When I switched from teaching middle school to high school, my new district required all new hires to participate in a new teacher program our first year. Even though I already had 5 years of teaching experience, I took monthly classes with a professional development specialist whose job it was to help navigate teachers through that first year of teaching (which we all know is the toughest year!) The PD specialist who ran the class and came to observe us was phenomenal. I will be forever grateful for some of the nuggets of wisdom she shared with me.
One topic I remember coming up was the issue of students coming to school without paper or pencils. She said she would often walk into a classroom, see a student sitting there not working, and ask them why. Often times they would respond "because I don't have a pencil and my teacher won't give me one." She taught us "If your biggest obstacle in the classroom is a pencil, you are in good shape. JUST GIVE THE KID A PENCIL."
I know you know that kid. The same kid who comes in every.single.day without a pencil. And it's especially frustrating when the day before you said, "just keep the pencil so you have one tomorrow." And they still lose it. As I sat there and listened to her words I self-reflected... had I ever denied a student a pencil? Luckily I don't think I had, but I know I had made comments in the past such as, "Again? You just asked for one yesterday!"
Recently I came across this poem written by Joshua T. Dickerson that really spoke to me:
The reason I'm writing this blog post is because I shared it on my facebook page and it got quite a few shares and comments. A handful of teachers voiced their frustration with the pencil issue. Luckily enough, the author of the poem came across the post and chimed in on why he wrote it. His comments are shared here with permission:
"Around the beginning of each school year, my poem usually goes into heavy circulation and sparks numerous debates. People always ask me, why did I write the poem.
First I will start out by telling you, what this poem is not. This poem is not an attack towards educators. As a former classroom teacher, I know about the long hours, the challenges of teaching students, the frustrations, and difficulties. I have the utmost respect for teachers, administrators, and anyone else who serves in the education arena, who is striving to do their job in the correct way. This poem is not written for the children who do not make an effort to positively impact their own education. While reading the poem, you will see the tremendous amount of effort that the student is making. Educators are some of the most underpaid people in the world!
Now on to why I wrote the poem. I wrote the poem for those children in extreme poverty. Their are children around the world that do not have basic things that we take for granted. Lights, food, running water, heating, and air is not present in all homes.
I wrote this to give a voice to the students whose parents or guardians have not given them school supplies. In presentations the question always comes up, "what about the kids with iPhones and Jordan's"? My response is that younger children don't purchase those items for themselves. In reality we have children who are punished because their parents or guardians made the decision to buy those things. It's not the teacher's fault, but also not the child's fault. It is my wish that we would have a conversation with the child and parent before jumping to a conclusion that neither cares about education.
I wrote this for the child who may simply forget a pencil. As an adult, I've come to a meeting without a pen before. My own children have forgotten supplies. It happens.
When I present in high schools, people say that their children are older and should be held accountable. I agree. They should be held accountable. However, I always stress to not assume that the child has been taught the lesson of valuing school supplies. At least first have a conversation with the student and the parent. As a father, I realize that my teenager still needs parenting and coaching.
Finally, I wrote this to highlight poverty. Poverty exists and it has a tremendous impact. Those who are born and raised in poverty have a higher chance of dying at an early age, not finishing high school, or being incarcerated. Often times it is forgotten or conveniently looked over that years of research has shown that poverty is difficult to climb out of and nearly impossible to climb out of without an education. I pray that it inspires someone to continue the fight of working with students and parents that truly need us most."
I loved having the author's insight on the poem. So many things rang true for me as I read. Just because a student has an i-phone does not mean they can afford school supplies. Maybe the phone was a gift. Maybe they got it an unconventional way. Regardless of how they got the phone, why do we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking "poor kids can't have nice stuff?"
Another common complaint I heard teachers voice was "I give out pencils but they just break them." I think when this happens our immediate thought is "they don't respect people's property." And maybe in some cases this is true. But it could also be because they are trying to get attention from you. Or maybe they have already mastered the material and are simply bored. Next time this happens, ask them why they broke it, and calmly explain to them your perspective and why you feel frustrated.
Reasoning aside of why the student doesn't have a pencil, I wanted to share some tips on how you can handle the situation to make it less of an issue. Try one way that works for you and your class.
1. Try a collateral system.
All students at my school are required to wear school IDs on a lanyard. If a student needs a pencil, they just leave their ID on my desk and grab a pencil. When they return the pencil, they get their ID back. If your students don't have school ID's, they could leave behind headphones or something else from their backpack.
2. Try a sign-out system.
I've seen some teachers buy magnetic clips, put them on the whiteboard, and clip a pencil to each one. When a student needs a pencil they sign their name on the whiteboard and erase their name when the pencil is returned. (Download a free cute sign from the Lone Star Classroom HERE)
3. Try golf pencils.
While these aren't ideal because they don't have erasers they will do the trick. You can buy a box of over 100 golf pencils for a few bucks so you won't break the bank.
4. Try a reward system.
If it's not the majority of the class but instead the same darn kid every day asking for a pencil, try a reward system. Maybe they are forgetful or maybe they truly don't see the value in not losing or breaking the pencil. Regardless, some sort of reward may help. Tell them if they keep the same pencil all week without losing it they get a reward on Friday. It doesn't have to be big- maybe a piece of candy or 5 minutes of free time at the end of class- but if there is an incentive to not lose the pencil they just might keep track of it.
5. Get some donations.
If money for pencils is the issue, there are ways to not spend your own. First, I'd ask your administrator or department head if there are pencils you can have (there probably are). You can also reach out to parents or even do a Donors Choose request to get school supplies.
I hope one of these methods works for you! Because truly there are a lot of issues our kiddos are dealing with as teens, and fighting for a pencil should not be one of them. Have another method that works for you? Leave it in the comments!
Card sorts are one of my favorite tried-and-true ways to formatively assess my students. I use them all the time!
1. You can use them at the beginning of a lesson to check for prior knowledge
2. You can use them in the middle of a lesson as a checkpoint for the lesson
3. You can use them as a form of exit ticket
4. You can use them the day before a quiz for students to self-assess
I've found they are great for my ESL students and tactile learners. Once they are sorted, have your kids read them out loud to get your ESL kids talking and practicing vocabulary.
Are you sold yet? It's super easy to make your own! For example, suppose you are learning mitosis. All you have to do is look up a picture of the phases of mitosis on the internet, and print off multiple copies (I have 16 lab tables in my room, so I usually make 16 sets and have students work in pairs). Next, cut them up, paperclip together, and voila! (Bonus: if you have a laminator or your school library can laminate for you, it makes them more durable from year to year).
Since I have so many sets, I needed a way to keep them organized that worked for me. The best (and cheapest) way I've found to organize my card sorts, task cards, and review puzzles is in small manila envelopes. I write the topic on the front and they are placed in order that I use them (quarter 1 through 4) in a filing cabinet.
If you are interested in checking out the ones I have pre-made, CLICK HERE. I'm always posting new sets so check back! If you would like to request a set, leave them in the comments and I'll try my best to get them made. Happy sorting!
It's almost Valentine's Day! When you teach teens, it can be hard to fight the candy and hormones.... so how about embracing the holiday instead of fighting it? I've compiled a list of Valentine themed activities you can do this year.
MIDDLE SCHOOL IDEAS
1. Make borax crystal hearts! Borax and pipe cleaners are super cheap and students love watching the crystals grow. You can find directions on Steve Spangler's site here.
2. What is the most genuine present you can give your Valentine? Your own DNA of course! Do a DNA extraction of cheek cells, put the DNA into a microcentrifuge tube, and allow students to take their DNA home or give it to their Valentine. Need directions? Check here.
3. If you teach about plants, make some red and pink color changing flowers! This experiment takes a few days, but students enjoy coming in each day to watch the petals change color. You can find directions for this lab here. A few tips: Don't spend a lot of money- look for discounted carnations that are a week old. Also, I've found that leaving the flowers out of water overnight so the stems are nice and dry helps, because when you put them in the colored water they will be nice and thirsty and absorb the water faster.
HIGH SCHOOL IDEAS
4. If you are teaching genetics, this speed dating activity is a blast! I put up lights around my classroom and moved the desks in long rows so students face each other. Each student gets assigned a different monster and they rotate around the room on different dates, completing punnett squares with each date. At the end of the 3 dates they pick a monster they would like to go on a second date with. Its a valentine's day they won't forget! You can find the lesson here.
5. If you teach biology and classification, have students create a dichotomous key using candy hearts. They can classify traits such as color or number of letters on each heart. They are really inexpensive to buy and students can eat them at the end!
6. Your students are probably a little young to have match.com accounts, but they are still familiar with dating websites. In this activity, have students create a dating profile for a famous scientist. They come up with some creative ideas! You can find the lesson here.
7. Check out this "Vanishing Valentine" activity from Flinn Scientific. It is a great demo if you have covered oxidation-reduction reactions.
8. No matter which grade you teach, these anatomy valentines from Gnature with Gnat are adorable! They have phrases like "I want tibia your valentine" and "urine my heart." Tape a piece of candy on them and your students will definitely feel loved. You can download them for free in her TpT store by clicking here.
I hope you and your students have a fun day!
When teaching physical science, motion is by far my favorite unit. You can do so many fun experiments ranging from motion graphing and building rockets to Newton's laws demos. Any time you can incorporate graphing into the curriculum it is great since creating and reading graphs is a skill that will help students throughout both math and science.
One product you can use for motion graphing is PASCO's wireless motion sensor. This sensor works on bluetooth and is completely wireless, so students can move around the room without worrying about tripping over cords. If you have laptops you can even do your lab outside where you have more room to space out! Simply charge the motion sensor with a USB cord and it's ready to go.
To use the motion sensor, you need to download PASCO's free Match Graph software. (This was the only hiccup I had when using the motion sensor- if you are using school computers that require I.T. approval to download any software, you will have to put in a help desk ticket. Once it was installed by my tech department it worked like a breeze).
When you load Match Graph, you will see a main screen where you can switch between position-time graphs and velocity-time graphs. I always start with position-time graphs because they seem easier for the students to grasp. Next, have the students in each group type their name in the top so they can all take turns (more on this in a minute). When students are ready to begin, I have them hold a large whiteboard (any large flat surface works) in front of them- this seems to help the motion sensor detect them easily. The students will need about 4 meters of clearance behind them, so space your groups out around the room.
Once students hit record, a red line will appear on the screen and show their motion. The goal is for them to match the template shown on the screen. Students can change out between 9 different templates for each graph type. I like to let students play around with this lab before I've actually taught what position-time and velocity-time graphs look like. This allows students to use inquiry and figure out the difference between the two types of graphs.
Each time they take a turn Match Graph shows a score in the bottom right corner of the screen. This is GREAT for easy grading. All you have to do is walk around the room, have them pull up the scores under their name, and you can record their highest score. It gets competitive!
The front of the sensor turns 180 degrees, so you can turn the sensor so it faces up, place it on the ground, and measure the motion of objects in free fall. Have students explore gravity, air resistance, and gain a deeper understanding of slope. (I always try and time this unit at the same time students are learning slope in algebra). Match Graph is truly user friendly and you won't have issues with students trying to learn how to use it. Your students that are kinesthetic learners are never going to forget this lab!
Make sure to check out other resources PASCO has to offer on their website. In their digital library they have a TON of free labs you can download. Be sure to bookmark it for later!
(Note: This is a sponsored blog post from PASCO)
One of my favorite case studies to examine with students is the tragedy that occurred at Lake Nyos. Located in Camaroon, Africa, Lake Nyos is a lake that formed in a volcanic crater. While villagers thought the volcano was dormant, it was slowly releasing carbon dioxide into the lake. One night in 1986 the carbon dioxide built up enough that the lake overturned and all the carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere. Since carbon dioxide is more dense than air, thousands of villagers and livestock died in their sleep that night of asphyxiation.
While it is a devastating story to learn about, it is good in the sense that it can be applied to so many science concepts. Biology teachers can bring it up when learning about the carbon cycle. Earth science teachers can discuss the story during their volcanoes unit. Physical science teachers can use it to introduce density of gases. It's a phenomena that is so versatile!
I begin the lesson by showing this video clip from National Geographic on Youtube. It gets the students 100% engaged and doesn't reveal why this mystery fog killed the villagers:
Following the video clip I have students read an article I wrote about what happened at Lake Nyos and the science concepts behind it. You can find the article HERE if you would like to download it (appropriate for grades 7-10).
Then at the end of class I like to end with a demo showing how carbon dioxide is truly more dense than air. All you need are 3 birthday candles, some clay or play-doh, a container, baking soda, and vinegar.
Cut two of the candles shorter so all the candles are different heights. Stick them to the bottom of a container with clay. Sprinkle the bottom of the container with baking soda and light the candles. Have students predict what will happen when you pour some vinegar into the container. Students will observe the lowest candle extinguishing first because the dense CO2 that is being formed stays nearest to the bottom of the container. (I do it under the document camera so all students can watch, but if you trust your students with matches you can have them do it in small lab groups instead).
I hope your students enjoy this lesson- I know mine do! It's simple, engaging, and a story your students won't forget.
Want a fun way to change up how you assess your students? While there is value in giving multiple choice assessments (students need to have these test taking skills to pass the ACT and SAT), I also like to change it up. Not all students do well with multiple choice or written tests, and offering creative ways for students to show their learning is always fun.
I recently finished my cells unit, and asked students to create an infographic on an organelle. We used the website piktochart.com which is free. (There are paid upgrades, but everything students need is available with the free account). Students found the website to be relatively user friendly- everything is click and drag.
The project students about 4 class periods to complete. The first day I showed the students sample infographics and we discussed what characteristics were of a good infographic. If you want some samples of quality infographics there are a TON on pinterest. Then I had students do background research on their organelle (I required a minimum of 5 facts on their infographic). The following two class periods students created their infographics and do some peer editing. On day 4 students finalized their edits and submitted them to me. The biggest hiccup we tried to avoid was it turning into a power point slide with a bunch of text. I reminded them that the goal of an infographic is to use images to make complex information quick and easy to understand. For example, if you state that the average US meal travels 1500 miles from farm to plate, how can you help the reader visualize that? (It's roughly the distance from New Orleans to Phoenix, so they could include a map).
Here are some sample infographics we came up with:
Prior to turning in the inforaphics we did a few rounds of peer feedback and editing. This will save you a lot of time later when you go to grade them. After editing students shared the link to their infographics in an email to me, but you could easily have them upload it to google classroom or canvas if you use these tools. Also, if your library can print them poster size they are great for classroom decor!
If you are interested in checking out the forms and grading rubric I used for this project, you can check them out here.
I hope your students have fun creating them!
One of my favorite parts of the cell unit is teaching about membranes. If you ask me, they are by far the most important part of the cell. Everything the cell does is because it is responding to signals received by the membrane. While many students think the nucleus is in charge, it is in fact the membrane that is directing cell processes. (You can read a blog post about why the cell membrane is more of the control center than the nucleus by clicking HERE).
There are a ton of lab options you can do for students to understand the structure and properties of the cell membrane. Check out these 10 resources you can implement in your classroom:
MEMBRANE PROPERTIES & STRUCTURE
1. Visualizing the Membrane: Using analogies really helps students visualize the cell membrane in their head. I read this analogy a few years ago in a book by Dr. Bruce Lipton and have been using it ever since. I tell the students the cell membrane is like a bread and butter sandwich. If I poured water on top of the sandwich, what would happen? Students can recognize that the water would only soak through the bread and stop at the butter layer. Since students already learned about lipids being hydrophobic from our macromolecule unit we circle back to that discussion. Click here if you would like to check out a worksheet that goes with this analogy.
2. Bubble Lab: Who doesn't love to play with bubbles?! Bubbles are a fun way to examine properties of membranes because they are similarly made of molecules that have a hydrophobic side and a hydrophilic side. In this lab students learn how membranes are flexible, can self repair, how materials move in and out, and more. Materials are inexpensive and the fun is endless. You can find it FREE HERE.
3. Interactive Website: Check out this website that walks students through the structure of the cell membrane. This website is great for high school students. I like that it shows the actual molecular structure instead of just head and tail blobs... this allows students to really comprehend the structure. While you are there check out some of his other interactives- they are all great!
MEMBRANE TRANSPORT (Many of these labs demonstrate the same concepts. Pick one or two that you like!)
4. Carrot lab: This lab is great for middle school students to understand osmosis. In this activity, students will soak a baby carrot in fresh water and salt water overnight and observe any changes to it's physical appearance and mass. (You can use celery, potatoes, or any other vegetables you have on hand). I prefer using vegetables over gummy bears (Which is a teacher favorite) because vegetables are actually made out of cells.
5. Egg Lab: In this classic lab, students dissolve an egg shell with vinegar and are able to observe a "naked" egg. Once the shell is dissolved you can soak the eggs in different liquids such as distilled water or corn syrup and observe the effects on the egg size and mass. This lab is fun, but I don't do it every year because there are always messy casualties. You can read more specific directions HERE.
6. Dialysis tube lab: In this ADI lab, students need to design an experiment to determine the effect of solute concentration on the rate of osmosis. (Note: ADI labs are available for free online, but the hard copy books must be purchased if you want the answer key). This is a great lab for high school students who are ready to think critically and design their own experiment. Sugar can also be used instead of salt. When I had students complete this experiment I pre-mixed the solute concentrations and we discussed how dialysis tubing works but had students figure out their own experimental set up.
7. Onion Skin Lab: Have you already taught students how to use microscopes? If so, this lab is fool-proof. In this lab, students observe a thin layer of purple onion under the microscope. They make wet mounts with fresh water and salt water, and observe what happens to cells placed in a hypertonic environment. You can read a blog post with some tips HERE. It's great because it's easy (no dye needed) and really inexpensive.
8. Osmosis Tonicity Worksheet: I created this quick 2 page worksheet to use as a formative assessment before I tested students on osmosis. It includes a handful of scenarios and students have to identify how the cells will respond and if the solution is hypertonic, hypotonic, or isotonic. You can download it here.
9. Amoeba sisters: Do you want to enrich your lesson with some videos? Amoeba sisters videos on youtube are great for review and reinforcement. There are two video clips that cover topics relating to the cell membrane, one titled "Inside the cell membrane" and another titled "Cell Transport."
Don't forget that many of the amoeba sisters videos have worksheets to accompany the lesson. They can be found here.
10. Cell membrane close reading: One thing students tend to struggle with is understanding how the cell receives and responds to signals. When we use the term "environment" students think about the outdoors... but the environment for a cell is the conditions inside our bodies. I wrote this close reading article to help students understand how the cell receives and responds to signals, and how genes can be turned on and off. It is a great segue into genetics because it introduces the topic of epigenetics.
I hope you have a great cells unit and your students have a blast with some of these labs!
Who doesn't love watching people get pranked? Now add science to the pranks and you have a great way to keep your students engaged. SciJinks is a new show on the Science Channel that uses science to perform practical jokes on people. Following the pranks they explain the science behind it, so it is great for your science classroom. You can see episodes by clicking here.
I made a worksheet to go along with the show if you choose to show it in your class! Click on the PDF below to download.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tamara Robertson, one of the hosts of the show, at a NASA social event (you can read about the NASA launch here). Her resume is impressive- ranging from chemical engineering to TV host. I was able to get her to answer some interview questions, so keep reading to learn more about her!
What is your scientific background and what made you interested in science?
I am a chemical & biomolecular engineer. I spent a little under a decade working in facility startup and designs as well as additive technology development for packaging.
I’ve always been good at math and science in school and liked machinery and building things but honestly never thought to pursue science. I had a teacher in college that took me aside and talked to me about engineering - at the time I thought only boys did that because I had only known one male engineer and that was Scottie from Star Trek. She helped broaden my view of the world and potential majors and that’s how I ended up in Engineering :)
Tell me a little bit about your job history- How did you end up with Mythbusters and Scijinks? Was TV something you always had an interest in?
Growing up in North Carolina I didn’t have cable as a kid but always enjoyed watching shows and movies on VHS with friends.
In college I got recruited to do commercial print modeling with a local agency and as someone that really enjoyed sci-fi and fantasy type books the idea of playing make believe sounded fun so I started pursuing acting. Doing commercials and acting in independent films helped me to overset the cost of living for college so it became a hobby of sorts while I was in school and an engineer. In engineering I was lucky that my degree allowed flexibility in career fields and industries so I got to take some really cool jobs. Some of the highlights were:
Why do you think SciJinks would be a great addition to the secondary science classroom?
Scijinks was a really fun program to be a part of because we got to utilize new emerging technology as well as some really cool old school tech to blow people’s minds with science! People often assume that science is just what is done in a lab or from a cubicle but really Science is all around us and there is such a vast number of specialties and career opportunities which I think Scijinks helps to elevate.
We also had a live audience of actual STEM students in the studio with us reviewing our field experiments which helped showcase the diversity and inclusion in these fields.
What is your favorite memory from filming the first season?
My favorite memory from the first season was probably when we utilized Hydrophobic coatings to create a “stain proof” jacket. I remember thinking - people are going to know what this is, it’s in so many materials - but in reality no one had ever seen it up close before so they all thought it was this type of magical formula! Getting to showcase to them close up how the technology enables fluids to bead up and repels them from the fabrics was really fun! Adding that to convincing them to throw an entire vat of spaghetti sauce at our “chef” and things just get hilarious!
Do you have a past teacher who was influential in your passion for science?
I had some really awesome teachers in school- especially in science!
In high school I still remember one professor Chip Howe. He dropped a piece of sulfuric acid on his shoe but didn’t realize where it had fallen so he continued demonstrating how the compound could burn through materials. About the time the sample on the table was breaking through the piece on his shoe had as well and he had quite a surprise!
In college at NC state I honestly had some of the most inspiring professors! Dr. Bullard was instrumental in keeping me driven and pushing through all the hard moments in school as well as graduating and trying to get work during a recession. Since she had been an engineer in life before teaching she was an amazing resource with regards to navigating the job market, building a portfolio and experience based resume while in college and was an amazing example of someone who had a career in STEM and a family and made it work.
What advice would you give to teen girls interested in STEM careers?
There’s so many pieces of advice I would give here - here are a few of many:
If people want to find you on social media, where can they look?
I can be found on all social media platforms under the handle @tlynnr85.
Guest speakers can be such a powerful tool to your classroom and are hugely underutilized. I don't think I truly understood their value until I started teaching project based learning. Part of PBL includes having a public audience (you can check out a blog post on this topic here). As I developed projects and started bringing in people from the community it made a huge impact on my students.
Why are they so powerful? First, students are used to hearing us teach every day, and don't always give us 100% of their attention (who am I kidding, they RARELY give us 100% of their attention). But whenever I've had a guest speaker come in, the students seem to hang on to their every word. Another reason they are invaluable is because they can bring in a level of specialized content knowledge that you don't have.
For example, I recently had my students complete a project where they had to design a food truck. We had been learning about sustainable agriculture, macromolecules, and nutrition. Students were asking questions I didn't have specific answers for, like how much local ingredients would cost and how they could decrease their company's carbon footprint. I could have done some internet research to help them find the answers, but why not go straight to the source? I sent a quick email to the owner of a farm not too far from our school asking if students could ask her some questions over the phone about her business. She was more than happy to speak to them and talk about her organic farm and the struggles of starting a small business. They were able to record the phone conversation and refer back to it later as they prepared for their presentations.
Where to find guest speakers
I promise when you begin to reach out to people in the community, you will be surprised how willing they are to come in and speak to your students. You won't always get a yes, and you won't always find people that can stay all day and speak to multiple class periods. (One way to solve the multiple class periods issue is to record the presentation and show it to your other classes). I've had luck tracking down people willing to speak to my students from almost all of the places listed below:
The Beauty of Modern Technology
While it is always ideal to have someone come in and meet with your students personally, this isn't always possible. But there are other options! Websites such as www.skypeascientist.com allow you to do a skype or google hangout session with a scientist. You choose which type of scientist you would like to skype with based on what you are teaching and they will match you up accordingly.
I've also had students do phone interviews with multiple people ranging from professors at our local university to food truck owners. If you email people and ask if they have 10 minutes to spare for a quick phone conversation they will almost always say yes. As a bonus, it is good practice for students to learn how to speak professionally on the phone.
A closing tip....
Most guest speakers that come in aren't used to speaking to teens. They do a great job, but don't have the same practice you do. One thing I've noticed is that they aren't used to what us teachers call "wait time." They tend to ask a question to students, wait about 2 seconds, and then answer it if they don't see hands go up.
When the guest speaker comes, pull them aside quickly and give them a gentle tip to wait a while after asking students a question. Explain to them that students need much longer processing time than adults. I've never had anyone be offended by me giving them this tip, and it's made the classroom discussions much better.
Good luck finding a guest speaker and enjoying a day of listening and learning instead of teaching!
Getting out the microscopes is one of the best parts of teaching biology. I love hearing the ooh's and aah's when they finally get the specimen into focus. But if you've taught biology before you know it can also be one of the most exhausting units- constantly running around the room because "Mrs, I just don't see anything!" or they end up drawing dust, air bubbles, or their eyelashes. After a decade of tweaking my microscope unit, I've come up with some tips to help save your sanity.
1. Don't get them out until it makes sense.
While it may be tempting to get microscopes out the first week of school, it just doesn't make sense. If you aren't going to use them regularly until later in the year, why are you teaching them the names of the microscope parts in week 1? They will forget the information and you will find yourself reteaching. Hold off until you get to cells (or whichever unit you need them regularly).
2. Make sure they know the names of all the microscope parts.
It can be really frustrating when you are trying to help a student, tell them to adjust the fine focus, and they look at you like you are speaking another language. Because of this I don't let students start using the microscope until they can tell me the names of all the parts. We take notes on it and I give them a short quiz at the beginning of the unit. If you want to check out the worksheets I use for teaching parts of the microscope, click here.
3. Try a virtual lab first
Virtual labs are a way to provide students extra practice on the methods of using a microscope before getting out the real deal. Extra practice never hurts, especially for your SPED or ELL students who would really benefit from some visual practice.
For practice going through the process of using a microscope, check out this activity from Brainpop. (This site is great for middle school). For some higher level practice, check out this site from University of Delaware.
4. If your scopes have a single ocular, teach them which eye to use.
The microscopes in my room have a single ocular lens, so students often ask me which eye to use. This video shows an easy and quick way to teach them which of their eyes is dominant.
5. Start with prepared slides.
I always begin with prepared slides. I put 4 different prepared slides at each lab group, and have students practice focusing and drawing. The first day of prepared slides you will hear a lot of "I don't see anything!" but eventually they get the hang of it. Not all of your students are going to be great artists, but I make sure they know when they turn in their drawings they must a) be drawn to scale, and b) be neat. No scribbles allowed. I should be able to look at the drawing and easily tell what slide it is. I use these lab templates for prepared slides. Don't have access to prepared slides? You can make your own! Check out this blog post on how to easily make a classroom set.
6. Encourage peer help
There is only 1 of you and 30 students. It is physically impossible for you to be running around helping every single student. One day when I was about to rip my hair out I made this poster and hung it up on the whiteboard. Students were not able to call me over for help unless they had checked all of these items off the list. Most of the time their neighbor can help them resolve the issue before you need to be called over. If they still needed help after going down the checklist, then they could call me over. It has helped greatly! You can download this for free in my TpT store here.
7. After they have mastered prepared slides, then move on to wet mounts
Wet mounts can be much more exciting than prepared slides because you can have students look at their own cells (if your school allows you to do a cheek cell swab) or watch microorganisms swimming around. Protists are an absolute blast to watch, but students need to have mastered focusing the microscope and scanning relatively quickly in order to see the protozoa zooming around. You don't have to spend money ordering protists from a supply company, you can easily get your own culture going. Check out this blog post on how to set up a hay infusion. During this lab, I allow students to take pictures or videos with their phones. It takes a steady hand, but they can line up their smart phones with the ocular and get a decent video.
It can be really frustrating when the bell is about to ring and students try to walk out of the classroom without cleaning up. General microscope clean up procedures should include:
a) Removing your slide and returning it to where the teacher directs
b) Turn the objective to low power
c) Turning off the light
d) Putting the dust cover back on
e) If you are putting microscopes away for the day, unplugging and winding the cord around the arm.
I have this poster hanging on my microscope cabinet- it is a freebie from my friend Bethany Lau. You can find it in her TpT store.
I hope these tips help your microscope unit run more smoothly! Have fun!