January 2013Science in the City: January 2013

Jan 31, 2013

6 Ways School is Like Working Out

I had surgery on my shoulder last May.  At the time, I couldn't work out for 4 months afterward.  In an effort to save money, I cancelled my gym membership.  Then, I rode my bike some at the end of the summertime, and did some hiking.  Once it got cold, and school started back up, I did almost no exercise. I know I should, but between being busy, tired, not having the membership....it didn't happen.  I tried a few times, and didn't stick with it, even though it felt good when I was doing it.

Last weekend I bought a new workout video, on a great sale.  Then I got sick.  I first used it today.  Afterwards, I had a thought.  My working out (or lack of), is very similar to my students work habits.  They haven't yet established the habits to be successful in school.  They want to, and are proud of themselves when they turn in homework, or do well on an assignment, but can't sustain it.

So what can we do to help them sustain these behaviors long enough to become habits??

What other things help people develop new habits:

  • We have to motivate them to want that change-- engaging lessons, connections to real life, goals, etc
  • We have to provide lots of positive reinforcement
  • Make it an enjoyable experience
  • Provide support for them to succeed (help with homework, flexibility)
  • Make these efforts sustained - it takes a long time to develop new habits.
  • Keep this analogy in mind. I think its easy for us, as teachers, to think that once we've told kids something, or by the time they are a certain age, they should have school habits well established....maybe not.  Remember how hard it is to learn something new.  
What if they don't?  What if they haven't been successful in learning these habits?  Or what if its not something that is reinforced at home?

Jan 29, 2013

This is What It Looks Like When I Get Frustrated with Classroom Management

I have been having a lot of trouble with glue this year. I have done interactive notebooks for years, and never had the kind of problems that I've had this year.  The group of middle school kids that I have don't know how to use glue - they put TONS OF GLUE, then when they close their book it oozes out, pages stick together, and the page they glued is all wrinkled and wet.

I have tried to demonstrate, I have gotten frustrated and yelled, I have designated students to go around and glue.  Some worked better than others, but the problem is still not straightened out.

Friday we really spent sometime getting our notebooks set up for the next unit (I figured we'd get the glue issue out of the way all at once).  I was so frustrated.  I kept thinking "My six year old can do this!"

Then I had an idea....videotape my 6-year-old showing them how to do it.  He heard my complaining and said "I could show them how to do it"

I'll let you know how it goes. I think it might be crazy enough to actually work!  What do you think?

Jan 27, 2013

What Does it Take to Be Successful in Middle School? Be Crazy

To get middle schoolers attention, I think you need to be a little bit crazy.  That's not my strength.  My strengths are lesson planning, differentiation, and building relationships with the kids, but not being crazy and off-beat and entertaining.

When I student taught in middle school, my supervising teacher had been (honestly) a magician in Vegas before he became a teacher.  Every really good middle school teacher seems to have a "gimmick" or a way to get kids attention, whether its something consistent, or something out of the blue....Surprise candy, music, old stories, etc....some kind of "cool" factor.

When I was in 8th grade, my Social Studies teacher was a retired long-time army man. He still looked and acted very military, and that was entertaining to 8th graders.

My husband told me a story about someone he knew.  This person had broken ribs and had a cast on their torso, but it didn't show under his shirt, so the kids didn't know it was there.  It was a windy day and his tie kept blowing up and getting in his face.  He grabbed the stapler off of his desk and stapled his tie to his chest.  He said the kids behaved perfectly the rest of the day.

I know another teacher who keeps some blooper videos and funniest home videos on a flash drive. He will sometimes play them to get kids attention, or as a reward at the end of class.  Here is a compilation of funniest America's Funniest Home Videos to get you started...

When we have spirit week I do dress up, and the kids get a big kick of out it.   But how to carry some of that through the rest of the year?

Do you think that's an integral part of teaching?  Especially of teaching middle school?  What other funny stories or unique teachers do you know of?

Jan 24, 2013

Giant Giveaway

Huge Giveaway!

There is a giveaway for products of all ages...over 75 products in several different prize packs.

Check it out here.

Jan 21, 2013

Getting the Most Bang for your Pin

I apologize for the blogging break.  I have not been feeling well, and have been really overwhelmed and sick and tired, so blogging had to take a backseat.  I'm still not feeling 100%, but slowly improving and with the day off, I'm trying to do a little bit of blogging while I take it easy on the couch.

One of my best finds, which surfing the internet is this site.

Do you use Pinterest, either to promote products or to share ideas and save pictures that you like?   If so, you may be curious which boards are getting the most traffic, which items you have already pinned to which boards, and if they are getting re-pinned or not.

I have been trying to come up with a way to keep track of my pins, and make sure I am handling them the best way that I can.  I couldn't come up with something that seemed workable.  I did a bunch of google searching.

You have to set up an account, and then wait a day or 2 for it to collect data.  After that, there is a gold mine of information.

It will show you things like:

  • All the items to have pinned to each board, along with the date.
  • The number of followers for each board you belong to.
  • The number of repins that each pin has gotten.
  • You can even export your data to CSV if you really want to analyze
Here are a few screenshots to give you an idea.  Wow!  This has potential, I think! 

Hope this is some help to you.  They are in the process of changing the interface, so I have seen a few slightly different things when I login, but there is a ton of information in there!  

Jan 20, 2013

Homework: A Controversial Topic That Will Make You Think

As we approach the second semester (midterms are this week, then we start the second half of the year).....I am rethinking my approach to homework.  I teach 7th and 8th grade in an urban district, at a very low performing school.

Every summer I re-think my approach, I have done real research, and keep coming back to the same conclusion.  This may be the year that I change it.  And not only change it, but change it mid-year.

Please add in the comments what type of homework you assign, how you grade it, or any other thoughts you have on homework.  I would love to hear your feedback!

I generally assign homework that students should be able to do independently, to reinforce the topics we are learning in class.  I often assign work from the textbook (read 2-5 pages, and answer a couple of open-ended questions, or interpret a diagram or 2, or do the reinforcement work that comes with the textbook).  I also often assign vocabulary practice (draw pictures, use in sentences, etc).  I am very lenient on accepting it late.

Our district mandates that homework counts no more than 10% of the overall grade.  I have always made the argument to kids that "that's a whole letter grade."  That will bring you from an F to passing, or you can't get an A without doing homework.

I still feel that way, and I think that kids need to practice outside of class in order to raise their overall skills, and to "catch up" to other schools.  If we have such low scores now, how are we going to catch up by doing less.

Here is the catch.....

  • Only a small amount of kids (maybe 25% if I'm lucky) do any substantial amount of homework, the majority don't do any
  • We are under a huge amount of pressure right now to raise scores and to put in 110% (or more)---we are having 2 grade level meetings, an RTI meeting, a co-teaching SPED meeting, a subject meeting, a committee meeting, and sometimes multiple parent conferences during a week.  This leaves next to no planning time that is actually free.
  • We are also being requested asked to turn in formal lesson plans, and to help provide tutoring during lunch to raise achievement.
  • I am exhausted and very stressed...something needs to change!  
I am considering not assigning homework anymore, but doing more of the 'homework' in class.  I would make a shorter lesson, start homework in class, and those that don't finish would have it as homework to finish at home?  

Or making a standard homework assignment every week that is due - perhaps Wed to Wed? 

I would love to hear any of your suggestions.  I have this week of midterm exams to figure out my strategy.  

However, I am starting to think that even for all the reasons that I believe in homework, its not a good use of my time to come up with homework (even though I don't spend a lot of time on homework), and to correct and grade it, etc, if kids aren't doing it.  Maybe time and energy is better spent somewhere else, and maybe if its not working, then I need to revamp how I'm thinking about it.

How do you structure homework?  What types do you give?  How often?  What feedback do you have?  

Jan 9, 2013

Do You Have New Year's Resolutions/Goals for Your Classroom?

This school year has been a year of trying new things and starting over to try to get things working better....

I wrote about some of my upcoming goals for the classroom in my guest blog post here at

Math Science Social Studies Oh My!
I have one more to add after a conversation with another science teacher, and the SIOP training that I went through earlier this year. 
I want to try to make the day's agenda and learning objectives more transparent to the students. I do have an agenda board posted, and we spent time on it at the start of school, but I am assuming by now that they know its there.  I think I may be wrong.  I'm going to devote 5 minutes each day on those business parts of class:
  -- agenda and objectives
  --classroom jobs
  --checking in on classdojo points and giving time to cash in for prizes
  -- organization (table of contents, attaching things into journal) and making sure they have homework written down
I will report back here in a couple weeks and see if it makes a difference....

Jan 8, 2013


Are you ready to win some teaching items? Here's your chance! This giveaway combines  2 sites: Teachers Pay Teachers & Pinterest!   This giveaway is put together by Melissa at http://www.teachertreasurehunter.blogspot.com/

Click on the link to go to the Pinterest board with the entries. Just pin items in the giveaway to your teaching boards.  Then click to go to Melissa's site, and cut and paste a link to your pin onto the entry form.  That's it!  Each pin gets you an entry.  Pin every day for even more entries.  Happy pinning and winning! 

Grand Prize Package: 9 TPT items for secondary teachers!

2 Runner-up Prizes: Your choice of 1 item from this giveaway!

Liebster Blog Nominee

Liebster Blog Award

I was nominated by FunintheFours for the Liebster Blog Award.  This is an award to new bloggers  to acknowledge them, encourage them and gain new readers) are:
  1. link back to the blog that nominated you  (done up above)
  2. post 11 random things about yourself
  3. answer the 11 questions posted by the nominator
  4. create 11 questions for the people you nominate
  5. choose 11 other blogs with less than 200 followers and link to them on this post
1.  Done up above
2. 11 Random things about myself
  • 1 have 2 kids
  • I live in upstate NY
  • I used to do environmental consulting and geology, before I became a teacher
  • I am also married to a teacher
  • I like to cook, garden, and scrapbook
  • I am a creative cook because my son has a lot of food allergies
  • I am home sick today, waiting for the dr. to open and see if I have strep throat
  • I recently (last year) switched from a high school to a k-8 building and I'm learning so much just by being in an elementary building.
  • My older son is in first grade - very interesting to be on the parent end of it.
  • Our only pet is 2 betta fish.
  • My kids named the fish - "Spikes-a-lot" ('cause he's spiky) and "Darth Eater" (after Darth Vader, and he likes to eat.
3. 11 questions:

  • How long have you been teaching and what grade do you currently teach?
I have been teaching officially for 7 years (5 years high school and 2 years middle school).  Before that, I worked as a teaching assistant in special ed for about 2 1/2 years, taught an adjunct class and tutored while I was getting my certification . I currently teach 7th and 8th grade.
  • What advice would you give a brand new teacher?
Don't worry about making every lesson creative and unique, but be prepared for anything to happen, be flexible, and work on finding your own style and niche. 
  • What made you decide to enter the blogging world?
I have been doing Teacherspayteachers, and gotten interested in reading other teacher's blogs.  It seemed like a good place for me to discuss/share/process some of what goes on in my classroom and the thoughts I have about teaching.
  • Which blog do you really love to read?
As far as teaching related....I really like thesciencepenguin.com. It is a little lower grade level than my students, but always a great resource.  
  • If you could visit any place in the world where would you go and why?
I would love to go back to Scotland, which I visited once, or I would love to go to Japan, just because it seems so unique and very different from here. 
  • What pets do you have? (If you don't have any - what pets would you really LOVE to have?)
Answered up above (sorry!)
  • When you were a child what was your favorite book? What is your favorite children's book today?
I loved "The Boxcar Children" series (and many others).  One of my current favorites, to read with my kids is "The Biggest Thing in the ce
  • Do you speak any other languages? If so, which ones?
I speak a little French and a little Spanish, but definitely not fluently. 
  • What is one item you can't live without?
I am pretty hooked on my cell phone....and a cup of tea.  
  • If you look up from your computer right now what do you see?
  • What is your favorite charity?
Hmm....breast cancer maybe?  
4. 11 other questions for my nominees

  • What grades and subject(s) do you teach?
  • What made you decide to be a teacher?
  • How long have you been teaching?
  • What type of district do you teach in (large/small, urban, suburban, rural)?
  • What do you think is your strength (or your favorite part) of teaching?
  • What part(s) are your weakness or do you dislike?
  • What blogs do you really like?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What hobby do you enjoy?
  • What is the strangest food you have ever eaten?
  • Why did you start blogging?

5.  My nominess: 

and more to follow....

Jan 5, 2013

A Revolutionary Tool To Make Students Responsible for Learning

How to Make Your Students Responsible for Their Own Learning

Standards Based Grading

About 2 or 3 summers ago I spent quite a bit of time reading up on Standards Based Grading and trying to figure out how, or if, I could implement it in my classroom.  I believe in the idea of Standards Based Grading, which states "that grades are typically connected to descriptive standards, not based on test and assignment scores that are averaged together. For example, students may receive a report that shows how they progressing toward meeting a selection of standards." (Glossary of Education Reform). Students learn at different rates, and their 'passing' is based on mastery, rather than on averaging grades together. I agree with this concept, but found it difficult to implement in the classroom, and almost impossible when it is not done on a school-wide basis.

Description and a Freebie use to help students understand unit objectives and take responsibility

I tried a few things, but couldn't quite picture how it would fit and how I could successfully implement it in my classroom.

I got stuck on how to keep track of what assignments students were missing?  How to communicate to parents?  How to put into our mandated grade book?  ...it was overwhelming.... A lot of the research and writing on Standards Based Grading is relative to math, where it is easier to show mastery.  in science class so much of what we do is experiential, and process based, and it is critical that students participate.

The Keeping Track of Learning Tool - Student Language Objectives

But I did keep one aspect of Standards Based Grading (SBG) that I feel has made a real significant difference in my classroom.  I have modified it and continued to use in other courses, and other units from year to year. I have given students the objectives, in student friendly language, and had them check in at various points during the unit.

How do I use it in class

Depending on the pacing, and the group of students I like to have them check in at the start of the unit and check off the objectives that they already are comfortable with, or rate themselves on each objective.  As we progress through the unit I have them again check back with the objectives and rate themselves again, or check off those which they now 'know.'


By the time we get to the end of the unit they KNOW what they don't know.  I get questions that sound like "How can I tell the difference between....." and "Can you explain more about the process of ....."  Instead of just "I'm stuck" or "I think I know it"

I have made these in a graph format below, in a checklist, or in a format where they rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 (my personal favorite), sometimes I do a before/after.

I call these "Keeping Track of My Learning."   These "KTOL" sheets have the learning objectives for the unit written in kid-friendly language, and very concretely, so that students can determine if the can meet the objectives.

My students tend to get easily overwhelmed if this is handed out too early.  Depending on the unit, sometimes I hand it out at the start of the unit to give students an overview, and see if there is anything that they know in the unit.   A good closure activity at the end of class is to have students focus on just a few objectives (probably the ones that they just did).  They can rate themselves and then fill in things they want to remember for that objectives.

In addition, its a great review activity to do near the end of a unit. I found found students' attitudes very different when they know what they are responsible for learning, and I am less frustrated when we review, or at the end of lessons because we are speaking the same language.  I now get questions like

"What's another difference between plant and animal cells?  I only know one."  Instead of "I don't get this."  Or....worse yet...."Yep, I understand" (when they have no clue).

Try it out

Here are two freebies of the KTOL for one unit.  

Freebie of student objectives and checklist for cell division unit  Freebie of student objectives and checklist for Energy Unit

A few others are available as well:

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                  product_0                    product_0

Make your own

Or use this editable template to make your own


I have modified them over the years to allow for more or less space for students to write notes, to include vocabulary, etc.

For more information

A similar strategy is discussed in depth here.

How do you communicate the objectives to your students and help them take responsibility for their learning?  Have you done anything similar?

And lastly, are there particular topics for which you would like to see these created? Let me know!
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Jan 4, 2013

Professional Sharing: A Blogging Exchange Around Differentiation

Primary Possibilities is having a Linky Party!  

I am participating in a blogging exchange, or blog circle this week.  Several people are posting on each other's blogs.  If you follow the link at the bottom to the next one, you should go in a circle.

Here is the post from our guest blogger this week:

FUNSHINE: the common core store for kids with special needs

Are you ready to rock? I'm ready to roll! Woohoo!
My name is Maria Angala and I am a special educator/ inclusion specialist/ reading intervention teacher in Washington DC. If your New Year's Resolution is to dive into something rigorous, fun and exciting for your classroom, you must make it a routine to visit FUNSHINE blog! I have tons of lesson plans and teacher-created materials for our exceptional needs students that are aligned with that sneaky common core standards. Of course, I made sure it's proven and tested in my classroom first before sharing them with you. Yep, they are modified and differentiated to target our exceptional needs students' diverse learning styles, and yet still aligned to the learning standard on their grade level.
Here's what I'm talking about:

1. Tiered Activity: MLK Constructed Response Practice & Word Work.Students will love this 14-page full-color constructed response writing practice which uses the RACE stategy to develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples. The Informational Text, "King's Dream Remembered", is presented in 3 different levels for our special needs students; graphic organizers for word work and guided notes for writing activities are also included. And because our valiant hero's very special day is coming up, I am giving away two FREEBIES for you! MLK Memorial Practice Writing RACE Strategy and MLK Quotes Writing Practice: RACE Strategy ...grab it now!

2. College Talk!. Having a strong vocabulary is critical to achieving success in College. I give each these 50- academic vocabulary words to my students for them to use in their everyday conversations in the classroom and in writing. Students will be able to acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases!! Great for Word Walls or for College Prep Centers, this is a big hit!
3. SPED Reading Intervention 300+ Word List A-Z with Menu. This is one of my favorites! This 166 page-packet has 300+ A-Z words which can be used for homework, word wall, spelling practice or reading drills as a supplementary resource to an existing reading intervention program! Included in this awesome packet are intervention suggestions for a student who has a difficulty with phonic skills when reading! Have fun!

Your support during my first month in 2012 has been tremendous and it shows me that we, educators, really do appreciate quality resources created by our peers that cater to the diverse needs of our students. For that, I thank you! Join me as we shape my 2nd month and beyond -- FUNSHINE 2013, to be bigger, better, and brighter than before!

Maria Angala, NBCT
Exceptional Needs Specialist
TpT Store: Teacher Sol's Funshine
Blog: Teacher Sol's Funshine
Twitter: Teacher Sol
Facebook Page: Teacher Sol's Funshine
LinkedIn: Maria Angala
Google +: Maria Angala

Continue to read the next post in our blog circle at 

Math Science Social Studies Oh My!


Hope you enjoy and get to check out some new blogs in the process! 

Jan 2, 2013

Get Your Students Outside of the Classroom - No Excuses!!

Why its so important to get your students out of the classroom

Do you want to spend your whole day sitting, reading, writing, etc.  A lot of what we ask of our students, we wouldn't want to do ourselves.  I think this is particularly true for middle school students.  They are wiggly, social, active creatures.  They need to be moving around.  It's nice weather. They want to go outside. So do we. We are teaching about the outdoor world. Its OK once in a while to take them outside and conduct a class or activity outside.

Suggestions for Getting Your Students Out of the ClassroomLessons outside the classroom

One of my favorite lessons when we learn about weathering is to take the students outside for about 10 minutes, with dry erase boards, to look for examples of weathering, draw it, and decide if its chemical or physical weathering.  Then, of course, they have to share they findings.

Students find it very exciting. It takes some management, but can easily be done in a short class period and on school grounds, even in an urban setting.  They love it! Its a big change.

I have also taken Biology classes outside to look for quick examples of living and non-living things, or to look for examples of different types of ecological relationships.

Where can I get more ideas to take my students outside? 

Here is a link to other ideas: 

Five Minute Field Trips: Teaching about Nature in Your School Yard (full-text)

AND 10 Minute Field Trips: A Teacher's Guide to Using the Schoolgrounds for Environmental Studies. (full-text) which is available in full text or for purchase as a bound book (affiliate link)

Enjoy, and let me know what you do in your classes to get them out of class!  
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