Education, Life Lessons

Getting To Know Your Students

Just the other day I read an article from Corkboard Connections, “What Makes A Parent Love A Teacher.”  You can read it here, and I highly recommend you do! The gist is that, over the years, the teachers that stand out and make a lasting impression are the teachers that took the time to develop meaningful relationships with their students — they got to know them as more than just another kid in the class.

In general, I feel like I do a pretty good job of this.  My students and I talk about what they did over the weekend, how the play is going, or whether they won their game or not.  I generally go to at least one game for each sport, and for the sports I like, I often go to more. (I have to admit, two soccer games a year is enough for me…) I attend the school plays and other special events — (Monster Bingo? Uh yah!).  All in all, I think I do a decent job.

But after reading this article, I decided I wanted to do better. For most students, I know which parents are together and which ones are divorced, I know they have a brother in 2A or a sister in 8B.  But do they have siblings outside of our school? What days do they spend with mom, which days do they spend with dad? Does mom work? Do they have step-parents or step-siblings? What do they want to be when they grow up? What is their hands-down, favorite science topic? What do they want to be when they grow up? What do they want to accomplish this year? I realized that for many students, I don’t know these things, and I figured out that these are the things I want to know about them.  I realized that the “beginning-of-year survey” I gave to…

1) get contact information for parents, and

2) get to know the kids

… didn’t have the kind of information I now felt was important.

So yesterday, I had the kids fill out a new form.

Actually, it wasn’t a form at all. It was a piece of loose-leaf, and they answered seven questions that I had written on the board.

1. Name

2. Best Way To Learn

3. Favorite Subject

4. Favorite Science Topic

5. Clubs, Hobbies, Sports & Activities

6. Family (Who lives with you? Brothers? Sisters? Ages/Grades? Pets?)

7. Goals (For this year? What do you want to be when you grow up?)

While at some point or another, students have told me some of these things, or some of the elements were on the beginning-of-year survey, I never thought about organizing the data I collected.  In the article, the author linked to a resource from Cult of Pedagogy, called the “Deep Data At A Glance chart.”  I checked hers out, but I ultimately decided to make my own.  First, I didn’t like it being a Word document, because I find that charts get all funky on Word sometimes.  Second, I wasn’t happy with those categories, so I had to type new ones up anyway.  Third, I like things to have pretty font, so I used some I had downloaded to my own computer.  I put all of this into an Excel chart and then typed up my student responses.

Side Note: My students were really excited to answer these questions, and I was surprised at the time and consideration they put into it.  Some were confused why we were doing this in the middle of the year — I simply told them I wanted to know these things.  They seemed happy.  I’m hoping to be able to incorporate some of what I have learned into future conversations and what not.  I’m also glad I came across this before parent-teacher conferences next week!!

So while I created my own chart, I was SO PLEASED with the idea, and I totally give credit to that article and Cult of Pedagogy. It’s not like it was a complicated idea, but for some reason, it never occurred to me — which is a little surprising because I really like data. Collecting it, organizing it, using it, tracking how it changes, etc. Anyway, it was a great idea, and I am glad it was shared with me!

I created both an Excel and editable PDF of my data sheet. You can access it for FREE at my TeachersPayTeachers store.  Simply click EXCEL if you’d like the Excel version or PDF if you’d like the PDF version. The Excel won’t have the pretty font, but the PDF will.

All in all, I hope you take the time to read that article — it’s a good reminder.  Yes, these are things we all try to do, but in the craziness of the day, the month, the year, it’s all too easy for these things to get shuffled to the side.  I’m glad I was reminded to continue to take the time to really know these awesome kids:

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A Problem Based Learning Unit: Ecosystems

Wow – I can’t believe it has been a full two months since my last post.  While I haven’t been blogging, I have been busy creating instructional materials for my students (and then of course sharing them via my TeachersPayTeachers shop).  My students are just now wrapping up their first unit on ecology and ecosystems. This year, I decided to try “problem based learning” units.  I will admit, I am by no means an expert on this topic.  It is however, in my understanding, a way to improve student engagement and get students operating at higher levels of thinking.  While I provided students with the materials and resources necessary to solve the problem presented, they had to design the solution based on their understanding of the material.  They also had to apply the general ecology concepts they were learning to specific, real-world situations. Since attending the national NSTA conference last year, I have really focused on implementing the NGSS standards (while still meeting my own district’s curricular standards, of course).  This unit was designed to meet the following Next Generation Science Standards: They will be able to: ·      develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem (NGSS MS-LS2-3) ·      construct an argument supported by evidence that changes to components of an ecosystem affect populations in that ecosystem (NGSS MS-LS2-4) ·      evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services (NGSS MS-LS2-5) ·      construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms (NGSS MS-LS1-6) We started off the unit with this question: What happens when something disrupts the ability of an ecosystem to meet the needs of the organisms in it?  Students were also provided with their PBL prompt:

Invasive species are a serious threat to the health of the Great Lakes ecosystems. You have been selected to investigate the impacts on the Lake Erie ecosystem of a specific invasive species – what is currently happening, what we can predict may happen, and the potential outcome if nothing is done to address the problem.  Then, you will identify actions we can take to prevent further damage by the species, such as measures to stop the spread of the species as well as control its current population.  Your plans will also take into account the social and economic considerations of the human population in the Great Lakes region.  You will present your research and action plan in a format of your choosing.  Your options include the creation of a website, the production of video/slideshow documentary, a town hall meeting style presentation, or a traditional report.

Before students could even begin to design solutions to invasive species, they had to understand how healthy ecosystems worked.  We spent a fair amount of time working with basic vocabulary and concepts, such as biotic and abiotic factors, relationships in ecosystems, and food chains and food webs.  Students explored and predicted how changes in biotic and abiotic factors would impact ecosystems in this activity.

And they created food chains and food webs from “field notes” that required them to use vocabulary (preys on, predator to, producer, etc.). I actually used two versions of this — the first was the NSTA activity that inspired this material.  I found in a recent Science Scope issue an activity just like this, where students were presented a chart of “field notes” about a pond ecosystem and had to build a food web from the information provided.  We completed that one together, reviewing which way the arrows point and remembering to include where producers get their energy from and so on.  To assess student mastery of this concept at the end of the unit, students completed the version linked to the left. In addition to these application-type activities, students were assessed through exit tickets and traditional quizzes.  Students took a quiz on general ecology concepts at the end of the first “section” of this unit (the healthy ecosystems stuff), and then we moved on to a look at invasive species and the damage they can do to an ecosystem. I used this great site called Newsela to introduce invasive species.  Newsela is a news website with tons of current event articles that have been rewritten at various grade levels.  When you find an article you want to use, you can adjust the reading level before printing/assigning to students/etc.  The articles are free, and I have used this a TON in my classroom this year.  The only thing I am not a fan of is their quizzes – they are really basic and require very little critical thinking.  The articles themselves though are AWESOME! Anyhoo, I used a news article about lionfish in the Gulf of Mexico to introduce invasive species.  We also read about cane toads in Australia in our Life Science Daybook texts, and we read several other news articles taken from Newsela and our local “Newspapers In Education” section of the Erie Times News.  Students were able to read, discuss, and learn from real life examples of invasive species and the damage they can do.  In addition to lionfish and cane toads, they read about nutria in Maryland, stink bugs in North America, asian carp in the Mississipi River and Great Lakes, tegu lizards in Florida, California king snakes in the Canary Islands, the emerald ash borer in Pennsylvania, and other aquatic invasive species in Lake Erie.  As we worked on the unit’s final essay, brainstorming evidence to scaffold them into constructing these essays independently, it was so exciting to hear them name these species and explain the damage they were doing.  They totally took ownership of these topics, and through various “jigsaw” type activities, became “experts” on these issues. We also did a really fun ecology detective type activity called “The Mystery of the Silent Night: Where Have All The Tree Frogs Gone?” They LOVED this one! Sifting through various clues (everything from diary entries to newspaper articles, advertisements, company memos, etc.), students had to determine the cause(s) of a sudden decline in the tree frog population in the fictional town of Mayberry.  They then had to write a “Claim-Evidence-Reasoning” paragraph to support their explanation, which I assessed with the rubric linked here. The final unit assessment was the Invasive Species Project, which had students researching a Lake Erie invasive species and designing a solution to either prevent its spread or decrease its population.  Students worked in groups, selecting their species randomly through a “drawing” from the top 10 invasive threats to Lake Erie.  They created a “Wanted” poster for their species and then developed a proposal for their solution to present to the class. I have included teacher and student instructions, rubrics, and a research organizer for this project in my TpT store. Students also took a multiple choice test on the unit’s vocabulary and completed an essay assessment in which they answered the unit’s original question.  Because it was the first essay test they have done, we did the planning together.  We broke down the original question (What happens when something disrupts the ability of an ecosystem to meet the needs of the organisms in it?) and developed a structure for student responses.

What happens when something disrupts the ability of an ecosystem to meet the needs of the organisms living in it? Paragraph 1: How does a healthy ecosystem work? Paragraphs 2-4: Give a specific example of a “disruption” to an ecosystem and explain how it affected the ecosystem Paragraph 5: What can humans do to prevent these “disruptions” that throw off the balance in ecosystems? What can humans do to “fix” disruptions that have already occurred?

This unit was definitely a success, and I am constantly impressed with the level of work I get from my students.  They did an awesome job with all of these activities, and it felt really good to finish a clear, cohesive unit and feel like I kind of know what I’m doing! Yay for Year #2!