For several years now, my teaching teammate and I have organized a class business around the holidays. My fourth grade students develop, produce, and sell a product to our school community, and we donate any profits to charity. In the past, we manufactured and sold one product (like these Mason Jar Cookie Mixes) that families pre-ordered, and we had a limited production. Since I had clearly blacked out the incredible amount of work it takes to source the supplies and organize this little venture, I spearheaded an expansion of the business into a full holiday market with six products to sell.
Students filled out job applications at the beginning of the school year, and we have been running workshops every week to make all of the products. They have been calculating our costs to date and determining product prices. On the day of the market, students will man a booth where they will provide sales help and handle cash.
This week, we are making birdseed ornaments. This is a good low cost holiday gift. The ornaments are easy to make in bulk, and after we bag and label them, they will be the perfect gift for a party host, a neighbor, a teacher, or a co-worker.
- 3/4 c. flour
- 1/2 c. water
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 3 T. light corn syrup
- 4 c. birdseed (finch bird feed packs better into the molds)
- molds (cookie cutters, muffin tins, chocolate or soap molds, etc.)
- nonstick cooking spray like Pam
- drinking straws cut into 2-inch pieces
- waxed paper
- cookie sheet, sheet pan, baking pan, tray
- ribbon or twine
- clear plastic bags
- Put a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet, tray, or baking pan. Fill the tray with the cookie cutters or molds you will be using. If you are using cookie cutters, and there is a sharp edge and a protected edge, put the cookie cutter sharp edge up. Spray the insides of the molds with the cooking spray.
- Combine flour, water, gelatin, and corn syrup in a large mixing bowl until it is well-combined and turns into a paste.
- Add the birdseed to the paste mixture and stir until well-coated.
- Spoon birdseed mixture into each mold. Pack the mixture down well and make the top smooth. The back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup work well for smoothing the top of the birdseed.
- Poke a hole near the top of each birdseed mold using a drinking straw piece. Even though the straw will be near the top of the ornament, make sure you do not have the straw too close to any edge, or it will break apart later when you add the ribbon. Make sure the straw goes all the way through to the bottom. Leave the straw in place.
- Leave the birdseed mixture in the mold for 2-3 hours. Then, remove the straws and gently remove the ornaments from the mold. Place the ornaments on a new piece of waxed paper and let dry an additional 2-3 hours or overnight.
- Thread a string or ribbon through the hole and tie, so the ornament can hang from a tree branch. I liked the natural look of twine rather than a colorful ribbon.
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- paper cutter
- cardstock– assorted colors (Astrobrights are great!)
- Avery labels– small and large size
- one set of Sharpie markers in bright colors
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.
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.