We live in the world of technology and instant streaming. It's amazing that we can see and talk to people on the other side of the world with almost no delay. I recently came across a couple of live streaming websites where your students can observe nature and wildlife from locations around the world. Many of our students may never have the opportunity to see the great barrier reef or go on an African safari- but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy looking at the animals from afar! I've created a list of a few websites where students can observe live streaming from some pretty cool places:
1. Deep Sea Exploration: Head over to http://nautiluslive.org/ to see real time deep sea exploration! Students can even type in questions and organizers are willing to skype with your classroom!
2. Explore.org: Out of all the websites, explore.org is probably my favorite. You can click on tons of animals and it will take you to a live streaming location. Sometimes you won't see much, but that is the nature of it being live. It will recommend which animals are most active and has highlights you won't want to miss.
3. National Park Service: This website has links to some webcams within some of the US National Parks. (Many of these are also available on explore.org, so you may just want to start there).
4. Zoos: Many zoos such as The Houston Zoo, the Woodland Park Zoo, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have webcams within their exhibits for you to view. You can even take a turn controlling the webcams at the Houston Zoo!.
Ideas of how to use these websites:
1. If you are teaching a lesson on making observations, have students observe the animals, write down behaviors they see and make inferences about their lifestyle or habitat.
2. Are your students quietly working on an assignment? Many teachers play background music. I personally struggle with this, because I'm one of those people that has to have it quiet in order to focus. Instead of playing music, try putting up a webcam on the screen. It allows students to take small mental breaks to observe the animals, and is also gives the early finishers something to do instead of pulling out their phones. It's a great classroom management tool.
3. If you are teaching about conservation or sustainability, put up a webcam and discuss why animal conservation is important and the ethical implications of zoos.
4. Don't have the money to take your students on a field trip? Use these sites as a "virtual field trip." They can see a national park from your classroom!
I hope you enjoy these sites! I've wasted my prep hour a few too many times by sitting and watching animals! Enjoy!
Since I started teaching, I always got my students trained pretty quickly to start working on bellwork when they came in to class. It is a great way for them to have a few minutes to settle down, remember what we learned the previous day, and also gives me time to take attendance. One thing that I didn't start until recently was using exit tickets. I mostly didn't use them because I wasn't prepared. By not being prepared, I mean I didn't have set questions ready to go. I didn't like the generic tickets of "one thing I learned today was..." and "one thing I'm still confused about is..." because I feel like it didn't give me any concrete information or data and half the time students left them blank. I really wanted the students to SHOW me that they understood the concept.
Now that summer is here I've had time to create exit tickets for all my biology units. I'm really looking forward to having them done and ready to go. At the top of each ticket is a set of questions that deals with the new concept the students learned about. At the bottom there is a place for students to self assess themselves.
Here are 4 reasons why I think exit tickets are beneficial to use in the classroom:
1. Formative Assessment for the Teacher- Do you truly know where all your students are in the learning process? Are you giving a summative assessment when your students aren't ready? One of the best quotes I have heard regarding assessment is "How are you rewarding students at their best, not punishing them at their worst?" That really spoke to me. The use of exit tickets allows me to really hone in on which students needed help before we moved on to new concepts.
2. Formative Assessment for the Student- It's good for you as the teacher to know where your students are in the learning process, but it's even better if your students know where they are too. How often as a college student did you walk into a test not having any clue what would be on it? What would they focus on? Did you study the wrong things? Thoughtfully prepared exit tickets allow students to identify exactly what they already know and where there are learning gaps.
3. Increased test scores- After students turn in exit tickets and you sort through them, what do you do with them? Do you group them into piles? Do you recycle the ones that have mastered the content so you can focus on the lower students? I think you should pass them back, even though they aren't necessarily graded. This allows students to review them before a test and feel confident about what material they have mastered and what they need to study for. When students have a clear understanding of what to study for, test scores will increase! (Side note: I generally let students use notes on tests. You can read about that here).
4. Be Better Prepared for Evaluations- When I walk into my teacher evaluation conferences, I know I will be asked these two questions without fail: Do I have data to show how each of my students are doing in class? and how do I allow my students to self-assess themselves? Exit tickets are a great way to answer both of these questions. Explain how you formatively assess your students and allow students to self-assess themselves and look for gaps in their learning. Following the use of exit tickets, explain your methods of intervention before the summative assessment. I think your evaluator will be impressed with your answers!
I've created tickets for all the biology units I teach. If you'd like to try out a few for FREE, click here!
I just finished my 10th year of teaching and to say it wasn't my best is an understatement. I had a rough group of students this year, was feeling teacher burn-out, and was just getting negative. Throw in all the school shootings and changing political climate and it was hard to go to work some days. Now that school has been out for a week, I've had time to sit and reflect on what I can do to make year 11 better and get excited about teaching again.
I reflected on the teacher I was year 1 compared to the teacher I am now. There are a LOT of things that have evolved and improved- my classroom management, inquiry based teaching, getting students to write well... but there are some things that I need to work on. Year one I was SO EXCITED to teach science. (Photo is of my first year teaching in 2008). I cared less about the test scores and more about getting students to enjoy science. I put in a lot of work that year, but it felt really rewarding. Somehow along the way that excitement has waned. Don't get me wrong- I still love science and love seeing students' face light up during experiments... but I feel myself worrying more about test scores, getting bogged down by the work load, and frustrated with education related issues that are out of my control.
So now that it is summer and I have time to decompress, reflect, and set goals, I realized I need to make teaching fun again. I need to focus my efforts on things that I have control over and worry less about things I have no control over (ie: our Secretary of Education or fixing the home lives of my students). Here is the list I came up with to help make year 11 stellar. I plan to post this list at my desk and check in quarterly. If you are reading this... feel free to check in on me and hold me accountable!
Becca's Goal List Of Teaching Goodness:
1. Go outside. Why do I feel the need to be stuck in my classroom all day? There are so many labs that can be done outside where students can enjoy the weather. Isn't exploring the world around us one of the ways to get students excited about science? Let's do it.
2. Be creative with labs. There were times this year that I felt too tired to set up a lab. It is THE WORST when you spend a lot of time and money on a lab and you hear students whining. Next year I want to focus on fun labs and activities that get students up, moving, and engaged.
3. Try a project or two. Managing group projects is a lot of work. But when we allow students to apply what they are learning to a real world context through a project, learning goes so much deeper. My goal is to not assign the type of project students ask their parents to do, but a project that gets them excited to show what they have learned. For example, following my ecology unit I plan to have students design a "zoo of the future." They can not only explain the content stuff (like biomes and symbiotic relationships) but also dive into the ethics of zoos and conservation. Wish me luck!
4. Bring in guest speakers. This is one that I'm already decent at but want to continue doing, so it is on my goal list. Students hear from me every day and the novelty of my voice quickly wears off. Bringing in content experts to the classroom is exciting for the students, brings in a wealth of knowledge you might not have, and also gives you a small break from teaching. There are so many people that are willing to come if you would just reach out and ask. Don't forget to check out sites like skypeascientist.com to have virtual guest speakers! Also- get your students to ask as well! If they have a family member that works in a cool career field, have them come in! Sometimes guest speakers will say no to me, but have a harder time saying no to the student.
5. Give up a class period to let students have a voice. Do we allow time to pause our curriculum and let our student's voices be heard? Or are you too worried about getting through all the standards before the final exam? This is my personal reminder to pause and let my students speak up. There are so many current events that apply to the classroom and affect our students. There is trauma going on in their lives. There are issues they are worried about, but don't have the forum to voice their feelings. As a high school teacher my students will be able to vote soon, and I want them to be able to talk about what is going on, be educated about real world topics, and form educated opinions. This can be much more meaningful and powerful to them than learning about mitosis.
6. Last but certainly not least, FOCUS ON THE GOOD. It can be easy to get bogged down by the work load, the mouthy student in 5th period, and the amount of meetings to sit through. But if you focus on the good things your students are doing and the impact you are making on their lives, it makes it all worthwhile. My goal is to make more parent phone calls for the GOOD things my students are doing instead of the bad. Attend a sporting event for a kid that needs a boost. Send a nice remind message to a class period that had an awesome day. When kids know you care and are noticing their efforts, they will move mountains for you.
If you are still reading this... thanks! This blog post was more for me and a little self-healing, but if it helped you in any way I'm glad. My ultimate goal is to not be that 30 year veteran teacher that is super grouchy and everyone is thinking "why doesn't she just retire already?" If you have any more tips to beat the burnout, please share them in the comments!
Earlier this month I had the incredible opportunity to get a behind the scenes tour of NASA (I'm still pinching myself). It was amazing! I can't claim to have been a NASA nerd since birth... it wasn't until I was in high school that I picked up the book October Sky (which has been my favorite book ever since) and became interested in space. I became fascinated with the space race and started watching things like From the Earth to the Moon and The Right Stuff, and reading books like Packing for Mars by Mary Roach and A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin. Long story short, a NASA nerd was born.
A fellow science teacher I follow on instagram posted some videos of a NASA launch and mentioned she was there through a NASA social event. I immediately looked it up and applied. (You can and should apply here). I didn't get selected for the first launch I applied for, so don't give up!
The event I was able to attend was the launch of the Mars Insight lander. It was the first planetary launch from the west coast. We already know a lot about the surface of Mars and it's atmosphere, but not as much about what is going on below the surface. It is suspected that Mars has a core similar to ours, and if so, there should be tectonic activity on the surface of Mars. The Insight lander has a probe that will measure the temperature of Mars' crust and a seismometer to measure any marsquakes (don't you just love that word?) It will land on Mars November 26th, 2018 and will send data back for the next 2 years.
On day 1 we arrived at the air force base, got our clearance, and hopped on the buses that took us to a NASA hanger. The first thing I noticed when I walked inside was the swag bags waiting for us (who doesn't love free gifts?!) There was a life size replica of the Insight lander, virtual reality headset so you could walk on the surface of Mars, and engineers ready to talk to us about all things Insight.
After lunch we got to sit in with the media peeps as NASA TV took over and talked about the launch. Speakers included Jim Green, NASA chief scientist, Tom Hoffman and Stu Spath, Insight project managers, Tim Dunn, NASA launch director, and more. I learned a ton from hearing them speak. Jim Green is certain that humans will eventually colonize Mars, and we need to understand all things Mars before we get there. He is excited about the Insight for a few reasons:
This is not the most exciting picture... I know. But as I drove up to the base for day 2 this was my view. Fog. It was not looking promising. BUT, day 2 was still my favorite day of the trip.
On day 2 we got a tour of all things NASA. We got to see the mission control room where the launch director sits and has the final no-no/go (pictured bottom right), the WROCC (western range operations control center), and the Space Launch Complex. The picture on the bottom left is of a map that showed every satellite currently orbiting Earth. NASA and the DoD also monitor every piece of space junk floating around in orbit, and there is over 500,000 pieces of debris being tracked. Nuts!
The highlight of day 2 was the last stop.... the launchpad. We got to see the Atlas 5 rocket and Insight preparing for launch. About 2 hours prior to launch (in this case, 2 am) the building you see surrounding the rocket slowly moves backward. Don't let the small size in the picture fool you, it was nearly 200 feet tall. It was a truly serene moment to stand in front of something that hundreds of people worked on for years and would be on the surface of Mars within 6 months.
The launch window ran from 4:05 am - 6 am. After managing a few hours of sleep I got up at 2 am and headed to the viewing site. I had previously driven around town using an elevation app on my phone looking for a spot that was above 600 feet. I found a spot off the road that was over 900 feet elevation and was hoping for the best. Once we arrived, it was clear that the fog was going to be an issue, but we had our fingers crossed we would at least see the glow of the rocket. As 4:05 approached we heard the countdown on the radio and could hear and feel the launch, but unfortunately couldn't see anything even though we were only a few miles away. Below is a youtube video taken by the up close cameras so you can see it blasting off through the fog layer. I was hoping to have personal video to take back to my classroom and show my students, but this is what I showed them instead.
Even though I didn't get to see the launch, it was an incredible experience I will never forget. I am hoping to drive back out to Vandenberg later this year to try my luck at another launch viewing. (If you want to see NASA's upcoming launch schedule, look here).
Some other people from my NASA social group drove out of town to a mountain range to get better photos of the launch. This time lapse photo of the launch was taken by Andy Fortson and is STUNNING. Check out his instagram @AndyFortson!
We all have those few students who slack during the semester, have a 57%, and come begging for extra credit before grades are due. For many teachers the answer is....
... and I totally get it. Grading late work is no fun and I'm not going to go out of my way to find extra credit assignments. But there have been times where I have a student who is honestly working their butt off and deserve a small boost. Here are a list of extra credit opportunities that are actually worthwhile (opposed to bringing in boxes of tissues or cleaning your lab tables!) Some require more effort than others, so you can decide how much each assignment should be worth.
1. Crash Course Videos: Have your students watch a crash course video on a topic you have learned about and ask them to write a summary of the video. You can find the crash course videos on youtube here.
2. Have students record themselves doing a home experiment. For example, you can have them test Newton's 1st law of motion by pulling a tablecloth out from under the dishes. Need ideas of what they can try? Check out Steve Spangler's Sick Science videos on youtube, have them watch a video, try it at home, and write a small summary of how/why it works.
3. Have students do service for a scientific cause. I would love for all students to leave my classroom knowing that it is important to leave the world a better place than we found it. Service could include doing a neighborhood clean-up, starting a garden, or participating in a citizen science project. Have them do a write-up of what they did and get a parent signature.
4. Complete a book report. Ask students to read a science-related book and write a book report on it. The book should be approved by the teacher prior to beginning. There are a ton of science related books out there that students would enjoy such as "Stiff" or "Packing for Mars" by Mary Roach, "The Martian" by Andy Weir, "Rocket Boys" by Homer Hickam, or "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot.
5. Watch a science documentary: There are a ton of free science documentaries out there that can be found on youtube (or netflix if they have an account). The documentary should be approved by the teacher prior to beginning. Ask students to write a 1-2 page summary of the documentary, what they learned, and how it impacts their life. (This could also work for podcasts!)
Have any other great extra credit ideas? Leave them in the comments!
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Teaching human evolution can be a topic many teachers shy away from. Depending on the type of school you teach at and your student demographic, you might come across a few obstacles. In my 10 years of teaching I haven't had any push back or complaints from parents, but I know this isn't the case for everyone reading this post. I think it is 100% necessary for you to teach evolution (most importantly because it is in the standards) but you should decide how far to delve into hominid evolution based on your student population.
I personally teach general biology to sophomores, and college biology to seniors through a duel enrollment program. I hammer evolution pretty hard with the sophomores, but don't dive into hominid evolution with them. By senior year I have them learning about our hominid ancestors by analyzing skulls, comparative anatomy, looking at fossil maps, and watching videos to help them learn about the hominid family tree. I've put together a list of resources that will hopefully help you as you plan for your unit.
1. PBS Learning Media: To help students visualize the migration patterns of early hominids, I use this map activity from PBS lerning media. Students map out where fossils have been found of Australopithecus, Neanderthals, Homo Erectus, and early Homo sapiens. PBS also has a wealth of resources that can be found here.
2. Nat Geo Talk: Check out this Nat Geo Live video clip of Dr. Spencer Wells, the geneticist behind the Genographic project. Prior to Ancestry.com and 23 and Me DNA kits, the Genographic Project was working to sample DNA across all continents and create a migration map. If you would like a worksheet to accompany the video, CLICK HERE.
3. ADI Lab: If you've used ADI labs before, then your students will be skilled at the CER (claim, evidence, and reasoning) process. In this ADI lab students compare hominid skulls and make inferences based on their observations. You will need access to skulls to complete this lab. The lab itself is available online for free, but to acces the teacher guide and answer key it must be purchased through NSTA or other online vendors.
4. Becoming Human: Is a website with multiple activities on human evolution. Check out "building bodies" and "the chromosome connection" lesson plans by clicking HERE.
5. Human Migration Patterns: Use this close reading article to have students learn about how our DNA is a written document that gives us clues to the past. In this article students will learn about how we can test for ancestry and how we can even trace our ancestors back to the earliest humans in Africa. CLICK HERE to download.
6. Hominid Family Tree: This website from the Smithsonian includes an interactive hominid family tree. You can click on each species and it will give students information about where, when, and how they lived. They also provide free teaching resources which you can find HERE.
I hope you found these resources helpful! My tip for dealing with students that are resistant to evolution is this: stick with the basics. Reiterate the idea of change in genes over time. We see evolution all around us- the flu virus is a great example. Once you get students on your side understanding that genes can change, then you can begin to delve a little deeper. If you would like to check out a blog post on tips for teaching natural selection, click here.
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Protein Synthesis is actually a fun concept for me to teach. For me, there are 2 barriers you need to cross in order for students to learn protein synthesis:
1. Learning about the steps of transcription and translation (the easier part)
2. Understanding how DNA translates into gene expression (the harder part)
Most of my students do really well with step 1. They can learn the A's, T's, C's, G's, and U's and where the processes are taking place. But at the end of those lessons, if you ask your students how they have brown eyes, can they answer? It can be difficult to understand how genotypes code for phenotypes. I've put together a list of resources to help walk you and your students through the process.
TEACHING TRANSCRIPTION AND TRANSLATION (The easier part)
1. USE INTERACTIVES.
Check out this interactive website where you can go through the process of transcription and translation up on the board with your students. This is a fun way to wrap up your lesson, or use as a reinforcement activity to follow up.
2. USE PUZZLES
Once you've taught the process, you need to have students practice, practice, practice before the test. It's not an easy topic, and they need to have multiple opportunities to review the vocabulary. Check out this puzzle in my TpT store that I use as a review activity.
3. USE VIDEOS
Seeing the process of protein synthesis in real time helps students see the bigger picture much better instead of focusing on the nitty gritty details. Check out these videos from biointeractive of transcription and translation occurring in real time.
TEACHING GENE EXPRESSION (The harder part)
4. USE EXAMPLES
Providing your students with many examples of how DNA --> RNA --> PROTEIN work is critical in helping them understand the complete process. Give them examples from their own body (the gene for melanin showing up as a pigment in their skin and eyes). CLICK HERE to see an example (with video) of a protein that makes fireflies glow.
5. USE ANALOGIES
Do your students understand why all your cells have the same DNA, but they all look different and do different jobs? I created this activity to help students understand how cells have certain genes turned on and certain genes turned off. In this activity the genome is likened to the blueprint of a house. Each student is given a job (plumber, electrician, roofer, or framing) and has to transcribe and translate only the genes that pertain to their jobs. It really helps students understand that cells do not use most of the genome, only genes that apply to them. CLICK HERE to check it out.
If you are interested in a bundle where you can find a lesson, puzzles, review worksheets, close readings, quizzes and more, check out this protein synthesis bundle! It literally has everything you need to get through this unit.
Have any other fun videos, websites, or tips for teaching protein synthesis? Share them in the comments!
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Earth Day will be here April 22nd and I'd love to send you some prizes for you and your students! Not one but THREE winners will be picked to win these amazing prizes!
Enter below to win these amazing prizes!
The fine print:
One of the hardest parts of being a teacher is making sure you are providing instruction at the level of all your students in the classroom. In classes of 30+ students, it can seem daunting to modify for kids that still need help, while also increasing the rigor for kids that have already mastered the content. I think many teachers tend to be good at one end of the spectrum, but it is hard to be good at both. I’ve reached out and gotten tips from some fellow secondary teachers, and I hope you find them useful!
How to help the students that "just don't get it"
These are your kids that tend to give up easily. They struggle, don't believe in themselves, and get frustrated easily. How can you keep these kids from quitting and start believing in themselves?
"Algebra 2 can be intimidating for my students so I have a word wall for them that shows math terms and concepts in context with lots of examples. I also give my students “cheat sheets” for the multi-step work we do, like graphing exponential functions or factoring quadratics. When one of my kids gets overwhelmed, I will also cut back on their amount of work. This is a special education accommodation that we use for kids with slower processing speeds and it also works well for kids who are having a tough time for any reason. My central goal is to have kids leave my class with the confidence they need to take on more math classes after high school so everything I do to support my students is done with this in mind."
-Shana from Scaffolded Science and Math
"The short answer - scaffold! That can look very different depending on the assignment and the students. Some examples would be providing a model, sentence starters, a template, or some labelled diagrams to help get started on an assignment or break down a difficult concept."
-Tara from Science In The City
How to challenge the students who already get it
These students pick up new concepts easily. Because of this, they tend to get bored and can often act up in class. Giving them more work or asking them to tutor their peers is typically not the solution. So how do you keep them engaged and busy without assigning extra work?
"Try out project based learning! With project based learning, you pose students with a question or problem to solve. There should be many methods to complete the project, so it is a great way for your high kids to dig deeper into the content. For example: suppose you are doing a unit on evolution. Instead of just teaching the students about Darwin and his voyage, have the students create a podcast interview. Students will need to do background research about his journey and his life, write an engaging script, and record it. The higher level students will be thrilled that they get to be creative and problem solve instead of just showing their learning on a test."
-Becca from Science Lessons That Rock
"I find that many high level learners are pretty motivated IF they are interested in something, and I find it's my job to really get them interested in it. I feel that high level learners respond well to a lot of thought-type scenario questions like "what if this happened, what do you think would happen next?" I feel that high level learners really have a thirst, a need for their brains to have something to work on. For example, if we are talking about karyotypes and independent assortment, I would pose the question "Are you related equally to all of your grandparents?" (The answer is actually no, you aren't.) Lower level learners may not be able to grasp this, but higher level learners will be intrigued, and many of them will google it or read more about it and ponder about it in and after class. Higher level learners often want to connect with you on an intellectual level. (I find that sometimes lower level learners are more motivated by connection on the emotional/you-as-a-person level, but that is a big generalization). With higher level learners, you could give them the question and the end result/answer, and ask them to scaffold! Ask them to show you or prove the why on how to reach a particular answer."
-Bethany from Science with Mrs. Lau
Have any additional tips to share? Leave them in the comments!
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It's almost April Fool's Day and time to start thinking about how to trick your students! While it may be funny to scare students with a pop quiz or sending your best student to the principal's office, I like an April Fool's joke where the students learn a science concept at the same time. Check out these ideas on how to trick your students into learning a science concept:
1. "What's Wrong With The School Water?!"
For this one, fill a clear drinking glass with with rubbing alcohol and set it up front. When you are ready to start class or students are working on bell work, bring out a few ice cubes and drop them in your "water." (The ice cubes will sink instead of float because the ice is more dense than the rubbing alcohol). Start yelling to the class "Something is wrong with the school water! Look at my ice cubes!" and see their reactions. Follow up with a discussion about density. (This video below from my friend James shows how it works).
2. Make a Stink Bomb
Use this home made stink bomb recipe to gross out your students! Pretend that someone in your class keeps passing gas and make a scene asking them to stop. Once you tell them it's a joke, follow up with a discussion about sulfur and other things that contain sulfur (eggs).
3. "Do Not Open Bottle" from Steve Spangler
This is a fun prank that your curious students won't be able to resist!
4. Dihydrogen Monoxide
Tell your students that there is a new drug going around that they need to be aware of called Dihydrogen Monoxide. (Dihydrogen Monoxide is the chemical name for water). Show them this video clip and then ask the students what chemicals you think people might make this drug out of.
5. Rat Skulls
Do you have students who try and eat in class even when you tell them to put the hot cheetos away? Do you have any small skulls left over from your last owl pellet dissection? Tell the students that you were cleaning the room yesterday and you found the skull in one of the cabinets. Explain to them that the only reason rats come to the classroom is because they are finding food. You can have a discussion about food chains (and if you truly want them to stop eating snacks, don't tell them the truth!)
6. Burning Money
Tell the students that you had $5 stolen out of your wallet the day before. Tell them you know $5 isn't a lot, but you are really disappointed in them. To prove your point that it isn't about the money, take out a $5 bill and light it on fire yelling "see, it's not about the money!" (To light the money on fire without damaging the bill, dip the money in a water and rubbing alcohol mixture behind your desk where the students can't see).
7. Fools Gold
Have a piece of pyrite laying around? (If not, check with your earth science teacher). Tell the students that you were hiking after school the previous day and came across a large piece of gold. Pull out the pyrite, tell them it is worth thousands, and today will be your last day because you are retiring. April Fool's Gold!
8. Set up a Fake Text
Head over to a website such as http://iphonefaketext.com/ and create your own fake text message conversation. The possibilities here are endless! You can pretend to have seen a conversation between two students or between teacher and student (see pictured). Kids are addicted to their phones, so might as well stoop to their level!
I hope you have a fun day fooling your students! Enjoy!