Grow Something Green- A Primary Science Unit About Plants

I love spring. It's a hard decision which I love more, spring or fall. Though the warm temperatures of spring are for sure more welcome at the end of a long winter.

One of my favorite units to do in the spring is all about plants. There are so many amazing hands on experiments for the primary classroom, and kids see what they are learning everywhere they go.

I've always just pieced together different activities for this science unit in the past, so I thought it was high time I get organized and really focus in on what I wanted my kinder kids to take away at the end of this unit. From there came my science unit on plants.

This unit has so much amazing stuff packed in. I wrote it to be done in a week, but I almost always stretch this into a two week unit. We just have so many thoughts and questions and FUN.

We start out our plant study with a visit to a local nursery. The one we go to has HUGE indoor green houses that seriously impressed my kids. They just loved seeing rows upon rows of the plants, and many commented how they couldn't believe how warm it was inside the greenhouse.

After asking the poor gardener LOTS of questions, we each got to plant our own flower. It's amazing to me which kids are reluctant to get their hands dirty and which dive right in. We were all VERY proud when we were finished.

Next we explored the rest of the nursery. We looked at herbs, flowers, and even some very young cherry trees. Our guide pulled one out of the soil and we got a really good look at the root system. Our school parking lot is filled with the pink cherry blossom trees and all of our kids drive past them every day. At the time we took this field trip they were in full bloom.

We also got a close look at their hot houses and other special growing environments. This led to great discussions about how different plants need different environments.

After returning to school we jumped right in to our study on plants. We first collected our schema on our anchor chart. My kids knew lots and lots about plants already and were very proud to tell me lots of information they learned on our field trip.

This anchor chart is NOT from my unit. I recreated a fabulous one I saw on pinterest on my computer and then traced it onto chart paper. I didn't want to take someone else's idea for my unit, but there is one that accomplishes the same thing there.

We wrote our ideas onto post it notes and stuck them to the chart on the petals of the flower. Later we will move some of those ideas to the "misconceptions" area, and then add new post-its for our new learning.

We also discussed vocabulary words. I love these vocabulary cards that have real pictures. It's one of my favorite parts of this packet.

On Day Two, we discussed the parts of a flower. I made an extra copy of the worksheet and put it under my document camera. As we discussed each part and it's job, I chose a student to put the label in the right place. I also posted the vocabulary card that had a real picture on the board to help them really picture what we were discussing.

After that, each student made their own copy of the page we completed on the document camera together. I loved seeing their personalities in how they chose to color their flower.

On Day Three, we talked about how the foods we eat are actually the different parts of plants. I gave each student a picture of a common vegetable and we discussed which section it needed to go it. 

This led to the first of our experiments. We reviewed what the jobs of each part of the plant are and then decided we needed to see this in action. 
This is a classic and super simple experiment. I describe tips for making it sure it works just like you want it to in my unit. 

On Day 4, we discuss the needs of plants. Usually at this point my students all know what a plant needs but I like to touch on it and do some review since every once in awhile on of my little friends gets a little confused!

This is also the day where I like to do the second of our three experiments for the week. My students can tell me that plants need light and water, but seeing the effects of a plant not getting those makes an impression. I didn't take pictures on this day but this experiment is pretty simple too. You just need four small plants. Two sit in your window and get water and light. One goes in a closet depriving it of light, but getting all the water it needs. The last sits in the sun but gets no water. Usually the kids can see the effects very quickly and you can nurse these "experimental" plants back to health, which is always nice!

On Day 5 we discuss the plant life cycle. By this point of the year we have studied the pumpkin and butterfly life cycle so my students are all pretty familiar as well. But the real fun comes when we plant our seeds!

This year I chose radish seeds. I've heard they grow fast, and are hardy, which is good since they will be sitting up at school over spring break!

So there it is! My Plants unit. We really enjoyed it this week and I hope that you will too!

Math Journals in Kindergarten: 6 Tips for Making It Easy!

Math Journals. For years I have wanted to incorporate these in my classroom. I mean what's not to love? Hands on, engaging, fun. Everything you as a teacher want an assignment to be. I had planned on incorporating them into my math block 2 years ago. Then I was asked to move from 2nd grade to kindergarten.

Though I was excited to teach kindergarten, I was slightly devastated because I didn't think math journals were possible. I mean these kiddos can't even cut things out, can't read yet... not to mention the headache they would give me right? I was SO wrong.

These are my favorite thing that I do in my classroom. I plan to add a phonics and reading comprehension and science/social studies journal next year. THAT'S how much I love them.
But I was right about something. They CAN be a headache. But I have figured out a few tips and tricks to make them easier and a joy, not a pain!

First, copy your math journal activities on colored paper. This makes them fun, seasonal and eye catching. My kids are so proud of their journals and love the bright colors. I color coordinate for each month to help me grade and stay organized more easily. For example, in March, all pages were on green paper. I grade the journals monthly, and thanks to this idea I can easily and quickly see which section I can grade.

If you don't have a lot of extra colorful paper lying around, consider just doing a divider page that stick out the side of the book slightly to help you divide it up. I personally think that it is worth the investment in my sanity:)

Some teachers will tell you to pre-copy all the pages you need for the whole month. If you're anything like me this doesn't work out so well. First, I usually change my lesson plans. If I was to do this, I would end up with extras at the end of the month, and I am NOT the type of teacher that is good and saving things for next year. I always lose them and NEVER am able to put my hands on them when I need them next year. Instead, I just copy what I need per week and keep them in my handy organizing drawers. This way I'm not wasting any of the glorious colored copy paper either.

MODEL MODEL MODEL. At the beginning of the year until at least Christmas, I always model how to complete each page. I talk through everything, how I'm cutting, where to put the glue, how to lower your glue stick into it's protective plastic so you don't squish it out, how to neatly color, EVERYTHING. And even after Christmas, I will periodically model if the format for our journals is new. They love to look at my journal and see if their's measures up. This also cuts down on them interrupting my small group time to ask how to complete their journal. I train them to go and look at the model instead.

At the beginning of the year, I have a little method for helping them make sure that they don't skip a page in their journals. This is one of the procedures that I also model. Instead of giving them their activity and just letting them run off, I hold on to the printable and make them go get their materials from their cubby and get set up. This involves getting their journal, and pencil box and going to their seat after leaving the whole group teaching area.

Each student opens their journal, turns to the appropriate page, and puts their pencil box on the left side of their notebook to hold it open. This makes it so much easier for them to work since the book at the beginning of the year will close on itself. When they have done this, they raise their hand to show me they are ready. I then come over, quickly check to be sure they didn't skip a page and their journal is right side up, and then give them their activity. This takes all of 2 minutes and can quickly be done while my small group is getting situated. By Christmas I don't need to check most students' books anymore, but they do it out of habit. I also incorporate this little quick tip that I read on DeeDee Will's blog: if your activity is one that has several "templates" on a page, (i.e. one page will work for 4 students and save you paper!) don't cut them out ahead of time. Simply carry your scissors with you and cut it as you hand it out. Pre-cutting it doesn't really save you any time, but it actually adds time and give you one more thing to do.

Consider incorporating math journals into your small group math time. Math Journals are a center in my math block. This way I can leave all materials that are needed in a center, and know that everyone is getting an opportunity to get their journal done. They have ample time to work and are practicing their skills independently. I also always leave a center for them to complete when they are done. Since journals require so many fine motor skills, the time it takes a student to complete it varies greatly. Some students take the whole 15 minute rotation to get it complete. Some finish in 5 minutes. Providing a center for them to complete after their journal is finished keeps them occupied and focused.

Provide a trashcan. I buy these buckets at the beginning of the year at the Dollar Tree. We usually break 1-2 each year, and one always ends up with mystery stickiness in the bottom, but they are WORTH it. All the little scraps go in them (mostly) and not on your floor (mostly). And the best part is that they don't have to get up out of their chairs to go throw trash away. At the end of the day emptying these mini trashcans is one of the class jobs.

I also train them (during my modeling) to put their extra pieces in their pencil box for safe keeping. This limits (but doesn't eliminate) the losing of pieces. It also helps them if they don't finish in time to have what they need in a safe place so that they can finish later.

**Pro-Tip** Some of my math journals require a dice or a paper clip. I also train them to roll their dice in the lid of their pencil box to limit loud rolling (you know what I mean!!) and wayward dice. They don't keep their dice in their box, but we have them accessible in a centralized location for everyone. I also keep a healthy supply of paper clips there too. These often walk away and sometimes are found in little pockets or fidgety hands during whole group, but for the most part the kiddos respect their math tools.

I also recommend using math journals as an assessment. In my school, I am required to take grades and weight them into three categories: daily, minor, major. I count journals as a monthly minor grade. These journals measure their skill abilities, fine motor skills and ability to be independent. I use a rubric that touches on all these skills to assess. I searched and searched for the perfect rubric that included everything I wanted, and was found wanting. So what's a teacher to do besides create your own?  This rubric assesses not only the content, but their coloring, cutting, and ability to follow directions. I am in LOVE.  I think rubrics are so important in kindergarten because so much of our assessing is often slightly subjective. (Is this coloring excellent or just good? What makes coloring excellent?) This helps parents understand what your goals for their child are and lets them know that you are really thinking through what it is you want from each student. I find a lot of comfort and professionalism in that. One of my goals this summer is to create detailed rubrics for more activities in my classroom each week.

Last tip: put probably double the amount of glue sticks you are currently asking for on your supply list. I probably hand out at least 1-2 new glue sticks everyday to my class of 13 students. I swear they eat them. We did a whole lesson on being sure to respect your "trusty glue" and even practiced putting the lid on effectively. I even save the caps from the old gluesticks so that there is never an excuse for your glue to dry out. Every time I model how to do a page, I always make a big deal out of how to properly handle glue and my littles have completely bought into it. Despite this, they still are always needing a new glue stick. So be sure to get lots and be prepared to need more.

That's it! Six tips for helping you be effective with your math journals. And just because I don't want you to have to scour the internet for the perfect rubric, I'm going to offer you mine here as a little freebie. I hope it helps you out and makes you feel like you can rock those math journals!

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