It's December! Fa la la la la! I love the holiday season and I love giving my students some fun Christmas themed lessons that tie into science. Below you will find a list of fun activities that you can do in the month of December. Note: even if you have students that don't celebrate Christmas, many of the options below are simply science oriented, not dependent on the actual holiday. Enjoy!
Before you throw out your Christmas tree, grab your saw, cut off a few tree cookies from the stump and sand them down. You can do a fun mini lesson on dendrochronology! Check out this free lesson on tree rings and climate change (aimed at AP environmental science students).
Check out this "Case of the Christmas Cookie" mystery lab from The Science Spot. This lab is fun for middle school students- they test mystery powders to help Mrs. Claus save Christmas. You can download the lab here.
Did you know poinsettia leaves can make great pH indicators similar to red cabbage? Check out these lab directions from Flinn on how to turn this Christmas plant into a pH lab. You can download the lab here.
If you live where it snows in December, this lab looks fun! (Disclaimer: I've never tried it since I live in AZ, so if you try it let me know how it goes in the comments, I'd love to hear!) Have your students preserve a snowflake and look at them under the microscope. You can find the lab directions here.
An oldie but goodie! Make borax crystal ornaments to hang on your tree. This set of directions also has you add glow in the dark paint so your ornaments glow at night. Check out the procedures here.
Want to throw in a little science literacy before Christmas break? Check out this free article on Christmas trees from my friend over at Biology Roots. You can download it here.
The past few years at my school we have done a door decorating contest. I wanted to do a science themed door so we made a "chemis-tree" with elements from the periodic table. It turned out great (yes we went a little overboard) and the students had fun putting it together. You can download free element squares here.
While you are decorating your door, check out these cool scientist snowflakes from the Franklin Institute! We tried the Einstein one and it was hard to make look good, but the flask one was pretty easy. You can download the templates here.
Raid the chemistry stock room and do a cool copper and silver nitrate Christmas tree demo. You can see the YouTube version here or do a small scale microscope version of this lab here.
Do you have a string of Christmas lights that don't work well? Chances are most of the bulbs are still good. Grab some wire cutters, cut apart the bulbs, and turn it into a series and parallel circuit lab. You can find lab directions here.
This last link isn't an activity, but if you like to send home a small gift with your students for the holidays, check out these cute hot chocolate molecule gift tags from my friend over at Nitty Gritty Science. Adorable! You can download them for free here.
I hope you have a great holiday season! Make sure to check out the holiday category on my blog and see what other science activities I have for other holidays throughout the year!
Looking for some new ideas and activities to teach cladograms and phylogenetic trees? Check out this list below of fun activities and interactive websites.
Cladogram Construction: This free activity from Carolina Biological is nice and simple- a great way to introduce cladograms to your students. It has students construct a cladogram and then make inferences about related animals based on derived characteristics.
Build an Insect Cladogram: In this activity, students are given insect cards and have to create their own cladogram based on shared traits. At the end of the activity they fill out a CER form explaining which insects share the most traits.
Teach Genetics from University of Utah has a bunch of awesome resources. Students begin by sorting seeds using their own system of classification, and then move on to real case studies of common ancestry. Not one you want to miss!
The Great Clade Race: In this activity, students are given "runner" cards and choose different paths to complete the race. You can read more about the activity here and download the cards here.
Candy Cladograms: Get your students engaged with any activity by adding candy as an incentive. In this activity, students are given a bag of assorted candy and have to create a cladogram based on shared traits.
Build A Tree: In this fun game, students work through different levels building phylogenetic trees and dragging common traits onto the correct part of the tree. Make it a classroom competition!
What did T-Rex taste like? This interactive website from UC Berkley walks students through phylogenetic trees and includes handouts and even assessments in the teacher's guide section.
PBS Learning Media has a series of 6 interactive missions students can complete all related to evolution. Mission 5 deals with phylogenetic trees to uncover the sources and treatments for diseases and parasites.
Dogs Decoded: In this activity from Biology Corner, students analyze characteristics shared between dogs, wolves, and coyotes and determine which is most closely related.
Evolving Trees: In this activity from Cornell Institute, students are given a cladogram to work backwards and analyze, and then create their own cladogram with a hypothetical fly species.
I hope you found an activity or two your students will enjoy!
If you haven't used small student whiteboards in your classroom, I promise you, you are missing out. As soon as the whiteboards come out, I have automatic buy-in from students. Students love writing on them, and as a teacher I love them because they are great for visual learners, and they are an easy way to quickly assess student learning. Since it is so easy to erase and fix mistakes, students don't feel pressured to have the right answer all the time. They create a fun and low-stress environment.
While they aren't ideal for every activity, here are some times you can bring them out:
1. When Introducing a New Topic
I love getting out whiteboards when we are learning a new topic and students need the ability to mess up, erase, try again, and master a new skill. If you teach biology like I do, pedigree charts, punnett squares, or mapping out dichotomous keys are great examples of times students need to erase and try again. (Tip: instead of wasting paper towels, bring in old rags or socks and use them as erasers instead).
2. Experimental Design
Doing a lab where students need to design an experiment? Having lab groups whiteboard out their experimental set up really helps them talk through the process before beginning (see image below for a 5 second rule bacteria lab). I usually make lab groups call me over and get teacher approval before grabbing their supplies. I'll ask them to explain their set up to me, clarify their variables, and make sure their experiment is controlled before beginning. If you use CER (claim, evidence, and reasoning) at the end of your labs, whiteboards are another place they can map out their findings.
3. Giving Peer Feedback
One of the first official whiteboard PD's I took was based on modeling instruction which relies heavily on whiteboard use. Without going into a bunch of detail, students use whiteboards to draw models of science concepts. Once drawings are complete, the class holds a whiteboard session where we would stand up and face each other in a large circle, and give feedback on other groups' whiteboard data. This could also be applied to ADI's argumentation sessions. It takes a few times for students to get the hang of asking appropriate questions and giving helpful feedback, but once they get the hang of it you as the teacher can step back and let students discuss their learning without much guidance (which is pretty amazing to watch).
4. Showing Progression of Learning
Do you ever have students write things down that you want to refer back to throughout the unit? For example: do you ever have students brainstorm what they already know about a topic to identify misconceptions? If you are trying out project based learning, do you have your students write out their need-to-knows and update them throughout the project? Sometimes I have students write things down that I don't want erased for a few weeks. If you have enough whiteboards to get you through all your classes, allow students to turn in their whiteboards without erasing them, prop them up in the front of the room or window sill, and refer back to them when needed.
5. Formative Assessment
If you finished a concept and want a quick way to visually assess where students are at before moving on, whiteboards are a great tool for formative assessment. Put a practice problem on the board, have them whiteboard the answer, and hold it up for a quick visual check.
Have I sold you yet? Are you ready to run out and ask your principal to buy you some? It is much more expensive to order whiteboards from school supply companies than to just go buy your own at home depot. When you go, ask them to point you to the white tile board or panel board. It comes in large sheets (usually 96" x 48") but they will cut it down for you to your desired size. So come prepared with dimensions in mind based on the size of your student desks.
Once you get the whiteboards back to your classroom, there is one magic step you don't want to miss to keep them looking white and shiny for years to come: car wax. Before you hand them over to your students, grab an old rag and some turtle wax and give them a nice coating. This will keep your whiteboards erasing well. I do this about once a year and my 10 year old whiteboards still look practically brand new.
Don't have the budget for whiteboards? Or are you interested in some other options? Here are a few other options I've tried you might be interested in:
Do you have any other white boarding tips to share? Feel free to drop them in the comments below!
Looking for some fresh and fun ideas for Halloween this year? This Spooky Science product bundle from Educational Innovations will have you covered! Your class will have a blast with products included in this bundle, and you can teach them some science at the same time!
Here's what's included:
1L of Slime- Have your students learn about polymers while they make some slime! You can also discuss properties of substances before and after a chemical reaction has occurred and have students make qualitative observations as they get their hands dirty.
800 Gooey Eyeball Spheres- These eyeball spheres have so many fun uses! After soaking the small spheres in water, they will expand to over 3cm long. Have students take both quantitative and qualitative data before and after the spheres expand- great measurement practice! You can also use these spheres to germinate plants for students to observe root growth. If you are gentle with them, they can be dried out and re-used.
100 Sheets of Goldenrod Paper- This golden paper is treated with a pH indicator so when it is exposed to a base you will see it change from yellow to blood red. Put a little ammonia (or another base) on your hand, touch the paper, scream you are bleeding, and watch the priceless look on your students faces! After their hearts have slowed, discuss pH and see if they can figure out how to turn the paper back to yellow.
A Dozen Glow Light Sticks- Glow sticks are always a fan favorite. You can use these glow sticks to teach conservation of matter before and after a chemical reaction. Another fun idea is to have students put one glow stick in hot water and another glow stick in ice water and observe the effect of temperature on the rate of chemical reactions.
Two Bug Lollipops- Teach entomology or forensics? Even if you don't, bug lollipops are a creepy crawly hit! You can use these two lollipops as student prizes and have your students eat some healthy bug protein.
Jello Brain Mold- Anatomy teachers will love this brain mold! Students can review parts of the brain and you can even have them dissect it into slices. It's great practice before getting out preserved specimens and having them do the real deal.
Would you love to win this product bundle for FREE!? Head over to my instagram account and see how to enter! Hurry, the giveaway only runs from 11/13 - 11/17!
*This blog post is sponsored in part by Educational Innovations
Do your students struggle to learn vocabulary for your class? Science can be very vocabulary heavy and sometimes there is no way around it. It's even more frustrating when you have to teach two different words that mean the same thing, because you aren't sure which will show up on the exam (ie: producer and autotroph). I've found in my teaching experience that having students copy vocabulary definitions out of the textbook at the beginning of a unit isn't the most effective. Front-loading all the vocabulary may stick for about a week, but they will forget it over the long run. Here are some ways I incorporate new vocabulary into my classroom while ditching the vocab sheet:
1. Incorporate them into your Notes
The first thing I do when teaching new vocabulary is incorporate them into my notes. I have students take notes about once a week, and the vocabulary should come organically throughout the lesson and discussion. (I teach at an AVID school, so we use Cornell notes).
2. Make students say the words verbally
While I am giving notes and we are learning new vocabulary, I make students say the words out loud with me. This is HUGE for your ESL students, so don't skip it! Even if you teach high school and you are thinking "they'll never do that..." trust me, they'll do it. They would rather practice saying it correctly than look silly pronouncing it wrong in front of their peers because you didn't give them an opportunity to practice. In class it usually looks something like this:
Teacher: "Here is a new vocabulary word (shows word up on the board). Anyone want to try and guess how it is pronounced?"
Your Most Talkative Student: "Auto-troffff?"
Teacher: "Good one! It's pronounced autotroph. Can everyone repeat after me? Autotroph" (I point at myself when I say it)
Teacher points at class
3. Prefixes and Suffixes
One way to help students remember vocabulary is by breaking down the prefixes and suffixes while you teach it to them. If you are teaching the vocabulary word phototropism, break it down into photo- (light) and trop- (to change). Here is a handy reference sheet you can print and have students keep in their binders.
4. Practice them for Bellwork
Every day when students come in, we begin class with a bellwork question or two. The question usually asks students to recall something we learned the day before, and they can pull out their notes to look up the answer. The key here is repetition- they are seeing the new term multiple days in a row.
5. Make a Word Wall
One way to help visual learners is by having a vocabulary word wall in your classroom. Each time you learn a new word, add it to the wall (bonus points if you include pictures next to each word... your ESL kids will thank you). Having visual clues and seeing them daily really helps students. You can make your own pretty easily in powerpoint or even hand write them on notecards. You might also want to download this freebie from my friend over at Biology Roots to get you started!
6. Anchor Charts
Another great tool for visual learners are anchor charts. Anchor charts allow students to have a visual representation of a concept and "anchor" their learning. I'm not the most creative or artistic so these aren't my thing... but some teachers rock them! (If you are on instagram, check out @The_weird_science_teacher, she is the anchor chart queen!)
7. Concept Maps or Thinking Maps
Concept maps and thinking maps take the visual aspect a little further by having students strategically map out the concept. A lot of textbooks offer concept maps with their teacher resources, so that is a great place to start. You can also try thinking maps (if you haven't heard of them, you can read up here) or even create your own with an online website. If your students are Google savvy, they could make their own in Google drawings.
8. Play Vocabulary Games
We play a lot of games in my classroom, but I promise they are all educational. Games bring up the excitement (especially if you have rewards for winners) and allow students to review vocabulary terms before you test them. Some of my favorites are:
9. Computer Games
More games! Technology can be a great tool when wanting to create or play review games. Kahoot is always fun and easy to use, along with sites like Gimkit or my personal favorite, quizlet live.
10. Crossword puzzles
I am not a huge fan of word searches as review activities (they don't really require any critical thinking) but I am a fan of crossword puzzles. A simple google search on your topic should pull up some options, or you can make your own by typing in your words and clues on sites like this one.
I hope you can pick one or two of these options and use them in your classroom! If you have any other vocabulary retention tips, please drop them in the comments!
It can be frustrating when students are absent on lab days. You spend a lot of time setting up and often spend money out of your own pocket for supplies. If you are doing labs often or teach multiple preps, dealing with student absences just gets harder to juggle. By the time the student comes back and asks "what did I miss?" I've often torn down the lab or passed the supplies onto another teacher in my department and don't have them available. Instead of scrambling to re-set up the lab every time, here are a few alternative options:
1. DO THE LAB MAKE-UP ON THEIR OWN TIME
If the lab isn't super labor intensive and students can read through the procedures on their own to figure out what to do, I have them come in and make up the lab on their own time. Luckily my school has an advisory period built into the school day where students can travel to get caught up on their classes. If you don't have this luxury, they could come in during lunch or after school.
2. SUBSTITUTE THE WET LAB FOR A VIRTUAL LAB
There are a bunch of virtual labs out on the internet that you could substitute for the wet lab. Phet or Glencoe are great options to check out.
3. COPY THE LAB DATA FROM A PEER AND ANSWER THE ANALYSIS QUESTIONS
This option is my go-to for labs that take multiple days. If students missed the first day of experimental design or data collection, they can come back in, join a lab group, and finish the lab. If it was a one day lab, you can have a "master copy" of data that absent students can copy down and analyze before answering the post lab analysis questions.
4. DO AN ALTERNATIVE ASSIGNMENT ON THE SAME TOPIC
If you can't find a virtual lab on the same topic, try and find an article or worksheet on the same topic and use that assignment to replace the lab grade. Newsela is a great place to find free non-fiction articles. Don't forget to look for freebies on TpT! (type in the topic you are looking for and filter by grade and cost).
5. EXCUSE THE ASSIGNMENT
I would like to begin with a disclaimer that this is NOT something I do regularly. I think students need to somehow show proficiency on a standard, not just get it excused. However, if a student tells you they were absent for a week because they were in the hospital or had a true family emergency that you can verify, sometimes they just need to be cut a break. Realize they will have missing assignments from 6 other classes on top of yours, pick which assignments you think are vital for mastering the standard, and excuse the rest.
The moral of the story: Don't lose your sanity trying to have every absent student do make up labs.
If you've scoured the internet looking for fun Karyotype activities like I have, you know they are few and far between. Most activities involve students cutting out 23 chromosomes, finding the homologous pair on a worksheet, and gluing them together. This activity ends with paper scraps everywhere, missing chromosomes, and frustrated students.
My goal was to create a station activity where students could rotate around the room and analyze and manipulate different karyotypes. I also found some great resources from Ward's Science that I used to supplement the activity. Student groups had 5 minutes at each station to complete a karyotype related task. Here are some station activity ideas:
On U of A's website, there is a virtual karyotype activity with 3 patients. Students need to click on each patient, fill in the missing homologous chromosome, and give a diagnosis for each patient. You can check out the website by clicking here.
Karyotype Virtual Lab
In this virtual lab from University of Utah, students pair up the chromosomes on the left with their homologous pair on the right. It's a bit harder than the U of A one, but there is a hints option if students get stuck.
At this station, students will watch a Youtube video and answer a few questions. This video reviews genes, chromosomes, and karyotypes.
Human Genome Analysis
When the human genome project was completed, the genes on each chromosome were mapped out and they came out with these nifty (and free!) science posters. On their website, you can click on any chromosome, print out the pdf, and have students observe what traits are found on each chromosome. I printed out a few and had students look for traits they have or run in their family.
I ordered giant magnetic pictures of human chromosomes from Ward's Science (you can purchase them here). At this station, students came up to the front whiteboard where I had 23 of the chromosomes lined up. Their task was to arrange the homologous chromosomes and decide if it is a male or female, and healthy or abnormal.
I love these magnets because they can be used throughout the whole unit, not just for this lesson- makes them worth every penny! You can use them when discussing cell division as well. They are large, easy to see, and students love coming up to play with them at the end of class.
Microscope Slide Observations
At this station, students observed a human karyotype smear under the microscope and made observations. If you don't already have karyotype slides, you can purchase them from Ward's Science. Students will be surprised how small the chromosomes are! (the picture shown is on 100x magnification). They will quickly see that in real life, pairing up homologous chromosomes and looking for abnormalities is not nearly as easy as it looks on the virtual labs.
If you'd like to check out the full activity that includes 8 stations and student lab write-up, you can download it here. I've also included multiple options for different stations in case you don't have access to the slides or magnetic chromosomes.
Models can be powerful tools when teaching science. They allow students to visualize concepts that can be difficult to picture in their heads.
If you ask students what the most abundant gas in the atmosphere is, their first guess is usually oxygen. And when you say no, their second guess tends to be carbon dioxide. When we talk about the composition of the atmosphere and the effect of greenhouse gases, students may picture the atmosphere being FULL of carbon dioxide... and rightfully so- statistics estimate that 45 billion tons of carbon dioxide are released every year. But how much is that?
I wanted to build a model of the atmosphere so students could see that there isn't very much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere relative to other gases.
I like that it is easy to see how much nitrogen is in the atmosphere compared to oxygen and other gases. So much easier for students to visualize!
I want to point out that whenever you use models in class, you need to discuss with students any limitations the model might have to avoid misconceptions.
Overall, the entire thing only cost me $9 to make and I had enough spheres left over to make another. Pretty cost efficient compared to ordering one from a science supply company!
If you would like to check out other resources I use when teaching about gases in the atmosphere and the biogeochemical cycles, check out this blog post.
I posted on Instagram last week pictures of preparing agar for my go-to first week of school lab: testing the 5 second rule. It’s a great lab for back to school because students are super engaged and it’s a good way to review variables and how to set up a controlled experiment. I had a bunch of people ask questions about how I prepared the agar and set up the lab, so here is a blog post to answer all your questions!
WHAT MATERIALS WILL I NEED?
-Sterile petri dishes
-Dehydrated nutrient agar
-Hot plate with stir capabilities
-Heat resistant gloves
-Optional: Autoclave and incubator
DO THEY NEED TO BE STERILE? DO I NEED AN AUTOCLAVE?
If you want to have accurate data, yes, your petri dishes need to be sterile.
Each year, I open a new sleeve of plastic petri dishes so I can assure they are sterile. If you don’t have access to new ones you can re-use petri dishes, but make sure to either sterilize them in an autoclave or clean them thoroughly in a bleach solution followed by a distilled water rinse.
HOW DO I MAKE AGAR PLATES?
Methods will vary slightly depending on the agar you ordered, (directions should come with your nutrient agar, or should be available online from the vendor) but here is the general process:
1. Measure out the desired amount of nutrient agar and distilled water and pour into a clean beaker. For the agar I order, the recipe calls for 23g of dehydrated agar per 1 liter of distilled water. (Note: 1 liter of agar will fill roughly 30 - 40 petri dishes).
2. Add a stir magnet to the beaker and place on your hot plate. Turn on both the heat and the stir settings.
3. Continue to heat and stir your agar until it is boiling. This may take a while, but be patient- if you don’t wait for it to boil, your agar won’t solidify once it cools.
4. If you don’t have access to a hot plate, you can use the microwave. Place beaker and agar mixture into the microwave and heat for 3 minutes. Continue heating in 1 minute bursts until the agar is completely dissolved and the mixture begins to boil.
5. As you are waiting for the agar to boil, lay out your sterile petri dishes on a heat resistant counter. Keep the lids on as much as possible to avoid any contamination.
6. Once agar has come to a boil, remove from heat using heat resistant gloves. Lift the lid on a petri dish, carefully pour agar into the petri dish until it is roughly 2/3 of the way full, and promptly return the lid. Continue until all your agar has been used.
7. Allow the agar to solidify at room temperature- this shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.
8. Once the agar has solidified and cooled, store them upside down in the fridge until you are ready to use them. Storing them upside down will ensure that any condensation drips onto the lid, not onto your agar.
HOW MANY DAYS BEFORE USE CAN I POUR THE PLATES?
I typically pour the petri dishes a day or two before I need them and store them in the fridge. Petri dishes in the fridge will be good for a few weeks before they begin to dry out, but the sooner you use them the better.
I HAVE 150 STUDENTS. HOW MANY PLATES WILL I NEED TO PREPARE?
It can be pricey to pour a ton of plates every year and with 150 students it would be way too expensive (and a lot of work!) to pour every student their own plate.
When I do this lab with my students, I put them in groups of 4. With roughly 32 students per class, I pour 8 plates per class. As a lab group I let them choose a variable to test and have them whiteboard their experimental design. Some groups want to change the amount of time the food is on the floor, other groups want to test different food types, and other groups want to try out different dirty surfaces. Once I’ve approved their design (to make sure they have a control) they can begin the lab.
DO I NEED AN INCUBATOR?
Okay, so your students set up the lab, but do you need to leave them in an incubator?
If you want quick results (overnight) then an incubator will speed up the process. But if you don’t have access to one, just let the plates sit for an extra day or two in your room temperature classroom and you will still get plenty of bacteria growth. Again, leave them upside down (agar side up) so you don’t have issues with condensation dripping into your agar.
HOW TO STUDENTS COLLECT DATA?
Since I do this lab the first week of school, this is an excellent time to review the difference between quantitative and qualitative data. Once students get their plates back, I have them make both qualitative observations and measure quantitative data.
You can have students collect quantitative data by counting colonies, but a much easier way is to use a grid and calculate percent coverage. You can purchase gridded stickers that stick onto your petri dish lids, or just do it yourself with a fine point sharpie marker. All students have to do is count the number of squares that have bacterial growth, divide it by the total number of squares, and multiply it by 100 to turn it into a percentage.
HOW DO I DISPOSE OF THE PLATES?
It is important you do not place your plates in the trash without first taking some precautions. While bacteria in small numbers may be harmless, once cultured into millions of cells they can pose a greater threat. There are a few ways to properly dispose of your used agar plates, depending on what you have available:
1. If you have an autoclave, you can autoclave your plates per the directions on your autoclave (generally at least 30 minutes).
2. If you used glass petri dishes and don’t have an autoclave, prepare a 20% bleach solution and spray your plates down. Allow the bleach to soak into the agar for 1 hour before placing agar in the trash. Then thoroughly clean your empty petri dishes again with a bleach solution and distilled water rinse.
3. If you used plastic petri dishes that you can afford to part with, you can place them in bio-hazard bags and have your district arrange for bio-hazard pick up. It doesn’t hurt to spray them down with a 20% bleach solution before placing them in bio-hazard bags.
I hope that answers all your questions! If you are interested in the lab handout I use with students to test the 5 second rule, you can find it HERE!
Today is my first day back to school and my 12th year teaching. (No, I'm not actually typing this August 5th, I scheduled it out in advance. Because we all know the first day is EXHAUSTING and I'll be in bed by 8pm. Plus this is my first back-to-school ever being pregnant, so maybe I'll be in bed by 7...)
But as I look back on the past 12 years I know for a fact I wouldn't have made it through all those tough times without some amazing colleagues and mentors. There were days during my first year I would go home and cry and think "I just can't do this." And even when I switched schools and had 5 years of experience under my belt I felt all of those feelings again. If your significant other isn't a teacher, you can vent all you want and they can try and be empathetic but they just won't get it. You need to find a mentor to help you maintain your sanity. Someone asked me once on my instagram to do a blog post about finding a teacher mentor and I feel like back to school season is the perfect time to discuss. So here we go!
HOW TO FIND A TEACHER MENTOR:
1. If you are a new teacher, this could be (and should be) something you ask during the interview process. Does the school provide you with a mentor teacher? Will you have a structured grade-level support team? What resources will they provide you as a new teacher? I promise you won't sound needy, you will sound like you want to be prepared.
2. Many districts have a science content specialist. They get paid to help you teach science well, so utilize them! My district also has something called a "professional development specialist" who runs monthly PD sessions for new teachers and sits in on lessons once a quarter. Don't be afraid to send emails, ask them to come sit in on a lesson or two, or offer guidance on how to better introduce a new topic.
3. If your school doesn't have a specified person to help new teachers, go ask an administrator for some recommendations. Have something in mind you want to improve- maybe classroom management. Go ask your administrator which teachers on your campus have exceptional classroom management and then give up your prep one day (I know.... but it will be worth it, I promise) to go watch them teach. If you are afraid to approach them yourself, see if your administrator will send your colleague an email asking for permission for you to come observe, and have them cc you on the email. Even as a veteran teacher, I still have things I can improve and I benefit greatly from watching others teach.
4. Utilize your grade level or department team. Hopefully your school sets aside some time during the week for you to meet with your grade level team or department. Observe who has a personality similar to you that you know you would get along with and make an effort to get to know them. During your meetings, don't be afraid to ask questions on how they teach a concept, how they manage the student that ALWAYS needs to go to the bathroom, or how they stay on top of grading. Not every suggestion will work for you, but it's good to get different ideas and perspectives.
YOU'VE FOUND A MENTOR, BUT NOW WHAT?
I know the first year of teaching I had people always checking in on me asking "do you need help or have any questions?" My response was typically "I'm sure I'll have questions... but I don't even know what to ask yet." It's overwhelming. So here are some tips on things you should ask for help on in the first few weeks or months of school:
1. Ask about how to handle crisis situations. This includes fire drills, lock downs, or even a kid going crazy in your class. Who are you supposed to call?
2. Ask for classroom management tips. This could include: how to handle bathroom breaks, kids that constantly blurt out answers, the kid who can't sit still, or the student who can't stay awake no matter how engaging your lesson is. Veteran teachers have dealt with all of these situations and can likely give you some helpful tips.
3. Dress code. Does your school have a student dress code that you need to enforce? What should you do if students are breaking dress code? Is there a teacher dress code you should know about? At my first school I got hired mid-year so I missed all of the beginning of the year meetings. One Friday I wore flip flops to school (I know, not the most professional decision I ever made) but got in trouble for breaking the teacher dress code.... which I had no idea about. Ask!
4. Timing and pacing of lessons is hard. Ask what other colleagues do if class finishes a few minutes early. Do they allow free time? Do they have any fun activities or ideas to share? (Here is an idea of what I do if class finishes a few minutes early).
5. Ask them to help you set up your gradebook. How often do they put in grades? What categories do they use? Is there a standard school policy? Do you have to turn in progress reports?
6. The first time you need to call a parent for a behavior issue can be scary. Ask them to sit with you the first time you call home and give you some pointers. (Tip: don't just call home for your problem students, call home when kids do something stellar too! It will make their day).
7. At my first school we had something called "think time" which is essentially "time out" time. This is for the student that didn't do anything bad enough to warrant calling the office or a referral, but is driving you crazy and knows exactly how to push your buttons. Sometimes having a 5 minute break from that student is enough for you to regain your composure and focus on the other students. Ask a neighboring teacher if they have a spare desk in their classroom you could use as a "think time" desk. If a kid was driving me nuts, I'd send them over with a form to fill out that had them answer a few questions reflecting on their behavior. Once they felt ready to come back and re-join the lesson, they would. (Tip: try and find a teacher of a different grade level to be your think time buddy. If the other class is the same grade level, your think time student will probably have friends in there and become a distraction).
8. Ask your mentor teacher to come watch you practice a lesson before your observation. They can give you feedback and tips to score well on the evaluation rubric.
9. Ask for lesson and lab ideas. If you are teaching a concept you aren't completely familiar with, ask someone in your content area how they approach it or what labs they use to supplement the lesson.
10. There will be a time when you wake up with a fever and think "OMG I don't have sub plans ready, I'll have to go in with this 104 degree fever!" Have an emergency sub plan ready and on your desk in case this happens. Ask about the process for calling a substitute teacher. How many sick days do you have? Do they roll over to the next school year if you don't use them? Are there rules about how many sick days you can take in a row without providing a doctors note?
While the first year is tough, I promise it gets easier- especially when you have supportive people beside you. If you have any questions or need some more specific tips, leave them in the comments!
(If you are a new teacher and want to see my top 10 tips for the first year, you can read them here!)