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 (zoom.us). 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 (nearpod.com) 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: https://youtu.be/x5jLuRnqHBs. 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!!


How To Decorate Your Science Classroom

August is a rejuvenating time when we get back and start over. A quick surf through pinterest will easily reveal 1000’s of great ideas to decorate your classroom. But when it comes to secondary classrooms, the search gets smaller. Go deeper to look for Science classrooms and you come up with bits and pieces, but not really the whole picture. While it may sound silly because they are only decorations, the reality is that a well designed science classroom impacts how students feel about learning and most importantly about SCIENCE. So don’t underestimate the power of your learning environment.

As many  first year teachers likely feel, it’s hard to know what to do when it comes to decorating the class. I know I didn’t know what to do when I first started teaching! I saw this as an elementary activity and being in a K-8 I kind of admired their bulletin board designs and classrooms. They certainly didn’t teach me this in secondary education. So like many teachers my first years were a modge podge of things given to me, impulsive orders and things I picked up along the way from conferences. But I quickly realized that I didn’t know what to do, until I found myself looking for a resource my students needed. So many years later, I began to make better decisions. While I am always working to improve, here are the basics of what I think support making your science classroom the place you and your students will want to be and learn.  

First, start with a blank slate. If you are looking for how to set up your classroom, refer to my post on 5 Tips to Set Up Your Classroom earlier. But if your ready to think about your classroom decor, here are the many things that I learned along the way and products I developed to support a great Science classroom!

First know that everything you do, should serve a specific purpose. If you are just trying to make it pretty or look nice that will not be enough. But if you can serve your students and do this, then you are on the right track. Everything that you see here you can find at my TPT store ready to go to help you get started!


Of course you want students to feel like they are in a science classroom, but that doesn’t mean hanging a bunch of science posters, choose wisely! Decide what students need to see and will use the entire year. This can include:

  • How to Use Lab Equipment/Measure
  • How to Apply a Science Skill (Write a Hypothesis, Make a Data Table, etc)
  • Lab Safety Rules
  • AND, if you want to highlight different units as you teach them–create a place that changes from unit to unit.

And, making it look nice, means choosing colors that are timeless or work together. See some of my tips in my post 5 Tips to Set Up Your Classroom to see the best way to make any color scheme work year after year.


That’s right!! Science requires a lot of pair and teamwork. But this can easily be a struggle if you don’t prepare students for this. So use your decor as a teaching tool that you reinforce from the first day to the last day. This means incorporating team positions, having team roles, having team discussion/accountable talk, and team structures you develop over time. Below are a few examples from my classroom!

Accountable Talk


Team Communication: Help students communicate with language.

Team Poster


Team Expectations: Use these to show what is expected and redirect when needed.

For more information on how to teach this look for my upcoming post: How to Turn Working in Groups into TEAMS!


Here is where you get to have a little more fun to show your inner science nerd. What memes, quotes, science themed do you want to have in your classroom. Show who you are. Here is a couple from mine from my Science Classroom Decor Bundles.


Building relationships with students is important, especially if you have a process in place that shows how proud you are of their successes.  This gives the other students motivation to excel in many different ways. I kept this simple by having a place to display student work, pictures of activities and labs, positive rewards and highlight student success. I used the outside of my door that had my Science Banner. In the middle of the door I placed the Instagram Logo and then as the year progressed I updated it with student pictures of our best moments. Additionally I posted exemplary student work to reinforce what that looks like–with the goal of a different student as often as possible. I had my positive rewards for students, each class and team and made sure that could always earn these–but did not ever take them away. Once you learn about your students, I let them take some pictures when they decided we needed to capture “Moments of Science.” If you let them be a part of the process you are rocking the relationships!


I start the year by telling students the rules and expectations for the classroom. This sets a precedence for the whole year. I make sure these were visible and after I “taught” them, I still refer to them the entire year, yes the entire year. Sometimes it just takes pointing and when your class buys in, the students will take over and say, “It’s right there!” Teach, Reinforce, Post. Now I know you might be thinking you have 20 plus procedures: When to go the bathroom, what to do if you don’t have a pencil, etc. Post only the absolutes!! Then have a reference for the silly little things. I usually have them glue our procedures into their science notebook and when a silly question is asked, I say “What does it say in your notebook.” I also started a bubble map of things we should not ask after the first month, unless you are new to our school. Students got a kick when I put up a new bubble.

Alright, that is how I choose what goes up in decorating my science classroom. So the million dollar question, how do you make it look pretty and nice. Pick a color scheme with your borders, backgrounds and colored paper. You can also purchase some already created at my Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT). Some examples are provided below. And if you’re looking for a design or want one custom created for your science classroom, use the contact me form or just email me (summerslearningcorner@gmail.com!


Top 5 Tips to Set Up Your Classroom

Summer is a great time to prepare, plan, and generate ideas for your classroom. If you are a new teacher looking for ideas or veteran teacher that is thinking about classroom set up, I think you’ll enjoy some of the tips below. While I look forward to setting up my classroom it is also a big stressor. I want this year to be better than the last, more organized, and the best for students to learn. These tips can apply to all classrooms, even though I am a science teacher. Here are my Top 5 Tips to help you begin planning your classroom set up!

Tip #1: First Set Up Your Classroom Furniture

I am always looking for ways to set up my classroom furniture. This includes tables, student desks, the teacher’s desk, book shelves and/or movable storage closets, and small group area. The best way to plan is to draw yourself a sketch of your classroom layout and see what it might look like. If you don’t know what your classroom layout is, then you can create generalized layout ideas, knowing you will have a whiteboard somewhere. But truth be told, once you are in your classroom you may realize the arrangement doesn’t work for various reasons such as movement between tables, where outlets are etc. Always start where you want student tables or desks to be set up. Once you have determined where students will sit and the direction they will face you can plan where all your other furniture needs to go, where class resources should be located and the best placement for your posters and wall hangings so students can see and access them.

Tip #2: Choose Organization Containers in Black, White or Clear

Organization is key to having a well designed and accessible classroom. I teach science and I have lots of materials I need to store and have accessible daily. Containers can include storage for scissors, rulers, student notebooks, stations bins, and much more. By choosing containers that are black and clear, white and clear or all clear you can continue to reuse them year to year. If you are like me, you will likely want to change your color scheme from time to time. It now becomes very simple because all you have to do is change the labels to match your color scheme or theme. I made the mistake and purchased all blue and green containers and they looked great the years I used them. However, this meant if one was damaged I had to find the exact color which was sometimes difficult. Additionally, a few years later, I wanted a different color and that meant replacing all or most of my containers–which let’s be honest, that is way to much money. So pick containers that are clear or with black or white, so you can change your decor easily.

Tip #3: Basic Tools To Have To Set Up

In order to hang things, set up your whiteboard, and other supply areas you will need some basic tools. I have worked in a few buildings and all of them have different rules for hanging, where things can be hung, how much can be up, etc. Some let you use nails, hang things from the ceiling, or let you staple things to the wall; but some do not. So first know your schools rules. However there are a few basic tools that I found most schools allow and having them ready prevents the dreaded, I need to run out to get _____ in order to  finish setting up my room. Here are my top favorites:

Tip #4: Plan For Student Needs

Absent Work: Each day is a different folder in color of choice!

Once you have furniture arranged there are some essential student needs you should plan for. Where will students turn in their work? Where will students get their absent work? What will students do if they do not have a writing tool? What do they need to do to leave to go to the bathroom, office, etc. Will you have them keep their notebooks and supplies in the class or will they bring them each day. Planning for these things is key. Decide the best place for these simple routines and structures. Here are some suggestions you might consider:

  • Place passes and/or Log by the door
  • Have a place to put Absent work
  • Have a place for students to borrow and return a writing tool
  • If notebooks are kept in the class, place them where they are easily accessible by subject and/or class period
  • Place student supplies (scissors, rulers, markers, etc) on an accessible shelf that makes sense do the area does not get clogged with too much traffic or that students can grab something without you knowing.

Tip #5: Don’t Hang Absolutely Everything Right Away

I know, this sounds crazy. Have a place for everything you want it to go, but don’t hang absolutely everything. Layout your essentials and hang those, but save some for students to be a part of. For example, you might have your bulletin board set up with background, borders and maybe titles; but when you introduce the Scientific Method you might hang those as you introduce and do activities to build learning about it. When done this way it becomes a resources you refer back to throughout the year and because they were a part of the process they remember it. But if it was already there, they will likely look past it as just part of the furniture. Everything should have a purpose and be for students. So as you decide what goes where and what to hang, ask yourself: “Does this look nice or is this useful.” Of course you want both, but useful is the most important piece.

While I am in my 13th year teaching, I have been at four schools and taught four different grade levels. I have had classrooms that were different sizes, furniture types, without windows, and different wall types and floor types. But, what I have learned is that if I am not ready with a plan and a well set up classroom that my year becomes a challenge for routines, structures and I spend way too much time backtracking or making changes during the year which adds unnecessary stress and also impacts your students learning. With your classroom being your second home, a little time spent up front, makes for an enjoyable and inviting place to be each day.

Use the comments box and tell me: What are some tips you have about setting up classrooms?