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Science Chat: A First Day of School Science Lab Icebreaker Activity

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What will you do to make the first day of school a great day?

What is the most important day of school?  The first day!  The first day of school is the most important day of the entire school year!!

It is the day when students form their first impression of your class.

It is the day when students look at you and decide on the spot if they are going to like your class or hate your class.

It is the day when students have heightened social anxieties and need to know that they have a friend in your class.

You, the teacher, have one day to get it right.  If you do, the rest of year is made so much easier.  If you don't, you will spend a lot of time, effort, and energy trying to change the behaviors and attitudes of your students.

Will you be the teacher that goes over a long list of class rules and reads aloud from the class syllabus?  Or will you be the teacher that plans a fun and engaging activity for the students on Day 1?

Science Chat is perfect for the first day of school.  I've been doing activities similar to this for years, and I have finally found the time to polish this one up and post it to my TpT store.  The big idea of this activity is that students can be up and moving around the room and getting to know their classmates in the process.  When the students arrive at your door, they have probably been glued to a desk all day long.  They will love the opportunity to be out of their seats for the first time all day.  In addition, how the students perform in Science Chat will give you a good idea of the ability levels of your class.

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So what exactly is Science Chat?  The activity consists of 10 Lab Stations.  The students will move around at random until they complete all ten.  At each lab station the students will complete a science task AND answer questions about their group mates.  Students must scatter after each station so that they are not with the same group the entire time.  After all, one of the objectives is for them to meet everyone in the class.

Each lab station should take about 10 minutes to complete.  You want to give the students time to chat.  It takes me two class period to finish all of the lab stations, but in my opinion, it is time well spent.  You can easily leave out lab stations for a shorter activity.

A different concept is covered at each station.
Station 1:  The Microscope
Station 2:  Graphing
Station 3:  Electron Microscopy
Station 4:  Making Observations, Comparing and Contrasting
Station 5:  Lab Equipment
Station 6:  Laboratory Safety
Station 7:  Classification
Station 8:  Metric Scavenger Hunt
Station 9:  Prefixes and Suffixes
Station 10:  What makes an animal an animal?

Set up for the lab is quick and easy.  You'll need only about 30 minutes for set up, and the materials list consists of items you are sure to have on hand.
  A prepared slide of your choice.
  Four images taken with electron microscope (Included in product.)
  Two plants (potted or cuttings)
  Meter stick
  Graduated cylinder
  Triple or quadruple beam balance
  A lab with safety features (Examples:  Eyewash fountain, safety shower, fire extinguisher, fire blanket, fire alarm, etc.)
  A group of objects that can be classified into groups.  (Teacher’s choice.)
  Bag of sugar (or object with similar mass.)
  Can of soda (or object with similar volume.)
  Paper clip
  Wood block (or any square or rectangular object.)
  Cotton ball
  4 photographs of living organisms (included in product.)

Sweeten the day by giving the students a grade on the activity.  It is unlikely that a student will get all of the answers correct, so make sure to base the grade on effort and participation.

What will the student take away from your day 1 activity?  They were allowed to get up, stretch and move around!  They were able to make some new friends!  And they started the year off with an excellent grade.  Win-win-win!

I hope that your school year is wonderful!

Digestive System Interactive Notebook Pages and Bell Ringers

Take your students on a trip down the alimentary canal!

When covering the digestive system with my biology classes, I like to take the opportunity to teach my students about more than just the parts of the digestive tract.  I try to throw in a few "life lessons" about the importance of health, fitness, diet and exercise.  I am around a LOT of high school kids, and what they eat on a daily basis scares the weight right off of me!  It seems that my students are getting less and less exercise, and are eating more and more junk food.

As I was writing the interactive notebook / warm up pages for the digestive system, I knew I wanted to include concepts about food groups, the food pyramid, nutrients, and the importance of vitamins and minerals. This is also the perfect time to review carbohydrates, proteins and lipids.  If your curriculum flows like mine, you likely teach organic compounds near the first of the school year, and get to human body some time in the second semester.  This is a great time to review the organic compounds for the upcoming end of year tests.

This set of interactive notebook pages does all of the above and more.  The 31 student pages cover all of the topics you would expect to find in a unit on the digestive system.   You'll find a complete list of topics and titles below.  As you know from my previous posts, I have my students keep these pages in a warm up notebook.  You can also call it a "modified" interactive notebook.  It is modified in the sense that my pages are completely NO PREP.  I love the idea of interactive note booking, but I do not EVER have enough class time to do it.  Our curriculum is so jam-packed that I cannot spare one minute on the gluing, cutting or folding of paper for a notebook.  I have found this single-page format to be perfect for the amount of class time I have.

These pictures will give you a better idea of my digestive system interactive pages.  Click on any of the images to view this product in my TpT store.

Concept Mapping in the Science Classroom: What Are You Waiting For?

Concept Maps and Graphic Organizers:  Two Tools for Success in the Science Classroom.

What is a sure-fire way to make our students hate taking a science class? Completely overwhelm them with facts, figures, data, definitions, comparisons,  diagrams, charts, tables, memorizing the textbook ... Well, I think you get the point.

There is no getting away from the fact that a science class has a lot of information!  We definitely should be teaching our students the big ideas and concepts, but these big ideas don't mean a lot if the underlying supporting information is not there.  Our science students are going to have to learn a lot of new vocabulary and definitions.  But we can make the job of learning big chunks of information a bit more manageable.  Successful students are happy students!

The idea of concept mapping is not new or innovative.  It is, however, often neglected as a tool to help our students.  Students do not naturally know how to take information and organize it into a logical fashion.  We, the teachers, have to teach them this skill.

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We are driven (unfortunately) by the end of course standardized tests that we face each spring.  When school starts, we are eager to jump right in and start teaching as hard and as fast as possible to get in all the standards we know will be on the dreaded test.

Let me suggest a different approach as you begin the new school year.  Teach your students skills that will make them successful learners.  Help them incorporate concept mapping into their daily study routine.  Make concept mapping a regular homework assignment throughout the school year.  You will find that students show less fear and trepidation when new information is presented, and that their retention of science information is vastly increased.

What are the cons to this?  It takes time to teach students how to develop concept maps and graphic organizers.  You will have to spend some of your valuable time at the beginning of the school year to teach the skill.  You then have to follow up.  It does no good to teach the skill unless you have students continue to use it all year long.  The information we teach in a science class can easily be organized into flow charts, concept maps, cycles and chains.

How do you teach it?  I teach my students how to construct three different types of concept maps  They are:  Concept maps or flow charts,  event chains, and cycle maps.  These three types of graphic organizers can be used for any type of science concept or reading passage.

I have developed a PowerPoint and student worksheets to aid my teaching of this skill.  In both the PowerPoint and the practice problem worksheets, students are given passages of scientific information to read.  The student must first decide what type of graphic organizer would be best for the passage.  Then, the student must organize and draw the appropriate graphic organizer.

At the end of each day, and at the end of the year, our classes should contain students who are comfortable learning and who are not afraid to tackle new science concepts. Providing the tools to establish this comfort in learning should be our goal from the first day of school.

Graphing in the Science Classroom

Is this becoming a lost skill?

How important is the skill of graphing to our modern day science classrooms?  I don't mean completing a graph using Excel or with a graphing calculator.  I am talking about handing the student a piece of graph paper and some colored pencils and asking them to graph the data they just obtained from a lab activity.

Just so you know where I am going with this before you keep reading, I am a firm believer in the old fashioned way.  We are making a mistake if we don't teach our students this very important skill.  In all of my science classes (biology, chemistry and AP biology) I spend some time during the first few days of school teaching graphing, data representation and data analysis.  I have done this every year I have taught school.  We are very fortunate at our school to have some pretty cool technology.  I have probeware and graphing calculators in my lab.  I love using the technology and so do the students, but.....  I have noticed that when the probe records all the data, sends it to the calculator and the student is passive in the lab process, they do not come away from the activity with the same level of comprehension.  

There is just something about collecting the data yourself with a thermometer or a ph meter, putting the data in a data table, and plotting the data on a graph that causes the neurons to connect.  I can see the light bulbs coming on and the satisfied look on the faces of my students as they realize, "This lab has a point, and I get it!"

I believe that graphing, and other forms of data representation,  is one of the most important science skills that we can teach our students.  Time saving devices (computers, probeware, graphing calculators) have their benefits, but having the students put their pencils to the paper may be one of THE MOST effective ways of insuring student understanding and comprehension.  In a nutshell, the reasons old fashioned graphing is so very important are:

Will the student have to draw a graph on the ACT or SAT?  No, they won't. But they will definitely have to read and interpret graphs!  And if the student is proficient in the graphing process, the reading of a graph on a standardized test will be a snap!

Will the student have to draw a graph on the AP Biology, Chemistry or Physics exams?  YES!  I have not taught AP Chem or Physics, but graphing on the AP Biology exam has been a constant occurrence in the essay portion of the exam.

Now, do not come away from this thinking that I only use colored pencils in my lab.  The technology is important.  I love using my probeware and graphing calculators.  But before I put the technology in the hands of my students, I first make sure that they have a good foundation in the basics of graphing, constructing data tables, and analysis of data.  

In my TpT store you find several products on graphing and analyzing data.  I use these in my own classroom.... each and every year!

Be sure to grab this graphing freebie!  Click here for Free Graphing and Data Analysis Worksheet

In conclusion, remember that these are called "basic skills" for a reason.  They are important.  They matter.  And they make our students competent critical thinkers and problem solvers.