Holidays, Inquiry-Based, STEAM

Thanksgiving in Upper Elementary

Living on the east coast, we get hit with several hurricane evacuations each year where school is cancelled. This year, the make-up days were added to our Thanksgiving week (Monday and Tuesday). Since I knew several students would be out, I planned academic activities around the holiday because I didn’t want to introduce any new material. If you are looking for some fun ideas, borrow and steal away:


MathThanksgiving Dinner Digits 
This activity is great for practicing math skills. Students will invite family, figure out how many pounds of turkey they’ll need, determine when to start thawing their bird, and calculate food costs. (I would use the differentiated pages next time, since my students had a hard time multiplying decimals.) You can even set the table with placemats and napkins to set the mood.

ReadingBalloons Over Broadway 
Second graders were working on map skills at our school, so I invited them to join us for this cute read aloud. We then mapped the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route, and completed this STEM activity to make balloon floats from balloons.  Parade route was a free download from The Star Spangled Planner. These activities were by far, my favorite all week, and I am thankful for my room mom who came in to help blow up all the balloons.

Science – We completed the digital breakout Turkey Trot. My fourth graders thought this was hard at first, but finally got the hang of it and six of seven groups “escaped” in the 30 minute time frame.

Social Studies – We watched “Animated Hero Classics: William Bradford – The First Thanksgiving”.  We watched this on Discovery Ed Streaming videos but it is also available on YouTube if you do not have a subscription.


Math – We continued with our Thanksgiving Dinner Digits activity from above.

Reading – I assigned six Thanksgiving related NewsELA articles and the students had to pick two that were of interest to them to read and take the quizzes on. Then, we read this article on the Quill Pen and practiced cursive penmanship with D’Nealian paper and magic markers. I played the YouTube fireplace video to set the mood.

Science – We read articles about the Mayflower and completed another STEM activity. Students had to design a ship that will hold as many Pilgrims (pennies) as possible without sinking using a piece of aluminum foil. This book helps!

Social Studies – We watched “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and I baked cookies for my class. Finally, we made thankful turkeys with our kindergarten buddies. Leave a comment with your favorite Thanksgiving activities for upper elementary students!

Math Rotations, STEAM, Student Choice

Math-Or-Treat (Embracing Halloween on a Wednesday)

This year, Halloween falls on Wednesday. I decided to embrace it. I always teach math in the morning so I thought I would try out this Math-or-Treat idea that I had been seeing on Pinterest a lot lately based on I Heart Teaching Elementary‘s blog.

I downloaded her bag templates and purchased cheap treat bags at Walmart.  I also loaded up on things like Halloween pencils, erasers, plastic skeletons, to use as prizes because they will be getting enough candy tonight, right?!

Since I have seven tables in my room, I decided to have seven stations. I introduced the idea to my class about a week ago and asked them to apply to “run” one of the stations using a Google Form. I got about 15 applications so I had to choose students based on their responses to the math problems in the application and their response to the question about why they wanted the job. These students would get the answer keys and check their classmates’ work. They would also give out the prizes.

I created or downloaded seven Halloween math games and activities from TpT for each station. I chose skills we have already covered this year (place value, rounding, multiplication, and division). Here are a few that would work well:

Division Bingo
Multiplication Riddles
Rounding Scavenger Hunt
Multiplication & Division Sort
Coordinate Grid Holiday Graphing
Halloween Division
Halloween Rounding 
Halloween Word Problems
Spellbinding Division 

I created a quick smartboard with some Halloween pictures on it and let the kids pick where they wanted to go.  I only had a few rules:
1. They could choose any table they wanted (with a limit of 5 kids)
2. They could move tables at any time
3. It was up to them how many tables they visited (ie how many prizes they earned)
4. It was over after an hour and a half (we had to be somewhere at 9:30)

I continued with the holiday theme for the rest of the day. We made Halloween masks with our kindergarten buddies. We completed the Candy Corn Challenge (Freebie!) during social studies time, and worked on the Mystery Science lesson “What is the biggest spider in the world?” Finally, my class mom came to host some games, crafts, and snacks for our Halloween Party and we settled in to watch Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. You can teach in spite of it being Halloween, or you can embrace it. This year, we nailed it!

Art Integration, STEAM, Uncategorized

Art Integration in Upper Elementary

My favorite subject in school was always art. This recent Mind Shift article got me thinking about how I am using (or not using) art in my classroom.

During my Sharing the Planet unit, I teach Native American regions, early European Explorers, and plant and animal classification. This interdisciplinary unit focuses on the central idea: Native communities are altered when new elements are introduced.

For the Native American regions, we do a small craft for each region: paper canoes for Eastern Woodlands, Teepees for Great Plains, sand art for Southwestern, and totem poles for Pacific Northwest. I even have a 7-foot totem pole that we can complete as a class. This year, I also started a weaving project with wampum belts and the kids have loved it! I tied it into math as well, working on patterns; transformations, reflections, and rotations.

During our study of habitats and biomes, I started a torn art project. The students had to pick one habitat/biome we have studied in class. They were to create a scene from the habitat using torn pieces of construction paper, magazine pages, and tissue paper without using scissors! They had to include at least two examples of plant life and one example of animal life that is native to the habitat. I found examples on Pinterest and posted them to Google Classroom in a Doc. Finally, the students use their knowledge of animal classification to design their own zoo.

Finally, their summative assessment involves creating a cartoon similar to the Mark Trail Sunday comic strip by James Allen. Students had to pick an invasive species (or put a species in a new habitat) and explain how the original habitat would be affected. The specifics can be found here. As always, I like to include choice in my projects, so they could either draw them, or create them on a Google Slide.

For my second unit, How the World Works, I teach early European settlement in North America with the water cycle and weather. This interdisciplinary unit focuses on the central idea: Natural cycles are interconnected and impact the world.

For weather, I have a few ideas (thanks, Pinterest.) In the past, I’ve done the tornado in a jar, but would like to add more art to this unit. I was thinking of doing crayon and water color clouds, textured tin foil art, sensory snow, rain and wind process art, or even salt and water color art. The summative assessment for this unit is a written DBQ (Document Based Question).

For social studies, I have the students create a colonist. They research names, jobs from the 1400’s, and dress their colonist accordingly. I saw this post on having the kids trace themselves on butcher paper and could make the colonist project really come to life! We also work on Colonial Quilts, a Scholastic activity, and combine our individual squares to make a large class “quilt”. This year, I would like to make hand-dipped candles and/or weave tapestries to show how hard and labor-intensive life was back then. Do I dare try needlepoint? Corn husk dolls are popular and I found some guides here and here. There is even a yarn version…which might be easier.


Check back for a future post on integrating art into other units. And leave a comment with how you’re using art in your classroom. I’d love to get new ideas!