Invasive Species: Integrating Science and Art with iMovie


I need your help! Please consider donating to my classroom on DonorsChoose.org —  To read more about my class, my students, and their project, check out the information below:

My students need 5 iPads with the iMovie app to research local invasive plant species and create engaging documentary movies to increase public awareness.

My Students

Science instruction in today’s schools should connect students with the scientific community and natural world beyond the classroom walls. Unfortunately, with limited access to technology both in school and at home, my students are missing out on how science is done in the real world.

I work in a low-income, urban school where 99.9% of the population is eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

Despite these hardships, my students value their education and their classroom experiences. They are engaged by hands-on learning and are fascinated by the outdoors — students were amazed by all the creek critters we found when we had the opportunity to work with a local college doing macroinvertebrate sampling in a nearby stream. They want to do well in school and gain the skills they will need to succeed in today’s world, and they are incredibly motivated by opportunities to interact with technology and scientific tools. Despite their limited opportunities to access many of these tools, they are tech savvy and learn new applications quickly. Additional access to classroom technology would provide motivation and engagement for my students.

My Project

My students will be working with PA Sea Grant and the Weed Warriors program to investigate invasive plant species using the iPads. They will develop proposals to check the spread of these species and present these proposals to the community through our local EnvironmentErie organization – reaching out to other environmental organizations and our state park managers. Then, they will use iMovie to create educational documentaries/public service announcements about these invasive species and what we can do to address the problem. This project integrates science, technology, and art – engaging students with a broad variety of interests and requiring the use of critical thinking and 21st century skills.

The addition of iPads to my classroom would allow my students to become knowledge seekers.

They could search for and evaluate their own sources of information, instead of simply using the resources and texts I provide them. They would develop greater critical thinking and analysis skills, and they could then use the iPads to communicate their own findings and ideas. This technology would connect them to the most recent research and ideas and bring their classroom learning to the real world.


2015 Classroom Set Up: Posters, Signs, & Management Strategies

This year, I moved from my position as a fifth/sixth grade science teacher at a small private school to a ninth grade Earth Space Science position at a local, urban high school.  As I was getting ready for the new year in this new school, I did a lot of revamping to my classroom management techniques and decorations.  In light of that, I’ve created a number of new mini-posters, printables, and organizational signs.  Many of these were inspired by THE Classroom Management Book by Harry K. Wong et. al.  He is the writer of The First Days of School, as well, which is also a great read! The primary difference between the two books, as I see it, is that THE Classroom Management Book’s focus is on implementing the procedures touched on in The First Days of School.  It has a lot of really great examples from real classrooms and provides specific strategies to teach and implement pretty much every procedure you could possibly need.  Sooo many great ideas, and I highly recommend it! It seriously made my transition this year SO MUCH EASIER!

Great read for both new and veteran teachers!

First, I’ve created printables to post student instructions for several different procedures.  I have included detailed descriptions of these processes in my syllabus, and I taught and practiced these with my students during the first few classes.  That said, I also posted these around the classroom, so that students have a visual reminder of my expectations, and I can refer to these when correcting students who may have forgotten (or chosen to ignore) the proper procedures.  There is a printable procedure poster for Beginning Class, Dismissing Class, Group Work Rules, Notebook Headings, Absences, and Classroom Language Use (Profanity Free Zone). You can pick and choose what you’d like to use! 🙂

You can click on the image to visit my TeachersPayTeachers store, where you can download the PDF file for free!

Getting Students Attention

I also created a way for students to get my attention – again inspired by THE Classroom Management Book. Instead of students interrupting class by announcing their needs, simple hand gestures can indicate student requests.  I have created the Finger Cues posters below.  I simplified the ones suggested in the book to just three — one finger means “Help!” Two fingers means “Bathroom?” and a pencil held in the air means they need to exchange pencils or use the sharpener.  You can download these at my TeachersPayTeachers store for free as well!

I wasn’t sure how the high schoolers would take this, but the majority have actually gone with it, and it has made some interruptions easier — such as pencil-sharpening during notes and bathroom requests during direct instruction (although they SHOULD know that my answer at that time is always “not yet,” sometimes they still ask).

When students choose not to follow the above procedures, there are obviously going to be consequences.  As recommended in the book, I have set a clear order of consequences. While I have included this list in my syllabus, and we will discuss it early in the year, I have also decided to post it in my classroom in order to refer students to the list when necessary.  Below, you can find the link to download the free printable at my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Consequences Printable

As you can see, my Level 2 intervention is an “Infraction Slip.” This has been very effective at documenting student behavior and enforcing a consequence within my classroom.  Unless behaviors escalate or infraction slips accumulate, they simply stay in my files.  They do not go to parents or administrators.  In a way, they are just a tangible warning.  After I’ve given an official verbal warning, this is the next step.

My impressions so far is that it seems to help with redirecting negative behaviors.  I generally write it out and deliver it to the student privately.  I try to choose my timing carefully — if it seems like the student is very volatile and it would only worsen the situation, I generally wait until they have calmed down to talk to them about it.  If however I feel it would be helpful to address the behavior immediately, I take the time to do that.  I also try to document if behavior improved afterward, and I make sure to show students that I also recorded that.  I want them to know that these things are not set in stone, and while I will call out their poor choices, I also recognize when they are making good decisions.

The other day, I had problems with a student who would just not stop talking. He was yakking the entire class – during instruction, during independent work, etc.  I filled out the infraction slip, reminded him again that this is just a classroom document and the NEXT step would be a parent phone call, and asked him to sign it. I tell them that if they choose not to, that’s fine too – I will just document they refused to sign it.  He decided to read what I had written, and as he was reading, he was nodding, “Yah, that’s true. Yah, I did that.”  He then wrote, “The student will… stop talking and do work.”  And that was the end of it.  He signed it, and the last twenty-five minutes of class, he did a pretty decent job keeping his chatter under control.

The thing is – it only works if you use it.  I was having a similar problem in another class with two students, and for whatever reason, it did not occur to me to pull out the infraction slips.  Instead, it felt like I battled with them all class, trying to keep them on-task.  Next class, if the same problems arise, I intend to give them the official verbal warning immediately and then go right to the infraction slip. Hopefully it will have the same effect as it did with the young man I discussed above!

Anyway, you can also download my Infraction Slip at my TeachersPayTeachers store for free!

infraction slip

I have also created a few posters with quotes that have a good message.  These are available for $1.00 at my TeachersPayTeachers store. You can click on the images to take you there!


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!

Life Lessons, Middle School, Science, Uncategorized

NSTA14 Boston Conference Summary

At the time I applied for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award in November, my goals for this conference were three-fold: improve my understanding and application of inquiry based learning; learn how to utilize technology into my daily instruction; and discover how to incorporate literacy-based activities into my curriculum and develop literacy skills. In the few months since my initial application, as I matured as a science teacher, I found that my goals had slightly changed. Inquiry-based learning and project-based learning still ranked first on my list of conference goals. Similarly, I still wanted to know how to incorporate scientific literacy into my instruction and how to develop my students into science writers through the use of scientific argumentation. Finally, I decided to use this conference as a way to build my content knowledge in topics that I could connect to my curriculum – such as citizen science, ocean acidification and coral bleaching, and climate change. Additionally, I shifted away from the focus on technology and instead directed my efforts to understanding the Next Generation Science Standards.

#nsta14 #nsta nsta
In case you were wondering what to wear at your next #NSTA14 NGSS PDI session… PS: Don’t judge my mirror selfie.

I spent my first day of the conference attending PDI-8 NGSS 101. Through this all-day session, I gained a greater grasp on the NGSS standards and how to use them. Prior to the conference, I found the standards overwhelming—particularly how the disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and performance standards tied together. I came away from this session with, I believe, a much clearer understanding of the standards. The Disciplinary Core Ideas is the actual science content students should know. The performance standards reveal student understanding—they prove that students understand the DCI. The Science and Engineering Practices are the practices, or approaches, that scientists use as they study the natural world. These are skills that students, as scientists, need in order to find success in the sciences. Finally, the crosscutting concepts are themes or ideas that apply to the many disciplinary areas of science and engineering and unify each of these fields as a natural science. While I’m still not an expert, I feel much more comfortable using these standards and understanding how to truly know if my students have mastered them. I am very excited to take a look at my current curriculum and determine ways I can shift my units to address these NGSS standards!

On a slightly more silly note – I had a great time with these two ladies from Texas! Meet Lara and Kelsey:


I also added another goal to my conference “to-do list.”

On Thursday and the first half of Friday, I traveled to research institutions at Cape Cod, Woods Hole, and Northeastern University’s Marine Lab to learn about ocean ecosystems.  This area is very much of personal interest to me – I studied coastal ecology during a short study-abroad session the summer after my freshman year of college, and I am still very drawn to that field.  Even though my students and I don’t live by the ocean, its role in the health of our planet is especially important today as threats of overfishing, climate change, and pollution threaten our stability and perhaps even the survival of our way of life. As a student in a landlocked state, I was never really exposed to the disciplines of coastal ecology and ocean sciences, and I truly wish I had been. I would have loved to study it in more depth during college and perhaps even pursue a career in the field.  It is my hope that by incorporating some ocean science into my curriculum through our examination of climate and climate change, I can expose my students to this interesting field, even though we are geographically removed from the ocean.

Through my field trip experiences, I gained an understanding of the work marine scientists do, their areas of research, and actual fieldwork techniques.  I enjoyed a presentation by a doctoral candidate from Northeastern University who is currently looking at the genetic diversity of algae in intertidal zones, as well as heard how researchers are using synthetic muscle to create robots that respond to “neural impulses” (or something like that. I don’t remember the specific vocabulary, as it was a pretty complex presentation).  It was also very interesting to hear of the work being done at the salt marshes in Cape Cod, particularly the efforts to quantify the “carbon sink” and “methane sink” abilities of saltwater marshes to open the possibility of using marshes as “carbon offsets” or “carbon trading.” I was also able to learn about the history of the region and its contributions to the field of science, such as the fossils that were discovered by Agassiz that filled in some gaps in the fossil record. Finally, I was able to participate in “fieldwork” as we examined the intertidal zone, identifying species and counting number or estimating percent cover in randomly selected plots in the lower, middle and upper intertidal zones.

At Northeastern University’s Marine Science Lab in Nahant, MA.

Friday night I was able to participate in the Teacher Awards Gala at the Renaissance Hotel.  Not only was it wonderful to be a part of the celebration and delicious food, but it was also inspiring to see the achievements of other science teachers.  I am motivated to continue to grow professionally and do what I can to earn another opportunity to attend NSTA’s awards gala. While the PDI on Wednesday allowed me to “check off” the NGSS content on my conference goals list, and through my fieldtrips build my content knowledge, Friday afternoon and all day Saturday were devoted to improving my instruction in the areas of inquiry-based learning and scientific literacy development.  I attended conference sessions on the use of interactive notebooks in science classes (“Writing to Learn Through Science Notebooks/Journals in Elementary and Secondary Classrooms”), the progression from hands-on to mind-based models in science (“Moving from Hands-On Models to Minds-On Models”),  and the utilization of NOAA’s resources for instruction on coral reef and ocean acidification (“Engage Your Students With NOAA’s Coral Reef and Ocean Acidification Resources”).  Additionally, I attended a presentation by Loree Griffin Burns on citizen science designed to engage, inspire and empower students to participate in the science community from a young age, and I learned about the Boston Schools Environmental Initiative’s partnership with Dennis Haley Elementary Pilot School, where an integrated thematic curriculum and a dedication to outdoor learning is engaging students in scientific practices and increasing the relevancy of classroom content.  While I plan to stay in my present position for a few more years, it is wonderful to hear about the success of school and community collaborations like this in the hopes that I may have the opportunity to work in a similar environment someday.

Comic Interlude: Penguins

Finally, although it is not the last session I participated in, I attended the presentation, “To Lead from the Classroom, Get Out of the Classroom!”  My goal in attending this presentation was to identify additional strategies to engage with others and take advantage of opportunities to develop as a scientist, instructor, community member and ultimately, a leader in the field of science education.

Overall, I am so grateful for the opportunity to attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education, and I can only hope to be lucky enough to attend next year.  Not only was I able to connect with other professionals in this field and learn from their experiences, but I was also able to explore the New England coast and Boston’s city life.  I definitely have expanded my understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards and inquiry-based learning, and I am so excited and motivated to bring that learning to my classroom! Thank you, NSTA for the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award!


Day 2: Teaching About Oceans and Coast (FIELDTRIP!)

I am currently taking down a delicious Vermonter – ham, apples, melted cheddar and dijon – at a restaurant called Pie In The Sky in Woods Hole. First, this town is adorable. (Is that insulting to native Woods-Holesians?) Second, this sandwich is great. Third, this field trip has been awesome.

First, we visited the main house of the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve…


The Reserve protects Cape Cod’s estuaries, which are places where freshwater and saltwater meet. They’re interesting because they are “one of the most productive habitats in the world!” A few years ago I spent part of the summer in a place called Puerto San Carlos in Baja California Sur, Mexico. My memory of the mangrove forests and rocky coast intertidal zones are what prompted me to sign up for this field trip in the first place! Anyway, while I was familiar with estuaries, I did not know they are major carbon sinks! They take up and store more carbon than any other ecosystem – and unlike freshwater marshes (though I still don’t know why), they don’t release methane but rather take that in too! This ecosystem service – which we benefit from through their simple existence – is huge!

Anyway, lunch is over – gotta run!


Education, Language Arts, Middle School, Uncategorized

Thoughts on Summer Reading

Thoughts on Summer Reading

In my early explorations of my predecessor’s desk this past year (he left in rather a hurry), I came across the summer reading assignment he had used the previous year.  While I don’t remember the exact details at present, he asked students to complete “author studies” using classic novels.  Students had to read two classics and write some sort of essay, due at the start of school.

As summer rolled around this May, I had to come up with a summer reading program for my rising seventh and eighth graders.  To be honest, I can’t remember what “summer reading” entailed in middle school.  The first year that I actually recall my summer reading assignment was the year I entered high school, 2001.  We had to select a book from a list provided–I chose to read Emma by Jane Austen.  I am guessing I recognized Jane Austen’s name as the author of Pride and Prejudice, which I assume I recognized as a romance.  And who doesn’t like a good romance?

Apparently, me.  Or at least, the rising ninth-grade version of myself.  That book dragged on.  I, who can consume a book in a day, who used to play hooky just so I could stay home and read all day, hated reading that book.  I just couldn’t get into it.  The characters confused me; the comedy was lost on me.  I couldn’t tell Jane Fairfax from Frank Churchill. (That may be an exaggeration. I am pretty sure I was aware of gender differences at the very least.)  The point is: I wasn’t ready for it.

I have come to believe that you can’t appreciate a book until you are ready for it.  There have been numerous occasions in my own life that I have purchased a book, which has then sat on my bookshelf for weeks, months, sometimes even years.  Then, one day, for whatever reason, it catches my attention.  When I read it, it speaks to me.  It connects to my life, it offers some sort of wisdom.  Simply put, I am ready for it.

Leaving middle school, I was not ready for Emma.  Though an avid reader (literally, I consumed printed material), I just wasn’t ready to read that novel on my own, and I hated it.  I can’t even tell you what it was about, except that Jane Fairfax was a pain in the ass and Harriet was an idiot.  (And that’s only what I recall after Googling the names of Emma’s characters.)  And it wasn’t just Austen’s style.  Just one year later, a sophomore in high school, I picked up the novel Pride and Prejudice, and I LOVED it. I loved the witty humor, the romance.  I’m pretty sure I read it twice.  That year, I also really enjoyed reading Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and Homer’s The Odyssey.  Not exactly the lightest of reading.  But that didn’t matter, because I was ready for it.  And even if I hadn’t been, it was a class venture–we had classmates and a teacher to rely on, to help interpret what we were reading.  There were supports for those who needed it.

Summer reading doesn’t really work that way.  You’re on your own.  More than that, you’re on your own when you’re supposed to be done with school! Most kids don’t want to read A Tale of Two Cities over the summer.  Frankly, most simply won’t.  They’ll use SparkNotes to get whatever information they need for whatever silly report you’ve assigned, and they’ll BS their way through it.  It’s not only a waste of their time, but a waste of YOUR time when you have to read all those essays! And really, do YOU want to do that during YOUR summer break?  I would think not.

At least, I think not.  So this year for summer reading, I decided to do something different.  They can read whatever tell them to read next school year.  This summer, I just want them to read, PERIOD.  So I instituted the following Summer Reading Program:

So far, I’ve had some positive responses! I’ve had a student email me, two or three parents respond, AND one even called the principal with praises!  Considering MMS is cutting a middle school position, we have a new principal unfamiliar with our work, and I was the last hired, any praise I can get is a good thing right now!! (Though I have to admit it’s my multiple certifications that are keeping me around, commendations can’t hurt.)

Anyway, I don’t know if it’s the “right” thing to do, letting the students select their own books this summer.  Maybe I’m expecting too little of them.  I know I run the risk of students selecting novels below their reading level, opting for the “easy” way out.  Then again, I doubt assigning a weak reader a book way above their reading level without the supports available during the school year is any better.  I guess it’s my hope that the students will select the books they’re ready for, whatever subject and level that may be.  They can read a little, write a little, and enjoy their summer.  We can worry about the classics next fall.



Ms. Making Things Up As I Go


A Book Which People Praise And Don't Read - Mark Twain