Cool Ideas for a Hot Summer (of Getting Ready for School)

People who think teachers have it easy with summers off haven’t a clue about what real teachers actually do during their summers. If you’re a teacher and you’re reading this, you’re probably in the thick of it yourself.

For example, during the month of July, Golden Apple is running three week-long sessions of Introduction to Inquiry at the Museum of Science and Industry. Over 100 teachers are enrolled in the program and spend from 8:30-3:30 every day for an intense week of non-stop professional development on the Next Generation Science Standards with integration of the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and Math.

And here we are!

And here we are!

And here ...

And here … Mary Burns of Mireles Elementary confers with ISI faculty Jim Effinger

But in addition to perfecting their craft through professional development, teachers are also hard at work planning their lessons for the upcoming school year and looking for new ideas for their classrooms.

If you’re in the market, I’d like to share 3 ideas you might find useful for your own science classroom. Two come from the classroom of Rebecca Kornack, who teaches 6th grade science at Mozart Elementary in Chicago. Rebecca took Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute’s Introduction to Inquiry and Advanced Inquiry the previous two summers. I followed up with classroom visits to see how she was doing with implementation. As it turns out … fantastic!!!

But while I was visiting I couldn’t help but snag a couple of great ideas you might want to try in your own classroom next year. Rebecca may not have invented these ideas herself, but good teachers are always on the lookout for great ideas.  Aren’t you?

So scientists typically work in teams, and wanting students to see themselves as scientists when they are conducting scientific investigations, we suggest having them work on teams in their classrooms. Managing those teams becomes easier if each student has a designated role, just as with Literature Circles. Look how Rebecca has kicked that up a notch.

These laminated role badges on Lanyards are a really cool idea and should last years.

Laminated Role Tags Make Kids Feel Like Adults

Laminated Role Tags Make Kids Feel Like Adults

A second great idea is the 6th Grade Science Timeline. Stretching across one side of the room, it chronicles with photos all of the science activities the children did, from experiments to field trips. At each point in the timeline, Rebecca has described the science content, big ideas, and activities they were engaged in. She told me that her students look forward to seeing their pictures when she posts them at the end of each month. What a great way to help them track what they’ve been learning and the fun they’ve had doing it. Their progress is made tangible.

6th Grade Science Timeline

6th Grade Science Timeline



September - October

September – October

February and a Trip to the Museum of Science and Industry!

February and a Trip to the Museum of Science and Industry!

The final idea is one that ISI faculty member Wayne Wittenberg shares during every Introduction to Inquiry. One of the challenges of becoming an inquiry teacher is overcoming the fear of what could happen when you put intriguing stuff in front of kids, things like water, M&Ms, baby oil, magnifying glasses, eggs, and paperclips. Just imagine kids diving into stuff like that before you’re ready for them to.

Wayne has come up with a fantastically simple idea to manage an inquiry-based science classroom … and it works. He’s been using it (and sharing it with us) for years.

1. Have your materials set up in advance.

2. Use a tray or plastic tub, one per table of students, or whatever makes sense for the investigation.

3. Put all the activity materials in the tubs/trays.

4. Put a piece of blue masking tape across the top of the tray/tub.

5. Have these tubs or trays on their tables when the students arrive to class.

6. Tell students they can’t touch anything until you tell them it’s time to remove the tape.  Blue Tape = Hands Off!

Wayne Wittenberg's Famous Blue Tape ... It Works!!

Wayne Wittenberg’s Famous Blue Tape … It Works!!

7.  Provide instructions to the students.

8.  Make a class ritual of removing the tape and getting started.

9.  Wayne asks student to bring up their pieces of tape. He begins to make a ball of it at the beginning of the year and students enjoy seeing how that big that ball becomes by the end of the year, evidence of how many experiments they’ve done.

10. Cost of one roll of blue painter’s masking tape?  About $6.

11. Cost of one smoothly running inquiry lesson?  Priceless!

~ Penny (who loves playing bumblebee, cross-fertilizing by carrying wonderful ideas from school to school)

To learn more about Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute, check us out here.


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Filed under children as scientists, classroom management tips, inquiry science, Inquiry Science Institute, NGSS, Uncategorized

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