Friday, January 31, 2014

biomass energy experiment + lesson

We're getting into the thick of our latest Inquiry focus, all about types of energy. All of the teachers on my team have chosen one type of energy to teach and we're setting up rotation lessons for the classes. With seven of us, this could take awhile...! But I love the idea of sharing the teaching and getting to know some of the other kids in the hallway. 

For my energy type, I'm teaching about biomass as a renewable source. Because some classes can only come in for a 45-minute block, I've started each lesson off with a really cool experiment involving biomass energy at work. Basically, I put this slide on the ActivBoard and let the kids get to work:

Note: I handled the warm water part as it had to come from a kettle.
We let that work away as we discussed the energy sources in these pictures:

This led to some great discussion. But then I asked if they knew that things like cow poo, bananas, sewer water, and corn could produce electricity. A lot of them looked at me like I'm crazy. We talked about what these things have in common and were able to come up with a definition for biomass

Biomass is any material made by plants or animals that we can convert into energy.

Next, their attention was quickly drawn to the experiments they had left sitting on the windowsill, and what we saw was this:

So cool! We talked about our observations, reviewed our predictions/hypotheses, and came to the conclusion that the materials inside reacted together to create a gas. Pretty smart, these third graders!

Once we decided that the living creature in the bottle was indeed the yeast, I set it up for them as if the yeast was going through a morning routine, not unlike the routines we all might go through. When we're just looking at a  little yeast granule, he does not look alive - in fact he's asleep. To wake him up, we put him in a soothing warm water shower. And how do we all feel after first waking up in the morning? Hungry! Just like our yeast. So we give him a little breakfast of sugar, and as he starts munching away, he begins to burp, letting out little bits of C02 gas, just as we do when we exhale. The kids quickly concluded that it's this carbon dioxide that rose up in the bottle to inflate the balloon. (PS - These little C02 burps are the same reason we have little air pockets in our bread!)

To show the kids some ways that biomass is actually being used throughout the world, I put an iPad at each table team with instructions to find a certain video and they rotated to watch some different examples:

This one was a hit with all that poop...

There are tons of videos out there with great examples.
As they watched, I asked the groups to be thinking about the pros and cons of biomass energy. When they thought of one, they added it to a whole-class T-chart:
By the end of the rotations, this board was Filled!

This was a good way to continue discussion about biomass energy and for eventually comparing various forms of energy. When my class had learned about geothermal energy with another teacher, we asked them to "lay it on the line" by choosing whether they thought geothermal or biomass was the most sustainable choice for energy use. (This is a great Visible Thinking routine called Tug of War.) They moved to the designated side of the room and voila, we had a great tool for debate!

Monday, January 27, 2014

'extra yarn' movie posters

I had a spare few minutes on a Language block the other day (few minutes meaning about 25... oops), so I grabbed this great book to read to the class:

It's a great little story about a girl who finds a box of never-ending yarn and is able to knit sweaters for (literally) her whole town. When offered a high price to sell it, she refuses. In the end, there are some great themes to be drawn out, none of which were beyond the clever brains of my kids. They got it straight away and were really into the story.

Afterward we talked about movie posters and the short slogans or catch-phrases that appear to entice you to watch the film. The kids made movie posters to advertise this great book, complete with slogans such as, "Give kindness to receive kindness," and "Money can't buy happiness." They're still working on them otherwise I'd have pictures to show you... but it was such a fun activity and an engaging concept!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

into this... rhye

Rather Sade-esque; quite beautifully intimate.

See also: the original tease
so many remixes on their site. I'm drawn to this one, a fun-yet-still-sensual take on The Fall.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

cooperative learning with fractions vocabulary

This week my students did a great vocabulary activity to help acquaint them with some of the vocabulary related to fractions.

After some pre-assessment and introductory lessons, I had a pretty good idea of where each student was in terms of their overall understanding of fractions. Based on this, I placed them into vocabulary groups: fraction, numerator, denominator, equivalent fraction, and simplest form. When I introduced the activity, I gave students freedom to pair up in their groups, work as an entire group, or work independently. Their task was to figure out what their vocabulary meant by defining it in their own words, modeling it with pictures and/or manipulatives, and using it in a sentence. Their overall goal was to understand the term so that they could teach it to the other groups.

They used Chromebooks and dictionaries to help understand the term and wrote about it in their math notebooks. Then, I gave them all this form... document their learning. Their goal was to fill their page by asking others to explain their research, and, of course, to ultimately come to understand the terminology themselves. It was a great cooperative learning exercise and we were able to have a great reflection session afterward. We will definitely be digging deeper into the concepts of equivalency and simplification in the coming weeks, but I'm happy that they all have a beginning understanding of these difficult (for some) concepts.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

main idea mystery bags

This week students brought in "mystery main idea" bags to practice investigating main idea.
While they were, of course, incredibly tempted to play with all the related objects, it was still a great exercise in helping them recognize theme and defend their ideas using evidence.
Here are just a couple that were brought in:
Spaghetti dinner


Off to the Beach!

The South Pole

First Aid

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

procedural writing - giving directions

Here's a very fun, very active activity to help teach students about the importance of using detail and being specific. (Best if there is another adult around to help out!)

First, pair students up (we almost always use The Hat because the kids never want to chose their own partners anymore, which astounds me every time). Two is best, but I have one of those classes where there's always going to be a group of 3.

Have them each choose a destination in the school and a reason, and write it on a piece of paper attached to a clipboard. We used this sentence starter:
We are going to the (ES Field/washroom/canteen) because (we have PE after recess/sometimes you gotta go/we are hungry).

Then, have all of the pairs switch clipboards. Their job is to read the first sentence from the other group, and then write the very first thing that must be done in order to reach that destination by actually doing the step. Most caught on pretty quickly that all of the procedural writing pieces would start with "walking to the classroom door, turning the handle, pushing it open, and going through." (So each pair of kids walked to the door, turned the handle, pushed it open, and went through.)

Then the partners come back in the room and switch clipboards with another group. They complete that last step all over again with the new destination, doing the next step, and writing the directions down. The key is that after they complete a step and write the directions, the partners always have to come back to the class to switch clipboards.

In the end, students were walking all over the school to get to the final destinations (the reason an extra adult is so so so helpful), arguing over how specific each step should be ("Then you walk 87 steps down the hallway." "No, then you walk 94 steps down the hallway!"), and participating in so much collaborative procedural writing! They LOVED this one, and it's one I'll definitely want to do next year.

Afterward, we did a quick reflection about the learning activity itself using my huge, awesome display Venn.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Jeff and I spent a lovely winter holiday in Thailand, taking in the craziness of Bangkok, lounging beside pools, and dipping our toes in the Andaman Sea during dinners. We've both been before, but this time we traveled to Koh Samui and Koh Yao Yai (a much lesser known and less developed island), both islands we hadn't seen before. 
Soi Rambuttri - the "little bit quieter" alternative to the jam-packed Khao San Road

A giant water monitor on Chao Phraya River. We got lucky and saw one of these in Bohol, too, but it was not nearly as big as the ones we saw in Bangkok!

Somehow we made it across this street alive!

Koh Samui 
PS - This island has the best airport we'd ever been to - it was so serene and lush, an outdoor boulevard that is so well kept - far from the usual hustle of an airport.

I had no idea the banana flower is quite so large!

Part of the walk from our bungalow to the hotel restaurant on Koh Yao Yai. 
This place was awesome! Our booking on Koh Lanta was suddenly cancelled (suddenly meaning just a day before we were meant to arrive!), and Thailand at Christmastime is not a time to be without a room. Despite that, we got lucky and were able to find a reservation at Koh Yao Yai Village, and in the end, are so happy with the change. We highly recommend this place for a quiet getaway (and it doesn't hurt that it includes an amazing breakfast buffet spread!).

In media-related news....
In my earbuds:
Mostly this, an oldie but a very goodie. My favourites here and here.
PS - Her latest.
On the Kindle:
Not usually my style, but it was awesome!

On the iPad during quiet nights in:
Funny story: On a plane to somewhere years ago, I was able to watch all of  these episodes in-flight...
all, that is, but the finale! 
Finally got around to finishing it up and can now move on to seasons 2 and 3. Love it!

Why the quiet nights in, you ask? Well, I've had to take it easy since the last vacation because we're having a baby! Beginning in June we'll be booking one extra ticket:
Gone (finally) are the days of the first trimester, which I actually feared would never end in my daze of nausea, food aversions, and constant eating!