Know that feeling of DREAD when you wake up sick and school starts in a couple hours? Or are you so mentally drained you need a day off? (Been there!) Coming up with sub plans can be more of a hassle than just showing up and pushing through. BUT, you shouldn't have to stress over sub plans. Here are some easy ideas that will only take a few minutes to prep. Choose one (or two!) and have copies made at the beginning of the year that can be used in case of emergency.
IF YOUR STUDENTS HAVE COMPUTER ACCESS
Every school has different rules on technology. Even if you are 1:1, some schools don't allow students to be on computers with a sub. But if you do have access, here are a couple ideas:
1. VIRTUAL LAB: Have students complete a virtual lab. If you use a website like PHET, there are free lab worksheets available for download when you create an account.
2. TED TALK: If students have laptops with headphones (or the sub has computer access and can project it on the screen), have students watch a Ted Talk from YouTube. Here is a free worksheet students can fill out that can go with any Ted Talk.
3. VIRTUAL FIELD TRIP: In the age of Google Earth, the virtual field trip possibilities are endless. Students can explore national parks or even the ISS with the click of a button. Provide a link for students to explore and have them write a reflection on what they saw and experienced.
4. PODCAST: Find a fun science podcast episode students can listen to and have them write a reflection. There are so many podcasts out there it can be overwhelming... here is a list of science podcasts you can choose from.
IF YOUR STUDENTS DON'T HAVE COMPUTER ACCESS
No tech? No problem.
5. ARTICLE: Have an article students can read printed and ready to go. The topic doesn't have to match your current unit, just pick something high interest. Check out this blog post where you can find free articles.
6. TEXTBOOK CHAPTER ANALYSIS: I don't often bust out the textbooks, but having students use them when there is a sub is a great option. Have students read through a section from your current unit and fill out this worksheet. You can find it free here.
7. ONE PAGER: Have the sub grab the tub of colored pencils and have students create a one-pager for a topic you have covered this year. If your students are already familiar with one-pagers, this should need very little direction. Not familiar with them? Check out this blog post from Cult of Pedagogy.
8. COLORING PAGE: There are a bunch of free science coloring pages available online. Here are some from ASU, classroom doodles, NASA, some famous scientists, or coloring nature.
What other low-prep sub plans do you have in your teacher toolkit? Leave me a comment!
When I moved to my current school the department chair made it clear that we should "teach bell to bell." I understand the logic in this, and sometimes class does last exactly 50 minutes. But if EVERY teacher taught bell to bell EVERY period, students would never have time to give their brain a break. I think it's okay to give students a few minutes break here and there. I'm not suggesting let them sit on their cell phones, there are some other options! Below is a list of brain breaks you can try with high school students.
WAYS TO GIVE SOME STUDENTS SOME DOWN TIME:
WAYS TO KEEP STUDENTS WORKING WITH A PICK-ME-UP:
Remember, it's OKAY to give your students a quick breather! Have any other activities to suggest? I'd love to hear them in the comments!
Looking for low stress and low prep ideas as we navigate distance learning? Here are 5 ideas you can use with your secondary science students:
1. CLICK HERE to check out virtual field trips your students can explore!
2. CLICK HERE to see a full list of science related movies, TV shows, and documentaries.
3. Check out American Chemical Society's blog post on kitchen chemistry ideas!
4. Have students create a photo journal!
5. Have students build something out of recycled materials. Ideas could include a rube goldberg contraption, a parachute, or a solar cooker.
Hope those tips help you through this tough time!
If you haven't used small student whiteboards in your classroom, I promise you, you are missing out. As soon as the whiteboards come out, I have automatic buy-in from students. Students love writing on them, and as a teacher I love them because they are great for visual learners, and they are an easy way to quickly assess student learning. Since it is so easy to erase and fix mistakes, students don't feel pressured to have the right answer all the time. They create a fun and low-stress environment.
While they aren't ideal for every activity, here are some times you can bring them out:
1. When Introducing a New Topic
I love getting out whiteboards when we are learning a new topic and students need the ability to mess up, erase, try again, and master a new skill. If you teach biology like I do, pedigree charts, punnett squares, or mapping out dichotomous keys are great examples of times students need to erase and try again. (Tip: instead of wasting paper towels, bring in old rags or socks and use them as erasers instead).
2. Experimental Design
Doing a lab where students need to design an experiment? Having lab groups whiteboard out their experimental set up really helps them talk through the process before beginning (see image below for a 5 second rule bacteria lab). I usually make lab groups call me over and get teacher approval before grabbing their supplies. I'll ask them to explain their set up to me, clarify their variables, and make sure their experiment is controlled before beginning. If you use CER (claim, evidence, and reasoning) at the end of your labs, whiteboards are another place they can map out their findings.
3. Giving Peer Feedback
One of the first official whiteboard PD's I took was based on modeling instruction which relies heavily on whiteboard use. Without going into a bunch of detail, students use whiteboards to draw models of science concepts. Once drawings are complete, the class holds a whiteboard session where we would stand up and face each other in a large circle, and give feedback on other groups' whiteboard data. This could also be applied to ADI's argumentation sessions. It takes a few times for students to get the hang of asking appropriate questions and giving helpful feedback, but once they get the hang of it you as the teacher can step back and let students discuss their learning without much guidance (which is pretty amazing to watch).
4. Showing Progression of Learning
Do you ever have students write things down that you want to refer back to throughout the unit? For example: do you ever have students brainstorm what they already know about a topic to identify misconceptions? If you are trying out project based learning, do you have your students write out their need-to-knows and update them throughout the project? Sometimes I have students write things down that I don't want erased for a few weeks. If you have enough whiteboards to get you through all your classes, allow students to turn in their whiteboards without erasing them, prop them up in the front of the room or window sill, and refer back to them when needed.
5. Formative Assessment
If you finished a concept and want a quick way to visually assess where students are at before moving on, whiteboards are a great tool for formative assessment. Put a practice problem on the board, have them whiteboard the answer, and hold it up for a quick visual check.
Have I sold you yet? Are you ready to run out and ask your principal to buy you some? It is much more expensive to order whiteboards from school supply companies than to just go buy your own at home depot. When you go, ask them to point you to the white tile board or panel board. It comes in large sheets (usually 96" x 48") but they will cut it down for you to your desired size. So come prepared with dimensions in mind based on the size of your student desks.
Once you get the whiteboards back to your classroom, there is one magic step you don't want to miss to keep them looking white and shiny for years to come: car wax. Before you hand them over to your students, grab an old rag and some turtle wax and give them a nice coating. This will keep your whiteboards erasing well. I do this about once a year and my 10 year old whiteboards still look practically brand new.
Don't have the budget for whiteboards? Or are you interested in some other options? Here are a few other options I've tried you might be interested in:
Do you have any other white boarding tips to share? Feel free to drop them in the comments below!
It can be frustrating when students are absent on lab days. You spend a lot of time setting up and often spend money out of your own pocket for supplies. If you are doing labs often or teach multiple preps, dealing with student absences just gets harder to juggle. By the time the student comes back and asks "what did I miss?" I've often torn down the lab or passed the supplies onto another teacher in my department and don't have them available. Instead of scrambling to re-set up the lab every time, here are a few alternative options:
1. DO THE LAB MAKE-UP ON THEIR OWN TIME
If the lab isn't super labor intensive and students can read through the procedures on their own to figure out what to do, I have them come in and make up the lab on their own time. Luckily my school has an advisory period built into the school day where students can travel to get caught up on their classes. If you don't have this luxury, they could come in during lunch or after school.
2. SUBSTITUTE THE WET LAB FOR A VIRTUAL LAB
There are a bunch of virtual labs out on the internet that you could substitute for the wet lab. Phet or Glencoe are great options to check out.
3. COPY THE LAB DATA FROM A PEER AND ANSWER THE ANALYSIS QUESTIONS
This option is my go-to for labs that take multiple days. If students missed the first day of experimental design or data collection, they can come back in, join a lab group, and finish the lab. If it was a one day lab, you can have a "master copy" of data that absent students can copy down and analyze before answering the post lab analysis questions.
4. DO AN ALTERNATIVE ASSIGNMENT ON THE SAME TOPIC
If you can't find a virtual lab on the same topic, try and find an article or worksheet on the same topic and use that assignment to replace the lab grade. Newsela is a great place to find free non-fiction articles. Don't forget to look for freebies on TpT! (type in the topic you are looking for and filter by grade and cost).
5. EXCUSE THE ASSIGNMENT
I would like to begin with a disclaimer that this is NOT something I do regularly. I think students need to somehow show proficiency on a standard, not just get it excused. However, if a student tells you they were absent for a week because they were in the hospital or had a true family emergency that you can verify, sometimes they just need to be cut a break. Realize they will have missing assignments from 6 other classes on top of yours, pick which assignments you think are vital for mastering the standard, and excuse the rest.
The moral of the story: Don't lose your sanity trying to have every absent student do make up labs.
Do you have students that shut down in your class and don't do any work? Most of the time there is always a reason for this. There could be issues going on in the home, issues with friends, or health problems. But did you ever consider you as the teacher might be contributing to the problem? This is especially something teachers who like to be sarcastic at times (like me!) need to be conscious of. If this is not your personality, this blog post isn't for you. But if you like to goof and be sarcastic with students, then time for a little self reflection. Here are my top 3 tips of things we often do as teachers that we need to stop doing in order to build a better classroom culture:
1. WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING: Bringing up things kids did previously.
We are all human. We make mistakes. And guess what- nobody likes to have those mistakes brought up, especially in front of their friends or peers. Here are some examples:
Have you had a kid drop a beaker? Next time she comes to pick up lab supplies, don't say "let's not drop it again!" because I can promise you she didn't do it on purpose the first time, and now she won't want to participate in the lab because she is so worried about breaking something.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Instead, try to not put the student on the spot, but give gentle reminders to the entire class. Using the broken beaker example, when ALL students come to pick up their supplies, keep repeating "Use two hands please" so she gets the reminder without being singled out.
2. WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING: Punishing behaviors you want to see.
I know this sounds like something you would never do, but if you think about it, you've probably done it. Do you have a student that comes to class tardy almost every day? I have plenty.... and it is super frustrating. Lets say Jesse has a bad habit of coming to class 5 minutes late. You've talked to Jesse about it and even called home. Finally Jesse comes to class on time and when he enters you look at him and say "FINALLY!" or "Am I seeing things?" Even if you are joking, these comments will likely make Jesse feel uncomfortable when he should instead be getting positive reinforcement.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Instead, reinforce the behavior with a positive comment like "Hi Jesse, I'm so glad to see you!" or "I really appreciate you making an effort to be here early today."
3. WHAT YOU MIGHT BE DOING: Being inconsistent with with consequences.
This is the number one thing students will call you out on if you ever do it. For example, you walk by Vanessa who should be on task but is on her phone and you say "Vanessa, please put the phone away." Then 10 minutes later you see Ricardo on his phone and take it away until the end of the class period. I can promise you, Ricardo isn't going to give up that phone without an argument if you aren't being equitable.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD: Try and do your best to be consistent with your consequences at all times. While there are sometimes exceptions to this rule (IEP accommodations, doctors notes for extra bathroom breaks, etc) try and be conscious of being fair to all students, even the ones that are repeat offenders. And when you do make a mistake and a student yells "that's not fair!"... own it. They will respect you more when you admit you were in the wrong opposed you answering "life's not fair" (even if that is what is crossing your mind).
Overall, building positive relationships with your students is key to them learning. As Rita Pierson says, "kids can't learn from people they don't like." So even when you are having a bad day and you want to crawl under your desk and cry (I've been there), try your best to take a deep breath and build the kids up, not down.
When I switched from teaching middle school to high school, my new district required all new hires to participate in a new teacher program our first year. Even though I already had 5 years of teaching experience, I took monthly classes with a professional development specialist whose job it was to help navigate teachers through that first year of teaching (which we all know is the toughest year!) The PD specialist who ran the class and came to observe us was phenomenal. I will be forever grateful for some of the nuggets of wisdom she shared with me.
One topic I remember coming up was the issue of students coming to school without paper or pencils. She said she would often walk into a classroom, see a student sitting there not working, and ask them why. Often times they would respond "because I don't have a pencil and my teacher won't give me one." She taught us "If your biggest obstacle in the classroom is a pencil, you are in good shape. JUST GIVE THE KID A PENCIL."
I know you know that kid. The same kid who comes in every.single.day without a pencil. And it's especially frustrating when the day before you said, "just keep the pencil so you have one tomorrow." And they still lose it. As I sat there and listened to her words I self-reflected... had I ever denied a student a pencil? Luckily I don't think I had, but I know I had made comments in the past such as, "Again? You just asked for one yesterday!"
Recently I came across this poem written by Joshua T. Dickerson that really spoke to me:
The reason I'm writing this blog post is because I shared it on my facebook page and it got quite a few shares and comments. A handful of teachers voiced their frustration with the pencil issue. Luckily enough, the author of the poem came across the post and chimed in on why he wrote it. His comments are shared here with permission:
"Around the beginning of each school year, my poem usually goes into heavy circulation and sparks numerous debates. People always ask me, why did I write the poem.
First I will start out by telling you, what this poem is not. This poem is not an attack towards educators. As a former classroom teacher, I know about the long hours, the challenges of teaching students, the frustrations, and difficulties. I have the utmost respect for teachers, administrators, and anyone else who serves in the education arena, who is striving to do their job in the correct way. This poem is not written for the children who do not make an effort to positively impact their own education. While reading the poem, you will see the tremendous amount of effort that the student is making. Educators are some of the most underpaid people in the world!
Now on to why I wrote the poem. I wrote the poem for those children in extreme poverty. Their are children around the world that do not have basic things that we take for granted. Lights, food, running water, heating, and air is not present in all homes.
I wrote this to give a voice to the students whose parents or guardians have not given them school supplies. In presentations the question always comes up, "what about the kids with iPhones and Jordan's"? My response is that younger children don't purchase those items for themselves. In reality we have children who are punished because their parents or guardians made the decision to buy those things. It's not the teacher's fault, but also not the child's fault. It is my wish that we would have a conversation with the child and parent before jumping to a conclusion that neither cares about education.
I wrote this for the child who may simply forget a pencil. As an adult, I've come to a meeting without a pen before. My own children have forgotten supplies. It happens.
When I present in high schools, people say that their children are older and should be held accountable. I agree. They should be held accountable. However, I always stress to not assume that the child has been taught the lesson of valuing school supplies. At least first have a conversation with the student and the parent. As a father, I realize that my teenager still needs parenting and coaching.
Finally, I wrote this to highlight poverty. Poverty exists and it has a tremendous impact. Those who are born and raised in poverty have a higher chance of dying at an early age, not finishing high school, or being incarcerated. Often times it is forgotten or conveniently looked over that years of research has shown that poverty is difficult to climb out of and nearly impossible to climb out of without an education. I pray that it inspires someone to continue the fight of working with students and parents that truly need us most."
I loved having the author's insight on the poem. So many things rang true for me as I read. Just because a student has an i-phone does not mean they can afford school supplies. Maybe the phone was a gift. Maybe they got it an unconventional way. Regardless of how they got the phone, why do we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking "poor kids can't have nice stuff?"
Another common complaint I heard teachers voice was "I give out pencils but they just break them." I think when this happens our immediate thought is "they don't respect people's property." And maybe in some cases this is true. But it could also be because they are trying to get attention from you. Or maybe they have already mastered the material and are simply bored. Next time this happens, ask them why they broke it, and calmly explain to them your perspective and why you feel frustrated.
Reasoning aside of why the student doesn't have a pencil, I wanted to share some tips on how you can handle the situation to make it less of an issue. Try one way that works for you and your class.
1. Try a collateral system.
All students at my school are required to wear school IDs on a lanyard. If a student needs a pencil, they just leave their ID on my desk and grab a pencil. When they return the pencil, they get their ID back. If your students don't have school ID's, they could leave behind headphones or something else from their backpack.
2. Try a sign-out system.
I've seen some teachers buy magnetic clips, put them on the whiteboard, and clip a pencil to each one. When a student needs a pencil they sign their name on the whiteboard and erase their name when the pencil is returned. (Download a free cute sign from the Lone Star Classroom HERE)
3. Try golf pencils.
While these aren't ideal because they don't have erasers they will do the trick. You can buy a box of over 100 golf pencils for a few bucks so you won't break the bank.
4. Try a reward system.
If it's not the majority of the class but instead the same darn kid every day asking for a pencil, try a reward system. Maybe they are forgetful or maybe they truly don't see the value in not losing or breaking the pencil. Regardless, some sort of reward may help. Tell them if they keep the same pencil all week without losing it they get a reward on Friday. It doesn't have to be big- maybe a piece of candy or 5 minutes of free time at the end of class- but if there is an incentive to not lose the pencil they just might keep track of it.
5. Sell them at cost.
During August back to school sales, I stock up on pencils while they are cheap. During those sales I can get a 10 pack of mechanical pencils for $1.99 (and wooden pencils even cheaper). If a student needs a pencil and wants to keep it instead of returning it at the end of class, I charge them a quarter and its all theirs. Note: Yes, there are often school rules about not being able to sell things on campus. However, as long as you aren't making a profit but just selling them at cost, you shouldn't have a problem with administration. If you are worried about this, check with admin first.
6. Get some donations.
If money for pencils is the issue, there are ways to not spend your own. First, I'd ask your administrator or department head if there are pencils you can have (there probably are). You can also reach out to parents or even do a Donors Choose request to get school supplies.
I hope one of these methods works for you! Because truly there are a lot of issues our kiddos are dealing with as teens, and fighting for a pencil should not be one of them. Have another method that works for you? Leave it in the comments!
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.
Getting out the microscopes is one of the best parts of teaching biology. I love hearing the ooh's and aah's when they finally get the specimen into focus. But if you've taught biology before you know it can also be one of the most exhausting units- constantly running around the room because "Mrs, I just don't see anything!" or they end up drawing dust, air bubbles, or their eyelashes. After a decade of tweaking my microscope unit, I've come up with some tips to help save your sanity.
1. Don't get them out until it makes sense.
While it may be tempting to get microscopes out the first week of school, it just doesn't make sense. If you aren't going to use them regularly until later in the year, why are you teaching them the names of the microscope parts in week 1? They will forget the information and you will find yourself reteaching. Hold off until you get to cells (or whichever unit you need them regularly).
2. Make sure they know the names of all the microscope parts.
It can be really frustrating when you are trying to help a student, tell them to adjust the fine focus, and they look at you like you are speaking another language. Because of this I don't let students start using the microscope until they can tell me the names of all the parts. We take notes on it and I give them a short quiz at the beginning of the unit. If you want to check out the worksheets I use for teaching parts of the microscope, click here.
3. Try a virtual lab first
Virtual labs are a way to provide students extra practice on the methods of using a microscope before getting out the real deal. Extra practice never hurts, especially for your SPED or ELL students who would really benefit from some visual practice. Check out this site from University of Delaware.
4. If your scopes have a single ocular, teach them which eye to use.
The microscopes in my room have a single ocular lens, so students often ask me which eye to use. This video shows an easy and quick way to teach them which of their eyes is dominant.
5. Start with prepared slides.
I always begin with prepared slides. I put 4 different prepared slides at each lab group, and have students practice focusing and drawing. The first day of prepared slides you will hear a lot of "I don't see anything!" but eventually they get the hang of it. Not all of your students are going to be great artists, but I make sure they know when they turn in their drawings they must a) be drawn to scale, and b) be neat. No scribbles allowed. I should be able to look at the drawing and easily tell what slide it is. I use these lab templates for prepared slides. Don't have access to prepared slides? You can make your own! Check out this blog post on how to easily make a classroom set.
6. Encourage peer help
There is only 1 of you and 30 students. It is physically impossible for you to be running around helping every single student. One day when I was about to rip my hair out I made this poster and hung it up on the whiteboard. Students were not able to call me over for help unless they had checked all of these items off the list. Most of the time their neighbor can help them resolve the issue before you need to be called over. If they still needed help after going down the checklist, then they could call me over. It has helped greatly! You can download this for free in my TpT store here.
7. After they have mastered prepared slides, then move on to wet mounts
Wet mounts can be much more exciting than prepared slides because you can have students look at their own cells (if your school allows you to do a cheek cell swab) or watch microorganisms swimming around. Protists are an absolute blast to watch, but students need to have mastered focusing the microscope and scanning relatively quickly in order to see the protozoa zooming around. You don't have to spend money ordering protists from a supply company, you can easily get your own culture going. Check out this blog post on how to set up a hay infusion. During this lab, I allow students to take pictures or videos with their phones. It takes a steady hand, but they can line up their smart phones with the ocular and get a decent video.
It can be really frustrating when the bell is about to ring and students try to walk out of the classroom without cleaning up. General microscope clean up procedures should include:
a) Removing your slide and returning it to where the teacher directs
b) Turn the objective to low power
c) Turning off the light
d) Putting the dust cover back on
e) If you are putting microscopes away for the day, unplugging and winding the cord around the arm.
I have this poster hanging on my microscope cabinet- it is a freebie from my friend Bethany Lau. You can find it in her TpT store.
Don't have a class set of microscopes? Check out some alternative options.
I hope these tips help your microscope unit run more smoothly! Have fun!
I'm currently two weeks into school, have 140ish students, and have already learned their names. I'm not here to brag... it took work. You might be thinking "Wow! She is so good with names!" but that can't be further from the truth. I am one of those people that if I meet you, shake your hand, and we introduce ourselves, I will likely have forgotten your name 2 minutes later. (Maybe because I'm not an active listener? We should ask my husband...) The point is learning names is not something that comes easy for me. It takes a lot of work. But it is important, so I make the extra effort.
Have any of the following excuses crossed your brain?
"I'm just not good with names."
"I'm just not good with faces."
"But I have 150 names to learn!"
"I'll learn them eventually... I just wait for it to happen organically."
"Many are too hard to pronounce."
If you are guilty of any of these, you aren't alone. But I promise you can learn them with a little extra effort and it makes a huge difference.
Why learning names is so important
It is important for you to learn your students names as quickly as possible for multiple reasons:
Tips to learn names quickly
I'm in my 11th year of teaching, and have found methods that help me learn student names relatively quick. I encourage you to skim the list and try a few that might work for you.
I promise you if you learn your students' names quickly the beginning of the school year will go much smoother. They will perform better in your class. Lets stop the "if the teacher knows my name the first week that's a bad sign" narrative. I know you can do it! Do you have any other tips? Leave them in the comments!