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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.

Biochemistry Lab: Testing Foods for Organic Compounds.


What types of organic compounds are contained in the foods we eat? Sometimes an old idea is still the best way to teach a concept.  That is how I feel about this lab, "Testing Foods for Organic Compounds."  I have been doing this lab for over 30 years, and I never tire of doing it.  Granted, it is a bit messy and the observed results are sometimes a little subjective, but my students always love these two days in the lab.

This lab is best used during your units on Biochemistry and the Organic Compounds.  Teaching the characteristics of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids can be dry and tiresome to students, and this lab is a great way to break the monotony of lecturing on these topics.  This lab activity is a two-part activity.  First, students will learn the indicator tests for sugars, starches, proteins, fats, vitamin C, and salt using known solutions.  Once the students understand how to complete these tests, they will test a wide variety of foods to see what compounds are contained in each food.

Before any testing of foods is carried out, students must "practice" to learn the indicator test for each compound.  For example, in order to determine if milk contains simple sugars, students must know how to carry out the test for simple sugars.  This is the purpose of the first part of the lab.  Students are given known solutions so that they can see what the positive test for a particular compound looks like.  Then, when the foods are tested, the students will recognize and understand the results they are getting.  Students will learn the positive and negative tests for the following:


  • Students will test for starch using iodine.
  • Students will test for simple sugars using Benedict's solution.
  • Students will test for proteins using Biuret reagent.
  • Students will test for lipids using the brown paper test.
  • Students will test for the presence of vitamin C using indophenol.
  • Students will test for salt using silver nitrate.
Please note: Obviously, salt is not an organic compound.  However, it is a fun test for the students to carry out, and it provides interesting information about the foods we eat.

Once students know how to use the above indicators, the real fun can begin! Choose a variety of foods that you would like for your students to test.  While you can theoretically use any foods in the experiment, some are easier to test than others.  For example, students will probably be frustrated if you ask them to test dark purple grape juice.  They simply will not be able to see the results of the tests.  I have the best results when testing the following:  Milk, yogurt, egg whites, egg yolks, potatoes, celery, cereals, and an assortment of fruit juices.  The liquid foods can be used straight from their containers.  For solids foods, you will need to prepare a solution of the food using a blender.

What are the benefits of doing this lab?
  • First and foremost, it is just plain FUN!  If students love your lab activities, they will be excited about your class.  These days, having your students excited about your class solves a host of other problems.
  • This lab reviews and reinforces the concepts you have been teaching in your classroom.  Facts about the macromolecules are easier to learn and remember when the students see a practical application of the information.
  • This lab teaches good lab techniques, how to organize data, and how to work in cooperative learning groups.
  • Students lean that a particular food that they thought was "healthy" is really nothing more than sugar and salt.
  • Working through detailed lab procedures teaches a student to read, understand, and follow directions.
  • Students must use their critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Below you can see the lab handouts that I use with my students.  Clicking here or on the image below will lead you to this lab in my TpT store. Complete teacher guide is included that contains an answer key to all questions, directions for preparing the solutions, and tips and suggestions for the successful completion of this lab activity.  



Book Review and Giveaway: "Awesome Physics Experiments for Kids"



It's not often that I do a product review.  And since you are now reading a product review, that should tell you that I am super-excited about this product!  Erica Colon (NittyGrittyScience.com) has written a fabulous set of experiments for young budding scientists, ages 10 to 13.  But this is more than just another science experiment book.  This is a book for parents and for families, and also a fantastic resource for science teachers.

Let's start with parents and families.  All of the experiments in this book can be carried out with simple materials, and anyone can do them!  No science background is required because Erica has included every single thing you need.  Here's what you'll find with each experiment:

  • Title
  • Problem or Question
  • Level of Difficulty (Easy, Medium, Difficult)
  • Time Suggestion
  • Materials List
  • The Steps
  • Now Try This!
  • The Hows and Whys
All parents will be able to do these experiments with their kids.  The procedural steps are clear and concise, and the final section is a life-saver if your background is not in science.  "The Hows and Whys" section will ensure that you can discuss these concepts with your children.

Now, let me speak to science teachers:  While these experiments were written for children of ages 10 to 13, these activities can easily be used as experiments and/or demonstrations from middle school classes up through high school physics classes.  What a relief to find activities that don't require expensive lab equipment!  And, if you love stem challenges, this book is perfect for you! And one more thing:  The activities are aligned with NGSS standards.

Here's a sample experiment that you can start using right away:



In addition to 40 super science experiments, Erica has included a Glossary of terms, Measurement conversions, Resources for kids, Resources for teachers, Blank tables and graphing grids, and an Index.

The book is being released through Amazon.  Click this link to view on Amazon.


Evolution and the Geologic Time Scale


Teaching the geologic time scale has always posed a bit of a problem for me in my Biology classes. My students don't need the depth of knowledge that they might get in an Earth Science class. On the other hand, the concept of geologic time and the appearance and evolution of life on Earth is VERY important to my class. One of my most favorite sayings, "Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" (Theodosius Dobzhansky, American Biology Teacher1973.) is a mantra in my classes. We can't teach cellular respiration without the concept of endosymbiosis, and we can't teach endosymbiosis until our students know the differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, etc, etc, etc. The history of life on Earth is (or should be!) woven into every single lesson we teach in a Biology class.

Then "What's the problem?" you might be asking yourself. My problem is time. Not geologic time;  just time to teach. It is a real struggle to cover everything in a year that needs to be covered! My solution was to find a way to quickly cover the concepts of geologic time and the evolution of life on Earth, without taking weeks to do so.

Here are my goals.  I want my students to:

  • Know was is meant by the "geologic time scale."
  • Be able to visualize the enormity of geologic time.
  • Know when life first appeared on Earth.
  • Know the order in which various life forms appeared.
  • Know the importance of fossils, especially traditional fossils, to the study of evolution.
  • Understand how scientists are able to date fossils that are found in various rock strata.
  • Understand the relationship between mass extinctions and adaptive radiations.
  • Have a clear and concise understanding of what happens in each era of Earth's history.
I am extremely pleased with the activity I put together to accomplish these goals. This resource can be used in conjunction with your other lessons and materials you use on this topic, OR, (and here is the best part!) it can be used as a stand-alone activity that quickly covers the above topics in just a couple of class periods.  The printable version is perfect for traditional classroom settings, but there is also a digital Google Apps version for distance learning and 1:1 schools.

If you need to teach this fast, this is the activity for you!



What concepts are covered in this resource?
  • Definition of the geologic time scale.
  • How the geologic time scale was developed by scientists.
  • Relative dating and Radioactive dating.
  • Earth’s history is divided into 4 Eras which are subdivided into smaller periods.
  • How to read the information on the geologic time scale reference table.
  • Comparing lengths of geologic time.
  • The order of events in the evolution of life on Earth.
  • Transitional fossils.
  • Estimating the age of organisms based on relative dating.
  • Rock strata.

What will the students be doing?
  • Students complete a 6-page handout on the geologic time scale and complete a 2-page timeline of the history of life on Earth.
  • Students make a circle graph of the time spent in each era.
  • Students use the included Geologic Time Scale Reference Table to answer a series of 30 problem solving questions.
  • Students make a scale diagram showing the length of each era.
  • Students look at pictures to evaluate characteristics of certain organisms.
  • Students complete a relative dating cut and paste activity.
  • Students using relative dating to estimate the age of certain organisms.
  • Students complete a 2-page cut and paste timeline activity showing the evolution of life on Earth.
  • Students are guided through an exercise that allows them to compare all of Earth’s history to one calendar year.

As much as I love teaching these topics, there is a limit to what we can expect our students to absorb. We can't ask them to learn every event in every era, period, and epoch in geologic time. I have certain key events that I want my students to know, so I put together a one-page table outlining the most important events in Earth's history.
  

The beauty of this resource is that with this one-page reference table the activity can be used as a stand-alone lesson. The students don't need prior knowledge or prior teaching. This lesson can be completed in two 1-hour class periods right before you begin your units on evolution. I would suggest having a biology textbook handy if students are seeing this information for the first time. There may be a few vocabulary words that they would need to look up.

If you are in a big time crunch, let the students work in groups for one class period, and complete complete unfinished portions for homework.




You can find this activity in my TpT store by clicking this link, and here is what you can expect to find included:

  • 6-Page printable and editable student worksheet set
  • 1-Page Geologic Time Scale Reference Table
  • 2-Page Timeline Worksheet
  • 8-Page Teacher Guide and Answer Keys
  • All images needed for the "cut and paste" portions of the activity.
  • Paperless digital google apps version for use in Google Drive, Google Classroom, Microsoft OneDrive, or similar.

I hope this article has given you something to think about, and some new ideas on how to teach geologic time to your biology or life science students. Have fun teaching!