Thursday, February 21, 2013

Determining the Age of a Tree Using Circumference

I love this science activity.  It is great for two reasons.  1.  The kids have been doing geometry in math and are already studying circumference and diameter of circles.  2.  They really begin to understand that studying trees is a science and that Math has a practical purpose in life.  So I am sharing this for anyone who needs a great Common Core Math lesson on Circumference, Diameter, and its relationship to Pi or for anyone who just wants to show their kids the science of determining the age of a tree without harming one.

You will need a few things to start:
1.  calculators (or not, if you want them to practice mutiplying and dividing huge amounts of decimals)

2.  long pieces of string or yarn

3.  rulers or yardsticks

4.  growth factor charts for different species of trees.  The best one I have found was here at the Missouri Dept. of Conservation.

My "fake" trees
5.  Fake trees (mine consist of wrapping cylindrical shaped objects with brown paper) and/or real trees.

6.  An engaging video that shows them what this is like in the field.  I use this one with Steve Stillett measuring Redwood trees.

7.  Blank worksheet that includes the directions, formulas, and a chart to record their data
Calculating the Age of a Tree Worksheet
The students have "fake" tree options in the classroom and a few real tree options outside.  I have them work in partners because using the string and laying it onto rulers or yardsticks sometimes requires four hands. Plus, the conversations about the math often create a few lightbulb moments for some kids.  Essentially, the formula is as follows:

Diameter x growth rate = tree age

They need to measure the circumference, divide that by 3.14 to get the diameter, then multiply by the growth rate on the chart based on what type of tree it is.

I find that students who did not really understand circumference and diameter beyond the formula, have a much better understanding of their relationship once this is done. They also really enjoy what they are doing.  Especially when I let them go outside and try it on real trees.  When they are done, they get glued into their interactive notebooks.

Let me know if you have any questions about the lesson, but if you spend any time on either of these subjects it is well worth the time and effort.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Science Notebooks - Learning About Conservationists

Every few days, we start science by learning about an important conservationist/naturalist.  As she is the mother of the environmental movement, we started with Rachel Carson.  We will of course move on to John Muir, Julia Hill, et al.  I gave the kids a quote to analyze and a little bio to read and take notes on.  It only takes about 15 minutes and it is a good way to also expose them to jobs and opportunities in the Environmental Science field.
This is a simple organizer that I can change for each different conservationist.  It is really nothing more than a bunch of text boxes.  If anyone would like the blank versions, just let me know!  And if you have any suggestions for other conservationists or naturalists that I should be covering, I would love your input.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Living Things and their Environment- science notebooks

I do deviate from our science curriculum because I really like a "place based" curriculum that students can relate to; however, I start with a good foundation of vocabulary and information about environments and living things from the textbook.  I found a great slideshare this year by Mr. Schumaeir and you can link to it here.  It is awesome for introducing the concepts and using your student engagement strategies prior to reading the chapter.  There is no reason for reinventing the wheel when there are so many amazing teachers out there sharing their stuff.  Then, we go through the chapter using this graphic organizer...

Living Things and their Environments

Our second lesson covers the Energy Flow in Ecosystems chapter.  First we do a simple organizer with definitions and notes. Then, the students have to cut, paste, and sort a group of pictures that I give them next to the right category of producer, consumer, or decomposer.
Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers

These activities get the students ready to talk about various types of ecosystems and how the biotic and abiotic factors all work together.  They will spend about three weeks closely examining the Redwood Forest so these chapters are essential to understanding this local biome and national treasure.

Please check my upcoming posts for information and resources for teaching about the Redwood Forest.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Roald Dahl Quote Poster

My goal for next year is to create, print, and frame my favorite quotes for the classroom.  I decided to start today, since it seems all of my great ideas lack time in the end.  Seems like 6 months should be enough time. Anyhow, my favorite author of all time is Roald Dahl, so of course I have started with him.  Plus it was something shorter to play around with.  If you are wondering where I made this happen, I used PicMonkey for this.  BUT, I'm thinking that I'll try other formats to see which I like best.  So far, so good.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Making Posters - PDF style

Here is my latest poster for my unit in the Redwood Forest.  I have taken this beautiful drawing of the layers of the redwood forest by Cynthia Linsenbardt and enlarged it for this poster.  Now I have a big version for the wall and the kids have their own little version in their notebooks.  I am totally behind the curve, but for those of you that are there with me, here are the directions.

I rarely have time to even go to pee during the day, much less take a file over to the local copy place to be enlarged into a poster.  Plus, my posters usually occur on a whim and I am not patient enough to wait around for my poster to be made when I can make it myself.  So, I finally googled how to enlarge stuff and this is what I found...

STEP ONE:  convert your picture to a PDF, if it isn't already

STEP TWO:  open your PDF and select "print" from the File Menu

STEP THREE:  go down to "page scaling" and use the drop down menu, choose to "tile" your pages

STEP FOUR:  decide how much bigger you want it to be and change the tile scale percentage, if you play around a little with different numbers, it will show you how big/ how many pages it will be

STEP FIVE: print, cut, and glue your pages together

This is great for classroom mural projects, making things larger for anchor charts or walls, or just making your own posters!

Picture credit:  Cynthia Linsenbardt, and the field notebook used by

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I am excited to say that we are officially done with social studies around here and science has begun!  I will be posting our endeavors every few days.  We have a special science rotation in the sixth grade and each teacher is responsible for covering an important biome in California.  My specialty is the Redwood Forest and it is my favorite due to the fact that the sixth grade spends five days in the Redwoods of Santa Cruz for outdoor education camp.  So, if you would like to see what we learn and where I get my resources, stay tuned!