It Can Start With a Single Dot

Do you have students who think they aren't artists?  I know that I do.  What about children who are so scared of making mistakes that they have trouble getting started?  I know that I have these types of children in my class, too.

What are we doing to help them?  Are we giving them scaffolded attempts at being creative and expressing their artistic ability?  For the last few weeks I've been teaching an after school class that is linking literacy and art.  Each week we have read a story by a favorite child author and then created artwork inspired by the book.  It's been so interesting to see how some children can jump right into creating, while others need extra support to get started.  

Today I'd love to share a simple, easy to make craft inspired by ["The Dot" by Peter H. Reynolds].  The original idea for this project came from the blog [Drip, Drip, Splatter Splash].

For this craftivity I used watercolor paints, white construction paper in the shape of a square, a large dot tracer, and black construction paper to mount the finished paintings on.

After reading "The Dot" and discussing the message of the story - to simply try even when we don't feel artistic or feel we can't draw/paint/etc - we set out to paint!  The kids started by tracing a large dot onto the white construction paper.  They then had the choice to paint inside the dot, paint the area around the dot, or both.

I'm so happy that I chose this lesson for our first class together.  I think starting with the message that everyone can be an artist and all it takes is trying is powerful for setting the kids up for success.  As the kids got started painting there were no tears, no I can'ts, no frustration - just fun!

I think they came out absolutely adorable!  Who knew that beautiful artwork could start with a  single dot?

How do you encourage children to try in your class?
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When it's OK for Math to be a Little Scary

Is it ever OK for math to be a little scary?  I say yes.  While spooky may be a better word for what I'm sharing today, math centers don't have to be scary.  Yes, it is possible to have math centers early in the year and be successful (and it doesn't even have to be a scary process)! 

It's all about setting clear expectations, practicing (and practicing, and practicing, and practicing), then getting students to buy into the centers.

When I think of getting kids to buy in to their learning I immediately think of giving them choice and making it FUN!  Queue the math games!  Math games as centers not only give students choice and make learning fun, but they also meet standards (shocker, right?).

Here are some engaging math centers that just happen to have the added bonus of being Halloween inspired.  Speaking of inspiration, the Target Dollar Spot was a huge inspiration for the following games.  I mean, who can walk past ultra-cute Halloween erasers when they're only a $1.00?!

Throw in some $1.00 bins from Dollar Tree and it's all google eyes from here!  I love organizing my math center manipulatives in these containers.

On to the games!

Grow a Pumpkin Patch is a great game to practice one-to-one correspondence, counting, and the concept of addition.  Students use a spinner to spin a number from 1-4.  They then add that many jack o'lanterns to their playing mat.  The goal of the game is to reach 20 jack o'lanterns.

It can easily be differentiated to allow for partner cooperative play as well as partner competitive play.  I'm even thinking of adding a die with + and - symbols that students will roll before spinning the number to determine if they are adding or taking jack o'lanterns away.

Next up is a game that practices subitizing.  Subitizing is the ability to see a small quantity of objects and know how many there are without counting.  I'm always surprised to see that some teachers don't work on this skill with their students.

Ghostly Numbers is a game where students draw a card with varying amounts of candies from 1-10.  With repeated exposure to subitizing, students can start to quickly recognize the number of candies on the card and then cover that number on their playing mat.  The key is that a given set of numbers (Ex: 4) does not always look the same on each card with the same given set of numbers.

Again, this game is easy to differentiate and make a partner cooperative or partner competitive game.  Students can work together to "black out" the playing mat or competitively to "black out" their own playing mats.

Ever played the game Connect 4?  This next game is inspired by Connect 4!

Black Cat Race is a game where students roll two dice, or use dominoes, and practice adding the numbers together (this adds a great visual for students who need it).  They then cover that number on their side of the playing mat.  The first student to connect 4 in a row wins!

And we can't forget an engaging game that utilizes a hundreds chart!

Halloween Dash is a game where students race from 1 to 100!  I love this game because it exposes children to 100s charts, practices number recognition, and is just plain fun!

Addition and subtraction games are a must for math center time.  Especially when the game combines both!

Bag of Bones is an exciting game where students collect skulls, but beware!  Landing on a subtraction symbol means you must give some back.  The player with the most skulls at the end of the game wins!

All of the games above are available in my [TpT store].  Each game is available as a full-color version as well as an ink-saving backline version that can be printed on brightly colored paper!  You can check them out by click [here].

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Back to School in Style: Tips and Tricks with The Teaching Texan

The back to school season can get a little pretty hectic.  Inservice, prepping for the first day, setting up your classroom for the year, Meet the Teacher Night, the list goes on... My to-do list during this time of year is never ending.  Whether you're a list person or not, prioritizing what needs to happen now and what can wait is so important.  Today I'd love to share with you a few tips for prepping for the new year that will get you off to a smooth start and save you time throughout the year!

My first tip may be something that is not on your to-do list, but I highly recommend adding it if it's not.  Sending your future students a little hand-written note before you even meet them is a great way to kick start your year.  Even if you don't get your class list until right before school starts snail mail only takes a day or two to travel locally.  My team just prints some cute artwork onto cardstock and fold it in half to create our cards.

These.  Saved.  My.  Life.
But seriously, during my first two years of teaching I could never come up with an effective way of helping kids keep up with their unfinished work.  I failed pretty miserably at keeping track of who had unfinished work.  One thing my team taught me last year was to create a simple "Unfinished Work" folder for each child that he/she keep in his/her cubby.  Whenever a child finishes an activity early they are trained to go look in their green folder first.  This also works fantastic for putting differentiated activities in.

If you use anchor charts that are very similar to each other (letter bubble maps, word families, etc) make them ahead of time.  I have all of my letter bubble maps and word family charts ready to go for the whole year!  Whenever we start a new family I just have to flip to the next anchor chart and we add the pictures together!

I mentioned that this is one of my tips to do at the end of the school year for the next year, and if you haven't already preprinted your BOY assessments and copies for F&P/DRA you should definitely consider doing so before the year starts!  Nothing is worse than sitting down to do a running record and realize you don't have any copies of the Level A fiction book form.

Create a binder with a tab for each child to house notes on math, literacy, and social emotional development.  If I notice a child struggling with a concept/skill or a child who is especially proficient at a skill already, I jot a note down in his/her section.  This helps tremendously when I sit down to do small group plans or pick differentiated activities.  It's also a great tool when conference/report card time comes and you need to write comments!

This is also a great place to keep running records/F&P/DRA assessments.  Anytime I call a parent I also put a note on the coordinating page (math/literacy/social emotional) to keep track of parent contact.  This record is so nice to  have whenever something not so positive happens.

I make a folder in my e-mail titled "Parent Communication," then create a folder within this folder for each child in my class.  This is a great way to keep your e-mail organized throughout the school year and it gives you a place to keep track of parent communication.

This one I'm still working on, but I'm getting better!  For anyone who is new to the classroom (or maybe even if you aren't), being indecisive is a surefire way to kill your momentum when getting ready for the school year.  Let's make a pact together that we will all make a decision and take action without pondering every single detail or outcome.

If you're looking for even more tips and tricks for back to school check out this Pinterest board!

Here's are a few more great tips from friends of The Teaching Texan!

Cat H.:  My favorite tip is to have my room set up before the pre-service week. My principal always has tons of meetings that week and I never have time to finish.
Chrissy S.: Make a few extra new student folders at the beginning of the year when you are making them so that you have them pre-made if you get a new student later in the year.
Karen C. from Planet Happy Smiles: My tip is keep your take home bag out and ready during those I service days so you can put anything inside that you can do at home watching Netflix. Focus on the things you can only do at school first.

Stephanie T.:   have a 1-31 folder to place papers/items that I am going to teach on that day. So when Sept 2 rolls around, for example, I go to folder 2 and pull all my materials for that day. Easy to organize and helps me store materials I have ready ahead of time.

Bess G:  I mark the spines of our journals with different duct tape (color coded by subject) so they are easier to identify in student cubbies.
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Elephant Toothpaste: Bringing Social Emotional Development and Science Together

Y'all that back to school crazy time of year is approaching.  Let me help you check one thing off your list by sharing a new twist on a science favorite.  Just think social emotional, science, and bubbly, messy fun all rolled together in this hands-on experiment.

Many of us know about the elephant toothpaste science experiment (if you don't, you will by the end of this post).  But, how can we tie this into more meaningful instruction in primary grades?  Well, this summer at the KOSMOS Stem Teacher Institute it HIT me!

As educators we realize the importance of developing the whole child, which means focusing on social-emotional development.  Now, raise your hand if you read "Chrysanthemum" by Kevin  Henkes to discuss how words can hurt.  Great!  Many of us use this, or another read aloud, especially at the beginning of the year to discuss how our words can affect others.  We've done all sorts of activities over the years to illustrate this, but why not illustrate it with science?!  This is where elephant toothpaste comes in. 

 For anyone unfamiliar with this experiment, here is a quick visual.

Alright, so after reading "Chrysanthemum" (or other book of choice) we can discuss how each of the ingredients listed below represents a negative comment or action from a friend/classmate.

Challenge your kids to predict or hypothesize what will happen if you mix all of the ingredients together.  What will happen when negative actions (ingredients) build?

After predicting, it's time to have some science fun!  Here's how to make elephant toothpaste!

What you need:
Clean 1 liter soda bottle or large plastic graduated cylinder
Plastic tray or tarp
Dish soap
40-volume hydrogen peroxide (can be found at beauty supply stores)
Food coloring
Dry yeast (one of the paper packages is sufficient)
Warm water in a plastic cup or bowl
Measuring spoons
Googles (optional)
Gloves (optional)

After gathering the materials, place the soda bottle or cylinder on the tray or tarp.  This experiment WILL create a foamy mess and you want clean up to be a breeze.

Then, squirt enough dish soap into the bottle to roughly cover the bottom of the bottle.

Add about 120 mL, or 1/2 cup, of hydrogen peroxide to the bottle and gently swirl to mix.

This is a great place to stop and observe what has happened.  Link this back to the read aloud by asking if these two ingredients together (negative actions) have caused any kind of reaction.

Next, add some food coloring to make the reaction more colorful.  To achieve more of a striped result you can drip the food coloring down the edge of the bottle/cylinder as seen below.

Remember to continue linking these ingredients to what they represent from the story (children making fun of Chrysanthemum's name, etc).

Now it's time for the catalyst.  Pour the contents of the dry yeast packet into a cup or bowl and add warm water.  Gently stir to activate the yeast.

When you're ready, have the children pour the yeast mixture directly into the bottle/cylinder.  Be ready for foam!

 This experiment is super fun and visual.  I think that linking this visual science experiment to something the children understand (friends not being kind to each other) is a great way to begin expose the children to reactions in chemistry/physical science while also touching on social-emotional development.

A fun extra might be trying to have the children think about ways to "reverse" what has happened.  After brainstorming children should come to realize that there isn't a way to reverse the reaction, similar to the lasting impression that words can leave on a friend.

I hope that you and your kiddos will enjoy this experiment!  If you try it, let me know how it goes!

Want more ideas for introducing young children to chemistry/physical science - [check out this blog post.]
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My Week at the KOSMOS Energy Stem Teacher Institute

Sweet summertime... Time for relaxation, regeneration for the beginning of the school year, and... professional development!

This summer I was fortunate enough to attend the KOSMOS Energy Stem Teacher Institute at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science for a second year.  For anyone who was not able to attend, or just wants more knowledge on STEM education, I'd love to share some of the key take aways from my time at the institute.

Last year the theme of the summer institute was Earth/Space science.  This lends so well to many of the concepts we traditionally teach in the primary grades.  Suffice it to say that I was a little shocked when I found out the theme of this summer's institute was chemistry.

My initial thought was, "how on Earth does chemistry apply to teaching science in Kindergarten?!"  I don't know about you, but I'm no chemistry whizz.

While as teachers in the primary grades we generally may not approach a science unit or lesson as "chemistry" per se, we should approach these experiences and physical science as the building blocks of future chemistry knowledge for our kiddos.

While this is not an exhaustive list of concepts or ideas, here's what I learned that we should focus on in the primary grades.

States of Matter

Describing properties of the various states of a matter is a huge way to start building science vocabulary and exposure to solids, liquids, and gases.

Whether you can take a field trip to a local museum (like the Perot Museum), or just have a handful of interesting rocks, minerals, etc. in the classroom you could easily have children group them by like characteristics (size, luster, hardness).  I think the power of having kids verbalize their reasoning for sorting by a specific characteristic is so powerful!

One of our challenges was to determine what type of material was in the 3 petri dishes above and give a claim/evidence/reason.  My mind immediately went to how this could be done in a primary aged classroom.  Could you imagine kids hypothesizing whether a material will float or not?  Or maybe hypothesizing if a material will leave marks on paper or not?  I so can!  Then the kiddos can test out their hypothesis and give a claim/evidence/reasoning.  I could see this activity being used with so many types of objects!

Talking about combining states of matter can be hands on, too!  Think bouncy balls!  Who doesn't like bouncy balls people?!  One way we explored making the states of matter hands-on for young learners was by making our own bouncy balls.   It's also great for tying in math because of the measurement involved.

Seriously, look how much fun I had!


The materials used to make these bouncy balls are very common (can be purchased at a grocery store) and they're cheap!  This activity also lends the perfect chance to be a bit messy!  You can find a step-by-step tutorial for making bouncy balls [here].  Disclaimer:  This bouncy ball recipe actually works!

Another hands-on (and very visual) representation of combining liquids and solids is the elephant toothpaste science experiment.


I love this idea for introducing how different things can react with each other.  My mind is also spinning at turning this into a beginning of the year activity for talking about how words and actions can hurt others and how we can't take them back.  (Think each ingredient being a negative thing said or done, then when the reaction happens discussing how we can't change what happened and no matter how hard we might try it would not go back into the tube).  Social emotional PLUS science in one lesson?!  Winning!

Want to make elephant toothpaste?  Click [here] for a step by step guide.

You may be thinking, but what about gases?  This is something I've really struggled with illustrating for young learners - when things aren't easily seen or touched many kiddos can't really form meaning.  Well we did a great little demonstration to show that gases are around us even if we can't see them.  

All you need for this one is vinegar, baking soda, a container, a lighter/matches, and a candle!  BTW please check with your admin before trying this demo and definitely do NOT let the kiddos use matches/lighter or get too close to the candle.

Here's a quick break down of the "Pour without Pouring" experiment/demo!

Pour some baking soda into a clear beaker or glass.
Add some vinegar into the mix by pouring white vinegar into the same container (foam time!)
Wait a few moments to let the reaction occur.
A teacher will use a lighter or matches to light the candle.
Take the container with the baking soda and vinegar and carefully act like you are pouring it onto the candle - do not actually pour the liquid out.
The flame extinguishes!  

Energy/Static Electricity (Positive and Negative Charges)

Teaching Kindergarten students protons, electrons, and neutrons?  Yah, probably not...

But, teaching them that things can be attracted to each other or repelled is a big YES!  (Think magnets attracting and repelling - we all know we do magnet experiments in the younger grades)!

Well here is another hands-on idea for illustrating how things can be attracted to each other based on their charge.  All you need is a balloon (and hair helps)!

This goes back to kids wondering why they get shocked when they touch something metal, or why their clothes stick together when they come out of the dryer.  All you need to do is rub a balloon on your hair and witness how the balloon then attracts the hair towards it when pulled away.  For a bonus, hold the balloon over an empty can after rubbing the balloon on your hair.  Move the balloon side to side and see what happens!

How does all of this fit into the standards?  My school uses the [Next Generation Science Standards] (NCSS) as a starting point for what we will teach, but definitely do not let it limit us.  You can check out the "Physical Science" strand for information related to Chemistry and what we should be doing in primary grades to build strong science minds.  If you're looking for a place to start I highly recommend these standards (along with whatever state standards your state has).

My big take away after using the TEKS and NGSS?  Let the standards be a guide, but go beyond the standards!  We are creating the future and no set of standards can encompass everything that children should learn.

If you want more ideas for science check back throughout the year!  I'll be sharing tips, tricks, and ideas from our Saturday workshops!  You can also visit my favorite Pinterest board all about hands-on science!

Interested in attending the KOSMOS Stem Teacher Institute at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science?  If you live in the DFW area, I highly recommend you applying for next year!  [Click here] for more information and the website with application.
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Bouncy Balls and Chemistry in the Primary Grades? A Step by Step How-to Guide

Who doesn't love bouncy balls?  Especially bouncy balls that are a DIY and fit into science, math, and writing?!  This is so perfect for talking about states of matter and what happens when you mix solids and liquids.  Build that foundation for chemistry people!  This idea came straight from the KOSMOS Stem Teacher Institute that I attended this summer (but I know it's also floating around on Pinterest)!

Here's a simple run down of how you can make bouncy balls with your class or child!

Roll up those sleeves y'all, this one can be a bit messy!

First, you'll want to gather these ingredients and supplies.   I found them all at a local grocery store for about $10, but you might be able to find them cheaper elsewhere (don't bother looking at Dollar General for Borax - they don't carry it).   The amount listed below will make ONE bouncy ball.

1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon Borax
2 tablespoons white liquid glue
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Liquid food coloring (I've heard liquid watercolors work well, too)
2 bowls or cups
Measuring cups/spoons

Start by adding the warm water to a bowl.  Be sure the water is quite warm or the borax will not dissolve properly.

Next, add 1 tablespoon of Borax to the water and gently stir until it dissolves.

In the other bowl add 2 tablespoons of white liquid glue, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, and food coloring.  This is such a fantastic time to bring in art and talk about mixing colors to achieve desired results!

Gently mix the glue, cornstarch, and coloring together until you have a smooth mixture.

Poor the contents of the first bowl (water and Borax) into the bowl with the glue mixture.  

Quickly stir as the mixture will harden very quickly.

When you've got a clump in the liquid, go ahead and use your hands to pull it from the spoon.

Rub the clump between your hands until it begins to form a ball.

There will be a period where the ball becomes very sticky - this is normal!

When the ball is no longer sticky you are ready to give it a bounce!

I absolutely adore this activity for talking about states of matter (solids and liquids) in the primary grades.  It's also just plain fun!

You can read more about my inspiration for this post by reading about my experience at the KOSMOS Stem Teacher Institute by clicking [here]!

If you want more ideas for hands-on science activities, check out one of my FAVORITE Pinterest board below.

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