WHAT IS CITIZEN SCIENCE?
Citizen science is when the public participates in scientific research. Every-day citizens share and contribute data with the goal of increasing scientific knowledge. You do not have to be a trained scientist in order to participate.
WHY YOU SHOULD TRY IT
Citizen science is great to do with students because:
Ready to try it out? Here is a list of websites and project ideas to get you started.
1. CitizenScience.gov is a government website that has a TON of project ideas and is a great place to start. You can collect data that will be used by NOAA, USGS, National Science Foundation, and even NASA.
2. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a website run by the Audubon that encourages students to get outside and start birding. They are looking for regional data where people can upload pictures and species of birds they see in their neighborhoods. Time to dust off those binoculars!
3. National Geographic has a list of citizen science projects, ranging from wildlife observation, measuring night sky brightness (light pollution), butterfly census, listening for frog and toad calls, and more.
4. SciStarter.org is a website put together by Arizona State University and the National Science Foundation. You can search for projects near you or online only.
5. Project Green Challenge is a website that gives students environmentally-themed challenges. You can register your school and enter to win prizes!
6. Zooniverse is "people powered research." This website has a ton of ongoing projects that also venture into other content areas outside of the natural sciences.
7. inaturalist Do you ever take pictures of insects and cool species in your yard or neighborhood? inaturalist is a website (and phone app) that allows you to upload pictures of your findings and share/discuss with fellow naturalists.
8. Captain Planet Project Hero is a PBL driven website where students can help threatened species and ecosystems in their area.
9. The GLOBE Program is looking for people to contribute data for cloud types, mosquito habitats, and land cover observations.
10. Project Budburst was created by Chicago Botanical Garden. Their goal is to uncover the stories of plants and animals affected by human impacts on the environment.
11. Gorongosa Webcams If you've ever used curriculum from Biointeractive, you know it's pretty stellar. In this lesson students study webcams from Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique and do animal identification.
12. Pollinator Live is a website that includes links to a bunch of citizen science projects centered around attracting and monitoring pollinators in your area. Teach students the importance of pollinators!
Looking for low stress and low prep ideas as we navigate distance learning? Here are 5 ideas you can use with your secondary science students:
1. CLICK HERE to check out virtual field trips your students can explore!
2. CLICK HERE to see a full list of science related movies, TV shows, and documentaries.
3. Check out American Chemical Society's blog post on kitchen chemistry ideas!
4. Have students create a photo journal!
5. Have students build something out of recycled materials. Ideas could include a rube goldberg contraption, a parachute, or a solar cooker.
Hope those tips help you through this tough time!
Don't have the funds to take students on a field trip? Living in the age of technology allows us to virtually visit and see sights around the world (or solar system!) that most of us wouldn't get the opportunity to ever see. I've compiled a list of science-related virtual field trips you and your students can experience. Happy travels!
1. Virtual Field Trips.org is a great place to start. They have videos that can take students to the galapgos, national parks, and the amazon. Head here to watch!
2. I've always been fascinated with caves. Visiting Carlsbad Caverns was one of my favorite vacations. Let students visit the world's largest cave, Son Doong, which is located in Vietnam. This place looks pretty spectacular! They can take a virtual walk through with 360 degree views HERE.
3. The Nature Conservancy also has a variety of field trips to choose from. They have teacher guides and videos for a ton of topics. Check them out HERE.
4. I'm sure you have played around with Google Earth, but did you know there is also Google Moon and Google Mars? Let your students explore the solar system and see what the surface of the moon and Mars look like! You never know, humans may be regular visitors to these places in their lifetime!
5. Another cool site to check out if you have students interested in space is Stellarium. Students can visit this online planetarium and check out constellations visible from their current location.
6. You might think of Easter Island as more of a history trip instead of a science trip, but this island has an interesting (and disastrous) history relating to ecosystem collapse and sustainability. What is now relatively barren land, Easter Island was once lush and heavily populated. There is some debate about what wiped out the trees (deforestation? invasive rats?) and the ecosystem collapse that followed, but either way it is a good lesson on population growth and sustainability. Students can check out the island HERE.
7. Discovery Education has a bunch of virtual field trips to choose from. Head here and you can filter by content area.
8. Would you like to view webcams from different zoos and aquariums? I often put live webcams up on the classroom board when students are doing independent work. If they finish their work early or need a brain break, watching animals is a fun thing to do! Check out this blog post to see which zoos and aquariums offer streaming webcams.
9. The National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC offer virtual tours using Google Street View. Check them out HERE.
10. Google Art and Culture has virtual field trips from TONS of locations worldwide. Click here to view US national parks and explore places like the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Yellowstone, and more! (Warning: It's addicting).
Do your students truly understand protein synthesis? Not just knowing how to convert DNA to mRNA to amino acids, but TRULY understand how and why the process works? I struggled with this for a while. My students were great with A's, T's, C's, and G's (and U!) but couldn't explain the bigger picture.
I wanted students to be able to answer this question: If every cell in the body has the exact same DNA, then why do cells look different and do different jobs? Why are muscle cells long and stretchy while nerve cells are web-like, yet they have the same set of directions inside?
To answer this question students needed to understand that genes can be turned on an off. Even though every cell in the body has the same DNA, cell types only read the genes that apply to them. Eye cells only read and use eye genes, skin cells only read and use skin genes, etc. So how do specialized cells know which genes apply to them?
I created an activity that likens the genome to the blueprint of a house. A house blueprint includes all the information needed to build the house- the electrical, the plumbing, the framing, it's all there. When the electrician shows up to install the wiring and outlets, he only needs the information on the blueprint that applies to him. The same goes for cells.
In this activity, I put students in groups of 4. Each student was assigned a different job- a plumber, an electrician, a framer, and a roofer. On each job card is a promoter sequence. (Promoter sequences are used by transcription enzymes to know where to begin transcribing the gene).
Each student will scan through the DNA looking for their specific promoter sequence. Once they find it, they begin the transcription and translation process until they reach a stop codon.
Once each student has their genes transcribed they go to the house blueprint and look up which trait the house will have based on the amino acid sequence (see image below). If you have honors or pre-AP students you can have them complete all 4 jobs, or 8 genes total instead of 2.
I hope you check out this activity and your students can really understand the process of protein synthesis. If you would like to purchase this activity, you can find it HERE in my TpT store.
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!