Science Archive
Mesmerized: Colliding Science and Social Studies through PBL

I. am. back. I took a rather long break from blogging to focus on my business and to just soak up our new baby (who is now 9 months old), but I am ready to jump back into sharing lots of ideas for your classroom.  I am gearing up to teach my seventh class at the university level, which has my brain working overtime on new ideas and resources.  I am also collaborating with some of my very favorite teacher friends to bring you what is new and current for your classroom, so let’s jump right in to one of my most current lesson ideas!

Ben Speech Bubble C. Jayne Teach

Today I am going to be sharing a wonderful Project Based Learning (PBL) lesson that will merge the content areas of science and social studies.  As a teacher, we have to fit a lot into our day.  And sometimes the best way to do this is by cramming strategically planning as much content as we can into one lesson.  I find that combining science and social studies is the trickiest, because mostly we think of science/math and social studies/language arts to go together… but not today!  I’ve written a fully aligned Common Core unit plan for the upper elementary grades that will walk your students through biographies, research, and the scientific method.

Here are the Common Core standards we will cover:

Reading: Literature

  • Key Ideas and Details
    Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
  • Craft and Structure
    Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
  • Integrations of Knowledge and Ideas
    Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.


  • Text Types and Purposes
    Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section.
  • Production and Distribution of Writing
    With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.
  • Research to Build and Present Knowledge
    Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).

Social Studies Content Standards (Tennessee)

  • 2.3.2: Participate in shared research using biographies to interpret the significance of contributions made by people of the United States, recounting or describing key ideas and details from the texts.  Teachers may choose any biographies.  Some suggestions are as follows: John Smith, Pocahontas, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, etc.
  • 2.3.3:  With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish a writing piece in collaboration with peers on a famous American to describe how his or her accomplishments were significant.
  • 2.4.0: Analyze primary and secondary source maps, photographs, and artifacts for  contradictions, supporting evidence, and historical details.

Science Content Standards (Tennessee)

  • Inquiry
    GLE 0207.Inq.1: Observe the world of familiar objects using the senses and tools.
    GLE 0207.Inq.2: Ask questions, make logical predictions, plan investigations, and
    represent data.
    GLE 0207.Inq.3: Explain the data from an investigation.
  • Technology and Engineering
    GLE 0207.T/E.1: Recognize that both natural materials and human-made tools
    have specific characteristics that determine their uses.
    GLE 0207.T/E.2: Apply engineering design and creative thinking to solve practical

Sooo, that’s quite a lot of standards that we can cover in this unit.  Plus, with this being a PBL*, your students will be open to many inquiry opportunities that can extend further into even more areas.

*Need a PBL refresher?  Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. [BIE, 2015.  Check out their site for more information.]

So the basic outline of this unit is as follows:

Inventors Notebook

Each student will begin with an “Inventors Notebook” as seen above.  Download the labels as you see here at the end of the post.

Part 1

Students are given their inventor’s notebooks (seen above).  Inside is notebook paper, a pre-test/post-test, and research note-taking sheet.  This folder will hold all of their notes and information as they move through this unit.

The students will take the pre-test to see what they know about Ben Franklin and his many inventions [attached in the unit below].  Students begin the lesson with guided questions and connections that they can make to Benjamin Franklin.  Then we will read the following book:

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“Now and Ben” compares inventions of Ben Franklin’s past with the inventions of his that we still use today!  A class discussion will ensue and students will start to generate questions about Ben Franklin’s contributions to society.

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Students will choose one of Ben’s inventions to research, learning about the research process and primary sources along the way.  Students will use library and internet resources such as World Book for Kids to conduct their research.  (Ask your school librarian to help you with some great sites that he/she would recommend!  Here in Tennessee we use the Tel4U library quite a bit.)  Also it is assumed that your students have done a bit of research up until this point in their elementary careers.  If they haven’t, I created an amazing research unit titled: Wonder Bubbles™ that you can purchase here. It will give your students the comprehensive background in inquiry and research that they will need to build off of for lessons to come (grades 1 and up).

After your students have researched their invention, they’ll present their research to the class.  To summarize, they may choose to complete a timeline through TimeToast or World Book Kids.  You can also wrap up with a game of questioning through various levels of Blooms to check their understanding of what they’ve learned based on their research.

You can also extend the learning into other famous Americans, thus covering your biography standards.  The Who Was book series is a great place for students to start… and plus they have a cool app that your students may enjoy as well.

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Another favorite book that you can use to teach about Ben’s inventions.

Want more details than that?  Well as I mentioned, I have scripted out and detailed this entire unit, including resources such as rubrics, I Can statement, differentiation for students at, above, or below target, assessment measures, additional books and web links and lots more.  And you can have it all for FREE!  Keep reading…

But wait.  You said we were going to be merging social studies AND science, right?  So far, that’s just social studies.  Yes.  Yes it is.  That’s why it’s now time for…

Part 2

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Students begin by taking the post-test for part 1 which also serves as a pre-test for part 2 (two birds, one stone!).  Then after a brief discussion, we’ll read the book you see above: “Mesmerized” by Mara Rockliff.  (Easily one of my most favorite new books of the past year).  The premise of this book is based off of the true story of one of Ben Franklin’s trips to France.  The introduction reads: The day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new—remarkable, thrilling, and strange. Something called . . . Science!

That’s right… you’ve just made a connection between Benjamin Franklin (a common social studies topic) to SCIENCE.  You see, Benjamin Franklin is also credited as inventing the scientific method.  I know… mind blown.

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And as any of you teaching elementary knows… this is a HUGE standard.  So what a cool way to connect it and introduce or review it with your class.  So once you read this book and cover the Scientific Method (and maybe watch a BrainPop or two) then you can begin the true PBL portion of your unit.  Students will be asked to brainstorm in their Inventors Notebooks about some everyday problems or issues they may have.  The idea is to push them towards something that they may like to “invent”, much as Benjamin Franklin did, as they’ve previously studied.

Depending on the age group, you could then come together and have a class discussion on some of these problems that they’d like to solve.  You can either choose 4-5 of these questions/problems/inventions for everyone to investigate OR have each student work on their own.  You do what you see fit for your group.

Students will then work to create a solution or inventions to solve their everyday problems such as “how to keep your ear buds from getting tangled in your backpack” or “how to keep your cat from eating your dangerous houseplants”.  The catch is that they must work through each step of the scientific method as they work to create their solutions.  Recording it in their Inventors Notebooks, all the way.

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A sample student Inventors Notebook as they hypothesize about a brighter flashlight.

As the teacher, you may provide materials for them to work with and build with or they may provide their own from home.  Students will use general inquiry to drive this portion of the experimental phase, often testing their hypotheses multiple times.  They will look at their gathered data in their individual or small groups to decide whether to further test or draw conclusions. (This is also a place you can sneak in a few math standards -score!)

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Another example of student work.  Interactive notebooks like these provide excellent assessment measures and also offers a “peek into their mind” for you as an educator.

After a few days of their work through the scientific method, they will then gather, share, and present their findings to their peers and/or parents and faculty.

Additional resources and extensions for this unit

I love to have opportunities for extensions in all of my units so that students who may need extra practice or further studies in a subject, may have that opportunity.  Here are just a few ways you can change the medium or allow for extensions of the learning (and more are also included in the full unit below).

  • Have students journal through Kidblog instead of their Inventor’s Notebooks.  In this age of technology, some students may be more comfortable to record their findings in a digital format.  This is an excellent way to do so.
  • Students can present what they learned either in their biography research and/or their scientific method findings through a platform such as Storyboard That or Pixton.  The popularity of graphic novels are on the rise and both of these offer excellent ways to present all the research that your students have gathered.  Plus they are really fun and offer a digital alternative.
Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 1.50.02 PM
  • Encourage students to take their love of inventions a step further and enter into a Young Inventors contest either locally or nationally – or better yet, tell them to audition for Shark Tank!

Now, as I promised, here are the links for the full unit:

Scripted Lesson Plan

Pre and Post Test

Research Form

Inventors Notebook Labels

Inside Notebook

Example of the pages included in the Inventors Notebook.

[And special thanks to Mrs. Payne and Mrs. Svarda from the Discovery School for their help in giving me this idea that I just ran with!  You guys are the best.]

And if you are interested in more Common Core aligned book lessons, please check out the category links on the side bar or click here for specific literacy links only.

Thanks for reading!  Happy teaching!


[All images and photos of Mesmerized are © Mara Rockliff and Iocopo Bruno and all images and photos of Now and Ben are © Gene Barretta.  Both are available on Amazon and most retail bookstores.  All rights reserved.]

Grant Writing 101

I’ve written a lot of grants throughout  my years in the classroom.  Some were successfully funded and others weren’t.  It took a few years, but I think I nailed down a formula that seems to help me get grants funded every single time.  And I’m here to share!

In my absence of blogging (sorry guys) I thought about things that teachers can really use.  I’ve always wanted this blog to be a space for me to share personal and professional tools, tricks, and suggestions.  And one thing I constantly hear from teachers is, “that’s such a great idea, but I don’t have _____” (fill in the blank with supplies, technology, materials, a SMARTBoard, etc).  I don’t want you to be discouraged by things that you don’t have and in turn, your students can’t have.  So let’s get to writing!

Where to find a grant?

I’m sure your district or area has local grants and those are the best ones to apply for.  They are smaller grants and really have an emphasis on providing supplies locally, so you have a better chance of getting your project funded.  I’m not saying don’t go for the national ones, but your odds are just better when you stay local or even state-wide.

Once you find a grant you want to apply for, thoroughly check out the guidelines.  Make sure you are eligible for the grant and that it fits the need for what you want.  I’ve seen teachers want SMARTBoards so badly that they apply for one in every grant opportunity.  I hate to tell you this, but an organization that wants to fund science projects is not going to buy you a SMARTBoard, no matter how much you try to convince them that it will benefit your science instruction.  So find a technology grant and go for it.  Otherwise, hold off.

I have a good idea.  Now what?

So you have something that you really want for your classroom.  Now what?  Well you have to do a little research on the front end first.  Let me use myself as an example:

In the spring of 2010, I wanted to purchase Simple Machine LEGO kits to help my students with their “forces of motion” unit.  Problem was, the kits were $115 each and I needed at least 4.  Our district had a business partnership grant where local businesses would fund grants for the schools in the district.  This was perfect!  I could find a business that encouraged elementary engineering and teamwork in the classroom and appeal to them.  But I needed to think about the total cost of this project, including the kits plus shipping and handling.  I also had to think about how many students this would impact.  We all know how sturdy LEGOs are, which means they will last for a long while.  Ultimately, I could meet the needs of 2,600 students over the life of these supplies!  Wow!  That’s a lot better investment than supplies that just meet the needs of 20 students in one classroom for one year.  As business owners, I knew they would see the value in that number and really appreciate the quality of these supplies.

This brings me to my next point… know your audience.

Most people who read grants aren’t teachers.  They are usually members of a company who don’t know education lingo and terms.  Also they don’t have a lot of time to read some long and drawn out explanation about all of the facets about how this will help your classroom.  They want to get straight to the point, know how much it will cost, and see a good reason why they will fund it.  Period. 

So if you know that those people are your audience, you can easily write a grant that will target your audience.  Take off your teacher hat when you write your grant.  Pretend you’re in the marketing division of a large company and you are trying to market your idea to the CEO.  And as much as you want to put in a little history of Common Core or list out every single center you can use with these supplies, don’t.  They’ll stop reading before they get to the good stuff and you won’t get your money!


So what do I need to include in my grant?

Well each grant is different.  You need to review the guidelines for your specific one.  But I’ve found that you need a few key components in every grant to make it appealing to the reader, which is how you’ll find success.

1. Goal – what do you want to do with these supplies?  Sounds like a simple question but I’ve read lots of fellow teacher’s grants and when I get finished, I have no idea why they want these materials.  (SMARTBoard example… just because it’s “cool” doesn’t mean it will best benefit your students)  So really think about why you need these materials or this technology.  And make a case for it in the first paragraph or two of your grant.

2. CCSS Correlation – obviously your materials must connect to the standards.  Common Core is a big buzzword right now and you need to connect them to your grant.  I wouldn’t go into tremendous detail, but you need to highlight how your idea will encompass these standards in your classroom.  Keep it short and to the point, but make sure they’re in there.

3. Budget – probably the most important part of your grant.  As I said before, these business men and women who read your proposal want to know one thing: how much will this cost?  So get right to it.  List out all of the costs up front and don’t leave anything out.  Also it may be helpful to break down the cost per student.  Often when we see this number it can make a big impact on someone reading your grant.  For example, a SMARTBoard is on average $1400.  If you use it for 180 days, that’s around $7 per day.  And if you divide that by 20 students who will use it, that’s 38 cents a student.  If I was the investor, I would think that I’d be getting my money’s worth when I look at all of the benefits of this piece of technology for only $7 a day.

4. Maximum Participation – like I said in the LEGO example, you want to reach the maximum amount of students possible.  So if you are applying for a consumable product that can only be used for one year or only one time, you probably won’t get it funded.  Because that isn’t a good investment.  But if you can find something that will reach the maximum students each year and will last several years, that’s a much better investment.  So do this research and spell it out.  With the LEGO’s, I planned on sharing the kits with the other three first grade classes.  So that’s 80 students total in first grade that would use it each year.  Plus we could partner up with the kindergarten and second grades, since they have similar learning objectives about force and motion.  So that’s an additional 160 students.  Then if you think of the life expectancy of a LEGO kit being 5-10 years, we have the potential to service 2,400 students over the life span of this project.  That’s a pretty powerful statistic.

5. Summary – finally summarize your project one last time.  Think of it as the abstract for your total grant proposal.  It should be one paragraph that really describes the impact this idea will have on your classroom and classrooms to come.  Also I think it’s important to mention how the students needs aren’t being met without these materials.  That way the investors have one final reason to fund your grant.

So to sum it up, here’s a quick checklist.


As I said, you may have more things you need to include like a timeline of the project or demographics of your school, so make sure you read the fine print.  And if you don’t have a lot of grant opportunities in your area, you can follow these same guidelines to present a project on  You are still trying to appeal to people who will want to invest in your project, so the same rules apply.

And finally, before you submit your grant have another educator AND also a non-educator look over it.  While teachers can give you clarity on the project details, they aren’t the ones who will be reading it (usually).  My husband would read my grants and give me feedback because he is a business guy.  So if there’s something in the grant proposal that was too “education-y” or confusing, he could point it out.  Then I could avoid the actual grant readers from being confused when I submitted it.

Please feel free to let me know what questions you have in the grant writing process and don’t hesitate to apply.  You have nothing to lose!  And practice makes perfect.  So the more you enter, the better you’ll get at writing them.  Good luck!



This or That: Evidence Based Writing

This lesson comes from some amazing teachers that I also call friends.  Evidence-based learning is a large part of the new Common Core standards and this lesson incorporates compare/contrast, cause/effect, opinion and evidence based writing, as well as a research based debate.  Students are held accountable for providing evidence to support their learning with the new CCSS standards.  These books are a fun way to squeeze the last bit of learning in at the end of the year.

Sarah Svarda and Angela Bunyi collaborated on this lesson using the This or That debate books. Each book is filled with questions to pose to your students in a “Would You Rather” type way.  For example, would you rather cross a river with piranhas or would you rather cross a river with caimans?  Sarah put a page from the book up on the SMARTBoard (you could use an ELMO or take a picture and project it too).  She went through the two sides with her second graders.

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As she read each side, she would underline words and phrases that would provide evidence as to who she’d rather swim with (using evidence from the text), talking through her ideas as she worked.  She then looked at her two sides and would add checkmarks and X’s for both the good and bad points (you can use smiles and frowns, stars and hearts, whatever) then she literally added up each side.  The one that had more good points was the one she was going to go with.  I imagine she talked through it like this:

Okay as I read through the piranhas side, I first see that they rarely bite humans.  And it says here that if you are attacked by a piranha, you would be eaten in minutes, which could be a good thing because it won’t last that long.  Although your chances of escaping an attack are zero.  Those aren’t good chances.  Let’s look at the Caiman side.  Oh it says here that there’s a small chance you may be able to get away!  Hmm, but if it does attack you, you’ll lose an arm and a leg, if you don’t drown first.  Well that doesn’t sound very good because it seems like it would be a slower attack than the piranha.  Let’s add up the bad and the worse points on each side with a checkmark or an X.  So on the piranha side, I have two checkmarks because it rarely bites humans and the attack is fast.  On the Caiman side, I only have one checkmark because I may get away, but it’s only a small chance.  So I suppose if I had to choose, I’d choose to cross a piranha filled river.


Finally she models how to put this into evidence-based writing by authoring a paragraph stating her opinion and backing it up with evidence from the text.  She does this by using a formula that Angela has come up with.  The formula goes like this:

State which choice you’d rather choose
Evidence from text #1
Opinion statement tying in or expanding based on evidence
Evidence from the text #2
Opinion statement tying in or expanding based on evidence
Restate choice you’d make

Here’s how the piranha/caiman example would look:

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The second graders then had a passage from the text, that were just copies from the book.  Sarah had them take the passage and highlight text that provided evidence from each side.  Then, they weighed the evidence, made a choice, and wrote about it.  She says that by following the format that Angela created, the second graders wrote amazing evidence-based paragraphs!

With older grades, they weren’t given the formula for the paragraph.  Once they read it together with Mrs. Svarda, then they figured it out on their own.  She used this lesson for 2nd-6th with different passages for each grade level pertaining to their standards.  Second grade read about deserts, fifth about gangsters, and sixth about ancient samurai fighters.  The books have something for every age level and interest and by using the Capstone website, you can even choose you state and immediately see the matched standards for various grade levels.

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There are more debate choices at the end of each book.  You could even have your kids brainstorm their own, research, and write about two choices!  This would be a perfect bonus activity or tie in to your Non-Fiction research unit.  Another extension activity would be to create a web for a topic that they had done some additional research on.  Here’s an example of a desert web that Sarah shared with me that Mrs. Cook created.

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But the best part about this lesson, Sarah says the books are FLYING out of the library.  She hasn’t been able to keep them in stock since she introduced them.  This lesson is completely worth it if it means that kids are that excited about reading.  And I know you’re winding down your school year, but I also remember what it was like to try to fill those last few days with something other than “pajama day” or “movie day”.  So try this one out these final few weeks of school and squeeze in some last minute learning!



Happy Earth Day!
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Happy Earth Day (or Happy TCAP day if you’re in Tennessee!)  There are plenty of Earth Day units on TpT and also Pinterest, so I encourage you to do some searching there today.  But in my classroom, I always began my “planting seeds” unit on Earth Day with my first graders.  I’m going to share that unit here today.  It’s a basic lesson that includes life cycles and the development of seeds into plant (and also really just indulged my hope of having a green thumb one day).  I’ve even included a free printable in my TpT shop to celebrate Earth Day!

Plant Unit

I would introduce the plant unit to my first grades by reviewing the life cycle of a seed.  There are some great books out there that I would have in my classroom library for us to refer to.  Some favorite titles include:

From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons

The Plant Part Series by Vijaya Bodach

How a Seed Grows by Helene Jordan

From Seed to Plant by Allen Fowler

A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston

The students in my school had had a thorough review of plants in kindergarten, so I didn’t have to spend too long reviewing the life cycle.  If your students, however, have not had enough of an introduction to plants, take time to do a day’s lesson on the life cycle of a plant.  I love this video from NeoK12 that shows the time lapse of the life cycle of a plant (and it’s free!)

Next I’d bring in the gardening supplies.  Our school had a science lab that gave me access to dirt, seeds, and cups (I like these cups best), however, if you don’t have a lab, you can use some local businesses to donate supplies to you.  For example, a local McDonalds donated 100 of their clear Parfait cups to a teacher for her students to plant seeds in.  Also a local gardening center was able to offer her some vegetable seeds and she just used dirt from right outside her classroom!  People are so kind to teachers.

Anyway, the students would come up to the bag of dirt and scoop their cup in to fill it about halfway with dirt.  Then they’d choose their seed.  I had bought peas, radishes, sunflowers, beans, and pumpkin seeds for the students to choose from.  I tried to get a variety of growing times for the seeds because I wanted to educate the students later in the unit about growing times.  Once their seeds were planted, they would set them on the windowsill and write their first entry in their plant journal.  I included the plant journal page for you to download for free from my TeachersPayTeachers site.  I used this every year and it was an easy way for the students to record their observations with words and a illustration.  I’d photocopy about 10 copies for each student and have a parent staple them in journal booklets.  A cover design is optional.

I also planted a few extra seeds and put them into the dark closet.  We would observe these and see what would happen to plants if they weren’t given sunlight.

The plants remained on the windowsill and I’d water them after school.  Every 2-3 days, I’d have the students collect their seeds off of the windowsill and journal about their plants progress.  I’d usually do this for morning work.  Then during science time, we’d discuss what we noticed about their plant growth.  Which seeds were growing faster than others?  What do plants need to survive?  Why might your seed not be growing at all?  How are the plants in the dark closet growing compared to the plants in the sunlight?  How does sunlight affect plants?

Depending on the class, we would go into detail about photosynthesis and chlorophyll.  I even had one class interested in the make-up of a seed.  So we dissected them and discussed plant cells.  There are so many different directions you can take a plant unit and it is fun to see the students get so excited about plant progress.  When the seeds had been growing for a few weeks, we would plant them outside our classroom.  The last week of May, I’d pick radishes, clean them and slice them, and we’d eat (or taste) them in class.  Then over the summer, the students would visit the school and pick the veggies that had continued to grow.  One year that we planted pumpkins, we were able to watch the pumpkin grow through the fall.  We picked it when it was a small orange pumpkin and discussed the life cycle while comparing it to this book, Seed, Sprout, Pumpkin, Pie.

Make sure to check out my TpT store for the free journal printable and also my complete non-fiction and economics units.  I’m currently authoring a mystery unit that will be posted on there next week, so stay tuned.  Happy Earth Day everyone!


[Like the above quote?  Purchase it from this Etsy store, here]


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