Keep Students Engaged this November and a FREE Download!

Hey there friends!
We're on the home stretch to Thanksgiving break and I know I'm looking forward to it! Fun with family, friends and time to relax and reset what could be better? The kids are also in need of a break, which means having to work a little harder to engage our students, and it's a little tricky when our brains are so worn out ha! I may be alone in the feeling, but if not, I would love to share a fun Thanksgiving themed activity sure to keep your students on task and having fun. 
I don't know if you have seen the "How to Catch a ..." series by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton but they are hilarious, brightly illustrated and naturally lend to a fun STEM challenge. When I saw "How to Catch a Turkey" on the shelves I knew I had to use it to create an exciting activity.
I read the book with my own boys and after seeing all of turkeys attempts to escape, we decided to make catapults! You can imagine how excited they were to make things that launch, and mom was cool with it! HA! 
Now, if you haven't done a STEM project with your kids before, prepare to be amazed with the engagement and pure excitement that comes with it. I kicked myself for not incorporating them sooner when I did my snowman traps last winter. I couldn't believe the different design ideas and the growth mindset the kids displayed throughout the designing and engineering process. 
Now with every unit I make I try to give myself multiple options to extend and support the learning. If you are anything like me, you love to keep it new and fresh each year. Having multiple choices on how to deliver the standards keeps it new and fresh for me and keeping me engaged is important too. Ha! 
Click on any of the images below to take a closer look in my store. 

Ok, so what does this involve?


When I'm planning a STEM unit, I always brainstorm all the materials that kiddos might need to create their ideal design. The materials don't need to be fancy. Look around your house and try to think outside the box. (I include suggested materials inside all my units) I then make a list and ask parents to donate materials off the list if they can. I'm talking toilet paper rolls, toothpicks, tape, popsicle sticks, cardboard scraps, etc. I often get other things I hadn't thought of. Anything not sent in I can provide. As for leftovers, I keep them for future projects. 

Clear Expectations

Conversations about growth mindset are always important to have before starting a project like this. We talk about mistakes mean we are trying and pushing ourselves to think beyond what we may have experience in. When we make mistakes, it creates opportunity for different ideas to grow. We can't give up and be proud of your creations. We also talk about teamwork. Our expectations are that you let everyone have a chance to voice their opinions and share their ideas without negative criticism.  You may or may not have kids work in teams. I recommend at least a partner so that they can reflect on their design choices and practice compromising which are other great reasons to have activities like this in our classrooms. 

How long does this take?

This all depends on you. I have done the layout in multiple ways. I have broken the activities into separate days. We read the book and then I chose one of the comprehension activities that focused on a strategy we needed to review or used it to introduce a new standard. One another day we watched an engineering video (I provide links in the unit) then we talk about how we might design our catapults as well as start design process. Then the last day we partner up share our designs to make a joint design plan and start construction. Now, this can be done in one session as well. I have read the book to my students. I then would tell the kids we are going to help our turkey escape and will be constructing catapults to do so. Their eyes light up!  We would watch the video I have on catapult design and we get to designing and constructing. I do have two options as well for a determined design or free design engineering. If this doesn't keep your students engaged this November, I don't know what will! 
I just have to tell you how rewarding it was to get to stand back and observe their minds at work. Kids going beyond where they thought they could, kids celebrating and laughing.... ALL ON TASK! not being cheesy, but ok it's cheesy... I couldn't stop smiling. It is a whole new view of your kiddos and an experience I know they won't forget. Let's keep these students engaged this November. 
If you have 't taken advantage of downloading my FREE STEM POSTERS 
click on the image below. 

I hope you have a great week! We can do this, friends!


Problem Solver Station Helping Kids Solve Problems Independently

Hey there friends, 

"Teacher! He did, she said, I tried but.." I know you are hearing it all. Our kids are having a harder time gettin along. It's just that they are now more like siblings instead of just classmates. They are getting to know each other more, spending more time together and needing a little space. This time of year is usually when I need to reteach what is tattling vs. reporting and do some targeted  instruction on problem solving. 

What I have found is that sometimes kids just need to get their feelings out and want to be heard. Unfortunately, we know how long that line can get after recess. Without taking all the time, I still want to hear their concerns in order to validate their worries because I know kids will not be fully focusing on me if they have something else weighing on their minds whether it feels like a big deal to us or not.
Many years ago, (yes I'm old enough to say that)  I decided to create a  "Problem Solver Station". It has evolved over the years, but the basics remain. I found a small space in my room where kids could go to problem solve their issues independently before coming to me. At this station the main component  I have is problem solver forms. 
On these forms they write out what the problem/concern is. They then write how they tried to solve or avoid the problem, there is even a bank of strategies we have discussed in class to choose from. There is also a space where they indicate if they still need to talk to me about this. You would be surprised how many kiddos say no. Many times, they just need to write it out.
Now, you may be thinking how does she have enough time to read all of those?! First, they don't write that much. Second, if they took the time to write it all out, I owe it to them to read and see if it is something I need to look into further. Another reason I like the problems or concerns  being written out is it helps me collect data for reoccurring issues. Last, it cuts down the line up and blurts right after recess which we know can sometimes ruin an effective lesson launch. 
Another great component at the problem solver station is a copy of your schools problem solving strategies, if you have one. In my district they use "Kelso's Choices". I printed a smaller copy of the visual they use, to help kids chose quick and efficient strategies to solve a problem. 
Last, I have a penny for simple "let's flip for it" problems and a set of rock, paper, scissors dice. These are amazing because kids can't argue over who cheated or no you can't use "bomb", etc. Ha! 
The problem solver station has been a huge help to cut down on interruptions and problems getting out of hand. Kids need to be able to problem solve independently. Now of course we talk about small problem vs. big problem and when you must get an adult. Asking students "Is this a small problem or big problem?" is my go to prompt before sending them to the station. 
You can pick up your copy of my problem solver forms by clicking on the image below. 

Now, if you haven't directly taught big problem vs. small problem or you need a refresher for your students I have a great book companion unit with the theme of problem and solution which also focuses on tattling. Inspired by the book "Don't Squeal Unless It's a BIG Deal" I created engaging  guided reading activities, book talk questions, craft templates, mentor posters and writing extensions ready to print and go! Click on any of the images below to check out the unit in my store.  

I wish you the best of luck in supporting your kiddos and your sanity. I would love to hear how you support your kiddos working through their problems. We can all use some extra ideas! 

Have  a great week!