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



I learned about Socrative during the 2014-2015 school year. This was my most overwhelming school year with 176 students. I work in a Health Magnet high school which has 90 minute periods. Due to school districts taking so much of conference periods with meetings and plannings I did not have much time for grading and making copies. Socrative saved my life and sanity in many ways.

Socrative is a web based assessment platform. You can also download apps for Android and iPhone. There is a teacher and student app. You can create short quizzes or full tests. I did both. I like working from my desktop so that is where I created my assessments. You can add pictures to your questions as well.

Socrative allows you to create multiple choice, True/false and short answer questions. (I learned with the short answer questions that no matter how many different combinations and variations of short answers I made, the students came up with 20,000 more. I ended up having to grade a lot individually so I stopped doing that.)

Socrative is a great way to give assessments. Once you have finished creating your test and saving the answers you can launch the test. Your students can access your account through your classroom code or name. I created a name instead of using the automatically generated code. Students can log on through an app, tablet, laptop or desktop. So for students who do not have a cellphone or tablet they can still access the assessment. Once logged in Socrative asks the students for their name. I had mine type in their last name then first so that I could see the results in alphabetical order.

When you begin the test you can reduce cheating by the options of mixing up the questions and the answer choices. The computer keeps track so you do not have to worry about grading being a chore. You can also allow the students immediate feedback on whether they got a question right or wrong.

While the students are taking the test you can see the results in real time. There is  screen with the students names and a grid with the questions. Green squares mean the students got the question correct, while orange screens mean they got the question wrong. You can either view this from a desktop or your own smartphone. It is very helpful because I can see who is staying on task, who is "pretending" to stay on task and monitor results. I will often speak to a student that I see is getting multiple questions wrong. Once everyone has finished you can download different style reports as pdf or excel. You can even create individualized reports to give to each student.

I will continue using Socrative. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with it this past school year. I have many students use different devices at the same time. Occasionally a student or two got kicked out, but that was due to poor Internet connection and not the actual application. If you have any questions or comments please post below.

Here is the link to Socrative

Welcome to my Blog!


My name is Melanie Foster! I have been a Secondary Science teacher for sixteen years. I live in El Paso, Texas and love teaching. I have an art and science background so I am constantly creating lessons that will incorporate as many learning styles as possible. I am also a green advocate and I look for ways to save paper for things like assessments and quizzes. Not only do some of my methods save copy paper, but they also save time spent in the copy room. I use a lot of technology in my classroom including laptops, desktops, projectors, tablets and the students own phones. I make it my mission that students use their phones as a resource and not just a way to post on Instagram and Snapchat.

I hope to share many great teaching techniques with everyone. Follow my blog and I will follow you as well. Please share any comments and ask any questions you may have.

Mizz Foster