Reflecting on Year 6

Classroom

Dear Classroom,

Year 6 was hard, harder than any other year. This year I taught 3 different preps, all in chemistry but different levels. My Chemistry 2 students pushed me to be a better teacher. They were always curious, always interested, and always wanted to understand why, and that was wonderful! This was my first year to teach CP Chemistry (college prep) and the pace was very different; fast. The students learned what I asked of them but I wasn’t very happy with what I was asking. There just wasn’t enough time to do what I would’ve liked to do with that class. And lastly my Chemistry 1 students; these kiddos pushed me to build better teacher-student relationships. I’ve never met a group quite like them. Labs required too much work. Lectures required too much writing. Task cards took too much time. Assignments had too many questions. You mean we have to look it up in our notes?! Watched ‘The Bomb’ documentary to extend nuclear chemistry concepts and I get, “Why should we care? It’s just a bunch of old people talking about something that happened forever ago.” My response? *@?!#@%* Needless to say, it was frustrating. Most days I managed behaviors rather than teach. Parent contact helped sometimes, but you can only contact parents and administrators for the same behaviors so many times before you just give up. Then I would get frustrated with giving up, and I’d try again. It was exhausting, and there were tears (by both me and the students). We openly acknowledged their dislike for chemistry but tried pushing them anyways. I know all parties involved were happy summer finally came. lol Whiteboard

Despite the crazy, I love, love, love that group of students. Every single one of them. From the students that would never sit in their seat, to the students who never stopped talking. I learned what they loved, where and how often they worked, after school activities, made deals for retweets, became more creative with assignments, and so much more. I was very aware of the hardships in their lives, and would attempt to work with them to find solutions on how to keep up with their class work.  I saw how much they cared for each other, and the support they’d give each other. It was beautiful to watch and be a part of. It was a great reminder that the students in my room are so much more than bad chemistry students. They are smart, caring young men and women, and will do and accomplish many amazing things, it just won’t be in chemistry. lol  I will miss them, and hope that maybe one day they won’t hate chemistry (even if that is wishful thinking lol). Continue reading

Culminating Projects as Summative Assessments

Making science relevant to teenagers. There’s a difficult thing to do! It’s not as simple as: “Oh you like explosions? Let’s learn about the science of explosions!” I mean, yes we could do this however it’s such a small part of “science” that what will I do with the other 175 days of school???? The challenge is finding ways of making all science concepts relevant to the teenager who is more interested in the latest snap chat lol I am trying to find ways of engaging students in the required concepts of reactions and stoichiometry with their curiosity of blowing things up but of course this requires time and it requires getting educators out of their comfort zones of the “usual” teaching routine. I am not just talking about other educators, I am most definitely including myself. We get comfortable with a certain order and then stick to it. It can be very hard to step-out and try something new and I am accepting this challenge. I’ve made small changes for about 3 years now and am beginning to LOVE it!

One of the changes I’ve made is using culminating projects as the summative assessment for standards we have completed. Students seem to enjoy them and I can still check for understanding. Sometimes I also have another supporting assignment but not always. I’m (currently) a fan of poster projects because 1) students always check out each others work and 2) I use them later for reviews and/or a way to assess student understanding of the concepts by having them check each other’s work.

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Science Centers in a Secondary Classroom

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Science Centers: a hands-on approach to learning, that encourages students to experiment and explore using interactive activities. My thoughts about using science centers in my classroom began with my daughter and how she learns. Here’s a little back story:

My daughter is a very energetic child that has a hard time focusing. Pre-K was repeated because of this (which was one of the hardest parental decisions I’ve had to make so far but boy did it make a difference!). Year 1 in Pre-K students learned their letters based on the order of the alphabet; seems logical right? I mean, we say the letters in a particular order so why not learn them that way? But have you ever stopped to think why letters are in that order? Does it really matter? The answer is no, it doesn’t matter. We’ve put letters into alphabetical order for so long that the reason we continue to do so is simply because that’s the way it has always been done. Now put yourself in the shoes of a 4-year-old. Doing something “simply because that’s the way is has always been done” doesn’t really interest you. You want to explore the world around you. That’s how you learn and very rarely is this done in a logical order. Learning “a” then “b” and now “c” and finally all those letters mixed together to spell something called a “word” can be overwhelming! This is what happened to my daughter. She wanted to learn. She tried very hard to learn but learning this way did not work for her. So we repeated Pre-K, this time in a new District where learning was done differently. At this new school students would move to different centers when learning. My daughter had options of drawing the letter, coloring the letter, and recognizing the letter in words that had meaning to her (mom, friends, names, etc…). This made a HUGE difference in my daughters success at school.

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The Trouble with Lab is…

The trouble with lab is…said to the tempo of Kelly Clarkson’s song “The Trouble with Love Is.” Don’t know the song? Here ya go…

What’s got me singing the lab blues? Exhaustion, frustration, and well my belief that it will be better next time. We all know students can’t wait to do a lab. They beg for them starting day 1, “Mrs. J, when are we going to do a lab?” “Please can we do a lab?” I have 3 preps this year (Chem 1, 2 and college prep) so my Chem 1 classes have seen the set up for the others and have been particularly eager.

Last week the time had finally come for my classes to do a lab….all of them….at the same time….over multiple days. (Side note: we’ve been doing labs all semester but I’ve been able to stagger them….unfortunately not this time) To say the week was stressful would be an understatement. First, I want to say I work with amazing colleagues who help with set up when they can, but even with their help managing three different labs was a bit much. Chem 2 is working on Collision Theory and the conditions that affect reaction rates, CP Chem is beginning heating and cooling concepts, and Chem 1 is focused on mixtures, solutions, and chemical/physical changes. The only thing these labs had in common was a ring stand lol If you’re a teacher that has to set up labs I don’t have to tell you about the amount of time required to set up for ONE lab, let alone three! (It’s HOURS, for everyone else) Thank you Ryan Reynolds for knowing my pain….

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Safety Posters

I love when I can make learning rules less boring and one way I’ve done that is by having students choose a rule and make a poster based on it. I heard about this idea during the many, many hours of safety video training I had to endure. 7 hours of training resulted in 1 new idea BUT the students love it and we’ve now done this for 3 years! Once all the posters are completed (they get 1-2 days) we do a poster walk-through; the favorites are laminated and hung up in the classroom. Students love looking at their artwork and I can decorate a part of my room for free! It’s a win-win 🙂 I also did this activity with my Advisory using the school rules from our handbook. It made that discussion much more interesting! lol

Below are some of my favorites from the safety posters. Enjoy!

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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 🙂

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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