November Reflections: Leaping into Learning

pablo

What, it’s November already? One would think that as a middle school teacher and magazine columnist I should have a better handle on my time management and blogging skills, but obviously I do not. Here I am though, finally writing again, on a school night! So, hello, dear reader and friend. Let’s catch up for a bit.

The first quarter of the school year has blown by, much like the non-existent season of fall here in the Northeast. (Seriously? I had a couple of weekends to enjoy the colorful foliage before some storms came in and left bare branches.) Working at a new district has been both exciting and challenging; exciting because it’s a new workplace, and challenging because it’s a new workplace. My past columns have focused on inquiry-based instruction, modeling instruction, and the 5E learning cycle so I have been really pushing myself to walk the talk in my own science classroom. Since my first year of teaching, my work motto was “Be bold and courageous in all that you do.” Science is about experimentation anyway, so why not try new  and different things?

Here’s some new things I “leapt” at this quarter and what I learned from them:

  1. The 5E learning cycle is a fun and effective way to teach science. One of the NSTA listserv members shared his 5E lesson plan template and I’ve adapted it for my unit plans. I think this year so far I have doubled the amount of hands-on activities and labs from what I usually do in a unit. Even though I  increased the number of labs, prep time and clean up has been reduced with the installation of class jobs and student helpers. Students seem to be more at ease with vocabulary and concepts that most students in the past struggled with, even after review and reteaching. I think that is because they are making the connections between their Explore lab experiences and the content. I too find it easier to explain something when I can say, “Remember what happened when…?”  or “Remember when you…?” Instantly an image pops up in their heads, and they get it.
  2. Visual sketch noting is not just for the artistically-inclined. Earlier in September, students completed a multiple intelligences survey and many described themselves as visual-spatial learners. I also had a lot of students who kept drawing in class. Rather than get annoyed by their scribbles, I embraced it and switched class notes to foldables and doodles in our science interactive notebooks. Now they were earning notebook grades for coloring and drawing–a win/win for us all! While I personally prefer outlines and bulleted lists for notes, I too have tried to be more creative by using Google Drawing to create diagrams, flow-charts, and summaries for notes. I also have tried drawing during team meetings, and while I get strange looks from peers, I realized I remember more things when I drew them because I could picture them in my head. Again with the images!
  3. Cognitive psychology tricks makes productive learning stick. (Hey, that rhymes!) In October, I attended a local science conference and one of the sessions I sat in was based on Peter Brown’s, “Make It Stick:The Science of Successful Learning”. The master teacher shared her experiences using vocabulary concept maps and summary sheets. I came home and tried both as review strategies for our first unit test. At first, students resisted. Middle school students resist change, especially when that change means they have to do more thinking and more work! They complained a lot about how hard it was, but then something shifted. They started getting into discussions about categorizing vocabulary words and how they should word their phrases to show connections. When they found out they could use the summary sheet for a test, they were excited until they learned they had to decide on their own what goes on that sheet. Students who really took the time to work on their vocabulary maps and summary sheets earned higher scores than those who blew it off. I like the strategies, and am interested to see what the results will be for the next unit. Will more students take it seriously this time? Hmm…
  4. When you have a low STEAM budget, build things out of junk. One of my classes is a STEAM class that meets every day for 20 minutes. It was a last minute schedule change before school started so I didn’t really have a lot of time or materials to plan out a curriculum. Thankfully, NSTA listserv members shared some STEAM resources and school staff donated recyclable materials to help me get through the first 10 weeks.  I started off with weekly themed challenges, like the Apple A-lympics. Students built the tallest towers, cantilevers, wrecking balls, and bridges with apples. When they got bored with that theme (and the apples started rotting), we switched to two-week challenges such as cardboard marble mazes and candy pumpkin’ chunkin’ catapults. Students really enjoyed building things, but we got burned out quickly. When I get the next batch of students in December, I plan to throw in videos, science literacy articles, and basic lab skills review to break things up and give us some breathing space. Instead of a weekly challenge, I may  break it up into 5- 2-week long short term projects or do 1 long-term project using Google CS where they can work on their own pace.
  5. Angela Watson is the queen of batching and streamlining; I want to be her when I grow up. Back in July, I signed up for Angela Watson’s “40 Hour Teacher Work Week” program. It has been hard to keep up with the weekly readings, audios and Facebook posts since school started but the content is pure gold. I have been commuting to work carrying only my lunch box! (If you’re a science teacher, you KNOW this is a biggie. I usually carry 1-2 totes of papers and STUFF that I need for a demo, activity or lab.) I have been getting more work done at work, and rarely brought work home since October. I have been getting out of work on time, and have not once had to go to school on a weekend to print! I get more time to spend with my husband, actually watch TV, or curl up with a book on weeknights. (Or like tonight, finally blog.) Bottom line: after seven years of teaching, I am starting to have my own personal life.
    1. Batching similar tasks means that I don’t go around in circles all day. I plan everything out the night before or morning of, prioritize my tasks for the day, and I make sure I check off my list. Done, done, and done.
    2. The weekly readings and Facebook posts keep me reflecting and revamping my routines and strategies to make it even more streamlined and effective. For example, I loved the idea of class jobs and I created all these fancy titles. Environmental manager? Technology specialist? Supply Manager? Cute, right? Fast forward to November and no one is doing those jobs. Turns out all I needed were paper passers. It may be Pinterest-worthy, but if it’s not getting what I need done, I need to avoid it and stick to what will help me do my job well and fast.
    3. Weekly Do-Nows, or bellringers, are a great way to set the tone for class. I used to do half sheets with 3-5 problems every day , which unfortunately just formed towering piles on my office desk because I didn’t have the time to look at them all. This year I created weekly worksheets and projected Science Spot’s Science Starters on the board or created my own problems in a Google Slidedeck. Now I’m thinking of revamping it again to a weekly review worksheet but with old NYS ILS exam problems printed on them instead of showing it on the board. Some students have also started to just wait until we go over the answers, but hopefully this way will deter reluctant starters and hold them accountable for the review.
    4. Where have single-point rubrics been all of my life? I learned about single-point rubrics at that same conference from that same master teacher who talked about concept maps and summary sheets. Single-point rubrics only describe the criteria for proficiency. Students’ eyes will no longer glaze over when they read over my rubrics! Why didn’t my college professors ever tell me about these beautiful things? Sorry, Rubistar, I no longer need your time-consuming analytic rubrics! Currently I’m rewriting my interactive notebook, lab report, and groupwork rubrics into single-point rubrics. This might be Pinterest-worthy. Streamlining can be sexy.

I’m not quite sure what’s in line for me for the rest of November, but hey, I’m trying and learning new things! That’s all I can ask of myself. So, be bold, my friend. Learn something new! Leap, and that net will appear! (Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving in case it takes me another few weeks to get back here.)

 

School Year Highlights & Summer Happenings

 

School Highlights andSummer Happenings

No worries: I am still alive! My dear friend, I have so much to tell you! The 2015-2016 school year has come and gone, and there are less than four weeks of summer vacation left before I begin the new 2016-2017 school year. Where do I begin with my news? I’ll start off with some highlights from last year, bullet-journal style.

2015-2016 School Highlights

  • Organized an all-day STEM DAY for Grades 6-8 with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s (RPI) Engineering Ambassador Program
  • Created and supervised a new elective in which the students attended their first Future Cities Albany Competition
    • My elective students and I met former astronaut, Dr. David Hilmers! That’s a photo of my students and I in the Future Cities’ website and article.
    • The team won the “2016 Best Green Design Model” award!
  • Helped create an all-day inter-curriculum CSI Day for Grades 6-8 with department
  • Helped create a half-day STEM competition between Grades 6-7 with the math teacher
  • Learned more about Google Apps for Education (GAFE) tools and used them in the classroom with the school’s 1:1 Chromebook program
  • Implemented the Code Blue unit with Life Science students for the third year in a row, where several amazing parents, who worked in the medical field, volunteered to act as judges and evaluate the students’ Grand Rounds presentations
  • Set up and helped evaluate the 4th Grade Intermediate Life Science (ILS) exams
  • Set up and proctored the 8th Grade ILS exams for the first time on my own as a teacher
  • Taught Regents Living Environment (LE) for the first time, proctored the exams, and helped evaluate other schools’ exams in June.
    • I am proud to say that 100% of my Regents LE students earned a score of 84 or higher! Whew!

Other Important News

  • This fall, I will begin my seventh year of teaching as the new 8th Grade Physical Science Teacher at a rural public school district.
    • I greatly enjoyed my time teaching Grades 6-8 at a private Catholic school, and learned so much about teaching different science subjects (and teaching evolution in a Catholic school setting!). I also loved experimenting with GAFE and web 2.0 tools. I will certainly miss the students and staff!
    • After six years of teaching at charter schools and private schools, I am relieved to finally be in a public school setting–one that is also less than a half hour drive from home! Tira tira! (Filipino slang for I can do it! I did it!)
  • This fall, I will also officially debut as one of the magazine columnists for NSTA’s Science Scope magazine!
    • So, be on the lookout this month for the September issue! I write for the monthly “From the Listservs” column. If you are an NSTA member and subscribe to one or all of the NSTA email listservs, many thanks for your wonderful responses and contributions to my column.
    • I have been working for the past four months on these magazine articles, and holy moly! I do not envy my editors and other professional writers their jobs. How do they stay so disciplined with their writing schedules?! I struggle with blogging on a daily basis, so it will be quite an adventure this year to see how I brush off my social media accounts, attempt to blog more frequently, and keep up with the monthly column! Tira tira!

What I’ve Been Up To Lately

  • Back last November, Hubby and I moved into a 200-year old farmhouse. This summer has been all about house projects. We practically live at Lowes and Home Depot since we are there every other weekend. So far, we have–
    • Repainted the front porch and back patios
    • Repainted the gazebo
    • Attempted to build a chicken coop and chicken run from scratch
      • I have 20 10-week-old chickens living in my sun-room! Building this chicken coop and run has been the bane of my existence. Between Hubby’s knee surgery and rainy weekends, this particular building project is going molasses slow. I can’t wait for it to be finally over and reclaim my sun-room.
  • Took up a self-paced Bible study with SheReadsTruth. (Thanks Lisa, @teachwithsoul, for the recommendation!)
  • Started to learn and practice creative hand lettering
  • Signed up for Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Work Club Program (#40HTWC)
    • Vicki (@coolcatteacher) shared a post on Angela’s “6 Simple Steps to Your Best Summer Ever”, which I read, which led to a free webinar and to the #40HTWC program
    • I attended the webinar and was inspired to sign up for the #40HTWC program, which is a year-long professional development program for teachers on how to work smart and more efficiently throughout the school year.
    • Completed the July materials, and I’m super excited to be in the classroom throughout August to set up my classroom and organization systems.
    • I’m loving the #40HTWC Facebook group for secondary teachers–the topics are on point, and I’m getting so much advice and feedback! Membership is closed for the 2016-2017 year, but if you get a chance to sign up for next year, I recommend you do it!  Watch out for some of my blog posts later this year on my personal teacher goals with #40HTWC
  • Attended several of Chris Kesler’s free science webinars
    • I watched his free webinars on interactive science notebooks, the 5E learning cycle, and student-led stations–all very informative and clearly presented
    • I’ve tried interactive science notebooks for two years now; setup and routines has been hard for me to keep consistent, so hopefully this fall I can tweak the system to run more efficiently.

2016-2017 Goals

  • With the #40HTWC program, my goal is to create a more productive and efficient workspace for my students and myself. With a self-running classroom, I hope to be able to spend more time focusing on…
    • building an inquiry-based curriculum
    • learning more Next Generation Science Standards and modeling instruction
    • and continuing to learn more about GAFE tools
  • Entering my seventh year teaching, I have also learned that I need to create parameters around work. I used to think that being a good teacher was about being the first to arrive and the last to leave, but I have learned over time that a good teacher is one who manages time well and includes well-being as a priority. With #40HTWC this year, I hope to…
    • make more time for daily exercise
    • make healthier food choices
    • and make more time for self-care

Hopefully throughout the year I’ll be able to journal about my experiences with #40HTWC, the new school, and new column position. Until then, happy summer!

 

 

8 Things I Learned From My First Webinar

pablo

Earlier this March, I went live with my first webinar!  I debut as a Model Schools Instructor for a regional community information center where I shared some of my practices in instructional technology integration with district staff from over 14 school districts.  The webinar was called “How To Use Google Apps and Web 2.0 Tools For Formative Assessment”.  The webinar was based on my personal experiences as a middle school science teacher this school year using various tools with a 1:1 Google Chromebook program.

Attendance was high and the feedback from the course evaluations have been overwhelmingly encouraging and positive. Thank you to those who attended and took the time to answer the survey. The links to the Google Slides and Google Document are posted below.

The webinar was an exciting but daunting challenge. Sure, I’ve taken my fair share of professional development training webinars, but I haven’t been on the other side before. I didn’t realize what type and extent of preparation were needed to design and host a successful  webinar. At school, I was simply sharing my passion for instructional technology with my department team members over coffee breaks in the lounge room, showing quick 1:1 demos in my room, or sharing what I was doing with others at monthly faculty meetings.

A webinar was different. The challenge was how to transmit my passion and experiences through a computer screen to a larger group of educators I have never met before. To prepare, I decided to put together a list of things that I enjoyed about webinars I have taken as a teacher and incorporated that into my design.

4 Things I Learned About Preparing a Webinar:

  1. Begin with a question.
    • A webinar is not about the presenter. It is about the people who signed up to take that webinar. They have a reason for paying money for that webinar. Focus on that reason. Get rid of the Agenda slide and start with a simple question: “Why are you here?”
  2. Make the webinar interactive.
    • Sitting in front of a computer screen for an hour is going to be tough for viewers and you. Do not, I repeat, kill them by PowerPoint. Do use lots of fun and vivid imagery.
    • With a webinar, you can’t see or hear your audience so you need to build in multiple checks to engage and check in with your audience. Ask questions. Take polls. Luckily for me, my webinar was an introductory “smack-down” session on online tools for formative assessment!  I was able to create multiple checks where the audience experienced the tools as students.
  3. Write a script.
    • Despite the fact that I teach in front of students all day and presented a couple of times in front of very large groups, my knees still quake at the thought of speaking in front of people. I’m not very quick at forming articulate sentences; it takes me awhile to figure out what I really want to say.
    • Writing a script helped me focus on the most important ideas and say it with fewer more succinct words.
  4. Give homework.
    • Have your viewers take an active role in their learning. Ask them how they can use the information they learned in their classroom the next day. Brainstorm and share ideas.
    • Provide resources they can check out on their own. Since my webinar was an introductory session, I wasn’t able to spend more time on technical how-to’s on individual tools. Instead, I created a Google Document and linked several resources that the viewers can read on their own.

So, how well did my preparation set me up for the actual presentation? Holy moly, it was so nerve-wracking. I arrived two hours earlier at the studio and found that it was just barely enough time to prep the webinar through WebEx, which I have never used before. However, once I started talking, I quickly got the hang of it and I was shocked to see how the hour flew by so fast. I really enjoyed the process–it was so much fun! Below are some things I learned from presenting the webinar:

4 Things I Learned About Presenting A Webinar:

  1.  Improvise, improvise, improvise! 
    • Even with a script, I learned that I had to be very flexible. There were steps I had to remember on how to turn on the mic and record the webinar and some housekeeping announcements to make before I started. I also ran into problems on how to share my tools, but thankfully I was able to share the links via the Chat box and a TodaysMeet backchannel I created for the webinar. The unexpected items made me flustered and I found myself stuttering a few times. Finally, I just took a deep breath, cracked some jokes, and got on with it!
  2. You can’t control everything, so go with the flow.
    • There were audio problems with some of the viewers. (Sorry, the studio told me that as a presenter, I have nothing to do with audio!) Towards the end of the webinar, one of my add-ons didn’t work. It was frustrating, but I understood that sometimes things go wrong, especially in a live webinar. I apologized, made more jokes, and followed up with the Google Document.
    • After some research on how to improve my webinar skills, I later picked up the tip on creating and emailing viewers PDF printouts of your webinar slideshow. It gives viewers something tangible to follow along with and write notes on.
  3.  You can’t make everyone like you, so go with the flow.
    • While a majority of my reviews after the webinar were positive, I did receive one negative review. The viewer stated I was disorganized, none of my tools worked, and that my webinar was no help at all. I was CRUSHED! My mind was like a pit bull gnawing incessantly on a bone; I kept playing it over and over in my head for a couple of days. Finally, I decided to spit it out and let it go. What was one negative review among many positives? It was my first webinar after all.
    • After some reflection, I do think that in my next webinar my first poll should ask teachers where they are on the instructional technology spectrum. I would also share with the viewers a preview of the tools I was going to talk about and ask them to rate them on how familiar they are with them. While I was clear about my webinar being an introductory session,  I can customize it on the spot depending on the viewers’ feedback.
  4. Do what you love and have fun!
    • I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow as a professional educator and presenter, and to be able to share my practices and passion for instructional technology with others. It was a fun first experience, and I look forward to putting together more webinars in the summer. As we teachers like to quip, practice makes perfect!

 

Webinar Google Slides: https://goo.gl/YnYsUg

Webinar Google Document:  https://goo.gl/GU2hNH

 

Celebrating Blessings This Christmas Season

pablo

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

pablo

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

Goodbye July, Hello August!

pablo

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.

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!)