January 18, 2017

3 Simple Ways Color Coding Labels Saved My Sanity

I teach four classes of fifth grade science each day. Each homeroom rotates through classes together. It's kind of like middle school, but in an elementary setting. For this reason, I have had to come up with several methods of organizing A LOT of materials and ongoing projects during the construction and improvement phases of an engineering challenge.
Teacher hack: Here are 3 ways I've found to use color coding labels from the office supply isle to manage the craziness that can occur in my class during a group STEM challenge.
Luckily, something as simple as a little office supply saved my sanity when doing science investigations on more than one occasion. Here are 3 ways I've found to use color coding labels from the office supply isle to manage the craziness that can occur in my class during a group STEM challenge.

IDEA #1: ASSIGNING GROUP ROLES 
During quick investigations that require students to experiment with materials and collect data, I have found that assigning very specific jobs to each member is very useful. Each team is given the supplies they need and then they must complete the investigation within the allotted time. In order to do so, they really MUST focus on their own job since the whole team is depending on them. I begin by assigning each student a color by passing out small items (usually unifix cubes) to the group. After they have their color, I display the roles on the board using the color coding labels.
Teacher hack: Here are 3 ways I've found to use color coding labels from the office supply isle to manage the craziness that can occur in my class during a group STEM challenge.
For this particular example, I do three different ramp labs. The roles remain the same, but the responsibilities change. It's super easy to affix a different color next to the same list to be sure everyone gets the chance to participate. This also allows me to add responsibilities during the activity. For example, I might instruct the green student to collect all the lab reports. Or the red student may be asked to record the group data on the class chart.

IDEA #2: IDENTIFYING TEAM PROTOTYPES
One activity I have students complete each year is to construct a prototype for a structure that will keep an ice cube from melting by reducing the amount of heat transfer by conduction, convection, and radiation. Since I have four classes and they are all testing their device on the same day, I need a way to keep track of which pieces belong to each group in each homeroom. Color coding labels to the rescue!
Teacher hack: Here are 3 ways I've found to use color coding labels from the office supply isle to manage the craziness that can occur in my class during a group STEM challenge.
I use a different color for each homeroom - matching their journal color. (Read more about this here.) So I simply write STEM team numbers onto colored labels and students place them on their finished structure. This is SOOOOOO much simpler and faster than trying to remember team or student names in the midst of collecting a lot of time sensitive data.
 Teacher hack: Here are 3 ways I've found to use color coding labels from the office supply isle to manage the craziness that can occur in my class during a group STEM challenge.
Teacher hack: Here are 3 ways I've found to use color coding labels from the office supply isle to manage the craziness that can occur in my class during a group STEM challenge.
By looking at these two prototypes, I can see that one is from Team 4 in Mrs. Steele's homeroom and the other is from Team 3 in Miss Smith's homeroom. Not only is this helpful during data collection, but I am able to save the structures until a later date when we will try to improve them. Students tend to forget what their prototype looks like after a week or two and this ensures that each team gets their original device back.

IDEA #3: LABELING SUPPLIES FOR RE-USE
With four classes each day completing the same experiments, I often have to have supplies pre-sorted for each group. That's a lot of work unless you have a method for keeping track of everything. (Which I do.) Color coding labels...again. For small items, I simply use clean plastic cups (these are from individual serving applesauce cups) and attach labels to the bottom of the containers. I use the same cups during each class to distribute and to collect the materials.
Teacher hack: Here are 3 ways I've found to use color coding labels from the office supply isle to manage the craziness that can occur in my class during a group STEM challenge. 
The little cups in the picture are so handy that I actually used them during the ice cube STEM Challenge for an entirely different reason. When students removed their ice cube from the structure they had built, they placed it in their cup rather than holding it in their hand. This way they could measure the mass of the ice cube that remained even though some would continue to melt away while they were waiting to use the scale.
Teacher hack: Here are 3 ways I've found to use color coding labels from the office supply isle to manage the craziness that can occur in my class during a group STEM challenge.
I have also used Ziploc bags for supplies if there are a lot of unusually shaped items or pieces too large for a small container. Just stick a colored dot onto the bag. Students know which color (based on homeroom) and which number (based on assigned groups) to look for when retrieving their supplies. This gives the added bonus of knowing exactly which group needs to keep looking for the materials that have not yet been returned. They can still be reused in future investigations even if the student groupings change.

There are so many other uses for this one little office supply. I actually shared seven more ideas at Classroom Tested Resources. If you're interested you can read about them here.