Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Planting Science

Ok I am long overdue to post about one of my favorite biology programs! Just to put it out there upfront the program is totally free (except your lab materials of course). The summer after my second year teaching I was searching for summer professional development institutes. I stumbled upon the PlantingScience website and learned about a summer institute they were holding at Texas A&M. Knowing barely anything about the program other than it was about plant biology and the summer institute was all expenses paid I sent in an application and to my surprise was accepted. I spent 10 days in hot, humid Texas with a group of high school and middle school teachers, plant biologists, faculty from TAMU, and faculty from the Botanical Society of America. It was AMAZING! I learned so much in those 10 days about plant biology and using inquiry and authentic research in the classroom, it really did transform the way that I teach my biology class now!

So a little about the program. PlantingScience matches up student research groups with mentors who are plant biologists. As the teacher I select a module that I want to participate in and register for either the fall or spring session. I facilitate the learning in my classroom and provide opportunities for my students to access the internet to communicate with the mentors and other student groups about the process. Each group has a webpage that they maintain where the post their research questions, predictions, experiemental design, results, etc. There is also an area to post comments. Check out some sample student projects here.

Last year my students participated in The Power of Sunlight an inquiry into photosynthesis. The lab work was pretty straight forward and students came up with good scientific questions to test. They were able to discuss the development of their questions with the mentors, problem solve with them while collecting data, and get their input as they worked to analyze data and draw conclusions. At the end of the project students created power point presentations which were posted to their pages and shared with the whole class. This year my classes are doing one of the modules still in field testing which focuses on C-Fern life cycles. We are just starting this this week and hopefully will be online for the first time tomorrow.

In addition to using these two modules as the full online inquiry experience I also have used the celery challenge (also in field testing but one we worked on while in Texas). This I have used at the start of the semester. We are learning about cell structure and function then but also just beginning to develop scientific inquiry skills. It gives me a good first impression of where the students are at and what they need to work on in terms of thinking like a scientist. At the end of this project students made tri-fold poster boards that were fantastic! I have done this two years in a row and it has been a big hit with the students and a great learning experience in my opinion.

 Above: A groups photosynthesis trials - looking at the effect of temperature on the rate of photosynthesis in spinach leaves.

Above: results of initial celery trials. This group had simply sliced a bunch of celery and put it in water....they they had to figure out why some curled and some didn't and try to get the max curling.

Above: Cross section of celery stained and photographed under the microscope.

If you teach middle or high school biology I really suggest that you check out this website. It is easy to sign up (the spring sign up has gone by so keep it in mind for next year)! Plants are safe and pretty easy to work with, and the support from the crew at PlantingScience is wonderful!

Friday, February 22, 2013

What teacher do when they are bored....

So I realize that I am a bit strange in that I actually enjoy lesson planning. I love creating new activites and planning out new and improved ways to do the lessons in my curriculum. This afternoon my husband was taking a nap, and I was downstairs watching TV. I couldn't find anything really interesting to watch so ended up flipping through some things I brought home over vacation for my next biology unit - cell division. The notes handout that I had was lost when my computer hard drive crashed last spring and I really wanted to update it. In the process I decided that since I had nothing to do I would make a powerpoint presentation for the notes since I don't have one already for that particular unit. So when my husband finally came downstairs after his nap, here I am on the couch with the laptop smiling at slide number 14 of a pretty cool presentation! The conversations that ensued was something like this...

     Husband - "Whatcha doing?"
     Me - "Well I was bored, so I decided to make a powerpoint on cell division"
     Husband - "You were for FUN you are making a powerpoint?"
     Me - "Yup, I don't have one for this lesson and thought it would be fun."
     Husband - "Your definition of fun is very odd." and walks away shaking his head.

Either way, I am about 3/5 done my presentation, then have to retype the notes handout. It would be easier if I had the old file to open up and just modify....but that is what I get for not backing up files in the past. I have since learned my lesson on that! Vacation is almost over and I have gotten lots of random school related things gone, but not really the things on my to-do list so over the next two days I have to get some grading done.

Sample slides are below of my "I was bored so I made a new Powerpoint". I have finished this and used it in my class today along with the notes handout. Both are going to be up on TpT once I finish typing up some additional teachers notes and add in a few image citations that I missed.

When I teach mitosis we accompany the notes with a hands-on model. I use a set of pop-beads to make chromosomes with magnetic centers that act as the centromeres. We use a laminated outline of a cell so students can draw in membranes and spindle fibers. Using the beads we go through the whole process from interphase and chromosome duplication to alignment of the chromosomes during metaphase, separation of sister chromatids during anapahse, and finally the formation of two identical daughter cells. I will use the same kit when we go over meiosis later in the week. The kids stayed focused and on task while working with the manipulatives, and even though it takes quite a bit of time to go through the notes and modeling they seemed to be paying attention.

After we finished up the lesson we played a round of "Slap-It" with my mitosis stage cards. I put three sets of cards mixed together for each group of 5 students. I called out a phase and the first student to slap the right cards got to keep it, we raced to see who could get the most cards. I used the same cards as part of my pre-test. Students each had a set of cards and had to put them in the order they predicted they went in and then explain in words why they thought the process would happen that way. The descriptions I got from students were not as detailed as I had hoped but many of them were able to predict at least a partially correct order.

Overall, I thought the lesson went very well. Having my directions for the modeling on the powerpoint made it easier to stay on task and for everyone to know what they had to do next so I think that was certainly worth the time to do!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Playing In Science

When I first started teaching, despite my best intentions, I soon realized many of my lessons were...well...dry....boring. So over the last few years one of my goals has been to figure out ways to make learning more exciting and fun. Teaching science the obvious way is to add more labs, inquiry, and hands on experiments. This is great, and I have added so many lab experiences since that first year. As much as I love teaching inquiry based lessons and I know my students learn so much that way, there is still a time and place for having to learn content - history, vocabulary, processes, etc. This information is key to understanding how the world works and making the important connections between what you as a student are doing in the lab and what the rest of the scientific community is doing. But that seems to be where things get boring really fast. Activities that I use to bust the boredom in my class often take the form of games or competitions to practice skills and content. I find most students are competative by nature so adding a little friendly competition and maybe even a prize at the end is a great way to get them excited about practicing a skill they may have otherwise groaned at. Playing a game, puzzle, or relay, gets the important content practiced and the students have fun at the same time.

Over the last couple days I have been tweaking and refining some of the games and puzzles that I use in my classroom to share on my TpT store. Check out these resources, and be sure to check back for more in the upcoming weeks.

Periodic Table Puzzle

Lab Safety Card Sort

Genetic Code Puzzle

Periodic Table Relay

Please feel free to leave me feedback about these products either on the store page or here on my blog!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Launching Teachers Pay Teachers Site

Drum roll please.....I have just uploaded my first resource to my Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT) page. I have more which will be posted soon once I finish editing and polishing them up for sale.

My first upload is a FREE! I have put up a set of 18 directing words posters which I have created to hang in my classroom. I find one of the most common errors students make in my classroom is they don't actually answer the question they are being asked on assignments. This set of simple design posters defines the most common directing words so that students may refer to them while completing assignments.

Follow the link below to my TpT store and to download this free resource! Be sure to check back soon for more free and for sale resources.

Directing Words Poster Set

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Differentiated Instruction with Menus

One of my goals this year was to differentiate more of my lessons. Having such small classes that should be pretty easy, or so it would seem upfront. I found that with my first semester class I struggled with this. I tried using exit ticket results to group students for follow up activities as one strategy and that seemed to work ok. I really wanted to find a way to assess student learning in a more differentiated way. Here is where my "menu" system is coming in. My biology class began about 3 weeks ago (block scheduling). Our first full unit was cell structure and function. As part of this students were all participating in the same activities and lab experiences in class. I wanted to add on a way for students to demonstrate their learning in a manner they chose. Rather than assign the whole class one or two project type assignments during the unit I typed up my list of project choices and gave it to students at the start of the unit. Students had to select two tasks from the list and turn in the assignments by the end of the unit, which is tomorrow. A few assignments are already rolling in. A number of students select an option which instructed them to write a poem that described the function of at least 5 cell structures. I have seen a couple of acrostic type poems for this that are very creative. Today one of my students brought in his poem and proceeded to "rap" the poem aloud for the class. It was awesome in terms of finding a way for students to show their learning in a self-expressive/creative manner. I am excited to see the rest of the projects come in tomorrow and begin the assesment process. We are doing a portfolio this year - more to come on that in a future post!

P.S. As soon as I figure out how to I will post a copy of the unit menu to share.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A fresh start....

Over the next few weeks I plan to transition the old edublog over to here, with the plan to expand my content to include a lot more detail about my classroom activities, management, organization, and ins and outs of daily life as a high school science teacher. Stay tuned!