Curriculum & Planning, Education, Middle School

Mini-Unit: Nutrition

Interspersed throughout our science units, I teach health topics to address the health standards in my curriculum.  It is a strategy that works excellently around breaks, because most of my health lessons take just a day or two.  Instead of starting something right before a long weekend or a holiday break, we do health lessons!

My students keep their work in Health Portfolios that stay in the classroom, and they keep track of their grades on an Assignment Record like the one pictured to the left.  (PS – It’s available HERE for free at my TeachersPayTeachers site!) They receive one grade for health during the fourth quarter based on the work they have done intermittently all year.

Anyhoo, so lately we have been working on a nutrition unit.  I found a great resource at ChooseMyPlate.gov — In addition to tons of information, the USDA has also put together curriculum units for several grade levels.

There are lesson plans for high school students, kids age 6-11, and even preschoolers!

Serving Up My Plate is a curriculum unit broken down by grades — Level One 1-2, Level Two 3-4, and Level Three 5-6. My students used Level Three.

First, I had my students use our classroom’s iPads, as well as printed infographs from the USDA site, to complete a graphic organizer about the five food groups.  They visited our class website, where I placed links to each food group. (You can check out our class site here!)  We used the MyPlate graphic to do this to maintain consistency across the unit.

Slide1

On the backside of this graphic organizer are a number of questions about students’ favorite meals and the food groups represented in those meals. The whole activity is available here.  After doing this activity, we played a review game using the questions in the “You Are What You Eat” lesson from the Serving Up My Plate curriculum. We use white boards, and students work on teams to answer my questions.  I also had them make up a few questions, trying to “stump” the other teams. It was a fun activity!

But then, of course, we had to determine what they learned…

Now,we have moved on to vitamins and nutrients.  Students are using the “Nutrient Knowledge” handout from the Serving Up My Plate curriculum to fill in another graphic organizer. You can see the format of the organizers below, and my TpT file also includes an answer key.

Last year, I absolutely hated teaching health, but I have really enjoyed working through this Serving Up My Plate curriculum. I would highly recommend it for a nutrition unit! My students have enjoyed it as well, and the incorporation of the technology (via the iPads) has really spiked their interest.  The USDA’s ChooseYourPlate.gov site has a bunch of other resources as well! Students can plug in information about themselves (weight, height, age, activity level, etc.) to determine their individual food and exercise goals, and there are a variety of games and other interactive activities there as well. The info graphs are wonderful too – and are a great way to incorporate some of those Common Core literacy skills!

Curriculum & Planning, Language Arts, Lesson Plans

(Auto)Biography Project

In addition to my full-time job teaching science, I recently started teaching Adult Basic Education and GED classes.  While I am not new to adult education, it has definitely been a lesson in juggling, for lack of any better word. I only have eleven students, but keeping track of their individual needs and goals has certainly kept me busy.  In addition to making sure I have planned the right stuff for them, enough of the right stuff, and then backup plans, I also start the class with a group lesson.  This in itself is a bit of a challenge, since they are all at different levels.  I have a few that will potentially pass the GED in a few months time (assuming they persist) side by side with students who are reading and writing at a 3rd grade level — plus throw in a recent ESL (English as a Second Language) “graduate” and another LEP (Limited English Proficiency) student.  AND don’t forget about the five new students testing in the other room, getting ready to start class tomorrow! Holy cow!

One thing that most of my students need to work on is “language,” which is not just verbs, capitalization, punctuation, etc. but also sentence structure, paragraph development, and writing conventions.  I have always heard that the best way to learn the details of grammar is through writing, so the first “group lesson” series is writing an (auto)biography.  While we started off by reading a few leveled “biographies” (they were essentially short articles), I have asked students to write about themselves as we go forward.  My reasoning for this is first, most people enjoy talking about themselves, and second, they know themselves better than they know anything else… Plus this way we don’t have to spend any time researching.  All they have to dig through is their mind!

Anyway, as I said, we started out reading a few articles that told stories about the lives of historical figures.  Unlike the traditional textbook stories of revolutionaries, presidents, and war heroes, the stories from these books were about individuals you don’t always hear about — Coretta Scott King, Josephine Baker, and Dorothea Lange.  I matched students by reading level, and they worked together to read through the biographies.  Then, they were asked to find the main idea of each paragraph — this was also just good practice for them — and then combine those main ideas into a summary of each individual.

To look for patterns in the article structure, we shared our summaries by recording them side by side on the board.  We discussed how each article started with an overview of who the person was and “previewed” to an extent the life the article was about to describe.  In the very first paragraph, the reader finds out that Josephine Baker “lived more in a day than others might in their whole lives,” while Coretta Scott King’s biography opens with a description of the woman as a Civil Rights activist in her own right — not just the wife of one.  The stories then tread through the early life of the individual, emphasizing how that early life set them on the path to the achievements of their adulthood.  Finally, at the end of each article, the biographies focused on the lasting impacts of the individual and what they are remembered (or should be remembered) for.

These two activities took place over the course of two days.  On the first day, they read and summarized.  On the second day, we discussed similarities and differences.  After these group lessons, students broke up to begin their individual work.

On the third day, we then whittled our summary down to a single sentence. I asked, What ONE THING does the author want you to know about this person?  Some of the answers were really impressive! One student wrote:

“Dorothea Lange became famous from her skills and the way she captured the human spirit in her pictures during the Great Depression and WWII.”

While there is a tiny bit of tweaking with the preposition use, all in all that was a pretty awesome way to summarize her life and impact.

At this point, it was time to start talking about ourselves.  I explained that we were going to write our own biography (or autobiography, actually).  To start the writing process, we needed to take some time to brainstorm.  I showed them how to make a concept map, placing ourselves in the middle.  Then, we branched off from that center circle with the following topics: characteristics/personality, values/beliefs/morals, achievements/goals, significant events. When they looked at me kind of confused, I ended up using my own life as an example.

And then came the hard part… drawing conclusions.  The tough thing about teaching students to draw conclusions is that it really is up to them.  You can show them connections, you can give examples, you can ask the right questions — but ultimately, what goes on in their brains is up to their brains. Sometimes it gets to a point where it just clicks – and other times, it just doesn’t.  Practice can help, for sure, but it is a tough concept nonetheless.

My strategy to get them through this point was both to ask questions and give examples.  I told them to look at their maps.  We were going to try to come up with that one sentence, that one main idea, that could structure our autobiography.  The goal was to find a way to connect two ideas on our map.  For example, how did events in your life shape your personality? How did your personality shape the events in your life? How have your values impacted your achievements? How have events impacted your values? How has _______ affected ________?

And then we looked at my map.  Branching off of characteristics,  I listed both enthusiastic and impulsive. Beside achievements, I listed my degrees, my teaching position, and one of the awards I won.  Next to significant events, I included a few relationships, moves, and beginning and completing schools.  With the gist of my public life on display (and a little bit of the personal side), I very quickly came up with my autobiography’s thesis:

Impulsive decisions I made as a young adult set me on the path to a career in education that I had never expected to pursue but have come to love.

While this is not an idea that is new to me, and I have shared it with others on occasion, I had not planned to tell it to a room of relative strangers. But then again, after all, I was potentially asking them to write about some pretty personal things, so why shouldn’t I have to do so too?

Hah.

Next, we made an outline.

I. I am impulsive.

a. example one

b. example two

II. I made impulsive decisions in college that set my feet on this path.

a. specifics

b. specifics

III. I began a career as a teacher.

a. details

b. details

IV. I love where I have landed.

a. wonderful things

b. wonderful things

So far, I have students working on autobiographies about the impacts of moving cross-country, coming to the United States, and losing a parent. One student came up with the thesis, “All of my bad decisions have led me to believe in nobody but myself.”  And then she said she didn’t think it would be a good idea to write this essay.  I think she is going to write about a celebrity instead…

So that’s where we are at. While I hadn’t planned to take out my “English Teacher Shoes” since settling into my Science Teacher career, I think I can still pull it off. So far, at least.

For some similar activities, check out the following assignments in my TeachersPayTeachers store:

 

Curriculum & Planning, Lesson Plans, Middle School, Science

Animal Adaptations Web Quest & Research Assignment

Following up a unit on Ecology, my middle school students are currently working on a unit I designed to touch on the Next Generation Science Standards related to Growth, Development, and Reproduction, as well as Natural Selection and Adaptations.  Students are trying to answer the question:

“How does the biological diversity on Earth reflect the wide range of environmental conditions that exist on our planet?”

This unit is sandwiched in my curriculum between a “big view” of ecology and a “teeny-tiny view” of cells.  My goal is to move students from understanding…

1. how everything (living and nonliving) is interrelated

2. to how those living and nonliving things have impacted individual organisms (i.e. the environment has impacted living organisms as they have come to adapt to it)

3. to all of the stuff going on inside those individual organisms.

For that reason, I’ve focused not on the mechanisms of natural selection (genes, heredity, etc.), but simply on how an organism’s structural and behavioral adaptations enable survival (and therefore, eventually, reproduction).  As we “zoom” in closer at the stuff going on inside organisms in the next unit, we will come back to that heredity – answering the question, “How do living organisms pass traits from one generation to the next?”

While many textbooks do this all backwards — they start Life Science looking at cells and then eventually move on to ecology — this structure makes sense for me and my classroom.  For one, my sixth grade students work with two community organizations (Allegheny College’s Creek Connections and PA Sea Grant) to develop and carry out long-term, independently designed investigations that examine our local watershed.  Students are much better prepared to begin work on this project after spending the beginning portion of the year learning about ecology and the interactions in a watershed.  That background knowledge is crucial to developing research projects with depth and relevancy.

The second reason I like to start with ecology is (and yes, this is my personal opinion buuuuut) I think the broad view of ecology is of more interest to students, and it is certainly easier for them to find the connections between the content in their science books (or articles, internet, labs, etc.) and the real world.  Despite the fact that I am now a science teacher (and I love it and I never want to do anything else), I was never “into” science during my K through 12 years.  I mean, I probably liked “moments” here and there in my science education, but I never thought of myself as a “science” person.  It wasn’t until I took Intro to Environmental Science that I realized how fascinating the subject is — and I think it’s because through that class, I learned how connected everything is, and how IMPORTANT science is to our world, and — whether you’re in a science field or not — science is literally everything! Why is it raining? Oh, science. Why do people get sick? Oh, science. Why shouldn’t I put fertilizer on my garden? Oh, science.  Why are raspberries so freakin expensive? Oh, science.  (Obviously, there are many fields of relevance when seeking an answer to these questions, but science is without a doubt one of them!!)

So working from my own experience, my goal is to “catch” them early in the year with the big cool concepts and ideas – the trips to the creek, the water-quality tests, frogs and lizards and fish tank science… and then once I have lured them in,

SNAP.

Let’s talk about cells.

Anyhoo, I apologize for that rabbit trail!! Back to business: Adaptations.

After spending a day or two talking about the different environmental conditions we can find on earth (via a lesson on biomes), we start to focus on how animals (and coming soon, plants) have adapted to survive in these environments.  We focus on structural adaptations first.  We do some hands on activities like “Bird Beak Buffet” (working on that write-up — I’ll post when complete), watch Bill Nye’s Locomotion, do a little book-work from our Life Science Daybook, so on and so forth… Then, we start talking about behavioral adaptations.  Once my students are familiar with the two definitions, I set them free to investigate various adaptations via an Animal Adaptations Web Quest.

I have divided adaptations into four categories – environmental, defensive, locomotion, and feeding. Because we discussed locomotion and feeding prior to completing our web quest, I only have my students do the Environmental Adaptations and Defensive Adaptations pages.  That said, I still included in the document the Locomotion and Feeding pages to give all you readers more options.

Animal Adaptations WebQuest_Page_03

Basically, students use our school’s iPads to define each adaptation and identify an animal that uses that adaptation to survive.  They also are asked to identify whether the adaptation is structural or behavioral (for the environmental and defensive adaptations).  For the locomotion and feeding adaptations, students have to explain what structural adaptations enable that type of movement or diet.  I direct my student’s to BBC’s Nature page on wildlife adaptations because it has great summaries and examples for each, but you could probably do this activity with a good book about adaptations – or a collection of books about various animals. You could even use these pages simply as graphic organizers and present the notes yourself. I do include an “answer key” with information about each adaptation in the PDF file.

Animal Adaptations WebQuest_Page_10

Overall, the activity is designed to touch on the following NGSS standards:

·      an organism’s growth is affected by environmental factors (LS1.B)

·      animals engage in behaviors, like being part of a group, that increase the odds of survival and reproduction (LS1.B & LS1.D)

·      animals use their perceptions and memories to guide their actions (LS1.D)

I follow up this activity with an individual research assignment where students take a closer look at one specific adaptation.  Then, they share their research with the class via a SHORT presentation.

Animal Adaptation Research 2_Page_1

Animal Adaptation Research 2_Page_2

This drawing is probably my favorite:

Animal Adaptation Research 3

So now that we have wrapped up our study of animal adaptations, we are moving on to plants! Stay tuned…

Curriculum & Planning, Education

Rubrics and What Not

This year, I have been busy refining the 5th and 6th grade curriculum I teach and “standardizing” elements.  While last year I interpreted my school’s standards to mean I had to teach each area of science to both grades — which I found difficult to do without just skimming over the content areas — this year I divided up those standards so that 5th graders learn physical science and earth science, and the 6th graders focus solely on life science.  In developing activities I plan to use again and again, I have  been busy creating tons of rubrics for all of these activities.  While it has been a bit of a pain this year creating them all, it will be WONDERFUL next year when I can just print and copy!

Without a doubt, rubrics are key.  At a school like mine where parents are VERY active in their children’s schoolwork, providing students with the rubrics in advance and grading based on those rubrics has eliminated a lot of issues and conflicts that may otherwise develop. Additionally, grading is much more time efficient with a rubric! Instead of trying to compare student work or arbitrarily assign letters, I can very quickly evaluate a paper, presentation, or project by simply highlighting the box in which the student falls.  That said, I rarely highlight just one box.  Sometimes students fall somewhere in between, or their work is missing an element I would expect in top-mark work.  I generally highlight where students fall and then determine grades — usually by creating a falling scale.

For example, on a 16 point rubric (four criteria at four levels), a full 16 points would score 100%, while a student who earns 12 points (the second level down) would end up with 90% in my class.  I’m not simply taking 12 divided by 16, which would leave students with a 75%, as some teachers do.  I design my rubrics so that Level 3 is “B quality” work — the percentage students are assigned needs to fall in that range as well. I pretty much do this with all my grading, and it has worked really well. I think it reflects student understanding better than doing a flat “points to percentage” type thing. I can hold my students to high standards (and keep those full 16 points a bit elusive!) without killing students grades for work that is still of good quality.

Anyway, here are some of the rubrics I have been working with this year.  They are all available at my TpT store if you’d like to check them out!

Curriculum & Planning, Lesson Plans

Save Fred

One of the first assignments I had my 5th and 6th grade students complete was something called Save Fred.  If you haven’t heard of it, the basic premise is that Fred the Gummy Worm was out boating when his boat capsized.  His life preserver has become trapped under the capsized boat, while Fred clings to its top.  Students must figure out how to get the life preserver out from under the boat without knocking Fred off.  The catch is that they can’t use their hands — they can only touch Fred, the boat, and the life preserver using four paperclips.  Students have to work together to find a solution, trying out different strategies and evaluating what works.

Students had to document their process, recording the strategies they used as they tried to Save Fred.

Afterward, I directed students to the Next Generation Science Standard’s eight practices of science and engineering, identified in the NRC’s A Science Framework for K-12 Science Education.  Students Think-Pair-Shared, and then as a class we discussed, which skills students had to use as they worked through the activity.  We talked about how the “Scientific Method” is not always the linear series of steps they had been taught — sometimes (most times!) scientists used these practices out of order. 

Overall, the activity was a great “ice breaker” for the beginning of the year.  Students were able to do something fun, get a little treat (they ate Fred and his gummy life preserver afterward), and begin developing those scientific practices right off the bat!

Download this NGSS Science and Engineering Practices bookmark from TeachersPayTeachers. Laminate, cut, and distribute to students.

 

Curriculum & Planning, Lesson Plans, Science

A Book of 5th Grade Science Memories

I posted a few weeks ago a template for a “Science Discovery Book” that I had planned to use with my 5th graders to bring a close to the year.  I asked them to write a paragraph about their favorite science memory this past year and then draw a picture to illustrate it.  I also took a photo of each student dressed in a lab coat, safety goggles, and other science accouterments.  I scanned their drawings, added their photos, and compiled all of their memories into a single PDF file. I have just a few more pictures to add, and then I’ll upload the completed file — probably to Google Drive — and send out the digital file to all of the parents… That way, they can save and/or print their own copies.

If you’d like to try this with your class, you can find the template for this project at my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Check out some of the memories and artwork below:

Curriculum & Planning, Education, Middle School, Science

Closed Ecosystem Challenge

As we have been working our way through a unit on ecology, I have found the tropical aquarium and frog terrarium in my classroom incredibly helpful.  For concepts like populations, communities, the carbon dioxide – oxygen cycle, and nitrogen cycle, students are presented with concrete examples from classroom pets they have observed all year.

To wrap up the unit, I wanted students to consider and observe the two very important cycles to the preservation of life — the carbon dioxide – oxygen cycle and the nitrogen cycle.  To do this, I divided students into groups and asked them to design a closed ecosystem in which the needs of all organisms are met.  You can check out the assignment pack I gave them, as well as some images of their ecosystems below:

 

Students test their ecosystems for water quality parameters like dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrites, nitrates, and ammonia.
Some students chose to house betta fish in their ecosystems.