Good Things #5: Paper, Pencils, and Plants

I’ve been busy working in my classroom to prepare for students arriving next week.  There is so much to have ready and get done, but I always make sure that I have healthy green plants around my classroom by that first day.  Since I started teaching, I have had plants in my room.  I love the look of the bright, green leaves and feel that plants are an instant sign of life in the classroom!


Classroom Expectations for the Students and the Teacher

One of my goals as a teacher is to create a classroom environment where students understand that learning will be taking place and meaningful work will be completed. These are my four classroom expectations:

1. Be respectful.

2. Be prepared.

3. Follow instructions.

4. Do your best!

One important thing to mention: I always tell my students that these expectations apply to the teacher, too.  I will be respectful towards my students, coworkers, administrators, and school families.  I will be prepared when the students arrive for class.  I will follow school policies and instructions from my principal.  And I will do my best!

I think it means so much to students when they hear that teachers set expectations for themselves, as well. It demonstrates to them that it is important for students and teachers to treat others well and work hard.

What expectations do you have for yourself as the teacher in the classroom?


Starting the Year with Lab Safety

I know most junior high students would like to begin the year with explosive lab experiments, but teaching lab safety is a top priority for me.  I have developed a list of lab safety rules that I use in my classroom.  (I posted them here.)

Each year, I discuss and review lab safety rules with students.  Students are then given a copy of my lab expectations to sign and must also get a parent signature.  I keep these signed Lab Safety Contracts in a file throughout the year.

I then provide students with scenarios in which they must identify lab safety rules that are not being followed.  Students explain how the situation should be handled and ways to prevent the problem from occurring in the lab in the first place.

Teaching lab safety is essential for a successful school year.  How do you teach lab safety procedures in your classroom?  I’d love to hear what expectations you have and ways that you teach your students how to be safe in the lab.

Good Things #4: A Fresh Start

I have absolutely loved my summer break – lots of time spent with family and a chance to enjoy the sun, the water, and some free time.  It is also so nice to take a break from my normal routines at home and school.

Someone commented to me that it must be really nice to have an actual “end” to the past school year and be able to start over again each fall.  This is important – not just for the teachers, but for the students, as well.

I really do appreciate the chance to step away from my regular responsibilities for a while.  I feel like I can start the school year with a new perspective.  I can have a fresh start.

My Attempt at a 15-Minute Commitment

I tried something different this summer.  I decided during the month of July that I would spend 15 minutes each weekday working on my yearly and unit plans for the coming school year.  In the past, I have not made this type of commitment during the summer.  I would occasionally work on planning or check out ideas online that I could use in my classroom, but this was not done consistently.  However, as I continue to read about setting goals and establishing good habits, I thought spending time each day on this was an approach worth trying.

I set my phone timer for 15 minutes and started planning.  I listed the units I wanted to cover for each class during the year and started adding ideas and activities.  When the timer went off, I was done for the day.

I am surprised at the amount of planning that I have been able to do in just 15 minutes.  I think I am even more surprised by the total amount of work I have been able to do.  My hope was that these small bits of work time would lead to a good chunk of planning for the new school year.  It has been painless, but I have to admit that I struggled to get back into this habit after being gone on a vacation for a few days.  I am getting back to my daily planning time.  I know I will be happy when school starts that I have made some progress, but have still been able to have an enjoyable and relaxing summer.

We’re Not Done Yet

Spring break is over.  The temperature has warmed up.  There is more daylight time after school to be outdoors.  These are all signs that the school year is coming to an end – but we’re not done yet.

I am always looking for ways to keep students engaged.  It is especially hard during this time of the year when they look out the classroom windows and imagine all of the other things they could be doing.  It’s not surprising that they don’t feel like doing another worksheet or that they struggle to keep their concentration while reading.  I remember being a student and feeling like summer break would never come.  As a teacher, I still get excited about summer and the extra time to enjoy my family and some free time.

Even though there is so much to look forward to, I try to let the students know that there are still good things to be done this school year and we will all benefit if we are focused and productive in the classroom.  My goal is to incorporate activities that will challenge the students and encourage them to use their time and energy in productive ways as they count down the days until summer.

What suggestions do you have for the last few weeks of school?  How do you remind your students that we’re not done yet?


Introduction to the Chemistry Unit

Whenever I start a new unit in my science classes, I like to give students an opportunity to have a hands-on experience right away.  Doing this helps to grab their attention and make connections to real life.

I was struggling with how to introduce the chemistry unit a few weeks ago.  I wanted students to realize that scientists had to figure out so much without actually being able to see individual atoms or subatomic particles.

I came across an activity in an older Glencoe Science textbook that would allow the students to realize that sometimes scientists are limited in how they can gain knowledge.  However, they may be able to use clues to help them figure out those things that are not easily seen.

Prior to class, I stuck one metal object (a hexnut, screw, washer, etc.) into lumps of clay.  Students were instructed to determine what object was in each piece of clay (no hints were given).  Each group was given only a toothpick to obtain information.  They were also told to make a drawing of the object hidden in the clay.

Students were engaged, frustrated, involved, and even annoyed at times.  By poking the clay with the toothpick, they soon realized that they could gain information about what was inside each piece of clay without actually pulling it apart and seeing the inside.  It gave them just a glimpse of how scientists had to discover unconventional ways to learn about the atom and its parts.

This activity was a great way to introduce the 8th grade chemistry unit.  It could effectively be used for a wide range of grades and would also be a great problem-solving or group activity.  I will definitely be using this activity with future classes!

Good Things #3: Spring Break Reading

I’m on spring break this week and am loving the opportunity to read.  I finished Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult and have started The Art of Work by Jeff Goins.  I also requested Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before:  Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, from the library.

Hard to believe that there will only be seven more weeks of school after I get back from break.  The year has flown by and there’s still so much I want to do in the classroom.  Time to enjoy the last few days of break before getting back to school!

Good Things #2: STEM Training

I had the opportunity to participate in STEM training on Friday and loved it!  The instructor provided lots of hands-on activities for participants to complete.  It was great getting to try out the activities rather than talk about them.  It was a reminder that students learn so much more by doing, instead of just discussing a topic or watching someone else.  I left the training with ideas that I am excited to try in my own classroom.

If you are interested in incorporating STEM activities in your classroom, check out the Taped Towers activity I posted.  It is a simple and engaging activity that my students enjoyed.