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!
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.
There is a lot of hate in our world today, and many of feelings and situations can manifest themselves in our classrooms. It can seem hard to combat at times. This past year at my high school was rough. I won't go into detail, but after multiple tragic events parents were scared to send their kids to school. As teachers we had to make sure our classrooms felt like a safe and inviting place to be. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. First, don't be afraid to have the hard conversations. I couldn't get caught up in the fact that I was falling behind in my curriculum, and absences were through the roof. It wouldn't do me any good to keep on teaching without taking a time out and discussing what was going on with my students. They want to know that you understand what they are going through, and that we were going to all get through it together.
Another thing that I have found to be helpful is to find a service related project that all the students can rally behind. As students work together on a project that is meaningful to them, they will be strengthening relationships between their peers and building a classroom community. I was inspired by the Mr. Rodgers quote that I kept seeing on Facebook: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my Mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." I wanted to find a way for my students to feel like the helpers and not the victims. One project that I'm going to have my students work on next year is centered around the website water.org. They are a non-profit organization that helps bring clean water and sanitation to people in countries that are in desperate need. I'm having my students get into groups and create a fundraising proposal on how they would like to raise money that can be donated to water.org. They will have to come up with an idea that is feasible (for example, they can't decide to sell t-shirts when we don't have the money to get them made in the first place). Classes will vote on the best proposal and then put it into action. Check out the lesson plan I have created for FREE available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
How often do you communicate with the parents of your students? It can seem overwhelming to make contact with parents all the time, especially as secondary teachers. We have 5 times the amount of students as elementary, and we can't stick a newsletter in their backpacks in the hopes that Mom or Dad will find it. My first year teaching high school I taught squirrely freshman, and it seemed like I was on the phone every day for an hour after school contacting parents. That got tiresome really quick! Over the years I've found quick and easy ways to communicate with parents that won't keep you at school an extra hour.
1. Interactive Notebooks- Many teachers are already using interactive notebooks in their classes. Students put a lot of time and effort into those notebooks, so why not make sure parents are checking in on their work! Each quarter give your students a page to glue in for parent checks. It could be a simple chart (see pictured) that allows parents to sign off and leave a comment if they wish. It is a great way for parents to start a conversation with their child about what they are learning in class.
2. Remind (Formerly known as Remind 101)- This free website has been my #1 form of communication with students and parents. This is a website that allows you to send announcements and reminders to students and parents phones. You can use the website, but I prefer the app on my phone, as I can send reminders wherever I am. The reminders show up as a text message, but the beauty of this site is I can’t see the student’s phone numbers, and they can’t see mine (it shows up as a random telephone number). Big test tomorrow? Remind students what they need to study for. Field trip tomorrow? Remind students what they need to bring. It’s literally as quick as sending a text message. New this year is a chat feature, which allows students and parents to respond to your messages and chat back and forth.
When I create new classes each year, I create a class titled “parents” and a class titled “students” so way I can differentiate my messages. When you create the classes it will give them a unique code they use when they sign up. I have the codes ready on a flier to hand out at open house. I also have the codes listed on my classroom website (more on this in a minute) so if you missed open house, you can still get the code. Parents love to be “in the know” of what is going on at school, and this day in age people always have their phone by them. It’s a win-win!
3. Class Website- Many district websites have teacher pages that teachers can post to. The question is- how effectively are you using it? A few things to add to your website make it effective- a calendar with important due dates, links to important resources (such as an online textbook and internet tutorials), codes for your Remind account, and anything else that will help students be successful in your class. On my calendar I post what we did in class every day. It took a while for me to get into the habit, but once I did it only takes a minute or two to update. If a student is absent or a parent wants to know what we are learning about, all they have to do is check the calendar. I know teachers that post their power points and even answer keys to assignments on their calendars. Be careful that you aren’t posting anything that is copyrighted, as you can get hit with fines.
4. Grade Checks- As technology advances, it is getting more and more common for districts to use grade books that parents can check online. Make sure the link to the grade book website is visible on your webpage. If parents don’t have internet access, another great method of making sure parents see grades is by requiring a parent signature on their progress reports. Yes you will get a few forgeries, but for the most part students will get them signed. When I first started teaching I used to only require my D and F students to get signatures. I changed that for two reasons- first, it was a headache to keep track of who required a signature and who didn’t. Second, it is good for the A and B students to get some recognition for their hard work. One of my colleagues even writes notes on them, like “Sarah is doing awesome in class, and deserves those new shoes she was asking for.” The kids feel special, and parents appreciate getting positive notes, not just negative ones.
5. Emails- I know what you are thinking; I promised quick forms of communication at the beginning of this blog post. Don’t you worry- this won’t take you long. Back to my squirrely freshman…. I had many students that constantly got calls and emails home for their negative behavior. Those calls aren’t fun for the teacher, student or parent. They are a total downer. So why don’t you send an email home for the times they have good behavior? This is what I did to save time: open up Microsoft word. Next, type up a generic note to parents that you could use for multiple students. Something like “I just wanted to let you know that Tommy did awesome today in biology class! He was on task and got all his work completed. I would love it for you to recognize his good behavior! I appreciate all your efforts at home that help make him successful at school.” Now click save. You can copy and paste this into an email and change the name out for different students. I had 5 or 6 different ones that I could select based on the student and situation. Let me tell you- when a typically rowdy student gets positive praise sent home, they will start to work wonders for you! Students were happy, parents were happy, and teacher was happy. Try it. It’s worth the 5 minutes it takes to send that email.
What other ways to you communicate with parents? Leave a note in the comments!
This post is also featured on the TpT blog!
Becca of Science Rocks
Hi, I'm Becca! I've been teaching science for 10 years at both the middle and high school levels.