Teachers Matter More To Their Students Than They Realize

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To top off my back to school 4 part Curriculum series of How TO Build An Amazing Science Program At Your School, I though I would end with a story from my teacher heart.

Here’s a look at my young self in our school pics my first year of teaching.

First Year Teacher

My first year teaching, is an experience I will never forget. I learned how to conduct morning meetings with a group of ten year olds. I learned that these said ten year olds catch on very quickly to repeated idle threats. I learned how anxious a little ten year old heart can be about taking a test at the end of the year. And above all, I learned how much a teacher matters in the hearts and lives of each one of those kiddos.

I was hired in December to take over a 5th grade classroom. The previous teacher started the year out with her kiddos and then left abruptly in October. Just barely over a month into the school year, she decided over the weekend that she wouldn’t return. I don’t know why she left, but I do know what she left.

I came into the school to meet the staff and work around my new classroom the week before Christmas break. The sub was still teaching, and I was being prepped for the first teaching job of my career. I nervously watched as the class interacted with the sub. They smiled big, adorable smiles every time they looked over at me. The school’s reading specialist had been watching over the instruction of this class for the past couple months, and she showed me everything they had been working on and everything they would need to do to finish out the school year. She went over the district procedures for lesson planning, standardized test prep, and data collection. I had three months to get these kiddos ready for their reading and science state tests. It was all a little intimidating for me to take on a week before my college graduation, but I knew it was where I was meant to be. I couldn’t wait to get to know my new kiddos, and use all the best practices and instructional strategies I had been learning in college.

When we got back to school after Christmas break, I officially took over that fifth grade classroom. Each student beamed at me when I was introduced as their new teacher. Their excitement and anticipation was contagious. Over the next couple weeks, I was sent across town to district training sessions that caught me up on what the other teachers had sat through over the summer.

That was when I realized how much a teacher matters in the eyes of each of those kiddos. Kids have families at home and come to school to spend a little time with their teachers and classmates, before going back home to their families. They see teachers as a person in a classroom that tells them what to do. That’s what I thought anyways. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Each time I told my class that I would be at a training center the next day, I saw anxiety visibly raising inside those little ten year old bodies. They had barely gotten to know me, and already they were anxious to see me leave. I constantly had these sweet kiddos voicing their worries to me. “Will you come back to us?” “Will you be gone a long time?” “Please don’t leave us.”

My heart quickly filled, and grew, for these sweet little spirits in my 5th grade classroom. They already had separation anxiety. The person who they expected and trusted to love on them and guide them through their fifth grade year had left them and not come back. That hurt those kiddos deeper that I ever would have thought. My heart was broken for those little hearts, and I made it my goal to show them how much I loved them and wasn’t leaving them.

As the weeks and months went on, their anxieties faded. They felt like they had a secure reliable environment again. Those kiddos bloomed the whole year, and it was just caring that did it. I cared for those kids and encouraged them to be successful. I was a first year teacher, so my experience level isn’t what brought them to where they needed to be by the end of the year. It was my heart for those kids that lead to their security and success.

That teacher who left those fifth graders before I got there probably had no idea how much she meant to those kids. She may not have seen it while she was there, but I saw it when she left.

So, if you don’t think that a teacher is a meaningful figure that greatly impacts the lives of each and every student in their class, you need to rethink your perspective. Teachers matter even when they don’t realize it.

I hope you all have an amazing year this year and feel appreciated!

 

How to Build an Amazing Science Program at your School- Part 3 #lessongoals

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The last post in this series covered¬†#planninggoals. I talked about how to plan a scope and sequence for your school year. A mandatory prerequisite to lesson planning ūüôā

What makes an outstanding Science program that supports the teachers in your school?

Calling all teachers, specialists, and principals! Its not a daunting task. I am here to help!

Do you wish your current science program included engaging hands-on activities that helped your students experience each standard in a meaningful way?

Do you wish your current science program provided rich informational texts and literacy skill building for each standard?

Do you wish your current science program offered a multifaceted approach to learning each standard to reach every type of learner on every level?

Do you wish your current science program covered the latest standards and trends in science education?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then this post is for you!

Let’s take a look at lesson planning for your science program.

Lesson Planning

Now that you have a year long plan, you can quickly and easily organize standards and materials!

You need to find a lesson planning format that will help you cover each standard in the best way. You need a variety of “teacher input” parts of your lessons. You also need a good attention grabbing intro activity to ignite curiosity and to activate prior knowledge. Literacy and hands on learning opportunities are big players in student achievement and understanding. Once you have a great selection of “inputs”, you need to find meaningful student “output” activities such as analyzing data, interactive science notebook activities, and projects. End each lesson with a formative assessment, and end each unit with a summative assessment.

I know a lot of people love the 5E lesson planning format. I used it for years before creating a format that I feel works better for me. I use a lesson planning format that I have called Science in Perfect Portions. I feel it covers each concept in depth, while presenting material in an order that is easy for students to follow. Before coming up with this Perfect Portions planning format, I spent hours finding activities and plugging them into my lesson plans. Using this for each week has been a huge time saver!

Take a look at the explanation of my lesson plan format to see how I use it to develop lessons. Click the image below to get the whole lesson planning Science in Perfect Portions kit PLUS a printable template to start planning today. **FREEBIE**

Science in Perfect Portions Lesson Planning Format

Science in Perfect Portions Lesson Planning Format

With a simplified lesson plan format, you can simply go down the line and find activities to plug into each category.

I pull up my lesson planning format template to help me decide what all I need to find for each lesson and standard.

Where do I get ideas and materials? I have two places that I frequent. I absolutely love Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers!!! Huge time savers and a great way to connect with other educators and share ideas.

My pinterest boards are filled with ideas… I am an ¬†idea hoarder, and I’m okay with that.

Since I have made it my career to create science programs and resources for schools and teachers, I am working to build a complete program for every grade level K-8! Big goals, I know, but I have 5th completed, 4th completed, and my Middle School program has many options so far. I plan to complete my K-3 programs this Summer and upcoming school year (2017-2018).

Follow me on this blog, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to see the progress I am making and the ideas I share for science education!

Keep an eye out for the next post and I will cover selecting high quality resources.

How to Build an Amazing Science Program at your School- Part 2 #planninggoals

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Last week we started off this series with #learninggoals. I listed some must have’s for learning goals.

What makes an outstanding Science program that supports the teachers in your school?

Calling all teachers, specialists, and principals! Its not a daunting task. I am here to help!

Do you wish your current science program included engaging hands-on activities that helped your students experience each standard in a meaningful way?

Do you wish your current science program provided rich informational texts and literacy skill building for each standard?

Do you wish your current science program offered a multifaceted approach to learning each standard to reach every type of learner on every level?

Do you wish your current science program covered the latest standards and trends in science education?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then this post is for you!

Let’s take a look at planning your school year out for your science program.

Scope and Sequence Planning

The first step I take in planning is to look over the standards I need to cover for the year, and figure out how to organize them into the weeks of my school year.

Your scope and sequence will give you a starting point to plan for the year and plug in the lessons you have or find for each week. This will simplify your thought process and help you move through the year smoothly.

Try to find a way to group the standards into units by finding which standards are similar or can build off each other. Your scope and sequence may be planned for you by your district, but this template may help you add more focus to their scope and sequence.

Take a look at the first page of my scope and sequence in 4th grade science to see how I separate standards into lessons. My lessons all follow both NGSS and TEKS (Texas) to make sure all topics are well covered. Click the image below to get the whole scope and sequence PLUS two printable scope and sequence templates. **FREEBIE**

Scope and Sequence Page

Year at a Glance Plan 4th grade science

 

Keep an eye out for the next post and I will cover lesson planning for each week of the year.

How to Build an Amazing Science Program at your School – Part 1 #learninggoals

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What makes an outstanding Science program that supports the teachers in your school?

Calling all teachers, specialists, and principals! Its not a daunting task. I am here to help!

Do you wish your current science program included engaging hands-on activities that helped your students experience each standard in a meaningful way?

Do you wish your current science program provided rich informational texts and literacy skill building for each standard?

Do you wish your current science program offered a multifaceted approach to learning each standard to reach every type of learner on every level?

Do you wish your current science program covered the latest standards and trends in science education?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then this series is for you!

Before we get into my list of must haves for building an amazing science program, lets look at some goals in learning.

#learninggoals

Here is how I see the most effective learning plan in a classroom.

A well structured curriculum will offer your students a stimulating learning environment which provides hands on opportunities to see their standards come to life in real world ways. Throughout the learning process, students need to experience each standard with a literacy-rich, multifaceted approach which presents the concepts in a variety of ways that reaches every learner at their level and style. Teaching with this higher level of engagement will help them reach higher levels of understanding.

Creating a learning environment which is curious and constructive will make a huge impact in student engagement and comprehension. The goals of an engaging learning environment are simple, but effective classroom

#1 Above all else, have fun!

learning games

Test Scores, Schmest Scores is what I say. If you provide fun learning in an interesting and meaningful way, they will learn. I had to do very little intervention in my 5th grade Science classroom to get low level students up to passing our lovely standardized tests. I just found a new way to make learning like play. Think about it. Would you rather go to staff meetings and professional development where you played games like Taboo with your teammates, or sit and take notes and hear someone talk? I know which one I would pick!! By the way, can we start playing game in meetings? Pretty, pretty please. Insert begging emoticon here ūüôā ¬†Games, movements, and investigating are key to fun, effective learning. Look at every standard as you are planning and ask yourself, “How can I turn this into a game?” It works every time! Take the simple games like Candy Land, War, and Go Fish. Turn them into a game for a table to play together, or even better, turn it into a life sized game for the whole class to move around and play! This isn’t just for review, it works for learning a new concept as well. Look at this game I made to teach students the parts of life cycles in order.

#2 Get Moving!

I know adding movement into your classroom is a good way to help get those physical activity hours they need for the week, but it also works wonders for the brain and learning. I read article after article about how little movement kids get in their day, and it makes me sad. I don’t want to sit in a meeting all day, do you? I might even get up to go to the bathroom during a meeting just so I can stretch my legs and back and move around some.

Adding movement into the classroom is probably the least expensive way to take your lessons up to higher level learning. I have a blog post coming up later this month with the many ways you can add movement into your classroom, so be watching for it!

I’ll go ahead and share my all time favorite way to add movement into learning: Science Says. We play Simon Says with our Science Terms. The kids would know their science terms and movements so well through this game, that I would see them acting out those movements while working on the STAAR test. Be still my teacher heart!

Grab a printable sample of my Science Says game by clicking the image.

science says

 

#3 Get Talking!

Yes, talking to partners and tables makes for a loud classroom. However, it makes for a better classroom! Kids learn well by sharing ideas with their peers. Kids are naturally talkative creatures. Think about all the kids who follow you around telling you their long-winded stories about what happened on their favorite TV show, or what they did after school yesterday. They love to talk and share, so use that to your advantage. Find ways for them to work together to problem solve, present a concept or creation to the class, or even debate some ideas or predictions on an upcoming lab. When we share ideas as an adult, we learn so much more about the world around us. Think about all the amazing ideas you find and can improve upon in the teacher social media world. Teachers share great ideas from their classrooms on instagram , pinterest, and facebook. It gets me thinking of new ideas for my own classroom! If you aren’t following teachers on these platforms, click the links and do so now .

Most of the learning and “ah-ha” moments I have ever witnessed in the classroom, came through group work and group sharing. Looking at the students in this end of the year ¬†STEM challenge, they are engaged. They are focused, and thinking, and enjoying what they are doing. They may not even know that they are learning!

group work

#4 Use Trends to Your Advantage

What is it the kids are excited about? What is the newest obsession? Use that in your lessons and have instant engagement. I saw so many super amazing things posted on social media of teachers taking advantage of that Pokemon-Go hype last year.  Think about those oh-so-annoying fidget spinners. I know you want to chuck them out the back door, but they are so hot right now and you can find a use for them in your lessons. You could put one on the front table and tell students to race the spinner to draw the carbon dioxide Рoxygen cycle diagram as fast as they can. They are playing with a toy that they love, and you are getting in that review that you love. Its a Win-Win!

Watch my fidget spinner go while my kids clean their room. It worked!! They never clean their rooms this fast!

A few of the topics I will be covering in this series over the next couple weeks are:

#2 Organizing Your Thinking – A great place to start! –with FREEBIES–

#3 Planning – Choosing an effective lesson planning format and filling it with the best types of high quality resources. –with FREEBIES–

#4 How to Pick High Quality Resources – This may be the most important part. You don’t have to break the bank, either! ¬†I will share my favorite resources here! –with FREEBIES–

#5 Classroom Setup – This is a big one. I will cover interactive notebook storage, word walls, seating, prep time savers, and much more! –with FREEBIES–

#6 Why I Absolutely Love Teaching – Having the right perspective on your classroom, materials, coworkers, and students will turn your job into something you love! Let’s slightly modify that cliche work quote I see all over the internet and posters into saying: Love what you do, where you’re at, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

All these posts will come out over the next few weeks, so keep checking back and don’t forget to sign up to get my email alerts for new posts! (You can sign up to follow my blog by email by clicking the “follow” button on the right.)

I hope this helped get you thinking about a few things to work into your curriculum! The next posts will be full of good information [and freebies!] you won’t want to miss out!

 

 

 

Creative Play and Learning

Playdoh + Glowsticks + Flashlights = Exciting Learning Fun!

Having a four year old at home who is very interested in Science and Engineering keeps me busy looking for something to challenge or intrigue him. Today, he so proudly brought me that Earth he made. I have been building a 4th grade Earth, Sun, and Moon curriculum bundle this week, so of course we had to turn his Earth creation into a science lesson!

He used blue and green playdoh to make the model Earth. We added a glow-stick for the Earth’s axis (glow-sticks make everything more exciting), and took it to the dark hallway for some observation. He recently learned about the reason for day and night on the Storybots TV show, so this was a perfect observation for him. Once in the dark hallway, we talked about the axis and how the Earth spins on it. Using a flashlight, we demonstrated how the side of Earth facing the Sun experiences day while the side facing away from the Sun experiences night. When I asked him to spin the Earth on its axis, he was able to see the locations around his world experience day, then night, then day again.

Little things like this seem commonplace for grown-ups like ourselves, but kids have wonder and amazement running wild through their veins. I will never forget how amazed my fifth graders were each year when I boiled water and showed them evaporation. It is something I see every time I cook, but those kiddos sat and stared enthralled in the simple act of physics.

I have read study after study explaining the importance in play for young learners. The American Academy of Pediatrics says, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.¬†It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.”

Play allows children to build essential skills, while building schema.

I have spent this year working with Pre-K kiddos two days a week at a private preschool. I learned very quickly that any “learning” we did disguised as play was a huge success. My teaching partner and I have turn each of our lessons into a playtime or craftivity. The kiddos are engaged, they are learning a lot, and they look forward to our centers. Most of all they look forward to our Mad Science Days! A little theme based science experiment with some goggles and lab coats make memories for those kiddos that will stick with them through science classes in their future. We let them observe a big model of clouds and rain in the water cycle, make ice cream in baggies to see how liquid can turn to ice when its cold enough, and they got to draw their favorite parts on dry erase boards. A few kiddos even asked how to spell some of the important words they remembered making my teacher heart very happy.

Teaching older kids is really not much different! My 8th graders loved traveling through the Convection Currents process, stopping at each lab station along their journey through the classroom to see what the next step that was. Either reaching a card to read or a lab to observe along the way, they would record their findings in their passport. They talked to each other in passing about something neat they had seen, they smiled as they worked, and they remembered. The end product was using their passport to draw a diagram of convection currents. An image they could visually create and remember while processing the lesson.

In fifth grade science, I turned every unit of lesson material I was supposed to teach into a game, a scavenger hunt, or an art project. Getting moving, getting creative, and playing with friends, kept my ten year olds engaged and learning. I would see them making our Science Says motions while they thought through a question on a test. Another happy teacher heart moment. Play made our lessons and content memorable. And, as an extra bonus, it helped them do well on standardized testing.

If you just allow your students to play, create, explore, and investigate the “simple” things of the world around them, you might just have interested and engaged kids growing and thriving in your class!

 

Why Use Poetry in Your Science Classroom?

 

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I am a really big fan of using read alouds in the science classroom. I love books, and that means I have to share my love of reading with my science kiddos! Reading in the science classroom has so many cross-curricular benefits for kids. Gail Gibbons and Basher Science are by far my favorite authors for science read alouds. They are interesting and provide great information.

Since it is National Poetry Month in April, I thought it would be a great time to talk about adding some poetry into science!

Poetry is a great tool for a science teacher. Poetry can have catchy rhythms, humor, and paint vivid pictures about a topic. Kids commit things to memory easily when they hear a rhyme. That is why nursery rhymes are so great for kids learning to read. Writing poetry can be a great formative assessment tool. Grab these Poetry Templates for Science!

Here are the reasons why I love poetry for science classrooms:

(And how to add it to your science classroom)

1.Poetry can be used to spark interest, excitement, curiosity, and get their attention.

Use a poem to introduce a new topic or unit. Read the poem to your class to get them interested in the topic. Poems are usually short and fun to listen to, so I will read them a couple times to my class.

2. Poetry can activate prior knowledge.

Ask your students questions about the poem’s title to help them activate their prior knowledge. Ask what they think the poem might be about, or specific details they might expect to hear in the poem. After reading the poem, you can lead a discussion with students asking them if they agree with the information in the poem, or if they were surprised by anything in the poem. Use a K-W-L chart to record your discussion points in the reading process.

3. Poetry can introduce a topic or unit.

Read a science poem at the start of a lesson. Have students talk about the theme or the topic of the poem with their neighbors. See if they can connect the poem to the learning goal, or the I Can statement, for the lesson.

4. Poetry can introduce and reinforce vocabulary.

Poems are usually shorter, simpler texts which  makes it easier for students to notice new vocabulary and understand the vocabulary. You can write the word on the board so students will know which words to listen for when you read. Discuss the possible meaning of the word based on context clues in the poem.

5. Poetry can teach facts. 

Poems are a fun way for students to learn and collect new facts. You can give students a bubble map or other graphic organizer to collect facts they hear in the poem.

6. Poetry can inspire nonfiction writing.

Use fun, informative poems as a mentor text for your students. When we think about informational texts, we usually think about a research paper, a biography, or an expository writing. Poems are another great way to write nonfiction! They are more creative and feel more fun to write. Have students mimic the style of the mentor text to get a feel for writing nonfiction poetry. Acrostic poems work, too! Grab these Poetry Templates for Science!

7. Poetry can give a new perspective on the same information students get from other methods.

Reading about the steps of the life cycle of an animal can be really informative. But reading about the steps of the grasshopper life cycle using the poem “Grasshoppers” by Douglass Florian, can paint a picture that a beautiful life cycle graphic can’t even accomplish!

Grab some poetry!

Here are the science poetry books I have been using for years, and I love them! (with links and ideas for using them)

Beast Feast by Douglas Florian

  • Read the short poems in this book, and have students listen for special structures each animal has that help it survive in its environment.
  • Students can fill in a T-chart categorizing the inherited traits and learned behaviors from the poems.
  • Use these poems for a mentor text, and have students write their own informational poems.

animal structures poems

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two by Paul Fleischman

  • Reading through these two person poems have a really neat sound and its fun for kids to read along and hear it read. Break up the class into two groups. Have group one read the left side and group two read the right side. It will be fun for everyone! To change it up, pick group members at random rather than by side of the room. Its interesting to hear synchronized voices all around the room.
  • The poems in this book can add imagery to your units on life cycles. My favorite poems for life cycles are: Grasshoppers, The Digger Wasp, Honey Bees, and Chrysalis Diary.
  • ¬†You can read these poems with your class to introduce the life cycle unit. These poems can also be great for students to read and then write their own summary or story about an animal going through their life cycle.
  • Use these poems for a mentor text, and have students write their own informational two person poem.

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Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian

  • The poems in this book are great to use for¬†a unit on the planets in our Solar System. They also are perfect for units on the Sun, the Earth, and Moon Phases. They would be perfect for introducing the unit, or individual objects. Poems I like to use from this book are:¬†The Solar System¬†to introduce and discuss the Earth’s orbit around the Sun;¬†The Sun to introduce and learn some facts about the Sun; The Earth to introduce and learn some facts about the Earth; The Moon to introduce the phases of the Moon.
  • Students can use a graphic organizer to collect facts from the poems about each object.
  • Use these poems for a mentor text, and have students write their own informational poem about objects in our Solar System.

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Spectacular Science by Lee Bennett Hopkins

  • I love these short poems for introducing units and topics. The poems are not as informational as the others I have mentioned in this post, but are nice for introducing a topic and getting your students’ attention. Here are my favorites for the book and their topics: ¬†What is Science? (Nature of Science), The Seed (Life Cycle of a Plant), Crystal Vision (Light), Dinosaur Bones (Sedimentary Rocks and Fossils), How? (Animal Instincts).

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Now, you can use poetry to enrich your science classroom!

Writing poetry is a perfect opportunity for your students to show you what they know! I love using poetry writing in science for students to get creative and process new information. And, poems make a great display product for a bulletin board or around your classroom.
These templates make it painless and simple to add poetry writing in your science classroom!

Grab these Poetry Templates for Science!

poetry 1

How to Create Lapbooks for the Interactive Science Notebook

mini lapbooks

Lapbooks had been showing up in my Pinterest feed more and more, and I wanted to find the best way to use them in a science classroom. All the lapbooks I come across look fun and interactive, and I know students would enjoy creating and using them.

Thinking over the many uses of a lapbook in a science classroom, I decided that they would be a great addition to an interactive science notebook. Essentially, lapbooks and interactive notebooks both give students an interactive place to collect and store new information for future practice and reference.

One thing bothered me about lapbooks. Where would I keep these lapbooks in my classroom? I have always organized and stored student notebooks in my classroom. Each table with its own crate to hold the notebooks. Students can take their notebooks home for review or homework help as needed, but having a dedicated place of storage in the classroom cuts down on students losing and destroying them. A lapbook for each student, for each topic, would really add clutter to my already filled classroom. **Idea** Make the lapbooks IN the notebooks!

mini lapbook image.pngI have a system for creating lapbooks for each topic in your science lessons, and how to get a whole lapbook onto a page in the student notebook.

  1. Create a lapbook using printer paper and glue it into the notebook on the input side.
  2. Use the materials that you already have in your lesson files to fill the lapbook with valuable information and learning tools.
  3. Create these lapbooks during the time you already use for interactive notebook input.

Students can always look back and review the interactive learning tool you have provided for them! This is great for test prep and review.

Easy to create, easy to store, and easy for students to use!

Grab this FREE mini lapbook guide with set up and printables!

Lapbook Template

 

Here is my Complete List of What to Include in your Lapbooks for the Interactive Science Notebook:

  1. Topic/ I Can Statement or Standard
  2. Guiding Question to Answer
  3. K-W-L or Schema Building Activity
  4. Vocabulary Matching (Cards and Definitions can be found in these review stations.)
  5. Anchor Chart
  6. Lab or Activity Sheet
  7. Interactive Science Notebook Input Activity

**Print on the setting “4 per page” to get the printables small enough for your mini lapbook.

You can always take this lapbook idea and use it for a file folder sized lapbook if that is the format you like best!

This whole system could be easily modified to work in a math or history/ social studies classroom, too!! The possibilities are endless ūüôā

Have fun making Interactive Science Notebooks even more interactive!!!

How to get your work done during the school day (and leave on time)

how to work smarter

Hi teacher friends! Since school is starting back up, I want to share my secret to keeping my sanity while teaching. I am a planner, and I figured out¬†very quickly that teaching was a job that needed serious time management. At first, I spent nights and weekends grading papers. It took me four hours on Sunday nights to plan my week’s lessons and write my lesson plans to turn in to my principal. I spend who knows how many hours online and in book stores researching the best creative and effective ways to teach my content. When you spend ten hours at school teaching, prepping, tutoring, and planning, the last thing you want to do (or need to do) it work at home.

We all need a nice, relaxing, enjoyable home life. I have found that having hobbies and date nights and family movie nights and attending church all help me live a happy life. Working long hours and continuing to work at home take away those joys.

I know that teaching is a demanding career. Never before did I have so much responsibility, diversity, planning, data, or training like teaching required. We teachers have a great deal of information and activities to cram into each day of the school year. I have worked in all exemplary schools with very high expectations on the teachers. So, I know the incredible stress of needing your students to pass state tests. I am hoping that sharing some ways I found to get my work done at school and leave on time will help you find ways to do the same.

  1. Get to work at least 30 minutes before the kids get there. This will give you time to make sure you have everything you need for the day, look over your plans, start the day quietly, and maybe even catch up or get ahead on copies or grading.
  2. Sneak in time to grade student work. I would grade while I ate, while I made copies, while I waiting on a meeting to start, and after school. Its never a good idea to grade while you should be monitoring or teaching. If the students are in your care, its probably not the best time to grade. Grading student work using a remote (CPS) system can be a huge time saver, if it is a multiple choice assignment. I used the remote system for grading homework assignments quickly. It also gave us a chance to talk about each question as a class, and give the class and me an idea how well everyone was understanding the questions.
  3. Make class time count. The more involved you are in assessing and redirecting and guiding student learning, the better they will “get it” the first time. As students work, walk around observing, asking questions, and assessing their work. If you can work with each student individually throughout the day on their assignments, then you may be able to tutor within each lesson. This just makes your time more effective. I am not saying this will replace your normal tutoring time, but they will be more successful with your extra attention throughout the day. For each topic, teach it and show it in a variety of ways. The more your students experience and re-experience a topic, the better it will “stick” with them. They say it takes reading or hearing something seven times to commit it to memory. How many times do your students see or hear the content? Repetition is a great method for helping students commit it to memory.
  4. Plan during your planning period. I know meetings and obligations come up during your planning period, but use that as much as possible to plan. I recently wrote a post about how I use a system to plan efficiently. Find a system that will work for most units, and you can just plug the materials in. Here are a couple examples of my lesson planning.

This is a planning page that shows my overall system of planning resources for a lesson. lesson brainstorming imgHere is an actual lesson plan that I have written for 5th grade science. It will show you how those resources fit into my week. Every week just about follows this plan. Same plan, new topic, new resources.Free science lesson- Structures and Functions of Plants and Animals

6. Prep. As part of my planning, I sort the copies I make and set up the materials for the next day. Here is an overview of my prep methods:

Make lesson plans at least three weeks ahead. Make copies at least one week ahead. Place labels on an empty counter space for each day of the week. On Thursdays, stack the copies and materials you need for each day of the following week on those labels. On Thursday,  you can also move your Friday (of this week) materials to your desk for easy access. When it comes to a lab or activity that requires a material list. I would set that up the day before. After school the day before a lab or activity, set out a basket for each table. Fill the baskets with the materials each group will need. You can either place a basket at each table, or you can have a group member pick up the materials when needed. This seriously would take me about 20 minutes after school. *As you write your lessons, think ahead to what materials you will need for those lessons to make sure you have them when that week comes around.

7. Make a Happy List. Okay, this is just a fun thing for you to do. What are ten activities that make you happy? Make your list and aim to do at least one of those things each week. Here is my happy list:

happy list

And, I could add chalk art while the kids play to that list. ūüôā

Whatever your workload this year, make time for yourself. Love yourself, and I believe your teaching will be even more successful!

Best Wishes this year!

Why Elementary Science Matters (and How You Can Make It Happen)

why elementary science matters

Science matters in Kindergarten, just as much as it matters in High School. With elementary science teachers, high school science teachers have a huge helping hand in teaching and sparking scientific interest in our kids today as well as for our scientists and thinkers of the future.

When I used to think about a science classroom, I thought about high school and college labs with experiments and triple beam balances and hot plates and lab coats. That picture I had in my head for older students, is exactly what I had to set up in order to teach science to 5th graders! I didn’t realize how crucial a strong science curriculum was for elementary, until I was¬†teaching middle school and moved down to 5th grade. In 8th grade, we worked with 7th grade teachers to get students prepared for the rigor of 8th grade science. In 7th grade, we looked to the 5th and 6th grade teachers to prepare our students for building their skills and knowledge for mastery in 7th. In¬†5th grade, it surprised me. I covered pretty advanced concepts for what I expected elementary science to be. There is a huge jump from the simple observations and concepts in Kindergarten to what students need to know coming into 5th grade. Elementary science is where we build the schema/ background knowledge and skills that our students use in middle school and high school.

stem in the classroom

Why Does Science Matter?

Science Sparks Interest

The mind of a child is interested and curious. I know that at some point you have probably experienced a small child with their endless bombardment of questions. They are interested and want to know about the world around them. Use that curiosity and inquiry to spark a lifelong interest in gathering information, solving problems, and critical thinking. Kids are thinkers. All we need to do is foster that thinking, and grow them into the great minds of the future.

Science Builds Schema

Science is one of those subjects that covers just about everything. When a student has been given the opportunity to study¬†the life cycle of an animal, they will be able to better understand a story about a caterpillar eating and growing and transforming. When a student has been given the opportunity to observe and identify signs of the seasons, they will better understand and imagine an author’s description of a season in a story. ¬†And of course, it builds the schema students need coming into each new grade level’s science class. Learning about plants and watching a flower grow in kindergarten builds a background that helps them learn the life cycle and parts of a plant. The life cycle of a plant and learning the basic plant parts helps build that base so they can learn more plant parts and plant reproduction later on down the road. Knowing plant parts and reproduction will be knowledge they can pull from when learning about genetics and Punnett’s Squares in biology. This knowledge can lead interested students into future science careers and research. A student who wants to be a doctor will need a good base education in science in order to make it to med school. Ensuring the students experience all the building blocks of science education through elementary school will set them up for success in the future.

Science Develops Skills 

Teaching kids to think and process information like a scientist develops critical thinking, problem solving, and nonfiction reading and writing skills. These skills are cross curricular and will continue progress with the student each year. Science, Inquiry Based Learning, and STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) have become a major focus in education. I think that shift in education is wonderful for all content areas. Thinking like a scientist uses predicting, analytical thinking, research, planning, testing, and making conclusions. This way of thinking encourages recognition of cause and effect relationships as well as recording data, writing facts and opinions, and writing instructions when testing a hypothesis.  Research, recording data, and writing conclusions all helps with reading and writing in the non-fiction genre. Measuring and making calculations helps with math skills. Another aspect of teaching kids to think like a scientist is the social skills they acquire. Students in a science class work together, plan together, test hypotheses together, create together, and share opinions and ideas with others. Working together like this prepares students to work together in all the content areas, as well as in real world situations.

hands on science

How Can You Make It Happen?

Build Your Own Science Knowledge

I was fortunate enough to have a strong education in science during college. I changed from an engineering career to a teaching career mid-college, giving me some extra science and math classes. My education program at the university also packed science and math into my teaching degree. I have realized over the years that most teachers¬†did not receive as much science background, and some claim to not even be interested in science. ¬†First let me say that if you are interested in anything at all, you have an interest in science. ūüėČ Science is the study of the world around us. Do you have a hobby such as hiking? Then, you have an interest in nature and weather. Are you interested in cooking? Then, you would find some chemistry and health sciences interesting. A great place to find your interest in science and build your knowledge is by watching TED Talks. I recently discovered these, and they are fascinating. I have learned about social issues and problem solvers, space exploration, water purification, and my list could go on forever. TED Talks are quick, usually under 20¬†minutes. The speakers have passion and a world of knowledge to share. I highly recommend finding some TED talks that interest you or pertain to something you teach. ¬†I have found them on Netflix, too! Thanks to ¬†the internet, you can find endless resources to read, watch, and research topics that you teach. Social media has given us an opportunity to connect with scientists and organizations all over the world.

Here are my favorite resources for gaining more science background for teachers:

  1. TED Talks
  2. Open Yale Courses
  3. Discovery Education
  4. NSTA Learning Center
  5. Twitter – Follow scientists and organizations

Create A Knowledge Rich And Hands On Curriculum For Science In The Younger Grades

This is the part that can stress teachers out. Rethinking your curriculum?! I believe you can make science lessons informative and still make them fun for little ones. I have a selection of resource types that I find important in a science curriculum for all grades K-8. If you have resources like these and set up a nice system to follow, planning and implementing lessons will be a smooth process.

  1. Science Wall. This is a focus point in the room that starts and ends each day. Post learning goals as questions for the students to work for an answer throughout the lesson. Post diagrams the students are learning in each lesson. Post the word wall words of the day. The freebie I linked to here provides students will a recording sheet that they can use to answer those guiding questions and turn in as an exit slip.
  2. Something fun to get students interested and help access their prior knowledge. This can be an activity, a game, a simple experiment, a video clip of the science topic in action, a read aloud, or a craftivity. I don’t usually make this a big, time consuming event, just something fun.
  3. Word Wall. This is a place to focus on science specific words and can help guide students through understanding the new words from each unit. I not only have the cards on the wall, but I have a series of activities that help students process and practice the words.
  4. The Informative (Input). I love using the reading passages and processing pages from Science and Literacy lesson sets to give students the basic knowledge they need before they can experience each topic hands on. With Science and Literacy, they have the opportunity to read informational texts and process them with graphic organizers and writing. Interactive Science Notebooks are another piece in my Informative lesson part. Interactive Notebooks are fun for kids and allow you a place to give them information in an new way. Interactive Notebooks have an Input and Output page, allowing students another way to process the new information.
  5. Exploration. My favorite part of every lesson! And, the students’ favorite part as well. This is the hands on part in which students can observe and explore the topic. These can be activities, games, observations, experiments, labs, teacher directed or student centered, hands on activities. My favorite ways to allow students to explore each topic are in the¬†Science and Literacy lesson sets.
  6. Anchor Charts. Make these with your students as a reference for the information you have learned. Post them around the room, and have students draw their own copy in their notebooks.
  7. Assessment. Formative and Summative assessments are great ways to see how well your students grasped the learning goal of each lesson and unit. I give a formative assessment, which I give as a challenge/ critical thinking assignment, at the end of each lesson. I give a summative assessment, or unit test, at the end of each unit.
  8. Review. Reivew the concepts you covered throughout the year to refresh students memories and give them a deeper understanding. Stations are a fun way to review in the last semester of school. You can also have some review pages and diagrams for the students to work on. Review resources can also work for tutoring lessons.

Set Your Students Up For Success

You may look at an informational text or a lab and worry that it is too much for your students in your grade level. Students are more capable than we realize a lot of the time. We just have to set them up to be able to work  at that level. A gradual release of responsibility is necessary for getting students to higher levels of thinking and production. Start off the year by modeling the work that you will be expecting your students to be capable of handling on their own in the near future. For example, read the first informational text to the students while they follow along. Model how you think and process new words and new information. As you fill out the graphic organizer, think out loud showing them how they might get the answers in their own thinking. Students can follow along with you and copy what you are writing. Use this same modeling process for writing a summary about the reading. If students seem to be understanding the process, allow them to share input as you work through the next informational text. Allow them to share their thinking and contribute to completing the graphic organizers and writing. Repeat this process with the next couple informational texts as well until you can tell the students are going to be successful on their own. Once they are ready to try out the informational texts on their own, allow them to work with a friend and walk around helping the students. Provide feedback and guidance. Eventually, the students will work independently and be successful.

The idea of a gradual release of responsibility is useful in science activities and labs as well. Model working through the scientific process and following directions, ask for student assistance and input while modeling,  provide feedback and support while students work on their own or with others, allow students to work independently or with others without much help or redirection needed. If you provide the right amount of guidelines and boundaries, you will have a classroom of successfully independent scientists.

Modify and Accommodate Learners

When choosing modifications and accommodations, I like to stick to the ones the students will be using on their standardized tests and that are listed in their IEPs. This will help them to be successful when using the modifications and accommodations on those tests and in the classroom the following school years. Additional assistance and lingering a little longer with the gradual release of responsibility with those students will help them to be more successful in the classroom. Here are some of the modifications I use in the classroom based on the needs of each student:

  • ¬†Reminders to stay on task and for behavior
  • Amplification devices and Screen REadiwer
  • Enlarged print – and more space between questions
  • Oral administration of reading passages, assignments, test questions and answers – teacher read or prerecorded onto an audio player
  • Transcribing – writing answers for the student on a variety of assignments and levels
  • Supplemental Aides – blank diagrams students can use in science
  • Extended Time – maybe even an extra day
  • Fewer Questions
  • Fewer Answer Choices
  • Modified Rubric
  • Breaking up assignments into manageable chunks

Thank you elementary science teachers for all you do! Your hard work matters!!

Back to School: 3 Steps to Streamlining Your Lesson Planning

3 steps to lesson planning

July is almost over already?!?! Summer goes by faster and faster each year I think. July is the month I always scheduled my CPE and professional development workshops to prepare for the upcoming school year. I also get organized and set up for my school year in July. I am a bit of a planning nerd, so a good deal of my lessons and classroom were usually set up by the time I left the previous school year. But, I always used July to really get it together.

Okay, so where do I begin planning an entire year?

Evaluate, Simplify, Plan

step 1 evaluate

First, I evaluate what¬†I need to cover.¬†Your state and district standards are always a great place to start. Some schools provide a scope and sequence to let you know when to cover each standard. If you don’t have a scope and sequence, break up your standards across your year. I use a calendar like the picture below to organize the standards in a logical order and take into account school holidays.

planning calendar

2 simplify

Second, I simplify by planing out my system for teaching. I like to begin with a learning goal based on the standard(s) I have planned for the week(s). Having a specific method for teaching in your classroom will help you organize and streamline the planning process of each lesson. Here is the planning method I use:”IDEA” Introduce, Details, Experience, Assess.

lesson brainstorming img

Click here to download my¬†lesson brainstorming¬†pages! My gift to you to help get your school year off to a low-stress start ūüôā

If you would like to see a whole year of my lesson planning, check out my Science Lesson Plans freebie on Teachers Pay Teachers. This might help give you an idea how I use resources to cover each part of my teaching process. Mondays usually cover the Introduce lesson, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the Details, Thursdays are the Experience and the formative part of the Assessment. Fridays are¬†a day I use to spread out a longer lesson, or to complete comprehensive Science Stations to review the concepts from the year. This gives you time to work with small groups for extra learning or provide a reteach if the formative assessment doesn’t show the mastery you wanted. A week from my¬†Science Lesson Plans freebie is shown below. I make sure to provide links to any resources I use for each lesson.
Free Science Lessons: Complete and Incomplete Metamorphosis

3 plan

Third, I plan. I look at each standard/ lesson and decide which teaching materials and resources will be the best to cover it. I have a collection of resources that I add to and update each year as I go along to meet new standards or new methods of teaching. I suggest storing your collection of resources in binders. Depending on the amount of resources you have, you can put everything for one unit, or one standard, into its own binder. I started my teaching career using filing cabinets. I swear I had a troll living in my filing cabinet because papers were always all over the place and I had a hard time finding anything. I soon figured out binders were much better for me ūüôā When building your collection, Pinterest is a great place to start! So many great ideas. I can get lost in my¬†Pinterest “Planning” time for hours. It just sucks me right in! I have many education and science boards already set up if you need a place to start looking.

I also have a blog post for each week of the school year for my upper elementary/ 5th grade lessons.

Once you have a good collection of materials and resources, go ahead and start plugging them into your lesson plans!

Here are the big collection bundled resources I have been recommending to the teachers who have already been emailing me for planning suggestions this summer.

Everything 5th Grade Science

2nd grade interactive science notebook bundle