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.
For practice going through the process of using a microscope, check out this activity from Brainpop. (This site is great for middle school). For some higher level 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.
I hope these tips help your microscope unit run more smoothly! Have fun!
Why are cells so small? And why are we made of so many? It seems like it would be easier to be made of 100 or even 1,000 cells instead of trillions. One of the reasons we teach students that cells are small is because they need a large surface area to volume ratio. The larger the ratio, the more efficient the cell is at moving materials in and out of the cell.
I've seen cell size labs that use different sized agar cubes prepared with a pH indicator. The cubes start pink and lose their color as they soak. Frankly with 3 preps a day this year, I didn't have the time or energy to pour agar cubes. Instead I found a quick and easy way for students to see the same concept- using beets and bleach.
In this experiment, cut different sized beet cubes, a small, a medium, and a large. The students soak the cubes in bleach for roughly 30 minutes (I had them doing some practice SA:V calculations while they waited). Tip: if you use tupperware containers with lids you won't have to smell bleach fumes all day, or you can put parafilm over the beakers.
After 30 minutes of soaking, students remove the beets, cut them open, and measure the amount of red pigment remaining. It is an easy way to see that small cells are more efficient at moving materials in and out. If you are interested in seeing the lab write-up I wrote, you can view it here.
I hope your students enjoy it!
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!
Halloween is coming up, and it is always a fun time to do some science experiments. I always try and find an experiment that fits my content area and ensures students are learning a concept they would have to learn in my class anyway. For example, elephant toothpaste in a jack-o-lantern is fun, but it doesn't have anything to do with biology, so it's a pass for me. (Yes, I'm a bit of a party pooper). However, I've come up with a list of ideas you can do for each content area, so hopefully you can find an experiment that is both engaging, AND tied to your curriculum!
If you teach BIOLOGY
This idea is for my fellow biology teacher friends! It seems like every year the day after Halloween all you do is hear rustling of candy wrappers begin opened during class. It's a battle I've stopped trying to fight. Instead of saying "put away the candy," tell them to get it out! Have students pull out their candy, lay it on their desks, and classify it and make a cladogram. You will have some students that don't bring in candy, so I bring in my leftover candy from home. It's a win-win: students get to learn while eating candy, and I don't eat all the leftovers and save myself some time at the gym!
If you teach ASTRONOMY
Glow sticks are readily available at the stores around halloween and are great for demonstrating chemical reactions. They are also great for teaching the concept that hotter and larger stars shine the brightest. Give students 3 glow sticks, have them place one in a beaker of ice water, one in a beaker of room temperature water, and one in a beaker of hot water. Have them compare the luminosity of the 3 glow sticks over a span of 10-15 minutes.
If you teach CHEMISTRY
One of the best parts of teaching chemistry is getting to play with dry ice! In this lab activity, students explore phase changes and sublimation while comparing the change in mass of dry ice in water vs. regular ice in water. I have students use triple beam balances instead of electronic scales because it is good practice for them to adjust the hanging masses and practice their measurement skills.
If you teach FORENSICS
Analyzing blood spatter is always an easy way to keep students engaged! Check out this quick and easy lab from the science spot where students learn about blood spatter patterns.
If you teach PHYSICS
This activity is always fun and a great way to discuss forces! All you need is a pumpkin and some rubber bands (okay.... a lot of rubber bands). Ask students if you think it is possible for rubber bands to make a pumpkin explode. After discussion of how it could be done, take the students outside and have them start putting rubber bands around the center of the pumpkin. (Tip: be sure to buy a medium sized pumpkin- too small and it won't work and too big the rubber bands won't fit). Continue adding rubber bands until it explodes! If students are helping add the rubber bands, I would advise having them wear goggles.
Lastly, if you just want to re-enforce some scientific method skills (observation and inference, CER, and graphing), check out these fun Halloween themed worksheets!
I hope you have a Spook-tacular Science Halloween!
Air pollution is a topic that fits into almost all science content areas. Teach biology? You teach the water and carbon cycles. Environmental science? Climate change and smog. Earth and space science? Layers of the atmosphere and ozone. Chemistry? Water + CO2 = carbonic acid. (Side note: My students recently tested the pH of different water sources, and were blown away that the pH of our rainwater sample was 5.4). I think it is telling that our air and atmosphere are woven into so many different sciences. Air is vital, so let's talk about it with our students!
I recently did a mini unit with my students on urban ecology. We were learning about the effects of urbanization on ecosystems, and pollution and urban heat islands came up in our discussions. (You can read my blog post about urban heat islands here). Here in Phoenix it is relatively easy to see how polluted our air is, all you have to do is drive up a hill and you will see the layer of haze that sits over our city of 1.6 million people. We discussed the health effects of air pollution and I wanted my students to have a visual of what they were breathing in. You can buy fancy (and expensive) sensors that will give you data readings of all the particles in the air, but I found an easy way for students to see the particulate matter floating around.
You will need:
This lab is super easy. All you have to do is have students smear a thin layer of petroleum jelly across the center of a glass microscope slide with a clean cotton swab. If you want your students to have quantitative data at the end of the experiment, gridded slides are ideal (See image). No worries if you only have plain slides.
Students got to choose where they wanted to leave their vasaline-covered slide for 24 hours. I had some students leave the slides in the classroom and others left their slides outside. (Tip: I had students set them in a petri dish and label them with their initials so we could track them down easier the next day. Also, if students choose to leave them outside, find a location on your school campus where they won't get disturbed). In the next 24 hours, any particulate matter floating around will land on the slide and stick to the petroleum jelly. If you want easier cleanup, you can also try putting a piece of double sided tape on the slide instead.
The next day, students retrieved their slides and viewed them under the microscope. I had them switch slides with their neighbors so they could compare indoor vs. outdoor slides. As you can see from our results pictured below, there was generally a lot more particulate matter on the outdoor slides. I had students draw what they observed and do a little math to calculate the particle deposition rate. If you are interested in checking out the lab write up, click here.
Remember when I said there was generally more particulate matter outside than inside? Are you ready to be completely grossed out? I had a student that decided to hang his slide from the ceiling by the classroom air vent... and this is the image that ensued. Can you say "time to change the air filter?"
I hope your students enjoy this lab as much as mine did! It was definitely eye opening for them to see the microscopic matter going into their lungs.
I currently live in Phoenix, AZ, which is the 6th largest city in the United States. Considering our large population size and desert climate, we have a huge problem with heat. In the summer it is not uncommon for the temperature to stay above 100F all night. It can be miserably hot!
An urban heat island is an urban area that has a much higher temperature than the surrounding areas. Students probably haven't heard the term coined before, but can easily explain it to you. If you ask them why downtown Phoenix is hotter than some of the surrounding pockets of town, or ask them why it's cooler to stand under a tree than under a metal awning, they can explain it to you. As I was preparing to teach this concept to my students, I found (and created) a few resources you may want to check out!
Urban Heat Island Lab
In this activity, have your students head out around your school campus and measure the temperatures of different materials. Students will compare surfaces such as cement, asphalt, dirt, and grass in the sun and the shade. Students can brainstorm ways to improve the school campus and lower the overall temperature (and electric bill!) of the school.
ASU Ecology Explorer Lessons
Arizona State University has a few lessons on urban heat islands that are great! This first lesson uses thermal images to teach students that urban heat islands are a night-time phenomenon, opposed to day time. Students will compare thermal images and try and figure out which ones were taken during the day and which were taken at night.
This second lesson also uses thermal images, but students have to predict which object in the picture would be the hottest, and which would be the coolest. (If you don't have access to a color printer, you can just project the images on the board).
Climate Central Interactive
Do you live in an urban heat island? This fun interactive looks at 60 cities across the US and gives you data on each one. Check it out and see if your city is listed!
Start a citizen science project, where your students collect data about temperatures in your area, brainstorm ideas to mitigate the problem, and reach out to scientists, politicians, or even school board members to try and make a difference! It could be something as simple as planting a tree on campus or taking them to a community garden, to something larger like having students apply for grant money to have solar powered cell phone charging stations installed. If you let the students decide what impact they want to make their work ethic may surprise you!
(One great nonprofit organization that plants trees is onetreeplanted.org. They plant a tree for every dollar donated!)
With climate change being a current global crisis, we have an obligation to teach students how to make more sustainable decisions. If every one of your students made a small change in their front yard we could see incredible results. Who knows, you might have a student in your class that will major in urban planning or sustainability!
I love teaching about population growth (ecology is one of my favorite subjects to teach). This topic truly leads to so many rich classroom discussions! Pose some questions at your students and see what their thoughts are:
POPULATION GROWTH LESSON
I use this lesson to teach about the two types of growth curves (exponential and logistic), carrying capacity, and limiting factors. Included in this lesson is a 20 slide powerpoint, a writing prompt, student notes page, and exit ticket.
ST. MATTHEW ISLAND CARTOON
This cartoon by Stuart McMillen is short, sweet, and easy to understand. I use this cartoon as an introduction and have students read it for bell work before we take notes on logistic and exponential growth, and carrying capacity. Best of all is it's a true story! One of my favorite things to discuss is the question he poses at the end- How big is our island? Click on the image to check out this cartoon!
HUMAN POPULATION GROWTH VIDEO
I love this video clip from NPR because the visual makes human population growth so easy to see. How many humans do we have on Earth?Where do most of the humans on earth live? What made our population skyrocket 200 years ago? Are we reaching carrying capacity? This two and a half minute clip leads to great conversations about our growing human population.
KAIBAB DEER GRAPHING
I use this activity every year since I teach in Arizona. In this activity from biologycorner.com, students learn about how populations can crash if they have surpassed carrying capacity. They will learn about the deer on the Kaibab Plateau (near the Grand Canyon), and how game and fish department can manage population sizes to avoid another crash. I also like it because students graph the population data- and graphing practice is always good!
DUCKWEED POPULATION GROWTH LAB
If you have access to duckweed, this lab is easy and fun- no microscopes or fancy equipment needed. Students will examine the population size of duckweed plants over the span of 2-3 weeks, and discuss factors that may limit population size, specifically the addition of an invasive species. You may be able to find duckweed in a pond in your area, so this lab may be free! Click on the image to check out the lab.
YEAST POPULATION GROWTH LAB
In this ADI lab, students have to design an investigation to determine how the size of a yeast population changes over time in response to different variables. It is great practice on designing a controlled experiment and going through the CER process. On the NSTA website, you can download this lab for free, however you must purchase the book in order to get the teacher pages and answer key.
Warning: In my experience, getting successful data from this lab can be difficult. It is a good idea to have back-up data to provide students that struggle with this lab.
INFECTIOUS DISEASE LAB
In this lab, students will see first hand the effects an infectious disease can have on a population. In this lab each student gets a vial with clear liquid (students should wear gloves). One student has the "infected" vial, but it looks the same as all the other vials. As they come into contact with each other, they mix the liquids in their vials. After a few rounds, the teacher adds the indicator solution, and students can see who is infected, and try and deduce which person started the spread of infection. Students always love this lab! Its fun to link back to density dependent vs. independent limiting factors. Click on the image to check out the lab.
I hope you find these resources useful!
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!
We're baaaaack! I've teamed up with a bunch of my science buddies to do another back to school giveaway! Back to school is a stressful time, and we would like to help! We are giving away FOUR $100 TeachersPayTeachers gift cards that you can use to save a lot of time and get some awesome resources for your classroom.
To enter, you need to hop from blog to blog and collect all of our secret words that form a sentence.
Once you have the sentence, go to any one of the Group Giveaway Rafflecopter boxes, on any one of our blog pages, and type in the secret sentence in the right order. We will pick four winners after it ends after midnight on Friday August the 17th. My Secret Word is #10: “IS”
A bunch of us are also hosting our own individual giveaways as well, so make sure you stop by and enter to win! All in all, there will be over $1000 worth of prizes given away this week!
For my individual giveaway, I’m giving away two of my popular Writing Prompt Bundles. You can see it here on TeachersPayTeachers. Enter my writing prompt giveaway below and make sure you hop to the next blog to pick up all the secret words!
If you are like me, you love finding free, engaging lesson plans you can implement right away in your classroom. I want to introduce you to FoodSpan- 17 free lessons from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future that teach everything you need to know about the food system.
Why teach food curriculum?
Food is an integral part of our lives, yet the food system is hardly talked about in schools. Do your students ever take the time to think about where their food is coming from before they put it in their mouths? Do they consider the quality of life for animals within the system? Have they considered how marketing and advertising influences their food choices? Once you get your students thinking and talking about food, you will have them hooked.
I know what you are thinking... you have no time to squeeze more curriculum into your tight schedule. I get it. But take a minute to think about where you could weave in some food curriculum into your units. Are you already teaching any of the following topics?
Overview of Units
This free curriculum is broken down into 3 units consisting of 17 lesson plans. The lessons include multiple options and are easy to modify to fit your grade level and classroom needs. Unit 1 covers an introduction to the food system, unit 2 explores farmers, factories, and food chains, and unit 3 explores the human component- why we eat what we eat, global hunger, and food policy. Unit two is my personal favorite- I enjoy teaching about the farm to table process and letting students explore the food journey. There is an optional food citizen action project at the end of the units, great if you are implementing any PBL into your classroom this year.
Pros of the Curriculum
There are multiple reasons I like this curriculum. First, not only are there multiple activity options within each lesson, but they also include great extension activities such as watching documentaries. It is truly flexible curriculum. Second, the lessons also incorporate writing components- which is something that I know my students really need practice with. Lastly, there are points within the curriculum for students to share and discuss their ideas on social media. Our students live on social media already, so why not encourage them to share information they are learning about in the classroom?
Ready to dive in? Head to www.foodspanlearning.org and explore. I’d love to hear how you are weaving this into your current curriculum! Share in the comments, or use the hashtag #foodspan on social media!
(This is a sponsored blog post)