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!
Teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) can be so fun and rewarding. They are some of my favorite students to work with. They tend to be hard working and driven. (You may want to check out my blog post with 10 tips for teaching ELLs in the science classroom).
The main categories ELLs are tested on in order to become "proficient" English speakers are reading, writing, listening, and speaking. As science teachers we can support the ELL teachers by weaving these into our daily curriculum. I have some tech tools to share with you that will make these easier!
Students need to practice reading in all their classes, not just English. I try and find fun and engaging articles for students to read, not excerpts from the textbook. (Not sure where to find free articles? Check this blog post). Now, you can't hand out an article to your general ed. students and expect your ELL students to be able to read it. But the good news is there are ways to change the lexile! If you find articles on Newsela they have different lexiles built in. If you find an article elsewhere, all you have to do is copy and paste the text into a free site called Rewordify. It will make the text simpler and easier for your ELL kids to digest. Check it out!
I don't assign a ton of writing assignments in my class, mostly because grading it is way too time consuming. And honestly as a science teacher I'm not trained on how to teach writing. BUT, we aren't completely off the hook. We can still at least give students writing opportunities because the more they practice the better they will get.
One easy way to add some low-stress writing to your curriculum is by assigning writing prompts. I would provide writing prompts to the students before we learned a new concept. Assigning it before the lesson is taught has a few purposes aside from writing practice: it gets them thinking about the concept and shows me any misconceptions they have going in. That way I can address them as we go. Looking for science writing prompts? Check out this blog post.
When you are addressing the class as a whole, often times you are talking way too fast. ELL students benefit from you talking slower so they can listen better and digest. If you are giving lab directions or even a lecture, you can always record yourself (with Vocaroo or Screencastify) and post it on your class website for them to refer back to.
Another cool tech tip is that students can have website content read aloud to them. Here are directions on how to use the Google Read Aloud extension.
ELL students need plenty of opportunities to practice speaking English. It is okay to have a loud classroom, as long as students are on task! However, one thing I've found is that ELL students often get nervous or shy speaking in front of their English speaking peers. One low-stress way you can have students practice their speech is by having them submit their work through an audio recorder like Vocaroo. I love Vocaroo because 1) it's free! 2) there is no login required, and 3) it's fool proof. There is one button to push- the record button. No learning curve.
For example, if you have your class participating in a Socratic seminar or doing a whiteboard CER session, you can have your ELL students record their part on Vocaroo. They can submit the audio via email and you can grade with a click of a button. Super easy for you and very low stress for them.
Any other cool tech tools you know of to support reading, writing, listening, or speaking skills? Drop them in the comments!
Fall is by far my FAVORITE time of year. Seeing the leaves change color is truly the highlight of my year. Are you looking to bring some fall or thanksgiving themed activities into your classroom? Here are some ideas:
The best part of thanksgiving is the meal, but do students think twice about how far that meal traveled from farm to plate? In this lesson students learn about "food miles" and calculate how far an average meal traveled before it hits your stomach.
Save some of your food scraps from your thanksgiving meal prep and have students re-grow vegetables. It works great with lettuce, celery, onions, and carrots.
One thing you often see outside or in your fall centerpiece are acorns and pinecones. But have students thought twice about why those seeds have adapted to be so hard or spiky? How does it benefit them? Students can explore seed adaptations and dispersal mechanisms.
Does eating turkey really make you tired? In this free lesson from Biology Roots, students will learn about tryptophan and see if it really causes thanksgiving zzzzz's.
Why do leaves change color in the fall? In this experiment, have students try out leaf chromatography.
Speaking of leaves... grab some fall leaves from the ground outside and have your students make preserved leaf skeletons! They can learn about leaf anatomy and what travels through those veins. You could also discuss how decomposed leaves return nutrients to the soil.
Have a leftover pumpkin from Halloween sitting on your porch? Bring it in and have students learn about the process of decomposition. Or, cut off the top (with seeds left inside), throw in some soil, and watch em germinate!
Want to throw in some graphing practice? In this free lesson from Science with Mrs. Lau, students graph turkey gobbles. Graphing practice is always a good use of time!
Around autumn you can always find variegated corn in grocery and craft stores. They are a great way to introduce genetics, dihybrid crosses, and chi-squared analysis.
I hope you have a great time trying out some of these activities with your students! And I hope you have a great thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones. Remember, your students are very thankful to have you in their lives even if they don't often say it.
Have you ever tried out choice boards with your students? I love them because they give students some voice and choice in their learning. Choice boards provide a variety of ways for students to demonstrate they have mastered a concept. Your students that love to write can choose to answer writing prompts, your students that are artistic may choose to create an animated cartoon, and your talkative students may choose to use an online voice recorder to explain what they learned. The possibilities are endless.
If you make your own, here are some options you could include:
How to grade choice boards:
It is up to you on how many tasks you want students to complete on the choice board and how you will assess them. Grading ideas could include:
Here is a preview of a choice board I created for cell organelles to give you an idea of how they work:
If you don't want to make your own, I've created choice boards for biology and earth science units. CLICK HERE to check them out!
Previously, I wrote a blog post on how powerful guest speakers can be and where to find them. I wanted to do a follow up post on how to prep your students so the experience is meaningful. Nothing is worse than having a student make an inappropriate comment or putting their head down. You can avoid any cringe-worthy situations with a little prep work.
WHAT TO DO BEFORE THE GUEST SPEAKER COMES
A day or two before the guest speaker is scheduled to come in, talk to your students about the upcoming experience. I let them know who is coming and what they plan to talk about. Have students write out 3-5 questions they want to ask the speaker on that particular topic.
Even though you may have the best behaved class, sometimes when someone else enters the room the dynamic can change. I always remind them what appropriate behavior looks like. These behaviors would include: coming to class on time, making eye contact, being an active listener, and not asking questions the speaker has already covered (unless they need some clarification). I also remind students that guest speakers are not only coming for free on their own time, they might even be burning some sick time at their regular job to be here, so it's super important to be respectful.
Also, it's not a bad idea to prep the guest speaker on a few things via email before they come. I usually include things like:
WHAT TO DO DURING THE PRESENTATION
I've found students to be much better listeners when they have to take notes. You can decide if they should take notes on the entire presentation or just notes relating to the prepared questions they have. Either way, unless you teach upperclassmen, your kiddos need something to keep them busy and actively listening. Have them turn their notes in at the end of class for some points. You can even have them answer some exit ticket questions on the back of their notes like "what is one thing you learned from this speaker" or "what is something that impressed you about their job/background?"
Also, don't be afraid to intervene when necessary- don't let the speaker "sink or swim." Sometimes it feels like a fine line between needing to loosen the teacher reins a little and let another adult teach, while also managing your students you know so well.
If the unfortunate happens and a student misbehaves, take care of it so the speaker can continue on with their presentation. If you have a particular student you are worried about, ask the teacher next door the day prior if you can send the student over to work quietly in the event they act up. This rarely happens, but it's better to be prepared.
If you have middle school students, sometimes they have questions that might need to be rephrased. For example, you may have a student that raises their hand and asks "How much money do you make a year?" You could jump in and say "It's more polite to ask what the average salary is for someone in your industry." It's a genuine question, but you can help so it's not awkward for the speaker.
WHAT TO DO AFTER THE PRESENTATION
I always send a quick email after school that day thanking the speaker for coming. However, it's even more meaningful to have students send thank you notes. If you are 1:1 with technology, have them type up a quick thank-you email the following day. You can compile them and send them off all together. Whenever I've done this I ALWAYS get an email back from the speaker saying how happy they were to hear from the students.
Also, if the speaker does a great job, be sure to file their information away in a safe place so you can invite them back in future years! Save their name and email in a guest speaker spreadsheet so you have quick access in the future.
Have any questions I didn't cover or additional tips based on your past experiences? Leave me a comment!
It doesn't matter what age you are, glow in the dark experiments are a blast!
Did you know that tonic water glows under a black light? It has a chemical in it called "quinine" that causes it to glow. You can substitute out tonic water for regular tap water in some of your go-to experiments to make them glow! Here are a few of my favorites:
Ooblek is super fun to make when learning states of matter. Is it a solid? Is it a liquid? (It's a colloid). To make ooblek, you normally mix 1 part water to 2 parts cornstarch. Sub out tap water for tonic water and now you have a glowing non-Newtonian fluid. Around Halloween we call them "ghost guts!"
When teaching cell membranes, many teachers do the classic rubber egg experiment. In this lab, you begin by dissolving the shell of an egg with vinegar (change out the vinegar on day 2 and continue to let it sit about 2 more days). Once your shell is dissolved you are left with the membrane of the egg sans shell. You can take it a step further and soak your rubberized egg in different liquids such as corn syrup and see what happens. This simulates osmosis and how cells swell in hypotonic solutions and shrink in hypertonic solutions.
To make your rubber egg glow, use a 50-50 mixture of vinegar and tonic water. (You could even be sneaky and add tonic water to a random few beakers from the class and freak them out by telling them they must have gotten radioactive eggs).
DIY LAVA LAMP
Want to make your own lava lamp? Fill a container with 50% tonic water and 50% vegetable oil. Turn off the lights, add your black light, drop in an alka selzer tablet, and enjoy the show! This can be done to reinforce density (layers) and chemical reactions (CO2 bubbles).
Looking for more spook-tacular Halloween science ideas? Check out this blog post!
Forensics is a topic students LOVE to learn about, so even if you don't teach an entire course on it, throwing in a few lessons at the end of the semester is always fun. There are a ton of labs you can do ranging from blood spatter, fingerprinting, analyzing hair and fibers and impression evidence. There are a bunch of free lab downloads at The Science Spot's website (especially great for middle school grades).
Last year I wanted to add entomology to my forensics unit. I could have ordered maggots online, but if your school is anything like mine, you place an order and cross your fingers it arrives within the next 4 months. Since I didn't plan ahead that well, I needed them within the next week.
If you want to get your own maggots growing, it's not difficult to do. All you need are the right environmental conditions. Flies like to lay their eggs in dark warm places (like inside of a decomposing body....). The easiest way to replicate these conditions is to buy a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, eat some chicken for dinner, and save the carcass. Check out the video below with more details and how you can use them with your students.
When we learned about entomology I had students read this article I wrote up on Body Farms. If you aren't familiar with body farms, they are outdoor research labs where donated bodies are left do decompose in different scenarios and conditions. Scientists use this information to help determine estimated times of death. It's a little gross, but fascinating.
Have any questions I didn't answer in the video? Leave them in the comments and I'll get back to you!
Students often struggle to understand what aquifers are and how they work. Since they are located underground we can't see them, so it can be hard to visualize in our minds what they look like.
In this quick video you can see how I built a model of an aquifer. So many light bulbs went off after this activity! Check it out:
Interested in some lesson ideas to teach the water cycle? Check out this blog post!
Are you a podcast lover? Once I find one I like, I get hooked (cough, cough... Serial). You may have students who have never listened to a podcast before, and given the opportunity would really enjoy them! Especially for your kiddos who love to learn but don't love to read.
HOW YOU CAN USE PODCASTS IN THE CLASSROOM
Not sure how you would use podcasts with students? Here are a few ideas:
1. Write out questions that go along with the podcast episode and assign it for homework. This is great listening skill practice (especially for ELL students!)
2. Assigning a podcast episode that has tougher to digest content? Listen to the podcast together as a class and pause it periodically to do small group or whole class discussions.
3. Have them listen to a podcast at home and hold an in-class Socratic seminar or philosophical chairs.
4. After listening, have students create a one-pager or infographic based on what they learned.
5. You could even have students create their own podcast! Have them pick a science related topic, conduct authentic research, and record!
LIST OF SCIENCE PODCASTS:
Listed in no particular order. (Note: I have not listened to all of these podcasts, and encourage you to preview any podcast episodes you assign to students).
1. TUMBLE: This podcast tells stories of scientific discoveries with the help of scientist.
2. 60 SECOND SCIENCE: Have a few minutes left at the end of class? Check out this podcast from Scientific American.
3. SKEPTOID: This podcast takes popular myths and reveals the true science and history behind them.
4. BIG BIOLOGY: This podcast is "scientists talking to scientists" about biology topics. I would recommend this podcast to older students, as some of the topics are more complex.
5. BRAINS ON: If you teach younger students they might enjoy Brains On, where kids find answers to fascinating questions about our world.
6. NATURE: The journal Nature also has a podcast.
7. SCIENCE MAGAZINE: Comes out with weekly podcast episodes.
8. 30 ANIMALS THAT MADE US SMARTER: Put out by the BBC.
9. THE WILD: Explores how nature survives and thrives along side (and often despite) humans.
10. SCIENCE VS: This podcast takes on fads and trends to find out what's fact, what's not, and what's somewhere in between.
11. OVERHEARD: This Nat Geo podcast dives into "one of the curiously delightful conversations we've overheard at National Geographic's headquarters."
12. UNDISCOVERED: Is a podcast about the left turns, missteps, and lucky breaks that make science happen.
13. THE BIG FIB: Each week, a kid interviews two experts in a particular topic, one of which is a genuine credentialed expert, and the other is a liar. Students learn to weigh evidence and trust their gut!
Getting to use microscopes is the highlight of the school year for many biology students. They love to learn how to use them and explore the microscopic world. But purchasing a class set of microscopes can be pricey. Also, as many schools are currently doing distance learning, microscopes aren't an option. Here are a list of some alternatives you can try so students can still check out the microscopic world:
1. HAVE HALF YOUR STUDENTS ON SCOPES
If you can't get a full classroom set of microscopes, start with building up half a class set. When you are first teaching students how to use microscopes it can be TIRING. There is one of you and 30 of them all with their hands up asking for help. Only having half of your students on scopes greatly eases the tension. Try having half of your students on microscopes one day while the rest of the class is working on a different assignment and switch the next day. I much prefer this method over having students work in pairs because what ends up happening is one student hogs the microscope the whole time and the other student doesn't get to learn how to effectively use it. (Here are some microscope worksheets you could have students work on while it's not their turn at the scope).
Purchasing prepared slides can also break the bank. Check out this blog post on how to make your own!
2. VIRTUAL MICROSCOPE LABS
There are a couple virtual microscope labs available online you can have students check out. These are great for distance learning (or the half of the class that isn't currently on the microscope!)
- My favorite is from BioNetwork. It doesn't run on flash and has a variety of slides students can view.
- These labs from Univ of Delaware and NMSU are both great but run on flash, so be sure to check the sites on student devices before assigning.
Foldscopes are paper microscopes that magnify up to 140x (pretty impressive!) While I haven't used them personally, I've heard great reviews from others. You can get 10 assembled foldscopes for $60 which is half the price of one compound microscope! Since they are lightweight and electricity-free you can have students take them outside and explore on-the-go.
4. PHONE APPS
One of the best features of a smart phone is the incredible cameras they come with. There are magnifying apps you can download that will allow students to zoom in with their camera to see small objects. A decent one to check out is called BigMagnify.
5. HAND LENSES AND POCKET MICROSCOPES
Don't underestimate the power of a hand lens or pocket microscope! You can purchase decent pocket microscopes on Amazon for $10-$20 each. You obviously won't get the same clarity as a compound microscope, but they are good if you are budget-strapped and need an alternative. When I first started teaching I only had a handful of compound microscopes, so I set up stations around the room that had different types of microscopes with different magnifications. Students could play around with magnifying glasses, pocket microscopes, stereoscopes, and a compound microscope and compare the magnification of each.
uHandy pocket microscope is also a great alternative- the lenses clip right on to phones or iPads. Check out this blog post to read more about the product.
I hope one of those options works for you and your students have fun exploring!