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“I See, I Think, I Wonder” : A Lesson in Engaging Students Where They Are

BCA Students

About a month ago, while we were on the playground, our students became fascinated with collecting rocks. Day by day, students would run up to the teachers on the playground asking, “What kind of rock do you think this is?” This started a great discussion about rocks, geodes, minerals, and dinosaur bones. A few students emerged as “the dinosaur experts” and when a student found a rock that they thought was a bone, they would scurry off to find the expert and ask their opinion. (In case you were wondering, according to our kindergarten experts, we definitely have Tyrannosaurus Rex bones all over the playground. 😉 )

This went on for several weeks and our rock collectors grew in numbers. It seemed as if each day another student was discovering beautiful rocks to bring in to the classroom and thus began our rock inquiry. I cleared off our “math table” and students started adding rocks to the table. I placed a few scales, magnifying glasses, sorting circles, rock books, pictures, measuring tape, and clipboards on the table, and the table has been full of scientists investigating our rock collection.

Bannockburn Christian Academy Studying RocksScreen Shot 2016-03-10 at 6.57.21 PM

I also displayed my rock book collection in our classroom library.

Rock Book Collection

During guided reading, my young learners were full of questions so we took out our agates and practiced writing and using adjectives by creating a list of words that described them. Then we read an informational text that I wrote for them.

Studying Notes on Rocks

Studying Rocks by Reading

Studying Rocks by Reading and Loving It!

My students came up with so many wonders and questions about how rocks were formed and began researching this on their own! They would get books from our library and share facts with their friends. They also wrote about what they were learning.

During our read aloud time, I made sure I chose books that would answer some of my students’ questions about how rocks were formed. We also watched a few Youtube videos. This was one of their favorite videos (click here to watch)

After watching a few videos and reading a couple of books, we created an “I see, I think, I wonder” chart. To do this, I gave my students Sharpies and Post It notes and my students got to work.

Writing I Think Notes

As they were working, I projected an image of a volcano on my whiteboard.

Displaying Volcanoes on a Whiteboard

After they finished a Post It Note, they placed it on the anchor chart and got to work on writing a new one.

Studying Volcanoes

At the end of the activity, our chart looked like this.

Volcanoes Chart

Many of the “wonders” included questions on HOW and WHY volcanoes blow up. So, we had to go outside to learn more about this.

I partnered my students up and gave each group a funnel, baking soda, and an empty water bottle. 

Experimenting with Baking Soda

They worked together to add the baking soda to their bottle, and then used our playground pebbles to “hide” the bottle to make it look like a real volcano.

Some of the baking soda got stuck going down the funnel, but my scientists quickly fixed the problem.

Scientist Fixing the Problem

After the finishing touches were put in place, we prepared for an eruption!

Preparing for the Eruption

Students added our vinegar mixture to their volcanoes and watched in anticipation. They ooooohed and aaaaaaahed over the eruptions and eagerly discussed why they thought volcanoes erupt!

Volcanic Eruption 1

Volcanic Eruption2

The next day, my students began documenting what they were learning. Some of my students chose to do this using clay.

Making a Volcano

“I am making a cinder cone volcano.”

Cinder Volcano Cone


“Look, mine looks just like this one in the book. I want to make sure I get the top just right.”

Volcano Making

Other students documented what they were learning by making extra large posters in small groups.

Volcano Posters

This encouraged collaboration and teamwork. I was very proud of how well my students handled this task!

Volcano Posters

“Miss Smith, this is a cutaway painting. We are showing the inside of the volcano. “

My students are still hard at work on these art projects and are now at the stage where we are labeling them and writing out teaching points so that others can learn about what they are making.

To continue helping my students answer their wonders, we read the book, Rocks: Hard, Soft, Smooth, and Rough. This book has taught us SO much and is always in the hand of a student when they are in the book corner!

I stopped reading after we read the two pages about sedimentary rocks and showed my students a few pictures to help them better understand. We then created a “craft” to better illustrate that sedimentary rocks are made up of layers.  To do this, I bought 7 jars of colored sand from Michaels. (If you ever need art materials, I HIGHLY recommend them! They always help me out with coupons and teacher discounts! This last shopping trip I saved over $35 thanks to the kindness of the checkout lady!)

I gave each student a clear plastic cup and they got to work making layers out of the different colored sand.

Experimenting with Layers

This activity really helped them learn the word “layer” as they practiced using it over and over. 

More Experimenting with Layers

They carefully scooped each color on top of the previous one making sure that they could no longer see any of the previous color.  They loved checking out their sedimentary rocks throughout the process.

Examining Layers of Colors

When they got picked up, they could hardly contain all that they had done that day! 

Excited to Share their Progress

We are still knee-deep in our inquiry, but I wanted to share part one of what we have been up to! My students are LOVING this unit especially because it means frequent trips outside to find, explore, and discover new types of rocks!

Exploring Their World

If you are interested in any of these activities, lessons, posters, and more, feel free to check out my Rocks and Geode pack available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can get it HERE!

Come back soon to read about Part Two!! (Monday we are cracking open geodes!!)

This blog post contains an affiliate link for your convenience. 

– Kristen Smith, Kindergarten

Building a Kindness Tree: Instilling Habits of Kindness

I came across a blog recently by Kristina Sargent, a mental health therapist who works with children and families.  Her topic was “Growing Hearts of Kindness” and with Valentine’s Day coming up I was intrigued.  I had also been reflecting on the little acts and words of kindness that seemed all around me growing up and realized how much I missed them. 

These were things like seeing my dad open the car door for my mom (yes, we did have cars when I was little).  Could she have opened her own door – of course!  But I remember thinking how nice that was and later realizing it was an act of love and caring.  I remember people always offering to help whether it was carrying a bag of groceries or giving up a seat on the bus for someone older.  I remember hearing kind words and always a please and thank you response.

Then I started to think,  are we just so very busy now that we overlook these things in our quest to get on to the next task before us?  And just how do we go about teaching kindness?  

Ms. Sargent went on to say that she uses specific labeled praise during her therapy sessions.  Intriguing… so I continued to read and found some great suggestions.  Now, when I see one of my little friends saying or doing something kind, I quickly try to point it out – “Fred, I saw you help your friend clean up the crayons he dropped and you weren’t even using any of them.  That was so kind of you!  I bet you made Fred feel very happy when you did that.” Not only is the act praised, but also pointing out the feelings of the person receiving the kind act is important to reinforce.   I have also added a “Kindness Tree” on one of our walls.  The students get specific recognition for what they have done.  It has a label – it was kind – and to top it off, they get a heart with their name on it to add to our tree.  At the end of the day, they can take the heart home and Mom and Dad can see and praise them for their choice.

I am specifically using the word “kind” rather than nice because I think is has more meaning.  It also gave us an opportunity to talk about what “kind” would look like.  We have only been doing this for a few days, but already I have seen my little friends look for ways to be kind or say something kind to a classmate.  We are building habits of kindness in K-4.

– Barbara Hammel, K-4

Kindness Trees

Bannockburn Christian Academy instilling kindness in our junior scholars

We Are Authors

For the last two weeks we have been working very hard at writing books on what we know about. We culminated the process by having a “We Are Authors Day”.   Each child’s parents were invited to come and listen to their child read their book. My students were so very proud of their hard work and could not wait to read to their parents and friends!

To begin the process, I conferenced with each student and asked them what they knew a lot about. We talked about the topics they could potentially write about and what they knew about their idea. The topics ranged from cats to ninjas, and plants to video games; it really was so much fun listening to the kids talking about things they are “experts” on. Once every student had their topic chosen, we got started on the project.

Each day, my students would write and illustrate one page of their book, putting in as much detail as they could. I met with small groups of children every day throughout the process to talk about what they would like their sentence to be on each page, and what the illustration could look like. I then worked with the students to help them sound out each word in the sentence. Once their sentence was complete, they went and drew their illustration.

What I really loved was listening to my students while they talked to one other about what they were doing. I often heard “Hey, that looks really cool!” or “I love that cat, it’s so cute!” The kids were really enjoying the wonderful praise, and loved looking at what their friends were doing as well.

The day before our “We Are Authors” day, I had my students work on their covers. They had to decide on a title and what they could draw that would tell a reader what their story was about. We, of course, added to their cover “Written and Illustrated by….” They were so proud that they were real authors! I laminated their cover, hole punched each page, and tied the books together with string. The kids all did such a wonderful job, the books looked amazing!

On the day of the event, my students came dressed in their “Sunday best.” They were so excited to read their books to their parents and friends.

The kiddos and I set up our classroom with chairs for the parents and students, and set up a table where we could put all of our yummy treats that were coming in.

After each child finished reading their book, we celebrated our hard work by enjoying fruit, mini muffins, yogurt, and orange juice.

I was so very proud of each of my students for working so hard, and I think they may have been even prouder of themselves! They had so much fun with this whole process that they asked me when we were going to start our next books. I love how much they enjoyed themselves, and I can’t wait to read their next books!

Christina Simonetti, Kindergarten

Our Latest STEM/STEAM Activity

Many studies have found that current graduates are lacking the essential skills they need to problem solve. For this reason, there has been a large push to incorporate more “STEAM” activities in our classrooms. As many of you know, S.T.E.A.M stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

According to the article found in “Education Week” titled: STEM vs. STEAM do the arts really belong? They referenced a 2014 study published by the America Society for Engineering Education identifying several characteristics of quality STEM programs:

  1. The context is motivating, engaging, and real-world.
  2. Students integrate and apply meaningful and important mathematics and science content.
  3. Teaching methods are inquiry-based and student-centered.
  4. Students engage in solving engineering challenges using an engineering design process.
  5. Teamwork and communications are a major focus. Throughout the program, students have the freedom to think critically, creatively, and innovatively, as well as opportunities to fail and try again in safe environments.

However, there has now been a push to incorporate “art” into the acronym. (I am all for this!) In fact, just this past week my class completed our first STEAM activity of the year and it was a HUGE success. We have been studying the “temperate deciduous” forest and as a way to incorporate STEM/STEAM into my classroom, we dedicated the day Friday to creating a 3-D forest. My students planned the whole entire forest. I brought in the top of a very large box and my students collaborated about how they should make our forest and what they wanted to add to it. During our guided reading center rotations, instead of reading on Friday my groups looked closely at our forest books and created each area of our forest.

The first group created the “forest floor.” They mixed their perfect shades of green and decided that they needed to add a stream so that the forest animals had water to drink.

unnamed unnamed-2 unnamed-3

After they finished the forest floor, we regrouped on the carpet. The forest floor “team” explained their thought process to the class and the class applauded their efforts. Then the second group was up. Their job was to paint and design the sky. They decided that it was a beautiful day and that their blue had to be lighter than the stream.

unnamed-4 unnamed-5 unnamed-6

Again, we regrouped and the “sky team” explained the work that they added to our forest. The next group’s job was to paint and create the trees. We used recycled toilet paper and paper towel rolls for this. The group looked through a few of our forest books and wanted to add “Oak, Maple, and Birch” trees to the forest.

unnamed-7 unnamed-8

As we waited for the paint to dry, we read another forest book and the class decided that the forest was an autumn forest and that the leaves on the trees should be red, green, yellow, and orange. Each child created their own foliage by drawing, cutting, and painting it.

unnamed-9  unnamed-11


Then each child came up to our forest box and showed me where to place their tree trunk. (I glued the trees in place using a hot glue gun.) The though process of each added tree was remarkable. My students said things like, “I think all the Birch trees should be together.”


“This tree needs to go right here because a forest is a place where trees grow close together.”


“The tree with the owl hole needs to go here so the owl can listen for her prey!”


“This oak tree will drop acorns for the squirrels to eat!”


My students worked SO nicely together during this process and were so very proud of their hard work. In fact, at the end of the day our principal came in and my class proudly explained our forest to her. She was more than impressed when they told her they made a “deciduous forest in the fall.” She asked them great questions and each child was able to answer and explain our collaborative thought process. In fact, at the end of the day, many students brought their parents back into the classroom to show their parents our forest.

By doing this STEAM activity, my class was able to use what they had been learning about forests in a tangible, authentic way. It was 100% made and planned by my students with very little help from me. They communicated beautifully throughout the whole process and took great pride in what they created as a class. One parent after school told me, “My daughter was so proud to point out each piece of the project telling me who made each item!” I love that it became more than just an “I made this” and rather a “WE” created this together!

Next week we will use modeling clay to create our own animals to live in our habitat!

Kristen Smith, Kindergarten

What does Creation mean to a Kindergartener?

The first Bible lesson that I always teach my class is the story of Creation. This year was no exception. In order to make the story REALLY come to life this year, I wanted to add a little flair and an element of FUN to a story that many of my students have already heard.

I find that sometimes we skim over things that we “already know” and forget to dig a little deeper. In order for the students to REALLY get the depth of the story, we made gak  with my students.


We mixed cornstarch with water and added a bit of food coloring to our combination. After this, I gave each student a bowl of the mixture. We talked about how when God created, He simply said, “Let there be…..”  and the thing appeared. We had a short conversation about how out of NOTHING God created everything! I prompted my students to say to their mixture, “Let there be a GIRAFFE!”

But nothing happened.


We tried again with a different part of the creation story. My students decided to try mountains. They said, “let there be a MOUNTAIN!”

But nothing happened.


I asked them why this happened and the conversation was amazing! My students eagerly responded with, “because we are not God!” “Only God can do that!”

By adding a hands-on element to the lesson, my students are beginning to see that God is much bigger than us and much more powerful.

After the lesson, my students happily played with the gak. 🙂

Kristen Smith, Kindergarten Teacher


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