My 5 Favorite First Week Middle School Science Activities


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


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


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!


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

6 Non-Fiction Literary Resources For More Reading in Science

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To encourage more reading (and reading comprehension) in science, it is important to share a variety of engaging non-fiction text in the classroom. As a first-year teacher, one of the things I struggled with was trying to find free (or close to free) literary resources that I could easily differentiate for different reading levels and share with my students. Over time, I learned some very important survival tips: 1) Ask your ELA teacher to share their favorite sources; 2) Create your own class library by asking for donations from local community organizations and; 3) Cut, paste, and edit your passages to meet the specific needs of your students.

Here are some of my favorite resources that I’ve used in the past–

1. Readworks – Readworks (RW) offers leveled and standards-based K-12 non-fiction and literary passages for free. In the past few years, they have beefed up their science collection. If you sign up for a free account, you can save your favorite passages to your binder and download the PDFs. RW also provides Lexile levels and scaffolded comprehension question sets. I do suggest reading through the passages first; many of them are quite lengthy so you’ll have to customize them for your students’ needs.

2. NewsELA – NewsELA (NE) was a resource that an ELA teacher shared with me. NE offers leveled and standards-based high-interest current event articles. Like RW, you can sign up for a free account, save favorite passages to your binder, and use their quizzes. NE, however, also offers a paid version called NewsELA Pro where you can assign articles to different classes and track their progress online. Unlike RW, NE offers articles in 5 different Lexile levels. Some articles also provide Spanish versions.

3. ScienceNews for Students – ScienceNews for Students (SNS) is an offshoot of Science News provided by the non-profit Society for Science and the Public (SSP). SNS offers a variety of free high-interest science current event articles for students. Readability is geared generally towards sixth graders and upwards, but I found that most middle-level struggling readers found it difficult to read. Readability scores are included at the bottom of the article. I edited and shortened many of the articles for students, but also linked it to a class wiki news page for independent reading and research for higher-level students.  SNS offers engaging visuals, often link to more explanatory articles to further inform curious readers about the topic, and provides Power Words sections that highlight difficult and important vocabulary from the text.

4. NYS Conservationist for Kids – Digging around your state’s department of environmental conservation website can lead to free educational resources. That’s what I found a few years ago when I was looking for local material for an ecology unit. For example, the NYS DEC offers a free class set of 30 copies of their Conservationist for Kids magazine for public fourth-grade classrooms, along with teacher supplements and activity sheets. Reading level may be a bit too easy for my middle-level students, but there were a great supplement for struggling readers.

5. National Institute of General Medical Science Electronic Publications –  The National Institute of General Medical Science (NIGMS) offers a great selection of free publications for high school and college students. The publications can be accessed electronically, but you can also request a class set of free booklets. I ordered sets of Inside the Cell and Findings Magazine and offered them as advanced supplemental reading for our middle-level units of cell biology and genetics. They were an excellent resource for students performing independent research tasks.

6. Scholastic Science Magazines – Scholastic offers various science magazines. For elementary, there are Science Spin and SuperScience. For secondary, there is ScienceWorld. I know they’re not free, but I thought they were worth mentioning. I was able to secure a year’s subscription through DonorsChoose during my second year of teaching, and the students absolutely loved the ScienceWorld magazines. The magazines are highly visual, provide a variety of engaging articles from different science subjects, and have an engaging online component.  Here’s a excellent tip I learned from a Scholastics vendor representative I met at an NSTA conference: you don’t have to order a whole class set! Call their hotline number and ask for the individual rate. You can pay $20 for one magazine for a whole year’s subscription, and it still comes with the teacher guide and online access.

Last Chapters and Brand New Books


This has been a very difficult post to write. I kept putting it off, making excuses and losing myself in the busyness of end-of-year tasks and summer plans. I must have hit the delete button many times, trying to find a positive angle on what has been a very dark time for me. In the end, I’m just going to write plainly.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated the graduation of our 8th Graders. This cohort was our last batch of graduates since our school closed mid-June. I have proudly witnessed their growth from gangly and timid 5th Graders to confident and fashion-conscious incoming high school freshmen. Also, last Friday, we officially closed our classroom doors and turned in our keys for the last time.

It pained me deeply to think that my colleagues, students, and I would not be returning in the fall. The school had become a second home to me, and my colleagues were my second family. Already, many of them have relocated to different states, to different schools, and even different career fields. Each day was a joy to work with such funny, loving, and supportive people. I wish them the best in all that they do, and hope that we can continue to keep in touch.

It is very easy to get lost in sadness, and to get overwhelmed with anxiety and fear of the unknown future. However, I remind myself of a graduate’s quote shared in her farewell speech–“This is not the last chapter, but just the beginning of a new book.” I think back to who I was five years ago as a new teacher, and to who I am now.

I’m thankful for the experiences and the people who have helped shape me and my teaching. Without them, I would not have…

…learned how to become an advocate for myself, my students, and colleagues.

…developed strong classroom management and communication skills with inner-city students.

…evolved my teaching philosophy and experimented with different styles and practices.

…created a professional learning network with social media and found so many mentors.

…applied for the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy and become one of its conference speakers.

…become fearless and tried new things in the classroom each month, even if it failed.

…learned it was okay to fail too.

…tried flipped classrooms.

…bring an after school STEM program to life.

…gained confidence in my strengths and focused less on my weaknesses.

…learned to accept and rely on others’ support and love to make myself a better teacher.

There are so many more wonderful memories, good times, and valuable lessons to remember and take away from all these years working at the school. I will remember them always, and hold them close. Now, I look at this new fresh page before me and wait to see how the next story unfolds! Oh, I hope it will be a grand adventure, full of bigger and better things to come!

Five Positive Ways to Beat The End-of-Year Slump


A few weeks ago, a fellow teacher blogger wrote about how April and May are the worst months for her. At this point, testing is over, but there are still some weeks left before the end of the school year. There are no more snow days or long weekends to break up the long days, and school programs and events seem to pile up during this time. It can get quite stressful, especially when you’re not only trying to keep up a good attitude, but also trying to keep the learning momentum going and the students just aren’t having it.

As teachers, I think we all go through this at some point of the year. For me, personally, having worked at a school with extended days and an extended school year, there were moments where I didn’t think I would see the end of it! However, over the past few years, I’ve picked up a few pointers from veteran teachers and positive psychology authors to help me beat the slump.

Do you want to know how to get over it? Choose positivity. Most, if not all, positive psychology and happiness books will tell you that happiness is a choice. Positivity is a choice. You choose to focus on what’s right, and what’s good with your life.  You make a plan by making small changes, and you make these small positive changes into daily habits.

So, when I hit my mid-year or end-of-year teaching slump, I find myself relying more and more on these particular positive habits.

Positive habit #1: Make a “Good Morning” song playlist (and play it loud).

Confession: I am not a morning person. Well, at least, not until I have had a cup of coffee and some quiet time to get myself together. I have found that listening to upbeat happy songs in the shower and while eating breakfast gets me in a happy mood, so I made it a habit to listen to  music in the morning—anything that can get me to sing and dance! This definitely wakes me up, and sets the tone of the day for me.

Positive habit #2: Meditate before you begin your day.

Okay, another confession, I can’t meditate. I’ve tried and tried so many times, but my mind just goes all over the place. So when I say meditate, I really mean, try to find a way to find just five minutes to yourself where you can find some quiet and reflect upon your intentions for the day. For me, this is where I go to my prayer closet and read a page from my daily devotional before I leave for work. Sometimes I may run late, so when I don’t get a chance to do this, I use my commute time to pray quietly in my car and give myself a pep talk about how great my day is going to be, and how I’m going to make it a great day for someone else! Just find some quiet place and try to ground yourself, whatever works for you.

Positive habit #3: Surround yourself with positive people.

It’s the law of attraction– like attracts like. If you’re positive in attitude and expect good things, you’re going to attract positive people, and create situations that conform to your positive expectations. One of the first things I love to do when I get in to work in the morning is to check in with my colleagues and ask them how they are doing. While I wait for my laptop to boot up, I make my rounds to different floors and say hello to everyone. During my lunch break, I don’t hide away or work over my laptop. I walk around, check in with admin, and talk to friends. Some of my best lessons have come from these rounds because I get to talk to people from other departments. We share ideas, feedback, and collaborate on projects. This would never have happened if I stuck to toxic work areas and kept to myself!

Positive habit #4:  Allow yourself to laugh more.

By this point in the year, I’ve been with my students long enough to get to know their personalities and quirks. I used to think that I had to be “on” all the time, meaning that I had to keep my strict teacher face on every single second. It took me awhile to learn that students respond best when they know you’re human, that they can connect with you, and that  despite all that, you’re still the teacher who expects them to their best every day. These kids are really funny, and some of my favorite laugh-out-loud moments happen when we get together in the classroom.

Positive habit #5: Push yourself to do something different.

While the previous habits were mostly personal, this last habit is more for my teaching profession. To get myself through the slump, I try to step outside the instruction box and do something different for the last 2-3 months of school. Last year, I tried the Code Blue Human Body Systems Unit. This year, I’ve tried the flipped classroom. I’m also trying to pull together a STEM Family Fair or a short CSI Forensics program in June.  When I try something new, I get to rev up my brain and get my creative juices flowing. I get over the slump because now I’m getting excited over what I’m doing. It’s like planning for a vacation— you look forward to doing something and you anticipate it!

These are five positive ways I have found to help me get through the end of the school year. What are some of the things that have worked for you?

Image Credit: “Sunflower Field” by Skykisser

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.


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 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!)