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)
At the beginning of every school year I can bet that you review the scientific method. While there isn't necessarily a specific set of steps that we follow in all branches of science, we want our students to be able to use inquiry and think through the scientific process. One great way to get our students thinking like scientists is by using the CER method.
What is CER?
CER stands for claim, evidence, and reasoning. After being posed with a question or observation, students have to make a claim (similar to forming a hypothesis), provide evidence to support their claim, and explain their reasoning. Getting students to understand CER is important because it helps them think through the scientific process. All claims must have supporting evidence, and students should be able to explain the reasoning behind their thoughts. CER is science literacy for the win!
CER can be applied so many different methods of teaching. It doesn't just have to be for labs! Here are a few ideas on how you can implement the process:
1. Video clips: Find a video clip that poses some sort of question or claim. Have students identify the claim, evidence, and reasoning given in the video. If only a claim is given, have students come up with evidence and reasoning on their own following the clip.
2. Labs: CER is great to implement within the lab process. Students are posed with a question they will test, write out their claim (hypothesis), provide evidence (their data), and reasoning. If you haven't checked out NSTA's ADI books (arguement driven inquirty), they follow the CER process and have a lot of great lab ideas. Many of the labs can be found free online, but you have to purchase the book to get the accompanying teacher information. Some free resources can be found at the following links: Biology labs, Chemistry labs, Middle school life science
3. Socratic Seminars: If you aren't familiar with what a socratic seminar is, it is essentially a class discussion where the facilitator asks open ended questions and encourages class discussion. For me it works best when the class sits in a circle facing each other, and every student is required to contribute to the conversation at least once (give them a grade for speaking). Pose a question to your class, give them time to come up with CER speaking points, and get them talking! Make sure your question is open ended so students don't all come to the same conclusions. A sample question you could pose is "Do you think humans could ever survive on Mars?" While there are only 2 answers to this question (yes or no), there will be a lot of discussion regarding their evidence and reasoning.
4. Whiteboard sessions: CER works well on mini-whiteboards. I have studentes set up the whiteboards as pictured below. After groups fill out their whiteboard, have the class face each other in a circle, review the boards, and have a "whiteboard session" where they discuss what other groups came up with. This could supplement a lab or be done as a stand alone activity. It takes some training to get students to give constructive feedback to other groups, but after a few tries they get the hang of it. A sample is shown below.
5. Analyzing journal articles: We all want our students to be better readers. At the high school level, I try and get my students reading journal articles. They can be a lot to digest and asking students to read and summarize them can be daunting. I give students the CER graphic organizer (found below) and have them fill it out as they read. It is a great way for them to organize information as they read.
It's summertime and you FINALLY have time to sit down and read a book! It seems like during the school year I lay down at night, grab a book, and fall asleep after 2 pages. I love to read, but teaching is exhausting and I just can't get much reading done. Now that it's summer I have quite a few books I want to get through. I thought I would share my top 5 favorite science books with you!
Disclaimer: While I realize as an adult I should enjoy reading non-fiction, I generally have a hard time getting through them. I much prefer fiction novels that I can read quickly and don't have to sit and digest the all that information (that sounds childish, I know). That being said, the books listed below are books full of science content, but read more like novels. I think this is something to keep in mind when you recommend books to your students.
Favorite Biology Book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is a true story about a poor African American mother and tobacco farmer that developed cervical cancer. At this point in time, scientists had not figured out a way to keep cells alive outside of the body. Henrietta's doctor took a biopsy of her cancer cells, and without her permission sent them to the lab, where her cells miraculously continued to live and grow. Following her death, her "immortal" cells eventually turned into a multi-million dollar industry, and research labs around the world continue to use "HeLa" cells to this day. However, her family didn't learn about the cells until decades later and never received a penny of compensation. This is powerful book that sheds light on the history of the medical research industry and social injustice.
Favorite Chemistry Book: The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum. In the 1920's in New York City, untraceable poisons were an easy path to the perfect crime. This book teaches about the development of chemical detective work- the ability to detect hidden poisons in the body. Written from the perspective of the Chief Medical Examiner and Toxicologist of NYC, each chapter of this book focuses on a different poison, ranging from carbon monoxide and radium to arsenic. It is written in a way that readers, regardless of chemistry background, can enjoy and understand.
Favorite Earth and Space Science Book: The Martian by Andy Weir. Mark Watney is an astronaut that gets stranded on Mars after his crew gets stuck in a Mars dust storm and think he is dead. He has to find a way to survive on Mars, which is virtually uninhabitable, before rescue teams can find a way to save him. This book is fun, witty, and hard to put down. This book is now a major motion picture starring Matt Damon, but I can assure you the book is even better. A young reader's edition is also available.
Favorite Environmental Science Book: The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. If you've ever taken some time to think about where the food in the grocery store came from and what life was like for the cow before it became the hamburger on your plate, you will enjoy this book. I own both copies of this book- the original and the young reader's edition, and found the young reader's edition easier to get through (shocker, I know). This book is engaging and relatable to students, and will force them to reflect on what they eat and the impact it has on the environment. I read it with my classes last year and followed it up with the documentary Food Inc which my students really enjoyed.
Favorite Book Overall: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. (This movie October Sky is inspired by this book). When I was growing up I hated to read. In middle school my grandma had this book sitting at her house and I randomly picked it up. From that point I learned that I didn't hate to read, I just hated all the books I had been forced to read. This book is a memoir written by a boy raised in a small coal-mining community. While the majority of boys accepted the fact they would grow up and work in the mine, he had dreams of rockets and going to space. Inspired by his high school science teacher Ms. Riley and with some help by his begrudging father, he builds rockets with his friends and enters the science fair. It will make you laugh and make you cry, but overall will inspire you to shoot for the stars (both literally and figuratively).
As a kid I loved that when I read this book for the first time I related to the main character Sonny, and as I have grown up I feel like I can relate to his teacher Ms. Riley. This book has grown with me and I love it as much now (after a dozen reads) as I did when I was in middle school. If you enjoyed this book, there are 2 more books that follow in the series. (Side Note: I have a personally autographed copy of this book, and if my house ever burns down, this book is coming out with me!)
As adults most of us like to read, but it can be difficult to get your students to put down the phone and pick up a book. Here are a few tips that might help:
1. Keep books in your classroom that students can check out, and don't just let them sit on the shelf. Pitch the books to them! They will be more likely to pick up the book if you give it a glowing recommendation.
2. Meet with the ELA teachers in your grade level and see if they can incorporate a novel with science content into their curriculum. They will likely be more than willing if you promise to help keep students engaged and tag-team the content.
3. Bribe them. I know that sounds horrible... but it can work. Offer extra credit to students that read a science novel on their own time and write up a book report. I make sure they know my feelings won't be hurt if they don't like the book in the end. When I was in high school I think I felt pressured to read the assigned book and write an essay about how great it was. That was what my teacher wanted to hear, right?! (I wish I could have turned in an essay about all the reasons I hated Animal Farm... but I digress). Anyway, sometimes students just don't know what type of books to pick up. I created this list of 165 science books that are listed by content area, lexile and include a synopsis. It should be great for any teacher grades 6-12. Hopefully it will help you and your students find the perfect book. Click on the image to download it!
I hope you have time this summer to kick your feet up, grab a book, and sip your favorite drink! Enjoy some well deserved R&R!
The State Superintendent for Public Instruction in Arizona is up for re-election soon, and that means updating state standards to support voters and lobbyists. In a recent draft of updated science standards, the word "evolution" was removed, as well as the big bang theory. Naturally, science teachers are pretty upset. As I read comments online from supporters that think evolution is a made up theory, it becomes clear that people simply don't understand the term. The first thing we need to clarify is the word theory. Out of the scientific context, the word theory might imply just a guess or an idea. In science, we don't use the word lightly. A theory is a highly tested explanation of a scientific phenomena. If something is just a guess or prediction, we call it a hypothesis. To become a a theory, a hypothesis must have mounds of evidence. Can a theory be proven wrong? Yes. But I'd love for you to find me scientific evidence that disproves the theory of evolution.
When you think of the term evolution, what comes to your mind? Is it the idea of monkeys turning into humans? If so, you need to erase that image. The term evolution means change in genes in a population over time. Based on this definition, I guarantee you've seen evolution occur in your life repeatedly. (I'll give you examples in a minute). To be completely transparent to all my readers out there: yes, I wholeheartedly believe in God. And yes, I support the theory of evolution. The two are not mutually exclusive. I don't like saying I "believe" in evolution, because I think the word believe implies faith. We don't have to have faith that evolution is occurring, because we can see it happening! Let's dive in.
Scientists break evolution into two categories: microevolution, and macroevolution. Since you probably know the prefix "micro" means small, microevolution refers to small changes in DNA in an organism's genome. These could be caused by a variety of reasons such as random mutations or selective breeding. If these changes are beneficial to the survival of a species, they will become more common. If they aren't beneficial, the organism likely dies and that variation disappears. Ready for a few examples?
1. The Flu Virus- Ever wonder why you get the flu even though you got the vaccine last year? It's because this year's flu is a different strain than last year's flu. As the flu virus makes copies of itself, mutations (changes in the DNA sequence) occur. These changes are often resistant to the vaccine, reproduce quickly, and spread to new victims. This leads to the evolution of new strains, which is likely the cause of next year's flu season. Did we see changes in genes in a population over time? Check.
2. The Rock Pocket Mouse- Let's look at an example from my native area- the Sonoran Desert. There is a species of mouse that typically has tan fur. This is great camouflage on the desert floor. Every once in a while, a random mutation (changes in a few amino acid sequences) causes the mouse to have black fur. Living in the desert with visual predators like owls and snakes, this is no bueno. These mice get eaten pretty quickly because that gene is not beneficial.
BUT.... in the Sonoran desert there are areas that are volcanic. In these volcanic areas, the ground is covered in black lava. Now who survives well? Obviously, the mouse with the black fur. Over many generations we see that there are almost no mice with tan fur living in the volcanic areas, only mice with black fur. Did changes in genes in a population over time occur? You bet. Mutations aren't necessarily always good or always bad- it depends on your environment. If you want to see more about this cute little mouse, watch the first 5 minutes of this video:
Other examples of microevolution explain the reason we have so many dog breeds (selective breeding) and why farmers only save seed from the best crops.
Macroevolution (big changes) refers to the formation of new species, which in biology we call speciation. This form of evolution takes much longer- generally tens of thousands of years. To be considered a species, you must be able to reproduce and produce viable offspring. So this means that dog breeds are the same species, because a Labrador and a German Shepard can breed and produce puppies which can also reproduce. But if you tried to breed a dog and a cat, it wouldn't happen. Different species.
Darwin first saw variations among related species when he visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835. Among Darwin's famous finches, he noticed that finches that had large beaks ate large seeds, and finches that had small beaks ate small seeds. But were they the same species? He wasn't sure at the time, but we now know based on DNA evidence that there are 13 different species of finches living on the islands. Darwin wondered if God made each species, or if one species flew over from the mainland and evolved out on the islands. Based on DNA evidence we can see that the birds living on the islands are more closely related to each other than any one is to a species on the mainland. This implies one species flew over and evolved from there. (This is the same as your DNA being more similar to your family members than other humans on Earth). Now, do we have to rule out the theory that God could have a hand in this process? Of course not. But we know new species form, regardless of who you believe their creator to be.
Below is one of my favorite videos to show my students on Darwin's finches. Peter and Rosemary Grant from Princeton University set out to test Darwin's theory of evolution among finches on the Galapagos Islands. Their results were pretty spectacular- they saw the birds evolve twice within a short period of time.
It is estimated that there are over 8 million species on Earth, and there are many not yet discovered. There are currently new species being created, and species going extinct. Ready for some food for thought? If you are a religious person, you are no doubt familiar with the story of Noah's ark. In the story, God tells Noah he is going to flood the Earth, so Noah builds a huge ark, takes his family and two animals of each kind (male and female), and they live on the ark for about a year while everything else on Earth got wiped out. Do you think it is possible Noah had 8 million species on the ark? Of course not. If that bible story is true, the plants and animals Noah saved had to have evolved into the millions of species we have today. There is not a ton of evidence proving that a world-wide flood occurred... but if you are a faith based person and believe God had his hand in a catastrophic flood, then why couldn't He have also had a hand in the evolution of new species following the flood?
Up to this point, I'm hoping that most of you are thinking "okay, that makes sense." Most people can see that changes in genes in populations occurs all the time. But once we get to human evolution people freak. The bible states that God created man in his own image. If this is true, then how can we have evolved from other hominid species that don't look like we do today? I'm not here to tell you what to think or believe (remember, I believe in God too). But I want to clear up a few misconceptions that I frequently hear.
Misconception #1: There is no evidence of human evolution.
There is quite a bit of evidence showing that hominids have evolved over time. By looking at the fossil record, we are able to date fossils back in time and look at their characteristics. Over 6,000 hominid fossils have been found and analyzed. By using these fossils we can figure out how old they are, what areas of earth they inhabited, if they walked upright, and their ability to live in different environments. We can also learn about their behaviors if the fossils are found with tools or other artifacts.
As a biologist, DNA is always strong evidence that we like to lean on. When you analyze DNA of primates, humans and chimpanzees share more DNA than chimpanzees share with apes or any other primates. This tells us that chimpanzees are our closest primate ancestor. To clarify: does this mean that chimpanzees turned into humans? No. It means that we share a common ancestor. It is estimated that we branched out from this common ancestor between 6 and 8 million years ago. A great visual timeline can be seen HERE.
Misconception #2: If evolution is still occurring, then why aren't humans still evolving?
We haven't seen macroevolution in humans in a long time, but we have definitely seen small changes in the human genome in recent times. Take lactose intolerance for example. In the majority of species, only babies drink milk, and after infancy the gene for producing lactase enzyme (which allows you to digest lactose) is turned off. Several thousand years ago, being able to drink milk as an adult without getting sick became an advantage (possibly because farming became more common). In our species, the majority of adults can drink milk with no problems.
The average human height has also increased over time. 10,000 years ago, the average human height for a European male was 5 feet 4 inches. Currently, that average has increased to 5 feet 9 inches. This could be from access to better nutrition, or simply because females select taller males.
Misconception #3: If apes evolved into humans, we should not have apes around today.
This is a misconception stemming from the idea that if one species evolves into a new species, than the former one should no longer exist. This is like saying "if dogs evolved from wolves, we should not have wolves around today." This is not how evolution works. When species evolve, they generally branch out into multiple species, not one species simply evolving into a new one (see image). So as our ape ancestors evolved, there are several lineages that resulted. A great visual of the hominid/ape family tree can be seen HERE.
(If you are a biology teacher and would like more homonid evolution teaching resources, check out this blog post).
I realize this can be a sensitive subject for many. I will always have faith in a higher power, but also will not let that faith discredit scientific discoveries. The more we discover, the more we figure out how the two can go hand in hand.
We live in the world of technology and instant streaming. It's amazing that we can see and talk to people on the other side of the world with almost no delay. I recently came across a couple of live streaming websites where your students can observe nature and wildlife from locations around the world. Many of our students may never have the opportunity to see the great barrier reef or go on an African safari- but that doesn't mean they can't enjoy looking at the animals from afar! I've created a list of a few websites where students can observe live streaming from some pretty cool places:
1. Deep Sea Exploration: Head over to http://nautiluslive.org/ to see real time deep sea exploration! Students can even type in questions and organizers are willing to skype with your classroom!
2. Explore.org: Out of all the websites, explore.org is probably my favorite. You can click on tons of animals and it will take you to a live streaming location. Sometimes you won't see much, but that is the nature of it being live. It will recommend which animals are most active and has highlights you won't want to miss.
3. National Park Service: This website has links to some webcams within some of the US National Parks. (Many of these are also available on explore.org, so you may just want to start there).
4. Zoos: Many zoos such as The Houston Zoo, the Woodland Park Zoo, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have webcams within their exhibits for you to view. You can even take a turn controlling the webcams at the Houston Zoo!.
Ideas of how to use these websites:
1. If you are teaching a lesson on making observations, have students observe the animals, write down behaviors they see and make inferences about their lifestyle or habitat.
2. Are your students quietly working on an assignment? Many teachers play background music. I personally struggle with this, because I'm one of those people that has to have it quiet in order to focus. Instead of playing music, try putting up a webcam on the screen. It allows students to take small mental breaks to observe the animals, and is also gives the early finishers something to do instead of pulling out their phones. It's a great classroom management tool.
3. If you are teaching about conservation or sustainability, put up a webcam and discuss why animal conservation is important and the ethical implications of zoos.
4. Don't have the money to take your students on a field trip? Use these sites as a "virtual field trip." They can see a national park from your classroom!
I hope you enjoy these sites! I've wasted my prep hour a few too many times by sitting and watching animals! Enjoy!
Since I started teaching, I always got my students trained pretty quickly to start working on bellwork when they came in to class. It is a great way for them to have a few minutes to settle down, remember what we learned the previous day, and also gives me time to take attendance. One thing that I didn't start until recently was using exit tickets. I mostly didn't use them because I wasn't prepared. By not being prepared, I mean I didn't have set questions ready to go. I didn't like the generic tickets of "one thing I learned today was..." and "one thing I'm still confused about is..." because I feel like it didn't give me any concrete information or data and half the time students left them blank. I really wanted the students to SHOW me that they understood the concept.
Now that summer is here I've had time to create exit tickets for all my biology units. I'm really looking forward to having them done and ready to go. At the top of each ticket is a set of questions that deals with the new concept the students learned about. At the bottom there is a place for students to self assess themselves.
Here are 4 reasons why I think exit tickets are beneficial to use in the classroom:
1. Formative Assessment for the Teacher- Do you truly know where all your students are in the learning process? Are you giving a summative assessment when your students aren't ready? One of the best quotes I have heard regarding assessment is "How are you rewarding students at their best, not punishing them at their worst?" That really spoke to me. The use of exit tickets allows me to really hone in on which students needed help before we moved on to new concepts.
2. Formative Assessment for the Student- It's good for you as the teacher to know where your students are in the learning process, but it's even better if your students know where they are too. How often as a college student did you walk into a test not having any clue what would be on it? What would they focus on? Did you study the wrong things? Thoughtfully prepared exit tickets allow students to identify exactly what they already know and where there are learning gaps.
3. Increased test scores- After students turn in exit tickets and you sort through them, what do you do with them? Do you group them into piles? Do you recycle the ones that have mastered the content so you can focus on the lower students? I think you should pass them back, even though they aren't necessarily graded. This allows students to review them before a test and feel confident about what material they have mastered and what they need to study for. When students have a clear understanding of what to study for, test scores will increase! (Side note: I generally let students use notes on tests. You can read about that here).
4. Be Better Prepared for Evaluations- When I walk into my teacher evaluation conferences, I know I will be asked these two questions without fail: Do I have data to show how each of my students are doing in class? and how do I allow my students to self-assess themselves? Exit tickets are a great way to answer both of these questions. Explain how you formatively assess your students and allow students to self-assess themselves and look for gaps in their learning. Following the use of exit tickets, explain your methods of intervention before the summative assessment. I think your evaluator will be impressed with your answers!
I've created tickets for all the biology units I teach. If you'd like to try out a few for FREE, click here!
I just finished my 10th year of teaching and to say it wasn't my best is an understatement. I had a rough group of students this year, was feeling teacher burn-out, and was just getting negative. Throw in all the school shootings and changing political climate and it was hard to go to work some days. Now that school has been out for a week, I've had time to sit and reflect on what I can do to make year 11 better and get excited about teaching again.
I reflected on the teacher I was year 1 compared to the teacher I am now. There are a LOT of things that have evolved and improved- my classroom management, inquiry based teaching, getting students to write well... but there are some things that I need to work on. Year one I was SO EXCITED to teach science. (Photo is of my first year teaching in 2008). I cared less about the test scores and more about getting students to enjoy science. I put in a lot of work that year, but it felt really rewarding. Somehow along the way that excitement has waned. Don't get me wrong- I still love science and love seeing students' face light up during experiments... but I feel myself worrying more about test scores, getting bogged down by the work load, and frustrated with education related issues that are out of my control.
So now that it is summer and I have time to decompress, reflect, and set goals, I realized I need to make teaching fun again. I need to focus my efforts on things that I have control over and worry less about things I have no control over (ie: our Secretary of Education or fixing the home lives of my students). Here is the list I came up with to help make year 11 stellar. I plan to post this list at my desk and check in quarterly. If you are reading this... feel free to check in on me and hold me accountable!
Becca's Goal List Of Teaching Goodness:
1. Go outside. Why do I feel the need to be stuck in my classroom all day? There are so many labs that can be done outside where students can enjoy the weather. Isn't exploring the world around us one of the ways to get students excited about science? Let's do it.
2. Be creative with labs. There were times this year that I felt too tired to set up a lab. It is THE WORST when you spend a lot of time and money on a lab and you hear students whining. Next year I want to focus on fun labs and activities that get students up, moving, and engaged.
3. Try a project or two. Managing group projects is a lot of work. But when we allow students to apply what they are learning to a real world context through a project, learning goes so much deeper. My goal is to not assign the type of project students ask their parents to do, but a project that gets them excited to show what they have learned. For example, following my ecology unit I plan to have students design a "zoo of the future." They can not only explain the content stuff (like biomes and symbiotic relationships) but also dive into the ethics of zoos and conservation. Wish me luck!
4. Bring in guest speakers. This is one that I'm already decent at but want to continue doing, so it is on my goal list. Students hear from me every day and the novelty of my voice quickly wears off. Bringing in content experts to the classroom is exciting for the students, brings in a wealth of knowledge you might not have, and also gives you a small break from teaching. There are so many people that are willing to come if you would just reach out and ask. Don't forget to check out sites like skypeascientist.com to have virtual guest speakers! Also- get your students to ask as well! If they have a family member that works in a cool career field, have them come in! Sometimes guest speakers will say no to me, but have a harder time saying no to the student.
5. Give up a class period to let students have a voice. Do we allow time to pause our curriculum and let our student's voices be heard? Or are you too worried about getting through all the standards before the final exam? This is my personal reminder to pause and let my students speak up. There are so many current events that apply to the classroom and affect our students. There is trauma going on in their lives. There are issues they are worried about, but don't have the forum to voice their feelings. As a high school teacher my students will be able to vote soon, and I want them to be able to talk about what is going on, be educated about real world topics, and form educated opinions. This can be much more meaningful and powerful to them than learning about mitosis.
6. Last but certainly not least, FOCUS ON THE GOOD. It can be easy to get bogged down by the work load, the mouthy student in 5th period, and the amount of meetings to sit through. But if you focus on the good things your students are doing and the impact you are making on their lives, it makes it all worthwhile. My goal is to make more parent phone calls for the GOOD things my students are doing instead of the bad. Attend a sporting event for a kid that needs a boost. Send a nice remind message to a class period that had an awesome day. When kids know you care and are noticing their efforts, they will move mountains for you.
If you are still reading this... thanks! This blog post was more for me and a little self-healing, but if it helped you in any way I'm glad. My ultimate goal is to not be that 30 year veteran teacher that is super grouchy and everyone is thinking "why doesn't she just retire already?" If you have any more tips to beat the burnout, please share them in the comments!
Earlier this month I had the incredible opportunity to get a behind the scenes tour of NASA (I'm still pinching myself). It was amazing! I can't claim to have been a NASA nerd since birth... it wasn't until I was in high school that I picked up the book October Sky (which has been my favorite book ever since) and became interested in space. I became fascinated with the space race and started watching things like From the Earth to the Moon and The Right Stuff, and reading books like Packing for Mars by Mary Roach and A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin. Long story short, a NASA nerd was born.
A fellow science teacher I follow on instagram posted some videos of a NASA launch and mentioned she was there through a NASA social event. I immediately looked it up and applied. (You can and should apply here). I didn't get selected for the first launch I applied for, so don't give up!
The event I was able to attend was the launch of the Mars Insight lander. It was the first planetary launch from the west coast. We already know a lot about the surface of Mars and it's atmosphere, but not as much about what is going on below the surface. It is suspected that Mars has a core similar to ours, and if so, there should be tectonic activity on the surface of Mars. The Insight lander has a probe that will measure the temperature of Mars' crust and a seismometer to measure any marsquakes (don't you just love that word?) It will land on Mars November 26th, 2018 and will send data back for the next 2 years.
On day 1 we arrived at the air force base, got our clearance, and hopped on the buses that took us to a NASA hanger. The first thing I noticed when I walked inside was the swag bags waiting for us (who doesn't love free gifts?!) There was a life size replica of the Insight lander, virtual reality headset so you could walk on the surface of Mars, and engineers ready to talk to us about all things Insight.
After lunch we got to sit in with the media peeps as NASA TV took over and talked about the launch. Speakers included Jim Green, NASA chief scientist, Tom Hoffman and Stu Spath, Insight project managers, Tim Dunn, NASA launch director, and more. I learned a ton from hearing them speak. Jim Green is certain that humans will eventually colonize Mars, and we need to understand all things Mars before we get there. He is excited about the Insight for a few reasons:
This is not the most exciting picture... I know. But as I drove up to the base for day 2 this was my view. Fog. It was not looking promising. BUT, day 2 was still my favorite day of the trip.
On day 2 we got a tour of all things NASA. We got to see the mission control room where the launch director sits and has the final no-no/go (pictured bottom right), the WROCC (western range operations control center), and the Space Launch Complex. The picture on the bottom left is of a map that showed every satellite currently orbiting Earth. NASA and the DoD also monitor every piece of space junk floating around in orbit, and there is over 500,000 pieces of debris being tracked. Nuts!
The highlight of day 2 was the last stop.... the launchpad. We got to see the Atlas 5 rocket and Insight preparing for launch. About 2 hours prior to launch (in this case, 2 am) the building you see surrounding the rocket slowly moves backward. Don't let the small size in the picture fool you, it was nearly 200 feet tall. It was a truly serene moment to stand in front of something that hundreds of people worked on for years and would be on the surface of Mars within 6 months.
The launch window ran from 4:05 am - 6 am. After managing a few hours of sleep I got up at 2 am and headed to the viewing site. I had previously driven around town using an elevation app on my phone looking for a spot that was above 600 feet. I found a spot off the road that was over 900 feet elevation and was hoping for the best. Once we arrived, it was clear that the fog was going to be an issue, but we had our fingers crossed we would at least see the glow of the rocket. As 4:05 approached we heard the countdown on the radio and could hear and feel the launch, but unfortunately couldn't see anything even though we were only a few miles away. Below is a youtube video taken by the up close cameras so you can see it blasting off through the fog layer. I was hoping to have personal video to take back to my classroom and show my students, but this is what I showed them instead.
Even though I didn't get to see the launch, it was an incredible experience I will never forget. I am hoping to drive back out to Vandenberg later this year to try my luck at another launch viewing. (If you want to see NASA's upcoming launch schedule, look here).
Some other people from my NASA social group drove out of town to a mountain range to get better photos of the launch. This time lapse photo of the launch was taken by Andy Fortson and is STUNNING. Check out his instagram @AndyFortson!