Friday, September 29, 2017

Organelle Elections: A Cells Project

This school year has had a rough start. In the first 3 weeks of school, we had a three day week, a full week, and a 4 day week with a day off of school for local flooding. The next week, we had no school on Monday for Labor Day, school on Tuesday as usual, no school the rest of the week for hurricane Irma...and then 2 more weeks off for the hurricane. We are in the area that was hit most strongly by the hurricane, and many of our students (and faculty!) didn't get power back until last week or early this week, two weeks after the storm hit. 

With that said, getting back into the swing of things has been a rough adjustment. On the calendar, we're on week 7 of the school year, but in reality this is our second full week in the classroom, and our kids are 3 weeks behind already in classes that are important for end of course exams, so I knew I'd need to come up with some engaging lessons for our first week back. My freshman bio class was just beginning cell organelles before our break, so to get them pulled back into the class...I staged an election. A cell-ection, actually.

On the first day back after the break, we went back over the cell theory and developed timelines for cell theory. On the second day back, my freshmen worked in groups to complete a cell scavenger hunt around the school (more about that later). When they came into class on the third day, I announced that it was election week and that we'd be choosing a new cell organelle for president.

I split my students into random groups of threes (by asking them to line up around the room alphabetically by middle name without talking, then counting them off by threes- this is a great way to build some classroom community and problem-solving skills very quickly!). Each group was assigned one organelle. The bare minimum for the assignment was pretty simple: create a campaign poster for your cell organelle and create a "smear" campaign against 2-3 other cells. I told them that they'd have the full day in class and most of the next day in class to work on it, and we would have our big election at the end of class. I teach on a block schedule, so this gave them about 2.5 hours to work. Unfortunately, I somehow deleted the document with the instructions- but it was pretty basic, and I adapted it off of someone else's work, so I've added a picture here.

I did give a few extra stipulations. First, I asked students to come up with an original slogan- no altering other slogans. Additionally, their "smear campaigns" needed to be about the functions of the other organelles, and not personal or fictional attacks. Finally, I asked them to remember that cells run independently of the government, so please don't incorporate any current political events in your cell campaigns.

Students were instantly engaged. They started arguing about which organelles to run campaigns against, and the best part is that all of their arguments were science related! The cell wall and the cytoskeleton argued about who provided the best type of support. The nucleolus and nucleus entered into an alliance based on positions in the cell. One group made campaign stickers and passed them out to their classmates, while another group tried to bring in a bribe of candy for the class.
On the second day, my class was allowed to start putting up their campaign posters. My room was covered in posters, all focusing on cell organelles and their functions. I created little ballots but forgot to print them (another oops), so I just cut a brightly-colored sheet of paper into strips and had students write their name, the organelle that they had been campaigning as, and the organelle that they voted for. 

We tallied the votes as a class for maximum effect. Our winner was the cytoskeleton, and I'm sure that my students won't forget organelle structure and function any time soon!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Creating a Classroom Museum

Every year, one of my AICE classes tests at the end of April. This is sometimes a bit of an issue because students don't get out until the first week of June. Keeping students motivated for a week or two after testing is difficult, but keeping them motivated for over a month is nearly impossible. To combat that, I like to give my students a couple of longer or larger products on topics that they're really interested in. For our first big project in my marine science class this year, I created a "museum" activity that my students really loved.

I assigned partners and animals randomly- my classes are a pretty funny mix this year and that really helped stop the best friends from pairing up or the fighting over animals. Students got a sheet that listed the requirements of their museum exhibit:
1. A trifold exhibit board with information and pictures about their animals
2. A model showing a special anatomical characteristic of their animal
3. A hands-on activity relating to their animal
4. A notes sheet that other students could fill in based off of their board
5. A set of 2 scrapbook-style pages about their animal (we have a close association with a Montessori preschool in our town, so this scrapbook will be donated to them!)

Students were given a week to complete their exhibits- we are on a 4x4 block, so this was a total of 7.5 hours to work. I provided the exhibit boards, paper for the scrapbook pages, material to make self-drying salt clay for the models, and access to the multitudes of craft supplies I keep in my room. I personally think this project worked so well for a few reasons. First of all, our testing schedule is insane- between state tests, AICE tests, pre-AICE tests, and AP tests, we have at least 2 tests scheduled every day. Putting students in pairs and giving them a lot of time and components really let them be flexible around their test dates- one partner could work on the board or the model while the other was testing. The large variety in what they were doing helped appeal to all students, whether they were more research-minded or more creative.

I designated 2 days as "museum days". My classes that participated in this were my first and last blocks, which made this easy. The day before our first museum day, my last block class set their exhibits up at the end of the day, and the next morning my first block class set their exhibits up. I made copies of the student note pages in advance and put each set of notes in folders that I set up inside a file box. Students selected a note page, found the exhibit, filled out the notes/completed the activity, then wrote some quick notes evaluating the project on the back of their paper. When they were finished, they got another note sheet and repeated the process. Some of them chose to work individually, while others moved around in partners or groups of 3. After the museum days were over, students completed a short evaluation on their work and their partner's work and listed their top exhibits.

Some of the exhibits and activities that students came up with were really creative, and I've tried to include some of those pictures in this post. Some of my favorite activities included a velcro vocabulary matching activity on the blue whale group board and a lift-the-flap maze that had students encounter different dangers to baby sea turtles while they tried to make it safely to the ocean. The otter group created a larger-than-life model of an otter paw out of clay and fake fur. The stingrays, skates, and manta rays group included models of the tails of each type of animal. 

This activity was a great way to give my students an overview of a lot of small topics while also giving them the chance to dive more deeply into a specific topic (in this case, a specific marine animal). I'm eager to find more ways to use this structure!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My Favorite Self-Checking Review Activities

As we approach testing season every year, I start thinking about the ways that I can help my students review for their major tests- whether that is an AP/IB/AICE test, a state end of course exam, or just their finals in my classes. Over the past few years, I've tried many different strategies, but I always come back to the self-checking review strategies. These are great because students can see instantly whether they've completed an activity successfully! My favorite type of self-checking reviews are looping activities. Basically, students start with a card, chart, or task card that has a question and the answer to a different question. Once they think they've answered their question, they look through the other cards or charts to find the card that has their answer on it. If they can't find the answer, that means they did something wrong and they need to go back through their work. If they can find the answer, they start working on the question that is attached to that answer. If they've completed the loop correctly, they should end up back at their beginning card- if they don't, they've done something wrong and need to double-check their work. These activities are great because they allow students to be responsible for checking their own work. This gives you a chance to work with small groups or help students out independently, and also gives the students an opportunity to develop their self-reflective skills. Today, I'll be talking about my 3 favorite self-checking review opportunities: vocabulary stacks, dominoes, and scavenger hunts!

Vocabulary Stacks
A coworker introduced me to the idea of vocabulary stacks, and I am in love! Students start with a group of vocabulary cards laid out in front of them, vocabulary word up. Each word has the definition to a different term on the back. Students turn over one card, read the definition, and find the word that matches. They take that card and flip it over on top of their original definition, creating their "stack" and exposing a new definition. My kids enjoy these activities because they can see right away if they did something wrong- if they have a definition that they can't find a word for, that means they matched a word incorrectly earlier in the stack and they need to restart. As a teacher, it's easy to check because they should have a stack of cards on their table and the last definition should match a word that's face down on the table.

If you want to try a vocabulary stack activity, I have a FREE scientific method stack on my TPT store- click here to download it!

Scavenger Hunts
Scavenger hunt activities are an easy way to get students up and out of their seats to review. You hang a series of papers around the room that have a question and then an answer to a different question. Students start at one paper and read the question (in the case of the pictures below, they are trying to match the name of an acid to the formula of that acid). They look around the room to find the answer to that question. When they find the answer, they go to that paper and then try to answer the question that's there. They repeat this process until they end up at their original paper, completing the loop. I like to do this as a "lift the flap" activity. This prevents students from just sitting in their seats and looking around the room, and it also helps to reduce confusion between questions and answers, especially if the questions aren't written as typical questions.

I have a whole series of scavenger hunt activities here in my TPT store!


Domino activities are another great station activity. Each domino has a vocabulary word and a definition on it. When students have matched all of the vocabulary words with their definitions, the dominoes should connect in a loop. You can also do this with a "start" domino and an "end" domino instead of the loop. I love this because students have to think about multiple words and definitions at once.

I've included a FREE set of ecology vocabulary dominoes for you to use as a starting point- click here to access and print them on Google Drive!

I hope these activities give you a starting point to think about the self-review or looping activities you can use in your own classroom. In the comments below, let me know what your favorite type of review is!

Monday, March 27, 2017

3 Easy Ways to Stay Productive At School

Like many teachers, I have struggled in the past with staying productive at work. Whether you've been on your feet all day, you've had problems with student behavior, you've run a different lab in every class period, or you're just tired- teaching is a rough job, and there's a huge temptation to use your planning period as a rest time. You pick up your phone, open up your social media of choice, and before you know it, your planning time is up. You don't think much of it (after all, even teachers need a rest), until you're faced with a huge pile of work after school- and if you put it off that afternoon, you'll come in to a mess the next day.

I'm not going to lie, I am a huge procrastinator. But when I found myself staying late after school every single day and then staying up late trying to finish everything I hadn't finished at school, I knew something had to change. I made a conscious decision to use my time more wisely and put routines in place to help. While there are still days that I get distracted and spend part of my planning block scrolling through Facebook or watching cat videos on Youtube, I am much more productive than I used to be! Today, I'm sharing my top three ways to use your time at school more productively.

1. Make a schedule

The idea of having a schedule was huge for me. It helped me break the cycle of planning for the next day (or later that same day) every single day. I used to spend my planning time grading a few papers and maybe making copies for later that day or the next day, but I wasn't using my planning time for actually planning. This year, I set a specific task for each day during my prep period to make sure that I was planning for the the next week while also keeping up with my everyday tasks for the current week. My schedule is a little different this semester because I am not in my classroom during my prep (one of our traveling teachers uses it)- if I was in my room, I would devote one of these days to little classroom chores like tidying cabinets, putting away lab supplies, or replenishing student supply bins.

Here is my daily prep period schedule:
Monday: Sort out copies. I take the giant stack of copies that I made on Thursday and sort them by day and block into my filing system (which I will share in a future post).

Tuesday: Plan for my first prep for the following week. Instead of planning Monday to Friday, I actually plan Tuesday to the following Monday, which helps me feel more prepared on Monday mornings.

Wednesday: Plan for my second prep for the following week. One of my preps takes significantly less planning time than the other, so these sometimes overlap. As I prep, I take note of anything I don't have time to create or find right at that moment. Wednesdays are the one day that I allow myself to stay late, so that is when I will work on creating or finding those resources and printing them out.

Thursday: This is my copy day. I work at a small school and actually only share my prep with 2 other teachers, so there is rarely a rush on the copier and I can get everything for the next week copied easily.

Friday: This is my day to catch up on grading. I devote my entire prep to finishing any outstanding grading from the week and entering grades into the computer. I only have one class after my prep period and I can usually grade their assignments quickly after school, which means I don't have grading hanging over my head over the weekend.

2. Find your motivation

Finding something that will motivate you while you work is key to being productive. When I'm working in my room before or after school, I like to watch teacher vlogs or teaching videos on YouTube- I will project them onto my smartboard so I can move around the room and still be productive. If I'm particularly sleepy, I crank up the music while I work instead. If I'm working during my prep time, I will either listen to music or I'll watch Plan With Me videos on YouTube- it sounds a little ridiculous, but I feel guilty sitting and watching someone plan when I know that I should be planning as well. It serves as both background noise and motivation. I know some other teachers enjoy listening to podcasts or audiobooks, as well. Whatever it is, find something that you enjoy listening to or watching while you work.

3. Use a checklist to keep yourself accountable

In the past, I've tried to develop before school and after school routines and I've always failed because I would forget what I needed to do! Instead, I created a checklist that I can reference to make sure that I've completed my activities for the end of the day. I personally chose to add a few tasks that are important for me to complete every day and leave some extra blank lines. My checklist is laminated so I can check tasks off daily and if I come across something that needs to be done (for example, a form that needs to be turned into the office by the end of the day or a quiz that needs to be graded immediately so it can be returned the next day), I add it on one of the blank lines. When all of the tasks are finished, I know that I can use the extra time for grading or any other non-critical tasks, and when my contract time is up, I can leave without feeling like I'm neglecting any critical tasks!

As a thank you for reading my blog, I've attached a FREE copy of my blank after school checklist template to use in your own classroom or to serve as a springboard for your own productivity checklist. Do you have any productivity hacks of your own? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Biology Unit 1- Scientific Method Notebook Pages

One of the best decisions I've made in my teaching career was to start using interactive notebooks with my students. I've found that interactive notebooks are used in elementary science (where many of their activities are already cut-and-paste oriented) and in a lot of other subjects in secondary, but rarely in secondary science. I use notebooks for many of my classes, but I started with biology notebooks and they will always hold a place in my heart! I thought it might be fun to post the pages I used in my biology notebooks this year. For a bit of reference, I am a teacher in Florida, where our students take an end-of-course (EOC) exam in biology. We're on a 4x4 schedule, so I see my students for an hour and a half every day for one semester before classes switch. We have a ton of information to get through in that first semester to prepare students for testing!

Our first unit is always on the Scientific Method. We don't spend much time on it, usually only a few days, because I try to incorporate as much practice as we can throughout our other units, but it is important that they know the basics of the scientific method, graphing, and the difference between a theory and a law.

We start each unit with a title page for that unit. This template is from Math=Love- I like it because it's simple and easy for students to use! Students must fill in every page title but I allow them to pick the title that makes the most sense- you can see that they sometimes make some strange choices!

I always start the year out with an interactive activity that allows students to see the importance of an aspect of science- this year, we started with a lab on the importance of writing procedures. For this, we used a free activity from Amy Brown Science- I printed out her worksheets and put them in a page protector, then had students write their steps and answer their questions inside this booklet (the inside was blank).

On the next page, students took notes about the scientific method based off of a Powerpoint- I found these online somewhere. This is definitely not my favorite way of taking notes, but I had an out of school PD sprung on me at the last minute and figured this was the easiest option for the coworker that was covering for me!

Next, we took notes on observations and inferences and students worked through an observations and inferences stations activity- we took notes off of a quick PowerPoint then they rotated through the stations and completed the activities. This activity is available in my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Next, we completed a quick review of the scientific method and students created their own comic strip showing an example of using the scientific method in real life. This is something that I would like to refine for next year- I feel like I default to this every year but I'm never very happy with it! I pre-printed a comic strip template that I found through a quick Google search.

We moved into characteristics of science by working through this CONPTT foldable. After the foldable, students worked on sorting a variety of scenarios into "science" and "not science" based on these characteristics. 

We moved into covering the difference between scientific theories and scientific laws. Students created a pocket that they wrote their notes on. We completed a lab from Sunrise Science and students stored their lab reports inside the pocket.

Next, we moved on to my biggest nemesis as a teacher- graphing! It seems like students never fully "get" graphing, no matter how much we practice. I've started incorporating more graphing in other units instead of spending so much time at the beginning of the course. This year, I just gave them a quick mnemonic, my favorite for teaching graphing, and we did a booklet with 4 different types of graphs that students had to draw correctly. 

Our last part of the scientific method unit is talking about variables. We started by completing a quick foldable going over the meanings of independent variables, dependent variables, controls, and constants.

Finally, we finished the unit with a cut and past activity that incorporated all of the things we'd already worked on. This foldable was based off of a scenario I found in another worksheet. When students lift the scenario flap, there are a number of vocabulary words that we'd covered (for example: observation, hypothesis, dependent variable, etc). They had to determine what part of the scenario fit that word and glue it on the left, then find the definition of the word and glue it on the right. Students seemed to really enjoy this activity and it was a quick and easy way for me to see what they'd learned!

That's it! While I have never been truly happy with our scientific method unit, it serves as a good general overview of a lot of different topics and gives us a base to build on for the rest of the year! If you have any other activities that you like to use, let me know in the comments!