Parent Help

cell project complete

Mr. Star Wars just completed a science cell project– at home. While he could have completed the entire project on his own, this is one of those projects that a parent is probably going to have to offer help in some way. In our case, I drove to the grocery store to buy supplies and helped with formatting his written explanations on the computer. How much help is too much? As a teacher, if I send a multi-day 3-D project home like this, I know parents will be involved. The key is to provide only enough support that you do not “compromise the integrity” of the student project.

cell project close up

Parent Dos

  • Read through the project assignment sheet and directions with your child.
  • Brainstorm a list of supplies and tentative “plan” for completing the project with your child (what to complete each day, so you finish by the deadline). This is a conversation that can happen at the dinner table or in the car on the way home from school.
  • Source supplies (make a trip to the grocery store, Michael’s crafts, hardware store, your pantry/junk closet at home).
  • Reread the directions with your student when the project is finished to make sure the student has completed all of the requirements.

Parent Don’ts

  • Write anything.
  • Rewrite anything.
  • Build anything while a child stands to the side and watches.

Good Project Supplies

If you have class projects come home more than twice a year, I would recommend investing in some common project supplies and saving a few items that can be hard to get when you need it at the last minute. I love having these items on hand at the 11th hour!

  • shoeboxes
  • paper cutter
  • cardstock– assorted colors (Astrobrights are great!)
  • Avery labels– small and large size
  • one set of Sharpie markers in bright colors

cell project

Explorer Timelines

explorer timelines group

Timelines are a great way for students to get an overview of a history topic. We recently finished a unit in our history book about famous explorers. Our textbook organizes the explorers by country, so students read about Marco Polo (Italy) first. Then, move over to Portugal, followed by lots of Spanish guys, and end with Engand, France, and the Netherlands. The format of the book makes it seem like Spain did all of this conquering and then other people sailed across the Atlantic and explored the northeast coast of North America and Canada last.

I had my students create an explorer timeline, so we could see that after Marco Polo’s great journey, the explorers of the Americas were actually all sailing and conquering at about the same time. We used paper Sentence Strips for the timelines, which are a great length and width to make a timeline– and they already have a straight line printed on them.

Building a Timeline

  • Gather your information in notes or a chart like this Explorer Timeline Notes page. Identify the first date and the last date that will appear on the timeline. Determine the time span and then add a few years before the first date and after the last date, so there will be space at the beginning and end of the timeline. With our explorer timeline, the first year was 1295 and the final year was 1609. We needed a span of at least 314 years.
  • The sentence strips are 24″ in length. The next step is to determine the increments of time along the strip. This is the part that can confuse kids. Their first reaction is to list each explorer in order of travel on evenly spaced lines, but the point of a timeline is to show how close or far apart events happened from each other. After counting, subtracting, dividing, and measuring, we determined that we would make marks every 1.25″ and each mark would equal 10 years. Creating the spacing on the timeline is great measuring and counting practice.

explorer timelines

  • We noted that there was a break in explorer activity from 1295 until 1492. We created a “broken timeline” where we could jump over 100 years, so we would have enough space to fit all of the years we needed.
  • To further emphasize the point that the explorers from various countries were all sailing within the same time, we color coded the explorer information by sponsoring country. The color on the timeline created a great visual and helped students group the information by time as well as by nationality.

explorer dates

  • The final timeline included 12 explorers, the year of the explorer’s main or first voyage, a brief explanation, and a small illustration that represented the explorer.

The finished timelines gave a great overview of all of the explorers we studied. We were able to make generalizations about the explorers as well as incorporate math skills. Students need more practice reading charts, tables, and graphs, so they can draw conclusions about any data presented. When students are reviewing big chunks of information at the end of a unit of study, have them create a chart or table of some kind to help visualize similarities, differences and big ideas.

explorer timelines close

Another fun way to work with data is to build infographics. After our timelines were finished, students focused on two explorers to compare. To see how the infographic project turned out, Click Here.

 

Hidden Gems: The Bread Winner

hidden gems bread winner

Even though the end of the school year is nowhere in sight, I am already considering books to teach my students next year. My goal every year is to find high interest books that no student in the class has read– yet. No easy feat. I do reteach favorite books from year to year, but I always rotate one or two out of the line up.

This week, I have been assessing my bookshelf and determining what will stay and what will go next year. The one book that will definitely stay is The Bread Winner by Arvella Whitmore (not to be confused by The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis). I have yet to have a student who has read this book prior to entering my class, but I always have students who come back and tell me it was the best book they read in the fourth grade.

The story takes place during the Great Depression and centers on Sarah Puckett, a girl who won a blue ribbon at the 4-H fair for her homemade bread. Through her creativity and problem solving skills, she starts a bread business out of the house and solves many of her family’s problems. Sarah independently overcomes obstacles, and while she has supportive parents, Sarah is the one who takes action. Since I witness so many students asking for help before even attempting to start something new or unfamiliar, a character like Sarah is a great role model.

Other books that I would consider to be a hidden gem and are possibilities for next year are:

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

  • There are many books available right now that feature characters with a learning difference of some kind. One of the hot books this year in teacher circles is Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt; I thought Rain Reign was better. My daughter read it and barely made it through due to the dog situation (tissue alert– nobody dies, but…), so that may bump it off the list. Not that I am against crying in front of my students, but I try to avoid “ugly crying.”

rain reign

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

  • This novel is based on a true story. Children in a Norwegian town smuggle gold away from the Nazis during WWII. I like the fact that I would be able to hunt down the real story with students after finishing the book.

snow treasure

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong

  • This book has a slower pace and is a little longer, but I love the way the book focuses on a group of school kids who get their community involved in investigating a question about why storks no longer settle in the town. Anything that promotes teamwork and persistance is a great option.

the wheel on the school

Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey

  • I think this may be better suited to 6th graders due to the tiny print in the book and more sophisticated vocabulary, but a loyal dog’s search for his home is usually a winner with all readers. It could definitely be a read aloud with students rather than a novel that is studied as a class.

kavik the wolf dog

For more Hidden Gem book ideas, CLICK HERE. Some of my teacher blogging friends are sharing more great-but-often-forgotten book titles!

The Great Author Letter Project Returns

 

author letters

What started as an “early finisher” activity for students five years ago has turned into one of my signature projects in the fourth grade. Each year, my students prepare a letter to a favorite book author as one of our first writing assignments. They start by hunting down contact information for the author (research skills!). Then, they brainstorm reasons they like a particular author and his/her book(s). We review business letter format, and the students draft a letter to the author. After editing, the students prepare their final draft, and we mail the first wave of letters.

From that first letter drop, we might receive a reply within a few weeks or wait close to nine months to get a reply. After we walk through the process of creating an author letter, students continue to write letters when they have free time. We send and receive letters all year.

wendy mass author letter reply

I wrote a post a few years ago about this project but since we received our first author reply this afternoon, I got excited and thought I needed to blog about the project again. It is one of the best ways I have found to motivate reading with my students! It is easy to write a book author, but if you want a higher reply success rate, I have some suggestions.

  • Newer authors have websites with an e-mail address and are more likely to send a personal reply.  We e-mailed Jody Feldman, Jonathan Auxier, Tracy Barrett, Erica Kirov, and a few others. In most cases, we received replies within three days.  The replies were unique and specifically responded to the letter written by the students.  Some authors even gave new book suggestions, which built excitement among the students to pick up an unfamiliar book.
  • Other authors provide a snail mail address on their website. These replies take longer– sometimes up to three months, so be patient. Kate Klise has written us back for the past four year and each letter contains different content.
  • Mega authors like J.K. Rowling and Sharon Creech are overloaded with letters and are less likely to reply to fanmail personally.  They will send a generic reply if you include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your letter.
  • If you can’t find contact information on the author website, locate a mailing address for the author’s publishing company.  Mail a letter to the author c/o the publisher.  Publishers will forward all mail to the author.  We mailed a letter to John Christopher via his publisher.  We did not realize that the author had passed away, and his daughter actually replied to our letter several months later!

To download free student materials for this activity from my TpT store, CLICK HERE.

tom angleberger letter

Making a Masterpiece

make your masterpiece one and only ivan

I spend a lot of time in the summer reading (even more) kid lit. I am always on the hunt for books I can use in my classroom. I have a core group of novels that I teach each year, but I like to rotate one or two out of the line-up and bring in something fresh. This year, I am adding The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I have spent the past week designing new materials to use with my students. While there are some materials I like to have for all novels I teach (chapter vocabulary lists and a character chart), I pretty much start from scratch every time I design a unit so that the activities are unique to that specific novel. Developing the ideas and wrapping layers of language skills into a unit of study are probably my favorite part of teaching.

  • I read lots of books for pleasure until I find one that catches my interest.
  • Once I choose a book I would like to teach, I read the book a second time and make notes. I circle key words, write notes and questions in the margin, underline important quotes, put stars next to interesting passages, and jot activity ideas at the bottom of the page.
  • Next, I set up my basic handouts that I use in every novel unit. I always add chapter vocabulary, and I always have a character chart of some kind.
  • After that, I often implement an ongoing task. I call this an anchor activity. Students might have to find figurative language in each chapter, write a summary “gist” statement after completing each chapter, or re-tell the chapter from the point of view of one character.
  • I add in activities that are unique to the themes, story, and writing style of the book. For The One and Only Ivan, students recreate the “puzzle” drawing Ivan paints with his message to save Ruby, the baby elephant. Based on evidence from the text, students draw and color their version of Ivan’s masterpiece. They cut their drawing into pieces, and a partner has to reassemble the drawing just like the character, Julia, did in the story. I want to keep the flow of the story going, so I won’t plan for these unique activities at the end of every chapter; I sprinkle them throughout the book.
  • Ivans masterpiece cuttingI also like to incorporate at least one non-fiction reading selection that supplements events in the story. In the Ivan story, students get to compare the book version of Ivan to the real Ivan who lived at Zoo Atlanta after spending 27 years in a glass enclosure at a mall.

One and Only Ivan real v book

Typically, the first year I teach a book, I am creating the items I need the night before I will use them with the students. Thanks to the TpT Seller Challenge, I had motivation to get a head start on my new novel for this school year. I also had a great editing buddy, DocRunning, who offered great suggestions for improvements.