If you want to introduce the CER method to students or have them practice periodically, using video clips is a fun way to go. (If you aren't familiar with the CER method, check out this blog post on ways you can use it in your classroom). I prefer short video clips because they are great for bellwork practice or a good time-filler if you have a few minutes left at the end of class.
A popular video teachers use to introduce CER is this Audi commercial. In it, the daughter gives the claim that her Dad is a space alien. Students should be able to pull out the evidence that she gives, including: he speaks a weird language, he drinks green stuff, just look at him (he dresses weird), and he has a spaceship. In the reasoning section students should be able to explain how the evidence supports the claim.
Here are some additional video clips you can use if you have YouTube access at school:
JUST FOR FUN VIDEOS
SCIENCE BASED VIDEOS
If you are interested in a graphic organizer I use for CER practice, click here!
If you have any other video clips you use, I'd love to see them! Leave the URL in the comments!
Do you love college basketball? I grew up in Tucson, AZ and UofA basketball was all we watched in March. It is really fun to incorporate some sort of science themed tournament in your classroom during March. Here are some ideas to get you started!
MARCH MAMMAL MADNESS
This lesson is taking over science classrooms by storm! What is March mammal madness? "It is an annual tournament of simulated combat competition between mammals. Scientific literature is cited to substantiate likely outcomes as a probabilistic function of the two species' attributes within the battle environment. Attributes considered in calculating battle outcome include temperament, weaponry, armor, body mass, running speed, fight style, physiology, and motivation." They update the bracket every year, so be sure to go download the new one.
FAMOUS SCIENTIST TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
In this lesson created by Surviving Social Studies, students fill out a NCAA style bracket using famous scientists. Students have to prepare a persuasive speech on which scientist made the greatest impact, and winners advance onto further rounds. Check it out here!
FLINN SCIENTIFIC BRACKETS
Flinn Scientific has quite a few bracket options on their website for free. If you teach biology, be sure to check out this sweet 16 cell biology tournament.
If you teach chemistry, you can check out this sweet 16 periodic table tournament or a sweet 16 chemistry of gases tournament.
Not wanting to take up multiple days of class for brackets? You can also check out these cool posters from Chevron dealing with the science and math behind basketball. They are especially great for physics teachers.
Valentine's day is almost here! One fun activity to try is an oh-so-romantic-science-themed speed dating lesson. I've tried it with my students multiple times and they really enjoyed it. I even hung up red twinkle lights and put candy conversation hearts and flowers out on the tables (gotta set the stage to engage!) Here are a few options you can try based on your curriculum:
Since I teach genetics in the spring, this punnett square speed dating lesson is always perfect timing. Students are given a monster card where they can see their genotypes and phenotypes. They go on dates with other monsters and fill out punnett squares on each date. There are both mendelian and non-mendelian versions included.
If you teach chemistry, this element speed dating activity is a sure hit. Students are assigned an element, fill out a dating profile, go on dates with other elements, and figure out what type of bond they would make. You can download the lesson here.
If you are teaching ecology, here is a symbiosis themed speed dating lesson. Each student is assigned an organism card, and they go on dates with 5 other students in the classroom. They need to meet each other, discuss their traits, and decide if the relationship would be mutualistic, commensalistic, parasitic, competitive, or predatory.
In this GMO speed dating lesson, students are assigned an organism and go on dates with other organisms, looking for genes that they could potentially share. It's a great way to get students thinking about gene editing and lead to discussions on ethics of CRISPR technology. You can download the lesson plan here. Note: I have done this lesson before and would recommend it for upper biology/AP students.
If you happen to be teaching cells around Valentine's day, you can have students do this organelle speed dating activity. Each student is assigned an organelle and they need to identify relationships they might have with other organelles. It is a great way to reinforce cellular processes!
I came across a version of speed dating for biomes that many AP environmental science teachers use. I wasn't able to find a reliable link, but if you try googling "biome speed dating lesson plan" I'm sure you will find a few versions floating around for free.
In this forms and transfer of energy speed dating activity, students are assigned an energy card. They will go on speed dates with 5 other students and have to come up with objects that transfer energy between the two types. For example, chemical energy (in a battery) could be transferred to a light energy (bulb) in a flashlight. This version is great for middle school students.
TIP: You may have some students that are shy and don't want to talk much on their dates. One issue I had arise during this activity was students were just trading cards, copying down the information, and not talking to each other. I made a rule that students were NOT allowed to show each other their cards, and had to ask their dates specific questions. It went much smoother after that.
I hope your students have a blast with one of these activities! If you are looking for some valentine ideas other than speed dating, check out this blog post.
The water cycle is taught starting in elementary school. It seems like in high school biology when I get to the biogeochemical cycles (water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus) the water cycle gets glossed over because we assume the students know it and it's too basic. But water is vital to life! It's important to take some time to dig a little deeper with the water cycle and there are ways to ramp up the rigor. Check out a few activities you can use to take a deep dive into the water cycle:
TAKE A RIDE THROUGH THE WATER CYCLE
Even though this activity is good for younger grades, older kids still enjoy it. In this activity, students roll cubes that tell them how to move through the water cycle. It allows students to review the steps of the process but also realize where more water is stored within the biosphere. You can download the game cubes here.
How much water do students use each day? At watercalculator.org, they can calculate their water footprint.
EVAPOTRANSPIRATION AND URBAN HEAT ISLANDS
In this free lab from ASU, students see first hand how evapotranspiration from trees can cool down an area and have an impact on the urban heat island effect. You will need clay terra-cotta pots and thermometers. You can download the lab for free HERE. If you would like to see more resources dealing with urban heat islands, check out this blog post.
WHERE DID EARTH'S WATER COME FROM?
Water has been around on our planet for a very long time. But where did it come from in the first place? You can students this Ted YouTube video:
SCALED MODEL OF EARTH'S WATER
We tell students that the amount of fresh water we have available is very small compared to the total amount of water on earth, but does it really sink in? In this lab, students create a scaled model of where the water on Earth is located. There are 4 different versions of this lab so you can differentiate based on the amount of inquiry and math you would like your students to do. By the end of the lab, students will see that our freshwater supply is very small and hopefully realize how important water conservation is.
What is virtual water? It is the amount of water used to produce a product. In this activity from California Academy of Science, students learn about the hidden water footprint of different products. You can download the lesson here.
THE GRACE SATELLITES
How do scientists monitor groundwater levels? NASA tracks water levels from space using the Grace satellites- super cool! They orbit the Earth and scientists measure the gravitational pull on the satellites in order to monitor how much water is underground (more groundwater = more dense = more gravitational pull).
You can find free lessons on them here, and check out some interactive maps with satellite data here.
ICE CORE LAB
What can we learn from ice cores? In this lab, students learn about how ice cores form, what we can learn from them, and how they are analyzed. It takes about 4 days to set up on your part, but the students love looking at these simulated ice cores. You can read a full blog post on how I made them here.
There are a ton of documentaries out there on water shortages and conservation. I showed my students one titled "Beyond the Mirage" that is available on YouTube. I chose it because it is centered around Colorado River water, which feeds into my home state of Arizona. If you live in one of the 7 states that uses Colorado River water, I recommend this video. If you would like video questions to accompany the video, click here.
I hope these help and you spend an extra day or two digging a little deeper into the water cycle. If you have any other favorite activities, leave them in the comments!
When I was in college taking education courses I had 2 professors who harped on rubrics. Their logic was that rubrics placed students into a box and didn't allow for any flexibility and creative thinking. I left college thinking rubrics were a terrible way to assess students.
Fast forward to 2015 when I began teaching a course that was taught entirely via PBL (project based learning). PBL is a very fluid and flexible way to teach- you pose students a question and tell them what the final product will be, but the pathway to accomplish the product can look very different from student to student. (If you would like to read more about the PBL process, check out this blog post). Since rubrics were essentially a new grading tool for me, I had quite a learning curve ahead of me. Confession: I still don't love making rubrics, but I've learned how valuable they can be for both students and teachers. After using them for a few years now, here are some things I've learned:
WHY USE RUBRICS?
Ready to make some rubrics? Here are some tips:
TIPS FOR MAKING RUBRICS
TIPS FOR USING RUBRICS
FREE WEBSITES FOR RUBRIC CREATION
While you can use Microsoft word to make rubrics, there are websites out there that make the process easier. Two sites I like are:
Have any more rubric tips or questions? I'd love to hear them!
Group work. Love it? Or bane of your existence? Have you ever assigned a group assignment and had any of these problems?
We've all run into these problems as teachers, and often times its easier to just throw in the towel and go back to lecture-style teaching. But I would encourage you to not give up completely on group or collaborative assignments. By the time your students reach college, they will be much better off if they know how to study and work with peers. When they enter the work force they will likely have no choice but to collaborate with their colleagues (PLC's.... amiright?)
After teaching a PBL course for a few years that uses group work almost exclusively, I’ve had to learn how to monitor groups effectively. Here is my list of top 10 tips to keep your group work running smoothly:
1. CHOOSE YOUR GROUPS METHODICALLY.
Although students always beg to choose their own groups, 9 times out of 10 I choose them beforehand. The size of the group and the way I choose student groupings depends on the assignment. One way to help figure out group sizes is to map out the project tasks and estimate the work load. I tend to prefer groups of 3-4, but for some projects you might choose pairs or large groups. After I’ve figured out how many students I want in each group, I think about strengths and weaknesses of students and group them accordingly. For example, if the project is a formal debate, I make sure each team has a few strong speakers, some students that are good at researching, and others that are strong writers. Throughout the year as students get used to their classmates and working in groups will begin to step out of their comfort zones, but in the beginning it is really important you play to their strengths to help them feel like they are set up to succeed.
2. USE MODELS AND RUBRICS TO SET THE PROJECT EXPECTATIONS AND GOALS
It is the worst when you have spent 3 weeks on a project, students turn in or present their work, and the quality is nowhere near what you were expecting. To help avoid this, make the project expectations clear to students by passing out and reviewing the rubric, and showing them samples or models. One counter argument I always hear is “but if I show them a model, they just copy it.” If your project is set up to be engaging and encourages creativity, students won’t copy the sample.
The sample you show them doesn’t have to be a model of exemplary work… in fact it’s almost better if it’s not. That way you can have students analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the model and find ways to make improvements for their own project. Have them review the final grading rubric, allow them to ask any clarifying questions, and grade the sample. It will help them realize what an "A" project should look like.
3. HAVE CLEARLY DEFINED STUDENT ROLES
In order to avoid some students in the group working a lot harder than others, have defined job roles for the project along with formative checkpoints to make sure they are progressing. For example, for a forensic crime scene project, group roles could include: evidence collector, crime scene photographer, forensic science specialist, and reporter. Naturally, not every group role will have the exact same amount of work, so they need to learn how to help each other (more on this with tip #9).
4. GIVE STUDENTS SOME FREEDOM OF CHOICE
One way to get student buy in is by letting them have some freedom to make decisions in the project. In PBL, this is called student voice and choice. You can allow students to choose which roles they want, who their audience should be, their mode of presentation (powerpoint vs brochure or poster etc). If you are worried about them having too much freedom, you can require teacher approval of whatever they decide before moving on. Overall, you will have a lot more buy-in from students when they have had an opportunity to make group decisions.
5. HAVE A GROUP NORMS CONTRACT
Even when you teach older grades, you will still have students whining “but (enter student name) just sits on her phone” or “(enter student name) never has his part ready on time.” Students need to learn how to self monitor and not run to the teacher with complaints. At the beginning of the project, have the group create a norms sheet that they all agree to and sign off on. If any students are breaking the norms during the project, they should be able to more effectively monitor themselves when they have a signed document to refer back to. They can say things like “Remember when we all agreed to have our work completed on time?”
6. TEACH STUDENTS TO GIVE EFFECTIVE PEER FEEDBACK
Throughout the project, you need to have students give each other peer feedback. This will take a lot of the work load and grading off your shoulders and you will end up with higher quality work. Depending on the project, you can a) choose to have students give feedback to others within their own group, or b) have them critique the work of other groups (this only works well when groups aren't competing with each other or trying to come up with really original ideas).
Some ways you can have students give each other feedback are:
7. CHECK IN WITH GROUPS OFTEN, REDIRECT, AND REMIND THEM OF THE END GOAL.
If your goal of assigning a group project is for you to have a little R&R at your desk, you have the wrong idea. You need to be constantly monitoring groups, checking in, and giving guidance. Students have a tendency to have side conversations about prom, check their phones, discuss their work schedule.... you know the drill. When you are walking around monitoring progress it will help nip these behaviors in the bud.
Also, sometimes students have been working hard and won't seek you out for help, but when you sit down with the group you realize they really need some redirection and suggestions. When this happens, take out the grading rubric, remind them of the final goal, and help align what they have done with the project expectations.
8. BE WILLING TO STEP BACK AND LET STUDENTS STRUGGLE
Now, I know I just told you to redirect groups and give suggestions when needed, but this does NOT mean tell them how to complete the assignment or do any hand holding. It is 100% okay to let them struggle! Part of their growth and learning process is to struggle along the way, brainstorm solutions to any problems that arise, and learn to overcome hurdles. Some of the best projects were ones that my students whined about the most. For example, I had students create animated videos on scratch.mit.edu, an introductory coding site. Partners were assigned a cell process (such as photosynthesis or DNA replication) and had to show me an animated version of that process by making a video. Let me tell you.... they whined and cried for 2 weeks about how hard it was. The struggle was real. But by the end, they had some awesome videos to show me that they were really proud of.
9. WHEN YOUR PART IS DONE, YOU AREN'T DONE. BE A TEAM PLAYER.
When you are nearing the end of the assignment, you might catch some students sitting back with their feet up. When I would ask "why aren't you working with your group?" I would often get the response "because my part is done."
We had many classroom conversations about how nobody is done until the entire group assignment is completed. There is ALWAYS work to be done. Sometimes it is helpful to give students a checklist of things they can do when their part is completed. It could include:
10. EVALUATE AND REFLECT
I always allow students to peer evaluate their group members at the end of a group assignment. It's not fair for everyone to receive the same grade if they didn't do equal amounts of work. Give students a grading rubric (it can be simple: rate your peer on a 1-5 scale on these 3 criteria) and have them rate their group members. I always tell them to be completely honest- no one will see the papers but me.
Once the group project is over, I also think it is valuable to have a classroom discussion on what went well and what didn't go well. How can we work better next time? Where did we fall short? Where did we exceed expectations? (These conversations are really valuable for you as the teacher so you can learn what to modify and tweak for the following school year). When students worked exceptionally hard, I would always try and have some sort of reward. It can be as simple as buying a box of otter pops or having a movie day (ideally related to the project), but allowing students to have a break at the end of a project giving them a brain break is always appreciated.
I hope you found some of these tips helpful and try a group project or two this year!
Viewing stomata is a fun one-day lab during your photosynthesis or plant unit. The first time I had students do this lab, I got out razor blades (I know) and tried to have students cut off thin slices of the leaf. Needless to say it didn't work out terribly well. Here is a much easier (and safer!) method to view stomata.
You will need:
I generally show students up on the board what stomata look like because they are often confused as to what they are looking at. Since the slide is tape and not a wet mount, there will be air bubbles students need to ignore. I tell them to look for round mouth-like structures (see the image below).
It would be a fun extension activity to have students look at different leaf types and compare the size of the stomata.
If you would like a free powerpoint I created for this lesson, click here to download it. Enjoy!
It's December! Fa la la la la! I love the holiday season and I love giving my students some fun Christmas themed lessons that tie into science. Below you will find a list of fun activities that you can do in the month of December. Note: even if you have students that don't celebrate Christmas, many of the options below are simply science oriented, not dependent on the actual holiday. Enjoy!
Before you throw out your Christmas tree, grab your saw, cut off a few tree cookies from the stump and sand them down. You can do a fun mini lesson on dendrochronology! Check out this free lesson on tree rings and climate change (aimed at AP environmental science students).
Check out this "Case of the Christmas Cookie" mystery lab from The Science Spot. This lab is fun for middle school students- they test mystery powders to help Mrs. Claus save Christmas. You can download the lab here.
Did you know poinsettia leaves can make great pH indicators similar to red cabbage? Check out these lab directions from Flinn on how to turn this Christmas plant into a pH lab. You can download the lab here.
If you live where it snows in December, this lab looks fun! (Disclaimer: I've never tried it since I live in AZ, so if you try it let me know how it goes in the comments, I'd love to hear!) Have your students preserve a snowflake and look at them under the microscope. You can find the lab directions here.
An oldie but goodie! Make borax crystal ornaments to hang on your tree. This set of directions also has you add glow in the dark paint so your ornaments glow at night. Check out the procedures here.
Want to throw in a little science literacy before Christmas break? Check out this free article on Christmas trees from my friend over at Biology Roots. You can download it here.
The past few years at my school we have done a door decorating contest. I wanted to do a science themed door so we made a "chemis-tree" with elements from the periodic table. It turned out great (yes we went a little overboard) and the students had fun putting it together. You can download free element squares here.
While you are decorating your door, check out these cool scientist snowflakes from the Franklin Institute! We tried the Einstein one and it was hard to make look good, but the flask one was pretty easy. You can download the templates here.
Raid the chemistry stock room and do a cool copper and silver nitrate Christmas tree demo. You can see the YouTube version here or do a small scale microscope version of this lab here.
Do you have a string of Christmas lights that don't work well? Chances are most of the bulbs are still good. Grab some wire cutters, cut apart the bulbs, and turn it into a series and parallel circuit lab. You can find lab directions here.
This last link isn't an activity, but if you like to send home a small gift with your students for the holidays, check out these cute hot chocolate molecule gift tags from my friend over at Nitty Gritty Science. Adorable! You can download them for free here.
I hope you have a great holiday season! Make sure to check out the holiday category on my blog and see what other science activities I have for other holidays throughout the year!
Looking for some new ideas and activities to teach cladograms and phylogenetic trees? Check out this list below of fun activities and interactive websites.
Cladogram Construction: This free activity from Carolina Biological is nice and simple- a great way to introduce cladograms to your students. It has students construct a cladogram and then make inferences about related animals based on derived characteristics.
Build an Insect Cladogram: In this activity, students are given insect cards and have to create their own cladogram based on shared traits. At the end of the activity they fill out a CER form explaining which insects share the most traits.
Teach Genetics from University of Utah has a bunch of awesome resources. Students begin by sorting seeds using their own system of classification, and then move on to real case studies of common ancestry. Not one you want to miss!
The Great Clade Race: In this activity, students are given "runner" cards and choose different paths to complete the race. You can read more about the activity here and download the cards here.
Candy Cladograms: Get your students engaged with any activity by adding candy as an incentive. In this activity, students are given a bag of assorted candy and have to create a cladogram based on shared traits.
Build A Tree: In this fun game, students work through different levels building phylogenetic trees and dragging common traits onto the correct part of the tree. Make it a classroom competition!
What did T-Rex taste like? This interactive website from UC Berkley walks students through phylogenetic trees and includes handouts and even assessments in the teacher's guide section.
PBS Learning Media has a series of 6 interactive missions students can complete all related to evolution. Mission 5 deals with phylogenetic trees to uncover the sources and treatments for diseases and parasites.
Dogs Decoded: In this activity from Biology Corner, students analyze characteristics shared between dogs, wolves, and coyotes and determine which is most closely related.
Evolving Trees: In this activity from Cornell Institute, students are given a cladogram to work backwards and analyze, and then create their own cladogram with a hypothetical fly species.
I hope you found an activity or two your students will enjoy!
If you haven't used small student whiteboards in your classroom, I promise you, you are missing out. As soon as the whiteboards come out, I have automatic buy-in from students. Students love writing on them, and as a teacher I love them because they are great for visual learners, and they are an easy way to quickly assess student learning. Since it is so easy to erase and fix mistakes, students don't feel pressured to have the right answer all the time. They create a fun and low-stress environment.
While they aren't ideal for every activity, here are some times you can bring them out:
1. When Introducing a New Topic
I love getting out whiteboards when we are learning a new topic and students need the ability to mess up, erase, try again, and master a new skill. If you teach biology like I do, pedigree charts, punnett squares, or mapping out dichotomous keys are great examples of times students need to erase and try again. (Tip: instead of wasting paper towels, bring in old rags or socks and use them as erasers instead).
2. Experimental Design
Doing a lab where students need to design an experiment? Having lab groups whiteboard out their experimental set up really helps them talk through the process before beginning (see image below for a 5 second rule bacteria lab). I usually make lab groups call me over and get teacher approval before grabbing their supplies. I'll ask them to explain their set up to me, clarify their variables, and make sure their experiment is controlled before beginning. If you use CER (claim, evidence, and reasoning) at the end of your labs, whiteboards are another place they can map out their findings.
3. Giving Peer Feedback
One of the first official whiteboard PD's I took was based on modeling instruction which relies heavily on whiteboard use. Without going into a bunch of detail, students use whiteboards to draw models of science concepts. Once drawings are complete, the class holds a whiteboard session where we would stand up and face each other in a large circle, and give feedback on other groups' whiteboard data. This could also be applied to ADI's argumentation sessions. It takes a few times for students to get the hang of asking appropriate questions and giving helpful feedback, but once they get the hang of it you as the teacher can step back and let students discuss their learning without much guidance (which is pretty amazing to watch).
4. Showing Progression of Learning
Do you ever have students write things down that you want to refer back to throughout the unit? For example: do you ever have students brainstorm what they already know about a topic to identify misconceptions? If you are trying out project based learning, do you have your students write out their need-to-knows and update them throughout the project? Sometimes I have students write things down that I don't want erased for a few weeks. If you have enough whiteboards to get you through all your classes, allow students to turn in their whiteboards without erasing them, prop them up in the front of the room or window sill, and refer back to them when needed.
5. Formative Assessment
If you finished a concept and want a quick way to visually assess where students are at before moving on, whiteboards are a great tool for formative assessment. Put a practice problem on the board, have them whiteboard the answer, and hold it up for a quick visual check.
Have I sold you yet? Are you ready to run out and ask your principal to buy you some? It is much more expensive to order whiteboards from school supply companies than to just go buy your own at home depot. When you go, ask them to point you to the white tile board or panel board. It comes in large sheets (usually 96" x 48") but they will cut it down for you to your desired size. So come prepared with dimensions in mind based on the size of your student desks.
Once you get the whiteboards back to your classroom, there is one magic step you don't want to miss to keep them looking white and shiny for years to come: car wax. Before you hand them over to your students, grab an old rag and some turtle wax and give them a nice coating. This will keep your whiteboards erasing well. I do this about once a year and my 10 year old whiteboards still look practically brand new.
Don't have the budget for whiteboards? Or are you interested in some other options? Here are a few other options I've tried you might be interested in:
Do you have any other white boarding tips to share? Feel free to drop them in the comments below!