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!