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Tips for Teaching Cells

I get a lot of questions about teaching cell structure and cell organelles, so I thought I would take this opportunity to offer up some tips and suggestions for teaching a GREAT unit on cells.  In many of the questions I get, teachers admit to being bored when teaching their cell unit. I absolutely LOVE teaching about cells, and that brings me to my first tip.
Tip #1: Be Excited About Teaching Cells! 
We know that our students are hyper-clued in to what we teachers are feeling. If you feel bored teaching your cell unit, the students are guaranteed to be bored as well. This video (just 3 minutes!) is an exciting way to start your unit. Be sure to turn up the volume!

Tip #2: Cover the basics, but stress the relationship between structure and function.
Basic concepts (cell theory, prokaryotic vs eukaryotic, etc.) have to be covered, but when teaching the organelles, keep it simple and stress the relationship between structure and function. For example, show students how the two parts of the ribosome fit together around mRNA during translation. Show how the structure of the Golgi allows proteins to enter, be modified, then packaged for secretion. At this point, you can keep the function fairly simple, which leads me to Tip #3. 
Tip #3: Re-introduce organelles all year long.
Students are not going to fully understand the functioning of the chloroplast until you get to your unit on photosynthesis. With each new unit you teach, circle back and teach a more in depth lesson on the organelle associated with the unit.


Tip #4: Get out your microscopes!
Kids love microscope work! You want to get students excited about your Cell unit? Give them plenty of microscope time. There is no substitute for seeing a variety of cell types under the microscope.


Tip #5: Make use of engaging online resources.
There are all sorts of online sites that offer interactive experiences on cell organelles. One of my favorites is Cells Alive!  

Tip #6: Make it a hands-on experience.
Like many topics we teach in our science classes, concepts about cell structure and function can be rather abstract to many of our students. Anything we teachers can do to create “hands-on” learning will ensure that students gain a greater mastery of the subject matter content. 

Tip #7: Make it fun!
Let's face it … kids love to play games, especially competitive games! As you near the end of your unit, look for ways to review the content that involve game play. I hate to say that we teachers have to trick our students into participating in a review, but it's true!  
Tip #8: Review and reinforcement is essential.
A cell unit is dense in terms of new vocabulary and concepts. The old saying “Practice Makes Perfect!” should certainly be a part of your cell unit. Increase student interaction between terms and definitions as often as possible to ensure that the vocabulary has been committed to memory. 

The most important component of improving your Cell Structure and Function Unit is .... YOU! If you are having fun and engaging with your students, your unit will be a success!

Teaching Students to Read Science Informational Text

Science surrounds us every single day. From shopping at the grocery store for probiotic yogurts and organically grown produce to news stories on earthquakes, climate change, vaccines, and toxic chemical clouds produced from a train derailment. As a result, it is more important than ever that we teach our science students how to read "science informational text." 

In today’s world, students must be able to read, comprehend, and analyze science informational reading passages!

  • The science students of today will be the decisions-makers of tomorrow. 
  • Students must be able to function in a technical world.
  • It is increasingly important that students be able to discern fact from fiction, and fact from opinion.
  • The reading of "science informational text" helps students develop critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Reading scientific text can help students develop the language and vocabulary necessary to communicate effectively about scientific topics.
  • Reading and comprehending scientific text is a fundamental skill required for students to score well on college admission tests, such as the ACT.
  • Basic life decisions depend on the ability to read and understand science informational text. For example, "What are the pros and cons of purchasing an electric vehicle?"

The face of science teaching is changing. Common Core Science Standards, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards, are asking teachers to emphasis scientific concepts, rather than the memorization of large amounts of factual data. 

Click any image to view in my TPT store.

For many science teachers, the thought of having to teach students "how to read science" can be overwhelming. However, it's actually a lot easier than you might think. After all, we are already asking our science students to read the textbook, lab handouts, etc. With a few simple tools (Try my Science Reading Task Cards!) and a little planning, you can easily teach your students how to be better readers of science informational passages.

Students need to practice the skill of reading in science. When students are reading, they need to be given prompts on what to look for in the reading. To accomplish this, I developed a set of 75 Science Reading Task Cards that can be used with ANY type of science reading material. These task cards can be used in all science classes and with students in Grades 6 - 12. 

Each task card asks students to pull out specific information from the material they are reading. The task cards focus student attention and help them to determine the main idea, the purpose of an experiment, how to read a chart or graph, or whether the reading passage is based on fact or opinion.

Start by using a reading passage that we science teachers already use every day .... the TEXTBOOK! Ask the students to read a short section from their textbook. Provide 3 to 4 task cards to go along with the reading and ask students to write out answers for each task card question.

Tired of trying to get your students to read the lab handouts before lab day? Ten of the task cards from the set are designed just for this purpose. By answering these ten task card questions, students must read the lab handouts to write a hypothesis, identify variables, and make predictions about the outcome. 

Once your students become familiar with using the task cards while reading their textbook and lab handouts, start adding in an occasional current event article from a newspaper or magazine. You might even work up to assigning a book such as "The Double Helix" or "The Hot Zone."

The set of "Science Reading Task Cards" is available in my TPT store.  Additional information about the task cards includes:

  • The set contains 75 task cards.
  • There are different formats included: (1) Printable and editable version, (2) PowerPoint version to use with your classroom projection system, (3) Google Slides version with included text boxes for students to write in answers, (4) Google Forms version.
  • The cards can be used with any type of science reading material.
  • The cards are appropriate for Grades 6 - 12.
  • PLEASE NOTE:  Science reading passages are NOT included. The teacher must find and choose appropriate reading passages to use.
  • The set includes a detailed Teacher Guide as well as correlation to Common Core (CCSS) Standards.

Periodic Table Review Game

You've just finished teaching the Periodic Table to your chemistry or physical science students. You know you did an awesome job teaching periods, families, the periodic trends of electronegativity, atomic radius, and metallic character. You have no doubt that students know about the alkali metals, the halogens, and the noble gases. You are convinced that all the students will ace the unit test.

Then you notice a few glazed-over looks on the faces of the students. A review of the Periodic Table is needed!

If you really want to know if students understand particular concepts, the ultimate test is to have them apply their knowledge to a new situation.  I give you The Periodic Table of the Lost Civilization.

Click any image or red text to view this resource in my TpT Store.

Here's the Story:
A long lost civilization has been found buried beneath many feet of lava from an ancient volcanic eruption.  The population consisted of many scientists who were in the early stages of discovering and identifying the elements of the natural world. Unfortunately, a volcanic eruption destroyed the civilization before the periodic table was complete. The ancient civilization had different names and symbols for the elements than those used on the modern day periodic table.  Students will read 28 statements that describe 34 elements from long ago. The statements give the element names, symbols, and information about the chemical and physical properties of the elements. Students must decipher the descriptions of the elements and place the elements in the correct position on the periodic table.

Some examples of the clues include:

  • The following elements are known to be unreactive:   Scansio (S), Lumen (Lu), Graviter (Gr), Piger (Pi) and Respiro (Rp).  The element Scansio (S) has 2 valence electrons.
  • Flavus (Fa)  is the most reactive of the nonmetals.
  • The atomic radius of Lumen (Lu) is much smaller than the atomic radius of Respiro (Rp).          
  • Piger (Pi) has valence electrons in the third energy level.

The students will work through the 28 clues and decide where to place the 34 elements on the periodic table of the lost civilization.

As stated above, the ultimate test to determine if students have mastered a concept is to see if they can apply their knowledge to a new situation. If students can arrange the 34 elements on the ancient period table, then they have a really good understanding of how the periodic table works.

But, since this is a review activity, a 4-Page set of handouts is included with additional critical-thinking and analysis questions.

Putting pencil to paper is my preferred method of teaching, but if a digital version is needed, one is included. Students will "drag and drop" the element squares onto the ancient periodic table in Google Slides.

Students will always be more engaged and enthusiastic about reviewing for a test when the review is in a game format. This activity is highly engaging and fun for students. It's a blast to watch the light bulbs go on when students realize they have correctly identified the ancient elements. I hope your students will enjoy this activity as much as mine.

Have fun teaching!

Classroom Management and Content Reinforcement!

Warm ups and bell ringers are definitely a "vintage" idea, but used in the right way they become an excellent classroom management tool!

The bell has just rung for your next class. At your classroom door is a jumbled mass of students, some leaving the room, some entering the room. Some of the ones leaving have stopped at your desk to chat or ask questions. Some of the ones entering want to chat, too. The students who were absent the day before want to know what they missed. One student needs to borrow a calculator. One student wants to go to the bathroom. One student wants to know if you finished grading a test. One student asks, "Are we doing anything today?" (As if there was EVER any possibly that we weren't!) Two students in the back of the room are being clowns. The tardy bell is about to ring, and you are ready to get this class started.

Does this chaos sound familiar?

The above scenario doesn't mean there is anything wrong with your classroom management. All teachers experience this everyday! However, you can make an action plan that decreases the chaos and get your class off to a good start everyday.

I have always considered classroom management to be one of my strengths. I am organized and have every single minute of class time planned before my students arrive at the door. I consider classroom management to be one of the most important aspects of teaching, second only to having a deep and thorough knowledge of the subject area. I teach "bell to bell" and gear the pacing of my class to the learning abilities of my students. Frankly, I am good at it ....... Or so I thought.

One year (after having taught for many years) I had a class that was a bit more challenging than the average high school biology class. The class consisted of 25 freshmen and sophomores, all nice kids, not a bad apple in the bunch. They were rarely disrespectful, but always came into the room overly antsy, rowdy, and excitable. It always took too much time to get them to settle and to get class started. All teachers know that the first few minutes of a class period can be somewhat chaotic. There are always administrative tasks to complete in addition to getting the students focused. I am very good at getting things started promptly in my class, but this one particular class was different. It became a struggle every day to get them settled and start my class. I needed to do something different.

I had not used "bell ringers" for quite some time, but I thought this might be a good tool for getting this class under control. I needed a consistent plan of action that my students followed every day and that established a certain mindset in my students. Further, I wondered if I could get this group of high schoolers to keep and maintain a notebook of these warm ups.  In short, could I reduce the chaos and get on with the business of teaching?

The answer is a resounding...    YES!  IT WORKED!

What is the new routine?
On the first day of school, I do a really fun ice-breaker activity called Biology Chat. Students are so excited to be in the lab, and NOT listening to a long list of class rules. After completing the Biology Chat Lab Station Activity, I start gently introducing my classroom management game plan. I let them know what type of notebook to purchase (see below) and I talk about the procedures I expect as students enter the room. When fully implemented, it goes something like this:
  • Students walk into classroom, passing the "warm up" table as they enter.
  • Students pick up the daily warm up and proceed to their desks.
  • Students have 5-10 minutes to complete the daily bell ringers.
  • Students may get up to visit the supply table that contains stapler, tape, colored pencils, markers, and rulers.
  • Teacher takes roll, passes out papers, answers questions, and assists students who have been absent.
  • Students are orderly and teacher can begin teaching with minimum chaos at the beginning of class.
What will you need?

  • Students will need to purchase a notebook. I have them place their daily warm ups in this notebook each day. I love the type of notebook that you see here. The binding is tight and pages "stay put" and rarely fall out. Best of all, I love that these notebooks can be purchased during Back-to-School season for only 50 cents. One of these notebooks contains 100 sheets of paper.  When used front and back, this give you room to place 200 warm ups in the notebook. Students will likely need a couple of these notebooks if, like me, you plan to use the bell ringer pages for homework assignments and daily quizzes.  
  • You, the teacher, need to set up a table near the entrance of your classroom. Each day, place the warm up(s) on this table, as well as any supplies needed such as tape, markers, or rulers.

What are the benefits?
You can turn the chaotic beginning of your class into a time of meaningful learning. Using bell ringers establishes a daily routine of having your students complete thought provoking and problem solving tasks during the first few minutes of the class. Once the routine is established, students will enter the room and get right to work on the warm-up or bell-ringer activity. These warm-ups are designed to take 5-10 minutes to complete. It settles the students and provides the instructor a few minutes to carry out the tasks required at the beginning of a class.

An added benefit is reinforcement of the current content I am teaching. My warm ups are not of the "write a paragraph about your favorite food" variety. Each and every warm up reinforces the subject matter content that I am currently teaching. Students will be labeling, diagramming, calculating, estimating, problem-solving, analyzing, and predicting on each page. This quick review of previously taught content is the perfect way to launch into the new lesson of the day.

The warm ups in my TpT store are all one-half page in size.  They can be collected and quickly graded, but they are always placed in the student notebook when I return them. In addition to using these pages as bell ringers, I also use them for homework assignments and for short daily quizzes.

After many months of writing and developing, I now have a warm up set for every chapter found in a typical high school biology textbook. And, best of all, I have accomplished what I set out to do:  
  • I established a classroom management plan that works for me.
  • Students are engaged and working at the beginning of class.
  • The daily reinforcement of concepts and subject matter content have led to higher test scores.
  • It's a WIN-WIN!

If you are interested, you can Click here to download a FREE sample of my warm ups and bell ringers, or you can   Click here to see all of the bell ringer resources in my TpT store.

17 Essential Science Skills All Students Should Master


Have you had a student ask you any of these questions?

  • Which one of these things is the graduated cylinder?
  • How do I convert from decimeters to decameters?
  • I can't do scientific notation on my calculator.
  • What are independent and dependent variables and how do I put them on a graph?
  • You wanted the graph to be on graph paper?
  • I did measure exactly 5 grams of salt on my balance! ( ... with salt in a beaker that wasn't massed.)
  • Percent Error? No need to do this; my data is perfect!
You only have to be a science teacher for one single day to start getting these types of questions and comments. My life as a high school biology and chemistry teacher became much easier when I recognized that the students entering my classes at the beginning of the school year would be all over the place in terms of their proficiency in basic science skills. Some of my entering students would be very proficient, while others had never been introduced to certain skills. The challenge we science teachers face is how to bridge this gap.

What are the essential science skills?

In the first days and weeks of a new school year, I need my students to be proficient in the following:
  • Metric measurement
  • Identification of pieces of lab equipment
  • Scientific method
  • Use of basic pieces of lab equipment such as the graduated cylinder, Celsius thermometer, laboratory balance, and metric ruler.
  • Tabling, graphing, and analyzing data.
  • Math skills: Scientific notation, dimensional analysis, significant digits
To accomplish this goal of proficiency of science skills, I have developed Science Skills Chat! -- a set of 17 Lab Stations to address 17 essential science skills all science students should know. I use the word "chat" to emphasize to my students that they are to work together and have a productive discussion at each station in order to maximize their understanding and mastery of the concepts being covered. Peer tutoring is a powerful learning tool!

Click on red text or any image to view Science Skills Chat in my TpT store.

What are the 17 Essential Science Skills?
  • Metric Units
  • Identification of Lab Equipment 
  • Scientific Notation
  • Dimensional Analysis
  • Significant Digits
  • The Scientific Method
  • Tabling, Graphing, and Analyzing Data
  • The Graduated Cylinder 
  • The Metric Ruler 
  • The Laboratory Balance 
  • The Celsius Thermometer 
  • The Bunsen Burner 
  • Determining the Volume of Solids 
  • Separating a Mixture 
  • Determining Density 
  • Accuracy, Precision, and Percentage Error
  • Scientific Drawings 

I would not suggest trying to complete all 17 lab stations at once. Choose a set of skills (perhaps 4 or 5 lab stations) to be completed during the first week of school. Choose the skills that are of immediate concern to you. Remember, some students may already be proficient in these skills, but other students will be struggling. No matter the ability level, ALL students will benefit from this review and reinforcement. 

Click on red text or any image to view Science Skills Chat in my TpT store.

Once your students have mastered the first set of skills that you deem most important, set up another lab station day to work on skills that students will soon need to know. 

I like the idea of having "Science Skills Friday" where you choose 4 or 5 lab stations to complete. The information in a fewer number of lab stations is not overwhelming, and it is a fun and different way to end the week. There are enough lab stations in Science Skills Chat to create several "Science Skills Friday" sessions.

Click on red text or any image to view Science Skills Chat in my TpT store.

Ten of the lab stations require some sort of lab equipment, but the other 7 skills are perfect activities to leave in your substitute teacher folder. In an emergency, your sub can grab a few of these and create a VERY quality lesson in your absence.

It may seem like you are spending a lot of time at the beginning of the year to cover these 17 science skills, but I guarantee that it is time well spent. As your school year progresses, you will spend far less time repeating and re-teaching skills that your students should already know.  

And, how nice would it be to reduce the number of questions you get every time you go to the lab?


P.S.  I have 11 Chat Lab Station Activities on a variety of topics.  You can view them all here:

Technology Chat: Make Sure Your Students Are Ready for Digital Learning

Returning to school after summer break is stressful in the best of times.  I think we can all agree that this is pretty much the WORST of times and that this year's return to teaching will be unlike any other.  We teachers have faced many challenges before, but the challenges before us now are unprecedented.  Whether you will be teaching virtually, in-person, or somewhere in between, you will find yourself in need of digital resources to support your curriculum.  The reality of teaching in the days of COVID-19 means that student absenteeism will fluctuate wildly, many parents may opt to keep their kids at home, or schools may be forced to close altogether.  This puts you in the challenging position of not only teaching your core science material, but also teaching students about your chosen (or chosen for you ...) method of virtual instruction.  This can be overwhelming.  You need activities that support the technical instruction of your students as well as their science instruction.

When students arrive in your classroom this fall, either in person or virtually, will they all have the same set of skills in using Google Apps?

The short answer is ... No.  On the first day of class, just as our students have different graphing skills, or math skills, or writing skills, they will cover the spectrum in their ability to use Google Apps.
On that note, I am very excited to introduce a new tool in your teaching arsenal:  Technology Chat for Google Apps!  If you plan on utilizing Google DriveTM or Google ClassroomTM this fall, this is a fantastic activity to set your students up for success by teaching them a basic set of skills for the Google Apps.  Your students will learn how to create and share Docs, Slides, and Sheets as well as many of the features used to complete assignments in Google Apps.

If you are not familiar with my other "Chat" activities, they are highly collaborative in nature and allow students to work together while mastering new material.  This activity is a little different in that students can complete it remotely, in-person, or in pairs.  If you are meeting students face-to-face, I highly recommend using the activity in cooperative learning groups.  Peer help and instruction is a valuable learning tool.  Whatever your teaching situation, Technology Chat is an extremely flexible activity that will fit with any teaching situation.

While this activity won't cover everything Google has to offer, it is a great tool to create a baseline of knowledge in your classroom and hopefully give your students enough technical know-how to start the year off right.

Teachers always rise to face new challenges, and this school year will be no different. In these unprecedented times, I am excited to see the amazing ways our community serves our students and the highly innovative new solutions we put into place in our classrooms.  I hope this activity is a helpful addition to your back-to-school instructional plan.  I wish you all the very best of luck this fall.

Going Digital in the Age of Distance Learning

Hello everyone!  Wow, in just a few short weeks our teaching world has been rocked to the core.  If you had told me months ago that we would be in this shape today, I would have thought you had lost your mind. Unprecedented school closures have all of us scratching our heads and trying to figure out how to get through just one day at a time.  Both teachers and parents are scrambling to look for resources for our students that can be used digitally for distance learning.  Since it looks like schools are going to closed for some time, it's "all hands on deck" as we deal with the problems of educating children remotely.  

So let me get right to it.  The purpose of this post is to let you know about resources that are available for both teachers and parents in the world of "distance learning."  The rest of this post will consist of clickable links to resources you might find helpful.

First, I am working to convert the resources in my TpT store over to digital formats for use in Goggle Drive, Google Classroom, and/or Microsoft OneDrive.  As resources are updated with the digital version, I will add them to the "already posted" printable listing on TpT.  In short, this means that if you have purchased a resource from my TpT store, you will be able to download the resource again, at no extra cost, to receive the digital version if one becomes available.  Full disclosure: Converting items to digital resources is time-consuming and tedious work. My resources will not magically appear in digital format overnight, but I will add them as fast as I am able.

Just a reminder:  Do you know how to determine if a resource you have purchased on TpT has been updated? You will not get email notifications from TpT when resources are updated. You'll need to navigate to your "My Purchases" page on TpT and look for notifications that appear with any resources that have been updated.

What items at Amy Brown Science have been updated with new digital formats?
I started with my free resources.  The following resources have been updated. Each includes a detailed Teacher Guide to help you navigate the world of Google Drive.  I have also included a QuickStart Guide for the experienced users.  Click the images or red text below to grab these free distance learning resources:

Backyard Ecology:  This ecology activity is perfect for laying the groundwork prior to your ecology unit. The questionnaire will get your students thinking about the ecology and environmental issues of your local community.

Monohybrid Mice! is great for Punnett Square practice.  These problems are on a beginner level and a perfect way to introduce one-factor genetics problems to your students.

Scientific Method PowerPoint and Notes Set: This includes a 26 slide PowerPoint as well as a guided notes outline for the students.  Steps of the scientific method are covered, but more importantly, the lesson provides examples and practice problems illustrating the application of the scientific method. Analysis questions and answers are included.

DNA Informational Text ReadingThis reading is based on Watson and Crick's famous one-page article published in 1953 in Nature magazine, announcing their discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule. It comes with graphic organizers to help your students read and understand this classic scientific paper.

Compare and Contrast Graphic OrganizerThis very simple, two-page graphic organizer has become one of the best study and review techniques that I use in my science classes. It forces students to think deeply about two topics or concepts as they search to find the similarities and differences between them. 

Cell Respiration Word Game ReviewThis review activity is designed to help your students master the difficult vocabulary in a cell respiration unit. 

I have also created a new custom category in my TpT store called "Digital / Google Apps" where you can find all of my digital resources. Clicking the link to this custom category will sort my store to show all of my digital resources. This is a great link to save.  It will allow you to see if any of the resources you have previously purchased have been updated for Google Apps.

Let me ask a favor of you: Please respect my copyright by NOT posting my resources on a public web site where my resources can be accessed by a Google search and the public world.  You are welcome to post to your own password-protected class site as long as only your students have access.  Thanks so much for your understanding.

One more thing before I move on to other suggestions for resources:  Signing up for my free newsletter is a good way to receive notifications for updates, exclusive freebies, promotions, sales, and news.  Click this link if you are interested in my newsletter.

Okay, now I am going to post links to all sorts of things that I have seen over the last few weeks that I think might be helpful to you.

Please note: All online learning sites should be throughly vetted by teachers and parents before allowing access to your students.

I hope that this post gives you some places to start as you begin your journey into distance learning.  Good luck to you, and please stay well!

P.S. The adorable "Dot Dudes" in the heading image are the copyrighted work of Sarah Pecorino Illustration.