Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Resource - Observation and Inference

Early on in the year in almost any science class, at various grade levels, students will learn, or reinforce, the difference between observations, inferences, and hypotheses.  These are critical science skills that students will use across other subjects, and throughout the year. Of course, these skills are ultimately leading them toward making inferences from data, setting up and successfully running experiments, and even making inferences in other areas of their lives.  When students make observations about the world around them, read a news article and infer from it, or make an inference about the interactions that they have with people around them, they are using these skills.  However, this is an area where many students need reinforcement and practice.

I created this set for practicing observation and inferences.

This set has two components, and can be used many different ways.

1) There are 10 pictures that are good for making both observations and inferences.  You can use these pictures for one or other other, or use them to have students practice doing both.  Here is a good example.

Students can observe a hyena, or a zebra head, grass, etc.  They can infer that the hyena killed the zebra, is eating it, is hunting, etc.  They may infer other information as well, such as where this photo was taken.

The second part of this pack is a set of cards.  There are 16 cards each with examples of observations, inferences, and hypotheses.  Students can use them in the following ways (and probably others that I haven't thought of yet): 

- card sort and separate observation, inference, and hypothesis
- get one card and identify which it is.
- match up/sequence -- for example, I observe that the person is very tall, I infer that he plays basketball, and I hypothesize that people who are tall play basketball better.

These cards and pictures can be used in a variety of ways, and with a wide range of student abilities to reinforce these critical science skills. 

I hope you enjoy, and please let me know any feedback that you have! 

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

How Can I Get Tons of Free Resources for Myself and My Classroom?!

I just found out about a new free resource that I'm very excited about, for personal reasons as well as professional.  I can't wait to share it with you.

If you live in NY State, as a taxpayer, apparently you are entitled to a New York (City) Public Library card.  You ask....but I don't live near NYC, so what good does that do for me?!

Well, In 2014, libraries also have many electronic resources, and this gives you full access to all their electronic resources.  
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

In order to get a NYC library card, you have to fill out a form online.  The library card gets mailed to you.  Then you take a scan of your driver's license (or other forms of ID), and, email or fax it, along with the library card.  This validates your library card.  It is free and good for 3 years. 

Even if you don't live in NY, maybe there is something similar in your area.  It's worth checking out!

Some of the resources included are shown below, tumblebooks, digital images, ebooks, audiobooks, etc.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Freebie -- Congratulations Banner

I think it is very important to congratulate and recognize your students achievements. Everyone likes to feel successful, and that positive praise goes a long way way toward continued success (much more than the negatives).

Here in NY State, students have to complete a certain number of labs with passing grades in order to sit for the state final exams in science (required for graduation).  In other words, that lab qualification is their first step toward what they need to graduate.

Also, students usually can't go to summer school unless they have completed their labs.  They can retake for course credit, and sit for the exam in the summer, but usually can't complete labs.

Whatever your pedagogical thoughts about required labs, and, coherency with the course, etc., getting 'lab qualified' is a big deal.

I always make a display or do a pizza, or do some kind of recognition.  This year, since I didn't have my own classroom, I did a display in the hallway.  I made a big banner (included as a freebie), got foam stars from Dollar Tree, and let kids write on their stars and hang them up when they had met the lab requirement.

It was a big deal because it was in the hallway.  Some students would stay after school to make up labs and then ask me right away for their star, or ask to wait and be recognized in class.

I'm sure there are many things that you could congratulate your students on.   If you don't want the banner to be HUGE, you can print two pages per page and make it a bit more manageable.
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday
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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Praxis and Testing Environment

I went about 2 weeks ago to take the Praxis II in Earth and Space Sciences, as one of the requirements for the NYS Master Teacher program, to which I am applying.

The testing environment was highly secured, and, although I did well, I found it extremely stressful. I really gave me new consideration for the testing environment in which our students operate and how it impacts them.

For me, this test was not really so high stakes.  I want to score well, but it is to gain admission to a program, not to retain or earn my certification, or to graduate.

When I arrived (30 min early, as instructed), I had to have my ID checked, and complete a waiver as to my honesty and test integrity.  Not only did I have to sign, but I was instructed to copy the paragraph, in cursive, not printing, and then sign.  Then I was brought back into the testing area.  I was given a key to a locker and told to empty my pockets.  Nothing can go into the testing room.  Not even kleenex (I had a cold).  I was told if I needed kleenex or something else during the test, I was to raise my hand.  You cannot bring your own pencil into the test.  Literally, nothing, enters the testing room. I had to remove my watch and jewelry and place it in the locker. Anything you have goes into a locker.  Then you are wanded with a security wand and patted down.  Then your photo is taken for identification.  You sign off that you are the person you claim to be, and then you understand you will be recorded while testing.  There are video cameras in the testing room.  You also initial the time that you enter the room.

You are given pencil and scrap paper, with instructions to write down nothing during the directions or sample questions, only to write during the test.  Then you begin. A 100 question multiple choice test apparently determines my content knowledge.

I have to admit, I am an adult, a strong test-taker, and this was not a particularly high stakes exam.  However, I was unnerved.  By the time I was sitting and ready to take the test I had to take a few minutes and calm down, take some deep breaths.

I did well, and I understand (to some extent) the need for security.  However, I also have to pause and reflect on what this means for our students.  Many of them NEED to pass these tests, are not strong readers and test takers, and do not have good coping skills under stress.  It seems to me that we owe it to them, and to ourselves as we develop a future society for students to be assessed in a way that is meaningful, and allows them to demonstrate their knowledge to the best of their ability.   Students should not be under undue pressure, but would ideally be asked to do something meaningful, that allowed them to be comfortable and use their knowledge.

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Why do I teach? (Science)

I am considering apply for the New York State Master Teacher Program.   I just took the Praxis on Friday and did well.  I am waiting for my letters of recommendation, and my complete evaluation (depends upon test scores).  I also need to write an essay.  The topic of the essay is "Why do you teach (your subject)?"

I have been tossing it around in my brain over the past couple of days.  Summer vacation just started so I have spent a lot of time with my kids, cleaning the garage, washing my car, doing all the things that I don't have enough time for during the school year. But in between that question has been bouncing around in my head.

In no more than 2 pages, double spaced....why do you teach your subject?

I have a lot to say, but am still refining and focusing my ideas.  I have to say, however, that it has really put a positive start to my summer vacation to think about the great parts of my job.  There are so many!

So far....I teach science because

  • It's fun!  What other job do you get to builds things, break things, look through a microscope and see life processes happening, and even go outside on a regular basis! 
  • It builds on students natural curiosity (yes, even high school students).  For many students, by the time they get to high school, this natural curiosity may have been partially weakened, waned, beaten out of them, or put aside for social reasons, but its still in there.  People are born scientists.  Toddlers ask questions, test things, and want to find out how the world around them works.  This passion can often be re-ignited, or is not completely gone.  Science is a way to get student's attention, and get them thinking and asking questions!
  • Students need to know how their own bodies and the world around them works!  As they go on to become adults, they need to understand how to make healthy choices, for themselves and their environment.
  • As they go on to become voters, citizens, and business people, whichever specific line of work that they enter, students need a basic level of scientific literacy.  They need to be able to intelligently understand news articles on science topics, and make informed decision.  They need to be able to read and follow a set of instructions and diagrams, as well as create their own.
Its pretty amazing to think that I'm a part of making these things happen!! 

Why do you teach science?  (Or your subject)? 
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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Vocabulary Strategies

No matter your subject area, vocabulary is critical for speaking the ‘language’ of the subject, and for building up confidence and comfort with test questions.  In other words, as we approach testing season, it is very important that students are familiar with the vocabulary.
In my classroom, I use several strategies for students to build up comfort with the vocabulary.
quizletAt the start of the unit, I give students a list of terms and definitions for the unit.  I usually make these up by using the website Once you enter the words, you can choose from a list of previously entered definitions for that term.  I try to keep the list to a manageable, not overwhelming amount.   For homework, they have a week to do to options from their vocabulary ‘menu.’  They can do three for extra credit.  This menu includes options such as drawing pictures, using in a sentence, writing definitions, writing a story, etc.
Then within class.....
To read the rest of this post, please read here on our collaborative blog, where it was first posted....
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Field trip!

I had the opportunity to take my students on a field trip....It was a great experience, mostly because it is so foreign to them.  Every time I plan a field trip it is so much work that I question if I will do it again.  But I always do. It is worth it to see the kids so engaged, and to see kids that struggle in the classroom be so successful in a different setting.  One student had never been out of our county before.  Another, since I teach in a very urban district, had never seen a real chipmunk.  That was a big hit!!  The trip was to Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.  It is a program with a local college, so our students got to interact with college students (who were their guides).  They took a guided walk, did a scavenger hunt, and played some games.  The kids were afraid of the bugs and mud, at first, but they settled in and had a great time!  

If you have the opportunity to take your students out of their element, and expose them to new things, do it!!  Testing does not capture all that we do as teachers, or all the growth that our students have, but this is an important part of our role!

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