How Big is My Shadow?

Kids are naturally inquisitive and shadows are endlessly fascinating.  I needed to 1) help students inquire into how the light changes throughout the year 2) how this affects both living and non-living things and 3) cover measurement, time, and data objectives at the same time.  Whew!  Plus I needed to make sure my EAL kiddos understood all of these ideas, which meant it needed to be a hands-on-activity.  I decided that we would document our shadows at several points throughout the year and then inquire into why they change.  I had to pat myself on the back for such a great idea.  Inquiry into time and measurement

Except, hmmmm, I forgot an important thing.  Scandinavia hides the sun behind thick clouds most of the fall and winter.  For two weeks I would walk around outside to determine if the sunlight was clear enough for the kids to outline shadows.  It took two weeks, but we finally had a clear day.  We quickly ran outside with our roll of paper, scissors, and markers.  Word to the wise: I forgot to account for wind- take things to weigh the paper down with.  1st grade measurement
A day later we measured the shadows using both standard and nonstandard units.  We recorded our findings and compared them to our earlier shadows that we had taken at roughly the same time of day two months before.  Even though the kids knew the basic science about how the earth moves around the sun this activity led them to ask more in-depth questions.  It also gave them a purposeful reason to have ACCURATE measurements.  kindergarten measurement

The journaling pages we used along with other time investigations and games are available in my store at both Teachers Notebook and Teachers Pay Teachers.  Though this activity can easily be recorded in kids own math journal that they normally use in class.  Telling time games
Jenny (banner)


Investigating Nonstandard Measurement

investigating measurementWe had a brilliant inquiry planned where kids would go outside and we would measure their shadows. Somehow we forgot two things: 1) it is fall and 2) we’re in Scandinavia.  The sun was completely hidden behind clouds which is probably where it will be for the foreseeable future.  So we had to switch up our plan.

I crafted a story about how a long time ago people used to get around by riding horses.  (Side note: We took a vote and PYP1 would still prefer horses to cars.)  To get an idea of how tall a horse was they would measure it with their hands.  I picked a student in the class and showed how I could put my hands end over end to measure her.  PYP 1 thought this was a brillant way to measure.  I then asked the smallest child in the class to come up and measure the same student with their hands.  The predictable result was that our measurements did not match.  PYP 1 revised their previous opinion and wondered how we could ever know how tall this child really was.   

nonstandard measurementWe debated about measuring with things in our classroom.  Pencils were picked but none of our pencils were the same size.  While they were thinking about this, I showed them a Sid the Science Kid clip.  After the clip which talks about nonstandard forms of measurement they were sure that they knew what to do.  

They took everything that they could find in our classroom that had a standard size. (Dominoes, white board markers, popsicle sticks, math cubes, etc) and started measuring each other and every surface they could find.  Today we just let them explore and tomorrow we’ll try the activity again and try to write down the data we find.  We still need to reflect on why using a unit that is always the same matters, but they’ve picked up the conceptual understanding that you need units, what they are and how they work.  (PYP Key Concepts: Form and Function)kindergarten measurement PYP

Jenny (banner)


3D shapes: they get boring and then you play Snap

We scoured the web and our colleagues brains for ways to interact with 2D and 3D shapes that both let the kids inquire into their properties and connections and reinforced basic skills.  It is a fine line that PYP teachers walk to meet the knowledge component needs and to increase students’ conceptual understandings.

We investigated the names of shapes in all of our home languages and made connections between languages when we saw similiar words. We used the book Animal Zoo as a model for making pictures out of 2D shapes.  We looked at the use of shapes in famous art and created a new visible Thinking Routine called “Artist Talk” where they had to name a picture they had painted and tell what they wanted the viewer to feel when they saw it.  We went on shape hunts and made shape finders to look for shapes in the everyday world.blog 2

We built structures and inclines with blocks and our now infamous pirate ship.  We blindfolded ourselves and tried to talk about shape attributes based on our feeling of touch. We stuck shapes in paint and then rolled them in a drawer to be able to see visible evidence of how they move. (Which is a brilliant inquiry, don’t get me wrong.)  Yet, it happened.  We still got bored of shapes.  None of our games, were helping that final hurdle of the knowledge of names and attributes to stick in their heads.  They could talk about the shapes but, they couldn’t seem to remember their names or important facts like how many sides (edges) or vertices that they had.

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The kids thought we needed a new game to play that wasn’t a board game and wasn’t just about names.  So we made a snap game.  When the kids play it, they have a set of shapes beside them to test and see if their shape rolls, slides, or spins.  They love that they get to hit the cards and oddly they love negotiating and testing their thinking.  After seeing a slap, we often heard statements like. “Yes!  I knew a cube could roll”  or  the more likely, “Slap! Does a cylinder have a square? Oh, no slap.”  They played it for hours and used a simple card game to not just memorize, but inquire into basic facts about shapes.  It always helps to listen to what they want. The FREE 2D Shape Snap is available in both my Tpt and Teacher’s Notebook stores now.  The full 3D Unit with 100 pages of activities (including everything in this post) and games is availain both stores as well.  web cover

Freebie Idea: Try the art project below.  We gave them free reign to make tape shapes and they later had to classify their shapes into groups and count how many quadrilaterals and polygons they had made.

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Freebie Idea #2:  Blindfold a child and put a 3D shape in box/bag.  Let them use their feeling of touch to decribe the shape to the rest of the class.  Have them try to determine how many edges, vertices, and faces the shape.  Based on this information,  have the class guess what shape is hidden in the box.  Unveil to see if they were right.

Here’s to more happy shape inquiries.

//JennyJenny (banner)


The PYP Learner Profile and EAL

The PYP Learner Profile runs through every classroom and is part of the core of an IB education.  I love the focus they bring to the whole child and kids, in my experience, often start to live up to what the Learner Profile asks of them. However the words themselves are long and it takes some time for those words to stick. For EAL students they can simply be a mystery.

On Friday, I started training teachers new to the IB and one of the questions I head from the new 6-7 year olds teacher was, “How do I make the Learner Profile engaging and child friendly?”  I’d love any comments you want to add but here is what I suggested.

It does not have to be pre-made posters that you put up.

  • Use literature– When I taught 5-6 year olds we went through the literature we were using as read-alouds and tried to find characters that were demonstrating Learner Profile traits.  We then made signs and the kids drew pictures of these characters to remind them.  (i.e Sam from Green Eggs and Ham was a risk-taker, the Berenstain Bears were caring, Franklin the turtle was a thinker…)
    • This was probably the best for young EALs as they could at least use the picture to help define what we were talking about.


  • Let them define it– one year I simply wrote each of the Learner Profile traits on a piece of paper and as we focused on each one of them the kids brainstormed ideas of what each one would look like in action.  They wrote or drew what they thought it looked like.For EALs Google Translate is your friend.  We would often talk to parents and use Google Translate to determine the right word in the students’ home language for each word.  They would then do the same activity.


  • Let it grow– I’ve seen several colleagues have sentence strips with each Learner Profile trait written on one.  As students saw another person in their class exhibiting a Learner Profile trait they would add a sticker to the sentence strip.  I’ve also seen this with scoops of sand into a jar and puzzle pieces that go onto a tree. The bottom line is give the kids the power to reward each other and it can take on wings from there.thinkers
  • Charades – Whenever we had five minutes to fill, we used to play Learner Profile Charades.  Put the traits in a jar and let one child come up and draw a trait.  They act it out while the rest of the class guesses which Learner Profile they are demonstrating.  This was a favorite activity!caring
  • Make your own posters.  The kids started telling us when to take photos and what Learner Profile Trait they were displaying.  I would basically do something like this and quote them.  We would display in the hallway and in the classroom.  Parents loved this one!

Update: Here is my personal poster for the Teacher modeled Learner Profile Board.  The kids think it is hilarious.

lpHope your start of the year is great!  //Jenny Jenny (banner)


Freebie International School Welcome pennant

It is the middle of summer, the time of year that teachers start getting ready for the next school year.  My brain has currently only started thinking about the first week.  I know that in that week, international schools will be celebrating their diversity of languages and cultures.  I’m personally a little sick of only seeing national flags so I thought this year’s class could make a pennant.    Each child will get their own page to decorate and present the important information (i.e. how they say hello, their name, their languages and countries, and what they look like).  We will then string it together for a large class banner.  I envision it looking something like this.

Getting to Know Me International School Freebie
There is a shout-out in the banner to several important internationals, many of who may have been given the wrong age for entertainment/educational purposes.  I’m excited to see each pennant decorated and hanging together as a class.

A brillant colleague of mine introduced me to a new beginning of the year flag acitivity.  She started by putting her students into groups of four.  She then made them divide an A3 paper into four sections . They needed to create team flags that represented their backgrounds/likes/cultures.  The only rules she gave them were that 1) they needed to agree on how they would make the flag and 2) they couldn’t use their home countries’ flags as part of their team flag.  I thought it was brillant and with her permission, I added that idea to the freebie. Now it has a few ideas to help in your back to school weeks.

Getting to know me learning edition

I also made a Back to School Pennant for Learning Preferences.  Even if you’re not at an international school this one can still be great for you.  This has a pennant to decorate into a class banner but it also has a student survey that I think will be highly valuable.  You can then collate the data and share it with the students.  I put in a mini-lesson idea for how to start student discussions about how they can make their classroom a place where everyone can learn.  It is an inquiry based way to find out what students like and then make them part of finding a workable classroom management system.

They’re both free and available in my Tpt store Little Vikings.  You can click on either cover image to go directly to that product.



When Inquiry (or Pirate Ship Building) Goes Wrong

Pirate-FlagWe were so excited.  Our K-er’s had a class discussion and decided that instead of their teachers setting up an in-depth role-play station, they wanted to do it.  We let them know that  we needed the role-play to be able to work with 2D and 3D shapes, allow for science experiments, and have some form of writing.  They took our requirements and came up with the best creative idea: Pirate Scientists.  They would build a pirate ship out of 3D shapes and then do science experiments in the ship.  Brilliant.

We started collecting boxes and all manner of junk, but the K-er’s couldn’t make their ship stick together.  Ticky-tac didn’t work, so they upped their game to try glue.  Our glue sticks didn’t work, so they wanted to make cement.  We finally all came to the conclusion that we needed 1) all of our materials to be the same size – we voted on milk cartons and 2) they needed the strongest-holding-together-thing on earth – i.e. duct tape.  Once we had the right materials our pirate ship made rapid building progress and the kids did indeed role-play as pirate scientists.  They all brought costumes from home and were free to put them on and play in the ship with their “science experiments” and shapes. We had visitors coming to see our role-play area and we even got a shout-out from our colleagues at a PYP course in Vienna.  What more could we ask for?

We loved the ship so much we let it stay up over Christmas break.  We finally all decided we wanted to use the space in the classroom for something else, so we gleefully set to destroying our pirate ship.  The only problem was, we had made it out of milk cartons and despite dedicated attempts to check all cartons, some were used as building materials without being thoroughly cleaned.  We had 8 weeks of decomposing milk hidden within the building blocks of our ship.  Black moldy milk was flying across the room in beautiful, smelly arcs.  Lets just say that  the smell (“really smelly Danish cheese” was the constant yell) and the resulting discussions (why would old milk smell like cheese?) taught us more science than all of our carefully laid out experiments.  Though we are all a little leery of pirate scientists now.

(For your enjoyment, a picture of the partially dismantled pirate ship seconds before the “smell to end all smells” is revealed to the world.)

the dying pirate ship