Ahhh the biogeochemical cycles. They are vital to life, but students don't typically enjoy learning about them. They usually know the water cycle by the time they reach high school, but struggle with carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. I've rounded up some resources you can use to spice up your chemical cycles unit. Don't forget to repin this blog post for later by clicking here!
1. Calculate Your Water Usage- Since most students already know the water cycle, don't spend a ton of time on it. Instead I focus on their water usage. Many students will think you are crazy when you tell them it's not sustainable to take 20 minute showers. This website is really user friendly and gives students a break down of their water usage and compares it to the national average.
2. Carbon Footprint Calculator- Similar to the water calculator, this website allows students to calculate their ecological footprint. At the end of the activity it will give students an "earth overshoot day," meaning if everyone on earth lived like they do, that date is when we will run out of resources. Eye opening! You can check out the website here, and if you would like a lesson and worksheet to accompany the activity, click here.
3. Take A Ride Through The Carbon Cycle- In this activity, students will go around the classroom visiting different stations where carbon is found in the carbon cycle. At each station students will grab a tracker (small piece of paper that tracks where they have been) and will roll a cube that will determine where they go next. At the end students will discover where the most carbon is stored in the cycle. Download it HERE.
Students asking for more? I also made versions for the water and nitrogen cycles! Be sure to check them out.
4. Lake Nyos Article- Throw in some science literacy with this article titled "Killer Carbon." Lake Nyos is a lake in Africa that formed inside a volcanic crater. Over time carbon dioxide was building up in the lake. In 1986 the lake eventually overturned, suffocating everyone within a 15 mile radius. This lesson includes a link to a national geographic video that grabs student attention, a close reading article with questions, and a demo demonstrating how carbon dioxide gas is more dense than air (hence the suffocation). All you need are birthday candles, baking soda, and vinegar. Download this lesson HERE.
5. Nitrogen Cycle Interactive- Of all the cycles, nitrogen seems to be the trickiest for my students to grasp. I've found this website to be helpful walking the students through the cycle. I like that it doesn't go into specifics about NH3, NO2, and NO3 but just differentiates between N2 and other usable forms of nitrogen. You can find it here.
6. Crash Course Videos- If you are a veteran science teacher, chances are you have come across the Crash Course videos. I've found Crash Course videos to be GREAT for honors/AP kids, but my lower kids (and especially English language learners) struggle because he speaks fast. Preview it and see if you think it will work for your kids.
Here is one for the water and carbon cycles, and another for the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.
7. Make a Poster- It is nice for students to understand the cycles individually, but even better if they can link them all together. Put students in groups of 2-3 and give them a piece of butcher paper. Ask them to make a diagram that includes all the cycles. Hopefully by the end of the activity students will see that multiple nutrients cycle through organisms. Below is a sample diagram template that is included in my biogeochemical cycles lesson.
8. Model of Earth's Water- We show students pie charts all the time of how much fresh water is available for human use, but do they really grasp how little it is compared to the total amount of water found on earth? Use this lab activity where students create a scaled model of where earth's water is located. So many light bulbs will turn on and hopefully they will learn why water conservation is so important. You can download the lab here.
9. Biogeochemical Cycles Review Worksheets- It never hurts to review review review. Here is a set of 5 worksheets I created for the cycles. There is one worksheet for each cycle, and the final worksheet is titled "Name That Cycle" where students need to identify the correct cycle it is referring to. You can find them HERE.
Hopefully this helps! If you have any other tips or resources, leave them in the comments!
I know the term "open note test" makes some teachers shudder. Many teachers are completely opposed to this idea. I get it. We love our content areas and want students to retain the information and really know it. How dare students not remember information from my AMAZING lesson on cell membranes?! This is how I picture my students going home to tell their parents about today's science lesson:
But seriously, as engaging as I think my lessons are, studies have shown that students only retain 30-40% of information they see and hear. That leaves 60-70% of the information to be forgotten. I want my students to use their resources in order to become more familiar with that information they would normally just forget. Here are a few reasons why I let my students use notes on tests:
Okay, so you can tell by the title of this blog post I'm a biologist and not a chemist. (Chemistry teachers, please don't send me hate mail!) Honestly, I don't love chemistry and I don't love teaching it. BUT, I realize how important it is for students to understand biochemistry before I dive into a fun enzyme lab. There have been years where I thought "screw it, I'm just going to talk about macromolecules and cells without reviewing atoms and bonding." Oh was I sorry. Most of my students didn't have a strong enough chemistry background to understand polarity without reviewing bonds. Although most of my students took chem-phys the previous year, they didn't understand how the chemistry they learned prior could apply to biology. So my advice is to take it slow, review the periodic table and bonding, have them build models, and really understand the structure of the 4 macromolecules before moving on in your cells unit. Once you get to membranes, they will understand them so much easier if they understand lipids. Once you get to DNA structure they will understand why it runs from 5' to 3' if they understand the structure of a nucleotide. They will also understand DNA replication and the enzymes involved so much better if they understand protein structure and folding. Have I convinced you yet? I hope so. Here are a list of fun ways to teach macromolecules and deepen student understanding:
1. Build Atomic Models. I'm lucky enough that I have access to model kits. I have my students build models of all the macromolecules. The best is when they can each build an amino acid, link them together, and see dehydration synthesis with their own eyes. Check with the chemistry teacher on your campus and see if they have kits you can borrow for a few days.
2. Emphasize Protein Folding. Lets be honest- of the 4 macromolecules, proteins are the rock star. It's so important that students understand how and why proteins fold, and the consequences of them denaturing. My school purchased a kit called "protein toobers" where students pretend the "toober" is a long chain of amino acids. (The activity can be purchased HERE. I am not affiliated in any way with this company). Students add thumbtacks (side chains) and then have to fold accordingly. For example, if white thumbtacks are hydrophilic and yellow thumbtacks are hydrophobic then they need to fold the toober so the white thumbtacks face out and the yellow thumbtacks face in. It is fun for them to see that each group's protein is folded differently based on the order they placed the thumbtacks. If you aren't able to purchase this kit, I think it could easily be replicated with pipe cleaners and pony beads (click here to check out a similar product from Science with Mrs. Lau!)
3. Use Videos. It is always helpful for students to hear things explained more than once and in a variety of ways. Find videos that will help reinforce concepts already taught. Amoeba Sisters always have great videos and worksheets that go with them. Here is a link to the video on biomolecules and the associated worksheet.
4. Engage with Labs! There are a bunch of fun labs out there on macromolecules, especially enzymes. I love this liver enzyme lab from biology corner. Students will see how changing temperature and pH will affect enzyme reaction rates. It's not the most fun lab to clean up after, but it's inexpensive and fun for the students. You can buy a tub of chicken liver from the grocery store for less than $2 and that will last you the entire day. Tip: I've found I get the best results when I puree the liver in the blender instead of just cutting it into pieces.
5. Use Review Activities and Games. I have never met a student that didn't love puzzles and games. It is way more fun to use these as formative assessment tools opposed to a study guide. I have a few available in my teachers pay teachers store I think you will enjoy! One is a macromolecules tarsia puzzle (pictured) where students have to pair up words with their definitions. Another option is a memory game where students flip over 2 cards at a time to try and find matches. I also have a flip book which is a fun review tool for interactive notebooks. Don't miss my macromolecules bundle where you can buy them all at a discounted price!
What other fun ways do you teach macromolecules? Leave them in the comments!
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If you've been teaching for a while, chances are you have had some ELL (English language learner) students in your classroom. I've known many teachers that have panicked and asked me "how can I teach them science if they don't speak English?" I think many teachers tend to think they need to dumb down the content for these students. They aren’t dumb! Your job is to make the content accessible. It’s been my experience that ELL students are amazingly hard workers and are a blast to work with. My friend Bethany Lau over at Science with Mrs. Lau and I have created a list of best-practice tips for working with ELL students. We also have some helpful resources to share with you!
Tip #1: Get them talking! A quiet classroom is not conducive to learning a new language. Many students are scared to speak out loud in English, especially in front of the entire class. To help build their confidence, try small group discussions first. To ensure that every student has spoken to his or her group, give each student something color-coded (I use colored Popsicle sticks from the dollar store). When a student speaks, they place their Popsicle stick in the center of the table. It is easy as a teacher to walk around and monitor who is speaking and who isn’t. Make it a requirement that each student has to speak at least twice during group discussions.
Tip #2: SLOW down when you are talking, and use nonverbal cues. This is much easier to do when you have all your ELL students together in one class, but when they are mixed with native English speakers we often don’t realize how fast we are talking. It is really difficult for ELL students to process when you are speaking a mile a minute. So take a deep breath, slow down, and use your hands and other nonverbal gestures. Don’t be afraid to act things out! Yes they will giggle, and yes they will love it.
Tip #3: Build vocabulary. When you teach new words, always make your students repeat the word out loud after you say it. And if they aren’t loud, make them do it again. If you have a word wall in your classroom, go down the list frequently and make your students say them with you. To help students remember the definitions, discuss prefixes and suffixes to help them decode meanings.
Find fun ways for students to practice those new words. Instead of doing vocabulary worksheets, do vocabulary games instead! Bingo is an awesome way to review vocabulary words before a test. Create a bingo card from a free online bingo-card maker such as http://osric.com/bingo-card-generator/. Type in the words you want your students to learn and print a class set. Instead of calling out the words, say the definition and the students need to cover up the correct word. If they get a bingo they need to say the words out loud in order to win a prize.
Tip #4: Utilize pictures. I used to try and translate parts of my power points into Spanish before the lesson thinking I was doing my students a favor. I quickly realized that:
a. Google translate is frequently wrong,
b. many of my students can speak fluent Spanish but can’t read it,
c. and even if they could read most of it, they didn’t know the content specific terms in Spanish. Why would I want my students to learn the word “homeostasis” in Spanish AND English? Let’s just stick with English.
Instead of translating, stick with visual pictures. Pictures transcend all languages. Include them as much as possible in your lessons and power points. Make students draw pictures in their notes. Include pictures in all your articles you want students to read. A great pre-reading activity is to have students look at the pictures and captions in an article before they read the body paragraphs. Have them guess what the article is about based on the pictures and discuss with their neighbors (get those Popsicle sticks back out). If you have a word wall in your classroom, make sure it includes pictures too! The more they see a picture associated with a new word, the more likely they will remember what it means.
Tip #5: Learn about their language and culture, and include it in your lessons when applicable. Students will have more buy-in to your lessons when they feel like their language and culture is valued. If you can connect their language to the content, chances are they will remember it better. For example, students use the term “liga” in Spanish to mean rubber band or hair elastic. When teaching “ligaments,” discuss how they are stretchy unlike tendons. Students won’t forget!
Tip #6: Use Manipulatives! Sometimes students need help learning how to structure their writing into logical paragraphs (even native English speakers need this too!) If you have sample paragraphs for them to learn from, you can print separate sentences out on separate lines, and cut them into strips. Then you can mix the sentences up and have students order them in how they should logically appear in a sentence! You can also do this for other parts of a lab report, like the procedure section or even the proper labels for a graph!
You could create your own writing structure manipulatives, or you can check out Bethany Lau’s Lab Report Writing Activity Bundle found here. She has a set of activities with manipulative for each and every part of the lab report with a lot of examples for students to learn from.
Tip #7: Get them writing as much as possible. Data shows that when students take the state language proficiency tests, they struggle the most with writing. Find ways to get students writing on a daily basis. This could work in many different formats- just find one that works for you. Daily bellwork is a great place to start, as well as having students keep writing journals. What should you have them write about? Check out these writing prompts from Science Rocks’ store! These were designed to be used before new concepts are taught, and allows the teacher to assess prior knowledge and check for misconceptions. When students are first learning English, allow them to write in their native language and plug in English words that they know. Throughout the year as their language improves you will see their writing transform from fragmented to fluid sentences.
Another great writing strategy for ELL students are sentence frames. For students still learning how to write a complete sentence, give them half the sentence first and have them fill in the blanks. For example, a hypothesis on a lab report for an ELL student could look like this: “If I change ___________, then I think ___________ will happen, because __________.”
Tip #8: Model. And then model some more. As science teachers we tend to think of “modeling” as meaning “I’ll show them how to do a lab before it’s their turn.” Modeling applies to so much more than labs.
a. Model reading strategies. As you read through articles out loud, stop and discuss. What was the main idea? What did you highlight and why?
b. Model writing strategies. When you assign those writing prompts, work through one with them first. Show them what a quality answer would look like.
c. Model behaviors. Many students will enter your classroom from different backgrounds. Behaviors that may have been acceptable where they grew up may not be acceptable in your classroom. If you want them to give a verbal presentation with eye contact, show them what a good presentation looks like first.
d. Model word pronunciation. Sometimes if students are nervous to say things in English, I have them teach me how to say the phrase in their native language first. Once they have giggled at my horrible pronunciation, they aren’t so embarrassed to pronounce things in English.
Tip #9: Modify. Yes, one more thing to add to your to-do list. But it can honestly be as simple as cutting down the number of questions for them to complete, or adding pictures to an assessment. One of my favorite websites to find nonfiction science articles on is newsela.com. Not only is it free to use, but once you find an article you can change the lexile! That means all your students can be reading the same article but at a reading level that is accessible to them.
Tip #10: Use formative assessment frequently, and celebrate gains. It’s important to check in with ELL students often. Many of them will take notes, smile, and nod during class, but only understood 20% of what was discussed. Exit tickets and note summaries are great ways to check in and see where they need help and what they have mastered. Make your exit tickets specific. Don’t just say, “One thing I still need help with is…” but instead ask them to answer a specific question related to the lesson. This will help you group them by mastery and focus on the students that really need your help. Once they have mastered a new concept or learned new vocabulary, don’t forget to celebrate! Let them know you are proud of them, and they will work harder in the future. If students feel like their hard work is recognized and celebrated, they will continue to work hard!
We’d love to hear stories from you about what helps your ELL students! Let us know in the comments!
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