Monday, October 12, 2015

Dichotomous Keys with a Touch of the Peculiar just right for Halloween in Secondary Science

I created two new dichotomous keys in October, one focuses on animals and humanoids with legends, myths and cryptids. I also threw in some real genetic diseases which are thought to have been the precursor to Halloween ghouls such as vampires and werewolves. The name of this dichotomous key is Cryptozoology Dichotomous Key: Monsters, Spooks, and Ghouls.

The second dichotomous key I created focuses on the odd members of the Plant Kingdom. In this dichotomous key students will classify carnivorous, poisonous or curious plants. The students will use knowledge of planting zones and plant anatomy to complete this dichotomous key. It is called Carnivorous, Poisonous and Curious Botanicals. 

Even if you do not get to use these mind boggling dichotomous Keys in class for October, there are plenty of other chances you can use these lessons, for your Taxonomy and classification unit, following a state of college board exam? They also make great end of the year activities. Be sure to check out my full collection of dichotomous keys!

This activity can be used in its power point format to upload to a classroom website and have the students use laptops or iPads to go through the pictures. 

You could use the power point for whole class instruction and work through the dichotomous key will all the students participating.

If you do not have a class website / laptops or iPads you could print the slides out and use them as task cards set up in small groups around your class like centers.

You could also print out handouts with a few slides on each page for the students to use. 
This activity has quite a few different ways it can be implemented into your classroom. 

Cheating in 2015...

 The fall of 2015 marks the beginning of my fifteenth year teaching. I have seen all sorts of elaborate schemes that students do in order to “get over” on actually doing their work. Now in the age of technology students stop at very little to do the least amount of work possible.

We all know that we have students who have mastered Googling their answers and with the new policy of BYOD (bring your own device), it is hard to always catch the culprits red-handed. Yet most veteran teachers still do, while shaking our heads that we have NEVER seen that one before! J

I learned quite a few years ago that I can no longer go online and download quick worksheets to share with my classes or leave as sub lessons, because my students do the same thing. I can tell because many keys floating on the web have mistakes, and ironically my students copy down the same mistakes.

I am ok with the way things have evolved, it has all worked in my favor though. I have always been a teacher who enjoys creating her own resources, so I get to do more of that.  Although time restraints do make it difficult I am satisfied that my students actually have to work to get the right answer on papers I am planning on grading. I can be neurotic so I may make multiple problem sets and hand different class periods or groups within the class a different set of problems. I let the class know there is no point is asking around, no one will have the same answer.

I recently just finished up a lesson called Dimensional Analysis: Zombie Survival. My students had work through a series of problems in order to escape the mob of zombies headed their way once the class bell rang. The students had to show me all their work and have the equation in the correct dimensional analysis format. The kids fussed a little or a lot. J Some thought they were smarter than me and ran to google for the answers. These tactics only wasted their time and once the class bell rang, those groups were eaten.

Some of students groups were successful. They tackled the math problems head on. The extra problem thrown at them as a surprise did little to hinder their progression. Other groups looked over to see if they could get a glimpse of a corner of the page. However, I warned all the kids that in a true zombie apocalypse it is each group for their own.

The students challenged me on whether such an event could ever truly happen. Well, I asked what do you think life was like after the plague? A hurricane? An earthquake or tsunami? We never know how life may change suddenly and your survival skills need to kick in. Sadly I did have a few kids give up and say they would rather just die. I told them, “Well, thank you for your sacrifice because many of us would like to live.”  

The next day when I met with my classes, I gave them 30 more minutes I told the groups who had been eaten they were actually hiding in a cave and would have 30 minutes to get out. I am aware that by this point lots of photos were taken and passed around. That did not help though since you have to show me all your work and explain your method. Only groups who finished on the first day received 100’s the other students had lower scores depending on how many answers they got right.

Overall it was a successful activity. It was nice to see the kids engaged. I will not let the self-sacrificed spoil the bunch. I know the kids cheat, google, take pics, snap-chat and it is making me become a more creative teacher. I look forward to designing more activities like this as the school year progresses. 

For teachers who are honestly strapped for time, you can also visit these websites to find great resources and innovative ideas for your classroom: 

Teachers Pay Teachers, TES, TeacherNotebook or Edmodo 

Lets keep our students guessing! 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Posting Objectives, Agendas and Standards

There is a trend flowing across the classrooms of America where teachers have to post their objectives and standards for the students to view and read everyday. According to research and studies students who know what the objective is for class will be more successful.

Last year I had my objectives written out in a language style my students could understand but few of them read the board without me calling attention to it. This year I decided to use a TV to post my objectives, daily agenda and Texas TEKS. I have the TV in front of the room so as my students walk in they read it. Teachers on my campus also had to incorporate "We will..." and "I will..." statements. This year has proven much more successful than last year. The students come in and take a brief moment to read the screen for themselves. This is very important for me. As a secondary science teacher I want my students to be confident in their reading skills instead of always having me read everything to them. Over the course of years that I have been teaching I have a high percent of students who expect me to just tell them instead of reading for themselves.

If you have a TV that you are not using, this is an innovative way to post your objectives, plus it impresses your administration. ;)

Another advantage is I write my objectives into a power point file that I revise as needed by adding additional slides for the next dates and editing previous slides if I did not get through all the material or labs.  Everything is typed and I can copy / paste what I need from standards. By the end of this school year I will have "lesson plans" for an entire year and all I will need to do is adjust the dates!

Here are pictures of my set up. I have a small laptop attached to the TV to project the power point unto the TV screen. I never used the TV in my classroom so it worked out perfectly for me.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

First Give-A-Way for my followers!!

My first give-a-way to my followers is a Lab Safety memory game!

The file is in pdf format and is black and white printer friendly. I suggest printing 9 pages per one sheet of paper. You get the best size and the cards remain easy to read. You can also print them in full size.

Once i printed mine out I glued card stock to the back and am having them laminated for future use. I have seven lab tables so I am making seven sets although I have been contemplating making eight.

I hope you enjoy your first free monthly gift and I look forward to your feedback!

I am leaving the game up for download until Tuesday, August 22, 2015.

Click on the box with the arrow sticking out in the upper right hand corner to open a new window and download the game from there.

Lab Safety Memory Game

Monday, August 3, 2015

Advantages of Electronic Dichotomous Keys

I am ashamed to admit I spent a good portion of my teaching career looking for good dichotomous keys for my students. I asked veteran teachers who would always claim to have an abundance only to disappoint me with bad runoff copies that contained vocabulary neither my native or ELL students could understand . I scoured the internet looking for good dichotomous keys my students could easily understand while exposing them to new organisms. I never found what I wanted.

I finally decided to take matters into my own hands and create my own dichotomous keys. After deciding which organisms I wanted to cover I set off to write the key itself. It took a lot of time, but I was very happy with the results. The first dichotomous key I created covered both bacteria domains, the four kingdoms and had viruses thrown in. It was a great way for me to assess my students understanding of the unique characteristics of those groups and their ability to classify. I thought about how I would present the organisms,

I decided against photocopies due to details often being muddied. I do not work in the richest school district so making class sets of color copies was not feasible either. I decided on presenting the organisms in a power point. The students could log into Schoology and then use their laptops, tablet, or cell phones to access the images. I did print out the dichotomous keys and answer documents.

The power point presentation was a great success! I paired the students up and watched them look at the pictures, read little notes and go through the dichotomous key to identify the organisms and viruses. I could listen to the students debate, about what they thought the answers were and redirect them if they were too far off. I could see what needed to be reviewed and what content my class had mastered.

This led me to creating a second Electronic dichotomous key dedicated to the flora of the Chihuahua desert. I have run across keys with plants that live further north or more humid climates compared to our desert. Although I like to expose my students to environments and creatures outside of our area, it is also important that they learn about their immediate surroundings as well. The next dichotomous key was based on desert plants. I was shocked to see how surprised my students were to see how many flowers our desert has. I had a few students come to class after a weekend to tell me now they noticed that El Paso does have a lot of plants and they remembered the names.

You can purchase these lessons at the following links:

Classifying Organisms Dichotomous Key

Desert Plants Dichotomous Key

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Quest Power Points

Last school year during professional developments one of the catch phrases was "academic language."  The administrators were concerned that we were not allowing enough opportunities for students to use their academic language through writing, reading and speaking. We have all heard about moving towards student facilitated learning and instruction and before that the buzzword was cooperative learning, essentially in the classroom these are all similes.

I live in El Paso, Texas where many of my students are bilingual but not mastering either English nor Spanish. We often have classes filled with ESOL and LEP students, especially in secondary classrooms. It is imperative that we have our students use the academic language more frequently not only for school but so they can communicate in English effectively.

I thought about the dilemma and came up with a few lessons which proved to be quite successful in my class. After covering major units such as genetics, animals or plants I want to see where my students understanding is before testing them. I created a power point presentation for my students to use. I call it a "Quest Power Point" because my students go through the power point at their own pace preferably with a partner, not a group. The pair of students look at the picture, read the description and then need to answer a question. The students are given a worksheet for them to record their answers on.

 The students talk to each other while moving from slide to slide, they also have their composition notebooks handy for references. Something beautiful happened when I administered my first Quest Power Point over plants. My students talked to each other using academic language. Yes, it was often mixed with Spanish, but they remembered the scientific terms and used them. I make a point to use fascinating scenarios and mind boggling examples in nature. It keeps the students interest peaked and discussion flowing. It was nice to walk around the room seeing their faces fixed on the laptop screens and listen to them using the words, and even debating.

I chose to use a power point demonstration uploaded to the class webpage on Schoology, so the kids could see the colors of photographs and pictures. Photocopies do not offer the emotional impact and grab that a laptop screen can. I had the students write their answers on a worksheet to give their eyes moment pauses from the screen and to keep the kinetic aspect going. Following the first trial I asked my class room of ninth graders how they liked the Quest Power Point. They LOVED it! The students were excited about it. I actually got hear the voices of some of my quiet students who had just joined the American school system.  Since my initial Quest Power Point, I created more and the students did not get bored. They were excited. Not only did the Quest reinforce standards taught in class, the questions were filled with peculiar and unfamiliar scenarios.

I had students ask me if the events and paradigms were real or made up after discussing it among their peers. I filled the Quests with historical events in which biological systems were affected, little known facts and ecosystems far from our Chihuahua desert. The Quest Power Points were a great way to encourage academic language while exposing my classes to life outside of the El Paso area and have my students question and ponder the natural world a little more.

I currently have my Plant Quest Power PointCellular Hierarchy Quest Power Point and
  Symbiosis Quest Power Point online for purchase.

I also have Classification of Organisms Dichotomous Key ( this dichotomous key spans all the domains, kingdoms and viruses), and a Desert Plant Dichotomous key online. The dichotomous key work similar to the quests. The students work with a printed dichotomous key and look at the pictures of the organisms in power point form. I also include a few notes or each organism to help the students. The answer are written on an answer sheet.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Animal Kingdom

I created an Animal Kingdom power point which covers the major animal phylums in the order in which they evolved along with how the anatomy developed into creating more complex organisms.   It begins with Porifera and ends with Chordates. After going over the general characteristics of the Animal Kingdom, the power point covers each Phylum's symmetry, embryonic tissue layers, body cavities, body structures (hydrostatic, exoskeleton, endoskeleton), body systems and level of development along with outstanding characteristics and pictures.

I also have a Animal Kingdom chart which can be filled out while you lecture over the animal kingdom or have the students fill out after the lecture. I like to fill it out with my students while I lecture. I make sure to stress certain features and after the first few phylums, I ask for classroom participation on what should be written into the chart.

A great follow up is turning the Animal Kingdom chart into a cladogram.

Teacher pay Teacher: Animal Kingdom Power Point     Animal Kingdom Chart
                                   Animal Kingdom PP and Chart Bundle