Teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) can be so fun and rewarding. They are some of my favorite students to work with. They tend to be hard working and driven. (You may want to check out my blog post with 10 tips for teaching ELLs in the science classroom).
The main categories ELLs are tested on in order to become "proficient" English speakers are reading, writing, listening, and speaking. As science teachers we can support the ELL teachers by weaving these into our daily curriculum. I have some tech tools to share with you that will make these easier!
Students need to practice reading in all their classes, not just English. I try and find fun and engaging articles for students to read, not excerpts from the textbook. (Not sure where to find free articles? Check this blog post). Now, you can't hand out an article to your general ed. students and expect your ELL students to be able to read it. But the good news is there are ways to change the lexile! If you find articles on Newsela they have different lexiles built in. If you find an article elsewhere, all you have to do is copy and paste the text into a free site called Rewordify. It will make the text simpler and easier for your ELL kids to digest. Check it out!
I don't assign a ton of writing assignments in my class, mostly because grading it is way too time consuming. And honestly as a science teacher I'm not trained on how to teach writing. BUT, we aren't completely off the hook. We can still at least give students writing opportunities because the more they practice the better they will get.
One easy way to add some low-stress writing to your curriculum is by assigning writing prompts. I would provide writing prompts to the students before we learned a new concept. Assigning it before the lesson is taught has a few purposes aside from writing practice: it gets them thinking about the concept and shows me any misconceptions they have going in. That way I can address them as we go. Looking for science writing prompts? Check out this blog post.
When you are addressing the class as a whole, often times you are talking way too fast. ELL students benefit from you talking slower so they can listen better and digest. If you are giving lab directions or even a lecture, you can always record yourself (with Vocaroo or Screencastify) and post it on your class website for them to refer back to.
Another cool tech tip is that students can have website content read aloud to them. Here are directions on how to use the Google Read Aloud extension.
ELL students need plenty of opportunities to practice speaking English. It is okay to have a loud classroom, as long as students are on task! However, one thing I've found is that ELL students often get nervous or shy speaking in front of their English speaking peers. One low-stress way you can have students practice their speech is by having them submit their work through an audio recorder like Vocaroo. I love Vocaroo because 1) it's free! 2) there is no login required, and 3) it's fool proof. There is one button to push- the record button. No learning curve.
For example, if you have your class participating in a Socratic seminar or doing a whiteboard CER session, you can have your ELL students record their part on Vocaroo. They can submit the audio via email and you can grade with a click of a button. Super easy for you and very low stress for them.
Any other cool tech tools you know of to support reading, writing, listening, or speaking skills? Drop them in the comments!
Have you ever tried out choice boards with your students? I love them because they give students some voice and choice in their learning. Choice boards provide a variety of ways for students to demonstrate they have mastered a concept. Your students that love to write can choose to answer writing prompts, your students that are artistic may choose to create an animated cartoon, and your talkative students may choose to use an online voice recorder to explain what they learned. The possibilities are endless.
If you make your own, here are some options you could include:
How to grade choice boards:
It is up to you on how many tasks you want students to complete on the choice board and how you will assess them. Grading ideas could include:
Here is a preview of a choice board I created for cell organelles to give you an idea of how they work:
If you don't want to make your own, I've created choice boards for biology and earth science units. CLICK HERE to check them out!
Are you a podcast lover? Once I find one I like, I get hooked (cough, cough... Serial). You may have students who have never listened to a podcast before, and given the opportunity would really enjoy them! Especially for your kiddos who love to learn but don't love to read.
HOW YOU CAN USE PODCASTS IN THE CLASSROOM
Not sure how you would use podcasts with students? Here are a few ideas:
1. Write out questions that go along with the podcast episode and assign it for homework. This is great listening skill practice (especially for ELL students!)
2. Assigning a podcast episode that has tougher to digest content? Listen to the podcast together as a class and pause it periodically to do small group or whole class discussions.
3. Have them listen to a podcast at home and hold an in-class Socratic seminar or philosophical chairs.
4. After listening, have students create a one-pager or infographic based on what they learned.
5. You could even have students create their own podcast! Have them pick a science related topic, conduct authentic research, and record!
LIST OF SCIENCE PODCASTS:
Listed in no particular order. (Note: I have not listened to all of these podcasts, and encourage you to preview any podcast episodes you assign to students).
1. TUMBLE: This podcast tells stories of scientific discoveries with the help of scientist.
2. 60 SECOND SCIENCE: Have a few minutes left at the end of class? Check out this podcast from Scientific American.
3. SKEPTOID: This podcast takes popular myths and reveals the true science and history behind them.
4. BIG BIOLOGY: This podcast is "scientists talking to scientists" about biology topics. I would recommend this podcast to older students, as some of the topics are more complex.
5. BRAINS ON: If you teach younger students they might enjoy Brains On, where kids find answers to fascinating questions about our world.
6. NATURE: The journal Nature also has a podcast.
7. SCIENCE MAGAZINE: Comes out with weekly podcast episodes.
8. 30 ANIMALS THAT MADE US SMARTER: Put out by the BBC.
9. THE WILD: Explores how nature survives and thrives along side (and often despite) humans.
10. SCIENCE VS: This podcast takes on fads and trends to find out what's fact, what's not, and what's somewhere in between.
11. OVERHEARD: This Nat Geo podcast dives into "one of the curiously delightful conversations we've overheard at National Geographic's headquarters."
12. UNDISCOVERED: Is a podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.
13. THE BIG FIB: Each week, a kid interviews two experts in a particular topic, one of which is a genuine credentialed expert, and the other is a liar. Students learn to weigh evidence and trust their gut!
Don't have the funds to take students on a field trip? Living in the age of technology allows us to virtually visit and see sights around the world (or solar system!) that most of us wouldn't get the opportunity to ever see. I've compiled a list of science-related virtual field trips you and your students can experience. Happy travels!
1. Virtual Field Trips.org is a great place to start. They have videos that can take students to the galapgos, national parks, and the amazon. Head here to watch!
2. I've always been fascinated with caves. Visiting Carlsbad Caverns was one of my favorite vacations. Let students explore Carlsbad Caverns with this virtual tour. Check it out here.
3. The Nature Conservancy also has a variety of field trips to choose from. They have teacher guides and videos for a ton of topics. Check them out HERE.
4. I'm sure you have played around with Google Earth, but did you know there is also Google Moon and Google Mars? Let your students explore the solar system and see what the surface of the moon and Mars look like! You never know, humans may be regular visitors to these places in their lifetime!
5. Another cool site to check out if you have students interested in space is Stellarium. Students can visit this online planetarium and check out constellations visible from their current location.
6. You might think of Easter Island as more of a history trip instead of a science trip, but this island has an interesting (and disastrous) history relating to ecosystem collapse and sustainability. What is now relatively barren land, Easter Island was once lush and heavily populated. There is some debate about what wiped out the trees (deforestation? invasive rats?) and the ecosystem collapse that followed, but either way it is a good lesson on population growth and sustainability. Students can check out the island HERE.
7. Discovery Education has a bunch of virtual field trips to choose from. Head here and you can filter by content area.
8. Would you like to view webcams from different zoos and aquariums? I often put live webcams up on the classroom board when students are doing independent work. If they finish their work early or need a brain break, watching animals is a fun thing to do! Check out this blog post to see which zoos and aquariums offer streaming webcams.
9. The National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC offer virtual tours using Google Street View. Check them out HERE.
10. Google Art and Culture has virtual field trips from TONS of locations worldwide. Click here to view US national parks and explore places like the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Yellowstone, and more! (Warning: It's addicting).
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!
Want a fun way to change up how you assess your students? While there is value in giving multiple choice assessments (students need to have these test taking skills to pass the ACT and SAT), I also like to change it up. Not all students do well with multiple choice or written tests, and offering creative ways for students to show their learning is always fun.
I recently finished my cells unit, and asked students to create an infographic on an organelle. We used the website piktochart.com which is free. (There are paid upgrades, but everything students need is available with the free account). Students found the website to be relatively user friendly- everything is click and drag.
The project students about 4 class periods to complete. The first day I showed the students sample infographics and we discussed what characteristics were of a good infographic. If you want some samples of quality infographics there are a TON on pinterest. Then I had students do background research on their organelle (I required a minimum of 5 facts on their infographic). The following two class periods students created their infographics and do some peer editing. On day 4 students finalized their edits and submitted them to me. The biggest hiccup we tried to avoid was it turning into a power point slide with a bunch of text. I reminded them that the goal of an infographic is to use images to make complex information quick and easy to understand. For example, if you state that the average US meal travels 1500 miles from farm to plate, how can you help the reader visualize that? (It's roughly the distance from New Orleans to Phoenix, so they could include a map).
Here are some sample infographics we came up with:
Prior to turning in the inforaphics we did a few rounds of peer feedback and editing. This will save you a lot of time later when you go to grade them. After editing students shared the link to their infographics in an email to me, but you could easily have them upload it to google classroom or canvas if you use these tools. Also, if your library can print them poster size they are great for classroom decor!
If you are interested in checking out the forms and grading rubric I used for this project, you can check them out here.
I hope your students have fun creating them!
Who doesn't love watching people get pranked? Now add science to the pranks and you have a great way to keep your students engaged. SciJinks is a new show on the Science Channel that uses science to perform practical jokes on people. Following the pranks they explain the science behind it, so it is great for your science classroom. You can see episodes by clicking here.
I made a worksheet to go along with the show if you choose to show it in your class! Click on the PDF below to download.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tamara Robertson, one of the hosts of the show, at a NASA social event (you can read about the NASA launch here). Her resume is impressive- ranging from chemical engineering to TV host. I was able to get her to answer some interview questions, so keep reading to learn more about her!
What is your scientific background and what made you interested in science?
I am a chemical & biomolecular engineer. I spent a little under a decade working in facility startup and designs as well as additive technology development for packaging.
I’ve always been good at math and science in school and liked machinery and building things but honestly never thought to pursue science. I had a teacher in college that took me aside and talked to me about engineering - at the time I thought only boys did that because I had only known one male engineer and that was Scottie from Star Trek. She helped broaden my view of the world and potential majors and that’s how I ended up in Engineering :)
Tell me a little bit about your job history- How did you end up with Mythbusters and Scijinks? Was TV something you always had an interest in?
Growing up in North Carolina I didn’t have cable as a kid but always enjoyed watching shows and movies on VHS with friends.
In college I got recruited to do commercial print modeling with a local agency and as someone that really enjoyed sci-fi and fantasy type books the idea of playing make believe sounded fun so I started pursuing acting. Doing commercials and acting in independent films helped me to overset the cost of living for college so it became a hobby of sorts while I was in school and an engineer. In engineering I was lucky that my degree allowed flexibility in career fields and industries so I got to take some really cool jobs. Some of the highlights were:
Why do you think SciJinks would be a great addition to the secondary science classroom?
Scijinks was a really fun program to be a part of because we got to utilize new emerging technology as well as some really cool old school tech to blow people’s minds with science! People often assume that science is just what is done in a lab or from a cubicle but really Science is all around us and there is such a vast number of specialties and career opportunities which I think Scijinks helps to elevate.
We also had a live audience of actual STEM students in the studio with us reviewing our field experiments which helped showcase the diversity and inclusion in these fields.
What is your favorite memory from filming the first season?
My favorite memory from the first season was probably when we utilized Hydrophobic coatings to create a “stain proof” jacket. I remember thinking - people are going to know what this is, it’s in so many materials - but in reality no one had ever seen it up close before so they all thought it was this type of magical formula! Getting to showcase to them close up how the technology enables fluids to bead up and repels them from the fabrics was really fun! Adding that to convincing them to throw an entire vat of spaghetti sauce at our “chef” and things just get hilarious!
Do you have a past teacher who was influential in your passion for science?
I had some really awesome teachers in school- especially in science!
In high school I still remember one professor Chip Howe. He dropped a piece of sulfuric acid on his shoe but didn’t realize where it had fallen so he continued demonstrating how the compound could burn through materials. About the time the sample on the table was breaking through the piece on his shoe had as well and he had quite a surprise!
In college at NC state I honestly had some of the most inspiring professors! Dr. Bullard was instrumental in keeping me driven and pushing through all the hard moments in school as well as graduating and trying to get work during a recession. Since she had been an engineer in life before teaching she was an amazing resource with regards to navigating the job market, building a portfolio and experience based resume while in college and was an amazing example of someone who had a career in STEM and a family and made it work.
What advice would you give to teen girls interested in STEM careers?
There’s so many pieces of advice I would give here - here are a few of many:
If people want to find you on social media, where can they look?
I can be found on all social media platforms under the handle @tlynnr85.
Guest speakers can be such a powerful tool to your classroom and are hugely underutilized. I don't think I truly understood their value until I started teaching project based learning. Part of PBL includes having a public audience (you can check out a blog post on this topic here). As I developed projects and started bringing in people from the community it made a huge impact on my students.
Why are they so powerful? First, students are used to hearing us teach every day, and don't always give us 100% of their attention (who am I kidding, they RARELY give us 100% of their attention). But whenever I've had a guest speaker come in, the students seem to hang on to their every word. Another reason they are invaluable is because they can bring in a level of specialized content knowledge that you don't have.
For example, I recently had my students complete a project where they had to design a food truck. We had been learning about sustainable agriculture, macromolecules, and nutrition. Students were asking questions I didn't have specific answers for, like how much local ingredients would cost and how they could decrease their company's carbon footprint. I could have done some internet research to help them find the answers, but why not go straight to the source? I sent a quick email to the owner of a farm not too far from our school asking if students could ask her some questions over the phone about her business. She was more than happy to speak to them and talk about her organic farm and the struggles of starting a small business. They were able to record the phone conversation and refer back to it later as they prepared for their presentations.
Where to find guest speakers
I promise when you begin to reach out to people in the community, you will be surprised how willing they are to come in and speak to your students. You won't always get a yes, and you won't always find people that can stay all day and speak to multiple class periods. (One way to solve the multiple class periods issue is to record the presentation and show it to your other classes). I've had luck tracking down people willing to speak to my students from almost all of the places listed below:
The Beauty of Modern Technology
While it is always ideal to have someone come in and meet with your students personally, this isn't always possible. But there are other options! Websites such as www.skypeascientist.com allow you to do a skype or google hangout session with a scientist. You choose which type of scientist you would like to skype with based on what you are teaching and they will match you up accordingly.
I've also had students do phone interviews with multiple people ranging from professors at our local university to food truck owners. If you email people and ask if they have 10 minutes to spare for a quick phone conversation they will almost always say yes. As a bonus, it is good practice for students to learn how to speak professionally on the phone.
Good luck finding a guest speaker and enjoying a day of listening and learning instead of teaching!
Be sure to check out Guest Speakers Part 2: What to do before, during, and after the presentation for more tips.
Movies is often much more engaging than lecturing to your students. Having students actually see extinction happening in the documentary Racing Extinction is much more powerful than me talking about it. While I don't usually show full length movies in my classroom (more often clips), they can be a great supplement to your curriculum. I've compiled a list of movies that could be added to your science classroom curriculum. Tip: If you require students to answer questions during the video or have a follow up assignment, you will have more students paying attention!
Disclaimer: I have not personally seen all of these movies, and always suggest previewing before showing and making sure it is appropriate for your grade level. Depending on the movie content and rating you may need admin/parent approval.
Have any suggestions to add? Drop them in the comments!
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!