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Common Core Graphic Organizers for Science Informational Text

Be sure to download the free graphic organizers!

Let's just face it....  Most of us have to start implementing the Common Core standards into our science classrooms. The standards cover many skills and components, but the majority of the standards deal with the reading of informational text.

I have been contending all along, that ALL reading passages in a science class involve informational text.  Our students read the textbook, current events articles, the lab manual / handouts, etc.  Out class is nothing BUT informational text.   So what needs to change in our science classroom?

Many of us need to change the WAY we teach our students to read science passages:

  • We must move away from the memorization of large volumes of facts.
  • We must teach our students how to identify the main idea, the author's purpose, etc.
  • Our students must be able to cite evidence to support scientific claims.
  • Students must be able to compare and contrast.
  • Students must be able to summarize.
  • Students must be able to identify the control and experimental variables in an experiment, citing evidence to support conclusions reached in an experiment.
  • Students must be able to express quantitative information in words.
  • Students must be able to express technical information in a flow chart or concept map.
To sum it up, we must do a better job in teaching critical reading, critical thinking, problem solving, and how to pull out the important information in a reading passage.

Like you, I have been looking for the best ways to accomplish all of this in my classroom.  To date, the most effective tool I have is ... the graphic organizer.

What is so great about the graphic organizer?  First and foremost, it gives the student a place to start.  If you hand a student a reading passage and a blank sheet of paper and instruct them to "analyze the passage", most of them are overwhelmed and have no idea how to begin.  A graphic organizer is not a crutch, it is a tool.  It helps to guide the student through the reading passage.  The graphic organizer teaches the student how to read the informational text.  

Take as an example, the graphic organizer in the above photo.  The instructions say:  As you read the passage, identify the claims being made by the author.  What evidence does the author provide to support his/her claim?"  Now the student has a reason to read the text.  Now the student knows what to look for while reading the text.

I have together a bundle of different types of graphic organizers.  Many graphic organizers I have seen are rather generic in nature.  I have tried to make mine a bit more specific.  Each is designed for a particular type of text and a particular Common Core standard.  They look the best in color, but print out just fine in black and white.  I am unable to make color copies at my school, and the black/white copies work just as well.

I have both free and paid graphic organizer products in my TpT store.  

Here are the free ones!  :)

Click above photo to download.
Good luck with your implementation of the Common core standards, and have a great school year!

Metric Measurement Task Cards

Metric Measurement:  Students should know it, but do they remember it?

At the beginning of each new school year I take time to review and reinforce metric measurement skills. My students are in high school, and they should know this stuff, right?  The answer to that is both yes and no.  Most of my students come to me very well prepared.  I have no complaints about the teachers they had before me.....their teachers did an excellent job preparing them for my chemistry or AP Biology class.  For many of my incoming students, it seems they have the knowledge they need, but over the summer this knowledge sinks down deep into their brains and must be retrieved and/or rediscovered.

A student in my class is definitely going to need the skill of metric measurement.  They need to be able to quickly and easily use a meter stick, a graduated cylinder, and a balance. We do a lot of "mental math", so they need to be able to estimate and convert between units.

On the first or second day of school, I quickly assess the metric skills of my students and plan a lesson or two accordingly.  If you are a teacher you know that each year brings us a very different group of students. Some years all my students need is a very light refresher lesson, and other years they need much more instruction.

Whatever the ability level of your students, a great way to get them back into "thinking metric" is through the use of task cards.  Task cards are a fantastic way to reinforce lessons, review difficult concepts, or provide extra practice for the struggling student.   The student reads each card, performs the task, and records his/her answer on the included student answer sheet.

My set of Metric Measurement Task Cards contains 90 cards.  They range in difficulty from easy to hard.  I like that I can "customize" instruction by picking and choosing from the set of cards.  I never put students into groups during class time based on ability level, but I do have students who come to me both before and after school for tutoring.  At these times, I can provide the student with a set of task cards perfect for their needs.

There are many reasons I enjoy using task cards with my students:

  • They are great for early finishers.  Especially during lab time, some students are simply going to finish early.  Task cards are kept in the lab and are perfect for enrichment.
  • Task cards are a wonderful tool for tutoring.
  • A student can be given certain task cards that are unique to the needs of that student.  
  • Task cards can be set up in a lab practical format.  My students love being able to get up and move around rather than being confined to a desk for the entire class period.
  • Task cards can be hung on a peg board and given to the student for reinforcement at any time of the year.
  • Task cards are a wonderful way to review for a unit test or a semester exam.
I have found that if I spend some time at the beginning of the school year getting my students to "think metric" again, the rest of the year goes much smoother.   

Good luck with your teaching and have a great school year!

Whale Watching in Juneau Alaska

Bubble Net Feeding in Humpback Whales

This absolutely tops my list of the most incredible things I have ever seen in my life.   I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Alaska this summer with my husband and 2 daughters.  It was the trip of a that we had saved and planned for for years.  Of all the amazing wonders of Alaska, perhaps the most amazing was our day of whale watching.

My expectations prior to the excursion were very basic.  I expected to see one or two whales at great distance.  Maybe I would see a few tails break the surface of the water, and if I was very lucky, perhaps I would see a breaching.  My actual experience was so much more.  My actual experience was one like you might see on a National Geographic video!!

Of course, I had a camera, but I was not prepared to take video of the whales.  I really didn't think we would get close enough to get a good video.  So when a pod of 16 HUMPBACK WHALES suddenly surfaced beside our boat, I was totally unprepared.  You are about to see several segments of video, all taken with my iPhone!  The commentary you will hear is from my family.  The references to "crying" are about me.  I became quite emotional watching the whales.  It was something I had only dreamed of, and I had no idea how awe-inspring this experience would be.

As you watch this first movie, make sure that you set your computer to full screen and that you have the volume turned up. Listen to the sound of the whales!  The sound of their breathing was incredible, and we were close enough that the spray from their blow holes hit us in the face.    Humpbacks have an enormous lung capacity.  This makes it possible for them to dive to depths of 500 feet and remain underwater up to 20 minutes.  And when they surface...WOW!!! ... the blow is loud and the water vapor shoots up into the sky.

Also, you will notice quite a few boats around the whales.  Do not be concerned about this!  I am the biggest "nature lover" on the planet, and I can promise you that the whales were unconcerned about the boats or the people talking.  The captain of our boat explained that they (boat captains) are not allowed to chase the whales.  Our captain took us to an area known to be frequented by whales.  One we arrived in the area, the captain was required to kill the engine and let the boat drift.  All of the boats that you will see were doing likewise.

Now comes the really, really amazing part.  We witnessed the bubble net feeding technique!  Apparently this method of feeding is not seen in all pods of whales.  It is unique to the humpbacks that migrate to the southeastern areas of Alaska, and it is a learned behavior.

This pod of humpbacks numbered 16.  In the above video, when you see their tail come out of the water, they are diving.  They dive to a depth of about 50 to 60 meters to find a school of fish.  The feeding technique involves an amazing division of labor.  Each whale has a job to do to ensure that the fish (herring in this case) are rounded up for maximum feeding.  One whale is the bubble blower.  This whale releases a stream of bubbles from the blowhole while underneath the school of fish.   As the bubbles rise to the surface, the herring are caught in this bubble net and carried along with the bubbles to the surface.  Other whales begin vocalizing to scare and confuse the fish into a tighter ball.  Other whales herd the fish together and force them upward.  From below this tightly gathered school of fish, the whales lunge to the surface with their mouths wide open, scooping in large numbers of fish.  Before the whales surfaced we could actually hear their vocalizations under the water.

Quick facts about humpback whales:
  • They grow up to 50 feet long and may weight 70,000 pounds.
  • They give birth to a single calf and their gestation period is 11.5 months.
  • They are baleen whales, and filter their food from the water.  Food may consist of tiny frill and small fish.  
For more information, you might want to check this site called the Juneau Humpback Whale Catalog.  It has great information and really great pictures!

If you want some lesson plans and activities to do with your students, check out this lesson on Humpback whales on the National Geographic Education web site.

Cell Organelles Mix and Match Review Game

This review game can be used by all biology and life students in grades 5-12!

I am always REALLY skeptical when I read that a teaching tool can be used by students over a wide range of grade levels.  But, in this case, it is really true!

We all know that a biology or life science class can be soooooo packed with information that many students are simply overwhelmed with the volume of terms, definitions, and facts. As teachers, we are always looking for ways to help review and reinforce the material in order to help our students be successful.  Many, many teachers are faced with teaching classes on a daily basis with a wide range in grade and ability levels.  We may be teaching an AP class of 12th graders one period and a 9th grade standard class the next class period. It is often very hard to plan from one period to the next.

If "cell organelles" are the topic of the day, this review game is a teaching tool that can be used for both young and old and for both the advanced and the standard student.   How can this be?  It is because you can quickly and easily customize the game to meets the needs of the students using the game.

The game is a set of cards that consists of 24 "organelle cards" and 112 "answer cards".   An organelle card has just the name of the organelle printed on the card.  The answer cards consists of facts about a particular organelle.  The student must match the answer cards to the organelle cards.

It is a very quick and simple process to make the game as easy or as hard as you need it to be for your particular students.  Choose the organelles you want to use from the set of 24 possible organelles.  Choose the answer cards you want from the set of 112 answer cards.  Mix up the cards, place them in a Ziploc bag, and hand a bag to each group of students.

For example:  This picture shows the endoplasmic reticulum with only 4 answer cards.

But this picture shows the endoplasmic reticulum with 12 answer cards.

For younger or lower level students, you would choose fewer cards for the game.  For older and more advanced students, give them all of the cards to use.  The cards can easily be used by 5th graders or by 12th grades by including the cards that fit the particular class.

How can this cell organelle game be used?

1.     Competitive Game Format:  I organize and separate the class into teams.  I pick a cellular organelle and announce it to the class.  For example, you might say, “Find 6 answer cards for the mitochondria.”  Students must quickly go through all of the answer cards and find all cards that match the chosen organelle.  The first group to find all matching answer cards wins the round.  Choose a second organelle and repeat.  I often award a few extra credit points to the winning team members.

2.     First Day Instruction:  Without any prior instruction on cell organelles, have the students use their textbooks to look up information on each organelle.  This works best in a setting where the students can spread out a bit.  The students first lay out the organelle cards.  As they read their textbooks, they align the matching answer cards to the organelle card.  After all answer cards have been placed, students can take notes on the enclose answer sheet.

3.     Reinforcement:  The cards are perfect for individualized or small group review and reinforcement.  Students can grab a bag of cards during study hall, before school or after school to study and review at their own pace.

I have included a student answer sheet.  It is an optional component.  If you choose, you can use the answer sheet to have the student record the name of the organelle and all of the corresponding answer statements.  I have included the student answer sheet in Word document format so that you can edit the answer sheet to meet your needs.  You can edit the table to include only those organelles you are using for your class.

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