Lessons From the Middle Blog Giveaway

Lessons From the Middle’s Krystal Mills  is offering a HUGE giveaway for grades K-9, in celebration of her blog’s first birthday! The giveaway is divided into nice-sized packages. Winners receive the entire package- all you have to do is enter and “like” or follow some of the contributors as a way to say thank you!

My “Biodiversity Bingo” can be found in the second 7-9 package listed on the page. But I say, enter to win ‘em all ;-) You can check it out by clicking on the picture below. Good luck!

blog birthday picture


Set of 5 Emergency Sub Plans

I have added a new package to my store!
This pack consists of 5 Emergency Sub Plans for Secondary Science (Grades 6-11). I designed these after I had kids. Ya know those days when you’ve barely pulled out the daycare’s driveway and you get that phone call that your son/daughter just threw up? Or when you wake up in the middle of the night with the stomach bug? Or- we’ve all been there when something comes up as we’re just getting settled into homeroom and now we have to stop everything we’re doing and somehow skip out the door in 10 minutes?

The topics included are: cancer, facebook bibliographies, nutrition facts, video games, and sports injuries. Each activity is common core aligned and for most activities there is some graphing required.










No more writing sub plans, no more scrambling, no more stress. Just print these out, keep them in a designated folder, and you’re good to go! Some bonus material included.

Liebster Blog Award

Liebster Blog Award LiebsterAward I was nominated by Science in the City for the Liebster Blog Award. This is an award to new bloggers to acknowledge them, encourage them and gain new readers. I appreciate your nomination, Tara! Thank you =) The rules are as follow: link back to the blog that nominated you (done up above); post 11 random things about yourself; answer the 11 questions posted by the nominator; create 11 questions for the people you nominate; choose 11 other blogs with less than 200 followers and link to them on this post.

Part I: 11 Random things about myself
I have 2 kids
I currently live in Western MA
I have my class B CDL and worked for public transit operating buses in college
I met my husband at UMass Amherst
I grew up on a horse farm
I don’t like to talk on the phone
I believe in ghosts
I am a hair under 5’8″, but everyone thinks I’m way taller.
I use sunscreen like it’s my job
I am sending my daughter to preschool within the upcoming weeks and I am so scared!
I like my penmanship.

Part II: 11 questions from Tara L at Science in the City:
1) What grades and subject(s) do you teach?- I teach freshman physical science and sophomore biology.
2) What made you decide to be a teacher? To be honest, I think I was inspired by teachers growing up that were fun, organized, and great at their job!
3) How long have you been teaching? 6 years
4)What type of district do you teach in (large/small, urban, suburban, rural)? I’d have to say a mixture of rural and suburban with an urban edge- but large (about 1900 students)
5) What do you think is your strength (or your favorite part) of teaching? I think my strength is the fact that I am always striving to do better, and I enjoy making lessons and get a lot of satisfaction from them when the kids have fun and learn.
6) What part(s) are your weakness or do you dislike? Grading and paperwork. There is too much of it.
7) What blogs do you really like? As far as teaching blogs go I like ones that offer less promotional items from TpT and more “raw” entries from their experiences- giving advice and providing tools.
8) What are you most proud of? Giving birth naturally without any drugs… twice =)
9) What hobby do you enjoy? Hobbies? Who has time for those? I used to run a lot and shop. Now I don’t have time for either.
10) What is the strangest food you have ever eaten? Hmmm. Good question. I would say something from a Thai restaurant called moshi (sp?). It was a dessert and it was delicious, but sort of had the texture of clay.
11) Why did you start blogging? At first I started blogging for my students, to keep track of all my lessons so that they had easy access. I have a couple websites since then, including biology roots.

Part III) My Questions for Nominees
1. What type of school do you teach in?
2. If you could improve one thing about your school, what would it be?
3. What do you currently teach at school?
4. What have you taught in the past (other than what you are currently teaching) and what is your favorite thing to teach?
5. How long have you been blogging?
6. What do you typically like to blog about?
7. What are your strengths as a teacher?
8. What are your weaknesses as a teacher?
9. What is a favorite student memory of yours?
10. Why did you choose the age group that you teach?
11. What is your favorite lesson to do with your kids?

Part IV) My nominess:
Primary Paradise http://www.myprimaryparadise.com/
A Perfectly Poetic Page http://perfectlypoeticpage.blogspot.com/
Math, Science, Social Studies, Oh My! http://amyalvis.blogspot.com/
A Lesson Plan for Teachers http://alessonplanforteachers.blogspot.com/
Science Teacher Resources http://scienceteacherresources.blogspot.com/

Pin it to Win it!

Are you ready to win some teaching items? Here’s your chance! This giveaway combines  2 sites: Teachers Pay Teachers & Pinterest!   This giveaway is put together by Melissa at http://www.teachertreasurehunter.blogspot.com/

Click on the link to go to the Pinterest board with the entries. Just pin items in the giveaway to your teaching boards.  Then click to go to Melissa’s site, and cut and paste a link to your pin onto the entry form.  That’s it!  Each pin gets you an entry.  Pin every day for even more entries.  Happy pinning and winning =)

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I just stumbled across another amazing resource for teachers..Fakebook.

Screen Shot 2013-01-07 at 10.44.16 PM Students can create fake facebook pages as a project for any historical or recent figure. I love this because it applies to all subjects- history, music, health, social studies, science, and English! This is definitely something that I would love to assign in the future. I have my students participate in Mendel and Darwin Interviews (which I love, so I don’t think I could give them up), but I’m thinking my physical science kids could do this with Isaac Newton as extra credit. :-)



Lab: Simulating the Cell Membrane Tips + Hints

This lab is a quick and easy way to for students to see diffusion in action. I offer this lab for free on my teachers pay teachers store. You can find it here:

For this experiment you will need:
Access to sinks and water
Pipette or eye dropper
Dialysis tubing or plastic baggy

Personally, I like to use dialysis tubing. In my opinion, it is the most tried and true way to get results (I’ve had not so great results with plastic baggies in the past, but they do work most of the time). If you are using dialysis tubing, be sure that students soak the tubing in lukewarm water for a minute while rubbing the tubing between their fingers so that they do not have trouble opening it.
If using dialysis tubing, the students will need to tie off both ends. They should cut about a 5 inch snip of dialysis tubing for easiest handling. If using a plastic baggy, they will need only to tie off one end.
It also helps if the students gently swirl the cornstarch and water before adding the drops of iodine to the beaker. Note that students do NOT directly add the iodine to the cornstarch. Be sure that they understand this. The cornstarch and water is in one container (the plastic) and iodine goes on the outside, in the water that is in the beaker.
Students must understand that the iodine is diffusing into the cornstarch. Cornstarch is too big to diffuse into iodine + water mixture. You can relate this to what they have learned about biochemistry- starches are polysaccharides- long chains of saccharides and are generally quite large molecules. The dialysis tubing represents the cell membrane.

Good luck!

If you are interested, I have included a link amazon below for dialysis tubing. I usually order 2 or 3 of these at one time. :-)

NGSS Science Standards

The NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) will be released on Wednesday, January 9th. Just to be clear, this is not the same as the Common Core Literacy in Science Standards, nor is this a federally funded initiative. States can choose whether or not they are going to adapt the NGSS- though I know that my state of MA is planning on incorporating it by 2016, and I do think that most states will also choose to adopt them.

I had the opportunity to work with some teachers at my school and to review the rough draft of the NGSS and make suggestions and submit our suggestions online. There was a LOT of submitting to do.

The online survey that was used was very helpful- but long and tedious. Every proposed standard had many different elements to it, which makes sense, because the purpose is to get as specific feedback and constructive criticism. The survey was based on a scale of 1-5 for some questions, and for others we would simply type the answer. Questions such as  do you think that the proposed standard is relevant. Secondly, do you think that the standard is easy to read? Which sadly, most of them were NOT easy to read. As a team we made a point that the standards should be easy to read for educators, students, and parents. Why use such fancy language? Who are you trying to impress? I wish I had saved an example, but I never thought I’d be writing a blog post about it! They were sometimes even choppy- as if they copied and pasted about 4 different peoples ideas of how the standards should be stated into one. Also, I am all for high vocabulary, but don’t word it so that it takes a science teacher more than one time to really grasp what it is saying. There is a lot of work to do.

I think that most of the standards were relevant, but only about 80% of them. There were some about the parts of the brain and the nervous system… in detail. I think that we cram too much into our 180 days of biology (in MA at least), so maybe that is shaping my view, but I do not think that a common biology class should be covering the nervous system in detail. That was only one example- and the only one that really stuck out in my mind. The MA standards currently require 11 body systems to be taught… on top of biochemistry, cells, cell division, cell processes (photosynthesis, cell respiration), genetics, evolution, ecology, population genetics and classification.  It might not sound like much, but it is. The perfect situation in my humble opinion? Everything I mentioned above minus the body systems. I LOVE teaching anatomy but it’s too much for my bio kids! At the end of the year what do they remember? There is barely any time to soak it all in- we are moving so fast to get through so much.

I actually stumbled across this PDF from the NGSS website pertaining to the May feedback: Responses to the May Public Draft

I teach in MA, and yes, we do have high standards but our kids do better than other states, so we must be doing something right. I just wish it wasn’t so much! If we do have to teach more subjects, I wish that our schools could somehow split Biology into a Bio I and II.

I was told that a high school science textbook in Japan is a third the size of an average U.S. science textbook. I have not been able to test whether or not this is true, but it would make sense. I know that my students only use about one-third of what is offered in their textbook. We don’t cover nutrition, the embryonic cycle, plant life, nor do we go into great detail about protists, bacteria or the phyla of the animal kingdom. We offer classes to upper classmen that do, but there simply is not enough time or energy to cover it in sophomore biology.

So, my questions for you are:
Do you feel like you are covering too much material or not enough?
Does your school split the biology class?
What types of standards would you like to see in the Common Core Science Standards?

Incorporating Technology Into the Classroom.

One word: PowerPoint.

PowerPoints can be time consuming, and downright scary for those that have never tried to make one before. But, with a little practice, you will see they are very easy, actually quite fun, and students LOVE them!

My first year teaching I felt like I was always making notes (among other things!). I actually shunned PowerPoint for the reasons mentioned above. I think I was still working with Windows ’98 and it was much less frustrating and easier to simply type my notes on MS word, print them out on a transparency and do notes on the overhead. It wasn’t until the last 2 years that I have converted to 100% PowerPoint. That was about how long ago I got my hands on MS Office 2007, and let me tell you- The Microsoft Office Suite (MS Word, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint, etc.) have come a very, very long way. Not only are they more user friendly nowadays, but you can do so much more. It’s a win-win!

I can remember standing next to my overhead projector, guiding my high schoolers through their notes on food chains as they read the text off the screen and filled in the blanks. I like to close those particular notes with the importance of decomposers and the “Circle of Life”. I like to relate biology to student lives and experiences as much as possible (especially because it is a class that students HAVE to take, so not everyone is exactly thrilled…) so I always bring up the scene from The Lion King when Mufasa is speaking to Simba about- well, the circle of life. He explains to Simba that although they eat the antelope, when they die, “their bodies become the grass”, which the antelope eat. The kids would always respond positively, either with their proclamation of love for the Disney movie or that they recalled that scene.

Now, thanks to PowerPoint (and YouTube), I can embed the hyperlinks right into my PowerPoint slide so that the students see this:

And what, it started at 40 seconds? Yeah! That was intentional! Awesome, right? Show an entire video, or just a snippet of one. It’s very easy. Right underneath the YouTube video, you have some options. Click “Share” and it gives you the link. To the right of that, you have the option to click the “Start At” box. From there, just figure out where you’d like to start the video. I rarely use this, but I do find it useful at times. It all depends on the video and how much time you have :-)

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If you are using a PC (Windows based computer), there is another awesome feature you can use if you are feeling brave. You can actually embed the YouTube video directly into your slide so that you don’t have to exit the presentation to view the YouTube video. This does not mean that you are downloading the video to your computer. You still need an internet connection, and the YouTube link must be valid link. If it is taken down from YouTube for any reason- it will not continue to work on your tab. I made a video to show you how: