Unleashing Student Creativity

It’s back to school time. I’ve had my students back for a full week and so far, so good! I’m really making an effort to encourage students to be more creative in my biology classes and prove that they understand the concepts and not just memorized facts. I wanted to hit the ground running with all the review and beginning of the year topics (ie. scientific method & lab safety).

  As my students came in the room, I had a power point rolling through lab safety memes I found on the internet. Here were a few of my favorites….

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As a class we came up with a list of important lab rules and wrote them on the board. I made sure we hit all the big ones, but also allowed pretty much anything (ie. “No twerking in the lab”). They completed the lab safety symbols list in their science notebooks ….

IMG_1437Then they worked in partners to create their own lab safety meme. I gave them a bunch of magazines they could cut up. Some chose to print pictures off the internet. One group even took a picture of themselves on the iPad, uploaded to google drive, then printed it out. These turned out so much better than I hoped! The ones below are my favorites. I’m going to laminate them and hang them in my room forever!!









Mother Earth Thanks You.

Photo courtesy of www.ekathimerini.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.ekathimerini.com

I spend pretty much the last quarter of my freshmen biology class on the environment. I tried a new project this year, and I loved it. But more importantly, most of the kids loved it too! They made their own compost containers and then we ran them for about 6 weeks to test their effectiveness.

The district I teach in is very rural. Some families don’t even have garbage pick-up, let alone curbside recycling programs. So a lot of my students don’t think twice about throwing out EVERYTHING. I started by having them keep track of all the waste produced in their house for a week and what was done with it (garbage, recycle, or compost). Then we broke down that list into what could be done differently. This also led to a lesson on zero-waste communities.

So for their compost containers, they worked in groups (which I assigned). I tried to give each group a more creative person, a good leader, and a hands on learner. It was definitely different from who they normally worked with. So the first document below is the work they did together. They researched what compost is and how it works. Then they did design. I gave them pretty free range over the internet, but told them they had to bring in all their own supplies. I expected to get 30 buckets with holes in the bottom, but they actually had a lot of different ideas (I of course forgot to get their pictures off the iPads before they deleted them). I gave them one class period to build them…. power tools and duct tape galore!

Then they used the data sheets (kept in their science notebook) to keep their data every 2-3 days. We kept them out in the greenhouse. They definitely get smelly. About halfway through (~20 days), they had to present to the class what was working well and needed improving about their design. Then the next day they could make those changes.

At the end, we took them all apart and they had to turn in their analysis. I gave them the template (below) on googledrive and they filled in their own answers.

So in the end, there were a few reasons I loved this project: #1- We got to go outside.  #2- This gave the hands on kids a chance to shine and really take charge for a change. #3- Kids could see the results happening in front of them. They had opportunities to ask questions and work out the answers.

Here are my docs:   Compost Containers            Compost Analysis


Review Days- More Than Just Jeopardy

My exit slips... thank god for post its!

My exit slips… thank god for post its!

I’ve been doing some pre-school year planning this week… can you believe it’s time already? This week I put together a list of review activities. Like most teachers, I have a go to review game that the kids love (hint- they get to throw things). I put them in groups and ask them questions. If they get it right, they can throw a suction cup ball at my lab tables (which of course need to be cleared off!) to multiply their points depending on which table they hit. This past year I made the addition of letting them either add the points to their score… or take them away from another team. Survivor meets bio class! They love it (again, they can throw things…. AND be vengeful)! But I decided that most teams just rely on one person and not everyone participates.

So here are some new ideas I came up with…. for most of these, I would put them in pairs or small groups depending on the class size.  I plan to use these the day or two before the test.

  • Create review presentation or video:  It could be about the whole unit or pick a specific concept for each group. They could present it to the class and/or could post it on the class website for others to view and use to review for the test.
    •  Side Note: Whenever I have them do presentations as a group, I make them give me a print off and initial on whatever parts they are responsible for. This way they all participate. And more than once I have had students come to me and tell me “so-and-so” didn’t really do their part.
  • Present current event story to class: We all love written articles (ahem, Common Core), but I also let them use online videos (from a credible source, of course) or they can do a write-up from a news cast. They can turn in a summary, relate it to what we learned in class, and then tell their classmates about it.
  • Write test questions & answers: Once in a while, I use them on the actual test. Rarely on the test they are about to take because I have to have it done further in advance in order for special ed. teachers to have time to modify. But I can always make changes for next year. I could also have them use them in class to review with each other.
  • Create review worksheet or group activity: Again, I will hold on to the good ones and can use them next year. My students are sometimes surprisingly creative! But I can make a few copies and they can do them together in class or can post to the website for other students to use when reviewing for the test.

I’m thinking I can have a few students complete each task, then put them in groups with people from different activities to present what they’ve done instead of presenting to the whole class.

What review ideas do you love??  And good luck with the new school year!