Saturday, August 29, 2015

Gummy bear fun

Another fun way to reinforce observation and help students distiguish between qualitative and quantitative observations in the Gummy Bear Investigation.


Students observe Gummy Bear candies before and after soaking in tap, distilled, and salt water.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Observations, Inferences,and Predictions

A good activity to introduce or reinforce observations, inferences, and predictions is Animal Tracks (version 2)

I found a version of this lesson years ago and knew it could be adapted to make a great lesson on observation and inference for middle schoolers.
I start by briefly explaining the meaning of observation, inference, and prediction.  Then I show the first third of the graphic on the PowerPoint.  I give the kids some time to chat with their partner about what they observe.  Then we follow up with a conversation about fact vs opinion. Some students make inferences at this time, so it's a good way to illustrate the difference between the two.  Next we move on to inferences. Same procedure; team talk, then whole group conversation.  At this point some students are making predictions, so this time to clarify the difference between an inference and a prediction.  Then we move on to making predictions - team talk, the group discussion.

I show the next third of the graphic, do the same thing, then the final third.

The lesson takes less than one class period and is a wonderful springboard into doing what scientists do.

Liz LaRosa has another version of this lesson at middleschoolscience.  

Distributing supplies in a science lab

So much stuff!!!

Science teachers have a boatload of materials, supplies, and equipment to distribute, pick up, and clean.  Teachers with multiple classes have to do this several times a day.

I struggled with this early in my career, but with age comes wisdom, and I have worked out a pretty good system for my classroom.  I was helping my newbie science teacher son (so proud!!!)  with this the other day, and I had to think through my process.

My first priority was to make sure my students have what they need to engage in the learning activity of the day.  That means the students later in the day have exactly the same access as the students in my early class periods.  I had to eliminate anything being misplaced, broken (hey, it happens), or used up without me knowing about it.

My second priority was to cut way down on the amount of time I spent cleaning up after the students.  

My solution to this was to designate team supplies.  Since my students work in groups anyway, this was a logical step.  

Each table group is labeled with a team number.   
Each seat is labeled with an individual number.

Everything in my room that is a class set is numbered.  If a student is assigned to seat 15, then textbook 15 is the book that is used.  If something happened to the book, I know who to look for.

When we do labs, each team has designated materials.  I have signs on the walls, and trays and bins labeled for each team.  When students are given the signal to get supplies, they get their tray or bin from the selected spot.  When it is time to clean up, each time has a designated sink in which to wash out supplies if need.  The person chosen to clean up that day, rinses glassware and returns all materials to their team area.  It takes me only a minute to walk by and check that everything is there and intact.  If consumable supplies need replacing, then I know who needs what.  No one leaves the room until all trays or bins are returned and complete.  

I use the bucket as trash cans. One on each table keeps scraps of paper off the floor.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Students in my science classes work in teams. Although my students come to me familiar with the idea of "group work" they still need practice with the idea of working as a team.

I have to teach what this looks like during the first week of school.  

There are a number of great teamwork lessons easily available on the web.  I have used one called Marble Ramps for the past few years.

The beauty of this lesson is that it gives me a change to teach group work procedures and reinforce procedures for getting supplies and cleaning up too.

This year I am adding something new to the lesson - a kind-of/sort-of graphic organizer for their notebooks.  We are setting up the notebooks tomorrow, so this will be the first item in it.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The first day of a brand new school year!

I love the first day of school.  So much promise, so much energy.

I like to start the year with a short lab.  I do not want the first impression of my science class to be one of boredom and rigidity.  So I never spend the day going over rules and policies and procedures.

Ugh! Tedious for all of us.

Instead I teach the start of class procedure, pass out the lab binder, show the Science Handbook, and move straight into a lab.

Of course, I use the lab to teach how to get and clean up supplies and materials.

The lab I do is called Scientific Observations, and it is always a big hit with my 6th graders.

It's a classic lab - students put four drops of food coloring in whole milk,  I tell the students that they are to make observations about what they see during the lab.

They dip a toothpick in Dawn dish washing detergent and touch the soapy end to the milk. (Any kind of detergent will do.)

As they observe what happens, I get a lot of "cool!" "awesome!" and similar comments.

When we process the activity, I tell the kids that they just did what professional scientists do - they made observations.  What usually follows observations are questions, so what questions did they have???

They start saying things Why did this happen?  What caused this?  How come the food coloring moved?  Questions of that nature.  So that leads me into a quick conversation about the kinds of questions scientists ask and how they help build the knowledge base for humanity.

I finish by explaining that whole milk has fat in it, and describing the connection between fats and oils.  I ask if they have seen commercials for Dawn that show the detergent being used on animals that are victims of oil spills.  Most have.  At that point I see some of the proverbial light bulbs going on.  They've made the connection!

I give a a more thorough explanation of why the food coloring moves the way it does. explain the clean up procedure, have the students clean up, and teach the dismissal procedure.

It's a great first day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Kids Come Tomorrow!!!!

Finally! After a week of meetings, the real reason for school - our students - will be back tomorrow for a new year of science.

Since I teach 6th grade, it's especially important to me to start the year off as positively as possible.

I always start with a lab the first day of school.  This sets the tone for the year.  We do labs in science.  We're serious about science.  We have fun in science.  
It also lets me teach the lab procedures in a natural context.  Seriously. Who wants to start the year listening to rules and procedures all day long?  I certainly don't want to go over them all day.

So... I'm ready!

All of my stuff is neat, tidy, and ready to go.

Student lab manuals are printed & ready for distribution.

The daily agenda is prepared.

Tha lab is set up and ready for student investigation.

I'm pumped to begin year 34!!!!!!!
Bring it on!!!!!!!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Getting Ready

How my classroom is set up and how it looks is a BIG DEAL to me.  I spend a lot of time in that room and I need to be comfortable in that space. Furthermore, I want my students to be comfortable in the room as well.

Very busy, heavily decorated rooms bother me.  Knick-knacks, toys, excessive seasonal decor, all make me tense.  I don't like clutter, and I think most of my students feel the same way.  A recent study supports my gut feeling -

Granted this is just one study, and a fairly small sample size, but I believe there is some truth to the idea that too much "stuff" in a room is distracting to many students. 

I don't like a completely bare room either.  And even though the study stripped down a room to test the students, I think that day after day of a bare bones room would feel cold and unwelcoming.

So what's the happy medium?

For me, it's a color coordinated room.  I don't do themes, but I use coordinated borders and such.

When I first walked into my room two years ago, it was covered with posters. Dozens of posters.  My ceilings are very high  it was originally going to be a two-story building, but the second floor was value-engineered out.  There were posters so high that I could not reach them.  Our wonderful maintenance crew came in and took down all of the posters and gave the room a fresh coat of paint.  Now I had a very clean, but bland room.  The chairs in my room are blue, so blue is the color I've chosen for the room.  Since my room is a science lab, we have lab tables, not desks.  Blue Seat Sacks help keep supplies off the floor and out of the way.

Blue chair slippers protect the floor.

I like to start the year in the U-shape for desks,  I can get to all kids easily and it helps with classroom discussion too.

I have very little wall space, so my cabinets become my bulletin boards.  My process skills word wall stays up on these cabinets all year.  This is also my supply center.  Each table is a team, and each team has a spot where they pick up and return lab supplies.  Other supplies. like rulers, pencil sharpener, stapler... are over here also.  All supplies in one place.

These cabinets will fill up with unit-specific words, anchor charts, and so on as the year goes on.

The only real bulletin board in the room is rather small.  I also have a window that looks into the storeroom.  I've made it into a quasi-board also.  The border matches the color of the chairs and the signs I use to designate team supply spaces.  I found coordinating cloth and left it pretty much at that.  I use store-bought posters over here because I have to climb on the cabinets to change them, and I don't like to do that too often.  They are unit-specific too, so I can leave them up a while.  I had a couple of posters made at Vista Print for some specific-to-my-classroom signs.


I do put up some other posters here and there.  Teach us delight in simple things is our school motto.


My borders and team signs.


My supplies are usually from a dollar store or Target, and I color coordinate them also.  I have a basket with dish washing soap, hand soap, and a sponge at each sink.


The only other real decoration I have are live plants. 

My teacher spot is  corner of the room where the computer is located.  The cabinets over here hold teaching supplies.  I don't have a real desk.  This corner is off-limits to students.  

Other shots of my room.

Kids come Wednesday!  I'm ready for them!