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Returning to Your Lab After Summer Break: A "Must-Do" List of Chores

Picture yourself at the end of the school year ... You are punch-drunk from having made it through end of course exams, posting final grades, collecting textbooks, and trying to get your classroom packed up for the summer.  You are giddy with excitement about the much needed summer break.  It's the last day of school and you just want to go home.  Every teacher reading this knows this feeling.  It is nearly impossible to have the will power to start preparing for NEXT school year on the last day of THIS school year.

Fast forward ... Summer is over and you are heading back to school.  What are the first, most important things you need to do when you return to your classroom and lab?  Perhaps this check list of 18 Must-Do Chores will help get you started.

#1  Not a chore, but a directive!  Go back to school a day or two before the other teachers.  Head straight to the lab and get it ready for school.  Your classroom decorations can wait.

#2  Assess the summer "damage."  At my school, every single room is emptied over the summer so that the floors can be stripped, cleaned, and waxed.  When the furniture and supplies are returned to the lab, they are never put back where they belong.  Your first chore is simply organization. Get the tables, lab stools, boxes, etc., back where they belong.

#3  Assess the "real damage."  Check the water faucets at every single lab station because some of them will be leaking.  Check each and every gas jet because some students will have stuck their pencils in the end of them, breaking off the pencil tip inside.  Set aside the stools and desks that are damaged.  Check each electrical outlet.  Make a list of everything that requires a fix and move on to #4 right now!

#4  Go find the custodian.  In fact, when you arrive on this first day back, bring a plate of cookies for the custodian!  We lab teachers require the help of the custodian more than the classroom teachers.  Take your neatly written damage list and very sincerely ask for help in getting the repairs completed before students arrive.

#5  Clean, clean, and clean some more!  Get your paper towels and cleaning supplies and get to work.  Wipe down all lab tables and other surfaces. Check the drain of each sink to remove any debris caught in the drain.  Leave paper towels and Windex/Lysol spray bottles at each station so that students will be able to clean at the end of their lab.
#6  Check your fire safety equipment.  Is the fire extinguisher properly charged?  Is the fire blanket in a handy location?  Can you easily open the fire blanket container?

#7  Flush your eye wash station.  How many of us are diligent about flushing the eye wash weekly, or even monthly?  Check out this blog post on the eye wash fountain and safety shower for loads of information.

#8  Flush the safety shower.  Read the above referenced blog post about how to properly maintain the safety shower.

#9  Check your fume hood.  Click this link to view a great check list from OSHA about the lab fume hood.

#10  On to the safety goggles and sterilizer!  How do you handle goggles?  Do students have their own set, or do they share them with other students?  How are they cleaned and sanitized?  Goggles have to be worn, and they must be sterilized.  Before students return, be sure to hand-wash all goggles and sanitize them in a properly functioning sterilizer.  This blog post will provide you with additional details about lab safety goggles.
#11  Don't forget about the chemical storage area.  Make sure that chemicals are stored properly and safely and organized according to the "rules." Not sure how your chemical storeroom should be organized?  This article has everything you need to know about your chemical storeroom.

#12  Check your First Aid Kit!  Take an inventory of the items in your first aid kit.  Make a list of items such as band aids, ointments, alcohol wipes, etc., that need to be replaced.

#13  Clean out the lab refrigerator.  I guarantee you that someone left their lunch there months ago.

#14  Make sure lab safety aprons are clean and easily accessible as students enter the lab.

#15  Prepare a basic set of lab equipment and store a set at each lab station.  This will save you time all year long, and will prevent students from wandering all over the lab looking for equipment.  Consider placing the following at each lab station:  Bunsen burner and hose, ring stand and rings, wooden test tube rack, graduated cylinder, stirring rod, ruler, stopwatch. Include any other items that you frequently use.

#16  Identify designated areas and put up signs.  Where will students place their backpacks as they enter the lab?  Where should students place their dirty glassware?  Where is chemical waste placed?  Where should students wash their hands?  Make clear instruction signs, laminate them, and place them in the best location for your lab.

#17  Make a list of supplies you need to order.  Make sure that you have the latest catalogs.  Throw away the old ones!  Determine what supplies you need for the new school year, and get your lab order in to the purchasing department as quickly as possible.  The early bird gets the worm!

#18  Plan your lab safety instruction unit. In the very first few days of school you need to teach a lab safety unit to your students.  Students need handouts of all lab safety rules.  You need to have each student fill out a medical emergency form and have parents sign a lab safety contract.

An organized teacher is a happy teacher. Check off the things on this list, and you will be ready for a great school year!

Good luck as you return to school!

Super Science Back to School Giveaway

Welcome Back to School Science Teachers!

18 Secondary Science Authors have teamed up for one ENORMOUS giveaway!!

Aug 12, 2018 through Aug 17, 2018

Awww, don't be sad.  I know the summer is almost over (or already over if you live in the South!) but we can make "back to school" just a bit easier for you.  I know you had a terrific summer, full of rest and relaxation, and quality time spent with family and friends.  But now you have to get ready for school!

Well, eighteen teacher-authors from TpT are here to help you do just that! How about a chance to win one of FOUR $100 gift cards from TpT, plus chances to win hundreds of dollars of resources from our individual stores? We want to say "THANK YOU" for all you do for your students, and "WE HOPE YOU HAVE A GREAT SCHOOL YEAR" all in one huge giveaway.

Excited?  Keep reading!

In addition to the big gift card giveaway, there are 18 more giveaways taking place on each of our individual blogs!  That is a lot of prizes! If you are a science teacher in grades 6 and up, you are not going to want to miss out on these fantastic giveaways!

Please read carefully because there are TWO Giveaways below.  In order to be eligible for all prizes, you'll need to enter in both places:
  • Group Giveaway Entry for four $100 TpT Gift Cards
  • Amy Brown Science Individual Giveaway.
Simply follow the instructions in each giveaway to enter multiple times. Each seller is hosting their own individual giveaway so be sure to hop from blog to blog and enter them all.  Check out the linky at the bottom of the post for a list of all participating sellers.

OK, you know that the group is giving away FOUR $100 gift cards to TpT, but what is Amy Brown Science giving away?  I am giving away FOUR of my complete unit bundles.  If you win, you can choose any one you want, but it must be a bundle that is valued at $40 or less.  There are over 35 bundles that are $40 or less in my TpT store that you can choose from.  This link will show you all the bundles in my TpT store.  Start deciding which you'll choose if you are one of the four winners!

Ready to enter?  
Follow the directions below to win a prize in my individual giveaway.

I (well, KingSumo) will be picking four winners at random.  If you win, I'll email you and ask you what bundle (valued at $40 or less) you would like from my store.  When you let me know your choice, I'll get it right out to you.

By entering this giveaway, your email will be placed on my newsletter email list.  You can unsubscribe at any time.

       Follow the directions below to enter the group giveaway!

In addition to individual store giveaways, all of us have joined forces to put together one HUGE blog hop scavenger hunt, just for science teachers teaching grades 6-12:  FOUR $100 TeachersPayTeachers gift cards! Each blog post has a secret code word and a number.  The number tells you the word order in the secret sentence. Collect the words from each blog (links below), write them down in number order, and copy the secret sentence into the second rafflecopter giveaway. This rafflecopter form is the same on every blog, so you only need to enter once from any one of our blogs!  (Please only enter if you are a science teacher!)  

My code word is "knowledge" and it's the SIXTH word in the sentence.

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Be sure to visit each of the blogs below to enter each individual giveaway and to collect the scavenger hunt words for the group giveaway!  Thanks for participating, and from all of us...

Have a Great School Year!!

Giveaway ends August 17th, 2018 at 11:59 PM EST. Open to Residents of the earth only.  Winners will be selected at random and be notified by email. Winners have 48 hours to confirm their email addresses and respond before a new winner is selected. The product offered for the giveaway is free of charge, no purchase necessary. My opinions are my own and were not influenced by any form of compensation.  Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram are in no way associated with this giveaway.  By providing your information in this form, you are providing your information to me and me alone.  I do not share or sell information and will use any information only for the purpose of contacting the winner.

Combining Classroom Management With Content Reinforcement in the Science Classroom

Warm ups and bell ringers are definitely a "vintage" idea, but this tried and true classroom management tool is still effective for most classes.

The bell has just rung.  At your classroom door is a jumble 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 are doing the same.  The students who were absent yesterday want to know what they missed.  A student needs to borrow a pencil.  A student wants to go to the bathroom.  A student wants to know if you finished grading a test.  A 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?

If this is your classroom every day, then you need a plan of action.

Classroom management is 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 knowledge of the subject area being taught.  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 took longer than normal to get them settled so class could begin.  All teachers know that the first few minutes of a class period can be somewhat chaotic.  Students are socializing with one another, students who have been absent are asking for missed assignments, attendance must be taken, graded papers must be returned, homework assignments must be collected.  The list goes on and on.  I was 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 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, I wanted to 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 Science Chat.  Students are so excited to be in the lab, and NOT listening to a long list of class rules.  On about day 3, 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 "table" they will pass as they enter my 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.  They will 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.  It establishes a daily routine of having your students complete thought provoking and problem solving tasks during the first 5 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 what you did this weekend" 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 yesterday's content is the perfect way to launch into the new lesson of the day.

How can these pages be used?
•  Warm ups and bell ringers
•  Exit slips
•  Additions to your interactive notebooks
•  Homework assignments
•  The completed notebook is the perfect review for your unit tests or end of course exam.

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.

Second Semester for Secondary Science: Tips and Strategies for Completing the School Year!

LET'S FINISH THIS!  As a high school biology and chemistry teacher, I always find this to be a very interesting point in the school year.   After spending time with family and friends during the holidays, and feeling very rested and relaxed, it's time to start thinking about returning to school for the second semester of the school year.  New Year's resolutions are running high, and the realization that the school year is half over brings both excitement and anxiety to teachers as they prepare to return to the classroom after the holiday break.  The "excitement" comes in being able to see summer break on the horizon.  The "anxiety" comes in the form of "Oh my gosh, I have so much to do before the end of the school year!"

We have to make a complete and total mind shift from first semester to second semester.  The dynamics of the classroom, the way we carry out planning, and our classroom management strategies need to undergo a complete and thorough transition.  First semester was spent getting to know our students.  We learned their personalities, their strengths, their weaknesses, and all of their idiosyncrasies.  We learned what worked and what didn't work as far as teaching strategies, and now it is time to take our "first semester game" to a new level for second semester.  In short, we have to make a change from "getting started" to "getting finished."

To that end, I have a list of 11 tips and strategies for the successful completion of second semester in secondary science classrooms.

Tip #1:  Organization and Planning is Essential.  
Yes, I realize this tip is predictable and mundane, and not really a concrete strategy.  Please stop your eye-rolling and consider this.  Do not return to school after the holidays until you have thought through the entire semester and you have a plan of action.  The first couple of weeks after the holidays are chaotic and can turn into a blur of indecision and wasted time if you are not careful.  Know what you need to accomplish during the semester, and start your students down that path on the very first day they return to your classroom.  Grab your student's attention, and don't give them time to settle into old routines.  Start the first day with fresh ideas, fresh classroom management strategies, and a fresh look in your classroom.  Having a clear vision and an action plan, and the implementation of it on the first day of the semester will send a definite message to your students:  "We have a lot to do and we are not going to waste any time getting started on it."

Tip #2:  Assess where you are in your curriculum.
Students in my state must take an end-of-course exam in biology and chemistry.  I would assume that every state has a state mandated curriculum or framework of standards that must be covered in any given course.  Where do you stand on covering all of the content that you are required to teach? Before you start second semester it is essential that you make a list of units and topics that you need to cover.  Once you have a list of topics, determine how many days you can spend on each topic and still get them all covered before the end of the school year.  Obtain a calendar grid for the months January through June and fill out the days and weeks with the topics you must cover.  Keep this on your desk or wall, and stick to it!

Tip #3:  Make changes to your Classroom Management Plan.
Now that you have spent an entire semester with your students, you have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't work in terms of managing your classroom and the behavior of your students.  This is the perfect time to tweak your management system and make changes to ensure your daily routine is a well-oiled machine.  I use a system of daily warm ups and bell ringers to get my students on task and ready to learn at the very beginning of each class.

Tip #4:  Organize and clean your classroom before students return to class.
Early in my teaching career I had a wonderful mentor who told me that the condition of the classroom was one of the most important factors in determining the effectiveness of my class.  As a young and new teacher, I had my doubts about this.  What possible difference could it make if the desks were arranged in an orderly fashion, and that my desk appeared to be in order?  As it turned out, this was one of the best pieces of advice I ever received about teaching.  Student performance and classroom behavior IS determined (at least in part) by the climate of your classroom.  If the classroom is disorganized, the students will be disorganized and student behavior will suffer.  If students walk into a classroom that is clean and highly organized they enter a mindset that improves their performance while in your class.

Tip #5:  Put something new on the wall or bulletin board!
You do not want your students walking back into your classroom without making some changes.  Shake things up a bit!  Put up some new wall displays and bulletin boards.  They don't have to be too fancy or time consuming to make.  You just need to send the message that this is a new semester and you are ready to go with all new materials and resources.  Here are some ideas of things you can display that will take only a few minutes to print, laminate and get displayed on the wall:

•  Biology and Life Science Careers Mini Posters

•  Character Building Quotes from Famous Scientists

•  Important Dates in Science History Monthly Calendars

Tip #6:  It's time for a new seating chart.
While you are shaking things up by reorganizing your classroom and getting new wall displays posted, go ahead and make out a new seating chart for your students.  When students return from the holidays, every aspect of your classroom needs to be new, fresh, and different.

Tip #7: Start planning now for end of course testing.
I am not a fan of the maze of standardized testing that we put our students through each year.  However, that is a topic for another day.  If your students will be required to take an end of course exam for your class, it is imperative that you begin planning for that now.  Take the semester calendar that you made in Tip #2 and see where you might insert a few days for test prep and review. I look for days when the school is planning an assembly or pep rally, or a day when some students will miss for a field trip.  It is hard to teach new material when students are missing from class, but it makes for a great time to get in some test prep review time.  Be prepared to review.  You never know when an opportunity for reinforcement will arise, so keep task cards, review games, or worksheets at the ready.  Every minute counts in the second semester rush to the end of the year.

Tip #8:  Make a plan for struggling students.
The sad reality is that some students are always in danger of failing our class, or in danger of not being able to pass the end of course exam.  It is extremely important to identify the struggling students and put an intervention plan in place before it is too late.  With enough help, guidance, compassion, and will power, we can ensure that most of our students will earn credit in our classes. Students try harder when they know we care about them and that we are trying to give them the help they need.  Have individual meetings with your struggling students and develop a plan with each student to ensure their success at the end of the school year.  Many of my "A students" belong to organizations that require them to get service hours.  I always set up peer tutoring opportunities to help my struggling students get the reinforcement they need, while allowing other students to get the service hours they need.

Tip #9:  Start working on your lab inventory.
My school district requires that we do a complete inventory of our classrooms and lab areas, and we must turn it in before the last day of school.  Are you required to complete a lab inventory?  If so, do yourself a favor and start working on it now.  The end of the year is CRAZY, and you will be greatly relieved if you already have this cumbersome chore accomplished.  If you need an inventory form, check out my free Lab Inventory Form in my TpT Store.

Tip #10:  Make out your lab order for the upcoming school year.
This makes perfect sense if you also have to complete a lab inventory.  As you complete your inventory, make a list of the items that you are running low on. As the semester progresses, locate your new catalogs and start looking up the purchasing information for the items you will need for the next year.

Tip #11:  Watch our for Spring Break/Spring Fever!
This is also known as "Teach as much as you can as soon as you can!"  Once spring arrives, even the best laid plans can fly out the window.  And students are not the only ones to get spring fever, right?  January, February and March are easy!  But after that, even the absolute best teachers amongst us will struggle to keep the kids focused and learning.

Hopefully, if you have made it to the end of this article, you have found a few tidbits that will help you get off to a great start for second semester.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday break, and that you have a happy, healthy, and organized new year!