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Science Fair in the Classroom

My favourite time of year once again, Science Fair time!  If you just moaned and groaned, I suggest you go read this post, and then this one, and hopefully you come back with a more positive attitude toward the fair.  

No negative opinions can get me down about this topic though, I am truly passionate about it!  I know that it can be overwhelming for some, so today I'm sharing with you some tips and tricks for easy management:

Start with a Demo

We started talking about science fair the very first day back after Christmas break.  For many, grade four is the first year to complete a project and it can be really overwhelming just to hear the task described.  I like to take a bit of the anxiety away with a fun demo.

Here, we are using the good old baking soda and vinegar demo with a twist.... as the two combine it creates carbon dioxide which fills the balloon.  Totally unexpected and they really love it!  We did this at every table group, all at once.  So fun to hear them all oohing and ahhing at it.

Run Student Experiments as Rotations

This leads into a week of selecting an appropriate topic that is truly an experiment, not a demo.  Most of my class has nailed that concept, so I am really excited.

We've been working our way through some research, our questions, hypothesis, permission slips (if using human participants), and materials.  For five of my students, they were able to do their testing on Friday.  We did a stations day where my class rotated from group to group sampling foods (does sight affect taste?, does scent affect taste?, does colour affect taste?), blowing up balloons (lung capacity and height), viewing optical illusions (do you have a blind spot?)

Create a Reference Wall for the Scientific Method

And, as you know, I like to spread my passion about the school.  So this weekend, Crystal and I created this awesome bulletin board!

We used my old lab coat from university, some rubber gloves, goggles, paper and cotton batting to create our mad scientist.  The white is oil pastel on black bulletin board paper.

The posters you see here are my Scientific Process poster set. I teach my class the scientific method with these projected in the classroom, and now the printed versions can serve as a visual reminder in the hallway.

If you like it, and want your own set, click here to get yourself a copy


Or, check out my Complete Resource Package.  You'll get the poster set above and so much more!  This 60+ resource has EVERYTHING you need to successfully teach and host a science fair.

I really do love talking about this topic, so if you're wondering about something for your classroom or school fair, please ask away either in the comments or via email!

Check out my Pinterest board for more Science Fair inspiration!

Looking to build your Science resources? Need a low-prep blackline for lab reports? Want a thorough way to assess student knowledge and skills? Get your copy of my two-page lab report and assessment rubric today. These resources will help to make your Science lessons a breeze from start to finish!


Are you interested in even more bulletin board ideas? Do you want to save time by finding them all in one place? Follow the image or button below to grab your copy of my free bulletin board inspiration guide. 

Take me to the guide!

Helping to inspire,
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How Old is Janie? - A Fractions Problem


Are you looking for an engaging, critical thinking, high level word problem to assess your students' understandings of fractions?  Well, then, look no further!  One of my favourite word problems to do for fractions involves someone named Janie, and their birthday cake.  This word problem has everything a good problem requires.... multiple ways of showing your thinking and multiple answers

So, what's the question you ask?  Here you go...

At Janie's birthday party, Janie blew out 3/4 of her candles on her cake, draw a picture that shows the birthday cake, and candles, also showing which candles were blown out. P.S. How old is Janie? Explain your reasoning.

This question is not mine - it comes from a Marilyn Burns book.  Marilyn Burns is one math rockstar, let me tell you.  Anything she writes is genius.

Getting Started

To complete this task, I broke my class into groups.  Each group was given a chart paper to show their thinking on.  Instantly, every group said that Janie was four.  It makes sense, 3/4... blows out 3 of a total of 4.  There's your basic answer #1.  So, I told everyone that Janie could be 4, but they must all find a different age Janie could be.  At this point, they were all really mad at me. I mean, seriously, really mad.  They had found an answer they liked, and not too many wanted to find another.  Perseverance - math trait #1 folks.

Needless to say, we needed a second day with this task.  I am a huge believer that processing time works wonders.  With a night to sleep on the problem, they were all ready to go on day 2.  After about 30 minutes, they were ready to present their thinking to the class.

Sample Answers

Here's a few possible solutions and strategies from my students:

Showing understanding of fractions using a 100 dot array.

 #1 - Janie is 100 years old.

I really liked this one because of the strategy used here.  These kids grabbed a 100 dot array to show their thinking on.  When they picked up the array, they really weren't sure what they wanted to do.  However, the array is divided into 4 spaces which sparked their thinking.  They knew that each quadrant contained 25 dots.  Three out of four quadrants is 75 dots.  Therefore, Janie is 100 and blew out 75 candles.

Using a picture to show fractions understanding.

#2 - Janie is 12 years old (or anything even).

These ladies are very neat in their work.  They asked to do a second copy to present to the class.  I kind of wish I had taken a picture of the rough copy, because of course, that's where the majority of the thinking is represented.  These girls knew that fractions could be part of a set, so they drew out a random number of candles (I think they started with 10) and did a guess and test until they found a set where 3/4 worked.  That's how they settled on 12. 
They also discovered that Janie has to be an even age, which isn't quite true (to be explained later on in the post), but was a good beginning!

Using parts of a set to show fractions understanding.

#3 - Janie is 12 again.

In this group, they decided Janie was 12 as well, but came across that answer in a totally different way.  They decided to draw a fraction circle to represent 3/4.  They too knew that fractions could be part of a set.  They decided to draw 3 fraction circles with 3/4 shaded in because the numerator was 3.  They then counted up the pieces and saw that Janie could be 12 and blow out 9 candles.

Using multiples to solve a fractions word problem

 #4 - Janie's age has to be a multiple of 4.

I was so THRILLED that a group came to this realization.  They noticed that Janie could be 12, 16, 20, 24 or anything as long as you are counting by 4's.  This was the outcome I wanted, but of course, I couldn't tell it to them!  This led to a wonderful discussion that tied in so many elements: patterning, multiplication, the thinking of classmates... it was excellent.

I love math experiences like these and hope that the positive energy rubs off as much on the students as it does on me!

I'd love to hear about any word problems you've presented to your class.


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Easy S.T.E.A.M. Activities to Try Right Now

This year, my Grade 4's are Big Buddies to a Grade 1/2 class.  We try to meet every couple weeks, usually on Friday afternoons.  We do the "traditional" Buddy meeting where we read to the "Littles" and vice versa, however, we are trying to mix it up with some S.T.E.M Challenges.  

If you are unfamiliar with the term, S.T.E.M stands for:
S - Science
T - Technology
E - Engineering
M - Mathematics

More recently, the acronym has been changed to S.T.E.A.M. in which the "A" refers to art.  Kids use a skill set in S.T.E.M/S.T.E.A.M Challenges that they don't necessarily get to use throughout the regular school day.  They can increase their teamwork skills, critical thinking and motivation.

We have completed two S.T.E.M. Challenges so far this year.  The first was Spaghetti and Marshmallow Towers.  In groups of two (one Big and one Little) students received a handful of spaghetti and 20 mini marshmallows.  They also had one scooter to use as their tower base.  The task was to build the tallest tower in 30 minutes that fit on the scooter base and was stable enough to move to a judging area.

The kids were really eager to get going on this task.  I was so impressed with how well they worked together.  We ask the kids to pick a new buddy each time.  I was also really impressed that no one ate any marshmallows as they worked!  I know that was pretty tempting for some.

Students who made a triangular or square base seemed to have the most success.  Also, those with cross-bracing did better too.  What I loved most about this challenge was that the grade 4's were equally as engaged and tested as the 1's and 2's.  

The second challenge we did was Gingerbread Men Traps.  We did this challenge on the last day of school before Christmas break.  It was the perfect alternative to a hectic class party.  We split the classes in half.  I took half to do the challenge first, while the other half decorated gingerbread men in the Little's classroom.  After about 45 minutes we switched.

We had asked the students to bring in a few recyclables ahead of time.  Some brought water bottles and boxes, others had tin cans and gum containers.  We also gave them access to Popsicle sticks, yarn, Dixie cups, straws, cotton balls and tape.

The final item we gave everyone was a gingerbread cut out.  We found it in this excellent free package from Smart Chick Teaching on TpT.

Before they could gather supplies and get going, every Buddy group had to sketch out a plan on a blank paper.  After they presented their plan to me, I gave them whatever they needed.

What I loved about this challenge was that every group had a completely different end result.  They are so creative! 

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Word Graffiti

A deep thinking strategy for vocabulary.

I'm breaking out of my blogging silence today with a post about a task I call "Word Graffiti."  This activity is perfect before you have your students read anything with some vocabulary they've not seen before.  I had my class read a short article I wrote on the Holocaust.  There were some words I felt I needed to include in the text, but I knew they wouldn't have heard them in any other context.

The words were:
- corruption
- devastation
- inhumane
- vainly
- revolt
- ghettos
I wrote these words each on a whiteboard and placed them on table groups around the room.  You could do the same with chart paper, I was just trying to be a bit environmentally friendly.
Students traveled the room in table groups, and I gave them about 3-5 minutes per board.  Each group had only 1 white board marker to use, so they had to work together to decide what they wanted to write.  You can put down anything you think the word means or reminds you of.  You are to read what groups before you wrote, but you don't need to agree with their ideas.  That being said, you can't erase them either.

As you can see, there were a lot of good connections and ideas floating around my classroom.  My favourite is "electricity" for "revolt" because of the "volt" part of the word.  Great ideas, but many were way off.  I did have one student who knew "vainly" because I guess her mother tells her she is vain for looking in mirrors all the time.  Ha!

This task took us about 45 minutes from starting instructions to final discussion.  We didn't read the article that day.  However, the next day, after a night of processing they were all pros with those 6 big words!  And, months later, they all still know what each 6 mean, which is most important.

What do you do to get your students thinking about vocab before reading?

 A language arts strategy to have kids consider vocabulary before reading.

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