Building Identity in Your Classroom

A few weeks ago I shared some activities you can use to help build a classroom culture that helps your students to know, as Rusty Berkus says, ” they are not a xerox of anyone else-that their life is an original work of art.” In a world where all too often our students do not feel they have worth, our classrooms can be places that go counter to the culture in which they live. I don’t know if you are like me, but after my first week of teaching I realized my students were living in homes that were not like the one I grew up in.

Many of my students came from poverty and some experienced things I had never known-living with a grandparent; having one parent who worked crazy hours; having to take care of their younger siblings. After a year in that environment, I realized my calling was not just to teach my students to seek understanding of God’s world through the processes of science, but to teach them they each had value and a purpose. Matthew 10:31 reminds us that God considers us to be more valuable than many sparrows (Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrow).

Sadly, many of my students felt they had no worth or value. In conversations, my students would share with me the isolation they felt at home. They shared how they felt pressure from the responsibility of getting their siblings ready for school in the morning. I also heard stories of how they just wanted their parents to talk to them instead of talking (or rather yelling) at them. While I certainly was not a substitute for their parents, I learned I could create a classroom environment that would help them to thrive. I learned from research I could be a significant influence in their lives (watch this video!!). In today’s blog post I want to share two things I did to create a culture where students realized they had worth! Be sure to come back later this week as I share more ideas that worked for me!

1. Hand-shake:  I am sure you have seen the video-you know the one, where the teacher has a personalized handshake for each child in his classroom. While this is really cool, you don’t have to be that elaborate!  During my second year of teaching I started shaking my student’s hands as a way to greet them and to welcome them to our classroom!

I introduced it by telling them I wanted to greet them in the morning. Because I taught secondary students, many of the mornings I was still prepping for the labs we would do. But shaking my students hands forced me to be ready each morning to greet them. I can still remember the groans from my Biology students when I introduced the concept to them. While some of my students rolled their eyes, they went along with my idea.

Each morning I stood by the door and greeted them. For those that were not feeling well, I told them they had to at least make eye contact or smile. For me, I found the entire exercise to be refreshing and uplifting! The activity immediately gave me insight into which students were entering my classroom after a rough start.  This gave me a chance to talk with them and diffuse the emotions so they could focus during class. I also found myself looking forward to the greetings! It made me feel good to have my students at least acknowledge I was there!

I had no clue whether or not it was making a difference in my students lives until the first day I was out of school.I was out for two days due to the flu and when I came back, still not 100%, I found my students waiting by the door to greet me! They all mentioned they had missed the handshakes-so much so I had several of them who wanted two-one on the way into class and one on the way out!! I encourage you to try this!!

2. Standing Ovations: Our church has been doing a movie series and the last sermon focused on the movie “Wonder.” If you have seen it, then you know it is an amazing movie. One of my favorite quotes from the movie is this- “I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”

Every  one needs a standing ovation!! In fact, I used to do this in my classroom and it was amazing! To introduce the fact everyone would get a standing ovation in my classroom, I just told my students they were born inherently worthy. As I explained to them, ‘inherently’ simple meant it is not something they had earned; their recognition was based on the simple fact they were born fearfully and wonderfully made. That each of them has unique talents and abilities that sets them apart from their classmates and thus makes them worthy of praise!

In explaining the process, I told them that at various times we would recognize one student for their worth to our classroom.  To recognize them, we would give them a standing ovation. I explained when I called a name, that student would come to the front of the room and for 15 second, we would hoot and holler while everyone was on their feet. I had one student demonstrate the process. When the student got to the front, I simply said on the count of three let’s give _______ a standing ovation!! That means I want you to hoot and holler.

At first my students couldn’t believe I was giving them permission to yell in the classroom-but I did (note-be sure to let your fellow teachers who teach next to you in on what you are doing!).  I kept it short-just 15 seconds worth, but the look on the student’s faces was priceless.  To make sure I got to everyone, I put their names on index cards and throughout the year I or a student would randomly pull each child’s card.  But here is the best part, over time, my student’s started asking to give each other standing ovations for things they did-like doing well at the school’s track meet, or making the choice to walk way from a fight. It was magical!! Be sure to include your name!! Even we deserve a standing ovation!!

I hope these ideas are something you will use to make your students understand they are fearfully and wonderfully made and bring great worth to your classroom!

Back-to-School! Ideas for Starting off Your Year

I can’t believe it is that time of year again!! Where has summer gone? Do you feel like it just rushed by like a speeding train? I keep thinking I will find a way to slow it down, but every summer seems to go faster than the last one. Oh well. Time continues to march on…

Over the next few weeks I am going to share some of my favorite back-to-school ideas. You know, each year brings a different group of students and while my curriculum stayed the same (unless I switched grade levels), I found my students were so different. Each year brought different challenges. I continue to believe it is my job to get to know my students well; to know what makes them tick. Part of getting to know them involves getting to know what they think they are good at! Today’s activity does just that and uses something that is unique to each of us-a thumbprint!

When do you use this activity Dr. Jenny Sue?  I normally used this lesson on the 3rd of 4th day of the first week and began the activity by explaining to my students that throughout our weekly morning meetings (I held meetings on Monday and Fridays), I would be doing either a fun or self-efficacy building activity (I explained to  my students self-efficacy is what we believe about ourselves) that would help us grow as a class or to shift our mindset with regards to our self-efficacy.  In this first activity, I explained while we are all humans and we share the same material that makes us human (our DNA), we are unique. So unique that we have different fingerprints! In this activity, they are going to use a thumbprint to make a drawing inspired by the thumbprint!!

Now if your students get panicked about having to do a drawing, just remind them it is impossible to do this activity incorrectly-just draw a stick figure if they want!! This is their depiction of something they like to do or something they feel they are good at doing!

How do you do the activity? Pass out the thumbprints and give them 3 minutes to draw a scene! After they have completed their drawings, have them get into a group and share what their drawing is about. Then have them share with the class. Once everyone has shared, if they allow you to do so, post the drawings on a bulletin board so everyone can see!!

Why I do this activity?  During the first month of school, I like to focus on building the identity, connection, and purpose for our classroom.  Thumbprint drawings are one of the activities I use to build the identity of my students and our classroom. I don’t know about you, but each year I found my students struggled with understanding how beautifully and wonderfully they were made by God. While I spent most of my life in a public school and could not openly discuss God with them, I found that many of the activities I did pointed them to this truth!

Our students come to our classrooms seeking answers to 3 basic questions- who am I? Do you care about me? What can I eventually do with my life?  Our students want to feel valued, recognized, and accepted. To build their self-efficacy (what they believe about themselves), we have to give them the opportunity to see that each of them have a unique talent or set of abilities that make them different and yet similar to their classmates. They all have desires, interests, fears, and strengths.  Getting our students to open up and be vulnerable may be challenging, but if we can get them to share, we create and deepen relationships!

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us!.” This activity is just one that I like to use to get students taking a risk and discovering the unique qualities that lie within them and their classmates.  Plus, I just loved seeing their drawings and hearing the funny stories. My students really seemed to love this activity!

Want more ideas for the first week of school? Download my free idea packet here!

Time to Rest

  August 1st.  August 1st. Where did July go? I can’t even begin to tell you how fast time seems to be flying for me these days. Maybe you as well. It seems like just yesterday school got out and I had these grand plans to accomplish so much this summer. Sure, I checked off a couple of things from my to-do-list, but for the most part, my list is still long and uncompleted.

Today, I am not worrying about my list or anything else I feel I have to accomplish. Today I plan on resting. Webster’s dictionary defines rest as “ceasing work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.” Today I plan on ceasing work and movement (if I can) in order to refresh my mind, body, and spirit.

Over the last several weeks I have been co-leading a bible study at my home, trying to keep up with laundry, cleaning, and managing my children’s obsession with technology (that is a full time job friends!). I also have been co-teaching a course which means I have been responding to emails. While I find fulfillment in all of these things, I am tired.

Tired of running and going. Tired of thinking and planning. I woke up this morning with all intentions of going to the gym, but went back to bed instead. It felt great. Resting is important to our physical, mental, and spiritual health. Heck, even God rested after He created the heavens and Earth.

I don’t know if you are like me, but as a teacher, I am seem to be always thinking-thinking about the next year, the next lesson, the design of the learning space. As a teacher who is also a mother, I spend a great deal of time thinking about what to cook for dinner, where do I need to take the kids next, and of course, helping them to learn how to regulate the use of technology (think I have said this before-Lord I am now repeating myself! Do you find yourself always yelling to get off the darn devices!). Here is the thing friends, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we can easily start the new year running on fumes.

Today I am going to the beach-whether it rains or not. Book in hand, sitting under an umbrella. If you need me, come find me there. What are you doing to rest today so that when you go back-to-school you will be refreshed?

#berefreshed, #renew your mind,body, spirit

I know, I know, I know you are not ready to go back to school. But a new school year is coming and it seems to be coming faster for me this year! This August I am sharing some of my favorite things I do to greet my kiddos and create an environment in my classroom that helps my students feel welcome while helping them to believe in themselves! Be sure to follow me on facebook (@justsimplescience) and here on my blog beginning next week!

Oh-and if you need fresh new ideas for teaching science, I have my annual Back to School sale going on this week-20% off here on my website-just use the code BacktoSchool to save your $$!!

See you soon!

Announcing the improved Just Simple Science Website!

I am sooooo excited to announce I have an updated website! I know, many of you probably didn’t even know I had a website!! If you did, that is great! Ten years ago when I started doing consulting with science education, hubby said I needed to have a website so people could find my business. As you can guess, life got busy and updating and managing my site has been a slow process. But, over the last few months I have felt a call to step out and begin to do more in the way of sharing ideas and products to help teachers and parents feel more confident with teaching science.

Drum roll please………the new and improved Just Simple Science has arrived!!

Over the next few months you are going to see some resources I hope you will share with your friends. Just today I launched what I am calling the Smidgen of Science Kit series (because sometimes you just need a small amount of science to hook a child into wanting to learn more).  These kits will provide parents with between 1-3 simple science activities on various topics that can be done with one child. The kits will include materials! I hope you will check them out and share them with your family and friends.

If you check out my new website you will notice I now have the ability to sell items directly from my site! Several years ago I had many friends ask if they could purchase my lesson plans. In looking for a way to do this, I stumbled upon Teachers Pay Teachers. Frankly I hate charging for my work, but the small amount of money I make some months pays for date night with my man! While TPT has been good to me, in the end they take a slice of my sales. My new website will allow you to purchase items directly from me which means I can offer them to you at a cheaper rater than on Teacher Pay Teacher or other sites!!!! Don’t worry, I will also be uploading some more free items for you in the coming months!

Be on the lookout for more blog posts where I share ideas that I hope will make teaching science easier and fun for you and your kiddos! If you see anything on my site you wish to order, use this code until June 11th and get 10% off the purchase price: the code is NEWWEBSITE

I also want to give a huge shout out to Dawn Tuner of Dawn Turner Web Designs for making my vision a reality!! As a homeschool mom, she was able to give me ideas on how to design my page to maximize the time parents or teachers spent finding items on the site!!! She even created my new logo which I love as well! If you need a website or revision to your current site, please check her out!

Thanks friends for supporting my crazy love of all things science!!!!

We want more Science!

“We want more science!”

When I hear teachers tell me this is what their students say after doing science, I smile and say “Yes” as louldy and as boldly as I can! Kids love science.

I know this next statement may seem a little simplistic and some may not agree with me-that’s okay-we can agree to disagree in a polite manner. If we really want to increase the odds our graduates will graduate with “college and career readiness skills,” then we need to put science back into our early education classrooms (preK-3).

Put science back? Yep, put science back. Take a look at the following schedule. This is an actual 1st grade classroom schedule. What do you observe about this schedule (to view in a larger format, click on the image)?





When I observe this schedule, this is what I see-math (check), language arts (check), writing (check). There is time for reading aloud. Students have time for lunch. You might be saying to yourself “this looks fine.” But did you notice that science is not on the schedule? Even social studies is missing.  Now, I see the word integrated content listed in the same box with being a writer, what does this mean? Does this mean in an hour students are doing a hands-on experience and then writing about? Does this mean science is woven into the literacy stations? Or does it simply mean at the station children are engaged in books about various science topics. Hard to tell from the schedule, but my gut tells me more than likely students are reading about various science topics.

Reading about science is not the same as doing science. In order to learn how to become a scientists or develop the ability to think scientifically, students need teachers to engage them in the same experiences as those that real scientists would do. You can do hands-on science in 20 minutes if you are organized and well planned. Experiences can be chunked.

Take for instance one lesson that I did just yesterday at the ACSI Early Education conference. The purpose of the And guess what, when you do hands on science, those experiences where you purpusp-you know, when you pull out a mystery object that looks like an egg but doesn’t really look like an egg (see my post from 2011 here), it is easier to then engage young learners in reading a text for meaning.

Employers want workers who can ask questions and problem solve. Those skills are greatly enhanced when you engage students in doing science. Think about it this way-while learning to read is an important skill for a literate society, some children don’t want to simply jump into a book. When my son was in Kindergarten, he had a teacher who did more language arts experiences than science. Hugh was a good student. But he didn’t want to read. Instead, he wanted to build. He wanted to put stuff together to see what would happen. It was only when his 1st grade teacher did a science experiment about matter, that he wanted to read more about the topic. Science opened up books to my son but only because books served a purpose for his learning.

If we want to get serious about changing education and increasing the odds our graduates will be able to ask great questions or even problem solve, we might want to rethink how we do early education. I know there is not enough time in the day for everything and I know that reading and math tests are still driving schools and I understand the pressure for children to be able to read and do math by 3rd grade is real. Research shows science can improve and increase reading scores in children. Science also gives a context for the skills students are learning in math. What if we designed instructional units around great scientific problems instead of basil programs and reading workbooks. To date I have never had a teacher say to me their students wanted to “do more workbooks” or “read more in the basil.”


Jenny Sue’s Newest Favorite Book-Best in Snow!

I know most of my friend do not like snow very much, but here in our household we love snow. In fact hubby and I keep talking about how we want to find 10 feet of the glorious white stuff!

Snow presents us science teachers with the opportunity to show students what happens when the water cycle interacts with changing temperatures! One of my newest favorite books that introduces students to how matter changes during the winter time is a book called “Best in Snow” by April Pulley Sayre.

The book is absolutely beautiful! The story tells the tale of how snow forms and travels. It is the real world tale of the water cycle from a different vantage point. Best part is the book has a cheat sheet in the back for teachers that explains the science behind snow. The text is simple and teachers can use the text to work with children on word choice or even rhyming words.

Here are some pictures from the book:

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I highly recommend adding this book to your classroom library! If you want to grab a copy, feel free to use the link below (note-this is an affiliate link with amazon and I do get a tiny bit of $ that goes to feed my love of science).

Books about Snowflakes!

If you were with me last night on my first Magnificent Science Monday, then you learned how to use borax and hot water to make snowflakes! If you want to get directions or see how to make it yourself, click the links below:

Click here to watch the live facebook professional development

Click here to download lesson activity steps.

Last night I showed you the book: The Story of Snow.  Be sure to grab that book and some others that work well with the activity!  See links of books below. Please note: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. What does this mean?  Provides a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. Those fees are use to purchase materials to do my live events!