Physical and Chemical Changes in Matter STEM Challenge

One of my teacher heroes is Miss Frizzle, whose catchphrase is "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!" My students did just that during this changes in matter STEM challenge! Read on to see how making mistakes and getting messy created a deep understanding of physical and chemical changes in matter. (Also, find out what Miss Frizzle and Bill Nye have to do with STEM!)

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

As the culmination of our physical and chemical change unit, my students had the chance to solve a problem.  Their task? Create their own wrapping paper for a gift, using only objects found around the house.  Their wrapping paper had to include both a physical and a chemical change. 

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

I displayed my finished product (above) and then gave teams time to plan.  One of the perks of STEM for English Language Learners is that it allows students to use academic language in a non-threatening, student-centered environment. Giving students the finished product without the steps to accomplish it is another part of the beauty of STEM.  It's where the "taking chances and making mistakes" comes in, too!  (And believe me, we made lots of happy mistakes!)

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

This group had an interesting design; they wanted to create rainbow paper.  It was an excellent theory, and they worked hard to plan it out. Unfortunately, the product didn't turn out the way they expected.  I was so proud of them for taking chances and making mistakes! Even though they took a chance that didn't work, they weren't discouraged, because both students re-did their challenge that night at home! 

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

This group contained two of my lower-proficient English learners.  They had a trouble communicating their initial plan, partly due to a large language barrier.  This group definitely "got messy!" Even though they struggled with the language, they were working together to create and solve a problem, which is what STEM is all about.  

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge
Check out our wrapping paper! My kids were SO proud of what they created with food coloring and shaving cream. 

An administrator who walked by my room asked why the kids' projects didn't look like mine.  This is probably a common question among people who aren't familiar with STEM, so here's what I said, and what you can say too.  Simply put, A STEM challenge is not the same as a science experiment.  An experiment has a desired and predictable outcome, based on a question or hypothesis, and follows a series of exact steps.  A STEM challenge has a desired outcome, but it is often not predictable, is based on solving a problem, and the steps are initiated by the students. Another analogy? STEM is to Miss Frizzle as experiments are to Bill Nye! Both are excellent and engaging in their own ways.

physical and chemical changes STEM challenge

This Miss Frizzle style STEM challenge was lots of fun! In addition, it was as an assessment of my students' knowledge of physical and chemical changes in matter.  The hands-on experience and usage of academic vocabulary in context created deep and enduring understanding of the content.  Answering the questions on the "evaluate" part of their challenge sheet gave them the chance to practice writing in science, which is another difficult skill.  STEM challenge for the win!

Do you do STEM challenges with your ELL's? My students are hooked and can't wait for the next one!


December Carolers Bulletin Board

I love holiday bulletin boards! There is just something extra special about them, especially when they share a warm message.  I'm not sure how I'm going to top last year's caroler bulletin board, which is definitely one of my favorites.

We started by making our carolers.  My original template came from Elementary AMC, but I modified it to suit our bulletin board. If you'd like the tracers I used, click here! 

Students chose their face tone, hair color, scarf and sweater colors, and used a template to trace and cut. Click here for the templates!

Meanwhile, I printed out the letters and glued them to cardstock.  I chose to use "The best way to spread JOY and CHEER is singing loud for all to hear," instead of the traditional saying from the movie Elf, since we have many students who don't celebrate Christmas.  This saying was more inclusive to all of our learners.

I spaced out the letters and carolers in the hallway, and stapled them up.

Extras that didn't fit were displayed on my door. 

The students and staff at my school LOVED this bulletin board, and I hope yours do too!

4 Ways to Make Spelling Meaningful

Hooray! Your students can spell their words after studying them all week and testing on Friday.

But can they use them? Students who are struggling readers may do well memorizing a list of words, especially if they are related in a word family.  But if they can't read them in context, tell me what they mean, or use them in different forms, what have they actually learned?  How are you making spelling meaningful? Below are four strategies I use to make spelling words meaningful and enduring for all the learners in my class.

1. Give students the choice

The average spelling list for students in grades 2-5 is 20 related words per week.  Some programs add challenge words, too.   Instead of having them learn all 20 words, my students choose 7 of the words THEY want to learn. In addition, they choose the homework THEY want to do.  Those two simple changes have made my students look forward to spelling, rather than dreading it. The logistics of giving students choice for their spelling words can be overwhelming, so clear expectations are key.  My students know they have the freedom to choose their words and their homework, and in doing so, they've gradually begun to take more risks in choosing more difficult or unknown words.

student choice for spelling lists

2. Create student centered learning

Since my students choose their own words, and homework assignments, they are choosing their own path to learning.  During our spelling introduction on Mondays, I conference with each learner to quickly discuss the words and their meanings.  During our test on Fridays, I conference with them again to assess their learning.  In addition to creating enduring understanding, I'm also creating strong relationships with  my students.

3. Connect to classroom skills

Throughout the week, while we are practicing our focus grammar skill, I'll ask a student to use their spelling word in an example.  My students are experts on 10 Finger Sentences, and I challenge them to create one using two or more spelling words.  Their weekly test connects our grammar skills and spelling skills together, and is an excellent formative assessment.

individualized spelling test
During this test, they had to circle the subject and underline the predicate.

4. Let them take ownership

 When it's test time, each student meets with me to write their words in traditional dictation format.  Once finished, they must write a sentence for each word, as well as identify the week's grammar skill in each sentence.  Meeting with me as individuals makes the spelling test feel a little more special.  I'm able to check in with each student on a personal level for a minute or two, and for some, that makes all the difference.

individual spelling conferences

I'd love to hear how you make spelling meaningful in your own classrooms!

5 Tips for Teaching ESL Newcomers

Teaching Newcomer English Language Learners is unlike teaching any other grade or subject.  You may have students who are 13 and have never before set foot in a school, 6 year olds who are just developing their literacy skills, or 17 year olds who were near graduating in their home country.  It doesn't matter the age, grade, or linguistic proficiency, the fact that you're welcoming a newcomer to your school brings its own set of challenges and potential.  Below are some of my best tips for getting started with a Newcomer English Language Learner.

A seventh grader who has never been to school needs a completely different road map to success than a sophomore who is studying abroad for a year.  Curriculum, assessments, and courses need to be designed with CURRENT students in mind, not students from 3 years ago. 

Whether through an intake interview, a take-home questionnaire or any other measure, knowledge is key.  Understanding and responding to a student's past and current circumstances will help you develop a positive working relationship with the child and the family.

Navigating the jungle of school regulations and policies is a daunting task, even for native speakers!  Students and families need explicit information about where to be, when to be there, and how to present themselves in various situations.  Provide expectations using a three-pronged approach: 90:10 ratio of visuals to words, in the native language (if possible), and in English. 

I tell this story to new teachers all the time, and I hope it serves you as well.  I had a 5th grade refugee student who was coming in exhausted every day.  We talked and read about getting a good night's sleep as well as strategies for falling and staying asleep, but he kept coming in and promptly needing a nap.  I had the parents come in for a conference with a translator.  After much back and forth, the problem was revealed: the student was tasked with waking the father at 2 am for his work shift.  We provided the family with an alarm clock (and training on how to use it), and the situation was solved. 

  I'll never forget the time a lockdown was called between periods.  My 5th grade refugee student (the same from the alarm clock story) was caught off guard and panicked, and hid behind a water fountain instead of following protocol with his peers. When admin found him while conducting their safety check, they began to yell at him, which only increased his panic.  He spent the rest of the day glued to my side, alternately crying and shaking. Beginning the next day, and for all newcomer students since then, a short fact sheet was delivered to all staff to make them aware of the student, the language, helpful phrases in the native language, and any essential information such as allergies, siblings in the building, etc.  

From procedures to phrases to proper social skills, teaching Newcomer English Language Learners is a journey unlike teaching any other grade or subject.  Good luck and remember, we all smile in the same language!

Teaching Vocabulary in Context

One of my tried-and-true vocabulary strategies for science and social studies units is to teach vocabulary in context.  Learning vocabulary is way more than just associating a word to a definition, which is why students need to exposure and practice using the word multiple times before they are able to remember it and produce language with it.  Simply put, they need to know what it means AND they need to be able to use it. I often pull my English Language Learners out of their Social Studies or Science classes, so I infuse English language acquisition strategies throughout the same themes and topics as their peers.  Read on to find out how I prepare my units to teach vocabulary in context.  

teach vocabulary in context

First, I look at the textbook or scope and sequence to determine the essential questions or understandings, then I find the vocabulary that supports those understandings.  For my Guided Social Studies Unit on Early Humans, seen below, I would find about 6 of the most important words, forgoing the other 15 or so that are suggested by the textbook.  Depending on a student's proficiency level, I may add more or take more away to further modify.  I know you're thinking, but what about the other 15 words? They may be important words for native speakers to know, but are they the MOST important words my limited English proficient students need to know in order to speak, read, and write about this topic? Probably not.  By carefully and methodically taking the "fluff" words out of vocabulary instruction, I'm able to pinpoint instruction and really drive home the meanings and usage of those 6 most important words.

teaching vocabulary to ELL's

Once I've selected the 5 or 6 most important words, I use text enhancements to provide ongoing visual clues.  Color coding words throughout a unit has been a HUGE help to my students! If you're using a textbook, try different colored highlighters, washi tape, or post-it flags to help students seek and find their words easily.  It's best for my students to receive vocabulary and content instruction in manageable chunks.  Unlike a page from the textbook, my unit would contain about a single paragraph's worth of reading, about which we discuss and take notes before continuing.  The oral and visual repetition throughout the unit creates the enduring understanding, not a single word and definition on the sidebar of a page.

Vocabulary strategies for ELL's

To start the unit, I preview the vocabulary using lots of images and videos to provide background knowledge.  Throughout the unit, we refer back to those images and color coded words to help us remember pronunciation and correct usage.  I break down the information into manageable chunks, often relying on charts and diagrams to help my students create a deeper understanding without the "noise" of too many words.  As you can see below, color coding runs throughout each unit, which is great for visual learners.  For listening, musical and tactile learners, I create rhythms in the words and meanings which we can clap, snap, chant or stomp together.  A fun vocabulary activity is to have students create their own rhythmic chant about a word.  Click here to read more vocabulary practice strategies I use with my English Language Learners.

Vocabulary instruction for ELL's

When it comes time to assess, I make sure that the assessment the students take is in line with the practice they have worked on throughout the unit.  While I am looking for understanding of the word's meaning, I also need to see that students can dig deeper to use the word correctly and fluently.  

Below are some of the Guided Social Studies and Guided Science units available in my store.  I've used them in grades 3-8 to teach vocabulary in context and reading comprehension across the content areas.  Written at lower reading levels, they offer grade and age appropriate context written at lower reading levels.  They are perfect for my English Language Learners!  Click here to access the Guided Science units, covering many of the 3rd Grade NGSS standardsClick here to access the Guided Social Studies units, covering World and US History.

Guided Social Studies and Science Units

Teaching vocabulary in context is a strategy that will help all learners create enduring understandings across all content areas.  Good luck!

Digital I Have Who Has Games for the Classroom

Do your students love the game I Have Who Has? Mine sure do! There's a big push in my school for 1:1 learning with devices like Chromebooks and iPads, so I created a digital version of their favorite I Have Who Has games!

Would your students love this as much as mine would? These games are perfect for 1:1 schools or BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) schools. Here's how to play! 

Students simply open up the game, find the number they were assigned, and play! Here's a video to help you visualize how to play. 

It's super easy to open on any device that's connected to the internet.  Here's how it will look on an iPad:

There are a few ways to open the game! If you have a Google Classroom, share the game with students.  If you don't, just share the link, and they'll type it into the URL bar the same as they would for any other link.  

Make sure to assign students a number, following the instructions in the game.  Want to play again? Go for it! The game cards are random every time! 

I hope your students love it

Small Group Ideas with Whiteboards

In small classroom spaces, maximizing the resources you already have is essential to stay prepared and organized for each group.  Click here to read my past post about flashcard games for small groups. Today I'm sharing a few of my favorite ways to use a classroom staple: whiteboards and markers.  They feature prominently right behind my small group table, and I keep a basket of them near my easel and reading rug, as well.  I have blank boards, lined boards, and graph style boards, and we use them every period of every day.  Here are just a few of the ways I use whiteboards and markers with my small groups:

1. Warm up games:

My students learn to speak and write in 10 Finger Sentences, and we often use picture prompts to do so.  Rather than use paper, they use the whiteboards to easily write and edit their sentences.

2. Pre-writing:

I've found that when using whiteboards, student writing errors produce less stress, since erasing is just a swipe, rather than the constant push of a rubber eraser.  Therefore, my students often complete their outlines and pre-writes on their whiteboards, then copy them over to paper. 

 3. Sorts:

Whether you're sorting word endings, math facts, or classification of animals, whiteboards offer a blank canvas that allows students to practice organizing their ideas while producing the content expected of them.

4. Tactile/kinesthetic learning:

Some students need to touch, feel, and experience content before they absorb it, and whiteboards and markers offer that chance.  Using colors and text enhancements like underlining, circling, and numbering, students can utilize strategies that help organize their thinking.

What other ways do you use whiteboards in your classes?

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