Sunday, November 29, 2015

CyberMonday (and Tuesday) Sale

I'm going to keep this short and sweet because, honestly, I am really enjoying the long weekend and finding it very hard to get focused back on work.

If you are feeling the same way, I have a plan for you!  Did you know Teachers Pay Teachers is having a site-wide Cyber Monday and Tuesday sale?!  

So......let's say you are like me and don't want to plan ahead this week.  Use the sale to save 28% on all items in my store on Monday and Tuesday.  Save yourself some time and stress during the holiday season. I'm sure you have better things to do than write lesson plans! 

Here are a few of my best ideas on what I would purchase

And if you are looking for more great science products at a discount, check out these stores: 

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Halloween in the Science Classroom

Every year as Halloween approaches, I think about what I want class to look like on that day.  There is no denying that its not a regular class day.  Students will not be focused, and will likely be resentful if its run like a regular class.  However, there are many options.

A friend of mine teaches upper level students (juniors and seniors), with smaller class sizes.  She does some really REALLY cool demos that day.

My favorite is the exploding pumpkin! It is definitely something students will remember, and be excited about.  She also usually gets dry ice, and does some demonstrations with dry ice, such as these:

Sometimes, however, particularly when teaching large classes of middle school students, I don't always trust their behavior and self-control to do these type of demonstrations.  Students are excited, but they are TOO excited, and it just adds to the chaos, and can get out of control. 

Instead, I have used this day to build on literacy, in a fun and engaging way that still allows students a break from the regular daily routine.  

I usually print out a variety of news articles on Halloween related topics, at different reading levels, and then I let them choose an article. 

There are many more available, but here are a few of my favorites: 

Depending on my particular class and my goals, I may then have the students answer some comprehension questions about the article (some of these come with comprehension questions), get into a small group or partner and present, write a short summary, connect to a course topic, use a version of the textbook reading strategy, etc.

One year I was at a school that required 'literacy labs' consisting of 
  • a list of three or more vocabulary words with definitions that you took from the article (you may need to research to find a proper definition 
  • A short essay consisting of: 
    • a description of EITHER how this information will impact your everyday life/why the information in this passage matters/your opinion about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, with supporting arguments.  
  • Make a list of facts, opinions, conclusions, and speculations contained in this article. 

There are also numerous free examples of news article summaries and news article assignments available online, as well as common core literacy questions that can easily be adapted.

Students are doing something slightly academic, but have been quite engaged reading about 'Halloween' topics, and taking a break from their regular coursework for one day. 

How do you celebrate Halloween in your classroom? 

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Google Forms - Technology in the Science Classroom

There are so many kinds of technology that I use on an almost daily basis in my science class to improve life and education for my students.  Today's post is going to focus on a tool that I use almost everyday -- Google Forms.

If you have never used google forms before, here are some tutorials. They are VERY easy to use.

All you need is a google account (personal or professional, the students will never see your email address). You can go to Google Drive and create a new form, or go to  You create a form just like you create any other document, and you can choose what type of questions you want (multiple choice, short answers, scale, checkboxes, include a picture or video....).  Your answers will automatically come to a Google Sheet (like excel), and you can also get a summary of responses.  This means google will aggregate the data for you, and show, immediately, for every question, the number of people who chose each multiple choice answer, or a list of the responses.  The responses will show up on real time, so you can immediately see your students' responses.

Here is an example of the summary of results that you can get immediately after students respond.

Before I get into ways that I used google forms in the classroom, a couple of other tips that I wanted to share with you.

  1. The snipping tool in windows is a great way to include any images that you want to add in.
  2. There is an add-on called flubaroo (there are lots of great tutorials online) that will automatically grade multiple choice for you.
  3. If you only want the form available at a certain time, or to end at a certain time, you can toggle on and off the 'accepting responses,' as shown below

Ok, so on to how I use google forms in the classroom.  

I had three main uses for google forms that I want to share, although there are many others.

  1. I used it for myself to track parent contacts.  I made a quick form with boxes for student name, method of contact, and what was discussed (time and date are stored automatically).  I put a bookmark to this form on my toolbar and could quickly enter any parent contact.  Then I ended up with a spreadsheet that I could sort or search of all my parent contacts.
  2. I used google forms at the end of each unit, or topic, to do a quick survey with the kids around the learning objectives.  I could immediately get a pulse on how they were feeling about the various objectives, and know where to focus my review.  I could pull the summary up on the board and work of off that to review.  I found it much more effective that asking them to ask questions, or openly self-report. We could all be on the same page.  I had them take notes as we were reviewing. 
For example...

3. I used google forms on an almost daily basis for warm ups.  We were a 1:1 chromebook school last year, so this might not be feasible otherwise, but it is certainly something to consider for those days you have device access, or even if you want students to access on any type of device.  I would usually give them a shortened link (from or post the link on google classroom.  Then my form would show 2 or 3 warm up or ticket out questions.  I could even include a video on picture. I could turn the form off when the time was up, and pull up the responses on the board so we could see where we are as a class, and if we are ready to move on.  

Have you used google forms in your classroom?  If so, where do you see it being most useful?  What other technology do you use? 

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Monday, September 14, 2015


Sometimes you hear people saying that the purpose of warm-ups or bellwork is just to get kids settled at the start of class, and give the teacher time to get settled.  

That may be true, but I don't see that as the main purpose of a warm-up.

In my classroom, a warm up or bellwork is a key part of instruction.  I use them as daily quizzes, worth 2 points each day.  At the end of the week they get added up for a ten point quiz grade.  They are graded 2 points if correct, 1 point if tried but partially correct, and 0 points if not tried. I used to actually grade them for correctness, but I really want the students to try, even if they are unsure, and they will get 1 point for trying.  I want to use bellwork more as formative assessment than summative.

I use the same sheet each day for each student.  They know the routine to pick up their bellwork paper on the way into class.  This helps me with attendance, as well, because all students who are present on time pick up their papers.  Those papers left are absent.  When bellwork is over (first 5 minutes), collect their papers and grade them for the next day.  It sounds time consuming, but it only takes me a few minutes each day to go through and mark a 0, 1, or 2 on each student's bellwork square for that day.  It also gives me an excellent gauge on their comprehension as we progress through the unit.

You can see the bellwork sheets that I use on a weekly basis here. This really saves me time at the copier!  Instead of copying daily bellwork, I copy once a month and then put the bellwork on the board or smartboard when they come in. They just record their answers in the daily box.

Bellwork or Daily Quiz Template

I choose the questions that I use for bellwork very carefully.

At the start of the unit, I make bellwork very open-ended.  Some examples are interpreting a diagram, or making observations about a diagram.  I have also had bellwork early in the unit that focuses on a small reading passage, a connection between last unit and the new content, or even listening to a song or watching a video and stating what they think it is about.

I also like to use bellwork to build prior knowledge, if possible, or to practice basic skills, such as determining what is wrong with a graph, or to learn new vocabulary.

As the unit progresses, I ask content based questions, usually from what we just did yesterday.  This is where bellwork holds them accountable for yesterday's work, gives them a heads-up if they were absent, and gives me a quick look at understanding from yesterday.  At this stage in the unit, I usually use concept-based questions, but write them in my own words, or in more student friendly language, although I may use some diagrams from state exam questions.

As we get closer to finishing up a unit, my bellwork will mostly consist of state test questions on the topic that we are studying.  This is where they really get used to the language of the exam, and apply what they have used.

Lastly, depending on the group of students that I have, I sometimes do bellwork in a different way.  I teach in an urban district where reading levels are very low.  There have also been years where I have had a lot of ELL's.  Many times they are struggling with not only unit concepts and vocabulary, but tier 2 vocabulary, which we don't traditionally teach in science class.  I have used bellwork as a chance to teach some of these tier 2 vocabulary words, using these products in my store.  These give students pictures of a word, and ask them to infer the meaning.  We worked on 4 or 5 words a week, and then had a quiz at the end of the week.  This really helped, and made students more confident with inferring meanings of unknown words as well.

Inferring Vocabulary Cards Set 1  Inferring Vocabulary Cards Set 2  Inferring Vocabulary Cards Set 3

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Friday, September 4, 2015

Teacher Life Hack - Maintain your Sanity

I don’t know about you, but I am constantly seeking a better work-life balance.  Teaching is one of the jobs that can easily take over your life, if you allow it to do so.  There are a lot of things that I do to maintain a work-life balance.  Many of them revolve around food prep.  I previously wrote a blog post here that touches on that.  

During the school year, no matter how much prep I do, it is hard to maintain a balance during the year.  One thing I do to try to maintain some kind of balance is take my work email off of my phone!  I especially do this on the long weekends, or over a school break.

If you aren’t ready for that step, then at least turn of the ‘push’ and the notifications, so you can check it on your schedule!

Another option would be to put it under a separate email app so that you have to choose to check it, on your schedule.

When work email is on your phone, it is too easy to feel an obligation to answer emails at all or hours, or to read an email that makes you frustrated or upset when you should be getting ready for bed, or enjoying family time.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Multiple Lab Setups - AHHH!

Are you feeling overwhelmed by multiple preps, particularly multiple labs to set up?  That can be mind boggling at first, but it is manageable, I promise you.  I've been there.  Teahcing lab sciences, particularly to middle school students adds another layer of complexity.  Here are a few tips...

  1. If you can, stagger that days when your classes have labs, so that you don't have to set up too many labs on the same day.  I know it sounds great to do labs when they fit into the curriculum, but most of the time you can make it work.  It is better for the students to have you be able to do it calmly than to be stressed out by trying to do a lab one day earlier or later.  For example, maybe you do Biology labs Monday and Earth Science labs Tuesday.  If you can't always structure it that much, at least try to have them fall on different days. 
  2. If possible, maybe you can correlate the classes.  For example, if one is an honors class, and one is a lower level class, maybe they can do different versions of the same lab.  The set up might be the same, or similar, but you might ask for different analysis questions or more detail on their write ups.  Maybe one is conceptual and one is quantitative.  This can only work depending on the classes you have, but its worth mentioning.  Really saved me when I had 5 lab science preps as a new teacher!
  3. If you can't, or you have labs that go more than one day, train your students, and use their help.  The best way I have found to do that is to have the materials out in bins (dollar store dishpans work well) for one per table.  You can set them up ahead of time, and they can quickly grab their materials, and put them back into the bin when they are done.  You can either pass out one bin per table, or have them set up in one consistent spot where students can get their supplies. 
  4. Another option that I have seen to is to have one counter where students from each lab group come through like an assembly line and get their materials.
  5. Leave a few minutes at the end of class for them to clean up. It seems like you want them to finish, but, I promise, it is worth training them and leaving them a few minutes to clean up.  Make sure they do it before they leave and you will save your sanity. 
  6. If you have to leave a lab out, have a designated place for them to put their materials.  Don't less class end, and you and they are fumbling for where to put their things.  If you have multiple preps, make those spots different and designated for each class.  For example, maybe one class always leaves their things on the windowsill, and another class always leaves their things on a back counter or extra table.  This will eliminate a lot of confusion.  They know they shouldn't be touching materials belonging to the other class. 
What else do you struggle with when having multiple labs?  What other tips do you have to share?  Please share in the comments! 
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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Classroom set up Tips

Hi All,

I was recently asked to share my tips for setting up the classroom.  I have been delaying writing this post because I'm not in a classroom this year, so I couldn't include pictures.  But...I have been in a classroom the last 10 years (12 if you count my time as a teaching assistant), in a lot of different settings, so I can still offer my advice.

I have been a teaching assistant in a few different special education, self-contained classrooms, I have been an adjunct college professor (only on campus to teach my course), and then taught in the district I currently work in.  I have been in 3 different classrooms in that district, and one year was on a cart.

There are certain features that I think are necessary in setting up a classroom, no matter what space you are in.  I would like to share those here.   I was also asked to share advice on setting up a classroom for multiple preps or multiple labs, that will also be part of this post.

Here are some views of a few of my classrooms over the years. (These are not all the classrooms I've been in, but those that I have photos of)

In all of those classrooms I think it is critical to have the following information (in no particular order).  I will highlight how I did a few of those in some photos below

  • Agenda so students know what is going on that day (and it helps keep me organized).  If I have multiple classes in the same room I have done a few things:
    • Erase and re-write
    • Write on a smaller white board that I can prop up and switch out
    • Write on chart paper and switch
    • Divide the board down the middle and write both agendas up
  • A place for students to hand in work.  I usually just accomplish this with a bin (the dollar store dishpans work great).

  • Student supplies.  This can be split into two types depending on your students, or grouped together.  
    • Things that are left out for easy student access, such as pencil sharpener, kleenex, maybe tape, lotion.
    • Student supplies that may be left out, or gotten out as needed.  For me, these are crayons, colored pencils, markers, glue, maybe extra tape, rulers.  I like to have these in small bins (pencil boxes from the dollar tree work fine, or other bins), so that you or a student can quickly put one out on each table. The colored bins on my cart were for that.
    • A place for you to keep upcoming copies, emergency sub plan, answer keys, etc that is readily accessible.  When I was on a cart I used a file box.  Otherwise I usually had a divider on my desk. 

  • A place for students to get missing work or make up work if they are absent. I just use a file crate and make a folder for each day of the week.  Then I make folders behind those for each week of the marking period.  At the end of Monday I put the extra papers in Monday.  When the next Monday rolls around I put them in week 1, etc.   You may want to post near this updated grades by ID number, or a list of missing work. 

  • A schedule or list of times you are available for extra help. 
  • Seating chart posted, if you plan to use one, so students can quietly go check if they were absent or forgot where they sit.
  • I also think it is important to have plenty of wall space or hallway space to display student work.  Students make poster assignments, concept maps, anchor charts, etc. and it is great to show those off, and to use them as a reference point later in the year.

Finally....lab space....

Since this is a science classroom (although I have taught lab science in classrooms that were not labs as well. I think it is key to have a space to set up equipment before class that students know not to touch until they are instructed to do so.  This might be a counter, a cart, a cupboard or wherever you have room.  Ideally each class, or each different prep will have a space.  When instructed, depending on how you run things, each group can go pick up one of each supply, or pick up a supply bin (my favorite), but you can get things set up and not have them right in front of students until you are ready.  The gray bins on my cart are usually perfect for this unless you are doing something really big.

The other key, I think, with lab space is to have some space (again, a counter, cart, cupboard, wherever you can find room), where you can leave some lab equipment out. I'm not advocating a mess, but if you have some students who don't finish, or an experiment that goes longer than one day, or even want to leave out just one set for absent students, it's great to have a designated space to do that.  Again, if you teach middle or high school and can designate a space for each different prep/class, that's even better.  Work with what you have.

  • Optional ideas, depending upon your school policy:
    • bathroom pass
    • early finisher ideas
    • work with no names, hanging up to be claimed
    • late sign in.
    • emergency sub folder (sometimes this is on your desk, or in the office)
I have resources that help with some of these (classroom scavenger hunt and signs, editable seating charts, and a few other goodies in my Back to School Pack).  If you made it this far in the post, you may want to check it out by clicking below :).

All of this is personal style, and may be different from teacher to teacher.  These are my preferences, and the things that I think are necessary, to whatever degree is possible, in any classroom setup.  

What are your classroom necessities?  What other questions do you still have? 

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