Teaching Teachers: Professional Developments that Work!

I am a PD junkie. No, correction: I am a good PD junkie. There is nothing better than coming together with teachers from different schools, backgrounds, and views on education to improve our craft. These great PDs encourage me to continue learning new content. They make me excited to try new methods and ideas in my classroom. They make me want to be a better teacher.

And there is nothing worse than a one-size-fits-all required PD. If I have to sit in an auditorium with hundreds of other teachers and get a “pep-talk” from one more person (with no background in education), I just might lose my mind. And those online, mandated videos…. They are the worst.

But let’s keep this positive and focus on the good PDs. The ones that make my heart do little cartwheels…. Data shows that teachers need PD that is tailored to their specific situation (whether that be grade level, content, student demographics, etc.). Think of all the changes we as educators are facing today: new standards galore across multiple content areas, technology out the wazoo, and new information (climate change, anyone?) just to name a few. So teachers should be allowed (and encouraged) to choose the PDs that they need. Depending on the size of the district, some teachers might have great PD opportunities in their building. Others might have to go off campus- neither has been shown to be more effective, so don’t stress over that. However, many teachers have expressed that either way, they don’t want their PD run by their own administrators. Many do not see them as experts and the stress of evaluations takes away from the sense of “just try this and see how it goes”. There are also tons of great online opportunities for PD, allowing teachers to work at their own pace and tailor it to their personal needs and interests. But there are also some less than wonderful online options.

The beauty of PDs is that they really depend on teachers to make them better. Bouwma-Gearhart explained that “quality increases future involvement” and vice-versa. If there are great PDs out there, we need to make sure that other teachers know about them. And the more teachers that attend the PDs they want to, the more encouraged these organizations will be to improve what they are providing. That’s why I’m writing this post; to share quality PDs.

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I have been so lucky to have had some amazing PD opportunities, but it was definitely work on my part to find them. And every time I return and tell my colleagues about these amazing experiences, they always ask the same thing. “How did you find out about this?” Like I said, I’m a junkie. I am on a ton of email listservs and social media sites and apply for any PD that involves travel (my other weakness). So here are some great PDs that you should check out!

CDC Science Ambassador   

This one is seriously amazing. I attended this week long PD in the summer of 2015. You spend 5 days at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta working with other teachers and CDC scientists to develop curriculum you (and any other teacher) can use in your own classroom. You also have the chance to sit in on training for the EIS officers (some of which truly changed to way I teach!). This program is open to 6th-12th grade teachers and the application deadline (for the 2017 program) is February 15, 2017!

Wells Fargo Regional Sustainability Teachers’ Academy (with Arizona State University)

This program comes highly recommended from a fellow teacher! These two-day workshops are open to teachers in grades 5-9 who are looking to implement improved curriculum in sustainability that can impact not only their schools, but the entire community. Workshops are held multiple times a year in different locations throughout the country and participating teachers are eligible to receive up to $300 to get the program started at their school. Application dates vary depending on the location and date of the workshop.

Teacher Classes at Brookfield Zoo

Another highly recommended program from several teachers I know in the Chicagoland area. These 2 day programs are aligned to NGSS and offered twice a month. They cover a variety of topics and grade levels. Each program is $160, with the option of grad credit for an additional $100. However, they run several discounts throughout the year. I haven’t attended one of these… yet. But they are definitely on my to-do list! They sound like an amazing way to get content knowledge from the experts, plus I’m sure your students will think you’re some kind of rock star when you share your experience with them!

Teacher Courses at the Museum of Science and Industry

Are you ready for this? FREE PD! I know some of us are fortunate enough to have PDs paid for, or at least get reimbursed for them. I also know some teachers have to use their sick days to attend PDs (not to mention pay for it themselves). MSI Chicago is so teacher friendly. These free programs are aimed at teachers in grades 4-8 and are aligned to NGSS. Courses are offered year round, and application due dates are in May and August.

I hope this gives you a place to start (or continue) your great PD search. I would love to expand out to other topics and locations. So if you have other suggestions for PDs that you’d recommend, please leave them in the comments!

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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!!

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Political Biology

Source: josiahandfriends.wordpress.com

Source: josiahandfriends.wordpress.com

Today I’m sharing another one of my quarter projects, meaning my kids work on it once a week for 9 weeks. I really like this one because it gives the students the freedom to dive into a topic that they really are interested in. It requires them to find out what is happening in the real world and decide for themselves what the best solution is.

Each student chooses a biological topic (ie. global warming, animal conservation, organic foods) and then researches political connections. The end product is a letter to a politician explaining what the problem is and what they feel the government should (or should not) do about it. In some cases, the government is not involved at all but the students can take the side that it should be! They can disagree or agree with what is already being done (which means they have to actually know what is going on). Here’s the student instructions and research questions: Politician letter   I’ve done this project with my freshmen bio and with my upperclassmen bio 2, so there are modifications for both levels. My freshmen all write to President Obama. My upperclassmen have to choose their own politician (anyone but Obama).  They edit each other’s letters, and then I edit again if needed. I do actually mail their letters (well, the ones that meet all the criteria). We always get a response from the White House (though it takes a few months). I post the letter in my room, and the kids really get a kick out of it. Some of the other politicians will respond as well, and I give those letters to the student who wrote them.

Here’s what’s great about this project:

-They have to think for themselves. They can’t defend their solution with “my parents say”. We also do a discussion day where they tell the class their problem and solution, and then the class gets to ask questions to make them strengthen their defense.

-Writing a letter that will actually be sent gets them to put in more effort. It gives the whole project a purpose beyond “it’s good to know”. It does make them feel important and show them their opinion is valued.

-It’s great way to teach about credible sources and even bring in primary literature if your students are ready for it!

A Blog About a Blog!

I’ve been a member of the Life Science Teacher Resource Center since last spring. I completed their scholar program which taught me the ins and outs of the site and was then asked to return as a mentor for the new scholars over the summer. As part of that program, I was also asked to be a guest blogger on the LifeSciTRC. I’m so proud of the work I did over there that I want to share it here!

   Get Your Students to Gobble Up Reading

A lot of the ideas I discuss there, I’ve already introduced here on my blog…. you know… refusing the reinvent the wheel!

But seriously, check out their site. There are THOUSANDS of awesome lesson plans and classroom resources on there. And it’s all FREE! The community isn’t very active, which I really wish it was because I feel like it could be such a  valuable resource within itself. But hey, if you join too feel free to jump in! Maybe I’ll see you there!

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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!
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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!

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Playing metric war!