As fun as prepared slides are, students always LOVE looking at living organisms under the microscope. I generally order mixed protist specimens from Wards or Carolina Biological, but this year I didn't get an order put in on time (if your district is like mine it often takes months to get things ordered and delivered...) Since I didn't have anything for my students to look at, I decided to make a hay infusion. It turned out great for what I needed.
Overall, here are the pros and cons of doing a hay infusion:
Before using the hay infusion, have your students practice using the microscope with prepared slides. If students are comfortable with how to focus and scan, it makes it much easier when they are looking for things that are swimming around. We began the class with learning how to set up a wet mount slide using an elodea leaf. Once they got the hang of it, they cleaned their slide and took a sample of the pond water.
Here is a video I took under 40x magnification:
and 100x magnification:
Although there weren't a variety of species to see, students were still pretty excited to see them swimming around. I wasn't able to identify which type of protists we had- if you had honors or AP students it might be fun to give them a protist dichotomous key and see if they can figure out which species they find. Overall it was a success and didn't cost me a cent!
Why the nucleus isn't King of the castle
Ever since middle school when students learn about cells, they are taught that nucleus is the control center of the cell. They hear that the nucleus is "the brain" and in charge of all cell functions. When teachers do the cell-as-a-factory analogy, the nucleus ends up being the boss. This is not technically true... while the nucleus houses all the information the cell needs to complete different tasks, it isn't in charge of when that information is used. We need to make sure students understand why cells do the things they do, and it all comes down to cell signaling.
Cells complete cellular processes when the cell membrane gets a signal from the outside environment. Once the signal is received, then the cell will respond by using the genetic information in the nucleus to carry out the task. That task will generally keep going until the signal is terminated. Here are a few examples:
How to get students thinking:
This can be a tricky concept to introduce to students. High school students don't usually understand how the cell operates as a whole and communicates with the outside environment. A great way to introduce the topic is by posing them these questions: "Are identical twins truly identical? Is it possible for one twin to get cancer while the other does not get cancer?" Most students will say yes, this is possible. But if they have the same genes, how can this be? Our cells are not pre-programed to behave based on our DNA. Genes are only regulated based on signals from the environment. Many students also get confused when we talk about "the environment," because they are so used to hearing this term used in ecology. Make sure students understand that the cell has its own environment within the body.
The moral of the story:
Do you want your students to read an article on this topic? Check out this close reading article I wrote available in my TpT store. It is a 3 page article with reading comprehension questions at the end for students to answer. The article covers an overview of: proteins and the central dogma, the lipid bilayer, and epigenetics. It does not cover the details of the types of cell signaling. I believe it is written at a level where most high school students can fully understand the concept of cell signaling and the cell membrane.
One comment I frequently hear from biology teachers is "My students keep mixing up mitosis and meiosis." I had this problem for many years (the first 5 years of teaching to be exact). During my cells unit I would teach both mitosis and meiosis. I would begin by teaching them both separately, and then had worksheets and activities that compared the two. But when I would give the unit test, it was clear the students still confused the two. I needed to do something differently.
After teaching middle school for 5 years, I switched to a high school near my house. When we got to the cells unit one of my colleagues suggested only teaching mitosis, and waiting to teach meiosis until we got to the genetics unit. Light bulbs kept going off in my head. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made.
So I tried it. At the end of my cells unit (after teaching organelles, membranes, and cellular energy) I would teach mitosis. When I would test them just on mitosis they would score well, because they didn't have both processes in their head to get confused. Then, after Christmas break when we got to genetics, I would teach meiosis. It made so much sense because:
By the time I quizzed the students on meiosis they were experts on cell division. If your school gives you some freedom with the order of your curriculum, try teaching it this way! You won't regret it.
BONUS! If you want a fun way to make sure students understand the differences between mitosis and meiosis, try this FREE bingo game in my TpT store! Bingo is a great way to review scientific vocabulary. In this game you will call out the definitions and students will cover up the words on their bingo cards. You can download this product free in my TpT store HERE. Enjoy!
This blog post is all about why I think Cornell notes are beneficial for students, and tips on how to make them easier for teachers. If you don't want to read my background story on how I came to love them and you just want the nitty-gritty, skip to the bottom of the post :)
My first year teaching was at an AVID demonstration school. If you are familiar with the AVID program, they require students to use Cornell notes during class. I was fresh out of college and had never heard of them before. I was really excited to use interactive notebooks and to be honest I wasn't thrilled with having a set note-taking format I had to use. It felt like I spent the first month of school telling students what to write on the left side of their notes, and what to write on the right side. Getting them to write summaries was like pulling teeth. BUT, after a couple of months things got easier, and students got better at knowing what to write. Eventually students enjoyed having structure instead of messy note pages. I tried my best to make sure my powerpoint slides had clear questions and bolded vocabulary so students knew exactly what to write and what was important. I initially tried to get students to write the summary for homework, but I soon realized they just weren't going to do it. Enter plan B. Instead I would go back the next day and have them review their notes and write the summary for bellwork. It was a great way to refresh their memories on what they learned the previous day. Then I would call on 2 or 3 students to read their summaries out loud, which increased the stakes for writing in complete sentences and explaining things in their own words, not just regurgitating vocabulary words and definitions. Often times students would even call each other out, and say things like "You forgot to answer the essential question!" By the end of the school year my little 6th graders were champs at taking notes.
Fast forward 10 years and I now teach a class of seniors who are taking college biology through duel enrollment. One of the entrance requirements to this duel enrollment course is for students to have been in AVID all 4 years of high school. It has been amazing to see them take notes without asking, and not just during standard lectures. We have had multiple guest speakers visit our classroom, and students automatically set up a notes page, write down notes and questions they have throughout the presentation, and summarize what the speaker taught them. All without groaning. THAT, my teacher friends, is amazing to see.
So in summary, here are a few things to take away...
Why Cornell notes are good for students:
When I moved up from teaching middle school to high school and was looking at my new curriculum I saw the term "keystone species" and scratched my head. It was a term I had never heard before and didn't remember learning in college. After learning about the terms keystone species and trophic cascades I fell in love with ecology a little more (if that is possible). These topics are so fascinating to me and I love teaching them to my students.
If you aren't familiar with the term (like I was) then here is the gist: A keystone species is a species that has an unusually large effect on it's ecosystem. Other species in the ecosystem rely on them to keep everything in balance. When the keystone population is disrupted, trophic cascades can occur. A trophic cascade occurs when predators limit the density and/or behavior of their prey and thereby enhance the survival of the next lower trophic level. I explain to my students that it is like a domino effect- once one part of the food web gets disrupted, everyone else will be effected in some way as well.
I have created and found some really good resources that you can use to introduce or reinforce these concepts:
The presentation I use in my classroom is available for download in my TpT store. I use this after I have already covered food chains and webs. This includes a 16 slide presentation (in both powerpoint or SMART notebook) and 3 writing prompts to accompany the lesson. You can download the lesson HERE.
HHMI Biointeractive's website has some KILLER biology resources. (Side note: If you haven't checked out their evolution resources, please do it now! You won't regret it!) They have a great video on keystone species and trophic cascades that is 19 minutes long. You can find the video HERE and there is a student worksheet that can be downloaded HERE.
Want to include some literacy in your unit? Biology corner has a reading article with questions on keystone species. You can find it HERE. It would be a great homework assignment or sub plan if you are in a pinch.
Another great video for this topic is called "How Wolves Change Rivers." It can be found on Youtube HERE. The video is about the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, and the impact they made on every other species in the ecosystem. It also takes it a step further and talks about how abiotic factors (such as the rivers) were affected as well. This video is only 4 minutes long, but is full of information so I usually show it once, have a class discussion, and then show it a second time to make sure they understand everything.
This is a fun topic to teach, so don't skip it when you are teaching ecology! It brings up great student discussions!
Ahhh the biogeochemical cycles. They are vital to life, but students don't typically enjoy learning about them. They usually know the water cycle by the time they reach high school, but struggle with carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. I've rounded up some resources you can use to spice up your chemical cycles unit!
1. Calculate Your Water Usage- Since most students already know the water cycle, don't spend a ton of time on it. Instead I focus on their water usage. Many students will think you are crazy when you tell them it's not sustainable to take 20 minute showers. This website is really user friendly and gives students a break down of their water usage and compares it to the national average.
2. Take A Ride Through The Carbon Cycle- In this activity, students will go around the classroom visiting different stations where carbon is found in the carbon cycle. At each station students will grab a tracker (small piece of paper that tracks where they have been) and will roll a cube that will determine where they go next. At the end students will discover where the most carbon is stored in the cycle. Download it HERE.
3. Lake Nyos Article- Throw in some science literacy with this article titled "Killer Carbon." Lake Nyos is a lake in Africa that formed inside a volcanic crater. Over time carbon dioxide was building up in the lake. In 1986 the lake eventually overturned, suffocating everyone within a 15 mile radius. This lesson includes a link to a national geographic video that grabs student attention, a close reading article with questions, and a demo demonstrating how carbon dioxide gas is more dense than air (hence the suffocation). All you need are birthday candles, baking soda, and vinegar. Download this lesson HERE.
4. Nitrogen Cycle Interactive- Of all the cycles, nitrogen seems to be the trickiest for my students to grasp. I've found this website to be helpful walking the students through the cycle. I like that it doesn't go into specifics about NH3, NO2, and NO3 but just differentiates between N2 and other usable forms of nitrogen. You can find it here.
5. Crash Course Video- If you are a veteran science teacher, chances are you have come across the Crash Course videos. Here is a link to one on the phosphorus and nitrogen cycles. I've found Crash Course videos to be GREAT for honors/AP kids, but my lower kids (and especially English language learners) struggle because he speaks fast. Preview it and see if you think it will work for your kids.
6. Make a Poster- It is nice for students to understand the cycles individually, but even better if they can link them all together. Put students in groups of 2-3 and give them a piece of butcher paper. Ask them to make a diagram that includes all the cycles. Hopefully by the end of the activity students will see that multiple nutrients cycle through organisms. Here is a sample diagram:
7. Biogeochemical Cycles Review Worksheets- Lastly, it never hurts to review review review. Here is a set of 5 worksheets I created for the cycles. There is one worksheet for each cycle, and the final worksheet is titled "Name That Cycle" where students need to identify the correct cycle it is referring to. You can find them HERE.
Hopefully this helps! If you have any other tips or resources, leave them in the comments!
I know the term "open note test" makes some teachers shudder. Many teachers are completely opposed to this idea. I get it. We love our content areas and want students to retain the information and really know it. How dare students not remember information from my AMAZING lesson on cell membranes?! This is how I picture my students going home to tell their parents about today's science lesson:
But seriously, as engaging as I think my lessons are, studies have shown that students only retain 30-40% of information they see and hear. That leaves 60-70% of the information to be forgotten. I want my students to use their resources in order to become more familiar with that information they would normally just forget. Here are a few reasons why I let my students use notes on tests:
Okay, so you can tell by the title of this blog post I'm a biologist and not a chemist. (Chemistry teachers, please don't send me hate mail!) Honestly, I don't love chemistry and I don't love teaching it. BUT, I realize how important it is for students to understand biochemistry before I dive into a fun enzyme lab. There have been years where I thought "screw it, I'm just going to talk about macromolecules and cells without reviewing atoms and bonding." Oh was I sorry. Most of my students didn't have a strong enough chemistry background to understand polarity without reviewing bonds. Although most of my students took chem-phys the previous year, they didn't understand how the chemistry they learned prior could apply to biology. So my advice is to take it slow, review the periodic table and bonding, have them build models, and really understand the structure of the 4 macromolecules before moving on in your cells unit. Once you get to membranes, they will understand them so much easier if they understand lipids. Once you get to DNA structure they will understand why it runs from 5' to 3' if they understand the structure of a nucleotide. They will also understand DNA replication and the enzymes involved so much better if they understand protein structure and folding. Have I convinced you yet? I hope so. Here are a list of fun ways to teach macromolecules and deepen student understanding:
1. Build Atomic Models. I'm lucky enough that I have access to model kits. I have my students build models of all the macromolecules. The best is when they can each build an amino acid, link them together, and see dehydration synthesis with their own eyes. Check with the chemistry teacher on your campus and see if they have kits you can borrow for a few days.
2. Emphasize Protein Folding. Lets be honest- of the 4 macromolecules, proteins are the rock star. It's so important that students understand how and why proteins fold, and the consequences of them denaturing. My school purchased a kit called "protein toobers" where students pretend the "toober" is a long chain of amino acids. (The activity can be purchased HERE. I am not affiliated in any way with this company). Students add thumbtacks (side chains) and then have to fold accordingly. For example, if white thumbtacks are hydrophilic and yellow thumbtacks are hydrophobic then they need to fold the toober so the white thumbtacks face out and the yellow thumbtacks face in. It is fun for them to see that each group's protein is folded differently based on the order they placed the thumbtacks. If you aren't able to purchase this kit, I think it could easily be replicated with pipe cleaners and pony beads (click here to check out a similar product from Science with Mrs. Lau!)
3. Use Videos. It is always helpful for students to hear things explained more than once and in a variety of ways. Find videos that will help reinforce concepts already taught. Amoeba Sisters always have great videos and worksheets that go with them. Here is a link to the video on biomolecules and the associated worksheet.
4. Engage with Labs! There are a bunch of fun labs out there on macromolecules, especially enzymes. I love this liver enzyme lab from biology corner. Students will see how changing temperature and pH will affect enzyme reaction rates. It's not the most fun lab to clean up after, but it's inexpensive and fun for the students. You can buy a tub of chicken liver from the grocery store for less than $2 and that will last you the entire day. Tip: I've found I get the best results when I puree the liver in the blender instead of just cutting it into pieces.
5. Use Review Activities and Games. I have never met a student that didn't love puzzles and games. It is way more fun to use these as formative assessment tools opposed to a study guide. I have a few available in my teachers pay teachers store I think you will enjoy! One is a macromolecules tarsia puzzle (pictured) where students have to pair up words with their definitions. Another option is a memory game where students flip over 2 cards at a time to try and find matches. I also have a flip book which is a fun review tool for interactive notebooks. Don't miss my macromolecules bundle where you can buy them all at a discounted price!
What other fun ways do you teach macromolecules? Leave them in the comments!
If you've been teaching for a while, chances are you have had some ELL (English language learner) students in your classroom. I've known many teachers that have panicked and asked me "how can I teach them science if they don't speak English?" I think many teachers tend to think they need to dumb down the content for these students. They aren’t dumb! Your job is to make the content accessible. It’s been my experience that ELL students are amazingly hard workers and are a blast to work with. My friend Bethany Lau over at Science with Mrs. Lau and I have created a list of best-practice tips for working with ELL students. We also have some helpful resources to share with you!
Tip #1: Get them talking! A quiet classroom is not conducive to learning a new language. Many students are scared to speak out loud in English, especially in front of the entire class. To help build their confidence, try small group discussions first. To ensure that every student has spoken to his or her group, give each student something color-coded (I use colored Popsicle sticks from the dollar store). When a student speaks, they place their Popsicle stick in the center of the table. It is easy as a teacher to walk around and monitor who is speaking and who isn’t. Make it a requirement that each student has to speak at least twice during group discussions.
Tip #2: SLOW down when you are talking, and use nonverbal cues. This is much easier to do when you have all your ELL students together in one class, but when they are mixed with native English speakers we often don’t realize how fast we are talking. It is really difficult for ELL students to process when you are speaking a mile a minute. So take a deep breath, slow down, and use your hands and other nonverbal gestures. Don’t be afraid to act things out! Yes they will giggle, and yes they will love it.
Tip #3: Build vocabulary. When you teach new words, always make your students repeat the word out loud after you say it. And if they aren’t loud, make them do it again. If you have a word wall in your classroom, go down the list frequently and make your students say them with you. To help students remember the definitions, discuss prefixes and suffixes to help them decode meanings.
Find fun ways for students to practice those new words. Instead of doing vocabulary worksheets, do vocabulary games instead! Bingo is an awesome way to review vocabulary words before a test. Create a bingo card from a free online bingo-card maker such as http://osric.com/bingo-card-generator/. Type in the words you want your students to learn and print a class set. Instead of calling out the words, say the definition and the students need to cover up the correct word. If they get a bingo they need to say the words out loud in order to win a prize.
Tip #4: Utilize pictures. I used to try and translate parts of my power points into Spanish before the lesson thinking I was doing my students a favor. I quickly realized that:
a. Google translate is frequently wrong,
b. many of my students can speak fluent Spanish but can’t read it,
c. and even if they could read most of it, they didn’t know the content specific terms in Spanish. Why would I want my students to learn the word “homeostasis” in Spanish AND English? Let’s just stick with English.
Instead of translating, stick with visual pictures. Pictures transcend all languages. Include them as much as possible in your lessons and power points. Make students draw pictures in their notes. Include pictures in all your articles you want students to read. A great pre-reading activity is to have students look at the pictures and captions in an article before they read the body paragraphs. Have them guess what the article is about based on the pictures and discuss with their neighbors (get those Popsicle sticks back out). If you have a word wall in your classroom, make sure it includes pictures too! The more they see a picture associated with a new word, the more likely they will remember what it means.
Tip #5: Learn about their language and culture, and include it in your lessons when applicable. Students will have more buy-in to your lessons when they feel like their language and culture is valued. If you can connect their language to the content, chances are they will remember it better. For example, students use the term “liga” in Spanish to mean rubber band or hair elastic. When teaching “ligaments,” discuss how they are stretchy unlike tendons. Students won’t forget!
Tip #6: Use Manipulatives! Sometimes students need help learning how to structure their writing into logical paragraphs (even native English speakers need this too!) If you have sample paragraphs for them to learn from, you can print separate sentences out on separate lines, and cut them into strips. Then you can mix the sentences up and have students order them in how they should logically appear in a sentence! You can also do this for other parts of a lab report, like the procedure section or even the proper labels for a graph!
You could create your own writing structure manipulatives, or you can check out Bethany Lau’s Lab Report Writing Activity Bundle found here. She has a set of activities with manipulative for each and every part of the lab report with a lot of examples for students to learn from.
Tip #7: Get them writing as much as possible. Data shows that when students take the state language proficiency tests, they struggle the most with writing. Find ways to get students writing on a daily basis. This could work in many different formats- just find one that works for you. Daily bellwork is a great place to start, as well as having students keep writing journals. What should you have them write about? Check out these writing prompts from Science Rocks’ store! These were designed to be used before new concepts are taught, and allows the teacher to assess prior knowledge and check for misconceptions. When students are first learning English, allow them to write in their native language and plug in English words that they know. Throughout the year as their language improves you will see their writing transform from fragmented to fluid sentences.
Another great writing strategy for ELL students are sentence frames. For students still learning how to write a complete sentence, give them half the sentence first and have them fill in the blanks. For example, a hypothesis on a lab report for an ELL student could look like this: “If I change ___________, then I think ___________ will happen, because __________.”
Tip #8: Model. And then model some more. As science teachers we tend to think of “modeling” as meaning “I’ll show them how to do a lab before it’s their turn.” Modeling applies to so much more than labs.
a. Model reading strategies. As you read through articles out loud, stop and discuss. What was the main idea? What did you highlight and why?
b. Model writing strategies. When you assign those writing prompts, work through one with them first. Show them what a quality answer would look like.
c. Model behaviors. Many students will enter your classroom from different backgrounds. Behaviors that may have been acceptable where they grew up may not be acceptable in your classroom. If you want them to give a verbal presentation with eye contact, show them what a good presentation looks like first.
d. Model word pronunciation. Sometimes if students are nervous to say things in English, I have them teach me how to say the phrase in their native language first. Once they have giggled at my horrible pronunciation, they aren’t so embarrassed to pronounce things in English.
Tip #9: Modify. Yes, one more thing to add to your to-do list. But it can honestly be as simple as cutting down the number of questions for them to complete, or adding pictures to an assessment. One of my favorite websites to find nonfiction science articles on is newsela.com. Not only is it free to use, but once you find an article you can change the lexile! That means all your students can be reading the same article but at a reading level that is accessible to them.
Tip #10: Use formative assessment frequently, and celebrate gains. It’s important to check in with ELL students often. Many of them will take notes, smile, and nod during class, but only understood 20% of what was discussed. Exit tickets and note summaries are great ways to check in and see where they need help and what they have mastered. Make your exit tickets specific. Don’t just say, “One thing I still need help with is…” but instead ask them to answer a specific question related to the lesson. This will help you group them by mastery and focus on the students that really need your help. Once they have mastered a new concept or learned new vocabulary, don’t forget to celebrate! Let them know you are proud of them, and they will work harder in the future. If students feel like their hard work is recognized and celebrated, they will continue to work hard!
We’d love to hear stories from you about what helps your ELL students! Let us know in the comments!
Density can be such a fun concept to teach! There are so many lab options to choose from. My recommendation: do a minimum of two density labs. Introduce one lab BEFORE you teach what density is, and allow students to discuss why some objects sink, why some float, and how mass and volume are related. Then AFTER you teach what density is and how to calculate it, introduce another lab where students can actually measure the density of objects. I have a bunch of density labs available in my TpT store. Read through the descriptions and see which ones suit your fancy!
BEFORE you teach density lab options:
1. Density Column Lab- this lab is always a winner! Have students layer different liquids in a graduated cylinder and have them figure out why the liquids form layers and don't mix. You can also add objects to the cylinder and see which layer they settle in. Here is a video of this lab from Steve Spangler's sick science series.
2. Dancing Raisins Lab- Another fun hands on lab. Students will try and figure out why raisins "dance" (rise and fall) in a beaker of soda as the carbonated bubbles stick to the raisins.
3. Volume vs. Mass Lab- This lab is great for reinforcing measurement and graphing skills. It is similar to the density of water lab (listed below) but doesn't discuss density yet. Students will measure the mass of water in 10mL increments and graph their data. They will find out the density of water based on their best fit line.
AFTER you teach density lab options:
4. Density of Water Lab- Once students know the formula for density, have them figure out the density of water with this easy lab. Students will calculate the density of water at different volumes and learn that the density of water will always be 1 g/mL.
5. Density of Oil and Water Lab- I wrote this lab shortly after the BP oil spill in 2010. I love that students are able to relate density to a real world situation and discuss oil spills and clean up methods. In this lab students will observe how oil and water react when mixed and try different methods of absorbing the oil from their beaker.
6. Sink or Float Lab- In this lab, students will keep adding salt to a beaker of water and measure how much salt it takes to make a baby carrot float. Once they get the carrot to float, they will need to calculate the density of the salt-water solution. Don't forget to show students a picture of the Dead Sea!
And an extra freebie!
7. I used this colorful convection lab when I taught about heat transfer, but it also demonstrates density! You could easily adapt it to your density unit. Download it here for free!
Becca of Science Rocks
Hi, I'm Becca! I've been teaching science for 10 years at both the middle and high school levels.