Apple Schoolhouse STEM Challenge – The Planning Stage

I was spending time with my nephews and they had a problem that they could not solve. I asked them if they had ever heard of the design process because I thought it would be helpful to them. They had not heard of it. I explained how the design process is used in engineering, but is now more commonly being applied to school projects as well as combatting everyday obstacles. Simply put the design process takes a problem and makes it more manageable by breaking it down into pieces.

The problem they were trying to solve was who could build a catapult out of lego bricks that could fling a minifigure across the room the farthest. We sat down and started to talk about the design process.

After we spent the afternoon talking this, I decided this would be a useful document I could make for my TeachersPayTeachers store. I decided to base a series of STEM challenges around the design process. The first challenge is to make an apple schoolhouse.

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We had fun getting the materials together. I cut all of the apples so that they would have to work with the pieces given. I did this as an extra challenge, once I heard they wanted to slice the apples thinly and use them for shingles. I even gave them the apple core, as you never know what they might want to do with it.

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They had a lot of fun designing the house together and brainstorming what they wanted to add to their house. My youngest nephew insisted on a door that would open.

The planning stage is important! Planning helps students to narrow down their thoughts and focus on the best solution. In this they need to focus on the details. This is why I encourage the students to not simply draw out their plan, but to create a diagram when is a detailed labeled blue print.

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There are other steps to the design process, but I’ll focus on those in other posts.

Here are a few more fun pictures of them working on their Apple Schoolhouse.

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Here is the finished product! He’s so proud of their accomplishment and it was a fun way to teach them a lot about the design process. I loved the fact that they managed to create a door out of apple and pipe cleaners that would open and close! I especially love how they used part of the paper plate as the roof!

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You can get this product here: STEM Challenges Back to School

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TPT sale for the month of May

A smart pupToday and tomorrow, TPT is having a sale, and we are participating. All of our products are 20% off, and TPT will take an additional 10% off of that if you use the code “CELEBRATE”. Thanks for checking out our store, and have a wonderful spring!

Earth Day coloring page

A cottage in northern Ontario at dawnIt is April, and Earth Day is coming up! Earth Day is one of my favorite days, as I am a big fan of the natural world. Earth Day is a great day to get with your kids and explain to them why it is important to care for our amazing planet, and to discuss the things we can do to make life better for all living creatures here on Earth.

Here is a coloring page that you can use in your classroom to celebrate the day! And if you’re looking for products to use in your classroom for Earth Day, please be sure to check out our online store. Have a wonderful month of April!

Lessons in wax

Barack Obama in waxThe other day we visited the Madame Tussauds wax museum in Orlando, Florida. It was an interesting visit, and my first time at a Madame Tussauds.

One thing that surprised me was how interactive the attraction is. Alongside the wax mannequins, nearly every exhibit features a variety of interactive games, quizzes, mini-sports, musical instruments, costumes, and other assorted props and activities that kids (and adults) can freely play with. Before visiting the museum I had expected that the various wax figures would be cordoned off, while people would work their way through the museum in a long queue, as is typical in museums and museum-like settings. However, much of the Madame Tussauds was quite open, and people were invited to touch and otherwise interact with the various wax figures on display. I saw plenty of people taking selfies with their favorite mannequins.

Martin Luther King, Jr. in waxMadame Tussauds had some educational value, but it was somewhat limited. Each wax mannequin featured a little plaque on a nearby wall that presented information about the various historical figures behind the mannequins. However, while the wax museum could have been quite a significant educational experience for students, I found that most of the figures were of famous celebrities. There were a few important figures from history who were featured – Ponce de Leon, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King, Jr., for example. They even had a replica of Madame Tussaud herself, with an explanation of how she created her original wax mannequins. However, the vast majority of wax figures were of current or recent celebrities – Taylor Swift, Jimmy Fallon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Reynolds, and so on. Of course, you could learn a bit about these celebrities while touring the exhibit, but the Madame Tussauds wasn’t really set up to be an educational experience; it is meant to be simple entertainment for an hour or so.

In all, it was a fun visit.

Valentine’s Day poem and writing activity

Valentine's DayA while back I posted a writing activity for the wintertime, including a winter poem. Today, I’m doing the same thing for Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a day for love and caring – not just for couples, but for friends, family, and relatives as well. So I wrote this poem for you to use in your classroom or with your homeschool group. It’s not a very deep poem – just a few stanzas about celebrating Valentine’s Day in February, and keeping the caring going throughout the year.

After you’ve read the poem in class, or had your students read the poem, there is a short writing activity for them to complete. Using this writing activity, your students can analyze the poem and discuss how they felt about it. You can also have them write their own Valentine’s Day poems as an additional activity.

Valentine’s Day Close Reading

Valentine's Day Close Reading

If you’re interested in more fun reading activities for your classroom, I’ve created a Valentine’s Day Close Reading packet, with reading passages and activities for your kids to complete in class. If you check it out, be sure to let me know what you think! I always appreciate the feedback.

I hope you have a wonderful month of February, and a terrific Valentine’s Day!

Video games for fun and fitness

Wii Fit PlusI think our family is in the minority in that we do not have a video game console system. Most people I know of these days have either an Xbox or a PlayStation of some variety – maybe both. As for us, the last console that we owned was a Sega Dreamcast (mostly for the excellent game Soul Calibur). That was before we had children, and while I’m sure it’s safely packed away somewhere, I have no idea where that might be.

Generally I do not find that console games are “good” for kids. I suppose they serve as a diversion from reality, and are fun for kids to play with, but most of the games I’ve seen on these consoles are popcorn for the eyes, with too-fast-paced action, lots of animated violence, and little else.

That said…

My parents do have a gaming console… a Nintendo Wii. It is several years old now, but still in good working condition. They have a variety of games for it, including Just Dance 1, 2, and 3, Zumba Fitness, and Wii Fit Plus.

When we visit my parents, our kids enjoy playing on the Wii, and while I’m usually not impressed by console games, I’m very impressed by the way the Wii manages to incorporate fun and fitness. Wii Fit Plus, for example, has a variety of different games that kids can play that will track what sort of exercises they are doing, how active they’re being, how their balance stacks up, and how many calories they are burning. Our daughter in particular will play on the Wii for ages, going through the different games, doing lots of dancing and moving about, and generally getting in shape while having fun.

The Wii has been discontinued, and it doesn’t seem that many modern gaming systems require the use of the entire body to play. I think that is too bad – but I am hopeful that there will soon be more games that people will play that combine fun and fitness. I think these sorts of games are great for both body and mind. I’d certainly play them!

Indoor gardening with an AeroGarden

AeroGarden BountyThis past Christmas, our son received an AeroGarden system. He is big into plants in general, though he favors edible plants (fruits, vegetables, and herbs) and of course, carnivorous plants.

The AeroGarden system, by Miracle-Gro, is not exactly a full hydroponic system, but it is pretty close. Plant seeds come in small pre-packaged pods that do contain some dirt. These pods then rest in a basin of circulating water, with plant food added. In the AeroGarden Bounty system our son received, there is a little touch screen that will display when water or plant food needs to be added, and the status of the system in general.

AeroGarden Bounty

So far, the system has been working well. Every pod in the starter package of different types of herbs has sprouted successfully. And the system is extremely simple to use – the Bounty system automatically turns the LED lights off at midnight every night, and back on again at eight in the morning. Since the system is already filled with water, you don’t actually have to do anything to care for your plants. The only work involved is adding plant food and water when necessary, and trimming the plants as required.

The ease of this system made me think that it might be useful to put into classrooms. Nobody will have to care for the plants, and it is likely they will grow successfully (at least to begin with – we’ve only had the system for a few weeks, so I can’t vouch for any long-term results). Of course, having your kids take care of the plants in your classroom is part of the benefit of keeping plants at school – but if you’re too busy for that, one of the smaller AeroGarden systems might suffice. And if you get a starter kit with herbs or vegetables, you can even produce your own food for your kids to eat.

Herbs in the AeroGarden

The AeroGarden Bounty system earned generally good reviews on Amazon, though according to customer feedback, there may be a few quality issues with the water pump that circulates the water inside the machine. Time will tell if that is the case for our system in particular.

I’m looking forward to seeing the plants in the system getting bigger and bushier!

Celebrate diversity for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr.I’ve just completed work on a new product – Martin Luther King, Jr. Close Reading. I would love for you to check it out, because I think it is one of the best products I have completed to date.

To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the month of January, I’ve created a Celebrate Diversity worksheet available as a free download for you to do with your kids. You’ll find it after the following information about my new Martin Luther King, Jr. product available at our online store.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Close Reading

For Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, here is a book containing nine different non-fiction informational texts about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. There are chapters about Rosa Parks and President Barack Obama included as well, so that young readers can get an idea of the works of some of the African American leaders in our past and present.

Here are some pictures of some of the stories and activities being completed. Please note that if you have any pictures of your own to send us of kids completing any of our activities, I’d be glad to feature them!

Writing about personal civil rights:

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Sorting events in the story of Rosa Parks:

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The completed Rosa Parks activity:

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Reading about the works of President Barack Obama:

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Completing a civil rights vocabulary word search:

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If all this looks interesting to you, and you would like to check out the product, here it is. I’m hoping that it will serve as a comprehensive introduction to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Close Reading

Click here. Covers Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Grades.

Celebrate diversity in the classroom

Here is a fun and free activity for you to use in your classroom or homeschool group to celebrate the diversity of the group. Have students take these printables and interview the other students in the class. They can find out which languages those students speak, what religions they follow, what countries they or their parents come from, and what interests and future aspirations they have. When they’re done, they should have worksheets full of interesting diverse answers from the kids in the classroom.

I hope you have a fantastic month of January, and a fun and educational Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

A winter poem and writing activity

A snowy dayHere’s something fun for your students to do in class during the wintertime – a free winter poem and writing activity.

Snowy Day

I wrote a wintertime poem called “Snowy Day” – just a bit of fun about a kid playing in the snow. I purposefully used the same rhyming scheme used in one of my own favorite poems about snow: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost. If you’re teaching poetry this winter season, you might consider reading your students that one – if you haven’t already done so.

BFFsI have also included an writing activity page with the poem so that your students can analyze the poem. You can also have your students read the poem out loud in class, and discuss it as a group.

I hope your kids have fun reading the poem and completing the activity! And if you’re looking for more winter activities to do with your students this winter season, please be sure to check out our store – we have dozens of wintertime activities on sale there, as well as products for Christmas, New Years, and the 100th Day of School.

I hope that your wintertime is spectacular. Have fun in the snow!

Christmas close reading

christmas-stories-readingClose reading is a careful, purposeful examination of a text, often involving rereading, discussion, word definitions, and written analysis. Normally, close reading is applied to nonfiction and informative texts. However, you can also use close reading to give fiction stories, books, and even poems an in-depth investigation. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) mention that students must provide examples and justification for the answers that they give in their texts. As such, close reading is a great skill for students to learn in conjunction with a Common Core education.

Close reading stories for Christmas

christmas-stories-coloring-picturesWith Christmas coming, it seems like giving some Christmas stories a close read would be a fun activity for kids, and can help get them in the Christmas spirit. I’ve put together a packet of four short stories kids can read, discuss, and explore during those few weeks before the winter break. They feature a variety of Christmas and winter themes, including Santa Claus, gift giving, winter fun, and holiday caroling.

The stories in the packet include:

  • Santa’s Workshop: Santa faces a crisis when a new toy is introduced right before Christmas
  • The Perfect Gift: Addison and Logan search for the perfect Christmas present for their mother
  • Winter Fun: Jack and Lucy spend a fun day playing in the fresh snow
  • Going Caroling: Michael can’t sing – so why is he going caroling?

Here are a few pictures of the Christmas stories being colored and worked on, plus a sample page from one of the stories:

Coloring the pictures in the stories:

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Working on the writing prompts and discussion:

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A page from the Santa’s Workshop story:

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Those stories can be found here:

Christmas Reading Passages - Close Reading

Third, Fourth, and Fifth Grades

If you try the close reading stories out with your students, please let me know how it goes! I am always interested in feedback, and I love hearing how people use the various products that we create.

I hope that you and your kids have a fun few weeks before the winter break. Have a great holiday season!