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:
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:
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!
Are you tired of hearing the following questions 10 times a day:
"What did we do yesterday?"
"Was there homework?"
"I lost my paper. Can I have a new one?"
"What are we doing today? Anything FUN?"
"Where do I turn this in?
I know I was. Want to save your sanity? I cannot express to you how important it is to establish routines in your classroom. If you train students the first couple of weeks you will be so grateful later. I've established routines so my students know exactly what to do when they enter the classroom, know where to get missing work, and see what we are doing that day. After a couple of weeks if a student comes up to me and says "where is the worksheet from yesterday?" other students almost instantaneously respond so I don't have to deal with it. Here are a couple of the things I have done in my classroom to save my sanity:
1. As soon as students walk into my classroom, they automatically grab whatever worksheet is in the basket by the door. The first week or two I have to stand by the door and remind them, but after that it is just habit for them to reach over and grab the worksheet. It saves me time later so I don't have to pass out the notes, bellwork form, or worksheet for that day. It is also really nice when you have a sub, because it is one less paper they have to worry about.
2. I was so crazy tired of hearing "What are we doing today? Are we going to do anything FUN?" (Really? Science is always fun). Anyway, I had my sister who has a cricut machine cut out these vinyl letters for my whiteboard. As soon as students come into the classroom they know to get out their bellwork form, write down the daily objective and homework, and have 5 minutes to complete the bellwork on the board. Those 5 minutes are time for me to take attendance, check any urgent emails, and often get lab supplies ready for the next period. In my class students pick up a bellwork form (by the door!) every Monday and turn it in every Friday. So if a student ever says "what are we doing today?" all you have to do is point to the board.
3. If you had students that were absent the day before, do they know where to get their missing assignment? (Hint: The answer should NOT be they have to come bother you to get it). I have a crate in the back of the room for all extra worksheets. There are 5 file folders in the crate, labeled Monday - Friday. If a student was absent on a Tuesday, they know to go to the Tuesday folder and grab whatever papers are in there. Also, if a student wasn't absent but lost an assignment in the depths of their backpack, they know they can find extras in the orange crate.
4. Do your students know where to turn in papers? Whether you use small trays or file folders like I do, it is nice if students know exactly where to turn in papers. I have another milk crate at the front of the room that has file folders labeled with each period of the day. I also have a folder in the very back for no-names, so if students have a missing assignment they know they turned in, they can check the no-name folder. (FYI: Walmart carries these milk crates for very cheap during back to school season!)
5. I don't personally use this last tip, but I know teachers that do and really like it. When students ask "what did we do yesterday?" I usually have them check their neighbor's bellwork form and copy down the objective. But another option is to have a calendar posted in the front of your room and jot down what you taught that day. If you laminate the calendar you can write directly on it with expo markers, but if it's not laminated you can use sticky notes instead.
Overall having set routines will get your classroom running smoother. Ever notice that in many IEP's it has routines listed as an accommodation? It is so much easier to start class when students know exactly what to do. Any other tips you want to share? Leave them in the comments!
Why I don't teach lab safety the first week of school... and other back to school science teacher tips
It's almost time for me to start planning out my first week of school (yes it's crazy, I go back end of July). When I first started teaching, I spent the first week reviewing the syllabus, class rules, and (duh duh duh duhhhhh) spent time reviewing all the lab safety procedures. It just felt like the responsible science teacher thing to do. What I soon realized is the students were just plain bored... or nervous about finding their next class.... or thinking about who has the same lunch period as them... but they were NOT memorizing all those nice lab safety rules I was so carefully explaining. They are also reviewing rules in almost every other class and the chances of them remembering what you said those first few days are slim. So I decided to throw the "let's front-load all the rules that they will forget anyway" out the window and find more exciting activities for that first week.
I know some of you science teachers reading this are thinking "But I have to review rules the first week, because they need to sign a lab safety contract!" Yes, they do. (And if you don't have one handy, I recommend Flinn Science's contracts which you can download free here.) But is it really necessary the first few days? Here is my main argument on why you are wasting your time: Why are you teaching students to wear goggles and keep scalpels pointed down during dissections if you aren't actually getting to the dissection until April? Or why are you teaching them the proper way to carry and store a microscope when the microscopes don't come out of the cupboard until your cells unit in December? Students will just forget, and you will have to review the rules all over again anyway. Instead, wait until you get to the lab and then review the necessary rules. As far as the contract goes, have students read through it during class or at home with a parent and sign it. If they have any questions feel free to discuss them, but don't waste too much time on it. Here are a few ideas to do instead:
As much as we would love to have our lessons end 30 seconds before the bell rings, it rarely happens. Even if it does work out perfectly in 1st hour, 2nd hour is a completely different group of students and the lesson might require more or less time. It sometimes happens that the lesson is over and I still have 5 minutes left of class. It drives me crazy when students try and wait by the door! If you are a science teacher, here is a great idea to fill those last 5 minutes.
There is a show on science channel called Outrageous Acts of Science. During the show they show video clips and have scientists explain the science behind the video. The videos are all about 2 minutes long and fun for students to watch. Go to youtube.com and type in "Outrageous Acts of Science" in the search bar. You will get a ton of results. Pick out a few that are interesting. Then, head over to keepvid.com and copy the youtube URL into the keepvid site. I like this website because it allows you to download youtube videos and save them to your computer. That way you don't have to worry about commercials or streaming/buffering issues.
Another fun youtube channel is from Steve Spangler and is called "Sick Science." Click here to view the youtube channel. It shows simple science experiments and allows the students to brainstorm why they happened. It is great to have students discuss why they think something is happening and not just have it explained to them.
If you have some of these videos already picked out and ready to go, it will save you time later. I think you will find these clips are way more valuable than the students trying to sit on their phones or wait by the door. Any other ideas you use for those last 5 minutes? Drop them in the comments!
Whew! You made it to the end of the year! (insert happy dance here). The last week of school all most teachers have on their mind is posting grades and summer vacation. Buutttttt….. I’m here to give you a few tips on things you can do NOW to make your job easier in August. Those few days you have before school starts are precious, and you know most of it will be taken up by PD and meetings. The line at the copy center is huge. You have to make new seating charts and print new IEP's. The list goes on and on. So here are a few end of the year tips that will hopefully make your life easier when it is time to go back to school.
I saw this meme from @tessthekraftyteacher on Instagram and thought it was hilarious! (I've been totally guilty of this). Don't waste your summer trying to get into your classroom early and get organized. Do it now! Any other end of the year tips? Share them with others by dropping them in the comments.
It's April. Sigh. If you live in the US, you are likely experiencing testing season. Between ACT, SAT, and state exams, it seems like the entire month is taken. Kids are burned out and teachers just want to start teaching again. Students have to be quiet when they finish testing which can be a struggle no matter which age group you teach. If your school is like mine, students aren't allowed to be anywhere near their phones when they are done testing. As much as I would love to see them whip out their favorite book, the last thing many of them want to do is read when they just finished a 3 hour test. Here are some ideas to keep them quiet until everyone else is finished testing:
1. Print out sudoku pages. The first few times I did this I realized many students had never done a sudoku puzzle before, so you might need to teach them. But your left-brained students will have fun working on them! You can print them for free by clicking here.
2. Word Searches- Check out this website where you can print pre-made word searches or even create your own.
3. Coloring Pages- This is my personal favorite stress-relief activity. I love printing out Mandala images and letting my creativity run wild. You can find free ones here, or I've even seen books of them at the dollar store. You can just buy a book and make copies for your students.
4. Extreme Dot-to-Dot- These will take your students quite a bit of time! Unfortunately I haven't found free ones online that are very good, but the books are inexpensive on amazon's website (just search for extreme dot to dot). I have one that I make copies from and the kids love figuring out what the image is.
5. ABC Books- I know this sounds a little elementary, but middle school students enjoy it. Give students 14 pages of paper, have them fold in half, and staple on the edge like a book. Have them write one letter of the alphabet on each page. Then, they have to choose a vocabulary word that is specific to your content area, write the definition, and make a picture. Since I teach science, they might choose acid for A, biotic for B, catalyst for C, etc. It is a great way to brush up on vocabulary from the year.
6. Write a thank-you note- Since teacher appreciation day is coming up, sometimes I have my students pick their favorite teacher at school and write them a thank you note. Then I have the notes delivered on teacher appreciation day. It will truly brighten those teacher's day to read them!
7. Hidden Pictures- Remember the hidden pictures in the highlights magazines when you were little? Well you can print them! Head over to highlights website and print off a few. Are they intended for little kids? Yes. Will your secondary students still love them? Yes.
8. Crossword Puzzles- Here is a website that has pre-made puzzles, or check out this site where you can make your own.
9. Metal Mind Teasers- This one isn't my favorite only because it makes a little noise. If you head to a local dollar store, you will probably find the little metal puzzles that students have to separate by twisting and turning the pieces. Some students manage to do them quietly, but a few like to make it an ordeal, so be careful on who you hand them to.
And last but not least.....
10. Sleep- If your school allows it, let that tired kid put their head down. Seriously. Studies show that teenagers don't get nearly as much sleep as they should. After a 3 hour test, let that brain rest.
Any other fun ideas to keep kids quiet after testing? Drop them in the comments!
I love when I find a new website or online activity I want my students to try. Our students are growing up in a technology reliant generation, and as teachers we need to tap into their interests and strengths. But every time I go to the computer lab, it seems like some kids whiz through the activity I want them to complete, and other students are constantly calling me over for help and don't finish by the time the bell rings. The students that finish early inevitably end up on facebook or youtube as soon as your back is turned.
Becca of Science Rocks
Hi, I'm Becca! I've been teaching science for 10 years at both the middle and high school levels.