Category Archives: Miscellaneous

3 Fun Fourth of July Activities for Kids!

Looking for a festive way to spend time with the kids this 4th of July while sneaking in school skills for summer?  Check out these fun, educational activities that will keep the whole family laughing and learning together this independence day!

Note: All activities can be modified for different age groups.  I worked with a toddler, kindergartner, and second grader. I tried to keep it simple with mostly common, inexpensive household ingredients.  Please leave me a comment at the end of this post with a question or suggestion!

Activity 1: Bubble Fireworks! 


The Prep: You’ll need butcher paper, tape, bubbles, bubble wands, red and blue food coloring, and cups.  Mix the bubble liquid and food coloring in cups before hand to avoid extra messes.

The Activity: Tape large pieces of butcher paper to a wall or fence outside.  Have children write, copy, or trace a 4th of July greeting on their paper and write their names.  Then, have them blow red and blue bubbles at the paper creating a pretty fireworks effect!

The Skills: This can be added practice for developing writers and you can throw in some history behind the 4th of July for older students.  As the children blow bubbles, you can talk about art skills like spacing and color blending or you could just allow them to get their creative juices flowing!

Activity 2: Patriotic Science!


The Prep: You’ll need baking soda, vinegar, red and blue food coloring, dishes, trays, or baking sheets with a lip, small containers or bowls, and medicine droppers.  Set up a tray with a thin layer of baking soda for each participant.  Pour vinegar into small bowls and then color the vinegar with red and blue food coloring.  Make sure that each child has a red and blue vinegar bowl, a baking soda tray, and a medicine dropper.

The Activity: When the vinegar is combined with the baking soda, it will create a fizzing chemical reaction.  Start by trying to create a fizzy flag or other 4th of July themed creation.  Then let them experiment with the reactants.  Have a few paper bags handy so that you can dump out the trays and sprinkle a fresh layer of baking soda if kids want to start over periodically.

The Skills: Your junior scientists can talk about the reaction, hypothesize, and experiment!  If you have safety glasses around the house, they could definitely add another layer of fun. The artist can work on a beautiful flag and the mathematician can double check the number of stripes on the flag.

Activity 3: Cookies to Share!


The Prep: You’ll need a recipe for cookies and all of the ingredients.  Baking is not my strong suit, so I just used the recipe on the chocolate chip bag.  I’d go for cookies from scratch to get all the fun out of the experience.  I suggest writing the recipe in large letters on a piece of paper with check off boxes.  This way, the kids can go through and check off the list to make sure that they are following all of the directions. The recipe I used called for: 2 1/4 cup flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1 cup butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 eggs, 1 package chocolate chips.  Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  Mix butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Slowly mix in eggs and flour mixture.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Spoon cookies onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 9-11 minutes.

The Activity: Make the cookies according to your recipe taking turns putting in ingredients and checking off the list.  Don’t forget to share them with pride at your 4th of July barbecue!

The Skills: Making any recipe together builds teamwork and math skills.  Be sure to point out how the measuring cups work and the importance of following all of the directions. You could modify this activity with any recipe you want and ramp up the complexity for older kids or find a healthier alternative to discuss nutrition.

What do you think about these festive 4th of July activities?  Please share your comments, questions, or suggestions!

Emily Guthrie has taught junior high and high school English in Southern California for 8 years. She currently teaches grades 9-12, including AP English Language and Composition.  She specializes in working with technology to enhance curriculum for English learners and enrichment students.  She also blogs about fitness and motherhood at

Thoughts from CUE 2013—What’s New in Technology for the Classroom?

Classroom TechnologyWhat’s new in technology for the classroom?  How does one find apps?  What is blended learning?  If you are actually looking for the answers to these questions, then you need to have attended the CUE conference last week.  The CUE Conference is the Computer- Using Educator’s yearly event held in Palm Springs, California.  There were close to 4000 attendees and at least that many apps to find out about.

With a theme of CUE to the Core, this very timely conference had all types of speakers, exhibitors, and attendees.  Teachers, coordinators, coaches, and principals were just a few of the folks I spoke with.  Technology is ever-changing and as so it is ever-fascinating.

Blended Learning made more than one appearance on the program.  This is something that we will see more of in the future.  This combines many types of learning on a computer and the Internet.

Interestingly, CSU Sacramento has a Digital Media minor.  The object is to teach college students skills and knowledge for use in the digital community.  What they are also trying to do with this is get those who want to teach to take this as a minor so they can infuse their teaching with technology.

Another huge topic was the Flipped Classroom. Should you or shouldn’t you?  The Flipped Classroom seems to have as many different takes as it has teachers.  For the most part, it makes the teacher serve as a coach since kids really do the follow up at home and come back with questions.  Very often they are watching a video at home.  Yes, there are also connectivity problems, but there seem to be ways around some of them.  What this allows for in the classroom is collaboration and critical thinking.  This is such a huge part of the CCSS that teachers–especially in upper grades–are really trying to use this.  I also learned that a Flipped Classroom is asynchronous.  This is because it does not need to happen in face-to-face time.  There doesn’t need to be any human contact for this.  As a side note, synchronous and asynchronous are two words that I heard over and over again.

Attending a Google Slam, which was a really lively session with lots of good information, was a new but quite fun and enlightening experience for me.  Several Google certified teachers each got eight minutes to demonstrate some type of Google “goodie.”  The most fascinating one was the Google News Archive.  I really didn’t know it existed, but you can find all types of historical documents in just moments if you know how to search for them.  Another very cool thing that was shared was Google Art Projects.  This takes you on tours of over 180 art museums worldwide.  It’s still not a real field trip, but it does help kids who are never going to see some of this art.

CUE is an amazingly rich, technology-infused conference.  I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to amass a lot of knowledge in a short amount of time.


How are You Incorporating Academic Vocabulary?

I recently read an article about a spelling bee in the Giles County Public Schools in Tennessee.  The words used were all from the Tennessee Academic Vocabulary List. The winning word for third grade was wrestle, fourth grade was analogy, and fifth grade was illegal.

I had a friend who was observed in a classroom recently.  One of the comments he received was “use more academic vocabulary when explaining math lessons.”

I can’t pick up a paper or read a blog without seeing something about academic vocabulary.  It’s become ubiquitous.  It’s just everywhere.

I’m finding the emphasis on academic vocabulary fascinating.  Kids need to learn so much that it sometimes seems that this is being tacked on.  Yet, when you start to see the lists of words, they make real sense to me that they are being taught to children when they are young.

I’ve looked at various lists from around the country.  While they all vary a bit, they all include words that will give kids common knowledge.  These lists include words that are subject specific and words that are specific to things like following directions.  If we start with young children by teaching the words that are essential to making learning easier, we will be doing them a real service.

Are you using specific academic vocabulary with your students?  How are you making it interesting for kids?  Are you seeing any difference in your students understanding based on the use of academic vocabulary?

The Perpetual Pendulum: Nonfiction vs. Fiction Reading

Yes, we are all aware of how important reading nonfiction has become.  You can’t pick up a journal, read an article online, or look at the Common Core State Standards and not be made aware of this.

I love to read nonfiction.  There are so many fascinating books that fit that category.  Seabiscuit:  An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand was one of my favorites a few years ago.  It was a great read about an amazing horse.  Recently I read The American Plague:  The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, The Epidemic That Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby.  The story about this horrible disease drew me in.  I found it a real page-turner. In my book group I’m the one known for choosing nonfiction books.  But–and there is always a “but” isn’t there–here’s my concern.  Are we already letting that perpetual pendulum swing too far from fiction when it comes to the classroom?

Will kids take any joy out of reading if all they read is nonfiction?  You won’t get any argument from me that the skills that one uses in nonfiction reading carry over to everyday life.  Recipes, directions, street signs, nutrition labels, and the list of what we read daily goes on.  But how much joy is there in that?  Yes, the books I mentioned were wonderful, but they were narrative nonfiction and told a story.  They read like novels.  That’s not the case for much of the nonfiction reading that kids do.

I think we need to be careful with kids and allow them to read lots and lots of fiction.  Otherwise what happens to their imaginations and their capacity for dreaming?  Where will inspiration from fictional characters such as spunky girls and adventurous boys be found?  What about those who like, or even need, to escape into a book find their routes into them?  As good as nonfiction can be, it’s rather difficult to use it as escapism.

Can we find the right balance?  Can we teach the skills but give children the opportunity to be immersed in the world of fiction?  Can we not do what we so often do in education, throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?

How are you tackling this dilemma?