Friday, December 6, 2013

Science Research Project

Here is a long over due blog post!!! And it's regarding the science research project I HOPE you have heard about from your sixth grader!

The purpose of the assignment is to develop research strategies and time management skills. Plus, students have the opportunity to select a topic they are interested in, and create a project that utilizes their creativity.

Research Strategies: I taught the SQRRR research and note taking method. S: Survey the text. Q: Form questions based on what the text has to offer. Question words are the Five w's: who, what, when, where, why, and how. R: Read the text, focusing on the answers to your questions. R: Record the answers, include facts or examples. R: Review your notes, checking that your questions are answered. We practiced this method in class. Also, students have a packet with this information for reference, and was sent home 12/6.

Time Management: Confession... I am a BIG procrastinator; not so much at work, but at home. For example, I don't fold laundry till there are mountains of it on the couch, or someones on their way over to visit! In school there will be many times when students feel like they have all the time in the world to finish... until it's the night before it's due! Those due dates sneak up on ya! I have provided the students with a timeline of tasks and due dates, so try to take it one bite at a time!
This chart was sent home on 12/4. It should be in your child's binder.
Description of task
Due on or before
Done/Teacher approval Comments
Choose a topic and project
·         Complete a graphic organizer (provided) to show what you learned
·         List all websites and book titles (bibliography)
·         Begin work on your project
The graphic organizer is a worksheet I provide, and we will complete this mostly in class. I provide a rough draft of the bibliography, but students will type it or rewrite it at home.
Complete your project and bring to class.
Present your research in a 2-5minute speech.
Week of 12/16 or 1/6
The presentation will be the week before Christmas Break or the first week back in January. Students will sign up on 12/10.

Creativity and Choice: This project provides students more ownership of their learning since it hinges on their choices. Students can choose an astronomy related topic, and create any justifiable project. I am hoping to see some arts and craftsmanship talents shining through! Please allow your child to do the majority of the work. I know it's tempting to take charge or fix things. It should look like a sixth grader did the work! Parents should be the supervisor, not the worker bee. Be the coach, not the one making the basket! :) 

Research and Bibliography (continued below)
Rather than sift through 2,000,000 hits on Google, I've compiled some kid-friendly websites with facts and info about Astronomy. I sent this list home on 12/2.

National Geographic Education, Student homepage, search able like an encyclopedia

NASA- for students, search able by subject

Smithsonian for kids, searchable like an encyclopedia  The nice thing about this website, is it tells you how to cite the article for a bibliography!
Bibliography In class, we practiced finding publisher, city, date, etc. Sample Student Bibliography is listed below.  I also sent this home on Friday, 12/6.

Rewrite or type neatly using the format shown here. The requirement for the project is a minimum of two hard copies and two online sources.

Last Name, First Name. Name of the book. City of publication: Publisher’s name, Copyright Date.
O’Henry, John. Space. New York: Scholastic, 2001.

Magazine Article
Author. “Title of article.” Name of magazine, date, pages.
Markham, Lois. “A Gallery of Dwarf Planets.”
National Geographic for Kids, August 2010:6-7.

Encyclopedia (print)
Author(last name, first name). “Name of article.” Name of Encyclopedia.
City: Publisher, Copyright Date.
“Black Holes.” World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book, Inc. 2005.

World Wide Web
Author. “Title” Group Title. Date created. Institution.
Date you saw it. URL
Fuller, John.  "Why are there dozens of dead animals floating in space?"  17 March 2008. <>  29 November 2013

Any questions? If you have further questions on the expectations, please email me or comment below!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Classroom Structure

This post is all about the structure of my classroom. Parents will be coming soon for conferences, but here is a sneak peak at what it looks like.

From the front
From the back
The side by side seating allows for partner talk. Partner talk is when I share a question or idea, and students turn and tell someone their thoughts. It's a way to give everyone a chance to share without calling on students one by one. It's a safe way for kids to share because if they don't know the answer, or if they're wrong, they aren't embarrassed in front of the whole class. Plus, partner talk is a break from listening to the teacher the whole period!

Another thing you will see in my classroom is the library shelf. Students can visit the school library before and after school, at lunch, and during Academy. My shelf is limited (if you wish to donate used chapter books, I'll gladly accept!) but it offers options. I also have crates with poetry, magazines, and non-fiction picture books.

Next, a photo of my rules. The point of the rules is to create a safe environment where learning is the focus.
Students may leave to use the restroom as long as it is not in the middle of instructions, or a presentation. They must sign out, as you can see on the "Who's Out?" paper.
Next to the door frame is another list. This is for strikes. I hate the term, it sounds negative. But the other sixth grade teacher and I wanted something that was easy to communicate. Everyone understands baseball so, "three strikes you're out," it is! At this point of the year, 95% of strikes have been for forgetting materials needed for class. Usually, one strike is enough to motivate someone to do better next time. One strike means their name goes on the list. If the same student repeats the unwanted behavior, I add a checkmark. The second checkmark is when I take action by calling home and/or assigning 30 minutes of lunch detention.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the box below, or send me an email. Until then, I look forward to meeting all the parents during conference week, November 6-8.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Classroom Jobs

Managing a classroom requires a lot of forethought. My semi-Type A personality prefers predictable procedures, plus I want the 50-ish minutes I get with my students to be efficient and meaningful. Therefore, I implement plans to help things flow smoothly.

Most significantly, I employ the help of the sixth graders. They generally like the responsibility, and I believe their involvement contributes to a stronger classroom community. Students rotate jobs every two and  half weeks. After their rotation, they get "paid." Their payment can be 10 points of extra credit in any class I teach (Science and English), or a coupon. The coupons are for things like, "One Free Tardy," or "Use the teacher's chair for a day," or "Drink Pass" where they are allowed to keep a Gatorade or other type of drink on their desk (with a twist on lid!).

One example of a classroom job is "Paper Collector." I have a student helper who collects homework at the start of class. He or she uses a checklist and records who handed in their paper. I keep this checklist and the papers in a plastic sleeve. It's easy to transport home where I score the work, then back to school again to the "Out-box." (Photo below)


I have a "Paper Distributor" as well. He or she passes back papers once they are graded. Students can decide to keep papers in their "Navigation Binders" (a term from an academic guidance program our school has used in the past), or recycle, or take home their papers. The Navigation Binder stays on a shelf at school and is used as a portfolio during parent conferences. (Photo below)

The "In-box" and "Out-box" for each class.
Navigation Binders are stacked above,

Other helpful student jobs are the textbook manager and the notebook manager. The textbook is only used sporadically, therefore aren't checked out to students. The books stay on a shelf in my room and the textbook manager hands them out and collects them as needed. The notebook manager does the same with the Writer's Notebook or Science Notebook, which also stay in the classroom in a tub.

The other job is a materials manager. This students is supposed to be the last one out of the room. They're supposed to manage lost and found items, and help clean up after any "messy" activities (anything with scissors for example!).

All in all, these jobs help things flow smoothly in the classroom. Plus, the kids get a fun reward for helping out.


Sunday, October 6, 2013


Spelling doesn't matter now that we all use spell check and auto correct, right? 
If I rely on spell check, I don't learn to monitor the meaning of what I type. Case in point: The fire trick beard it's siren as it sped done the highway.  (The fire truck blared its siren as it sped down the highway). Furthermore, if we just spelled words the way they sounded, there'd be no "North Star," or constant, for writing and reading. If "science" is always spelled the same, there's no guessing about what the author meant to say.

Just like some people don't "get" math, others aren't naturally good at finding and understanding word patterns. On the other hand, some don't even need to study and they'll ace every spelling test they take!

Image Credit 
I'll admit, I am a "Word Nerd." I actually find it interesting to categorize and dissect words, and uncover word meanings and origins. I probably would have been really happy as an English major (my sister Megan rocked that one while I stuck to child psychology and teaching methods). I know not every student will be enthralled with words. But I hope by learning the concepts, they will be a better writer and reader.

In the curriculum I use, each lesson is based on a spelling rule or key concept. If they "get" the concept, learning their spelling words is much more than memorizing a string of letters. For example, the long vowel "u" like in vacuum and unite. In the case of the long vowel u, we can see some categories: two vowels in a row (uu, in vacuum and ue in issue), vowel-consonant-vowel, (the u-n-i, in unite and u-v-e, in juvenile). So rather than just recite the letters, students can sort the words into categories and match patterns.

A lot of the spelling concepts are based on phonics. That is fun for me to revisit with the students because I taught kindergarten and first grade ten year ago, and I hate to waste all that experience! The value of revisiting the phonics and learning word patterns is because spelling success is closely tied to reading success. It goes hand in hand in the form of knowing how to sound out words, and relating the meaning to other words that have similar parts.

So how do we do spelling at school?
Monday: Spelling Pretest in their Word Work notebook. We correct it together and discuss the patterns, word meaning and spelling rules. Students chart their pretest score in their binder. Start worksheet as homework.
Tuesday: Spelling assignment. This comes from a "menu" I have. One week they might have to write each word in cursive three times each. The next week they might write a synonym for each word. Another week, they might categorize/sort the words.
Wednesday: Correct the spelling worksheet. The curriculum provides a two sided worksheet that is sent home as homework. We correct it as a class and further discuss the words.
Friday: Test. After it's graded, students chart their score and compare it to the pretest score.
What can you do at home?
Ask to see their pretest on Monday night. It's in their spiral bound Word Work notebook that they bring back and forth to class everyday. Ask about the patterns for the week. Make sure they know what each word means. For example, use each word in a sentence.
Many kids choose to do their homework in Academy (Seventh period, like study hall). It's not due till Wednesday, so if you know your child struggles with spelling or reading, go over it at home.
Thursday is the night before the test. Study the words, but not just memorize them. Find the words that have the same patterns. If he can spell alley, he can spell valleys.

All in all, keep in mind that spelling is a direct link to being a better reader. It is something that most parents can really help with, while sometimes math gets to be too much by middle and high school! And if your child says they don't have any homework, well, that's not true! They can study their spelling words!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

We Use Science Notebooks, too!

The Science Notebook Tubs. S1 means Science, first period.
The "Earth in Space" page is the title page for our first unit of study this school year.

Hopefully you read the previous post about Writer's Notebooks. Students also have what I call a Word Work Notebook that is used for spelling pre-tests, grammar practice, and vocabulary. Since I also teach science, guess what? I also have students keep a science notebook. I'd honestly love for them to have a readers notebook, as well as just a journal for daily writing. It just gets to be too much management! Instead I combine daily journaling with the Writer's Notebook, and reading lessons are taught with worksheets.

What is a Science Notebook? The kids keep this notebook at school in a tub. This helps avoid the "oops I left it at home" issue. To the left is a glimpse of the Table of Contents.

They're learning to take notes off the board (involves a great deal of focus & listening skill), follow instructions, draw simple diagrams with labels, and stay organized. In sixth grade, these kinds of things are closely monitored and are required by me. In subsequent grades, kids will have to take even more responsibility for their learning. I hope some of the skills I model will stay with them! 


Parents, you can help your child at home by helping them organize their 3-ring binders. Everyday I see kids just stuffing papers in their binder, disregarding the divider tabs. If a paper is graded, it needs to be removed. Other papers are meant to be used as a resource and should be kept in the appropriate section (science, for example) for later use. 
Let's keep working together to teach these kids how to be lifelong learners, and give them lots of skills to be successful!


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Science Is So Much More Than Facts!

For the first few weeks of school, here's what your sixth graders have been doing in Science!
In our text book, Earth In Space, (P.S. click the link to view the online textbook!) the first four chapters cover the basics of the Earth and Sun and how they relate to one another. For example, the Earth's yearly orbit around the sun is responsible for the seasonal changes in weather and amounts of daylight. Similarly, the Earth's rotation on its axis is responsible for day and night. That seems like such an elementary concept, however, how many people can explicitly explain the cause and effect relationship? 

The objective, or learning target, has been: how and why do shadow lengths change during the day, during a season, & during the year? 

To prove students are learning how shadows change, they have measured shadow lengths from sunrise to sunset, and graphed their results. The hardest part has been communicating the results in writing. Students are learning to use comparison words to phrase their observations.

The shadow changes position and length as the earth rotates.
To prove they are learning why shadows vary, I will assess their ability to compare & contrast shadows in the summer vs. the winter, and their ability to state cause and effect relationships between the shadows and the earth's position in its orbit. 
Cause and effect diagram.

As you may notice, there is an emphasis based on thinking skills. That in itself is challenging, even when the material seems elementary- because of course many kids already know facts about the solar system.
But there is so much more to science than knowing the facts!
Additionally, if kids know the facts but aren't scoring well on tests, it is likely because they are not "showing what they know" through diagrams and expressing their understanding in writing. It can take more effort to think critically than to memorize facts.
Finally, in case you haven't studied psychology lately (wink, wink!), here are the levels of thinking that teachers are hoping to develop in young minds! The highest levels are at the top, while the basic levels of thinking are on the bottom of this image.

Image Credit
After wrapping up chapter four, Seasons, there will be a test. The next few weeks will focus on the moon's relationship to the sun and earth, especially lunar phases and eclipses. Thanks for keeping in the loop! 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Teaching Cooperation

Two weeks of school, and I already love my class of sixth graders. They are so eager to learn, eager to please their teachers, and hopeful to impress their families with how grown up they are now that they are in middle school. Kids in my neck of the woods- or pasture- are growing up in a very caring community. Yes, we are 'small town,' but the community pride and compassion towards each other is notable.

However... I know from five years of teaching 6th grade (going onto my 12th year teaching!), and six years of coaching high school girls, that the best intentions sometimes get clouded by "bad days" and "rough patches" usually stemming from DUN, DUN, DUN... puberty. Not just the physiological stresses, but the pressures of popularity, competition, acceptance, and the teen culture in general. Or then again, maybe it's human nature.

Basically, he honeymoon period at the beginning of the year won't last.

Therefore, it's important to teach classroom behavior expectations. Do they probably already know this stuff? Sure. They have good parents. They've had years of teachers who have high standards for classroom behavior. But I've found that if you don't explicitly state what you want to see, some kids will take the easy way out or claim ignorance, thus not taking responsibility for their actions. So I do my best to teach and reteach to ensure success in the classroom!

I introduced the idea of compromise since we would be doing a small group decision making activity for science. Next, I gave students the pre-made post-it notes. We discussed examples of what to say/what not to say, and what to do/what not to do. My favorite was their reaction to the post-it note that says, "Shut up." I'm glad they knew where that belonged.
Here's a before and after poster in my classroom.

Here's to hoping the cooperation in the classroom translates to the hallways and lunchroom...
image credit

 An upcoming post will detail my behavior management system. Thanks for reading!  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Honoring the Memory of 9/11

Not only do I teach sixth grade, I teach one period of 7th and 8th graders in a class called Leadership. This is an elective, and the students rotate into another elective every nine weeks. Let me just start by saying I love it because I get to work with my former sixth graders. It is remarkable how much they mature, and how I'm able to connect with them in a different way. That's a whole other post in itself! 

The theme for this quarter is Making A Difference. The events of September 11 are great examples of heroism and service that illustrate making a difference. So I thought we would start with a little history review.
However to my surprise, my students knew very little about what happened that day in 2001, nor did they have any concrete understanding of the effects of 9/11. They had to remind me, the eighth graders were barely toddlers. One of seventh graders did the math; she was three months old on 9/11/01. 

I remember that day easily. I was getting ready for work and my roommate had her radio on. News of a plane crash seemed to be concerning everyone on the air. I wasn't too concerned with anything but getting to work. This was the second week of my first teaching job, so I had no energy to spare on anything except gearing up for those first graders. Even as the news unfolded throughout the morning, I don't remember the devastation really sinking in until much later. trucks, images on tv, a moment of silence... I know I will never forget that initial shock and fear. I'll never forget how patriotism soared and many returned to prayer in gratitude and hope for a peace.

"Where Were You"
Performed by Alan Jackson
In third period last week, we watched media clips from The National Park Service Flight 93 website. We listened to podcasts from a NYC survivor on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum website (click highlighted text for links). P.S. Teachers, the two websites above have teacher links and lesson plans. I used several ideas from the 9/11 Museum site. If you want more details, email me!

We discussed the tragedy, the heroes, the aftermath. It was somber, which is not normal in middle school, especially for 13 year old boys! I was touched by their journal comments and artwork.
Here's hope for a generation that won't forget.
Pictures from student journals:

Thank you for viewing my blog! I love comments.  How do you think schools should honor the memory of 9/11?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What's a Writer's Notebook?

A writers notebook is a place to organize student learning and writing.

Each week I will teach a lesson that is intended to grow the student into a more crafty and skilled writer. Students will use their notebook to take notes. I will demonstrate the skill in my own notebook, and students will practice a draft in their notebook. Approximately once a month, students will choose a draft to publish. This draft must be edited, revised, and either typed or rewritten. 

Here's an example of the notes we took on Tuesday. 
Today, the kids followed along to create this foldable visual aid. It's a great way to see the parts of a friendly letter. It gets glued into the Writer's Notebook. 

Next is what you see when you open the flaps. It's all the parts of a friendly letter. We highlighted the punctuation as a visual reminder to use commas correctly. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Today I Become a Blogger!

Today I delve into blogging. Well, I currently read plenty of blogs, but from here on out, I'm an author!
...I pledge to...

  • Spell-check & edit my posts! However, I will inevitably be writing late in the evening after a long day of teaching and coaching, so please be gracious!
  • Update frequently! I want parents to know what's up in sixth grade. While I won't be posting daily assignments, due to my belief that your child needs to learn independence and responsibility, I hope my posts will keep you in the loop.
  • Protect the identity of the innocent (& not so innocent). I won't post pictures without consent, and won't discuss specific students by name.
  • Not to use blogging as an excuse to ignore laundry, dirty dishes, or grading papers. First things, first!

That seems to be it for today. I hope to hear from my readers as your comments will help me stay relevant. If you are a parent, don't forget to email my school address with any specific concerns or questions.