Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Holiday Hustle and Bustle Busters for the Classroom!

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas break are tough for teachers everywhere.  Students are distracted.  Let's face it...teachers are distracted too!  Here are three tips for busting the holiday hustle and bustle during the next few weeks!

1) Don't be afraid to make (a little) time for FUN!

Upper-grades teachers are often pressured to teach through the holiday season without the "fun and games" but big kids like to have fun too!  There are many ways to build in a little holiday fun without taking too much time away from instruction.  These FREE printable coupons are an easy way to spread some holiday cheer and can be used as cost-free prizes OR gifts for your students.  Click to download them below:

2) Go for a WALK!

This Science Winter Walkabout makes natural connections between general science concepts and the holiday season!  Kids love traveling from question to question and there are "fun" questions built in to allow time for kids to share their holiday traditions and interests!  Spread the questions out so kids can stretch their legs and if weather permits, laminate them and go outside for some fresh air.

3) Switch it UP! 

This is a great time of year to TRY A NEW TEACHING STRATEGY! Try using an interactive notebook foldable, task card review, posters or doodle notes to spice up your normal instructional routines.  It just might be the breath of fresh air you and your students need to keep motivated!

Doodle notes are great for this time of year because they help with concentration and memory while providing a natural brain break with doodling and coloring!

Today and Tomorrow November 28 and 29th all print and go resources are 28% off with code:  CYBER2016

SO...Grab a cup of coffee and check out some time-saving resources to use in your classroom!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Writing in Science

Why do we have to learn this? I just love when my students ask this.  No seriously!  It shows that they are making valid connections between their learning and how they might apply it.  Adults ask this all the time, but it is often a frustrating question for teachers address when they are working to cover content under time constraints. On more than one occasion this has come up when I work on writing skills in science, probably because we do A LOT of writing in science. So here is how I answer it...

Communication is inherent in the science process.  Here are some reasons that scientists need strong writing skills.  Share them with your students! 

There are just a few ways that writing skills relate to careers in science!
Would you like to display these signs in your classroom? 

Explicit writing instruction has a valuable place in every science classroom.  
Do you teach these writing skills in science class?

If you are looking for materials for teaching writing in science class, check out:

Writing is a core skill that relates to all subject areas! Collaborate with your team of teachers to incorporate writing skills work in every class.  Check out these other writing skills resources for ELA, MATH and SOCIAL STUDIES.

Writing Skills in ELA - Writing Responses with Text-Based Evidence 
Math Writing Skills - How to Write in Math 
Social Studies Writing Skills - How to Avoid Plagiarism 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Active Study Strategies

Your first major unit test is approaching. They already know HOW to study for a test right? Teachers assume that kids come equipped with subject area study skills, but do they?

Students Need Explicit Instruction on HOW To Study in Each Subject Area

A vast majority of Tweens have two strategies for studying.  They include looking at their notes or  making flashcards, but for so many kids these are not enough.  Have you ever seen the look on a child's face when they get a poor test grade back that they genuinely THINK they studied for?

The problem is, many students spend time "studying" but they are not activating and connecting their knowledge which can lead to poor recall and application come test time.  Parents have contacted me numerous times with the same story "My child studied for 3 hours! How could they have failed the test?" So what gives?

We Assume They Know How to Study

I'm guilty of this.  "They should know how to study by now." "I don't have time to teach this too." "They should ask for help if they need it." We can't assume that other teachers and/or parents are providing study skills instruction.  As subject area teachers, we owe our students explicit instruction on how to study our content.  Effective studying for a math test should look very different than studying for a history test and so on.  After years in the classroom, countless hours of private tutoring and working in our school's learning assistance center I can tell you that many students lack these skills!


When we study, we work to move information from our short term to our long term memory.  Sometimes it stays there and other times it dissolves because it is ignored and left unused for too long a period of time.  (If you don't use lose it.)  The key to moving information to our long term files is rehearsal.  Rehearsal is the act or process of PRACTICE.  So, when our students stare at their notes for hours then haphazardly make a few flash cards they often fail to do meaningful and memorable PRACTICE!


Great students have an arsenal of active study strategies that allow their minds to PRACTICE content.  Some of these strategies are universal (such as the vocabulary one described below) while others are content specific.  Here is an active strategy that is a different spin on traditional flashcards:

How this easy to make tool helps to ACTIVATE memory:

Chunking:  Students ask themselves "Which vocabulary words relate to the concept of _______?"

Writing:  Students copy information for the key concepts from their notes, books and other resources.

Drawing:  There is plenty of room inside each tab for students to draw and label pictures relating to each concept.

Quizzing:  The foldable tabs allow for self-testing of the material.

And...NO lost or missing flash cards!

For middle school students, explicitly learning how to study in each content area is important.  If you are looking to try some study skills instruction in your class, check out this study skills pack for science that outlines ways to study SMARTER not HARDER!

Looking for study skills to support other content areas?  Check these out:

ELA Study Skills - Doodle Notes and Learning Stations

Math Study Skills - Doodle Notes and Learning Stations

Social Studies Study Skills - Doodle Notes and Learning Stations

Happy Studying!

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Visual Learning, Doodle Notes and Memory

Doodle Notes Science

Engaging students with science models has long been at the cornerstone of quality science instruction, but could we be doing even more to improve visual literacy in our science classes?

Visual Learning 
Visual literacy is no doubt a 21st Century Skill that should be emphasized in every classroom.  When students “interpret, recognize, appreciate, and understand information presented through visible actions, objects and symbols” there is bound to be improved learning in all content areas.  So are we doing enough to teach this skill?

Science teachers know the importance of practice, imagery and patterns when helping our students grasp concepts.  So it's no surprise that our daily instruction involves interactive notebook templates, card sorts, task cards, video clips and visual games that target these memory tools and work to keep students engaged along the way.  But what about using another visual approach to make meaning and promote memory of science content?

Doodle Notes, Science, Visual Literacy, Middle School Science Notebooks

Many people rely heavily on visuals while learning new content. How many times have you skimmed an online article or textbook chapter reading only the headings and scanning the pictures, all along obtaining most of the content without ACTUALLY reading it?  All the time! This “less is more” study  showed that pictures and short descriptions proved more effective in reaching students than a full-text approach to teaching science.  

You are probably aware of the recent trend in coloring for improved memory, learning and even for stress relief.  So it likely comes as no surprise that recent research is backing the idea that doodling can help our students better connect with the content we are teaching.  

Consider this study, where a test group was asked to doodle while listening to a prerecorded message about a party.  The experimental group was asked to doodle while listening and were then tested on their ability to recall the names mentioned. The “doodlers” recalled 29% more information than the control group.  

Sunni Brown, author of Doodle Revolution strives to redefine doodling as "spontaneous marks to help you think." Her TED Talk is well worth a watch and will really get you thinking about how our negative perceptions of doodling could be hindering student learning. 

Ok, so most of what I've read about doodling supports academic doodling, mindless doodling and everything in between.  Sorry doodle fanatics, but I'm not willing to open the doors of my classroom to a bunch of unstructured scribbling while I'm teaching.  

Setting Expectations: academic doodling vs. everyday doodling

Academic doodling, everyday doodling or a little of both? For my own sanity in managing a class of 27 teenage doodlers I think it makes sense to encourage the former.  Doodling has long been associated with inattention, and let's face it- despite all the latest research, in a middle school classroom sometimes doodling is just that!  So it got me to thinking...Can I teach my students HOW to doodle to support their learning?

I suggest talking with your students about doodling.  Share the benefits and discuss how setting some goals and guidelines will ensure that it will be a productive learning tool.  This chart might help with your discussion, OR your students might be able to come up with their own anchor chart to post in the classroom! 

Doodling to improve learning in middle school

Ready to Get Started?
Here are some ways to get started with academic doodling:
  • Activate prior knowledge with a flash doodle.
Have students doodle a picture on a post-it note that represents their background knowledge on a topic (for example phase change).  Remind them that it will not be collected for a grade!  Keep in mind that drawing can be intimidating for some kids so it is important to not take grades for these types of doodle tasks. 

  • Incorporate doodling and coloring into traditional note-taking.
A small picture and a little color can enhance science notes and make them more memorable for students.  Try keeping text concise by adding more visuals when modeling notes for the class. Think out loud about your drawing or how you use color to emphasize key ideas.  Here are some everyday examples of how this looks:
Visual Doodle Notes Strategies

  • Use whiteboard doodle breaks.
This strategy works great for reluctant doodlers!  There is something about being able to erase a doodle that gets students more willing to take risks.  Build in a DOODLE BREAK into any lesson! Simply ask all students to do a 60-second quick draw of a concept being taught.  This is a non-threatening and valuable formative assessment!

Earth's Spheres Doodle Notes

  • Use Printable Visual Notes. (AKA DOODLE NOTES, SKETCH NOTES)
These are becoming increasingly popular with teachers, and for good reason.  Students interact with the content by doodling, shading, coloring and answering questions to improve understanding.   A well-organized visual can have a lasting impression on a learner, and this style of note-taking does just that.

Printable doodle notes emphasize CONCISE and very VISUAL notes over a lengthy text.  The material is grouped together in meaningful ways so as to improve student associations between concepts.  
Example:  This Earth's Spheres Doodle has a ton of information, but it is concisely organized to articulate the main ideas and details about how each sphere is connected with others.

The style, structure and graphics vary a lot for each concept.  A great deal of time is spent adjusting text and graphics so that they are JUST RIGHT to teach a topic and so that each doodle note page is unique.   Every page should be its own academic doodle work of art! 

Whether you create your own or download premade doodle notes, here are some things to consider:

5 Fantastic things about DOODLE NOTES

Doodle Notes Provide MEMORY TRIGGERS

Bending the word "REFLECT" at a right angle at the letter L is an example of providing a "memory trigger" that can help students recall how light behaves.  Clever placement of images and descriptions takes time, but it provides students with a memorable and topic-specific visual for improving understanding that can't be found on traditional graphic organizers.  

This Layers of the Earth Doodle creates layers for organizing information, chunking essential science ideas together.

Doodle Notes use carefully-chosen GRAPHICS to improve ASSOCIATION between CONCEPTS

This food chain doodle uses a simple, yet carefully arranged chain of circles that shows how energy moves UP the food chain.   This visual structure provides room for descriptions and examples to support understanding of this essential ecology concept.  Using shapes that relate to concepts (like the sun, carbon dioxide and water) can also prove helpful when students are studying.

Doodle Notes sometimes provide room for STUDENT PRACTICE.  (Q and A)

This Newton's Laws 1st Law Doodle is designed with a Q and A format.  This format lends itself well to some topics better than others. Many students can remember the law of inertia, but they lack the practice needed to correctly apply the concept to everyday examples.  This doodle reviews the law and then gives room to tackle some very visual questions!  

Doodle Notes SORT and SEQUENCE information with intention.   (Simple to complex, smallest to largest etc.)

For example, this Earth, Sun, Moon doodle  doodle note lists the topics from left to right by size.  Since many students struggle with the size and distance relationships in space, presenting them in this order may improve student recall.

Doodle Notes have MANY CLASSROOM APPLICATIONS.  They can enhance your existing pre-teaching, initial instruction, practice or assessment.  They also are a "print and go" differentiation and remediation tool.

Note: It is important to select (or create) a doodle note page that is good match for YOUR students and their needs.  Be sure to look at previews and descriptions carefully when looking for pre-made versions.  The best, most beautiful doodle notes page is only a valuable learning tool if it is selected for the right group of students at the right time!

Some example doodle notes pages:

This weathering doodle note summarizes the topic with lots of examples of both physical and chemical forms, so it makes a great test review sheet.  The file includes a version with less info and more blank space so you can pick the one that best matches your students.  (Some teachers are using the different versions for differentiated review.)

This Study SKILLS doodle note page is ideal for teaching students HOW to study a few days before a major science test! (It comes with some study skills stations too, so that kids can doodle and DO some studying to show they understand.)

This pH scale doodle is packed with information and makes a great introduction to acids and bases.  Like many doodle notes files, there are a few versions (of the same page) to pick and choose from.  Some with more blank space, others with more text and graphics already filled in.  

Doodle Notes/Visual notes are a tool that teachers can use to improve visual literacy and science content understanding.  Are they a good fit for your classroom?

Doodle Notes for Teaching Science

Some doodle notes from Kate's Classroom Cafe...

Clipart and Font Credits to:

Can't find a pre-made doodle note sheet for a topic you teach?  I take requests! Email me at for more information.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Is Your Classroom Management Headed in the Right Direction?

All Signs Point to YES! This is such an easy, SIMPLE and effective strategy to try.  It works for both elementary and secondary students!  There are SO many uses for these little paper arrows and mine got used so much that I needed to make new ones mid-year! (Middle school kids are not the most gentle creatures.)

So what is it? Paper arrows glued to magnets.  Yup!  That. Is. It. 

Step 1:  Print them, glue magnets on the back.

Step 2:  Post them on your board in an easy to access place and then assign every student a number.  (Have them write it on their notebook just in case.)
Step 3:  Start using them! No, seriously once they are up you will be using them all the time.  There are so many possibilities!  

Here are some ways that I have used them in 6th grade:

Best Practice Use: Tracking learning progress of a current learning goal.

I used this target during an unannounced observation and it was a home run.  I had done it a number of times with kids before and it was a stream-line way to have kids come full circle at the end of the lesson and reconnect with the learning goal.  Take that Marzano! (Deep breath...I get a little crazy about all this teacher eval &#%@)

I don't have a ton of whiteboard space so I make charts and then put them up depending on my needs for that lesson.

Anyone else struggle with writing learning scales that don't sound lame to middle school kids?

Realistic, every-day classroom uses:
Homework Check 

Student Choice Groups

Teacher-Assigned Groups

NO more popsicle sticks for random participation! I started using my arrows by mixing them up and randomly grabbing one.  

Group Rotations- Where is each group starting today's science stations?  This can help keep track of each group because kids move their arrows when they move to the next station.

Other ideas!
  • "Please see the teacher"  I often forget to touch base with a student who was absent and this could be a reminder to the student if their number is posted.
  • "Behavior Warning" See a student off task?  Move their number as a visual warning during a lesson!
Think this might work for you? Here is the basic file for you to print arrows for your classroom.  Nothing Fancy Folks....just a time saver not to make it yourself :) 

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Setting up your Secondary Classroom

Name Tags

Yes, you need them and no they aren't "so elementary school." I have around 130 kids to get to know so  I create bookmarks that double as name tags. Kids use them to mark the page they are on in their science journal and them prop them up on their desk during class so that I can see their name during the first weeks of school.   Click my post here for more details. 

Objective Board

I'm a firm believer that my students benefit from seeing the learning goal displayed Every. Single. Day.  This is backed by some solid research, so it's worth taking the time and making a dedicated space in your classroom.  When students know what the goal of class is, they are more likely to focus on achieving the it.

I post the homework right in the same area.  Kids then have one place to look for information when they walk in the room!  There are many creative ways to do this, but I ordered these large magnets online at Vista Print (using a Groupon) a few years ago and I LOVE how well they have held up!

Exit Ticket Board

Post-it exit tickets require zero prep and can provide you with meaningful information.  In my class, each student gets a number and then sticks their post-it on the numbered square as they leave the room.  (I picked a huge blackboard in my classroom that was otherwise wasted space.) and drew the squares using chalk markers.

A System for Returning and Collecting Papers

There are lots of ways to do this, but I like to keep this process as easy to maintain as possible.  I keep a laminated folder for each class of papers that need to be returned.  I assign a few students in each class to be in charge of checking the folder daily and returning any items inside.  If students are absent their work stays in the folder and they can check for it when they return.

Classroom Motto

Doesn't this apply to pretty much everything?  I found myself saying it so often with my students that I created a giant bulletin board that I could refer to regularly!  We have specific school rules which are included in each student planner, so instead of adding a list of classroom rules I stick with this simple phrase...

An Organized Teacher Work Station

The first week of school is chaotic and there are lots of items to remember.  Have a plan for making your "Notes to Self" and keeping them organized! If my desk is a mess I feel scatter-brained and less efficient during my planning time.  I use sticky notes and then place them all on one page for easy reference. Here are some free printable calendar sheets that I made to store my reminders and notes each month.  Click the image to download for free.  (There is one for each month of the year.)

Student Resource Center

An organized location for extra copies, options for extra support and a class sign out for music lessons or lavatory use is a must!  Here is what it looks like in my classroom:
- Extra classwork copies
- Extra homework copies
- Lav sign out binder
- Options for extra help (Learning center hours, my extra help times, Schoology info, Remind alert info...etc)

Long Term Bulletin Boards

I have had good intentions of changing my displays with every unit, but I've come to the conclusion that my planning time is best spent doing just that...planning.  Now I try to create displays that work ALL year and can relate to all the topics that we are studying!

This display emphasizes thinking with a positive science mindset! (more details here)

Here is another LONG TERM bulletin board.  This display is a great way to house student questions relating to the unit you are studying! (more details here).

Student Reminders

I've used similar icons on my objective board for a few years now so that kids know what to have out when class starts.  This year, I created a set to post in the hall on my door frame so that kids can see from the hallway what supplies are needed for class.  Click for more info about my reminder icons.

Sub Folder

I'm pretty sure that if my sub folder isn't ready to go from day one, I'm bound to get the flu the first week! This is a simple task that will be helpful when you are feeling at your worst, so be sure to get this done before the year starts.


Daily Teaching Schedule
Class lists 
(Note emergency medical information about students)
(Consider including the names of a few student leaders who can assist the sub.)
Fire Evacuation and other Emergency Procedures (Simplify as much as possible for easy reading.)
Seating Charts
Note sheet for sub (see below).  
Thank you note to the sub for working with your students in your absence

Here is a sheet that you can leave in your sub folder so that you can get details about how things went while you were out!  Click the image to grab a free copy to use in your sub folder.

Classroom set-up is a lot of work, but I just love the optimism and excitement I have when I get things ready for a new group of students!  I hope these 10 tips are helpful as you enter a new year of successful teaching and learning.  Be sure to sign up below to get more freebies and tips for teaching in the upper grades.

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