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.
A closing tip....
Most guest speakers that come in aren't used to speaking to teens. They do a great job, but don't have the same practice you do. One thing I've noticed is that they aren't used to what us teachers call "wait time." They tend to ask a question to students, wait about 2 seconds, and then answer it if they don't see hands go up.
When the guest speaker comes, pull them aside quickly and give them a gentle tip to wait a while after asking students a question. Explain to them that students need much longer processing time than adults. I've never had anyone be offended by me giving them this tip, and it's made the classroom discussions much better.
Good luck finding a guest speaker and enjoying a day of listening and learning instead of teaching!
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!
We live in the world of technology and instant streaming. It's amazing that we can see and talk to people on the other side of the world with almost no delay. I recently came across a couple of live streaming websites where your students can observe nature and wildlife from locations around the world. Many of our students may never have the opportunity to see the great barrier reef or go on an African safari- but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy looking at the animals from afar! I've created a list of a few websites where students can observe live streaming from some pretty cool places:
1. Deep Sea Exploration: Head over to http://nautiluslive.org/ to see real time deep sea exploration! Students can even type in questions and organizers are willing to skype with your classroom!
2. Explore.org: Out of all the websites, explore.org is probably my favorite. You can click on tons of animals and it will take you to a live streaming location. Sometimes you won't see much, but that is the nature of it being live. It will recommend which animals are most active and has highlights you won't want to miss.
3. National Park Service: This website has links to some webcams within some of the US National Parks. (Many of these are also available on explore.org, so you may just want to start there).
4. Zoos: Many zoos such as The Houston Zoo, the Woodland Park Zoo, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have webcams within their exhibits for you to view. You can even take a turn controlling the webcams at the Houston Zoo!.
Ideas of how to use these websites:
1. If you are teaching a lesson on making observations, have students observe the animals, write down behaviors they see and make inferences about their lifestyle or habitat.
2. Are your students quietly working on an assignment? Many teachers play background music. I personally struggle with this, because I'm one of those people that has to have it quiet in order to focus. Instead of playing music, try putting up a webcam on the screen. It allows students to take small mental breaks to observe the animals, and is also gives the early finishers something to do instead of pulling out their phones. It's a great classroom management tool.
3. If you are teaching about conservation or sustainability, put up a webcam and discuss why animal conservation is important and the ethical implications of zoos.
4. Don't have the money to take your students on a field trip? Use these sites as a "virtual field trip." They can see a national park from your classroom!
I hope you enjoy these sites! I've wasted my prep hour a few too many times by sitting and watching animals! Enjoy!
We all have those few students who slack during the semester, have a 57%, and come begging for extra credit before grades are due. For many teachers the answer is....
... and I totally get it. Grading late work is no fun and I'm not going to go out of my way to find extra credit assignments. But there have been times where I have a student who is honestly working their butt off and deserve a small boost. Here are a list of extra credit opportunities that are actually worthwhile (opposed to bringing in boxes of tissues or cleaning your lab tables!) Some require more effort than others, so you can decide how much each assignment should be worth.
1. Crash Course Videos:
Have your students watch a crash course video on a topic you have learned about and ask them to write a summary of the video. You can find the crash course videos on youtube here.
2. Have students record themselves doing a home experiment. For example, you can have them test Newton's 1st law of motion by pulling a tablecloth out from under the dishes. Need ideas of what they can try? Check out Steve Spangler's Sick Science videos on youtube, have them watch a video, try it at home, and write a small summary of how/why it works.
3. Have students do service for a scientific cause.
I would love for all students to leave my classroom knowing that it is important to leave the world a better place than we found it. Service could include doing a neighborhood clean-up, starting a garden, or participating in a citizen science project. Have them do a write-up of what they did and get a parent signature.
4. Complete a book report.
Ask students to read a science-related book and write a book report on it. The book should be approved by the teacher prior to beginning. There are a ton of science related books out there that students would enjoy such as "Stiff" or "Packing for Mars" by Mary Roach, "The Martian" by Andy Weir, or "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. You can read another blog post that includes more book recommendations here. (Want a comprehensive book list your students can choose from? CLICK HERE).
5. Watch a science documentary:
There are a ton of free science documentaries out there that can be found on youtube (or netflix if they have an account). The documentary should be approved by the teacher prior to beginning. Ask students to write a 1-2 page summary of the documentary, what they learned, and how it impacts their life. (This could also work for podcasts!)
Have any other great extra credit ideas? Leave them in the comments!
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Virtual labs are a great tool to try if you have computer access. I love them because:
I've compiled a list of websites that have virtual labs. Many require Flash or Java software, so be sure your computers have it before trying with students. If any of the links are broken or out of date, please leave a blog comment and I will update.
Enjoy! If you know of other sites, please share in the comments!
I posted a picture of my latest bulletin board on facebook and instagram and got a lot of positive feedback. Many people reached out asking for a copy to make their own, so I've uploaded it for FREE to my TpT store! I've included 2 versions: a non-editable PDF that is ready to print-and-go, and an editable powerpoint version in case you want to change up any of the scientists or quotes. Enjoy!
CLICK HERE to head to my TpT store and download them for free! I'd love to see your classroom! Share your images on instagram and tag me @ScienceLessonsThatRock!
As much as we would love to have our lessons end 30 seconds before the bell rings, it rarely happens. Even if it does work out perfectly in 1st hour, 2nd hour is a completely different group of students and the lesson might require more or less time. It sometimes happens that the lesson is over and I still have 5 minutes left of class. It drives me crazy when students try and wait by the door! If you are a science teacher, here is a great idea to fill those last 5 minutes.
There is a show on science channel called Outrageous Acts of Science. During the show they show video clips and have scientists explain the science behind the video. The videos are all about 2 minutes long and fun for students to watch. Go to youtube.com and type in "Outrageous Acts of Science" in the search bar. You will get a ton of results. Pick out a few that are interesting. Then, head over to keepvid.com and copy the youtube URL into the keepvid site. I like this website because it allows you to download youtube videos and save them to your computer. That way you don't have to worry about commercials or streaming/buffering issues.
Another fun youtube channel is from Steve Spangler and is called "Sick Science." Click here to view the youtube channel. It shows simple science experiments and allows the students to brainstorm why they happened. It is great to have students discuss why they think something is happening and not just have it explained to them.
If you have some of these videos already picked out and ready to go, it will save you time later. I think you will find these clips are way more valuable than the students trying to sit on their phones or wait by the door. Any other ideas you use for those last 5 minutes? Drop them in the comments!
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