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Best Teaching Practice

Ways To Help Promote Goal Setting in the Classroom

One of the best techniques to lead students toward success is through effective goal setting in and out of the classroom. There are numerous ways for teachers to help middle-school students effectively set goals and remain motivated throughout the process. From fundraising to fun activities, goal setting can become an engaging and effective practice in the classroom. Here are five ideas to help you encourage your students to dream big and work hard to achieve their goals.

Games and In-Class Activities

Introducing gaming elements in the classroom can help foster healthy competition and encourage students to set personal goals. Create games and activities that reward growth, no matter how small, and challenge students to surpass milestones. By making goal setting a fun, interactive experience, even the toughest students can become enthusiastic and committed.

Reflection and Journaling Exercises

Regular reflection helps students understand where they are now and where they want to be in the future. Encourage your students to maintain a goal-setting journal where they can write down their objectives, track progress, and identify potential challenges. This reflective activity allows middle-schoolers to monitor their progress and celebrate achievements, helping them stay motivated and grow personally.

Group Projects and Collaborative Goal Setting

Students can find immense value in setting goals as a team by learning the importance of cooperation, communication, and interpersonal skills. Design group projects that require students to collaborate on setting shared objectives, overcoming obstacles, and achieving their goals together. This approach fosters goal-setting skills and helps students understand the value of teamwork and collective effort.

Integrating Technology and Goal-Tracking Tools

The tech-savvy generation of students can benefit from integrating goal-setting tools and apps into the classroom routine. Teach students how to use digital platforms to help track and monitor goal progress and success. Utilizing different apps and technology in the classroom assists students in becoming organized, self-driven, and motivated to consistently stay engaged with their objectives.

Fundraising and Goal Setting

Goal setting and fundraising go hand-in-hand; fundraisers teach students about goal setting by helping them learn to be responsible for their own progress. Teachers can create fundraisers that involve setting individual or collective goals, enabling students to work towards a tangible target. By engaging in fundraisers, students can confidently tackle any goal they have in mind, and it encourages them to set ones that support a cause they care about.

Middle-school teachers can make the classroom a more fun and motivating place to be by implementing these five ways to help promote goal setting in the classroom. By incorporating engaging activities and teaching students about the importance of setting goals, teachers will empower their students with the tools they need to succeed throughout their academic journeys and life beyond school.

Best Teaching Practice

Why You Should Incorporate Science Stations In Every Unit

science-stations-in-a-middle-school-classroom

I find it so frustrating when a student is literally sleeping on their desk while I’m trying to explain something, but the moment… the actual moment we break into groups, they’re awake and chatty. This is the reason I incorporate science stations into my schedule almost weekly! 

Students who are socializing are much more likely to be engaged with the content, even if they’re not spending every single second talking about what they’re supposed to be learning. 

Science Stations Aren’t Only for Littles

Incorporating science stations in the classroom took me a long time to figure out. I did more so by accident than anything. I took small bits of information and placed them around the room, all while asking my students to go find each part. 

Elementary school teachers use stations or centers all the time. Why do we stop using science stations in middle school? I’d argue, we shouldn’t. 

These are my seven reasons why science stations in the classroom should be included in your science class!

1. School is not fun

Sorry, it’s not. Very few kids are truly internally motivated to be good students, and even they have rough days. We’re constantly competing for their attention. They want to talk to friends, scroll TikTok, or play games. The last thing they want to do is listen to teachers blab. 

Take advantage of kids wanting to be social and include stations. Direct instruction and inquiry both have value. Don’t misquote me here. Incorporating stations that include inquiry, instruction, or even just practice can engage students differently. Suddenly, they want to participate. Or at least willingly write down whatever the rest of their group does. Count it as a win!

2. Stations allow exploring content with different learning styles

I’m big on this and always have been. All kids learn differently, but being exposed to content several different ways boost what they remember. Before I intentionally incorporated stations, I always found a way to make sure kids were drawing, writing, talking, and listening. 

Some kids really do like to hear information, which is where direct instruction strategies can come into play. However, seeing pictures, talking about it, doing research, touching, or even reading engages kids with the content in so many ways. 

Stations allow you to address a variety of learning needs, not just one.

3. Science Stations Allow for Movement! 

Movement wakes up those sleepy kids I talked about earlier. Students are moving their legs from one place to another. They move their mouths as they talk. They’re likely trying to steal a pencil from a person in their group. 

Movement gets their blood flowing and their hearts beating much more efficiently than sitting at their desk. They’re awake and interacting with the content, and their peers. 

Including stations where students are not sedentary the whole class period has been one of my favorite additions. They talk, laugh, move, and it seems as though they overall enjoy class. But it’s in part because their body is not in chill mode. It’s in do mode. 

4. Science Stations give students accountability

I have never had a student sleep through science stations. Ever. Even the most difficult students will at minimum copy what the rest of their group wrote down… most of the time. It’s not ideal. But hey, sometimes I’ll count that as a win! 

Other times, the accountability lies within the group itself. If most of the group is writing an idea or answer down, the one student who may not be feeling it that day will participate because everyone else is.

5. Science stations naturally “chunk” your content

Chunking is usually an accommodation we see on student IEPs or 504s. That just means it’s good teaching practice. Science stations allow us to chunk information or tasks so our students can focus on that specific information or task before moving on. 

I love to use this graphing review station activity at the beginning of the year. They’re graphing skills are always less than ideal. 

Asking a student who struggles to make a graph to make eight is completely overwhelming. When I put one graph at a station and let them work with peers, suddenly the intimidation factor is gone. They still work through eight total graphs, but they do it one by one without becoming overwhelmed. 

6. Stations allow you talk to students! 

You heard that right. YOU have the chance to talk because you’re not tied to the front of the classroom. Finding out who your students are is the key to building relationships with them. 

You can start a conversation with every student in your classroom. Start by asking if they have a pet and if so, what’s their name. If not, do they want one?  

Do they have siblings? How many?  Do they play sports? Play an instrument? Like a certain video game? 

Asking non-academic questions signals that you’re interested in them. The flexibility given to you while students work in science stations allows you to naturally build rapport with them. 

Before long, they’ll call you over asking if you can settle their argument about whether the square on their paper looks more like a diamond or a square!

7. Students get the chance to work with other people all the time

Middle school students like to talk. We’ve agreed on that. Socializing is one of the reasons science stations in middle school are so great. 

I give kids plenty of opportunities to work on something with partners of their choosing or by themselves if they want. 

The problem happens when I let kids choose their own groups. One group is always too big or someone gets left out. However, structuring science stations gets kids talking to every student throughout the year. 

I use student grouping cards to randomize groups for the day. If students get stuck in a group they don’t like, they know it’s only for the day. 

Usually by the end of the quarter, everyone has worked in a group with everyone else. Sometimes with friends, sometimes without. But it all works out. 

Science stations are my favorite way to add variety to my classroom. On station days, the energy is bigger. Students are more excited. It seems as though more gets done by everyone, not just the kids who want good grades. 

If you haven’t already tried using science stations in your classroom, try it. It might just be the change you’ve been looking for. 

Best Teaching Practice, Labs, Middle School, Science Pedagogy

Five Direct Instruction Strategies to Spice Up Your Science Lessons

direct instruction strategy using interactive notebook and doc cam

Up until recently (I’m in my 30’s), I kept a few of my middle and high school notebooks that I really loved. Why did I feel the need to hold onto some and not others? I realized, I liked learning from those teachers. They weren’t boring. As I reminisced and looked at specific pages, I could remember what was going on in class that day or what the teacher said. 

Here’s the thing about my notebooks. Most of the time, my notes came from direct instruction. It makes perfect sense looking at it as a teacher now. Each notebook I kept was from a teacher who used direct instruction strategies that kept me engaged and continuing to learn. 

NGSS & The Resistance of Direct Instruction

The rise of NGSS has emphasized inquiry and student exploration in science classes. I’m not against it. Inquiry and investigative skills are critical. 

In this push for inquiry-based learning, it seems as though direct instruction is almost demonized. Teachers are discouraged from using direct instruction strategies and encouraged to let students draw their own conclusions. 

In my professional opinion, there is a need for both. 

Sometimes, kids just don’t get it. I’ve sat with so many groups of kids who are totally picking up the information and can make connections with inquiry. 

I’ve also sat with kids who look at me with blank stares, or pretend to get it when I can see on their face that they’re just trying to make me go away. 

Most of the time, I talk to kids who get about 90% of what they needed out of inquiry, and they just need a little more information to clear the rest up. 

Using solid, direct instruction teaching strategies is the best way to get all your students on the same page, and accommodate those who don’t have strong inquiry skills, yet.

The Reason Direct Instruction Is Important in Science Class

Don’t be boring. These direct instruction teaching strategies are pulled from my personal vault, and hopefully will keep you from reading directly off a Powerpoint and keep kids hands from aching while they panic-write. Yes… panic-writing is a thing. 

Remember, there is a purpose for including direct instruction in your classroom. Direct instruction is an accommodation! Just like you include group work, inquiry, discussion, and reading into your lessons, listening is just as important. 

Direct instruction in science class gives every kid a basic foundation of knowledge to work from. Every year, I have a student who legitimately tries to convince me the Earth is flat. After some pointed direct instruction they can construct a basic argument with correct information, even if they don’t believe it. 

Here are five direct instructions strategies you can use to increase engagement

1. Investigate first, not only

NGSS discourages direct instruction and pushes inquiry based learning, a little disproportionately in my opinion. By following up an investigation with a little bit of direct instruction, you’ll be sure every student is on the same page as far as what they should have gleaned from the investigation. 

When I do this, students engage with me and ask why their data is a certain way or they try to talk out and question what happened in their group. These conversations are learning experiences. 

We want kids to build their investigative skills. We also want them to walk away with the knowledge they were supposed to have after that investigation. Direct instruction helps. 1.

2. Make your prep less time intensive

We all know Google is forever, so kids have information at their fingertips. Don’t spend hours making the perfect Powerpoint for note taking. It’s likely that your students will get overwhelmed, ask you to go back, and have a hand cramp halfway through. 

If you do decide to use Powerpoints, I’d suggest guided or fill-in-the-blank notes to go along with it. Not only does this help accommodate students, but everyone can focus on what you’re saying instead of making sure they scribble down what’s on the slide. 

3. Incorporate drawing

I remember sitting in 6th grade science with neon gel pens, drawing fault lines that my science teacher was drawing on the board. When I was fed up making Powerpoints and watching my students fight for their life to copy every word, I remembered this simple strategy. Drawing.

I figured I had nothing to lose, opened up my notebook under a doc cam and started drawing, talking, and teaching my students. The engagement was incredible! 

I used this strategy when I taught tides to my 7th graders.

We drew pictures and wrote less words.

In 8th grade, many of those students went on a science trip to San Diego. The 8th grade chaperone came back and told me that he and the instructor were impressed at how well the kids understood and could explain how tides worked. All we did was draw! 

Edutopia has an amazing article I share with parents every year called The Science of Drawing and Memory. The gist is that if students are drawing, regardless of artistic ability, more areas of the brain are engaged and students remember more.  

4. Frontload quick topics

Another one of my direct instruction strategies is frontloading. While some topics are amazing to investigate straight away, others need a little bit of background information.

For example, when I begin my Earth, Moon, Sun Systems unit, I always frontload rotation and revolution with quick direct science instruction. It’s foundational to what students will learn in the coming weeks, but there’s no need to investigate. 

On the other hand, I spend more time frontloading vocabulary with my heredity unit. Heredity vocabulary is hard, so I teach them the words in context to each other before we really dive into heredity. It helps so much! 

Frontloading is a very simple direct instruction teaching strategy, but so effective in keeping kids from being confused when it’s used right

5. Know what you’re talking about! 

Of all the direct instruction strategies I’ve talked about so far, I think this is the most important for engaging students. 

Actually learn what you’re talking about! So often, it’s tempting to buy a powerpoint off of TPT and present it.

But by spending a little bit of time learning about your topic, you can have authentic conversations with kids. Those conversations and answers to their questions are what they remember and make learning more than scribbling down some information. 

This comes with time, and generally comes topic by topic as you teach more. If you don’t feel comfortable with one content area, that’s okay! I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about Newton’s laws as I am about eclipses, and that’s okay! 

BONUS: Keep students organized

I started this post by telling you that until recently, I still had notebooks from middle school. I’m sure the reason I kept these notebooks was because they were more than a collection of scribbles. 

They were meticulous. I was proud of them. They were neat. Each one was organized differently. 

Helping your students organize their notebook as you’re teaching is incredibly helpful to how they feel when they open it. You want them to be proud. 

Whether or not you have them cut and glue in note pages, draw, or a combination, find a way to keep them organized. 

Inquiry-based learning is great. But it needs to be paired with purposeful and solid direct instruction. By utilizing these five direct instruction strategies, say goodbye to students scribbling something just to get it down and hello to a reengaged class who doesn’t hate notes.

Best Teaching Practice, Middle School, Science Pedagogy