All posts by Vanessa

How to Take a Sick Day without the Stress

If there’s one thing that proves how essential we are as teachers, it’s the fact that taking a sick day is almost like asking an orchestra to play without its conductor.

We are so busy that we barely have enough time to get our plans together for the days we’re there, never mind time to think about the days we’re not!

Luckily, we have some really great substitute teachers out there that are willing to step up. But, they still rely on your help to get the most out of the day for your students.

Here are some tips to help skip the stress (and the guilt) of taking sick days:

1. Keep a Sub Binder- Keep a sub binder on your desk with all the information that they will need, such as class lists, seating charts, emergency procedures, etc. You’ll feel better knowing it’s accessible to your sub. Plus, if you have a messy desk- ahem, organized chaos- you won’t need to worry about your sub going on a hunt for these essentials through the heaping piles. As long as the binder has a special spot, you won’t sweat the state of your desk.

2. Don’t feel guilty- you need to take care of yourself- Can I get an amen? If you’re not rested, you can’t do your job well. How many times have you been a “trooper” and “toughed it out”, only to take the next day off, anyhow? Or when you’re sick through the weekend instead because you didn’t want to stay home on Friday? It’s OK to take care of you.

3. Don’t compare– Don’t despair just because Donna and Dave have four thousand sick days saved up.  It’s not a competition to see who can come out on top at the end of the year- it’s more important that you come out healthy and happy. Classrooms can have more germs than doctors’ offices- they give you those sick days for a reason.

4. Choose sub plans that aren’t too short- If you give your students a short reading article that they can complete in fewer than fifteen minutes, then all that extra time may encourage rowdy behavior for your sub.

5. Buddy up with another co-worker- If you need to email someone for any reason during a sick day or need someone to help you with your sub, choose a reliable coworker who is willing to help you out in exchange for your services when they’re out!

6. Have at least one set of sub plans printed and ready to go before the students’ first day of school. Whether it’s this summer’s project or you’re headed over to TpT- go score some sub plans so that you don’t have to worry about scrambling. Have them ready to go so you can fully rest. And if you haven’t done this yet- better late than never!

7. Worried students won’t work hard while you’re out? – You can have a policy that you will grade one page of the assignment at random (but they won’t know which one). This saves you time and keeps the kiddos on their toes.

8.Prepare valuable sub plans– sub plans that incorporate literacy skills and practice for your discipline are valuable! My sub plans focus on science literacy (including graphing and analysis skills). You want to choose content that enforces these skills because you never know when you might have an emergency absence.

You can score some valuable sub plans today and be prepared. Science teachers get a free copy of my A Closer Look at Cancer sub plan by signing up for my newsletter here:

English teachers check out this video Edgar Allen Poe Sub Plan offered by Laura Randazzo. English and Social Studies teachers- Laura offers a free information text sub plan about the 10 Supreme Court Cases Every Student Should Know. 

Health and Phys Ed teachers should check out this great lesson about The Dangers of Energy Drinks by Mrs. S!

And finally, teachers of any subject, Mrs. S. offers Motivating Articles for any Middle or High School Class that appeal to teenage struggles- and Laura offers Billions in Change Video Sub Plan to raise awareness on global citizenship.


How to Take a Sick Day without the stress Blog Post Pin

5 Helpful Tips for Teaching Evolution

Evolution ties everything in biology together, and sometimes I get so excited that I don’t know where to start (picture yourself on a shopping spree at Target with a 2 minute time limit… where to start?!)

I’ve compiled a list of five (Ok, that wasn’t enough..) seven tips for teaching evolution. And the best part? They are super easy to implement.

Here are  5 7 Helpful Tips for Teaching Evolution:

1. It’s not “just” a theory. A theory is a pretty big deal. Dismissing the research that goes behind a theory makes it sound like any ol’ Joe from down the street could come up with a scientific theory.  Evolution is not watered-down science and if you introduce evolution as such, students may not appreciate it or form thought-provoking questions.

2. Explore Darwin First. Don’t Underestimate the Finches- Darwin observed natural selection without genetics, but struggled to answer some of his questions. Focusing on Darwin’s research and conclusions helps students see natural selection in a different way. Then after establishing Darwin’s observations and conclusions, bring in the population genetics. This will answer many questions and students tend to appreciate it more.
On the same note, it really helps to spend some time on Darwin’s finches. This is a great opportunity to have a discussion with your students. If they were to put themselves in Darwin’s shoes- how would the finches, their location, the geography and history have been Darwin’s “Aha!” moment? Darwin’s finches are so mainstream that they’ve become a bit lackluster, but they were a monumental discovery as far as Darwin’s theory of natural selection goes.

3. Help students make the connection that genetic diversity drives evolution.  Population genetics should be taught either back to back or side by side evolution- it answers questions and makes connections.  Show students examples of genetic diversity and how environmental changes can have an impact on the population- via their phenotypes/genotypes.

4. Give students an alternative definition of natural selection: Natural Selection does not act on individuals. It acts upon phenotypes.  Students should be able to comprehend natural selection beyond the text book definition. Natural selection does not give individuals what they need. Natural selection does not favor individuals. Natural selection favors the phenotypes that make adaptations.

5. Give students a general idea of how natural selection works using simulations. Paper labs, demonstrations, and virtual simulations are all within reach when teaching natural selection and evolution. Some examples include

PhET Natural Selection Simulation

Who Wants to Live A Million Years

Modeling Evolution: The Charlie Shuffle– paid resource

The Hungry Games: A Game of Natural Selection– advanced; differentiated versions available- paid resource.

6. Teach what evolution is notDid man evolve from monkeys? Not quite.  Address all those common misconceptions. Bust those common misconceptions with some common ancestors…. millions of years…and phylogenetic trees!

7. Videos! The only problem when finding videos to show is narrowing them down. There are so many good ones! These are a few of my favorites:

What is Natural Selection?

What Darwin Never Knew– this is a long one, but really captivating and it ties everything in!

5 Tips for Teaching Evolution | Tips for teaching natural selection


I hope you’ve enjoyed this super easy to use tips! If you’d like more tips, tools, and free resources, please consider subscribing:



Google+ and Google Drive to Use Digital Resources in the Classroom

So you want to start incorporating digital products into your classroom, cutting back on paper, and giving your students some contemporary and new assignments…but you don’t have Google Classroom?

No problem!

You can see my initial post on digital resources and creating a shared Google account for you and your students. This is probably the easiest method, and I would recommend giving it a try. But- if you don’t want to create a shared account, and you strongly prefer that every student has their own account, then you’re in the right place!

First start off by creating a new Google account. This account will be for your classroom use only,  so consider that when creating your user name.


Your students will also need their Google accounts. Before they make theirs, I have two suggestions:

  1. Ask your students if they already have one that they are using in another class that they can also use for your class.
  2. Give students the option to create an account that is for school use only instead of using their personal one so they can stay more focused (imagine logging in to your personal email in the middle of a lesson- easy distractions!)

If your students need to make an account, remind them to keep it simple and school related. For example: JaneDoeWHS (name and school). Their passwords should also be simple and you can opt to have them write it down in a safe place where you can keep track in case they forget.

Once they create their account, they will need to search for you under your school Google account and follow you. This done using Google+.  Creating Circles (groups) on Google+ is a good way to organize your students. You can also use Google+ to communicate to specific circles/classes using Google+, like reminding them when an assignment is due or sharing an article.


Once the students are in Google+, they just need to search for your Google account name and follow you. You will also need to follow them back. Be sure they follow you first, because it will be much easier to find all your students!

Go to Google+, select People from the left hand menu, then FOLLOWERS. When you see your students’ names under followers, be sure to follow them back!


Now that everyone is following each other, you’ll need to create groups to organize them. On Google these are called circles.

In the People menu, click on FOLLOWING. Scroll to the bottom and create a new circle for each class that you are using Google Drive with. Once these circles are made, you’ll be able to add each student to the circle accordingly.


Click on each student’s name and add them to the circle. 


The last step before sharing is to create a shared folder for each class. This is done using Google Drive. (Be sure to use your Google account that you’ve created for school use).

In Google Drive, create a new folder using the blue NEW button. It will prompt you for a name. You could name it by class to start and add more folders to it later if you wanted to get more specific.


Then, share the folder by going to share and selecting “Advanced”.


Then, select the Google+ icon.


Click on “Share to Google+”.


You will first be prompted to share publicly. Do not share publicly.


When your student logs in to his or her school Google account, they should go to Google+ to see the shared folder. This is what they will see on their Google+ page:


This folder is key, because from now on you can add any assignments to the folder and they will have access. *Note:  You could skip this step and share it with them by typing in their email addresses instead, but I find this to be much less time consuming and like I said, it’s nice to have the Google+ option as a way to communicate with the students, too! This link takes them straight to their Google Drive, where they can see it under “Shared with me.”


That shared folder will remain in their Drive- now all you need to do is add assignments to it and have students get to work! You can also add subfolders to it to stay organized.  Any documents you add to the folder will automatically show up on their end since this is a shared folder. But remember- the assignment you add must be VIEW ONLY – have students make a copy of it in their drive. If you’d like to read more on this next step, you can read about in my blog post titled “How  to Assign Digital Activities using Google Drive” (coming soon!)





Tips for Starting Interactive Notebooks in Your Classroom

Interactive notebooks are designed to enable students to be creative, independent thinkers and writers. Interactive notebooks could also be used for class notes or for activities where the student will be asked to express his/her own ideas and process the information presented in class. Requirements vary from teacher to teacher, there is no one right way to implement them.

Some teachers have a love-hate relationship with interactive notebooks (love because it invites student pride and hands on learning; hate because it requires gluing), some teachers are intimidated by them, some teachers could not imagine their classrooms without them.

If you’ve heard the hype, but are still unsure, here are some tips to adjust the learning curve so that you ease into interactive notebooks.


Tip #1) To use the composition notebook or not to use the composition notebook? If you are intimidated by the change, you can skip the composition notebook at first and start with a binder that contains loose leaf paper. This leaves room for traditional classwork as well as INB activities so that you can slowly incorporate.

Tip #2) Left, Right, Left, Right- Right? In a traditional interactive notebook, the left and right sides are categorized.
Typically, the left page is for the student to personalize with some guidance from the teacher. This is referred to as the output side. Examples: pre-assessments, quick writes, KWLs, demonstrations used to provoke student thought, post reflections, summaries, student made diagrams or charts). A quick way to remember this is the left side LOVES creativity. Students may need guidance with the left hand side the first couple months of school. As they get used to it, they will become more independent.

The right side of the INB is the information side (notes, vocabulary, lab procedures and data, concept maps). This is typically referred to as the input side. A quick way to remember this is the Right side is Restricted- only information given by the teacher belongs on the right side.

The right side is traditional. The left side gives it that interactive feel.

Tip #3) Assigning Sides vs. Sequential- If the left and right pages seem challenging for your students, or if you are unsure if you’d like to start off with this design, you can certainly implement the INB using the sequential method. This simply means that students add content as it is received. This is a good method to start with if you’re biggest hurdle is assigning “sides”. You can omit them completely and just assign each page to whichever activity, quiz, or set of notes you happen to be on. You can always switch to left-right sides once you’re more familiar.

Tip #4) Always keep a table of contents no matter if you are using a binder or a composition notebook or using left-right pages or sequential pages. Have students number their pages. You should leave room at the beginning of the notebook for their table of contents (about 4-5 pages worth).

Tip #5) Simple templates with high academic value- If you haven’s used foldables or INBs in your class before, I recommend starting out with foldables that are simple in design but offer high academic value.  I offer more info about this in my newsletter. 

Tip #6) Students should help out with materials – Ask students to provide their own markers, glue sticks, scissors, rulers, and colored pencils/markers and to be responsible for their materials (but have some backup materials of course). You can also have students keep post it notes for the left side of their notebook.

Tip #7) Encourage students to make it their own! Encourage students to use color on the personal side of their notebook. Color can help organize thoughts and information.

Tip #8) Grading Notebooks- Some of the notebook components can be peer-graded to help you save time. You can do random or announced notebook checks. A common practice is to fold the upper corner of the page you left off at to mark the grade. This way you know where you left off.

Tip #10) Rough Drafts and Master Copies – If you want to give INBs a try next year, spend a few minutes each day as you teach creating a rough draft of what you want your interactive notebook to look like for the following school year. This. is. HUGE. If you have not done an interactive notebook before, it’s helpful (and sane) to have a general guide of what it will look like. This can be your rough draft for ideas, questions, general layout of pages, etc. And as you go along, you can create a master copy of your interactive notebook. This will be a useful tool for not only yourself to use for years to come, but for students, too! Feeling ambitious? Have the first unit of your INB in a master copy before the first day of school.  But however you’re feeling, have a rough draft at the very least ready to go before you jump in feet first.

One final additional tip- if you are using composition notebooks, and you found a really great worksheet or foldable that wasn’t designed for interactive notebooks, you can change your printer settings to adjust the size to 80-90% of the original. This will make it fit better!

The only right way to do interactive notebooks is the way that works in your classroom!  Each year you can make changes as needed as some ideas work and some do not.  My newsletter offers lots of advice- from taking sick days to implementing INBs. Subscribe to find out more.

If you’re still not sure if you want to take the plunge- do some additional research. I recommend taking the interactive notebook plunge published by the California Science Teachers Association to help address some of your concerns. Good luck!


Tips for interactive notebooks | Tips for starting interactive notebooks in your classroom



Tips for Makeup Labs

I don’t know about you, but I love labs- until the next morning when I realize that I have 10 students who were absent for lab day. Though I wouldn’t say that I love doing lab makeups, I no longer dread them after implementing some simple techniques.


I’ve compiled some tips to help ensure that lab makeups go as smoothly as possible- and so that you aren’t tempted to do a “fermentation” lab on the side- wink, wink.

Tips for lab makeups (and your sanity):
1. Do not put all lab materials away for at least another 2 weeks after the lab is performed in class. Keep the lab materials tidy, but easily accessible.

2. A policy in which students can drop their lowest lab grade gives them the option not to makeup the lab, and they can drop the zero should there be any rescheduling conflicts.

3. Have lab makeups on one designated day of the week so that all students who need a lab makeup come at the same time- one and DONE!

4. If the lab is simplistic in nature, you can opt to have them do an alternative version of the makeup online.

5. Ask that the student bring along a friend to the lab makeup who has already completed the lab in class so that they can help out.

6. Students who need extra help after school should not come on the same day as the students who are after school for the lab makeup. The lab makeup should be your main focus.

Lastly… one further piece of advice for time-sensitive labs: lab makeups need not be offered once the students have been tested on the subject. This is a good one to tie into #2 should you choose to adopt this policy. 

Use these tips to help save your sanity- and your time!
Lab makeups science lab make ups tips for lab makeups school


Tips for Teaching the Sodium Potassium Pump

I had always felt that there were limited resources on the sodium potassium pump. The Na+/K+ pump is an important little protein that is the pinnacle of “active transport”- though endocytosis and exocytosis are important cell functions, it’s also important for students to know that transport proteins may also require the use of ATP. Otherwise, students may falsely make the distinction that proteins= facilitated diffusion.  Sometimes if students do not understand something, they may dismiss it or form misconceptions.

The sodium potassium pump in particular needs to be presented in such a way that shows how it changes its shape and that it pumps 3 Na+ out and 2 K+ inside.  Typically, I’d show my students a video or two, talk about the sodium potassium pump a bit, and call it a day. However,  I didn’t have any valuable resources that the students could carry with them, so I decided to create a coloring and analysis activity:

Sodium Potassium Pump by Biology Roots

(This is available for purchase this here).

The coloring activity is great for such a visual concept.  The resource also contains an analysis page with 8-10 questions or fill-ins depending on which version- there are  three differentiated versions that are suitable for high school, middle school, or an advanced anatomy class (which need to know resting potential vs. action potential). I like having these handy because as you know your classes can change every year!

Here are some other resources I’ve used to help teach the sodium potassium pump:

Penn State Cell Transport– nice clear diagrams and written descriptions of all types of cell transport including the sodium potassium pump.

Khan Academy- The Sodium Potassium Pump (he goes into resting and action potential towards the end- also a couple of times he says  sodium instead of potassium- no judgement here- but, it might be a good idea to preview beforehand to make sure that his bloops won’t interfere with your kids’ learning styles).

Animation- how the sodium potassium pump works

A step-by-step animation of the sodium potassium pump (with option to remove audio).

I also offering coloring pages for endocytosis and exocytosis, passive transport, and hypertonic/hypotonic/isotonic environments.





Back to School GiveaWHAT?!

8-8-16-pinterest image blog post1-01Myself and fifteen other secondary science teachers on TpT have teamed up to kick start your Harley of a school year (at least, it will be after you’ve seen what we have to offer)! We’re each offering a contest to win some awesome prizes for secondary science resources.  All you have to do is visit our pages to see what we have to offer and enter to win.
Plus- we’ve teamed up to pitch in for a HUGE $100 prize!
This giveaway is designed for secondary science teachers only (grades 6 and up).
What can you win?
Enter to win $100 TpT gift card (4 prizes) to spend on the resources of your choice at, plus multiple additional prizes from individual teacher-author found on their blog. All you need to do is follow this blog hop anytime between August 8th through August 12th to reveal the secret code and enter it below.

I am number 15 and my word is “deGrasse”. Collect the words from each blog, write them down in numerical order, and copy the secret sentence into joint rafflecopter giveaway. This rafflecopter form is the same on every blog, so you only need to enter once from any one of our blogs!

But first, please enter to win a gift certificate from Biology Roots
First place winner will receive $25 worth of resources
Second place winner will receive $15 worth of resources
Third Place winner will receive $10 worth of resources
Scroll through the arrows below to enter to win each prize:


a Rafflecopter giveaway

And the Give-a-what:

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Using Digital Resources in the Classroom

You may be here because you’re intrigued, or because your district is pushing for the digital direction- either because your district has signed on with Google Classroom- or supplying a limited amount of paper to help maintain the budget. I’m here to tell you how you can use these digital resources in your class, whether or not you have access to Google Classroom.

If you use digital resources in your classroom, you probably already know the benefits of going digital. To name a few:

  • Less paper
  • Less curse words in the copy room *wink wink*
  • Digital Interactive Notebooks do not require scissors, paper, or glue (which also means less MESS)!
  • Easier Grading
  • Students can keep track of their work (no more the dog ate my homework excuse!)
  • Easier organization at your fingertips
  • Digital resources can be used to supplement paper resources if you aren’t ready to go 100% digital!
  • Google offers a lot of time saving applications for teachers, like Google Quizzes.
  • You can add comments right in the document!

Here is a video preview of some digital classroom activities designed for Google Drive:

Now, maybe you’re thinking-  but wait! I don’t have Google Classroom in my school! It’s super duper easy. Though teachers can’t access Google Classroom as individuals, you can still use digital resources using Google Drive.  All you need is a Google account .You can have many Google accounts- in fact, I have four!

There are a couple different options for using Google Drive in your classroom- a shared option and a non-shared:

Option #1

Make a shared Google Account- I repeat- SHARED Google account for your classroom. This will be for not only you, but for your students to access. With this in mind- keep it simple because students will need to refer to it- something like – (but definitely not keep it as simple as possible!) Something like BiologyWHS would do the trick. The password should also be simple and easy to remember.

Once you have your class Google account, have each of your students create their own folder in Google Drive (it should be their name). Since it is shared, they can’t edit the privacy settings- which is something to consider.

When you create or add a document, you can select all the folders/students you’d like to share with my copying to that specific folder. That will be theirs to edit.

Option #2

Have your students make their own individual accounts. You would probably do this if it was super important that all students have confidentiality. It’s completely up to you. You will also need to have your own account.

To share with your students, you can easily do this using Google+.  Warning: it takes a bit of time to set up, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy peasy. You can find more information about here: Google+ and Google Drive to use Digital Resources in the Classroom.

If you’re fortunate enough to have Google Classroom,  the sharing is even easier. You can make a copy for each of your students to have. They can use digital notebooks on computer, Chrome books, or iPads. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Here are some digital resources for your consideration:


Scientific Method










Day One of Holiday Cheer: BOGO

A group of awesome secondary science teacher authors are teaming up to launch “5 Days of Holiday Cheer”.

Day 2

This new BOGO Sale for any one item purchased in my store today, December 7th, 2015. The BOGO applies to items of equal or lesser value (up to $15), and is only good for TODAY, December 7th, 2015.

The details in a nutshell:
– Item must be purchased on 12/7/15
– BOGO (buy one get one) good for ONE item up to a $15 value
– Simply forward your sales receipt to along with the link of the item you would like for free (equal of lesser value).
– Deal ends at midnight 12/7/15

Please check out my store, Biology Roots, to check out what I have to offer. All you have to do is buy one and you get another for free!

Some hot items that apply to the BOGO deal:

Sub Plans Vol 1 CoverSlide1
Buy one set of sub plans, get another set FREE.

Buy one body system exhibition lab, get another set FREE!

Happy Holidays!!

Stay Science Classy,