March 7, 2017

Arr, Me Hearties! Island Conquer Gets a Pirate Makeover!

Do you recognize the Island Conquer math game freebie pictured on the right? If you've been following my blog for awhile, you might be thinking that the name sounds familiar, but the freebie itself probably doesn't LOOK familiar!

That's because Island Conquer Area & Perimeter recently got a pirate makeover! Arr, me hearties! I had the best time updating this math game, and I can't wait to share it with you landlubbers! :-)

If you're an upper elementary teacher, you know that kids often get confused between area and perimeter, so they need lots of practice with these skills. A few years ago, I noticed that my 4th graders were struggling with these concepts, so I created a math center game to give them a fun way to practice area and perimeter.

Island Conquer is a partner math game that involves plotting rectangular polygons on a coordinate grid and then finding the area or perimeter of those shapes. The coordinate grid represents the ocean and the rectangles are the islands. At the end of the game, players calculate the total area or perimeter of their islands to find out who won.

My 4th graders loved Island Conquer so much that I decided to share it with my followers, and the game became one of my most popular freebies. However, when I came across the original file last week, I noticed that it looked really outdated. I decided to revise the entire freebie and give a pirate theme, and what a difference it made!

In the updated version of Island Conquer, the players (pirates) are given a mission to map all the islands in Quadrilateral Bay and to conquer them by correctly calculating their areas or perimeters. At the end of the game, both pirates count their “treasure” by calculating the total area or perimeter of all the islands they have captured. Island Conquer is a terrific review game because both luck and skill are needed to win. Players have to rely on luck when they draw a coordinate card from the deck, but they must correctly plot the island on the map and calculate the area or perimeter in order to capture the island and win.

Island Conquer Area & Perimeter Math Game Freebie

Click here to sign up for Candler's Classroom Connections and grab this freebie!

Where to Find Island Conquer
Would you like to use this math game in your classroom? Island Conquer is free for subscribers to my email newsletter, Candler's Classroom Connections, and if you're not already a subscriber, click here to sign up and I'll send Island Conquer right to your inbox! If you are a current subscriber, look for a recent email from me with the link to the page called Laura's Best Freebies. If you can't find it, sign up using the link above and I'll send Island Conquer to you now. I hope you find this activity to be a helpful math resource and that your students enjoy Island Conquer as much as mine did!



February 22, 2017

Going Marbles for STEM Hands-on Learning

Guest blog post by Francie Kugelman

Do you remember the thrill of dropping a marble into a maze and watching it roll, spin, and finally end at the bottom of your run? Having your students create a marble run can be a fantastic learning experience for your students, and it makes a great STEM project, too. Believe it or not, you might even be able to the materials for this project absolutely free!

I recently decided to have my 3rd graders design and test marble runs as a part of my Forces and Interactions science unit. I developed the activity to address the Next Generation Science Standard 3-PS2-1: "Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object."

When I began looking for materials, I discovered the Marble Run Extreme kit from Marble Genius which looked like the perfect resource for this STEM activity. I was going to order a kit from Amazon.com, but after noticing that many reviewers were able to purchase the kit at a reduced price, I emailed the company to ask about getting a discount. I ended up with something even better than a discount... they offered to send me a kit for free! I also ordered a set of six stopwatches from Amazon that my students could wear around their necks so they could time their runs and make adjustments.

For our first class experience with marble runs, we had large teams and I separated the kit so every team had the essential parts for their marble runs. After the activity, I contacted Marble Genius to thank them, and I raved about their Marble Run Extreme kit. I couldn't believe it when Jeff Forgrave, the founder of the company, emailed me back and offered to send me 10 more kits for free! One kit isn't really enough for an entire class, and he wanted my students to experience a true hands-on STEM lesson where every child could participate in designing, building, and testing marble runs.

After the kits arrived, I had classroom parents label every piece so I could easily put them back together again. Each kit includes 125 translucent plastic pieces and 20 marbles, so it was easy to make sure every group had essential pieces to create their marble run. I rolled up our classroom rugs and put them in the hallway so the marble runs would have stability on our floor.

The Challenge: Building the Slowest Marble Run
When it was time to start the activity, I divided my students into small cooperative learning groups and challenged them to design the SLOWEST run! I gave each team a set of marble run materials including a stopwatch, and I could feel the excitement and urgency in the room as each team worked on trying to build the slowest marble run in the classroom.

I loved hearing the excitement in my room as I watched how focused and engaged my students were, from high achievers to struggling students. One team discovered that the circular shape with the hole in the middle is perfect for slowing down the marble. I had the rest of the class watch that team’s marble run in action, and I challenged the other teams to match their time and increase it!


Every team wanted to time their run and change their design so they could increase the time it took for their marble to complete its run. Both boys and girls worked together on their marble runs, and had no difficulties making adjustments to the configuration of their marble runs.

Besides creating a run with the slowest time, we tried some other runs. One activity required the students to use all the pieces they were given to create the fastest run, and another criteria was to choose 5 pieces that could be removed from the kit that would help the run to be even faster.

Creating marble runs was fun for my students, and they really loved the activity. But what I liked best was the fact that they were experimenting and making critical thinking choices while exploring Next Generation Science Standard concepts related to forces and interactions!

Marble Run Extreme Kits 
The Marble Run Extreme kits worked great for this activity! The pieces are easy to assemble, sturdy, and made of colorful transparent plastic! My third graders are 9 years old, and the kits were so easy to use that none of them asked for my help putting their Marble Runs together. We loved watching the marbles as they traveled their way through the run because this kit features transparent plastic, making it extremely easy to watch and film the journey. Because I labeled the parts of each kit, putting the pieces away in the correctly labeled box was easy to do.

If you do this activity with your students, I recommend purchasing several kits so you'll have plenty of materials for your students to use when designing their marble runs. The more marble run kits you order, the more pieces each team has to work with. A total of 4-5 kits would be perfect for a classroom of 25 students so there would be lots of pieces for each team to work with.

If you order enough kits, you could even create a Makerspace in your classroom where your students can design their own Ultimate Marble Runs any way they want to!

Marble Genius Ambassador Program (Free Kits for Teachers!)
If funding for marble run materials isn't available from your school, don't lose hope! The folks at Marble Genius have just launched their Marble Genius Ambassador program, and they're planning to give away over 1,000 Marble Run kits to teachers like me who are willing to use the materials and to help spread the word about them! Interested teachers can request up to 10 free kits in exchange for agreeing to share about their experiences on social media as well as in a school or class newsletter. If you're interested in signing up for the program, click over to the Marble Genius Ambassador page to learn more and get started.


DonorsChoose Funding for Marble Run Materials
You can also explore grants and funding opportunities to obtain the materials. If you teach in a public school in the United States, you could easily write a DonorsChoose proposal for the marble run kits and stopwatches, and there's a good chance it would be fully funded. DonorsChoose.org is a nonprofit organization that helps teachers get funding for classroom materials, and if you aren't tapping into this source of funding, now would be a great time to begin!

I've had 200 DonorsChoose projects funded with a total value of over $100,000, and I've learned a few tricks for getting your project funded successfully. First, try to keep your total materials cost under $350 because small projects are much more likely to get funded. Also, look for match offers and keep them in mind when writing your proposal. For example, your project can qualify for a 50% match if you use your marble runs in an after-school club as described on the Science Everywhere Innovations Challenge page. Another 50% match is available for those who teach at a highest poverty school if they follow the directions for the STEAM Innovation Grant.

To learn more about how to obtain funding through DonorsChoose.org, follow the Caring Classrooms Community on Facebook. Members of this group help and support each other as they work to get their DonorsChoose projects funded. Laura Candler and I are the administrators of the group, and we love supporting teachers who are trying to obtain DC funding. You might also want to watch the replay of the DonorsChoose webinar that Laura and I presented together a few months ago because we shared a lot of helpful information!

Marble Genius Partners with Caring Classrooms
While I was communicating with Jeff Forgrave a few months ago to share my excitement about the Marble Run Extreme kits, I also told him about DonorsChoose and the teachers who make up the Caring Classrooms Community.

When he found out about our mission, he offered to sponsor the Caring Classrooms Community with a $500 donation AND 20 Marble Run Super Set kits to give to teachers in our community! Laura and I are so appreciative of this level of support from Marble Genius, and we're planning to give those kits away in the Caring Classrooms Going Marbles Contest which will take place on March 4th and 5th. Click over to the contest page now to see how it works! Five teachers will each win 4 Marble Run Super Sets, and you can enter even if you aren't eligible to use DonorsChoose.

If you want to be reminded when the contest begins, sign up for the Caring Classrooms email newsletter. Who knows? You might be one of the lucky winners!



Francie Kugelman teaches 3rd grade at Dahlia Heights Elementary School in Los Angeles. She loves actively engaging her students in the learning process, and she's obtained over $100,000 in classroom funding from DonorsChoose.org to help bring those lessons to life. Francie is a passionate advocate for DonorsChoose.org, and she enjoys helping other teachers obtain funding for their projects through this nonprofit organization. Francie also holds the honor of being the very first Marble Genius Ambassador!




February 2, 2017

Interactive Teaching with Plickers (Free Webinar)

Click HERE to Register for the Webinar

Do you use Plickers in your classroom? If not, it's definitely worth taking time to check it out!

Plickers is an amazing FREE formative assessment tool that works like handheld response clicker programs, but it's far cheaper because it doesn't require expensive clicking devices.

If you've heard about Plickers, you might be wondering why everyone is so excited about it, especially if you tried to figure out how to use it on your own. Because Plickers can be a little confusing at first, the best way to learn how it works is to have someone walk you through the set up and explain how to use the program's features.

If you don't know anyone who uses Plickers, I'm here to help! I'm offering a free webinar to show you exactly how to get started and how to use the program to actively engage your students. If you want to know more, click over to the Interactive Teaching with Plickers registration page and sign up now!

In the meantime, let me share a little more about how Plickers works. You won't need to purchase expensive clicker devices because this innovative program uses "paper clickers" that you can print for free from the Plickers website. You only need one card per student, and each card has a unique pattern that can be scanned like a QR code with just about any mobile device.

When you're ready to use Plickers with your students, you'll display multiple choice questions for the class one at a time. Your students will respond to each question by holding up and turning their cards in one of 4 directions. Next, you'll scan all the student response cards from the front of the room by pointing your mobile device camera at the class and “sweeping” it around the room. Within moments, data will appear on your device to show who answered the problem correctly and who still needs help. That same data will also be captured in your online Plickers account to review and analyze later. Being able to capture assessment data quickly and easily means you can teach interactively and adapt your instruction to the needs of individual students without having to take home stacks of papers to grade each night!

I learned about Plickers over a year ago, and I loved it right away! I couldn’t believe that something so amazing was FREE! I started sharing information about it on my Teaching Resources page, and every time I did, the post went viral. Dozens of teachers commented on those posts to tell me how much they loved Plickers and about all the interesting things they were doing with the program.

January 25, 2017

Chinese New Year: Free Teaching Resources

Celebrating the Chinese New Year is a terrific way to introduce kids to the concept of holidays around the world. Your students may not realize that people in other countries often celebrate completely different holidays, or they may celebrate the same holidays but have different holiday traditions.

For example, most countries celebrate the new year on the first day of January, but the Chinese New Year can fall anywhere between January 20th and February 20th. In 2017, the Chinese New Year begins on January 28th. New Years celebrations in most countries include festive events like parades and fireworks, but there are also many differences in New Year's Day traditions.

I'd like to share two activities I developed to help students explore the similarities and differences between the Chinese New Year and New Year traditions in the United States. The first activity consists of a Venn diagram and facts to sort about the Chinese and American New Years. The second activity is a guided discussion based on the book Sam and the Lucky Money.

Both of these activities are in my February Activities pack, which is free for my newsletter subscribers. If you aren't on my mailing list, click here to sign up for Candler's Classroom Connections, and I'll send you this free 26-page February Activities pack.

Comparing Chinese and American New Years
A Venn diagram is a great tool for exploring the similarities and differences between the Chinese New Year and New Year celebrations in other countries. Here's a lesson outline you can use with upper elementary students, but feel free to modify it as needed with your own students.

1. Prior Knowledge Sorting Activity 
Before you begin, assign partners and ask students to sit with their partners. Tell the class that they will be learning about the Chinese New Year, and ask them to talk with their partners about anything they may have learned in the past about this holiday is similar to or different from the American New Year.

Next, give each pair one copy of the American and Chinese Facts printable and have them cut apart the fact slips. Then give them the Venn diagram printable or have them draw a Venn diagram with the two circles labeled Chinese New Year and American New Year. Tell them that you'd like them to guess where each fact goes on the Venn diagram. To do this, have them to shuffle the slips of paper, stack them face down, and take turns flipping over the facts. As each fact is revealed, the students talk over where they think it should be placed on the Venn diagram, and they place the slip of paper accordingly.

2. Reading and Researching the Facts
Leave the slips of paper in place for the next part of the activity, but cover the Venn diagram with a sheet of paper. Or use a digital device to take a snapshot of each Venn diagram if you aren't able to complete the lesson in one sitting.

Read aloud aloud a children's book like Chinese New Year for Kids or an informational text article about the Chinese New Year. As you read, ask your students to think about where they placed the slips of paper representing the facts about Chinese and American New Years. When you finish reading, ask students to uncover their Venn diagrams and move any slips they feel need to be changed. Before moving any of the fact slips, they need to discuss those changes with their partners.

If there are any fact slips that were not mentioned in the book or article, allow time for students to research those facts online or in the school media center. An answer key is provided in the freebie.

If your students discover other Chinese or American New Year traditions that are not described on the slips of paper, ask them to write the new facts directly on the Venn diagram.


3. Interview Family Members About New Years Traditions
For homework, ask students to interview a parent, grandparent, or other family member to find out what they know about New Year traditions in their own country. They should also ask if their families have any special New Year customs or traditions of their own. When students return to school the next day, provide time for them to share what they learned and add any relevant details to their Venn diagrams.

4. Lesson Wrap Up: Read Sam and the Lucky Money
For a final look at Chinese New Year traditions, read and discuss the favorite children's book, Sam and the Lucky Money. This story is based on the tradition of giving money in red envelopes on special occasions. In this touching story, a young boy named Sam learns what it means to be lucky. You can use these discussion cards to lead a whole class discussion, or use the cards with one of the cooperative learning discussion strategies I described in my post, Task Card Talk: 6 Strategies to Boost Learning.


Discover More Freebies in the February Activities Pack
Are you wondering why this activity is in my February Activities pack when the Chinese New Year is in January? As you might have guessed, this freebie is one I created several years ago, and the Chinese New Year was in February the year I developed the activity. So that's where it's stayed, despite the fact that sometimes the holiday is in January. In addition to these activities, you'll find loads of other printables and lessons for February, including resources for winter, Black History Month, International Friendship Month, and Valentine's Day. Enjoy!

January 22, 2017

Promoting Kindness in the Classroom through Teambuilding

I've been a fan of cooperative learning since I first stepped into a classroom, and I'm convinced that teaching kids how to work with others is one of the best gifts we can give them. Research consistently shows that in order to be successful in any career, we have to know how to get along with others and to work together as a part of a team.

These social skills are important in everyday life, too. People who embrace diversity and who treat others with kindness are far more likely to be happy than those who are rude and who have no tolerance for different perspectives.

Now more than ever, we need to take a stand against bullying and intolerance. We must proactively teach kids how to treat each other with kindness and respect. But we need to do more than teach kids to tolerate diversity, we should teach our students to appreciate each other's differences and celebrate their uniqueness!

I'll be the first to admit that it's not always easy to foster these character traits in the classroom. Cooperative learning provides a framework for promoting kindness, but teaching kids how to get along with others requires more than just seating them together in teams and telling them to work together. We need to teach specific social skills and do everything in our power to foster a caring classroom community, right from the first day of school. I believe in this point so strongly that I've created a whole page on Teaching Resources called How to Create a Caring Classroom. Visit that page to check out the freebies and other resources there which include a free replay of my webinar, How to Launch a Super School Year. I also created an entire page on my site with strategies for teaching social skills in the classroom.

The best place to start promoting kindness is within cooperative learning teams. When students take part in teambuilding activities, they develop stronger bonds with their teammates. As they work with different teams throughout the year, they will eventually connect with all of their classmates and will learn to appreciate everyone's unique qualities.

Teaching Students How to Give Genuine Compliments
One powerful strategy for fostering appreciation for others is to teach students how to give and receive genuine compliments. Some children might not have any experience at all with praising and complimenting others, so begin the lesson by having your class brainstorm a list of positive statements and words of appreciation.

Remind your students that no one wants to hear empty praise because we know when others are not being sincere. Sometimes it takes a little work to find meaningful ways to praise and compliment each other, but it's worth the effort. If you've introduced growth mindset to your students, remind them that praising someone for being persistent or open to new ideas is more meaningful than telling someone that they are smart or pretty. Here are some sentence starters you might want to introduce:
  • I like the way you.... 
  • I appreciate it when you.... 
  • Thanks for... 
  • I enjoy working with you because...
  • I admire the way you... 
  • What's special about you is...
  • I'm glad you're on my team because... 
Teambuilding to Promote Classroom Kindness   
After you discuss what it means to give a genuine compliment, you'll need to provide opportunities for your students to practice this skill. Cooperative learning teams are the perfect place for students to test out these strategies in a safe environment. Furthermore, the process of actively looking for positive traits and complimenting others is a powerful teambuilding tool.

One way to do this this is to assign a team task that's somewhat challenging, such as a STEM activity, and ask your students to practice complimenting each other as they work together. After you introduce the activity, remind your students to look for opportunities to give specific and genuine compliments. Walk around the room as they work, and point out any nice compliments that you hear. For example, stop next to a team and say something like, "I just heard a really nice compliment in this team. Sally complimented Linda for coming up with a creative way to holding the straws together on their puff mobile."



Team Compliment Cards
Another effective strategy is creating Team Compliment Cards. In this activity, students show appreciation for their teammates by writing compliments on homemade cards. Each person writes his or her name on one card, and all cards are passed around the team. As the cards are passed from student to student, they write compliments about the person who is the “star” of each card. Finally, the cards are returned to their creators, and everyone can read the compliments their teammates have written about them.

To find the full directions, download the Team Compliments Cards Freebie from my TpT store. Several templates are included, or you can have students create their own cards from blank paper. This activity works really well after students have been working with the same team for several weeks, and it's a great closure activity to do right before you move students to new teams. In fact, this activity is so powerful that after students read their compliment cards, it's not unusual for some of them to beg me to keep their team together for a few more weeks!

Promoting Kindness in the Classroom
I hope these teambuilding strategies will make it a little easier for you to promote kindness in your classroom. To find additional resources, search TpT using the hashtag #kindnessnation to discover dozens of freebies from TpT sellers who believe that promoting kindness and acceptance of others should be a priority in every classroom. To make this task a little easier, we've joined together to provide teachers with ready-to-use resources for fostering a caring classroom community. Enjoy!