Teaching Science to a Split Grade Class.

Teaching science to two grades is always a juggling act.  Lots of preparation needs to go into how you are going to teach two separate units to two different grades.  I always teach a 4/5 and generally have the students for two years.  So combining the units and teaching one lesson like I can in math and language does not work well.  So it comes down to focusing on what is important, borrowing strategies from other subjects, organization and teaching independence.  I teach in 20-30 min time blocks to each grade.  Then they will have to learn independently as they do the task.  However over time I have learned that sometimes students miss the point of the lesson this way as I am not there to guide them.  However I have learned that there are some key strategies to make sure that the time students are working independently that they are learning the stuff I want them to learn.

Focus on What is Important

It all starts with the assessment and the cycle of assessment 

1) Learning Goals and Success Criteria

First thing I do is share my learning goals and success criteria.  For each lesson for each grade I post it share it, make a big deal about it.  Students should always know what they are doing and why they are doing it.  I also make sure I post it.  I have a science board.  All things Science are on this board if students are not so sure then they can look here.  They also know that if it is posted on this board they will and can be assessed on it.  They must know the topics listed on this board.  I start with the daily goals on the board (smartboard or chart cart)  Once students have learned this we then transfer it onto the science board.  
For example. 
Today we are learning to identify and describe different types of Energy
 - we will read about different types of energy
- we will conduct experiments to see different types of energy in action
- we will use this experiment to help us describe each type of energy
- we will reflect on what we learned to help us figure it all out.  

2) Borrow from Math

So the latest instructional strategy in math is to use a three part lesson plan in math to teach different concepts
  • Getting started
  • Working on It
  • Reflection

I thought if it works in math why not in science.  So I started with this question:"How do I build reflection into science so that I can use it for formative assessment purposes?" My solution...


these are very popular on TPT right now and I thought how do I use these in authentic ways.  I don't just want cut and paste activities that have no meaning.  I did struggle with why would I spend the time having students assemble these if they could simple answer a few questions in their notebook.  However I like the look of them and feel that students will want to use them and decorate them.  I will structure my notebooks in this way.  On the left students will put their notes and interactive notebook activities on here.  On the Right students will complete their reflection activity.  Many of the interactive notebooks are based on the 3R reflection response that I completed in teachers college.  The 3R's represent Retell, Relate, Reflect.  The left side represents the Retell portion and the right side represents the reflection section.  The relate portion is weaved into both aspects.  I find that with student reflection and retell I can gauge what students have learned and where we should focus.  I don't mark these, but I do read them and make note of student needs.  They are great formative assessment. 

Ok this is a goal and always will be.  It is inevitable that as a teacher you must organize and organize well. As a split grade teacher there is no option  you must put on your OCD hat and organize like a crazy person.  (this is why everything in my classroom has labels, students have numbers, books are colour coded, and why I hate paper.    Even your planning needs to be organized.  For this purpose I am constantly making tables and charts to organize my lessons and feel like I live with timers dinging and signaling me to change what I am doing.  I also feel that whenever possible you should utilize student and parent volunteers.  I know I cannot do this on my own but I do have very helpful students (who love to stay inside instead of going out in the snow) or parent volunteers.  I use these volunteers to organize my centers, fill buckets, order papers, photocopy or whatever else I need help with.  I know I cannot do it all so I ask for help from whom ever is available and willing to help.

Teaching Independence
I have blogged before about my tips for teaching a split grade here but in science this is a very important skill.  For a science class in a split grade students are often not completing a quiet activity.  They are engaged in hands on activities or group work.  This means that it is imperative that students learn how to work together and work independently as a group without you.  You have to be okay with a bit of noise and you need multiple teaching spaces.  Independent students does not mean quiet students independent students means engaged students.  Check out my guide to Teaching Independence Free on TPT.

I have finally finished my next combined unit for my 4/5 plans.  In January I go back to work from my maternity leave.  If you follow my 4/5 long range plans you would know that I have planned to teach two science units: Rocks and Minerals and Conservation of Energy.

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Math Mania: Justifying your Math Thinking

Justifying your Answers

A few years ago I taught a grade 3/4, which meant that I also had students that needed to complete EQAO (Ontario's Standardized Tests for gr 3 and gr 6) . Unlike many others, I enjoy teaching EQAO years primarily because I love the support and the resources.  I felt that my students were well prepared for taking this test and sent them off to write.  The following year we got the results.  I was surprised that the data for my students did not reflect their abilities in math.  The open response word problems were not as strong as these students had been capable of. These were strong students, level 3 level 4 consistently, yet their answers were falling below that in the level 2 area.  I just didn't make sense.  In conversation with the math consultant and my colleagues we dug into the data, and looked at the rubrics to determine that our students were failing in their ability to justify their answers. This was the determining factor between a level 2 and a level 3.  So, we decided to make sure students were explicitly taught how to justify their thinking, explain their process, and communicate their knowledge and understanding.  

Prior to this I had explained to students that justifying their thinking meant that if they solved word problems with 
"Pictures Numbers and Words"
that this would be enough for students to properly justify their answers in math.  After seeing the data, that my strong students were not able to really communicate their thinking properly. I decided to really focus on this and try to improve these outcomes.  

Here's How I did this
  1. What does it mean to Justify Your Thinking - I gave students a word problem.  Not an easy one but a problem where they would have to do some thinking.  "It was a foggy day on Mr. Brown's Farm.  He wanted to know how many animals were in the field but could only see the animals legs.  He counted 48 legs.  How many cows, and chickens were in the field justify your thinking" This problem has an open ended question with a variety of answers. I gave students the question and had them work in pairs to solve this problem.   
  2. When they were done and had developed their answers we quickly talked about how they solved this question.  I tried to choose students to share that used a variety of strategies and had a variety of answers.  
  3. First I asked students to identify for me what steps they took to understand and solve the word problem.  We made this chart. (well this is the pretty version, the initial one was very messy)

     We practised solving word problems following this guide for a few days and reflected on this strategy to solve problems.
  4. Next we needed to begin to explain to others what they were doing to get their answers.  We talked about what it meant to justify your answers. We brainstormed what this phrase meant and what teachers were looking for when we asked students to do this and why.  We made the first chart to describe what it was they needed to do to justify their answers.  We worked again on this for a few days.  We looked for examples of students doing this well we talked about their phrases and compared them to the chart.  Once the majority of students were able to do this we finalised our chart and made the good version for the wall.  

Eventually we needed to add to the chart to include that their description of the steps that they use should use words from the question instead of numbers.  Too many students were describing their steps as "First I added 4+4+4 and got 12 then added 2+2+2+2 to get 8, then added them together to get 20 then doubled it" We talked about that this sentence was out of context and did not relate to how you solved the question.  A better response would have been "First I added together the legs of three cows to get 12 then the legs of 4 chickens to get 8.  I added chicken and cows together to get 20 legs.  Then I doubled the number of cows and chickens to get 40 legs.  If I added 4 more chickens I would reach 48 legs.  Therefore Farmer Brown could have 6 cows, and 12 chickens.

I noticed a great difference in the way my students were justifying their responses.  Because they had to explain their steps in a way that related to the question I found that their understanding of the question and the process of how to solve it improved.  Soon simple questions really were simple and the knowledge that they learned from one question was easily transferred to other questions.  Even harder questions that involved multiple steps appeared less intimidating to these students.

If you are looking for ways for students to practise their problem solving and basic knowledge why not use my Mastering Math Sheets.  I use these everyday at the start of my math class. They serve as a the getting started portion of my three part lesson plan.  As well, the word problem component of these sheets can be used as the working on it section of a three part lesson plan.

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Social Studies and Science Resource Round Up!

If you are looking for Social Studies and Science Curriculum Resources
Here is a great Link Up
Click the Image above to Find some Great Resources

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PDF Hacks for your Classroom

PDF FILES are the norm in our world these days.  Almost everything is saved in this file format from handouts, TPT files, Newsletters, calendars, digital textbooks, Ebooks, etc.  If you are like me your computer is full of PDF files that you use all of the time. Well I would spend hours online and on TPT looking for the best product to fit my needs only to find that it was secured, not editable, or was 90% perfect if only I could change this one thing.  So I would, I don't know how many times I would just waste time recreating a file I saw online for my classroom just because I wanted to change one thing.  I knew that I could get some ability to edit PDFs or merge two files together or secure my own TPT files if only I paid the price that Adobe wanted to get PRO.  I am sure I could have found a way to do this illegally too, but I really am not savy enough to get into my computer registry to apply patches and make changes that I don't really understand.  So after some looking I came across some great free products that I now use to allow more functionality to my use of PDF documents.

Merge Two PDF Files

I use a great product called SMALL PDF .  Althogh this tool allows you to convert documents on your computer as PDF files and other tasks what I find it most helpful for is merging or splitting documents.  Being able to combine files is a great tool.  When I create a TPT file I make my main file then I merge it with my standard pages such as credits page.  I also use it when there may be an error on my file.  I simple upload it to the site, delete the page I don't want anymore and add new replacement page.  I recently decided to update my cover photos for some of my products but since I had lost some of those files in a computer problem this was an easy way to make the changes without needing to recreate the entire product again.


This is another invaluable feature I was looking for.  I found it at PDFescape .  Many times our resources that we use for teaching are saved in PDF files because that is the easiest way to protect a digital file from copyright problems.  However sometimes as teachers we need to be able to make a slight change to meet our classroom needs but really want to use this product.  For example teaching in Canada many American products have words such as colour spelt color.  If it is important that it is spelled correctly I can use PDFescape to make the necessary changes. It is basic in nature and doesn't have many font or editing choices but it is a start.  This was also recently helpful when I had a customer express that it would be helpful if my Unit and Lesson Planning Template was editable. I understood her frustration and converted the file using PDFescape to make the new file editable.  The product was easy to use and I just used the web based tool to make quick changes.

Secure a PDF

Making and selling products in PDF form is an important part of what I do at MadlyLearning.  Giving people the tools to support good teaching is one of my goals.  However I also believe that what I create is intellectual property that belongs to me.  So with that being said I will try to protect my copyright while also understanding that small tweaking is necessary to fit individual needs.  I also use other peoples materials in my work such as clipart, backgrounds, etc. that I would like to, or am required to secure so that their work is also protected.  So I have downloaded PRIMOpdf by popular PDF developers NITRO.  I liked that it was from NITROpdf so I was comfortable in downloading it. It allows me to print to PDF and secure my PDFs in the process.  It is really simple and easy to use.

I hope that this has helped you and saved you some money (since you don't need an ADOBE membership now)

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