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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!

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:

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?