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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)

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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)

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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