Fitting in all that required material!

So much little time! There are more effective ways to fit in material.

In middle and high school science we need to keep our students interested, engaged and active.  All too often we can fall into the pattern of talking for too much of a class and not allowing time for synthesis and hands on activity.  This is especially true of this time of year when we approach the time when the end of the year is in sight.  We know we have a lot to cover and the instinct is to push through the material.  But is this really quality?

So much little time! There are more effective ways to fit in material.

So much material…so little time! There are more effective ways to fit in material.


#1 – Teach the minimum

When you are pressed for time you shouldn’t deviate from the required elements.  Choose those topics that are vital and part of the standards and curriculum – and work out from there.  Add elaboration or extras after all of the required core material is accounted for.

#2 Stick to your plan

This sounds like such a basic  mantra, but it is very easy to stray off the path.  The plan you have made is essential to getting through your required elements in the curriculum.  Do not deviate.

#3 Fall back on curriculum maps

If your school has a curriculum mapping program – ask to see them.  How did prior teachers manage their pace and scope in order to complete the course.  Curriculum maps that are well put together also show pacing and even have materials.

The Curriculum Mapping Planner: Templates, Tools, and Resources for Effective Professional Development

#4 Be open to advice

Perhaps a co-teaching colleague or department head has an idea.  You don’t always have to agree with advice but it is always good to listen.  Sometimes a fresh opinion can open up new highways to teaching.

#5 Be prepared to make cuts

There may be some really fun things you had planned…or even a field trip that must be cancelled or modified.  If there has been a bad year for snow days or there have been reasons why you are behind it sometimes means we have to cut out some things for a year to ensure a complete course.

#6 Be creative 

Perhaps all the biomes can be covered with presentations.  Are podcasts off the table?  Use media and other means to try to bridge gaps whenever possible.  A project can fulfill information as well as traditional teaching methods.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box!

Alternative Assessment in Science

An all too familiar cycle!

Every school has a discussion of the best ways to assess the knowledge of their students. The more we learn about standardized tests the more we learn that they are not always the best tool to judge if your students have truly absorbed the material. There are some amazing ways in science that teachers can alternatively assess their students without compromising the paper and pencil test. Science is a hands on subject that allows us to ask our students to use their knowledge in a hands on manner.

An all too familiar cycle!

An all too familiar cycle!

Here are some ways we can determine if our students are mastering material instead of traditional tests:


1) Lab Practicals

  • A lab practical doesn’t always have to be a lab “test”. A lab practical can mean a problem proposed to students they must solve using their knowledge. Inquiry can be a big part of this activity as we encourage our students to critically think out their problem using the scientific method. This is a step away from “programmed” labs that offer the students little opportunity to think on their feet.

2)  Technology Based Assessment

  • Podcasts can offer a window into the mind of a student. Ask them to create a video explaining their topic to their classmates. Be creative and allow their personality to take over as they use video to communicate.
  • Virtual labs and simulations can help students assess pieces of the course that your school’s budget can’t manage. If you want to simulate fly mating experiments or DNA technology – some piece of the curriculum that is unreachable – this form of assessment and learning can help you bridge many gaps.
  • Hand held classroom devices. These systems are expensive but worth their weight in gold. Each student can individually be assessed a little like a game show as they buzz in their answers. You get instant feedback on your laptop and can also see who’s paying attention and who really understands. This is also great when you have a student who needs a little more time to catch on or one that doesn’t like to be singled out. Everyone gets to participate 100% of the time.

3)  Science Fairs/Presentations

  • Students of every age can be asked to come up with an idea and test it. Science fairs are great ways to allow students to demonstrate their mastery of scientific thinking. The students can be restricted to topics that have been covered in the course for further assessment.

4) Field Trips

  • Students love them and we can use them to our advantage because kids love to get out into the open to learn. A well designed field trip can offer more assessment and application than 10 paper and pencil tests. The caveat is of course the amount of planning and organization that must be done.

As we move away from pure paper and pencil tests we can all benefit from having a few different forms of assessment in our grading systems in science. As the students migrate out of secondary school and into college they will be better served if we have taught them to think on their feet rather than to memorize facts.

April Fools Pranks in Science

dry ice

Admit it…you love it when you wow them! It’s fun to play a prank or two on your students.  At least, when it is in the name of science?  April Fool’s Day is around the corner!

dry ice

Dry ice is always a good idea for a prank!

Here are a few ideas to have them rolling in the isles with you!

Exploding Ketchup

  • Baking soda (1 teaspoon) + small amount of ketchup in bottle = WOW
  • Exploding right out of the container
  • This video does a good job of showing what happens.

Rubber Egg

  • Soak an egg in white vinegar for 3 days. Rinse shell off with water
  • Bounce it in front of your kids to see their shock!
Put dry ice in a drawer and let it subliminate – watch students wonder why the drawer is smoking!

Dry Ice in a Drawer

  • Wrap it with plastic wrap and casually ignore it.
  • Watch the smoke come out of the drawer as students wonder in awe what is happening.

Remember- it is not about the fun.  Make science fun again with a little April Fool’s prank!

Great Ways Teachers Can Earn Money in Summer

We can all use a little extra cash in summer!

I have always tried to keep myself busy during the summer months. I never like to take on too much because there is true value in a “break”.  We all need time to reboot our brains and mentally prepare for a new school year.  However, there are some great ways to make money if you want a little extra income while enjoying the summer months.

We can all use a little extra cash in summer!

We can all use a little extra cash in summer!

Here are some great ideas for some extra $$:


  • Every summer there are students who are concerned about entering a tougher course or parents who want their students to remain active.  Tutoring over the summer can be a great way to earn a little income and keep your teaching skills sharp.  The best part of tutoring is that you can set your schedule.  Science tutors typically pull in between $40-$80 an hour.

Science Camps/Activities

  • In case you haven’t noticed – science is HOT lately!  And it won’t get any hotter than short term science camps or activities that are run at schools, camps and kid friendly attractions.  These places LOVE having well qualified teachers who have classroom experience.  The best part?  These camps can be a lot of fun!  Mad Science, CSI, organic gardening….the sky is the limit on the topics you’ll find to teach in this arena.  They are usually short term – two to four weeks.  The pay averages between $400 and $1000 per camp depending on the number of hours and classes you are expected to teach.

Freelance Writing

  • There are a lot of companies looking for teachers to write everything from curriculum  lesson plans, tests and workbooks.  You can bid on jobs at a variety of online freelance websites.  These jobs range in price and time from $50 to $5,000 on average.

Teachers Pay Teachers

  • Some of you will turn up your nose on this one but on average a decent income is about $100 to $200 a month from this site once you have some products up.  This is a great place to fine that elusive original lesson plan (or presentation) but it is also a fantastic way to showcase your latest and greatest.  The best products for teachers come from teachers – create a free account and see what happens.  I’ve done quite well working on this for the last two years.  You can see a sample of what I’ve done here.

Summer School

  • This one is last on purpose because it holds the longest time commitment.  Summer school can be a very hard way to earn money as the students are usually those who do not want to be there and have already performed poorly in the course.  There may be discipline problems as well.

Summer Enrichment or Summer Classes

  • Summer enrichment can be fun if you have a good bunch of students that really want to be there to learn.  You may also have high achieving kids who want to skip a level and are taking the course to move into an honors track or even an advanced placement.

In the end it is never a bad thing to have a few extra dollars in your pocket.  Just remember to spend some of the summer relaxing so that you are well rested for a new school year!

Summer Professional Development for Teachers


Ahhhh….summer!!!  We get to work early, we make labs, stock chemical supply rooms and then go home to stay up half the night making better lessons and grading.  We’ve earned it!  So then why on Earth would we consider professional development?  In the end, professional development makes you a better teacher. It shows you new ways to teach and gives you more skills. Some professional development will open new doors or help you to teach a new course.



There are some things we can be doing before we hit the vacations this summer!

Here are some great professional development ideas!


NSTA Web Seminars

Benefits – never leaving your home to do professional development and cost effective.

A variety of topics and convenience.  A web seminar is a great way to add to your professional development in summer without traveling to do it. There are several courses and lots to learn.


AP Summer Institutes

If you are going to teach an AP course this year and you are new to teaching and advanced placement course this is a must do! You will not only teach better but you will learn the do’s and don’ts of teaching AP courses. The most important thing is you will hear from teachers who have been doing this. The hardest part of being new to an AP course is managing to fit all the material in. Let some veterans teach you how to do it.


American Museum of Natural History

There are also online courses available at the American Museum of Natural History. Topics like: Climate Change, Earth: Inside and Out, Genetics, Evolution and the Solar System are just a few of the many courses available. These courses can also count for graduate credit and/or continuing education credit.


The National Institutes of Health Professional Development

There are various locations and interesting workshops and summer programs for teachers in grades K through 12 to become involved in.


State and Local Opportunities

Every state and local schools/townships have a variety of opportunities for their teachers. The best way to find these is to go directly to your home state or local board of education