Monthly Archives: October 2011

Creative Ways to Organize Children’s Artwork

by Diane Burdick, M. Ed.

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One of the best (and worst) things about elementary school children is their enthusiasm for the new skills they master. Now that the school year is well under way — and your child’s coloring and drawing skills are better than ever before — you’ve likely amassed a large collection of artwork. While each work of art is a precious memory, you don’t necessarily have enough room in the house to store all those pictures and drawings. Instead of admiring the art for a few minutes then secretly trashing the papers when your child isn’t looking (come on, you know we all do it!), organize the collection. Here are some creative ideas to do just that:

File It

Purchase a 13-pocket plastic accordion file for each year and file the papers in the appropriate month, as a pocket-style scrapbook. Use the extra pocket in the file as a list of events over the year, a collection of your child’s sayings over the year, or information on your child’s class like the name of your child’s teacher, class photos, etc. The one, right, is cute…and available through or

Frame It

Elevate your child’s artwork above refrigerator status. Highlight one piece of artwork from your child each week or month, and display it in a nice frame. Depending upon your child’s age and your home decor preferences, choose a place for their framed art such as in their room, in a hallway, by the front door or in the living room. Choose a fun brightly colored frame, or a clear shadow-box style so that you don’t need to worry about matching the frame to the colors on the paper.

Hang It

If your home has a more casual look, or if you don’t want the hassle of getting in and out of a frame each week or month, consider installing a clothesline-like system, where you can easily hang artwork. If you hang the line low enough, your child could even swap their art as often as she wishes. Use fun colors for the clips or clothespins and consider adding fun nobs or decorations on the clips to add even more life to the display. Here’s an affordable clothesline from The  Schoolbox, that even includes multi-colored pins: (Photo from

Digitize It

Do you like the idea of keeping all your child’s artwork, but don’t like the idea of hanging onto all that paper? Try scanning the artwork and saving  it on a digital file. Let your child name each picture, then sort it by the season, topic, or by date your child created it. Or, take a digital photo of your child holding each piece of artwork, and save those files; this makes a cute digital scrapbook that shows not only the artwork, but also your child’s age and stage when each piece was crafted.

Another benefit of the electronic file is that you can use it as the wallpaper or screensaver for your computer. You can e-mail the artwork to long-distance relatives so that grandma and grandpa can be a part of your child’s developmental changes.

However you chose to celebrate your child’s artwork, make them a part of the process. Your attention to their creations validates their creativity and encourages your little budding artist to flourish.

Diane Burdick, M. Ed. holds a masters in elementary education and a bachelors in history, and is currently pursuing her specialists degree with a concentration in teaching and learning. A homeschooling mother of three, she also enjoys freelancing for online publications.

Article edited by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.


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Filed under Art, Classroom Decor, Organization

What’s Your Problem? {science fair 101}

by Diane Burdick, M. Ed.
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Rows of project boards displayed on tables in the school gym. Students-turned-reluctant-scientists lined up beside them, ready to explain their findings. This scene–the annual school science fair–is part of every American child’s education, a prerequisite of elementary and middle school graduation. And it’s also an experience that can either turn a child onto science for life…or bore them to tears. Here’s how to help your child (or students) achieve the former and avoid the latter.

First Stop: A Strong Question

A successful science fair project all starts with an interesting question. Science Buddies ( suggests starting with student interests:
o Are you interested in plants?
o Do you enjoy sports?
o Are you interested in weather phenomenon?
o Do you enjoy mathematical calculations, formulas and looking at data?
o Are you interested in nature?
o Do you prefer mental or physical work?
o Are you interested in memory perception and learning?
o Do you enjoy learning about animals and their habitat?
o Are you interested in improving things?
o Do you like to create or design things?
o Are you interested in chemical reactions?
o Do you like to work with machines?

Next Stop: Problem Statement

The problem in a science fair project, sometimes known as the problem statement, is what the student will research and experiment. The wording of the problem statement often indicates what and how the student will research and experiment.

Good problem statements are easy to understand and directly relate to the rest of the project as a whole. Often, a problem statement discusses a variable–a part of the project subject to change–and indicates that the variable is important to the entire science project process. For example, a project on the best way to make rock candy might look something like: “Do seeded rock candy strings produce crystals quicker?”

Now Consider: Variables

Setting up the experiment in a couple different ways to explore different variables is the next step. Variables are the things that could change in the experiment to alter the outcome. An independent variable is something that YOU can change about the experiment. A dependent variable is something you OBSERVE about the experiment. A controlled variable is something you keep the SAME throughout the experiment. According to Science Buddies, a good variable is measureable, can be changed in the experiment, and is easily identifiable.

In the example of a rock candy experiment, for example, the independent variable might be how long you allow the crystals to seed on the string. The dependent variable is what you observe about the growth of the crystals on the string, and the controlled variable is what you keep controlled, such as the recipe of the rock candy mixture, the location of the curing rock candy, and the type of string used.

There you have it: three steps to a successful science fair project. First, consider personal interests, then construct a strong question, and finally alter variables to produce an answer to your question. Now all that’s left is assembling that project board for the gym!

Diane Burdick, M. Ed. holds a masters in elementary education and a bachelors in history, and is currently pursuing her specialists degree with a concentration in teaching and learning. A homeschooling mother of three, she also enjoys freelancing for online publications.

Article edited by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.


Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Assessments, Science

Live History: A Creative Project

by S. Parbhoo

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Teachers, you all know that teaching history can be a challenge. After all, with Facebook and reality TV in kids’ lives, history just seems so…yesterday! Nothing can bore a kid faster than the idea of textbooks, note-taking and unit tests. But, there is a better way!

Here is a research project that will not only foster kids’ creativity, but will also put them into the driver’s seat of their own learning about the past. It’s called the Multigenre Research Project, and while I designed it for Middle School, it could easily be adapted for upper elementary or high school, as well. Here are the steps to complete the project:

Read a Historical Novel or Biography

Students should choose a book that is set in the historical period that the project should cover (as decided by you, the teacher). Both historical fiction and biographies cover “real life” historical issues that people lived through. It’s important that kids begin their historical journey by walking in someone else’s shoes; they’ll need that perspective later in the project.

Choose a Topic

After reading, kids should choose an important topic or social issue covered in their book: What important facts jumped out? What struggles did the main character go through? For example, was the book about children during the Civil War? Was the book about soldiers who fought during the Revolutionary war? Keep the topic narrow.

Explore the Past

Now is the time to find out all there is to know about the topic. Use the Internet to find articles, videos and pictures about the topic. The more knowledge kids have about their chosen idea, the better they will do in the next step.

Become a Historical Character

Here comes the really fun part! Let kids jump into the time machine of their own minds and create four to five creative original pieces. Kids should write (or draw or sing or act) from the point of view of someone in their historical era. Some ideas for them to think about:

• Write a poem or short story as an historical character

• Create a timeline of the era

• Record a video or original song as a character from the era

• Create an original magazine from the era

• Write a letter to a prominent figure of the era

• Draw a picture of a historical person from the era

Package It Up

Finally, kids will package up their work in a super creative way that fits the topic. For example, if the project was on American Soldiers during World War II, creatively package the pieces in a knapsack or backpack. If the topic was on families during the Great Depression, kids can frame drawings, poems and letters like family portraits on a display board. And Marie Antoinette findings, for example, could be fittingly collected in a jewelry box (or cake box!). The ideas are as endless as a student’s imagination!



Filed under Academic Success, Activities, creative writing, History, Reading, Teacher Inspiration, technology, Writing

Does Music Make You Smarter?

By Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

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The nursery rhymes your mom sang to you when you were little. The hokey pokey at a childhood birthday party. The song you jammed out to while driving your first car. The first dance at your wedding. The nursery rhymes you now sing to your own children. There’s no denying it: music is a powerful part of our lives. But…can it actually make us smarter?

Research says yes. While loud, cacophonous music has been found to–of course–be a distraction and impediment to learning, music done the right way provides a slew of academic benefits. Here are just a few:

  • Body-Mind Integration

When playing a musical instrument, singing a song or learning a dance step, children experience a unique melding of mind and body. In the brain, this means that neurons are firing away, brain activity is moving across both hemispheres, and sensory integration is occurring. So, how does this equate to the classroom? Sensory integration (using and interpreting the senses simultaneously) is crucial for reading, writing and math.

  • Spacial-Temporal Reasoning

Spatial-temporal reasoning is the ability to visualize spatial patterns in one’s mind. It’s a skill needed for engineering, architecture, art, science, games and math. So, how do you improve spatial-temporal reasoning? Through music, according to the MIND Research Institute. MIND did a study where children were engaged in a series of computer games involving math problems; simultaneously, they received musical keyboard training. What researchers discovered was further proof of the “Mozart Effect”–the idea that listening to a piano sonata enhances spacial-temporal performance. Why? Music has a structural pattern that mimics math: listening to patterns and symmetries in music aids in concepts like counting and fractions. The takeaway? Music makes kids better at math.

  • Social/Behavioral

Music has also been found to aid in mood improvement. This concept is a simple one: happy music = happy kids. Calm music = calm kids. Wild music = wild kids! Students take social cues for appropriate behavior from the music they hear.

Incorporating Music at Home and School

So, music is clearly beneficial. Now, how can you easily incorporate it into your classroom and home?

  • CDs: An obvious answer is the good ol’ CD player. Play songs in the car, when your children are your captive audience. One rule: You control the dial! You may even be able to sneak in some Mozart here and there.
  • Instruments: If you are able to provide music lessons for your child (and if they’re willing to participate), lessons are wonderful, especially during the formative elementary and middle school years. But, if formal lessons aren’t in the cards (or budget), opt for some simpler alternatives, like a tambourine, rhythm sticks, or a hand drum.
  • Music Programs. There are also several stellar, research-based programs out there specifically designed to combine music with learning. One of the best is Rock ‘N Learn, a series of over 50 CDs and DVDs that uses music (like really fun, hip music) to teach everything from division to phonics to Spanish. Not only does Rock ‘N Learn set concepts to a catchy tune (read: aids in memory), but it also makes learning very positive for children (read: fun). The CDs and DVDs are affordable, too, ranging from $10-$20 each.

The moral? More music = more learning. Now that’s worth singing about!

Sources: Keith, Kimberly.

MIND Research Institute:


Filed under Academic Success, Math, Music, School Readiness