November 2012Science in the City: November 2012

Nov 30, 2012

An Amazing Holiday Gift for You

A holiday gift from the secondary teachers at TpT to you!  Even though in secondary grades we may not have as much time to spend on holiday and seasonal activities as the lower grades, there are ways to do it!  Here are some great tips for ways to integrate some holiday cheer into your classroom, and help maintain student focus around this time of year.  There are teaching tips and holiday-related freebies from secondary teachers in each subject area on TpT.  

Check it out (click on the image) and HAPPY HOLIDAYS

And if you are not a secondary teacher, there are editions for grades Prek-K, 1-2, and 3-6 as well.  
2012 Winter Holidays Tips and Freebies: PK-K Edition    2012 Winter Holidays Tips and Freebies: 1-2 Grade Edition    2012 Winter Holidays Tips and Freebies: Grades 3-6 Edition

Nov 29, 2012

Behind the Scenes: The Truth About Exit Tickets and Vocabulary

I Made a Simple Change to my Classroom Warm Ups and saw Surprising Results! 

I have always done bellwork, or a "Do Now" when kids come into class.  I have always made those either an open ended question to what we are doing now, or a review question or test question from what we did yesterday.  This year I am changing it around, and I have to say I am very happy with the results.  I wrote more about my bellwork routines here

Students can't test well when they can't understand the questions

I have a lot of kids whose reading scores are very low this year (average reading level about 4th grade, give or take, in 7th and 8th), and a lot of SPED and ELL kids.   This is discussed further in this post

Description and results when warm up/exit tickets were used to teach tier vocabulary

What I did to focus on vocabulary

I decided to focus bellwork on those "tier 2" vocabulary words. You know, the ones that are not content specific, but kids don't know....words like

essential, abundant, similar, variation....

Each day I put up a word and either use it in a sentence, or put pictures with it, and then have the kids do two things: 
 - infer the meaning of the word
 - use it in a sentence of their own.

Some examples are in in these inferring vocabulary resources

Test Prep Tier 2 Vocabulary Cards Growing Bundle

At the end of the week bellwork is a matching quiz on those words.  I am so happy to report that the end of the week quizzes have been great.  I'm hearing things like "I know these!  These are the words we've been doing" 

To make sure we are quizzing/reviewing content, I'm doing a ticket out at the end of each class.    It really allows them to settle down and process, puts a good closure to the class, and I can catch misconceptions before they go.  They are in the habit now of handing me their ticket out on the way out.  

I have also worked with them on vocabulary using the strategies discussed here but I have found a focus during warm ups to be one of the most effective strategies. 

I have seen a dramatic improvement in their confidence levels, their comprehension, and their overall test scores. 

Description and results when warm up/exit tickets were used to teach tier vocabulary

Nov 26, 2012

My Simple Little Middle School Classroom Management Breakthrough

Stamp 2 Clip Art
I have been working on management, with one group of 7th graders that I have.  Classdojo, and many other suggestions and tricks have gone a long ways.  But my current favorite is a stamp.  I bought a box of a few different stamps on clearance at Wal-Mart for a dollar.  I will come stamp their paper when they are in their seat working, especially at the start of class during bellwork.  Sometimes when they do stations I will stamp when they have completed the station.  It's amazing! 

They run to their seat and get quiet so they can get their paper stamped! I hear across the room "I'm working too!  Stamp mine!"   

Who knew that would be such a big deal to 7th graders.  Its cheap, easy, and honestly kind of fun for me too.  I'm all for positive reinforcement, but I'm trying to get away from candy.  This is a great alternative! 

Don't forget the cybermonday sale

Nov 24, 2012

What happens when you spend time with your students outside of class?

On a Friday night my school had a movie night.  We played a movie in the gym, and invited staff and student families to come watch the movie.  They sold popcorn, people were supposed to bring blankets and pillows and stuffed animals.

It was a really fun, positive night, and great to see kids out of context and out of class. To just get to relax and interact with them, without any pressure of work to be done, a clock to watch, and so many other distractions.

Our school is K-8.  Most of the students and families who showed up were fairly young. There was only one 'upper school' (7th or 8th) grade student.  He is one of our most hyperactive, behavior problem kind of kids that we have. I had him in class this year and last year.  He is kind of a likable kid, but always saying things that offend other kids, not doing work, bouncing around, goofing around....

At the movie night I saw a completely different person.  He came in with his blanket, quietly got a chair, sat near me and my kids.  He introduced  himself and shyly said hello to them.  He shook hands and talked to my son for a minute.  Then he wrapped up on the blanket and watched the movie silently.  When the movie was done he asked another adult to borrow a phone, called his parents for a ride, and politely told me to have a good weekend, and said bye to my kids.

It gave me a new perspective on him.  And made me think.  Will I treat him differently in class?  What can I do to bring out some of that from him in class?

When have you seen kids in a totally different light outside of class?

Nov 22, 2012

Teacherspayteachers Big Sale!!

Have you thought about checking out but haven't yet?

Are there certain units coming up that you want to improve on or revise? Add a little spice?

Is there a day you know you will be out and you need some sub plans?

Do you want better organization and reading strategies? classroom management? Recordkeeping? Integrate common core?

These are all reasons to go to  There are both paid and free resources that are really excellent.  Created for teachers and by teachers. 

TpT is having a CyberMonday and Tuesday sale! Get up to 28% off! This is your chance to browse, fill up your wish list and your shopping cart. Plan ahead!

Go directly to, or click on the banner above.  Use the promo code on the banner (CMT12) to receive your discount.


Nov 19, 2012

Scary Secrets Behind What Our Students Know about Seasons

Did you ever see this video?  It shows some common misconceptions, and how much trouble even Harvard graduates have grasping the idea of why we have seasons.

I have been shown this video a few times in PD's and graduate courses, but if you haven't seen it, its worth watching.  If you have seen it, I think its worth remembering that even when we think we are teaching things clearly, it can be very difficult and confusing for students to grasp.

Here is the full video

Blog Giveaway

Interested in a Thanksgiving Giveaway?!  Go here to check it out, enter, see the prizes, and try to win one.  It will run from Monday through Saturday! There will be 4 winners and you must know that each winner will receive a fantastic prize!

Nov 18, 2012

Misconceptions About the Reasons for the Seasons? Try This

Do your students have a lot of misconceptions about the causes for the seasons?   Try this. 

Need a seasonal science activity?

Do you do a seasonal/winter/holiday activity with your classes?  Sometimes I find it hard to work into an overly busy curriculum, especially with older students. I also am never sure if its better to add to the excitement and chaos, or if its better to maintain as much normalcy as possible.  I don't want to 'throw a party' on the day before break, but we also need some recognition of it being a special day.  It is not only a day before the break, and perhaps near Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, spring break, or summer vacation, but it is probably also near the Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, or Summer Solstice.

A description and freebie used to teach about the reasons for the seasons, and to reduce misconceptions about the causes for the seasons

This is how I teach about seasons, and celebrate a holiday in science class

Here is a compromise I have worked out.  The day before winter break (or somewhere right around there) is usually the winter solstice.   Its a great opportunity to talk about why and how the seasons change, how the solstice is celebrated around the world, and to review/introduce a key concept in Earth Science.

Now, thanks to technology, we can use a website such as to look at the sunlight on that day all around the world. We can see which areas of the world are experiencing different amounts of sunlight.  We can then either set it to different times and dates to see the changes, or we can do this several times of year and see the changes.  I like to re-introduce it, since this is an area where there are so many misconceptions and confusions, and its so commonly tested.

We do an activity near the start of school (fall equinox), winter solstice (before winter break), summer solstice (end of school)---you get the idea.  Here is the activity that I use for the Winter Solstice

Or, go to and see what creative things you can come up with on your own to help your students understand the real reasons behind the seasons! Please leave a comment with ideas you have :)

A description of a classroom activity and a freebie used to middle and high school science classes to teach about the reasons for the seasons

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Nov 17, 2012

Free Resources and Giveaways

There are lots of resources right now free.....

One of the best is Success in Secondary, which is grouped by grade level and topic.  A great collection of free and paid resources

Another great giveaway going on at  These are all science freebies.

And finally a giveaway for a great inclusion book.  Check it out and enter.

I will post more as I find them...

Nov 13, 2012

Poor Environment and Classroom Management: One Teacher's Perspective

Ever feel like you work here?!!  I have been feeling like that lately.  The atmosphere in the school is crazy!  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go visit two other middle school classrooms in our district and observe, and see what I could bring back to our school.

I was left with one overriding thought as I visited.  WOW!! The whole atmosphere in the school is so calm!  and orderly!  Kids are walking, not running, not yelling, going to class.  It was a completely different feeling.  

Overall, I still think many of the things that I saw seemed to be small, rather than addressing the larger problem (school climate).  Someone once said to me you can tell a lot about a school by what the halls are like.  That is true.  However, even when the halls are crazy and terrible (multiple fights going on daily), I can't allow my class to look like this the rest of the year.  I have to see what I can do to take some small steps in my classroom to improve, and maybe to improve our school. 

Some of the things I noticed were (ones in bold I especially think are important and I'm going to focus on). 
  • At one school they ate breakfast in the classroom.  This allowed a much quieter, calmer start to the day than being in a crowded cafeteria.  It also allowed the kids to see the teacher as a person.
  • The teachers used some traditional incentive and other behavior management strategies such a names on a color coded chart (green=ready to learn, yellow=warning, red=consequence), a point system with rewards for the people each week with the highest points and class rewards when they reach a certain point total.
  • Threshold - be at the door to personally greet each student, shake hands and make eye contact....and set expectations for students as they enter class. 
  • All the teachers and administration were very much the same page, and taking care of the smaller things, before they turned into bigger things (tardy, uniforms, etc)....They had clear policies in place.
  • Routines were extensively practiced, even at some loss of instructional time early in the year, in order to save time and energy later.  This includes in-class routines and school-wide routines such as procedures for walking in the hall.   
  • Students were not allowed in class if they were truly not ready (ISS, buddy teacher)...the expectation was not to keep all students  in the room at all times if it ruined education for the rest of the class..
  • Lots of positive reinforcement, proximity, and a calm but authoritative tone of voice (not angry).
  • Make connections with kids, and let them be comfortable - make the work accessible and make sure they can be successful.  Don't go ahead without making sure they are with you.
  • Quiet individual reminders, not in front of the whole group.
  • Specific behaviors are targeted and tracked-  transitions, raising hand, respectful, staying in seats
  • Rewards are earned, but are also given randomly. 
  • Teacher was very animated, had a good sense of humor and could maintain student interest.
  • Control pencil sharpener usage, and going to throw things out - don't get out of seats.
I have been doing a lot of research and reading and talking on management as I try to get my class back under control....just need to decide over the weekend how I want to go from here.

I have already been doing raffle tickets as positive reinforcement, and names on the board with checks as warnings.  I tried "Class-yes" from Whole Brain Teaching.  Am I going to work with these, and the bold ideas above?  Do more Whole Brain Teaching? Classdojo?  

How do you think school climate affects the climate and behavior in you classroom?  What can you do to overcome the school culture?  

Nov 10, 2012

School Configurations

My school is a K-6 building that is now expanding to add 7th and 8th we are now a K (actually pre-K) to 8th grade building.  This presents many pluses and minuses.  It is a big contrast to the building where I came from, which was 9-12.  Many other high schools in our district are 7-12.

I would love to hear opinions from anyone else who teaches middle school, especially.  How is your school set up?  Here are some thoughts that I have about the K-8 configuration.


  • Smaller grouping of kids - we can keep better track of the kids, and they have more sense of connection
  • Many kids have gone there for many years.  They know each other, and they know many other teachers in the building.  They have connections to each other and to other teachers, and less transitions at such an otherwise tumultuous time in their life.
  • Kids can gradually transition to the changes of high school - they can switch classes but in a familiar location. 
  • Older kids can partner with younger kids and be role models. 
  • Attendance does seem better, so far without the influence of the older students, and with more smaller group accountability.


  • As kids are going through puberty, they have social issues, such as those in a small town by being in such a small group with kids they have known, and maybe have a history with in the past.  There is no 'new blood' mixing in, or place for them to go to separate.  
  • There are behavioral advantages to 7th graders being "low man" rather than "top dog."  
  • Is it safe to have 7th and 8th graders, and all the associated behaviors in a building, and sharing buses and hallways with 4 and 5 year olds? 
  • are the facilities up to speed - changing rooms, large enough classrooms, locker rooms, rest rooms, desks? 
  • Can the school provide clubs, intramurals, afterschool activities and the full range of courses that students can enjoy at a 7-12 building or a true middle school?
  • Is the school administration, scheduling, attendance, report cards, etc prepared for the differences of middle school? 
What do you think?  I have recently come to the conclusion that middle schoolers really deserve their own place, either 6-9, 6-8, 7-9, 7 and 8....but they have unique needs that are not met well in a high school setting or a k-8 setting.  

Maybe an ideal would be an elementary, or a couple of elementaries, that funnel into a specific middle school.  That middle school would really be equipped to run as a middle school and help kids transition to prepare for high school. 

Here is an article that shows really inconclusive research about the best setting for middle school students.   and here is another article in favor of K-8, and against traditional middle schools.  

Weigh in with your opinion.

Nov 5, 2012

Simple But Successful Test Taking Strategies

Tests!!! (And how to make them better)

If, like my classes, you have been inundated with tests lately, it may be the last thing you want to discuss or read more about. However, I'm not talking about APPR and pre-assessments or post-assessments. I'm talking about strategies you and your students can use to help them before, or during the tests that you care about (chapter tests, or end of the year tests in your subject area).

Strategies to use with your students before and during testing to help them be more successful
Test image from
"Long Before the Third Grade Test" (CC BY 2.0) by wecometolearn 

My students struggle with reading and understanding the questions, and often get frustrated and just guess, or give up during a test. This is a habit that I work very hard to help them overcome during the course of the year.

Strategies Before the Test:

Build up their confidence. Not to over inflate it, but to make them comfortable with their own knowledge and to make them comfortable with test question formats and the types of questions that are asked. Some of the ways that I do this are:

  • Review games based on test questions,
  • Review questions in partners, and/or stations, and check their answers, that are very similar to the test questions. Then when the see the test questions they look familiar. This can also be a good place to use task cards. See here for 5 ways to engage and assess using task cards
  • Build up other vocabulary, besides content vocabulary, that they are likely to see on the test (words like compare, abundant, etc). I do this through various vocabulary strategies
  • Have them work to create test questions and quiz a partner (a great closure or ticket out activity) -- predict what will be on a test from today's work.

Strategies During the Test:

There are all the common strategies (cross out wrong answers, do the ones you know first, underline key words, but here are a few others that I have found to be helpful to my students.

Cover up the answer choices and predict the correct answer. This is something that good students do instinctively but weaker students don't seem to do. I teach this strategy, we practice it, and then go around and give bonus points (I stamp their test) if I see them using this strategy. I give them scrap paper and have the cover the choices, and then write down what they think the answer will be, before looking at the choices. It really helps them not get thrown off by the distractors.

Split the test into two parts and one part they can work with a partner. You, or they, can choose partners. Sometimes I literally make this into a two part test. Sometimes I let them work for most of the period, then use the last 10 -20 min or so to check with a partner on the ones they are having trouble with, or to compare their answers and decide on final answers to turn in. I don't do it right away in the beginning of the year, but once routines are established this is a great way to help students really think through the questions, explain their thinking, and choose the best answer. You might be very impressed at the conversations that you hear!!

What other strategies do you use to help students work through tests that are difficult? Please leave your strategies in the comments.

So often tests don't truly test the content, but test their reading!

Strategies to use before and during testing to help your students be more successful
Test image from

Nov 3, 2012

Great resources for ELL Students and Many others!!!

I am lucky enough to be able to participate in a SIOP Training right now, which stands for Sheltered Instruction and Observation Protocol.  I am finding it to be a great refresher for instruction of all students and best teaching practices. 

A great set of cliff notes/summary is located here.  These are great practices for all students, particularly ELL's, and also particularly for students who may struggle with academic language, even if they are not ELL's.  Where I work there are many students who are ELL's (about 30%), as well as many who just have very low reading/writing/language skills, although they are native speakers.  These strategies are helpful to all of them!!!

The one I found the most interesting is the need to have a specific content objective and language objective for each lesson.

Image from

Nov 2, 2012


I am participating in my first blog giveaway!  As I am very new to blogging, this is brand new to me.  A colleague and fellow teacher/blogger is  hosting a giveaway for reaching 200 followers. I participated and am raffling off a product of your choice from my store to a winner.  There are MANY other teachers who are also raffling off materials of various topics, grade levels, and subjects.

If you are interested in entering, click on the link:

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