Your first year teaching is going to be one of the hardest years of your career. I frequently went home near tears thinking "I just can't do this. It is too hard." But I promise you, it gets easier! I'm in my 10th year teaching and I spend a lot less time planning and preparing than I used to. I write a lot fewer referrals than I used to. Overall everything just gets easier. Looking back, here is a list of 10 things I wish I could have told my first-year-teacher self:
1. Find a mentor teacher
This is one thing I was superbly blessed with. My first job was at a middle school and there was only one other science teacher besides myself. He is nearing retirement, but I've been lucky to teach with him the past 10 years. He is incredibly knowledgeable about all things science and is always happy to explain things to me when I need some clarification before a lesson. Don't be afraid to admit you don't understand something! Because you can't teach it well unless you understand it well.
Mentor teachers can help with content knowledge, share ideas of what labs work and what labs don't work, give you classroom management tips, and be a shoulder to cry on when your spouse just doesn't get what you are going through (because if your spouse isn't a teacher, they won't get it).
2. Don't re-create the wheel
There is a wealth of science lessons out on the internet for free. Take advantage! Scour the internet before a new unit and find everything you can. Look for facebook groups of middle school or high school science teachers. Read blog posts. Look for interactive websites that students can learn on. Check out Teachers pay Teachers. Don't spend your weekends making powerpoints and worksheets when someone else has already done the work for you.
3. Always do the lab first
There is nothing worse than spending hours prepping a lab, getting the kids excited, and by the end of the lab the data is awful and the lab was an utter failure. The easiest way to avoid this is by doing the lab yourself before you try it with students. As you do the lab, try and identify places students might get confused or make mistakes. Make sure to clarify those things and model the lab procedures to your students before beginning.
4. Predict the pacing of the lesson
One of the hardest things for me my first few years was pacing. I didn't want my lessons to end early, and I didn't want to run out of time. One piece of advice my mentor teacher gave me during student teaching was this: Complete the worksheet or activity on your own and time yourself. Take that time and multiply it by 3 to predict about how long it will take the students to complete. Obviously this will vary, especially depending on how much practice students have already had on the topic. But it was a good starting point and I could plan an extension activity just in case we finished early. (Check out this blog post on what you can do if you are left with 5 minutes at the end of the class).
5. Don't panic over SDS
Maybe it was just my college experience, but my professors put the fear of God in us about SDS (MSDS when I was in school) forms. They told us horror stories about how we would lose our jobs if the fire marshall showed up and we didn't have all our forms in a binder ready to go. Now don't get me wrong- these forms are important. But I was so paranoid about having an SDS form for every chemical in my classroom, including hand sanitizer and whiteboard cleaner.
Long story short: Keep the SDS forms for your chemical inventory, but don't panic over the little stuff like the vinegar you bought at the grocery store. When your chemical orders arrive, don't throw out the SDS forms. Put them in a binder and keep them in the chemical storage room. Many sites such as Flinn Scientific even have an online inventory resource where it will keep track of the chemicals you have on hand and the SDS forms for each chemical. Talk to your colleagues and find a method that works for everyone.
6. Don't grade everything
Oh how I wish someone had told me this sooner! Grading can take over your life if you let it. So stop grading everything (but don't tell this to your students). Different teachers have different methods of grading and saving their sanity, so talk to your colleagues and pick what works for you. Here are a few ideas:
7. As a new teacher without management experience, use labs as incentives.
Classroom management is something that can take years to master. And as soon as you think you have it down, you get a new group of students that rock your world (and not in a good way). One way I've found to keep students in line is to use lab experiments as incentives. If classes are well behaved for the week, they get to do a lab on Friday. If they have been off task, noisy, constantly tardy, or disrespectful then they do a book work assignment instead. Once they hear they will miss out on a fun lab experiment that other class periods got to complete, they will quickly toe the line.
8. Don't be afraid to admit when you mess up
We are human. We all mess up. Don't be afraid to admit it to your students. One year I was teaching surface area to volume ratio in my cells unit and totally screwed up the math. I knew I was teaching it wrong when I had a really bright student saying "Miss, I don't think this answer is making sense." So I went home, reviewed the lesson, figured out where I was going wrong, and came back the next day ready to re-teach. If you are too prideful to admit your mistakes it is only hurting the students. They will also respect you a lot more when you admit your mistakes and show that you are human too.
9. Prep for the following day before you go home
Sometimes this one is hard to follow, but it is something I feel is important. I make sure I don't leave for the day unless I am ready to go for the following day. Yes, this includes Fridays too! Have your objective written on the board, copies ready to go, powerpoint or activity reviewed, and answer key ready. Your day will go so much smoother when you come in to an organized classroom instead of waiting in the copy machine line 5 minutes before the bell behind the teacher making 1000 copies. Just don't risk it.
10. Take an occasional mental health day
Making sub plans sucks. Often times it feels easier to just come in to work sick than have to get a sub plan ready. But your mental health is super important. If you are tired, worn out, sick, or have other things going on in your life that is affecting your teaching- take a day off. Find a high interest article for the students to read and take a breather. (You can find free articles on newsela.com or check out my free close reading article on botox in my TpT store).
Sometimes I even make the sub assignments extra credit because many students think when there is a sub they have a free day. It is a small bonus for the students that really did work on the assignment. Anyway- you can't be there for your students when you haven't taken care of yourself. Plan one day a quarter that is a day you can rest and recoup.
Good luck in your new teaching career! Remember- it gets easier. Yes, you will work 70 hours per week that first year. But by year 3 you will have everything down and teach like a pro. And when students write you letters about the impact you made on their life all those hours will be worth it. If you have questions leave them in the comments!
The metric system is so important for students to understand in the sciences. And frankly, it's so much easier to use than the imperial system. One issue I've come across when teaching is that students don't always understand what the units represent, and which unit is appropriate to use for each situation (especially when measuring length). Here is an easy way for students to realize why we need different units of measurement.
I was at Ikea furniture shopping and realized that the disposable rulers they have for free all over the store would be an awesome teaching tool. I pulled the "teacher card" and asked if I could have a bunch for my classroom. The employee was happy to give me a class set of 40. (That was enough for me to group students in 4's across my 5 periods).
For this lesson, each group will need:
I started by giving each group one of the blank measuring tapes and asked them to measure the length of the lab table. Most groups came up with answers like "1 1/2 strips of paper", or "1 3/4 strips of paper" long. Next, I asked them to take the same blank measuring tape and measure the length of their school ID. It got harder for them to estimate the length since it was so much smaller. I got answers like "1/10 of the tape." We stopped and discussed that it would be better to have a smaller measuring tape to measure the length of the the ID. I asked them "Would you get a more accurate measurement if you cut the strip of paper in half?" They said that would still be too big. Quarters? Still too big. This went back and forth until we decided that cutting the strip of paper into 10 equal pieces would be just about right. I handed them scissors and asked them to cut it into 10 equal pieces and then measure the ID again.
The opposite scenario is also true: ask them how many strips of paper it would take to measure the distance between school and their house. Students will quickly realize that the measuring tape they have is much too small. Stop and have a conversation with your students about how it is important to have different units of measurement that are appropriate to the object being measured.
Finally, I switched out the blank strips of paper with the Ikea measuring tape. Have them make observations about the tape like:
Next ask them to take the Ikea measuring tape and cut it into 10 equal pieces. It should go much smoother this time now that there are numbers! Then ask them to take the 1/10th size paper (1decimeter, but they don't know this term yet) and ask them to cut it down again into 10 equal pieces (centimeters). Repeat this one more time until you have them cut individual millimeters. (See images below)
Have students discuss when it is appropriate to use each unit of measurement. I had them match objects to each length that are about the same size. For example, the meter strip is about the length of the floor to the door handle. The decimeter strip is about the length of the palm of your hand. The centimeter strip is about the width of your fingernail. The millimeter strip is about the thickness of their school ID card.
Following the activity we took notes on the metric system and units of measurement. I think students remember the units better when they understand that everything is based on powers of 10, and can relate the units to objects. One of my favorite phrases to use in the classroom is "NO NAKED NUMBERS!" It makes them giggle (especially middle schoolers!), but students know to not turn in papers for the rest of the year that have numbers with no units.
I hope this helps you teach the metric system! If you have any other tips and tricks, leave them in the comments! Also, you might want to check out these metric system posters and puzzles in my TpT store:
It's that time again! Last year we had a huge secondary science giveaway where we gave away 4 $100 TpT gift cards and resources to our store. This year it's even better! We are giving away 5 $100 TpT gift cards and a ton of resources! TpT has everything you need to have an awesome low-stress year. We would love to help you pay for those resources! Keep reading to learn how!
There are 2 ways to win:
1. Individual giveaways: Each seller pictured above is giving away individual prizes on their blogs! Check out the bottom of this post for a chance to win $25 worth of resources to my TpT store! There are multiple ways to win, so be sure to check out the rafflecopter below.
2. Group giveaway- We put together one HUGE blog hop giveaway, just for science teachers teaching in grades 6-12: 5 $100 Teachers Pay Teachers gift cards! Each blog post has a secret code word and number. My clue word is 17. right. The number tells you where the word falls in the secret sentence. Collect the words from each blog, write them down in number order, and copy the secret sentence into the joint rafflecopter giveaway. This rafflecopter form is the same on every blog, so you only need to enter once from any one of our blogs!
Giveaway starts Monday at 12 noon EST and ends at midnight on Friday. Best of luck!
Congrats! You've completed the blog loop! CLICK HERE to head back to Mrs. Lau's science site.
The fine print: “Giveaway ends August 11th, 2017 at 11:59 PM EST. Winners will be selected at random and be notified by email. Winners have 48 hours to confirm their email addresses and respond before a new winner is selected. The product offered for the giveaway is free of charge, no purchase necessary. My opinions are my own and were not influenced by any form of compensation. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram are in no way associated with this giveaway. By providing your information in this form, you are providing your information to me and me alone. I do not share or sell information and will use any information only for the purpose of contacting the winner.”
Are you tired of hearing the following questions 10 times a day:
"What did we do yesterday?"
"Was there homework?"
"I lost my paper. Can I have a new one?"
"What are we doing today? Anything FUN?"
"Where do I turn this in?
I know I was. Want to save your sanity? I cannot express to you how important it is to establish routines in your classroom. If you train students the first couple of weeks you will be so grateful later. I've established routines so my students know exactly what to do when they enter the classroom, know where to get missing work, and see what we are doing that day. After a couple of weeks if a student comes up to me and says "where is the worksheet from yesterday?" other students almost instantaneously respond so I don't have to deal with it. Here are a couple of the things I have done in my classroom to save my sanity:
1. As soon as students walk into my classroom, they automatically grab whatever worksheet is in the basket by the door. The first week or two I have to stand by the door and remind them, but after that it is just habit for them to reach over and grab the worksheet. It saves me time later so I don't have to pass out the notes, bellwork form, or worksheet for that day. It is also really nice when you have a sub, because it is one less paper they have to worry about.
2. I was so crazy tired of hearing "What are we doing today? Are we going to do anything FUN?" (Really? Science is always fun). Anyway, I had my sister who has a cricut machine cut out these vinyl letters for my whiteboard. As soon as students come into the classroom they know to get out their bellwork form, write down the daily objective and homework, and have 5 minutes to complete the bellwork on the board. Those 5 minutes are time for me to take attendance, check any urgent emails, and often get lab supplies ready for the next period. In my class students pick up a bellwork form (by the door!) every Monday and turn it in every Friday. So if a student ever says "what are we doing today?" all you have to do is point to the board.
3. If you had students that were absent the day before, do they know where to get their missing assignment? (Hint: The answer should NOT be they have to come bother you to get it). I have a crate in the back of the room for all extra worksheets. There are 5 file folders in the crate, labeled Monday - Friday. If a student was absent on a Tuesday, they know to go to the Tuesday folder and grab whatever papers are in there. Also, if a student wasn't absent but lost an assignment in the depths of their backpack, they know they can find extras in the orange crate.
4. Do your students know where to turn in papers? Whether you use small trays or file folders like I do, it is nice if students know exactly where to turn in papers. I have another milk crate at the front of the room that has file folders labeled with each period of the day. I also have a folder in the very back for no-names, so if students have a missing assignment they know they turned in, they can check the no-name folder. (FYI: Walmart carries these milk crates for very cheap during back to school season!)
5. I don't personally use this last tip, but I know teachers that do and really like it. When students ask "what did we do yesterday?" I usually have them check their neighbor's bellwork form and copy down the objective. But another option is to have a calendar posted in the front of your room and jot down what you taught that day. If you laminate the calendar you can write directly on it with expo markers, but if it's not laminated you can use sticky notes instead.
Overall having set routines will get your classroom running smoother. Ever notice that in many IEP's it has routines listed as an accommodation? It is so much easier to start class when students know exactly what to do. Any other tips you want to share? Leave them in the comments!
Why I don't teach lab safety the first week of school... and other back to school science teacher tips
It's almost time for me to start planning out my first week of school (yes it's crazy, I go back end of July). When I first started teaching, I spent the first week reviewing the syllabus, class rules, and (duh duh duh duhhhhh) spent time reviewing all the lab safety procedures. It just felt like the responsible science teacher thing to do. What I soon realized is the students were just plain bored... or nervous about finding their next class.... or thinking about who has the same lunch period as them... but they were NOT memorizing all those nice lab safety rules I was so carefully explaining. They are also reviewing rules in almost every other class and the chances of them remembering what you said those first few days are slim. So I decided to throw the "let's front-load all the rules that they will forget anyway" out the window and find more exciting activities for that first week.
I know some of you science teachers reading this are thinking "But I have to review rules the first week, because they need to sign a lab safety contract!" Yes, they do. (And if you don't have one handy, I recommend Flinn Science's contracts which you can download free here.) But is it really necessary the first few days? Here is my main argument on why you are wasting your time: Why are you teaching students to wear goggles and keep scalpels pointed down during dissections if you aren't actually getting to the dissection until April? Or why are you teaching them the proper way to carry and store a microscope when the microscopes don't come out of the cupboard until your cells unit in December? Students will just forget, and you will have to review the rules all over again anyway. Instead, wait until you get to the lab and then review the necessary rules. As far as the contract goes, have students read through it during class or at home with a parent and sign it. If they have any questions feel free to discuss them, but don't waste too much time on it. Here are a few ideas to do instead:
Whew! You made it to the end of the year! (insert happy dance here). The last week of school all most teachers have on their mind is posting grades and summer vacation. Buutttttt….. I’m here to give you a few tips on things you can do NOW to make your job easier in August. Those few days you have before school starts are precious, and you know most of it will be taken up by PD and meetings. The line at the copy center is huge. You have to make new seating charts and print new IEP's. The list goes on and on. So here are a few end of the year tips that will hopefully make your life easier when it is time to go back to school.
It's the beginning of the year, and chances are you are starting off teaching or reviewing the scientific method. If you've looked around on the internet for scientific method labs, you will notice that the majority are not biology related. Don't get me wrong- building paper airplanes, measuring bubbles, and seeing how many water drops can fit on the surface of a penny are fun labs, but not directly related to biology. In my class I want students to understand from the get-go that we are learning about living things, so I want my first lab to reflect that. Here are a few labs that can start your year off right:
1. Pulse Lab- This is a great lab because there are almost no supplies required other than a stopwatch. In this lab students measure their resting pulse, and compare it to their pulse standing up and holding their breath. It is a great way for students to practice writing hypotheses, and identifying independent and dependent variables. Before beginning the lab I start with a class discussion about what your pulse is, why blood needs to be pumped through the body, and where blood cells are made.
2. Firework Milk Lab- I have seen this lab done at ALL ages. Even preschool teachers love this lab. But the beauty of this lab is that high school students still love it, and they can finally start to understand the concept behind the fun swirling colors. In this lab students pour milk into a petri dish, add some food coloring, and put a drop of soap in the middle of the dish. Once the soap enters the dish the food coloring starts swirling and creating "fireworks." The reason the soap begins to mix the food coloring around is because of the chemical structure of the soap. The soap molecule has a polar portion that likes to mix with water, and a nonpolar portion that doesn't like to be around water. The soap molecules react with the fat molecules in the milk and start swirling around, which is visible from the movement of the food coloring. The fattier the milk, the better a reaction you will get. It is fun to have students test whole milk and skim milk and compare the results.
3. Testing the 5 Second Rule- This is my favorite lab to begin the year with, but it requires a little prep work. While you can order sterile agar plates from any science supply site, it is much cheaper to pour your own. If you haven't poured your own plates before, there are a ton of youtube tutorials available to walk you through it. In this lab students get to design their own experiment that would test whether or not food is really safe to eat after being on the ground for 5 seconds. When you purchase this lesson from my TpT store you will get two versions. In the high school version students design their own experiment, write their own procedures, and choose their own independent variable (food type, surface that they drop the food on, etc.) In the middle school version the procedures are given and it walks the students through the lab step by step. If you have an incubator the plates can be ready in 1 day, if not then let the plates sit over the weekend. Students will love seeing how much bacteria is on their food! You can even take it a step further and have students try and kill the bacteria with different cleansers (soap, bleach, 409, etc.) and see which is the most effective.
What other scientific method experiments do you love? Leave them in the comments below!
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Can you believe it's already time to go back to school? Whether you are teaching a new subject this year, or just need to spruce up your curriculum, teachers pay teachers has the resources you need! We would love to help you pay for those resources! A bunch of secondary science sellers have some great giveaways for you! There are two ways to win:
1. Individual giveaways- Each seller pictured above is giving away individual prizes on their blogs! Check out the bottom of this post to win $25 worth of resources to my TpT store! There are multiple ways to win, so be sure to check out the rafflecopter below.
2. Group giveaway- We put together one HUGE blog hop giveaway, just for science teachers teaching in grades 6-12: 4 $100 Teachers Pay Teachers gift cards! Each blog post has a secret code word and number. My clue word is 9. Solutions. The number tells you where the word falls in the secret sentence. Collect the words from each blog, write them down in number order, and copy the secret sentence into the joint rafflecopter giveaway. This rafflecopter form is the same on every blog, so you only need to enter once from any one of our blogs!
Giveaway starts Monday at 12 noon and ends at midnight on Friday. Best of luck!
As teachers, we are always on a budget. Decorating classrooms can get pricey. When I first started teaching I was spending a fortune online and at teaching supply stores to buy science posters so my walls weren't so drab. Since then, I've been creating my own science posters that the library will print for me poster size and laminate. You can see some of my posters in the picture gallery below). It has saved me a bunch of money! I have posters in my store, covering topics such as the rock cycle, cells, scientific variables, and more. Check them out here! You can buy the whole bundle and save!
I've also complied a list of other posters I have found online for free download:
1. Human Genome Poster- This is great to bring out during my genetics unit. Students can look up which genes and diseases are held on each chromosome.
2. Top 10 Reasons you should take Physics
3. Water Education Posters- many posters available on topics such as groundwater, watersheds, and water quality.
4. Scientific Method- Scholastic has created these posters on the scientific method
5. Earth at Night- Poster from NASA
6. Earth/Mars Comparison poster
7. Earthquakes and Seismology- from IRIS
8. March for Science- 6 free posters to celebrate women in science
9. Physics Central- Fun physics posters that can be purchased or downloaded for free
10. Climate Science Posters- These definitely have a political tone, but if you are teaching about climate change are available for free
11. Renewable Energy Posters- in developing countries
12. Big Telescopes- and why we need them
13. Periodic table for biology- Great for honors/AP students
14. Make a difference with careers in biology poster set
15. Not All Chemists Wear White Coats poster set
16. Periodic Table for Biologists
17. Teaching Tolerance- not science related, but oh so important!
18. Forces of Nature- Poster series of women in science
19. NSTA Infographics- More teacher based than student based, but still colorful and free