Start with fun, finish with depth of knowledge

February 2, 2014 at 4:04 PM Leave a comment

By starting with what is fun for students and me, it’s been much easier to funnel their interest into the deep thinking and depth of knowledge demanded by the new Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. That’s education-speak for “If the teacher ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.” So true.

I am on the edge of being overwhelmed with all the new standards and frankly, the scary serious tone and the sheer volume of the frameworks etc. One of the reasons for no posts since the fall.

So now, I’m taking a breath and reflecting on how it’s actually been a good time in 7th grade science so far this year, even with the transition to the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core. Here’s what I’m doing (for the most part, with breaks for obsessive watching of “Parenthood”. Don’t even start…)

The Process

1. I set up a real folder near my desk labelled ‘ideas’, and a folder on my desktop, plus a ‘delicious‘ account to keep track of cool websites. You can follow my links at if you want.

2. I read the standards for my grade level and subject area, plus those for math and ELA. I look only for NEW stuff and highlight it. The rest I figure I already have in my head. Much less overwhelming than imagining I have to memorize the whole thing. That’s it. No big analysis. Just so I have it in mind.

3. Find stuff that looks like fun and inspiring to me and my students and that is at least a bit relevant to the course of study. I tag it and/or print it/save a version to my ideas folder or if it’s easy, to a specific topic folder for curriculum. It’s important not to over-file at this point, so it stays fun and not a chore.

Sources of ideas:

– Post-its in the catalogues that cram up my school mail box – I start with the thin ones and recycle the giant ones that I can find online anyway. Some truly amazing equipment and materials are being developed all the time, slimes, glow in the dark stuff, marble runs etc., etc.

Toy shops. Seriously, I cruise the aisles of Toys R Us to see the latest stuff. Even though I teach middle school, there are often ideas that I can adapt, often without actually buying anything. (Kids are just outgrowing some of those toys and can donate for a small extra credit consideration.)

YouTube, obviously. Love SciShow, VsauceASAPScience, Steve Spangler Science and I fucking love science (which I follow on FB, carefully selected for appropriateness in all cases of course :-).

Each time we start a new topic, I cruise YouTube for inspirational, informative clips. Searches often come up with lab ideas too.

Silly, fun stuff like Dumb Ways to Die is a great starter for lab safety. Cat videos and BBC’s hilarious animal voice-overs will be useful for the animal behavior unit – for say, kids coming up with their own animal voice overs based on the likely motivations to find food, escape danger and find a mate. I’m excited just thinking about that one. Maybe I’ll film them, wild animals that they are, see The water hole scene in Mean Girls…)

But there’s also a folder on my desktop for stuff that’s just funny and/or inspirational that I use when life is getting too serious in the classroom, or when we have a few minutes to spare. It can be a real life saver. is a source of teacher-tested project ideas with many that are playful and engaging. I particularly like their ‘Rank and Reason‘ app included in these projects, that can be used to kick off almost any topic – “What is the worst environmental problem?” “What are the best science fiction movies out right now?” etc. Make up your own or use one of the pre-developed lessons. Instantly, it’s a discussion, it’s argumentation with evidence, and it’s fun. A quick disclaimer – I write up some of my best stuff for them.

TED talks and TEDed: Lessons Worth Sharing.

And most importantly, I’m always thinking how what I’m loving to do can be used in the classroom. Sculpture, photography, rock climbing or whatever. Enthusiasm is infectious and an immunization against burn out all round.


Entry filed under: Creativity, Curiosity, Education Psychology,, Project Based Learning, Reflections, Starting the School Year, Useful links. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

Take Action Project 2.0 is published! Animal Voice Over Film Festival

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