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My Favorite, Most Effective Classroom Projects for Elementary Students

opinion

Classroom projects are my favorite way to get my students involved and make even the most worn-out subjects come alive. With access to the Internet and a little creativity, it's possible to infuse wonder on the cheap and have some fun doing it too.

Fun and Easy Projects to Delight Your Elementary Classroom

I love teaching in an elementary classroom. The kids are full of wonder over even the most basic discoveries. They are eager to explore and learn just about anything you want to throw at them - provided you present it in a way that is fun and engaging. And really, who wouldn't feel the same? Creating easy projects that my students can practice in class and take home to share makes the lesson more memorable for them and more fun for me. The following are a few of my favorite projects in some of the subjects I hold dearest to my heart. Use them as is, or tweak them for your class and let the wonder of learning begin.

Science

OK, we've all explored the vinegar and baking soda volcano and the invisible egg to death. What other projects can help students to learn about science in everyday life? Plenty!

Walking Rainbow

I love this one. Lining up seven cups, we filled every other one with water. We then added food coloring to the water, red in the two outside cups, then one blue, and one yellow. Next, we folded paper towels accordion style, folding them once more to form a V shape that would bridge between each cup (there were six in total). Now, we placed one end of the paper towel in the cup and the other end in its neighbor, all the way down the line. We waited. It took a little over an hour, during which we did other projects, but we ended up with a great little rainbow and a discussion about why the water moved, how the colors mixed, and how many cups we could use for this. Plus, it was super cheap, and the kids could do it at home.

Lava Lamps

This one is also fun and cheap. We filled recycled water bottles half way with water and food coloring and half way with mineral oil from our local dollar store. Then we replaced the lids and shook. The kids were mesmerized by the floating bubbles, and it was a great way to introduce water density. For younger classes, we added epoxy to keep the lids on and prevent accidental ingestion or the inevitable geyser we knew would come without it.

LavaLamp

There are a slew of other experiments at sites like Steve Spangler Science and Science Bob to help your students get into the study of science and get the most out of your lessons.

Math

Math manipulatives rock. With a room full of hands-on learners, manipulatives help them to visualize concepts as they learn so that the lessons really stick. Some of my favorites are the Teddy Gram weights and the counting cubes.

Abacus

Even my older students get a kick out of using these visuals when they get stuck on a lesson. There are other interactive ways to teach math in the classroom that work for me as well, such as:

  • Math Bingo - I write a simple equation on the board, and the students mark the correct answer on their card. The first to get a bingo wins a prize!
  • Math Race - On the board is a series of equations. Students run relay races to see which team can get the most answers in the time allotted.
  • Online Options - Everyone is online these days - including PBS! PBSkids.org is a great site with activities for learners of all ages and is a great reward for those relay racers who finish fast.

Check out resources like Education World and Scholastic for more inexpensive ideas to help your students love to learn math.

Art

Arts and crafts are a wonderful time for students to express themselves and explore new media.

Impressionist

With the help of parent volunteers and donated materials, we've managed to create our own gallery of stunning works with projects like these:

Impressions of the Garden

Using cheap kaleidoscopes from the party store, the students look out the window or into the school's garden and paint the distorted views like an impressionist. This is ideal for young painters who lack skill because the painting isn't expected to look like the view at all, just their impression of it.

Stained Glass Sun Catchers

Apply a fairly thick layer of Elmer's glue to a paper plate then add a few drops of craft paint. Give the kids paintbrushes, sticks, Q-tips, or some other tool and allow them to create pleasing designs in the goo. Allow it to dry (it may take a day or more) then peel them up and hold them up to the light for a stunning display they can fold, bend, or cut into interesting shapes.

Negative Space Designs

Lay masking tape down on a piece of craft paper. Provide students paints in their chosen colors and brushes, sponges, potatoes, or some other tool and allow them to cover the paper. Then, remove the tape while the paint is wet to see how their image looks with the tape and part of the design gone.

Of course, Pinterest has a billion ideas for craft and painting activities that will keep your little artists busy for hours. If you're creative, you can even work in other subjects and make the lessons overlap.

Keep Exploring

There are so many other projects we have enjoyed over the years, including acting out our favorite stories for literature, writing poetry, creating board games of famous battles, building tiny colonial villages, creating maps of fictional towns, and others. The only limit is your imagination and the time you have to devote to planning a classroom activity that will have your students begging for more. Explore your options, ask your families for donations and volunteer time, and get busy getting your students actively involved in learning. You won't be sorry you did.

By Patricia Willis
January 2017
opinion classroom projects

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