Writing out CLEAR and DESCRIPTIVE scientific procedures is hard for students. It takes practice! Many teachers start off with a fun activity like how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Students will likely forget some important steps! This Youtube version made me smile:
Anywho, it's important for students to be given opportunities to practice writing experimental procedures and not just be given what we call "cookbook labs" where everything is provided for them.
Here are some ways you can practice:
1. I created a set of 20 unique writing prompts that provide students experimental questions. I like that they not only get to practice writing procedures, but also get critical thinking practice- HOW could they test and set up an experiment to answer the question? It can be helpful to work through an example as a class and then set them loose.
(If you are interested in other writing prompt sets, check out this post).
2. I came across this cool flextangle template and immediately thought "Students will love this! But how do I connect it to my curriculum?"
I think it would be fun to put students in pairs, and chop the paper in half- give one student the foldable template and the other student the directions. Have the student with the directions explain how to cut and fold the flextangle and see if they can do it successfully. After a while, you can show them the video of how the flextangle should work and see how they did. While students won't actually be writing procedures, they will be explaining procedures, which is still great practice.
3. Have a favorite demo you love? Sneak in some writing practice! Show students the demo and tell them to watch what you do very carefully. After the demo, have them write out what you did step by step. You can do the demo a second time if they need to see it again to catch all the steps. After the demo, have a few students read their procedures out loud and see how well they did.
4. In this free activity from Amy Brown Science, students build a unique structure and write out the procedures on how they built it. Then they swap instructions with another student and see if they can replicate the structure.
What other ways do you have students practice writing procedures? Leave me a comment!
As teachers we want our students to increase their reading comprehension skills. I've found that most of my students don't mind reading when you give them an interesting piece of text. If you assign textbook reading the moans will follow (and honestly, as adults we don't love to read textbooks so why do we expect our students to enjoy it?)
Instead, try and find an interesting topic or scientific phenomena that goes along with the concept you are learning about. For example, as a biology teacher one topic I teach is the biogeochemical cycles. My students would NOT enjoy reading about the carbon cycle out of a textbook. So instead I gave them an article to read about Lake Nyos, a lake that formed in a volcanic crater that was slowly releasing dissolved carbon dioxide into the water. To introduce the lesson, I show them a video clip of the villagers and livestock living around the lake who don't wake up one morning. By the end of the video students were hooked- what happened to these people?! They were absolutely ready to read the article and discuss carbon.
Here are a list of websites you can peruse to look for free, engaging articles for your students:
1. NEWSELA: Newsela articles are free. You can pay to set up classes and assign articles through their site, but completely not necessary.
2. SCIENCE NEWS FOR STUDENTS
3. SCIENCE JOURNAL FOR KIDS: Primary literature can be hard to comprehend, but this site makes the articles understandable for students.
4. GOOGLE SCHOLAR: Want students to read primary literature? Most of the time it costs money for articles, but Google Scholar provides free journal articles.
5. COMMON LIT: Lessons and articles are free after you create an account.
6. READ WORKS
7. TWEEN TRIBUNE: Student-geared articles published by the Smithsonian.
8. NATURAL INQUIRER: On this site you can not only download articles but also order magazine copies for your classroom.
Do you have a topic that your students consider boring? Need help coming up with related phenomena? Leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to help!
If you want to introduce the CER method to students or have them practice periodically, using video clips is a fun way to go. (If you aren't familiar with the CER method, check out this blog post on ways you can use it in your classroom). I prefer short video clips because they are great for bellwork practice or a good time-filler if you have a few minutes left at the end of class.
A popular video teachers use to introduce CER is this Audi commercial. In it, the daughter gives the claim that her Dad is a space alien. Students should be able to pull out the evidence that she gives, including: he speaks a weird language, he drinks green stuff, just look at him (he dresses weird), and he has a spaceship. In the reasoning section students should be able to explain how the evidence supports the claim.
Here are some additional video clips you can use if you have YouTube access at school:
JUST FOR FUN VIDEOS
SCIENCE BASED VIDEOS
If you are interested in a graphic organizer I use for CER practice, click here!
If you have any other video clips you use, I'd love to see them! Leave the URL in the comments!
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!
If you read my blog post on recommended summer science reads, you saw my confession that I'm not generally a big non-fiction reader. I love to read, but fiction is my go-to.
As I was compiling a science book list for students and teachers, I kept seeing and getting recommended The Serengeti Rules by Sean Carroll (If you've used any HHMI videos in your class, you know who he is). I decided to check it out from the library and I'm so glad I did. The first section of the book discusses cellular rules of regulation. When I first started reading I was thinking "I thought this was an ecology book!" but what's fascinating is he relates cellular rules of regulation to ecological rules of regulation in later sections of the book. So many concepts cross over. For example, cells maintain balance using homeostasis, ecosystems maintain balance with carrying capacity. Cells populations are regulated from the bottom up by food availability, and so are animal populations. Cellular process such as enzyme activity are regulated by negative feedback, while populations are regulated by negative feedback in the form of trophic cascades. It was cool to see the cross over and I kept thinking "this book is perfect for honors and AP biology students!"
As I set out to look for supplemental student and teacher resources for this book, I came across the official version published by the Princeton Press. There is a ton of great information included in that document, but it didn't suit my teaching style. I wanted students to pull out the main ideas and have clear graphic organizers to fill out as they read the book without getting caught up in the nitty gritty details. So I went back through the book and created my own resource for students that is more user friendly. It includes writing prompts, graphic organizers, chapter discussion questions, and more. Below are some images of what the resource looks like (page borders differ depending on if they are a pre-reading, during reading, or post-reading activity).
HHMI also has some additional resources that supplement the book that you can find on their website. And most exciting.... they are coming out with a Serengeti Rules documentary some time this fall! The trailer looks fascinating and I can't wait to see the full movie. Keep your eyes peeled- the HHMI website frequently offers free DVD's to classroom teachers.
I hope you enjoy the book!
Card sorts are one of my favorite tried-and-true ways to formatively assess my students. I use them all the time!
1. You can use them at the beginning of a lesson to check for prior knowledge
2. You can use them in the middle of a lesson as a checkpoint for the lesson
3. You can use them as a form of exit ticket
4. You can use them the day before a quiz for students to self-assess
I've found they are great for my ESL students and tactile learners. Once they are sorted, have your kids read them out loud to get your ESL kids talking and practicing vocabulary.
Are you sold yet? It's super easy to make your own! For example, suppose you are learning mitosis. All you have to do is look up a picture of the phases of mitosis on the internet, and print off multiple copies (I have 16 lab tables in my room, so I usually make 16 sets and have students work in pairs). Next, cut them up, paperclip together, and voila! (Bonus: if you have a laminator or your school library can laminate for you, it makes them more durable from year to year).
Since I have so many sets, I needed a way to keep them organized that worked for me. The best (and cheapest) way I've found to organize my card sorts, task cards, and review puzzles is in small manila envelopes. I write the topic on the front and they are placed in order that I use them (quarter 1 through 4) in a filing cabinet.
If you are interested in checking out the ones I have pre-made, CLICK HERE. I'm always posting new sets so check back! If you would like to request a set, leave them in the comments and I'll try my best to get them made. Happy sorting!
One of my favorite case studies to examine with students is the tragedy that occurred at Lake Nyos. Located in Camaroon, Africa, Lake Nyos is a lake that formed in a volcanic crater. While villagers thought the volcano was dormant, it was slowly releasing carbon dioxide into the lake. One night in 1986 the carbon dioxide built up enough that the lake overturned and all the carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere. Since carbon dioxide is more dense than air, thousands of villagers and livestock died in their sleep that night of asphyxiation.
While it is a devastating story to learn about, it is good in the sense that it can be applied to so many science concepts. Biology teachers can bring it up when learning about the carbon cycle. Earth science teachers can discuss the story during their volcanoes unit. Physical science teachers can use it to introduce density of gases. It's a phenomena that is so versatile!
I begin the lesson by showing this video clip from National Geographic on Youtube. It gets the students 100% engaged and doesn't reveal why this mystery fog killed the villagers:
Following the video clip I have students read an article I wrote about what happened at Lake Nyos and the science concepts behind it. You can find the article HERE if you would like to download it (appropriate for grades 7-10).
Then at the end of class I like to end with a demo showing how carbon dioxide is truly more dense than air. All you need are 3 birthday candles, some clay or play-doh, a container, baking soda, and vinegar.
Cut two of the candles shorter so all the candles are different heights. Stick them to the bottom of a container with clay. Sprinkle the bottom of the container with baking soda and light the candles. Have students predict what will happen when you pour some vinegar into the container. Students will observe the lowest candle extinguishing first because the dense CO2 that is being formed stays nearest to the bottom of the container. (I do it under the document camera so all students can watch, but if you trust your students with matches you can have them do it in small lab groups instead).
I hope your students enjoy this lesson- I know mine do! It's simple, engaging, and a story your students won't forget.
At the beginning of every school year I can bet that you review the scientific method. While there isn't necessarily a specific set of steps that we follow in all branches of science, we want our students to be able to use inquiry and think through the scientific process. One great way to get our students thinking like scientists is by using the CER method.
What is CER?
CER stands for claim, evidence, and reasoning. After being posed with a question or observation, students have to make a claim (similar to forming a hypothesis), provide evidence to support their claim, and explain their reasoning. Getting students to understand CER is important because it helps them think through the scientific process. All claims must have supporting evidence, and students should be able to explain the reasoning behind their thoughts. CER is science literacy for the win!
CER can be applied so many different methods of teaching. It doesn't just have to be for labs! Here are a few ideas on how you can implement the process:
1. Video clips: Find a video clip that poses some sort of question or claim. Have students identify the claim, evidence, and reasoning given in the video. If only a claim is given, have students come up with evidence and reasoning on their own following the clip. Want a list of video clips? Check out this blog post.
2. Labs: CER is great to implement within the lab process. Students are posed with a question they will test, write out their claim (hypothesis), provide evidence (their data), and reasoning. If you haven't checked out NSTA's ADI books (argument driven inquiry), they follow the CER process and have a lot of great lab ideas. Many of the labs can be found free online, but you have to purchase the book to get the accompanying teacher information. Some free resources can be found at the following links: Biology labs, Chemistry labs, Middle school life science.
You could also give students a magazine ad with a claim (such as Shamwow) and have students design an experiment to test the validity.
3. Socratic Seminars: If you aren't familiar with what a socratic seminar is, it is essentially a class discussion where the facilitator asks open ended questions and encourages class discussion. For me it works best when the class sits in a circle facing each other, and every student is required to contribute to the conversation at least once (give them a grade for speaking). Pose a question to your class, give them time to come up with CER speaking points, and get them talking! Make sure your question is open ended so students don't all come to the same conclusions. A sample question you could pose is "Do you think humans could ever survive on Mars?" While there are only 2 answers to this question (yes or no), there will be a lot of discussion regarding their evidence and reasoning.
4. Whiteboard sessions: CER works well on mini-whiteboards. I have students set up the whiteboards as pictured below. After groups fill out their whiteboard, have the class face each other in a circle, review the boards, and have a "whiteboard session" where they discuss what other groups came up with. This could supplement a lab or be done as a stand alone activity. It takes some training to get students to give constructive feedback to other groups, but after a few tries they get the hang of it. A sample is shown below.
5. Analyzing journal articles: We all want our students to be better readers. At the high school level, I try and get my students reading journal articles. They can be a lot to digest and asking students to read and summarize them can be daunting. I give students the CER graphic organizer (found below) and have them fill it out as they read. It is a great way for them to organize information as they read. They can also use three different colored highlighters as they read- one color to highlight the claim, a second for any supporting evidence, and a third where they find reasoning/justification.
It's summertime and you FINALLY have time to sit down and read a book! It seems like during the school year I lay down at night, grab a book, and fall asleep after 2 pages. I love to read, but teaching is exhausting and I just can't get much reading done. Now that it's summer I have quite a few books I want to get through. I thought I would share my top 5 favorite science books with you!
Disclaimer: While I realize as an adult I should enjoy reading non-fiction, I generally have a hard time getting through them. I much prefer fiction novels that I can read quickly and don't have to sit and digest the all that information (that sounds childish, I know). That being said, the books listed below are books full of science content, but read more like novels. I think this is something to keep in mind when you recommend books to your students.
Favorite Biology Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is a true story about a poor African American mother and tobacco farmer that developed cervical cancer. At this point in time, scientists had not figured out a way to keep cells alive outside of the body. Henrietta's doctor took a biopsy of her cancer cells, and without her permission sent them to the lab, where her cells miraculously continued to live and grow. Following her death, her "immortal" cells eventually turned into a multi-million dollar industry, and research labs around the world continue to use "HeLa" cells to this day. However, her family didn't learn about the cells until decades later and never received a penny of compensation. This is powerful book that sheds light on the history of the medical research industry and social injustice.
Favorite Chemistry Book: The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum. In the 1920's in New York City, untraceable poisons were an easy path to the perfect crime. This book teaches about the development of chemical detective work- the ability to detect hidden poisons in the body. Written from the perspective of the Chief Medical Examiner and Toxicologist of NYC, each chapter of this book focuses on a different poison, ranging from carbon monoxide and radium to arsenic. It is written in a way that readers, regardless of chemistry background, can enjoy and understand.
Favorite Earth and Space Science Book: The Martian by Andy Weir. Mark Watney is an astronaut that gets stranded on Mars after his crew gets stuck in a Mars dust storm and think he is dead. He has to find a way to survive on Mars, which is virtually uninhabitable, before rescue teams can find a way to save him. This book is fun, witty, and hard to put down. This book is now a major motion picture starring Matt Damon, but I can assure you the book is even better. A young reader's edition is also available.
Favorite Environmental Science Book: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. If you've ever taken some time to think about where the food in the grocery store came from and what life was like for the cow before it became the hamburger on your plate, you will enjoy this book. I own both copies of this book- the original and the young reader's edition, and found the young reader's edition easier to get through (shocker, I know). This book is engaging and relatable to students, and will force them to reflect on what they eat and the impact it has on the environment. I read it with my classes last year and followed it up with the documentary Food Inc which my students really enjoyed.
Favorite Book Overall: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. (This movie October Sky is inspired by this book). When I was growing up I hated to read. In middle school my grandma had this book sitting at her house and I randomly picked it up. From that point I learned that I didn't hate to read, I just hated all the books I had been forced to read. This book is a memoir written by a boy raised in a small coal-mining community. While the majority of boys accepted the fact they would grow up and work in the mine, he had dreams of rockets and going to space. Inspired by his high school science teacher Ms. Riley and with some help by his begrudging father, he builds rockets with his friends and enters the science fair. It will make you laugh and make you cry, but overall will inspire you to shoot for the stars (both literally and figuratively).
As a kid I loved that when I read this book for the first time I related to the main character Sonny, and as I have grown up I feel like I can relate to his teacher Ms. Riley. This book has grown with me and I love it as much now (after a dozen reads) as I did when I was in middle school. If you enjoyed this book, there are 2 more books that follow in the series. (Side Note: I have a personally autographed copy of this book, and if my house ever burns down, this book is coming out with me!)
As adults most of us like to read, but it can be difficult to get your students to put down the phone and pick up a book. Here are a few tips that might help:
1. Keep books in your classroom that students can check out, and don't just let them sit on the shelf. Pitch the books to them! They will be more likely to pick up the book if you give it a glowing recommendation.
2. Meet with the ELA teachers in your grade level and see if they can incorporate a novel with science content into their curriculum. They will likely be more than willing if you promise to help keep students engaged and tag-team the content.
3. Bribe them. I know that sounds horrible... but it can work. Offer extra credit to students that read a science novel on their own time and write up a book report. I make sure they know my feelings won't be hurt if they don't like the book in the end. When I was in high school I think I felt pressured to read the assigned book and write an essay about how great it was. That was what my teacher wanted to hear, right?! (I wish I could have turned in an essay about all the reasons I hated Animal Farm... but I digress). Anyway, sometimes students just don't know what type of books to pick up. I created this list of 175 science books that are listed by content area, lexile and include a synopsis. It should be great for any teacher grades 6-12. Hopefully it will help you and your students find the perfect book. Click on the image to download it!
I hope you have time this summer to kick your feet up, grab a book, and sip your favorite drink! Enjoy some well deserved R&R!
This blog post is all about why I think Cornell notes are beneficial for students, and tips on how to make them easier for teachers. If you don't want to read my background story on how I came to love them and you just want the nitty-gritty, skip to the bottom of the post :)
You can also repin this blog post for later by clicking here.
My first year teaching was at an AVID demonstration school. If you are familiar with the AVID program, they require students to use Cornell notes during class. I was fresh out of college and had never heard of them before. I was really excited to use interactive notebooks and to be honest I wasn't thrilled with having a set note-taking format I had to use. It felt like I spent the first month of school telling students what to write on the left side of their notes, and what to write on the right side. Getting them to write summaries was like pulling teeth. BUT, after a couple of months things got easier, and students got better at knowing what to write. Eventually students enjoyed having structure instead of messy note pages. I tried my best to make sure my powerpoint slides had clear questions and bolded vocabulary so students knew exactly what to write and what was important. I initially tried to get students to write the summary for homework, but I soon realized they just weren't going to do it. Enter plan B. Instead I would go back the next day and have them review their notes and write the summary for bellwork. It was a great way to refresh their memories on what they learned the previous day. Then I would call on 2 or 3 students to read their summaries out loud, which increased the stakes for writing in complete sentences and explaining things in their own words, not just regurgitating vocabulary words and definitions. Often times students would even call each other out, and say things like "You forgot to answer the essential question!" By the end of the school year my little 6th graders were champs at taking notes.
Fast forward 10 years and I now teach a class of seniors who are taking college biology through duel enrollment. One of the entrance requirements to this duel enrollment course is for students to have been in AVID all 4 years of high school. It has been amazing to see them take notes without asking, and not just during standard lectures. We have had multiple guest speakers visit our classroom, and students automatically set up a notes page, write down notes and questions they have throughout the presentation, and summarize what the speaker taught them. All without groaning. THAT, my teacher friends, is amazing to see.
So in summary, here are a few things to take away...
Why Cornell notes are good for students: