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, or "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. You can read another blog post that includes more book recommendations here. (Want a comprehensive book list your students can choose from? CLICK HERE).
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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