Monday, December 31, 2012

Getting Organized This Year! Desktop Checklist Freebie

There are some days that I know I can be more efficient, but I get wrapped up in the details of a project and planning period is over!  I made this sheet to keep on my desk on those really busy days.  Happy New Year to my super organized teacher friends.  Let's hope I can get it together in 2013!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Guiding Questions Great Idea!

I just had to repost this from one of my favorite blogs.  I'm thrilled to have stumbled upon a middle school-minded blog with some creative flare!

It is such a clever idea.  A piece of ribbon, some glue and a few clothes pins can go a long way in making a classroom functional and stylish!  Check out other great ideas at  and some awesome middle school science materials at her  TpT store.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Student-led Conferences Support Self-Reflective Learners

We held our middle school student-led conferences in December which meant lots of preparation during an already busy time of year.  Feeling crunched for time, I set out to create some new student forms that would guide my 6th graders through the self-reflection process.  The timing works out pretty well, since we all try to do some self-reflection at the start of a new year.  Although I used this in December, I think it would fit nicely for a New Years Reflection project during the first week back from holiday break.  I can think of a few resolutions I wish my students would make!!

 Using four forms that had a newspaper-style appearance, we created "Middle School Me" booklets using 11 x 17 paper.  The booklet then became a portfolio folder, in which we collected some work samples to be discussed at the meeting. Students looked forward to completing and coloring their booklet, and I certainly appreciated all the information being in one location come conference day.  Check it out!

In the past I would often dread the student-led conferences.  I always felt that it was a little awkward for 11-13 year olds to lead a discussion about their social and academic progress.  After this year, my opinion is starting to change.  Now I'm curious...What strategies are other schools using to make the student-led conference process more rewarding and meaningful for students, parents and teachers?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Volume Practice Freebie

I hope you all had very Merry Christmas! I just posted some volume review worksheets that I created for my students.  As always, I'm going to send them to a few new followers who leave their email address for me in a comment.  If you are interested, sign up to follow this blog and leave me a comment including your email address.  I'll send the file to you within a day or so!
Download a preview at

Monday, December 10, 2012

Measuring Mass Worksheet and Flipchart Freebie

If you are teaching mass and how to use a triple-beam balance, these review sheets and Promethean Flipchart might be helpful.  I used them to support a lesson on mass recently and it seemed to help my kids understand the concept.  We talked about the meaning of mass, created a web of main ideas, learned the names of the parts of a balance, practiced reading the three beams and then spent time measuring the mass of small classroom objects using triple-beam balances.  Wow...that is the quick snapshot of a lesson plan!  I know how hard we are all working this time of year, managing our homes, kids and classrooms, so I thought another freebie might be helpful.  Happy Holidays from Kate's Classroom Cafe!

Here are the links to download these classroom materials for free:
(mass notes link)
(flipchart link)
(Front cover if you are creating a booklet for a science journal)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Metric Ruler Freebie!

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be stressful and exhausting!  Here's hoping a little blog therapy is just what I need to take the edge off.  (Probably not, considering I should really be cleaning my house, decorating for the holiday, and writing out those Christmas cards!)

Enough about me.  My 6th graders are beginning a short unit on measuring physical properties, which is a fancy way to say we are studying length, mass, volume and density.  I noticed right from the start that these kiddos had NO CLUE how to read a metric ruler and knew that this would be a major road block to getting any kind of  decent lab results.  So, I created this freebie worksheet to ensure they had the basics.  It is very simple and straight forward, which is what I feel kids need when it comes to measurement!  I hope you can find some use for it in your classroom!  Happy Holidays.
A little early holiday gift from my classroom to yours!  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Skull Investigation Activity for Teaching about Predator-Prey Relationships

For Halloween this year, we did a "Spooktacular Skull Investigation" to go along with our ecology unit.  The Halloween timing was perfect, but I honestly think my 6th graders would have loved this any day of the year!  Here is a quick overview of the lesson(s).

First we reviewed the types of teeth that humans have and what they are used for.  There is a freebie mouth diagram at my teachers pay teachers store that worked well for this.

Next we made an anchor list of traits or clues (using student background knowledge, research and some teacher input) that might help us identify an herbivore, carnivore, omnivore, predator or prey.

Next, I set up animal skulls (Mink, Skunk, Rabbit, Cat)  for students to investigate.  Our district ordered these through a new NY state elementary science kit program and they were all clean and sterilized.  I placed them on trays, so that they were easy to view and then instructed students NOT to touch them.  Surprisingly, the kids didn't seem to mind this, as you can really see all the parts by laying the pieces on display. The jaws are very fragile and if moved around the teeth will fall out.  (This happened as I was setting them up...oops!)  If these are not available through your school, I'm thinking that teachers might be able to get some skulls (on loan) from a local science museum or find their own if they are up for some hiking!  My husband has a number of skulls that he has found while walking in the woods.  If my school doesn't order the kit next year, I'll probably sterilize those and use them instead.  Another option would be to use pictures of skulls instead, although that might not be as exciting for the kids.

Using a chart in their science journals, students kept a list of what they noticed about each skull in the following categories:  Incisors, Canines, Molars, Eye-placement, and Skull Size.  Using their data, they were asked to determine whether the animal was an herbivore, omnivore or carnivore and whether the animal was prey, predator or possibly both.

The picture above is of the rabbit skull.  Here is what the students were able to observe:
1) Well-developed, sharp incisors for cutting.
2)  Lacks canine teeth completely
3) Wide, strong-looking molars for mashing and grinding
4) Eyes are positioned on the sides of the head

Based on their observations and background knowledge, most students correctly concluded that a rabbit is a herbivore and a prey!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wild about Food Chains and Food Webs!

I'm really excited because I just finished working on a WILD about Food Chains and Food Webs activity that I used with my class last week.  Two different sets of cards allow students to build food chains and then create a food web.

One of my students said "This is really hard...but really fun!"  Since I'm just getting started in the land of blog, I'm going to offer this 24-page document FREE (I have it for sale at my TpT store) to the first person who leaves their email in a comment about this post.  Happy teaching!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Super Easy Photosynthesis activity!

3 plastic cups
Potting Soil
Grass Seed
A dark closet and a window sill that gets some sunlight

Plant all three cups of grass seed using the same amount of soil and seeds.  Water them throughout the experiment as needed.  Place two of the cups in a dark closet and one on the window's edge for one week.  (I did this the week before my photosynthesis lesson so that I could show the kids the results immediately.)  After one week, observe the differences in the vigor of the plants growing in the two different locations.  Move one of the plants from the closet to the window.  (I spend two days teaching photosynthesis, so it worked out to be a Friday and a Monday. It worked out perfectly to reveal the plant experiment on Friday and discuss how it relates to photosynthesis and then make some predictions about how the plant being moved might change over the weekend.  Checking the plants was a great springboard into Monday's lesson.)

Update!  Looking for an INB printable to go along with this? You might like...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Science Conclusion Discussion Rings

Sixth graders can really use a boost when it comes to discussing lab results! I created these conclusion discussion rings that can be used following any lab or experiment.  I'm really pleased with how they are working out.

I reused a Pepperidge Farms cookie container to hold them when they are not in use.  It is the perfect size!  

My students enjoyed discussing the results from their lab, and I really feel that they were better prepared to participate in whole group sharing after having time to chat in pairs.  If you like this idea, you may be interested in my scientific processes unit on TpT.  It includes every lesson that I use to help my students build scientific writing and thinking skills.  Check it out here:

Happy Teaching! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ecosystem Splat Game

My students loved this! We played ECOSYSTEM SPLAT last Friday as part of an introductory lesson for our upcoming ecology unit.  The purpose of the game was to activate student prior knowledge about ecosystems.  I intended to post this as a Freebie Friday item, but I decided to take the weekend to spend with my family and not my computer! it is: 

Just in case you are interested....
Here is a little more information about how I used this in my classroom: I started my lesson with an Activote (electronic clicker) survey that asked the kids how confident they were about having background knowledge for our new unit on ecology.  As I predicted, many students rated themselves very low!  I wanted to encourage them to think more carefully about their elementary science lessons and other background experiences relating to ecosystems.  During the game many students had “ah ha” moments as they recalled things they knew about the ecosystems.  To enhance the game for one of my high functioning groups, we turned and talked after each round about the ecosystem that was SPLAT during the game.  It was amazing how many things kids recalled from their grade 3-5 reading and science experiences!  (Way to go elementary teachers!!) After this 10 minute game, I asked students to define what an ecosystem was…and they nailed it!  Examples do wonders for helping kids conceptualize science terms.  After the lesson, students reassessed their readiness to start the unit and there were major changes in student responses.  We often use games for review, but in this case it was a great way to activate prior knowledge.  I hope you find it as useful as my students did!

Download the teacher directions and ecosystem clues for FREE at 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Homework Coupon

I just finished making 8 new incentive coupons for my students this year.  Here is the homework pass, which is probably the most popular amongst the kids!  Feel free to use it in your classroom, but please do not use it for personal profit!  If you like it, consider some of the other coupons I have created at

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Battle of the Bathroom Pass-Managing Middle Schoolers...

Middle school kids LOVE to use and abuse the classroom lavatory pass, leaving teachers frustrated with the revolving door.  I've tried  "is it an emergency" and the typical sign out sheet, but neither seem to reduce the requests.  SO... This year I've started a new policy and I want to post it because it is working wonders.  Students are issued 3 departure tickets per marking period (10 weeks).  In order to use the lav pass, they need to rip a ticket out of their science journal (kept in the classroom) and hand it to me.    At the end of the marking period, all unused passes are put in a drawing for prizes (homework passes, bonus booster points, redo coupons…etc.) Before this policy, I had on average 3-5 kids per 40-minute period asking to use the restroom.  Now I have less than 5 kids per day.  More time in the classroom = more learning…VICTORY!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bulletin Board Idea...

I was going through old classroom photos and found one of my favorite bulletin boards!  The flip flop challenge tasks were a hit with students.    I used this for higher-level thinking tasks that related to ELA or Science.  It served as an "enrichment" station for my students and had activities for students of ranging abilities.  It worked well for keeping kids on-task after they finished a lab early or while I did reading or science notebook conferences with individual students.  I think I'm going to have to dust this off for my class this year!

The gift of science...

I've been breaking my students up into smaller groups (2-3) this year and have seen much better group work results.  Although more time consuming when it comes to preparing materials, the level of student engagement is without a doubt much better.   I was finding it difficult to organize and distribute group supplies for 14 groups quickly using my old baskets, so here is my latest strategy!  I purchased 14 identical gift bags on clearance at Target (30 cents each).  I labeled the group number on each with bold permanent marker and then filled each bag with the supplies for a group work activity.  I could hold and distribute all 14 bags at the same time!  Late in the day my classroom flooded due to plumbing/drainage issues and my class needed to move quickly to another location.  I was SO glad that I could grab and go easily.  Also, many students commented on how colorful the bags made the room look so I'm thinking about getting holiday-themed bags for the winter season.  So...not only did I give the "gift" of science today, I made my life easier!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Freebie Friday!

I've been working on planning an upcoming unit on Ecology and am so inspired by the beautiful fall weather!  Need an excuse to take your kids outside for science?  Look no further.  Here is a fun 10-page freebie for my science teacher friends!  If you download, and like the product, please consider following me here!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lego Procedure Activity: Working with the best of the best...

I work with THE best of the best!  The other teachers in my grade level department are just awesome.  They come up with the greatest ideas and are willing to go above and beyond to reach our middle-level learners.  Here is a short activity that my ultra-talented colleagues (Debbie and Christine) came up with to help kids understand the importance of scientific procedure reading and writing.  They kindly shared the idea (and Legos) with me and it was a real hit in my classroom today!  

Monday, September 24, 2012

Marzano Madness

Here is one way that I help my students track their progress toward learning goals.   Download a free copy for use in your classroom using the link that follows.  In addition to posting the the scale in my classroom, students use graph paper to chart how they "grow" in their learning from the beginning, middle and end of a unit of study.  This seems to be working well so far!

Click here to download a free copy!

Getting in the groove...

Now that the back to school exhaustion is starting to wear off, I'm ready to commit some more time to sharing some of the super fun things that my kiddos have been working on in 6th grade.  We start the year with a science process skills unit, so I've been working my creative gears to make this unit as interactive and engaging as possible.  One area that seems to be particularly weak for some students is vocabulary acquisition and application, particularly when taken to the level of analysis.  To scaffold the vocabulary for this unit, I created three learning center activities that can be used for practice within the classroom or sent home in a small bag for extra review.   They are of varying difficulty, so I grouped my students accordingly and made time to meet with each group to check in. The first one is simple definition matching, the second requires some application and the third involves analyzing an experiment for design flaws.  I put them up on a bulletin board so that kids can use them during class as well as during study periods and homeroom!

 click here to download from my TpT store

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Resolutions are a common new year's tradition, but this year I've decided to commit to a birthday resolution.  There is no better motivation than adding a number to your age to really inspire some good old fashion self-reflection.  So here I am.  This is my blog, a word that probably didn't exist when I stepped in front a classroom of students for the first time...and fell in love with my job.  I've been inspired over the past few months by my fellow teaching professionals and the work they have put into sharing and networking their talents online.    So as I blow out the candles and kick off the 2012-13 school year,  I find myself here with a resolution to try something new...Here it goes!


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