Monthly Archives: September 2011

The “Write” Way in Middle School

by S. Parbhoo

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Kids– even middle schoolers– love to write about themselves. Not convinced? Simply look at social media. Young teens spend hours “writing” about themselves through texts, Facebook, Twitter and the myriad of other technologies they interact with daily.

But, when faced with writing in the classroom, many of these same students shut down. Why? They anticipate boredom and don’t see the skills as relevant to their lives. The antidote? Creative writing. Here are some great ideas for middle school creative writing activities that are guaranteed to get them writing with a smile (or at least without as much eye-rolling).

Journaling

A journal is the first tool for fostering a love for writing. Kids can use the journal to explore writing in an informal way without all the pressure of a formal writing assignment. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes for journal writing before any other activities. Routine journaling gets those words on the paper which is so important. You may choose to provide or prompt, or students can free write. Journals are a fun place for even the most insecure writers to learn to love writing–especially when no “grades” are attached to the writing.

Becoming a TV star

Another fun way to get kids writing is to have them write a new, original episode for their favorite TV show, starring themselves. Kids choose how they can fit into the existing cast of characters and write about how they would all interact. Once finished, the script can be read aloud or the students can work in groups to act out the episode. This activity is so fun, it won’t even register as writing!

Discovering my Name

Middle school kids are at an age where they are discovering who they are. A great way to do that and stimulate writing skills at the same time is to have them write a story about their name. The story could be based on their family history of their name. Who in your family named you and why? What are some memories they have associated with their name? Do they share their name with a celebrity? Once the ball gets rolling with this assignment, there will be no stopping it.

Becoming a Character

Writing in context with literature is an excellent way for kids to increase reading comprehension and jog their creativity. Using a book that the student is already reading, have them become a character from that book. There are several options for this activity:

  1. First, with a partner, write an interview with the character. One person is the interviewer and the other person uses what they know about the book character to answer the questions.
  2. Second, write a journal entry as the character.
  3. Third, write a letter to someone as the character.

All of these activities are opportunities for kids to use their creative writing skills in an entertaining way. It may be hard to compete with Facebook, but we can at least get close!

For great journaling ideas and prompts, click here.

 

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Filed under Academic Success, creative writing, grammar, Language Arts, Writing

Making Homework Fun, Part II!

by Kate Wilson and Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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As a parent, it’s up to you to set the right tone, provide the right support and create a positive atmosphere for homework time. We shared three TIPS on how to do this in Part I of this series, and now here are three more!

1. Set a goal.

Don’t you work better (and faster) when you know you’ll get to do something fun as soon as you’re done? Well, kids are the same way! So, at the start of each session, ask your child what they look forward to doing as soon as they’re done. Tell them that their goal is to finish their homework by ___(pick a concrete ending point, like 4:30), so they’ll still have plenty of time to do x. Then, if they start dragging their feet, point to the time and remind them of their fun goal.

And, sometimes a small treat may be an appropriate motivation, too. We’re not talking full-scale bribery here, but just a small reward, like a piece of her favorite candy or favorite cookie, once homework is completed. Small enticements can be very motivating!

2. Roll up your own sleeves.

Okay, so it may have been decades since you last did long division, but it’s time to polish those skills, Mom and Dad. The best way to motivate your child to do his or her homework is to be there to help them.

This doesn’t mean that you need to write the entire thing, but you should be readily available if your child needs help. Your presence cuts down on frustrations and also expedites the process; you can refer them to books and websites they may need, or help them look up an answer. Bonus: you are also modeling good study skills.

A great idea we recently heard: Use homework time to check your own e-mail and wrap up loose ends on your computer, too. Sitting with your child, say, at the kitchen table while you both work sends the message that homework time isn’t punishment; it’s important. Even for adults.

3. Talk with the teacher.

Use your child’s teacher as a resource. If your child seems to be struggling (something you will also be able to observe if you’re there to help with homework), or if homework is taking an inordinate amount of time even when your child applies himself, there may be an underlying issue. Ask your child’s teacher is he or she observes similar issues at school.

And, if you feel that too much homework is being assigned, you can politely broach that subject with the teacher, as well. Ask the teacher: “How long should it be taking for ___ to complete his/her homework assignments? I’m asking because homework seems to be taking several hours each night, and I don’t know if this is normal.”

Okay, so your child still may not be begging to do their homework after implementing these tips, but hopefully the process is a little less arduous, a little less fuss, and a lot more productive. And maybe, just maybe, even fun.

Kate Wilson is a professional blogger who enjoys writing about child development issues. She is also a cook, avid reader, and environmental enthusiast. 

Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed. has a bachelors in education from The University of Georgia and a masters in curriculum and instruction from Lesley University, Cambridge. In addition to being the editor of A Learning Experience, she publishes Little Black Dress | Little Red Wagon Magazine. She resides in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, and a frisky Westie named Munson.

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Filed under Academic Success, Behavior Management, Parenting

Making Homework Fun! (really)

by Kate Wilson and Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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Okay, so you will be hard pressed to find a child who loves doing homework. So, it is expected that children might fuss a bit when it’s time to unzip that book bag and buckle down. Enter: you. The parent. As a parent, it’s up to you to set the right tone, provide the right support and create a positive atmosphere for homework time. Here’s how:

1. Put on your empathy hat.

First, step into your child’s shoes and feel what they feel for a moment. Children have been at school, under the scrutiny and rules of someone else, all day. Now that they’re home, homework, in their minds, deprives them of playing, socializing and just being–all the things that they have been waiting to do all day.

So, don’t fuss back. Don’t scold. Don’t slap. Tell your child that you understand homework isn’t what they want to do at the moment, but assure them that you are going to help them get it done well, quickly, and maybe even with a little fun thrown in. Then calmly follow the next steps….

2. Make homework inspiring!

Novel idea: What if you tried to make homework actually inspiring? Impossible, you say? Well, let’s unpack this idea a bit. If you freak out at your child and use coercion and/or monkey torture to force him to do his homework, you are starting a battle that, I promise, will likely become a daily struggle (not to mention a waste of perfectly good monkeys).

Try this easy tip instead: Write (or print) a different joke or riddle at your child’s homework place before they begin each day. For an array of fun kid-friendly jokes and riddles, check out: http://101kidz.com/jokes/. You can print some, cut them out, and leave them to be discovered by your child.

Starting homework time with a giggle sets a positive tone and creates associations that homework can actually be (gasp!) fun…and, dare we say, inspiring?

3. Have a snack ready.

It’s yum-o time. Set out a fun snack that your children get to munch while they work. Something yummy that also doubles as good “brain food” is ideal: peanut butter on graham crackers, carrot sticks and ranch, tortilla chips and salsa, apples and caramel dip, crackers and cheese, a sandwich, trail mix, a bowl of cereal with milk.

Then, every once in a while, surprise them with a plate of cookies or a favorite “splurge” treat…something to make them feel rewarded for sitting down without fuss to do their homework. And, if you’re worried about peanut butter smudges on their papers, get over it. Completed homework that smells like ranch is better than pristine blank homework any day.

Stay tuned….we’ll be back soon with three more tips for surefire homework success in Part II of this Making Homework Fun series!

Kate Wilson is a professional blogger who enjoys writing about child development issues. She is also a cook, avid reader, and environmental enthusiast

Elizabeth D. Cossick, M. Ed. has a bachelors in education from The University of Georgia and a masters in curriculum and instruction from Lesley University, Cambridge. In addition to being the editor of A Learning Experience, she publishes Little Black Dress | Little Red Wagon Magazine. She resides in Atlanta with her husband, two young children, and a frisky Westie named Munson.

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The Coolest Birthday Gifts Ever (Hands-On Science Part III)

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This is part three in a three-part series on fun science projects for home or school.

While the supplies under your kitchen sink make for great science experiments (as shared in Part I and Part II of this series), there are also some fabulous (affordable) science kits that you can purchase at specialty toy stores to provide hours of exploration and discovery.

Here are our favorites, which would also make welcomed birthday and Christmas gifts. Think of them as toys that pack a one/two punch. ONE: They’re tons of FUN. (Seriously, who doesn’t want to make a robot?) And TWO: They teach and reinforce critical thinking skills (cause and effect, reading and pre-reading strategies, direction following, synthesis, analysis, prediction…).

Now doesn’t that sound like a better gift than the usual overpriced plastic thingymajig that will become toy box fodder in two days? We thought so, too.

Five Rockin’ Science Kits

  • Tin Can Robot

Description: Recycle a soda can by turning it into a silly robot that can wobble around! Kit includes all working parts, motor, wheels, arms, googly eyes, and fully detailed instructions. Requires screwdriver and empty soda can (not included). Great way to recycle! Ages 6+.

Price: $14.99

Available at: The School Box store or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Tin-Can-Robot-Kit

  • Electromagnet Science Kit

Description: Build a doorbell, telegraph system and even a catapult using a true electromagnet! Kit includes: disc, latch and neodymium magnets, compass, straws, wires, sand paper, switch plates, wood screws, nails, light bulbs, battery holders, iron filings and more. An instruction booklet walks young scientists through an array of project options and experiments for hours of captivating fun.

Price: $26.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/ProductDetail

  • Big Bag Of Science

Description: This giant kit is designed to whet the appetites of budding young scientists of all ages. With more than 70 unique, fun, hands-on science activities, this kit guarantees hours of science fun. Amaze your friends and family with such activities as making water disappear, having liquid flow uphill, making a 30’ soda geyser, growing fake snow instantly, balancing 6 nails on the head of one nail – and much more. Store all components in the reusable zipper bag. Ages 8 and up.

Price: $39.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Big-Bag-Of-Science

  • Solar Rover

Description: Learn how regular sunlight converts to energy as it powers this rover to roll along the floor. All you need is a recycled soda can! Ages 8 and up.

Price: $19.99

Available at: The School Box stores or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Solar-Rover-Kit

  • Weird Slime Laboratory

Description: Create green jelly worms, tadpoles and leeches, invisible jellyfish and more! Learn about the properties of matter, wet spinning, hydrated crystals and cross-linked polymers. Kit includes eight activities, each of which builds on the skills learned in the previous one. Ages 10 and up.

Price: $19.99

Available at: The School Box or online here: http://www.schoolbox.com/Weird-Slime-Laboratory

For more hands-on science kits, check out these other awesome ideas and kits (erupt a volcano, anyone?): http://www.schoolbox.com/Science-Fair-Projects-And-Kits.aspx

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Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Centers, Critical Thinking, Reading, Science, Summer Learning, technology

Hands-on Science for Home or School, Part II

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, really is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This three-part series will explore fun science projects perfect for home or school.

Blow Up a Balloon with Yeast

How does yeast make bread rise? This experiment from Science Bob will explore that question…with a balloon!

Materials:

A packet of yeast (available in the grocery store)

A small, clean, clear, plastic soda bottle (16 oz. or smaller)

1 teaspoon of sugar

Some warm water

A small balloon

Instructions:

  1. Fill the bottle up with about one inch of warm water. (When yeast is cold or dry the micro organisms are resting.)
  2. Add all of the yeast packet and gently swirl the bottle a few seconds. (As the yeast dissolves, it becomes active – it comes to life! Don’t bother looking for movement, yeast is a microscopic fungus organism.)
  3. Add the sugar and swirl it around some more. Like people, yeast needs energy (food) to be active, so we

    will give it sugar. Now the yeast is “eating!”

  4. Blow up the balloon a few times to stretch it out then place the neck of the balloon over the neck of the bottle.
  5. Let the bottle sit in a warm place for about 20 minutes.

If all goes well the balloon will begin to inflate!

How It Works:

As the yeast eats the sugar, it releases a gas called carbon dioxide. The gas fills the bottle and then fills the balloon as more gas is created. We all know that there are “holes” in bread, but how are they made? The answer sounds a little like the plot of a horror movie. Most breads are made using YEAST. Believe it or not, yeast is actually living microorganisms! When bread is made, the yeast becomes spread out in flour. Each bit of yeast makes tiny gas bubbles and that puts millions of bubbles (holes) in our bread before it gets baked. Naturalist’s note – The yeast used in this experiment are the related species and strains of Saccharomyces cervisiae. (I’m sure you were wondering about that.) Anyway, when the bread gets baked in the oven, the yeast dies and leaves all those bubbles (holes) in the bread. Yum.

 Make it an Experiment:

The project above is a DEMONSTRATION. To make it a true experiment, you can try to answer these questions:

1. Does room temperature affect how much gas is created by the yeast?

2. Does the size of the container affect how much gas is created?

3. What water/room temperature helps the yeast create the most gas?

4. What “yeast food” helps the yeast create the most gas? (try sugar, syrup, honey, etc.)

For more fun science projects, visit http://www.sciencebob.com/experiments/index.php and stay tuned for the the next feature in this series on A Learning Experience!

For awesome science kits that kids love (that would also make great birthday presents), check out this top-shelf array from The School Box: http://www.schoolbox.com/Science-Fair-Projects-And-Kits.aspx.

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Hands-on Science for Home or School, Part I

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

Science is one of those subjects that, when done right, really is just as fun on a Friday night at home with the kids as it is in class. This three-part series will explore fun science projects that your young scientists will enjoy at home or school.

Color Symphony

adapted from ZOOMsci

  • several disposable cups
  • 3 different colors of liquid food coloring
  • milk, at room temperature
  • white glue
  • liquid dish-washing detergent

Instructions:

  1. Take the milk out of the refrigerator and let it warm up a little. It’ll work better if it’s not cold.
  2. Put the milk in a cup (fill the cup about 1/3 of the way).
  3. Add drops of food coloring in a triangle or square pattern.
  4. Put a drop of dish-washing soap in the middle of the food coloring design and watch the colors move. Cool, huh? Milk has fat in it, and the soap breaks up the fat. The food coloring swirls into the places where the fat used to be.
  5. Now, instead of using milk, try it with glue. Soap also prevents glue from sticking together. If you let the glue harden, you can cut away the cup and you have a colored disk.

For more fun science projects, visit http://pbskids.org/zoom/activities/sci/ and stay tuned for the the next feature in this series on A Learning Experience!

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Instilling a LOVE for Reading

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

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Any child who says he or she does not like reading simply has not been introduced to the right book. Everyone loves stories, and reading provides infinite access to innumerable stories. Even the toughest little nut sitting in your class (or living under your roof) will learn to love and enjoy reading with some positive encouragement.

Here’s how:

1. Get caught “read” handed. Make sure that you–the adult role model–is seen reading on a regular basis. Research shows that children who grow up with parents who read magazines are more likely to reach higher levels of education than their peers with non-magazine-reading parents. Children are more likely to do as you do, not as you say.

2. Let there be light (reading). Don’t insist on a certain type or genre of reading material. For regular pleasure reading, let your children select their own materials depending on their interest and comfort level, even if it’s “lighter” than what you’d prefer. Even comic books have been shown to significantly broaden student vocabulary (Holy Toledo, Bat Man!).

3. Pay up. In addition to whatever regular allowance your child may receive, allow them also to earn a “book allowance.” So many hours of reading per week can earn money toward either a purchase of their choice– or toward a new book or magazine. You can decide the stipulations, but either way, you’re encouraging reading the same way you encourage responsibility.

4. Establish ownership. Kids buy into activities when they feel a sense of ownership and independence. To establish ownership with reading:

  • Allow your child tosubscribe to a children’s magazine of their choice. They will enjoy getting something in the mail just for them.
  • Help your child design a reading corner in her bedroom with her favorite books organized on shelves or in inexpensive bins and baskets. Add a comfy floor pillow or blanket, a poster on the wall, a favorite stuffed animal: whatever makes the space feel like her own.
  • Have your child write his name in his books–again, signifying ownership.

5. Get plugged in. Literacy and technology go hand-in-hand. You are, after all, reading this online article at the moment, aren’t you? To encourage reading online, check out some of these sites, recommended by 24/7 Moms as the 2011 Top Learning Websites for Kids:

Discovery Kids http://kids.discovery.com/

National Geographic kids.nationalgeographic.com

Funbrain www.funbrain.com

Cool Math 4 Kids http://www.coolmath4kids.com/

Learning Planet www.learningplanet.com

Kaboose Fun School www. funschool.kaboose.com

e-Learning For Kids www.e-learningforkids.org

The Kidz Page http://thekidzpage.com/learninggames/

Science Made Simple www.sciencemadesimple.com

The Story Place http://www.storyplace.org/

6. Love your library. You can explore books together, check out DVDs, interact on the computer (together :), and–even if your child doesn’t want to take home a book–you can check one out for yourself. There you go, being a good role model again.

The take-away? Reading isn’t a school-time activity; it’s a lifetime gift. By incorporating fun reading attitudes and activities into your child’s world, positive associations with literacy will be built. Even for that toughest nut.

For a wide array of well-priced children’s books for all ages, visit http://www.schoolbox.com/Children-s-Books.aspx

For a selection of floor cushions and loungers perfect for a reading corner (and starting at $18), check out: http://www.schoolbox.com/Search.aspx?Search=floor+cushion&CategoryID=1

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Filed under Academic Success, Reading, reluctant readers, Science, technology