Wednesday, February 21, 2018

NGSS Models in the Classroom: Reflections and Revisions

NGSS Models in the Classroom: Representations, Reflections, And Revisions:
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In the science community, models can be physical, conceptual, or mathematical. They are representations of more complex systems that are often used to make predictions. Models may be simplified versions of systems, but little about them is simple.
In the Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS) classroom, models are ways for students to express their understandings of phenomenon. When they are effectively incorporated into the classroom, students engage in higher-level thinking.
Models In The NGSS Classroom
A typical “model” assignment in a science class might be to create a scaled enlargement of a cell. However, such a diagram mostly reinforces vocabulary. In the NGSS classroom, models should explain and show relationships.
Students might be asked to create a model of what effects the sun has on comets when they are pulled into the inner solar system, how a tsunami is formed, or the impact of a new species on an existing ecosystem. This computerized video model from NASA shows Thermohaline Circulation, or the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt. A complex animation such as this one would be difficult for students to create, but it can be used as an example for students of what how a complex system can be represented.
Using Models For Scientific Thinking
In the NGSS classroom, the emphasis should not be on the model itself, but should be on the process of its creation. It is important to let go of control and let your students THINK through their models....even when they are not 100% correct. (This was the hard part for me.)

This means that students might create models based on what they think they know about a phenomena. Then, after discussions with each other or learning activities, they reflect on the effectiveness of their model and make revisions. Through this process, students engage in scientific thinking. They develop their models by considering variables, data, and evidence, and they use their observations to further develop their models.

During this forces activity, students were given ping pong balls, golf balls, spring scales, rubber bands of different sizes, meter sticks and a thick cardboard piece with a u-shaped cutout and nails (see photo). As a springboard for learning about Newton's 2nd Law, they were asked to create a model that proved that force, mass and acceleration are related.
Note:  Like all new classroom activities- it is trial and error! I learned that cardboard is not strong enough.  I'm going to need to make a wood version for next time since the nails loosened after too much use! 


When kids are given supplies, a goal and then unstructured time to develop their ideas, amazing learning happens! As I walked around I could clearly tell who had background knowledge on the topic, I could tell who needed some prompting and who might just need some extra time to "play" with the materials before "AH HA!" coming to a conclusion. It was really different than traditional modeling (like the model of a cell that I made in 7th grade) but there was SO much thinking and learning that I could barely keep up with each group's developments.
Talk to your students about models! Dalton, Thomson, Rutherford, and Bohr all contributed models of atomic structure. Each subsequent model incorporated new discoveries into the next atomic model. These scientists are the perfect “models” for using models in the NGSS classroom, where errors become the motivation for new investigations and the unknown becomes an impetus for discovery.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Metacognition in the Middle School Classroom

Metacognition in the Middle School Classroom


Middle school kids are learning all the time, whether or not they want to admit it.  So when Emmett’s mom asks what he learned in science and he says, “Nothing,” she knows that response is not representative of what actually have happened that day. However, like many middle-schoolers, it may be what Emmett actually perceives!

Helping our students know what they know is critical in middle school.  

Activating students’ prior knowledge is  one step in the educational process that serves many functions in instruction, but is particularly helpful in guiding the adolescent mind towards monitoring the learning process.
Activating Prior Knowledge
Children learn through new experiences that contradict prior knowledge. Therefore, it is important to help students identify their previous understandings before helping them reach new ones. When students must identify what they know about a topic, they JUMP-start the process of learning.  With “what do I know?” comes “what don’t I know?,” a question that prompts curiosity. 

In science, the “unknown” is particularly powerful, as it leads to investigation and discovery!


Using Prior Knowledge In Instruction


We used to think activating prior knowledge served mainly the teacher, as a means of collecting data to inform pacing and content instruction.  Now we know that if we can activate students’ prior knowledge, they are more likely to become a self-regulating learner.  
According to this 2018 article, metacognition is a skill that sets our higher-performing students apart from their peers. When they think about their thinking, they reach impactful understandings about their own learning processes. Once students can identify what they know about a topic, leading them to “how” they know it is a natural next step that leads them to higher achievement.
Strategies for Activating Prior Knowledge in The Upper Grades


The Next Generation Science Standards emphasize the use of phenomena in teaching science content.   This strategy involves students USING science knowledge to explain events in the natural and design world.  Although it can be tempting to explain the "answer" to students, resist the urge!  When students are given opportunities to wrestle through challenging content, they are much more in tune with their own learning! I used this density bottle demonstration on the first day we started our unit.  Students were SO engaged and really wanted to know WHY the beads don't mix, separate to top and bottom and then slowly move to the middle.  They left class wanting more!  As we learned about density over the next week, students began to say Ah Ha!  I know!!!  






Puzzles are a quick way to get students "thinking about their thinking".  They automatically tap into background knowledge and begin constructing a visual on which to add new learning.  Have you ever started a lesson with a puzzle?  



On the first day of our Great Lakes Ecology Unit, I gave each pair of students (smaller groups work best for puzzles) a map of the Great Lakes that was cut into puzzle pieces.  Their task was to put the puzzles together and if time permitted discuss what they already knew about the region.  This can be done with any science diagram and is a sure-fire way to engage kids from the start!  (Be sure to save the pieces in plastic bags to use year after year!) 


Students take time to build on old knowledge and construct new knowledge.   Classroom visuals help remind students of their progress and review essential concepts along the way.  I've found that keeping visuals out for multiple days (sometimes weeks) helps kids with the process.  Here is a visual I used when we are exploring the difference between mass and volume.  



We pass these 2L bottles around so that students can feel the difference in their mass and see the similarity of their volume.  As we work through the unit I keep them on my front table as a reference for when kids are struggling.  Returning back to this visual is helpful as students construct their knowledge of physical properties of matter. 


If we want students to think about their thinking, then we have to engage them in the process.  (Every student, not just the few kids who always raise their hands.)  

    Photo by Munpa Gallery on Unsplash

Try starting a lesson with 3-5 "vote with your feet" statements.  Here's how it works: 

Tell students to listen closely to your statement.  For example:  "There are over 100 different kinds of atoms." If they think it is true they should stand by the door.  If they think it is false they should stand by the windows.  If they aren't sure YET (YET...stress the YET!) they should stand by the board.  Remind students they must move silently.  Once students have made their choices, I have them quietly go back to their seats.  Yup....I DO NOT TELL THEM THE RIGHT ANSWER!  This is key for having middle school kids monitor their own learning.  Kids are naturally curious and will want to know if they are "right."  I tell them "I'm so glad you are curious!  You will know the right answer by the end of the lesson!"



We often use games for review and reinforcement, but they can be a powerful way to tap into prior knowledge at the start of a lesson.  Splat is a low-prep, 5 minute vocabulary engagement game.  Start by picking 10 or so words that relate to your learning goal.  Write the words on the board or on cards that students spread on their tables. Read aloud the definition or a description.  Students compete to be the first one to "splat" the word.  Here is a picture of doing this on the board with fly-swatters, but I really like to also have ALL kids participating at their desks too (minus the swatters of course).  



Looking for more ideas for activating prior knowledge?  Here are some free materials to get you started:

Ecosystem Splat Directions (free download)


Join up for more middle school instruction ideas:

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Monday, January 8, 2018

The Power of Visual Note-taking



Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

Notes are a necessary part of science instruction in middle school. Maybe you have students fill in note-taking sheets that you have typed up, or maybe they add their thoughts to print-outs of PowerPoint slides. Some teachers teach outlining so that students can gather and sort content as they read, using textbook headings as their guides.
You know it’s important to prepare them for notetaking they might need to do in high school. But, it’s time to ask yourself: are the note-taking strategies I’m teaching useful for my students?
For some teachers, the answer could be yes. Some students will do well with fill-in-the-blanks or outlines or print-outs of slides. But don’t confuse students being able to accurately complete notes with their true internalization of class material, and just because students can DO notes in these more traditional formats doesn’t mean there isn’t a more effective note-taking strategy for them.
If you’ve started to question note-taking in your middle school classroom, either because you’re wondering if they really “get it” or because you think there might be a better way, then consider trying visual note-taking with your students.
What Is Visual Note-taking?
Let’s start with what visual note-taking is NOT. It’s not students writing down bullet points while they read. It’s not students waiting for “answers” for filling-in-the-blanks with important terms while you lecture or go through a presentation. It’s not even students writing a sentence or two to reflect on what they’ve learned.

Visual note-taking IS a note-taking strategy that involves no words, or a few words arranged visually instead of in the narrative formats we’re used to.
Essentially, students draw pictures to build understanding. This could be illustrations, concept maps, graphics, or maybe even doodles and abstract representations of concepts.
Doodling as a thinking tool gained recognition in a 2014 article by the Wall Street Journal. The study cited in the article explains that doodling can help people maintain focus and retain information. The same could be said of drawing pictures of concepts instead of taking notes in written form.

The idea behind visual note-taking is that students are representing important ideas instead of simply writing them down. This requires making connections between concepts, an important skill for middle school students to practice.
For example:
If students are learning about photosynthesis, drawing the process can take the place of writing a chronological explanation of how photosynthesis works. Through pictures of the sun, plants, soil, water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, students reinforce that these terms are the most important to the photosynthesis process.
Here students created visual notes in teams for photosynthesis, before writing about recording their notes on paper.

There are other forms visual note-taking could take.
Here are some examples:
Narrated Art
After students have drawn a picture of a concept or process, they can record narrative to go along with it. While there is audio narration, students still don’t need to use words in the notes themselves. They can look at and listen to their notes later, instead of just re-reading them.  You've probably had students create short movies in your classroom, but what if they used movie-making to craft their notes? Can students use iPads to create paper-less visual notes? 
Concept Maps
Concept maps might be closest to what we might consider traditional note-taking, in that it involves some words. However, unlike outlines or other forms of written notes, concept maps stress the relationships between concepts. Words and pictures are arranged on the page based on how they relate to each other. Note-takers use arrows, images, and colors to reinforce ideas and show connections.

Visual Interpretations of Abstract Concepts
Drawing a volcano or galaxy or cell is easy. But what about concepts like “gravity” or “scientific method” or “climate”? The way students draw these terms can shed a lot of light on their understandings and challenge them to think critically about what might before have just been a written definition to a vocabulary word.
To Sum Up Visual Note-taking
Anytime we can engage students in critical thinking, we’ve done something right as teachers. Traditional note-taking doesn’t do this for students, because usually it just involves copying definitions or summarizing events.
If we can extend higher level thinking to note-taking, we help our students learn how to effectively process important information.
In middle school, students are at just the right age to learn a note-taking technique that can benefit them for years. They’re creative, invested, and eager to try new things.
Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

3 Back to School Rules that will Change the Way You Start Your Year



I can almost smell the optimism when I set-up my classroom each year.  There is something magical about a room that is completely free of missing homework assignments, looming test dates and cold and flu germs.  None of those things are going to happen this year. Not in this room.

This room will be filled with cooperative, highly-motivated students, three-dimensional science experiences and innovative teaching strategies.  How do I know?  Well, for starters my plan book is a color-coded masterpiece and I have an amazing Growth Mindset bulletin board.  Oh, and my book shelves look  A-MAZ-ING!

This is how I feel.  Every. Single. Year.

I'm pretty sure my 6th graders would be just fine with last year's bulletin boards, but somehow I think that by reorganizing and redecorating I'm sending a message to myself and my students that this year is going to be EVEN better than last.

Before kids I would to spend countless (unpaid) hours in my classroom before school started.  I still put my fair share in these days, but things have changed a bit since my boys were born.  As a parent, I realize that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another.  Being an excellent teacher is right up there on the list with being an excellent mom, so in order to do both I've had to adapt! Being a teacher-mom means being insanely efficient from the moment I step foot in my classroom.  Which...is really, REALLY hard.  Have you seen the adorable lime green plastic bins in the Dollar Spot at Target? Stay...Focused!


Here are 3 Rules I have for Back to School:


1) PLAN first PLAY later
Bulletin boards and room organization are fun, but you will feel a lot better about your first month back if your lesson plans are well-designed.  Flexible seating looks great, but it won't fix behavior issues as well as a lesson plan that has EVERY student engaged.  Your school district didn't hire you because of your decorating skills....right? 



2) Build Relationships
Teachers work in isolation much of the time.  Bring coffee to the new teacher across the hall.  Offer to pick up another teacher's copies.  Ask the cleaning staff about their kids and the secretary about her mom's surgery.  Stop and talk to parents and kids who wander the halls.  Networking and collaborating with teachers and support staff can have long-lasting benefits. (Or you could lock yourself in your room and label all those new markers...your choice.)  No! Get out of your classroom.  Radiate positive vibes and they will come right back at you....All Year Long.





3) Let it Go

Ask yourself "Will this REALLY help my students learn?" If the answer is NO, then don't feel bad about heading home at the end of the day and not getting it done.  So, maybe the tattered bin labels from last year will have ONE more GO.  Nobody ever said on their death bed "I wish my classroom was more stylish." Go to your son's baseball game, last summer swim lesson or just get home before dark so that you can be there for bedtime stories.  You'll be glad you did.

After a tough week last school year, a dear friend said this to me:  "You know what makes good mom? A good teacher.  You know what makes a good teacher? A good mom."

Balancing this teacher-mom life is not easy.  I'm pretty sure I'll be going a little crazy by October, but looking at my empty classroom today...well...I'm pretty optimistic.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

30-Minute File Cabinet Makeover with Free Template

File cabinet makeover in 30 minutes for classroom organization

I'm really working on classroom organization.  It improves my productivity with students, so I know it is time well-invested. However, I have to admit that for the longest time I have been avoiding my paper file cabinet!  Until recently, it was in need of a major makeover.  I tried filling out those little plastic tabs that come with hanging files, but they never lined up neatly when I moved files around and they were just a pain to pinch into the little slots at the top of each folder! So, then I switched to manila folders, but they slump down and make it impossible to flip from folder to folder.  Lesson learned.   

Messy file cabinet before organization

I did a few things to prep for this project.  

1) Get hanging files and make sure they fit in your cabinet. With a little adjustment, most file cabinets can accommodate the hanging-style folder.  

2) Buy a 50 pack of bright, sturdy card-weight paper.  

Here is how I beautified my file cabinet in 30 minutes.  It worked really well for me, so I'm sharing my template below for you to use in your classroom.   Hopefully you already have most of the items you need in your classroom.  If not, now you have a good reason to go to Target for bright colored classroom supplies....like you really need a reason to go to Target right?


I decided that I needed two categories of tabs for my classroom (science topic tabs and a set of tabs for general classroom management).  I printed the science tabs to match the topics for middle school listed in the Next Generation Science Standards.  This really helped me weed through papers because if they didn't relate to an NGSS topic,  I didn't feel guilty about tossing them!  For classroom management tabs, I made a list of items that I regularly find on my desk and made tabs that match those topics (exams, sub plans, meetings etc.).  You can alternate paper colors or group them by topic.  (EX: All science files green)

The tabs each teacher needs will vary so you will notice that the free download has a few pages that you can edit for your needs.  You will need to have Adobe on your computer to edit this.  So be sure to open the file in Adobe on your desktop before editing!  Warning: If you only open it in Google Drive and start editing it will Not work or Save!  Be sure to download and open it on your desktop so that your changes save.



bring colored file dividers for classroom organization

Stay focused! Don't stress over or read EVERY paper in your file cabinet.  If you only have 30 minutes, skim and scan papers to determine whether they fit a topic or not.  You might want to create a "Review Later Box" where you toss any item you find that doesn't fit your new labels/tabs and you are not ready to throw away until you take a closer look.  This will allow you to focus your time on the task of adding the bright file tabs and tidying up your existing files without getting sidetracked by worksheet nostalgia!   You can always block off additional time later to sort those papers more carefully.  (Chances are you will find out that stuff wasn't as important as you thought!)

attaching your printable file tabs to your file folders for a more organized file cabinet

Staple each piece of colored card-weight paper to the front (or back if you prefer) of each hanging file folder.  Be sure to measure how much room you have above the folder in your cabinet so that your pretty new tabs don't get squished when you close the door! 

Free template for bright file folder tabs to organize your classroom file cabinet.

Ready to have a colorful, clean and organized classroom?  Click the image above to download a pdf of my (editable) template!  Remember, if you want to make custom tabs you will need to download the pdf to your desktop and change it using Adobe. 

Thanks for visiting Kate's Classroom Cafe!  Happy Organizing... 


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Holiday Hustle and Bustle Busters for the Classroom!

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas break are tough for teachers everywhere.  Students are distracted.  Let's face it...teachers are distracted too!  Here are three tips for busting the holiday hustle and bustle during the next few weeks!

1) Don't be afraid to make (a little) time for FUN!

Upper-grades teachers are often pressured to teach through the holiday season without the "fun and games" but big kids like to have fun too!  There are many ways to build in a little holiday fun without taking too much time away from instruction.  These FREE printable coupons are an easy way to spread some holiday cheer and can be used as cost-free prizes OR gifts for your students.  Click to download them below:

2) Go for a WALK!

This Science Winter Walkabout makes natural connections between general science concepts and the holiday season!  Kids love traveling from question to question and there are "fun" questions built in to allow time for kids to share their holiday traditions and interests!  Spread the questions out so kids can stretch their legs and if weather permits, laminate them and go outside for some fresh air.



3) Switch it UP! 

This is a great time of year to TRY A NEW TEACHING STRATEGY! Try using an interactive notebook foldable, task card review, posters or doodle notes to spice up your normal instructional routines.  It just might be the breath of fresh air you and your students need to keep motivated!

Doodle notes are great for this time of year because they help with concentration and memory while providing a natural brain break with doodling and coloring!

 
Today and Tomorrow November 28 and 29th all print and go resources are 28% off with code:  CYBER2016

SO...Grab a cup of coffee and check out some time-saving resources to use in your classroom!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Writing in Science



Why do we have to learn this? I just love when my students ask this.  No seriously!  It shows that they are making valid connections between their learning and how they might apply it.  Adults ask this all the time, but it is often a frustrating question for teachers address when they are working to cover content under time constraints. On more than one occasion this has come up when I work on writing skills in science, probably because we do A LOT of writing in science. So here is how I answer it...

Communication is inherent in the science process.  Here are some reasons that scientists need strong writing skills.  Share them with your students! 





There are just a few ways that writing skills relate to careers in science!
Would you like to display these signs in your classroom? 

Explicit writing instruction has a valuable place in every science classroom.  
Do you teach these writing skills in science class?

If you are looking for materials for teaching writing in science class, check out:


Writing is a core skill that relates to all subject areas! Collaborate with your team of teachers to incorporate writing skills work in every class.  Check out these other writing skills resources for ELA, MATH and SOCIAL STUDIES.

Writing Skills in ELA - Writing Responses with Text-Based Evidence 
Math Writing Skills - How to Write in Math 
Social Studies Writing Skills - How to Avoid Plagiarism 


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