Updates to Biology Reading Days


A while back, I wrote a blog post about my Biology Reading Days. When I started this project, I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with it. I now love it. You can read the original post here.

I will admit, not all my students share my enthusiasm for scientific literature. And that’s fine. What I really want them to get out of it is an exposure to this type of writing. Some of the books on the list are fictional stories (that are scientifically accurate). Some of the books are non-fiction explaining scientific ideas and events. Some of the higher level students actually struggle because they have never read something like this before. I don’t need them to have a Ph.D after reading the book, but just want them to come away with a greater understanding of the concept than they went in with.

So here are my updates:

1. Updated Book Lists: I now use this project with my freshmen bio and my jr/sr A&P….so two lists. I am always looking for new books to add, and taking off any I feel are too hard/boring based on student feedback. I post this for the students as a GoogleDoc, so I put positive student reviews in the comments.  AandPReadingList      BiologyBookList

2. Final Project: I still use the weekly reading sheets (found in the original post), but at the end they have to choose one of the following projects. This is a great way for me to see what their take on the book really was.  FinalBookProject

My final word of caution when doing this project: it is very much about you. This school year, I had a baby. I left reading days as a project for my sub thinking it’d be the easiest one. They pick a book, read it, and answer questions. Easy, peasy…. WRONG. I didn’t realize how important the conversations I was having with the students along the way were. When I returned the last week of the project, a lot of them were so confused, frustrated and bored with their books. They didn’t see the real world connections. And this is not a slam on my sub; she was great! But she hadn’t chosen and read the books (I’ve read about half). Those discussions about how awesome the author/story/concept is weren’t happening. Students weren’t getting productive feedback. And so a lot them felt lost. My point is don’t use reading days as a chance to catch up on grading/paperwork/endless other tasks we have to do. At least not the whole period. This is a chance to make real connections with your kids and get them excited about science (and maybe even reading!). I hope you AND your students love it as much as I (and most of my students) do.

Questions? Suggestions? I’d love to hear them n the comments! And don’t forget to Like me on Facebook!


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!

Making Biology Real

Long time no see, blog world! This school year got very busy, very fast! But no worries- it’s summer break and I’m back to share my ideas and resources with the word!
Today, I have a whole pile of articles. I’ve collected these over the last few years, mostly from the New York Times science sections (which if you haven’t checked it out yet, GO NOW!… then come back to my blog, of course). I assign articles at least once a week. Usually, I just have my students turn the article in with the important information highlighted and they write a one paragraph response (what did they think about what they read- NO summaries allowed). This shows them real world examples of what we are learning about in class.

Highlighting the important information is a whole lesson in itself! At the start of the year, kids basically color the entire page. So we will read an article or two together as a class, while I put the article on the screen using my ELMO. After every paragraph I ask them what they highlighted and why it is important. (This is also going to be important on the upcoming PARCC tests, which will ask them to highlight certain parts of reading passages). Try telling them they cannot highlight entire sentences- they’ll freak out!

Sometimes, I give them specific questions to answer about what they read. If I’m in a CCSS mood, I will have them “cite specific evidence from the text” to defend what they believe is the main idea or the author’s purpose. Both are standards for reading in science.
OK…. on to the goodies. Here are some of the articles I use by unit of study:

Environment:  Chinese Air Pollution Article               Paying Farmers to Welcome Birds

Global Warming At Wost Article         Mammal Extinction Article

Anatomy & Physiology:   toxic sugar article   Hair Growth Article

Fecal Transplant   Preemie Resp. Meds Article

Disease & Microbiology:  HIV vaccine article    Gonorrhea article      Gel Protects Monkeys   

                                 Feece eating bacteria article             Cholera Outbreak article

Cells:   Mole rat cancer article            Mitochondria replacement article

I hope you find this helpful. If you have other ways your use real world articles in your classroom, please share!


“But this isn’t english class.”

How many science teachers (or math, or history, or anything other than English) teachers have heard this? And on the other side, teachers are being told that reading and writing need to be taught across the curriculum from administrators (which I agree with).

So this year, I started a new project: Biology Reading Days. I spent all summer coming up with a list of books (both fiction and non-fiction) that had a strong tie to biology. I found a variety of topics (everything from genetics and evolution to infectious disease and animals) as well as difficulty levels. I read a few of them (no way I could have read all of them in one summer, but I plan to eventually). I also made sure that they were available through our library system (we are lucky enough to be connected to other libraries around the state). Then I unleashed it on the students!

I used this in my Biology 2 class (mostly sophomores and juniors with a few seniors). I gave them the list of books with brief descriptions and each student was responsible for getting to the library to check out their book. I also kept a list of who was reading which book (this was helpful especially for the special ed. teachers, but also so I could group them further into the project according to topics). Then once a week they had the entire class period to read their book. Each week they also had to complete a reading slip. I ended up adding a few questions that are not in the document below to bring in some of the common core standards I was not covering with the rest of my curriculum (things like analyzing the author’s purpose and their credibility). We also did some group discussions towards the end (comparing what they learned with others reading the same book and then talking about their book with someone reading a different book). Walking around the room listening to my students have conversations about what they read was AMAZING!

I really wasn’t sure how students would feel about this, so it was kind of a work in progress. There was no big end project (which is something I may add for next year). But honestly, I think it made them feel a little  more relaxed about it (took some of the “English class” out of it) and allowed them to just sit and read. Most kids got through their books quicker than I had expected (I gave them 7 weeks).

One book in particular my kids were OBSESSED with and they even got me to read it! “Peeps” by Scott Westerfield. I recommend it too!

Here’s the list of all the books and most of the reading sheets: Bio Reading List

If you have books I could add or suggestions for the reading sheets, please comment! =)