Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Science Teacher and Distance Learning

There is nothing in the world like the mind-blowing moment that a group of young scientists experiencing a lab activity has light bulbs going off. There are no words for the expression that comes across their face- it is the biggest ego boost on the planet for us science teachers. If you were to ask me why I went into teaching science I would tell you that I chose science because of the collaboration, the hands on activities, and the genuine interest students show every single day. With an increasing emphasis on technology in today’s world, all of these are still possible. 


Students can collaborate through the amazing use of technology. In the past, when I was getting my education degree, it was a big deal to work with another student through Google Docs. Nowadays, Facetime, Skype, Google Meet, and Zoom, are second nature to our students. We are not teaching them the technology platform, we are teaching them the skills to be able to use that platform effectively. 

One way to ensure successful collaboration in a group setting is to assign roles, or provide a list of tasks and let them assign themselves, and notify them that you will be asking for a report on what contribution was made by who after. My students know I always give a group feedback form to students after projects, so they know they are held accountable to their assignments. 

Genuine Interest

Another way to ensure students are engaging with the science content is to incorporate student choice and give them options. One of my favorite ways to assess student learning is to give choice projects. In a choice project, students know they can demonstrate their learning through a variety of different platforms. For example, they can show they understand a cycle of matter using a slide presentation, making a poster, writing a rap song, or performing a skit. Students will shine if they have choice over how they share what they know. If they are doing a skit or a song, they can record it and upload it for sharing with their students. If they created a poster, they can simply take a picture of it and upload it for sharing. This free editable PDF by 
The Moeller Express will make creating a custom choice board for your class a breeze!

 Alternatively, give students a passion project, such as Genius Hour. Projects like these ignite the fire of passion in some students and the results are really surprising! Give students opportunities to be proud of themselves and their work. One way to do this is to provide students with multiple opportunities to show what they know. This might look like starting with a virtual lab, giving written questions to respond to, and finishing with a choice project. Here is a free genius hour form from Miss W's Classroom to use when starting a passion project with your students.

Hands-on Activities

Students can still complete hands on activities while away from the science classroom. One of my favorite activities is to have students step away from their technology and go on a nature walk looking for different biotic and abiotic factors. Alternatively, students could complete a scavenger hunt for genetics looking at old family photographs (e.g. find one recessive trait such as freckles or blue eyes). If students are learning about forces and motion, they could look for pushes and pulls around their house. Students can pick a mechanism in their house such as a garage door opener, blender, shower valve etc and research how it works.  

If your students are feeling brave and want to try a lab, there are many sites that have lab ideas for students to do at home. One of my favorites is Science Bob or Steve Spangler Science, where you can see ideas for experiments as well as videos and pictures of what it might look like. Remind students that it is possible to do science without fancy science equipment. Many of the materials for the experiments may be things students already have at home, such as an old film canister, vinegar, or white glue.  

For example: Here is a simple energy experiment that answers the question: How does water temperature impact air temperature? It can be done with a kitchen thermometer, two cups, hot water, cold water and foil. Students can take the initial air temperature of the air above the liquid and then take the air temperature above the liquid after 2 minutes. This simple experiment shows how energy transfers from warm to cold and can be applicable to many science topics!

Be Open-Minded

Teachers forced to do distance learning can feel overwhelmed and tied to their norms for instruction, grading and accountability. We need to remind ourselves that distance learning instruction is very different and does not have to follow the same flow as we have in a face-to-face classroom environment. As yourself if your expectations are reasonable and adjust your policies and approach to match the vibes you are getting from students. That Google assignment didn't have the outcome you expected? Kids just aren't understanding your Screencastify notes? Are many students falling behind? If something isn't working, think outside the box for a solution and be willing to admit your first attempt wasn't quite right.  

Survey your students and consider their ideas!  

Here are some questions to ask:

Is the amount of material covered each week achievable? (Rate the workload.)
Are the notes and examples easy to navigate? Is it organized in a logical way?
How could the material be presented more clearly? Are some things harder to find?
Rate the fairness of grading, the points assigned etc.
Do the tests and quizzes represent the material covered in the course?
Are there ample opportunities to ask questions and get help from the teacher?
How could the distance learning course improve?

Make it Interactive

Just because your students are at a distance doesn’t mean their learning has to be. Have students interact with their websites. Some very useful interactive laboratory sites include PHET, Glencoe, and Gizmo. All of these sites allow students to control tools, zoom in, collect data, etc. Another great way for students to connect with their science learning is to provide them links for virtual labs and field trips. Even if you were physically in school with your students, they would never be able to fly over a volcano in the way that they can digitally. 

Photo by Yosh Ginsu on Unsplash

Just because your students are out of reach does not mean the science content has to be. Best science teaching practices are still possible in the age of technology through providing opportunities for student choice and harnessing student interest, providing opportunities for hands-on learning, and by steering them toward interactive content. 

Genius Hour 

Other Links for Distant Learning Science: 
Science projects for home: 
Smithsonian Virtual Field Trips 
Explore the surface of Mars
Daily free at-home science experiments
Earth Science

Written by Chelsea Roy
Additions by Kate Wright
Captivate Science

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Differentiation Using Doodle Notes

Note-taking is an essential skill and this can be challenging for students who are more visual learners. Not only do Doodle Notes offer students an interactive note-taking experience and room for creativity, they can be excellent resources for differentiating any content!

Doodle Notes are sets of notes, focused around graphics, graphic organizers, and provide space for students to demonstrate understanding through doodling. Doodle Notes can be used in a variety of ways: in conjunction with a typical lecture-style lesson, during guided instruction (i.e. the teacher projecting the blank Doodle Notes on a screen and fill in the notes with the students), or as a completed (or partially completed) exemplar. Doodle Notes encourage students to draw out key information, as opposed to writing out full sentences which is helpful in teaching effective note-taking strategies. Doodle Notes also encourage students to use color in supporting their ideas and understanding concepts.

The best part about utilizing Doodle Notes in science is being able to differentiate for students who learn at various levels and at different paces. Most Doodle Note sets include multiple versions, scaffolded at different levels. For example, some students are ready to use a set of Doodle Notes that has less structure, and has more room for writing and/or drawing. Other students, or perhaps a student learning English as a second language, may benefit from a Doodle Notes version containing more structured, fill-in-the-blank style notes.

Here is an example of scaffolded Doodle Notes that could be used for students who need extra support. The differentiated Doodle Notes ensure that this level student is receiving the necessary information to be successful.

And here is an example of less-structured Doodle Notes that could challenge a higher-level student. These Doodle Notes allow for the student to choose what they write and how they demonstrate their understanding.

Often times, our classes include students performing at high, low, and middle levels. Some students tend to be early finishers, while others may require more time. I have found that the nature and organization of Doodle Notes makes learning challenging topics less overwhelm-ing for students by chunking larger topics into smaller sub-topics. For example, a Cells Doodle Note set may contain separate Doodle Notes for types of cells, cell structure and function, and the cell cycle. Chunking larger topics into smaller sub-topics can encourage students to work at their own pace and feel less rushed while taking notes in class.

You can also use Doodle Notes to challenge students performing at various levels is through student-led learning. Provide students the completed version of the Doodle Notes - in other words, give them the answer key - and ask them to create a slideshow and/or presentation to convey the information in the Doodle Notes to their peers. 

There are endless possibilities when it comes to integrating Doodle Notes into your instruction! If you’ve struggled with differentiation in the classroom, hopefully you can give Doodle Notes a try!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

NGSS and Visual Notes

I'm sure you have noticed, but I am a huge fan of visual notes for teaching the NGSS.  The standards emphasize less memorization of definitions and more emphasis on interconnectedness of concepts.  Doodle notes provide visual triggers that help kids conceptualize the 3D learning we are doing in our classrooms.

Creating doodle notes for science has been a passion of mine for years.  In the process I have found that I am regularly searching for doodle clip art that helps with the flow of each note page.  Sometimes I just cannot find what I need!  SO... I have created a set of personal (and limited commercial) use doodle graphics for teachers like me to use in creating their note sheets.  There are some freebie png files here for you to use, but if dig the doodles the full set is available for purchase too!

Dividers are so helpful for chunking content into digestible pieces for students.  Grab this free clip are here.

This graphic is great to place into notes where kids are writing down THEIR questions about a topic! Grab this png file here.
I'm a big fan of arrows that are wide enough that I can add text into them.  Here is one that is in my doodle graphic set.  So many uses!

Showing how concepts are connected is a big part of the doodle note method.  Here is a road graphic to help with this essential part of doodle note creation! 

Ready to start making your own doodles?  Check out this DIY doodle note pack that is perfect for beginners! 

Hope these tools help better your NGSS practice! 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Moon Mat Model: Visualizing the Moon Phases

Models are a vital part of the science learning process.  The NGSS clearly emphasizes how models can improve student learning.  Here is a model to support your students in understanding moon phase patterns!

When teaching about the moon phases and perspective, students use small spheres to model the phases.  It is SO EASY! Have students place the ball on #1 (see free printable below) and view the moon from the perspective of Earth.  Be sure to emphasize that for the model to work they will need to MOVE to put their eyes on Earth looking toward the moon.  My students love an opportunity to use their phone and this proved to be a great opportunity.  I had them place their phone at the Earth location and take a picture of the moon as it moved from item 1-8.  The result?  Digital flashcards!  (The kids easily added text to their photos with the phase names.)

Print one moon mat for each pair of students.  (see below)
Water bottle cap for each pair of students (keeps ball from rolling away)

Moon Sphere Suggestions:
In the picture I colored 1/2 of a ping-pong ball with permanent marker (acrylic paint will probably work better!) and then did a clear coat over the ping pong ball with a clear acrylic sealer.  Full disclosure....This worked for one year but the black started to scratch off.  SO....I found these 1 1/2 inch wood spheres at Michael's Craft Store and I plan to paint them 1/2 white and black.  I'm pretty confident they will work a lot better :) 

Free Printable Mat:

I think it is a good idea to take the time to talk about the model and what it does well and what it is lacking (scale, light source etc.)  When kids understand the benefits and drawbacks of models they can better apply them to their understandings!

Are your kids ready for a challenge?  Instead of giving them directions....Give them photos of the 8 phases and have THEM figure out how to make the model work!  It is amazing what kids can do when we challenge them!

Hope this helps!  Be sure to follow us on Instagram @katesclassroomcafe6 - we have some big announcements and free materials coming soon!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Phenomena Phantoms: How to Keep Unit Phenomena from Disappearing from Daily Lessons

Never again will your students ask why they are completing a certain lesson or when they can do something fun. With a relevant, engaging unit phenomenon students will intrinsically want to know why it is happening and acquire the necessary knowledge to explain it. 

The Basics

Every well-executed Next Generation Science Standard lesson starts with an engaging, foundational unit phenomenon. Anchoring a lesson with a unit phenomenon that can be referred back to time and time again builds student connection to the real world and desire to build knowledge. The purpose of a unit phenomena is to immediately engage students in a topic by providing an interesting, relatable example of an occurrence in the real world. Phenomena can make abstract science concepts, such as genetics or cells, concrete and approachable. 

Photo by timJ on Unsplash

The unit phenomena is the engagement for an entire unit so make it fun! Give students an experience by having them solve a puzzle, take students outside, give them a prop such as a giant toothbrush or a coprolite (fossilized dinosaur poop)! This is the sort of engaging introduction that you want students to talk about at the dinner table. This is what you want to walk into the lunch room and hear them talking to their friends about. You want students to burst into your classroom and ask if they really are doing (insert AWESOME science activity here) today. This should be their unit phenomena. 

Introducing the Phenomena

Introducing a unit phenomena should follow responsive teaching practices. By this, I mean you should base your phenomena on the needs of your students. A well thought out phenomena should be real, relatable, and accessible to your students. Accessibility should be based on socioeconomic status, age, developmental level, and experiences of your students. For example, if you teach in the city you may want to pull in adaptability of birds to city infrastructure or if you teach in a rural area you may want to pull in deer populations that frequent the school fields to begin a unit on ecology and biomes. Phenomena can be as simple as discussing calcium chloride melting ice in the school parking lot as the students disembark the bus on their way in. From this easily overlooked occurrence, you could build on chemical reactions, exothermic reactions, and chemistry in everyday life. 

One of the best ways to engage students with their phenomena is to allow them to experience the phenomena and then create a Driving Question Board. To do this, ask a simple question such as “what can we find out about this?” and provide chart paper (or the brainstorm sheet below) for students to come up with as many questions as they can. Have groups narrow down their questions and pick what they want to have answered by the end of the unit. Give students a voice and have them vote on the top questions for the class. Students will buy into a topic if they create the questions that are driving the lessons. Keep in mind that unit phenomena should begin a unit and be referred back to throughout. They should not replace the engagement portion of learning sequences, they should instead build on the greater knowledge base required of the entire unit. 

This example driving question board shows the top 10 questions that a group of 25 students voted to include on the classroom question board for the topic.  Students worked in small groups to brainstorm questions and then voted on the most scientific questions to include on the class board.

Here is a brainstorm page that can be used with small groups. Each student creates a sticky note with their own questions. Then they come together an share their ideas using this brainstorm sheet. Click here to print this and use it in your classroom.

Daily Connections to Phenomena

One of the easiest ways to connect lessons to the unit phenomena is by posting the questions generated by the Driving Question Board. These questions serve as a daily visual reminder to students of what it is that they want to know. By seeing their own thoughts and inquiries posted, they will see the value in generating those questions. 

One way to link the unit phenomena to daily lessons is by asking warm up questions or exit tickets which allude toward the unit phenomena. Students remember the beginning and ending of a lesson more than the middle, so these questions will strengthen the connection of a daily lesson to the greater context of the phenomena in the world. 

Different from warm ups and exit tickets, summary tables are also a useful tool to link learning sequences within a unit back to a unit phenomena. A summary table has a column where students record the activity they just completed and a column for the connection back to the unit phenomenon. Never again will students ask you why they are doing a specific activity! 

(Sample class summary table for 6th grade science lessons surrounding the topic of temperature changes in dissolving.)

Wrapping up the Unit

The best way to end a unit is a real world scenario that links back to the unit phenomena. For example, in the chemistry unit that started with calcium chloride melting ice on the sidewalk outside of the school might end with students designing a cold pack for a nurse as an example of an endothermic reaction. Alternatively, students could complete a Claim, Evidence, Reasoning about the topic. Students will use what they have learned during the unit to be successful on the unit assessment. 

Ask students for feedback about the unit phenomena for planning for the following school year. Ask if they can think of a phenomena for a unit that may be a better example than the one that was provided. This increases student agency and understanding that their opinions matter. You may even end up with a better phenomena for the following school year which will keep units fresh and responsive to student cares and world events. A unit phenomena is only as good as the students believe it is- change it if it is not engaging students or if students find it unrelatable. 

Resources for Phenomena

This first resource is a series of images and gifs for quick visuals for students: This second resource lists phenomena by performance expectation: This third resource has detailed explanations of phenomena with disciplinary core ideas as well: While these are helpful, some of the best, most relevant phenomena will come from your experiences and the experiences of your students. Other great places to look may also include the news, social media, and by asking others about their experiences with your unit topic.

Article By Chelsea Roy 
7th Grade Science Teacher and NGSS Expert

Sunday, January 5, 2020

This year is yours.  What will you do with it?  I'm determined to be more organized!  So join me by grabbing this free printable to help keep your desktop clean.

Print a paper copy for your desk OR use the png file version for your computer desktop!

I'm so excited for 2020 and the changes I will be making with my blog.  Stay tuned for exciting updates coming soon.  Hint- name change is in the works!

Happy New Year!

Friday, July 26, 2019

NGSS Doodle Note Glossary for Middle School

Doodle and Define Notes were created to supplement your existing NGSS lessons and activities. REAL learning happens when students pose questions, plan investigations, develop models, gather and make sense of information, analyze and interpret!  BUT... Let’s be REAL folks.  Using class time to engage students in 3-dimensional learning leaves little time for reinforcement, remediation and extra practice.   So much learning happens when students wrestle through science problems, but what happens when a child is absent or just really struggling to keep pace?

 Enter DOODLE NOTES! This set of doodle notes reviews (not teaches) ESSENTIAL vocabulary for each of the middle school Next Generation Science Standards.   They are designed to reinforce the science students are doing during class while providing memory triggers using visuals and examples. 

Each doodle page includes the related standard at the top.  This means that the vocab on the page SUPPORTS the standard, but it is not intended to teach the standard.  If you are like me, I sometimes spend more time exploring one topic than another.  Providing doodle notes as a supporting visual tool gives students much-needed reinforcement, since we may have only done one experiment or model to address the concept during class!

What are teachers saying about doodle and define notes?

I have been using these with my sixth and seventh graders and they love this version of notes. There's just the right balance of information provided and things for them to do on their own. I can't wait for the life science notes to use with my eighth graders! Thanks for all the hard work! - Jodie

These will be a great addition to my curriculum. Love giving my more artistic kiddos something they can enjoy. I think vocab work that allows all students to be creative is much more meaningful. Really appreciate that they are grouped by NGSS! -Deanna

This was an awesome way to change-up how we did notes! - Emily

Which ones do you need for YOUR class? This clickable chart can help you find the doodle sets that best match your curriculum!

 Click Here
Note: In addition to bundle discounts, school district license pricing is available upon request.  Please contact Kate at 

Want to try a sample?  The NGSS Doodle and Define notes contain over 150 standards-based doodle pages.  Here are TWO free sample pages.  Click the link to print them to use with your class.

Keep Calm and Doodle On!



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