Friday, October 31, 2008

Mystery Boxes

One of my favorite First Week Activities when I taught 5th and 6th graders was MYSTERY BOXES.

In fact, I think I used this when I student taught. That would have been in 1969, in Hopkins, MN, where I got my first teaching job in January of 1970.

Click here for a copy of the LabSheet.

It takes a bit of time to set up but is really worth it.
    1.    Find at least seven similar-sized boxes, such as shoe boxes. It would be nice if they were exactly the same size. The best ones I ever made were 6 inch cubes.
    2.    Into each box, add the same items. This is VERY important! Always put the same things into each box! About six or seven items is good. Items such as these: marble, small rubber ball, jingle bell, plastic spoon, etc. Nothing that can rot or break.   
    3.    Cover with brown paper, grocery bags work great. Add lots of tape. Obviously, this is to discourage peeking!   
    4.    Label on the outside with fat, black marker with something generic like A, B, C, etc.
    5.    Run off labsheets.
    6.    Hand out a labsheet to each student and a MYSTERY BOX to each small group.
    7.    Tell them the object of the day is to figure out what's in the MYSTERY BOXES. Tell them exactly how many are inside each box. They are to try to figure it out Without Peeking! Use the senses. (Have magnets ready if they ask.)   
    8.    Give them one class period to record and test and listen and fill out their papers.
    9.    The next day or if you have a 90 minute Block, the last 1/2 hour: Have each team send one person up to the chalkboard to write down what they think is in the boxes.

IMPORTANT: When they are all done recording, circle all the CORRECT ANSWERS ONLY. If you are really lucky, some but not all the items will be listed by any team. I was always very happy if at least one item remained a mystery.


Basically, science is about trying to understand what isn't known at the moment. And nobody tells a scientist if they are correct! This drives kids crazy but is the NATURE OF SCIENCE. Scientists are always trying to solve puzzles. What is inside a single atom? What is causing that sickness? What is Mars like on the surface? How deep is the Ocean? Will that Tornado come close to our town? Scientists have to figure things out with their senses and intuition and run experiments and keep trying to figure out what the "Answers" are. But nobody tells us if we are right.

CONSIDER THIS: Add Mystery Boxes to the beginning of your teaching year.

FUN LINK: Another version of Mystery Boxes that uses one steel ball and ramps or partitions inside each box they have to try to figure out or map. A third version.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Earthquake Movie

Just found a fabulous Flash Movie on the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, called "Shock Waves."

Click here for a link.

This can be viewed Full Screen and would be wonderful to show on your SmartBoard. Right before I got a SmartBoard in my classroom, I had a computer hooked up to the Internet and a projection machine with a very large screen and I used that in a similar manner.

Would work great either way!

The movie is 46 minutes long. You could show parts each day. Or all at once.

From the USGS Site:

"This 46-minute film includes dramatic historical footage, colorful animations, and interviews with earthquake experts. The catastrophe of the great 1906 quake spurred a century of progress in earthquake science and engineering. Current and future research includes drilling through the San Andreas Fault at depth in the SAFOD Experiment. Learn what you can do to reduce the risk to yourself and family.

Shock Waves received recognition as an outstanding documentary at the 2006 Telly Awards and has been nominated for an Emmy."

CONSIDER THIS: Add this USGS Earthquake Film, "Shock Wave" to your Earthquake Unit.

FUN LINK: Click here for the main USGS video/animation page. Many wonderful things to project on your Smartboard or Big Screen.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Teaching Cloud Cover

"I'm walking in a cloud!"

I once had a teacher write me about a student of hers who realized fog was a cloud of sorts and during a class walk around the schoolyard, made that lovely comment.

She also loved the Cloud Cover Simulation Activity that is on my Weather page. Her kids had a great time tearing up pieces of paper to represent the various percentages of cloud cover.

Basically, you give each group of students a blue piece of paper. Then they get all or part of a white piece of paper. It's a good idea to have very small groups so you can double up on the cloud cover assignments.

For example: The group doing Overcast (100%) gets the total piece of white paper; the group doing Partly Cloudy gets half (50%) of the white paper. And so on...

They are instructed to rip the paper up into small pieces, all greater than a postage stamp, of course, and then glue the pieces onto the blue paper.

The blue papers with the white clouds are put up for display. The class then gets to guess which paper represents which type of cloud cover. After they are all recorded, the teacher puts them in the correct order. (Code the backs of the blue papers, maybe?)

The kids then sketch the appropriate types of cloud cover on their paper and add the Cloud Cover Symbols.

The next time you have your kids look out the window to assess the cloud type and cloud cover for the Weather Observations Activity, they should have a much better idea as to what 50% cloud cover really looks like!

CONSIDER THIS: Add a Cloud Cover Simulation Activity to your Weather unit!

FUN LINK: From the University of Illinois.

Cloud Flashcards to make.

I just got an email from my friend, Liz, over at She's taken a few years off from teaching to raise her kids. She kept her website up and going while she was away. Now I'm happy to report she's back! And her site has been upgraded!
Glad to see you back, Liz! Your new and improved website is fun to visit! It gave me inspiration during my own teaching years and I know will continue to give encouragement to anyone who visits your site.

Liz emailed me about my posts about puzzles and BONUS work for kids. She has signed up for the Highlights Magazine Picture Find service and wanted to share the link with me.

Do you remember Highlights? I do! It's been around for 60 years so most of us have seen this wonderful magazine. Check out the Highlights website. Obviously, they have kept up with the times. Great website! Even has a Science Corner.

Back to the hidden picture link. Click here for the parents' email link. Click on and off what you would like to receive.

To quote Liz:

"You get a pdf and it's two pages, so great to make copies front and back, picture takes up most of the front page."

"I have challenge puzzles, and my 5th graders LOVE the Highlights Magazine picture finds. I get one emailed to me each month and I have been saving them, and I put out new ones as the old ones are snatched up! I think it's GREAT for making observations and using both sides of their brains. Both boys and girls love them. They can work on them when they are done with their labs/activities."

Be sure to visit Liz' site. I have had a link on my website for years. She's the teacher website on the Internet that originally inspired me to start my own. Be sure to visit her planbook and lab journal pages.

Thank you, Liz! And welcome back! You are one of those special teachers who I wish had been just down the hall from me!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Building Polyhedrons

I loved to put out polyhedrons for BONUS points.

I tried to keep kids busy at all times, right up to the bell. If kids were done with their homework, I would let them get out homework from another class. Or I would encourage them to get a BONUS PAGE from my class to do.

I've already talked about putting out Coloring Sheets for BONUS points.

Now here's another idea! Run some patterns off on colored paper! Put out one or two sheets per week and watch them get snatched up! Especially if you make a couple yourself and hang them from the ceiling over the Pick-Up Table.

Pick-Up Table: I always had a table set up by my door with all the work for the day ready to be picked up by the students as they walked in the room. This saved lots of class time for me. More on the Pick-Up Table another day!

I always had a couple of new BONUS pages on the top of the table EVERY DAY! They are easy to do. Make a new crisscross puzzle on's Puzzlemaker site. Find fun pages in some of the old workbooks sitting on your shelf. Surf the net for fun ideas.

CONSIDER THIS: In Science class, anything that exercises the mind of your students is good for BONUS!

KEWL IDEA: Before you run off, add some words for direction. Check out this example!

We have a WINNER!

A FREE beta copy of my Teaching Plate Tectonics Packet goes to Cadena of South Dakota.


I will be mailing a beta copy of the new Teaching Plate Tectonics Packet to you ASAP. I have just a couple more things I want to add to the Packet and then I will mail it off to you!

For everyone one else, be sure to keep checking my store page for the inaguration of the Plate Tectonics Packet. I also have three Mini-Packets just about ready to go, including Goodies for Teachers.

FUN LINK: Marcia's Science Teaching Ideas Store.

What Causes the Seasons?

From an Astronomy point-of-view, teaching what causes the seasons is an important teacher goal.

I always found at least half of each class still held on to the thought that we are closer to the sun in the summer and farther away in the winter. Once they understand it's the angle of sunlight and that we are closer in the winter, kick it up a notch by having them go home and check out what their parents think!

My most favorite unit I've always called the "Skittles Lesson" because Skittles candies are used as units of heat. My students seemed to stay focused for the most part, especially since they knew they got to eat the candy when they had completed the worksheet!

Since it's such a complicated lesson (the first time), I've written a "How to Teach" handout so you can see what worked for me in getting across this concept.

CONSIDER THIS: Teach the Seasons using Skittles!
Click here for the Skittles Activity, the directions, and also a couple of other active learning activities for teaching "Reasons for the Seasons."

FUN LINKS: Tons of other kewl ideas!

The Perfect Animation for the Skittles Activity: Click here!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Vocab Matching Team Game

You're never too old to play games that help you learn.

My 92 year old father moved down here from Minnesota this summer to be near his family. We are loving having him just down the street. It's a real joy.

The Independent Living place he's moved into has already tapped him to help teach a computer class. They've figured out he's a real computer expert and has a lot to share with his neighbors.

So along with the Activity Director, he's teaching a beginning computer course to a couple dozen eager students.

Last week, I gave him a Matching Game for his course based on my old stand-by, the Vocab Matching Team Game. I made brightly colored sets of vocab and definitions from his beginning lesson.

He and the Activity Director decided to divide the class into two teams and away they went! And they LOVED the game!

So if you can substitute the kids in the above photo with 70-80-90-year olds, you've got the picture of that day in the computer classroom.

Dad said they started out slowly, but once they caught on to what the object of the game was, away they went!

And those that came to the class too late to participate, according to my Dad, will be on time next class just to see what tricks he has up his sleeve.

Stick with me, Dad. I've got lots more great ideas, that literally will work for students from 9 to 90!

CONSIDER THIS: Even if you teach high schoolers, a simple team game will add lots of punch and learning to your classroom.

FUN LINK: Check out my Active Games page.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Year-long Tree Observation Activity

I loved taking my students outside for a science project!

If you teach a yearlong class, this is a very worthwhile project. Take your students outside once a month. By the end of the school year, they will have produced an album of observations of their personal tree.

Be sure to have them read the Summary Questions each month to see what could be done that month.

CONSIDER THIS: Add a Tree Observation Unit to your curriculum!

FUN LINK: Adopt-A-Tree Journal

DOWNLOAD: Click here for a sample unit.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Coloring Sheets

I loved to put out Coloring Sheets for my students to color for extra credit.

I've always suspected some of my students thought I was off base when I would put out coloring sheets as bonus work. These were high school students. High school students don't color!

But they did! They loved to color. And I was very careful with the types of coloring sheets I would put out. The sheets had to have a pattern to them. By coloring to show a pattern, I figure they were exercising both sides of the brain.

They were only worth 1 point each. You'd be surprised how many students would grab the new ones when they showed up on my Pick-Up Table. Even worth that little.

CONSIDER THIS: Try coloring sheets in your classroom!

FUN LINKS: Celtic Knot; Flower Wheel; Stars Wreath

CHECK IT OUT: Minneapolis Institute of Arts - Color the classics!

Fun Fingerprinting Activity

Here's a fun activity that could be used in any type of science class. Even a substitute could tuck this in their bag and pull it out for a good active engaging hour of fun and learning!

I've done a version of this activity many times over the years. This one is based on a lesson from the University of Michigan. I've adapted it and turned it into a one page (front-back) activity that uses the skills of observation and classification.

All you need are graphite pencils, clear tape, and 3 x 5 cards.

Click here for the lesson.
Click here for an FBI handout.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Plate Tectonics Packet

My Plate Tectonics Packet is close to finished!

A week doesn't go by without an email from someone asking me when the Plate Tectonics Packet will be done! Thanks for all the interest, Teachers! You are spurring me on to the finish line!

For some reason, this Packet has been a hard one to produce. I know it was the hardest one for me to wrap my brain around as a teacher. It took me years to really understand what was important to teach and to find good, active learning type activities for teaching it.

I know that's why so many of you are interested in this Packet. It is a hard subject to teach! Which is why I think I'm spending so much time on it. I'm trying really hard to do a good job for you.

Some of the features of this Packet:
  1. At least SIX PowerPoints! This is such a visual topic and your students need to SEE the concepts.

  2. Two major lab activities: One on Wegener and Drifting Continents and one on the concept of Plate Boundaries. Of course, there are many other labs and activities, too.

  3. At least THREE Foldables! Two for Plate Boundaries--take your pick which one you use. And the famous Earth's Layers Foldable, which was always the MOST favorite one of my course. Plus I'm toying around with adding another one on Wegener's Evidence, especially since that seems to be a favorite for most state achievement tests.

  4. Complete lesson plans, step-by-step, for how to teach this topic, including what to do when

I work on this every day--getting closer and closer. I'm at the point where I wonder if I should put out a Beta Version or just push on through to the end.

FUN LINK: Visit my Teaching Plate Tectonics webpage for a "preview" of what will be in the new Packet.

CONSIDER THIS: Please email me if you have an opinion on this. Would you like me to finish before I put it on my site, including all the answer sheets, or would you rather see a beta version?

FREE PLATE TECTONICS PACKET: to the first Teacher who emails me with an answer to my CONSIDER THIS Question! I will announce the Winner here!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Teacher Edit

I believe in the Teacher Edit.

I made time for it in my classroom. (I'm retired now.)

Here's how I would do it. I would say, "Line up for points." (I would have already trained my students to line up in an orderly, quiet row to my right.)

I would sit on my teacher chair at my podium in the front of my classroom and talk with my students as I looked at their homework or classwork. I would look each student in the eye. Then look at their paper and check their work. I would have something nice to say to each student. AND I WOULD SAY THEIR NAME!

"Thank you, Max."

And write down their points. Usually 10 points per page. (Always write it on their paper, too!)

This was always an important part of each class period. Here's why:

  1. I got to see the work standard and output of each student. I could catch big mistakes and/or correct misconceptions.

  2. I could give personal attention to every single student every single day! How many of our students never have a personal encounter with any of their teachers. Don't hear their name on most days? I liked to make sure they heard their name in my room.

  3. It gave my kids the chance to stand and stretch their legs. I know I couldn't sit all day every day like teachers expect!

  4. If someone didn't come up, I could apply intervention strategies to try to get them involved. (More on this later.

Every time they got too loud I would remind them to give me 10-inch voices, please! If they didn't quiet down, I would say something like, "Oh dear, I wish you'd quieted down. Now we have to practice. Would everybody please sit down?" Then I would take out my Line Up For Points transparency and review the entire procedure. "Does everybody understand? Okay, let's try again."

Then they would line up again, and usually they would be much quieter. If not, I would repeat the Training.


Some years, especially when I had lots of kids with IEPs, I would also stamp their papers with a cute stamp. (Smiley Face, Mickey Mouse, you name it.) Each stamp was worth 10 points. This was a tangible reward which lots of kids just loved. BTW, It's better to also write the points down quickly, so you don't have to collect the papers and count points later. Giving stamps is a nice touch for some groups. I've done stamps all the way from 5th graders to 11 graders. So I can say with confidence, STAMPS work great with every age!

FUN LINK: Rubber Stamp Sets from Be Creative Kids

CONSIDER THIS: Use the Teacher Edit, along with Line Up for Points, in your classroom!