place, and a terrific example of wetlands restoration.

A Poem for Earth Day

A poem for Earth DayI’m a big fan of Earth Day! Growing up in Canada, I always appreciated the forests and lakes of my homeland (I probably would have appreciated the Rocky Mountains, too, but I grew up in the eastern part of the country. I guess I appreciated them from afar). I did plenty of scouting and camping as a kid, and I fondly remember frequent trips to our family cottage by the lake in a forested area of northern Ontario. I used to dream about being a forest ranger, sitting atop a fire tower in a remote Canadian forest, taking in the peace and tranquility and fresh air! But they don’t tend have very good Internet way up there, so that’s probably a no-go.

An Earth Day poem and poster

Interested in celebrating Earth Day in your classroom? Below you will find a free poster I made for Earth Day that you can display on your classroom walls or distribute to your students to use in their writing and language notebooks (or maybe in another fun and creative way you can come up with – it’s late and my imagination is running out). It features a poem I wrote about respecting our beautiful planet Earth, and is available for free download in PDF format.

Earth Day Common Core Stress-Free Printables

Earth Day Common Core Stress-Free PrintablesYvonne and I have created some no-prep printables packets for your classroom, including the Earth Day Common Core Stress-Free Printables, now available at our store at Teachers Pay Teachers. For Earth Day these packets offer a variety of different worksheets aligned with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts, and are available for first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grades.

The packets feature a fun Earth Day theme, including recycling, the environment, planting trees and saplings, and a general appreciation of the planet Earth. The pages are all ready to be printed and used: no prep, no laminating and low ink for a no-stress experience. The worksheets comprise several different levels of activities to help with differentiation in a classroom.

You can use the activities in this packet in a variety of different ways:

  • As morning work
  • As homework
  • As a skills review
  • As an assessment
  • For a substitute teacher
  • To accompany an Earth Day unit or work center

We also have Easter Common Core Stress-Free Printables available at our TPT store for Easter, another holiday that takes place in April this year.

If you do check out these products, please let us know what you think! We’re always interested in feedback and looking for suggestions for new products that teachers can use in the classroom or in a homeschool environment.

The Earth Day poem and poster

Here’s the free poster for Earth Day. I hope you have fun teaching your students about our beautiful environment!

An April Writing Activity

A writing worksheet for AprilSpring is finally here! And the month of April is just around the corner. It’s one of my favorite months, with flowers blooming, celebrations for Easter and Earth Day, and a general upswing in peoples’ moods. It’s great to see the rebirth of our planet in action, with saplings growing, trees budding, and colorful flowers sprouting from the ground.

Here’s a free downloadable PDF worksheet for your classroom for April, featuring a poem I wrote to celebrate the month! Please let me know what you think about the worksheet – if you like it, I’ll make more for future months. The download for the PDF can be found at the bottom of the post.

As always, we really appreciate your downloading and using our activities with your students, and sharing our site with others. Thank you! It means a lot to us!

Fun Common Core math activities for the classroom

The Crawfords' Big Book of Math-tivities - Common CoreWe’re very excited about our new book, The Crawfords’ Big Book of Math-tivities, filled with Common Core-aligned activities for mathematics for grades K-2. We’ve worked hard to come up with fun activities for the classroom – things that students will enjoy when it comes time for math class. Activities include:

  • Mathbooking, a creative take on math journal prompts
  • Goofy Glyphs, an engaging and potentially silly glyph activity
  • new ideas for incorporating the joy and energy of holidays and seasons into your math teaching
  • fun ideas for puzzles and games
  • ideas for teaching math outdoors
  • unique ways to combine math with storytelling

Instructions and helpful tips for using these activities can be found in the book, as well as ready-to-use example activities included with each chapter.

Check it out, and please let us know what you think!

April writing worksheet

Here’s the free writing activity for April. I hope you have a wonderful month!

A Limerick for St. Patrick’s Day

A lady leprechaunThe month of March is just around the corner, and you know what comes with March… St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick’s Day is always a fun day for me. I’m about 50% Irish – my mother was born in Montreal, Quebec (as was I), as were her parents, but most of her ancestors were from Ireland… though I think there might be a little French thrown in there on my grandfather’s side. Plus, on St. Patrick’s Day I get to wear my ridiculously green Guinness polo shirt that I bought at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin to celebrate the occasion. When else can you wear a ridiculously green Guinness polo shirt?

The other day, Yvonne was on her laptop working diligently on a St. Patrick’s Day packet for her TPT store. While she was working on one particular worksheet, she asked me: “Come up with a limerick about St. Patrick’s Day… quick!” So I came up with the limerick you’ll find linked to and available for free download below. Actually, the original limerick I came up with featured beer, but since you’re not likely going to want to display posters on your classroom wall where people are drinking beer, I changed one of the lines (however, I did create and upload the original version here).

I think it’s a great idea to write a limerick, of all things, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It seemed a fitting form of poetry to use on the occasion. A bit of trivia for you – did you know that Yvonne and I have visited Limerick, in Ireland, on multiple occasions? We are big fans of Ireland, and are especially fond of the lush and beautiful countryside and coasts.

The limerick can be found below, but first, a note from our storefront…

St. Patrick’s Day Stress-Free Printables

We have a number of St. Patrick’s Day products available at the store, the newest of which are the St. Patrick’s Day Stress-Free Printables. The St. Patrick’s Day Stress-Free Printables packet offers a variety of different worksheets aligned with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts featuring a fun St. Patrick’s Day theme for the month of March, including leprechauns, pots of gold from Ireland, shamrocks, Irish dancers, and more. The pages are all ready to print out: no prep, no laminating and low ink which equals no stress. There are also several different levels of activities to help you differentiate within your class.

The printables are available for second, third, fourth, and fifth grades.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget that we also have a free download of reward bookmarks for your young readers for the month of March, featuring various themes for the month of March – including, of course, St. Patrick’s Day.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

All that being said, I hope that you have a terrific St. Patrick’s Day this year. Don’t forget to wear green! I hope you have a wonderful day!

Get Out and Explore Where You Live

Hiking in the Hal Scott Preserve near OrlandoAs a family, we thoroughly enjoy getting out and exploring nature together. I’ve posted about one of our nature walks before, in this post about our visit to a protected forested wetland near where we used to live in northwest France. I have also posted about our son’s love for carnivorous plants, described some of the different species of carnivorous plants that we have collected, and explained why I personally think it’s a great idea to keep carnivorous plants in the classroom for your students to care for and marvel at.

Since writing these two posts, we have moved from Europe back to the United States, and are residing in a small town in central Florida, quite close to Disneyworld. This is great for several reasons – we can pretty much go to the Disney theme parks any time we like (which, in Yvonne’s case, turns out to be quite often!), and it also gives us an opportunity to explore some of the interesting and diverse nature that this region of Florida has to offer.

A trip to the Hal Scott Preserve

A hooded pitcher plant (Sarracenia Minor)So, yesterday we took a trip out to the Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park, situated along the Econlockhatchee River (say that ten times fast!) in Orange County, Florida, just east of Orlando. We chose this place particularly because information about the site indicated that hikers can find carnivorous plants living in the wild at the park – something that I had certainly never seen in my lifetime. So we packed up the car and drove the short trip to the site.

Drosera (Sundew) in the wildI must admit, I was pretty skeptical about actually finding carnivorous plants at the preserve – the Sarracenia Minor (hooded pitcher plant) that we were hoping to see is an endangered species, and I had kind of figured that it A flowering Pinguicula (Butterwort)would be difficult to find these plants along the hiking trail. But lo and behold, we found not only the hooded pitcher plant, but three different species of carnivorous plants in total. We found the Sarracenia Minor (hooded pitcher plant), a type of Drosera (sundew), and even an interesting variety of Pinguicula (butterwort) – a species we weren’t expecting to find, but that our son managed to pick out within the brush. If you don’t know what these plants are, don’t worry – I’ve included pictures.

Our hike was a five-mile trek that went around the park through huge, expansive fields of palm fronds and wire grass with small wet, swampy areas interspersed within. The course remained pretty much flat the entire way (this is Florida, after all), which made for a nice, leisurely walk. Not to mention that the weather in Florida in February is wonderful for going on a nice long walk with the family. There was a very interesting part of the trail that veered off the main path and ended up in a beautiful swampy wetland creek. A creek through the Hal Scott PreserveThere we found plenty of healthy cypress trees – complete with the “knees” that poke out of the ground to help the trees “breathe” (bring oxygen to their roots) – while five or six short-tailed hawks glided overhead, searching for prey. At least I think they were short-tailed hawks, and I think they were searching for prey – I admittedly know a lot less about birds of prey than I do carnivorous plants – thanks to my son – so who knows. But it was nonetheless cool to see.

Take advantage of where you live

A short-tailed hawkThe moral of this story is that we managed to find a magical place, full of really interesting carnivorous plants – not to mention plenty of other varieties of flora and fauna – a short drive from our house! And there are plenty of other neat parks and special areas that we hope to explore in the coming months. I suggest taking some time to figure out what interesting sorts of places are located near where you live – parks, reserves, museums, libraries, zoos, theaters, historical sites – and take special trips to those places to explore, enjoy, and learn. Have fun!

Outdoor science

If you’re interested in teaching your children or students a little about outdoor science, here is our Outdoor Science packet for second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade, featuring various interactive activities and projects for them to work on. With this packet, students will learn about:

    The Econlockhatchee River

  • Ponds
  • Food chains and food webs
  • The life cycle of a frog
  • Ecosystems
  • Forests and forest layers, and
  • Tree growth and decomposition.

If you decide to purchase and try out these activities with your class, please leave a comment to let us know what you think about them! And if you have recently taken your kids or students on any interesting outdoor adventures near where you live, I’d love to hear about those adventures as well.

Outdoor Science Activities and Projects

Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Grades

Outdoor Science Activities and Projects

Positive New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year!In those final weeks of December leading up to 2014, I started coming up with some New Year’s resolutions. Without going into too much detail, the resolutions I started coming up with were your typical New Year’s resolutions… those that involved giving something up. In fact, this year I decided to give up two things. Then I started steeling my resolve in preparation for January 1st.

Then, the other day, a friend posted her own New Year’s resolution on her Facebook page. Her New Year’s resolution is – get this – to go to a different restaurant every week in her hometown (and our former hometown) of Charleston, South Carolina.

This resolution turned my idea of New Year’s resolutions on its ear. Not only is she not giving anything up, she’s making a resolution to do something that is fun, and pretty much guaranteed to cost money. How dare she make a resolution like this? Here I am, hunkering down for a year of giving up two things that I enjoy, while she’s resolving to go out and have fun in her hometown.

That’s when I realized that she’s right!

New Year’s resolutions are all about making your life better. When you resolve to lose weight, or quit smoking, or stop spending so much, or cut down on alcohol or caffeine, you’re doing these things because you think you’re going to gain a net benefit from them. No pain, no gain, so to speak. But if your goal is to come up with a New Year’s resolution to make your life more enjoyable, why not make a positive New Year’s resolution instead, or as well? Resolve to do something positive that is going to enhance your life – to make your life more enjoyable.

Why not resolve to experience more this year… to go for more long walks in nature, or to eat different foods from different countries around the world? Maybe visit a country you’ve never been to this year, or resolve to meet someone new every week. Resolve to get back in touch with old friends or distant relatives. Learn a new musical instrument, foreign language, or skill that has always interested you. If you’re a teacher, resolve to come up with one really fun activity every week for your students, or to add one new unique decoration to your classroom every single week – by the end of the school year, your classroom will have that much more character because of it.

Whatever you resolve, or don’t resolve, to do this year, we wish all the best to you and yours in 2014!

Happy New Year!

The Crawfords’ Big Book of Math-tivities

The Crawfords' Big Book of Math-tivities - Common CoreFor a while now, we’ve been sharing updates about the upcoming book that we’re publishing with Compass Books, the educational department of Brigantine Media. Well, this month, the book has finally been released in both paperback and digital (PDF) formats. We’re very excited about it!

The book is called The Crawfords’ Big Book of Math-tivities, and it features a variety of different fun-filled lessons for teaching mathematics for grades K-2. The book was created to align with the Common Core State Standards for mathematics; all Common Core skills for mathematics for grades K-2 can be found in one or more activities in the book. That is to say that if you’re teaching according to the Common Core to students in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade, you’ll be able to find a sample problem or activity that corresponds with each Common Core standard in your grade level.

Fun and creative Common Core math activities

Common Core Mathbooking chapter pageActivities in the book include:

  • Mathbooking, a creative take on math journal prompts
  • Goofy Glyphs, an engaging and potentially silly glyph activity
  • new ideas for incorporating the joy and energy of holidays and seasons into your math teaching
  • fun ideas for puzzles and games
  • ideas for teaching math outdoors
  • unique ways to combine math with storytelling

Instructions and tips for using these methods can be found in the book, as well as ready-to-use sample activities included with each chapter.

We are very excited about this new book – the folks at Brigantine Media have done an amazing job of bringing our activities to life with a fantastic layout and incredible graphics (as you can see by the cover). If you’d like to learn more about the book, here is a PDF preview of the book that you can check out; the book also has its own website.

Purchase the book

Common Core Task Cards chapter pageIf you are interested in taking advantage of the special offer, here are links to purchase the book on the Brigantine Media web site:

The Crawfords’ Big Book of Math-tivities (paperback)

The Crawfords’ Big Book of Math-tivities (PDF)

If you do purchase a copy, we’d be very interested in hearing what you think, and how you plan to use the activities in your classroom. Thanks for your interest in our educational products!

Sixth Grade Math Common Core Breakdown

Common Core for Fifth GradeHere is the Common Core at a glance for the sixth grade. I’m hoping that teachers will be able to use these graphics as posters for their classroom walls to remind them of the Common Core domains that they will be teaching throughout the academic year, and that parents of students who are studying according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative will be able to glance at this pie chart to understand generally what sorts of Common Core math skills their children will be learning. The infographic is available as a free downloadable PDF document that can be found at the bottom of this post.

You will notice that the colors I’ve used in the pie chart for sixth grade are, for the most part, different from those colors I’ve used in my previous charts. This is because in the world of the Common Core, the sixth grade is where things start to get “shaken up a little”. While I’ve been indicating generally the same Common Core domains from kindergarten through to fifth grade (Operations and Algebraic Thinking, Number and Operations in Base Ten, Geometry, etc.) in sixth grade nearly the whole set of Common Core domains changes; only Geometry remains (Geometry remains a Common Core domain all the way through the eighth grade, and then has its own special section during high school, where the Common Core standards are laid out differently from those in elementary school).

Sixth grade skills learned

During the sixth grade, students will be learning, practicing, and reviewing the following CCSS skills:

  • Understanding ratios and using ratios to solve problems
  • Applying understandings of multiplication and division to divide fractions by fractions
  • Fluently solving problems with multi-digit numbers and finding factors and multiples
  • Understanding rational numbers
  • Beginning algebra and learning about variables
  • Solving one-variable equations and inequalities
  • Tackling problems involving area, surface area, and volume
  • Beginning statistics and understanding statistical variability
  • Describing distributions

Sixth Grade Common Core Standards

The Common Core State Standard domains for sixth grade mathematics are broken down in the following percentages:

  • Ratios and Proportional Relationships: 3 standards (10%)
  • The Number System: 8 standards (28%)
  • Expressions and Equations: 9 standards (31%)
  • Geometry: 4 standards (14%)
  • Statistics and Probability: 5 standards (17%)

Beneath each of the domain names you will find what Common Core skills students will be approaching as they work their way through the sixth grade.

Thanks for reading, and please let me know if there are any other interesting charts or infographics you’d like to see about elementary school teaching or the Common Core – I’d be more than happy to create them.

Fifth Grade Math Common Core Breakdown

Common Core for Fifth GradeHere is the Common Core at a glance for the fifth grade, available as a free PDF download at the bottom of this post. This graphic shows the percentage of Common Core standards per Common Core domain, as laid out by the Common Core State Standard Initiative.

While I’ve divided up the skills per domain and shown where the Common Core focus is for this grade level, this doesn’t necessarily mean that teachers should be teaching all of these standards throughout the year using these percentages as a guideline… some skills will of course take longer for students to learn, practice, and review than others. Nonetheless, it is interesting to use this pie chart to see which domains have what focus during the fifth grade year. For example, in the fifth grade, a larger focus is placed on working with fractions; during this school year, students will be learning to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions and work with fractions and whole numbers.

Fifth grade skills learned

Here are some of the fifth grade mathematics skills according to the Common Core State Standard Initiative:

  • Writing and interpreting numerical expressions
  • Showing an understanding of the place value system
  • Working with multi-digit whole numbers and decimals to hundredths
  • Adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions
  • Converting like measurement units within a measurement system
  • Representing and interpreting data and data series
  • Understanding volume and relating volume to multiplication and addition
  • Graphing points on a coordinate plane to solve real-world and mathematical problems
  • Classifying two-dimensional figures into categories based on their properties

Fifth Grade Common Core Standards

The Common Core State Standard domains for fifth grade mathematics are broken down in the following manner:

  • Operations and Algebraic Thinking: 3 standards (12%)
  • Number and Operations in Base Ten: 7 standards (27%)
  • Number and Operations-Fractions: 7 standards (27%)
  • Measurement and Data: 5 standards (19%)
  • Geometry: 4 standards (15%)

The various Common Core skills that students will be learning and practicing during this academic year can be found beneath the headers showing the various percentages of skills learned per Common Core domain.

I hope that this resource serves as a useful tool throughout the fifth grade year!

Fourth Grade Math Common Core Breakdown

Common Core for Fourth GradeHere is the Common Core at a glance for fourth grade mathematics. It is my hope that teachers will use this infographic to share with parents to illustrate some of the various skills that their students will be learning and practicing during the fourth grade academic year. It can also be posted on a classroom wall as a poster, or simply kept as a reference in a desk.

The poster shows a breakdown of the Common Core domains according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and how many standards are in which domains. Of course, teachers aren’t going to be exactly dividing the school year up into the percentages shown on this pie chart – some skills will take longer than others to teach and assimilate. But it does help to show where the CCSS has placed a focus on teaching and learning.

Fourth grade skills learned

Here are some of the skills that children will learn and practice in math class during their fourth year:

  • Solving problems involving the four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Learning about factors and multiples
  • Creating and recognizing patterns
  • Working with place value and properties of operations to perform multi-digit arithmetic
  • Working with fractions and fraction equivalents
  • Understanding decimal notation for fractions, and comparing decimals
  • Solving problems involving measurement and conversion of measurements from larger units into smaller units
  • Representing and interpreting data
  • Understanding and measuring angles
  • Measuring perimeters and areas
  • Drawing and identifying lines and angles
  • Classifying shapes by properties of their lines and angles

Fourth Grade Common Core Standards

The Common Core State Standard domains for fourth grade mathematics are broken down in the following manner:

  • Operations and Algebraic Thinking: 5 standards (18%)
  • Number and Operations in Base Ten: 6 standards (21%)
  • Number and Operations-Fractions: 7 standards (25%)
  • Measurement and Data: 7 standards (25%)
  • Geometry: 3 standards (11%)

Underneath each Common Core domain you will find a list of the various skills that are practiced within that area of knowledge.

I hope that this free PDF download serves as a useful resource!