An Extension Project on Biomes

Biome Project Breakdown

Goal:  To teach the rest of the class about your selected biome and assess their understanding.

Products:  Research report to Mrs. Ripp, hands-on extension project to use as teaching tool, assessment for class (can be verbal), self-evaluation based on class assessment.


  1. Determine the top 3 biomes you would like to research with your group:  Savannah, desert, tundra, rainforest, grasslands, or deciduous forests.
  2. Within group, research the various parts of your biome, such as: people, climate, plants, animals, locations.  You decide what the most important parts are.
  3. Use sources from the library as well as from our LiveBinder to research.
  4. Once research is completed, write one report as a group – double spaced, Times New Roman, sz. 12.
  5. Work on extension project for teaching, ideas are: PPT, Prezi, Animoto, Posters, diorama, terrariums, movies.  You are the teacher, how would you like to be taught about a biome?  Make it interesting.
  6. Work on how you will assess the students learning.  How will you know you did a good job teaching them about your biome?  Ideas for assessment include: question sheet, asking questions, have students write what they learned,  have students draw/diagram their learning, have them write a song, create a concept map, do a compare/contrast, check their pre-knowledge and then their post-knowledge, true or false, word search, definition match, crossword, write a blog post that talks about your learning, solve a problem, student choice
  7. You need to know your facts as the teacher, figure out who will do what etc.

challenge, Science

The Super Tube Challenge

Again, another great idea adapted from Bill Ferriter; The Super Tube Challenge!

Goal:  Strengthen a toilet paper tube to hold as many social studies book as possible when it stands vertically.


  • As many different paper tubes as you can collect – we collected for almost 2 months.
  • Unlimited masking tape
  • 25 small popsicle sticks – purposely set a limit because I did not want popsicle stick structures.
  • One standard toilet paper tube per group


  • Only the original toilet paper tube may touch the table.
  • It may not be taped to the table.
  • You may not stack tubes next to each other on the table, anything that is taped onto the original toilet paper tube may not touch the table.
  • You may not steal supplies from each other.
  • They get exactly one hour from start to finish.
  • They may use books throughout the challenge to test strength of their design.
  • You may not interact with other groups during the challenge.

Process before the challenge:

  1. Either have students pick or assign teams of 3
  2. Show them a regular toilet paper tube and stack as many heavy books on one until it collapses.  In our case it was 3 social studies books.
  3. Tell them the challenge.
  4. Show them materials they will be building with.
  5. Have them plan for at least 10 minutes the first day.  I did this challenge over 3 different times, 2 10 minute chunks and then big 60 minute time.
  6. Explain the rules and discuss them.  Students will probably have questions.
  7. Give them time to manipulate the tube and start a plan with group – we spent 10 minutes doing this.
  8. Another day give them another 10 minutes to discuss whether they need to have modifications to their design or not.  They also need to assign one person to be the “scavenger.”  This will be the only person who can gather materials.
  9. Have them decide on a  plan of attack for the challenge.

The Challenge:

  1.  Have 25 popsicle sticks and original paper tube ready for each team.
  2. Set a timer for 60 minutes (or whatever time you decide).
  3. Start timer – scavenger may get 10 tubes for their team – free for all.
  4. Throughout the challenge , like 15 min in I let the students scavenge one more time but usually just 2 tubes at a time.
  5. Film the challenge!
  6. At some point, inform them that you are taking away their masking tape.  This added challenge forces them to rethink their supplies as well as their original design, great on their feet thinking needed.
  7. I did shout out minutes left throughout challenge.
  8. At 60 minutes all building stops, hands off and the designs rest for a minute.  Then I place the books to see who has the strongest tube design.

Learning Goals:
Students will work on:

  • Teamwork
  • Perseverance
  • Creative problem solving
  • Engineering for structural strength
  • Time management
  • Controlling variables
  • Planning 
  • Using standard materials in a non-standard fashion.
challenge, Science, Student-centered

The Spaghetti and Marshmallow Tower Challenge

Thanks to Bill Ferriter for sharing the idea for this wonderful science challenge here.  I also garnished ideas from this PDF created by the BA.

As part of our team building and creative problem solving efforts, we have done several challenges throughout the year.  This one therefore fit perfectly in with science as we were able to discuss variables, perseverance, and working as a team.

To build the tallest marshmallow and spaghetti tower within 30 minutes.  The tallest tip will be the marshmallow that is furthest off the ground


  • You will create or be assigned a team; 3 people to each team.
  • You will be given 100g of spaghetti and 50 grams of mini marshmallows.
  • You will have 5 minutes to plan your approach.
  • You will have 30 minutes of build time.
  • Spaghetti and marshmallows may be broken but marshmallows may not be made wet.
  • You may not actively seek out other groups to poach ideas but you may spot ideas from your work station.
  • Once time is called a full minute will be waited before teacher measures height.  This is to ensure tower stability.

Learning Goals:
Students will work on

  • Determining variables and controlling them
  • Team work
  • Time management
  • Creative problem solving
  • Engineering for structural strength
  • Perseverance and idea adaptation

Here is a video showing parts of the challenge and the winning design

Science, Student-Led

Crayfish You Say?

We do Foss curriculum and for 4th grade one of our units is Structures of Life.  So imagine the excitement and chaos that ensued when upon returning from winter break, crayfish had arrived in our room.  You think you have seen excited kids before?  Add some crustaceans, and the noise-level will go up about 50 decibels.  So as any good teacher would do, I squealed along with them and inside groaned in repulsion at the critters.

Foss is a great science curriculum for new teachers like myself because it gives you a great spring board for actual hands-on science.  However, this unit is a bit lackluster.  So instead of pushing the students through all of the investigations, we did the first one, and then I asked, “So what do you want to know?”
Those hands shot up and here is a partial list of things they wanted to learn:

  • Why do we have to transfer them to feed them?
  • How will they grab the food?
  • Do they like to be alone?
  • Why are they so aggressive?
  • How long does it take for them to regenerate a limb?
  • Do they have ears?
  • Can they see us if we sneak up behind them?
  • How do they fight?
  • Do they sleep?
  • Do they swim?
  • If the water is above their heads, do they die?
  • Can we get them to mate?
Once again, my students showed me that their questions are much better than the ones posed by the curriculum.  This unit will now become a student-led exploration for the next couple of weeks, where we will pose new questions as well as revisit our original list to see what we have learned.  This project will then culminate in a class research report about crayfish.  That way, I can sneak in how to write a research report while we do something super fun.  Letting go of the set curriculum is proving to be even more worthwhile than I had hoped.
We have also done a crayfish scavenger hunt to get more information for our research papers, so here is link to that.