5 Reasons You Need to Use Digital Notebooks in Science

Digital notebooks became very popular when the pandemic hit 2020. I have been using digital notebooks in my science class since 2017 and have loved using them ever since. Here are 5 reasons you need to be using digital notebooks in science today!

1. They Save Time

When you use paper interactive notebooks you have to first create the foldables and interactive pieces you want students to glue in their notebook. Then you have to make copies for each student. Then during your lesson you have to stop for what feels like an eternity to give students time to cut, glue and fold the papers in their notebook.

With a digital notebook much of the work has been done for the teacher and the student. Teachers just need to assign the notebook in their preferred learning management system (Google Classroom, Canvas, etc) and students focus on putting in the content rather than cutting and glueing.

2. They Include Visuals

Science is a very visual subject. Teachers can always print out images for students to cut and glue into their notebook, but unless you have access to a color printer 100% of the time you will likely be left with black and white images that are grainy and difficult for students to see.

With a digital notebook you can insert high resolution pictures that increase students understanding of the content. This is perfect for your ESL students who rely on visuals to improve their comprehension of the information you are teaching.

3. They can be Personalized

With a typical interactive notebook, students can’t add much of their own content. They can certainly write down anything they need to; but they can’t print out more images and glue them into their notebook. They certainly can’t add a video into their paper interactive notebook.

With a digital notebook students can do all those things and much more! You can ask students to find and insert images from the web that represent what they are learning about. They can also take a picture of the activities they are doing in class and add it to their digital notebook so it not only includes the content they are learning but shows what they have been doing in class. Finally, that video you showed them Monday morning…they can add that to their notebook so that they can rewatch it anytime they want!

4. They can’t be Lost

With a paper interactive notebook, they are so easy to lose! In fact one year I wouldn’t let students take their science notebooks home because they kept losing them or forgetting to bring them back to school. Even if students don’t manage to lose it, their notebooks can turn into a mess after long. Papers come unglued and are spilling out the side, papers are torn out, the pencil writing gets smudged and you can no longer read the text. The list of what can happen to the notebooks are endless.

If you have digital notebooks in Google Slides like I do it is so hard for students to do permanent damage to that notebook. First, everything is auto saved and housed in their Google Drive. Even if students happen to accidentally delete it, it will be in their trash for them to recover. Second, the revision history feature has saved my students so many times. If students delete slides, or make some other big changes they didn’t mean to, they can go to the revision history link next to the help button. It will show every single change they ever made and at the exact day/time they made it. If students need to revert their notebook to what it looked like in the past they just have to click 1 button.

5. You Don’t Have to Worry about Helping Absent Students get Caught Up

If you use paper interactive notebooks and a student is absent; the next day you have to try to quickly get them caught up with what they missed the previous day.

If students had a digital notebook, the pages would already be in their notebook. They can work with a peer to get the information to get their notebook up to date.

Summary

I’ve been using digital notebooks in science for several years and they have taken me a lot of time to make but if you are ready to try digital notebooks in your science classroom you can check out some of these notebooks I have created for 4th and 5th graders.

I love using digital notebooks in science and I don’t think I will ever go back to paper ones. Have you been using digital notebooks in science? If so, tell me what other benefits there are that I might of missed in this post!

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Thanksgiving Math PBL for Upper Elementary Students

I am a huge fan of using PBLs in math. I think it is a great way to not only incorporate real world scenarios into the classroom but also make math engaging and fun! I also know that keeping students focused when a holiday and break are right around the corner is a huge challenge and that’s why I love using this Thanksgiving Dinner PBL to keep students focused and to build on those critical thinking skills!

In this activity students will plan a Thanksgiving dinner that includes cleaning the house, renting table and chairs, purchasing tableware, shopping for ingredients, calculating cook time all while in a budget! This is a very detailed PBL and is a great activity for students to work on in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving

First students will start off by creating their guest list. They can invite who normally would attend their thanksgiving dinner each year, or they can make this year more interesting and invite their classmates. Their budget is based on the number of people attending their Thanksgiving dinner. So they more people that attend the more money they get to spend; but it also means more food and supplies to purchase!

An easy way to differentiate this activity is by adjusting how many guests the students are required to invite. The less people at the dinner, the less challenging this project will be. Push your higher ability students by making the guest list requirement higher! Just in real life, it’s much harder to plan for a dinner for 30 people than it is for just 4 people!

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a lot of cleaning before your guests come over, right? Even in this PBL you have to get your house clean! Luckily, students get to hire someone to clean their place. The cost of cleaning will be based on the size of their actual home. Students will look at a table and see how long it will take for someone to clean their house based on how many bedrooms they have. using the hourly rate provided students must calculate the cost of having someone clean up AND they have to include this when calculating their budget!

Time to pull out some extra tables and chairs! Students will drag tables and chairs to their floor plan and decide just how they want the furniture set up. They will also have to write a written expression that shows how to calculate the number of tables and chairs. Finally, they will calculate how much it will cost to rent all the table and chairs for the night.

And because we know those table you rent are not always the nicest…you will need to pick out some tablecloths from your local party store. Pick out something classy and neat or something wild and funky they choice is up to your student! Not only will they calculate the cost to purchase the table cloths but they will have to find the area and perimeter of the table cloths too! Got to make sure you get the right sized cloth for the table after all.

We can’t eat with our hands can we? Students have to purchase all the tableware: forks, knives, plates, cups and napkins. Again, they can pick out something timeless or trendy. They just better make sure they order enough!

The star of the show on Thanksgiving is the turkey, and there is a lot to think of! First, those students better make sure they get enough turkey for everyone. At 1 1/2 pounds per person they will have to figure out the smallest size turkey they can purchase for their dinner. Then they will actually have to go find a frozen turkey and calculate the costs.

Buying the turkey is not enough, don’t we all have to do that dreaded math every year to find out how long it’s going to take to defrost? 24 hours of defrost for every 5 pounds…it’s going to take a while to get that turkey thawed!

Finally, what we have been waiting for, time to cook that turkey! They have to make sure it’s done by 5, so they better double check that math and make sure they have cooked it for enough time. At 15 minutes of cook time per 1 pound, they will need to get it in that oven early!

Some people might argue it’s the side dishes that make Thanksgiving special so you can’t forget them. Students can choose from mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes. They choose 2 and look up the recipes to see the ingredients they need to shop for. They also need to pay attention to the serving size, they might have to double or even triple their recipe! They can’t forget the drinks or the pie either. Is it even possible to have a Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie!

Planning a big dinner can be a juggling act. So many things to cook, all with different cook times? Those students better watch the clock and watch their math to make sure you put everything in the oven at just the right time. Raw turkey and dried out stuffing is not how you want your evening to start!

You didn’t think I would forget the big game on Thanksgiving! Whose playing the big game today? Your students decide! They will calculate the points and tell me how their favorite team crushed the other team!

Did your student stay on budget? They will calculate the total cost of everything and find out just how expensive it is to host Thanksgiving dinner!

Keep your students engaged, learning and thinking by giving them this Thanksgiving Dinner PBL! Make sure to tell me how it goes in your classroom! I love to hear how much students love these PBLs.

Like this idea, but needs a different holiday theme? Check out our other PBLs to keep your kids busy year round!

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Teaching Science in Plan C

Shortly before school started my county announced we would begin in Plan C (with the hope of moving to Plan B when covid-19 numbers got under control). Soon after our county provided our daily schedule; they had allotted only 15 minutes a day for science! If you have taught 5th grade science in NC previously you know how science is an important subject since it’s tested at the end of the year. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how I was going to teach science in just 15 short minutes 4 times a week. As I write this public schools have not been given a waiver for testing and it’s possible that we will be giving the EOG at the end of this year. I had to figure out a way to make the most of those 15 minutes a day!

Lesson Plans

I quickly decided that I was going to have to plan this all out very carefully to make the most out of every minute. Thankfully I have so many science lesson plans that I have created over the years that finding resources was not an issue. I would just have to figure out the best way to implement it. If you have used any of my lesson plans you know that I follow the 5E model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate).

Engage & Explore

Engage and explore involve students exploring a topic and hopefully getting hooked and want to learn more. I have students do this during their independent assignments for the week. This typically includes videos, articles, brain dumps, etc.

Explain

Explain is the direct teaching portion, where you clear up any misconceptions and fill in any gaps from when students explored the topic. During the 2nd week (during my live lessons) I use their digital notebook and we discuss what they learned last week during their independent work. During this time I get right to the teaching points and make sure students have the basics down. During this time students can also ask questions about things they were wondering when they were exploring the concept on their own

Elaborate & Evaluate

During the 3rd week students demonstrate their knowledge of what they learned by applying it while completing task cards, worksheets, creating models, exit tickets etc.

You are probably thinking, that all sounds great, but does that mean it takes you three times as long to teaching a single science concept during plan C then it would if we were in the classroom? NOPE! I’m still keeping up my usual pace. So how do I do it? I do it by having a fluid system in which what I am teaching live is not the same thing as what they are exploring that week, or what they are being evaluating on. Take a look at the table below that shows what concepts students would be working on during a 5 week period.

If we look at week 3 a little closely, you will see that students are touching on 3 different topics for the week. They are exploring the nervous, skeletal and muscular systems on their own. When they meet with me we are discussing and taking notes on the digestive, circulatory and respiratory systems (that’s what they explored in the previous week). Finally, they have some activities during their independent work time that they will complete to demonstrate what they learned over the previous 2 weeks about cells.

When I first thought of this plan it seemed like too much and I was so nervous that students were going to be so confused with all the information going in their heads; but the opposite was true! They enjoyed exploring on their own and brought great questions to our live lessons about what they had learned about! I was even able to incorporate the articles into reading to make the best use of EVERY minute! Below is copy of my lesson plans that I used in week 3 so you can see exactly what it looked like when I used it with my students.

Thankfully I have so many lesson plans I have made over the years that finding and creating resources was never an issue for me. When I’m in the classroom I am used to have 50 minutes a day to teach science. In Plan C I only have 90 minutes a week (live and independent) for the whole week! Since my time is shortened significantly i’m not able to squeeze in every activity from my lesson plans; but I am able to cover all topics and students are mastering the concepts! Fortunately, the plans I have created were already very digital friendly so I have only had to modify a few things to make this work in Plan C.

Teachers we are all in this together and I hope you have gotten some ideas of how to teach science during plan C. If you need some lesson plans to get you started, I have lesson plans for 4th and 5th grade (aligned to NC standards). These plans will not only help you get through Plan C but can be implemented when you are back in the classroom too!

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Remote Teaching….Again

In the spring of 2020 when we were told there would be no school for 2 weeks due to Covid 19. I knew right away it would likely last more than 2 weeks. However, I really did think we would go back into the classroom before the end of the school year. Even when the end of the school year came and we weren’t back in the classroom I thought we would definitely be back in the classroom by the fall of the next school year. While several counties in North Carolina are going back on a hybrid schedule, there are many counties (like mine) that are going back virtually only.

So here we are again…planning for another virtual learning school year. Thankfully we have had the summer to physically (and mentally) prepare for more remote teaching. Below are some things I have been working on this summer that you might find useful for the upcoming school year.

Last spring, NC teachers had NO time to prepare for virtual learning. We left our classrooms on a Friday fully expecting to be there on Monday. While I love using technology in the classroom, 100% digital assignments is not best practice. This year I will fill these Virtual Learning Math Bags with dice, playing cards, timers, paper fraction bars and any other things that students can use while at home. This way students can have hands on manipulatives and items that they can use to play some interactive math games.

Every teacher and parent knows that many students struggled with remote learning last spring. Many struggled because of lack of support at home and others because they never had to learn remotely before. To help parents & students prepare for another round of distance learning I created this handout with tips and tricks they can use at home to help their student. I’ll print this out and send home with open house papers. If I can’t send home a paper copy I’ll e-mail a copy to parents (and you can e-mail a copy too!)

In the spring, our county allowed us to use any learning management system we wanted. However, in the summer they announced we had to use Canvas for the upcoming school year. I’m definitely a “Google Girl” and wasn’t thrilled with this idea. Thankfully after teaching virtual summer school I learned Canvas can be amazing, but it’s only as amazing as you make it. You really have to put the work into Canvas to make it great. This summer I made these neon digital buttons and banners for my own canvas course! Most of my students are NOT familiar with canvas so having these buttons will make it simple for them to navigate!

Before my county announced 100% virtual we still planned to go into school 1 day a week and students would not only have to wear masks but remain 6 feet apart. We know that good teaching involves students collaborating and working together and I was really worried how we could collaborate from 6 feet apart. I created this digital game board in Google Slides so that students could share the game board and still play with each other – from 6 feet away or even in their own homes.

Even with all these tools I am still incredibly nervous that my rising 5th graders are going to come to me with some significant gaps in their math ability. It would be easy for me to find an end of year 4th grade assessment for math, but I don’t care if they remember EVERYTHING from 4th grade. So I created this 15 question pretest that only assesses them on their 4th grade skills that are relevant to 5th grade math. This will tell me right away what skills we need to review before getting to the 5th grade content.

I know no matter what happens this year, this school year won’t be typical and it won’t be easy. I am excited to go back and hopeful that we can enter in the classroom again at some point. Hopefully the items I have made this summer will help teachers (and myself) prepare for the upcoming school year!

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How much is too much technology in the classroom?

Anyone who knows my teaching style knows I love integrating technology and I love to pilot new programs and apps. However, the debate always comes up, how much is too much technology?

First, let me make clear, putting a student on a reading or math program all day is not okay (even if it is at their ability level). As much as I do love using technology in the classroom, I will never condone that practice, no matter how amazing the program might be.

The reality is however, that our children are growing up in a technology rich world, and technology will only increase as they become adults. Teachers must integrate technology for a multitude of reasons but mostly to make sure are students are adequately prepared to enter the workforce and adult hood. Below are a few reasons how integrating technology into your classroom can benefit the student and teacher.

Saving Time for the Teacher

The first reason we need to integrate technology is to save time! At the end of the day, we need to spend majority of our time teaching if we are going to make a difference in a students education. Anytime spent grading, copying, meetings and other duties takes away from that valuable face to face instruction. We need to be creative and find ways to reduce the time we spend on other activities so we can focus on the most important thing, the students!

A few years ago my county switched to standards based grading. While I know standards based grading is in the best of interest of our students, it caused me to spend so much more time grading and completing report cards. A few years ago I ditched the gradebook and adopted this digital gradebook. Rather than inputing scores by date, I input scores by standard. So all assignments tied to that standard are in one location on a Google Sheet. When it comes to report cards, all I have to do is quickly scan the heading with that standard and I can instantly give a final score for a students report card.

To Enhance Understanding

Another reasons to utilize more technology in the classroom is to use to enhance a students understanding of a concept. A few years ago interactive notebooks flooded classrooms and were a huge hit for many. I personally didn’t love interactive notebooks, they were so much work and were a challenge for some students to keep up with. I also taught science at the time and I needed a way to provided great visuals for students that were clear and in color preferably (wishful thinking, right?)

Digital interactive notebooks, are exactly what they sound like they are. They are interactive notebooks that are digital (typically in Google Slides). Instead of cutting, glueing and folding students are typing, dragging and linking. Students are not only practicing computer skills needed for the future, but I am able to provide them with visuals that promote a better understanding. I can also link in online articles and videos on the particular concept. Students will also never lose this notebook since it’s in Google Drive and they can easily share with their families to show them what they are doing in the classroom.

To Provide Rigorous Learning Opportunities

Another reason to integrate technology is to provide rigorous learning opportunities. We know good teaching is all about providing learning opportunities for students, especially real world experiences. This can be so challenging to do sometimes with limited time and resources.

Providing real world experiences can be much easier when you do them digitally. Like this PBL in which students must plan a vacation for a celebrity. They explore different travel websites, and document all their expenses on the Google slides. This saves time and paper for teachers. This also means less chaos in the classroom as there will be no papers students have to keep track. Students are still focused on the math skills, but the integration of technology helps to provide an easier way to apply their understanding.

To Teach Remotely

While not ideal, with Covid-19 impacting or schools in 2020, remote teaching became a reality for many schools across the globe. Teaching students remotely was the only way for us to continue the learning opportunities for our students.

In this case, using technology wasn’t an option for many teachers. Thankfully there were many teachers that created and sold amazing digital products. However, having resources that could be used digitally during remote teaching AND used in physical form when teachers & students were back in the classroom is a huge plus for teachers. They can purchase products that can be used digitally while remote teaching but then can be printed and used when they were back in the classroom.

I will likely always be that teacher that integrates technology daily. It not only helps me, but helps my students with their education. Technology is exactly what you make it, if you just put your students on a computer program all day you will likely not see the growth you want. When you use it as a tool to provide opportunities for learning, you will likely find engaged & excited students who are pushing their learning to the next level. I’d love to hear how do you integrate technology in your own classroom.

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