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!
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!
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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You made it to the last blog post in this 4 part series! If you missed any of the previous posts, you can click below to get caught up:
#1: What is PBL?
#2: Getting Started
#3: The Product
This last blog post will be about extending learning beyond the classroom with a public audience and community partnerships.
Why a Public Audience?
After students have worked hard for multiple weeks on a project, it is important to have people to showcase it to. The students should have their audience in mind as they create the product, as it needs to be presented on the appropriate level. Public audiences could include:
Students need to feel like they belong to the community they live in. Statistics show that the time many students get into trouble is the few hours right after school before they head home. If students build positive relationships with community members we can strengthen a community built on trust, empathy, and acceptance. You might be surprised at how many community members will jump at the chance to be a part of your project. One tip: You don't have to be the one to reach out. Get your students on the phone! A lot of times adults might turn you down when you call, but if a student calls they are more willing to come and help out.
I know PBL can seem overwhelming and daunting at first, but the payoff is huge. If you need help, drop your questions in the comments below! Good luck!
You are on part 3 of a 4 part blog post on PBL in the science classroom. If you missed the previous posts, CLICK HERE to head back to blog post 1- "What is PBL?" or CLICK HERE to head back to blog post 2- "How to get started". This blog post will cover how to complete the meat of the project- the product.
Before the project launch, you should have come up with the product idea. Remember the product is the summative assignment you want students to complete by the end of the project. You should have 2 products: a group product and an individual product. This allows students to showcase their own learning as well as work with others to problem solve and learn to work cooperatively.
Student Voice and Choice
Students should given some sort of choice options throughout the project. How much freedom you give them depends on you. Voice and choice options could include:
Research and Sustained Inquiry
PBL takes a great deal of research on the students' part (remember, they are in charge, not you!). You will need to teach students about how to find reliable sources and how to cite them properly. Also, since projects usually take a few weeks to complete, how will you keep students engaged? You should plan ways to keep the project moving and on track.
Included in my PBL resource is a form for students to record their research and group forms for them to create norms, a group contract, and a status report form so you can easily check in with each group. You can check out this resource HERE.
Student Critique and Revision
It is important for students to be given opportunities to review, critique, and edit their work before the final product is due. While it is good to give feedback yourself, it is also good to teach students how to give feedback to each other. This can be difficult for students unless they have been taught how. Some tips include:
One more step to go- having a public audience. If you are ready, CLICK HERE to head to the last blog post in this PBL series. Don't forget to check out my PBL resource that includes a lot more details, student forms, grading rubrics, and sample projects by clicking on the image to the left!
In this blog post we are going to cover the first 3 steps to project based learning: the entry event, the driving question, and student need-to-knows. In case you missed the first part of this blog series- "What is PBL?" you can click here to go back and read it.
Before starting the project with your students, you should have mapped out what you want your students to learn about and create (the product). Suppose you are teaching about nutrition and macromolecules and you would like your students to create a recorded cooking show that walks you through a particular recipe. The next steps (and topic of this blog post) are planning how to introduce the project to your students.
1. The Entry Event
The entry event is how you will introduce the project to your students to get them engaged in the topic. When I was in college they taught us the term "anticipatory set" which is the same idea. Per my example: how will you get students excited about macromolecules and nutrition? Some things you could use as an entry event could include:
2. The Driving Question
The driving question is the main question you want students to be able to answer by the end of the project. A good driving question is engaging, complex, requires critical thinking, and is not something students can just go Google the answer to. Make the wording of the question student friendly. You want the students to be excited about the question, so it doesn't have to directly address the product. For the nutrition project, a good driving question might be "Are all foods created equal?" This question not only piques your interest, but is also broad enough it can be taken down multiple roads; not just nutritional value but also the carbon footprint of the ingredients, water usage, flavors, cultural significance, and more.
If you live in a state that uses NGSS standards, you are in luck. Since NGSS standards are performance based, they can easily be turned into a driving question. For example:
3. Need to Knows
Once you introduce the project to the students, the next step is to have them create a list of need-to-knows. This is a list of all the things students think they will need to know in order to answer the driving question and complete the project. For the nutrition project, need to knows might include:
Are you interested in learning more about these first three steps? I have a PBL resource available in my TpT store that includes more details, project planning forms, over 40 possible student product options, and 100 possible driving questions that span all science disciplines. You can check it out HERE.
Ready to learn about the next 3 steps of PBL? CLICK HERE to head over to the next blog post!
The past few years I’ve had the opportunity to teach a course entirely through project based learning. Our local university approached a couple of schools in our district and asked us if we were interested in teaching a cross-curricular PBL program where our grade 12 students can earn college credits. Ummmm…. heck yeah! Basically, the students travel as a cohort to 3 common classes- English, biology, and sustainability. The students work on projects that integrate all the content areas. It has been truly rewarding to teach a class where students are assessed on their conceptual knowledge and performance opposed to how they score on a multiple choice test.
I've learned a ton about project based learning through trial and error, and am here to share tips with you in a 4 part blog series.
Part 1: What is PBL?
Part 2: How to plan and get started
Part 3: Implementing the project and creating the product
Part 4: Beyond the classroom (public audience)
So what exactly is PBL?
Project based learning is much different than just throwing a project into your curriculum. Project based learning is a shift in the entire way you teach and run your classroom. Take a look at the chart below that compares project based learning with traditional classrooms:
One of the biggest differences between PBL and traditional instruction is that you as the teacher are not in the driver's seat. You pose a question to them that they will need to solve, but they drive the process. This question is generally complex, will need a lot of research to answer, and will cover more than one discipline (see the 2nd blog post in this series to learn more about driving questions).
Why choose PBL?
Imagine a classroom where students are truly engaged in the content, they feel like the concepts are applicable to their lives, and they have to use critical thinking skills on a daily basis in order to solve a problem. Project based learning can take that student who usually zones out in class and turn him or her into a leader. When you choose the right topic, it brings your content to life and students feel like they have ownership over their learning. I'm currently in my 3rd year teaching PBL, and I've seen engagement skyrocket. Not only that, but learning goes much deeper. In PBL, students solve a real problem, opposed to doing a traditional project like build a model of a cell that doesn't require any critical thinking.
One criticism of PBL...
One thing that students might complain about is that the majority of the PBL process is done in groups. If you have a student that doesn't like working in groups then they might complain. One way to combat this problem is:
What are the steps of PBL?
Project based learning occurs in 7 main steps. In the next blog post, I will cover the entry event, driving question, and student need-to-knows. In the 3rd blog post, I will talk about the meat of the project- creating the product and all that comes with it. In the last blog post I will discuss why it is so important to have a public audience and build community partnerships.
Before you continue, there are 2 words you need to know so you don't get confused. The words "project" and "product" mean very different things in the PBL process.
The PROJECT is the overall process of PBL that includes the 7 steps listed above. It is everything needed to complete the process from start to finish.
The PRODUCT is what students create at the end of the project to demonstrate their learning. It might be an essay, a cookbook, a podcast, or a fundraiser. (More on this in the 3rd blog post).
Alright, are you ready to dive in? Click here to head over to the 2nd blog post in the series!
Every teacher has that one unit they don't like to teach. For me, it was cells. Having taught every grade from 6th to 12th, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried, the same thing happened every year. I taught organelles, students memorized them for a test, and then completely forgot about them. Later when I taught mitosis and would ask "Hey, remember centrioles?" I would get blank stares. But what was even more frustrating was the fact that students just didn't get how organelles worked together. I tried everything I found on the internet. I tried the "cell is like a factory" analogies. I tried to have students make cell models out of clay or food. I had them make posters. I even had them write me a "tour through the cell" book (inspired by the magic school bus). And guess what? None of it really worked. Sure, students would come in with really cool jello models and beatiful posters, but if I asked "How do the endoplasmic reticulum and golgi work together?"..... more blank stares.
After 9 years of teaching cells, I was ready to cry. Then one day I was venting to a professor at a local university and he said he had his students group their flashcards together and lay them out like dominoes. Inspiration hit! Why couldn't I have my students link them together like puzzle pieces? I immediately got to work.
I made a list of all the organelles my students needed to know. I decided to make 2 versions of the activity since I teach multiple levels of biology. In the first version (picture on left), I linked two organelles together, and students would have to write out the relationship between them on the connecting puzzle piece. To make it harder for my honors students, I would have them figure out which organelles go together on their own (picture on right).
For the second version, I had students lay them out on butcher paper and connect as many puzzle pieces as possible. They called me over to check before gluing. What was great about this activity was that every group had a different final product, but all of them had correct answers. By the end of the activity (it took them 2 class periods) they had a much greater understanding of which organelles worked directly together and why. (Insert happy dance here). Students also took pictures of their posters and used them as a study tool before the test. So if you were as frustrated as me, kiss your cell factory goodbye and check out my lesson plan HERE.
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There is a lot of hate in our world today, and many of feelings and situations can manifest themselves in our classrooms. It can seem hard to combat at times. This past year at my high school was rough. I won't go into detail, but after multiple tragic events parents were scared to send their kids to school. As teachers we had to make sure our classrooms felt like a safe and inviting place to be. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. First, don't be afraid to have the hard conversations. I couldn't get caught up in the fact that I was falling behind in my curriculum, and absences were through the roof. It wouldn't do me any good to keep on teaching without taking a time out and discussing what was going on with my students. They want to know that you understand what they are going through, and that we were going to all get through it together.
Another thing that I have found to be helpful is to find a service related project that all the students can rally behind. As students work together on a project that is meaningful to them, they will be strengthening relationships between their peers and building a classroom community. I was inspired by the Mr. Rodgers quote that I kept seeing on Facebook: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my Mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." I wanted to find a way for my students to feel like the helpers and not the victims. One project that I'm going to have my students work on next year is centered around the website water.org. They are a non-profit organization that helps bring clean water and sanitation to people in countries that are in desperate need. I'm having my students get into groups and create a fundraising proposal on how they would like to raise money that can be donated to water.org. They will have to come up with an idea that is feasible (for example, they can't decide to sell t-shirts when we don't have the money to get them made in the first place). Classes will vote on the best proposal and then put it into action. Check out the lesson plan I have created for FREE available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.