My first year teaching 6th grade science I worked tirelessly attempting to create THE most perfect Powerpoint presentations for my class. I would spend so much time making them from scratch only to find that my students weren’t totally engaged during my lessons. I was creating an environment that wasn’t really conducive to retention of information and that was NOT going to work for me. I started to brainstorm ways I could teach my students information, engage them, include them in the conversation, and not bog them down… One thing to consider is the fact that our society today is SO HIGH PACED!!! Everything around our kids is BAM BOOM BANG! Try watching a cartoon that is popular today vs. a cartoon from the 90’s… (I actually tried this for real and I was AMAZED!) The difference in the pace is crazy!! I had to keep this in mind when creating my new strategy…
Side note: I feel like I need to say right here that I am by no means a professional or have everything figured out. I am constantly trying new things, reevaluating, reflecting, and learning. I also want you to know that I taught this lesson on Tuesday and I had kids complaining about taking notes (eye roll.) I had kids that didn’t want to color. I had kids not participating. It definitely was not flawless, but what is?? I feel like too many times we see stuff on Instagram and it looks perfect, but IRL it’s soooo not!
Alright! Let’s dive into the good stuff!
The textbooks I have are like 12 years old. (Oklahoma, what can I say) With science being ever-changing, I made the choice to not use the textbook in my class, but to keep it available as a resource. So it’s never an option for me to assign my students to read the chapter and answer the questions. (The reason I disliked science so much when I was in middle school.) This makes my work a little more difficult, because I have to use multiple different resources, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Some different ways that I collect information for lessons is from different websites, articles, current events, NASA, and books like this one!
I take notes on the topic I need to teach and then chunk that information into what I like to call “digestible bits”. Kids can only process so much information at one time (especially middle school kids! It’s like they have attention spans the size of a gnat!)
Side note: They also need repetition! When I was student teaching, my mentor teacher said that you needed to expose a concept 42 different times to your students before it can really sink in. I couldn’t find evidence to back this up, but I do think that repetition is beneficial. We repeat a lot of stuff in my classroom. Sometimes I’ll have them say a sentence and have someone make a beat and have a little jam session.
Once I have the information into my digestible bits, I organize it onto a piece of paper with drawings and color. This is just a way to take notes that is fun, colorful, and relatable. I always give my students the option to design their own layout! Some kids like their information bulleted- that is totally fine with me! They just have to use color (Color is proven to help memory.) and draw a few little doodles that go with the text. In my opinion, this makes note taking so much more fun!
Here are some examples of some other mind maps…
This was the order of events of my class on Tuesday…
Bell Ringer Question — “If you cut a piece of paper in half over and over, how many times would you have to cut to get it to the size of an atom?” Students work on this right as they sit down. After I take attendance we discuss. I pulled out a piece of paper and cut it in half and had my students count with me. I could only cut 13 times. I had them share their answers and I told them that it would take about 31 cuts to reach the size of an atom. They had a lot of questions about this. We talked about them and googled some questions on the iPad where my iPad leader shared their findings.
This led right into the meat and potatoes….
I had students close their notebooks, nothing in their hands so that they’re fully engaged. (because middle school…) I wrote the first fact on the board and we discussed, repeated, related to something they know, and I explained details. This is how I do it through all the information.
My first two classes I wrote each fact as a class. My last two classes are a bit more chatty and need constant eyes on them, so I left the information on the board and pointed to it as we discussed. Either way works well!
After we’re done discussing, I have the students create their own version of the mind map on the board into their Interactive Notebook.
The day after, I usually follow up with an article that relates to the topic, a hands-on activity, a group project- something that helps solidify the information that they learned.
I really love using this method to teach science! I think it could be adapted to any subject or grade. If you have any questions please email me. I would love to help! If you try this out please let me know how it goes and what you think!