Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lessons learned, Reflections of a secondary science teacher 2015

What Secondary Teachers have learned in 2015

I can't believe how quickly 2015 has come and gone.  As teachers it is important to go back reflect on what works, what doesn't, and what needs a little enhancements.  This year I am teaming up with some wonderful secondary teachers to share what we have learned in 2015.

1. The best change I made...

The best change I made this year is switching from the "typical" teacher mode to more of a facilitator mode.  Instead of giving students the information I now guide them on their learning journey through flipped lessons, science stations, and guided inquiry.  This means that students are working at their level and their pace and they are being challenged appropriately.  Instead of just memorizing facts my students are becoming life long learners and I love seeing the difference it is making. Click here to see how I did this for the scientific method.

2. The best new lesson I taught was...

Every year I try a new strategy.  I feel trying new things helps me grow as an educator and only makes me stronger.  This year I initiated genius hour with my pre-AP science classes.  Once a week my students research a topic of their choice. We are now in our fourth month and the students are getting ready to give their TED talks about their topics and what they are doing with the information.  I love seeing students get excited about learning and the passion in their faces.  I wish I had time to do it with all my classes.

3. Lessons I learned about teaching in general were...

Personal interest in students goes a long way. If
you really want students to take an interest in learning than you need to take an interest in them.  Greet them at the door with a handshake and say hello.  Ask them how their day is.  Ask them about what they did that weekend.  Notice when they are absent and welcome them back.  I hold a morning meeting a few days a week where we spend the first five minutes talking with each other and discussing topics outside of school.  It has really made a difference.

Allow students to make mistakes without big penalties. School is a place to make mistakes and learn lessons.  They are not in the real world yet.  My students are allowed to retake tests, redo projects, make-up work for full credit.  Their work habits grade will be affected but not their academic grades.  If they make a bad choice, yes they are held accountable, but they are able to learn from it and in the process they learn that success mean that you keep trying and that you don't give up.

What are some things you have learned from 2015?

Visit the other blogs linked up at Secondary Sara to get more tips, tricks, and lessons learned for 2016!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas Science: Science saturday

       In elementary school December is filled with lots of holiday activities.  Writing, Reading, and Math incorporate winter themes with snowman, santa, gingerbread men, and snowflakes.  Then they hit middle school and sometimes these themes go away.  I love to incorporate the christmas/winter theme whenever I can.

Physical Science Activities:
           One way I do this is with my periodic table menu choice.  Students are given different projects to choose from to enhance their knowledge of the periodic table.  One of the choices is to make a scrapbook where they give the properties of the different families and then choose an element to turn into a person.  When I do it in December my students turn it into a christmas themed scrapbook. They turn their elements into snowmen and gingerbread men. Another choice they have is to make a family tree out of the categories and the families.  Their family tree has to include the properties.  My students like to turn their tree into a christmas tree and use ornaments for the different families.
        Another activity I like to do is candy compounds.  Students love edible activities. In this one from the sciencespot my students use gum drops or marshmallows and toothpicks to create ionic and covalent compounds.  I have them keep the candy separated for the ionic compounds and touching for the covalent compounds.  The students like that they get to eat the extras.  Its a great activity for the day before break.

Life Science Activities:
      In December is when I teach genetics.  An activity I do with my students is a snowman family.  The students take their knowledge of heredity and probability to cross two snowmen and make a family.  They have a lot of fun doing the punnett square crosses and then creating their snowmen families.
      When I teach genetics I also teach about DNA.  As my students are learning about the structure of DNA I have them build a model of it out of candy using the lesson from the genetic science learning center.  We use licorice for the outside of the ladder and then different colored marshmallows for the base pairs.  lesson

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Guided Inquiry with Thinglink

Twenty-first Century learning is about helping students become life-long learners.  Students need to be able to gather information on their own.  This is a skill that needs to be taught.  One way I do this is by having students do a guided inquiry using the site    With thinglink start with a picture.  On the picture you can add links to different types of text.  The text can be articles, websites, pictures, music, video, or anything else.  I usually make my own pictures using powerpoint.  I make them into a board game or a task journey.  Once I add my picture I then attach links to websites, videos, or pictures.  This way my students are pulling the information about a topic but its from text I am providing.

Here is an example of one I did for learning the states of matter called "Journey through the States of Matter". The students completed a board game of sorts that took them from one interactive site to another.  At the end they were brought to a review game to practice their knowledge.  The students loved going from one site to another.  By the end they knew the three main states of matter and how they change from one site to another. 

In another example, "Periodic Table Guided Investigation", the students learned about the categories and main families of the periodic table and the patterns.  I added videos to this one.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Genius Hour: Bring the love of learning back into the classroom

When I first started teaching over 16 years ago I thought that each year would be easier.  I figured the first few years were about creating activities for your classroom and lesson planning and then after that you would just tweak slightly the lessons and that would give you more free time.  Boy was I wrong.  I find I spend just as much time, if not more working on lessons and activities.  Yes I could have followed my beginning plan and just do the same thing year after year.  That would make my life easier, however, I would be doing my students a disservice and I would not be growing as a teacher.  Things are different now than they were 5 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 15 years ago.  When I started teaching there were no standards.   We had certain topics that every teacher had to teach but we were free to decide how long we would spend on those topics, how deep we would go with those topics, and how we would teach those topics.   I loved having the freedom to have my students really get into their projects.  I had weeks to have my students understand and work with the scientific method.  They created their own board games, tested them, surveyed them, improved them, and they loved doing every part of it.  They researched how they could build a colony on mars and had to account for getting their.  The projects took weeks but the students were engaged, they were problem solving, and most importantly they loved learning.    

Then came the state science standards.  Although I understood their importance to make sure all students had equality in their learning I found the challenge of making sure the students learned all the standards to be daunting.  The number of standards the students had to learn, in the time frame they were given to learn them, and at the level of understanding they had to achieve was an almost impossible task.  The wonderful projects that I used to do were cut due to time constraints.  I found that after years of these standards the love and passion for learning was going away.  The creativity I once saw was almost gone.  Students stopped thinking and using their imagination.  They became robots just sitting their wanting the be given the information and answers knowing that it was their job just to memorize it and recite it at test time.  Something had to be done.

Last year I was introduced to a concept called google 20% time otherwise known as genius hours.  Students are able to research and work on a project / topic of their choice.  It is a way to bring passion and the love of learning back into the classroom.  I decided that this is what my students were missing.  

I did a lot of research on the topic.  I read about how to introduce it to your students from different blogs (see below for links), I read the book Drive by Daniel H. Pink, I watched youtube videos about it, and I read through the many posts about it on twitter #geniushour.  I was so excited and nervous and terrified to introduce it to my 8th grade Pre-AP science class.  Any time us teachers take on a new challenge like this I think we feel that way.  I have it set up so that every Wednesday, our shortened collaborations days, the students get to work on their genius hour project.  Here is a brief overview of how I introduced it.

- Week 1: I introduced the project with a short video about what genius hour is and then I had them watch the Pep talk video by Kid President.  I then explained what they would be doing every Wednesday and what the end result should be.  To help them think of a topic and guiding question we then did the Bad Idea factory to come up with some really bad ideas.  These bad ideas helped focus the students and got them thinking.
- Week 2: My students filled out a google form that included what their topic was about, their guiding question, what they plan on doing for genius hour, and how their were going to present their information to the world.  I then allowed them to start doing some basic research on the topic.
- Week 3:  The students created their own google sites where they could give a basic idea of their topic, write about what they already know about it, and record the information they were learning and links to the websites they found useful.  I originally wanted them to blog about what they were doing each week, however my district has blocked blogger and kid blog is now a paid service.  My students then posted a link to their websites on our class padlet page so that anyone in my Pre-AP science class can view what they were doing.
- Week 4: This was the first week that my students had the whole time to really research their topic.  You could see the excitement on their faces as they were learning new information on a topic they were interested in.  I kept getting called over so they could share their excitement on what they just discovered.  Their homework that night was to post on their website a reflection of what they did, what they learned, and new questions they had.  A few days later their homework was to read the posts of their group members and then comment on it.  This proved difficult since we discovered you could only comment on the whole site and not an individual post.
- Week 5:  Together my students and I reflected on how it was going so far.  I explained my ideas for their posts and how I thought it was going with the ability to reflect and comment on the individual posts and as a class we decided that writing the weekly reflections on schoology as a discussion post would be better so that everyone could get an idea of what different students were learning about.

Originally my idea was that every quarter would be a new topic but with the first quarter ending in two weeks I have changed how we are going to do genius hour.  Instead my students are going to present to the class on the last Wednesday of the quarter what their topic is about, why they chose that topic, and what they have done so far.  I am going to use it as a check point for their journey.  Although I have faced some hiccups along the way I love seeing my students excited to learn.  It has helped bring the love of learning back into the classroom.  

If you have done genius hour I would love to hear some suggestions about what I can do to improve it.

Blog sites that I found useful  by chris kessler

live binders site that has multiple blogs about genius hour by Joy Kirr

Saturday, September 19, 2015

First Week of School: Science Saturday

Its the first week of school and for many that means Rules, Procedures, and laying down the law.  Most teachers will start the first day going over their syllabus, rules, and being as strict as possible.  I have even heard some teachers give advice to new teachers about never smile until October.  While that might work for some teachers it doesn't work for me.  I believe one of the hardest things for new teachers is to find their own unique style.  Whenever I have a new student teacher the first thing I tell them is that my teaching style works for me but might not work for them.  This is why it is so important to see other teachers so you can find a style that works for you.  So what works for me?

           I use the first week of school to set the tone of my class.  On the first day I Do Not go over rules of the class. Instead I have the students do some teamwork activities.  For example, my 8th grades had to construct a tower of cups using only the rubber octopus and they could not talk or make any sounds doing this. They had to learn to work together and communicate  in other ways in order to accomplish this.  At the end they had to come up with some rules for teamwork.  They all had a great time and could all explain the importance of working as a team.

On the second day I teach one of my favorite lessons of the year.  My famous failures lesson.  I let my students know that when they learn new things they will make mistakes and I expect them to make mistakes.  We talk about famous people and the failures they had.  We also talk about the fact that they learned from their failures, they didn't give up, and they eventually succeeded.  At the end I have them think about something they love to do.  We talk about what they did when they faced their first obstacle and "failed" and what they did when it happened.  I stress that it is important to apply the same strategies to their classes.

The third day is my "office day".  Sometimes you just have to have those organizational days.  I use this day to have my students set up their interactive notebooks.  I like to have the first pages of my interactive notebook to be meaningful and useful.  I include the common thinking strategies they will use in class and the rubric for grading but I also like to include some pages that they can reference on days when they are struggling and having a hard time.  I have one page that is about failures and another page I printed out a blog post from C. Mielke that wrote an excellent post called "What students really need to hear".  I read it at the beginning and then ask the students about their opinions and thoughts on it.  The other pages will help them in class and include how to be a good digital citizen and common templates we will use.

On the last day, we only have four days our first week, I spend introducing my students to our digital classroom.  I use schoology for my LMS.  I have tried others like edmodo and google classroom but have found schoology to be the best for my purposes and the most student friendly.  I also set them up on our flipped classroom video site, edpuzzle.  I find the the combination of the two together makes for a very successful technology integrated classroom.

During the week I teach procedures as we do each task and then we practice, practice, practice.  They are taught by doing not by sitting and listening.  When mistakes are made they are immediately corrected without consequences.  I do not give detentions during the first week and do not mark students tardy during the first week.  Instead we talk about the actions and find solutions to them.  The first week is an opportunity for students to learn how things work, to make mistakes, and learn from them. I find that using this strategy cuts down on a lot of behavior issues and other problems later in the year.

The last thing I do is send out a message to the parents introducing myself, explaining what we did, and letting them know how great their student did.  Parents love hearing about the good things their students are doing especially those that usually only hear about the problems.

What are some things you do to set the tone during the first days of class

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Your First Flip: Technology Tuesday

So you have decided to flip your class, now what?  For many students, the flipped model is a new concept.  They are used to taking notes from a powerpoint presentation that the teacher leads them through.  They have never had to take notes from a video.  If you want them to be successful then they need to be taught how to do it.  

The first few times I do a flipped lesson I do it in my class.  I take the class through the whole process, including going through both groups activities for the next days extensions.   I start with modeling my thought process.  This includes, why I added certain questions? why I included the topic and essential question for their notes? when I would stop the video, when I would rewind, and what I would do if I got the check question incorrect?    I then have the students take the review quiz and we talk about the two different groups.  I have the whole class go through the review groups activity and then they go through the apply groups activity. As they go through each part I explain the benefits of each part, which include moving at their own writing and processing speed, and how each group, review or apply, are beneficial and help the students.    By taking them through the whole process together and explaining the why, more students become excited by this new and different teaching model and I have more success with them doing the flipped lessons.

For more information about how to flip your class, check out my four part series called Fire Up Your Flip.

How do you prepare your students for their first flipped lesson? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How to FIRE up your flip in four EASY steps (Step 4:Extend): Technology Tuesday

The flipped model is a great way to differentiate for your students, provide quick formative assessment feedback, and allow more time in your classroom for higher level thinking activities.  

To help me in making my "flip" easier I came up with an acronym FIRE: FormatInteract, Reflect, and Extend. By following these four easy steps it made flipping my class a lot easier.In Step1: I discussed how to chose a format for your flip. Although the majority of flips are done using video they do not have to.  In Step 2: I discussed the importance of having students interact and engage with the flipped lesson. In Step  3:   I discussed different ways students can reflect on their learning so that you and and the student are aware of where they are at in their understanding of the topic.  This information leads to Step 4: Extend.

Step 4: Extend

The whole reason for the flip is for students to learn the basics at home so they can apply and practice in the content in the classroom with the support and help of you and their peers.  The possibilities of what you can do on the day after a flip are endless.  I like to use this as a perfect opportunity to differentiate my teaching.  I use the data from the quiz I do as a reflection to put my students into two groups.  Group A is for students that demonstrate they have a basic understanding of the topic.  Station B is for students that demonstrate they are still unclear of the basic information and need some more practice and clarification on the key parts.  Here are some different ideas for what to do with each group.

-Group A:

     - Online investigation
     - mini experiment or hands-on activity
     - real world application like a science article
     - mini project

-Group B:

     - Guided reading of short summary
     - Interactive notebook flip pages
     - Second video that you take them through and discuss

One thing to keep in mind is to never reteach the lesson to the class the next day.  If you have students that did not do the assignment than the first thing they need to do when they enter your class is the flip assignment.  If you reteach the lesson to the class because students didn't watch the video you are telling the students its okay to not watch the video since the information will be taught in class the next day.  This rewards those for not watching the video and eventually no one will watch.

The first time I did the flip for a homework assignment I only had 25% of the students do the assignment.  Instead of getting upset I had to do some reflection on myself to see what did I do that resulted in this low percent.  When the students came in the next day I had them fill out a survey.  I discovered that 30% of the them forgot, 30% of them discovered that their internet connection was not good, and 30% didn't want to do it.  We talked about the importance again and the options for what to do if you can't watch the videos at home. I then had the 75% that didn't watch the video do the flip lesson in class and the 25% that did watch went on to the activity I already prepared for that day. The next flip only 20% didn't watch.  As the students got used to this new method of teaching and started to see the benefits I had less students not doing their assignment.  

What are your suggestions for making sure the students watch the videos and what do you do if they don't?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Classroom Environment: Science Saturday

Its that time again to get your class ready for the start of the year.  As you prepare for your lessons and activities you also need to think about your classroom and what kind of environment you are promoting.  Look around at your walls, white boards, and bulletin boards.  What do you see?  How would you feel as a new student walking in for the first time?  For me the classroom environment starts before my students even enter the class.  On my door I post a saying that lets students know that they are important.  I also greet my students everyday with a handshake. By doing these two simple things you let the students know that you care about them and that you are glad they are there.

As they enter my room the first thing they see is my famous failures wall.  I want them to know that mistakes are necessary for learning and that it is okay to fail.  I try and stress throughout the year that everyone that has been successful has failed.  I allow my students to try over and over again and encourage them to be risk takers.  My students know that they won't be penalized the first few times they are trying out new things because failing is part of the learning process.

My whiteboards in the front have multiple purposes.  One, they act as an informational center.  Students learn what the objective of the day is and what they are expected to do at home.  Two, they act as an inspirational center.  I put a quote of the week on the board for students to use as a reflection on what they are doing.  Three, they act as special message boards from me.  I like to give shout outs and point out amazing works that I am seeing and to make sure everyone see them I put them at the front of my room on the white boards.

I use the back of my room as an interactive learning wall.  Students incorporate social media by posting short thoughts and pictures about what they are learning.  Then throughout the class time if they need to review they can go to the back of the room and read the information to review and learn.

I also have a board that reminds students about digital citizenship and technology rules. We use technology a few times a week and so it is important that my students know about digital citizenship and practice it. My last boards help students with the common core literacy science standards by helping them with their academic vocabulary and showing them how to support their claims with evidence.

What do you do to create a supportive classroom environment? Let me know in the comments below

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How to FIRE up your flip in four EASY steps (Step 3:Reflect): Technology Tuesday

The flipped model is a great way to differentiate for your students, provide quick formative assessment feedback, and allow more time in your classroom for higher level thinking activities.  

To help me in making my "flip" easier I came up with an acronym FIRE: Format, Interact, Reflect, and Extend. By following these four easy steps it made flipping my class a lot easier.In Step1: I discussed how to chose a format for your flip. Although the majority of flips are done using video they do not have to.  In Step 2: I discussed the importance of having students interact and engage with the flipped lesson. Now onto Part 3: Reflect

Step 3: Reflect

The students have watched the video or read the text and taken notes and now what.  Before the class begins, or before you do your activity for the day you will want to get an idea of how much the students understood the information.   Why is this important?  It serves two purposes.  One, it allows the students to track their level of understanding of the topic.  Students need to know how they are progressing so that they can determine where they are at and what they are struggling with.  This way they know what it is they need to focus on and they will know if they need to ask for help.  Two, it allows you to get a quick idea of which students need early intervention. This allows you to focus on the few students that might need some extra understanding and move the students who understand the basics onto an activity that has them apply their understanding.

      You can do different things for your review.  Here are a few options:

1. Have the students answer a couple of open ended questions about the topic including what they think the big idea of the flipped lesson was? What questions they still have? 

2. Give them a short multiple choice quiz.  I went back and forth between using Google Forms and Schoology for my quizzes.  I ended up staying with Schoology and here is why.  By using Schoology I could easily turn the flipped quiz into a practice quiz and allow students to take it multiple times.  When I used Google Forms I had to use the add-on Flubaroo to grade it and then any time a student wanted to take it over, I had to run the program again.  With the quizzes on Schoology it is automatic.

- Suggestions when creating the quiz on Schoology.
        1. Make sure you set it so that it randomly mixes the questions and the choices within the questions.  This prevents students from just memorizing the letter answer to the question.  It also allows students to sit next to each other and have different tests
        2. The first time I give it I make it one time only.  Then after a few days I change it to unlimited and make it a practice.  This allows the students to learn more information before they take it again.  It also allows them to practice for the bigger tests by review on these multiple choice practice quizzes.
       3. Make it multiple choice.  I also have it so that one or two will have more than one answer so I know if they really got it.  Most the questions are just the basic but I will throw in one or two questions of the next level.

No matter which one you do, make sure you can use the results in class the next day to put them into the appropriate groups.  This leads to next week Step 4: Extend

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How to FIRE up your flip in four EASY steps (Step 2:Interact): Technology Tuesday

As I stated in part 1, last year I decided to take the leap and flip my middle school science class.  I did not flip every lesson, only the beginning of every unit.  At the end of every quarter I always asked the students to reflect on their learning and my teaching.  The results on the flipped lessons were always the same. More than 95% of my students continuously said the flipped lessons were the most useful in helping them learn the basic information.  

In the first part of this series I explain why my students like the flip and how to chose the format so make sure you check out part 1: Format

To help me in making my "flip" easier I came up with an acronym FIRE: Format, Interact, Reflect, and Extend.  By following these four easy steps it made flipping my class a lot easier.

Step 2: Interact

    The second step you need to consider is how are the students going to interact with the format.  One way you can have the students interact is by having them take notes.   When you ask them to take notes make sure you give them some questions you would like them to be able to answer.  This way they will be better focused when they are doing their assignment.  I found that if I just told my students to take notes they would either have way to much and would write everything down or they would have very little and missed the most important parts.  By providing them a road map with the questions, it helped them to focus in on what type of information needed to go into their notes and it improved their note-taking skills.

     Another way you can have them interact is by using a program like edpuzzle or zaption.  These programs allow you to embed questions throughout the video.  I use edpuzzle along with notes when my students are watching a video.  I usually embed comments on key questions they should be answering and multiple choice questions.  I like the fact that I can have more than one answer for the multiple choice.  I can also put in open ended questions and do voice comments if I want to point out something and have the students focus on a particular part.

      It doesn't matter what you chose as long as the students are interacting with the content.  Flipping your class is not about watching videos, it is about learning the basics.  To learn the basics it is imperative that the students are interacting with their learning.

     Check in next week for part 3 in this series: Review.

If you have flipped your class, what did you do to have your students engage with the flip? Tell us in the comments.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

How to FIRE up your flip in four EASY steps (Step 1:Format): Technology Tuesday

Last year I decided to take the leap and flip my middle school science class.  I did not flip every lesson, only the beginning of every unit.  At the end of every quarter I always asked the students to reflect on their learning and my teaching.  The results on the flipped lessons were always the same. More than 95% of my students continuously said the flipped lessons were the most useful in helping them learn the basic information.  

Here are a few of their reasons:
       - I am able to go back and watch the videos before the tests
       - I can pause and re-watch the parts I don't understand
       - I know right away if I didn't understand something and I can go back and learn it again

Along with most of my students loving this model of teaching (yes, it did take awhile for them to get used to it since it is so different from what they are used to) I discovered that:
   1. It helped me to better meet the needs of my students. I was able to discover right away if they understood the information or not and could intervene before they got to far behind.
   2. When I had a substitute I turned my lesson into a flipped lesson and I was able to check in on them from far away
   3. I was able to tackle more higher level activities and challenge them in the class so that they would have more support from me and their peers when doing the higher level assignments

To help me in making my "flip" easier I came up with an acronym FIRE: Format, Interact, Reflect, and Extend.  By following these four easy steps it made flipping my class a lot easier.

Step 1: Format

The first step you need to do is choose your format.  Although most flipped lessons have students watching videos at home, it doesn't have to be a video.  The main point of the flipped lesson is for students to learn the basic information at home so you can spend more time in class tackling the higher level thinking activities.   With format you need to chose if you are going to have them watch a video or read a piece of text.


If you chose to have them watch a video you have some choices.
    1. Will you make your own or will you find one already created for you? Youtube is an excellent place to find videos already created from other teachers.  If you make your own you will need some type of screen casting software.  I use screencast-o-matic.  Its free and can be used with both mac's and PC's.
    2. Make sure your videos are no longer than 5 minutes.  After polling my students many times and asking for feedback, they suggested, and I agree, that 3-5 minutes is a good time frame.  I teach middle school so high school could possibly go to about 7 minutes.  Keep in mind that although the video is only 5 minutes long, the students will be watching, pausing, taking notes, and re-watching.  A 5 minute video could take students 15 minutes to complete depending on the information and the level of learner you have.
   3. Keep the information in the video short and simple.  They should be able to put everything on one page of notes.  Remember they are learning just the basics.

- Text:

When you do a flipped lesson it is important to have some way for students to access the lesson the next day in class for those that were absent and missed the assignment, forgot about it, discovered that their internet was not working, or for what ever reason they didn't do it.  If like me your chromebooks, tablets, or computers are being used in another classroom than you will want to assign them text as homework instead.
    1. Make the text they are reading short.  It should take the average student 5-10 minutes to read.
    2. The text should have just the basic information and possibly a few examples.  The summary of a section is great for this plus reading the diagrams.
    3. The information they will be taking notes on should be able to fit on one page.

- Check in next week for part 2 in this series, Step 2: Interact

If you flip your class, how long are your videos? Do you make them yourself or find them?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Yellowstone and DNA, What do they have in common?: Science Saturday

This past week my family and I visited the first National Park, Yellowstone.  As you take in the beauty and diversity of this landscape it's easy to see why it was so important to protect this National treasure.  When President Grant put aside this land to be forever protected I don't think he had any idea of how important this land will become.  

     Yellowstone has over 10,000 geothermal features and different types of bacteria are found in each.  In fact, the colors you see are due to the different types of bacteria that live in them and their response to the sunlight.  Different bacteria live at different temperatures and how they respond to sunlight causes some of the thermal features to be a deep crystal blue and others to be a dark red.  You can determine the approximate temperature of the hot spring by looking at the color.  Red represents a relatively cool temperature, around 110oC, while blue represents the hottest temperatures, 198oC and above.

In 1969, Thomas D. Brock discovered a new bacteria living in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park.  In the 1970's scientists became aware that it contained a DNA polymerase that was heat resistant and could handle the high temperatures needed for PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction).  Scientists use PCR for DNA fingerprinting.  With this new discovery scientists are now able to create millions of copies of DNA in a couple of hours.  This new bacteria has paved the way for biotechnology.  According to Pat Dawson, "The Gold in Yellowstone's MicrobesTIME, November 21, 2007, we have discovered less than 1% of the microbes found in Yellowstone. Imagine what new advances we can make when we discover the rest.

Thank you President Grant. Because of your wisdom and the wisdom of others that saw the beauty in this land you have not only preserved the beauty of this unique place but you have also protected the many microscopic treasures it holds.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back to School: Science Saturday

Its back to school time. New classes, new students, a fresh start to things.  Imagine you are one of your students.  You are going through your first day back getting to know your teachers names, listening to their class rules, procedures, what you are going to learn that year, how they grade, and so on and so on.  By the time your last day of class comes, your bored and can't imagine sitting through what feels like another lecture.  You enter your last class, science, and right away you know that something is different.  What are those items doing on the table over there?  Why are there all these instruments and tools? What's on the teachers desk?  By the time you leave your last class you are excited. You know that it is going to be a great year and you can't wait until science class tomorrow to find out what will happen next.        What is it about that class that was different than the rest of the classes? In one word, Inquiry. 
       By the time students are in secondary school they are familiar with the basic rules and procedures of school so I save that for later.  Instead, I want them to get excited about school and science right away and set the tone of my class by doing an inquiry investigation.   

My first day of school:

     When the students enter my class I stay at the door, shake their hand, say welcome and my name, and then ask for their name.  I do this every day and the students get so used to it that when I'm gone they let me know how much they missed the handshake.
      I then do a quick 2-3 minute introduction about me and move right into the inquiry investigation.  I have different investigations depending on the level of my students. 

Basic Inquiry Investigation-

     For my regular Core science classes I do a Consumer Task Force challenge, aka paper towel testing.  All I provide is the paper towels and then many different testing materials like graduated cylinders, cups, rubber bands, pennies, eye droppers, scissors, and rulers.  The students have to decide, either as a class or a group, how they will test the paper towels, and what criterion's they are looking for that determines a great paper towel.   My job is to offer support and materials.  I ask a lot of questions during the investigation about why and how.  If I see groups struggling I don't step in, they need to learn how to problem solve through a struggle.  Instead I allow them to go out, like scientists would, and find out what other groups are doing to get ideas from them.  If I see a group having many different variables I might ask them how would they know if it was one variable affecting the outcome and not the other to get them thinking about changing one variable only.  Its a great way to remind them about the scientific method without listing the steps.

Advanced Inquiry Investigation-

     For my Pre-AP students I try and challenge them a little more. They have to compete in the Creative Cup Competition and there is only one winner.  In this challenge the groups have to create the best cup and beat last years winner, a regular styrofoam cup.  Again I provide a lot of materials like aluminum foil, paper cups, left over fabric, sponges left over from other projects, and I allow them to bring in their own materials.  The class and groups have to determine what it is they will be testing and looking for to determine the winner and to determine if their cup is better than last years.  Its great to watch how creative the students can be: putting cups inside of cups, creating their own lids, making handles on their cups, and many more unique ideas.  
       Both of these investigations take two days so they have a chance to think about what they are going to do and sleep on it.  The testing and analyzing happens on the second day.  While they are doing the activity we talk about group collaboration do's and don'ts, about procedures for getting materials and returning materials, signals for getting the classes attention and expectations of the class.  Its a learn as you go approach instead of getting all the information and being expected to remember it all.  It makes the first two days really enjoyable and I find out right away the type of students I have, who the leaders are, who the critical thinkers are, who the quiet ones are, and so on.   You can do any lab as an inquiry investigation on the first day of school but if you want the ones I did you can find them in my store.

If you have a fun activity you do on the first few days of school I would love to hear about it.  Please share what you do in the comments.