Roller Coasters!!

This week was a short week in EXCEL, as fifth grade (plus me!) went to St. Augustine for a three day field trip.  Before we left on Wednesday, though, I made sure to make time to see lower grade class on Monday instead.  Continuing our study of carnivals, we worked on learning about and creating our own roller coasters!

We started out with our usual brain teasers.  This week’s brain teasers started with a carnival themed riddle and then a word puzzle.  Then we started on our review.  We reviewed many of the concepts that we had studied earlier in the year:  kinetic energy, potential energy, Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, gravity, inertia and acceleration.  First we watched some videos to help us remember, then we played a Smartboard game, and finally we played a card game to help us remember the concepts.


After we had reviewed the concepts and I was sure everyone remembered the terms and could demonstrate them on a roller coaster, we started making our very own roller coasters out of Kinex!

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This took a while and the fun part was that the students had to complete it by themselves, following the directions very carefully.  One wrong part, and it wouldn’t work, so they had to be careful and they had to read carefully!

We didn’t finish, but I’ll post the pictures next week!  3rd grade is off on a field trip this week, so we’ll miss our time together.  In all the classes, we will be working on our final carnival games!

Wrapping Up Geology

This week in EXCEL, we wrapped up our geology unit with the study of speleology, better known as the study of caves.  As always, we started with some brain teasers to warm up our thinking.

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Then, we looked at our posters from last week.  Last week’s task had been to, in groups, create a poster – using words, pictures, or a combination of both of them – to express our knowledge about caves.  Each group had an additional task of asking three questions about caves as well.

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Each group had the opportunity to present their posters, and from the information that the students knew, we created a poster.

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Each group got a set of their own questions and they used them to guide their viewing as we watched some informational videos about caves.

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We also made “caves” in mason jars, using sand and rocks, with sugar cubes simulating the erosion of limestone.

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We then read a really neat book about a fascinating subject:  the ancient cave paintings of Lascaux.  We also took a virtual tour of the caves and the little town of Montignac, France where the story took place.  If you are not familiar with the story, ask your EXCEL student or look it up.  Very interesting stuff!

After we had learned all about the cave paintings, the meaning behind them, and the process and materials that ancient man used in this first documented example of art, we made some of our own.

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The fifth graders were especially intrigued by “the wall of hands” and decided that they would, too, include this in their display.

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The fifth graders also had a chance to finish and refine their designs for their pet rock slides for their playgrounds.

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We have had a great time in EXCEL learning about geology.  I honestly could do a year long study on this, as it is my very favorite, but we must move on!  I apologize for the lack of a post last week, but I had a conference presentation out of town and then had a family member die suddenly, and I just lost track of time.  Hopefully things will start to slow down as the year comes to a close!

Look for lots of fun stuff in our next post, when we begin planning our classroom carnival!

Slow Land Changes

Welcome back to school!  I hope you all enjoyed your winter break!  We got right back down to business in EXCEL with some new kinds of brain teasers.  We’ve really concentrated on the brain teasers that are language based, which played to the strengths of most of us.   This week, we worked on tangrams–with and without an outline to help, pattern block pictures, and the math game 24.  This required us to use a different part of our brain and to develop new strategies.  Some of us loved it…and as you can ee in the picture below, some of us were a little bit frustrated!


In our 4th grade class, Allison brought in some cool rocks she found in her yard.  We used what we had learned about rocks to identify them as quartzite and granite.


Fifth grade had creative fun this week, as they created their pet rocks.  The other kids had done this before the break, but due to some other activities for fifth graders, they hadn’t had the chance to do so.  It was fun to see how each chose to create.


All of the classes worked on the first piece of the pet rock playground, the geodesic dome.  I had to share my memories of this play structure.  I had one in my basement when I was a little girl in Wisconsin and it was too cold to play outside.  We used toothpicks and clay, a well as the engineering principles we learned during our earthquake exploration.


Weathering and erosion were next on the agenda.  Did you know that many people (including the famous and every popular Bill Nye, we discovered) get these mixed up?  We watched some science videos, but to really understand, we needed to really experience it.  First, we used cookies to simulate the two processes.

First, we poked our cookies for one minute with a toothpick.  This simulated weathering from people walking and digging, as well as hail and other rocks.


Then we simulated wind (erosion) by blowing through a straw for one minute.


Last, we used pipettes to simulate rain, which caused both weathering and erosion!


Still, we were a little bit confused and not all that sure of the difference between the two processes.  Therefore, we headed outside for our weathering and erosison relay!  What fun!

The first person in each team started the weathering process by running halfway across the basketball court and taking one block off of a duplo tower.  Each person took a turn with this until the structure was completely weathered.  Then, erosion could take place.  One by one, the team members carried a duplo to the deposition site at the other side of the court.  We ran each race several times to switch up the teams and give everyone a chance to win, but it really didn’t matter.  We were outside running and learning at the same time!


Then, we went inside to see erosion in action!


Weathering and erosion are the slow changes that shape the earth (unlike the fast changing earthquakes and volcanoes).  We learned how these processes lead to different landforms.  What better reason to play in the sand!  We read about landforms and then we made each landform with the sand.


We will finish up our geology unit exploring landforms a little bit more and then learning about caves.  Our final unit will be a unit in which we use everything we’ve learned so far to put together a class carnival.  I sent home a flyer on Thursday to let you know the things that we will need to complete our projects.  If you have any of these items at home that you would be willing to donate, we would sure appreciate it!  Your trash is our treasure!

Finally, thank you to everyone who remembered me during Teacher Appreciation Week!  It surely is a different experience outside of the classroom, and I was so pleasantly surprised and delighted with the cards and gifts.  Individual thank you notes are coming soon!

Three Weeks in One

There’s so much to catch up on, as we’ve had a busy few weeks in EXCEL.  We all used our measurement skills from our last unit to make dough to form our volcanoes.


Everyone but fifth grade got the chance to make their volcanoes erupt.  We tried using the Mentos and Diet Coke, but found that this did not produce the explosion that we wanted.  We hypothesized that we had the incorrect proportions of each.  Instead, we used dish detergent, baking soda, and vinegar.  We added a few drops of food coloring to make it look more like real lava.


And this is what happens when you leave your iPad unattended.


The next week, we learned about rocks and the rock cycle.  We used Starburst candies to illustrate the three different kinds of rocks.  First, we cut the Starburst into pieces to represent sediment, and we squeezed the pieces together to show how the sediment bonds together to form sedimentary rocks.  Then, we applied heat from our hands and pressure from a book to form a metamorphic rock.  Finally, we took those metamorphic rocks and melted them on the hot plate to make our igneous rocks.


We watched a few videos on the Smartboard, and then we did a sorting activity.  We had to sort statements or characteristics of rocks into the correct types.  Some of them were really tricky!


We finished up our discussion of rocks and did a great review with a fun game of Geology Jeopardy.


In the afternoon, two of the EXCEL classes had the chance to participate in a rock and mineral dig.


We saved our rocks and next week, we’ll work on identifying them by using the tests that real geologists use!

Finally, the K-3 class worked on making cartoon strips to illustrate the rock cycle through the eyes of a rock character that they created.  I love the way that they are concentrating in this picture!


Looking forward to next week when we’ll work on rock and mineral identification, and we’ll begin a Pet Rock project!




This week, we kept with our theme of destructive/constructive forces by studying another of earth’s catastrophic wonders, the volcano.  But first, as always…brain teasers!  For fourth and fifth grade it was Hink Pinks and Hinkie Pinkies.  This was much more difficult that I had thought it would be for them, but by the time they were finished, they really understood!


The younger kids tried their hands at some logic puzzles.


Then, for all but the fifth grade, we made some cootie catchers to review our understanding of the earth’s structure and the earthquake.



We watched a really cool video made and produced by an eleven-year-old called “Finding Stuff Out.”  The first half had to do with earthquakes and tectonic plates, so we watched that as a review.  Then, of course, we just had to try an experiment.  We used spray cheese to represent the mantle and graham crackers for the plates.  We talked about the different kinds of boundaries and how each affected the earth’s surface.  Then, we added rice krispie treat continents to show how mountains and volcanoes were formed!


All three classes finished watching the rest of the video, which explained to us all about the volcano.  We all folded models of the volcano, but I didn’t get any pictures because this ended up being something that we needed lots of help with!

This is where our common activities ended.  Each group worked on a different activity for the rest of the class period.  The younger class modeled each of the different kinds of volcanoes with play-dough and clay. Some of my kids went back to their classes for special activities or to their specials…they will finish next week!

Fourth graders completed a virtual field trip to a volcano, using a QR code and a special app on the iPad.

Fifth graders watched a series of videos on the three different kinds of volcanoes and then sorted themselves into groups to do research.  They came up with some great information that will be quite helpful when they make their model this week!


And just for fun…a picture of Michelle and me at Feel the Heat!


Next week, we will continue our study of volcanoes with making working volcanoes!

I will not be putting up a blog post next week.  I have a very large, very important deadline in graduate school and I don’t think I will have time to do a good job on the blog.  I will take pictures, though, and update you in two weeks!


We started our day  with brain teasers.  We worked on our divergent thinking skills, as we brainstormed occupations that start with all 26 letters of the alphabet.  I was very impressed by the creativity and thoughtfulness that went into this activity!


After that, we began our study of plate tectonics.  We peeled an orange, placed a small puffball inside to represent the core of the earth, and identified the “meat” of the orange as sour mantle.  With toothpicks, we reconstructed our peel into the crust.  Each of these pieces of orange peel represented a tectonic plate.


We watched some neat videos that demonstrated how the movement of the mantle, due to the extreme heat of the core, caused the plates to form.  We discussed how they fit together like a puzzle, and then we put them together! The lower grades and fourth-grade classes had the outlines to help them.  The fifth graders put them together all by themselves!



Now that we knew what the tectonic plates are, we learned about the different types of plate boundaries and the geological events that each causes.  We had fun modeling each kind of boundary with sandwich cookies!


We spent the afternoon listening to earthquakes, watching videotape of earthquakes, and discussing earthquake safety.  We even played a neat online game called Beat the Quake.  After all was said and done, we had one final challenge.  Each group was given 50 toothpicks and 50 mini-marshmallows.  The task was to build an earthquake-proof building and then test it out in an earthquake….on jello!


In the fourth grade class, we had time to delve into the topic of measuring earthquakes with the seismograph.  We even tried to make our own, but we fell short.  We are going to try again next week!


The lower grades had a chance to review the layers of the earth with these fun earth cookies!


We had a great time learning all about plate tectonics and earthquakes.  If you don’t see your child’s picture very much this week, please remember that students come and go all day, and all students might not be able to participate in all activities.  I do my very best to include everyone, and any oversight is not intentional!

New Year, New Theme


Cooking was fun, and it was certainly delicious, but with a new year comes a new theme, Geology!  This was always my favorite thing to study in school, and I know that elementary students have limited time to devote to the study of the earth, so I knew it would be perfect.  As the students came in and saw the new theme, their thoughts immediately turned to rocks and minerals, a subject that seems to be covered in every grade level.  However, with our first activity, I challenged their concept of what geology is and what it isn’t!

I gave them about thirty index cards, each with a different concept, idea, or item on it.  They had to consult with their partners and divide them according to if they were geology, or if they were not.  Then, after watching two videos, I had them go back and revise their thoughts based on the information they heard.  I think many were surprised to learn that we would be learning much more than rocks and minerals!


After we correctly categorized ll of our cards, we discussed WHY we needed to learn about geology.  We decided that it was important to be able to learn about God’s creation and to be able to tell others about it from a Biblical and a scientific perspective.  We also learned that many jobs today involve knowing about and making predictions based upon the knowledge of geology.

The lower grades learned three things during our next activity.  They learned what a geologist does and what special tools that a geologist carries with them out in the field.  They also learned how to make a concept map and use it to record things that they know and learn.  We watched a video about the daily life of a geologist, and during this, they took notes on their concept maps.  Some found that it was easier to watch, really pay attention, and write later, while others wrote and watched at the same time.  We discussed how everyone has different learning styles and either method was ok!


After lunch, we turned our attention to the earth and its layers.  We learned all about the different layers- the inner core, the outer core, the mantle, and the crust.  We made a clay model of the earth and then cut it open to reveal the different layers.


And then we began our culminating project, a flap activity that shows the different layers.  We’ll add our text next week to demonstrate what we learned!


Fifth graders did things a little bit differently.  After doing our sorting activity and discussing what a geologist does, each student chose a different earth science job to research:  volcanologist, seismologist, geophysical engineer, mineralogist, speleologist, or paleontologist.  They were working on their posters when it was time for lunch, so I’ll have pictures next week!

Then, after lunch, they learned about the layers of the earth too.  Instead of everyone making the same kind of model of the earth, however, the fifth graders got to choose the way in which they expressed what they had learned.  Some used clay.  Some did it with legos.  And some did it artistically with chalk pastels!


As with most of the sciences, as we learn our content, we are faced with many scientific information that is presented as “fact.”  Perhaps in geology more than the other sciences, so many of those facts are in direct contrast with what we believe and learn about the way that God created the world.  Therefore, as we go through this quarter, we will be learning what scientists tell us, and then learning about what God’s word says, and viewing the information through a Biblical worldview.  I have been very impressed with how many of the students already do this and can back up their beliefs with scientific evidence!

Stay tuned next week as we explore tectonic plates and earthquakes!