Need a way to encourage following lab rules? Try this: Science Lab or Activity Rubric – Promote Collaboration Skills! (New) Editable!
All Webquests Include a Google Doc Version – Excellent for Distance Learning!
One of my favorite education authors (Daniel Willingham) points out in his book, Why Don’t Students Like School?, that students’ study skills should not be assumed. Anyone who’s been teaching a few years (maybe a few weeks) knows that study skills and study habits are definitely on a spectrum. I’ve got the kids who memorize everything and their polar opposites, who study nothing. Some of this is about habits and motivation. Thankfully there are those students who just want to do well and whether it’s natural skill or help at home, they are able to assimilate a lot of information and skills and can show off their learning quite well on exams.
But what about everyone else? Over the last couple of years, I have built even more review (aka informative assessments) into my lessons. I think frequent quizzes and what I call graded reviews are a good way to do this. However, I know from my research on the topic that I also need to explicitly teach study skills. Flashcards are one of the most effective study techniques out there and the subject of biology is a great one for learning to use them. Therefore, I assigned making flashcards to my 7th graders as part of their preparation for a quiz on the 6 kingdoms of life.
I told the students the following: “For this unit, you are required to make at least 12 flashcards on the kingdoms’ notes. The flashcards can be physical (index cards) or on Quizlet”. Now comes my very stupid mistake, I asked, “Does everyone know how to make flashcards?” Lots of head nodding and yeses followed. I can’t believe I fell for that!
The one smart thing I did do was make the flashcards a graded assignment and, therefore, I looked at all of them. I was so happy to see the many “shared” Quizlet sets in my email and the pile of index cards on my desk. Sadly, this feeling was quickly replaced with despair as I read card after card that had nothing whatsoever to do with our kingdoms’ notes! Or, if they did have to do with the notes, ALL OF THE NOTES WERE ON ONE CARD! Before I could confront my students about this, I had to mentally run through the stages of grief to prepare myself. Once I got over the shock, pain, anger and depression I was able to move back into problem-solving mode and just view this as an opportunity to teach my 7th graders how to make and use flashcards – which is what I should have done in the first place!
In retrospect it was helpful for them to make the cards incorrectly, because “mistakes are the best teachers”. This was holding true for me in this instance and for the students. Here are the steps I took to rectify our mistakes:
1. I thanked the students for making their flashcards, everyone had done so by the due date.
2. I asked them, what material is this quiz on? Everyone (more or less) could tell me that the quiz is on the 6 kingdoms. However, through discussion it became clear that some didn’t quite seem to realize that the quiz was specifically ONLY on the notes on the 6 kingdoms. It can be mind-boggling how some students are so clueless about what is going on. We had been studying the kingdoms for two weeks. We have very specific notes on the kingdoms that were taken on specific graphic organizers in their notebooks. The daily review questions were ONLY on these notes. Yet, somehow, some students didn’t quite realize that this is the material that they needed to know for the quiz! This is where deep breathing techniques are helpful and reminding my adult self that 7th graders are only about 13 years-old and lack the life experience and brain development to think like I do. What seems so obvious to me is not so obvious to all of them. There are the students whom never miss a beat (and thank God for them), but the rest are children that need explicit, direct instruction in almost everything and it’s my job to realize this.
3. I asked my students to open their notebooks to the kingdoms’ notes and calmly, with a smile, pointed out that the quiz is on these notes and only these notes; therefore, the flashcards needed to be specifically on these notes.
4. Step 4 is critical – I asked my students, what is the purpose of flashcards? This got to the heart of my biggest mistake which was assuming that they knew this! Again, through a brief discussion, we came to an understanding that the point of making the flashcards was so that they would use them to study for this quiz. No, this was not obvious to everyone, and, I should have known better to assume that it was.
5. I presented incorrect flashcards on the smart board – I pulled some from the Quizlet sets and some were photographs of physical ones (only a couple of each were enough to make my point). I asked, what is wrong with each card. Funny how easily they could point out the mistakes of others! Here are the mistakes that I highlighted:
- One, making cards (mainly on Quizlet) that were not from the notes. Quizlet is handy in that the program “suggests” answers to the clues that you type in. This is time-saving if the answers are the answers you need to know; however, they were not the answers my students needed to know! For example, we had very specific information to learn about each kingdom. When a student typed in the clue “bacteria”, Quizlet suggested an answer. Rather than seeing that this answer had nothing to do with our notes, the student just clicked on the answer and his/her work was done! In their minds, they had completed the assignment. The point of the assignment was lost on them (for which I am at least partly to blame).
- Two, putting too much information on a single card. There are 6 kingdoms and many students put all of the information for each kingdom on one card, which of course makes the cards pretty useless for studying. This explained why a few students complained to me that they didn’t have enough information for 12 cards. At the time I didn’t understand how they could be saying this and just told them that of course there was enough information and to just go and do it. But, if you don’t understand how to use flashcards then this, again, is not at all obvious.
6. I presented how to correctly make the flashcards for the quiz. Using Quizlet, I made a card on the board that had all the correct elements. The clue was “all are autotrophs” and the answer was “plants”. One clue with one answer – not one clue with 15 answers. I made one more, “all are heterotrophs”, with the answer, “animals and fungi”. I started to have one of those great moments in teaching when you can sense little light bulbs turning on in my students’ heads. The explicit, direct instruction was working! Duh!
7. I asked students to suggest clues and answer for a few more cards and their responses were right on target.
8. I reassigned the cards – everyone had to remake cards for tomorrows class during which we would practice using them.
9. I checked the new Quizlet sets before class and quickly thumbed through the sets of physical cards and was pleased with the results – all were correctly made! A moment of euphoria for a teacher.
10. I demonstrated how to use the cards with a volunteer. Based on her responses we made three piles of cards.
- Cards for which she immediately knew the correct answers and didn’t need to keep practicing.
- Cards for which she did not seem to know the answers at all.
- Cards that were in the middle – answers were partially correct or she was not confident about them.
11. I told students to pair up and to do the same with a set of cards. Since about half had their cards on Quizlet, I paired those with physical cards with those with Quizlet sets. In retrospect, I will require physical cards for this lesson in the future and Quizlet can be used after they know how to do this correctly. Only one student read the clues and the other answered. This does result in both students studying and we did have some time to switch later on. The point here is to teach HOW to use the cards.
12. I demonstrated how to study the cards in pile # 3 (the “I almost know it” pile). Demonstrating is the key here. I asked my volunteer the clue and if she was still uncertain or completely incorrect, I had her repeat the correct answer several times. I showed that once the student truly knew the information then that card could be moved into pile # 1. Students practiced this for a couple of minutes.
13. I instructed the students to pick two cards from pile # 2 and have the student repeat the correct answers several times.
14. I instructed students to hold onto these two cards and then pick five cards from pile # 1. I had them shuffle these cards and then practice with them for two minutes. Since we still had a few minutes I had them switch roles.
15. I assigned studying with the cards as homework AND I sent an email to their parents explaining the assignment. I think this is critical. Flashcards can easily be used alone, but I wanted to increase the odds of my students doing the studying and using them correctly by including a family member. I know not every family helped their 7th grader study, but many did I and I could fully see this in the quiz grades.
Here is the email that I sent:
Dear 7th grade parents,
7th graders are learning how to use flashcards to study. Flashcards are proven to be one of the most effective study techniques.
Students had two options for using flashcards:
- physical cards (index cards)
- Quizlet – online flashcards
To help your 7th grader study for Friday’s quiz, please consider doing the following:
- If student has physical cards – have a family member ask the flashcard terms and student responds – students should create 3 piles: cards fully known, cards that are almost fully known and cards that need repetition. Here is a resource that explains this method. Keep studying until repetition pile is empty. They should do this today and tomorrow.
- If student has a Quizlet set – please be sure that the student spends at least 20 minutes playing the flashcard games. Quizlet also has a built-in system for having you repeat cards that you don’t know well. Also, the cards can be printed and used as physical cards.
It’s important that 7th graders learn the value of this study technique so I appreciate your support with this. We practiced using them correctly in class on Tuesday.
Quiz results: The scores were overall really good on this quiz. Of course, I still had a handful of students who only earned a D or an F. I talked with these students individually about whether they did the studying and all admitted to not doing it. This is the tough part for us teachers – we cannot control what happens when they leave our classrooms and it is very important to accept this fact. However, I can do what I can do so I required that the students have their paper signed by a parent. We talked about being honest about the lack of studying and getting the signature. All students did so and on-time which was quite the treat!
Take away: Nine years of teaching does not mean I will not still make assumptions about what my students are thinking. But more importantly, remember that “mistakes are the best teachers” and use this truism to your advantage. I’ll require that another group of students make flashcards and I plan to do it the same way, but without the personal grief because I will expect them to make mistakes.
Other teachers have been my best resource for improving my teaching so please share your experiences with teaching study techniques in the comments section below.
I was in the bathroom about a half hour before our school’s Christmas concert was about to start. It’s a small bathroom so there was no way to not notice the stressed out mom that was in there too. She was trying to get her somewhat resistant child to change her clothes for the concert as she, the child, would be singing with her class. I walked in right behind them. The little girl was dressed in pajamas. In the bathroom the mom was muttering about having to deal with all of this coming straight from work. The girl wasn’t very interested in changing out of her pajamas. Another woman walked in which upped the mom’s stress because her stubborn daughter was taking up one of the two stalls. Seconds later her 4th grade son was yelling through the door that he needed help with his clothes.
Mom became pretty snappy with both kids and it would have been easy for me to feel very self-righteous in the moment. “I would never be so snappy with my precious babies!” However, I’ve been that mom (and teacher) – overly stressing about something actually trivial because in the moment it feels like it’s extremely important. So I did something better than being all judgy – after washing my hands, I turned to the mom and said, “How can I help you?” At first she brushed aside my offer, but then said, “You could help my son with his bow tie.” No problem! It took a bit of work for me to get the tie out of the package and correctly onto the kid, but he and I accomplished it. He was a little trooper about my fumbling around with it. At one point he asked, me, “You’re the science teacher, right?”. He got a cheerful, “Yup”, from me. Some passing 8th graders admired his fancy look and then he ran off to tell his mom that he was ready. I walked off to go back to my 6th grade underlings that I was there to supervise. Maybe 10 minutes later, while standing around chatting with some other teachers, the mom came up to me and, while still seeming a bit rushed, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Thank you”.
As a natural introvert and social wallflower, stepping outside the little box the weaker side of my personality wants me to stay in can be hard. But I’ve learned over the years that I have to put myself out there and make personal connections with the families in our school. The 4th grader had a positive interaction with me which will affect how he sees me when he comes up to the middle school in a few years. The mom, hopefully, sees me as a kind person whose willing to lend a hand and will be more trusting of me as her child’s teacher.
I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I offered to help, but I’m now thinking about what a difference offering help can make with your teacher-family relationships. It’s really difficult to be a no-nonsense teacher with truly high academic expectations in the current culture. The stress brought on by parents that want their kids to earn easy A’s can really drag me down and weaken my resolve to do what’s right. I know that today’s parents aren’t going to change and my administrators aren’t going to stop siding with the parents anytime soon. I’ve come to see that my best path to maintaining my professional standards is to reach out and connect with the families.
This strategy has made my job a lot easier! I’ve got parents backing me that would have fought for grade changing in the past because they know me personally and see me as a partner in their child’s life, not as an enemy. This isn’t easy because I have to fight my inner (cowardly) urge to keep a “safe” distance from other people. But experience has taught me that this distance was not safe at all and it kept me from forming the relationships that I have to forge to be successful and happy in this job.
This seemingly tiny encounter has opened my eyes even more to the power of connection. I hope it will inspire you to connect with your school’s families as well. I’d love to hear about your own experiences connecting with families. Please leave a comment below.
Studying aquatic microorganisms is engaging and very educational.
Here I share how I teach a 7th grade lab on finding protists and microscopic animals in pond water. This may seem daunting if you are not familiar with the organisms or haven’t had the time to organize the activity. I hope that I’ll give you all the information you need for a successful lab.
Why take the time for this lab? Well, no one is going to be excited about algae by looking at a picture of it. Algae in the macroscopic world is called POND SCUM, but under the microscope it’s BEAUTIFUL.
Also, many standards can be addressed in a pond dip lab:
- modeling ecosystems and ecosystem interactions
- food chains, food webs and trophic levels
- nonliving and living factors within an ecosystem
- biological diversity
- taxonomy and evolutionary relationships among species:
- single-celled protists
- algae – single-celled organisms with plant-like characteristics
- protozoans – single-celled organisms with animal-like characteristics
- microscopic animals – all multicellular
- crustaceans, aquatic worms and rotifers
- single-celled protists
- taxonomy and evolutionary relationships among species:
- single-celled organisms are microscopic, but have all of the characteristics of living things
- microscopic multi-celled organisms such as microscopic crustaceans and worms
- Using dichotomous keys and technical language – meet Common Core standards for using “key terms” and “domain-specific words and phrases” used in a “scientific and technical context”.
The supplies are simple and usually found in the typical middle school or high school biology classroom. The only things you will need to gather otherwise is the microorganism-rich water and organism keys; I provide you with information on both.
- microscopes with at least 100x magnification
- containers (3 or more) to hold the pond water
- pipettes (3-5 per container)
- concavity slides (designed to hold a drop of water). Example here.
- microscope cleaning tissues (such as Kimwipes®)
- dichotomous keys to aquatic microorganisms
- Guide to Identification of Fresh Water Microorganisms – this one I print enough copies for each group
- Pond Life Identification Kit – this source has a lot of links that are useful to the teacher and can be used by students if internet access is possible during the lab
- Protozoans and Small Animals – this website is also helpful; click on the phylum for more drawings and information – I print the Ciliophora page and multicellular animals page for extra reference materials.
- pond water – this might be the one supply that keeps teachers from doing this lab. Micro-rich water is not too hard to find in most places – any relatively natural fresh water source will do, such as ponds, streams and lakes. Artificial ponds such as a Koi ponds work too. Even well-established fish tanks have a micro-community within them!
- How much water? I collect about one gallon (or less). Make sure the water has some debris in it – the debris provides food and hiding places for microorganisms. Most are found within the debris (dead plant matter and silt).
Warning: Do NOT add tap or bottled water to your pond water. Drinking water usually has some chlorine in it – this will kill your organisms! If I need additional water for rinsing slides I use water that is treated with water conditioner for fish tanks. The conditioner removes chlorine.
Preparing Students for this Lab
I have my students do this lab after we have studied the basic characteristics of the 6 kingdoms of life. In this lab we can study the protist kingdom as well as microscopic animals. Since we always are lucky to see crustaceans, worms and rotifers (amazing little animals!), my students are able to observe the differences between the animals and the single-celled protists.
The key, I think, is that your students should become a little familiar with the organisms before beginning. I show some videos on actual pond water organisms (always creates excitement for the lab) in addition to some other videos about the protist kingdom.
pond life video (fast forward past the tadpole to learn about protists)
Additionally, I review the possible types of microscopic animals we hope to find. Lastly, my students complete my Virtual Pond Dip WebQuest a few days before.
Showing Students What To Do
First, students will need to know how to use the microscopes. With the concavity slides, my students are able to use the low magnification (100x), but not the high because the lens would go into the water.
Second, model how to make the slide, use the slide to find organisms and clean up the slide.
- Model making the slide – show how the ONE drop of water goes into the depression within the slide. Show how to put a cover on the slide if you are using them.
- Model using the pipette to get a sample from the “dirty” bottom of the container. Most organisms will be among the debris, not in the more clear water.
- Model carefully carrying the slide to the microscope and carefully placing it on the stage.
- Model how the student will need to move the slide and change the focus routinely to find the organisms. The water drop is 3D so changing the focus is required to see through different levels of the drop.
Third, explain that if what they see is not green and/or not moving it is not alive. Students naturally want every little thing they see to be an amoeba or hydra or leech! I give a clear direction – don’t call me over to verify that you are looking at sand particles or dead plant matter. If it isn’t moving or green, then just keep on looking.
Fourth, Model how to return the water drop to the container (I prefer to preserve my organisms for others to see as much as possible). I demonstrate that the drop should be poured into the container and then the slide should be gently tapped on the side of the plastic container to save as much of the water as possible. Another option is to rinse the drop into the container using a small squirt of conditioned tap water. Afterwards, dry the slide with a tissue before adding a new drop.
Fifth, Verification. All identifications have to be verified by me. However, students must tell me what they think they are seeing before I will check the microscope. Otherwise, students will use me as their ID key rather than the actual keys.
This Google Doc provides the information for my required documentation for 7th graders. Students must find 6 different organsims that meet the criteria. The 2nd page has the circles for their drawings. I recommend that students use only pencils and colored pencils.
Lab Performance Rubric. With trial and error (lots of error) I found that providing a lab performance grade keeps my students on task and following the lab rules. You might find this editable rubric handy.
If I had more time and if I were teaching this to high school I would add more criteria for the assessment. Ideas are for students to have to use information from the organism keys to justify their identification. Another would be to construct a food chain/web of the types of organisms found.
Please share your experiences or ideas with pond dips in the comments section below.
I really needed to find a way to encourage appropriate lab behavior both in terms of following lab rules and collaborating with partners. Over the summer I came up with this easy-to-use lab rubric and the results have been outstanding!
Each student begins with 10 points (you can change to any points you prefer – the document is in Word so that it can be edited).
Students are told that they are being graded and each category is explained. They understand that they begin with 10 points and lose a point (or sometimes 1/2 a point) when they break a lab rule or are showing lack of effort and teamwork.
All it takes is ONE TIME of (emotion-free) calling out a student and everyone else pretty much stays within the lines of 10-point safety!
This RUBRIC is only 99 cents!
By the way, it is VERY IMPORTANT to have clear, enforceable lab rules. The biggest mistake any teacher (or parent) makes is setting a rule and then not fully enforcing it at the first opportunity to do so. Do yourself a favor and your students – BELIEVE in your expectations and enforce them equally and always.
Rules I always enforce (within the letter and the spirit of the law):
- No interrupting members of other groups – no talking to or bothering anyone in a different group. This disrupts the lab and gets lots of people off task quickly.
- Stay on topic – fooling around and talking about other things results in delays in work being accomplished and diminishes the learning opportunity for everyone involved.
- Use lab supplies appropriately only – any lab supply, including the Slinkies and toy cars, are for scientific use as allowed in the lab. Any misuse results in a loss of a point and can lead to other consequences as well. Students will not respect the science supplies if this expectation is not fully expressed and enforced!
- Stay at your station unless otherwise directed. Students cannot just wander around at their leisure. Doing so leads to misbehavior so be clear about this and enforce it!
- Follow clean up procedures (as directed). As we often do in life, I had to learn the hard way about this important procedure. Students need clear instructions on what they are expected to do for clean up. Be clear about how to dispose of the disposables, for example.If you are new to teaching then it may not occur to you that you have to be explicit about rules like these.
Teach, demonstrate and practice lab rules and procedures. Believe in their power to promote learning (they do NOT diminish fun, they stop chaos!). Rules are meaningless without (emotion-free) enforcement.I didn’t make this stuff up of course.
Much of my success with lab/classroom management comes from the wonderful work of smartclassroommanagement.com. Check them out if you have a hard time believing in the educational power of enforcing your rules.
I’ve recently turned two more of my lab activities into products available to other teachers through my TpT store.
Activity: Predict, Measure, Graph and Analyze with Tasty Candy!
I use this activity with my 6th graders as they are learning to make quantitative observations, but I think it’s useful for 7th-9th as well.
Students enjoy getting to eat the candy after they make their measurements. Skills practiced are making a bar graph, calculating averages and percentages and comparing their data to the data of other students.
My 6th graders come to me without much experience with measuring and evaluating quantitative data. Math is not applied to scientific thinking in the lower grades unfortunately! While I think they would benefit from quantitative thinking in science in 4th/5th grade, I am happy to introduce them to the world of data!
Inquiry Activity: Magnet Challenge! Includes Google Doc Worksheet Option
I was really happy with how well my students did with this activity. I created it over the summer to use as a beginning-of-the-year warm up to remind my 7th graders how to collaborate and get back into academic work. I enjoyed their enthusiasm for the activity as they got beyond their initial struggle with inquiry-style experimentation. Fear-of-the-wrong-answer-syndrome impacts many of my hardworking students! I like the challenge this activity provided to set aside this paralyzing fear and just enjoy experimenting with magnets. The link includes a product PREVIEW so you can see student work.
Metals Activity: Malleable, Ductile, Shiny, Conductive, High Melting Point
I made this inquiry activity years ago, but finally got around to making it available to teachers like you just recently. I like the way my students have to come up with their own ways to demonstrate the properties of metals with nothing more than a piece of aluminum foil. The only other supplies is a heat source such as a hot plate and some way to test electrical conductivity (easy to make).
The activity has a built-in assessment so you do not need any separate way to assess understanding.
You can have students partner up for this, but I like for them to work independently with this activity. Too much partnering leads to too much reliance on others to do the thinking. With a piece of foil being the only individual supply needed there’s no real need to share.
Take a look at the PREVIEW for this activity to see some student work!