Sunday, January 24, 2016

Making Simple Machines Simple

Kids love learning how things work! That means the simple machines unit is perfect for them. The best thing about it is, they have to use reading, often math, and critical thinking skills as they learn about each of the six simple machines. 

What are the simple machines?
1.  Pulley
2.  Lever
3.  Wedge
4.  Wheel and Axle
5.  Inclined Plane
6.  Screw

A great way to introduce simple machines is through great teaching web-sites and then lots of hands-on activities.  Here are a few of my favorites sites:

Ed helper 

Includes a teacher's guide and is a really fun way for students to play with simple machines and discover what they do:

Simple Machines from COSI

You can NOT do better than COSI for simple machines. This is a great site for kids to use to learn how each of the machines work. It's perfect for getting them ready to make their own machines!

Neo k12  Simple Machines

14 short videos that are really good are on this site!

From Super Teacheer Worksheets

You can get this free mini-book. For most things on this site (and there are tons) you need to be a member, but the mini-book is free.


This is a real find! It's an entire teaching unit with everything you need, plus investigations kids can do to learn about simple machines. Don't miss this one! 


This is a terrific site for kids to explor how simple machines work, with teacher lesson plans.

If you need resources to teach your simple machine unit, don't miss these task card and PowerPoint resources in my store:

Simple Machines Science Task Cards and More

Simple Machines PowerPoint

I hope these sites help out with lesson plans, computer activities and hands-on activities! Enjoy!!

If you want TONS of great ideas and freebies be sure to follow my Pinterest page at:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

End Word Problem Panic!

If there is one thing that can tie kids in a knot, it's word problems. You know there's a problem when you mention the term "word problem" and everyone in your class gets that "deer in headlights" look. It doesn't have to be that way. With some easy to follow steps, and a little practice, you can help your students cut word problems down to size.

The first thing to do is calm their fear. I told my students that a word problem is like a puzzle. All it takes is a few simple steps to cut them down to size, and solve the puzzle. Let's look at steps that can make those word problems super simple.

Steps for Making Word Problems Make Sense: 

1. Read the problem twice: don't skimp on this one! Many times people think they know what to do after reading it once, but when they read it again they find out they are mistaken. If students can restate the problem in their own words, that helps too.
    Teaching hint: I like to have students get into pairs once they have read the problem twice and discuss how to say it in their own words together. It only take a couple of minutes.

2. Dicide which sentence tells what the problem is asking you to figure out. Underline that sentence.

3. Decide what information in the problem will help you figure out the answer.
    Teaching hint: It's import for students to know how to disregard information that is thrown in there to trick them. It's also a necessary skill when taking standardized tests.

4. Dicide on a strategy to help you visualize the problem using only the needed information. Some strategies to consider are:  make a picture, make a table, guess and check, use logical reasoning, work backwards, find a pattern.
     Teaching hint: This is the step that doesn't use an equation. Instead it encourages students to see the problem in a different way to help them make sense of what is going on. There is a worksheet to use with your students below in

5.  Write the equation.  Are there any key words in the question that give you a clue what operation to use?
      Teaching hint: This is a good time to display an anchor chart with key math phrases that give students a clud about what to do. Include words such as:
a.  addition: combine, together, total, plus, altogether, increase
b. subtraction: difference, decrease, left, more than, less than, remain
c. multiplication: times, each, product
d. division: quotient, share something equally, each, separate

6. Solve the problems showing your work. It is a word problem, so be sure to label it.

7. Check your answer. Don't skip this one! Using the reverse operation is always a great way to check your answer. The goal is to have a fact family that works. For example, for an addition problem use subtraction to check:  3 + 4 = 7   check: 7 - 4 = 3     For multiplication use division to check

There are two freebies to print and put in the math notebook to help students remember the steps below, as well as a visualization worksheet.

The freebies below can be downloaded in by clicking the link below the picture.

Thank you Dancing Crayon for the terrific shape on this sheet. 

Below are a couple of sheets that can be added to the math notebook. There are two on each sheet to save on printing.

Hope your students loose that "deer in headlights" look with these hints.


Monday, January 18, 2016

What's the Deal With Tiered Activities in Social Studies?

Meeting the needs of all learners in a classroom can be enough to rattle the brain of any teacher. It gets a LOT easier using tiered activities. Each group of students comes at an assignment from a different direction, offering more learning for everyone! It's a differentiated instruction strategy that really works!

What is Tiered Instruction?

Tiered activities are parallel tasks that vary in difficulty, and abstractness and use different levels of support and direction. Basically, it allows students of different levels of readiness to work towards the same goal (understanding) in a way that is most useful for them. Below is a quick and easy way to understand how to construct a tiered activity for your classroom.

Why use Tiered Instruction?

It's the Goldilocks idea: Students work on assignments that are neither too hard, nor too easy, but instead are just right.

Keep in mind:

1. When dividing students into tier groups, students are NOT put into ability groups. Students are clustered according to their readiness and comprehension of the particular material being presented. They may be in a group that needs more support for one activity, and a group that needs less support for another area that interests them more.

2.  Tier groups do different assignments as teachers using Bloom's Taxonomy as a guide to building the assignments.  One group who needs reinforcement will do an activity that builds understanding, another group that understands the material will do an activity to extend what they already know. All groups use different assignments to achieve understanding of the same material.

3. If you know your group's multiple intelligences, you can also use that information to form groups. One group would use bodily/kinesthetic to make a short skit, another visual group might make a poster.

4.  Make sure to make each tier activity interesting and engaging. The more flexible you are in grouping students each time, the more students will accept a variety of assignments as the norm. In other words, if students see the grouping as "the smart kids" and "the dumb kids" they will not take kindly to tiered grouping.

5. Start with key concepts, skills and ideas you want all students to know. Make sure each activity meets those goals.

5. Students share what they have learned or done with the class.

Let's take a look at a tiered activity for government:

Group one: Ask students to use the text book to make a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the executive branch to the legislative branch of government. Include a sketch that would represent each branch with the diagram.

Group two: Ask student to use at least two resources to compare and contrast the judcial branch of government to the legislative branch. Students will construct a poster to show what they have learned.

Group three: Students will choose another country in the world and research its governmental structure. Ask students to construct a short skit that shows the similarities and differences between our country and the one they have chosen.

Group four: Ask students to use what they have learned about the United States governmental structure to create their own country. They must include a governmental structure, a constitution and symbols of the country.

You can tell from reading each tier, that it goes from easiers to more challenging. In sharing with the class what they have learned, all students benefit from the activities of the other.

Have you used tiered activities in your classroom? If so, tell about them below!

Why Does Cooperative Note-taking Work So Well?

If you want an activity that boosts learning for learning disabled, struggling students, English language learners as well as every other kid in your class, try cooperative note-taking! It's simple to do, and taps into every student's need to be social. It's a win-win!

Why does it work?

1. It allows for a quick turnaround of what is being learned. Knowledge has to be communicated to another person as soon as it is read.
2. It gives students an immediate way to rehearse and deeply process the information they are learning.
3. Long term memory requires rehearsal, reorganization, and elaboration of information. This is something kids don't usually get while it is fresh in their minds. With cooperative note-taking, it's required!
4. Students must go through the material a number of times, which means they are cognitively processing the information as they do the assignment.
5. Kids love it!

That, my friends, is the key that boosts learning!

With that, I have included a freebie to keep tucked away in your lesson plan book. When you have material that your students MUST learn, give it a try. I'm guessing you will use it often. All the steps you need are included in the freebie, plus evaluation ideas. Click on the link below the picture.

Thanks to Graphics From the Pond for the dividers!!