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"Words to Live By" from Famous Scientists




These famous scientists teach us about life as well as about science.

#KindnessNation
#WeHoldTheseTruths



We teach about the work of famous scientists all the time in our classes.  If you take one of my classes, then it is a given that you know that Jonas Salk developed a life-saving polio vaccine, that Stephen Hawking changed the way we think about our universe, that Jane Goodall works tirelessly on behalf of her beloved chimpanzees, and that nothing makes sense in a biology class without the work of Charles Darwin.   These people made (and make) tremendous contributions to various fields of study, but they also have a "human" side.  They teach us not only about science, but about human nature, about the value of hard work, about tolerance and acceptance, and about the importance of perseverance, never giving up, and never losing hope.

Click image to download free mini-posters.
With this in mind, I have developed a set of classroom mini-posters highlighting quotes from scientists that offer words of wisdom.  This is a "forever free" product in my TeachersPayTeachers store.  All of the mini-posters print out on 8.5 x 11 sized paper.  They can be quickly laminated and used to make a bulletin board or wall display.  As our students sit in our classes and look about the room, hopefully their eyes will land on one of these posters and provide them with the inspiration to succeed and overcome the hurdles of life.

So, what's up with the hashtags?  I am honored to join a large group of teacher-authors on TpT in this hashtag event to provide lots and lots of free classroom materials for all subjects and grade levels.  The idea is to provide a wealth of free materials that teach and reinforce character, kindness, tolerance, anti-bullying, empathy, inclusion, and equality for all.  Let's face it ... 2016 was a very difficult year for our nation.  Regardless of your beliefs, opinions or convictions, teachers need materials to bring out the best in our students.  This hashtag event will offer "forever free" materials that are not political in nature, but rather offer quality life lessons.

Here is a sample of the mini-posters.



Be sure to search on TpT, Facebook, and Instagram for these hashtags:  #KindnessNation and #WeHoldTheseTruths.  

This blog post is part of the Secondary Smorgasbord Blog Hop event.  As always, thanks to Darlene Anne Curran (The ELA Buffet) and Pamela Kranz (Desktop Learning Adventures) for hosting this event!  


Motivating Science Students

Consider these points when developing a plan to motivate your students.

As we begin this new semester, I have been giving some thought to the concept of “motivation in the classroom.”   We teachers hold widely varying opinions on this subject.  Some teachers believe whole-heartedly that it is their job to do whatever it takes to gets the students excited and motivated about the learning process.  Other teachers feel that motivation comes from within, and that the student should be held responsible for their own motivation.  I think most teachers, including myself, fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

How hard we must work to motivate our students is directly proportional to the classes we teach.  Every student in our school must take a Biology 1 class, and many of them have no interest in doing so.   But the students in my AP Biology course enroll by choice, and the difference is huge!   My Biology 1 students are often less enthusiastic on the front end of the experience.  I may never convince some of my students to love biology and chemistry as I do, but it is my job as a classroom teacher to instill in my students the desire to succeed.  To that end, I have identified four factors intrinsic to the healthy motivation of students in the science classroom.

We cannot expect students to be willing to learn unless we as teachers are energetic in our approach to instruction.  Students will be more engaged if they see us up, moving about the classroom and burning calories.  Science teachers in a laboratory setting have an advantage.  Demonstrating lively behavior in a lab is built in to the demands of helping and watching students.  We must be careful that lecture opportunities do not turn into a chance to rest.  Don’t be the teacher that sits behind the desk the entire class period.  Your desk is a barrier between you and your students.  Moving amongst your students while you teach will draw them in.  It will encourage them to be engaged and participate more fully in the lesson.

It is essential that some element of fun be attached to instruction.  This does not have to be joke telling or game playing.  A bit of eye candy in the form of colorful and engaging photos or interesting video, or the occasional social opportunity (grouping) will go a long way toward helping a student look forward to returning to your class.  Occasionally the material we must teach doesn't rise to the level of thrilling and exhilarating, but since it must be taught, we should try to find a way to make it more interesting to our students.  A competitive game format, a lab station activity, or a lively class discussion can go a long way to eliminating the boredom factor.  It is imperative that we change our approach from time to time to avoid monotony and stagnation.


Praising students will go a long way towards motivating them.  It is, however, important to note the methodology used when praising them.  Elementary students find more incentive in public praise than do high school students.  It is often necessary to praise high school students individually and not in front of the class.  To older kids, the “cool factor” is sometimes affected by how they are praised.  Know your kids.


The final step in motivating students is to show them the relevance in what they are being asked to do.  Sometimes that relevance is personal (college admission, testing for scholarships, simple work ethic) and sometimes it is professional (job centric subject matter).  Occasional reminders as to the importance of these issues will help, especially considering how many important issues are vying for control of the teenage mind.  Students love to ask, “When will I ever need to know this?”  Making clear to students why they need to master a particular concept or skill is highly motivating to them.  Make this information part of the lesson, rather than waiting for the question to be asked.

In the ideal world, all motivation for students would be “self motivation.” Anything we as teachers can do to help students maintain focus will surely pay dividends in their future.

5 Days of Christmas Cheer




December 12 - 16

Don't miss out on these fun surprises each day!










Thank you, thank you, thank you to all have supported my work through 2016.  To celebrate the holidays, and the entire year, let's have some fun with a week of giveaways, freebies, discounts, and more!

Each day next week (December 12 - 16) I'll be offering a fun holiday treat.  It might be a free product, a giveaway, special discounts, or a sale!  You'll find out about these treats by being on my email subscriber list.  Each morning you will find an email from me describing the event of the day.

What???  You are not on my email list??  Please look to the right side bar and sign up immediately!

Watch for my first email on Monday, December 12.  I think you will be very pleased with Day 1.  (Hint, hint....  It might involve some free stuff!)




Happy Holidays!!

A Day of Giving Back 2016


Help support these wonderful charities!


Please join us on TeachersPayTeachers.com this Sunday, December 11, for a "Day of Giving Back." 

I absolutely love this event because the sellers who are participating will be donating a percentage of their sales to really amazing charities!  Last year 120 TpT sellers participated.  Just think how many charities benefited!!

Each participating seller has chosen a charity that is near and dear to their heart, and each will be donating their earnings to their chosen charity.  All participating sellers will display this logo on their store front so that you know who is participating. You can also check out all of the participants in the linky below.

I will be donating 100% of my sales on December 11 to St Jude Children's Research Hospital.

I would like to tell you a bit about the organization I will be supporting.  St Jude Children's Research Hospital is a truly amazing place.  This hospital is a leader in the research and treatment of childhood cancers.  From their web site, "Since opening 50 years ago, St Jude Research has played a pivotal role in pushing overall US pediatric cancer survival rates from 20 to 80 percent.  Our strength comes from an unparalleled integration of research and clinical care."

No child with cancer is ever turned away from St. Jude, and families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, housing, travel or food.

I have had the immense pleasure of visiting the campus of St Jude many times, and can attest to the truly remarkable atmosphere.  Both of my children are healthy, but I am reassured knowing that this wonderful place exists for those who are in need.

So, on December 11, I will be donating 100% of my TpT earnings to this fabulous charity.  When you purchase from my store on December 11, not only will you get a great resource to use in your classroom, but you will be helping the children and families that rely on St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  Click this link to visit my TpT Store.


Thank you so much for supporting these worthy causes.  I hope you and your family have a VERY Happy Holidays!

Lab Stations: How to Make Them Work for You!


Lab stations can be a fantastic tool in our teaching arsenal!



Teaching science requires a multi-faceted approach. Students are all over the place in terms of their learning styles, their ability levels, and their attitudes toward learning.  Great science teachers mix it up every day in terms of teaching strategies and approaches for getting across the concepts we need to teach.  Using only one teaching style or strategy, no matter how wonderful it is, will become old and stale if used day after day after day.

In this article, I'll discuss a strategy that has been around since the dark ages, but seems to be all the rage lately.  LAB STATIONS!

What is the lab station approach?

The term "lab station" has come to have different meanings for different people.  Lab stations are a method of instruction where small groups of students work together on a task or activity in order to learn, review or reinforce a concept.  These small groups move or rotate through a series of lab stations or science centers, and complete an activity at each station.  The term "lab practical" is also familiar to many of us, but in my mind, there is a difference between a lab practical and lab stations.  While both practices require rotating or moving between stations, lab practicals are used as tests and assessments.  For example, in an anatomy class one would rotate through the stations of a lab practical in a testing format to demonstrate proficiency in a particular area of animal anatomy and physiology.  The use of lab stations, on the other hand, is a teaching technique that is used to teach, review or reinforce concepts being covered before a test is taken.

Should lab stations be used as first-day instruction, or saved for a review activity at the end of a unit?  The answer is:  Yes and yes!  On the very first day of school, I have my students complete a lab station activity called Science Chat.  Students are always delighted to learn that they are doing an activity that allows them to be out of their desks.  If lab stations are to be used as first-day instruction, great care must be taken in the way the stations are designed and written.  If no prior instruction has been given, students must have a way to complete the tasks and build upon their pre-existing knowledge.  Lab stations used on the first day of new unit should involve activities that are self-guided inquiry or exploration type lessons.  Lab stations are also a fantastic way to review and reinforce the content of a unit just before an upcoming unit test.  Lab stations used in this way should be written in a style that assumes a certain knowledge base, but challenges the students to use higher order thinking.

What are the benefits of using lab stations?

When used with a combination and variety of other teaching techniques, the use of lab stations is very effective, and because it is so different from other teaching strategies, the benefits are many.

  • One of the most important benefits is that students are up and moving.  Students often need a short "brain break" during class.  It is a very rare student who can sit still for an hour and remain fully engaged the entire time.
  • Lab stations break up the concepts and information into smaller, more manageable, units of learning.  Students often become overwhelmed in a science class when faced with large chunks of new information.  A well-written lab station activity addresses a single concept or task at each station.  For many students, this reduces stress and builds confidence by enabling them to master the smaller units of information.
  • Lab stations allow students to work at their own pace ... within reason, of course!
  • Students enjoy working in a self supervised manner.  
  • Lab stations allow the teacher to interact more freely with students on an individual or small group basis.
  • Lab stations are perfect for labs that have limited resources.  If, for example, your lab has only one spectrophotometer or only a few pH meters, lab stations can be set up to allow all students to rotate to those stations in order to use those limited pieces of equipment.  
  • Peer teaching and tutoring is very effective! Students often learn better from their peers than they do from adults.  Small cooperate learning groups reduce fear and anxiety amongst students.  
  • Hands-on lab experiments and activities increase mastery of concepts and retention of large amounts of information.
  • Lab stations keep students engaged.  When students know that they are about to move to another location, they are more focused and eager to finish the work at one station in order to move to the next.  When the next lab station involves a completely different type of activity, students are less likely to be off-task.  In other words, the change keeps them on their toes.
  • The transition process gives the students a short mental break.

Planning and Set-up Tips:


Teachers who have never written, set up, or utilized lab stations in their teaching are often afraid to give it a try.  Rather than setting up one lab activity, inexperienced teachers may feel as if they have to set up 8 or 10 lab activities in the same class period. The thought of this raises much anxiety!  Rest assured, setting up a lab station activity is no harder or more time consuming than setting up any lab activity.  In fact, often the prep time is greatly reduced!  I find that setting up one of each station is faster than setting up 15 of the same station.  These additional planning and set up tips will help get you started:

  • Does the activity have goals and objectives that advance the education of your students?  If it is just busy work to keep your students occupied for a day, don't do it.
  • The lab stations should involve a good mix of teaching techniques and learning styles.  Having 10 lab stations that require students to draw and label a diagram at every station will not be effective. Instead, involve the students in different types of activities. Possibilities include small experiments, building structures, reading passages, paper and pencil games, manipulation and ordering of objects, discussion stations, internet research stations, modeling stations or task card stations.  Studies show that varying the types of learning activities greatly increases our ability to master and retain information.
  • Each station should be independent of all other stations.  In other words, it should not matter the order in which they are completed.  
  • How will you place the students in small groups? Should you allow the students to choose their own partners?  Should you place students in groups of YOUR choosing?  Should you have groups of 2 or 4?  Every lab is different.  You know your students and you know what you can expect from them.  One class may be mature enough to allow you to let the students choose their own partner, while this would never work in another class.  I sometimes allow students to choose their own groups, but I most often choose the student groups myself.  At the beginning of the school year I place the name of each student on an index card.  Prior to the lab activity I place these index cards at the lab stations.  As the students enter the room they look for their card.  This allows me to quickly and easily place students in lab groups.  Life lessons are also learned by having students work in a different group each lab period.
  • Each station requires clear signage and complete instructions.  Laminate everything you can so that it can be used year after year.  If students are given a packet of worksheets to complete, make it clear which worksheet is used at each station.  Placing a symbol or piece of clip art on the lab station sign and the same symbol on the corresponding worksheet is a simple and easy solution.
  • Make sure that lab safety precautions are clearly posted at each station.
  • All groups do not have to be the same size.  You know your students and how to group them to maximize the instruction of all.
  • Common sense dictates that all stations should require the same amount of time to complete. Personally, I have found this very difficult to accomplish.  The best solution is to set up multiples of the stations that require more time.
  • You must manage class time effectively.  Continuous monitoring is required to make sure that students are on task and are moving through the stations at the pace you deem appropriate.
  • All students will not finish at the same time.  I suggest setting up an "enrichment" station for the early finishers.  You do not want some students loitering while other students are trying to complete their work.
  • Prior to the lab station activity, decide how you will manage the amount of paper required for the activity.  You might provide each student with a complete packet of handouts, or you might consider placing one set of handouts at the lab station and requiring students to complete the work on their own notebook paper.
  • Students should be required to turn in their own work.  Allowing a group to turn in one worksheet or lab report for the entire group usually results in one person doing the work, and the other group members doing little.
  • Make a rotation plan.  Will you allow the students to move randomly to other lab stations, or will you require them to rotate in a particular order?  
  • Know your space and how to make it work to your advantage.  For example, will the lab station require water or electricity? Or can it be completed at a student desk?
  • Be organized for next year.  Take the time to laminate lab station signs and instruction cards so that you can use them again.  Place all items needed for the activity in a plastic box, or file them  away in your filing cabinet. Include in the box or file folder your notes on what worked well and what didn't work well.  Make a list of any supplies that need to be re-ordered for next year. You will thank yourself for this next school year!

Need to Differentiate?  No Problem!


For inclusion classes (classes containing learners of widely varying ability levels) lab stations can easily be differentiated to meet the needs of all students.  Students with IEP's can participate in the same lab stations by making some minor modifications.  Ways to accommodate special needs learners  might include:


  • All students participate in the same lab stations, but they are given different sets of handouts or worksheets to complete.
  • Because of the random movement of students through the lab stations, you can select which lab stations students will complete. There is no need for a student with special learning modifications to complete every single station.
  • By carefully selecting the small groups, you can create groups that are supportive and will provide an educational atmosphere that will benefit all members of the group.

What is keeping you from trying lab stations?


The most common concerns I hear from new teachers are that they are worried about student behavior as well as the amount of time required to set up and complete an activity.  As for student behavior, students have to be taught and trained from the beginning of the school year in all classroom rules and procedures.  Lab stations are no different.  Refrain from using large groups, and make sure that your expectations are clear and consistent. Teach the students how the process works and what their responsibilities are. Have a set of rules and stick with them.


I hope that if you are new to the idea of lab stations, this article has provided you with some tips and tricks on how to get started.  Has this teaching technique replaced my used of the tradition hour-long lab activity? Absolutely not! Carrying out a full-length lab is VERY important.  But I do enjoy having another "weapon" in my teaching arsenal.

Use this link to view my lab station activities on TpT.

Taking Students to the Laboratory? How to Plan and Execute the Perfect Lab Activity.


Use this teacher checklist when planning ANY lab activity!

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a small group of science teachers in an inservice-type situation.  The group ranged in their teaching experience. Some were brand new teachers, while others had a few years under their belt.  None were what I would call "knowledgeable veterans." As our time together progressed, it quickly became obvious to me that these teachers needed help with "the lab."  For the inexperienced science teacher, "the lab" can be a scary and potentially dangerous place.

There seems to be a diverse spectrum in science teaching in regard to the laboratory.  At one extreme end of the spectrum are the teachers whose fear of the lab prevents them from ever taking a group of students into the lab.  At the opposite extreme are the science teachers who forge blindly ahead without giving thought to a set of basic guidelines and procedures concerning laboratory activities.  To be fair, I have certainly just described polar opposites in science teachers.  Almost all science teachers will fall in the middle somewhere, and all of us could use a refresher course when it comes to taking students into the lab.

After giving this topic much thought, I have developed a "Laboratory Checklist" of items we science teachers need to consider before taking our classes into the lab.

Begin with a very easy test by asking yourself two simple questions:

1.  Is this lab activity age appropriate?  All science students need to be challenged with activities that are appropriate for their age, and that push them to the next level of critical thinking and problem solving.

2.  Does this lab meet an educational goal or objective? (Pardon me, while I get up on my soapbox...)  The lab activity must meet an educational objective or goal.  There has to be a REASON for doing the lab. The lab should be related to the concepts being taught in the classroom, and should reinforce and/or further the student's understanding of those concepts.

If you can answer "yes" to both of these questions, then proceed with the lab. If you answer "no" to one or both of these questions, you should throw out the lab idea and look for another, more appropriate, lab activity.

Assuming that the lab has met the standards posed by the first two questions, it is time to plan the lab activity.  Consider the following items before lab day arrives.

3.  Safety First!  The safety of the students should be your first thought when planning a lab activity. Are the items on the materials list appropriate for your students?  Think long and hard about the potential hazards of the lab, and identify the areas in which an accident might be possible. (It is assumed that you carried out lab safety instruction with students in the first week of school!)  In planning your lab activity, identify areas of concern and develop a plan of action in the event of an accident.

4.  Using chemicals?  Read the MSDS!!  A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) should be on hand for every chemical you use in the lab. When chemicals are ordered, each will arrive with an MSDS.  Read each page and place them in a three-ring binder for easy and immediate access.  This binder should always be present in the lab.  The MSDS will alert you to any dangers associated with the chemical, and list first aid instructions in the event they are needed.

5.  Carry out the lab yourself before trying it out with the students!  Teachers who are doing the lab for the first time in the presence of students are asking for trouble.  By carrying out the experiment prior to lab day, the teacher can:   (1) Make sure that all equipment and supplies are on hand and in good working order, (2) Identify the problem areas in which students will need to be alerted,  (3) Determine if the experiment will actually work, (4) Look for alternative supplies if needed, and (5) Make any adjustments needed in the lab procedural steps.

6.  How much time will the lab take?  If students finish the lab experiment quickly, no problem!  They can spend the remaining minutes cleaning their lab area and preparing their lab reports.  But what will you do if class time runs out before students can finish the experiment?  This will surely happen on some lab days.  Have a plan.

7.  How will you set up the lab stations and/or the supply area?  An effective and meaningful lab runs like clockwork.  Identify the traffic flow problems beforehand and set up the supply areas in a way that reduces student traffic jams. You may decide that each lab station should be supplied with every item needed for the experiment, or it may work better to have a general supply area that students go to for the items they need.  No two labs are the same.  Identify the best solution for each lab.

Once steps 3 - 7 have been checked off, you are ready to take the kids to the lab.  The following items on the checklist will ensure that your lab activity is a huge success!

8.  Provide the students with written instructions.  Students must receive lab handouts that clearly identify the safety precautions and the exact procedure for the experiment. Giving oral instructions that reinforce the information on the lab handout is okay, great even.  Giving oral instructions instead of providing a lab handout?  NOT okay.

9.  Always schedule pre-lab time. During the pre-lab time, provide the students with the lab handouts they will be using during the lab.  Go over your expectations for the lab, and explain what is to be accomplished by doing the lab.  You may want to use a "Pre-Lab Worksheet" as a homework assignment so that students will be prepared on lab day.  Review the lab safety rules for each and every lab!

10.  How will you group the students?  There is no correct answer to this question.  Should you allow the students to choose their own partners?  Should you place students in groups of YOUR choosing?  Should you have groups of 2 or 4?  Every lab is different.  You know your students and you know what you can expect from them.  One class may be mature enough to allow you to let the students choose their own partner, while this would never work in another class.  I sometimes allow students to choose their own groups, but I most often choose the student groups myself.  At the beginning of the school year I place the name of each student on an index card.  Prior to the lab activity I place these index cards at the lab stations.  As the students enter the room they look for their card.  This allows me to quickly and easily place students in lab groups.  Life lessons are also learned by having students work in a different group each lab period.

11.  Monitor and keep a watchful eye during the lab.  There will be many students in the lab, and there will only be one of you.  You must be confident that you can control and manage the class in situations involving chemicals, sharp items, glassware, hot plates / Bunsen burners, etc.  Do not carry out a lab activity if the equipment and supplies being used causes you worry. Simply find another lab activity.  During the lab activity, be vigilant in monitoring and interacting with the students.  You are the person in the room that has the ability to ward off and prevent accidents from occurring.

12.  Allow enough time at the end of the class for students to clean up their lab station.  At 5 minutes before the bell, the lab activity must end. If students are still working, you must instruct them to stop, and begin their clean up procedures. You do not want the students in the next class to walk in and see a huge mess. You want the next class to walk in and see a highly efficient and organized lab set up. It sets the tone. It makes a difference.

13.  Be timely in breaking down the lab.  As a courtesy to your fellow science teachers who use the same lab, make sure to break down your lab quickly so the lab will be ready to use by the next person. Wash the glassware, wipe down the lab tables, put away all equipment, and make sure to dispose of chemicals correctly.  Your team mates will be most appreciative!

14.  Make an assessment plan.  How are you going to evaluate the work done by the students on the lab activity?   Will they write a lab report? Will there be lab questions on the upcoming chapter test?  Will there be a lab quiz?  Assessment is an important part of the process.  It tells the student that the activity was important.  If you never give a grade, lab report, or take any type of assessment on the lab activity, it sends the message that lab activities are just "fun times / free times."  This will lead to horseplay and behavior problems on future lab activities.

15.  Make a plan for students who are absent on lab day.  I wish I could offer the perfect solution to this problem.  If you have developed a plan of action that works, please let the rest of us know.  The simple truth is that when students are absent, they have missed valuable instruction time that cannot be recovered.  I have scheduled lab make up days after school, given alternate assignments, and given absent students sample data to analyze.  I am still looking for a better solution.  Any thoughts?

Lab days are my favorite days at school.  Being proactive and organized in your approach to lab activities will ensure that your day is smooth, and that students are highly engaged in the learning process.

Happy Lab Day!

Make the first Day the BEST Day!

It is so easy to get kids excited about science!  We get to "play" with so many cool gadgets and gizmos in our lab activities.  Why not make the FIRST day of school the BEST day of school for our students?  Let them know on the very first day that your class is going to be great!

I have developed three lab station "first day of school" icebreaker activities that I think your science students will love.  




You can use the links below to find the one that is best for your subject area:

Science Chat for Biology and Life Science

Chemistry Chat

Physics Chat