Friday, March 30, 2012

NSTA Presentation

Here is the Prezi that I will be giving on Sunday April 1st. It provides a brief overview of the STEM Student Research Handbook, tips for teachers who want to implement research, how to provide good feedback, and addressing the literacy aspects of supporting student researchers.

NSTA 2012 Book Authors

This is my author friend, Sara McCubbins whose book, "Forensics in Chemistry: The Case of Kirsten K." was printed just in time for the national conference.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

STEM Research Handbook

Talk to other readers....Feel free to respond to any or all of the following questions. 

1. In what context are you using the STEM Research Handbook? (course, age of student-researchers)

2. What has helped you most as you organize students and their projects?

3.  What feedback can you provide for others who might want to buy the book?

4.  What additional features would you like to see included in the next edition?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What Inquiry is NOT

"Science class should make students think: Our students aren't being allowed to discover the joys of experimenting, and learning on their own."

hits the nail on the head, and is the reason I'm such a huge supporter of students conducting their own independent research projects. (See STEM Student Research Handbook.)  Ironically enough however, if I had read this article while I was still a full-time classroom teacher, I would have defended myself saying that I worked tirelessly to help students enjoy science. And I would have been right. But that was the problem. I was trying to teach excitement, teaching them the intricacies of DNA replication because I found it beautiful. I made laminated paper pieces to help them conceptualize how the okasaki fragments played

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday- Ranch Sunset

Father & Son

Baby Calf Born Today

Coloring Children's Books

Because of our weekly tradition to check out 10 children's books from the library, we have a lot of time each week to really get to know each character, each line and pun. Its like making new friends each week.

I'm pleased to say, since we've started this tradition, my son's book quotes outweigh his movie quotes! He'll start into a conversation with me that sounds something a little like this:
Mom, remember when duck had the pencil in his mouth and peeked in the window saying, "Giggle, giggle, cluck?" [Me: Yes.] Why did he do that? (from "Giggle, Giggle, Quack" by Doreen Cronin)
Its funny because he seems to ask questions he already knows that answer to, but its his way of conversing, and I love it.

Well I'm not sure what gave me the idea, but just for kicks one night I used our printer

Monday, March 19, 2012

An Easter Treat-Resurrection Buns

Just like the tomb on Easter Sunday, these buns are empty! Enjoy!

A mishap in my kitchen sent me scurrying for ways to use Rhodes frozen bread! While stocking and reorganizing the freezer, my husband left 5 loaves of Rhodes bread out on the counter overnight. In the morning the plastic bag was bursting and 1/3 of the dough had made it way through the small opening at the top. So I punched the dough back into submission and looked

Cloudy Day? Try Cloud Dough

If its a cloudy day, why not try Cloud Dough? Describe it? That's hard, I don't know if I can. (Line from the Lorax, in case you missed it!)

Its kinda like Sand
  • It packs, so the kids can make fossils, castles, and tunnels
  • It crumbles under pressure, so they can destroy the castles
  • Its great for burying treasure and then digging it out.

Tackle It Tuesday-Organizing Homeschool

Ok, I'm participating in my first blog carnival, Tackle-It-Tuesday hosted by 5Minutesfor Thanks so much for the inspiration to make the mundane blogable!

I've spent the last three months researching preschool/kindergarten homeschooling strategies, collecting free and low-cost curriculum resources, and buying cool manipulatives as I read other's reviews. My laminator is tickled to have spent more time on the table, than in the closet.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

'Tis the Season for Science Fairs

The Smell of Science Fair is in the Air!

Well, it was a little bit like Christmas for me today. I judged at the Northern Illinois Region 5 IJAS Science Fair held at Northern Illinois University. This is the first student research fair that I judged where I didn't have students competing. However, I couldn't help but be nervous for the well-attired students I saw carrying oversized posters as I drove onto the campus.

I know how much work goes into these projects. I know how invested students become in their topics. I know how much support teachers and parents must provide to get a student this far in the competition. I also know how nervous students are to present their findings and be "judged" on their work. In some ways, the judges you get can determine

Friday, March 16, 2012

Professional Development Online Course

Interested in Online Professional Development for Implementing Student Research?

If you are a teacher or homeschooling mom who is interested in developing either an entire course dedicated to student research, or adding a research component to an existing course, but don't know how to begin, I will be offering an online course starting June 4th through June 29, 2012.

Here is a Prezi presentation to help you get the idea!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Importance of Play

I'm reading The Montessori Way by Tim Seldin & Paul Epstein. Just flipping through and looking at the photos, I can see the emphasis on manipulatives as a way of discovery. What I like about this philosophy is that there are centers around the room that allow for varying experiences. Kids then are allowed to select centers that interest them. I'm not quite sure how this could be done in a homeschooling situation. What I've been doing is introduce an idea (sensory bin or new manipulative) and just left it sitting on the table. Sometimes Caleb won't touch it for days but all of a sudden he'll pick it up (as if it was his idea) and play for hours. I like this casual, yet semi-structured play.

Lego Guy Forest

I got this idea from Made by Joel's Website. I'm amazed how such simple concepts allow for creative play. My husband drilled holes into a piece of plywood and then my son gathered the sticks from our front yard. [We are not in want of excess trees for our forest! I'd be happy to mail you some!] Our Lego guys have had many battles in this forest.

Freezing Ice with Toys

This will teach you that every once in a while you should let your kids scope out Pinterest. I glossed over this idea, but my son, who was looking over my shoulder at the time, yelled, "Mom, go back!" He saw a photo of toys sticking out of ice and said, "We've got to do that!" Really? Ok! In the photo below, we didn't have the patience to wait for it to freeze all the way through, but it was fun this way too! Caleb will make up different stories as to why/how the items got stuck and then come up with various stories of their rescue. Serious fun!

And honestly, we do this about once a week now. We use our bundt pan so we have a cool ring shape. Sometimes we let the ice melt in the cold water in the kitchen sink--Sometimes hot water in the tub--Sometimes outside in our driveway. Sometimes its farm animals that are trying to get free from our iceberg and other times its fighter planes. No matter what, freezing toys is always fun! Go figure!

And of course, we make the connection that the water that we put into the mold is a liquid, and the ice that freezes is a solid. :)


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Blanket Tutorial

Materials Needed:
  • Minky fabric (I bought 3/4 yard)
  • Cotton fabric (I bought 3/4 yard)
  • Tape --painting tape or masking tape
  • Large safety pins
  • Binding (1/2 yard)
  • Matching thread
  • [Note: no batting!]
My friend Tami made me the most beautiful baby blanket when Corban was born. One side is a minky brown material that is unbelievably soft, and the other a modern blue & brown cotton. It has become our favorite blanket. I would suggest this as a beginner project, and even for a "tween-age" larger blanket in cool groovy colors.

So when my friend Abbey was having a baby shower, I had to try making one for her. Plus, she's having a girl, and how fun would it be to make a pink, green, and brown one?

  1. Wash fabrics (press the cotton fabric)
  2. With wrong sides together, tape the fabric to a flat surface, making sure the fabric is taut removing any wrinkles.
  3. Safety pin the 2 fabrics together.
4. Decide what size you want your pseudo quilt blocks to be. I chose to sew between every 5/6 row. You'll sew between the cute little bumps on the minky side of the fabric. I used green thread on top and brown for my bobbin. I marked near the edge before beginning to sew across the fabric.

5. Sew the two pieces of fabric together. Do not backstitch at either end. The two fabric are so different, and the minky fabric is so stretchy, you'll avoid bunching of the fabric by not backstitching. Just leave a generous amount of thread on each end to account for stretching when you go to flatten the quilt when you're done.

6. I cut my binding 2 1/2 inches and followed the directions on the Chasing Cotton Quilt Designs Blog for how to make a binding. Her tutorial is wonderful and my corners were mitered perfecting! I love it!

Doing the binding this way you'll press your border in half, line up your binding fabric and sew on the machine, then flip the folded edge over the raw edge and hand stitch it to finish it off.

I had enough of the minky material to make a soft matching cuddle blanket (not sure of the official name). This is the first time I've used the satin blanket binding. I followed the directions at the My Spare Time Blog. Her tutorial is for a baby blanket, and the satin binding part is near the end.
However, I was not pleased with how it turned out. I didn't sew the brown satin on well and therefore it wasn't square. I didn't end up giving it to Abbey and instead, my son is using it. He loves the one Tami made. Almost as soon as it touches his face, his eyes close. Its precious.

Glitter Jar

Glitter Jars...what to say? They are cool! Watching them is relaxing and making them is easy! My recipe was modified from one I saw on Here We Are Blog where she calls them Mind Jars. On this post she has labels to put on the jars that say:
Imagine the glitter as your thoughts. When you shake the jar, imagine your head full of whirling thoughts, then watch them slowly settle while you calm down.
Materials you'll need:
  • Container: I chose an empty plastic peanut butter jar
  • Distilled water (optional, the water out my facet isn't always pretty)
  • Glitter glue: I used green Elmer's
  • Silver Glitter: 2 sizes for a varied look.
  • Glycerin (hand protectant in the first aide section)
  • Food coloring: I used Betty Crocker's neon green
  • Wire Wisk
  • Glue: Either hot glue or E6000 (not pictured)
  • The photo below shows some plastic christmas ornaments I thought I was going to add to my jar, but they floated too much, and took away from the glitter. But I've heard of others adding charms for added interest. Just an idea.
  1. I started with 1 cup of distilled water and allowed my son to put a big glob of glue in with the water. The total amount was about 1/3 of the entire bottle. We did this in a glass measuring cup, but doing it in the jar you will use is probably a good idea-less dishes to wash.
  2. I then added about 1/3 of the bottle of Glycerin in the mixture. (My bottle was 6 oz, so I probably added about 2 oz.)
  3. Then with the whisk, I mixed it vigorously. I got a lot of bubbles so I "filtered" the bubbles by placing my hand over the opening while I poured the good green mixture into the peanut butter jar.
  4. I then add my food coloring--several drops.
  5. Mixed with whisk again
  6. Added generous amounts of sliver glitter
  7. Add more water to fill the container 2/3 full. Mix to combine all. Screw on the lid.
  8. Shake it, and test to see how the glitter falls. Add more glue or glycerin if the glitter falls too quickly, add more water if it falls to slowly. Either way. Fill the jar to the top.
  9. If you desire, glue the lid on using hot glue, or E6000. (I did and its held up well.)

Both my 4 year old and my 11 month old like the glitter jar. In the photo above, I moved Corban's chair into the sunlight and you can see the beautiful reflections it makes. I've used the jar with Caleb to use in a time out. At first he kept shaking it because he's mad that he's in time out, but I told him that he had to remain seated until the glitter settled; therefore the more he shook it, the longer he would be in time-out. He got it. He's learned to sit with the jar in his lap. It does the trick. In frustration he's allow to shake it but understands the consequences; and when he's ready to get out of time out he watches the glitter fall. It doesn't alway work, but we need as many tricks up our sleeves as we can, right?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Choosing & Reading Children's Books

Today's confession: I'm completely overwhelmed when I walk into the children's section of the library. My Dad was a children's librarian when I was young so I was spoiled by the contents of his black briefcase, which each Friday night contained 10 of the best children's books that could be found in the library! So now that I'm the parent, I admit, its a bit daunting. I'm learning that I need help. Sometimes a book looks good on the shelf, but it either doesn't have a great message, or the words don't fall off the tongue like I think they should. So, like I approach anything in life, I look to the experts! Before heading to the library I check lists such as the "Teachers' Pick" listed on the Scholastic website. And then once I get there, I talk to the children's librarians to find out what books are popular with kids these days. Because I work at a university, I have access the children's books there. My habit has been to check out 10 books every two weeks. These are the books I checked out most recently.

Of the books shown in the carousel above, my son's favorites by far are the Pigeon books, by Mo Willems. My favorite is the "The Cheese." Its about a rat who thinks that perfectly good cheese should not stand alone in the Dell. (A spoof off of the song "The Farmer and the Dell.") Its cute, the words fall of the tongue as I believe they should, and it follows the criteria for good children's literature. If you go to the publisher's website, you can listen to the author, Margie Palatini read the book. Its wonderful because she uses a New York accent for each of the characters.

I have been referring to the book by Trish Kuffner titled, "Picture Book Activities: Fun and Games for Preschoolers Based on 50 Favorite Children's Books." She has several suggestions for evaluating picture books (pg. 4).

A good picture book:
  • has brief text written in a simple and direct style
  • retains a child's interest after many readings
  • has solid characters
  • combines action, wordplay, humor, and poetry
  • includes few concepts and only those a child will comprehend
  • contains high quality art that perfectly complements the text in mood and subject matter. Its illustrations are very important, because young children usually pay more attention to its pictures than its words
  • stands the test of time. It continues to be loved long after its publication
The other major take-away for me from Kuffner's book, is the importance of repetition. Reading books over and over again might wear on our nerves as parents but are critically important for our kids development. Each time a book is read to a child, they will "remember more and more about the story, but more importantly, will begin to think more critically as they begin wondering how certain portions of the story came to be, or how these characters solved a certain problem. These results could never be achieved in just one reading" (Kuffner, pg. 6). This is good to know, but also makes the book selection all the more important, because there are some books I do NOT want to read every day for 2 weeks!

And what's my reward for doing my homework? I believe the video above says it all! We are reading two Mo Willems books, "The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog!" and "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" with my 4, soon to be 5 year old son. What has made Mo Willems; books so popular is how involved the readers become! I particularly like that text of the characters are in speech bubbles. I notice my son pointing to the words, when he "reads" them, which, I assume, is an important step in the reading process.

If you've not familiar with the pigeon books, this video will not be that intriguing. I will tell you that my son is not reading yet. I made this recording this at the end of our 2-week cycle, so his "reading" is memorized, but I love how much enthusiasm he gives the characters! You'll also see that he's talking about the facial expressions of Pigeon and what those mean about how he feels. I'm a little embarrassed at my expressions in this video, but I want a record of these moments, of him learning to read.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Lorax

This past weekend, my son and I went on a date to see the new movie The Lorax. I love the Dr Seuss' children's book on which the movie is based, as we have read it together many times at home. Overall, I was impressed by graphics in the movie. Truffula trees were brought to life, and the look just like I thought they should. The actors they chose as voices suited their Seuss counterparts.
However, the producers took much liberty with the story line, padding it so that the movie would be 90 minutes long. The primary difference between the book is that the movie supposes that an artificial town, Thneedville is erected where the Truffula trees, barbaloots, and swomee-swans once lived. So the storyline includes not only the Once-ler's story of how the trufulla trees were lost, but also about a town that has lost its sites on the beauty of nature, seeing soil as dirty and preferring process food and drink. Another noticeable change included the addition of new characters; 0ne was a villain, Mr. O'Hare, a greedy business man in Thneedville, who sells people "air." Another was Ted, the boy who is on a mission to get a Truffula tree for his crush, Audrey, who is yet another new main character.

I enjoyed this movie experience very much, but couldn't help but be offended in moments where they used some word segments directly from the book, but changed it enough so it lost its "Seussian" touch. The Seuss experience is more than the crazy-looking characters and bright colors that make your head spin. Its about the language used to share the message, and that was absent in the movie. I suggest that parents and teachers take the movie release as an opportunity to read the book to kids in order to focus students on what can be learned.

Tips for Using The Lorax as a Teaching Opportunity

As the daughter of a librarian, I took for granted, not only the instrumental role that reading played in my childhood, but also how much fun it was to listen to someone else read a story to me. As a high school biology teacher, I used read-alouds to pique student interest in new topics and to increase awareness of important social issues. I learned early in my teaching career that many types of reading material could be used for a science-focused read-aloud. Even a ten to fifteen minute read-aloud from an excerpt from a non-fiction or children’s book captivates previously uninterested students.

But non-fiction books are not the only option for a science teacher read-aloud. While my sophomore students may have rolled their eyes at me when I pulled out the glossy and brightly colored book, “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss, they also have no problem participating in discussion afterward about deforestation or propaganda issues. In using children’s books with older students, I did discover that it is better to focus them on what they should be listening for, or they will view the read-aloud time solely as a “free-day” and not be engaged in the purpose I intend for the lesson. Therefore, before beginning my reading, I prepared students with a handout that encourages them think about how each character is presented in the story, why that character is important, and then to extrapolate what that character may represent in our modern ecological society.

After I finished reading the book, I gave them time to answer additional short answer questions on the handout. Focusing students this way has encouraged some of the richest whole-class discussions I had all year. Students debate environmental issues, under the cloak of a children’s story, and are challenged when they have to identify the assumptions and defend the viewpoint not given in the story. Students leave class exhausted, mumbling, “I had no idea a Dr. Seuss book could get me so worked up!”

Reading this book to my biology classes became an annual tradition each Earth Day. Consider using some of these discussion questions with students (Note: the questions apply to the book, not necesarrily to the 2012 movie version):
  1. Why do you think Dr. Seuss chooses to tell a majority of the story as a flashback?
  2. What are the “walk-away” messages you think Dr. Seuss wants to leave with his readers
  3. What affect might this book have on young children who read it?
  4. What viewpoint is not told in the story? Who might be upset by the assumptions within the story?
  5. What concrete facts about deforestation (or logging) would you be interested in knowing after reading The Lorax?
If you feel like extending this topic, you might invite students to do an activity such as this prompt.

The story does not provide two sides to this argument. Storyboard an idea for another children’s book giving a different alternative to The Lorax.
Here is a free student worksheet.

Lorax Student Worksheet: Science Literacy Lesson

There are a number of other children's books that are great read alouds for middle and high school students. Even though older students roll their eyes, reading children's books brings many opportunities for discussion that you 'll miss otherwise. I love reading the Magic School Bus series. And "There's a Hair in my Dirt" by Gary Larson is another staple in my classroom. I read that when we talk about nemotodes. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

First Data Recording

Well, it was a big week for us! Here is my 4 year old Caleb recording his first data! [Sniff, sniff-wipe tear!] As strange as it sounds, this was a huge mommy moment for me. Our sitter brought this basil kitchen seed kit and helped Caleb plant it. Once the seedlings began to emerge I casually had him to describe what he was seeing. Ya know, working on those scientific observation skills! Once it became clear that the seedling looked different everyday, HE had the idea that we should measure them. So of course I obliged!

We decided to name the tallest plant "A," the next tallest plant "B" and so on. Then every few days we take our measurements. At first we were just writing the numbers on a scrap piece of paper, but once it became clear that Caleb was committed to the project, we got out a ruler and made a data table (joy in my heart).

As you can see from the photo, we are using a sewing measuring tool. Its great because of the red moveable slide that allows him to move it to the highest part of the plant and the together we figure out what the numbers say. We of course are measuring in metric.

Writing letters and numbers are not a favorite activity for this young man, but what a difference it makes when there is purpose in writing the numbers! In context-learning makes so much more sense! Instead of sitting and writing numbers on a worksheet over and over, we collect and record data on our data table. We are using the desk mate from confessions of a homeschooler here as a reference of what the numbers should look like.

As the author of the STEM Student Handbook, I am interested in observing the unadulterated enthusiasm for recording change. I'm used to working with high school students, so seeing how observing and recording is a natural tendency gives me new insight into the scientific process!

Science Sunday