Saturday, 10 October 2015

How to Teach Scientific Vocabulary

How many times have you evaluated a sample of student's work and seen the words "stuff" or "things".  Do you let it slide or do you address the issue? I hope you address this - imagine how using those words would go over when defending a thesis?!

I'm here to help with teaching your students subject-specific vocabulary. I use this for my Science and Physics classes, but you can apply these strategies to the subjects that you teach.  Here are some ways that you can help your students improve their understanding of vocabulary terms.

1. Use the terms frequently.
YOU have to use these terms, especially with new vocabulary, students have to read and hear how to properly use the terms.  When teaching, frequently use the new terms in your own speech. Avoid using pronouns when you can: "The malignant cancer cells travel through the body," is far more powerful than "They travel through the body."

2. Students must use the words frequently.
I am all about having students talk in class.  I love academic conversations and cooperative learning because they are so effective at increasing engagement and understanding. Here are some strategies to use to get your students using the new vocabulary terms:

3. Repeat the word after hearing it for the first time.  
Say the word and have them repeat, pretty simple, right?  What this does is get them pronouncing the word properly so they are not hesitant to use it in the future.  Sure, they may not have a problem pronouncing nucleus but it is good to practice xylem, organism and, most importantly, Uranus.  Heck, we even practice how to properly pronounce "nuclear". New-Clear. Thanks for eating up my class time, Homer!

4. Don't settle for less that excellence in conversation and writing.  
When students are responding to questions demand that they use the proper terms throughout their answer. "What is the role of the Golgi apparatus in the cell?" should not be answers with something so simple as "they produce mucus and remove waste.". No - "The Golgi apparatus is responsible for packaging proteins" is much more powerful.  It shows are better understanding.  Train your students to use the proper terms throughout their response. I love a "Level Up" or "Bump it up" chart for this purpose.  Practice with your students how to improve their response.  Here is an example from my classroom:

5. Practice often.  
Entrance cards, exit cards task cards, conferences, observations, academic conversations.  Give your students opportunities to use these terms.  Don't just use matching or multiple choice questions on practice quizzes - have questions where student have to demonstrate their ability to communicate with scientific terminology. Yes, they take longer to mark. Your students are worth your time.

6. Review.  
My favorite way to review vocabulary before a test is with domino puzzles.  These are far more effective than crossword puzzles and word searches are just a waste of time in my opinion.  Why are domino puzzles superior to the worksheet-style vocabulary reviews?  Plenty of reasons:

Word searches only ask the students to identify a word. Identification is not enough. We need to demand understanding.

Crossword puzzles demand some more understanding, so they are certainly better than word searches. But there are some caveats.  

Crossword puzzles have students fit words into blanks.  Well, when you're dealing with terms like "homogenous", "heterogenous", "solution", "alloy" and "gas" I think you'll agree it is really easy to figure out which term goes where without too much thought about the clue.  Don’t get me started on word banks...

Crossword puzzles are once-and-done.  The student does it once, and regardless of how long it took to solve the puzzle they have a mentality that they now are fluent with the terminology.  Very rarely would you see a student revisiting a crossword puzzle.

Domino puzzles, however, require more brain power to solve while still being a fun way to review.  Puzzles can cover as many terms as you have in your unit.  Usually I make puzzles with anywhere from 15-25 terms for the unit.  Each piece has two sides and students have to match terms to their definitions on different pieces.  
Why they're great:
1. They demand more than just term identification.
2. They utilize keywords to connect the term to the definition.  This helps with decoding.
3. They are hands-on.
4. They can be (and very often are) revisited by students practicing terms.
5. They can be used throughout the unit, not just at the end.
6. They can address common misconceptions between similar terms, for example "meteor", "meteoroid", "meteorite" without using the length of the term as a clue.
7. They can be cooperative or individual.  My students will often try to solve them together the first time and get into great conversations of why they think this term matches that definition and not the other one. Then they bring them home and continue to practice.
8. They can be friendly or competitive.  My students like when I see who can solve these kinds of puzzles first. Of course, accuracy is most important.

9. They are fun! Different, novel items like domino puzzles are a change of pace from most regular classroom review materials.  Plus, printing them on colored paper makes them easy to find!
10. They are versatile. Print and laminate a few copies for your classroom (I always used colored paper) or send one home with each student. Use them as centers or use them as homework.

I invite you to try these strategies in your classroom.  I have a number of domino puzzles that I use in my Science classes available in my TpT shop including:
Plant Part Terms - It's free!
Astronomy Terms -It's free!
I'm always adding more as I create but I do take special requests!

Sunday, 2 August 2015

High-Impact Scientific Inquiry Experiment Ideas for the Secondary Class

If you haven't started working with Scientific Inquiry you are missing out!  Bye-bye cookie-cutter labs!  Hello independent and creative thinking!  Here are some of my favorite inquiry-based labs to start off the school year.

Borax Bouncy Balls
This one is my favorite!  Create a borax solution in water and mix with a blob of liquid glue.  Add one drop of food coloring and roll until it turns into a ball.  There are lots of different recipes for borax bouncy balls online. My preference is to give the students very broad instructions, inevitably they make very different bouncy balls (or slime!) and this leads into a great conversation about precise measurements and instructions in the procedure.  I have them test which recipe creates the ball that bounces the highest, with dropping the ball from 1.0 meters as a controlled variables.  There are at least 10 variables they can test with this inquiry experiment – for example: amount of glue, amount of borax solution, type of glue and if you have a more advanced class they can test the concentration of the borax solution.
Here is a good starter video on how to make borax bouncy balls:
Best for: general science, chemistry, physical science

Paper Helicopters (Gyrocopters)
Gyrocopters are so easy to create and fun for the students.  Cut a piece of paper into eleven 1” strips, then create blades by cutting 4” down the middle of the strip.  Bend the strips in opposite directions and there you go!  I have my students develop an inquiry-based test on which design allows for the slowest (and therefore safest) descent.  Drop the gyrocopters from a height of 2.0 meters as a control.  Students can test lots of variables with this experiment including blade length, blade shape and material.
Here is a nice tutorial for making a paper helicopter:
Best for: general science, physical science, physics

Daphnia – testing water quality
If you can get your hands on some daphnia, or water fleas, you’ve got a great opportunity to teach skills as well as inquiry.  Daphnia can be used to test water quality.  Set up a control, and experiment with different pH levels, temperatures or adding different chemicals. 
Here is a great video on how to properly measure daphnia heart rates.
Best for: biology, environmental science

Blast off – Rates of Reaction
If you can get your hands on film canisters and don’t mind the smell of vinegar this is a really fun inquiry lab.  Fill a film canister with baking soda and vinegar (or another safe acid and base combination) Students will love the suspense as they countdown to the film canister top exploding off and the film canister going flying into the air!  This one is nice for students who have already had safety training, since eye protection is key in this inquiry lab.  Students can change the amount of acid, base, add an extra layer between the two (like a piece of tissue).  More advanced students can change the concentration of the acid and observe the rate of reaction.  It’s SO MUCH FUN!  But yes, your classroom will smell.
Here is a video explaining how you can do this experiment:
Best for: chemistry

If you haven't started used the Inquiry-based approach yet, I highly recommend checking out these resources.  They'll make your life SO much easier!

Scientific Inquiry Graphic Organizers
 Scientific Method Bundle

Competent and Confident: Tips for Teaching SKILLS

“Are you competent and are you confident?”  That’s how you know you’ve mastered the skill.

Mrs. Marty was my Technological Design teacher in Grades 10-12.  She truly was a phenomenal teacher with so many great traits.  I was instantly intrigued when she began to talk.  A British woman teaching me how to use AutoCAD, saws and CNC machines!  YEAH! Most of my high school teachers had been male at this time. 

What really stood out to me, especially now as a teacher, is how she ensured that you knew what you were doing in the wood shop.  In order to meet the expectation you would demonstrate to her that you could perform the skill.  So we students we show her that we could use the planers and saws.  That would prove yourself to have a Level 3.  This showed your competence.  If you wanted to reach for that Level 4, you would have to teach someone else how to perform that skill (under her watchful eye).  This demonstrated to her your confidence.

Years later, when I became a teacher, this idea of competence and confidence really resonated with me.  The expectations were clear to all students.  Students could work within their own comfort and ability levels.  It pushed motivated students like me (shy and female) to interact with and teach my fellow, mostly male, classmates – that was a whole other confidence boost for me!  Not to mention, this strategy allowed Mrs. Marty to observe an entire class within the shop, assess every day and delegate duties. 

I love how this idea of competence and confidence can translate into the science class.  You can, and should, assess skills in the science course.  Whether it is lighting a Bunsen burner properly, working with electronic probes, performing a dissection or a titration, why not try this method?  Directly teach a small group of students that are ahead of the class (while the rest do independent work).  Show them how to perform a scientific skill.  Observe that they can perform this skill on their own, then, observe again as they teach another student this skill.  While they are teaching, make sure the students talk about proper safety procedures and reasoning.  Now you don’t have to explain this skill to 30 students, you have more time to observe and your students are growing both as scientists and leaders.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

New Design

Check out my new blog design!  Danielle at Crayonbox Designs did a phenomenal job!  Check out her stuff here: 

I haven't posted much recently because Brosseau Sprout isn't napping so great anymore and any free time I have has been going towards a Nuclear Physics unit that I am really proud of.  Hopefully I will be able to post it to TpT by the end of April.  It's that huge.

Take care and have fun!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Valentine's Day Goodies

Valentine's Day is soon approaching!  Are you ready?  
Here are some great resources you can use in your classroom.

This is a freebie that I drew years back to treat my lovely grade 9 students.  Now I use it every year as a coloring contest.  All contestants get a prize - usually a V-Day pencil and heart-shaped sharpener - and the winners get some bigger prizes.  It's always a good time.

These Bingo games are super fun for V-Day.  Fill the heart instead of the whole card and use conversation hearts instead of counters to be extra sweet.  If your students have trouble with adding the coins, let them write the value on the page (use dry-erase markers if you've laminated your game cards) so they can do the math and then have more fun when you play.

Canadian Coin Bingo

 Heart Bingo

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