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Using Games to Master the Mountain of Biology Vocabulary Words

Are your students struggling to master all the new biology terms and definitions we 
teach each day?

After teaching high school Biology for over 30 years, I know that one of the biggest problems my students are going to have in my class is mastering the mountain of new vocabulary words encountered each and every day.  When I talk to struggling biology students, they will usually tell me that they understand the concepts, and they understand "how and why" things work as they do, but they hate to memorize the vocabulary words.   In addition to learning new words and their meanings, the words are often hard to spell and hard to pronounce.  

In looking for ways to help my students, I quickly discovered that different styles of game play was the answer.  Students need a little fun and excitement in the classroom, and anytime you announce that you are about to play a game, even the most stubborn student will get excited.  In addition, students are naturally competitive with one another, and I found that they will study the vocabulary words in order to win a game!  Especially if there is a prize!  As a result, I developed vocabulary cards with corresponding definition cards that I call "Biology Buzz Words."

What is “Biology Buzz Words”?  The number of new science vocabulary words can be overwhelming to our students.  Practice and review in a game format is an excellent method of drilling and reinforcing the concepts and vocabulary.  Each set of "Biology Buzz Words" contains a list of vocabulary words and definitions that are found on a particular topic in a typical high school biology textbook.  The words and definitions are printed on separate cards.  Students will use these cards to play various games to help them master the vocabulary words.  At present, I have 17 different games that I play with my students.  The games include individual games, small group games and entire class games.  

  • Mix/Match Games
  • Catch Phrase style
  • 20 Questions style
  • I have / Who has
  • Pictionary style
  • Bingo
  • First Day instruction
  • Lab Stations
  • Bell Ringers / Warm Ups
  • Let's Talk About It
  • Vocabulary Game Show
  • Categories
  • Hot Seat
  • Concentration
  • Chalk It Up!

My students really enjoy these game format review sessions.  I have to be careful about the time it takes to play these games, though.  If my students had their way, we would be playing games every day!  For prizes, I use Jolly Rancher candies.  Believe me, middle and high school students will really study the vocabulary words in order to win a candy!

The types of game play are extremely versatile.  Make the game as easy or as hard as you want by selecting which vocabulary and definition cards you want to use.  The games can be tailored to meet the needs of any life science or biology class.  For an advanced class, use all of the vocabulary cards.  For a younger class, or a lower level class, choose only the vocabulary words that are appropriate for their level.  If your class contains students of widely varying ability levels, you can easily tailor the games for specific groups of students.  It is very easy to differentiate and customize instruction for a particular group of students by selecting the cards that are most appropriate for those students.

My Biology Buzz Word products come with a lot more than the vocabulary cards and the definition cards.  Check out the images below to see what is included with each product.

I have just begun to post these products to my TpT store.  The following are currently available, and many more will be coming soon.  Click on the links below for more information.

Paul Rossi: Wildlife Photographer

The Amazing Photography of my Friend and Neighbor, Paul Rossi

Few places in this world can be both majestic and ethereal at the same time.  I have had the good fortune of getting to visit one such place every summer for the past 50 years.  As unspoiled and commercial free as any place we have left, I imagine this slice of our country to be much like Yellowstone or Yosemite before the crowds. Where is this place?  The eastern upper peninsula of Michigan (EUP)!

I can't believe the north shore of Lake Huron is much different today than it was a hundred years ago when my family first homesteaded in the area.  Sure, getting around was much more difficult since with no Mackinac Bridge, everyone had to take a ferry or a boat through the straits.  Still, the lake, forests and wildlife were surely much the same.  For that reason, I have trekked to the EUP as often as I could.  The one downside to this scenario is that eventually I have to come home.

When I was a child visiting the lake one summer, I became friends with another child by the name of Paul Rossi.  Years later, Paul and I have rekindled that friendship and, in so doing, he has done much to relieve that one downside (coming home) by allowing me to take a little of the magic of this place with me when I leave.  

Paul, a professional wildlife photographer, has authored a book entitled "Beautiful Birds of the Michigan's Eastern Upper Peninsula". He has not only captured the beauty, behavior and color of the birds of this region, he has also captured the natural harmony and symbiosis of the entire area.  

A few of my very favorite photos are seen below.

In Paul's own words, "Studying birds can require work, patience, and research, but it is rewarding.  The practice from doing this, or any activity in which you observe and learn from nature, transfers to other activities such as finding other animals, beautiful rare wildflowers, wild edible plants, berries, mushrooms, etc.  I hope to inspire people to responsibly enjoy and live in harmony with nature at some level because it is an innate part of being human.  We are genetically programmed to derive satisfaction from doing this because our ancestors did this for thousands of years in order to survive."

These stunning photographs can be found in Paul's newly published book, "Beautiful Birds of Michigan's Easter Upper Peninsula."  This link will take you to Paul's website where you can view more images and download an order form for this incredible book.

In addition, Paul has a second web site, Paul Rossi Birds, where you can view (and purchase!) individual prints.  I will be having a few of these framed for myself ... If I can ever decide which ones I want!

Click the above image to view Paul's prints at his website "Paul Rossi Birds."


Invertebrates: How To Get It Covered When You Are Running Out Of Time!

Help!  I am running out of time, and I still have the animal kingdom to cover!

This happens to me EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR!!  I really can't think of any topic in my biology class that I don't enjoy.  I am a biology nerd and I love teaching! But there are certain topics that I REALLY love and I spend too much time on them.  Cell physiology, biochemistry, cell division, photosynthesis, respiration, genetics, DNA, evolution ..... I get so excited about these, and I love the labs that go with these topics, and well, I just spend too much time on them!  Which brings me back to the purpose of this article:  I need to get the invertebrate material covered, and I have very little time to do it.

It's time to flip my classroom.

For most concepts, I prefer a traditional teaching approach. Flipping my classroom means that I am shifting the responsibility for teaching and learning to the student. The idea is that the student must study and learn the material at home, and class time is used to answer questions and clarify any misconceptions students might have about the concepts.  As I said above, I am a traditional teacher, and I prefer to teach most topics "the old-fashioned" way.  But I do believe that certain topics require less instruction from the teacher, and these topics can be covered quickly and efficiently by shifting some or all of the responsibility over to the students.

Like the invertebrates!  I want my biology students to be well versed about the origins of the animal kingdom.  They need a basic understanding of embryology, body form and symmetry, and the unique characteristics that place an animal in a particular phylum.  After a few really good lectures on embryology, I usually shift the rest of the learning over to the students. There is nothing difficult about the characteristics of each phylum, and my students often are relieved and excited for things to be a little different in the classroom.

So how will I cover the invertebrates? You are probably already familiar (hopefully!) with my warm ups and interactive notebook pages.  I use them all year long as warm ups, homework assignments, and for review and reinforcement.

For the invertebrates, I use them as a tool for flipping the learning over to the students.  Students are placed in cooperative learning groups - (groups of my own choosing, and not theirs!) - to complete the interactive pages on all of the invertebrate phyla.  I give them class time to work, but some of the work will have to be completed outside of class.  Each day, I devote time to answering questions the students might have, and focusing their attention to a few concepts that might need a little more traditional instruction.

I have my students prepare a notebook on the invertebrates.  You can get an idea of how this works from the photos below.  Click on any of the images below to view these products in my TpT store.


Each set can be purchased individually (click on each image above) or you can save money by purchasing them in a big bundle.  Use this link to view the big bundle.

I hope this gives you a few ideas of ways cover some topics quickly when you are crunched for time. Good luck in your teaching!

Teacher Appreciation Sale and giveaway!

It's a glorious time of the the year!  Spring has arrived with warm, beautiful weather, and teachers everywhere are eagerly looking forward to summer vacation.  It is a time to recharge and begin planning for the next school year. And most importantly, it is a time for teachers to receive much deserved appreciation for the hard work they do EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!!

In order to celebrate teachers, throws an annual Teacher Appreciation Sale.  It is one of the best sales of the year because you can grab great lessons and activities to get you through the end of the year, and you can also stock up on materials to start the next school year..... all at fantastic savings to you.

Everything in my TpT store, Amy Brown Science, will be 20% during the sale days of May 3 and May 4.  Be sure to use the discount code CELEBRATE at check out to receive an additional 10% off everything in your shopping cart.  That's a lot of savings!  My big bundles are discounted everyday, so during a sale, they are truly a bargain.  Click here to view all of my bundled units.

In addition to the great sale prices, I would like to give a lucky winner a $20 gift card to Teachers PayTeachers.  Be sure to enter to win in the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enjoy the rest of your school year, 
and Happy Teacher's Appreciation Week!

NSTA Convention

My lovely daughter (left) is a great
helper and my biggest fan!
My First Time as an Exhibitor!

Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  Thank you so much to all of the amazing teachers that stopped at our booth at the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) Convention in Nashville! This was my very first time to attend NSTA as an exhibitor, and I was completely blown away by the experience!  I met so many wonderful people from all over the country and even from Italy, Mexico, Australia, and Puerto Rico!  All were excited about teaching science, and looking for new ideas for their classrooms.  

My cohorts and partners in crime (errr, fellow science teachers) were Erica Colon of Nitty Gritty Science and Tracey Graham of Smart Chick Teaching Resources.  All three of us are sellers on (Amy Brown Science) and we were delighted to be able to spread the good word about TpT.  

This journey started almost a year ago, and the three of us spent many a day texting, emailing, messaging, and chatting on Google chat to prepare for our first convention.  Erica and Tracey were an absolute joy to work with, and I am happy to have made friends with them through TpT.

What was the biggest highlight of this exhibiting experience?  There are two!

1 - Getting to see Bill Nye!  

And 2 - Meeting the people who have been using my lessons!!

There were many, many testimonials from teachers of how my materials had worked in their classrooms. A few were such fans that they wanted pictures to take back and show their friends at school!  It was touching and heartwarming and humbling.  I couldn't be happier to know that the materials and lessons I have developed in my 31 years of teaching are helping teachers in other school districts.

The NSTA exhibit hall is an amazing place, and you never know who will be strolling the aisles!

Congratulations to the following people who were winners in my giveaway drawing.  TpT gift certificates were won by Emily D, Rhonda W, Kimberly O, Kathryn D, and Mandy H.  The following people won CD's packed with teaching materials:  Beth V, Kristin K, Amanda H, Michaela Y, Anitra H, Becky S, and Nancy D.  You guys will be hearing from me soon!  Congratulations!

So..... would I like to do this again?   YAAASSSSS!  Los Angeles 2017, here we come!

Zoo Wild!

"Zoo Wild" is a free game found on Google Play.  I love the way it teaches conservation to budding young scientists (ages 3 - 10) and fosters a love of nature and the environment.  This project has been a labor of love for Clint Clark and his entire family. Below, Clint describes the game and how its development has impacted his family.
When my son was born, my wife and I desired to be parents that empowered our children, built empathy and encouraged creativity. This has sent us on quite a wild adventure which has led to our latest creation Zoo Wild, a free mobile game on Google Play.
As parents, we are put off by the amount of ads and purchases in kids mobile games and vowed not just to make a free game, but one without ads and purchases. Not just that, but we desired to have learning embedded amongst all the wild fun. If you teach any kids between ages 3-10 or have children of your own, install it and join in on our adventure.
We desired to set our animal game apart from the other million or so that have been made.
  • First, we opted for realistic depictions of the species. Not smiley, big-eyed animals.
  • Second, we focus on learning facts about the species including their classifications, diets, the world regions in which they live, and most importantly their conservation status –- how endangered they are.

  • Third, we decided to create five different “mini-games” as opposed to one play style to keep kids engaged that build a variety of skills. There are opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge.
  • Fourth, we found a tremendous lady to provide narration for the game so pre-readers can still play and learn.
  • Fifth, we wanted to include more species than just the familiar favorites that are included in every zoo, animal book, bedspread and backpack.

We have taught our children a great deal about endangered species and conservation and we’ve found it is a tremendous empathy builder. The idea that an animal might die and not exist anymore, really hits kids. We share how conservation efforts are made and together we’ve learned about deforestation, pollution, global warming, poaching. All before they went to kindergarten.

In addition to the mobile game, my wife has built hundreds of resources around each species that are available on TPT.  ( We also had some fun and Kickstarted an animal conservation card game, Zoo Webs.
All the while, we’ve included our kids through the entire process so they can learn they can make a difference for animals and our environment. Our kids choose all of the species, critique the art, look up the facts and decide where to donate the profit. They eagerly await choosing the next animal.
We hope our game can help some kiddos learn about different species, about conservation and perhaps activate a passion for the next generation of zookeepers, wildlife biologists and environmental activists! 

Nature Works Everywhere: Virtual Field Trip to Coastal Peru

Witness the Amazing Biodiversity of a Coastal Ecosystem

The next LIVE virtual field trip is just around the corner!  You are not going to want to miss this exciting trip into the most productive marine ecosystem in the world.

Virtual field trips provide the perfect way to travel with your students to exotic destinations without having to leave the classroom.  Brought to you for free by The Nature Conservancy and Nature Works Everywhere, these virtual experiences combine science, history, culture and geography into a integrated unit of study that truly packs a punch.  The resources being provided to classroom teachers by Nature Works Everywhere are truly incredible.  Use this link to view videos with accompanying lesson plans, as well as the five previous virtual field trips.

Now for the essential information about the upcoming field trip:

Title:  How Nature Works in Coastal Peru - The Amazing Biodiversity of a Coastal Ecosystem

Date:  Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Time:  12:00 noon Eastern Time

Length of virtual event:  45 minutes

How do I sign up?  Use this link to register now for the live virtual event.

What if I can't watch on March 16?  Register anyway to receive the YouTube viewing link.  This will allow you to watch anytime after the live event has concluded.  The virtual field trip will also be posted at a later date on the Nature Works Everywhere web site as well as on Vimeo.  Once these versions are ready, you will be sent the links in a newsletter.

How much does it cost?  FREE!  Participation in the live event and all of the high-quality downloadable lesson plans, worksheets, and activities are absolutely free!

Tell me more about the upcoming field trip!  Your host will be fisheries scientist, Matias Caillaux, from The Nature Conservancy.  He will lead you on an exploration of the Humboldt Current Ecosystem off the coast of Peru.  The Humboldt current is a cold ocean current that flows north along the west coast of South America from the southern tip of Chili to northern Peru.  It is one of the major upwelling systems in the world, supporting an incredible abundance of marine life.

The Humboldt Current Large Marine Ecosystem is the most productive marine ecosystem in the world, as well as the largest upwelling system.  Because of its high rate of primary and secondary productivity, approximately 18-20% of the world's fish catch comes from the Humboldt Current Large Marine Ecosystem.  This forms the basis of a unique and abundant ecosystem of fish, sea birds, penguins and marine mammals.

Students will learn about biodiversity, explore ancient island carvings, examine the region's fishing industry, and discover what is being done to conserve this valuable and vulnerable ecosystem.

In additional to the virtual field trip, take advantage of the free downloadable teaching materials, videos, and interactive web sites to prepare your students.  These materials will enhance the field trip experience and provide excellent resources for your students.  Two interactive web sites include:

Click image to view this interactive web site.

Click image to view this interactive web site.

Free downloads for your classroom include:

Click image to view this interactive web site.
In these activities, students will explore sustainable fishing through a specific case study in Peru.  The lessons include interactive story maps that explore the Humboldt Current, El Nino, and artisanal fishing.  Students can complete a fisheries management activity using data and a socratic seminar that explores the challenges of open access fishing areas.

As a science teacher, I love that these exceptional field trips, videos, and teaching handouts are made available to us for free.  Thanks to The Nature Conservancy and NatureWorks Everywhere for providing us with these outstanding opportunities!