When you were a kid did you ever read the "choose your own ending" books? You would read and then it would give you two scenarios and you could choose how you wanted the story to continue? I always liken those to dichotomous keys when introducing them to students. You get two scenarios, choose one, and follow where it tells you to go.
Why do we use dichotomous keys? They are an identification and classification tool. If you are looking at a plant in your backyard and want to identify it and it's scientific name, we use a dichotomous key.
Dichotomous keys are fun for students and they get the hang of them quickly.
Here are some activities you can use to teach dichotomous keys:
1. I begin by using a powerpoint that teaches students how dichotomous keys work. You can find it here.
2. Ready to practice? Here is a mollusk activity from Cornell.
3. This fun activity from Carolina Biological uses a flower dissection and dichotomous key to help solve a crime.
4. Generally we use dichotomous keys in biology, but they can be used for other things too! Here is a cloud identification dichotomous key from NASA.
5. Here is an interactive fish identification dichotomous key that is fully virtual! Perfect if your students have computer access.
6. Ready to have students build their own? Head to your local dollar store and grab an assorted bag of animals (I found frogs when I looked). Have students lay them out on a whiteboard, sort them into two categories as they go, and create a dichotomous key. Using whiteboards allows them to correct any mistakes.
7. Here is another option for students building their own key that uses fun looking monsters.
If you have any other fun ways to teach dichotomous keys, leave me a comment! You might also want to check out this blog post that has resources for teaching cladograms.
While I'm not a fan of making students memorize anything on the periodic table, the more familiar they are with it the easier it is for them to use. Do I expect them to know the atomic number of carbon is 6? No, but it's helpful if they know the general location of carbon so it's easy to look up.
Playing periodic table bingo is a fun way to review the elements. I was recently at Dollar Tree and found this bingo cage with 60 balls, cards, and chips for a buck! The balls are numbered on one side, but I grabbed a sharpie and wrote the atomic symbols on the back (for general science you can usually stop at 36 on the periodic table). Break off the balls, place them in the cage, and get ready to have some fun!
Students are given a bingo card that has the names of 24 elements. As you give the cage a spin and remove a ball, you call out the chemical symbol. Students then cover the matching name on their bingo card. (For example, you call out "Na" and students cover sodium). I allow them to have their periodic table out for reference- remember I don't expect them to memorize, just become more familiar with the table.
Can't find the bingo cage at your local dollar store? They are also available to purchase on Amazon (affiliate link), or you can buy ping pong balls instead (which are a little easier to pick up) and pull them out of a plastic tub.
As we near the end of the school year, it's fun to change up the way you assess students. Students' brains are fried from state exams- lets give them some other ways to demonstrate their learning other than a multiple choice assessment! Here are some ideas to get your juices flowing:
1. Have students create a stop-motion video! Check out the apps "stop motion studio" or "stop motion animator." Have students use their phones or tablets and take pictures to create a stop motion video. While you could provide some fun supplies like play doh or legos, even scraps of construction paper will do! Another tip: the more pictures, the better- upwards of 100 is not too many!
2. Have students make an infographic to show what they learned this year. Here is a lesson that walks them through how to create one using piktochart.com.
3. Have students record a podcast episode based on your current unit. Anchor.fm is a super user friendly (and free!) software program that students can use to record.
4. Get students outside and have them create a photo journal that uses pictures to document a science concept. For example, if you recently taught kinetic and potential energy, students could take pictures of a swing-set, rubber band, or a skateboard. They will describe how their picture relates to the topic. You can find an editable lesson with rubric here.
5. Looking for a longer project? Try out some project based learning and have students create a product that answers a driving question related to your curriculum. If you want to learn more about PBL, check out this series of blog posts.
What other fun ways have you assessed students aside from a typical written test? I'd love to hear ideas in the comments!
I LOVE looking at and collecting fossils. It's fun to try and picture what the organism looked like and what type of fossil it is. Students love them too! One tip from experience: Students enjoy them A LOT more if they have bigger samples to look at. I know what you're thinking... "Becca, I don't have the budget to buy a ton of large fossils." Instead of buying a bunch of kits with an assortment of small fossils, buy one large fossil of each type and have students rotate around the room to view. I also place them on rubber dissection mats (like in the image shown above) so they are better protected.
If you are an earth science teacher (or a biology teacher who is sneaking in some fossil activities during your geologic time unit) here is a list of activities to get you started!
1. In this activity, students assemble puzzle pieces to match up fossil types with their definition and a picture.
2. Digfield School has a series of fossil lesson plans that can be found here.
3. In this activity titled "The Great Fossil Find," students act like paleontologists and assemble fossil bones to determine the type of animal. It has a fun script to go along with it. My middle schoolers loved it!
4. Want to make your own fossils out of plaster of paris? Check out directions here.
5. This station lab has 8 different stations students will rotate through all dealing with fossils. They will watch a video, view virtual fossils, assemble paper bones, read about the La Brea tar pits, and more.
6. Amber fossils are super expensive to buy. If you want to show your students some fake amber fossils, you can order them from Amazon (affiliate link). Another option is to make your own with plastic insects from the dollar store and hot glue (photo courtesy @quirky_science on instagram).
Also... just for fun... you could buy some insect lollipops and see if you have some brave students that want a tasty treat!
7. As a biologist, I talk to my students about the transition from life in the ocean to land. If this is the case, shouldn't we have evidence of this in the fossil record? I enjoy this video clip of Dr. Neil Shubin's team finding the Tiktaalik fossil.
8. If you want to show students how the process of permineralization works, you can use epsom salt and a sponge to replicate the process. You can find directions and a lab worksheet here.
9. The Natural History Museum of Utah has a set of investigations where students explore a dinosaur quarry and analyze 3D virtual fossils. The investigations are comprehensive and students will get a deep dive into what it feels like to be a paleontologist exploring fossils! It's free with a teacher login, be sure to check it out!
10. The American Museum of Natural History has a drag-and-drop interactive where students sort fossil layers from oldest to youngest. Great for relative dating practice.
11. Want to teach students how we use radiometric dating to determine the absolute age of a fossil? Grab some pennies (or puzzle pieces) and follow the directions found here.
12. At africanfossils.org, students can explore virtual fossils.
13. Coprolites are fossilized dung. While that sounds pretty gross, they can be colorful and pretty! Scientists can observe coprolites and learn about what the organism ate and make inferences about their habitat. Learn how to make your own coprolite for students to explore here.
14. Here is a "fossilize me" card game from Science Friday.
If you are teaching a geology unit, be sure to check out my rocks blog post for more resources!
Teaching about human impacts on ecosystems and future climate change projections can leave you and your students feeling hopeless and depressed. While I think it's important to teach the facts and not sugarcoat what is happening to our planet, we can also find ways to give students hope for the future and motivate them to push for change.
While watching The Lorax or making an art display out of recycled materials can be fun and entertaining, the impact it leaves isn't very large. Here are some ideas where students can really feel like they are making a difference:
1. CHECK OUT HANDPRINTER.ORG
Instead of just focusing on our carbon footprint, this website has ways to increase your "handprint," or positive impacts that help others take positive action and heal the planet on a global scale. Check it out!
2. PARTICIPATE IN A CITIZEN SCIENCE PROJECT
Taking science beyond the 4 walls of your classroom can be much more meaningful for students. Through citizen science, the data they collect and research they conduct can contribute to larger regional or even global studies. Find a citizen science project here.
3. FUND RAISE FOR A CAUSE
Try organizing a class (or campus) fundraiser for an environmental cause. My students have conducted fundraisers for Water Is Life and One Tree Planted. (Here are some free handouts I used for the water fundraiser).
4. HOST A DOCUMENTARY MOVIE NIGHT
Many documentaries can leave the students feeling helpless, but some end on a positive note. Some that end with a more uplifting tone include Racing Extinction and Biggest Little Farm. Try organizing a movie night for students on your campus so the impact is larger than your own classroom. Your student government might even help you organize!
5. WRITE LETTERS TO STATE LEGISLATORS
Look up state legislators and have students write letters to them encouraging them to vote for/pass bills with the environment in mind. You could even ask if they have time to be a guest speaker or do a zoom call with your students. If the thought of proofreading and editing all the letters makes your head spin, team up with the English teachers on campus and see if they can help.
What other ideas do you have? Drop me a comment!
2 liter bottles are one of the most versatile lab supplies you can get your hands on. There are SO MANY ways to use them! While I'm a soda drinker, I prefer cans, so I ask students to bring them in if they have any at home. Here is a (growing) list of experiments that all use 2L bottles. If you have more ideas to share, please leave me a comment!
1. Lava Lamp: Build your own lava lamp! Fill a bottle 1/3 of the way full with water and a couple drops of food coloring. Fill another third of the bottle with vegetable oil. Drop in an alka seltzer tablet and enjoy the show!
2. Density Column: Teaching density? See how many different layers you can create inside the 2L bottle. Some great liquid options are water, karo syrup, vegetable oil, rubbing alcohol, and soap.
3. Cloud in a bottle: Check out this video clip on how you can create a cloud in a bottle.
4. Tornado Machine: There are two ways to do this- first you can purchase a tornado tube connector (I got the pictured connector from Steve Spangler Science), connect two bottles together, and give it a swirl. Another option is to use one bottle. Fill it with water, a small amount of vinegar, and a drop or two of soap. Give it a small shake, swirl it around, and watch a soapy vortex form inside.
5. Climate Demo: Why are the high and low temperatuers in coastal cities close together while inland cities see much greater temperature fluctuations throughout the day? Answer: It's a lot harder to change the temperature of water than it is to change the temperature of air. Get two 2L bottles and fill one with water while leaving the second bottle empty. Place a thermometer into the opening and secure it with a rubber stopper (or play-doh if you don't have a stopper). Shine a heat lamp on both bottles and compare the temperature changes.
6. Rocket: Build a water bottle rocket! Here are directions from NASA.
7. Balloon in a bottle: Does air have volume (does it take up space?) Have students try and blow up a balloon in a bottle. Bet they can't! (You can poke a hole in the bottom or add a straw to show how if air can exit, the balloon will expand).
8. Instant Ice: Can you turn a bottle of liquid water into frozen ice within seconds? Wach how here! (Note: I've never tried this with a 2L size but know it works well with smaller bottles).
9. Soil Erosion: Show students the impact of plants and sediment type on erosion. Bottle 1 contains soil and plants, bottle 2 contains woodchips, and bottle 3 contains soil. Add water and compare the amount that filters through and clarity. (Photo credit @Inspirelifelonglearning).
10. Atmosphere Model: What is the most abundant gas in the atmosphere? How much oxygen is actually up there? Grab a 2L bottle and some foam beads from the dollar store and build a model.
11. Mentos + Coke: This is always a student favorite. Put some mentos into a 2L bottle of coke and watch for the geyser! I found this screw-on contraption in Target dollar spot. Tip: Using diet soda has easier cleanup- no sticky sugar residue!
12. Composting: Build a micro-composter in a bottle! Pepsi has a free lesson plan here.
13. Lung Model: Build a model of a lung and show students how the diaphragm helps lungs expand and contract. You can find directions here.
14. Kinetic Theory: How can we show students hot air molecules move faster than cold air molecules? Get a bottle (smaller actually works better here) and place a balloon over the opening. Next, get 2 bowls of water. Fill one bowl with ice water and the second bowl with hot water. Place the bottom of the bottle in the bowl of cold water and watch the balloon.... do nothing. Now place it in the bowl of hot water and watch the balloon expand. As the air inside the balloon gets warmed it moves faster, expands, and pushes on the balloon.
15. Cartesian Diver: Get a 2L bottle and fill it with water. Place an eyedropper inside the bottle that is 1/4 of the way full and screw on the lid. (Don't have an eyedropper? Use a ketchup packet instead. You want the ketchup packet to float, but just barely). Squeeze the bottle and watch the eyedropper sink. As you increase the pressure on the bottle you'll see water go up into the eyedropper, making it sink.
16. Eco Column: Build a three chamber eco-column with multiple bottles. This website has multiple blog posts on how to assemble them and troubleshooting tips. (Photo credit @lonniesplanet)
17. Funnel: Even after you've finished using a bottle for one of the experiments listed above, cut off the top and save it for a lab that requires a funnel!
Any other uses you know of? Drop me a comment!
It doesn't matter if you're a headstrong toddler, adult, or somewhere in between.... we all like to do things our own way. Our own opinions matter! Sometimes we forget the importance of providing students opportunities to have choice in how they learn or how they want to be assessed.
Some students love technology, some would rather build a model. Some students love to write, others would prefer to do an oral presentation. Some students love working in groups, others would prefer to work alone.
I'm not saying you need to completely loosen the reins in your classroom- I'm very type-A and need structure. However, there are plenty of ways to provide students choices without giving up control or having 10 different types of assignments to grade. Below are some ways to include some student choice. I encourage you to try a few that fit your comfort level!
1. Let students choose their lab groups or seating arrangement
Do you always use a seating chart? And base lab groups off that arrangement? It's a great classroom management strategy. But once you have your class up and running, do you ever let students choose their own seats? Sometimes when you let them sit by their friends they will surprise you! I always tell students I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, and if they choose to socialize instead of learn then I get to choose the seats again.
Not willing to completely let the seating chart go? Try it just for a day during a group activity or lab. You can also try "clock partners" where they get to choose different students they'd like to work with (just Google "clock partner template" and you'll find a ton). Once they have their clock chart filled out you say "today we are going to work with our 3:00 partners" and they go find that person. It's a great way to change things up.
2. Digital choice boards
Choice boards are an excellent way to let students choose how they want to demonstrate their learning. Essentially they look like a tic-tac-toe board and include 9 different assignment options. They can range from watching a video and writing a reflection, completing a virtual lab, filling out a crossword puzzle, or even taking pictures of a scientific phenomena. The possibilities are endless. As the teacher you can choose the options and how many you want students to complete. I have biology and earth science digital choice boards already completed, check them out!
3. Mode of presentation
Assigning some sort of presentation? You will have some students that LOVE to present to their peers and others that would rather get a tooth pulled. I've found the English-language learners especially get nervous and struggle with oral presentations. Try offering different ways they can present that will make them more comfortable. Options could include:
4. Form of note taking
At the first school I taught at, students were required to take Cornell notes. I came to love them and I enjoyed that they provided students with structure, but not every student likes to take notes that way.
Offering students different note taking pages gives students the opportunity to learn how they retain information best. Do they like to doodle? Try doodle notes. Do they like structured Q and A style notes? Try Cornell notes. Do they struggle with vocabulary or keeping up as you lecture? Try fill-in-the-blank cloze notes.
5. Project based learning
Have you ever tried out project based learning? This method of instruction allows for a lot of student voice and choice. I have a series of blog posts on PBL, so start here if you are interested.
6. Early Finishers
If students finish their work early, allow them to fill those last few minutes of class with an activity of their choice. Check out this blog post for a list of options students could choose from.
What other ways do you allow for student voice and choice in your classroom? Leave me a comment!
Looking to up the engagement during distance learning? Or, is your classroom 1:1 with technology? I've been creating interactive diagrams where students can click and learn about biology and earth science topics. Students work through the diagram and end with a Google-form self grading quiz. No prep for you- wahoo!
Check out this video to take a peek on what they look like and how they work!
These diagrams can be used for:
Want to see the topics available? BROWSE HERE!
You can probably tell based on my blog name.... I like rocks. I don't claim to be an expert geologist, but I have a deep love for pretty rocks, am fascinated by them and how they form, and have quite a collection.
Students often think rocks are boring until you put some pretty samples in front of them and get the juices flowing on how they formed. Why do some rocks have small crystals, others have large crystals, and others have no crystals at all? How come some rocks have large holes and others have layers? If you get some cool samples in their hands I promise they get excited.
(Tip: bigger is better. Students get a lot more excited looking at a large geode than they do a tiny one. Save up for a few larger pieces and have students rotate around the room, opposed to buying multiple small samples).
Here are some fun ways to teach the rock cycle to students:
1. ROCK CYCLE GAME: Have students take a ride through the rock cycle with this interactive activity. Students will roll a cube and head to different stations in the classroom (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic) and collect tokens along the way.
2. STARBURST ROCK CYCLE: Want to model the rock cycle? This lab is always a favorite! Grab some starburst and have students cut, mold, and melt them to represent stages of the rock cycle.
3. INTERACTIVE: Learner.org has a rock cycle click-and-learn interactive for students.
4. INTERACTIVE DIAGRAM: This diagram allows students to click and learn about each step of the rock cycle. This is a great option if you have laptops in your classroom! Students will also use Google maps to see each rock type out in nature.
5. CARD SORT: I'm a big fan of card sorts as a quick formative assessment activity. Have students sort the cards under the proper heading.
6. INDUSTRIAL USES: How are different rocks (and minerals) used industrially? In this card sort activity, students will pair a rock (or mineral) with an industrial use card. This activity makes rocks and minerals more relevant.
7. VIRTUAL ROCK BOX: If you don't have access to samples, students can explore these rock types virtually.
8. VIRTUAL ROCK IDENTIFICATION: Want students to identify rocks based on their characteristics? This site has virtual labs where students need to identify igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.
9. STATION LAB: I love station labs because students are more engaged when they get to get up and move around the room. This station lab includes 8 stations for students to explore rocks and take a deeper dive into the rock cycle.
10. ROCK CYCLE SONGS: We all know that it's hard to remember what we ate for dinner last night, but can sing a song we learned the lyrics to in 6th grade. Adding music to text makes thinks stick! Check out this Youtube video that teaches students about the rock cycle to the tune of "We will rock you," or "Life is a highway."
I hope these help you during your geology unit! If you want to check out some fossil lesson plans, check out this blog post. Rock on!
As a new teacher, pacing was one of the HARDEST things for me to get right. Some classes would finish right on time, others would finish early, and with others I would run out of time to get through everything. Some kids just work faster than others and will complete an assignment with 10 minutes to spare. And inevitably, an administrator will walk in and see them sitting on their phone (there's nothing worse). Instead of letting them pull out their phone, here are some options you can provide students who finish early, or some ways you can fill those last few minutes.
1. Housekeeping Tasks: This is one of the first things I ask students when they are sitting with nothing to do- Is your backpack cleaned out? Is your binder organized? Have you checked your grades? Do you have any missing assignments?
2. Read a book: Many ELA classrooms have a classroom library, but you could consider starting one for your science class. Goodwill is a great place to find affordable books. Science novels are great, but don't rule out comic books and low-lexile quick-reads.
3. Task cards: Whenever we do review activities before a quiz, I always have a few students ask if they can take home the task cards or card sorts to practice on their own. Not every student will want to review with task cards, but some will take you up on it.
4. Interactive bulletin board: I'm the crafty type and enjoy changing up my bulletin boards frequently. I have a bulletin board in the front of the room that I change up based on our unit of study. Interactive bulletin boards are boards that allow students to interact with, such as putting string between organisms to make a food web, adding thumbtacks to a map to locate national parks, or researching a fact about a famous scientist and adding it to a sticky note.
5. Genius hour: Genius hour allows students to explore learning new skills of interest and encourages creativity in the classroom. You can learn more about it here.
6. Long Term Project: It's fun to have a project going on throughout the year that students can check in on. It gives them perspective on how long scientific research can really take. Examples could include: Watching and measuring soil changes inhabited by pill bugs, keeping red-wiggler worms in a compost bin, or hand pollinating fast-plants.
7. Science Videos: This is one of my go-to options when the whole class finishes early. Find a fun science video to show students and have them explain how it works. Sick science and Outrageous Acts of Science are two of my favorite channels when I have a few minutes to fill.
8. Extreme dot-to-dot: Students go BANANAS for these worksheets. They are available to order online but I've also found them at the dollar store.
9. Computer time: If students have been working on the computers and finish early, you can allow them to have some free time on approved websites. Check out this free choice board that includes 16 websites with games and activities students can choose from.
10. Jigsaw Puzzle: If you have some open table space, keep a jigsaw puzzle out for students to slowly work on.
11. Sudoku: I have some students that LOVE to do sudoku puzzles when they finish a quiz. I bought a book at the dollar store and keep copies on hand. You can also print free puzzles online.
12. Wall coloring page: Order a wall size coloring page and let students color! (Some school libraries have machines that will take a PDF and print it poster size. Check with them before spending money!)
13. Help with class pet: Have a class pet? It shouldn't be your responsibility alone to keep the living quarters clean. Students usually enjoy helping out, especially if it means they get some animal play time.
What other activities do you use when students finish work early? I'd love to hear them!