March 2013Science in the City: March 2013

Mar 31, 2013

Wow! A Great Literacy Freebie For You

Happy Easter!

If you aren't already a member of, or receive the weekly newsletter, you may want to.  They send out a weekly newsletter (you do not have to be a seller) which gives 10 free downloads of various topics and grade levels each week, some featured products, and some discussion of what is upcoming.  Did you know April is Poetry Month?  There are suggestions from  other teachers of how they are using this in their classroom.  Its a great way to liven up your classroom routine, and stay creative in your teaching.

I am writing about the newsletter because I was lucky enough to have one of my products be one of the featured free downloads this week (see picture below).  Strangely enough, it is the product I just wrote about in my last blog post! (I swear I didn't know it was going to be featured).

Photo: Here it is!!
I love this for the feedback as well.  Here are a few of the wonderful bits of feedback I've gotten today!

"Excellent way for Reading teachers and other core subject teachers to collaborate."

"I like this! It's great for common core and higher-level academic reading."

"Great to use with my ELLs? Thank you."

"This is user friendly for high school students and a great tool to share with pre-service teachers to include literacy in their content area."


"This is a great reading activity....As an ELA teacher it's great to see science teachers promote reading skills. We're your newest followers!" 

Here is a link to this week's newsletter.

I actually first got involved in TpT through looking for a free product, and then signing up for the weekly newsletter with the free downloads. There are some great products coming right to your inbox every week, and some inspiration and ideas from a creative and passionate group of teachers.

Here is a link to sign up for the newsletter (all the way at the bottom look for this)

Mar 29, 2013

Are You Struggling with How Common Core Affects Science?

I was asked what effect common core has on science education.  I have been looking, and found very confusing and mixed information.

Some sources only want to discuss the Next Generation Science Standards, or other moves towards National Science Standards.

Some articles and references seem very anxious and concerned about common core changes.  Other seems to advocate that the changes are minor for science.  Here's my take.

Most references that I found reference the appendix of the ELA standards, which is for informational text, science, social studies, etc.   That's where I first turned too.  There are many references in there about reading and writing informational text, procedures, drawing conclusions, supporting with evidence, etc.  In my mind, these are all things that we do in science already.  The common core puts more emphasis on them, and ties them more thoroughly with other subjects and with specific language objectives.  They are skills that scientists (and science students and teachers) are hopefully already doing.

However, one area that I think we struggle as science teachers and don't reach our full common core potential is in reading strategies.  (CCCS on reading informational text (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI). We expect kids to be able to read, or we find alternative ways around it, such as notes, hands-on, demos, videos.  We do need to teach reading strategies, even though we are not reading teachers.

This is something that I work on a lot in my classroom because the district I work in historically has students with very low reading levels.  Along with this, I have always taught courses ending in a state exam, where the reading level is at or slightly above grade level.  This is not a good combination.  Reading level is the biggest predictor of how they do on the exam.  (a topic for another day).

Anyway, one strategy I use for reading out of a textbook is this freebie available at my store.  It is really a scaffold to teach a good strategy for reading a textbook.  It includes what to do before reading the chapter (previewing), what to do during (vocabulary, looking at text features, recording new information and connecting it to what is already known) and after (questions you still have and reflection on what you learned).

It is in a format that kids can readily fill in and understand.  This has been very popular with our ELL and SPED teachers and students, and used for students in grades 7-10 with very good results.

If you use it, let me know what you think in the comments.  If you have suggestions or other strategies you use, let me know that too!

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Mar 26, 2013

What do you do to keep yourself comfortable and happy at school?

I haven't been very happy at my current school this year. Because of that (and I'm hoping to transfer) I haven't wanted to settle in and I haven't wanted to buy things related to school or to keep at school. I relented this week, made a trip to the dollar store, and myself and my kids have been much happier. It makes my day go more smoothly, and at makes me happier.

Here are a few items that I bought:

The tootsie rolls are for the kids for prizes (I do a lot of free prizes, discussed in another post) but sometimes it's good to have something material and small to hand out for prizes. And I'm sure I'll eat a few :).

The soap is for myself and my students. Being a science room, there is a sink but no soap or paper towels.

Band-aids are for my students. I don't know if its the same where you are but kids get a hangnail, paper cut, or some other minor injury and they are very upset, disruptive and want to Go to the nurse. Rather than write them a pass, and have them miss half of class, I can often hand them a bandaid and have them sit down and stay in class.

Some of the others are for me. I'm finding it to make a huge difference that I'm comfortable. I can put my hair up mid-day, rather than waiting until the end of the day when I get home, and the same with lotion.

To add to that list -- pencils. But I don't get those at the dollar store. Watch your staples stores in August. They usually have a two or three day sale when packs of pencils are a penny each. There is a limit of two, but with a teacher ID, the limit is raised to 30?? That is another situation where, although I want kids to have pencils and return borrowed pencils sometimes its better to just give them something to write with and keep class moving!

(If my policies seem harsh, remember I teach middle and high school).

What do you keep in your desk or classroom to keep yourself and your kids comfortable and keep class moving smoothly.

To me, it was a good use of a few dollars!

Mar 24, 2013

How Do I Plan a Unit? Complete with an Example

I have been told by several administrators and other teachers that one of my strengths is writing lesson plans and planning units. For that reason, I wanted to give an overview of how I go about the process. I am going to use the unit that we just finished on Physical and Chemical Properties and Changes as an example.

Step 1: Look at the State Standards and the district curriculum to understand what I am supposed to be teaching, and what the objectives are. If the objectives aren't clear, then I make sure that there are clear objectives written (even if I have to write them myself).  Sometimes this involves looking at the state assessments and seeing what has been asked on this topic, in order to determine how much detail I need to go into on those topics, or what specifically has been emphasized (or not).

In my case, the standards are as follows: 

·         3.1a    Substances have characteristic properties.  Some of these properties include color, odor,phase at room temperature, density, solubility, heat and electrical conductivity,hardness, and boiling and freezing points.
·         3.1b    Solubility can be affected by the nature of the solute and solvent,temperature, and pressure.  The rate ofsolution can be affected by the size of the particles, stirring, temperature,and the amount of solute already dissolved.
·         3.1c    The motion of particles helps to explain the phases (states) of matteras well as changes from one phase to another. The phase in which matter exists depends on the attractive forces amongits particles.
·         3.1d     Gaseshave neither a determined shape nor a definite volume.  Gases assume the shape and volume of a closedcontainer.
·         3.1e     Aliquid has definite volume, but takes the shape of a container.
·         3.1f     Asolid has definite shape and volume. Particles resist a change in position.
·         3.1g    Characteristic properties can be used to identify different materials,and separate a mixture of substances into its components.  For example, iron can be removed from amixture by means of a magnet.  Aninsoluble substance can be separated from a soluble substance by such processesas filtration, settling, and evaporation.
·         3.2a    During a physical change a substance keeps its chemical composition andproperties.  Examples of physical changesinclude freezing, melting, condensation, boiling, evaporation, tearing, andcrushing.
·         3.2b    Mixtures are physical combinations of materials and can be separated by physicalmeans.
·         3.2c    During a chemical change, substances react in characteristic ways toform new substances with different physical and chemical properties.  Examples of chemical changes include burningof wood, cooking of an egg, rusting of iron, and souring of milk.

From that I have the following objectives:
Identify the properties based on observationsand classifications.
Classify various substances based on theirproperties.
Compare the properties or difference inproperties of various substances.
List the factors that affect solubility and therate of solution.
Explain how the rate of solution may increase ordecrease depending on various conditions.
 Identify what factors increase/decrease the rateof solution.
 Identify the different processes that causechanges in states of matter.
Explain how temperature changes can causechanges in the states of matter.
Identify the points at which water changesphases on a phase change chart/graph.
Identify which substances act like gases basedon behavior of their molecules.
Define a gas based on the behavior of itsmolecules in an enclosed container.
Identify substances as liquids based on thebehavior of the molecules.
Define a liquid based on the behavior of itsmolecules in an enclosed container.
Identify substances as solids based on thebehavior of their molecules.
Define a solid based on the behavior of themolecules.
Define the characteristic of a mixture.
Identify substances that are mixtures.
Explain how certain substances in variousmixtures can be separated.
Identify and list examples of physical changes.
Define a physical change.
Compare the processes of physical changes
Explain why physical changes do not involvechanges in chemical composition and properties.
Describe how various mixtures can be physicallyseparated into its components.
Identify and describe the physical compositionof mixtures.
Classify substances as mixtures or not.
Identify and define chemical changes.
Explain the process of a chemical change.
Explain the results of a chemical change.
Classify changes as chemical or physical.
Compare and contrast physical and chemical changes 

Step 2: I look at the district pacing chart, and the calendar and see how long this unit is supposed to take.  In my case, this unit was slated for about 6 weeks.

If I can, I try to complete Steps 1 and 2 over the summer

Step 3:  I sequence the standards/objectives in a way that makes sense to me, and hopefully makes sense to the kids, and start to lay them out over that time frame.   I use so I start to put them in there, either through the standards section, or in the notes section.   Those may be pretty rough notes to myself like this:

By this point I know roughly each day or week what I'm teaching, and what my objectives are, and I just need to fill in the best way to teach them.  To me, this is extremely useful!  Now, I can do ticket out questions easily, because I know what that day's objectives are, and I can easily tell if a lesson that I'm thinking about correctly address those objectives.

For this unit, here is a rough outline of what I did: 

Week 1: 
  • Demos on phase change (some hands on, and some through videos), 
  • Creation of a title page where they were given the terms for all the properties and had to use the textbook to draw a picture for each.   Many of the properties they are already familiar with, such as color, etc.
  • Notes and practice on phase change and phase change diagram.  
  • Lab on finding density of blocks of different material, and testing if they float or sink, with summary questions and reading on density
Week 2: 
  • Density column demo.  One group saw the demo, the other saw a video clip of the demo, with analysis questions.
  • Notes on density of irregularly shaped solids, and practice questions on density as a characteristic property. 
Week 3 (short week for this class due to assembly: 
  • Notes on mixtures and solutions (a free set from TpT)
  • Mixture and solutions task cards (purchased from Tpt)
  • Solubility lab with sugar and water at different temperatures - graph data
Week 4:
  • Brainpop on property changes; take notes on new facts, and facts we already knew
  • Making ice cream in a bag - describe the physical and chemical changes 
  • Textbook work (foldable) on physical and chemical changes and physical and chemical properties
Week 5: 
  • Station work - 7 stations
    • find pictures out of magazines for physical and chemical changes
    • Venn diagram comparing physical and chemical changes
    • mixtures and solutions - using baby food jars of gatorade, salt water, water with pepper, water with sand, rice and beans, to classify as mixtures or solutions and explain -- then write a summary on the differences 
    • Physical and Chemical changes sorting activity from  available at
    • Reading a short story and answering questions about the physical and chemical changes 
    • Baking powder and vinegar experiment with questions
    • Finding density of a wooden block
  • Review - Keeping Track of Learning and Vocab Work - where are we now
Week 6: 
  • Conservation of mass with steel wool and vinegar lab
  • Conservation of mass reading and questions
Review, and unit test

Hope this is some help.  I hope to get to finalize and clean up some of these resources for listing on TpT, but some of you like to do your own lesson planning, and I hope this outline is some help to you.  

Mar 22, 2013

Here's Something You Can Do To Create Additional Review Time

When is your state testing? Our ELA is April 15-18 and math the following week. Then science has two parts: a performance test at the end of May, and written test June 4th.

Here's the catch, here in NY we are in school until late June. After the big push for state testing is done, we still have two months of school. This year, with spring break early, that is a long stretch without a break. Kids are likely to shut down and lose interest after testing, and when the weather turns.

I will address how I change class after state testing in a couple weeks. For now, one last post on test prep, in a non-traditional sense.

How can you get a little extra time before your state test? Here's a strategy you may or may not be using. ASK!!!

What I mean by this is ask other teachers. Of course, you can't take over their class time, but there may be ways to either integrate, or have them help. Our librarian and tech teacher sometimes have downtime and time on the computers, when I don't always have computer access. Turns out they don't have much curriculum, especially in library, and in tech are very wiling to integrate other subjects to teach tech skills. I was able to give the librarian and tech teachers lists of websites and ways the kids could earn extra credit by doing science review and extra science work. I used quizlet, brainpop (activity and quizzes), and even some sites with review questions.

Wow! Just created individualized additional science review time!

Mar 19, 2013

Take A Closer Look at Scaffolding - It Will Make You Think

Sorry for the delay. I just made this new blogging plan and then got behind in week 2!! Anyway. I'll catch up :). And try to do better :).

I had an interesting conversation today with another teacher that prompted me to write this. In one class I have a huge range of abilities. It is a 7th grade class with 13 special Ed kids, about 8 ELL's (without support) and a few regular students. Just by chance, in that class are the highest seventh graders that I have as well.

As you might imagine, this sometimes leads to some behaviors, which I have been working on. This includes kids being out of their seats, talking nonstop, and generally being very distracting with any equipment (throwing, hitting, etc) and any other type of distractions you can imagine.

The conversation we had focused around scaffolding. Maybe some of the behaviors would decrease with more scaffolding. I agree that they probably would, but at what point am I no longer teaching at the correct level? Am I still hitting the 7th grade standards? How much scaffolding is appropriate? If kids are totally shut down and are just playing around and sitting there with a blank paper, is it a scaffolding issue or a behavioral issue? Also, how does this benefit the higher kids?

I think I will try some of the scaffolding strategies that were suggested to see If they help with the behaviors, and then maybe try to pull some away. One idea that I don't do a lot of, but was suggested to me, is ways to make the lesson or activity self-checking. For example, if students are stuck -- where can they go for help without me, on their own. Some of the strategies were to give them a card or a covered paper at their table that they could check answers or get a hint if day are stuck. Or to let them work to a point, and then go over a portion of it, allowing the to finish the rest of it. It involved taking a very close look at what the objective of the lesson is. Lastly, another suggestion was to ask more open-ended questions that would allow everyone to be successful to some degree. Some students could write more than others.

How do you differentiate, when all are trying to reach the same end state test/curricular goal? How do you determine when more scaffolding a needed?

Please leave your feedback in the comments

Mar 15, 2013

Quizlet Makes it Really Easy to Study

This week I'm going to feature a tech tool that I have used successfully in many different ways. Are you familiar with quizlet? It's at

You can use quizlet for vocabulary, formulas, or really anything that you need to match things up and memorize. (Some examples would be states and capitals, foreign language terms, even chemical formulas).

On the website, kids can flip through the terms and definitions like flashcards, play two different games, or different modes to learn the terms, including one where the computer reads the definitions and they type in the words (great for ELLs).

If you have ipads or ipods in your classroom, there is an app as well. This year, however, I do not have much technology time available. That's ok! I'm still using quizlet.

Once I enter in the terms and definitions, I can print out various things -- a glossary, flashcards, word and definition cards that can be matched, or quizzes in a couple different formats.

I try to focus more on concepts, but the bottom line is, if kids don't understand the vocabulary and language then they can't be successful.

More ideas of how I used vocabulary in creative ways are available in my TpT product located here.

Mar 12, 2013

5 Simple Steps to Alleviate Student Stress and Increase Confidence

Hmmmmm. We are now approaching state testing time. It's not here yet, but its coming. That leads me to several thoughts. I'm not going to get into the politics of testing....I think we all know where we stand on that and are sick of discussing it. I'm going to focus, instead, on how to prepare kids, and how much of our preparation is not about content.

Kids get stressed about so many aspects of testing. It is so important to take away their anxiety! For this reason, it's important to practice and coach them, make them familiar with all aspects of it. These include things you may not think of. Here are some ideas:

- room arrangement. If you will be moving furniture, or seats, do it at least a week ahead of time so that's not scary.
- what will the test look like? If possible, make your unit tests and tickets out out of past state tests. Not from a test bank, but actually from the test. This way they look the same.
- what will the format of the answer sheet be. Make sure they are familiar with this and how to fill it out well ahead of time.
- let them use class time to study, with structure. For example, I took 15 minutes of class this week to have them get into partners and quiz each other in vocabulary words. They could either read the definition and have their partner guess the word, or give clues and guess the word. They got really into it, and started competing and cheering each other on! A the end we talked about ways they could study vocabulary at home. Many realized they could do this with other family members, or even on the bus.

So simple, but they need to be explicitly taught these skills and made to feel comfortable and confident.

Mar 1, 2013

First Year Friday Featured Guest - Check it Out

I was lucky enough to be chosen to be a guest blogger in the First Year Friday Feature - advice for first year teachers. Feel free to read it, and check out the blog in general. Amber has some great resources and features on her blog.  Just click on her blog button below.
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