Jun 18, 2017

5 Fun and Easy Ways to Gamify Your Review

5 Easy Ways to Engage and Assess Your Students 

As we are closing up the school year and looking for ways to review and keep students engaged games are a big one! You may be looking for ways to do your end review, or even to review for a unit, or simply end the week.  We are all tired, hot, and looking for some ways to make school more fun. 
 
I get it. Elementary school students are almost done with their year, they are silly, tired of state testing, and probably watching movies in some classes.  High school students are hot, tired, more interested in talking about prom and summer plans than classes.  But you still want to teach - you can! 

Great options to engage your students and assess their understanding~

Here are top 5 favorite ways to introduce technology engage students and make review more fun:

 
You can keep your students engaged and doing some serious review! 

Top 5 Engaging Review Strategies

  • Kahoot  - You set up a series of questions and answers ahead of time (or you can use shared templates created by other teachers). Students can play on their own or in teams, and on any device (chromebook, phone, tablet, etc).  Students get points for both speed and correct answers, so it gets very competitive!  Kahoot.com describes it as “It is a game based classroom response system played by the whole class in real time.” I have seen it used with elementary to high school ages students, all of whom were very engaged.
  • Quizlet Live - Quizlet Live is very similar, it is a real-time, team-based classroom game. In this case it is better based on vocabulary, formulas, or other things that can be matched (as opposed to multiple choice questions). It emphasizes accuracy over speed, but still gets competitive. 
  • Quizziz - Quizziz is also a multiplayer quiz game.  It can be done real-time, or assigned individually outside of class (or in class). It also emphasizes giving the teacher detailed data. Students play together on the same questions, but at their own pace. 
  • Plickers - This is a more short term option. Maybe you just want a few quick review questions, a ticket out the door, or even a formative assessment built into a lesson.  Plickers aren’t as much to gamify a series of questions, but to quickly and easily collect answers in a fun and novel way.  Plickers are described as “a powerfully simple tool that lets teachers collect real-time formative assessment data without the need for student devices.”  Students get pre-printed cards that they hold up.  You have an app on your phone that uses the camera to collect instant (almost) data on their answers. Pretty AMAZING! 
  • And a bonus (non-tech) option recommended to me by a friend - Bazinga!  This one I have not played before, but it sounds like a LOT of fun.  This came from a great discussion with Brooke in my Facebook Group. If you aren’t in it already, check it out here 
 

Why are these types of review important? 


We know how important it is for students to review, but they often don't see the connection between class, exams, and the need to review. It's obvious to us how important it is to review, but once they're done, they're checked out!  Many students are not focused on their review, or if they don't feel successful then they don't want to participate. 
 
These types of review give options for team or individual play and they all have an element beyond just getting the right answer.  This keeps students engaged especially near the end of the year when it's difficult to maintain focus (for both us and the students).  Students can review and feel like they are playing a game, rather than working!  And you get some serious review and get to raise your test scores, while your students are playing a game! 

If you have another review strategy that you love, please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear your favorites! If you try one of these, please comment below or email me and let me know how it goes! 

Great options to engage your students and assess their understanding

May 26, 2017

3 Fail-Proof Strategies for Students with Low Literacy Skills

3 Fail-Proof Strategies for Students with Low Literacy Skills

A few years ago our evaluation scores were based on test scores, and we had to predict early in the year how students would do on those tests, and set goals, with our administrators.

This led to a lot of looking at data in order to set realistic, but reasonable goals for students. Because I am science teacher, there weren’t as many benchmarks as there are for reading or math. There is a lack of previous scores, and earlier science classes aren’t always indicative of how the students will perform in later classes. After looking at a lot of data, I found that the best predictor for my students’ science test scores was actually their reading level.

This is so frustrating for us as teachers because the content we teach them is only part of the picture. It is also frustrating for students because they can’t really demonstrate what they know. As teachers we do have obligation to help fill some of these literacy gaps, but we also want to teach content, and not have the content get lost in the reading difficulties.

A description of strategies that content teachers can use when faced with struggling readers

Where I teach there are so many students in my classroom who struggle with low literacy skills, and this is problematic for them in school, particularly in the upper grades where reading is no longer taught. Students who have lower literacy skills struggle and become disengaged with school, but as content teachers, or teachers of higher grades, we are not always equipped to teach reading skills. So what do we do? How do we help them in class?
  • Find other ways to get them the information
  • Find other ways for them to express their knowledge
  • Use scaffolding tools such as text to speech, word walls, integrated instruction of vocabulary and more to allow them to build on their strengths, instead of focusing on weaknesses. 

Find other ways to help them get the content

Especially now, not all content has to be taught through reading and writing. We can, of course, lecture, but this may not hold students’ attention. Whether you want students to work independently, or in stations, another great way for students to learn new content is through videos, often with some type of guided notes, graphic organizer, or reflection tool.

Some of my favorite science YouTube channels are:
Comment below with your favorite source for science videos

Let them demonstrate their knowledge in other ways

The options here are countless. You can still require students to use key vocabulary terms, but some students may struggle with the organizational/spelling/writing aspects. Instead, they could show their knowledge in other ways. Here are just a few options. If you have other ideas, please feel free to comment below, I’d love to hear!
  • Draw (create a comic strip to show a process, or a poster) 
  • Create a PowerPoint (or Google Slide presentation)
  • Record a podcast or video (easy with iPads or Chrome extensions like Screencastify)
  • Create a brochure
  • Create a commercial or skit
  • Create a concept map (discussed here)
  • Use graphic organizers or foldable organizers

Scaffold their reading skills

Some students cannot read content very well because they struggle with the vocabulary (either content vocabulary or tier 2 vocabulary). I have already written quite a bit about how I tackle vocabulary in my classroom in this post, here, and here and even for homework.

In addition to vocabulary other reading skills can be taught. Students can practice making their own test questions, with answers to get used to the structure and language of test questions. They can also be taught to read and understand diagrams better. Particularly in science class there are often questions that involve diagrams. Even students who struggle with reading long passages of text can often understand a diagram and answer questions correctly.

Next time you are working with a student whose reading levels are way below grade level don’t give up! And don’t let the student give up! Remember your goals: teaching content, assisting with reading, and teaching strategies. Both you and the student might be very surprised at how much he or she really understands when given the chance to express himself in other ways. When a student is more successful and confident in your class, they are more likely to continue to try harder and achieve greater success as well.

If you try out any of these strategies, I’d love to hear how they go. Please leave a comment below, or send me an email If you would like to see any of the resources that I use with my classes, please feel free to check out my Teachers Pay Teachers Literacy Items.

A description of strategies that content teachers can use when faced with struggling readers


May 11, 2017

Tips for a Successful Year End Review

Tips for a Successful End of the Year Review

Reviewing for regents exams, or other state exams can be overwhelming. There is so much content: labs, diagrams, vocabulary, and just facts to know. Students want to do well, but they are tired, and they often don’t know how to study on their own. They don’t want to listen to you lecture, and you don’t want to lecture, but they need direction.

Tips to use for end of year review, especially in high school biology class (Regents)

When reviewing for state exams, in particular, it is critical to look back at past state tests and to see what has often been asked. For New York State those exams are available here. However, students quickly get bored and frustrated with simply doing past questions. This doesn’t give them a study tool, it often just shows them what they already know, or what they don’t know. Many students are not able to take this to the next level and use it as a study tool.

We as teachers want to help them succeed, and want to feel like we have done everything we can, but many teachers struggle with ‘what to do for review?’ or ‘how to structure the review to cover the right content?’

Tweet: However, students quickly get bored and frustrated with simply doing past questions. This doesn’t give them a study tool, it often just shows them what they already know, or what they don’t know.

This is How I Structure My Year End Review

Homework

For my year end review I like to assign something fairly open-ended, with choice for homework. This is something that students can make progress on their own, and won’t be studying ‘wrong’ but will be learning some study skills. One choice would be this free Review Assignment (applicable to any subject). This also eliminates the problem of cheating on practice test questions assigned at home.


Break it up

This is also a good time to utilize games and puzzles to break up review after students get bored of lecture and/or practice questions. A very popular way to do this is the use of Tarsia Puzzles (also called Magic Squares).

The ‘Meat’ of the Review

The bulk of my review, however comes from this resource, which I have created. It is organized by main topics within the New State Living Environment Course (Biology). Each topic has one or two pages. It is in guided notes format, with key diagrams that need to be labelled, or bullet points that need to be filled in. It can be used in several ways.


Depending upon the group of students that I have that year, I may use this resource in several ways:
  • Hand out the entire packet at once, or I may hand it out one topic at a time, or only use some sections and review other sections in other ways.
  • I will often put students in partners (or on their own) to complete a short section, then regroup and go over it.
  • I have also had them complete a short section, check with a partner, and then check their answers against the key.
  • A teacher answer key is included, so it is a very easy option if you want to copy the answer key for students (or a portion of it).
  • I have also had students lead, up at the board, going over the answers with the answer key.

It is open-ended enough that it keeps students actively thinking and engaged, but complete enough that it gives them a great study resource when they are finished.

This includes sections for the New York State Required Labs (Beaks of Finches: Evolution, Relationships and Biodiversity: Evidence for Evolutionary Relationships, Making Connections: Experimental Design and Homeostasis, Diffusion through a Membrane) as well as the following units of study:
  • scientific inquiry
  • classification of living things
  • microscope, cells 
  • macromolecules
  • enzymes
  • cell membrane
  • photosynthesis and respiration
  • nucleic acids
  • mitosis and meiosis
  • genes and heredity
  • modern genetics
  • evolution
  • human body systems
  • reproduction
  • homeostasis
  • ecology
  • and human impact on the environment. 
The main points that are reviewed in each section are based on questions and topics that are most commonly asked on state testing.

What Else do I do In Class to Prepare them for the Test?

I usually review a topic or two using one of the above discussed methods and then do some practice past state test questions that draw specifically on that topic. This allows them to see the relevance and value of the review, and to have more success with the questions by being active participants in the review.

I know the end of the year can be chaotic, but end of the year testing is still important to both you and the students and we all want them to do their best. This can even ben a time to try some changes to routines in preparation for next year, and to keep things fresh at the end of this year.

I find this review structure (with some use of games or stations periodically to break it up depending upon your group and your time schedule) to be successful because students know what to expect, and they can see the purpose behind it. It is important that students buy-in to the review strategy, and understand what that the plan is, and the reasoning behind what you are asking them to do. Sometimes I even kick-off review with a contract that I have the students create and sign regarding which actions they plan to take to ensure that they do well (study each night, stay after school for extra help, participate in review, etc). This makes it clear where they are going. They can feel success as they complete it, and they also have a study resource when they are finished. Instead of being bored, students actually look forward to the structure, knowing what’s coming next, and seeing some progress in their learning and their scores.

I hope you will head over here, check out the previews, and try it out for yourself if you teach Biology. Please let me know what you think!!

Tips to a successful year end review in Regents Living Environment or other Biology Courses

May 1, 2017

Tips for Successful Technology Sub Plans

Tips for Successful Sub Plans
We’ve all been there – you have to be out for a day, but its nerve-wracking. What to leave for a sub?  How to make sure it goes smoothly?  You don’t want to waste a day of class, and you don’t want to come back to chaos the next day.
Here are my suggestions (granted I have mostly taught secondary, but I think these suggestions would work even with upper elementary as well).
  1. LEAVE THE DIRECTIONS DIRECTLY FOR YOUR STUDENTS
  2. LEAVE THE SUB PREPARED
  3. HAVE A BACK UP PLAN
Read more here on our collaborative blog 

Apr 19, 2017

The Biggest Lessons Learned from TPT Flock 2017

Lessons Learned at TPT Flock 17

Recently (April 8th) I had the opportunity to attend the Northeast Regional TpT Flock Meet Up/Conference. What an amazing experience! It has been a really busy time of year, and I was very tired going into the event. I was questioning if I should go but I learned so much. It's hard to narrow down my biggest takeaway and defining moments as a TpT seller and as a teacher. Here are three of my biggest lessons learned.


A reflection on my biggest takeaways from TPT Flock Conference 2017, and how much value we each have as educators.

We are Part of Something Amazing!

The keynote speaker, Art with Jenny K did an activity where we each received a square with a part of a design and selected colors to use to color it in. When we were done, while we are sessions to the pieces were assembled to see this amazing piece of artwork shown below!

I can’t say enough good things about the amazing way this art project came together! On this piece of art are some the key players from the main TpT headquarters. Here I was, standing and talking with people whose faces and reputations are known to me only through the website. I met some big names on TpT, as well as some of the directors and administration at TpT headquarters. Everyone I met was so friendly and helpful, and excited to be there. There was not a sense of competition, but of helping each other rise up, and growing as a whole. There is a vision of sharing teachers’ knowledge and experience for the improvement of all.


Collaborative artwork with Jenny K at TPT Flock Conference; A symbol of our connected value


We are an Agent of Change in Education

We, as educators, are part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and have the chance to really be a force of change in education and make a difference in the lives of teachers and students. When I was completing my masters in education, the university that I attended put a big emphasis on being leaders in education in our community and being ‘agents of change.’ I have felt as if I wasn’t fulfilling that ideal because I did not go on to become an administrator, or maintain certain other leadership roles in the district. Part of the reason is because I have two small children, and because I am in a district that has a lot of change and transition. In my teaching career (11 years) I have been in 4 different schools in the district. Having a chance to speak with so many dynamic educators from across the country brought me to the realization that we are impacting education. As I post here on my website, or make resources to share with other teachers, and they are able to use my resources, or the lessons that I have learned and the things I value in education in their classrooms, there is an impact on many students, in many diverse areas. This is huge!

Also, as teachers, we are helping other teachers solve problems in their classrooms, and better assist their students.

We are not only sharing ideas and resources, but we are solving problems for our colleagues.
Tweet: We are not only sharing ideas and resources, but we are solving problems for our colleagues.

Still so Much to Learn

One of the most exciting things about the TpT is all the new learning. I am constantly learning about new technologies, ways to improve my writing, new groups and new ways to connect and more.

I had such a great time interacting with this dynamic group of educators from so many different states and even different countries. To hear their inspiring stories, learn from them, and know how much I can still learn.

I attended great workshops on using Pinterest, improving my website, using technology in the classroom, and idea brainstorming. So many great ideas! My brain is spinning, in a great way!

All of us at TPT Flock 2017 are so glad to be here, and to share our teaching ideas with you, as well as learn from you.

Maybe next year you will be standing here with us! And hopefully I won’t be so tired next year! Please check out TpTFlock to see some of the fantastic presentations and donors! Don’t be afraid to speak out as a voice for your students and offer your knowledge to other educators. We all have a lot of value to share, and by helping each other, we help greater numbers of students as well.


Let's Rock the Flock 2017 - Group Photo

Apr 5, 2017

3 Simple Strategies For Improving Comprehension

Three easy strategies to implement when your students struggle with tier 2 vocabulary and reading comprehension
Background Image Attribution “seventy; words” flickr photo by RCabanilla https://flickr.com/photos/47662183@N04/4564071101 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Welcome! I am a secondary science teacher in an urban district in upstate NY. I am taught Earth Science, Biology, Environmental Science, AP Environmental Science, as well as middle school integrated science. I am excited to share some strategies with you to help your students be more successful. You can see more of my teaching ideas and resources at my website.

Many times I teach students content, and I do believe that they know the content. However, when given test questions, they cannot demonstrate their knowledge. So frustrating! I have tried a lot of different strategies to be help them be more successful with mixed results.

To read the rest of this post, click over to Performing in Education. This was a special guest post but I wanted to make sure to share it with you.

Mar 25, 2017

Excellent Collection of Science Teacher Free Resources


A collection of free science resources for you

I Know You Need Free Resources

When I look out the window all I see is SNOW! Day after day.  We have had a couple of snow days recently, and no break in sight.  This is the time when the school year really drags. Your plans get thrown off.  Sick kids (or sickness yourself), long dark days, and it all starts to seem like too much.  There are days you just want someone else to come up with a plan for you, or give you something that you can use when your plans won't work.

Myself and several other TpT sellers have collaborated to collect a variety of free Science TpT resources to help you and you students!   There is a great combination of hands-on activities, literacy activities, and even homework and review!

Mar 18, 2017

How Can Digital Task Cards Make Your Life Easier?

How can having a year long set of digital task cards save you time and stress

My son was up sick last night. I'm exhausted.  I feel like I might be coming down with something. and my other son has an art show tonight that I really need to attend -- that's after I make dinner and do homework.

I really want to assess where my students are with the topics we have been learning, but I just can't face the idea of coming up with questions, making up a quiz, game or other activity, and then bringing that stack of papers home to grade!  I never want to feel like I'm cutting corners with my teaching. but sometimes I need a break.  My principal is big on data driven instruction. I do see the value in it, but where am I supposed to get all this data? And how do I have time to analyze it?I need something ready to go, and effective.  I have an idea what I want to do tomorrow, but the idea of making a warm up, a closure activity, collecting data and assessing so frequently is too much!

I believe in doing warm ups and tickets out (freebie) and I do them almost every day but I'll be the first to admit that making up questions, and grading them day after day can be tiring. Its an additional piece to your lesson planning on a regular basis.  I understand!  However, a set of 180 science prompts, 8 general formative assessment prompts, and some blank templates could really take that pressure off!  You have a bank of questions and ready made prompts to use.

You may have already seen me writing about ways to use task cards in the classroom,  my Human Body Systems Task Cards, the options you have with the full year formative assessment bundle, how to save time grading with google forms and using digital interactive notebooks in general.  As you can tell, this is a topic that I feel strongly about. We are in a time period when digital resources really have the potential to make things easier on us, and to make us more effective teachers.  Digital task cards can be used so many ways that they really do provide and answer to this.

If you teach biology, this full year bundle covers all that topics that you are likely to teach. The task cards are available in three format (Google Forms, Google slides, and PDF). That means you have options.

video


If you are looking for a warm up or closure, with data collection, and you have technology you can use the Google Form, and have the data immediately collected and tabulated for you. You can even get graphs of how many students chose which answer if its multiple choice.

If you only have some technology (not 1:1), make it a station.

Maybe you have a short activity, or some notes, but you want to really see how well students understand, use just one task card for a ticket out.

If you are looking for a full-period activity you can use the digital or print versions of the task cards, choose the ones that relate to topics you have already taught, and set up stations.  Since each task card has a couple of questions on one topic, it is easy to quickly pick a topic, or a few topics, and get a picture of how your students are doing.

Your students can fill out their answers quickly on one sheet of paper so you have less paper to cart home.

This is a tool that you can use all year long, on any topic. Think of it as a test bank, with ready to go questions and diagrams organized by topic and available as a printable or digital format.  It makes it very simple to build in pre-assessments, closure activities and to collect data on a regular basis as you go through the unit.

The next time that you are dragging, and don't feel like making lesson plans, use it as a day to collect some data.  Set up stations where students do task cards on recent topics, either digitally (less grading for you!) or on paper and see what they know.   Or do a short activity with a ticket out. But know that you have a whole bank of questions to choose from.

How can having a year long set of digital task cards save you time and stress

Feb 24, 2017

6 Interesting and Simple Tips For Using Photos in Class

Why would you want to use photos in class? And How?

You want to do an activity with your students, but you just don't have the materials to do a great hands-on lab that you imagined.  Then you realize that you could do it as a demo, but it will be hard for all the students to see what you are trying to show.  And what about students who are absent?

Or maybe you wish you could show your students something under the microscope but don't have a projecting microscope.  Perhaps you want to show them other areas of the world, but can't take them there.  Sometimes a picture really is worth a 1000 words. A picture is something students will remember and have stuck in their heads.

Where to find photos

As teachers, we should ideally model proper behavior with regard to copyrights and use of photos.  There are several sites such as pixabay.com, creative commons search, and other that can be used in class. I was not aware of photosforclass.com and I found this photo that would be great teaching the parts of a flower, or even provoking discussion prior to doing a lab. I loved that when I downloaded this photo, it already came with the credit and citation on it. As far as science, most government sites (think about NASA, USDA, USEPA, etc) are Public Domain because they are government works. You can check those out here




Some photo sites (both social sites and photo sites) are blocked at school, so this made it more difficult. You will have to check if they are blocked at your school. Otherwise you may need to take steps to either unlock them, or gather your pictures at home.

What do with them once you've got them

I could see using photos to help explain a concept, provoke interest, or even for a student who had missed class. They are also great discussion starters to practice skills such as inferencing and to bring concepts back to real life, so that they don't only exist in textbooks or diagrams. We get so used to seeing diagrams, that it can be useful to see real photographs.

I was not familiar with BigHugeLabs and I think this could be a lot of fun. Their slogan is "Helping you do cool stuff with your digital photos since 2005. :-)" There are lot of way you could do fun projects with students on here!

It could be useful to make fun, attention-getting posters or bulletin boards, but students could also use this for an assignment. They could use this to make, for example, trading cards for a particular kingdom, or even types of rocks (igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic) using photos they found. Students could also make trading cards or movie posters for famous scientists, for example.  This would be a great way to get students working with digital photos as a project.

Using Photos to Reach Outside of the Classroom

The ideas to use instagram in your classroom on a blog could also be used in a classroom blog, website, or newsletter and would be great ideas and great uses for classroom pictures. My son's class uses Bloomz to communicate with parents, and the teacher sometimes takes photos and shares them through Bloomz. It is fun to see what is going on at school, and to have the prompts to talk to him about the class activities.  Although this post is labelled for instagram, it certainly wouldn't have to be.

framea4c0f91fce424b501c1691984351da6d763fd2fe.jpgAnother fun site is http://photofunia.com/ but I'm not sure the application yet.  I used pixlr.com (I think) to create this "Polaroid" and "Postage Stamp" of a faraway place.  Students could then write about the geology/weather/climate/wildlife in that place.

I could see looking at changes in the land use and even the landforms if good historical photos were available, but I had trouble finding a good source.


frame6104acaf86fbe83181de789d840379417477e6c9.jpg

photo credit: Ted LaBar Musk Ox via photopin (license)

A few other related ideas

I have given my students in AP Environmental Science a mapping project where they have to build up a map and add environmental events and photographs. This is working well so far. Here is an example.  This could be expanded to include more photographs.

Years ago I did a project on weathering and erosion using this website, which has photographs and data on a real rock wall, built of all different types of rock, from all over the US (or the world?)

Lastly, I really liked the "Dear Photograph" project. The concept behind this project is to "Take a picture of a picture from the past in the present." See an example here. This seems to be done mostly in terms of nostalgia and relationships, which might lend itself better to history or English.  I am still  pondering where this could be applied.

I'd love to hear how you use photographs in your classroom, or what you do if you are trying to capture and experience for students without hands on materials.


Tips for places to look and projects and ways to use photographs in the classroom

Jan 21, 2017

5 Ways to Engage and Assess Using Task Cards

Post detailed 5 different ways to utilize task cards in the classroom

5 Ways to Use Task Cards in the Classroom

I looked out at my class, trying to get their attention as I stood at the board.  It seemed, even to me, like the class period would never end.  I was tired to trying to remind, redirect, and 'perform' to hold their attention.

My class needed a change so that students were active and helping each other learn.  I started researching task cards, and they quickly became a necessary part of my classroom.  The focus changed so that the students were active, eager to participate, moving around the room, and even doing some self-reflection.

If you've research task cards before, you may see that many of the resources available are geared more towards elementary students, or to subject areas other than science.  I want to share with you some great resources for more information on task cards, and the 5 ways that I find them most useful in my classroom.  It really is possible for your students to be more engaged and accountable for their learning.

Tweet: Task cards can be a valuable tool to assess knowledge and keep students engaged in creative and differentiated ways.


Jan 8, 2017

Student Reflection: New Year, New Classroom


If you feel like you are working much harder than your students, here is a strategy to help them take responsibility for goals

My Classroom New Year's Resolution: Student Reflection

As teachers we often put a lot of time and effort into our student's learning, and lose a lot of sleep over them.  We may wish that our students put forth some reflection and responsibility (felt some of that urgency) on their own as well.  This year, starting mid-year, I am introducing my students to a tool to do just that. 

The New Year is the perfect time for students to reflect, along with you, and look forward to making some changes in the second half of the year. 

 We get frustrated when it seems like we care so much more than our students, or when our students don't seem to take the obvious (to us) steps to reach their goal.  However, they may need assistance to do so and this is where this tool comes in handy. 

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