Teacher Tips | Interactive Science Teacher

Teacher Tips- real helpful advice from a real teacher Do you have the bad habit of misplacing important papers like lecture notes and answer keys? Tape them to your podium or wherever you’re speaking from, and they’ll stay put all day. Most science teachers have more supply catalogs than they care to count. Here’s 2 tips that will help you deal with them: whenever you get a new catalog take few seconds and thumb through it right then. If it looks interesting keep it, if not, toss it. If you see an item that really captures your eye, clip it out with a pair of scissors and tape it to the cover. There- now you’ve got the item (complete with picture), item number, cost, and company all in one glance.

Is your list of needed supplies non-existent or out-of-control? Get a manila folder and write “Supplies” on the tab. Then staple a sheet of paper to the front outside cover of it (you may have to trim it down a bit). Divide that paper into 3 sections with a pencil with these titles- “Buy from local store”, “Order from science supply store”, and “Someday”. Whenever you realize you need something, jot it in the appropriate section. Besides what it is you need, also write down how many, and the activity it’s for (by the time you finally make your order, you’ll forget those details). The “Someday” list will keep you ready for those opportunities to pick up extra things.

When students go to a station to count out something or perform a task, write out what it is they are supposed to do on a piece of paper or masking tape and leave it in front, like a sign. No more confusion, no more repeating. Every wonder if every single student in your room knows the answer to your questions? A great way to find out is to make individual chalkboards for each student. Pick up a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet or two of hardboard (also called masonite) at your local home center. You’ll find it in the wall paneling. Cut it into any size you want the chalkboards to be (the size of a sheet of paper is big enough, but not too big). Then paint the front of each with chalkboard paint (a quart will more than do the job). Hand each student a chalkboard, chalk, and a paper towel to erase with and now you’ve got a window into every mind. All for about $20.

Back at the home center, right next to the hardboard from last week’s tip on the shelf are 4 foot by 8 foot sheets of tileboard. It used for showers, but you know it better as dry erase board. If you could use an extra writing board, pick up a sheet for around $10 and mount it on your classroom wall. These can also double as screens in your room for any kind of projector. You can even combine those two ideas and draw or write on the screen with markers while something is showing on it. That may just be too cool.

Need something donated? First put yourself in the right mindset, which means be willing to ask with no fear of the word “no” (hey, you’re getting free stuff out of it!). Say you need $100 worth of craft supplies. Start calling every store around town. You’ll get lots of “no’s”, but keep persisting and eventually you’ll get that one “yes”. Few things are as nerve-wracking as having to teach a controversial topic. You wonder who you might set off if you mention the word “evolution” or “Pangaea”. On one hand you would rather not upset anyone, but on the other you want to give your students the information they need to understand the topic well enough to make up their own minds. And what about those time when you have to teach something that you personally disagree with? That’s when you approach it in the 3rd person. Present with a voice that says, “Students, this is what an evolutionary scientist believes”, and then go into the topic. You’ve not tipped which way you believe, and you’re strictly reporting what evolutionary scientists do in fact say. Ready for a shocker? Say you run off 100 handouts for your students per year, and it takes you an average of 15 minutes each time to walk to the copy machine, run the copies (and undo the jams), and greet everyone on the way there and back. The total time you’ve spent that year come to over 24 hours (feel tired?)! So what can you do? If you’re lucky there’s a copy room in your district that you can send things to. Another option is to use parent volunteers. Both of these options will require some planning ahead, but be big time-savers for you. If nothing else, stay after school every couple of weeks and go crazy running your copies late, when no one’s there. Doing it that way will still cut your copy time in half.

Need a good, quick, and easy lesson plan? First, send your students to the Ask A Scientist site at http://www.newton.dep.anl.gov/archive.htm . In it, real scientists answer common (and some uncommon) questions people write in. Have your students go through the site and takes notes on any 10 questions and answers they find interesting. There is a search box, but it’s far easier (and more fun) for most students to impulse-click through the directories. Ever been surprised at how different something looked when it came off the printer compared to what it looked like on the screen? Just before you print anything click “File” –> “Print Preview”. That will show you exactly what the document will look like when it prints. And that will save you time, toner, and frustration (by far the most valuable). Do you ever wonder how in the world you can actually remember to do and keep track of the most important things like IEP’s and student medical history? Try this- at the beginning of the school year, write little reminders on your planner every 2 months or so. When you see it, take 1 minute or two and review what the information. You’ll be amazed how well this works. When you reach the point where you’ve accumulated quite a few things that go with certain chapters then it’s time to gather some boxes and put everything alike together. Imagine getting ready for chapter by just grabbing a box and opening it! Inside are demo and lab materials, tests, and other “overflow” papers that would otherwise clutter up you file folders. Tape paper signs to the outside of the boxes, since your materials and topics will change.

…And just where in the world can you find enough boxes to handle your needs for these topics and chapters? Hmm…Think for a second about how everything comes into to your building… IN BOXES! Fundraiser materials, science supplies, yearbooks, computers. Visit your friendly cafeteria worker or custodian and see what they have (even unfriendly ones might help you). Your problem will not be finding boxes, but which boxes suit your needs. Putting a “Later this week” section on your board on Mondays will help your students plan ahead, see greater purpose, and come into your room with more curiosity. It also a good way to keep yourself accountable to planning in advance. Have you visited our Yellow Sheet page? If you could stand to be at least a little more organized, we think this system could become an essential part each school day. Before school begins and while all is quiet, you basically think throughout your school day, writing it all down on a yellow sheet (hence, the name), making lists and decisions while your mind is stress-free and unburdened.

The next time you need to hand out colored pencils or rulers or anything else, try this- pick up some shoebox-sized plastic containers from a discount store for around a dollar apiece and put student supplies in them to be distributed. This means less work for you, which ain’t a bad thing.

Going along with the previous tip about numbering boxes, going one step further would be to put numbers on student tables. Print numbers off the computer (or just write numbers on index card using a marker), then use pieces of clear packing tape to attach them to student tables/desks. Now anytime you do anything at all– pass out materials (which are all numbered now!), assign seats, play Jeopardy, you have an easy way to do set up groups.

If you’re into lessening your busy work, set out piles of materials for the first class to take and put in the boxes. That saves you the effort of putting every little thing in boxes or on tables. (They can do this, so why not make them?). Have that first class then leave materials ready for the next class. Then train your last class to empty the boxes by putting everything back where it belongs, or at least in piles. It’s a good idea also to number boxes so students always identify themselves with one particular box. Next time you’re printing something in PowerPoint, play around with the options. In the Print window, notice the “Print what:” option, and select “Handouts”. To the right of that is the “Slides per page: “, and choose 3. Not only do you get the slides, but it will also print a set of lines next to each you can write notes on. Keep playing- every time you do you seem to learn something new.

An easy way to bring excitement to any activity without even changing it is to give it a catchy name. And it works on anything- even worksheets (“students, be careful with this. It’s… the…. worksheet of doom!”). The cornier the better. So the next time you feel stuck, take a minute or two, re-name the activity you’re about to do, and all of a sudden you and your students can’t wait to do it. Have you ever needed your room to be pitch black? Click here to download right now instructions that explain how to make a set of black plastic window covers that will block every bit of light from coming into your room. Once you’ve made them, it’s a system that goes up and down in about 10 minutes, and you’ll find yourself using it more than you thought you would.

If there is a file folder on your computer you keep going into that takes more than 2 clicks to get to, create a shortcut for it and place it in the Start menu. 1. Find the folder or file you want to shortcut to, 2. right-click the icon for it, 3. “Create Shortcut”, 4. drag it to the Start menu. 3 things are certain in the life of a science teacher: death, taxes, and students using the english side of the ruler after being told to use the metric. One way you could just about eliminate this (never ever say never) is to cover the inches side with a strip of black vinyl tape (also called electrician’s; a roll costs about a dollar). The fact that it’s vinyl means it will even resist water and grime from labs and hands. Now, keeping students from removing the tape, that’s another problem.