Hello Classes!

School has started and it’s time to build relationships with my new students! Not only do I have 110 (hopefully) smiling faces in my classes, I also welcomed a new advisory – 19 Freshmen! Positive relationships with our students are so, so important. If I want my students to learn they must trust me first. Besides the usual get-to-know-you games, I decided to make a little slide show about me to introduce myself to my students – complete with photos of my childhood, high school, college, family, and teacher life at NHS. My advisory students seemed to really enjoy it. Their favorites of course were the awkward ones from my younger years and the ones with my students from previous years. I really felt it allowed the students to view me as more of a person and not this teacher who they think lives at the school lol

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With my Chemistry classes I do this activity I call “Element of Me.” I came up with this activity when I didn’t want to do the same get-to-know-you activities that were being done in all of the other classes. In “Element of Me” students make an element square like the ones on the Periodic Table but with a little twist. See below for details!

Element name = their name

Element Symbol = a drawing of something they love

Atomic Number = Current Grade (9, 10 , 11, 12)

Atomic Mass = a number that is important to them

Whether you do something unique or the guaranteed-to-work activities, it’s incredibly important to build relationships with your students! If you can get your students to like you, they will be more willing to put forth the effort that will be required from them when the class gets hard.

Happy First Weeks of School!!!

Feature in TPT!!

I’m so, so excited to finally be able to announce that my teachers-pay-teacher store, Teaching Elements, was selected to be featured in the The New Faces of TPT Ebook for 7th-12th Grade!! This is a wonderful opportunity for my store to reach more people 🙂 Being able to share resources with more teachers is a wonderful feeling and I look forward to being able to grow more as an educator to help others in our profession! I absolutely LOVE teaching! There truly is no better career than ours, after all, without teachers there would be no other options!

Check out the Ebook here and my store! I also hope to have a new blog post up this week about the newest adventures in my classroom. Last week I had student’s introduce themselves using an activity called “Element of Me” and we reinforced safety concepts by making Safety posters! So many of them came out beautifully that I can’t wait to share them with you!

Until then, happy teaching!!

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Molecule Monday’s

“Why does this matter?” “How does [insert any subject here] even relate to my life?” “Chemistry has zero relevance in the real world.” Do these sound familiar? That last one is a real quote from a parent email to me during my first year of teaching; ah! It’s so easy to think of these questions as “dumb” questions; I mean really, did you really just ask me how science even relates to your life?! Did you brush your teeth? Wash your hair/body? Eat food? How’d you get to school? Are you breathing? Are you tired? Mad? Happy? Sad? ALL OF THIS INVOLVES SCIENCE!

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Now to make it clear responding with “That’s a dumb question!” and then following up with the above remarks is probably not the best way to approach students asking the question “why does this matter?” Students do not ask this question to be spiteful….okay maybe some are but most of them are genuinely curious as to how [insert any subject here] is relevant to them. They just don’t see the connection between cells and life, history and citizenship, the Periodic Table and explosions, etc… It is our job as teachers to help students make this connection; to show them why understanding the basics of English, History, Art, Foreign Language, and Science are so important. This conundrum I was confronted with during my first year of teaching was the starting place for Molecule Monday’s but I wasn’t aware of it just yet.

Fast forward to the end of my 4th year of teaching. During Tiger Talks (my school’s version of Ted Talks; implemented during some of our professional days; yes it’s awesome), one of my amazing teaching peers presented and let me just say, this teacher is brilliant. Students love him, his classroom is always full (before/during lunch/after school) and he teaches Physics! During his presentation he talked about dark matter, with his ideas starting from watching water on a trampoline!  I remember one of his points was about engaging students, and in his classroom he used Flashback Friday. He would play songs from all decades and the students would try to guess the song. Implementing something fun in my room to engage students sounded like an awesome idea. I went into the summer determined to come up with something.

A month later, on a plane ride home from a conference, I was talking with another amazing peer about my thoughts of implementing something fun in my room that connected science to the world around my students. I wanted to have an answer for how science was relevant. I wanted a catchy name so that student’s looked forward to it. She replied with, “What about Molecule Monday’s?” She said the title came from a scene in the movie 21 Jump Street…which I still have yet to see lol And that was it. Molecule Monday’s was the answer I had been searching for and is something I have been working on for the last year. So I present:

Molecule Monday's

Every Monday I introduce students to a new molecule. Student’s enter class while science-y themed music is playing (Weird Science and She Blinded Me with Science) and on the board is the molecule (to show how substances have different shapes) with products the molecule is a part of. When class starts, I give a little background information then play a 3-5 minute video. There is no quiz later. Student’s don’t have to remember any of the information I present. Molecule Monday’s is simply a way for me to show my students how science is relevant to their lives. My student’s LOVED it last year! They’d even ask questions after the videos. If I missed a Monday, I would get asked all week if we were going to make it up. It made me so very happy to see that the student’s loved this new creation of mine.

My goal this year is to not miss a single Monday. I have already collected all the information I need for the Fall semester and I’m half-way done with the Spring!  I idea for something else as well 🙂 I teach both Chem 1 and Chem 2 so I’m going to eventually need something different for my Chem 2 kiddos.

Have you implemented something fun in your classroom that connects your classroom topics to the world around your students? I’d be interested to hear what you’ve done!

Also, if you’re interested, I have a free sample of Molecule Monday’s at my TPT store, as well as a paid version with everything you’d need for 16 molecules. I’d love to hear any feedback 🙂

Let’s Get Organized!

Well it’s just about here, the first day of school! I don’t know about you but I try to get as organized as I possibly can before students show up in the hopes that I’ll stay organized all year long. During the first few years of teaching this never happened. My desk looked crazy and I could never find the paperwork I needed, or the worksheets for students who needed an extra copy, or that note I was going to give a student, or…..this list could really go on lol I don’t know why it took me 5 years to figure out how to get organized but it did and I’m here now to pass along that wisdom to hopefully spare you the countless hours of searching for items in a desk that is clearly more a Bermuda Triangle lol ;-p How do I manage to stay organized now? 3-Ringed Binders. I’m obsessed with these things! I use them to keep track of all my answer keys, for students, for general teacher stuff, and for my subs. Let me explain 🙂

Answer Keys – I teach 2 preps (3 this year) and make answers keys for just about everything. It helps keep me on track with what the students are doing so that when there’s a question I know what problem they are trying to describe. What I don’t like doing is making a new answer key every year for something I know I’ll repeat, or having to make a new one because I lost the original. Instead I now put the keys into their designated folder, place a blank copy of the assignment behind it or that’s where the left over quizzes go, and I’m done! 🙂

Students – this is probably my favorite. I always end up with left over worksheets on my desk. I make a few extras (you mean students will lose their work?!) and of course students are absent so those sheets are there too. As days go by these piles get bigger, and I have separate piles for each prep…..things can get out of hand. I now have 3-ringed binders for this. I pass out papers and the left overs get hole punched and placed in the binder. It’s become part of my routine….most of the time lol Students find “their” binder (I keep them in a crate by the student turn-in center in my room) and they can get the worksheet(s) they are missing. No more piles of paper on my desk. No more “the teacher forgot to give it to me” because let’s be real, yes that can happen….there are 30 bodies in here each hour! And, my favorite, no more “I wasn’t here yesterday so didn’t get that” from a student 20 mins into the class. Okay so that last one still happens but not as frequent. Students learn quickly the routines of the class, including to collect their missing work from the binder, and anything that helps decrease that type of distraction is good for me!

General teacher stuff – keeping track of meetings, parent contacts, ELL/IEP students/paperwork; all of this is in another folder. Each time I contact a parent I like to keep a log (paper trails are important!!!); I want modifications close by for easy access, a place to keep handouts from meetings….all the behind the scene stuff teachers need to keep track of. This folder also has a 3-ring binder pencil holder that contains teacher notes. I like to randomly hand out “your awesome because…” notes to students so having them pre-cut and ready to go is helpful. I also have “missing work” notes to remind students to turn in assignments. Both of these things happen more often when the prep work has already been done so that I can just pull a sheet out and use it.

Sub Binder – my district now refers to subs as “Guest Teachers” which I like. Prepping for guest teachers is time-consuming so anything that helps with that is awesome. so I present the Sub Binder. This binder has tabs on the inside where I place the work for each class, as well as seating charts. I don’t have to recollect this information each time. When I will be gone, I pull out the Sub Binder and just have to place directions for the worksheets into it, the rest is done 🙂

Wow, this post is much longer than I intended, sorry! I’ll post pictures once my binders are completed. If you don’t want to make your own contact logs, teacher notes, or binder covers you can find them at my TPT store, Teaching Elements. There’s a packet with everything together (contact logs, notes, and binder covers) or you can get the contact logs and teacher notes separate. As always, let me know if you have questions and I’ll help you if I can 🙂

Minion Themed Lab Safety

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 9.51.12 PMHello Everyone! Here it is; the Minion Themed Lab Safety powerpoint that I’m going to use to discuss, well, lab safety in my classroom 🙂 Minions always make me smile and their craziness seemed to be a perfect fit for this topic. The slides are set up with what I’m required to discuss in my room so feel free to add and/or remove whatever it is you do/don’t need. You’ll find the link to my Teachers-Pay-Teachers account below to access the presentation. Don’t worry it’s free!! This was just the easiest way I could think of to give y’all access to it 🙂

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Minion-Lab-Safety-2011393

I used Microsoft PowerPoint so hopefully it works for everyone. If not, just let me know! And, as always, if you have any questions just ask!

 

 

No More Boring Syllabi

As the school year approaches and I prepare for the depressing end of my afternoon naps excitement of being back in the classroom, my mind is full of thoughts. Sometimes it can be overwhelming so I like to take breaks and peruse the wonderful world of Pinterest. Teachers make some pretty amazing things and looking at the wonderfully decorated, arranged, organized classrooms makes me happy 🙂 Somewhere in the middle of this I thought about my classroom syllabi. My students and their parents always read/understand/reference/use this right? HAHAHAHAHA That would be a dream world but who can really blame them? Students receive 6-7 syllabi in 1-2 days that are all on plain white paper with black type….easy to see how things can blend in. I decided this would be something I’d like to change so used my trusty Pinterest resource, searched “fun syllabi” and voila! What I learned from my search is that I need to keep my sections short and sweet, and maybe use an image that will help them remember. Which makes sense because our students live in a world bombarded by images used for communication (emoticons, memes) and we need to be able to get them to focus on us for more than 2 seconds. I’m in the beginning stages for my Chem 1 classes but I’m hoping the new syllabus will stand out and be easier to remember. I’d love to hear your thoughts and words-of-wisdom!

***I forgot to add how I made the syllabus in my first post, sorry! I used Microsoft Word and their newsletter options. I ended up deleting a lot of text boxes and inserting my own. I used the fill options to do the grey boxes, and found the images by using Google and Pinterest. I tried to keep the colors printer friendly (colored copies would cost a ton for 120 students!). I used colorful memes on worksheets last year that looked fine in black and white so hopefully this turns out okay too! If you have other questions let me know!!

*******For those of you who would just like to have an editable product, I’ve posted that option on my TPT account under Not Your Average Syllabus 🙂 The preview images look jumbled but I promise once it’s downloaded it will be similar to the pictures below! If for some reason it’s not just let me know and I’ll send you a better copy! Thanks!

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Reflecting on Standards Based Grading

Now that the school year has come to a close I find myself reflecting on the changes I made in the classroom. One of the biggest changes was with my grade-book and my grading scale. I started the year using Standards Based Grading and overall I am very encouraged by the results! Now I will say the Fall semester was better since I had prepared during the summer but the Spring……well with my health issues in the Fall and the busy life of a teacher, it wasn’t as organized lol Either way I love the adjusted grading scale (students can only score grades between 50-100). Below you’ll find my reflections for each semester.

The Fall Semester – During the summer I began unwrapping standards and developing learning scales to use in my classroom. The goal was for students to use the scales so that both the student and I would know where they stood in their learning for a particular standard. When it was implemented it worked like I thought it would….for the most part. I learned that while Level 4 on the learning scale equaled an A it needed to be more than a flat 90. Level 4 should be a 90-100 so that if a student missed one question he/she would not slip to a B. I feel this was my biggest hurdle, trying to figure out how to use Standards Based Grading with our current, traditional model of grading (100-90 is an A, 89-80 is a B, etc.). I made more detailed answer keys, and truly thought about each students response and how that showed their level of understanding. I would place a score next to each question as it related to the learning scale (a 1-4), add those up when I was done, get an average and that would be their score on a quiz. Students slowly began to understand how their grade was determined and I had no protests. I made sure to encourage them to ask me questions about their scores and if I couldn’t explain my reasoning for it, we’d look at it together and determine a better grade. The only way to fail a quiz was to make a 0 or 0.5 on the learning scale, which would equal a 50% or a 55% in the grade-book. I never entered anything less than a 50% (I’ll discuss what this looked like during the Spring semester when I didn’t have learning scales in just a moment). This grading method worked great! My boarder-line students tried a little harder (a 50% seems easier to bring up than a 20%) and my final grades at the end were the best I’ve had in my 5 years of teaching. I made these changes to assist my struggling students (F’s and D’s) so those are what I’m using as data. On average, about 10% of students would fail Chemistry however this last Fall I only had ONE student fail! That was just 1%!!! This made me very happy!

The Spring Semester – The Spring semester was a little different. I did not have the time to unwrap standards and design corresponding learning scales like I did for the Fall. Instead I used learning scales from the previous year (which still help but are not as grounded in Bloom’s Taxonomy) but I kept the same grading scale: no one would have below a 50% entered in the grade-book. Instead of using the scales for grades as I did in the Fall I would enter a student’s percentage (so all quizzes were worth 100%). This would ensure that concepts were still weighed equally so that one bad grade wouldn’t ruin a student’s overall grade in the class. When I submitted my final grades for the Spring, about 4% failed. Not as great as the Fall semester but still much lower than previous years. There could be many factors for this (we do a lot of applied Algebra in the Spring) but a part of me wonders if I was able to provide the students with the same scales as I had in the Fall would it have helped? This is something I plan to have for my students next year.

Overall I am very pleased with the results. Implementation was hard. Change always is but I feel it was worth it. I plan on improving and applying this method of grading again. Hopefully I’ll continue to see advances in student learning.

***Side note: If you want to learn more about the grading scale I used, why I used it, and how I used it in the grade-book, I plan on writing a post about it soon! So check back in the next week or subscribe to this blog and you’ll get an email when it’s posted! Have a relaxing summer!

Creative Exit Slips

This year one of my goals was to incorporate quick formative assessments to check for student understanding. Exits slips seemed like an easy place to start and I have learned to love them! Over the summer while perusing Pinterest (I LOVE this site!!) I came across an awesome poster board (see below) made with sticky notes then laminated for easy re-use.

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I used sticky notes with a fully sticky back so that the poster would easily slide through the laminator. Students “stick” their exit slips to the squares in a nice orderly fashion and my OCD side is happy! lol I have students write their names on the back of their sticky note to keep their answers anonymous. I love how I can just look over the board and get a general idea of where the class is on a concept.

 

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“What Stuck w/you” isn’t the only heading I use for my exit slip board. I’ve come up/found a few other ideas that I like to use to keep it from becoming monotonous.

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Parking Lot – Student’s leave a question on the board which will be their starting point the next day.

Hash tag – students love to “#” everything so with this exit slip they must come up with a three-four word summary of what they learned in class that day/key concepts.

Tweets – using their favorite form of social media, students write a summary in 120 characters or less (bonus points if you can get them to really tweet out their thoughts!).

Ticket to Leave – I like to have students come up with Movie/Concert titles.

I also really like the 3-2-1 Method where students write down 3 things they learned, 2 interesting facts, and 1 question they still have. I haven’t used this one yet but hope to incorporate it with our readings.

How have you used exit slips in your classroom? Any helpful suggestions or ideas on keeping exit slips as a useful tool in the classroom?

“Chemist”-trees!

Yes this post is coming a month late BUT I wanted to share the fabulous decorations my students made for our classroom “chemist”-trees! I loved their ideas and plan on doing this every year. The ornament was an extra credit opportunity and the only requirement was that the decoration must be chemistry themed. Students made paper beakers, molecules, element characters (based off their F.B.E. assignment), wrote chemistry jokes on glass balls, and so much more!

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What’s that supposed to mean? Unwrapping Standards

Oh standards. What a frustrating topic. Teachers work very hard to align curriculum to new standards just for them to change the year implementation is supposed to occur. In my short 5 years of teaching I’ve learned this really is a norm in education (sadly 😦 ) so I’m going to avoid the politics that coincide with this topic and talk about how I’ve learned to interpret the standards and use them in my classroom.

I’ve always been aware of the PASS Process Skills and Standards for Science. In my first year of teaching the District I work for began implementing the Next Generation Science Standards and wanted us to find a way to incorporate more writing in the science classroom to align with Common Core. Needless to say standards have always driven my classroom instruction. Great right? Well when I reflected on my use of the standards there was plenty of room for improvement. I knew what the State required students to learn. I knew why the students were doing a particular assignment. I knew. I knew. I knew……but what about the students? It’s great that I know what’s going on but shouldn’t the student’s know too? You could ask a student what our topic was in class and he/she could (hopefully) tell you but I doubt he/she could tell you why we were doing something in particular. Think back to when you were a student, how many of you loved the syllabus in college? I know I certainly did. It outlined exactly what I was supposed to know and what the topic was going to be each time we met. Knowing this information helped me focus during lecture so maybe if my high school students knew what concepts we were going to learn it would help them. This was reason 1 for looking into how I could use standards more deliberately in my classroom.

Reason 2: my students struuuuuuuuuuugled last year with concepts that have never been difficult for my students before. When we were learning how to name compounds 39 of my 77 Chem 1 students were failing AND we struggled with naming compounds for THREE months. I tried everything I could think of to help my students. I asked other teachers and principals for help. Nothing seemed to work. I would get upset, mad, and frustrated with my students and with myself. It also didn’t make me feel better that the other chemistry teachers at my school were having the same issues. This was not okay and I was determined not to have another year like that. Reflection was a must here. What could be the problem? I can’t just blame the students and move on. I needed to reflect on what I could control, starting with the curriculum. We are using the same curriculum that’s been used for many years but our students are not the same. Five years ago I had Juniors and Seniors in Chemistry however I now have mostly Freshmen and some Sophomores. My thought? Maybe it’s time I rearrange the curriculum and alter how I teach it in my class. Sounds drastic but something needed to change and having a room full of seniors again wasn’t happening. (Side note – the number of students failing eventually dropped to less than 10 but that took so much remediation which no one enjoys lol)

With these thoughts in mind I attended the Marzano Building Expertise Conference and the High Schools That Work Conference. I chose seminars focused on increasing student achievement and I learned SO much. I became (and still am) excited about the coming year and implementing this new information. Starting with flipping my classroom to where the student becomes more responsible for their learning and I was going to begin this by making sure they knew our standards for the classroom and how to use it to learn the concepts. In order for this to happen I needed to “unwrap” the standards, when completed it will look something like this:

Unwrapping Standards

You may recognize the above image from the Student Progress Chart (SPC). The SPC is located in the Student’s Data Folder and you can find more information about the folder in the post called “Why Should Students Care?! Student Data Folders.” Once the standard is unwrapped you have started your Learning Scale! I love being able to combine strategies 🙂

Steps for Unwrapping Standards

Step 1: Once you have chosen a standard you need to identify the goal as declarative (informational) or procedural (skills, strategies, processes) knowledge. Generally, standards that require students to know specific information contain the words “students will understand” while standards that require students to show specific skills, strategies, or processes contain the words “students will be able to.” The new OASS for Chemistry all contain the terms “students will be able to” and thus are procedural standards. There are instances when standards can be both procedural and declarative. If you come across something like this remember to break it down into the two pieces so that you address both parts.

Example: The above scale is based on the following standard that addresses procedural knowledgeStudent’s will be able to construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, periodic trends, knowledge of chemical properties (Periodic Table trends), and formation of compounds.

Step 2: Determine the standards’ level of complexity by using either Bloom’s Taxonomy or Marzano’s Taxonomy (yes he has one). I actually use the New Taxonomy developed by Marzano because it is broken into only four levels of difficulty and he provides a list of common verbs that are used in each level (which helps when writing a learning scale).

Example: Look for the verbs in the standard and find where they would align in the taxonomy – Student’s will be able to construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, periodic trends, knowledge of chemical properties (Periodic Table trends), and formation of compounds. At this point you have identified what type of knowledge your students must learn and how difficult the State expects it to be.  The verb “construct” can be a way to symbolize information so is Level 2 Comprehension and the verb “revise” can be a way to analyze errors so is Level 3 Analysis.

The standard is the Learning Goal for the class. If you were to develop a learning scale the learning goal would be your #3. Students should always be aware of their learning goal. Using the above example students would know that they must be able to show their understanding of the standard by constructing something and revising something else. I would build upon this by completing the scale and then tying my formative and summative assessments to the verbs in each statement. Scale development will be the topic of another post. This one is already quite long!

My students seem to like having the standard “unwrapped” for them. As the year goes on I hope to involve the students in Step 2 – I’d like for them to identify the verbs in the standard and brainstorm ways to assess their understanding based on that information. We shall see how it goes. As always if you have questions let me know!

****As a reference outside of the conferences I attended this summer I read: Designing & Teaching Learning Goals & Objectives by Robert J. Marzano. This was a great resource!