“Why are we studying history?”

A few posts back, I wrote about bringing reading into my biology classes. This week, I brought in some history… I love confusing my kids! haha!  There are two reasons I did this: it hooks the kids who are interested in history, but not science and it shows them how important understanding biology is in the real world.

We were in the middle of our Fungi unit (which most of them are not real interested in anyway). So I brought in the Salem Witch trials because there is lots of evidence that the horrible events of 1692 were actually caused by a fungus! When they came in to class, I gave each student a colored pencil. Then they were told to get into groups of 4 or 5 based on those colors (there could not be 2 people with the same color in a group). Each group was given a poster board. On the back, each student wrote their name in their color (this way I can tell who actually wrote what). On the front, they divided the board into Who What Where When and Why.

The 5Ws of the Salem Witch Trials

The 5Ws of the Salem Witch Trials

Each student got an iPad and they had 15 minutes to find as much information as possible to fill in each section of the board about the Salem Witch Trials. I let each group decide how they divided the work; some assigned each person a section, others had each person write as much as they could find in whatever section they wanted. At this point, students start asking “why are we studying history?” I love this!


Then we come back together and bring in the biology. I printed off the information from the PBS link below: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/previous_seasons/case_salem/

It gives them a good description of what happened and the current research that the events were actually caused by a fungus. This completely blows most of their minds. “So they were on DRUGS?” Then they go back to their station and have to explain how science could have changed history. They can draw a comic or write a short story. By the end of class, they are making the connection that science could have saved the lives of the 20 accused victims.

We did this activity in a 45 minute class period. I’m sure you could adapt it to draw it out, most students are pretty interested. There’s also a really great video that I have shown…. and lost the name of. So if anyone knows what I am talking about, let me know! They discuss the fungus, but also get into the mob mentality that led to mass hysteria.


Biology Notebooks

I’ve been using notebooks as a part of my various biology classes for a few years. But they never quite worked how I wanted them to. Previously, they were divided into three sections: word parts (common prefixes & suffixes), lab reports, and journals. The biggest problem was that I had 130 notebooks left in my classroom that I was trying to find time to grade (no way I was dragging those home). So they always got left until the last minute of the quarter. I didn’t feel like it was a good use of time.

So this year, I changed the notebooks. I still liked the idea of each student having a notebook left in my classroom. So I took a peek (on pintrest of course) at my colleagues teaching younger students. I decided the notebooks would be used as more of a review tool and the students would grade each others, cutting down on the time required (and therefore allowing us to actually do more in them!).

Here’s the new setup:

1st page: Table of contents (lists the name of the assignment and the page number

2nd page: Grading Rubric       Notebook Rubric

*This is an adapted version of a rubric I found… on pintrest. Since then I lost the original owner. But thanks, whoever you are! We grade these every 2-3 weeks depending on how much work we’ve done. I pass them out randomly, they grade them according to the instructions on the rubric, then bring it to me so I can put the score in my gradebook. If the notebook did not earn all the points, I ask them why to make sure they’re correct). If someone does not have their notebook in class, they get a zero with no debate. The notebooks are not supposed to leave my room, but sometimes they have to bring them home to complete an assignment. They know it is just like bringing back any other homework assignment. If a student loses their notebook, they can start a new one (picking up where we are now) but cannot make up the points they lost in the meantime.

3rd & 4th pages: word parts list (part/meaning/example). We add five new words each week.

From there out we do lots of different types of things: drawings, word maps, Venn diagrams, etc. (all enrichment activities to whatever we are learning about).  Below are a few pictures of work we have done. One is a scavenger hunt we did early in the year to learn where supplies are kept in my room. The other is a bunch of lab symbols that they had to describe the meanings of (in their own words).

Class Scavenger Hunt

Class Scavenger Hunt

Lab Safety Symbols

Lab Safety Symbols

   So what happened to the lab reports and journals? I went back to lab reports on their own paper that they turn in like a regular assignment. I am in the process of getting my older kids to type them…. maybe even do graphs on the computer if I’m feeling ambitious! As for our journals (which we do about once a week), they are now on Googledocs. I have 10 ipads in my room, so they can log in and share their response with me. They are using the same document all year, which also gives me a good way to show their progress with writing. They are also SO much easier to grade this way. I can sit on my couch under my electric blanket with my iPad and get through them pretty quickly.

  I hope this is helpful. How are you using notebooks, lab reports, and journaling in your classroom?