Time to Celebrate Teachers! Nominate Your Star Elementary Teacher

Grade 4 Box of Free Books and Materials
box with free books
Kindergarten Box of Free Books and Materials!

I still remember my first day of teaching. Eighth grade at Bayside Middle School. I had been hired to teach physical science.  The butterflies, my fear I might fail, the wonder of having my own classroom, the hope I would make a difference.  Teaching has always been in my blood. I come from a long line of teachers and administrators. It was no surprise to my mom when, at the age of 4, she found me in my room with my dolls lined up on the wall and a chalkboard in front of them. And yes, I still have that chalkboard!

The seed to become a teacher was planted well before I was born. I know it is my calling, my purpose in life. But it wasn’t until the 7th grade that I found out teaching science would be my gift. Just like my first day, I can still remember my 7th grade life science teacher Mr. Perino asking us to bring in a sample of water from a pond or somewhere near our house. As he put it we were going to see the life in a drop of water. Life in a drop of water-right! I thought he had lost his mind. Being the rule follower, I did what he asked. From my water sample I learned how to make a wet mount slide, learned to focus the lens on the microscope, and laughed as I put my eye up to the eyepiece and focused. 

Bam-there it was-life in a drop of water!

It was amazing! I might have even shouted out loud how cool it was, but I didn’t care. Suddenly the questions started flooding my mind-how could life live in water. What do they do all day? How do they eat? I wanted to know more! That one activity launched me on the journey to becoming a science teacher.

Teachers teach the next generation of lawyers, doctors, writers, mechanics, truck drivers, teachers, nurses, politicians and so on. This one profession is responsible for inspiring children to dream big and believe they can set the world on fire! Sadly, the wear and tear on teachers is showing. Burnout is becoming a real problem in the teaching profession and the numbers of people seeking to become teachers is dropping.

But you can help to make a difference in the life of a teacher who may be questioning their value. For this years Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), Just Simple Science wants to spread some love to some special teachers! Do you know a teacher who is having a rough time? Maybe someone who just needs a pat on the back? If you do, please nominate them for our first “Celebrating Teacher” award recognition. We are taking nominations for teachers in the Hampton Roads area who teach in grades PreK-5. Nominations are open from April 12-April 28th. At the end of April we will select 7 winners-one from each grade level and give them a box full of books and other supplies.  But we can’t do this with out your help!  Nominate a teacher who needs a little pick-me-up! All you have to do is fill out a simple form and we will do the rest!! There is no cost to this-this is our way of blessing public and private school teachers in the Hampton Roads area (click here to see listing of school districts) Let Just Simple Science bless a teacher you know! Apply today! Applications are open from April 12-April 28.

Developing Expertise-Free Lesson Measuring

Ahhh, the wisdom of yoda!!! One of the greatest lessons we can teach our students is this- when we fail, we learn. My children (Beth and Hugh) hate to be wrong and they hate to fail. Bill and I have really been working with them over the last few years to understand that from our failures come our greatest learning opportunities. I am often reminded of Edison and his work with the light bulb. It took him failing 1,000 times before he got it right. In his words, he didn’t fail 1,000 times. It took 1,000 steps to figure it out.

I often see children struggling the most with skills they don’t use that much in the classroom. Take for instance measuring. Measuring can be a difficult skill to master. One because it involves using a tool that is hard to understand unless you have continued practice with using a ruler.  Think about this-when you use a ruler or measuring tape do you have to google those tiny little marks in between the larger marks? Do you remember how to discern the difference between the 1/4 and the 1/16th line? Come on now-admit it-some of you do!!! I do. Why? Because it is not a tool I use each and every day. Those who work in the construction business use it multiple times a day. Measure 3 times; cut once. Their brains are on autopilot. Ever heard of the phrase if you don’t use it you lose it?

This week’s free lesson is a part of the lesson Measuring Plants and Animals. The lesson is really a tiered center activity that allows students to practice measuring. The group activity you are getting today involves students using inch worms (non-standard unit of measurement) to measure pictures of plants and animals. Students are given different pictures of plants and animals and ask to measure how wide, tall, and how long are the objects in the picture. The other center activity in the lesson plan calls for students to measure multiple attributes at one time (if you would like the entire lesson plan click here).

We teach students to begin measuring with non-standard units of measurement because it gives them a visual representation of an estimate of how long something is. Sometimes we don’t need to be precise; we just need a quick estimate. For example, one inch (2.5 cm) is roughly the measurement from the top knuckle on your thumb to your thumb tip. The rule is this-parts of your body can be used to estimate many common units of measurement. Of course it is a good idea to first measure your own body parts in order to understand how close your own proportions are to these averages.For more information on how to use body parts to measure, check this out!

I tell science teachers all the time, look for ways to incorporate measuring into the science curriculum. Don’t wait until the math unit to teach an reinforce this skill. Practice makes perfect!

Author Study and Science: Top Secret Free Lesson Friday

Have you ever read a great book and wondered more about the author and why he/she wrote the story they put on paper? I know I have! Intrigued by the story, I was left to wonder how they came up with the story. How did they know they wanted to be a writer? Did they ever struggle to put words to page like I do?

Engaging students in an author study is the perfect way to help them to see beyond the stories and learn not only about the authors behind the stories, but to make a connection to them. An author study is a strategy where students go deeper into the author’s life and the stories they have written. Through author studies, students build critical thinking skills, foster deeper connection to the stories they are reading, and provides a different way to build literacy skills.

This week’s free lesson is an author study about John Reynolds Gardiner, specifically focused on his book Top Secret. Top is secret is a story I absolutely adore! It is the tale of a young boy who wants to figure out a way to turn himself into a plant so he can make his own food. Through the story he designs his own experiment, carefully manipulating variables to see if they work. Through the twist and turns, your students will love this story. A bonus is the story is a great connection to inquiry and the process of designing an experiment! Students will also learn how, even with the lack of encouragement, you can accomplish what you dream.

John Reynolds Gardiner had a vivid imagination along with a great sense of humor. As he was getting ready to graduate high school, his English teacher told him he would never make it in his college English classes and writing compositions. While he didn’t write any stories between ages of 18-28, he ended up enrolling in a television writing class and his writing career finally took off!

I hope you enjoy this week’s free lesson and the book Top Secret!

Spring is Coming! Life Cycle Hats

We are having a cold snap here in Virginia and I have to tell you, I am ready for spring! Spring is one of my favorite seasons for many reasons. I love the rebirth of flowers that have been laying dormant throughout the winter. Trees come to life in a colorful rebirth. And of course the average temperature throughout the day gets warmer. With the onset of spring I know summer is not far away.

Hopefully your science curriculum has placed the topic of life cycles during the springtime months. It is always easy to grow plants in the spring versus the wintertime (unless you have a greenhouse). Today’s free lesson comes from an upcoming preschool science unit that will be released sometime this summer (be on the lookout! ). I will be releasing both a public school version and a version for Christian Schools (spring is a great time to connect to the topic of resurrections).

Today’s free lesson combines science with art. This activity is good for fine motor developing and to have your young scientist practice sequencing/putting things in order.

Here is what you need:

  • Life Cycle Cut and Color Sheet
  • Green Construction Paper (enough to make a green band wide enough to go around each budding scientist’s head)
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Life Cycle Book (coming soon!)

Here is what you do:

Have the children color the plant life cycle of butterfly life cycle before cutting out (easier).  Read a book on life cycles and talk to your budding scientist about how living things, both plants and animals, have a life cycle. A life cycle shows the series of changes in the life of a plant or animal (organisms) as they grow and develop. Each stage has a specific purpose for the life of the plant or the animal. For example, in the caterpillar stage, the main goal is for the caterpillar to eat, and eat, and eat. It takes a lot of energy for a caterpillar to transform into a butterfly. Be sure and explain to children how a life cycle is a pattern of growth and development. This is important! By linking the topic of life cycles to patterns, they can begin to identify other patterns in nature (weather patterns, patterns on a butterfly’s wing).

I hope you enjoy this free lesson and have fun being creative with your budding scientists!

Photosynthesis Free Lesson-Elementary/Middle School

We are having a cold snap here in Virginia and I have to tell you I am ready for spring! Spring is one of my favorite seasons for many reasons. I love the rebirth of flowers that have been laying dormant throughout the winter. Trees come to life in a colorful rebirth. And of course the average temperature throughout the day gets warmer. With the onset of spring I know summer is not far away.

Springtime is the perfect time to help your budding scientists understand how plants make their own food through the process of photosynthesis. In this free lesson, your students will observe the process of photosynthesis and then use what they have learned to design their own experiment.

Here is what you need:

  • elodea plant for each group
  • small container to put plant in

What your students will do:

Post the following question: “What happens when an Elodea plant is placed in a test tube and put in the sunlight?” This is descriptive research instead of experimental because students are just observing what happens. They will learn from this research that the plant will produce oxygen as the plant sits in the sunlight. 

Have students work together to set up plant in the test tube.

Once done and the plants have been placed in a sunny spot, have the students make observations at the same time during the next few days.  Remind them to be careful observers!

Once students have seen the bubbles and the test tube fill up with gas at the top (water will be pushed out at the bottom of test tube), time to have students learn about photosynthesis. Use the following discussion questions to start the conversation: •What did you observe happening on the surface of the plant? •What do you think are those bubbles? •What else did you observe?

Hope you enjoy this free lesson!

Making a Rainbow in a Cup! Free Lesson Friday

Hopefully you downloaded my observation sheet to use when you have your students grow clover for St. Patrick’s Day.  Today I want to share another fun activity to do with your students around March 17th.  This activity is a great way to practice making colors!

Materials: clear cups, paper towel, and food coloring.

Here is what you do:
Step 1:
Each cup will need its own paper towel. Fold and trim the paper towels so that they will rest easily into the cups. Make sure the paper towel to touch the bottoms of each cup, but not rise up too far out of the top.

Step 2:
Line up the cups in an arc to resemble a rainbow or a circle like you see below.

Fill cups 1, 3, and 5 with water. Leave cups 2, 4, and 6 empty. Because the next step involves adding food coloring and stirring, fill up the cups only half way. This will make the next step easier if you choose to have the students do the stirring.

Step 3:
Stir a few drops of red food coloring into cup 1. Stir a few drops of yellow food coloring into cup 3. Stir a few drops of blue food coloring into cup 5.

Step 4:
Insert a folded paper towel into each cup as shown below so that one end of the paper towel is in a cup with colored water and the other end is an empty cup. Be sure to leave cups 2, 4, and 6 empty.

Step 5:
Almost immediately you should start to see the water climbing up the paper towels. Carefully add more water to the cups with colored water so that they almost reach the top. Then leave your cups alone for a couple of hours and when you return you’ll have a rainbow!

Here is the science behind this activity:
Just like water “climbs up” the roots of plants from the soil, the colored water in the cups climbs up the paper towels, against gravity. This is called capillary action. The paper towel is a very absorbent, so the colored water is able to move through it very quickly. It then drips down into the empty glass. The color of the two primary colors mixes to create secondary colors!!

Have fun doing this science activity!

Image may contain: drink, plant and indoor

Science and St. Patrick’s Day

One of the best things about our country is the melting pot of races and cultures. As people migrated to America and looked to live here, they brought a variety of traditions we still celebrate today. Tradition(s) is an important concept to teach to young children. Tradition means the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

The Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because it observes the death of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Over the years, the holiday has evolved into a celebration of Irish culture with parades, special foods, music, dancing, and a whole lot of green. One of the traditions to come out of St. Patrick’s Day is the the finding of a 4 leaf clover for good luck.

Did you know the White Clover plant is the only real four-leaf clovers? I didn’t, but what I learned was this:  the plant regularly produces four-leaf clovers which is one reason why they are so rare.

For the Irish, each leaf of the clover symbolizes a piece of tradition; one is for Faith, one for Hope, one for Love and the fourth for Luck. In Irish tradition, the three leaf clover represents the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, if someone was to find a clover with the fourth leaf then that fourth leaf represented God’s Grace. Legend also has it Eve carried a four-leaf clover out of the Garden of Eden with her to remind her of the wonderful garden she had been cast out of by God.

What better way to teach the traditions of the Irish people than to connect science with history!  With the first day of spring a few days later, you can have your students observe the stages of a growth of a plant. It takes a clover plant a couple of days to start growing (if room temperature is above 59 degrees, only takes between 1-5 days to start germinating) and within 10-12 weeks from planting you should get your first flower! Here is what you need:

Materials:

What you do:

Have the students make observations of the seeds (they are really tiny). Then plant in the soil and place in a sunny area. Have your children make observations of the plant growth over the weeks. As you near St. Patrick’s Day, read the book What is St. Patrick’s Day and talk about the traditions the Irish brought over when they settled in America. You can even listen to some Irish music and watch Irish dancing! Be sure to talk to your children about the term tradition and why traditions are passed from one generation to another!

Free Lesson Friday

Happy Friday friends!! Did you know that every Friday over on my facebook page I share free lesson ideas? Well, I do!! Be sure to follow me on facebook! You can find me here!! This week I share one of my all time favorite lessons-popping popcorn. Great lesson that shows the water cycle in a totally different way. You don’t want to miss grabbing this lesson idea!

Building Identity in Your Classroom

A few weeks ago I shared some activities you can use to help build a classroom culture that helps your students to know, as Rusty Berkus says, ” they are not a xerox of anyone else-that their life is an original work of art.” In a world where all too often our students do not feel they have worth, our classrooms can be places that go counter to the culture in which they live. I don’t know if you are like me, but after my first week of teaching I realized my students were living in homes that were not like the one I grew up in.

Many of my students came from poverty and some experienced things I had never known-living with a grandparent; having one parent who worked crazy hours; having to take care of their younger siblings. After a year in that environment, I realized my calling was not just to teach my students to seek understanding of God’s world through the processes of science, but to teach them they each had value and a purpose. Matthew 10:31 reminds us that God considers us to be more valuable than many sparrows (Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrow).

Sadly, many of my students felt they had no worth or value. In conversations, my students would share with me the isolation they felt at home. They shared how they felt pressure from the responsibility of getting their siblings ready for school in the morning. I also heard stories of how they just wanted their parents to talk to them instead of talking (or rather yelling) at them. While I certainly was not a substitute for their parents, I learned I could create a classroom environment that would help them to thrive. I learned from research I could be a significant influence in their lives (watch this video!!). In today’s blog post I want to share two things I did to create a culture where students realized they had worth! Be sure to come back later this week as I share more ideas that worked for me!

1. Hand-shake:  I am sure you have seen the video-you know the one, where the teacher has a personalized handshake for each child in his classroom. While this is really cool, you don’t have to be that elaborate!  During my second year of teaching I started shaking my student’s hands as a way to greet them and to welcome them to our classroom!

I introduced it by telling them I wanted to greet them in the morning. Because I taught secondary students, many of the mornings I was still prepping for the labs we would do. But shaking my students hands forced me to be ready each morning to greet them. I can still remember the groans from my Biology students when I introduced the concept to them. While some of my students rolled their eyes, they went along with my idea.

Each morning I stood by the door and greeted them. For those that were not feeling well, I told them they had to at least make eye contact or smile. For me, I found the entire exercise to be refreshing and uplifting! The activity immediately gave me insight into which students were entering my classroom after a rough start.  This gave me a chance to talk with them and diffuse the emotions so they could focus during class. I also found myself looking forward to the greetings! It made me feel good to have my students at least acknowledge I was there!

I had no clue whether or not it was making a difference in my students lives until the first day I was out of school.I was out for two days due to the flu and when I came back, still not 100%, I found my students waiting by the door to greet me! They all mentioned they had missed the handshakes-so much so I had several of them who wanted two-one on the way into class and one on the way out!! I encourage you to try this!!

2. Standing Ovations: Our church has been doing a movie series and the last sermon focused on the movie “Wonder.” If you have seen it, then you know it is an amazing movie. One of my favorite quotes from the movie is this- “I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”

Every  one needs a standing ovation!! In fact, I used to do this in my classroom and it was amazing! To introduce the fact everyone would get a standing ovation in my classroom, I just told my students they were born inherently worthy. As I explained to them, ‘inherently’ simple meant it is not something they had earned; their recognition was based on the simple fact they were born fearfully and wonderfully made. That each of them has unique talents and abilities that sets them apart from their classmates and thus makes them worthy of praise!

In explaining the process, I told them that at various times we would recognize one student for their worth to our classroom.  To recognize them, we would give them a standing ovation. I explained when I called a name, that student would come to the front of the room and for 15 second, we would hoot and holler while everyone was on their feet. I had one student demonstrate the process. When the student got to the front, I simply said on the count of three let’s give _______ a standing ovation!! That means I want you to hoot and holler.

At first my students couldn’t believe I was giving them permission to yell in the classroom-but I did (note-be sure to let your fellow teachers who teach next to you in on what you are doing!).  I kept it short-just 15 seconds worth, but the look on the student’s faces was priceless.  To make sure I got to everyone, I put their names on index cards and throughout the year I or a student would randomly pull each child’s card.  But here is the best part, over time, my student’s started asking to give each other standing ovations for things they did-like doing well at the school’s track meet, or making the choice to walk way from a fight. It was magical!! Be sure to include your name!! Even we deserve a standing ovation!!

I hope these ideas are something you will use to make your students understand they are fearfully and wonderfully made and bring great worth to your classroom!

Back-to-School! Ideas for Starting off Your Year

I can’t believe it is that time of year again!! Where has summer gone? Do you feel like it just rushed by like a speeding train? I keep thinking I will find a way to slow it down, but every summer seems to go faster than the last one. Oh well. Time continues to march on…

Over the next few weeks I am going to share some of my favorite back-to-school ideas. You know, each year brings a different group of students and while my curriculum stayed the same (unless I switched grade levels), I found my students were so different. Each year brought different challenges. I continue to believe it is my job to get to know my students well; to know what makes them tick. Part of getting to know them involves getting to know what they think they are good at! Today’s activity does just that and uses something that is unique to each of us-a thumbprint!

When do you use this activity Dr. Jenny Sue?  I normally used this lesson on the 3rd of 4th day of the first week and began the activity by explaining to my students that throughout our weekly morning meetings (I held meetings on Monday and Fridays), I would be doing either a fun or self-efficacy building activity (I explained to  my students self-efficacy is what we believe about ourselves) that would help us grow as a class or to shift our mindset with regards to our self-efficacy.  In this first activity, I explained while we are all humans and we share the same material that makes us human (our DNA), we are unique. So unique that we have different fingerprints! In this activity, they are going to use a thumbprint to make a drawing inspired by the thumbprint!!

Now if your students get panicked about having to do a drawing, just remind them it is impossible to do this activity incorrectly-just draw a stick figure if they want!! This is their depiction of something they like to do or something they feel they are good at doing!

How do you do the activity? Pass out the thumbprints and give them 3 minutes to draw a scene! After they have completed their drawings, have them get into a group and share what their drawing is about. Then have them share with the class. Once everyone has shared, if they allow you to do so, post the drawings on a bulletin board so everyone can see!!

Why I do this activity?  During the first month of school, I like to focus on building the identity, connection, and purpose for our classroom.  Thumbprint drawings are one of the activities I use to build the identity of my students and our classroom. I don’t know about you, but each year I found my students struggled with understanding how beautifully and wonderfully they were made by God. While I spent most of my life in a public school and could not openly discuss God with them, I found that many of the activities I did pointed them to this truth!

Our students come to our classrooms seeking answers to 3 basic questions- who am I? Do you care about me? What can I eventually do with my life?  Our students want to feel valued, recognized, and accepted. To build their self-efficacy (what they believe about themselves), we have to give them the opportunity to see that each of them have a unique talent or set of abilities that make them different and yet similar to their classmates. They all have desires, interests, fears, and strengths.  Getting our students to open up and be vulnerable may be challenging, but if we can get them to share, we create and deepen relationships!

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us!.” This activity is just one that I like to use to get students taking a risk and discovering the unique qualities that lie within them and their classmates.  Plus, I just loved seeing their drawings and hearing the funny stories. My students really seemed to love this activity!

Want more ideas for the first week of school? Download my free idea packet here!