Archive for November, 2009

What Happens To Your Trash?

Ever wonder what happens to your trash? So did a bunch of MIT researchers! In an effort to learn more about the efficiency of recycling and trash in America, they devised a way to track pieces of trash. The data has not all been compiled yet, but you can read more about the study on CNN.


Geology: End of Unit Project and Activities

I just finished writing a lesson plan for the end of a middle school Geology Unit. The basic idea is to give kids the opportunity to apply their knowledge of sedimentary layers to digging and drilling wells. There is a power point that shows pictures of clear and colorful sedimentary layers in Nevada as well as of oil rigs, which initiates the discussion and exploration of the techniques and tools involved in drilling for oil. The class then transitions to the discussion of clean water and the problems associated with dirty water in developing countries.

Students begin learning about the organization Charity:Water, which raises money to provide wells in the villages of  several developing countries and also sponsors a project for school children to raise money for wells to be dug at village schools.

An in class investigation involves students “drilling” through several layers of food or other materials to get to the water source at the bottom. They must keep the water as clean as possible and assess their success. In the end, students will apply their learning and knowledge to a campaign to raise money for schools in developing nations to have clean water.

Get it here:

Student Groupings

It is extremely important to choose appropriate groupings for certain activities – a lab experiment is effective based on whether it is in small groups, individuals, or a whole class. Changing grouping styles creates variety and promotes interest as well as provides signals and cues to students as to how to behave and prepare appropriately for groupings.

A Whole Class Grouping Is:

  • Important to promote community
  • Useful for direct instruction
  • Good for class discussion
  • Can be good for “teacher talks” about behavior, performance (when affects all) – eg. why we do fire drills, etc.
  • Facilitates note giving and dissemination of housekeeping items

Groups of Four Students Are:

  • Useful when you do not have enough lab equipment
  • Helpful in doing a project that requires a large amount of work or has many parts
  • WARNING: Be careful, a group this large easily falls prey to: distraction, non-participation, students pairing and being at odds

Grouping of Three Students Is:

  • Small enough to keep all students on task
  • Big enough to conduct lab experiments
  • Great for projects and in-class work
  • Majority rules (in disagreements, decisions can be made because it is an odd number)

Pair/Group of Two Students:

  • Great for completing independent work faster, more consensus, easy to pair up if desks are in rows
  • Must have enough materials for many small groups
  • Gives students an easy first audience to articulate their thoughts
  • One-on-one, less intimidating (good for quiet students)

Individual Work:

  • Very important!
  • Students must be able to execute tasks alone
  • Students should be given practice before a test
  • Encourages focus for certain tasks such as note taking, problem solving, reflection
  • More accountability since class-work should be quiet

There are many ways of choosing group formations as detailed below:

Mixed Ability Groups:

  • Efficient, one student is able to help others
  • Be careful not to continually burden particular students
  • Some students may take the opportunity to slack off
  • May draw out some students as stronger than you thought
  • Think about each students strengths and pair accordingly

Homogeneous Ability Groups:

  • Students all must work (relatively) as hard as each other
  • Can be frustrating for students
  • Groups of lower ability may need more scaffolding
  • Some groups will finish MUCH earlier than others
  • Less intimidating
  • May draw out some students as stronger than you thought

Random Formation of Groups:

  • Good for start of year (eg. alphabetically)
  • May set yourself up for social issues or other problems
  • Good for brief activities (one to two periods or less)

Forming Groups Purely for Classroom Management:

  • Focus solely on smooth classroom management
  • Good for transitions: retraining students/when there has been a shake-up of some kind

Student-Initiated Groups:

  • Only after you have established yourself as in charge (first project of year is assigned groups and mostly in class)
  • Do not allow students group themselves early in the year
  • Use as a “treat”
  • For a unit consisting of an in-class project or lab where you would like students to select their partners

As with anything classroom management related, there are always things to look out for!

  • resistant attitudes
  • romantic relationships
  • malevolent relationships
  • familial relationships
  • consistent slackers
  • consistent bullies/bosses
  • student stress
  • habitual partners

And there are things to make groupings as effective as possible:

  • remember to be equitable
  • start from the beginning by being consistent with when you switch groups
  • write notes to yourself
  • be a frequent visitor
  • change up your visiting habits
  • be enthusiastic
  • be firm
  • ask students who they want to/never would sit with

Get Involved in Charity:Water

I wrote briefly about the organization Charity:Water the other day and wanted to let you know that now you can get involved too! Just click on the badge on this page and do a few short activities to send money to dig more wells for clean drinking water!



Charity:Water is an organization that provides people in under developed countries with clean drinking water. They’ve even got a project for students to raise money for wells to be dug near schools in those areas. I’m working on a geology lesson plan that includes this project…stay tuned…

11/10/09 Useful Sites for Science Teachers

Fun With Einstein’s Equation

King of the Road had a blast with this one – see for yourself at Adventures in Fuel Economy, Energy Use, Physics, and Life.