Getting to use microscopes is the highlight of the school year for many biology students. They love to learn how to use them and explore the microscopic world. But purchasing a class set of microscopes can be pricey. Also, as many schools are currently doing distance learning, microscopes aren't an option. Here are a list of some alternatives you can try so students can still check out the microscopic world:
1. HAVE HALF YOUR STUDENTS ON SCOPES
If you can't get a full classroom set of microscopes, start with building up half a class set. When you are first teaching students how to use microscopes it can be TIRING. There is one of you and 30 of them all with their hands up asking for help. Only having half of your students on scopes greatly eases the tension. Try having half of your students on microscopes one day while the rest of the class is working on a different assignment and switch the next day. I much prefer this method over having students work in pairs because what ends up happening is one student hogs the microscope the whole time and the other student doesn't get to learn how to effectively use it. (Here are some microscope worksheets you could have students work on while it's not their turn at the scope).
Purchasing prepared slides can also break the bank. Check out this blog post on how to make your own!
2. VIRTUAL MICROSCOPE LABS
There are a couple virtual microscope labs available online you can have students check out. These are great for distance learning (or the half of the class that isn't currently on the microscope!)
- My favorite is from BioNetwork. It doesn't run on flash and has a variety of slides students can view.
- These labs from Univ of Delaware and NMSU are both great but run on flash, so be sure to check the sites on student devices before assigning.
Foldscopes are paper microscopes that magnify up to 140x (pretty impressive!) While I haven't used them personally, I've heard great reviews from others. You can get 10 assembled foldscopes for $60 which is half the price of one compound microscope! Since they are lightweight and electricity-free you can have students take them outside and explore on-the-go.
4. PHONE APPS
One of the best features of a smart phone is the incredible cameras they come with. There are magnifying apps you can download that will allow students to zoom in with their camera to see small objects. A decent one to check out is called BigMagnify.
5. HAND LENSES AND POCKET MICROSCOPES
Don't underestimate the power of a hand lens or pocket microscope! You can purchase decent pocket microscopes on Amazon for $10-$20 each. You obviously won't get the same clarity as a compound microscope, but they are good if you are budget-strapped and need an alternative. When I first started teaching I only had a handful of compound microscopes, so I set up stations around the room that had different types of microscopes with different magnifications. Students could play around with magnifying glasses, pocket microscopes, stereoscopes, and a compound microscope and compare the magnification of each.
I hope one of those options works for you and your students have fun exploring!
Hi! If you've been following for a while, you might have noticed I have A LOT of blog posts and it can get difficult to find what you need. I compiled a complete list of blog posts broken down by content that I will keep updated. You can refer back to it at the top of the categories on the right hand side of the page. I hope this saves you some time and avoidance of the endless scroll!
· Protein synthesis blueprint activity
· Teaching protein synthesis just got easier
· Human evolution teaching resources
· Scientific speed dating
· How to view stomata under the microscope
· Resources for teaching cladograms
· How to set up a bacterial culture lab
· Karyotype station activities
· GMO and CRISPR teaching resources
· Supplemental materials for The Serengeti Rules
· Not sold on evolution? Let me explain what the term means…
· Blood type pedigree lab
· Teaching the characteristics of life
· Build your own candy cladogram
· Free Farm-to-fork curriculum
· Ecology Population Growth resources
· Macromolecules- making biochemistry fun again
· Carbon cycle lab- photosynthesis and respiration
· Cellular organelles working together
· Cell size lab: examining surface area to volume ratios
· Transforming your microscope unit from good to great
· Teaching resources for the biogeochemical cycles
· Keystone species and trophic cascades
· A better way to teach cell division
· 10 resources for teaching cell membranes
· Why we should STOP teaching the nucleus is the control center of the cell
· Setting up a hay infusion for your microscope unit
· How to use an onion for your osmosis lab
· Teaching natural selection and evolution
· Animal hair microscope slides
· Invasive species teaching resources
· Video clips for teaching symbiosis
· Everything you need to teach food chains
· Scientific method labs for biology teachers
· Resources for teaching ecological succession
· Microscope alternatives
EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCE
· Water cycle resources for secondary grades
· Atmosphere model in a bottle
· Rock and fossil classification labs
· My 3 days at NASA
· Urban heat islands
· Air pollution experiment
· A case study of lake Nyos
· Teaching climate change with ice cores
· Introducing diffusion with smelly balloons
· States of matter and phase changes
· Polarity and electronegativity teaching resources
· Lab ideas for teaching density
· Physics lab- build a parachute
· Pendulum lab
· Motion graphing made easy with Pasco
· Metric system teaching hack
· Teaching pH in a snap
LITERACY and ASSESSMENT
· Teaching vocabulary without the worksheet
· 4 reasons you should be using exit tickets
· Increasing science literacy with writing prompts
· The dog days of April testing…
· Hey ELL teacher, you matter!
· Recommended summer science reads
· 10 tips for teaching ELLs in the science classroom
· Why I believe in Cornell notes
· Crazy for card sorts
· Puzzles and games in the science classroom
· Where to find free science articles
· Practice writing procedures
· PBL 1: Project based learning- what is it?
· PBL 2: Getting started on a project
· PBL 3: The product and student led inquiry
· PBL 4: Beyond the classroom
· 10 tips for effective group work
· Tips for making and using rubrics
· Teaching students to give effective peer feedback
· Why you should utilize guest speakers and where to find them
SEASONAL / BACK TO SCHOOL
· End of the school year ideas for secondary science
· March madness- science edition
· Christmas Holiday science activities
· Show your coworkers some love! Teacher appreciation day
· Must-Do end of the school year tasks to save yourself time
· Halloween science ideas
· April Fools jokes for the science classroom
· Summer science activities
· Valentine’s day science ideas
· Earth day science resources
GENERAL SCIENCE TEACHING TIPS
· Citizen science projects
· Increase student engagement with whiteboards
· Finding a teacher mentor
· How to handle lab absences and make ups
· Class finished 5 minutes early… now what?
· Why I don’t teach lab safety the first week of school… and other back to school science teacher tips
· Secondary science extra credit opportunities that are actually worthwhile
· Train your students so your classroom runs like a well oiled machine
· Increasing parent teacher communication in a secondary classroom
· Thinking like a scientist: Using CER
· 5 tips to quickly learn student names
· Why I let students use notes on tests
· Accommodating for both high and low level learners
· Please, just give the kid a pencil
· 10 tips for teaching in the inner city
· Tips for a first year science teacher
· How to get students to ask for help when they need it
· Students shutting down? 3 teacher behaviors you need to stop doing
· Building a caring classroom culture
· Classroom décor on a budget
· Virtual field trips
· 5 low prep ideas for distance learning
· Utilizing live stream webcams
· Video clips for CER practice
· Great movies for the science classroom
· STEM- Making animated videos
· Using infographics for assessment
· Secondary science virtual labs
· Tips for building relationships virtually
· Making class fun again… reflections after 10 years of teaching
· Twitter science bulletin board
· Free science posters
· Comparing the amount of carbonation in different brands of soda- an inquiry lab
· Consumer science experiments
Writing out CLEAR and DESCRIPTIVE scientific procedures is hard for students. It takes practice! Many teachers start off with a fun activity like how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Students will likely forget some important steps! This Youtube version made me smile:
Anywho, it's important for students to be given opportunities to practice writing experimental procedures and not just be given what we call "cookbook labs" where everything is provided for them.
Here are some ways you can practice:
1. I created a set of 20 unique writing prompts that provide students experimental questions. I like that they not only get to practice writing procedures, but also get critical thinking practice- HOW could they test and set up an experiment to answer the question? It can be helpful to work through an example as a class and then set them loose.
(If you are interested in other writing prompt sets, check out this post).
2. I came across this cool flextangle template and immediately thought "Students will love this! But how do I connect it to my curriculum?"
I think it would be fun to put students in pairs, and chop the paper in half- give one student the foldable template and the other student the directions. Have the student with the directions explain how to cut and fold the flextangle and see if they can do it successfully. After a while, you can show them the video of how the flextangle should work and see how they did. While students won't actually be writing procedures, they will be explaining procedures, which is still great practice.
3. In this free activity from Amy Brown Science, students build a unique structure and write out the procedures on how they built it. Then they swap instructions with another student and see if they can replicate the structure.
What other ways do you have students practice writing procedures? Leave me a comment!
As teachers we want our students to increase their reading comprehension skills. I've found that most of my students don't mind reading when you give them an interesting piece of text. If you assign textbook reading the moans will follow (and honestly, as adults we don't love to read textbooks so why do we expect our students to enjoy it?)
Instead, try and find an interesting topic or scientific phenomena that goes along with the concept you are learning about. For example, as a biology teacher one topic I teach is the biogeochemical cycles. My students would NOT enjoy reading about the carbon cycle out of a textbook. So instead I gave them an article to read about Lake Nyos, a lake that formed in a volcanic crater that was slowly releasing dissolved carbon dioxide into the water. To introduce the lesson, I show them a video clip of the villagers and livestock living around the lake who don't wake up one morning. By the end of the video students were hooked- what happened to these people?! They were absolutely ready to read the article and discuss carbon.
Here are a list of websites you can peruse to look for free, engaging articles for your students:
1. NEWSELA: Newsela articles are free. You can pay to set up classes and assign articles through their site, but completely not necessary.
2. SCIENCE NEWS FOR STUDENTS
3. SCIENCE JOURNAL FOR KIDS: Primary literature can be hard to comprehend, but this site makes the articles understandable for students.
4. GOOGLE SCHOLAR: Want students to read primary literature? Most of the time it costs money for articles, but Google Scholar provides free journal articles.
5. COMMON LIT: Lessons and articles are free after you create an account.
6. READ WORKS
7. TWEEN TRIBUNE: Student-geared articles published by the Smithsonian.
8. NATURAL INQUIRER: On this site you can not only download articles but also order magazine copies for your classroom.
Do you have a topic that your students consider boring? Need help coming up with related phenomena? Leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to help!
Want a new way to review the scientific method and variables at the beginning of the school year? Try having students conduct a consumer science experiment! In this lab students will chose two products that they use in their everyday life and design an experiment to test it's effectiveness.
What's great about this experiment is:
Possible experiments could include:
Prior to "setting students loose" with the task, I would remind them to only choose ONE variable, and review what a controlled experiment is. For example, if they choose to test paper towel absorbency, they need to make sure the two paper towels are the same size. Also discuss the need for multiple trials to get accurate data.
You have a few options for students to submit their work:
Inevitably you will have students that changed more than one variable, didn't have a control, made measuring errors, etc. You can always give them feedback and request the repeat the experiment with needed improvements. This is a great learning opportunity for them, and they will understand that the nature of science is to always go back to the drawing board and improve on prior experiments.
Have any other consumer science labs you love to do with students? Leave them in the comments and I'll add them to the list!
We all would love a picture-perfect-pinterest-designed classroom. But if you start adding up the cost of new posters, paint, flexible seating... you will break the bank. I remember as a first year teacher I felt like I had to spend a fortune on posters to fill up wall space (and I did...). But it IS POSSIBLE to decorate your classroom on a small budget. Here are some ideas!
1. FIND FREE POSTERS ONLINE
There are a TON of awesome graphics and posters online made especially for teachers. Some sites will even mail them to you for free! But if not, you will need to print them yourself. Check with your school library and see if they have a poster machine. You might be able to send them a PDF and they can enlarge and print it for you! Check out this blog post that has a MEGA list of free science posters.
2. MAKE YOUR OWN POSTERS
Have a creative side? Try making your own posters! I have a bulletin board in my classroom that says "We are learning about..." and I like to change out the posters with each unit. I design a powerpoint slide for each unit and have the library print and laminate them for me. (You can also have them printed at an office supply store, but expect to pay over $10). If you want to make multiple images you can hang a bunch of regular sized pages and not worry about printing anything poster size.
3. CHECK THE DOLLAR STORE
Most of the time the dollar store carries more elementary-themed decor, but you'd be surprised at the number of science posters and decor I've found over the years! I've had the best luck at Dollar Tree. I've picked up periodic table posters, water cycle posters, and science themed borders. Be sure to check often because their inventory changes regularly.
4. TRY USING WRAPPING PAPER
Have a large space you want to cover but are stumped with what to do? Try finding a science-themed wrapping paper! This idea is from Ashley Bible- she covered one wall in her English classroom with bookshelf wrapping paper. She found it on Spoonflower.com- be sure to wait for a sale to save even more.
5. REPURPOSE STUDENT WORK
Hanging student work on the walls is completely free! You could have students make one-pagers, infographics, or hang up paper models. Every year when my students learn about DNA I string together their paper models and hang them across the room.
6. LOOK ON TPT
There are a ton of posters and banners on TpT! I have a bunch of posters listed in my store, including this Twitter Science Bulletin Board which is free!
Most of US schools are preparing to go back virtually in a couple weeks. Going virtual in the spring was definitely a transition, but since we already knew our students and had existing relationships with them, it wasn't as hard to call home and stay on top of them with assignments and grades.
But STARTING the school year virtually without those existing relationships will be a different ball game. You will need to take some time the first week to really reach out and try and get to know your students, which won't be as easy to do through a computer screen. Here are some tips you can try the first week:
1. CREATE A WELCOME VIDEO.
The first thing I would do is post a welcome / about me video on the homepage of your virtual classroom (Canvas, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, etc). Could you just post a message you typed out? Sure. But having students see your face and hear your voice is so much more valuable.
Find a fun way to introduce yourself. Since you are at home you have a unique opportunity to introduce yourself in a way you haven't before. Show them your pets! Show them your favorite hobby you like to do at home. Get creative!
2. LEARN THEIR NAMES.
Learning student names and pronouncing them correctly is one of the first things I worry about during back-to-school season. When you have a new group of students online, you may be tempted to skip over this step. I wouldn't! I would ask students to send me a 5-10 second video of them introducing themselves and pronouncing their names. Make it the first grade in the grade book so as long as they do it, they start off with an A.
3. HAVE STUDENTS FILL OUT A QUESTIONNAIRE.
Normally during the first week of school I send home a questionnaire that I have students fill out. It asks fun questions like their favorite hobbies and movies, and more pertinent questions like do they have any problems hearing the teacher or seeing the board. I think during COVID a questionnaire is even more important. Kids may be struggling with not having enough food at home, parent unemployment, lack of internet, having to care for siblings, etc. The quicker we can address these issues and relay that information to school support staff the better.
4. TAKE TIME TO REACH OUT TO EACH STUDENT INDIVIDUALLY.
A personal message goes a LONG way. We all know what it's like to get a card in the mail or a text message from a friend letting them know they were thinking of us. We should do the same for our students.
If you can make a quick phone call home to each student, awesome! Now, if you are a secondary teacher I know you are thinking "but I have 150 students, I don't have the time for that." You could instead send each student a message through your virtual learning platform. Heck, you could even copy and paste the same message over and over but change out the name. But taking the time to let students know you want to get to know them, answer any questions, listen to their concerns, and even check in on their home welfare situation is really important.
5. SET UP RELIABLE OFFICE HOURS WHERE THEY CAN CHECK IN WITH YOU.
Everything in life lately feels up in the air. Is it safe to go to stores? When can we go back to school? Are Mom and Dad's jobs safe? Being a stable figure in their life is something students need. Setting up reliable office hours each week where they KNOW they can reach you is something they will appreciate. Yes, they can still send you messages at midnight, but if they want to speak to you face to face, office hours are great. Provide a reocurring Google Meet or Teams meeting link where students can click to join a meeting and chat with you. It doesn't have to be every day, for example you can say they can chat every Wednesday from 10-noon or whatever works with your schedule.
6. TRY BREAKOUT GROUPS WHERE THEY CAN MEET WITH YOU AND THEIR PEERS.
Some students won't feel comfortable meeting with you one-on-one and that's okay. Try providing them a more comfortable place to chat with you and their peers. Breakout groups are one way you can do that.
Within your online learning platform, you can set up small groups where students can collaborate on assignments and chat with each other. If you use Google Classroom, you can set up Google Meet links. In Microsoft Teams, I would recommend creating different channels within each class. (I'm not familiar with Canvas so I can't help you with this one... sorry!) Have students join and collaborate on assignments or even eat lunch together virtually (they are really going to miss socializing with their friends!) As the teacher you can pop in to each group meeting, say hi, and provide help if needed.
7. MOST IMPORTANTLY- REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT.
After the first week or two it may be tempting to back off the relationship building, get comfortable posting assignments and sitting in bed at night to grade after you get the kids tucked in. I would caution against this for a few reasons. First, we all know relationships are VITAL to student success. Students work hard for teachers they know and trust. Second, school will resume eventually. When you meet them in person you don't want it to feel like the first day of school all over again. If they already know you and know your expectations, you should be able to transition back to school a lot easier.
The 2020 school year is a going to be a learning curve for us all. What are you nervous about? What do you need help with? Lets chat! Feel free to leave a comment or head to my Facebook or Instagram pages where I have a great following of secondary science teachers who love to engage in these conversations!
Ecological succession can seem like a simple process... grass, shrubs, small trees, big trees. But how does an ecosystem evolve from nothing? I always begin this lesson by showing students a picture of earth as it was first developing and a picture of the earth today. Next I ask students- how did we go from this.... to this? How did our thriving ecosystems evolve from nothing? It really gets them thinking and leads to great class discussions.
Check out these resources to help your succession lessons be a success! (pictures courtesy pixabay)
1. Here is a powerpoint and card sort activity I created that you can use to introduce ecological succession.
2. This lesson plan from National Geographic shows the formation of a coral reef. It's pretty cool to look at succession underwater, not just below water!
3. Here is a free card sorting vocabulary activity I found on teachers pay teachers.
4. Here is a free lesson plan that looks at the succession that occurred following the eruption of Mount St. Helens
5. Here is a succession board game you can have students play. Looks fun!
6. Here is an online interactive game from Bioman on succession.
7. Succession occurs within aquatic ecosystems as well. Have students look at the succession of protozoa using this Carolina lab. (Don't have the funds to order protozoa? Here are directions to make your own hay infusion!)
8. Most of your students have cell phones, so have them go outside and take pictures of primary and secondary succession in their neighborhoods. They can upload them and create a photo journal.
I hope you lichen these lesson options! (ok... that was lame)
Diffusion is a topic that is covered in biology (when we introduce cell membranes) and chemistry (particle movement and kinetic theory). I came across this "smelly balloons" activity on Flinn's website and thought it was such a fun way to introduce diffusion. In this activity, students will smell balloons that have different flavor extracts inside. Their task is to guess the scent and explain particle movement. How is the smell passing through the latex barrier? (Note: Prior to this activity you will need to make sure none of your students have latex allergies. Bust out those lab safety contracts they signed at the beginning of the year!)
For this activity you will need:
- Balloons (an assortment of colors is ideal)
- Eyedroppers or pipettes
- A variety Flavor extracts* or different odor substances
- String and tape (optional)
*Flinn's directions say to use a variety of flavor extracts. Flavor extracts can be pricey, so if you don't have very many at home you have some other options. You can use essential oils, perfume, or cooking spices. I used vanilla extract, lemon extract, eucalyptus oil, and cinnamon (mixed with a little bit of water to make a slurry).
You've made it to the end of the school year! The last month can be tough to get through, and students start checking out mentally. I've compiled a list of some fun projects and activities you can do with your students to keep em engaged.
1. Have computer access? Have students create an infographic for a topic you learned about this school year. Here are directions on what program I use, and you can find student handouts here.
2. Students love completing labs, but take it a step further and collect meaningful data to contribute to a citizen science project. Check out this blog post with links to dozens of projects that can further scientific research in your community.
3. While hard copy newspapers are slowly becoming a thing of the past, all the parts are still available in a digital format so it's good for students to learn about a newspaper format. I created a newspaper project that can be used for any science topic. You can find the activity lesson plan here.
4. Want to have your students make a difference in their community? Have them plan and execute a fundraiser! Find a great nonprofit to donate to such as Water Is Life or One Tree Planted. (I've had personal experience working with Water Is Life and they are a stellar organization).
5. Almost every student has a cell phone these days, and it can be tough to keep students off them during class. Try having students get the phones out and create a photo journal for a science concept. For example, if you recently taught ecology have students go outside and take pictures relating to succession, food chains, and habitats. Then they can do a small write-up on what their photos represent. Find the editable project here.
6. Summer is almost here, so have them plan a vacation! Have students pick a national park they would like to visit. (If they aren't sure what their options are, check out Google's 3D views of national parks they can explore- it's so cool!) Once they've picked a national park, give them a travel budget. Tell them they need to account for travel expenses, food, park entry fees, and souvenirs.
7. Did you teach force and motion? Rube Goldberg projects are always a student favorite. Assign students with a task (such as getting a marble to land in a cup) in a certain number of steps. You can have them complete it in class or have them work on it at home and record a video. It's a blast! You can find a lesson plan here.
8. If you have any students that are fans of the show Survivor, they will love this Survivor Science project from The Science Spot. You can find the activity write-up here.
9. Want to review vocabulary? Have students create an ABC book with science vocabulary from the year. For each letter of the alphabet students will find a vocabulary word, write out the definition, and draw a picture. You can find the printable template for free here.
10. Show and Tell may sound like an elementary school activity, but you can make it meaningful with a scientific twist. Give students a topic or theme and have them bring in objects from home that fit that topic. For example, you could assign the topic of friction. What is something at home that represents friction? They could bring in a pair of baseball cleats, a piece of sandpaper, or a can of WD-40. Then they have to explain to the class why they brought that particular object in and how it relates to the topic. Middle schoolers will really enjoy it!
What are some of your favorite end of the school year activities? Lets share more ideas in the comments!