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Teach the Skills: Graphing

Graphing:  Make this a part of as many lessons as possible!

I am going to be writing about science skills for a while.  If you missed my article from yesterday, then please scroll down and you will know exactly why I am preaching about science skills!  My plan is to "talk" about a different skill everyday.

Today, the topic is "Graphing".  Obviously, we want students to become masters of problem solving and critical thinking.  Make as many of your labs and classroom activities as possible "quantitative" in nature.  I do many activities that are "qualitative" and involve drawing and describing, but most of my labs are math based and involve the collection of numerical data.  Here are some quick reasons why this is so important in your teaching:

  1. Many students are reaching high school without a clear understanding of how to construct a graph.
  2. Students must be able to identify the independent and the dependent variables and know which axis to place them on.
  3. It provides an opportunity to have students think through a problem and determine a possible solution.
  4. By placing several lines of data on the same graph, you can have the students practice how to analyze data to reach a proper conclusion.
  5. You can provide additional problem solving questions to accompany the graphing activity, such as "What do you suppose would happen if this were changed....", or "What would be the outcome if...."
  6. You can include interpolation and extrapolation questions.
  7. The science questions on many standardized tests (ACT, our State End of Course Test) ask students questions that involve the reading and interpreting of tables and graphs.

I hope these reasons will convince you to include more tabling, graphing and analyzing of information.  But, please!!!  No graphing calculators!!!  (This is a pet peeve of mine that needs to be the subject of another article at another time!)  I firmly believe the calculator is crippling our students.  The calculator is a wonderful tool.....but AFTER the student can do the skill without the calculator.

If you need some help getting started in incorporating graphing into your classes, these products might be of some help to you:

Lab:  Acids, Bases and Cells   Requires extensive graphing of results.

Tabling, Graphing and Analyzing Data   PowerPoint with Notes for Teacher and Student

Teach the Skills, Please!

Sometimes I feel like I need to shout:   "Teach the skills!  Teach critical thinking!  Teach problem solving!

Science classes can be crammed so full of facts that I am afraid that we lose site of what science is really all about.  Science is about discovery and inquiry.  Science is about investigation.  Science is about applying a method to solve problems and answer questions.  When I first began to teach, I thought long and hard about what type of science teacher I wanted to become.  In my years of schooling I had science teachers that never did an experiment and made me memorize a bazillion facts that I forgot as soon as I took a test.  I also had science teachers that set me on fire with curiosity and a desire to learn "more".  I wanted to become a teacher like this!

It is important to make your science class lab-based and inquiry driven.  Biology is full of facts.  I still try to teach all of these facts, but the facts are mixed in with as many science skills as possible.  No matter what the topic, you can have the students graph, analyze, predict, and describe.  At every opportunity, I ask my students, "What do you THINK would be the affect of changing this variable?"  And as often as possible we go to the lab to see if their predictions can be proven or disproven.

When I first began to teach, the science portions of many of the standardized tests were very much testing the students to see if they knew the "facts".  This is no longer the case!  When I took the ACT, I received a score in "Science".  When my daughter took the ACT, she received a score in "Science Reasoning".  Standardized testing in science has changed!  The students must be able to read and comprehend scientific passages.  They must be able to analyze graphs and charts.  If you are not teaching these skills to your students, then you are not preparing them for these tests.

I am not a proponent of "teaching to the test".  But if you are teaching the necessary problem solving and critical thinking skills, your students will ace these tests.

After 28 years of teaching, a lesson I have learned is:  If I teach the "skills", the "facts" will fall nicely into place.

If you are a biology or a life science teacher who is wondering how to start, you might want to give this lab a try.  It is a great "first week of school" lab.

Lab: The Characteristics of Life

And you might want to show this PowerPoint before your begin the lab.  The PowerPoint is one of my freebies.  I hope you can use it!

New Free Item and a Shout-Out to Friends!

I have just listed this as a FREE new product in my store.  It is a 26 slide PowerPoint presentation that is fun and colorful and can be used in any type of science class.  It comes with two sets of notes - one set for the teacher and one set for the student.  The student gets an outline of the notes which he/she will fill in as the lesson is being presented.

This PowerPoint can be used for students over a wide range of grade levels.  I hope you like it and that you find it useful for your classroom.  If you download it, I would really appreciate it if you would leave feedback for it.

In addition to letting you know about this new, free product, I would like to give a shout-out to a few people who have gone out of their way to be kind and generous to me today.  I have never met any of these people except in cyber-land, but I am happy to add them to my list of friends.  Thanks guys for your support and your encouragement!

Kristin from "Secondary Solutions"

Vicky from "The Best of Teachers Pay Teachers"

Michelle from "Michelle's Math in the Middle"

Charity from "The Organized Classroom Blog"

Kim from "Science, Etc."

Science Teaching: The Old Way or the New Way?

What Has Changed?

I can remember (many, many moons ago), as a young teacher, being very nervous and sometimes panicked, whenever something “new” in education would come along that teachers were forced to implement.  Just when I thought I was getting a handle on how to be the best possible science teacher, I would be told that now I had to teach using this model or that model.   I resented spending hours preparing lessons, only to be told the following year “we aren’t doing it that way anymore”.  Teachers as a group are very organized, precise, and compulsive creatures.  We are willing to spend hours preparing to teach and we want it to be perfect when we teach it.  I would often drive myself crazy wondering the “why” of some new educational innovation.

In my 28 years of teaching, I have been through the TIM Model, Curriculum Maps, Lesson Line, Homework Hotline, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top.  I have survived state standards and national standards that are constantly changing.  Finally, after a few years it dawned on me!  These are just educational buzzwords that come and go.  This year’s “educational innovation” will go away in a couple of years and will be replaced with something new.

The new buzzword is, of course, “Common Core Standards”.  Don’t sweat it!  Here is the wisdom that many of years of teaching has bestowed upon me:  If I am teaching to the best of my ability, if I am dedicated to giving my students a rigorous science education, if I give them loads of hands-on opportunities to learn, if I make the concepts I teach relevant and practical, and if I am teaching my students to be good thinkers and problem solvers, then it will not matter what this year’s buzz word is.  We do not have to re-invent the wheel year after year.  Give your students a solid education in your subject area and you WILL be meeting the new standards.

I spent some time online reading about Common Core Standards.  You can find it here:

I zeroed in on this page:  since I am interested in the science standards.  Finally, on page 62 of this pdf, I found what I was looking for.  What are the new standards for science?  Without going into great detail, here is what we are now expected to teach our students:

  •           Cite specific evidence to support….
  •           Determine the central idea of….
  •           Identify key steps….
  •           Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text…
  •           Describe….
  •           Identify aspects of…
  •           Reading graphs and tables…
  •           Distinguish among…
  •           Analyze the relationship between…
  •           Follow a multi-step procedure….
  •           Compare and contrast….

See what I mean?  I have already been doing these things for years!  So if you have been hyperventilating over Common Core Standards, breathe easy…it’s going to be okay!  And remember, in a few years, it will go away and be replaced with something “new and better”!

Laboratory Safety

You must "teach" lab safety!

The summer has literally flown by for me.  It's almost time for me to start back to school .... On August 1st!  So now I am thinking about what I need to do to be ready for the first day that students are in my class.

For me, the first day is always the same.....  I start teaching about lab safety.  Since I am a high school teacher, the lab is an important and integral part of my class.  We spend about 40% of our class time in the lab.  In the 28 years that I have been teaching, I have been fortunate in that there has never been a serious accident in my lab.  I have had a minor cut or two (of the paper cut variety), but nothing more serious than that.  I attribute my great safety record to the fact that I stress lab safety on the first day and continue to stress it all year long.

All teachers who teach science......please listen to me!  You must cover lab safety thoroughly and appropriately for the age student you teach.  If an accident should happen while the child is under your "care", you must be able to prove that you provided instruction in lab safety.  If you are not teaching the lab safety rules, then you could be found negligent in the event there is an accident in your class.
What do you need to do to provide adequate instruction in laboratory safety?  This is my routine:

  • Lab Safety PowerPoint:  I give the students an outline of notes that they fill in as we go through my PowerPoint presentation on lab safety.
  • Lab Safety Contract:  Parents receive a copy of the lab safety rules.  The parents sign a lab safety contract along with their child.  I keep these on file all year long.
  • Student Medical Form:  Parents have the opportunity to list any "conditions" that I might need to be aware of.  For example:  I once had a student who had very severe mold allergies.  She was excused from doing my mold lab.
  • Lab Safety Scavenger Hunt:  I have a first day activity that students complete when we visit the lab for the first time.
  • Lab Safety Quiz:  Students are tested on the safety rules.

I love the old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  This is so true in relation to lab safety.  Make safety instruction a priority and keep your students safe!

You might be interested in taking a look at this product in my TeachersPayTeachers store:

Pinterest: Are you pinning yet?

It's a huge electronic bulletin board!

I have just discovered "Pinterest" and I have become totally captivated by it.  It is not the sort of thing that I usually take an interest in, but I have to admit, this is really fun.

I have known about Pinterest for about a month.  I took a quick look at it and decided it wasn't something that I wanted to do.  Last night a friend encouraged me to give it another go, and after about 30 minutes, I became an addict.

Let me see if I can explain how it works.....
--Do you ever look at bulletin boards that are in public places, like your teacher's lounge, the library, or your church?  Then you are going to love Pinterest!
--Do you use a lot of sticky notes for various bits of information?  Then you are going to love Pinterest!
--Has your internet bookmark list become too long to manage?  The you are going to love Pinterest!

In a very short period to time, here is what you can do on Pinterest and what Pinterest can do for you:

  • Set up as many boards as you want.  
  • Organize your boards with a particular theme, such as "Blogs I Love to Visit" or "My Daily News Sources" or "Decorating Ideas for my House" or "Recipes".  Are you getting the idea?
  • Install the "Pin it" button on your toolbar.  (It is super easy to do!) Whenever you are visiting a site that you like and want to remember for later, just click "pin it" and you can save the site to any board you like.
  • Your boards are public and other people can see them.  If someone sees something on your board they like, they can re-pin it to one of their own boards.
  • This is a great tool if you are trying to spread the word about something.  For example:  You might place a link to your blog or web site on one of your boards.  If someone else re-pins it to their board, your message has now spread to all who follow the other person.
  • You can search other boards for areas of interest to you.  For example, I might search for "biology teachers".  I can then follow these people I have found, or look at their boards to see what neat stuff they have pinned there.

I encourage you to give Pinterest a try.  Once you are a member (or if you are already a member) how about joining the Pinterest Linky Party?  Michelle of "Michelle's Math in the Middle" is hosting a linky party.  Join the party and follow all the others who are in the party.  Let's see how many followers we can get to our boards!

Teaching Blog Traffic School

Increase traffic to your blog or web site

Think about these questions:

1.  Are you just starting your blog or web site and feel a bit overwhelmed?
2.  Are you wondering if anyone will ever come to your blog?
3.  Do you see all the cute and professional blogs out there and feel that you can never design something that looks that good?
4.  Do you want to use facebook and twitter to the best advantage?
5.  Do you want to belong to a group of people who are supportive, knowledgeable, and are ready to jump to your side when you have a question or need help with your blog / web site?

If you answered "YES!"  to any of these questions, then the
  Teaching Blog Traffic School is the place for you.  

This is a program (an online class)  that my friend, Charity Preston, has written to help you with your blog and all of your social networking needs.  When I first starting blogging, I wondered if I would ever reach 100 hits a day to my blog.  With the help of Charity and her amazing class, my blog is getting the traffic that I dreamed of.  I have also learned so much about how to use Facebook and Twitter to my advantage in getting even more traffic to my blog.

More importantly, once you sign up to take the online course with Charity, you will become part of a support group that you can reach out to each day.  Hardly a day goes by that I do not ask a question of the group and receive immediate help and feedback.  Without this support, I would never have learned how to maintain a blog or web site.

Please go take a look at Charity's Welcome Page.  If you do decide to take her course, please tell her that Amy Brown at Science Stuff sent you!

Good luck!

Blog Mixer Linky Party....Join Me!

Join the Linky Party!

Oh the Places You'll Go with the blogs you know!  Yearn to Learn is having a seek and find Blog Mixer Linky party. Let's have some fun spotlighting each other.

In your link up find the following:

1.  A blogger who is a "New Kid on the Blog" ~ blogged 2 months or less / less than 200 followers)
2.  Post a blogger in your same grade level
3.  Post a blogger in a different grade level
4.  It's all about the button. Find a cute blog button and post it.

My new kid blogger is Michelle's Math in the Middle.  She has only just begun and her new blog is so cute.  I picked her because she loves math just as I do.

I am a science teacher and so is Kim over at Science, Etc.  I love Kim's blog because she posts things are very different from what I teach.  I am a biology and chemistry teacher, and Kim is an earth science expert.  I learn something new every time I visit her blog.

I also want to mention Kristen over at Secondary Solutions.  She is one of my secondary teacher cohorts and there doesn't seem to be too many of us out there in the blogging world.  She is also my supporter extraordinaire!!  Thanks Kristen!

Who's next in the linky party?

Great science resource for all grades!

Good science teaching means keeping current with science news!

I am constantly on the look out for current news items that I can use in my biology and chemistry classes.  This is one of my favorite sources of science news information.  Appropriately, is it called "ScienceNews".  (Click to go to their web site.)  The articles are very well written, and most importantly from a time management standpoint, they are brief, to the point, and not overly technical.  It is a biweekly publication, and I never fail to find information that I can use in my classes.  

One of the best features is found at the top of the web page:

The sub categories are "clickable" so I can always find a useful current event in the area of science that I am currently teaching.  Notice the category called "Science News for Kids".  This area has amazing and fun things for the younger kids.

Science changes everyday.  Our textbooks contain a basic core of knowledge that we must teach our students to help them to become literate in science, but we must include the new and fascinating developments that are occurring each day if we want to grab and hold their attention.  

I hope you will check this site.  In just a few minutes you'll have something fun to tell your students!

Have you read this book?

This is a "must-read"!

I just finished reading one of the best books I have read in a long, long time.  It is called "October Sky".  It is an older book (1998), but I just came across it this summer when someone mentioned to me that it had been made into a movie.  This book would be appealing to any teachers, but science teachers will especially love it.

I am not going to give anything away, but this book is about the "rocket boys".  It is placed in the 1950's and early 1960's, and is a true story about a group of boys living in a coal mining town in West Virginia.  They teach themselves to build rockets, but more importantly they (and some key teachers in their lives) teach themselves that they can overcome hardships and can accomplish anything if they work at it hard enough.  It is an amazing story of what can be earned by hard work and dedication.  I cannot wait to see the movie.  I have just added it to my NetFlix cue.

I highly recommend this book.  It is well written and you need not be a science geek to enjoy it!

Wildflowers Anyone?

Take the Wildflower Test!

I am currently vacationing in the woods (along the shores of Lake Huron) in the eastern upper peninsula of Michigan.  I love the wildflowers, and have been taking pictures of them as I find them.  My camera skills are nonexistent, so many of these are not of very high quality!  And I had to take them with my phone camera, since I was a dufus and left my camera cord at home!!  I know the name of a lot of these flowers, so I thought I would put together a little wildflower test for you!

I have been unable to identify some of these.  If you know their names, please post a comment and let me know what they are.  

The answers can be found at the bottom of this post.  Good Luck!












Spoiler Alert!!  Here come the answers!
1 - Bluets
2 - Coreopsis
3 - Daisy
4 - Hairbells
5 - Lake Iris
6 - Indian Paintbrush
7 - Pennyroyal (Smells like peppermint!)
8 - Pink Pyrola (I may be wrong on this one!)
9 - Thistle
10 - Twinflower
11 - Wood lilly

Okay, the next pictures are of the flowers that I am unable to identify.  Can anyone help me with these?

Arrival Day!

Yay!  We're here!

 We arrived at our log cabin in the early afternoon.  As soon as we stepped out of the car, we could smell the wonderful smell of balsam. 

First order of business:  Say hello to the lake!

It was a bit cloudy, so the incredible blue color of the lake did not come through in the photo.

Old friends were on hand to meet us.  A pair of deer were eating cedar next to our cabin.

Technical difficulty:  I forgot to pack my camera cord.  These pics were taken with my phone.  I am going to drive in to town today, and will try to locate a camera cord.  It is doubtful that I will find one as the nearest town has a population of about 500.  There is a grocery store, a drug store and a hardware store.    Oh….and a bar! 
I am going to be really disappointed if I have to use my phone camera this entire trip!  The wildflowers are beautiful right now, so I hope to make my next post “Wildflowers of the U.P.!”

Stay tuned….