Vocabulary in the Content Areas


I have recently presented a teacher training, Building Academic Vocabulary in the Science Classroom, with Lisa Walsh and we shared different vocabulary techniques with fellow educators of all levels. We also learned from each other. She shared a technique called Picture Vocabulary. I love kinesthetic activities and was excited to try this activity. If you’re an educator, you’ve probably completed some form of this activity. A great resource for activities like this is The Science Toolkit. I printed the definitions, labels and organs.

For the first activity, students are given either a term or definition when they arrive. Once everyone is ready, they find their match. Depending on grade level, the more alike the definitions can be, the more challenging. Wording can really be helpful in differentiation and challenge level. Once everyone found their match (or thought they had), I then lead the reading and sharing of the definitions aloud. As you see in the photo above, this vocabulary activity was based on the Digestive System. To start the discussion of terms, I started at the mouth and traveled down the system.

Second, each table group of 4-8 received 2-3 organs from the Digestive System. Using our vocabulary, we then built the system. I had a body outline file I used with a past activity, Tour of the Body Systems. I’ve had some Velcro for years. I decided to take the body outline and add the organs with Velcro so I can use it over and over. Of course, I laminated all the organs and vocabulary terms.  I was really excited about it, but I had not ever tried this before. It was such a success! Here are some action shots!

My students really enjoyed the activity as well as the fact that the system was not to scale with the outline! We had lots of laughs. We also discussed the limitations of models. Several told me they enjoyed the lesson and liked “learning this way.”

Digestive System Activity

On the Floor with the Rabbit

One of my favorite learning moments came many years into my teaching. I had a class pet, Captain Jack, a California Angora short-haired rabbit. He was litter boxed trained thanks to my niece who raised rabbits. I had read that training rabbits was possible and a rabbit fit my “clean,” not stinky animal requirements. I wanted a class pet for the longest time, but didn’t want a stinky hamster, guinea pig, etc. So, a rabbit it was. He was named Capt. Jack, as all of her rabbits were named after the Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Capt. Jack joined us and became a beloved member of our classroom (and school.) Once he acclimated to the many predators- Ha! –  and felt safe, he hopped around the room checking out everyone and their backpacks! As I taught Biology, he was a great addition to class; which brought some great questions and discussion.

I had a few students bond with Capt. Jack more than others. In particular, I had one boy who in my class was very quiet and meek. He loved Capt. Jack and Capt. Jack loved him. He was the only one that could dress Capt. Jack in his festive outfits.

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One day I had five guests walk in my room to observe my class with my curriculum director. At this point in my career, this didn’t bother me at all. I had/have observers all the time. Well, in the moment I saw them come in I thought, “Oh, people.” The next moment, as I had a discussion on the characteristics of life with my learners, I had an uh-oh pass through my thoughts, “G is on the floor with the rabbit.” I wondered what my guests would think. I wondered if I cared. A few more moments into the discussion, I posed a question and guess who’s hand flew up from the floor. That’s right, G’s hand went up. I called on him and he added his viewpoint. I also noticed in that moment that two of the onlookers didn’t even know he was down there and started looking around the table to see where that voice had come from! Win!

Even if he hadn’t participated in that very moment, I knew then that learning doesn’t only take place in a desk while you are sitting upright. I think as educators anytime a guest comes into your room, you do a once-over and check to see “how things look.” What’s more important is the learner. I found out later that G had an emotional disorder. (I had not been privy to that info.) Least to say, I was shocked to find out that he had outbursts in other classes in which he cursed his teacher and classmates. I had a totally different kid in my class; which was thanks to Capt. Jack and G being allowed the freedom to move about the room and learn in the way that best fits him. In the next couple of years, G would return often to visit Capt. Jack. He quietly came in and left the same way. I believe he needed a moment or a “time out” in his day.

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My iTunes U Course is Complete!

I am sitting here tired, but excited. I have finally finished my iTunes U Course, Biology. This has been a process that began the summer before this school year and is now complete. This was a new challenge for me. It really forced me to evaluate my learning activities coupled with the 1:1 iPad integration at my school. I have always evaluated my learning design, always challenging myself to analyze the required objectives and the quality and connection of my lessons. With this course design, I was able to challenge myself as to the best use technology making it a seamless tool that would bring depth of knowledge to my classroom while breaking down the walls of my classroom. I designed each unit in the 5E Lesson design, thinking with the end in mind and working backwards. In reality, I know that my course is not finalized as no learning design should ever be finalized and used over and over, year after year. This course will be molded and redefined as each school year comes and goes. Please check out my course at the link above! I would love some feedback!

Blog Challenge (Day 4-yes, out of order) HeLa Cell Topic & Debate

 I’m jumping ahead in the sequence of days in the 20 Day Blogging Challenge because I am so HAPPY with today’s and yesterday’s activity in class. I like to bring in current events linked to possible historical events in class to have debates in ethics. This past August a seed was planted in my head that came to fruition this week. In August I attended a teacher workshop at The Perot Museum and was introduced to the lab from CellServ, Preparation of Human Chromosome Spreads; or commonly known as HeLa cells. The day of this workshop was actually the day that the National Institute of Health and the Lacks family came to an agreement as to the future use of HeLa cells. I am in the process of ordering the kits for class as it is taking longer than expected I went ahead with the activity below.


Henrietta Lacks Radiolab
Debate Ethics in Science
Day 1: We listened to the Radiolab session above on Totally Tumors (just the section over Henrietta Lacks) and then had small group discussions about the impact the information had on students individually and then shared as a large group these ideas and posed questions.
Day 2: I set up four corners: The Progress of Science, Ethics, John Hopkins University/Hospital and the Lacks Family. Students were given colored paper as they entered the room that coordinated with the four corners. We reviewed what we had learned the day before to get focused and then I challenged the students to look at the viewpoint of each of the stakeholders listed above. The students had 15 minutes to collaborate and research if wanted their viewpoint. Then we shared large group each side and then moved to rebuttals. In several classes I had to stop the debate due to time restraints. Students were so interested and invested it made for some great discussion/debate. I finished with the summary video, Video 2013, from PBS that summarizes the current agreement between the Lacks family and National Institute of Health or NIH. Students also had their questions answered on how the cells grow so rapidly outside of the body and the true wants of the family. In the closing of the class, I showed students my sample slide of HeLa cells obtained in the workshop previously described. Here is a picture:

I took this picture with an iPad through the lens of a microscope. (It takes a steady hand and practice!) The students were in awe that they were looking at the chromosomes from Henrietta Lacks. They were in the room 60 years later! Very cool! Definitely will repeat this lesson in future, hopefully with the lab itself allowing students to obtain and observe the cells as I did.