Science Literacy for Modern Students

When I look back at my own education, I had no intention of studying science (let alone teaching it). But what I always have loved is reading and writing. I can remember writing stories on my parents type writer, and I have no idea where they found the patience to read draft after draft after draft of these stories. I used to read next to my nightlight when I was supposed to be sleeping (huge rebel, I know). And as I got older and went through high school and college, I still loved to read and writing continued to be a strength of mine. But somewhere along the road, I ended up in science land. I wanted to know why and how the world worked. But as any science teacher can tell you, reading about science (whether a fictional story or informational texts) is tough. And it is even tougher the first few times you do it. But it does get easier as you learn to do it. And so here I am, teaching science classes but emphasizing the importance of literacy.

Science literacy has kind of become a soapbox of mine. I’ve written a few grad papers on its importance and ways to improve it. Most of the research focuses on reading, and understandably so. That’s how scientists have shared their information for centuries. I have written several posts here on different techniques I use (“But this isn’t english class.”, Updates to Biology Reading DaysMaking Biology Real) to improve students’ reading skills in science, so I won’t repeat that information here. I want to focus this post on how science literacy is different (and in some ways easier) than it was in the past and how we, teachers, can help our students.

More and more people are getting their scientific information from videos and podcasts. It’s just so easy to access. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to understand. Giving kids a link to a video and expecting them to be able to make sense of and analyze it is pretty unrealistic in most cases. It’d be the same as giving them a science text as saying “see you at the end”. So I created these note sheets that my students use when watching videos. It gives them a structure to follow and tells them what to look and listen for. Depending on the video, sometimes I change “Dates, People, & Places” to “Important Information”.

video notes 2

After they finish the video, they write a one paragraph response. They have to include details from the video, not just address it as a whole (“this is confusing/great/dumb/interesting”). Having details right in front of them on their sheet makes this task much easier. I’ve also found that they like watching the videos individually (I’m lucky enough to teach in a 1-to-1 school) as opposed to as a class because they can pause whenever they need to.

video notes 3

Sometimes I assign these as homework, sometimes I give them time in class. But either way, there’s one more important step if you truly want to improve science literacy and not just have them recite dates/events/facts. They need to discuss the video with their peers. What I have experienced is that students are much more comfortable discussing if they have their thoughts and questions written in front of them. Sometimes we do this as a class, sometimes I group them based on the questions they wrote. You could also use this discussion as a way to start or enhance a research project.

video notes 1

And then there’s podcasts. I use the note sheets for those as well, but they’re a whole other beast. I will write a follow up post about that!

So  what I have found is that just like we have to teach them to read science, we also have to teach kids to listen to science. We have to give them structures and guide them on what to listen for, but they are more than capable. And most kids prefer getting their information from the videos instead of a reading (which has increased effort and work completion).  Give it a shot.

Here are some of the videos that I love to use. If you have suggestions of video or podcasts, I’d love to hear them!

Bad Blood (PBS)

In the Shadow of Ebola

Ted: The Case for Engineering our Food

Ted: Let’s Talk Crap. Seriously.

Collaboration Concept Maps

We just finished final exams at my school (though my grading is far from done….). I usually dread the days leading up to exams because I find that the kids are as bored with reviewing as I am, though it is a necessary evil. I’ve tried review games, but find that the kids don’t really get as much out of them as I’d like. But this year I found an activity that I really like!

I’m always shooting for the application end of my content, not just memorization of facts. So on those review days, I handed each student an index card as the walked in. I had marked each card with a colored line (I had 4 or 5 colors). Then each student chose 5 words to write on their card. They had to choose words from the section of the study guide that was due that day (I had not collected the study guide yet). I advised them to choose words they understood since they were going to have to use them.

Then the students were grouped according to the colors of their card. They compared their lists and replaced any repeats. Then each group was given a posterboard and created a concept map using their words. Creating the map itself is tough for them when it’s from scratch and there are no bubbles to fill in. But the struggle is worth it.

poster 1

The next day we started the same way with new cards for everyone. This time they were in different groups, so when it came time for the concept map they had to choose a random one that was started the day before and figure out how to fit today’s words in it. This was a lot harder for them since they may not totally understand the words that were already on the poster, but it was beneficial for them to see what they really did and did not understand. They also had to not only know the meaning of the words (memorization), but be able to relate those words to other words (application).

poster 2

The third day was the same routine; card, 5 words, groups, concept maps. By the end, students were comfortable explaining words or concepts they understood to their group members that didn’t. And I always feel like they’re more willing to learn from their peers than from a teacher. This was, in my opinion, a much better use of review time!

poster 3

How do you review for finals?

By Popular Demand!

A while back I wrote about turning my classroom into bakery. Here’s the original post: Let Them Eat Bread  Since then, I’ve had a lot of people ask for the document I used for the yeast lab. I apologize that it took me forever to post it, but better late than never. So here it is: YeastLab. I have my students do a formal lab report with this one. Their initial hypotheses are usually all over the place, and someone always says the salt will kill the yeast.

This year I used both the yeast tube lab and the bread baking in our cellular respiration unit. I started the unit by having them write in their journals in response to “Why does bread dough rise?”. It was important to emphasize to them to just write whatever they thought. This gave me a good idea what their pre-conceptions were, but also allowed me to show growth throughout the unit. After baking the bread, they had a one question quiz. “Write one paragraph explaining why bread dough rises.” They had to include the words cellular respiration, yeast, glucose, and carbon dioxide. I graded them not by marking their answers right or wrong, but by asking questions. Then I put them into pairs based on their scores and had them revise together to raise their scores. I feel like they got a lot more out of it this year.

If you try it out, let me know what works and what doesn’t. I really appreciate your feedback!  Happy Baking!!

IMG_20150217_151622_497

Teachers Travel, Too!

IMG_0907

This summer seems to be flying by… even faster than most! I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a lot and visit places I’ve never seen before. But the highlight happened at a professional development last week. That’s right, a SUMMER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT.

I spent five days at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta for their Science Ambassador program. I joined 31 other high school and middle school teachers from around the country (and 1 from Canada) to build curriculum aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. The curriculum will be published (after revisions and the final clearance by the “powers that be” at the CDC) sometime in the future, but in the mean time feel free to check out the work that previous Science Ambassadors have done here.

We worked in teams of 4 and each team had a CDC Subject Matter Expert (SME, the CDC is huge on acronyms). My team is working on a lesson on radon and its link to lung cancer. We had an incredible expert from the CDC Comprehensive Cancer Control Branch.

While the curriculum building was the main goal, here are some of the other highlights from my week:

Dr. Harold Jaffe and Dr. Jim Curran reliving the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Have you seen "And the Band Played On"? These tw are the real life CDC guys!

Dr. Harold Jaffe and Dr. Jim Curran reliving the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Have you seen “And the Band Played On”? These two are the real life CDC guys!

Dinner and downtime with teachers from around the country. Not only are they brilliant, creative teachers but fun humans too!

Dinner and downtime with teachers from around the country. Not only are they brilliant, creative teachers but fun humans too!

Public Health Panel of Experts: The CDC includes such a variety of career fields. It's so much more than M.D.s and lab researchers.

Public Health Panel of Experts: The CDC includes such a variety of career fields. It’s so much more than M.D.s and lab researchers.

Tour of the CDC Emergency Operations Center with my teacher team. CDC is really strict about no pictures on campus, so we were thrilled to get a pic with the sign!

Tour of the CDC Emergency Operations Center with my teacher team. CDC is really strict about no pictures on campus, so we were thrilled to get a pic with the sign!

My team's presentation of our lesson at the end of the week. Pretty cool to be able to say I've presented at the CDC!

My team’s presentation of our lesson at the end of the week. Pretty cool to be able to say I’ve presented at the CDC!

Closing remarks from Dr. Josh Mott, Chief of the Epidemiology Workforce Branch.

Closing remarks from Dr. Josh Mott, Chief of the Epidemiology Workforce Branch.

Nothing's official without a certificate, right? Seriously, cannot wait to hang this one up in my classroom!

Nothing’s official without a certificate, right? Seriously, cannot wait to hang this one up in my classroom!

All of us Ambassadors!

All of us Ambassadors!

The whole week was a lot of work, and at the end of it my brain was exhausted (as were my feet, Atlanta is hilly!). But this was such an inspirational experience. Everyone we met there is so passionate about their work and you truly get the feeling that they are in it for the greater good. It also made me realize the influence that us lowly teachers have when it comes to public health. We really have a chance to make a positive change. My very strong suggestion to you is to keep an eye on this program and when applications open for next summer, APPLY! Here’s the info: CDC Science Ambassador Program

Florida and Grad School and Facebook, Oh My!

I’m coming up for air just for a quick post. It’s been a BUSY month, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. First up, I was in Orlando for a meeting with the Life Science Teacher Resource Center. You all know how much I love them, but this sealed the deal. I want to tell you all about it, but that will have to wait until I have time to do that post justice.

Mickey and Me!

Mickey and Me!

The following week I started grad school. I am getting my Masters of Science Teaching Biology from the University of Illinois (online). EVERYTHING about this terrifies me. I know online classes are not my “ideal learning style” and it’s not like I had a whole lot of time to kill to start with. I felt a little selfish when I first started for taking so much time away from my family and students to work on assignments (grading can wait), but now I see that this is already making me a better teacher and allowing me to make new connections through information with my family and friends. I just finished my third week (1 day early, by the way!) and I really love it. I am currently taking Sustainability and Global Change, and want to share some of the awesome resources with you here.

How Wolves Change Rivers: YouTube video, under 5 minutes, about reintroducing Yellowstone wolves is such a simple, but powerful example of a keystone species. I shared that video with a friend of mine who teaches geography, and she showed it her class then next day (the timing just worked perfectly!).

How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth: Another youtuber, this one is 45 minutes. But it is SO very interesting! I love that they point out the importance of educating women as a part of the solution. I’m planning to show this one  to my freshmen this spring.

And finally, podcasts. Yes, just podcasts in general. I started listening to them and the one that has me hooked is Horizontal Transfer. Those of you familiar with Bozeman Science will recognize Paul Anderson. At the end of each episode they give their “TWIL” (This Week I Learned), so  this week I started a “TWIL” activity in my HS bio classes. On Friday, each kid shared something the read, saw, or discussed with the class (anything related to biology). I also shared with them what I had read about for my grad school assignment. I have a refreshed perspective on what it’s like to be a student and want to share with them that I am still learning too. I hope they realize learning is a life-long process and will take that with them when they leave my room.

Last thing! Over winter break, I started a facebook page for this blog! Since I rarely find time to write whole blog posts, it’s a way for me to share little tidbits I come across. I’d love for you to check it out!

rtrtw

Prove It!

Today I realized that I have 398 pins on my Pinterest board for teaching. Some of those I have looked at and am saving to print out, but most of them are “to look at when I have time”.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one in that situation. But this blog is for things I have actually used in my classroom. Again, most of these were found somewhere in cyberland long before the mighty Pintrest arrived on the scene and I have adapted them to work in my room. Some are my own brainchildren. Here’s one I just started using last year and have had really great results!

Project #7: Design a magazine ad (obviously for the reproductive system). I love teaching sex. ed!

Project #7: Design a magazine ad (obviously for the reproductive system). I love teaching sex. ed!

I’m always looking for ways to make my students prove that they understand the content, not just that they have memorized facts and vocabulary. So for each of my anatomy & physiology units, they are required to turn in a capstone project. I give them a list of 10 to choose from (we usually cover 8 body systems) and they are not allowed to repeat a project. They are due on test day. It’s interesting to watch them pick what they think are the “easy ones” first and then panic at the end, even though they all require the same effort.

Project #1: Acrostic poem

Project #1: Acrostic poem

The illustration for skeletal acrostic poem

The illustration for skeletal acrostic poem

Project #5: Tee Shirt art... Do you get it?!

Project #5: Tee Shirt art… Do you get it?!

This list is a compilation of several mini project ideas I’ve seen and used throughout the years. These projects could easily be adapted to units other than the body systems.  Capstone Projects

Have ideas I could add to the list or ways to make it better? How do you make your kids “prove it”? Share in the comments!!

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….

     IMG_0626    IMG_0625

IMG_0622IMG_0624

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!!

IMG_0636

IMG_0635

IMG_0634

IMG_0633

IMG_0632

IMG_0631

 

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

Enjoy!

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!