Posts Tagged ‘literacy’

Student Teaching Week 9 [4/7-4/9]

A short week this week! The New York City public school vacation extended into this week, so we didn’t come back until Wednesday.

WEDNESDAY – First day back! The 6th graders were particularly quiet and studious. They completed a simulation which showed how limiting factors affect a population of milkweed bugs. We also watched the BrainPop clip on Human Population Growth. What a great website! Finally, the kids observed their milkweed bug habitats.

7th grade reviewed what they learned about the respiratory system before break by drawing the entire system and labeling the parts as well as drawing the alveoli and capillaries. Then we read about diseases that affect the lungs and did the List-Group-Label literacy exercise to review new vocabulary. It was really fun to have the whole class interacting as one to create the groups!

THURSDAY – The 6th grade studied an experiment from the FOSS Populations & Ecosystems curriculum that showed three data charts: the effect of temperature on hatching milkweed bugs, the effect of humidity on hatching milkweed bugs, and the effect of light on hatching milkweed bugs. The kids all determined temperature was the most important factor since below 10degrees and above 40degrees no eggs hatched. One student even made the astute observation that under no circumstances did all the eggs in a clutch (the packet of eggs) hatch. It’s so exciting to see them becoming scientists!

The 7th grade classes started the Respiratory Scavenger Hunt. They searched through several books on the respiratory system to answer questions given on the worksheet.

FRIDAY – The 8th graders were presenting their exit projects in a science fair format, so we spent half of each class reading the poster boards set up in the science room. This also meant we were displaced from our room, which provided new and interesting classroom management issues.

6th grade read another experiment on the abiotic limiting factors on algae and shrimp in Mono Lake. Students identified the most favorable conditions under which the most reproduction algae and shrimp is possible.

7th graders finished the scavenger hunt. We allowed them to use books, as well as each other, to complete the worksheet. Approximately 2/3 to 3/4 of the students finished all but one or two questions, so I should have left a couple of questions off since not having enough time provided students with a lot of anxiety. I was particularly frustrated with two students who are very intense about their academics; they were panicked that they were not complete and would get a bad grade. When I reviewed the packets, these students had only answered 3 of approximately 15 questions. I felt compelled to give them both a √- since their work was not satisfactory – I am planning on adding a note that they need to improve their time management skills.

Scavenger Hunt Activity

The following is a lesson I wrote using a literacy scavenger hunt to help students review and learn more about the respiratory system. There is a lesson plan, accompanying worksheet, and a reference page so you can try and find the books we found most useful.

While this lesson focuses on the respiratory system (for 7th grade), the activity itself can be altered to be more appropriate for any age level or content area.

Teaching Philosophy

Ah…the teaching philosophy. One of those hoops all teachers have to jump through. And I’m not sure anyone really enjoys writing it.

At the end, though, we’re all thankful for the pedagogical exercise that forces us to look at ourselves as a person and as a pedagogue and describe how the two intertwine and determine our goals and expectations for our classroom. Ultimately, we draw conclusions as to how we aim to effect our students.

Even though every teacher’s teaching philosophy is different, I always enjoy reading my colleagues’ intimate thoughts about the roles and responsibilities of teachers.

In that spirit, I’m sharing mine with you.

“My teachers treated me as a diamond in the rough, someone who needed smoothing.”

– Mother Jones, early 20th Century coal mining union supporter

More than anything, I believe my role as a teacher is to give students infinite opportunities to discover what they love to do, which ways they are gifted, and where they dream their life is heading. Every student has the potential to develop the skills to achieve their desires. It is important to provide students with a safe and structured community for learning; I want to create a classroom environment that is conducive to community. My classroom should be a place where students who are struggling to understand whether or not they belong within the science community have the confidence to desire to learn science regardless of the cultural groups they belong to outside of school. Students who enter the community of my classroom will never feel the pressure to perform in science in order to belong.

As a teacher, I believe it is my duty to guide students towards an understanding of the content. I do not want my classroom to be a place where students expect me simply to dispense knowledge, but instead, a place where they come to explore the world and develop their abilities to think critically and communicate clearly. In this way, I will assume the role of student advocate. My responsibilities include helping students to develop a deeper understanding of science, encouraging students to form opinions and play an active role in their community, providing students with opportunities to be excited about science, and protecting the classroom from ideas and misconceptions that might prohibit participation in science. I believe the result of these actions will be an increased student interest in the scientific world. These goals are realistic, but will be challenging within the context of Physics, which has traditionally been an exclusive community. Physics should be the most approachable science for students since it is the most applicable to their everyday lives.

Creativity will be the theme that flows through each unit and discussion. I want to take advantage of every aspect of science that overlaps with other disciplines. For example, I would love to teach a Physics course focused specifically on the Physics of the Arts: kinematics and mechanics for actors and dancers, electricity and magnetism for technical theater aficionados, color and optics for visual artists, and sound for musicians. I dream of a classroom where science is merely the lens through which my class and I explore our surroundings.

I have a vision for a classroom where students are constantly exploring new ways of thinking and communicating. Tools I plan to use to accomplish this include: a class blogging project, a wall of pictures of science in our daily lives and around the world, regular science journaling, leading community-wide science fairs, and reading and discussing science fiction novels. Giving students the opportunity to learn through inquiry is essential in training them to be lifelong learners in the classroom and beyond. It is a teacher’s prerogative to encourage students to be aware and involved in a larger community. Whether globally or locally, students should take responsibility for affecting change. I want to teach my students to be aware of what is occurring in the world and how they can make a difference.

I would not be so proud as to say education is the most important institution of civilization, just one of the most important tools; a person can have decades of education, but it is not until he or she decides to implement what she has learned that she can be truly effective. As penned by Elbert Hubbard, “The object of teaching a child is to enable them to get along without their teacher.” I want to equip my students to pursue the world with confidence.

– Becky McCoy

My Favorite Literacy Strategies

Since my grad program has a focus on content area literacy, I thought I’d share some of my favorite strategies. While some strategies might seem like too much work and not worth the time, each is designed to help students improve their reading and writing skills – not that you are teaching them to read or write better, necessarily, but you are teaching students how to learn content more comprehensively through reading and writing.

Every strategy requires 4 steps of explicit instruction to ensure students truly understand how to use the strategy and are getting the most out of it:

To start, PreP is a strategy to activate students prior knowledge. I’ve only included a short outline, but there are tons of articles online about each of these strategies.

EmPOWER is a strategy to teach formal writing. The best part is that you don’t have to teach the whole strategy, just the parts you need most. As a former writing tutor, I like the concise steps involved in this strategy that create good habits in writing:

Teach better reading comprehension using ConStruct:

The beauty of each of the above strategies is that they are most effective when coupled with graphic organizers. I love graphic organizers. Especially Semantic Organizers, also known as Concept Maps. I like to make a map for each unit so I can clearly see which concepts, vocab, and equations are important to cover.

An example of the concept map for a unit on Heat in Physics:

Another literacy strategy, clearly incorporating graphic organizers, is the KWL chart. Students fill one column with what they know about a topic, the next column with what they want to know about that topic. and the third with what they have learned about the topic at the end of the unit. I did an example about fruit:

Lastly, LGL is a great way to help students synthesize reading text and, eventually, to learn to write their ideas without using the original author’s wording. Here’s an example using snowboarding:

The “list” is a grouping of words from a pre-chosen text the entire class has read. The students then group words into different classifications. Lastly, students label each group. This chart is useful because it shows the students that the basic themes of the reading on snowboarding to be the conditions, events, and history related to the sport. Finally, you can then assign a writing prompt for students to describe the conditions, events, and history related to snowboarding – since the students will no longer have the text in front of them, there is no temptation for plagiarism.

As mentioned before, each of these strategies should have a graphic organizer (of your choosing). There are articles on graphic organizers littered around the web, but there is no need to do anything formal or fancy. A simple graphic organizer will be easier for a student to implement and be more effective in the end.

One last note, science teachers are often resistant to using literacy strategies in their class. The important thing to remember is that teaching content literacy is different than teaching reading and writing. Content literacy is improving students reading and writing skills in order to teach a deeper level of content understanding. Just try one thing at a time!

Tiger Woods Reads Physics?

Despite the unfortunate nature of Tiger Woods’ return to top fold news this week, it has encouraged the sale of the book Get A Grip on Physics by John Gribbin.

This book is definitely going to the top of my wishlist!

Book Review: The Scientists

I was browsing through a book store the other day when I found The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of its Greatest Inventors by John Gribbon. I haven’t read the book, but it looks like a fabulous resource for teachers who want to know more about the scientists involved in the growth and development of science. I am really interested in using it to teach a science class chronologically – teaching content based on when it was discovered, rather than in the traditional format. The book would also be a great resource for students if they are doing projects or writing on individual scientists.

Publishers Weekly says, “As expansive (and as massive) as a textbook, this remarkably readable popular history explores the development of modern science through the individual stories of philosophers and scientists both renowned and overlooked. Prolific popular science writer Gribbin wants to use the lives of these thinkers to show how they “reflect the society in which they lived, and… the way the work of one specific scientist followed from that of another.” While he makes this case well, the real joy in the book can be found in the way Gribbin (who has made complex science understandable in such books as In Search of Schr”dinger’s Cat) revels not just in the development of science but also in the human details of his subjects’ lives. He writes, “Science is made from people, not people by science,” and the book weaves together countless stories of the people who made science, from the arrogance and political maneuverings of Tycho Brahe in the 16th century to Benjamin Thompson’s exploits during the American Revolution as a spy for the British and his later life as Count Rumford of Bavaria (in the realm of science, he studied convection and helped discredit the caloric theory of heat). Though the names and discoveries become more and more prolific as the book reaches the 19th century, Gribbin does an admirable job of organizing his narrative around coherent topics (e.g., “The Darwinian Revolution,” “Atoms and Molecules,” “The Realm of Life”), leaving the reader exhausted by the journey, but in awe of the personalities and the sheer scope of 500 years’ worth of scientific discovery.”

Gribbin has authored other notable books including In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality. I’m excited to start to build a library of his work in the near future!

Book Review: The Last Book In The Universe

Awhile ago, I wrote a post expressing my desire to add a literacy component to my high school science classes. Books like A Wrinkle In Time, The Giver, Tuck Everlasting and other science-fiction and fantasy works sprang to mind. I want to find books that can be related to science, as well as students’ lives in order to instigate conversations about technology, progress, and scientific ethics.

Recently, I read The Last Book In The Universe by Rodman Philbrick and it was the exact type of book I was looking for!!

“Following the Big Shake, which destroyed most of civilization, a small group of individuals (the “proovs”) retreated to Eden, learned how to improve themselves genetically, and sealed their environment off from the sprawling ruins inhabited by the remaining normals. Plagued by genetic defects, a toxic environment, and illnesses, normals like Spaz live in the Urb at the mercy of latch-bosses and their gangs. Spaz knows that his survival depends on Billy Bizmo and the Bully Bangers, so when they send him to rob an old man, he obeys. Ryter willingly surrenders his few possessions except for the pages of the book he is writing-the first time Spaz has seen anything like this. And when the boy sets out to find Bean, his dying foster sister, Ryter insists on accompanying him. Along the way, they are joined by Lanaya, a proov, and Little Face, an orphan. Finding Bean is hard enough; helping her appears to be impossible, until Lanaya takes the motley group back to Eden and confronts the rulers with the truth about the outside world. This is science fiction, not a fairy tale, and everyone does not live happily ever after… Also, the science part of this sci-fi is vague. However, readers who don’t examine it too closely will be caught up in the novel. There is definitely room for a sequel…” (from

This book is ideal for discussing science ethics in the classroom for many reasons. It is a middle school reading level, which is perfect for the assignment, because I’m not concerned with challenging students’ reading skills, but giving them a book which they can read with confidence (I’m in an urban setting, so literacy is a huge issue). It only took me a day at the beach to read the entire book, which is fine with me because I’m mostly concerned with students’ reacting and processing their thoughts regarding the content of the book; the assignment would conclude with some sort of cumulating project, presentation, or class discussion. Below, I’ve listed some of the main issues addressed in Philbrick’s book.

There’s even an activity guide related to the book on the author’s website!

Topics worth discussion:

  • Genetic Engineering
  • Experiencing pleasure through “probing” and how it might relate to students’ lives
  • Racism
  • How to prevent allowing technological and scientific progress to get out of control
  • No more books and/or printed materials

Ways students can identify with the characters:

  • Gang involvement
  • Poverty
  • Racism
  • Lack of access to healthcare and other daily needs