Tuesday, October 13, 2020

It's alive!

Every year, I teach my littles about living and non-living organisms and basic needs. And every year I seem to have a hard time really getting them excited about this new unit. I know it's important that they understand this before we move on to our habitats unit, but no matter how many songs we sang, they were still just "eehh" about the whole thing.



I've learned the way to my littles' minds is through the art of surprise. Plus, we all know the way to their hearts is through their stomachs. So, when I friend shared this idea with me, I was sold!

How to Hook Them

I try to set this activity up for a time after they've been out of the class for specials or recess. When we're about the enter the room I say, "I placed some new friends for you to meet at your tables. They don't bite and whatever you do, please don't eat them!"

This leaves them looking around at each other wondering what in the world their crazy teacher has done now. Come to think of it, it's probably lessons like this that have earned me the name "tricky teacher" from my class! It's so fun to watch how differently the kids react to the worms. Some squeal because they've never touched an actual worm before. Some scoop the worms right up and start showing them off to their tablemates. By the end of the lesson, most kids have been brave enough to at least POKE the earthworm. Some think they've made a new lifelong friend!

Now for the Lesson

First, I tell my "scientists" that they'll be making careful observations. I'll be posing questions throughout this lesson. It's their job to work together with their group to find the answers. They'll need to use both their observations and what they already know.

 My first 2 questions: "How are these two things the same? How are these two things different?" 

I usually give them about 5-10 minutes to make observations and discuss at their tables.

Next, I have them push the worms away from their inquiring hands so we can have a class share. I like to have a venn diagram ready with "earthworm" on one side and "gummy worm" on the other. My Littles share out and we add to the chart.

Then, we take a closer look at our observations. It typically doesn't take long for them to put the clues together and decide one is living and one is non-living. We discuss what observations led us to believe the earth worm is living and the gummy worm is non-living. This leads to great discussions about if all living things can move, breathe, etc. Eventually, we realize both plants and animals are living but have very different qualities.

Next, I pose another question: "What does this earthworm need to survive?"

The groups record their ideas on a dry erase board so they can add and erase throughout the discussion. After a bit, we share out and I write all common answers on the board. We continue to discuss until we end up with SWEAT - shelter, water, energy (food), air, and time to grow.

We end this lesson with one final question: "What do YOU need to survive?"  

This part is always so interesting to me. It takes a VERY long time for the groups to realize they have the same basic needs as the earthworm! At first, the groups will list many needs and wants on their boards. As I walk around, we do a lot of need vs. want explanation. Eventually, we come to the conclusion that our basic needs are actually the same as earthworms. We just fulfill our basic needs in different ways.

This lesson is the perfect, engaging lead into my habitats unit. Learn about how I integrate art and science during our week of learning about habitats HERE.

Of course, you have to celebrate your new learning with a treat! I let my little choose which type of worms they want to eat! 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Turn Your Class Into Cookie Paleontologists!

The best way to understand someone else is to step into their shoes right? That's why I love this Cookie Paleontologist activity so much! My Littles get hands-on experience excavating "fossils".

So, what's so great about this lesson?

A. It incorporates subjects other than just science!

B. It gives my Littles a chance to literally try out being a paleontologist. They learn so much about what a paleontologist does, how fragile fossils can be, and the tools that paleontologists use. You can see their personalities coming out as they "dig". Plus, there are great problem solving strategies being used. Some are focused on not making crumbs of their cookie, while others decide to crumble it from the start! 

C. They REMEMBER this activity! At the end of every year I talk with my Littles about our favorite memories from that school year. This Cookie Paleontologist day is brought up every single time! And that means their learning from that day is forever in their little brains. Isn't that the end goal of this teaching gig?

If you think your Littles would enjoy stepping into the shoes of a Paleontologist, you can find it HERE

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Use Self-Portraits to Celebrate Diversity!

Creating self-portraits is one of my traditional first week of school activities. Each year, I have the class draw self-portraits the first week of 2nd grade and the last week of 2nd grade. I can't help but giggle as they create their first masterpieces because they're so adorable. These little 6 or 7-year-olds are so focused and create the cutest little versions of themselves! I can also picture what many of their final self-portraits will look like. Fine motor skills develop a lot in second grade. That means when this class pulls out these self-portraits in just 9 short months, they'll be shocked by their current "best work". They'll soon be giggling just like I am now! 

I also like to turn this activity into a diversity lesson. Here's how I do it:

Step 1: 

I typically start by reading the book Picture Perfect. This book was written by a real 2nd grade class. The kids love this! 

Step 2: 

The students lightly sketch their self-portraits from shoulders up with pencil. Then, they trace over their sketch with black marker.

Step 3: 

Next, I tell them that I bought a brand new box of crayons for each table. I make sure to really play up the importance of these brand-new, special crayons. The kids typically can't wait to get their hands on them. As each table dumps out the box of crayons, they'll notice only one or two colors in their box. For example, one box might have pink and purple. Another might have green and yellow. 

Some kids will think nothing of it and try to start coloring. You'll want to catch them before they color their entire face green!! It should only take a few seconds before kids start moaning and are ready to explain that they just don't have enough colors. 

Step 4:

I tell them that they are absolutely correct! There are so many beautiful colors in the world! Next, I read the book The Colors of Us.
We talk about how beautiful and important our different colors are. If we all looked exactly the same, how boring would that be?! 

Finally, we all put our arms in a circle and take a picture. I like to use this picture as the background of our class Facebook page.

Step 5:

At this point, I take out the Crayola markers that are made to match many different skin colors. We try out all of the colors until we find a perfect shade for everyone. 

And FINALLY, they use those and a real box of crayons to color their self-portraits. 

By the end of this lesson, 

we have adorable self-portraits and an appreciation for the diversity in our classroom! 

(This picture was taken in 2019 - before Covid regulations.)
clipart credit: Creative Clips - Krista Wallden

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Learning Genres in Camp Read-A-Lot

It's finally starting to feel and look like fall outside. It's about time! This time of year I just want to throw on a hoodie and cozy up by a campfire. There just isn't a better time of year to transform the classroom into a camping theme - complete with a tent, camping chairs, a "campfire" and s'mores! "Camp Read-A-Lot" was the perfect way to introduce my class to a few new fiction genres. I like to do this project early in the year because it really sets the stage for learning about book genres all year long.

The "campout" consists of 4 stations: fables, fairy tales, poems and realistic fiction. I was lucky enough to have a parent volunteers to help with each station. The kids wear their comfy pajamas and bring sleeping bags or blankets so they are snuggly all day long. 


Obviously, this is a class favorite. Who wouldn't love hangin' out in a tent in the middle of their classroom? At this station, the kids read various fables. They learn about the characters and discuss the moral of the stories. They each make their own flipbook to take notes as they learn.


This is such an important station because we do a lot with realistic fiction in 2nd grade. I set the mood with a crackling campfire next to the carpet. You can find hours of campfire videos on Youtube. First, the group reads Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Then, they discuss why the story is realistic fiction. Finally, they write their own realistic fiction camping stories.


This station is typically the loudest because it's filled with laughter! First, the group learns about the elements of fairy tales. Then, they work together to write a fairy tale themed Madlib. The final story always turns out super funny and leaves the group in stitches!


This station might not look all that exciting, but the kids still love it. Why? Because this is where they get their treat! This year I filled baggies with the S'mores flavor of Goldfish. It has little fish shaped graham crackers, chocolates and marshmallows. Besides the yummy snack, they also do a little learning here. They read poetry together and then write their very own s'mores themed poem to take home!

The stations typically take about 15-20 minutes each. I've spend the rest of the day completing camping themed math stations or doing a read-a-thon making sure students read from each of the new genres. This year we invited 1st graders to our room to buddy read and "camp" with us for a while.

And another successful "Camp Read-A-Lot" is complete! It's such an easy and engaging day of learning. If you'd like to try this out, you can find my camping materials FREE here

Happy camping! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Kindness Cafe Part 3: Day of Cafe & Revealing the Total

The day of our cafe my littles came in buzzing! They were so excited to finally see all of their hard work come into play!

We started by having a quick "mock" cafe with another class. The servers pretended to take orders and money. The cashiers went through the motions of organizing the money in the money box. The food prep workers practiced filling pretend orders for servers. The managers walked around checking on guests and solving their pretend problems. Finally, the bussers cleared invisible food and trash from the tables.

We talked about "service with a smile" and "the customer is always right". We discussed the fact that things WILL go wrong. For example, we could run out of the customer's favorite kind of cookie and they might have to make a new choice. This happens in the real world. They learned that even bad news can be delivered with a smile and a helping hand.

Finally, it was time for the real deal! Here are some pictures of the action:

 Each child had an official badge with their name, cafe logo and job title.

The tables were set up with place-mats, cups of crayons and tissue paper flowers for the guest classes.

 Check out the cashiers organizing the donations as they came in.

This was our food prep station where orders were filled. 

Service with a smile!  

 The place-mats were a huge hit!

This was our special table reserved for teachers who came to "dine in". 

There were many teachers who wanted to stop by and get a "to-go" order during their plan time. There were actually so many more than we planned that I had to steal a few "bussers" to help until it was time for them to start their job. Next year I'll probably assign 2-3 students as "to-go" order takers. 

You might be wondering what the students were doing when they finished their job or were waiting to begin their job. This was a definite concern of ours also! We had coloring sheets about hope and letter formats available. We encouraged all students to color a picture and write an encouraging letter to Blake. We then saved those to give to her along with the big check on the reveal day. To be completely honest, that wasn't quite enough. They did a great job with the letters but were restless after they finished. Next year I plan to add a few more time consuming activities to keep them engaged!

What was I doing during the cafe? Basically nothing! It was such fun to watch my littles take over and run things on their own. I had the opportunity to walk around and just take everything in. After all of our hard work and planning, things ran smooth as can be!

The Big Reveal:

Once the cafe was over, we totaled the money were in shock! We were hoping to raise $600 - $800, but $1847.26?! Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that! It just goes to show how a school community can really come together for a great cause.  We invited Blake and her family to our school. First, we shared a slideshow of photos from the cafe. Then, we revealed the dramatically large check with the total. Finally, we made the donation to their GoFundMe account right then and there! Such an emotional and exciting day!!

Here are some of my favorite pictures of the big reveal:

This one brings me to tears every time...

It's hard to see, but that is Blake's GoFundMe page. We are depositing the contribution as a class.

And this is the AMAZING crew of teachers and Kind Kids Club students who made this Kindness Cafe such a success! I'm incredibly lucky to work with teachers who will go above and beyond by taking on a project like this.

The class was even featured in the local newspaper and a magazine about nearby communities! 

If you missed the first posts about how to set up this fantastic project, here they are: