Using Community Resources for Free (and Unconventional) Science Field Trips

My class and I had a fantastic time on our field trip three days ago… at ShopRite! Yes, going to the local grocery store for a middle school science field trip may sound strange, but it was actually an entertaining and very informative way to learn about healthy eating. Just last week, we finished our lessons on the Digestive System so we visited ShopRite as one of our culminating activities.

My class and I with the ShopRite dietitian

My class and I with the ShopRite dietitian

We met with the store’s registered dietitian, Adrian, who gave us an interactive tour of the store. The students reviewed My Plate guidelines, learned what to look for in the store when meal-planning and purchasing healthy foods on a budget, and met store managers who gave them a behind-the-scene look in the produce, bakery, and seafood aisles. They also calculated how many teaspoons of sugar were in their favorite drinks, and sampled fruit bars as an alternative healthy snack. In the picture below, some students meet one of the lobsters up close and learned about the store’s local sustainability program for seafood. We all had a great time–students, teachers, and store staff alike.

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One of my favorite parts of designing lessons and units is figuring out how to tie in local community resources in our objectives. Field trips overall are wonderful experiential learning opportunities, but local field trips are even better because they’re free, close by to our school, and connect the students to their immediate community. They are no longer learning about some intangible science concept or topic. Now they are interacting with people they see in their every day lives, making real-life connections, and also learning that these professions are something they can do too when they grow up.

Here are My Top 5 Community Resources for Science Field Trips:

1. Field Trip Factory – This website offers free experience-based field trips to participating stores and companies in your area. It even provides printable lesson plans and student handouts. Last year, I took the class on a trip to PetCo where they learned about animal adaptations and habitats on a self-guided store scavenger hunt. They were so excited when store staff brought out the reptiles for them! Grocery stores, pet stores and even retail stores usually have a community outreach department so do your research and reach out to their directors.

2. Nonprofit community organizations – Last year, as I was working on classification and the animal kingdoms, I wrote for help on a science email list serve looking for ideas for free field trips in our area. The Helderberg Workshop, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “an adventure in learning”, offered a free trip to their center where their staff could lead the students on nature walks. When the weather became too cold for outdoor hikes, they even offered to travel to our school, bring their animals, and teach the students about them! Check Idealist.org for a list of educational organizations in your area.

3. Expos – Expos are great opportunities to network with local businesses and organizations. In fact, my connection with the ShopRite dietitian came about when I stopped at the store’s vendor booth at a local health and wellness expo! Annual garden and flower expos, I’ve found, are also valuable sources of information for volunteer services and community outreach programs for many biology topics in science class!

4. Local colleges – Make a list of all the colleges by your school and do some careful digging through their websites. Most colleges, if not all, have an educational outreach or community outreach program. When SUNY’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering first opened, I came across their website and signed up for one of their NanoCareer Days. One thing led to another, and now we’re in our second year of our after school STEM Mentoring Program with them!

5. Parks, trails, and nature centers – As an avid hiker and former field biologist intern, I think students today–especially urban students–need to spend more time outside. Being outside reconnects us all with our inner child, with that sense of awe and wonder at the world around us. Many of these places offer free tours and workshops. There are even some great junior naturalist programs! Use The National Wildlife Foundation’s “Nature Finder”to search for parks, trails, and nature centers in your area. If you are in New York, use the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Education website to find out more information about local educational centers. (Pssst! If you’re an elementary teacher, you can even request free environmental science magazines for kids for your entire class!)

What are some of your favorite resources for science class field trips?

5 Ways To Keep Up Student Motivation During State Testing

It’s that time of year again—state testing! For months, teachers all over the country have tirelessly reviewed, practiced, and helped their students show off what my dear colleague, Robbi, would call their “AC”– academic confidence.

Last week, we finished three whole days of ELA testing. Naturally the girls were nervous, but their anxiety wore off as the clock ticked on. As I actively proctored and checked in on them, I was so proud to see so many of them using multiple ELA reading and writing strategies we have worked on together throughout the year. They were annotating passages, eliminating answers, and even writing short response checklists on the margins like pros!

For middle school students, sitting silently and testing for 90 minutes straight can be downright stressful. A grown adult can’t sit that long silently! Below are some things I have done to help alleviate that stress and help motivate my students during state testing.

1. Provide healthy breakfast snacks in homeroom during test prep. Even though our school provides students with healthy breakfasts, I also make sure to buy granola bars, muffins, go-gurts, and juice boxes for my homeroom kids. For some reason or other, some students miss breakfast in the cafeteria. When they have a full belly, it’s easier for them to focus on the test.

2. Post inspirational messages on the whiteboard under the Start and End times.  Pinterest is one of my favorite online go-to places to collect and print free beautiful motivational posters and quotes. Teacherspayteachers.com also has freebie posters that you can use, such as this one that says “Stay Calm and Rock The Test!”

3. Pass out “brain mintsSome students just have a hard time staying awake during the entire testing period. Since they can’t leave the room for water or bathroom breaks during testing time, I discreetly place Life Savers Wintergreen mints on their desks. The mints help wake them up, and gets them back on track. I also pass them out to all the hard working students; they love getting little surprise treats as they’re working on their booklets.

4. Write positive feedback on tiny post-it notes and post it on a student’s desk. As I proctor, I take note of who’s working hard and what they are doing to be successful on the test. I write 1-2 sentences like, “I like the way you’re carefully annotating there! Keep it up!” I try to make sure each student has at least one post-it note, and do several rounds throughout the 90 minutes.

5. Make a list of “Bright Spots” and read them aloud to the class when they are finished testing and the test materials have been collected. As I proctor, I write down a list of who’s working hard and what type of strategies I observed them using during the test. For example, I’ll say, “I love how M.C. annotated vocabulary words, and how L.L. pushed herself to give four details instead of two in her short response essay.” I try to catch all students doing something well, and make a big show of how long my list is. Students love hearing their names, and they all celebrate each other’s hard work and perseverance on the state test. Even better, I share the list with the principal and she publicly acknowledges their hard work in front of everyone during our all-school morning meetings.

My students and I have had a rough year together with our pending school closing, but I know two things to be true facts. 1)They know they can count on me, and 2) I can trust them to pull through the hard times and do what they need to do!

#NSTA15 Chicago and Changes

Last month, I was very fortunate to attend the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) annual conference for the third year in a row–this time in Chicago! It was my second time co-presenting in an interactive session called “Social Media for Science Teachers.” In this particular session, my colleagues and I shared strategies for use in the classroom and for professional development. Below is our group photo taken before we started with one of Lauren’s awesome hashtag props! From left to right: Adam Taylor (@2footgiraffe), Tricia Shelton, Brad Graba (@mr_graba), Me!, Christine Royce (@caroyce), and Lauren Jonas.

"The Social Science Teacher" at #NSTA15 Chicago

“The Social Science Teacher” at #NSTA15 Chicago

Honestly, when I arrived at Midway Airport late Wednesday evening, it was with a heavy heart. Earlier that week, my colleagues back in Albany and I received official news that our charter middle school was closing at the end of this year. We all worked so hard to fight back last year with rallies, board meetings, and letters to newspaper editors–it never occurred to us that we would actually lose. I was demoralized, but that quickly evaporated as I realized I was where I needed to be in order to heal and recharge—with my tribe!

Brad's capture of my HaikuDeck slideshow

Brad’s capture of my HaikuDeck slideshow

For those who have not attended our session, part of my talk on using social media for professional learning networks (PLNs) explains the importance of PLNs. As human beings, we search for connections with others. As teachers, we search for these connections through our passions–our passions for learning and sharing what we’ve learned! I found inspiration immediately Thursday morning during a shuttle ride to McCormack Plaza. This type of inspiration came in the form of a special education teacher who has taught for over 20 years; she told me to “keep fighting for my passion”.

As I attended different sessions over the next few days, I continued to meet and befriend more teachers whose passion for what they do shone so brightly on their faces. It was a light that enveloped me, and drove away my sadness.  They were all excited and happy to be at the conference, sharing what they know and learning new things to bring back to work. It was even more exciting when Friday came around, and I met for the first time in person some of the teachers I befriended online when I created my Twitter PLN almost six years ago! Here’s a snapshot of Chris Ludwig and I trying out my selfie-stick!  Chris presented his own session on student-managed portfolios Saturday.
Selfie w/ Chris

Selfie w/ Chris (@chrisludwig)

Though I had to leave early on Saturday, I came away with a heart full of joy and a mind full of ideas. Even though I had 2-3 months left of school, I decided that I was going to not give up and let the negative behaviors of students and colleagues get to me. I decided to choose excellence and enthusiasm, and go out with a bang by trying out whatever was on my teacher’s bucket list.

So, what have I been doing since I came back from #NSTA15?

I flipped my middle school classroom! In Chicago, I attended several sessions on flipped classrooms and I finally let go of some of my hang ups such as not having enough time to make the videos, or not being able to get my students to watch the videos. I use my work Mac laptop, iBooth app, and a free Screen-o-matic web 2.0 tool to take screenshots of my lectures or concept maps. My videos are less than 7 minutes, and they’re surprisingly fun to make.  Even more surprising, my students love them! They appear more engaged and take more notes watching me on the screen instead of watching me in person….strange, but not questioning it! Most of my students don’t have Internet access at home, so I show the videos in the beginning of class and then have them work in groups on problem-based projects.

Other things I’ve started to phase in are more guest speakers to help supplement our lessons and Fun Fridays. I wanted Fun Friday to be similar to Genius Hour where students work on a project they’re passionate about. Finding materials for everyone is tough though, but I’ll guess I’ll figure out the kinks when we get there!

It’s been tough emotionally every day, especially when even my students are giving up, but like I tell them every day now… only you can control your future. Push through and fight for it.

The NYS STEAM Kickoff Conference and Lessons I Learned From Girls in STEAM

Almost four years ago, I attended my first NSTA conference in San Antonio, Texas, as a NSTA-DOW Teacher Fellow. One of the last workshops I took was presented by the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP). Their mission was to connect educators with organizations around the nation to help inform and encourage young girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). As a science teacher at an all-girls middle school, I of course jumped at the opportunity to sit in at this workshop and network with its project leaders. I asked if they had a chapter or database in New York State, and was disappointed to learn that they did not.

Yesterday, NGCP finally arrived in New York State! They held their first NGCP Steam Kickoff Conference at the Hudson Valley Community College TEC-SMART facility in Malta, New York. It was a beautiful autumn day; the colorful foliage and stark-white birches were a sight to behold through the tall glass windows of the LEED-certified building. However, what I enjoyed the most was the sight of many people–educators and CEOS of local business organizations– talking and collaborating about ways to create more STEAM programs in our schools. The highlights were the panels of local high school and college female students talking about their experiences with STEAM and their advice for adults and other young girls; and of local presidents, CEOS, and business representatives sharing their advice on how to get in contact with their organizations for funding, mentorship, and collaborative programs.

As I listened in on the discussions and conversations, there were several strands that stood out to me. Below I list some of the lessons I learned as a science teacher from each panel, along with some great STEAM resources.

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Hudson Valley Community College TEC-Smart Facility

What I learned as a teacher from the panel of young independent females in STEM fields

1. Most of the young females did not like math and science during their formative elementary and middle-school years. It was not until their transition from middle school to high school that an adult turned them on to these subjects through challenging and hands-on creative work. These adults encouraged them to ask questions, taught them not how to ask for answers but how to figure things out on their own, and pushed them to keep trying when they failed.

2. When asked how educators can better encourage more young female students to go for STEM careers, the panelists emphasized the importance of student-driven inquiry. “Let them make something. Ask them what they want to do. Let them come up with the materials and project deadlines.” Students are more likely to be engaged and motivated throughout  if they are working on something that is meaningful to them.

3. Despite research on differences between genders, the panelists also stressed that educators should not single out young female students in the classroom. “We are people. Yes, we love math and science and we may be very good at them, but we also love to act, sing, dance, and play sports.” Help your students break down gender stereotypes by setting up mixed collaborative groups, occasional girls vs. boys competitions (to show boys that when the girls win they too are smart and have many strengths), and frequent team-building activities in the classroom.

4. Many of the panelists admitted that they struggled in school. Some talked about adults who stayed long hours after school to tutor them. Another panelist strongly urged educators not to give up on their struggling students. “Don’t underestimate the power of one conversation. In sixth grade, I almost gave up on science until my teacher pulled me aside and told me I could do it. I ended up in honors science.” Nowadays with the stressors of Common Core and standardized testing, I often forget why I went into teaching. This particular moment was a loud wake up call for me. Teaching is not about getting my lesson plans in on time. Teaching is not about the test scores in my grade book. Teaching is about listening to the students, especially the struggling ones.

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Panel of #STEMGirls at the #NYSTEAMkickoff

What I learned as a teacher from the panel of local businesses and organization representatives

1. Ask, ask, and ask. Often times, there is funding and resources available if you just ask for it. Many educators may be discouraged by politics and communication barriers with big companies, but there are others out there who are looking for educators and young audiences for their resources. Keep looking, and keep asking.

2. Look through the NGCP Program Directory, or contact your local chamber of commerce and other established non-profit organizations to find mentors and resources for your classroom.

3. Don’t forget the “A” in STEAM! While students need to know how to quantitatively measure and figure out problems, they also need to know how to read and write. They also need to know how to present themselves as well-rounded professionals. Science, math, and engineering are all creative processes and so educators should also encourage more creativity in their students.

Helpful STEAM and collaborative-project resources I picked up from the #NYSTEAMKickoff

Cornell Cooperative Extension puts knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being. We bring local experience and research based solutions together, helping New York State families and communities thrive in our rapidly changing world.

We’re young women with the power to make a difference. We believe in the potential of computing to build a better world.

FabFems are women from a broad range of professions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). They are passionate, collaborative, and work to make the world a better place. Many girls have similar interests but aren’t connected to adults who exemplify the STEM career pathway.

Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, providing more than 138,000 girls across the U.S. and Canada with life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face. Girls Inc. gives girls the right tools and support to succeed, including trained professionals who mentor and guide them in a safe, girls-only environment, peers who share their drive and aspirations, and research-based programming. At Girls Inc., girls learn to set and achieve goals, boldly confront challenges, resist peer pressure, see college as attainable, and explore nontraditional fields such as STEM.

Maker Faire and Make: Magazine have inspired makers for almost 10 years with the greatest show and tell on earth and quality editorial coverage. MakerSpace.com is our new online community that helps connect makers with each other, and give everyone simple new tools to organize and share projects, as well as find other interesting makers and projects to follow and collaborate with.

Million Women Mentors is an engagement campaign and national call to action that mobilizes corporations, government entities, non-profit and higher education groups, around the imperative of mentoring girls and young women in STEM fields.

NGCP offers many resources to strengthen Collaborative networks and advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for girls.

Pathways to Science is a project of the Institute for Broadening Participation (IBP). Pathways to Science supports pathways to the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We place particular emphasis on connecting underrepresented groups with STEM programs, funding, mentoring and resources.

The RPI Engineering Ambassadors are a group of RPI engineers devoted to inspiring younger students with what they are doing in their chosen major, the newest technological breakthroughs in their field, and the obstacles yet to be overcome. We do this by visiting middle schools and high schools and giving presentations to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related classes.

SciGirls is a PBS Kids show, website and outreach program with a bold goal to change how millions of girls think about STEM. The SciGirls Connect is a resource website for teachers. Don’t forget to take a look at their book, “SciGirls Seven: How To Engage Girls in STEM”, which is also offered as a free download.

Five Things I Have Learned As A Teacher Leader

This fall, I began my fourth year of teaching. During our summer training workshops, I learned that I was promoted to the position of teacher leader, or team leader, for my grade. Truth be told, this promotion came as a big shock. Even though I was starting my fourth year, I still felt like I had no idea what I was doing in the classroom. I worried that I was too much an introvert and ill-prepared to take on such a big role. In the end though, I had to accept the position with grace, put on my big girl panties, and try my best to do my job.

The past month has been a huge roller coaster ride for me as I juggled multiple roles as homeroom teacher, science teacher, and team leader. There were a lot of chocolate bars devoured as I worked through my frustrations and tight deadlines. I did learn a lot about how to be a good team leader, and I share those lessons with you below.

5 Things I Have Learned As A Team Leader (In The Past Month)

1. Model a positive and encouraging attitude. 

Changes, deadlines, and stress will always be a constant at work. With important visits coming up, there is a lot of pressure to perform well. This is increasingly tough to do with less staff, less resources, and less planning time available this year. Understandably, there is a lot of tension in the office. It is easy to come to work with a negative attitude, and to vent our frustrations with one another. However, at the end of the day, we still are responsible for making sure we do what we need to do. As a team leader, I learned that I help set the tone for the day when I come in with a smile on my face and share kind encouraging words with my team.

2. Delegate.

During the past month, I would wake up in the middle of the night, remembering something that I needed to do for the next day. When driving to work, I would stop in the middle of my daily prayers and realize I had stopped praying because I started thinking about tasks and people I have to talk to when I get in the office. My brain felt stuffed, and finally, I realized I had to start delegating tasks to my team mates. During team meetings, I learned how to focus on 1-3 major agenda items, come up with proposed action plans on those items, and assign my team mates specific tasks with deadlines. As team leader, I learned that it takes just as much courage to ask for help than to give help to someone else.

3. Treat others with respect.

As a team leader, I have to advocate for the needs of my team. It is hard to teach when you have missing supplies, broken technology tools, or not enough desks or space for your classes. My team shares their frustrations with me, and I have to communicate their needs with front office staff and administrators. As the old adage goes, you get a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar. Front office staff, administrators, and janitorial custodians are people with feelings too; they don’t like it when they’re being bogged down with multiple requests and demands. I would feel angry and resentful too if people only want to talk to me to get something, especially when they are rude or abrupt about it. As team leader, I learned that making the time and effort to ask how someone is doing goes a long way.

4. Keep a paper trail.

Along the same lines of advocacy, sometimes things just don’t happen even when you go through the proper channels. As a team leader, I learned that it is important to keep a paper trail. The paper trail keeps all parties transparent and accountable for their responsibilities. When something happens (or does not happen), I know that I can honestly say I did my best effort and have proof to show for it.

5. Feed your team.

It is important to feed your team, figuratively and in the literal sense. As team leader, I have found myself also acting as counselor and cheerleader for my team mates. Sometimes we just get so discouraged after bad days at work. This is where my check-ins come in handy. I’m not the best at pep-talks, but my team knows they can talk to me any time about anything and that they can expect honest and straightforward answers from me. As a team leader, I have learned that it is important to tell people how much you appreciate them and their hard work. In addition, being the only female teacher on the team, I often bring in home-baked goods after a stressful day. Those frosted Bundt cakes sure does wonders to our team morale!

What lessons have you learned as a teacher leader, or team leader? Please share!

Finding the Courage to Teach

I can tell that the First Day of School is drawing very near when my Facebook newsfeed starts to fill with posts from teacher-friends about sleepless nights and reoccurring nightmares. I myself have been dreaming the same nightmare for the past two or three days… I keep dreaming that I lose my cool in the middle of a class after engaging with disruptive students. I scream and yell to make myself heard, but the class just laughs at me. The weight of the humiliation and embarrassment wakes me up, and I end up tossing and turning for the rest of the night.

During my summer break, I picked up and read “The Courage to Teach” by Parker J. Palmer. The first chapter strongly resonated with me, especially the part where he talked about how good teaching is not all about technique, but rather the identity and integrity of the teacher.  Many teachers pursue this career because they are passionate about making connections. However, somewhere along the line, they become disconnected as a way to protect themselves from their nightmares.

My teaching experience last year was a lot like that. I closed myself off from my students because there was too much for me to deal with at work. I was stressed and unable to joke around, or share funny anecdotes. I tried to be more authoritarian and it made for a miserable environment for everyone. This year, I look forward to another chance to turn things around. I want to create a happier learning environment by being the person I am, and not who I think I should be.

‘Be not afraid’ does not mean that we should not have fears. Instead, it says that we do not need to be our fears. – Parker J. Palmer

As a teacher, I have a million fears. I am afraid of not being prepared, of losing things, or a lesson plan that did not go as planned. I am afraid of forgetting my schedule, or being laughed at by students, just like in my nightmares. I understand now though that this is part of being a teacher. I have to put myself out there for my students. I have to accept that I can only do my best each and every day; accept that sometimes things will not happen as planned; and try not to berate myself for the things I was unable to do. So tonight, I am going to dream good things about the year ahead. Tomorrow, my students and I will have a great First Day of School.

 

She Tweeted You With Science! 08/28/2014

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Daily Favorites in Education 08/25/2014

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She Tweeted You With Science! 08/21/2014

  • How do social forces shape how science is conducted, funded, communicated and reviewed? Do the practices and processes employed in biomedical research—collaboration, communication, skepticism, and peer review—lead to a valuable and objective way of learning about the world?

    This curriculum introduces students to ways in which scientific research is conducted, how social forces influence scientific priorities, and how basic scientific research may, or may not, support medical applications for human health. Throughout the unit, students are asked to consider their roles and responsibilities in being scientifically literate citizens.

    tags: science science-literacy curriculum lesson-plans labs activities

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