Thursday, March 3, 2016

Teaching about Ecosystems through Simulation

I absolutely love doing simulations with my kids. Anytime you can get kids to put themselves into a situation and experience it for themselves, they are bound to learn. This year my students are studying Ecosystems as one of their science units. I put a lot of thought into how I could make this unit engaging, and I kept coming back to the idea of doing a simulation because my kids have enjoyed the other simulations we've done so much.

The end result of all this thinking was this Food Web Simulation! During the activity students take on the role of an animal that needs to find water and food in order to survive. The animals fall into the categories of herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore. Each animal only eats certain other animals or plants, and many of them can be eaten of course. I assigned specific movements to the animals, which I expect the kids to do while they run the simulation. This adds a fun element, but also is important to the conversation later.

Each kid has a card that tells them how their animal moves, what they eaten, what hunts them, and has space provided to collect stickers to show the food and water they have collected. 

I set up stations around the school yard, within boundaries but spread out, for the animals to venture to for food and water. I told the kids they had a limited amount of time to hunt for resources, reminded them of the importance of moving the way their animal should move, and let them go!

I put a lot of effort into balancing these roles and planning it so that I could run the simulation in different ways to get my students thinking. 

Simulation #1:

First, my students ran through the simulation with everything in place in a normal way. I made no alterations to the basic set up of the simulation.  The vast majority of the kids were successful this time around. Some great observations were made by my students though! For example:
-Everyone kept catching me! I think it's because my shirt is so bright!
-It was hard to find Ann because her shirt is green and brown.
-Once one animal found the water, a bunch more found it easily.
-It was easy for me to find the animals I needed to hunt because I could see them hopping, but it was hard to catch them because they could move faster than me!

And so on! The simulation led to a great discussion and I had to pick and choose between all the teachable moments that were popping up!

Simulation #2:

We ran the simulation again, only this time I adjusted the number of herbivores so that there were fewer than necessary for everyone in the game to survive. It definitely became a "survival of the fittest" situation! This really showed the kids how quickly a food chain can start to collapse, but as one kid pointed out, "I couldn't find the animals I needed, so I just went and found plants instead." This helped drive the point home that the most successful animals have adapted to  eat multiple food sources. Another great conversation popped up, and I loved when one kid made the connection, "No wonder the pandas in China are going extinct, they only eat bamboo!"

Simulation #3:

This time I set it up so that there were plenty of prey and other resources, but also an overabundance of students acting as predators. This time around an interesting thing happened. My kids are really sensitive to each other, and after playing a round where some students survived and others didn't, my kids tried to be a little "too human" and not hog the resources. This led to most of my carnivores not surviving. Again, this led to an interesting discussion about how this simulation is similar to and different from real life, and how in nature it is sometimes necessary for animals to be "selfish" to survive. One kid noted, "It's lucky we have farms, or people might have to be that way too." What a great connection!

In the end I think this simulation was one of the best science activities we did this year, and the conversations that it brought about were amazing. If you're interested in trying it out with your kids, find my packet of materials in my store for the very reasonable price of just three bucks!  :)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Free Goodies for Teachers!

I just wanted to give a friendly reminder that you should be sure to go and sign up for a free gift on redditgifts! Every year they host an event where people from all over the place sign up to send teachers a box of goodies. 

I have actually received some pretty cool stuff in the past. It's totally free, you just have to sign up.  Here's some of the stuff I've gotten:

Click here to head on over there now and sign up!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Light a Fire with a Good Book - and a Huge Giveaway too!

So, as much as I hate to even try to wrap my brain around going back...especially because almost all of my brain is consumed with thinking about my newborn daughter, Amelia...the brutal truth is that it is time to start thinking about the new school year!

Several of us bloggers have come together to give you some awesome ideas for Back to School Books! These books can be used to set up your classroom community, begin a good lesson, or just as a fun read-aloud.

The book I'd like to share with you is The Year of Billy Miller. I read this book to my kids last year at the beginning of the year to help set up expectations during read-alouds for my reader's workshop.

It's a great book for talking about relationships, issues at school, change over time, goal setting, and is perfect for beginning of the year 3rd graders. Billy starts the year in 2nd grade and by the end of the book has finished 2nd grade, so early 3rd graders can relate to character well. Click on the image above to grab this book from Amazon for less than $4!

$2 in my TpT Store!
This is the first chapter book we will read this year, and I use it as the first time to introduce my kids to these Pre-Reading Task Cards I made. It is a great way to get kids thinking about a book before reading, and it gives kids something to connect with during the reading. I use the task cards to play SCOOT the day before I start reading the book. Kids may not travel to all of the cards, but enough to have meaningful conversations about the book with each other after we finish. After we scoot to a bunch of the cards I ask kids to pair up and discuss a card they have been to with a partner. We do this a few times, with different partners, and it serves as a great way to get the kids talking to each other at the beginning of the year as a community - about their learning even!

And have you heard? Teachers Pay Teachers is having a site-wide Back to School Sale August 3rd and 4th, so you will be able to get any product in my store at 28% off using the promo code BTS15!
300 × 250

We know what else really "lights a fire" in you, and that is fabulous technology! We are giving away a brand new Kindle Fire HD6 to one lucky winner! 
Enter the rafflecopter below by hopping through each of our blogs and entering the secret word that can be found on the tablet in each of our posts. Also make sure to follow our TPT stores because the winner will be announced through a message in your TPT inbox! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We are also giving away a $25 gift certificate to Creative Teaching Press!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck! We hope you have a successful start to your school year! 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mentor Sentence Freebie for The Name Jar

I made this week of mentor sentence materials for The Name Jar to use in my 4th grade class last year. It's a great book to use at the beginning of the year, and this is a great freebie to give you a chance to see if mentor sentences are right for you and your kids! Click the image on the right to grab the freebie. Enjoy! 

Friday, July 17, 2015

One journey ends and a greater one begins.

So, as many of my readers know, the whole reason I started putting my teaching materials on TpT in the first place was in an effort to make a little money to help with the adoption journey my wife and I have been on.

After years of saving and waiting and worrying...I'm happy to announce that our beautiful daughter, Amelia Erin came into the world on July 6th! AND the papers have been signed and the court hearing has happened, so she is finally ours as legally as she has been ours in our hearts for months now!

It has been one of the most stressful things I've endured in my life, and I can't even begin to express how thankful I am that this part of our journey is coming to an end. 

We set out for St. Louis, MO on July 4th in preparation for the birthmother's induction on the 6th. We were really lucky to be matched with a great set of birth parents that made this decision out of love, and did more than they had to to make her birthday special for us. We were even allowed to be in the delivery room for her birth! After she was cleaned up the hospital provided us with a post partum room and we were able to spend the two nights she stayed in the hospital with her in our room. 

After that we had to wait patiently for our court hearing. We were kind of led astray in our understanding of how long the whole process took, and were really disappointed to learn that our court date wasn't happening until July 15th. So, we sat around in our hotel room for DAYS waiting on our hearing (which took 15 minutes and happened 2 hours late!!!) But eventually the hearing happened and everything worked out!

EXCEPT for the fact that there is this crazy law in place that requires an Interstate Agreement to occur between my home state of PA and MO before our baby is allowed to leave the state of her birth to go home. That paperwork can't be sent off until after the hearing. They have told me that it is going to be at least NEXT Wednesday or Thursday before we get the okay to leave the state with our baby. I've already been here for 13 days, and I have at least another 6 to go. Sigh!

To make matters crazier, my wife really needed to return to PA to go back to work, get our dogs out of boarding (to save us the money, especially now that we have over a week more of hotel bills! Aargh), and was actually called to interview for a better job. So she left about an hour after the hearing to return to PA, leaving me and the baby here in St. Louis until we get the go ahead to leave. As soon as I do, we'll be catching the next flight home! 

In the meantime I'm going a little bit stir crazy here in the hotel room. This should be the perfect time for me to catch up on blogging, put the finishing touches on the 8 different products I have in the works, and start planning for the new school year...except I am so tired! With the normal waking up to feed and change Amelia plus the 3 times I'm waking up each night just to make sure she's still breathing...I'm getting about an hour or two of sleep at a time between 1am and 8am. It'll be nice to get on a sharing system with my wife when I get home!

I'm also definitely stressing out a bit about raising a newborn alone in a hotel room in a strange city with no transportation! Aagh! Luckily I've had the support of my blogging buddies who have given me a little parenting advice and support, AND were kind enough to even send me a surprise dinner today! The hotel has breakfast luckily, but dinners have been interesting. Haha. Luckily, little Amelia has been a great baby so far and hasn't been causing too much trouble. I do wish babies came with built in gauges. A temperature gauge, an energy gauge, a diaper gauge, and a sleep gauge would all be really handy right about now...

Either way, despite the challenges of the journey getting here...I've never been happier in all my life. Every day I've had with Amelia so far has been the biggest blessing in my life, and I can't wait for all the rest to come. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A little self promotion!

So...I'm not a fan of these kinds of posts usually...but this post is going to be totally self-promotional. But as a good friend recently reminded me, "There's nothing wrong with letting people know what you have to offer. How else will they know about it?" So I'm going to take a moment to show off some of the new products I've made...but it's for a good reason...

As many of you know, my wife and I have been in the process of adopting our first child. It has turned out to be EXPENSIVE! We've accumulated about $18,000 in debt, drained our savings, and still have more expenses coming...

Now it is kind of hard to believe that we are just 14 days away from the birth of our baby girl! We are beyond excited.

The only reason we've been able to even consider the possibility of adoption is because of the support of purchasers from my TpT store. Every single cent I've made in my store has gone towards our adoption expenses. I have always believed in sharing the hard work I do when I make these products for my own class. I hope you'll find something you like in my store and consider spending a little to help yourself and to help us in the process!

I'm not going to overwhelm you with a detailed explanation of each of the products or a bunch of pictures, but I do want to show off my latest creations! I've included a link to the products below at the bottom of this if one seems interesting to you, I hope you'll go check it out in detail! And thanks for helping me get through this final push of adoption expenses!

Building Catapults Inquiry

Kaboom! Multiply a Fraction by a Whole Number

Ninja vs. Samurai Math Battles - Addition and Subtraction of Mixed Numbers with Regrouping

Variable Equations Word Problems Task Cards

Dream Home/Tiny Home Project Based Learning Project

Mentor Sentences Pack 1 - Five Weeks (Pack 2 and 3 coming soon!)

Word Work Games Bundle

Multiplication Fact Fluency Bump

Monster Math Battles Freebie!

Protractor Practice Task Cards

Planet Research Brochure Activity

Most of the people who purchase things from me probably aren't even aware of the blessing they're bestowing on my wife and I, and I'd never be able to thank them all...but if you're reading this then at least I can thank you! So, thanks so much for your support! 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Nursery Reveal!

So...I promised I'd return with an update about our nursery for those that are interested.

This is one side of the room. I made the name bunting on the crib myself. The tree is vinyl, and the walls are gray (a bit lighter than they appear in this picture.) We are going for a modern forest theme. 

The animal art above the crib is from Etsy. We're keeping her name secret for now! I also need to add the crib bumpers and a mobile to the crib, but we haven't gotten them yet.

The changing table here next to the crib has a chalkboard above it that I made myself. Her name is written at the top, and I will be updating the chalkboard each month with stats about her. I got the idea from my BBB over at Where the Wild Things Learn. 

These are the built in shelves that were already in the room. We figured they'd be great for diaper and other supply storage for now. 

This is the other side of the room. Obviously we still need a diaper pail, a clothes hamper, etc. But most of the decorating is done! 

I'm really proud of this frame that I made from scratch! The art inside can be changed out with the mini-clothespins. I made the artwork inside myself as well! 

I have been doing stained glass as a hobby now for a couple months, and I made these two stained glass suncatchers for the nursery. I drew the designs myself too!

I made these little felt animals for the room myself, and my wife and I made the terrarium together. 

It's hard to believe that there are only 2 months to go until we get to meet our daughter. There's a TON left to do, but at least she has a pretty room to sleep in! 


09 10 11 12
Blogging tips