Teaching English language learner (ELL) students is not for the faint of heart. In my teaching career, I have always had ELL students trickled throughout my classes. This year is the first year that I have had a biology class made up of entirely all ELL students. They vary in their English speaking abilities; some can speak it decently well and others moved here from Mexico only a few months ago. My main focus had to shift from being a biology teacher to being an English teacher and sprinkle in some fun science content. It has been really fun to work with them, giggle with them as they use English phrases incorrectly, and hear them giggle at me as I try and speak Spanish.
I had a humbling experience today in class that reminded me of a previous experience that happened a few years ago. This year since I have all my ELL students together, I’ve often used google translate to translate some of the vocabulary so they can read the definitions in both English and Spanish. I usually try and ask the Spanish teacher next door to proofread the Spanish and make sure it’s grammatically correct. This can be tricky in science, especially when words like “organic” mean very different things if you are in chemistry class opposed to biology class. Today I didn’t have time to get my notes proofread so I just crossed my fingers and went with it. As we were taking notes, I asked one of my students if the Spanish translation made sense. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: “Does that translation made sense? Is it correct?”
Student: “I don’t know, I don’t read Spanish very good.”
Me: “You can speak it but not read it? Didn’t you learn to read Spanish when you were little?”
Me: “When your parents started teaching you to read, didn’t you use books that were in Spanish?”
Student: “I didn’t learn to read until I was in kindergarten.”
Me: “Ok, well don’t you have Spanish books around the house that you’ve read as you’ve gotten older?”
Student: “The only book in the house is the bible.”
It made me sad to think these students didn’t read at home with their parents growing up. I remember looking forward to bedtime so I could read Junie B. Jones with my Mom. Books were all over the house, something I took for granted. Let me be clear- I’m not in any way suggesting these parents failed their child in some way by not reading with them. Many parents are just doing the best they can to get food on the table. Today’s experience reminded me of something that happened in my first few years of teaching middle school. We were finishing up our body systems unit and I was going to do a frog dissection with my 6th graders. I had permission slips sent home in both English and Spanish, since some parents opt out of having their child dissect for personal or religious reasons. Picture a very tired and cranky teacher at the end of the week, trying to collect 150 permission slips. I was calling on students that still hadn’t returned their forms and got to one particular student… let’s call him Jason.
Me: “Jason, do you have your permission slip?”
Me: (getting frustrated) “You’ve had a week! I really need it returned.”
Jason: “My Mom can’t read it.”
Me: (starting to raise my voice) “I sent it home in both English AND Spanish!”
Jason: (practically yelling) “MY MOM CAN’T READ!”
Now picture that tired and cranky teacher looking like she got slapped in the face. I wanted to sit down at my desk, cover my face and cry. I felt like the most insensitive teacher in the world. My heart broke for this kid. I didn’t just feel bad because I had lost patience, but because at such a young age he would have the responsibility for helping his parents read and fill out important paperwork. His 7 years of education was probably more than his parents had completed. It made me look at my job in a whole new light. It also made me so grateful for the education I was given. I’m so glad I remembered that experience today.
So to all you ELL teachers out there, remember- YOU MATTER! When you are having days where you feel like your students aren’t learning English as fast as they should, remember that they might not have had the same opportunities you had. They are doing the best they can. You have a hard but rewarding job and are making a huge difference in their life. 10 years from now those students might not remember that one awesome lab you did, but they will remember the kind teacher who for an entire year helped them learn English.
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!
Do you have some awesome coworkers? I do. My students have been preparing for a debate on GMO's that was going to take place after school. We needed judges that would be willing to stay late and score them on their performance. We got 3 volunteers without hesitation that were willing to stay at school until 8pm... That's a 13 hour work day! Anyway, I made this little printable that I taped around a box of Andes mints to give to each of the judges. It wasn't expensive and a little gesture goes a long way! Make someone's day and download it for free by clicking on the link below!
Have you heard these statements before?
"Why are we doing writing, this isn't English class!"
"Why are we doing math, this isn't math class!"
Believe it or not, in science class we integrate almost all of the content areas. The key to this integration is making the learning interesting so you don't hear the complaints. This year I am teaching a biology class of all English language learner students. I not only have to worry about teaching the students science concepts and vocabulary, but also getting them to read and write proficiently so they can pass the state language exam. It's a lot of pressure! I decided one way to get students to write more in my class was to give them fun writing prompts. I came up with 10 prompts per quarter, and would assign them periodically for homework the night BEFORE the concept was taught. Why before? I didn't want to read regurgitated class notes. I really wanted the students to think critically about the science concept and be able to assess their background knowledge. I gave students a grade for completing the homework assignment, but didn't grade them on the accuracy of the content knowledge. It is also a great way to uncover misconceptions and address them throughout the lesson. As I started using these prompts I saw my student's writing skills improve and vocabulary increase.
I not only created writing prompts for biology, but for many science content areas. Check out a freebie from each content area before you buy!
Every teacher has that one unit they don't like to teach. For me, it was cells. Having taught every grade from 6th to 12th, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried, the same thing happened every year. I taught organelles, students memorized them for a test, and then completely forgot about them. Later when I taught mitosis and would ask "Hey, remember centrioles?" I would get blank stares. But what was even more frustrating was the fact that students just didn't get how organelles worked together. I tried everything I found on the internet. I tried the "cell is like a factory" analogies. I tried to have students make cell models out of clay or food. I had them make posters. I even had them write me a "tour through the cell" book (inspired by the magic school bus). And guess what? None of it really worked. Sure, students would come in with really cool jello models and beatiful posters, but if I asked "How do the endoplasmic reticulum and golgi work together?"..... more blank stares.
After 9 years of teaching cells, I was ready to cry. Then one day I was venting to a professor at a local university and he said he had his students group their flashcards together and lay them out like dominoes. Inspiration hit! Why couldn't I have my students link them together like puzzle pieces? I immediately got to work.
I made a list of all the organelles my students needed to know. I decided to make 2 versions of the activity since I teach multiple levels of biology. In the first version (picture on left), I linked two organelles together, and students would have to write out the relationship between them on the connecting puzzle piece. To make it harder for my honors students, I would have them figure out which organelles go together on their own (picture on right).
For the second version, I had students lay them out on butcher paper and connect as many puzzle pieces as possible. They called me over to check before gluing. What was great about this activity was that every group had a different final product, but all of them had correct answers. By the end of the activity (it took them 2 class periods) they had a much greater understanding of which organelles worked directly together and why. (Insert happy dance here). Students also took pictures of their posters and used them as a study tool before the test. So if you were as frustrated as me, kiss your cell factory goodbye and check out my lesson plan HERE.
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.
Hi everyone! Last year I did a 5 day of holiday cheer celebration, and it was a hit. I'm happy to announce it's back! Each day from 12/12 - 12/16 I will have a different promotion running in my TpT store. Check them out below:
On day 4, if you purchase an item from my TpT store, you can pick out another item of equal or lesser value free! All you have to do is email me your name, what you purchased, and what you would like free and I'll send it over!
On day 5, be sure to check back here to get the link for a free mega bundle from top TpT science sellers! It won't be available for long, so set a reminder on your phone! You won't want to miss out.
Wishing you a happy holiday season, and a relaxing break from your classroom!
Lately there is a big push for STEM in the classroom. Data has projected that STEM related jobs will increase to 9 million by the year 2022 (www.bls.gov). As teachers we need to not just teach science, but let students truly experience it first hand.
Every year when I teach cells, students do a good job memorizing what the organelles do but have a hard time understanding how the organelles actually work together. I wanted my students to really visualize cell processes and how the cell functions as a whole. I came across a website from MIT that allowed students to create animated videos. I decided I was going to have my students create a video for a specific cellular process. This project can be scary for many students that aren't tech-saavy (although most students are better with technology than we are!) To ease their minds, I let students work in pairs- one student could do a lot of the research and the other student could do more of the video building. Next I came up with a list of 15 different cellular processes (endocytosis, mitosis, DNA replication, etc.) that they could pick from. I have class sizes around 30 students so each group had a different topic for their video. This project could be used for any topic, not just cells!
Here are a few tips that will make the project run smoother:
1. Before you assign the project, play around with the website yourself. It was also helpful for me to watch youtube tutorials (like the one HERE) as I was learning. If you are familiar with the website then it is easier for you to help students when they hit road blocks... which they will.
2. Students will need to create a login for their video. I told students to use their school ID number as their login and their school password. Many students have multiple usernames for their emails and social media accounts, so I didn't want them to forget their login. Also, when students shared their videos with me I could see whose video it was based on their ID number.
3. Before students begin, have them map out what they want their video to look like. I gave them a storyboard timeline worksheet (see image 2 below) and made them draw out their cellular process and write captions. I had to check and approve their worksheet before they could begin working on the video. It was a good way to check in with them and give them feedback to ensure they weren't missing anything.
4. Allow students to look around at videos that are already made. On the scratch homepage you can search for videos that other people have shared. If you find a video you like, you can click See Inside (see image 3 below) and see how they actually built the video. I made it clear that students could only look there for ideas, but couldn't copy what other people made.
5. It will take time, and get ready for the whining. If I had a dollar for every time I heard "can't we just make a powerpoint instead?" I would be going to a steakhouse for dinner tonight courtesy of my students. One student even said "Come on Mrs, we've been making powerpoints since we came out of the womb!" That is exactly why I didn't let them make a powerpoint. In the end (I gave them a week), they came up with some awesome videos. The great thing about this site is they don't have to be at school to work on it, just anywhere with an internet connection. If they don't finish in the assigned class time, they can work on it at home.
6. Chances are you will have a group or two that just can't figure out the website and how to make things move and work. As a last resort for these groups, I showed them how to make it "powerpoint-like." When you click on the "backdrops" tab, you can create multiple backdrops, which is essentially like powerpoint slides (see image 4 below). Then all they have to do is add a script that when the space bar is clicked, it moves to the next backdrop.
7. When students are finished, they need to click SHARE before the video goes live (see image 5 below). Once they clicked share, I had them copy and paste the URL into an email and send it to me for grading. I made it clear to students that the majority of their grade would be based on the video content, not the animations. For example, if the mitosis group had awesome visuals but forgot to tell me about what mitosis is, why cells divide, and which cells undergo mitosis then they wouldn't get a great grade. That lowered the stress level for students who struggled with the animations.
Even though both teacher and student felt frustration at times, I'm so glad I had my students create these videos. Below is a sample from one of my students. Enjoy!
This lab is one of my top sellers in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It is easy to set up and doesn't require a lot of materials. However, I frequently get questions about the lab so I'm hoping this blog post will be useful to those teachers out there who about to set up this lab.
In this lab, students will be testing whether or not aquatic plants do photosynthesis in the dark or light, and also testing if they do cellular respiration during the dark or light. The plant I usually use for this experiment is called elodea, which is available at any local pet store in the fish area. One nugget of information you will need to know- pet stores call it anacharis, not elodea. It is usually sold in bunches of 4-5 stems for a few bucks. Two big bunches should get you through the day. If they don't have elodea, any other aquatic fish tank plant will work fine, but make sure it is a tall skinny plant that will fit down into your test tubes.
One reason this lab is great is because it can be used in multiple places in your curriculum:
~ Cells unit: When you are teaching cells, chances are you will be talking about chloroplasts and mitochondria. Along with these organelles you will be discussing photosynthesis and cellular respiration. This lab fits in great because it shows that plants not only do photosynthesis, but cellular respiration as well.
~ Ecology unit: During my ecology unit, we cover the 3 major biogeochemical cycles (water, carbon, and nitrogen). What better way to talk about the carbon cycle than to demonstrate the relationship between plants, animals, and gas exchange?
A little background....
This lab uses the chemical bromothymol blue. This chemical is used as a pH indicator. When the pH is above a 7 (basic) it is blue, but when the pH drops below 7 (acidic) it starts to turn yellow.
Image below is courtesy PureySmart on Wikimedia Commons.
Before beginning the lab, I like to demonstrate to the students how bromothymol blue works. I get 2 erlenmeyer flasks (beakers will work just fine too) and fill them 3/4 of the way full with water. Add enough bromothymol blue for the water to be visibly blue. (In a beaker of 200mL of water, I add about 4mL of bromothymol blue). Call up a student, and have them blow through a straw into the beaker. As they blow (it will take 3-4 big breaths) the water will slowly change from blue to yellow. This is because when the carbon dioxide in our breath reacts with the water it forms carbonic acid, lowering the pH.
Inquiry, Inquiry, Inquiry
When I do this lab, I do not tell students how to set up the experiment. I split the class into lab groups, and assign each group one of the following questions:
1. Do plants to photosynthesis in the dark?
2. Do plants do photosynthesis in the light?
3. Do plants do cellular respiration in the dark?
4. Do plants do cellular respiration in the light?
Obviously the group that gets assigned "do plants do photosynthesis in the light" will know the answer, but they will still have to set up a controlled experiment that can demonstrate it. I give each group a big white board and have them set it up like the image below. They will have to fill it out based on the specific question they are assigned. If you don't have whiteboards, butcher paper works great too. Students will know what materials they have to work with because they are listed on their lab worksheet (available in my TpT store).
As we walk around the room and discuss experimental design, students will begin to see that each group will set up their test tubes the same way, the only difference being if their tubes get left in the light or wrapped in foil and put in the dark for 24 hours.
Two notes: I get asked how much bromothymol blue to add to the test tubes. I have each group add 1mL to each tube. If you would like to add more or less that is fine, as they add the same amount to each test tube for consistency. Also- make sure to fill the test tubes to the top and cap them tightly, or use parafilm to cover the tops. We want the gas to stay in the water, not escape.
When students come in the following day they will pick up their test tube rack and fill out their data tables on what happened. They will see that the elodea did photosynthesis in the light, and cellular respiration in the dark.** (see note below)
**One thing you will have to discuss with your students: Plants are doing cellular respiration in the day time as well, but since photosynthesis is also occurring the indicator stayed blue.
A great extension activity is to add aquatic animals to this experiment and see how the added respiration affects the color change. If you can get your hands on some small snails, they will fit great into the test tubes. I had trouble finding snails in Arizona, so I went to my local pet store and picked up two feeder goldfish. I filled up two large erlenmeyer flasks with water and bromothymol blue, and turned one yellow. I added elodea and a goldfish to each flask. Next, I asked my students what will happen when we leave these in the light for 24 hours. The next day we came in and saw both flasks were a shade of bluish green (somewhere in the middle of where the two flasks began). If you don't add a ton of bromothymol blue, and only leave the fish in for 24 hours the fish will not be harmed.
Hopefully you are ready to start this experiment! If you have any questions, drop them in the comments below!
Need a great inquiry lab? This soda lab is FUN! And I know what you are thinking.... "what a mess it must be!" But I've done this lab multiple times, and never had a spill. Students will get 3 types of soda, and will measure which brand has the greatest amount of carbonation. The best part of this activity is there are 4 different versions included- you can choose which you think is best for your students.
~ EASY~ Great for lower grade levels. Students pour the soda into a cup, and measure the amount of time it continues to bubble.
~ MEDIUM~ (Pictured bottom left) Students cover the top of the bottle with a balloon. After shaking the balloon covered bottle, students will measure the diameter of the balloon with a string.
~ HARD~ (Pictured bottom right) Students will measure the amount of carbonation by putting a tube into the bottle, and catching the gas that escapes into a graduated cylinder. This is the most accurate way to measure the carbonation. I used a tube that was from a fish tank bubbler.
~ EXPERT~ Students will come up with their own experimental design (They may come up with one of the other three ideas already discussed). Great for inquiry, collaboration, and practice writing procedures.
To save money on this lab I buy the smaller bottles of soda, and usually snag them when they are on sale, even if I'm not doing this experiment right away. I love that this lab is a great time to review the scientific method, experimental design, and discuss variables such as temperature, rate of shaking, and other factors that could impact the results. This is a great lab for days before holidays or testing days when the kids are antsy. They will have a blast! Interested? Check it out in my TpT store HERE!
Becca of Science Rocks
Hi, I'm Becca! I've been teaching science for 10 years at both the middle and high school levels.