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, 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:

Education, Lesson Plans, Middle School, Science

Scientific Investigations – Group vs. Independent Work?

This year, my sixth grade students worked in small groups to design a scientific investigation of their choosing that connects to the watershed content we were studying with the help of Allegheny College’s Creek Connections program.  Students first gained an understanding of watershed science, participated in water testing for Cascade Creek, and completed a biological and physical assessment of Cascade Creek’s health. Then, I assigned them to groups based on expressed interest (biological, chemical or physical studies) as well as my perceptions of their ability levels and leadership skills.  Students began background research in class, composed the first two sections of their final reports (introduction and methodology), and finally, were released to carry out their investigations. While several groups designed and carried out excellent studies, some groups really struggled with the group-work aspect of the project.  While it was my intention for the grouping to be an aid to students who may have otherwise struggled with carrying out such an extensive science project, the grouping actually became, for many, the most challenging aspect of the project.

As this became clear to me as the project evolved, I began to make adaptations to the assignment to increase accountability to their work and to their group.  While students were expected to carry out the investigation together, some students ended up doing the bulk of their project alone.  To recognize those students’ hard work, I asked all students to turn in an individual written report for their project.  This report was designed on the traditional format for all organized research and included the following sections: introduction, methodology, data, and conclusion. While all students were required to turn in a separate report, students who worked together and wrote their reports together could simply turn in two copies of the same report.  For students who felt they carried the weight of the project, they could write and turn in a report of their own, and they were under no obligation to share that report (or any aspects of it, such as data, research, ideas, etc.) with their group members.  In this way, students who had no part in the project were not able to skate by on their group members’ work. However, students still received a group grade for the display, as only one display was turned in.  Finally, I asked students to write a reflection of the project in class – How were responsibilities divided? Who did what, in terms of the work? How would you grade yourself and your group-mates? Is there anything I should know about the project? What would you do differently? What recommendations would you give me for next year? Etc.  I found students were very honest, admitting their own lapses and recognizing their partners’ hard work. I added a “participation” grade to their project based on my own observations, these student reflections of others, and the student reflections of themselves.

As I continue this project next year with the new sixth grade class, it is my intention to complete more of the project in class, so I can personally see student involvement.  Also, I have not yet decided if I will group students for this assignment, or ask them to complete an investigation independently.  I believe there are pros and cons to both approaches. The ability to work in a group, and for some to take on leadership roles, is an incredibly important skill, and scientists in the “real world” are constantly working with others, even when they may not be thrilled to!  In that way, this project simulated an authentic scientific investigation, and I think that experience is valuable. At the same time, I don’t want this project to cause more grief than learning.  I also want to be able to truly assess student understanding and mastery of science practices, and group work may make that assessment more difficult if one student carries more of the weight. Whatever way I choose to go, I will definitely make some improvements in terms of accountability.

Do you readers have any thoughts or recommendations? How do you hold students accountable during group work?

Curriculum & Planning, Lesson Plans, Middle School, Science

End Of Year Activity – Science Memory Books

My first year as a 5th and 6th grade science teacher is nearly over.  I have to say, it truly flew by and I absolutely love it.  Science has been such an enjoyable subject to teach, and I have been able to do a lot of really great, hands-on, interactive activities with my students this year. And I have even more ideas for next year as well!

I was brainstorming ways to wrap up the year just last week – I’ve seen memory books, DVDs with photos, slideshows, etc. done before – when I came up with a way to combine all of those awesome things — classroom memories, reflections on learning, fun photos, a take-home copy — into a Science Discovery memory book.

cover page 2

Each student records his or her favorite science memory, and all of the pages can be compiled into one classroom book.  In addition, all students will sign the “Our Scientists” page.  A final page with a quote by Sir William Bragg ends the book.

In my class, I have decided to add a photo of each student dressed as a scientists — lab coat, lab goggles, beakers and other paraphernalia — on their science memory page.  After I collect all of their memories, I will scan each page to create a digital book that can be downloaded and printed by students and parents.

My students have just started this project, so I’ll be sure to post photos of the final product! If you’re interested in using my template, check out my TeachersPayTeachers store: Science Discovery Books by Nicole Fuhrman @ TeachersPayTeachers

Curriculum & Planning, Education, Lesson Plans, Resources, Science

The Next Generation Science Standards & Lesson Planning

At the NSTA’s Boston Conference this year, I attended a Professional Development Institute on the Next Generation Science Standards. Since then, I have been looking forward to taking the time to review the standards in greater depth and consider how I can incorporate them into my curriculum.

I am pretty lucky to work at a private school that gives me a good deal of freedom with what and how I teach.  I have a set of standards for each grade level – but to be honest, they are nearly identical.  There are perhaps ten changes between fifth and sixth grade’s seven page documents.  I have been thinking how challenging it is to cover all of that material in one year’s time (and actually, in only three quarters of the year, because I am supposed to teach health as well!), and really, how unfeasible it is to truly explore the content.

As I started to brainstorm some approaches for next year, it occurred to me that because I teach two grades, and these middle level grades are all working towards the same school curriculum documents and NGSS standards, I could divide the curriculum in half.  Fifth grade could explore one half of the seven page list of standards, and sixth grade could cover the other half.  This allows us to take enough time to truly engage with the content and build science practices, instead of just memorizing and “spitting back” a cursory overview of the topic.

Right now, I’m leaning toward starting with the physical sciences in fifth grade (matter and energy), moving into earth science (energy resources/natural resources), and ending with a unit on weather, climate, and global warming/climate change.  Then in sixth grade, they would begin by taking a broad view of life science through the study of ecology, move into biodiversity, and end with a focus on biology (organisms, life cycles, adaptation, anatomy, etc.).  Additionally, I plan to include a “citizen scientist” project and/or a service learning component. With this approach, I would still meet all the standards I am required to over the course of two years, but students would have time to reach deeper depths of complexity and understanding.

Anyway, I will be posting my unit plans on the blog as I complete them, but in the mean time, check out the new lesson planner I created —

NGSS Lesson - Navy Chevron.pdf (Original)
NGSS Lesson Template

While the other lesson plan templates I have made focused on Common Core State Standards and 21st Century Skills, this template is designed for lessons that align with the NGSS.  There are spaces to checkmark which Science and Engineering Practices students are developing and also which Crosscutting Concepts are to be incorporated into the lesson.  It also has room to record the Disciplinary Core Ideas that the lesson will address, as well as the Performance Expectations students are working toward mastering.  On the second page, there are spaces for you to record your lesson’s Warm Up, Instruction, Activity, and Assessment.

I plan to create more designs for this template, utilizing different colors and patterns.  Do you have any designs you would really want to see? I am always up for suggestions!