Two Fun STEM Day Activities {Monday Made It}

Two fun STEM ideas to get kids thinking about DNA sequences and binary codes.
First of all, be shocked that I am writing a science post. I know that I'm shocked. In case you didn't know, I will be teaching science for the first time in sixteen years. That is also a shock, but it will be fine. I hope. Anyway...

I recently took my daughter to a STEM day at a local business. They had two really great hands-on activities that I wanted to share with you.

The first activity involved making a DNA model with licorice, colored mini marshmallows, and toothpicks. {Here is a link to the materials.}
The way that was suggested was not the way my OCD daughter chose to do it. The intended procedure was to do one side in a particular sequence. Each color of marshmallow stood for either C, T, A, or G. Then they were it identify the paired chemical and complete the other side. My daughter did the correct pairings, just did a patterned sequence.

The other activity asked my daughter to use colored beads to create her name in binary code. At least part of the materials came from {this website}.
Once she got the code for each letter, it was time to count up how many beads were needed in each color. They used Perler beads for this activity.
Then it was time to string them up! She chose pink for the Xs and purple for the blanks. The dark blue are the spacers between each letter.

Two fun STEM ideas to get kids thinking about DNA sequences and binary codes.


Back to School in a Flash {Teacher Faves}

I'm joining some wonderful teacher bloggers for a fun back to school linky. This week focuses on teacher favorites that make us happy. I've narrowed it down to three things that either make my teaching life easier or just plain make me happy!
This one is a no-brainer and most of you probably already own it. Although I hate to think of the environmental impact of this particular product, it certainly has made my teaching life easier!
A few years ago, I gave up drinking pop (or soda or Coke or whatever you non-Midwesterners might call it). I found myself using disposable water bottles for my Crystal Light, which really didn't do much for my budget or the environment. I bought this little lovely and use it constantly. It keeps my water cold for a long time, and it's just so pretty!
This guy comes in handy when I'm handing out papers for student binders, 3-prong folders, or filing away my own papers. The sound it makes is music to my ears!
I love Sharpie pens because they don't bleed and come in a variety of colors. Not a fan of using ballpoints that don't write smoothly.

Link up your own favorites!


Easing into Close Reading

Interested in trying close reading with your students? Read about how to implement it with your current reading materials.

One of the things that I've noticed from FB posts and product feedback is that there are a lot of teachers out there who want to give close reading a try, but are unsure on how to go about doing it. Good news is that it's probably not drastically different from what you're already doing. In fact, there is probably no "right way" of doing it, and there will be many variations based on your students and your daily schedule. You can even use your reading series, literature circle books, or guided reading materials. As I mentioned in {this post}, the rule of thumb is to choose something fairly short and high-interest.

Here is how close reading looks in my classroom.
On the first day, I have the kids do a cold read and annotate the text. If I'm using my close reading texts, then there are four different versions of the text being read throughout the classroom, but that's okay because they all of the same information. Students write questions, make connections, and otherwise interact with the text. I prefer to have them write directly on the paper, but if you're using a textbook, novel, or whatever, that obviously isn't a good idea. So if I'm using a story from Wonders, I hand out small Post-It notes students can use instead. Or sometimes I'll photocopy the selection from the book, like maybe just the page about Harriet Tubman. And I saw this really cool idea on Pinterest. Genius.

After giving them 5-10 minutes to annotate, we have a class discussion about the selection - what annotations did you make and why? There are no wrong answers during this part. The discussion lasts anywhere from 10-20 minutes, depending on how thought-provoking the text was. Sometimes we just share with a partner instead. I like to mix it up just to keep things interesting and fresh. The point is to just get them talking and listening to each other about the topic.

The next day, I ask some sort of question that requires them to go back to the text to answer. Maybe I want them to compare/contrast, look for particular details, answer the who/what/where questions. We are digging slightly beyond the initial reading and are starting to get some understanding of the text. If they have a print copy, then I'm asking them to highlight where they found the answers. I have found that I get more participation if they get to use highlighters, Post-Its, or whatever. For my class, this takes about 15 minutes.

On the third day, we take another look at the text. This time, I'm asking a question about the structure, vocabulary, figurative language, author's voice, or something else that doesn't necessarily focus on the text and details. Maybe we outline the selection looking for main ideas and supporting details. If we are using the print copies, this is the day we underline our text evidence. So up to this point, our papers have annotations, highlights, and underlines. By now, it's pretty obvious who needs some extra attention because their paper is either empty or completely covered with highlighter and underlines. This also takes about 15 minutes.

The last activity I ask them to do with the selection is a short writing prompt. I pose a question that has something to do with the text and hopefully makes them use what they learned to answer it. I like asking questions about how ideas apply to their own lives, their opinions about something in the text, or maybe even a time when they experienced something similar. This is where I introduce how to quote directly from a text in their writing. I allow about 15-20 minutes for this part.

Notice that I'm not spending hours on this every day. This is why my students don't mind coming back to it day after day. This is also why it's so important to have an interesting selection (which is why I don't do it with every chapter in the textbook). In my opinion, it's also why close reading is so flexible in that you can do it whole class, in small groups, or even as homework.

Here are some free close reading topics that you can do with your students if you want to try close reading without having to come up with your own text selections and questions.

Here are my paid close reading products if you want to try it for a month or longer.


Interested in trying close reading with your students? Read about how to implement it with your current reading materials.


A+ Images {Review}

When {A+ Images} offered to send me a free custom t-shirt to advertise myself, I jumped at the chance. Not that I wanted to wear it to school or anything, but I had plans to go to the TpT conference in Vegas. Since I really don't use my picture anywhere, I wanted something that would identify me to people that had only met me online. (It can get awkward trying to see everyone's name tag.)

I will also tell you that I have another shirt or two from A+ Images, so I knew that it would be a good experience. After I filled out the form, they notified me that my blog image's resolution was too small. After many back-and-forth emails, that issue was finally resolved. The designer was so nice that she even offered to try to recreate my image for me. Luckily, I didn't need to take her up on that, but it was still nice of her to offer. After all, I was getting this shirt for free!

My shirt arrived very quickly, and it was just as awesome as I had hoped it would be. It totally served its purpose. Here is a picture of me with other bloggers at the conference.
If you don't need/want a custom shirt, they have a wide selection of {teacher apparel}, too! I have this one...
Thanks, A+ Images! I will be doing business with you again!

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