Garden observations and questions

Sprouts of bean plants in cups of soil.Gardening with children may turn up questions voiced by the children or suggested by their behavior. As you observe children in the garden or a natural area, take a few notes about what they look at or touch. Model how you wonder about a phenomenon in the garden by saying it aloud, such as, “Is this sprout taller today than it was yesterday?” Not all questions can be investigated by children. “Why are most leaves green?” is a question that can be researched in books or online, but not investigated by young children. Children can investigate “Are there any leaves that are not green?”

The December 2010 issue of Science and Children addresses questions in many articles. Linda Froschauer, Field Editor of Science and Children, writes in the Editor’s Note “Investigable questions are important elements of lessons that promote inquiry and help students construct meaning. Good questions help students make links between what they know, what they want to find out, what they observe, and how their observations fit within the context of their learning and development.” Asking questions, and planning and carrying out investigations, are two of the Science and Engineering Practices identified in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, one of the foundational documents for the Next Generation Science Standards.

Green bean vines on a trellis.Here are some other questions that children can investigate in a garden:

Do all vines go around a pole in the same direction?

Do day lily flowers close up at a certain time in the evening or do they stay open longer if they are in bright light indoors?

Child looks at plants with holes in the leaves.Why are there holes in this leaf? Is something eating it?

Water drops beading up on a leaf.What happens to a leaf when rain falls on it?

“Where are seeds made?” is a question to investigate over time by making observations of more than one plant. Child observes before drawing.While drawing a plant in the garden children may notice more than when walking through the space. A simple “journal” of a sheet of paper folded in quarters and a marker are all the materials needed to give children time to observe and think about what’s happening in a garden.

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Engineering the Next Generation Science Leaders in Omaha

NCSE 2014
Omaha, Nebraska, is the destination of the upcoming 2015 National Congress on Science Education (July 15-18, 2015). Leaders and members of Chapters and Associated Groups along with the NSTA leadership will gather to discuss science education issues that are relevant to promoting excellent science teaching and leadership. The theme of this year’s Congress is “Engineering the Next Generation of Science Leaders 2015.”

The NCSE planning committee developed the program utilizing the new NSTA Strategic Goals. Using the strategic goals, state leaders will be empowered to develop more effective organizations and networks. An important component of Congress includes the issue forum sessions where attendees will collaborate on ideas addressing the issues. The three issue forums are: Chapter/Associated Group Leadership and Advocacy, Professional Learning, and Elementary Science Education. Resolutions may be written from each of the issue forums to help direct both NSTA and Chapter/Associated Groups in their work. In addition to collaborating within the issue forums attendees will have the opportunity to network through workshops led by other NSTA members focusing on social media and technology integration, instructional strategies, organization management, fiscal responsibilities, the NSTA Learning Center, NGSS and NSTA resources. A new feature this year is the “unconference.” This is an opportunity for those attending Congress to determine the break-out sessions and step-up as a facilitator for the session. In addition to networking opportunities, the attendees will hear from speakers that include Stephen Pruitt, Jodi Peterson, and the five awardees of the Yager Foundation Excellence in Teaching Award.

Congress is a wonderful setting to build relationships and network with other NSTA groups and members. When attending an event like Congress I always came away with new ideas that I could take back to my state organization. There is not enough time in the day to try and create new ideas when I could learn from the successes of other NSTA chapters and associated groups. Congress was my professional learning for growing my state organization.

So don’t delay! There is still time to register for the 2015 NCSE. Go to the NCSE webpage for more information about Congress and how to register. Note: June 15 is the last day to declare a delegate from a chapter or associate group.

So come – network, collaborate, celebrate and be creative – as we “… promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.”

See you in Omaha!

Carolyn Hayes is NSTA President, 2015-2016; follow Carolyn @caahayes or use #NSTACongress for updates.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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NSTA at NAESP: Hands-On Science + Literacy Solutions

NSTA at NAESP header 

The 2015 annual conference for the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) takes place June 30–July 2. Designed for educators on the front lines — teachers, superintendents, counselors, district and state administrators, and especially principals — the conference aims to have a huge impact on student success. And the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) will be there to join them as principals experience the future of education.

NSTA’s position on Elementary School Science states “we support the notion that inquiry science must be a basic in the daily curriculum of every elementary school student at every grade level.” And we believe that science is a key component of a complete and rigorous curriculum for all students. Supported by our community of expert educators with a solid science education background and a passion for literacy, we’ve assembled a powerful resource collection that helps integrate science and literacy at the elementary level. Join us in Long Beach, California, June 30–July 2 to learn more, and stop by our booth to share your ideas with us about the direction in which you see education going.

When you do visit us, whether onsite or online, we hope you will sample some of our resources:

Visit booth #1123 onsite or use promo code NAESP online at the NSTA Science Store to receive the same 20% discount on all NSTA Press publications* that our members get—plus $5 off NSTA membership for yourself or a science teacher on your team!

*Offer good only on NSTA Press publications, from June 29–July 10, 2015, and cannot be combined with any other offer or discount.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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Go Big with Vernier’s Go Wireless pH Sensor


The Vernier Go Wireless (Bluetooth) pH sensor

Go Big with Vernier’s Go Wireless pH Sensor 

pH, like time and temperature, is a physical characteristic that is tossed around daily in science class but rarely understood on a deeper level. In short, time is a measurement of change; temperature is a measurement of relative motion; and pH is the negative log of the activity of the hydrogen ion in an aqueous solution.
Mostly we use pH for in science eduction as a physical indicator of something. The pH number reflects how close or far a solution is from neutral, or how acidic or basic a solution is.
Mind your Ps and Hs
It’s still a hot debate in such circles as to whether or not p stands for power, but the H as the chemical symbol for Hydrogen is not in question. The p could also stand for potential, or it could have been as simple as the reference solution used way back before pH was known as pH, and the p was just a solution name as in P and Q. Perhaps we’ll never know.

The wirelessness of the sensor allows quality measurements to be made locked behind a protective blast shield and inside a vent hood.

Before diving into what the sensor has, let’s address the elephant in the room, namely what this sensor does not have. In short, the sensor lacks a wire in which to plug it into an interface. The figurative “wire” for this sensor is the Bluetooth radio channel of most modern devices such as the iPad. The radio, a 2.4 GHz Bluetooth 4.0, Low Energy connection to be exact, runs off a 100 mA lithium-polymer battery in this case.
Measurements are made safely behind glass with no cords to challenge the integrity the venting system.

Measurements are made safely behind glass with no cords to challenge the integrity the venting system.

Continue reading …

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6681499071_f7ffb7223e_qOur new principal wants us to come up with goals to accomplish in the next year. He hasn’t provided much guidance yet, so I don’t know what to do. How can I do this meaningfully?   —J., Delaware

The end of the school year is a good time to reflect. This often leads to developing professional goals to improve your teaching and student learning. You probably have some in mind.

Working toward these goals can be an effective part of an individualized professional development plan. Unfortunately, goal setting is often an empty formality in my experience. I would definitely talk with your principal about his expectations.

I had a principal who required us to submit several goals each year. I suspect it was something he felt he had to do (or was told to do), but he did not provide any suggestions or examples on the number, format, or purpose. And he did not follow up on them during the year. Our professional development was not based on the goals, and they were not mentioned during any post-observation conferences. Because of this, I didn’t take the goal setting process seriously, treating it as a yearly task to check off the list. I certainly worked at becoming a better teacher, but those efforts were not formally related to the goals I submitted.

The process was different at another agency I worked for. Everyone, including the executive director, used the agency’s mission statement to formulate two to three SMART goals (the format is described below). We fine-tuned them with our supervisors and created an action plan to address them. At the mid-term and end of the year we discussed our progress and how the process was adding to our professional growth. It was a powerful form of professional development and a positive experience in reflection and self-evaluation.

Looking back, I realized my school district goals, as they were written, were not useful because they were extremely broad and lacked much purpose. The SMART acronym describes a more focused format:

  • Specific: The goal is clearly stated with what you want to do, why it is important, and how it will be accomplished.
  • Measurable: The goal describes the evidence you’ll use to determine your progress.
  • Achievable: The goal is doable and realistic, given the resources that are available to you.
  • Relevant: The goal relates to student learning and performance.
  • Timely: The goal has target dates for achievement.

For example, “I want students to participate in class discussions” is a worthy but broad goal. It can be tweaked into a SMART goal:

  • Specific: I will improve student learning by promoting active participation, using three strategies: calling on students randomly, using wait time, and incorporating turn-and-talk discussions.
  • Measurable: I will use class observations (tally sheet of participants) as well as formative and summative assessment results.
  • Achievable: The strategies require no additional resources or materials. I will read more on these strategies in professional publications.
  • Relevant: The goal addresses student learning through equitable participation.
  • Timely: The trial is one semester.

Here are some generic goal areas that could evolve into SMART goals:

Continue reading …

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Ecosystem experiences away from home

For children who visit the ocean beach or shore this summer, the experience of visiting a very different ecosystem can inspire interest in animals that inhabit it, and wonder about “how did it get this way?” Children who experience the beach and shore ecosystems frequently may have a similar reaction when visiting other ecosystems. How do we incorporate their questions and experiences into the classrooms in their home place?

Child digging in sand.Some of us live in areas where we never see a sandy area in nature, much less a whole beach of it, so sand is a sensory experience rather than an exploration of the environment. Sand is a standard in early childhood programs because it feels so soothing as it pours through our fingers and we can build such interesting structures with wet sand. Sensory play provides a foundation for learning vocabulary, engaging socially with others, and learning about the properties of matter.

I’m thinking of some materials that can also be soothing and interesting yet be local, for my program:

  • child cutting a pumpkin leaf with scissors.Leaves, dry or fresh, paired with scissors, or in water.
  • Dish soap bubbles in water (local as in every home).
  • Rocks from a stream valley or landscape company (washed to remove pollutants that wash into streams.)
  • Grass clippings if from a known pesticide- and fertilizer-free source.

Some of these materials may be appropriate for children of certain ages—you know your children. Some materials may only last for a day or two.

Two seashells of the same shape but different sizes.To support children as they talk about their beach experiences on a trip away from home we can have a shell collection in the classroom to use for sorting, making impressions in playdough and incorporating into imaginative play. Edible seaweed is a wonderful sensory experience. It is sold in a dried form and becomes nicely slippery and wet when soaked in water. Not every child will want to do more than look at the wet seaweed but with teachers modeling how to touch it with first just one finger, more children may want to experience this interesting plant material. A fish bowl with a single goldfish or betta fish is not the same as the complex community of organisms found in the near shore ocean but it does give children a chance for up-close observation of an animal that lives in water. Children can mix salt into water, taste a few drops, and compare salt water to fresh water.

In a July 11, 2012 post, “Going to the Beach?,” I shared this resource and other early childhood educators commented and contributed more ideas:  Writer and scientist Ann McElhatten, shares her knowledge of Atlantic seacoasts in a free e-book, 10 Beachcombing Activities: A guide for investigating the Atlantic coast shoreline. 

Talking with children and helping them reflect on, and perhaps draw or paint, what they observed. This extends children’s thinking about experiences in any ecosystem. What did you do there? What animals did you see? How did the ground feel? Was there water? What plants did you see? What smells did you sniff? What kind of weather did you experience? Was it warm or cold, or both?

Logo of National Marine Educators AssociationFor those educators who do live near a marine ecosystem, the National Marine Educators Association’s (NMEA) annual conference is happening  June 29 through July 2 at the Newport Marriott, in downtown Newport, Rhode Island. Formal and informal marine educators from across the U.S. and around the world will come together to help promote the mission of “making known the world of water, both fresh and salt.” 

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ExploraVision Awards Weekend 2015

2015 ExploraVision Group Photo

Someone in your family loses their hearing aid…again! But it’ no problem, you just print a new one on your 3D printer and life goes on seamlessly. Sound too good to be true? Not for long, in the world envisioned by young scientists who were honored last weekend during the 23rd annual Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision awards weekend.

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), along with Toshiba celebrated the national student winners for their hard work and creative ideas in science and technology. The Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision program challenged participants to imagine what technology might be like in 20 years. Students worked in teams to propose ideas for innovative future technology based on a challenge of what already exists, simulated real scientific research to outline how they planned to test their idea, and built websites to further illustrate and communicate their concepts.

This year, more than 5,000 team projects were entered into the competition representing 15,473 students from across the United States and Canada. First place winning projects included the S.T.A.R. Sea Turtle Assistance Rod (Grade K-3), The Green Tablet (Grade 4-6), Survival of the Freshest: Preservation of Organic Food (Grade 7-9), and Programmable Bio-Scaffolding: The Suture of Future (Grade 10-12). This year’s second place winners were SportaVision (Grade k-3), Clarite- A Better Cochlear Implant (Grade 4-6), Heat Utilizing Hearing Aids (Grade 7-9) and External Microbial Cleansing Device – EMCD (Grade 10-12).

All students from the eight first and second place teams received savings bonds and an exciting expenses-paid trip with their families, mentor and coach to Washington, D.C. Activities included a visit to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and a Science Showcase where students displayed and demonstrated their winning ideas. The highlight of the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision weekend was the gala awards banquet and ceremony where students were formally recognized for their creativity and accomplishments.

At the STEM Education Science Fair that took place on Thursday in the Rayburn House office Building, finalists showcased their projects to members of Congress and their staff. This informal event provided members of Congress and their staff with the opportunity to see first-hand the benefits and importance of STEM education. The kids loved engaging with these important men and women and were excited to share their ideas and projects. The atmosphere was upbeat and lively; students were even taking selfies with their Congressmen!Selfie with Congressman

The students then attended the Senates STEM Panel and were able to meet with Senators from their home state.

The fun continued on Friday with the National Press Club Science Showcase. You can probably hear the theme song now… because everyone’s favorite man in science, Bill Nye the Science Guy was there! The kids loved meeting him and explaining their projects during the satellite media interviews that were broadcasted in their hometowns. After this, the eight winning teams presented their projects to NSTA leadership and high-level Toshiba executives. In their interaction, many of the Toshiba executives explained their hope that one day these young scientists might join their company!

The Gala Awards Banquet, which took place Friday night, was the pinnacle event. The night started with students being congratulated with a “live broadcast” from Times Square. They also had the incredible opportunity to listen to a past winner from 1998 –Dr. Kim Ly – speak about her experience with the competition; and Bill Nye encouraged them to “change the world.” The students were then welcomed to the stage to individually receive their awards and the night ended with confetti, cannons and music as we celebrated science and innovation.

View our Facebook album to see more, and if you were there and see yourself, please tag yourself.

Author Lindsey Reichert works with the National Science Teacher’s Association with the Communications, Legislative, and Public Affairs Team. e-mail her at

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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NSTA Legislative Update: June 7, 2015

Text-based image

Earlier this spring the U.S. House of Representatives passed the America COMPETES Act Reauthorization Act of 2015 (HR 1806) by a vote of 217-205, with 23 Republicans joining every Democrat present in voting against the bill.

The bill was strongly opposed by a number of groups—including the Association of American Universities, Computing Research Association, American Geophysical Union and the Consortium of Social Science Associations—who claim the legislation sets false priorities for the science agencies and would limit research.

Read more about the opposition to the America COMPETES Act.

The Administration also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it “would undermine critical investments in science, technology, and research” and “would be damaging to the Administration’s actions to move American competitiveness, innovation, and job growth forward through a world-leading science, technology, and innovation enterprise.”

Read the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015 (H.R. 1806): Impact on the National Science Foundation.

In regards to STEM education, the bill would seek to coordinate and improve the extensive portfolio of STEM education programs at the different federal agencies by creating a new function at the National Science Foundation. It would also work to coordinate STEM education activities conducted across the government with a new federal STEM Education Advisory Panel.

Read the STEM Education Coalition statement on the bill.

In the Senate, a bipartisan group of seven senators introduced legislation which would reauthorize the energy title of the America COMPETES Act. In contrast to the House bill, according to Politico, the proposed Senate COMPETES legislation “seeks to lay out funding through fiscal 2020 and provide steady increases each year. Meanwhile, the House bill, which also covers broader funding needs at the National Science Foundation and other non-Energy Department programs, would keep funding levels flat across the board and stops at fiscal 2017.”

Update on Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Still no definitive word on when the respective House and Senate bills to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) will move forward in both chambers for final amendments, consideration, and passage. Many believe (hope) the bills will be taken up by both bodies by the end of June.

Stay tuned and look for upcoming issues of NSTA Express for the latest information on developments in Washington, D.C.

Jodi Peterson is Assistant Executive Director of Legislative Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. e-mail Jodi at; follow her on Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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The STEM in Bagels

Header showing a bagel

On a recent trip to visit friends in Lewes, Delaware, I had a bagel from Surf Bagels for the first time. This delicious and perfectly constructed bagel got me thinking about how they are produced. It turns out there are a number of STEM topics in bagel baking and production.

Bagels have a long history in Middle Eastern and European baking. They are a close relative of soft pretzels. Despite their long history, these delicious and almost ubiquitous breakfast breads were not well known in the United States, outside of the greater New York City metropolitan area, before the 1950s. Murray Lender came up with the idea of freezing bagels to improve his production schedule. Demand for bagels was very high on the weekends but very low the rest of the week. This meant his bakers worked highly irregular hours. Lender decided that freezing the bagels would let him spread out production across the week and would be more efficient. This also allowed bagels to spread across the country, because they would keep much longer in frozen form than they would if shipped fresh. The other big technological innovation in mass production was the bagel-shaping machine, perfected at about the same time by Daniel Thompson. Murray Lender leased the first production-scale machine from Thompson.

Bagel making is traditionally a two-step process. Hand-made bagels are boiled before they are baked, and this sets a crust on the outside of the bagel. The water does not soak into the bagel because the starch in the dough forms a gel in the hot water, which seals the surface of the bagel. The crust prevents the bagels from rising while they bake, and this makes bagels dense and chewy. There’s more to it than that, though, because the boiling water is made alkaline on purpose, to intensify the Maillard reaction and make the bagels brown quickly when they are baked.

If you’re teaching acids and bases in chemistry, you could try making bagel dough in your classroom and talking about why alkaline water has this effect on the Maillard reaction. If you boil half of them in a dilute solution of lye and half of them in water to which you’ve added baked baking soda, you could compare them to see what differences there are in the finished product.

Does the Water Make the Bagel?

The water used to boil the bagels may have other effects, too. There is some debate about where the best bagels in the United States can be found, but the general consensus is that New York City produces the best bagels. Most people think the reason for that is in the municipal water supply. New York City’s water comes from reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains, and the watersheds of those reservoirs are protected. The city’s water treatment plants are not required to filter the water because it is so pure, and this leaves more minerals in the water than in many other places. Specifically, the ratio of calcium to magnesium in the city’s water may affect the gluten in the dough. The question of how much influence the city’s water has on the bagels boiled in it is a source of debate.

New York City’s water system is the largest in the country, and it delivers 1.2 billion gallons of water per day. The water comes into the city in a system of aqueducts and tunnels. The largest tunnel was begun in 1970 and is not expected to be finished until 2021. The water comes from two sources, the Croton Watershed and the Catskill/Delaware Watershed. The Croton Watershed supplies 10% of the city’s water and has a filtration system. There is a debate about whether the city’s water can continue to be unfiltered. Upstream development in the Catskill/Delaware Watershed is having an effect.

Why Mass-Produced Bagels Just Aren’t the Same

Mass-produced bagels are usually steamed instead of boiled. Boiling the bagels before baking them is a process that does not lend itself to mass production. It is time consuming, and equipment large enough to boil a lot of bagels is expensive. Mass-produced bagels may also contain additives that keep the dough from sticking to the machines. It is possible to make bagels the traditional way on a large scale but it is not that common yet. There are too many people who think that bagels should be pale doughy toroids.

Bagel Math

Luckily for all of us, however, bagels are not that difficult to make at home. The formed bagels do have to be refrigerated overnight, so you need a cold place to keep them on their trays. Other than the obvious mathematical wonder of how many bagels one teenage boy can eat, there is useful math that can be done in the name of bagels. You could amaze some math teachers with this method for cutting bagels into a Möbius strip, thereby maximizing the surface area for spreading with cream cheese. If you’re really into math (and bagels) you could try slicing a bagel into 13 pieces with just three cuts. For a more interactive kind of entertainment, try Bagels Pico Fermi (a variant of the old board game Mastermind) with your class.

Produced by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), science writer Becky Stewart contributes monthly to the Science and STEM Classroom e-newsletter, a forum for ideas and resources that middle and high school teachers need to support science, technology, engineering, and math curricula. If you enjoy these blog posts, follow Becky Stewart on Twitter (@ramenbecky). Fans of the old version of The STEM Classroom e-newsletter can find the archives here.

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Systems: “Science Areas” and lining-up for transitions

Organizing systems for materials and people are necessary for a productive day in school. If they are held in common by the school or classroom community they operate smoothly. Sometimes changes made by an individual interrupt the flow. In those moments we can re-consider our systems and decide whether to keep the changes or return to the original plan.

Here are some systems that I’ve seen in preschools and the questions that I’ve been considering about them. You can help me think about these systems by adding a comment below to share your own questions or advice.

Science centers

Systems can identify areas for particular tools and activities, providing children with the materials and space they need for particular kinds of play–creating artwork and writing, playing dress-up and telling stories, reading a book, building a block structure in a protected space, and using tools to look at living organisms. Some curricula require certain centers or areas, and signs to identify them: Housekeeping, Art, Blocks, Writing, Circle, Library and Science. Having a print-rich environment, including signage, is part of developing children’s literacy.

By posting an area as the “Science Area,” early childhood educators may promote teaching science by making teachers, children and parents aware that science education is part of the curriculum. Identifying science learning as a part of the daily routine teaches children that they can participate in science. But do we need to have a “Science Center”? The word “Science” is visible; however, the label might make us unconsciously limit where science investigations happen, and therefore not integrate thinking about science concepts into the daily schedule. Examining the shapes of and sorting a box of seashells, combining sets of blocks to build a “super big” rocket, experiencing the properties of matter while working in the sensory table or making playdough—science (and engineering) explorations happen in all parts of a classroom not only in a center. Should there also be “Technology,” “Engineering,” and “Math” areas if a program uses the acronym “STEM” to describe the curriculum?

A “Science Area” is a handy place to store or display a rock collection, set of x-rays, or a terrarium but do those displays invite children to interact with the materials and do they ever change? How do you keep the area fresh and interesting? How do you make participation in science and engineering practices and thinking about concepts part of your everyday routine?

Systems for lining up students to move to another space

Transitions from one space to another take time. Accepting this is one way to lessen feelings of frustration. We can also create systems to make these times shorter, fun, opportunities for connecting socially, and learning opportunities. Here is one system that is used by a class of four-year-olds to move from the classroom to the playground and back again, making sure all children are there.

Children stand on a number while lining up.The numbers from 1 to 18 are posted on the floor in the place to line up, both in numerals and the same number of object pictured on the same square. The teachers have a paper listing children’s names with spaces next to them on a clipboard. Every day teachers pencil in a new order of numbers next to the names. The numbers move down a space and the last number moves to the first A list of names to help determine line order--a system for transitions and learning in the list. The children line up on the squares according to their place that day. They verify their spot by reading the numeral or counting the objects. In the beginning, the children need reminders about which number they “are” that day. Since they line up several times a day, five days a week, they soon remember where they were the day before and place themselves accordingly. If the interactions between children in line become disruptive, the order can be changed by drawing numbers or teacher choice. Children become familiar with the numerals, counting sets and participating in a system for moving people.

Many, many more systems for lining up are available online by searching for “how to line up in preschool”. The New Mexico PreK Resources page on Transitions with information from High Scope sources asks us to consider why children need to line up. Does your system work well?

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