Virtual labs are a great tool to try if you have computer access. I love them because:
I've compiled a list of websites that have virtual labs. Many require Flash or Java software, so be sure your computers have it before trying with students. If any of the links are broken or out of date, please leave a blog comment and I will update.
Enjoy! If you know of other sites, please share in the comments!
Your first year teaching is going to be one of the hardest years of your career. I frequently went home near tears thinking "I just can't do this. It is too hard." But I promise you, it gets easier! I'm in my 10th year teaching and I spend a lot less time planning and preparing than I used to. I write a lot fewer referrals than I used to. Overall everything just gets easier. Looking back, here is a list of 10 things I wish I could have told my first-year-teacher self:
1. Find a mentor teacher
This is one thing I was superbly blessed with. My first job was at a middle school and there was only one other science teacher besides myself. He is nearing retirement, but I've been lucky to teach with him the past 10 years. He is incredibly knowledgeable about all things science and is always happy to explain things to me when I need some clarification before a lesson. Don't be afraid to admit you don't understand something! Because you can't teach it well unless you understand it well.
Mentor teachers can help with content knowledge, share ideas of what labs work and what labs don't work, give you classroom management tips, and be a shoulder to cry on when your spouse just doesn't get what you are going through (because if your spouse isn't a teacher, they won't get it).
2. Don't re-create the wheel
There is a wealth of science lessons out on the internet for free. Take advantage! Scour the internet before a new unit and find everything you can. Look for facebook groups of middle school or high school science teachers. Read blog posts. Look for interactive websites that students can learn on. Check out Teachers pay Teachers. Don't spend your weekends making powerpoints and worksheets when someone else has already done the work for you.
3. Always do the lab first
There is nothing worse than spending hours prepping a lab, getting the kids excited, and by the end of the lab the data is awful and the lab was an utter failure. The easiest way to avoid this is by doing the lab yourself before you try it with students. As you do the lab, try and identify places students might get confused or make mistakes. Make sure to clarify those things and model the lab procedures to your students before beginning.
4. Predict the pacing of the lesson
One of the hardest things for me my first few years was pacing. I didn't want my lessons to end early, and I didn't want to run out of time. One piece of advice my mentor teacher gave me during student teaching was this: Complete the worksheet or activity on your own and time yourself. Take that time and multiply it by 3 to predict about how long it will take the students to complete. Obviously this will vary, especially depending on how much practice students have already had on the topic. But it was a good starting point and I could plan an extension activity just in case we finished early. (Check out this blog post on what you can do if you are left with 5 minutes at the end of the class).
5. Don't panic over SDS
Maybe it was just my college experience, but my professors put the fear of God in us about SDS (MSDS when I was in school) forms. They told us horror stories about how we would lose our jobs if the fire marshall showed up and we didn't have all our forms in a binder ready to go. Now don't get me wrong- these forms are important. But I was so paranoid about having an SDS form for every chemical in my classroom, including hand sanitizer and whiteboard cleaner.
Long story short: Keep the SDS forms for your chemical inventory, but don't panic over the little stuff like the vinegar you bought at the grocery store. When your chemical orders arrive, don't throw out the SDS forms. Put them in a binder and keep them in the chemical storage room. Many sites such as Flinn Scientific even have an online inventory resource where it will keep track of the chemicals you have on hand and the SDS forms for each chemical. Talk to your colleagues and find a method that works for everyone.
6. Don't grade everything
Oh how I wish someone had told me this sooner! Grading can take over your life if you let it. So stop grading everything (but don't tell this to your students). Different teachers have different methods of grading and saving their sanity, so talk to your colleagues and pick what works for you. Here are a few ideas:
7. As a new teacher without management experience, use labs as incentives.
Classroom management is something that can take years to master. And as soon as you think you have it down, you get a new group of students that rock your world (and not in a good way). One way I've found to keep students in line is to use lab experiments as incentives. If classes are well behaved for the week, they get to do a lab on Friday. If they have been off task, noisy, constantly tardy, or disrespectful then they do a book work assignment instead. Once they hear they will miss out on a fun lab experiment that other class periods got to complete, they will quickly toe the line.
8. Don't be afraid to admit when you mess up
We are human. We all mess up. Don't be afraid to admit it to your students. One year I was teaching surface area to volume ratio in my cells unit and totally screwed up the math. I knew I was teaching it wrong when I had a really bright student saying "Miss, I don't think this answer is making sense." So I went home, reviewed the lesson, figured out where I was going wrong, and came back the next day ready to re-teach. If you are too prideful to admit your mistakes it is only hurting the students. They will also respect you a lot more when you admit your mistakes and show that you are human too.
9. Prep for the following day before you go home
Sometimes this one is hard to follow, but it is something I feel is important. I make sure I don't leave for the day unless I am ready to go for the following day. Yes, this includes Fridays too! Have your objective written on the board, copies ready to go, powerpoint or activity reviewed, and answer key ready. Your day will go so much smoother when you come in to an organized classroom instead of waiting in the copy machine line 5 minutes before the bell behind the teacher making 1000 copies. Just don't risk it.
10. Take an occasional mental health day
Making sub plans sucks. Often times it feels easier to just come in to work sick than have to get a sub plan ready. But your mental health is super important. If you are tired, worn out, sick, or have other things going on in your life that is affecting your teaching- take a day off. Find a high interest article for the students to read and take a breather. (You can find free articles on newsela.com or check out my free close reading article on botox in my TpT store).
Sometimes I even make the sub assignments extra credit because many students think when there is a sub they have a free day. It is a small bonus for the students that really did work on the assignment. Anyway- you can't be there for your students when you haven't taken care of yourself. Plan one day a quarter that is a day you can rest and recoup.
Good luck in your new teaching career! Remember- it gets easier. Yes, you will work 70 hours per week that first year. But by year 3 you will have everything down and teach like a pro. And when students write you letters about the impact you made on their life all those hours will be worth it. If you have questions leave them in the comments!
This blog post was co-written by Becca from Science Rocks and Tara from Science In The City. They have 22 combined years of teaching experience in the inner city. To read about their backgrounds, hop down to the bottom of the blog post.
10 TIPS FOR TEACHING IN THE INNER-CITY
I started teaching 10 years ago and honestly didn’t give much thought to what type of school I wanted to end up at. After graduating (with student loan debt looming) all I cared about was getting a job. I completed my student teaching in the fall semester and wasn’t hopeful I would find a job mid-way through the school year. I started googling schools in my area and found out a middle school not too far from my apartment had a science position open.
It turns out the particular school that hired me had the highest poverty rates in the entire county. Many of the families were living in shelters or staying in cheap motels. We would send food home with the students on Fridays or many wouldn’t have anything to eat over the weekend. It was heartbreaking and also the most fulfilling job I could have asked for. I fell in love with the students and quickly learned teaching strategies that worked for me and my classroom. I remember my first month teaching I had colleagues mention to me “You need to be mean or they will walk all over you.” It turns out that what those students really needed was quite the opposite. They needed a mentor. They needed to be treated with respect. They needed to be understood. They needed to feel like my classroom was a safe place for them.
I’ve since moved from middle school to high school but am still teaching in a title 1 district and don’t see that ever changing. Each school and demographic has their own battles and struggles to overcome, and I choose to put my efforts towards helping kids in low income areas. Am I going to get Starbucks gift cards for Christmas or teacher appreciation week? Nope. But I’m getting something far better. I’m building relationships with kids whom many had given up on. I get to help kids be first generation college students. I get to learn and teach humility and empathy on a daily basis. I get to truly make an impact on their lives.
I started teaching 12 years ago, and ended up in an urban district. My education program had a big focus on urban education and social justice, but it wasn’t a particular goal of mine to teach in an urban district. However, I student taught in the city (as well as a neighboring suburban district) and it just happened that my urban cooperating teacher was retiring and negotiated with her principal for me to get hired into her position. I was pregnant (not very marketable), but she worked it out so that I was able to co-teach summer school with her, and she would be the sub for my maternity leave in the fall. I had a good experience student teaching with her, and it was too good of an offer to turn down!
Thus started my urban teaching career! I have now taught for 12 years in one of the poorest, lowest achieving districts in the state. I stayed at that particular school for 5 years, teaching Earth Science and Environmental Science. Then I transferred to a different school and taught middle school science for 2 years. Then as that school was closed down by the state, I moved schools yet again in the same district and taught 2 years of 9th grade Biology. During my last 3 years I have been working in a program throughout the district for students who are behind on credits and are taking classes online that they have previously failed for “credit recovery.” Students are scheduled into a computer lab with other students who are taking virtual courses (but maybe not the same ones). Different subject teachers rotate between the different schools to meet with their particular students, but also to monitor the computer lab and help students (of any subject area). Each of these settings has been a new learning experience for me, as a teacher.
I grew up in the same area where I live, but in the suburbs, rather than the city. The urban environment was foreign, despite being only a few miles away. I struggled at first with what it would take to be successful in that environment, but learned quickly. I am fairly small, and can be soft-spoken. I often experienced disbelief from people that I could teach, or would want to teach, in that environment. However, I don’t believe successful urban teaching is about intimidation or being ‘mean.’ For me it has been about building relationships, and seeing success for students who don’t have a lot of other sources of support, or models in their lives. For many students, knowing that someone cares, believes in them, doesn’t give up on them, and someone pushes them to do their best goes a long way. Many students come from families where no one has graduated from high school before, parents don’t speak English, and they may not have a stable place to sleep at night. Yet they generally want to be successfully at school, and to graduate, despite having so many strikes against them. I am proud to be able to be a small piece of that!
You made it to the last blog post in this 4 part series! If you missed any of the previous posts, you can click below to get caught up:
#1: What is PBL?
#2: Getting Started
#3: The Product
This last blog post will be about extending learning beyond the classroom with a public audience and community partnerships.
Why a Public Audience?
After students have worked hard for multiple weeks on a project, it is important to have people to showcase it to. The students should have their audience in mind as they create the product, as it needs to be presented on the appropriate level. Public audiences could include:
Students need to feel like they belong to the community they live in. Statistics show that the time many students get into trouble is the few hours right after school before they head home. If students build positive relationships with community members we can strengthen a community built on trust, empathy, and acceptance. You might be surprised at how many community members will jump at the chance to be a part of your project. One tip: You don't have to be the one to reach out. Get your students on the phone! A lot of times adults might turn you down when you call, but if a student calls they are more willing to come and help out.
I know PBL can seem overwhelming and daunting at first, but the payoff is huge. If you need help, drop your questions in the comments below! Good luck!
You are on part 3 of a 4 part blog post on PBL in the science classroom. If you missed the previous posts, CLICK HERE to head back to blog post 1- "What is PBL?" or CLICK HERE to head back to blog post 2- "How to get started". This blog post will cover how to complete the meat of the project- the product.
Before the project launch, you should have come up with the product idea. Remember the product is the summative assignment you want students to complete by the end of the project. You should have 2 products: a group product and an individual product. This allows students to showcase their own learning as well as work with others to problem solve and learn to work cooperatively.
Student Voice and Choice
Students should given some sort of choice options throughout the project. How much freedom you give them depends on you. Voice and choice options could include:
Research and Sustained Inquiry
PBL takes a great deal of research on the students' part (remember, they are in charge, not you!). You will need to teach students about how to find reliable sources and how to cite them properly. Also, since projects usually take a few weeks to complete, how will you keep students engaged? You should plan ways to keep the project moving and on track.
Included in my PBL resource is a form for students to record their research and group forms for them to create norms, a group contract, and a status report form so you can easily check in with each group. You can check out this resource HERE.
Student Critique and Revision
It is important for students to be given opportunities to review, critique, and edit their work before the final product is due. While it is good to give feedback yourself, it is also good to teach students how to give feedback to each other. This can be difficult for students unless they have been taught how. Some tips include:
One more step to go- having a public audience. If you are ready, CLICK HERE to head to the last blog post in this PBL series. Don't forget to check out my PBL resource that includes a lot more details, student forms, grading rubrics, and sample projects by clicking on the image to the left!
In this blog post we are going to cover the first 3 steps to project based learning: the entry event, the driving question, and student need-to-knows. In case you missed the first part of this blog series- "What is PBL?" you can click here to go back and read it.
Before starting the project with your students, you should have mapped out what you want your students to learn about and create (the product). Suppose you are teaching about nutrition and macromolecules and you would like your students to create a recorded cooking show that walks you through a particular recipe. The next steps (and topic of this blog post) are planning how to introduce the project to your students.
1. The Entry Event
The entry event is how you will introduce the project to your students to get them engaged in the topic. When I was in college they taught us the term "anticipatory set" which is the same idea. Per my example: how will you get students excited about macromolecules and nutrition? Some things you could use as an entry event could include:
2. The Driving Question
The driving question is the main question you want students to be able to answer by the end of the project. A good driving question is engaging, complex, requires critical thinking, and is not something students can just go Google the answer to. Make the wording of the question student friendly. You want the students to be excited about the question, so it doesn't have to directly address the product. For the nutrition project, a good driving question might be "Are all foods created equal?" This question not only piques your interest, but is also broad enough it can be taken down multiple roads; not just nutritional value but also the carbon footprint of the ingredients, water usage, flavors, cultural significance, and more.
If you live in a state that uses NGSS standards, you are in luck. Since NGSS standards are performance based, they can easily be turned into a driving question. For example:
3. Need to Knows
Once you introduce the project to the students, the next step is to have them create a list of need-to-knows. This is a list of all the things students think they will need to know in order to answer the driving question and complete the project. For the nutrition project, need to knows might include:
Are you interested in learning more about these first three steps? I have a PBL resource available in my TpT store that includes more details, project planning forms, over 40 possible student product options, and 100 possible driving questions that span all science disciplines. You can check it out HERE.
Ready to learn about the next 3 steps of PBL? CLICK HERE to head over to the next blog post!
The past few years I’ve had the opportunity to teach a course entirely through project based learning. Our local university approached a couple of schools in our district and asked us if we were interested in teaching a cross-curricular PBL program where our grade 12 students can earn college credits. Ummmm…. heck yeah! Basically, the students travel as a cohort to 3 common classes- English, biology, and sustainability. The students work on projects that integrate all the content areas. It has been truly rewarding to teach a class where students are assessed on their conceptual knowledge and performance opposed to how they score on a multiple choice test.
I've learned a ton about project based learning through trial and error, and am here to share tips with you in a 4 part blog series.
Part 1: What is PBL?
Part 2: How to plan and get started
Part 3: Implementing the project and creating the product
Part 4: Beyond the classroom (public audience)
So what exactly is PBL?
Project based learning is much different than just throwing a project into your curriculum. Project based learning is a shift in the entire way you teach and run your classroom. Take a look at the chart below that compares project based learning with traditional classrooms:
One of the biggest differences between PBL and traditional instruction is that you as the teacher are not in the driver's seat. You pose a question to them that they will need to solve, but they drive the process. This question is generally complex, will need a lot of research to answer, and will cover more than one discipline (see the 2nd blog post in this series to learn more about driving questions).
Why choose PBL?
Imagine a classroom where students are truly engaged in the content, they feel like the concepts are applicable to their lives, and they have to use critical thinking skills on a daily basis in order to solve a problem. Project based learning can take that student who usually zones out in class and turn him or her into a leader. When you choose the right topic, it brings your content to life and students feel like they have ownership over their learning. I'm currently in my 3rd year teaching PBL, and I've seen engagement skyrocket. Not only that, but learning goes much deeper. In PBL, students solve a real problem, opposed to doing a traditional project like build a model of a cell that doesn't require any critical thinking.
One criticism of PBL...
One thing that students might complain about is that the majority of the PBL process is done in groups. If you have a student that doesn't like working in groups then they might complain. One way to combat this problem is:
What are the steps of PBL?
Project based learning occurs in 7 main steps. In the next blog post, I will cover the entry event, driving question, and student need-to-knows. In the 3rd blog post, I will talk about the meat of the project- creating the product and all that comes with it. In the last blog post I will discuss why it is so important to have a public audience and build community partnerships.
Before you continue, there are 2 words you need to know so you don't get confused. The words "project" and "product" mean very different things in the PBL process.
The PROJECT is the overall process of PBL that includes the 7 steps listed above. It is everything needed to complete the process from start to finish.
The PRODUCT is what students create at the end of the project to demonstrate their learning. It might be an essay, a cookbook, a podcast, or a fundraiser. (More on this in the 3rd blog post).
Alright, are you ready to dive in? Click here to head over to the 2nd blog post in the series!
The metric system is so important for students to understand in the sciences. And frankly, it's so much easier to use than the imperial system. One issue I've come across when teaching is that students don't always understand what the units represent, and which unit is appropriate to use for each situation (especially when measuring length). Here is an easy way for students to realize why we need different units of measurement.
I was at Ikea furniture shopping and realized that the disposable rulers they have for free all over the store would be an awesome teaching tool. I pulled the "teacher card" and asked if I could have a bunch for my classroom. The employee was happy to give me a class set of 40. (That was enough for me to group students in 4's across my 5 periods).
For this lesson, each group will need:
I started by giving each group one of the blank measuring tapes and asked them to measure the length of the lab table. Most groups came up with answers like "1 1/2 strips of paper", or "1 3/4 strips of paper" long. Next, I asked them to take the same blank measuring tape and measure the length of their school ID. It got harder for them to estimate the length since it was so much smaller. I got answers like "1/10 of the tape." We stopped and discussed that it would be better to have a smaller measuring tape to measure the length of the the ID. I asked them "Would you get a more accurate measurement if you cut the strip of paper in half?" They said that would still be too big. Quarters? Still too big. This went back and forth until we decided that cutting the strip of paper into 10 equal pieces would be just about right. I handed them scissors and asked them to cut it into 10 equal pieces and then measure the ID again.
The opposite scenario is also true: ask them how many strips of paper it would take to measure the distance between school and their house. Students will quickly realize that the measuring tape they have is much too small. Stop and have a conversation with your students about how it is important to have different units of measurement that are appropriate to the object being measured.
Finally, I switched out the blank strips of paper with the Ikea measuring tape. Have them make observations about the tape like:
Next ask them to take the Ikea measuring tape and cut it into 10 equal pieces. It should go much smoother this time now that there are numbers! Then ask them to take the 1/10th size paper (1decimeter, but they don't know this term yet) and ask them to cut it down again into 10 equal pieces (centimeters). Repeat this one more time until you have them cut individual millimeters. (See images below)
Have students discuss when it is appropriate to use each unit of measurement. I had them match objects to each length that are about the same size. For example, the meter strip is about the length of the floor to the door handle. The decimeter strip is about the length of the palm of your hand. The centimeter strip is about the width of your fingernail. The millimeter strip is about the thickness of their school ID card.
Following the activity we took notes on the metric system and units of measurement. I think students remember the units better when they understand that everything is based on powers of 10, and can relate the units to objects. One of my favorite phrases to use in the classroom is "NO NAKED NUMBERS!" It makes them giggle (especially middle schoolers!), but students know to not turn in papers for the rest of the year that have numbers with no units.
I hope this helps you teach the metric system! If you have any other tips and tricks, leave them in the comments! Also, you might want to check out these metric system posters and puzzles in my TpT store:
Ordering class sets of prepared slides can be pricey. Want a fun and free way to make your own? All you need are some slides, clear tape, and some animal hair samples. Put a few pieces of hair on a slide and carefully cover it with clear tape. A couple tips:
(Below: Left image is human hair, Right image is cat hair)
Another way to get some unusual hair samples is by checking with your local game and fish department. In Arizona our Game and Fish department has skull and pelt boxes that they loan to schools for free. I had borrowed the skull box for my ecology unit and had my students compare skulls of different animals. While I had the box, I also plucked a hair or two off the pelts and made prepared slides. It was fun to look at mountain lion, bear, and coyote hair in addition to the everyday pets.
Have you made prepared slides for specimens other than hair? I'd love to hear about it! Leave it in the comments!
Want to pin this post for later? Click here to repin!
It's here! The 3rd annual week of holiday cheer from your favorite TpT science sellers! There will be different promotions every day, so be sure to check back and snag the daily deal! This year's daily deals will include:
Monday: 20% off my entire store! Click here to shop
Tuesday: Download my photosynthesis flip book for free for 24 hours! Click here to snag it
Wednesday: Have you had your eye on my writing prompt activities? They are 50% off! Click here to browse the different bundles
Thursday: BOGO free on all products under $10! Buy a product, send me a screen shot of your TpT cart, and tell me which product you would like me to send you for free! Applies to items under $10, and free item must be equal or lesser value than the purchased item. Ready for your freebie? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and please allow 48 hours for your freebie to arrive.
Friday: You really won't want to miss this deal! Click here to download some amazing resources from top TpT science sellers! This link will only work until Monday December 11th at midnight, so act quick!
Thanks so much for being a follower of my blog! Happy Holidays!