My Favorite Use of Wikipedia

Do your students just love Wikipedia? Do they love competitions? Do you want to see how much they know about a topic before you start and are sick of pre-tests? Are you looking for opportunities to further challenge your students that finish their work early or who are ready to move on while others in the class need another round of review?

If your answer to any of those questions was yes, then this is the blog post for you! Once again, this is not my original brain child. I don’t remember exactly where I heard about this, so if it was you then thanks. There are so many ways that you can use this technique and your students will find it strangely addicting.

I call these Wiki Relays. The idea is to get from one Wikipedia page to another in as few links as possible. Seems simple enough, right? The trick is you have to go in ahead of time and make sure there are no direct links between the two pages. This forces students to think about which links they should click that might take them in the right direction.

For example, if the task was to get from the Wikipedia page on dogs to the one on elephants:

Inkedwiki 1_LI

Here’s the page on dogs. There are no direct links you can click to take you to the page on elephants. But maybe you click the link to “Mammalia”….

Inkedwiki 2_LI

There’s no text/word link to elephants… but students might figure out that the pictures are links too! And what do we have here? A picture of elephants! CLICK.

wiki 3

And in 2 clicks, here we are on a Wikipedia page on elephants. That would be the shortest number possible.

You would think that the more students know about a topic, the shorter the number of clicks because they should know which ones will lead them in the right direction. But sometimes the link they think will get them there doesn’t… and around and around they go. They get frustrated, but can’t stop. It can actually be quite entertaining to watch. And what the kids don’t see is that you are watching their every click in the name of formative assessment! Have them write down every page they click on so that you can see who did it in the shortest number of links and give that student a prize, but also so that you can see their process. Are they just randomly clicking links? Do they have any idea what the connection between the blood and iron is? Do they know a lot about that connection and can’t decide which link will be the best?

Added bonus- you can introduce students to the Ctrl+F function (also known as how I got through graduate school). Instead of reading (change that- skimming) the entire page, if they think they know a word that might connect the two pages they can just use Ctrl+F to search for it! It’s such a valuable tool that hopefully they will take into other digital research assignments too!

Have you used Wiki Relays in your classes? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by! =)

To Give Full Credit, or Not to Give Full Credit…

…That is the question.

I realize that late work is a touchy subject for some teachers. We all have various policies, and some schools have a blanket policy for all teachers. But this is my policy that I have adapted and changed over the years. I finally have a plan that I really like, so I want to share it with you.

Until a few years ago, my policy was any homework turned in late was worth 60% of the total points (our lowest D is a 70). So I would grade it, and as long as they got a 60% or higher, that was their grade. If they got 59% or lower, then I gave them that grade. What I did not like about this policy was that when I (or a parent, administrator, or student) looked back at the gradebook, you couldn’t tell if the low score was the result of incomplete work, the student not comprehending the task, or just that it was late. And then I had a group of students that forced me to change (so looking back, thanks kids). Their mindset was that it was better to turn in work incomplete (and I’m talking REALLY incomplete) than to get points off for being late. I’ve gone to great efforts to make sure that any homework I assign is enrichment and will help the students deepen their understanding. It’s never busy work or just because I feel the need to take up every free moment they have. So because they weren’t completing the work, they weren’t getting the information. And everything else they were doing in class was suffering as well.

So I had two big issues here; getting kids to complete the work and being able to tell if students were getting the knowledge and skills. Here’s what I now use: I will accept all late work until the day of the test for full credit (see, controversial… I warned you), but I will not accept ANY incomplete work. If a student hands in an incomplete assignment, I hand it back to them and explain the value of the work and that it’s worth more complete and late than the other way around. I rarely have a student hand in incomplete work more than once.

Now before you go thinking I’ve lost my mind, yes, I do know that turning work in on time is an important life skill. So when I say they get full credit for late work, that’s a tiny bit untrue. I keep a separate grade in the gradebook for “on-time” points. They get 15 points per quarter. Any time they turn in something late (or without a name), they lose one of those points. So there is an incentive for turning your work in on time, but turning in one or two late won’t trash your grade. It also makes it super easy to look at the gradebook and see if a student’s grade is low because they aren’t doing well on the assignment (which was complete, of course) or because they turned work in late.


This policy has been working really well for me and my students. I know that in a perfect world, students would do their work well, on time, and completely finished. But this isn’t a perfect world. So for me, it is about choosing which skills are the most important (and realistic) for my kids and putting my emphasis there. I hope this is helpful to some of you. I’d love to hear your class policies in the comments!

Biology Bell Ringers

Picture1Just a quick post today while my little one naps!

I have my students (in all my classes) keep biology journals. Originally, this was part of their notebook. But I found it SO time consuming to sit and go through 130 notebooks. And since there is no way I am bringing them home, I had to stay after school for hours to work on them.

So now, they do their journals on GoogleDocs. This system is so much better. I can grade them from the comfort of my sofa & sweats. They use the same document all year, just add to it each time. This also gives me a running document of their work throughout the year. I have 13 iPads in my room all the time, which is great. I can tell them to get logged in as they walk in the door. Having said that, 5 of my 6 classes have more than 13 students. So this means they have to take turns and I have to have something else ready for them to work on (which sometimes is as simple as review what we did yesterday). And then there are the kids who can’t log in, for whatever reason (seriously, how do you forget your password everyday?). So once in a while I will allow a student to just write their response on a paper and turn it in, but I really try to avoid that!

I require a minimum 2-3 sentence response from students. I try my best to go through and write a response to each student, but sometimes its just not possible. But it’s a great way to see if your kids are comprehending and learn a little about them at the same time.

So here are most of my journal prompts. I say most because sometimes I just make them up as we go along. These cover everything from characteristics of living things to specific organ systems. I also throw in a few pictures that I think are funny. Sometimes I just want to see if they get it…..

Here you go!     Bell Ringers

If you have other ideas for journals, I would LOVE to hear them!

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!


Metric Mondays

Last year, my school started giving local assessments. For those of you who don’t have to do this yet, here’s how it works. Each core department (science, math, English, and social studies) had to create a test that covers the content that our students should have by the end if their senior year. Then every student in the building takes the test in the fall and again in the spring. The idea is to see that all students are making progress and it also gives us an idea where the holes are in our instruction.

This is all in an ideal world where not only do teachers have time to write, administer, grade, and analyze these tests but also a world where ALL students care enough about the test to give reliable results. In the real world, there were some glitches (some we are still working out). But I think it has more pros than cons and now that the ball is rolling hopefully it will just get better.

One of the major areas that all of our students were struggling with is the metric system. I didn’t really need a test to tell me that… I see it every time we do a lab. They have a hard time visualizing the units (how big is a meter?) as well as converting. And I will admit, I was stumped. I had told them all the conversion units. I knew that to go from centimeters to millimeters you have to move the decimal one spot to the right. I also know I can do this because I’ve been doing it for years. But I needed a visual aid to help them. So after talking with the other science teacher in my building, she gave me this metric line.

metric line

I had each student copy it into their science notebook. To use this, you start with whatever Metric unit you are using. Then move the decimal in the direction of the new unit and the number of spaces you move on the line. (for example to move from centimeter to meter, you move the decimal two spaces to the left). Then it’s just matter of practicing OVER AND OVER again.

So we started Metric Mondays. At the start of class on Monday, we do something about metrics. Sometimes it’s just a quick question written on a post it note (ie. Which unit would be best to measure the height of a freshman?). Sometimes they have to measure an item and convert it. Sometimes we play metric war. It’s just like the card game (each player puts down a card, whoever has the bigger one wins and you keep playing until someone runs our of cards. I put all different units such as 10 cm and 10 mm on them, so they have to work the conversions). And every week it’s worth points towards the ULTIMATE METRIC CHAMPION!  So I keep a points board in the room and at the end of the quarter the three students with the most points get prizes (they can choose from: turning in 1 assignment late, DJ for a day so they can pick 5 songs to play in class, and rewriting the seating chart… with my approval of course). They each gave me a code name for the points board (a color and an animal) so it is anonymous.

Hopefully test scores go up in the spring! Have any other ways to teach the metric system??

Playing metric war!


Playing metric war!


Senior Projects

It's nice to know they're listening....

It’s nice to know they’re listening….

My biology 2 class is a mix of sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  We study human anatomy & physiology 2nd semester and their final exam grade is broken into a project (75%) and the actual in class test (25%). But when final exams come around in the spring, my seniors are not there (they graduate a week before the end of the year). So I give the seniors a “special” project. I let them choose any topic they want, as long as it relates to biology (could be something from Bio 1 or Bio 2, allowing them to pick something they are really interested in). They come up with 5 questions to base their research on and turn in a written portion (again, I let them choose how they want to do this- most do a typical research paper, but I have had students turn in stories, and one even turned her research into a magazine which included a mix of articles she read and ones she wrote herself!).

The stages of fetal development painted on my lab table. An original art piece!

The stages of fetal development painted on my lab table. An original art piece!

The last part of this project is “something to remember them by”. Meaning it has to be a visual aid that can be left in my room. Some make posters, one made a power point, but the one pictured above is one of my favorites! Her topic was fetal development, so she painted the three trimesters on one of the lab tables in my classroom. She did a great job! And I had several students (including my freshman) ask when they can paint on my walls! “When you take Bio 2 your senior year”. Four years of science- woohoo!



And so begins my journey into the world of blogging…. I will be the first to admit I am in no way tech savvy. I can check my email, Facebook, and pintrest. You know, the essentials!

So why start a blog? I  am about the start my 5th year as a high school biology teacher. In the past 5 years (6 if you count my student teaching!), I have collected a lot of worksheets, activities, labs, quizzes, and on and on. Almost all of them came from the internet. And it dawned on me that I cannot be the only one doing this; endless Google searches for “Mitosis activity”.

So I am going to put my work all in one place with the hopes that it might help someone else. If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that collaboration is so important to being an effective teacher. I might be the only one in my classroom, but I am by no means alone! There is no sense in trying to come up with everything from scratch. It’s a waste of time. Everything you need is out there in one form or another. I’m not saying just take other people’s work verbatim, but it’s a great building block! We all have different students, needs, and restrictions. Make it work for you!

So each post I will focus on a different lesson or topic. I will post anything I can that goes along with it… maybe even a picture or two of my kids in action! If you have suggestions or other ideas, by all means share them!