How We Got Rid of Missing Homework (Excuses) With Google Forms

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One of the things my middle school team and I struggled a lot with before holiday break was the high rate of students who did not turn in homework and assignments on time. At first, we created a Google Document that listed students and their missing work. The document was shared with the middle school teachers and Grades 6-8 students. Students who were listed on the document had to come in during lunch and recess for “lunch detention” to make up their missing work.

While the Google Document allowed us to keep track of assignments, it made more work for us as teachers. We rotated through lunch shifts so that one or more teachers had their homerooms open for students to make up missing work. Did we doom ourselves to eating lunch alone in the classroom, never to eat lunch together again in the faculty lounge?

I was determined not to work harder than my students, and to figure out a way to get back to that far-away faculty lounge!  After a long thoughtful conversation with the boss, I realized that if we teachers wanted our students to take more responsibility for their work (or lack of), we had to reach out to their parents and get them in on the action. Sure, we emailed and made phone calls, but the communication channels weren’t always immediate.

What if there was a way to log online when a student didn’t do his or her homework? What if parents received an automated email each time this happened? Parents could talk to their child about that assignment on that exact same day. It would be parents holding their own children accountable, and not a Google Document, or teachers eating lunch in their classrooms. We’d finally start getting more work in on time!

By December, I was already using Google Forms with the Flubaroo Add-On for short quick assessments in the science classroom. After Googling ideas, sure enough, there was such a way!

Through my Internet research, I came across Mr. Trussell’s 2014 blog post, “Setting Up A Form To Email Parents About Missing Homework“. Within two hours, I had a working “Missing Homework” Google Forms template and a parent email template! I shared them immediately with the middle school team when we returned from break, and we were ready to roll.

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Screenshot of the Missing Homework/Classwork Google Form

 

That weekend before the end of the holiday break, I wrote mass emails to parents in each grade introducing the Missing Homework form and automated notices. Within minutes, my inbox was flooded with enthusiastic responses from parents, who loved the idea. Needless to say, students were wary that first Monday back.

Each teacher has his or her own way of using the Missing Homework Google Form. I use it with my work iPad, walking around the room and collecting work individually as students work on bell-ringers. Other teachers bookmark it on their desktop computers and run the list of students missing work during one of their preps.

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Screenshot of the first email template

We middle school teachers have used the Missing Homework forms for a whole month now, and I’m glad to say that it has greatly reduced the amount of missing homework and assignments. In that first week of January, we had close to 30% of students not submit work on time. That number went down to 8% in just two days after those automated parent emails were generated.  Now, a full month later, we no longer see the same staggering amounts of students with missing work.

Since then, I’ve tweaked the Missing Homework Google Form a little bit in response to peer teacher and parent feedback. Specials teachers loved the Google Form and wanted to use it in their classes to notify parents of late classwork and projects. Those teachers’ names were added to the drop-down menus, and I edited the form to include classwork. Parents also wanted to know the names of the missing assignments, when the assignments were assigned, and what the assignment deadlines were. I changed the short answer textbox to long answer textbox so teachers could add the necessary information–they could be as brief or as detailed as they wanted!

One of the drawbacks of the Missing Homework Google Form was that the “Autocrat” Add-on does not automatically merge the spreadsheet, email template, and coding whenever I submit a log on the Missing Homework Google Form. Fortunately, I have the last prep of the day so I can set time aside to open up the Google Form and run the merge manually while I type up homework emails to teachers and text reminders (Remind) to parents for the day.

So that I don’t forget to do it, I used the “Form Notifications” Add-on on the Google Form itself to send me email notifications whenever there are five or more responses added to the Google Form by the other teachers.

Despite the heavy legwork upfront, the Missing Homework Google Form, and automated emails have greatly improved our parent-teacher communications. Parents love getting the emails, and we teachers have PDF records we can refer to back up student grades. In addition, the Google Form offers visual diagrams of student work through its summary of responses.

I wouldn’t say that we have completely eradicated students’ inability to turn work in on time as a team, but at least, I get the opportunity now to take a real lunch break!

New Year, One Goal

 

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Goal setting for the new year with my #getotoworkbook

For 2016, here’s my New Year’s Resolution: to focus on being a better version of me.

Earlier in the school year, I wrote out life goals where I wanted to be a better person for my loved ones. I wanted to be a more patient wife, a more dutiful daughter, a more supportive sister and friend. I wanted to write more and to be a better teacher. I wanted to be lots of things, and I did my best to do it, but it didn’t take long for me to wear out trying to be all of it.

After some late night reflections, I realized that I didn’t have to work so hard to try to be these different faces to different people. The thing that mattered most was that I work hard on being simply a better me.

So, here’s to being more forgiving and accepting of myself in 2016. Here’s to better choices: making more time for my faith and personal health. Here’s to balance, smaller steps, and being okay with imperfections.

Happy New Year, friend!

 

 

How Google Classroom Saved My Sanity

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This year, I went from teaching one prep to four preps, ranging from 6th Grade Earth Science to 8th Grade Regents Living Environment. Imagine: new school setting, teaching three science subjects I have not taught before, and creating (not one, but four!) new curriculum guides from scratch (again! for the sixth year in a row!). Sounds daunting, eh? 

 

It was! WordPress likes to remind me that I wrote absolutely nothing during October and November. That’s because I was so busy trying to keep my head above the water! Even when I had planned out my units in advance, my time was eaten up trying to create new everything–interactive notebooks, lessons, labs, and assessments–for all four preps. (Thankfully, I have an amazing support system of people both at work and online via the NSTA science listserves. That first physics unit could’ve gone horribly wrong if it weren’t for those science packs and encouraging emails.)

One October day, I was at work very early to run copies for all preps. The old printer jammed! My heart jumped out of my throat. The other teachers were going to be there any minute now, and I just couldn’t be that teacher.  It was bad enough that I was the new teacher who was printing over a hundred copies; now I was the new teacher who was printing over a hundred copies who jammed the printer ten minutes before the first period. Needless to say, I was quite unpopular in the lounge room that day.

Enter Google Classroom.

I’d like to say something more witty and intellectual about why I started using Google Classroom, but honestly, at first, it was purely out of survival. I needed a way to 1) organize all my lessons for each class; 2) distribute all the materials (and have copies for those students who seem to lose everything) and; 3) find a system that would help me keep track of student work. I needed out of my relationship with that ornery printer ASAP.

With a 1:1 Google Chromebook program and a Google account at school, it seemed a no-brainer to set up multiple Google Classroom pages for each prep.  Of course, I had no idea how to use Google Classroom, but with Youtube tutorials and quick searches online, that was easily remedied. I set up my classes and rolled Google Classroom out the very next day. The students, of course, took it to immediately.  Why didn’t I think of this before?

Fast forward to the present with Google Classroom.

I’ve used Google Classroom for two months now, and I can’t imagine my life without it. Not only did Google Classroom help me get organized, but it also got me to a point where I’m teaching in an almost paperless classroom. (I say “almost” because I still have to print NYS Regents lab packets and foldables.) I no longer risk my life in the printer room!

In fact, just before Thanksgiving break, there was another big disastrous printer jam. For a second, I felt the old panic. What was I going to do? How was I going to teach? Didn’t I need to print out notes for a class? Then I realized, Wait! I have Google Classroom now! I don’t need to print anything! That was the day I learned how to make interactive notes via Google Documents and the Drawing tool, and posted them on Google Classroom. (Thank you, search engine gods, for leading me to Nick Mitchell’s blog, The Scientific Teacher, and his post on online interactice science notebooks.)

Oh, Google Classroom, let me count the ways I love you:

  • With you, I am able to create a transparent classroom and save precious chalkboard space by posting my learning objectives, class agenda/minutes, and homework reminders online.
  • With you, I am able to better organize and archive my lessons. I used to use EduSync’s TeacherCal app as an online lesson plan book, which was an external account. Now I can simply use Google Calendar in house to create individual pacing maps for each class, and post them on Google Classroom. Students know when I’m teaching different concepts, and what the due dates are for projects and assessments.
  • With you, I am able to provide a variety of learning materials to meet the different needs and preferences of my students. I can easily share PPTs, interactive Google Doc notes, videos, online CK12 e-text chapters (goodbye heavy textbooks!), simulations, and virtual labs with students. I can even upload my own Screencast-o-Matic short demo and tutorial videos to Google Drive and share them privately through Google Classroom. (Thanks to Richard Bryne at “Free Technology for Teachers” for that brief tutorial!)
  • With you, I am able to differentiate my instruction by integrating other Google apps and online tools, such as Google Drawing, Padlet, and Quizlet to engage and motivate my students.
  • With you, I am able to encourage more collaboration among students by creating jigsaw projects using Google Drawing, Google Slides, and Google Docs and posting those projects through Google Classroom. They’re now working harder than I am in the classroom!
  • With you, I am able to hold my students more accountable for their work. I can see who turned in their work on time! Students can no longer use the excuse that they lost their work or didn’t know where to find it because it’s all posted online. Sorry, Fido! Can’t eat digital files!
  • With you, I am able to communicate more information with families. I can check on the revision history on projects. I can even share missing assignments with parents and students!
  • With you, I am able to reduce my grading piles by creating individual copies of assignments via Google Classroom. No more papers! No more folders! Each student has his or her own folder online, which I can access anytime anywhere with Internet access.
  • With you, I am able to cut my grading time in half and  get immediate feedback to my students through Google Forms, and add-ons such as Flubaroo and Online Rubric. I can create more frequent formative assessments and more meaningful summative assessments from the real-time data. Plus, I love the histograms–I share them with my students so they can see their individual and whole-class progress.

 

 

Google Classroom has saved my sanity. I’m more organized, less stressed, (no longer unpopular in the lounge room?), and actually even more excited to learn more ways on how to use Google Classroom in my classroom.

I’m especially curious to see how other science teachers are using Google Classroom in their classroom to create flipped classrooms, create blended online learning environments (assignments online, labs in person?), and  encourage more collaborative work among students. Please comment and share with me your Google Classroom experiences!

Celebrating Blessings This Christmas Season

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Hello, readers! Are you still out there? One of my goals this year was to try to blog more frequently. Obviously, that didn’t pan out very well since my last post dates back to September! To be perfectly honest, I thought about scrapping this blog a few times, but each time I think I’m going to do it, I come across an inspirational post from Vicki Davis or from one of the other teacher bloggers I follow and hold off. So, here I am, brushing off the dust on this poor blog and trying again!

 

With Christmas break coming up in a few days, there’re a lot of things going on at home and in school. It’s very easy to get lost in the busy-ness, and lose sight of what matters most during Advent and Christmas season. I think this is the perfect time for me right now to reflect, celebrate and appreciate all the blessings in my personal life and career.

After making the decision to decline a high-paying position and teach at a small private school, I initially worried that I may be making a financial mistake. These past few months, however, have taught me that there’s more to a good life than money. You can make lots of money and be miserable at work, or you can wake up and actually look forward going to work because you love what you do. You can’t put a price tag on that!

The new school not only provided me with a safe place to heal emotionally but also with multiple opportunities to experiment with creating a blended science learning environment through a 1:1 Google Chromebook program and Google Apps for Education. In just a couple of months, through the use of Google Classroom and other apps, my science classroom is almost paperless! My brain is constantly buzzing every waking moment, trying to learn new things and figuring out how I can apply it in my instruction. I am very fortunate to have students who are willing to try all my experiments!

Right now I am experimenting with different apps and add-ons such as Google Forms and Flubaroo to provide more frequent formative assessment, automize grading, and provide more immediate and timely feedback to students. It is so much fun being able to marry my passion for science and educational technology in the classroom!

In January, I begin a part-time position as an educational technology specialist for a local learning center where I share what I have used as a science teacher using web 2.0 tools and Google Apps with other teachers. It’s an exciting new challenge, but the idea of doing webinars is nerve-wracking! I’ve done short flipped videos for my students before, but the thought of teaching other adults live online makes my stomach flip!

It’s a blessing to be able to come home feeling good from work, and being able to devote more time to my family at home. There’s all this buzz about emotional productivity nowadays; they tell teachers to assess the emotional mood of the classroom to boost learning. I think that administrators should also be more aware of the emotional mood of their teachers too. A little support and encouragement go a long way to creating a productive, happy, and efficient team!

 

My 5 Favorite First Week Middle School Science Activities

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Boy, summer flew by fast! I can’t believe that we’re in the middle of September already! Our first week of school has come and gone; the middle school team has served two out of three Open Houses; and we’re now heading into our first science unit in class.

This post is a week behind, but I figured I’d share with you some of my favorite Back to School science activities that I used for our first week.

  1. Science Chat Lab – We had a shortened schedule on our first day of school so I decided to show a quick Animoto video introducing myself to my class and then had them do a shortened rotating stations lab. Amy Brown has a fantastic TpT product called “Science Chat”, which I used for lab. Students rotated among 5 stations completing various science tasks such as identifying general lab equipment, reviewing metric measurement, making observations and using graphic organizers, and using root words to figure out the meaning of a vocabulary word. While students worked on the task, they also asked each other fun questions about what they did over the summer or what their super powers were.  It was a great way to get to know my new students while assessing their background knowledge.
  2. Classroom Syllabus and Room Scavenger Hunt – On the second day, the students have already sat through rules and expectations in four other core classes. I used Wordle to share with them a brief overview of the topics we’ll be learning in our units, quickly went through my five class norms, and then the class split into pairs or small groups to look for signs or objects in my room to help them fill in the rest of my syllabus. They found where our safety features such as the Emergency Window and fire extinguisher were located in the room, read my posters to determine Lab Safety guidelines and grading scales, and learned the ways they could get in contact with me. They also found where certain zones were in my room, such as where to turn in completed work or obtain copies of missed work if they were absent.
  3. Lab Safety Poster Memes – On the third day, students raced each other to see how many “wrong” things they could identify in a lab safety cartoon for their Do-Nows, or bellringers. After a short discussion over their cartoon findings, students were asked to select a scene from their Do-Now and come up with a lab safety rule for it. Students had to create Lab Safety memes on Google Docs or Google Slides. They created their lab safety rule with a meme photo and an explanation as to why it was important to follow their lab safety rule. We all had a lot of fun creating those memes, and now I have some great posters to laminate and share with next year’s class.
  4. Timed Puzzles for Graphing – In a review for graphing, students were challenged to see how quickly they can put a small puzzle together in teams. They competed against one another to set the best time. After a certain number of trials, they looked over their data records and created graphs to represent time vs trial. It was a fun way to review vocabulary and graphs.
  5. World of Crickets Inquiry – To get away from the idea of sequential steps in the “Scientific Method”, I taught the process of science as a cyclical process as shared from Berkeley’s Understanding Science website. I used a lab I learned from a biology workshop at Cornell this summer called “World of Crickets”. In this lab, students try to figure out the food preferences of crickets. We haven’t finished yet, but it is interesting to see their different ideas and thought processes!

What are some of your favorite first week middle school science activities?

5 #EdTech Tools I’ll Be Using This New School Year

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This year, I am very excited to be working at a school with a 1:1 Google Chromebook program. It will be a brand new adventure for me as I learn with my Grade 6 students on how to use the Chromebooks; experiment with learning management systems like Schoology for my Grades 7 and 8 students; create blended unit modules using paper interactive science notebooks and online simulations and labs; and figure out an efficient work flow with assessments and feedback.

I wasn’t able to experiment as much as I liked last year with #edtech tools, but I know right away that there are a handful I’d like to use again this upcoming school year. They worked really well for me, so I’m hoping they can be tools in my toolbox I can use again this year!

  1. Classroom Timers – Pacing is key when it comes to a good classroom. As a first year teacher, I struggled with this until someone mentioned using timers in the classroom. Now I plan out my activities and use timers to create a sense of urgency and keep my class on time so they’re set before the bell rings!
  2. Remind – With Remind, I am able to send daily text messages to parents about science homework, events and special reminders. This worked well last year because not everyone had access to email, but they all had a cell phone! Remind is web-based, so I can type up one message in the morning and send it out to different classes. We have homeroom teachers this year who will check student planners, but I think I will continue to use Remind. In fact, I’ll set up a QR sheet for Back To School Night for easy parent sign-up!
  3. ClassDojo – I rolled ClassDojo out as a behavior management system in the middle of the school year last year, and despite the late use, it worked wonderfully! Students and I had a conversation about desired behaviors and incentives and rewards for top performers in the science classroom. Students loved their “creatures” and worked hard to earn their points so they can customize them at home. They also loved seeing their points on the board while they worked in class–they worked really hard and competed with each other to earn the most points. CD also had a good communication system with parents so they too can see and keep track of their students’ behaviors and progress.
  4. DropBox – I had Dropbox account and a DropItToMe extension installed on my class wikispace. Boy did it come in very handy when my students and I worked in the computer lab! Most of the time I forgot to bring a flash drive so I could save students’ final projects, so DropBox was my lifeline. Students were able to upload their multimedia projects to me via DropBox, and I could access them instantly. With Chromebooks, I’m sure we’ll have Google Drive folders but I’d like to still have DropBox available for students in case of missed work or other projects that need to be turned in.
  5. Evernote – Evernote is like my digital notebook where I scribble everything in. I have it installed on my personal laptop, and I can sign on the website anywhere and access my notes, PDFs, receipts, etc. I’m really trying to go paperless as much as I can and Evernote allows me to do that by scanning all my papers, filing them away in Evernote, and adding multiple tags to them so I can find them again very easily. This year, I have my personal laptop, a work desktop, and a work iPad. I’m going to try to create most of my files in Google this year, but Evernote is my catch-all app so I have no doubt I’ll be using it too this year. #productivitywin

Who Am I To Me? Who Will I Be To You? Personal Goal Setting for 2015-2016

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Earlier this year, my career and motivational coach–Coach Durham– told me two things that changed my life. His first piece of advice: “Who do you want to be? How do you want to be remembered? Write your own tombstone epitaph and live your life accordingly.”

I sat at that chair and stared at the blank piece of paper for an hour, stumped. Even now, six months later, I still go back over my rough drafts, rewriting and crossing out things, trying to really articulate my thoughts. It has been a work in progress, but my quality of life has greatly improved since my shift in decisions and actions, which now finally aligned with my real priorities–faith, relationships, and happiness.

Here’s one of my epitaph drafts:

“C. Robinson:

Loving wife, dutiful daughter, supportive sister, and trustworthy friend;

Dedicated life-long learner and mentor; renowned writer and speaker; and joyful and faithful servant of the Lord.

She did more than exist, she truly lived.” 

His second piece of advice: “If you want something, write it down.”

For three months, I wrote my goals and scheduled them in my planner. Right now, I am glad to say that I have achieved most of what I have set out to do. I completed eight weeks of Couch to 5K on my own, and now regularly run with my husband. I am thankfully employed for the new school year, and now am working on buying our first house.

As I reflect on Coach Durham’s advice and my progress, I now move on to using his advice to set a new mission statement and goals for the new school year. This fall, I will be embarking on my sixth year of teaching at a brand new school. Years ago, when I first wrote down my professional goals, it was about content, instruction, and strategies. This time, the lens is more about who I am and who I will be to my new students.

So, here’s my personal mission statement and goals in one for the new school year of 2015-2016:

I will…

  • be a positive adult role model who will lead by faith and example
  • see my students as individual learners with unique needs, talents, and gifts
  • guide my students to find their identities, embrace their gifts, and hear their callings
  • provide a safe and encouraging faith-centered environment of active science learning
  • be bold and courageous in my ways of learning and teaching

Happy New School Year, friends! As you begin your year, whether or not it is your first year or your twentieth year, ask yourself: Who are you to you, and who will you be to your students this year? 

Goodbye July, Hello August!

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It’s hard to believe we’re already through the first week of August! Some young learners and fellow teachers are already back in school. I wish them all an exciting and very productive school year. In an attempt to create a more regular habit of writing, this post focuses more on my personal goals and what I’ve been working on lately.

July has been a very busy month, but I can’t say that I’m sad to see it go. In July, my school officially closed and I have been busy getting back in the job market. After seeing a career counselor, I learned that I was more interested in pursuing my interests in educational technology, but that I also was not yet done with teaching. I began to network with technology and e-learning specialists in my Twitter PLN, and they have been so helpful in answering my questions about the field.

My main goal in July was to find a new teaching position. After a long month of multiple interviews at various districts and companies, I am glad to say that I accepted an offer at a small private school as their new middle school teacher. I am excited to be part of a wonderful and supportive faith-centered learning community, and even more excited to further pursue my interests in educational technology through their growing technology program.

Other notable events in July include my week-long summer biology workshop at Cornell University (see posts one and two), my first year wedding anniversary, and my progress with Couch to 5K. In a show of support for my husband, I began to take up running to keep him company as he trained for his PT exam at work. It became a personal challenge to me (I didn’t like running), and currently I am working through Week 6! I never thought I’d be a “runner”, but it really is a wonderful feeling when you accomplish something you thought you’d never be able to do!

Made it through Week 5 of Couch to 5K (#C25K) at the time of this photo

A teacher-friend created this beautiful wedding anniversary cake for us

A teacher-friend created this beautiful wedding anniversary cake for us

For August, my main goal is to focus on purchasing our first home. My husband and I have been searching the house market on and off for the past few years. As we continue to run out of space in the apartment and focus more on growing our own food, we realize we really need to buckle down and commit to the search!

Other goals for August include spending some more family time with my boys, doing some research on 1:1 technology programs (and figuring out how I can use it in my science classroom), preparing to teach a Living Environment Regents class for the first time, setting up my science classroom, and continuing with the Couch to 5K program. Notable upcoming events include seeing one of my old middle-school friends get married this summer! My family from the West Coast will also be visiting later this month. I am so excited to see them and to spend some good quality time with family and friends.

Geeking Out at CIBT 2015 (Days 3-5)

Back again, with a quick review of my last three days at Cornell University’s Institute for Biology Teachers Summer Workshop (#CIBT2015)!

Day 3 of #CIBT2015 was spent mostly in Snee Hall exploring various biology labs such as The Tooth Kit, The Spice Lab, DNA Modeling, and a fun CSI activity called “The Case of the Missing Diamond Maker”. I liked all the labs, but I think the biggest take-away was to encourage more thinking skills by using more of these hands-on open-inquiry labs. They all pique student curiosity and encourage students to design investigations around their own questions. 

On Day 4 of #CIBT2015, there was a field trip to Cornell’s Department of Animal Science. There was a short presentation on animal careers, and then we teachers bravely donned on gloves to collect rumen microbes from Rosie, a fistulated cow, to observe later for our microscopy lab. Note my look of mixed excitement and terror on the photo below. (Ignore the crate.)

Collecting rumen microbes from Rosie

Collecting rumen microbes from Rosie

The Holey Cow presentation is one of the community outreach programs offered by Cornell’s Dept. of Animal Science. If you can get your kids there, the presentation is free. Don’t forget to bring them over to the Dairy Bar and taste the latest ice cream flavors created by students from Cornell’s Dept. of Food Science!

Nothing like enjoying fresh cold ice cream after sticking my hand in a fistulated cow

Nothing like enjoying fresh cold ice cream after sticking my hand in a fistulated cow (after I cleaned up)

On our last day, we learned about Cornell’s Naturalist Outreach Program. Local schools can request presentations from undergraduate and graduate students to share their work and talk about a variety of life science topics. Kristen, an entymologist, shared her own personal collection of insects with us. She also answered all of our curious questions about all things bugs. For example, I asked her what happened to all the fireflies–they seemed to have disappeared over the last few years! This was an actual question investigated by researchers over at Tufts University and Fitchburg State College; your students can join their citizen science program, “Firefly Watch”.

Learning about the ghost mantis

Learning about the ghost mantis from Kristen

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time with the CIBT staff members, presenters, and fellow summer workshop teachers. It was good to have a group of people with similar teaching backgrounds to share ideas and resources with, and to learn about a variety of different biology labs to bring back to class.

Lessons learned from #CIBT2015:

  • Get involved in one or more citizen science programs. Students have to do actual science to learn science. Citizen science in the classroom builds a sense of connection to the community and the world around; it emphasizes the 3C’s– critical thinking, collaboration, and communication; and it also gets the idea across that science and research is for everyone, not just scientists alone. One particular idea shared which I loved is using students’ collected data for graphing and analysis practice.
  • Don’t be afraid of guided– and open-inquiry labs. Bring back that sense of curiosity and exploration by letting your students pursue their own questions. One of my biggest hang-ups as a middle-school science teacher is having to make sure everything is “under (my) control”. If my goal is to help grow independent life-long learners who are not afraid to take risk, then I must be able to let them try things on their own and make mistakes. The slug and spice labs were great examples of how I can do this in the classroom. Start with a topic (ie. food preferences of slugs, effect of spices on bacteria) and let your students do the rest. Scientific inquiry? Engineering design? Success!
  • Use models, models, and more models. Hands-on activities > 3D science models > paper cutouts. We teachers talk about differentiation all the time. I personally am a visual learner; it makes sense to me to include a huge variety of visuals, diagrams, and 3D models in class. Looking at models of various molars, canines, and skulls (tooth lab and comparative skull lab) actually helped me learn more about the feeding habits of local animals and trophic levels than reading from the textbook or looking at pictures. Obviously, money and access to available models may limit these types of activities in the classroom, but it may be worth it to write a grant or look into local colleges and their lending libraries.

Geeking Out at Cornell’s 2015 Summer Institute (Days 1-2)

Hello from Ithaca, New York! This week, this lucky girl is participating in a week-long free summer professional development workshop offered by Cornell University – Institute for Biology Teachers (CIBT). I learned about the summer workshop through one of the NSTA science list-serves earlier this year. I applied, and now here I am… one of the twenty middle school science teachers from New York, New Jersey, and West Virginia attending Cornell’s 2015 Summer Institute for Middle School Science Teachers.

“Ithaca is Gorges” is a popular tee-shirt slogan here. Without a doubt, the campus and location in the middle of summer is absolutely breathtaking. Right now, as I type this, I think about what a blessing it is to listen to water flowing from Cascadilla Gorge right outside my dorm window.

Cascadilla Gorge

Cascadilla Gorge

However, as much as I’m enjoying the scenery, this post is about the amazing biology labs and activities I’ve been learning about for the past two days. The workshop highlights recent research in biology and promote interactions between teachers and scientists. They introduced many citizen science programs, which we teachers were able to further explore through our own participation.

On Day 1 of #CIBT2015, we visited the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I learned about their citizen science programs such as eBird, Project FeederWatch, NestWatch, and YardMap. I got to bring out my inner-birder by participating in a bird count and submit a checklist. Yay!

Aside from learning about citizen science programs, there was also a lot of focus on exploring and evaluating middle-level biology labs that foster more student inquiry. The slug lab was an example of one of the open-inquiry labs we explored on the first day.

Here’s a picture of “Slugger”! He seemed to enjoy the yellow bell pepper more than the leafy greens we provided in our sample. Hmm, I wonder if the water content of the food samples might influence the food preferences of the slug… 

Slug Lab

Did you know that the nine-spotted ladybug is the official state insect of New York? I learned this fact from John Losey on Day 2 of #CIBT2015 when he introduced the Lost LadyBug Project to us. I had no idea that the native ladybugs were disappearing. In fact, our native ladybug has been placed by the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation on the List of Special Concern.  Here we are, combing through the herb and vegetable gardens looking for the lost lady bugs!

Searching for ladybugs in one of Cornell's herb and vegetable gardens

Searching for ladybugs in one of Cornell’s herb and vegetable gardens

Here’s another fun fact I learned: Did you know that the deeper the color red, the more endangered that ladybug is? How fascinating! Is this little ladybug one of our nine-spotted friends, or is it the invasive Asian ladybug? Hmm…

A vial with several ladybugs collected from the garden

A vial with several ladybugs collected from the garden