Studying Systems

SYSTEM: a set of connected things or parts that form a complex whole.

The Magical Minds are investigating different kinds of systems.  We started by looking at smaller systems, things we could find in the classroom.

We began to expand our understanding of systems by looking at more complex systems, recognizing that systems can be connected, creating more complex systems.  We looked for systems around school, identifying connected systems.  For example Liz, the lizard, is part of a larger system – her habitat.  With plants, crickets, heat lamp and glass…the entire terrarium can be seen as a more complex system.


Today we discussed even larger, more complex systems.  We reflected on our trip to the zoo and considered how animals can be connected in an ecosystem.  Tram lines and bus routes can be connected in a transportation system. Garbage trucks, recycling bins, compost piles and landfills are connected parts of our waste management system.
The Magical Minds then split into teams of three or four people to create posters that represented and explained one of these systems.  Through this project I was able to assess how well each child understands systems.  I was also looking for evidence of teamwork: kind words, effective sharing and supportive language.

Reading: Understanding Genre Help Us Make Predictions

Today we began to think about how to use what we know about genre to make predictions about our books. To illustrate this point we compared nonfiction and fiction books.

We already know that nonfiction books are full of information, and fiction books tell a story.  Would you expect to see the same thing in both kinds of books?  Of course not.  I can open an informational book to any chapter and be able to understand what is going on.  But, I would feel lost if I were to open a fiction book and start reading from the middle.  THUS, we expect different things from different genres.


Furthermore, a fiction book will have story elements such as a main character, a bad guy, a problem and a solution.  Today I introduced the book CHRYSANTHEMUM by Kevin Henkes.  Before I read the book we made some predictions using what we know about fiction books.

After telling the Magical Minds that this book was about a girl mouse who goes to school for the first time, they brainstormed:

Who would be the main character? – Chrysanthemum
Who might be a bad guy? – A school bully
What might be the problem? – Being bullied at school
How might the problem be solved? – A teacher will help

As we read the story, the Magical Minds discovered their predictions were right on!  They discovered that using what they know about genre, they can determine what will happen in their books.

For homework the Magical Minds are asked to think about the books they checked out of library.  Using the guide sheet below, they will name the genre of their book as well as list/write sentences about what they expect to find inside their book.

Math Game: Foreheaded (place value)


What is it?
In this game each player receives a mystery three-digit number, which they place on their forehead.  Using a guide sheet (below), players take turns guessing the digits in their numbers.

This game allows the Magical Minds to practice the language of place value.  Players will use the vocabulary of ones place, tens place and hundreds place to determine their digits.  This game also supports the understanding of strategy.  Broad questions such as “is it larger than five?” or “is it even?” allow for players to more quickly narrow down their number.

How to Play:

  • Each player secretly writes down a three-digit number and gives it to another player.
  • Players take turns asking questions (using the guide sheet) to determine their number.
    NOTE: Each question must be written down on the guide sheet.
  • When a player thinks they know their number, they use their turn to announce their number.
  • First player to determine their number wins.

Roman Numerals, Invisible Ink and Chemical Reactions

The best part about Roman Numerals? Its like a code.  Codes are cool. You know what else is cool?  Invisible ink.  Even better…chemical reactions.

It all began with a math puzzle.  During snack, each Magical Mind was give a number, written out.  For example, nine hundred and nine.  Their task was to figure out how to write the number with digits. For example, 909.

There were four numbers, and after snack I asked the kids with the same numbers to form teams.  They worked together to write their numbers, and then I gave them a challenge.  “Work with your team to write the Roman Numeral for your number.”

Now for the invisible ink.  I wet a paintbrush in some brown liquid and painted a white piece of paper.  The liquid turned the paper a shade of bluish-purple, except where I had secretly written a Roman Numeral.

Each team received a small vial of “mystery liquid” to write/paint their Roman Numerals.  They worked with each other to share materials and write their numbers.

After setting our hidden messages aside to dry, we took a short break to clear our minds. I needed them to shift their minds from thinking mathematically to thinking scientifically.

The invisible ink works because of a chemical reaction.  In order to help the Magical Minds understand what a chemical reaction is, I invited them to participate in a science experiment with Alka-Seltzer and baking soda.

Each team got a set of four test tubes filled with clear liquid.  I informed them there were only two different kinds of liquids and asked them to use their senses to determine what the liquids were.

With some investigation the Magical Minds quickly discovered the test tubes held either water (“pool water” was the most common response) or vinegar.

Each team was given a small piece of Alka-Seltzer and instructed to place half of the tablet in each liquid and observe the reaction, if there is one. I let them know that if they see a change in the liquid or a change in the Alka-Seltzer they would know it was a chemical reaction.  After watching the bubbling and fizzing, the kids agreed that the Alka-Seltzer reacted with both liquids, but it had a stronger reaction in the water.

Next, each team was given a small vial with baking soda.  I asked them to test 1/8 tsp in each remaining test tubes and look for chemical reactions.  As you may have predicted the Magical Minds detected no chemical reaction when they added baking soda to water, but were giggly and excited when they witnessed the foaming reaction between baking soda and vinegar.

Armed with a burgeoning understanding of chemical reactions, the Magical Minds returned to the invisible ink.  I demonstrated how I added iodine to water to create the brown-ish liquid.  “Paint the iodine water on top of the invisible ink and look for a chemical reaction.”

What do you think?  Does the iodine react with the lemon juice?

Roman Numerals and Place Value

We have been studying how to read and write Roman Numerals.  Unlike our number system, Roman Numerals are an additive number system.  It doesn’t matter where the digits are, but rather it matters how they add up.  In our Hindu-Arabic system we have 10 digits (0-9), which change in value depending on where they are placed.  My goal is to illuminate the importance of place value by juxtaposing these two different systems.

But, for now we are just playing with Roman Numerals.  It’s fun.  It’s like code.  This week I introduced a game of Roman Numeral Memory.  Since the numbers can be quite challenging to decipher, we have kept them face-up and simply matched pairs.  Want to make a game yourself?

Just Right Books


How do you know a book is just right for you?  When you go to the bookstore, how do you choose a book?

Some would say, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” but first impressions mean a lot.  I agree with the Magical Minds, it’s important to “Take a look” at a book before choosing to read it.

If the topic of the book isn’t interesting to you, you probably wont like the book.  If you aren’t that into sloths, a book about sloths might not be for you (but, then again, good books will creep up on you).


We also talked about how a just right books is probably going to be different for each person.  For example, my Just Right Book is quite challenging for the Magical Minds.  A Just Right Book is not difficult to understand.  You know most of the words, but occasionally come across something words you don’t recognize.  Some people use the five word test.

The Five Word Test: open a book to a page in the middle.  Read the page and count how many words you do not know.  If there are more than five words you don’t understand on one page, it’s probably too hard.

There is no problem with reading an easy book.  I do this all the time. My guilty pleasure is reading young adult novels in bed.  They are, what I call, “yummy-eat-em-up” books. My wish is for each Magical Mind to have an easy book they can curl up with.  But, an easy book doesn’t challenge the mind to grow.
There is also no problem with occasionally reading a challenging book.  My professional development books can be quite difficult, full of challenging words and concepts.  I read these books slowly and carefully.  Although they are engaging, I wouldn’t say it’s fun. Challenging books are often discouraging.  The moral of the story: We grow and learn the most when we read books that are Just Right.

Hopes and Dreams

It began with the question, “Who are you?”  We made self-portraits with colored pencils.  Adding pictures of the things we like, such as board games and experiments.

Then I asked, “What are you good at?” We discovered we have animators, inventors, builders, authors, artists and scientists in our class.

On the following day, I asked the Magical Minds to consider something they would like to get better at, and we talked about the idea of making goals.  On kites, we wrote and illustrated our hopes and dreams for this academic year.


Some of us are hoping to be better at games, while some of us want to build inventions.  Others look forward to working on computers, and others are excited about reading.

By sharing our aspirations and goals, we cultivate a community where everyone’s dreams matter.  In the spirit of protecting each other’s hopes and dreams, I introduced the topic of rules.  We brainstormed a rough list of rules that might be helpful, which we put aside for a couple of days.  I call this composting.  Sometimes you just need to sleep on it.  Two days later I rewrote the rough list of rules on small index cards and spread them out on the carpet.  We discussed why we have rules:

  1. So that everyone has fun
  2. So that everyone can learn and grow

Together, the Magical Minds and I brainstormed another dozen possible rules. Then, I brought to the carpet three plastic circles.  I asked the kids to group the rules into categories.  Working together, we agreed on three basic rules for our classroom:

  1. We are safe.
  2. We turn our brains on.
  3. We are respectful.

To show that we understand and agree with the rules, we all signed our names:


Today the Magical Rules appeared above our Accomplishments Board, reminding us how we can best support each other’s hopes and dreams.