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.


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!


Trying a New Reading Technique

I bring lots of real world examples of science into my classes. We use them in lots of different activities. One thing that always bothers me is when I give them questions to answer, they just skim through to find the answers instead of actually reading. I also found that they have trouble listening (which I’m sure is shocking).
So here’s my solution: collaborative reading. I took an article, a pretty long one actually, and divided it into sections. I had a gold version and a purple version. The students worked in pairs and took turns reading their sections. Each student also had a different set of questions. So when the student with the purple parts was reading, the partner (with the gold half) had to LISTEN for the answers to their questions. I kept a close eye to make sure they weren’t just reading their partner’s half (the color coding was VERY helpful here).
This was totally different from what they were used to and some students were resistant at first (“why can’t I just read the whole thing myself?”). But I think it’s worth the struggle and time it took to plan it out. I definitely plan to use it again.

“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! =)

New Things for a New School Year

Holy short summer! I’m sure you all know the feeling. So back to school we go. This is my 5th year teaching, and I needed some changes. So here are some new things going on in my room. Lots of ideas came from pinterest (my holy grail). IMG_1427I love putting up posters that my students have made. I laminate them so they don’t fall apart. The one above was from the classification unit. I hang most of them on the back wall of my room, but used this one to cover some “colorful” language that is carved into a lab cabinet. I cut a slit in it to fit the door handle in. Adios dirty words!


More student posters… but another new idea this year. I hung some dish towels above my sink for students to dry their hands when they WASH them instead of using sanitizer (my kids are sanitizer addicts).

That pink box also contains some new ideas as far as paper work is concerned. Each class has a folder in there and anytime a student is absent, the work they missed in in there waiting for them. But this year, I gave each student a partner to be responsible for. So when the partner is absent, they fill out an absent slip (where they describe what we did in class and what the homework is) and put the work in the box. One less thing for me to do and one more way to make the students responsible for what goes on in the classroom.  Here’s my doc:absent work

Also in that box are the “pink slips”. If I am collecting homework and a student does not have the assignment, they have to walk themselves over to the box and fill out the pink slip. It includes name, date, assignment, and why they didn’t turn it in. If they turn the assignment in late, I document that on the pink slip. It is a great way to track why students are not turning in work (instead of just what I think) when parent teacher conferences come around. This also makes it easy to do a quick check in my grade book on the computer for who did not turn in the work. I just pull the pink slips out of the pile of turned in work and mark them in the computer as missing. Here’s the doc: I Did Not Do My HW Because

Hope that is helpful to someone! What are you changing this year?