Designing NGSS Curriculum Map
Classroom, Science

Designing An NGSS Aligned Curriculum Map

As crazy as it sounds, one of my favorite things to do when summer break arrives is to reflect on the year. Although I have been using NGSS standards to drive my classroom for years, Colorado only officially adopted the standards this past year. With this adoption, our school district revamped all their standards because they were previously based more on the Colorado standards which is where our high stakes testing for science was based on. During this phase of transition I was the lead science teacher who helped facilitate our revised standards, but within the parameters the district laid out for us. One of those parameters was that each year 6th-8th we needed to have integrated standards, meaning some life, physical and earth in every year. Previously our standards placed Earth and Space in 6th, Life in 7th and Physical in 8th. So with these parameters we got to work. 

Working with a group of middle school teachers at all levels we carefully selected standards for each level in a way that they would build on each other year to year. However, many of the physical science standards remained in 8th due to the level of mathematics needed to acquire them. So this last year, these standards were implemented. To my surprise, many teachers took the standards and just taught them as separate content, but also continued to teach how they had previously been teaching facts, ideas and content and just attached the NGSS standard to it. In addition, many teachers would just pick a standard and spend 1-3 weeks on it and then move onto the next standard. 

This led me to realize that many teachers needed support into how NGSS is different from the traditional standards. In addition, when we were working together to select the standards for each grade level, we had looked at how to bundle standards together to create the three dimensional units for NGSS. This had been lost with the roll out. So whether you are doing integrated science in grades 6th-8th or separating them by Earth, Life and Physical there are some key steps you can take to make your life easier and that begins without teaching the standards as separate entities. Rather, look for the standards that can be bundled together cohesively. Having said that you might also have a few stand alones. 

Middle School Science Curriculum Map

STEP 1: Lay out the Standards for Your Grade Level


I love technology, but I found having paper copies of the NGSS standards help me because I can see them, sort them and break them down easier. But if you can simply have them digitally and glance through them together–do what works for you. I have the standards sorted in two ways:

  1. Binder: I have taken all the standards and have 3 sections: Physical, Life and Earth & Space
  2. Binder: I have each grade level 6th, 7th, and 8th with the copies of which standards are by grade level.

Each standard also has a document called Evidence Statements. If you have not examined these I highly recommend that you do because it gives you observable features of what students’ performance looks like for that standard. 

Once you have the standards you need for your grade level you begin to examine them more deeply and find connections.

STEP 2: Combine Topics That Are Easily Taught Together

Now it is time to get messy. Once you have all the standards for the year in front of you you can see things that connect easily with each other. If you’re not sure and feel lost on where to start, you can always scan a textbook to see what was included within a unit of study. In general I try to have somewhere between 6-8 units for the year. But oftentimes I have somewhere between 15 plus standards and 20-25 major learning targets to cover each year to build into these units. 

My process for combining standards consists of writing out the major standards as phrases for the grade level and then I start creating a web of lines to connect them. Additionally, when we were mapping out all three years we started with all of them and looked at learning progressions to see what concepts build on another so we could place it in a previous year and then review the next year with the concept that builds upon another. 

What I found from doing this messy process is my creativity begins to flow and I have more ideas than previously when just looking at them individually. 

STEP 3: Creating Your Scope and Sequence Curriculum Map

If you are only teaching one specific Discipline (Life, Physical or Earth & Space) then you begin by either taking a look at the big picture and working to the small picture or flip flop it. But if you are doing integrated, like I am then you have to factor in what it taught in the previous year and where your students will continue in the next year. Additionally you might consider the time of year for certain disciplines and then teach similar ideas together. 

This is something I actually review every year to see if my sequence made sense the way I envisioned it. So depending on where you are at with your school and district if you have done step 1 and 2 above, I have included my Curriculum Map which is “integrated.” But you will also get a blank template so you can rearrange yours anyway you would like based on your school and/or district needs. Just click on the link at the bottom of this post to get your Curriculum Map and access to other resources OR visit my blog’s homepage at and scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Get Science Curriculum Map Now.”

STEP 4: Building Your Storyline and Phenomena

Save Create Debate

This is probably my favorite part because this is where you bring NGSS alive. Once I have my major units figured out I look at the Evidence Statements which closely grasp the Practices and Crosscutting Concepts, so I can have exactly what performance from my students should look like. 

Now I get to build the phenomena and storyline. This is where your unit comes alive because you provide students with a real world phenomena to explore and build upon throughout the unit and maintain the inquiry task that NGSS was founded on, the “real science.” 

For example, when I was creating my Natural Selection unit, I opened it up with a controversial topic of whether we should recreate an extinct species or save an endangered species. This allowed us time to look at the pros and cons of the topics, learn why various species went extinct and build upon this throughout the unit of natural selection. Throughout the unit we came back and revisited this idea. Then when it came time to look at local endangered species they were able to evaluate if this was similar or different to the patterns we studied with natural selection and make an informed decision. Students told me this was absolutely one of their favorite units because they felt like they were connected to the content and could make a difference. Additionally, they felt the debate itself has merit and that they really got a 3D perspective. 

Last, while you’re going through this process you might find you have to go back to step 3 and rearrange things and can easily do that.

STEP 5: Breaking your Unit in Learning Sequences

Some of my units can take 6-8 weeks. That means that you have to really think through the performance expectations using the evidence outcomes from the standards you are bundling together. Usually you will see big ideas come out. In general I try to break my units in what I call “Learning Sequences,” which really are the big concepts or subunits within your unit. Whatever you call them, they often follow a learning progression of some sort. 

For example, when I taught my Human Impact Unit it included: natural resources, human impact, uneven distribution of Earth’s resources and global warming. So we began with various phenomena through imagery and began to ask questions as to why this was happening. Building on these questions we looked at global warming data, conducted experiments to understand what causes the earth to warm at the molecular level, and then branched out to our human footprint, which led to natural resources and uneven distribution of earth’s resources and ultimately back to our phenomena of human impact where students got to choose a problem to dig deeper into and use the Engineering Practices to design solutions by looking at cause and effect cross-cutting concepts.

STEP 6: Pacing Your Curriculum Map

I think every teacher struggles with this and I modify this every year. I try to guesstimate how long I expect each lesson will take and then build a one to two week buffer as I have found even if everything I thought is about perfect, something will come up with unexpected schedule changes. Once you have taught your unit then you have a better idea and can rework if needed. 

STEP 7: Be Flexible and Relax

By just making your Curriculum Map, you feel a huge weight off your shoulders and know what you are going to teach. If you are new to NGSS then give yourself some grace and start small, steal some of my ideas here or within my Map. 

Join other Middle School and High School teachers to get my Middle School Science Curriculum Map. Simply click here and join for FREE! Along with the Curriculum Map you will get updates, tips and free resources sent directly to your inbox! (Note: Sometimes this will go to your SPAM box, so double check there if you don’t see it right away and mark it not Spam for future resources). 

Get 100% Engagement with Nearpod

Get 100% Engagement With Nearpod

As a teacher I am always looking for ways to increase student engagement. With Nearpod you can have 100% of your students engaged. And often this can feel impossible, as we know not every kid is actually interested in what we are teaching. I am sure almost every teacher has that moment when they pause for a second and hand goes up, followed by questions that you literally just answered or another kid asks the same question another student just asked. So you might be thinking, how would a technology tool, Nearpod, change this. 

Nearpod allows you to engage with all your students simultaneously. Before I get into how that works I want to explain more in depth about Nearpod ( I also include some examples of how I used Nearpod to build engaging inquiry based Science Nearpods at the bottom of the post. 

Get 100% Engagement with Nearpod

About Nearpod

Once you sign up for a Nearpod account (free versions available) you can find lessons already created (free or paid) or you can design your own. All you need is to create your lessons in PowerPoint or Google Slides and upload them as PDF or PNG files. When you first set up your account I recommend finding a few FREE lessons to try out, so you understand how they are designed and how the interactions work. 

Nearpod Home Page

Facilitation of Nearpod

Once you are ready to deliver the lesson with your slides, students log in with a class code you give them. Immediately on their screen they see exactly what you want them to and you are ready to deliver the lesson. As you shift to the next slide on your teacher dashboard, their screen changes too. This ensures that students see exactly what you want them to and you can facilitate the lesson. While this is a great way to deliver you lesson in class you can also use this with distance learning. To read more about this see my blog post titled: 5 Powerful Way to Teach with Zoom

Content Options of Nearpod

Next is the versatility in content. Nearpod allows teachers to go beyond a typical slide show and integrate a variety of content sources. These include: video, audio, virtual reality field trips, specialized slides, pHet simulations and many more. You can also embed a website so that when you transition to that slide students click to go the web location. Students can then be facilitated through the content. For science teachers, the ability to add a pHet Lab simulation is a great tool. Additionally you can either watch a video on your screen with the whole class or have students view it on their screen and then come back to the whole group. There is so much you can do.

Nearpod Content

Activities - Student Interactions with Nearpod

Now to the best part ofNearpod. Neapod has what is called Activities which are student interactions slides. This is where you can ensure all students are engaged and with you. Once you have your slides uploaded you can add interactions, which are outputs that students respond to. Immediately on your teacher screen you see every student’s response. If you are not getting a response you can see that too and prompt the student. This gives you immediate formative checks for understanding. Here you can stop and reteach right there, see that every student understands and even share students’ responses (with or without names).This allows you to show different levels of understanding and discuss the types of responses. This data alone can help you differentiate and form small group instruction if needed in real time. No more hands raising and the same students responding–you can see all students right there live on your screen. These interactions can be collaborative posts to share ideas amongst all students and for individuals. Here are some of the activity(student interaction) tools you can add to bring your students learning alive: 

  • Open-ended responses
  • Polls
  • Collaboration board
  • Fill in the blanks
  • Draw It
  • Quizzes
  • Matching

I really love using these because I always plan on getting an output from students about every 3-6 minutes. You are not the sage on the stage, because students are communicating live with you and you are able to share responses, model and so much more.  

Nearpod Activity Interaction Tools

Student Paced Option with Nearpod

Another great feature of Nearpod is that you don’t just have to do this live with your students in class or on a zoom session if online, but you can also assign the lesson to be student-paced where they complete it on their own. So even if they are able to transition the slides on their screen they will still have the same level of output through the Nearpod and you are able to see their level of understanding. This gives you feedback that you can use to drive your instruction, differentiate and so much more.

Science Specific Strategies

If you are a science teacher like me and are wondering about how I used this in science, here are few examples. I have always been an inquiry based teacher which means I don’t do a lot of lecture or direct instruction except when needed. So I think that is why I was initially hesitant as google slide shows was not my style. But once I began playing around I found creative ways to maintain my values and style of inquiry. 

Example 1: The Periodic Table

My slide deck was designed to guide students through inquiry about the periodic table. I was able to provide images and thinking questions and hear what students thought from the collaboration tools. Then I had them examine the periodic table and make observations. They shared their ideas through the collaborative board. Once they posted their idea I gave them time to look through other students and “like them.” Next we looked at the top likes to see what we noticed collectively. This was followed by an activity where students used color so they could make more observations and they record these. Our list of observations was growing. From this I was able to build on their ideas and provide some direct instruction to give them the vocabulary for the observations they had already made. I was able to use both the video and slide features of the Nearpod. Then I got to the drawing tools. My drawing slides had students apply the vocabulary they learned, so I could get immediate feedback on their depth of understanding. Students could circle, label and draw lines based on the background images I provided on the slides. So the periodic table came alive. 

Example 2: Natural Selection Introduction

Save Create Debate

I created a slide deck that was designed to “Engage” students in a controversial topic I called the Save, Create Debate. They responded using a Poll on whether they thought we should recreate the mammoth and in another Poll on whether we should save endangered species. This allowed me to see what they thought before we get into the different pressures that drive natural selection. I used the Collaboration board for students to type in the Pros and Cons of each and again had students review each other’s ideas and discuss them. I then used the Slides option to have them explore extinction events and its definition which was followed by a short video on different thoughts of why the mammoth went extinct. This gave students to see if they still felt the same way or not. Then I set up another exploration on the Asian elephant through slides, observations, and data. Next students revisited their ideas. We ended with a short video that discussed both sides of the controversy and I had the students complete a constructed response with the CER model to tell me what they thought and why about saving endangered species or recreating the mammoth. We would visit these ideas as we went through their natural selection unit more. 

So if you are like me, the versatility for inquiry lies in how you build your Nearpod lesson. So have fun and try it. Share your ideas too on how you used Nearpod with your Science class. 

Get Started with Nearpod

So what can you do to get started? Go to and sign up for a free account. Search their Free Library and find some content you teach. Run through a preview by opening two screens. One that you have in teacher mode on your teacher account and another that you use the join code to see the student view. See how it all works. 


Then take some slides you already have created and add the content and student interaction activities to bring it alive for student engagement. Don’t be afraid to try it like I was for years. Within about an hour I was creating my own and brought what would have been a boring lesson alive. 

And if you fall in love with Nearpod like I did, then I would recommend paying for an account. It is definitely one of the few resources that I would personally pay for. But I used the Free version for a while and later made the investment.

5 Powerful Ways to Use Zoom to Teach

5 Powerful Ways to Use Zoom to Teach

Zoom has become a hot topic in education due to the unfortunate pandemic of the Coronavirus, along with other video conferencing tools. With this increase in the use of Zoom, they took many steps to ensure educators could feel safe with their students with added security and settings. So when unfortunate circumstances arise, there are often advancements and updates to technology. Zoom was no different. Today I want to discuss 5 Powerful ways to use Zoom to teach.



So, first, what is Zoom? Zoom is a video conferencing or chat tool that allows teachers to connect with their students online with video and audio. Teachers simply can share a link and students can use that to access online learning with their teacher and classmates. It offers a variety of security settings to prevent hacking and also includes many other settings that can support teachers with classroom management with mute, private chat to teacher only and many more. Zoom has a variety of resources to get started with Zoom by just setting up your account and then accessing their resources.

So now let’s get into the 5 powerful ways to use Zoom to teach your students. The most powerful strategy for zoom is teaching a “live lesson” with your students because students want to see and hear from their teachers and work with their classmates. If possible to host live lessons, I believe this is one of the most important ways to continue to connect with your students and support them with online learning. Let’s dig deeper now into some powerful ways you can interact with your students on Zoom.

Zoom Discussion

#1 Classroom Discussion

During a Zoom session you can continue to hold classroom discussions, just like you would in class and not just a question and answer session. Depending on the age of your students you can call on students to share ideas by muting and unmuting as a classroom management strategy or with older students let them pop in the conversation after setting up some ground rules. Either way you can continue the communication skills and talking that students need to continue to learn. 

Another great strategy is the flipped classroom, where students watch a video or complete a reading and come with prepared questions ahead of time. Or you can now extend their learning with an activity and discussion where they apply that skill.  

#2 Screen Share

Depending on your comfort level you may only allow you, the teacher to screen share so that you can teach your lesson in whatever method you prefer (PowerPoint, Google Slides, etc). This allows you to talk students through the content, watch a video with you and take notes and much more. And if you are feeling students are ready you can allow them to share their screen to show you their progress or work and coach them through.

#3 Whiteboard

The whiteboard tool can allow you to model on a whiteboard like you would in class while screen sharing. I used this to help my students work through punnett squares and balance chemical equations. So they were able to go through example problems with me and then work some on their own and share them.

Zoom Whiteboard

I was also able to provide each student their own task card by posting a link in the chat and let them know which card I wanted them to do. Then students were able to share their screens to show how they tackled it.

Zoom with Nearpod

#4 Integrate Other Tech Tools
(Nearpod or Peardeck, other)

One of the best things I ever did was teach a live lesson using Nearpod. Peardeck would work similarly. You can send students the link to your Live Lesson in the chat box and they can then copy and paste it in their web browser and be in the lesson alongside you. This allows them to hear you talk them through the lesson and ensure every student is seeing exactly what you want and participating visibly on your screen. Meanwhile, you are getting immediate feedback on how your lesson is going by being able to view every student’s work live on your teacher dashboard. And a super plus is that students are actively engaged as they type in and interact with the lesson. You can then immediately share student thinking or have them share their thinking while you display their response. Of course when sharing student work you want to have the classroom community established and/or remove student names–which is a feature of Nearpod. By using this tool, I felt confident that I was engaging my students during the difficult distance learning period and I was able to assess them in the process of the lesson. This means that I had data to support how all my students were doing and could immediately see who was being successful and who might need more support and plan for these. 

#5 Collaboration with Partners and Teams

With Zoom we can often feel in isolation, meaning you realize that you are doing a lot of the talking. So one way to curb this is to use tools such as Nearpod and Peardeck. But you can also build this into your system easily. A few ways you can do this are adding the collaboration structures you would have in your class with partners and teams. Once you have established your rules and procedures you can explore with the Chat options and breakout room. Here are a few ways I did this. 

Chat: At first I set the security settings so that students could not chat or it was to everyone or just me the host. But once I felt more comfortable I was able to establish partners. Students would know who their partner was and I could ask a question and their “Turn In Talk” was a private chat to their partner. On my share screen they would see the Partner A timer and then Partner B timer. Then I would call on students to share either what they shared or their partner shared. I could expand this to a group or even clock partners so they chat with a few people. If I was looking for brainstorming I would just use the Chat to everyone features so we all learn from others ideas.

Breakout Rooms In Zoom

Breakout Rooms: So I am not going to lie. I was terrified of putting middle school students in a breakout room with no adults. And I would have not done this in the first weeks without knowing my students and building the classroom community. But I finally got the courage to try it and it went amazing. If you are familiar with Kagan Cooperative Learning structures, it is always suggested that you do something non-academic first. So that is exactly what I did. I told students what I wanted them to discuss and then sent them to a breakout room for 2 minutes to complete a round robin share (this is when all students share their ideas aloud). Then we came back and shared out as a whole class. I also was able to email a document or share a document with students in their break out rooms, like a Would You Rather and let them go through that for a few minutes and then they came back to the whole group. I had teams work together in a digital escape room and had students work through a short assignment together after a mini lesson. I was able to bounce to the rooms and they could signal support if they got stuck. In all of these activities students had fun and did an amazing job. 

What great things did you try in Zoom with your students? I would love to hear other great ideas!!

3 Ways to End the Year Remotly

3 Awesome Way To End Your Year Remotely

With remote learning, many teachers and schools have been thinking about how to end their school year in a fun and engaging way. And if you are teaching a grade level where students are moving on to another school next year, you really want to make that last week fun, engaging and memorable for your students since it is your last week with them before they move on. 


So in addition to planning a virtual continuation, I have been working hard thinking of the best ways to give students an amazing experience in their last week.

1. Create A End of the Year Digital Escape Room

I knew I wanted to have a fun activity for the last week of school and had a hard time coming up with ideas for what to include. Then it dawned on me that the students can help. I told them that I wanted them to take a survey that I made in Google Forms. I then used their answers to create many of the questions and/or clues for the Escape. 

If you are new to Escape Rooms and need something simple and easy then there are a variety of resources. Here are some great ideas from Ditch the Textbook that I used to learn from and great ideas for finding clues. I also found another blogger, (  who was so kind to post Free escape rooms that only take a google form. 

2. Create A Digital Yearbook

As a middle school team we created in Google Slides a Digital Yearbook, where every student had a slide with their name on it. We then posted this in our shared Google Classroom and gave students editing rights during a 1 hour zoom with our students. 


Students could add pictures and their own personalized messages to each other and we as teachers could ensure digital citizenship. Then at the end of their yearbook signing hour we closed it and send it out to our students as their own copy.

3. Send Digital or Physical Cards to Your Students

Everyday I would tell my students that I miss them and care about them. And during this time I have learned so much about my students as we were able to build a relationship in a way that may not have occurred in the classroom. Some kids really let you into their daily lives and some were more elusive. Regardless, I felt I had a great connection and wanted to send my students a personal message. 


Because I knew my student physical address could change or changed I decided to do this digitally. I decided to create a digital card for each of my students using Google Slides. On our last day, I will see all of them in zoom and will tell them that when they leave zoom they will be receiving an email from me. I got all my slides pre-ready over the past week and saved each of them as a PDF and scheduled them to send to my students. Get your FREE simple and fully editable cards in Google Slides: Get End of Year Cards!

I am sure there are other amazing things that teachers are doing to make this digital remote learning year end in creative ways. I would love to hear your ideas too. 

A Glance At My First Week of Remote Learning

A Glance At My First Week of Remote Learning!

Did you start remote learning this past week like I did or are you getting ready to soon? I am writing this post to share how my first week went, what I learned, things  I would do differently  and unexpected successes. I am sure all of you will have your own story to tell too. 

A Glance At My First Week of Remote Learning

Preparing for Remote

After learning that I was going to begin teaching remotely I did my own personal survey of my technology tools, what my students likely had access to and other tools I might need. I discussed many of these in my last post: Simple Ways to Plan Remote Learning! But once I got into action things evolved quickly!

Day 1:

I jumped in head first. After preparing all my digital resources; I prepared my Monday email to students and their families, scheduled my Google Classroom posts for all my classes with directions, and included the resources they would need to complete their assignment. Then Monday came and by 8:30 am, emails began to roll in, 50+ to be exact. So I began responding to parents and students who had questions. Instead of filling overwhelmed, I thought to myself wow–look how many of my students are on and engaged. Then at about 12:00 pm I realized I hadn’t eaten–so I quickly ran to eat. Then I continued to respond to emails and had a Zoom meeting with my team. By the end of the day I was still energized, feeling pretty successful, but knew I was going to have to make some adjustments to make the next few days better. 

Day 2:

Realizing the first day was a little messy since I spent so much time at the computer going back and forth, I knew I needed to organize differently and make a schedule. Something I went back and added to my previous post as an amendment. So I prepared my student and family email and scheduled my Google Classroom post, this time with a schedule and Zoom meetings ( I noticed a decrease in initial emails and to my amazement about 20 kids per class showed up for the zoom meetings I had made optional. I was able to go through the assignment and answer questions. Each meeting lasted about 30 minutes as I was showing them the features and figuring out how to help them manage participation. Overall it went great. But again with back to back zoom meetings, it was lunch time before I realized it and now emails were rolling in, assignments were being submitted for review and the day flew by. I also took notice of students (as I have about 100 middle schoolers) who had been on or had not, who turned in work and what their work was looking like when I began reviewing them. 

Day 3-5:

Even though I realized I needed to make adjustments I continued with the skeleton schedule I made on day 2 with zoom class meetings and going through emails, submitted work and providing feedback. In addition I had a team meeting each day, staff meeting and district meeting with zoom.  And like a crazy person I signed up for some webinars that I came across for nearpod ( and an online school that a friend sent me. By Friday at  4 pm, I told my computer I didn’t want to look at it anymore. Overall I felt like the week went pretty well and I learned a lot. 

My Learning, Failures and Successes:

So having shared all this, you are probably wondering–what are the secrets? What did you learn? What did’t work and did? If I could start all over, here are the things that I would have done differently. 

  • I think I would have started my first day with students like we do on the first day of school. Do a classbuilder and something fun to adjust to this new territory. Use Zoom or other collaborative platform for this. Instead I jumped right in and continued like it was just another day. The truth is, kids and families are going through a lot–so a simple “fun” activity and Zoom meeting could have helped a lot.
  • Have a realistic schedule. At the beginning I did not have a schedule. The rest of the week I made one, but I’ll be honest—I didn’t stick to it with the exception of my scheduled meetings.  
  • What was really powerful and I realized this after my first zoom meeting, was kids were so excited to see me and talk to me. They wanted to interact and talk. I learned so much more about my students as their siblings came into the our meeting, a cat walked across the screen, and much more. I was building relationships in a new way. I knew I had to continue face to face time virtually. 
  • Something I viewed as a failure was that at the end of the day I only had about 50% of the assigned work from my students. So I realized I needed to reach out to those I had not heard from at the end of day 2 and also probably assigned to much. I reminded myself I need to go slow to go fast later. So what you think you would normally do in a regular class period, cut that in half. 
  • Also in lieu of workload I think I needed to look at how I can make the lessons more interactive and either use my zoom meetings as a mini lesson, or video my mini lesson and then use zoom for question/answer. 
  • What I did do by day 5 was add the classbuilders in. I let them know that it was Pajama day and we would do a fun zoom activity in pajamas. We had a lot of laughs and reflected on the week. 
board, school, task

What's Next:

So now I am on spring break and like many teachers I am really not taking a break. I am thinking how I can make this better moving forward. So I am working out how to make my schedule more manageable with 5 classes of students and how to help students manage their schedule too. (Get FREE Scheduler here) I am also having to work with my team in other subjects to make sure we don’t overlap critical times as we want to have zoom meetings with our classes.  I will likely be creating some videos with Screencastfy so there is always a personal touch, making lessons shorter with varied activities, and will likely maintain a specific format for my lessons using Google Slides as the major structure for daily work. Because I am a perfectionist, I will likely look at testing out some of the FREE digital resources that are being provided to teachers and attend some more webinars. Kids are amazing, resilient, and want to be in our lives. So it is all going to be wonderful as we learn together!!

Simple Ways to Plan for Remote Learning
Classroom, Science

Simple Ways to Plan for Remote Learning

No one could have predicted what countries would face with the pandemic of the CoronaVirus (Covid-19). As a result many school systems have been chosen to close for weeks and have been trying to prevent learning loss through remote teaching and learning. Here in Colorado, we are one of the many states significantly affected. However our school district began discussions about remote learning about a week ago, it now is our reality.

So, I am not claiming to be an expert, but I realized that given the right tools we can be successful as educators with remote learning and will continue to refine these. During this time I know I will learn a great deal, but also realized that we have the tools to be successful and likely already utilize many of them in our classrooms with students. So rather than stress on what to do, embrace the tools we have and put them to work.  Additionally, these challenges will allow us to think broader about how to continue learning when our students have to stay at home due to weather and other emergencies. 

Below I have compiled tools that can be used by all K-12 educators for delivering content, communication, and resources for planning and lessons. For those who specifically Science, like me, I have made a list of on-line science resources for you too. At the end of this post I also put together some information from the steps my school examined last week to plan and prepare for remote e-learning. I hope this helps everyone with their e-learning endeavors. And if you have additional ideas please feel free to place this in the comments at the end of the post. We are all in this together.

Simple Ways to Plan for Remote Learning

General E-Learning & Communication Tools

  • Google Classroom: This is an easy way to deliver announcements and assignments in a variety of formats (Google Doc, Slides, Forms, etc). Students can access through their phone with apps.
  • Zoom:  Using the website you are able to host a virtual class meeting with your students from home through features of virtual conferencing, web conferencing,  and even group collaboration. 
  • Google Hangout: This is a collaborative tool where you and your students can host a video chat conversation. You can send students questions ahead to prep for the conversation or have it in the moment. And students can access from their phone with the app.
  • Go To Meeting: This tool was built for e-learning and has a variety of communication options from video chat in real time, recording and distributing and much more. It as also built for schools to use. And they currently are offering 3 months free due to coronavirus for educators. At other times you get a 2 week trial.

General Digital Actitivities & Ideas:

  • Hyperdocs: creating hyperdocs allows you to design assignments using web resources to learn content in a unique ways. 
  • Digital Escape Classrooms: Digital escape rooms is a great way to have students work with content as practice, review, and much more. To create your own or find ones already created click on the link from experts. 
  • Digital Notebooks: Just like any student notebook they would normally write in, these can be transformed digitally in Google Slides. You can likely find already created ones on Teachers Pay Teachers or create your own easily. 
Google Suite on Phone

General E-learning Resources and Lessons:


  • Edpuzzle: Edpuzzle is an amazing resource and it can be used for Free. Once you create your teacher account you have access to thousands of video based lessons with embedded questions. You can choose to create your own if you choose or search for those already created. 
  • Nearpod: this tool allows educators to find already made lessons or create their own. Additionally it is very versatile and allows students to interact in a variety of ways and for teachers to collaboratively work together. It also integrates with apps students can access on a variety of devices from phone, tablets, laptops, etc. 
  • NeoK12: this educational resource is not free, but very affordable. Here you will find a variety of resources that were created for education so they are 100% safe. NeoK12 includes videos across all content, interactive diagrams, quiz games, flow charts, vocabulary activities, puzzles, brain games and ways to create your own digital presentation on-line. 
  • Kahoot: this competitive game allows students to practice what they were learning in a fun way. You can easily search the Kahoot library and find one that matches your content or you can create your own. Students can then participate individually or they can join together and have fun competing with each other. Super fun and engaging.

Science Specific Resources for E-Learning:

    • PheT Simulations: Put together by the University of Boulder, Colorado, these simulations serve a variety of science and math topics. Additionally, included are descriptions for lessons and already made student handouts. You can easily take these handouts and format them for google docs for your students. 
    • Glencoe Virtual Labs: these are great and simple labs you can use for your classroom. They do require Flash in order to use them.  I usually create a digital google doc for students to record their answers in and have them submit it.
    • HHMI Biointeractive: this site is amazing and takes real world science, from real scientists and includes real data that was used to create interactive and engaging lessons. They are geared toward middle school and high school students. My favorite is Rock Pocket Mice for natural selection and genetics. 
    • Virtual Dissections: this site allows you select a virtual dissection for a variety of living organisms. Just search for what you are looking for. 
    • Simpop: has a variety of simple simulations that students can explore science concepts at different levels. 
    • NASA Science Simulations: this site contains a variety of science interactives for elementary, middle and high school.
Sticky Note Planning

Planning and Implementing Remote Learning

Like many of you, I was told on that I would begin remote teaching on Friday and had to begin the following Monday. Not much time to prepare. My best advice is you that your plans for what to teach is not going to change, only the method for  delivering the lesson and receiving it might look differently. 

  1. ACCESS: Students will need a way to access your lesson and you will need a way to communicate and access these.
  • Google Classroom: as described earlier this is free and you can easily create your own classroom if you you don’t have one already
  • Schoology:  this is another digital platform that some schools districts are using and can continue to be utilized.
  • Email: Even if you don’t have a method at your school, you can email assignments 

2. DIGITAL DOCUMENTS:  The best is t o use digital documents if at all possible, otherwise packets will need  to be sent to students or printed at home. 

  • Google Slides: This is perhaps one of the best tools. You can create an entire slide deck for the day or week for your students. It can have directions, embedded videos, links and so much more. 
  • Google Docs: You can create single assignments for students to complete and submit. 
  • Google Forms: You can create task cards, quizzes, surveys and many other ways to collect data from your students. 

3. PLANNING: You will plan mostly like you have in the past for your classroom (What content, how students will practice, how you will assess). 

First you should decide on how students will access their assignments and digital format(s) you want to you use. Once you have decided that then your are ready to plan. 

  • Plan your first day as a lesson on what remote learning will look like for your students. Let them know that things could change as we all learn together. (Example: Let’s say you decide to use Google Classroom–either find a short video online already or make one to walk your students through) If you are feeling ambitious then you can start with a Zoom class meeting and do it with them–sharing your screen as a way to walk them through. 
  • Go Slow to go fast like it is the first week of school. This is new and you need to give yourself and your students time to adjust. 
  • If you can, make yourself a schedule. I highly recommend this or you will find yourself spending 7 hours straight at your computer–like I did my first day. Your schedule can include when your doing Zoom lessons (face to face), when students should be working, and when you can answer questions.  But this will evolve based on if your are elementary, middle or high school. 
  • Try to stay as routine as possible. What I mean is continue with the types of lessons students are familiar with.  The biggest difference is they are now digital and may require a little more direction than before.  (Example: Maybe student get a Google Slide Show and the questions you would normally have on a document or paper is now embedded in the slide show). 
  • Know that it won’t be perfect and will evolve over time. That is OK. 

I know there is still much more I will learn and that you are learning around e-learning. But I think if we put our best foot forward we will find that strategies that work and allow us to continue to teach effectively and our students to learn while away from school. So if you have any other ideas, resources, and learning tools to share please feel free to put in the comments. Thanks to all educators doing their best to help our students!

What Every Teacher Should Do After Winter Break
Classroom, Uncategorized

What Every Teacher Needs To Do After Winter Break!

Classbuilding, Teambuilding, and Classroom Procedures are essential to both the teachers and students success in every classroom. So don’t skimp on it now. Perhaps just as important as the first days of school, helping students ease back in after a Winter Break is time well spent. After all you are heading into assessment season and still have more than half the year left. And, if you are feeling like you were struggling with classroom management already, then you have an opportunity for a fresh start to make this half stronger. 

What Every Teacher Should Do After Winter Break

Here is what you need to know. It is likely that your students have stayed up late, slept in for extended periods and had a lot of unstructured time. So you are going to have to realize this and plan ahead. Many of your students may  not have seen each other for awhile and are going to be super chatty. And if you already had a chatty class, it could be worse. So a little preparation will go a long way. 

First, review your routines and procedures you have in place and need to refresh with your class. If you know you need to change something, here is your chance. Plan to have an activity or series of activities over the next few days to reteach or reinforce your classroom expectations and routines. But, since it is likely review you can make this more fun than a sit and get review. Instead take this as an opportunity to add Classbuilders and Teambuilders.


A class builder is a whole class activity that gets kids up and moving and interacting. So if you plan it just right, you can embed student interaction that is fun with a review of your classroom routines. This allows appropriate ways for students to “chat” as part of the learning process. Some simple ways to do this are: 

  • Four Corners
  • Find Someone Who
  • Inside Outside Circle

If you don’t know any of these cooperative learning structures there is a short table description at the bottom of this post. 

A teambuilder is a small group activity that helps build student teams working together. In a teambuilder students learn about each other, build a team identity, build mutual support, value each others differences and develop synergy (Kagan 1997). Again you can embed some routines and procedures here too. And if you had been struggling with your students working together collaboratively, you can begin this process now. Some examples of Teambuilding activities are: 

  • Brainstorming
  • Find the Fib
  • Round Robin

Again your can reference the table below if you have never used any of these Teambuilding structures. You can also refer to my blog post: How to Turn Working in Groups into TEAMS!

Snow Falling on Street near Building

If you are an elementary teacher then you can scatter these activities throughout your day. But if you are a secondary teacher, like me, you will have to plan for these for each class. If you have never invested in these types of activities you have been missing out on one of the most essential relationship building opportunities. Time invested in these are critical to the human component of teaching. And this is not an every once in awhile activity, rather should this become a weekly to biweekly thing. Yes, time is passing, but you will have more with student learning if these become part of your regular schedule each week.

So, now you are ready!! Decide on one classbuilder and teambuilder you want to integrate the first days back from winter break. And I have already put together a FREE Classbuilder activity for you. Just simply click: Back from Winter Break: Find Someone Who and download it. You can simply just print and use or take the template and create your own custom Find Someone Who. 

Looking to either strengthen your Teambuilders or just beginning to add teambuilders into your classroom, then get started with with this simple activity that you can make ahead of time or have your students do all the work for you. That’s right, your students can  help you. Find the Fib, is something they love. It is basically 2 truths and a lie. You can have students come up with on their own by just giving them a piece of scrap paper and have them write 2 true things and one lie from winter break or you can give them some categories one at a time to do with their group. Here are some examples of categories: 

  • Places they went over winter break
  • The funniest thing that happened over winter break
  • The worst thing that happened over winter break 
  • Things you should do as a team working together

So now, look over your routines and design or use some of the examples here. So what are you waiting for, you get to have fun and reteach necessary skills for your classroom to run smoothly and chattiness is welcome!




Four Corners

Teacher announces Corner topic with each corner labeled 1,2,3,4. Students think and write their choice and move to the corner, Student pairs discuss topic. (Best pet: Dog, Cat, Reptile, Bird OR What are two ways we can show each other kindness?)

Find Someone Who

Generate a Tic Tac Toe board for any topic (fun or academic). Students mix with others in class and question partners from board, reverse roles

Inside Outside Circle

Numbers students off by 1,2. Then have 1’s make a circle. Then have 2’s make a circle around them and face each other. Either give cards to one of the circles or announce topic. Partners aligned discuss topic. Then call move two left or how you want to rotate and students repeat process with cards or your category you read aloud.





Teacher assign roles to each person in the group, the teacher announces the prompt and students take turns generating ideas. (What would you do with $100? OR Why do we take turns talking?)

Find the Fib

Students write 3 statements (1,2,3) and read to their teammates. Teammates discuss statements and then hold finger 1,2,3 for their guess and then find out if they are correct. 

Round Robin

Teacher announces topic to discuss. Each student take turns to discuss. (When can you get out of your seat? OR What mammals live in the desert?)

Science Classroom Picture

Science Classroom Tour

This year I decided to completely redesign my classroom! After setting it all up and knowing I will continuously be tweaking it, I decided it is time to reveal the new look. 

Science Classroom Picture

Every year I am always thinking about how I can improve from the previous year. Although it is a lot of extra work at the beginning of the year, it gives a sense of pride and accomplishment to get in and begin fresh.  For the past year I have been dreaming of using bright color to lighten up my small science classroom. 

Empty Science Classroom
Empty Science Clasroom

Time to get to the first thing first, setting up the furniture. Compared to most science classrooms mine is  small and still hast to accommodate up to 30 seats. In addition to the small classroom, I have nearly no wall space as they covered in cabinets, whiteboards or windows. And on top of that I have an emergency shower fully exposed and SMART TV that is huge. I hope to get a mounted projector some day so I don’t have to work around about 4 feet of TV on a cart. Anyway, my first task was to figure out a way to set up the classroom furniture for form and function. Although I had a plan in my head it was time to try it out. 

So after playing around with my student tables, my bookshelves, teacher desk and large TV I think I found a way to make it all work. Ta Dah! This is what I came up with after examining things from multiple angles and thinking about student needs. 

Student Tables

To gain the most room I created 3 tables along my back wall where my windows are. Last year I had four tables back there and it felt very crowded and student blocked my extra whiteboard which I wanted to have more access to this year. This allowed me to make 3 across the front/middle and add to the central table. Here is a look around my room from various angles. 

science classroom set up
Student Tables

Now the fun begins. I have been creating my classroom decorations all summer with my new theme of Black and White with Bright Colors. So it was time to put it all together taking into consideration the following: 

  • Direction my students are facing and see important information
  • Where does it make sense for certain things to go
  • What materials do students need access
  • What ways can make student participation easiest

With all this in mind, I took the many things I spent my summer creating and printed, laminated and begin laying it all out. 

I also laid out student materials that I wanted to have available all the time and began piecing it all together. Take a look!


My DOOR: All that was hanging on the outside of my door was the banner that said Science when students arrived. During the first days of school I did a lesson on “What is Science?” From the activity we defined this as seeking knowledge about the world. This is an activity I planned this summer because I wanted all students to feel connected to science is some way. Even if science was  not their favorite subject that they were connected through an interest in learning and discovery. 

The “inside” of my door I use for students. Here I have my classroom rules, consequences that our team uses and the school rules. In addition I have my hanging folders for my students. I teach 7th, 8th, and 9th Science. So the top three is where I put any handouts for students that were absent by grade level. They just have to go and grab it upon return. In addition, student have access to do a REDO/RELEARN, Retake an assessment and sign up for help. The bottom two folders are there for these purposes. 

Accountable Talk

Accountable Talk: In Science I want my students to talk, yes “Talk.” It is critically important that students learn how to hold a conversation, share their ideas and disagree respectfully. I tell them on the first day, if there are no ideas, then there is no science. So everyday students are sharing ideas and we work on accountable talk. At the student tables I also have accountable talk cards they use. 

Accountable Talk Cards

Just below my Accountable Talk posters is the science skills that students will master and use throughout the entire year. Again form follow function. I make sure everything that goes up is used by students. As we introduce how to do each one of these and use them throughout the year students can reference them. These posters are different parts of the scientific process and/or scientific method. Here students will look for ways to make observations, write a testable question, write a hypothesis, make a data table and graph and write a conclusion. 

Just below these posters is my student center. I keep lined paper, graph paper, blank white paper, whiteboards, expo markers and other supplies that we may need frequently. 

Science Posters
Student Supplies on bookshelf
Science Posters

Whiteboards: Last year I only really used one white board because my student desks blocked access to the other one. So this year I spent time thinking about how I would use them and what I would put up on them. The things I knew I wanted on them were: 

1) Pencil Sign Out: As much as I dislike providing daily materials I found it much easier to have some for those who are unprepared. 

2) Classroom Procedures: What I want students to do when they enter each day

3) Daily Learning Objectives for three grade levels 

4) Other Posters: RACE response, Voice Level, etc. 

On my front whiteboard the left side has the pencils, RACE response and daily routine upon entering. Then the rest of the board is available for teaching. 

On my side whiteboard I put my Learning Objectives, Vocabulary and Success Criteria for each day. I also have our regular schedule and early release schedule. Soon I will also have student groups for my Advisory class. 

whiteboard with learning objectives

Near the door I keep my student turn in boxes for each grade level, one for my advisory and then a slot for all my extra copies. If a student loses one then they can get it off that stack. At the end of the week I throw anything left into recycle. My pencil sharpener is also right there. 

Science Posters
Science Posters on Cabinets
Lab Safety Posters

My science cabinets run along the entire wall with my emergency shower at the end. So on my cabinets I placed my geeky science posters and my Lab Safety Posters. When we have a lab day I refer to them each time to put them in their forefront. 

Table Numers

Student Tables: All my tables have a colored dot in the middle with numbers and letters: 1a, 2b, 3a, 4b. This is one my many management tools for cooperative learning. This allows me to assign roles easily by number, call on a person to share and allows shoulder and face partners. 

Each table also has an assigned number and supply box. In the box I keep a handheld pencil sharpener, colored pencils, accountable talk cards and some pens. When I know students will need a supply like scissors or calculators I add them to the box the night before. It just makes things run smoothly.

Table Box

GROUPS Table Card: Also in my table boxes in my Groups table card. This card shows the expectations for students working in groups. They are always on Green each day. But if there is an issue then they can go to Yellow or Red. They can also get Blue for amazing group behavior. 

Teacher Desk

Teacher Area: So in the corner I have my desk. In front of my desk is the large SMART TV on a cart and just behind me are few cabinets. I tried to be creative as to take the least amount of space and have access to things that I use daily. This seems to be best layout. My book shelf is close by and organized by unit. But I am trying to move everything into digital format. 

Well that is my science classroom. You may have noticed that my “window” wall had a clock and some white space. I left that open for now. I am thinking I will use this either for vocabulary or as anchor charts for my units. I hope you enjoyed your tour. 

Looking for some of these items I used to decorate my classroom? They can be purchased at my TPT Store: Summer’s Learning Corner. Simply click on link or the item shown below!

Science Syllabus

Science Syllabus & Safety Contract Made Simple!

Science Syllabus

Over the years, I have revamped my syllabus and safety contract multiple times. And most of what I put on it came from my own experience as a student. It was so jammed pack to cover everything possible for many years. However, eventually I realized that my students and parents didn’t read it, even though they both signed it. I also spend a lot of class time reviewing these in class. BORING!! But, I also found it necessary so students knew my expectations and how to be safe so we could have fun in science. Then it dawned on me, I had made it to complicated and went back to the drawing board. So, what did I come up with? 

First, only include what is absolutely necessary. When I really asked myself what students and their families need to know it boiled down to just a few things. The most important was really how students and families can communicate with you and get access to important information for your class.

Sample Syllabus

Lab Safety is critical in science. I knew I had to teach students how to be safe in class, but there were really THREE major pieces that students and families needed to be aware which included preventing harm, using lab materials and what to do if there is an accident or unsafe situation. Note here that I did include a clause for failure to follow lab safety. 

Here is what I found to be the most important things for my Science Syllabus & Lab Safety Contract. What’s even more awesome, it all fits on one page!



Lab Safety Contract

  • Contact Information
  • Class Website
  • How to get help
  • Science Materials
  • Grading
  • Signatures (student/guardian)
  • Prevention Methods
  • Use of materials
  • In the moment of accident

Looking for a more simple way for a science syllabus and lab safety contract or a new teacher trying to get started. Please visit my TPT Store to get your own customizable Science Syllabus.  It was created in PowerPoint so that it is easily editable to fit your needs. I hope this helps take one thing off your TO DO List!!

How to Turn Groups into TEAMS

How to Turn Working in Group into TEAMS!

Group of Teenagers

Yes, the struggle is real. Many teachers want their students to work together and this is a MUST for 21st Century Skills and Workforce Readiness. Here are the TOP 5 reasons teachers said are challenges with student teams:

  • A student says they cannot work with another student
  • One student does all the work
  • One student did not do any work
  • A student is bossy and takes over
  • A student feels left out or unheard

Does this sound like something you have experienced? If so, then there are a number of things you can do to address these concerns. Although the word group and team are similar, there is a vast difference of what it means to work as a team. And this doesn’t happen without specific things in place. 

Groups or group work is simply putting students together and giving them a task. While, teamwork means purposely providing equal opportunity for students to be successful. So, how do you do this? You have to teach students how to be a team, function as a team, how to resolve conflict and come to consensus. These are not easy skills for adults so it takes time and needs to be explicitly taught.  

#1 Teams of Four is the Magic Number:

Aside from students working in pairs, a team should be a group of four. Once you get much larger than this is can be less manageable for teams and harder for a team to function. Also, with a team of four each person has two partners (face partner and shoulder partner) they can work with. I know from experience this is not always possible as our class size is out of our control. So if you have one less, then do a group of three and one more then a group of 5.

Team Table Card on Table

Forming teams is also something you have control of and can be a huge management tool. I would recommend purposely grouping your students heterogeneously (high sits next to low medium and low sits with high medium, but a high is never across from the lowest). I would also give them a number and letter. I love Kagan’s method the best. Where you have person 1A, 2B, 3A, and 4B. 

Why? You can call on any team member  by number to share, assign roles easily, and provide structure and routines. But sometimes you might want to allow students to choose their team or randomly form a team for an activity and that is fine to. But for overall seating arrangements I would purposely select teams and have teams work together for about 6 weeks.

#2 Teambuilding

Alright, now you have your teams created. But they are not ready to function as a team. You need to do some “FUN” non-academic team building. It needs to be fun because you want them to get to know their teams and enjoy it. These could be as simple as Get To Know You Questions Cards. With these cards you can do many different types of team building. For example, the cards are placed in the center of the table and each team member takes turns drawing a card and then they take turns giving their responses in a round robin. Additionally, teams can design a team name based on their favorite activities or design how they would spend one million dollars. No matter what you choose you should make it fun and structure it so everyone is involved. I recommend that when your form new teams to make sure you start with a team building activity. Then continue to do this at least once per week. Believe me, while time in our classes is precious, this simple act of about 5-10 minutes per week will help your teams thrive. 

#3 Team Roles

Team roles are very important. They don’t have to stay the same each day or be the same team member each day. I often tell my teams who is doing what by number, but when teams are functioning well you can also let them choose. This could be: person 1 gets materials, person 2 reads the directions, person 3 keeps track of time, and 4 keeps everyone on task. It might also be that only 3 can cut the paper, 2 can write, 1 can glue, and 4 can tape.

Use roles however works best for the activity you want students to do. Anytime you are having students work together and they know they are responsible for something they rise to the occasion and feel wanted and needed. No matter the role, however, if students are completing an academic task I make sure they all know that they have to complete their paper or work. There are only a few exceptions to this when doing a practice activity where they share a paper or the activity doesn’t require this.  

#4 Building Social Skills and Accountable Talk

Taking the time to work on social skills will save you a lot of management problems. We have all heard, “That’s stupid” or “Your wrong.” Avoid these comments by teaching students social skills and accountable talk. Social skills mean students being able to take turns, listen, share appropriately and be thoughtful. Accountable talk helps provide the language to accomplish this. To the right is my TOP 6 Stems I teach students immediatly.

Plan small activities where students have to take turns to share ideas, discuss a topic or brainstorm. Provide them with accountable talk sentence stems to hold their conversations. Model this with your students and have them work together on small tasks to practice. When working together have students have these in front of them on their desks and post them in your classroom Some accountable talk stems for nearly almost situation include those to agree, share, build on an idea, disagree, clarify, challenge, ask a question. Start small with some key phrases and then build on them.

#5 Individual Accountability Through Structures

There are a variety of team structures you can use to support learning. Many teachers have heard of a Pair-Share. But there are many more you can use from Round Robins, Fan-N-Pick, Numbered Heads Together, etc. Choosing the right structure depends on the task. By providing structure your students will know how to work together. For example, if students were brainstorming possible classroom rules or sharing what they know about space they could do a structure called All Write Round Robin in their notebook and if you use Thinking Maps you might have them do this on a Circle Map. You will tell them what student is starting and which direction to rotate. In an All Write Round Robin students take turns sharing an idea on something and everyone writes it down. Then the next person goes and it keeps going around until you call time. To learn more about various structures you can use with students here are some great videos that I have used to support teachers by Dr. Optimistic on YouTube: Just click on the name and you should see a list of 11 videos with cooperative learning structures. 

While having students work in teams may feel like a challenge, with a few small tweaks and time upfront, you can turn any class into functioning teams! Each of the parts are important, so start small. What I mean by this is, keep it simple. Get your students in teams, make some basic roles to start, have accountable talk stems ready and pick a simple structure for students to use. 

And to help get you started I created a Teambuilder just for you. Click on the image and GET YOUR FREE TEAMBUILDING ACTIVITY!!