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First Stage Publishing Co's blog to engaging students in hands-on education.
"I hear and I forget.  
I see and I remember.  
I do and I understand."
~ Chinese proverb
"For most students academic learning is too abstract. They need to see, touch and smell what they read and write about." 
~John Goodland
"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." 
~ Plutarch 
"Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind." 
~ Dale Carnegie

Active Learning

Teaching Piaget’s Theory of Conservation with Buttons, Bugs, Birds, and More!

by First Stage Publishing Company on 02/21/14

It is important to help facilitate a child’s brain development by having them learn and recognize the number words.  For example, the 2013 Stanford research study “A Brain Area for Visual Numerals,” published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that when subjects were shown numerals, specific clusters of nerve cells within their brain became activated and processed the information. 

Children need to be aware of the symbols and words that signify numbers.  Numerals are words, letters, symbols, or figures that express numbers used in counting and mathematics. They also designate the totals of objects, and are symbols that designate time, house and license plate numbers, and bus routes.  Numbers are important in almost every aspect of children’s daily lives and are especially used with computers and technology.

A variety of fun math-based activities exist to help children understand the significance of numbers.  Parents and educators can teach songs and activities where young learners clap and nod using the number words.  Children can also count things such as blocks, flowers, fingers and toes, bugs, birds on a telephone line, pieces of change and the number of steps they take. Start fostering the awareness of numbers found in places such as clocks, their favorite books, on street signs and telephone numbers.  Children can also learn to write numerals and draw the number of objects that the numerals represent.

A Valuable Math Based Learning Exercise: The following activity, which draws upon Piaget’s Theory of Conservation, is useful for determining when a child’s thinking is developmentally ready to understand the process of addition and subtraction in mathematics:

Show the child 6 similar objects, such as buttons, seed pods, crayons, or marbles.  Place 2 or 3 of those objects behind your back and ask, “How many objects did I hide?”  Then show the objects to the child.  Now hide 3 or 4 of the objects and ask, “Now how many did I hide?”  If the child needs to count to get the correct answer, provide more opportunities to match the numbers with objects.  It can also help to make drawings that represent the answer’s number, such as 3 apples, cherries, or marbles.  If the child is correct, try the same activity, but increase the number of objects to 7 or 8. When the child can firmly tell you the correct answers without counting on his or her fingers or aloud; he or she can begin learning about addition, subtraction and the numerals associated with early mathematics

~ Written by Ruth Velasquez

Dastjerdi, Mohammad, Brett L. Foster, Dora Hermes, Kai J. Miller, Josef Parvizi, Vinitha Rangarajan, Jennifer Shum, and Jonathan Winawer.  “A Brain Area for Visual Numerals.” The Journal of Neuroscience 33.16 (2014): 6709-6715.  Web.  February 20, 2014.

Use Recipes to Teach Reading

by First Stage Publishing Company on 07/01/13

Provide hands-on reading experiences for your students or children by having them use recipes to make delicious treats.  The stations described below can change according to the reading level being taught, and the activity may be be modified to suit different recipes.

This activity can also be used to teach the California Kindergarten Standards in Language Arts (1.3, 4.0, 4.3) and Math (1.2).*       

 Trail Mix Recipe

This recipe uses four stations and four index cards, one for each station. 

Process: Set up ingredient stations according to the students' reading level with cards identifying the station's ingredients.  Provide bulk quantities of each ingredient at its corresponding station for the participants to create their treats. Then, as is developmentally appropriate, add new information to the cards to teach to the participants increasing levels of reading ability. 

Each of the following station types corresponds to a specific level of reading:


For non-readers: Glue four almonds to one index card for the “Almond Station.”  Then create cards for the following stations by gluing the relevant materials to each stations’ card: three popcorn kernels, two cashews, and five soy-nuts.  Give verbal instructions to the participants for combining the ingredients into trail mix.

For beginning readers: In addition to gluing the ingredients to the index cards, write the numeral referring to the amount used of each ingredient and its name on each card: “4 almonds,” “3 popcorn kernels,” “2 cashews,” and “5 soy-nuts.”  Give verbal instructions to the participants for combining the ingredients into trail mix.  When finished, each participant can write the numerals and ingredient names onto his or her own recipe card.

For intermediate readers: Use index cards without the ingredients glued to them.  Write on the cards the words referring to the amount of each ingredient as well as each ingredient’s name: “Four almonds,” “Three popcorn kernels,” “Two cashews,” and “Five soy-nuts.”  Give verbal instructions to the participants for combining the ingredients into trail mix.  When finished, each participant can write the ingredients’ amounts and names onto his or her own recipe card.


For confident readers: Add index cards to the stations with instructions using new vocabulary words for creating the trail mix, such as “mix,” “stir,” “first,” “shake,” “finally,” “dish,” “bowl,” “etc.  For example, you might write on one card, “Mix the almonds, popcorn kernels, cashews, and soy-nuts in a bowl.”


Variation: Salad Recipe

Repeat the steps above using the following ingredients: 5 pieces of celery,  4 carrot sticks,  3 olives,   1 pickle,    and 3 banana slices

 * For more hands-on, creative art activities that meet the California Kindergarten Standards, see ART Really Teaches at


Valentine Hearts Can Teach Math and Visual Arts: A Valentine's Day Activity

by First Stage Publishing Company on 02/12/13

If you’re looking for a way to make Valentine’s Day both fun and educational, try this activity!

Have each of your students fold a 2 inch square of colored paper in half, on the diagonal, to create a triangle. Then have them place their thumbs along the diagonal folds of their papers, bubble-trace around their thumbs, cut the tracing, and unfold the paper to discover a beautiful heart.

To make a larger heart, the students can use one of their hands rather than a thumb and a 4 to 5 inch square (depending on the size of the students’ hand).

While the students are engaged in the hands-on creation of their Valentine’s Day hearts, emphasize Math Vocabulary Words such as “square,” “triangle,” and “diagonal,” thus meeting California Kindergarten Standards in Math such as 6.1: “Identify and describe common geometric objects (e.g., circle, triangle, square...)” . In addition, by emphasizing to the students the actions that they are taking while they are folding, cutting, etc., you will teach a variety of Visual Arts Vocabulary Words (“fold,” “cut,” and “draw,” for example) as well as meet a range of California Kindergarten Visual Arts Standards, including 1.2, 2.2, and especially 2.6: “Use geometric shapes and forms (circle, triangle, square) in a work of art.” 

You can also work in a language arts lesson -- once the hearts are  made, have the students glue several of them to a Valentine and write the words "I love you."  Best of all, the students will go home with their own beautiful Valentines!

For more hands-on, creative art activities that meet the California Kindergarten Standards, see ART Really Teaches at


The Power of Three: Using the Troika Study System to Ace Examinations

by First Stage Publishing Company on 01/28/13

For about 20 years, Professor Emeritus and First Stage Author Thomas Aquinas Velasquez led immensely popular seminars at City College of San Francisco during which he taught his students powerful study techniques for academic success.  Here, Professor Velasquez shares some secrets for successful test-taking:

When I was teaching at City College of San Francisco in the late 1980’s, a colleague of mine thought that four of my students in his chemistry class were cheating because they routinely got 100% on his exams – a grade which no previous student had ever earned.  He referred to them as the “Four Aces” and placed them in the four corners of his classroom to prevent him from cheating.  Nevertheless, they continued to earn 100% on every examination.  The reason for this was not because they were cheating, but because they were using a technique that I taught them – a study technique that I developed after observing my students’ study patterns.  I like to refer to this technique as “The Troika Study Group.”

In Russian, the word “troika” means a team of three horses abreast that pull a carriage, wagon, or sleigh together.  It takes all three of the horses to succeed.  Similarly, the Troika study group is composed of three students who prepare for quizzes, tests, and examinations in the following manner:

1) Each student independently writes an examination for the other two students based upon prior test questions that their teachers have included on previous exams.  The students also use information from their textbooks, including illustrations and footnotes, to prepare their practice questions.  They can have a contest: whoever creates the most difficult examination questions and stumps the others earns a prize.

2) When the three students meet, they each grade and discuss their teammates’ examinations in the time allotted.  They do not waste time chatting about other topics.

3) Each student takes two examinations, grades two examinations, and discusses the questions and answers with his or her teammates.

4) When these students take examinations, they do very well.


~By Thomas Velasquez

For more information on predicting questions, taking dynamic notes, creating MindMaps, developing “White Paper” Examinations, and engaging in effective study group techniques, see the First Stage publication Study Power at

No Clock or Watch? Teach Your Students to Tell Time Using Their Hands!

by First Stage Publishing Company on 01/04/13

Here is a truly "hands-on" tip for helping teaching students to use their hands to tell the approximate time and direction (North, South, East, and West) without reading a clock or watch! To engage your students in these activities, ask them to each follow these directions:

1) Place a pencil point down on one of your thumb nails. The shadow will be thinnest in the East in the morning, in the North at midday, and in the West at dusk.

2) Near sundown, you can tell how much time is left using your hands! Hold your hands facing you with the little finger of one hand touching the pointer finger of the other hand. Then line the bottom finger of the lower hand up with the horizon. Count the number of fingers to see the sun and the horizon, Each finger width represents about 15 minutes. In the picture presented, about 90 minutes are left to sundown.

The second activity described here meets the California State Standards in Mathematics: "Number Sense" 1.0-1.3, "Addition and Subtraction" 2.0-2.1, and especially "Measurement and Geometry" 5.2, which requires students to "Demonstrate an understanding of concepts of time, e.g., morning, afternoon, evening, today, yesterday, tomorrow, week, year) and tools that measure time (e.g., clock, calendar).

For other hands-on art activities aligned with the California State Standards in Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and the Visual Arts, consult the First Stage publication ART Really Teaches, available from