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


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!

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


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!


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

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. 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!

WWIDD: What Would I Do Differently?

Several days ago, Larry Ferlazzo posted on his blog: “What Are You Going To Do Differently Next Year?” I still have about a week to go before I start packing up my classroom, but his question has been rattling around in my head since I came across his post. What exactly would I do differently?

Thinking... please wait


I think a particular sentence from the book, “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, best sums up the gist of my thoughts: Think less. Do more. Be authentic.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. I will focus more on being in the present with my students. Sometimes as a teacher, you get inundated with so much stuff that you forget to slow down, and really think about why you’re doing it in the first place. Will a meticulously written ten-page scripted lesson plan really matter in the long run? It won’t if it means missing out on making vital connections with my students, and being able to meet them where they are, instead of pushing them along to where they’re not yet ready to be.

2. I will encourage students to take on more responsibility in the classroom. Middle-schoolers are messy; learning is messy. I have to be willing to let go of some control, and let them take over with classroom jobs to clean up the classroom, and to take over classroom routines. I can’t do everything and be everywhere at once; I need to be able to trust that they can do things safely on their own once I model for them the appropriate procedures. I also need to be patient and willing enough to guide them through it multiple times, instead of wanting to take over and do it all by myself instead.

3. I will encourage hard work, effort, and perseverance through positive praise instead of physical incentives. Not everyone in the real world gets a gold medal. I think I do my students a disservice when I’m asked to provide classroom incentives and rewards for something they’re expected to do, and for mediocrity. These rewards should be reserved for work that shows improvement, or something exceptional. I believe that it means more to students when they are able to experience the effects of hard work.  However, I am aware that I’m dealing with middle-schoolers, and they do need that little extrinsic motivation once in awhile. I’m not quite sure how I’ll revamp this next year, but I definitely will think about how to get around those incentives.

4. I will speak up more often for myself. Once caught in a very stressful situation, I found myself in tears just seconds before the bell for homeroom rang. I thought I would find guidance and assurance from a mentor, but was instead told to “not get so emotional” and “man up”. It was at that moment that I realized that as much as I love my work and its adult culture, work is work. Work does not take care of me.

I was, and still am, an introvert; the thought of having to speak up in meetings, or seek out my principal for 1:1 conferences, gives me heart palpitations. Other coworkers interrupted and spoke over me. As a result, they were seen as more competent and were offered more lucrative positions. I learned this year that I have to take care of myself. I could do that next year by letting go of my fears and hesitations, and by giving myself a stronger and louder voice.

What would you do differently?

My Favorite Highlights of the 2013-2014 School Year

Hello, dear readers! I apologize for being an awful blogger; obviously I have not yet mastered the balance of work, home and posts! I do hope you are well, and thanks for sticking around! Can you believe that it’s mid-June already? Most of my teacher-friends are already out of school! In fact, my own kid is out this week, but here I am, with still approximately seven (torturous–oops, did I type that out loud?) days left on our extended school year calendar.  What’s that sound? Ah, it’s me hissing in envy as I imagine my peers frolicking on the beach, while I sit in a hot second-story classroom, trying to teach.

To take my mind off those lovely beach scenes, I am posting my favorite highlights of the school year. If this post was a scrapbook, it would have glittery stickers with “super star” and  “awesome” all over it.  Don’t get me wrong; this year definitely posed a lot of challenges, but I believe I experienced more highs than lows. A lot of my professional growth this year centered on my decision to put my fears aside and just do something different. I did exactly that, and boy, was it a lot of fun!

My Top 7 Favorite Highlights of the Year:

1. Acquiring classroom pets through PetCo grants. (Watch out for Max’s stinky poops!)


Here’s Max, our bearded dragon, who helped us learn about the major characteristics of organisms throughout the year. 

2. Setting up more (free) field trips throughout the year. (Thanks, Field Trip Factory!)


Students performed a Pet Store scavenger hunt, where they learned about different animals, their habitats, and adaptations.

3. Helping my students make real-life connections with science instruction, application, and careers in science through multiple guest-speaker visits and field trips to local colleges. (Thanks to our service women at Stratton Air National Guard Base!)


Female Air Force pilots shared their experiences transporting NSF scientists to Antarctica with our students during Career Fair Day.


A doctorate student from The College of NanoScience and Engineering talks about her research on biomedical engineering, and debunks female scientist stereotypes. “Science is sexy!”

4. Setting up and supervising a year-long all-girls after school STEM mentoring program. (Go #STEMGirls!)


One of the students got to experience how to put on appropriate work gear before entering a Clean Fab room in the research facilities at The College of Nano Science and Engineering.


My rad #STEMgirls and I posed in our lab coats, and checked out each other’s DNA extractions.

5. Focusing more on hands-on activities and engineering design practices to help students learn science concepts. (It doesn’t hurt to indulge in our sweet tooth once in awhile!)




Using candy manipulatives to build DNA structures and practice base pairing.


Using timed challenges to build structures with limited materials to encourage problem-solving and collaboration between students.

6. Incorporating more long-term collaborative problem-based unit projects in my instruction (The following photos show students in various stages of research, design, and presentation during our month-long Code Blue Human Body Systems Unit. Many thanks to the pediatricians from The Children’s Hospital, Albany Medical Center, for listening to and assessing our Grand Rounds presentations!)


Students worked in specialty groups to teach each other about their specific human body systems.


Students worked in “home base” groups, where they designed their medical clinic signs and earned their licenses after taking board exams.


One group’s 3D model of their chosen human body system.


Doctors listened in as students presented their mystery patient’s diagnosis and treatments during Grand Rounds.


7. Attending the NSTA Boston Conference as a conference speaker, and getting to talk about  the uses of social media in the science classroom with some awesome kick-butt people!



Hello, Boston!


“The Social Science Teacher” presenters!

Reflecting Over Interactive Science Notebooks

One of my goals for the school year was to use an interactive science notebook (ISNs) in class. I had previously attended workshops on science note booking, and thought it would be a great idea to implement in the classroom to help my scholars actively process the content they are learning in class. This decision coincided with administrative changes to our daily lesson plan formats. To encourage more academic rigor, science staff went from the gradual release of responsibility model to the 5E learning cycle model. The first few months of the school year were a challenging time as we learned how to adapt to a new format and try to fully incorporate new strategies in our teaching. Starting an ISN in class for the first time was made even more challenging as I struggled to find classroom examples of ISNs using the 5E format.

A lot of the things I write next are a compilation of thoughts, reflections and experiences I had over the past year experimenting with ISNs in the classroom for the first time. First, to mirror my daily lesson plan and class agenda, I structured the ISN so that it follows the 5E format.

Stages of 5E With Some Examples of Scholar Activities In Their ISNs

Engage – Timed free-writes to writing and photo prompts, introductory video clips, formative assessment probes, KWL charts

Explore –  Teacher demos, discrepant events, short 10-15 minute labs, vocabulary strategies, pre-reading activities

Explain –  Concept maps, multiple graphic organizers, Cornell notes, recording observations, reading and annotating activities (with text packet)

Elaborate – Longer labs (reserved for 1-2 days), “Stop and Jots”, more diagrams, short-response essays with text-based evidence

Evaluate –  Exit tickets, quizzes, unit tests, and performance tasks



Setting Up The Interactive Science Notebook

I sorely underestimated how much time it would take for scholars to set up their ISN! Initially, I planned to introduce and set up the ISN in three days during the first week of class. To encourage ownership and accountability for their notebooks, I had scholars design their covers and first inside page with self-portraits, family portraits, personal goals for the new school year, and their thoughts about science. Scholars were really excited, and naturally took a long time to meticulously decorate their notebooks. They brought in photos, which I had to scan and print out in color (against front office rules, shhh). In retrospect, I should have not waited until the first week of actual teaching to introduce the ISN. I should have used our “pre-season” time to set up the notebook. (Note: At work, we spend two weeks before our first week of teaching to go over school-wide and classroom-specific expectations and routines. This is known as “pre-season” by staff.)

Pros of Using An Interactive Science Notebook

• Saved a lot of wasted paper (no more packets and worksheets, yes!)

• Provided scholars with a place to organize their information and learning experiences

• Allowed me to differentiate my instruction and assessment

• Allowed for both teacher and scholars to show off individual creativity

• Encouraged more academic writing and small-group/whole-group discussions in class


Cons of Using An Interactive Science Notebook

• Super expensive! Providing and restocking supplies throughout the year is a pain in the derriere

• Set up eats up a lot of instructional time (ie. coloring, cutting/gluing, formatting notebook)

• Gets messy and requires time for clean-up before transitions

• Requires consistency; 1) need to use on a daily basis to make it relevant and; 2) teacher’s ISN need to be updated frequently too!

• Needed to find a more efficient and painless way to assess and grade multiple ISNs at once

By February, our lesson plan formats changed again to include more independent scholar work. As a result, the ISN got pushed aside to meet these requirements and other deadlines. Thinking back, the ISN was a perfect vehicle to encourage more reading and writing in class but I honestly wasn’t thinking about that then. There was a lot of stress regarding board visits and prepping for state testing, so I banked the ISN and didn’t think about it again until now during spring break.


Things I Would Do Over With The Interactive Science Notebook Next Time

• Introduce the ISN during pre-season and give a longer time frame for set up

• Fold the Table of Contents page in half to save more space

• Use more color! Scientific writing should also be a piece of personal creative art

• Reserve the ISN as a meaningful place to get scholars’ thinking out; don’t make them write everything down for the sake of it. See Engage/Explain/Elaborate sections for ideas.

• Use Evaluate section separately from the ISN. Provide graded assessments on different printed paper so you don’t have to lug home crates of notebooks over the weekend.


Another Thought…

…stretch out the 5E format over several days instead of one whole day. When we were first introduced to the 5E learning cycle model, science staff designed lesson plans that went through the entire cycle in one day. This was because we were used to creating daily lesson plans that were posted on our doors for each day. I think now that we really didn’t see the big picture…  learning doesn’t happen neatly that way.  Learning doesn’t happen in precise 5 stages in a 70-minute block.  It’s meant to be a guide for teachers to help facilitate learning organically.

I think that my experiences with these lesson plan changes this year have shown me that my thoughts on teaching practices have changed a lot. When I was a first-year teacher, I didn’t question these changes. My goal was to survive my first year so I did what I was told. Now as a third-year teacher, I’m more reflective about what I do and I ask more questions about what I am asked to do as a teacher. It is no longer about personal survival in the workplace, but about what I am doing to help ensure positive scholar learning in my classroom. How does the ISN fit in with this? Is squeezing in the entire 5E cycle in a 70-minute block really helping? These are things now that I am constantly reviewing and figuring out how to change in my instruction.

I definitely will try the interactive science notebook again and look forward to how it grows and changes as my own learning grows and changes next year.


Some Helpful Resources on Interactive Science Notebooks

“Teaching Science With Interactive Notebooks” by Kellie Marcarelli



Welcoming Class Pets In The Science Classroom


This is Max the bearded dragon, our new class pet. Max, meet the blogging world.

The mister and JR14 helped me pick him (her?) out and set up his (her?) two (yes, two!) terrariums today. The boys were not quite as excited, preferring to ooh and ahh over larger and furrier animals at the pet store today but I was beyond excited. I can’t wait to see the happy faces of my scholars when they come in to school on Monday and see Max.

Max is partially funded through the Pets in the Classroom grant, which I stumbled upon two weeks ago while browsing the PetSmart website for dog treats for my Samoyed/Labrador mix, Chloey. It was quite fortuitous as I was planning my animal unit. I have never had class pets before, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Thank you, Pets In The Classroom, for helping me take the jump and to the wonderful PetSmart staff who answered all my questions and helped me gather all the materials I needed.

So, how do I plan to use Max in our animals unit? Last week, we began our introduction to animals by observing various plants, crickets and goldfish. We discussed how they are all examples of living organisms, and tried to articulate how we know an animal when we see one. That led to our study of invertebrates and vertebrates.

This week we begin looking at the various major groups of vertebrates. I plan on using class observations with Max, to reinforce how the pet meets the criteria of living organisms and the major characteristics of vertebrates, and to emphasize academic terms like “endotherm” and “ectotherm”.

In the following week, we move on to animal behaviors. We’ll talk about innate VS learned behaviors, survival needs, etc.

Through some Internet research I did tonight, I also learned that another pet store, PetCo, offers free in store field trips through a program with Field Trip Factory. This is another fantastic opportunity to expose scholars to more animals and learn about animal welfare, habitats, and diversity. FFT and PetCo offer a downloadable curriculum guide that teachers can use as they tour the pet store. It’s too bad it’s 10 PM Eastern time here right now or I would have picked up the phone and set up an appointment for my school already!

For more long term ideas, I plan to keep daily logs of Max’s measurements, feeding habits, etc. MiddleWeb just shared a PDF on top 50 Web 2.0 tools earlier this week, and there was a great link on Infogram. I’d like to use that info graphic tool to create visuals using data from our class pet. Writing prompts, generating questions (gotta finish reading “The Right Question”) and personal research reports about the class pet are more examples of ideas on incorporating the class pet into lesson plans and curriculum.

If you too have classroom pets, how do you use them in your science lessons? I’d love to hear your ideas! Please share!