Category Archives: Resources

IEP’s – Read them for an effective school year

Many general education teachers and new science teachers are being asked to teach special education students without support.  This is why I am here, to help, give tips tricks and support those who are given the difficult (but not impossible) task of teaching this diverse population of students the subject we all love.

As a science teacher, it is difficult to be on familiar terms with and understand which parts of the IEP are most important.  An IEP can be a very overwhelming document to read and dissect.  An IEP is the Individualized Education Plan that each special education student has.  No two documents are the same as no two students are the same.  The IEP became uniform in New York State 4 years ago.  This has made it much easier for students to go from school to school and the document is readily available.  Each part of the IEP is important, nevertheless some I have found to be more important in the teaching of science.

The first part of the IEP to give special attention to is the Academic Achievement, Functional Performance and Learning Characteristics often known as the (PLEPS).  This part of the IEP informs the teacher of the student’s academic strengths and weaknesses.  This part of the document will inform the teacher if the student has reading, vocabulary, mathematical or any other academic difficulties.  This is often where I find if the student can read independently or needs to be read to.

The next section to take a glance at is the Social Development section.  Due to the lab environment in many of our science classrooms it is important to discern how these students behave in social settings.  Many times, this section will let you know if the student is able or unable to work in cooperative learning groups. Below this section is the Physical Development section, which needs to be read to determine if the student requires any modifications in the lab setting.  Below Physical Development is the Management Needs section.  The section that important for the general education teacher are the Program Modifications that are located further in the IEP.

For the science teacher, the most important section to read and understand is the Supplementary Aids/Services and Program Modifications section of the IEP.  This section informs the educator what modifications the student needs on a daily, weekly or as needed basis.  Often this section explains if the student needs preferential seating, books on tape, copies of notes, refocusing and redirection, information broken into smaller parts, breaks, etc.  These modifications are imperative to the success of the student in the science classroom and the success of the student is dependent on receiving these modifications.   When on IEP direct, click the “Show details” and then the exact reason for the modification or how the modification needs to be given is shown.  This is a huge help in meeting the needs of students with disabilities because each one has their own set of needs and modifications.  What “special seating arrangements” means for one student may be different for another.  

Lastly, the section most general education teachers are familiar with is the Testing Accommodations section of the IEP.  This section explains what accommodations the student is entitled to for quizzes, tests and state assessments.  The IEP will explain how the accommodations should be given; for the example of “Extended time”, in the column “implementation recommendations” it will say 1.5X or 2.0X or Double time.  As the school year gets underway and you learn about your students if you feel that they are in need of another accommodation, do not hesitate to discuss it with the special education teacher, guidance counselor or school psychologist.  The input of the general education teacher is necessary for the success of the child and the coherent writing of an IEP.

All parts of the IEP are important to the success of each student and should be read and followed through.  For the science teacher and meeting the needs of the diverse population these I have highlighted are in my opinion the most important to help make the job a little easier and assist the students who already struggle.   If there is a part of the IEP that you do not understand, ask questions and inquire about the student.  As a special education science teacher it is always refreshing to have the general education teachers ask questions about their students, it shows you care and want to help them in any way that is possible.  Good Luck with the new school year! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Live the Science, Don’t Just Teach the Science

Over the years I have realized that there is more to teaching science than just sitting in a classroom.  We should live it.  The environment of Long Island has so much to offer.  There is something for each one of our disciplines, and all we have to do is look to our waters.  As a Professional Association of Diving Instructor (PADI) Dive instructor, I have been teaching students about the wonders of diving.   Being an AP Physics 2, Physics, Chemistry, and Living Environment teacher brings so much more to this activity.

My uncle Billy was an avid scuba diver.  I remember him telling me stories of all his diving adventures from around Long Island.   Because of him, I joined the diving club, Aquanuts, at the Hampton Dive Shop.  There I learned about so many other possible diving adventures to go on locally.  Often people think that scuba diving off of Long Island isn’t very good because visibility isn’t very good, but I learned that when you know where and when to dive there is so much to see and do.

As a first year AP Physics 2 teacher a lot of things dawned on me.   The unit I teach on fluids in AP physics 2 includes everything I teach in my “open water diver” and specialties of diving classes.  Once this realization hit me, I started applying many of the concepts of diving to AP physics 2.   Many of the demonstrations and discovery activities I use in the classroom where inspired by diving.  For example, my students calculate the amount of air required to generate buoyant force to lift things off the floor, they calculate the volume of a sealed bottle at different depths, and the students develop ideas about air consumption at depths.  Because of this, all summer I have been trying to develop labs where students can go on a field trip to the Dive Shop to test and discover these principles.   I want the students to learn from real life action in the pool.   I want the students to model the phenomena and discover and explain what is happening.

Educators should explore their curiosity and try something new.   Find a dive shop and experience what you teach.   The more you experience the better you will become as an educator.   For example last year I dove the Oregon wreck.  On March 14, 1886, the Oregon collided with another ship and sank to the bottom of around 100-foot depth just off the coast of Fire Island.   She was the fastest ship of her day using sails and steam engine.   Before the dive, I was told that all that was left was a three story high steam engine and boilers.   I did not think there would be much to see.   During my plunge into the Atlantic, the steam engine came into sight in all of her majesty.   Then I spent the next 3o minutes or so lost in all of the biology and wonders hidden in all of the nooks and crannies.  I was getting lost in the science and thinking of the history and people who were on that ship that fateful day.

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Another dive was of the USS San Diego.  On July 19, 1918, the Sand Diego was sunk by German Submarine U- 156 just south of Fire Island and was the only major ship lost during WW1.   She sits upside down on a sandy bottom at about 100-foot depth.  The dive was awesome and visibility was about 40 feet.   This ship has been underwater for about a 100 years and my curiosity got the best of me once again.   The holes that Mother Nature put in her gave me great areas to look inside and see the life of that now calls her home.

Shipwreck USS San Diego

Wrecks are not the only things to see locally when diving.  The Ponqugue Bridge provides a beach dive that offers so much ecology and goes a max of 30-foot depth.  Right at Shinnecock inlet, you can spend 40 minutes underwater and your wonder and amazement will grow.  Just to see how all of the creatures interact and how they hide and even the human impact of the environment and the symbiotic relationship that exist between humans and sea life.  The two bridges offer a home to the sea life.   They are attracted there for the food source and protection they offer.   Including the utility cable that lies on the floor of the canal.   You will find more and more hiding places for sea life.   The more I dive the site the more I find.

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Some of the fun is investigating the areas that you are going to explore.  There is so much history just sitting there on the sea floor.   I try to learn about the history before I dive the location.   I do this to pre plan my activity for safety, but also to learn where a ship had been, what people were on that ship and how that ship came to meet the sea floor.   If I did not dive our local stores I would never know of the German Submarines, artificial reefs and other ships that went down for various reasons.   It is so interesting to learn about the history and to compare the original diagrams of the ship to what they look like now.

What I am trying to say is that it’s great to venture out of the classroom not just in field trips but rejuvenate our love of the subject.   Try something new each summer vacation to get out of your comfort zone to feel more alive.  The more you learn and experience and the more ways you will have to provide the information to the students.  For more information please email me and if you have any ideas for labs you would like to see developed.   Also if you would like to set up an experience or get your certification please let me know.


Looking for Some Phenomenal Phenomena & Ideas on Designing Assessments?

Here are a couple of databanks of NGSS-related phenomena that teachers from various regions of the country have put together. If you find some more, feel free to include those links in the comment section!

Georgia Science Teachers Association: GSE Phenomena Bank

San Diego Schools: #ProjectPhenomena

TJ McKenna: Phenomena for NGSS

EDUConsulting: NGSS Phenomena Resources

With the phenomena, come the assessments. Check out the NGSS Task Formats to see some ideas on how to develop NGSS-style assessments.

Tips on Teaching Astronomy

An image of the 8.21.17 eclipse, taken by the author of this post.

The smartphone operating system will dictate which apps you use. However, many of the apps are similar, so they can be used the same way. Having the students load a sky map of some sort, will allow most of the kids not to get bored if you do an observing session at night with limited telescopes. Better yet, include an app that detects the position of the International Space Station, and plan an observing night that coincides with a flyby of the ISS. Students and parents always marvel at the sight of it as it brightly passes overhead. Passing Iridium satellites can also be predicted and observed.

If I’m teaching astronomy, I always ask the students to load a program onto their laptops, it’s called Stellarium. Stellarium allows students to see their sky at night, for that date and time (or any date and time), and illustrate it many ways. It also shows other cultural constellations, not just western culture. Stellarium can be used for H.W. Assignments, teaching constellations, mythology, teaching star circles, and learning about deep space object classification systems. Another laptop program that’s free and is a great tool for showing our place in the universe is Where is M13? It is a program that maps out our galaxy, and most of the visible celestial objects in deep space that you might discuss. It is also useful for showing the structure of our galaxy.

Now telescopes, if you are considering purchasing equipment the first thing you should buy is a solar telescope. Meade is producing a low-cost solar telescope called the PST. If you are new to solar observing, you can easily see sunspots, prominences, and solar flares with these solar telescopes during the day! For night, skip the refractors, because good ones are a fortune, and cheap ones are good for the moon only. A planet will look like a small dot, and the planet will rotate away before a student has a chance to see. At night, diameter counts, and the cheapest way to get diameter is with reflecting or Newtonian style telescopes. A 10” or 12” reflecting telescope will not break the budget and is not too heavy to move. If you get an equivalent catadioptric, it’s a back breaker and very expensive. Used equipment can be found online, so if your district is willing to but that way, you can save money by shopping on Cloudy Trussed reflectors are a little cheaper than catadioptric but more expensive than Dobsonians (Newtonian version), however, they are easy to set up and are light. OK, you keep hearing me mention catadioptric. I’ll save this one for last, as they are expensive. I just saw new 9.25-inch listing for $3000.00. That is a starting point, they get more expensive. They are also heavy and delicate. The advantage is that most catadioptric are compact in length, are GoTO, and most have a GPS to do self-alignment. Having a big heavy mount is important for these instruments, otherwise they will vibrate and so will your object in the eyepiece will too.

Just a few more tricks, I use Google Earth and a solar system scaling Excel program (Google it) to create a scale model of the solar system if the sun has a 9” diameter. I usually will have the class on the athletic field to build the model. I like using solar system and constellation flash cards during lessons as a quick segue into lessons. Most of my students love Scale of the Universe, and I as a teacher love UNL Astronomy Simulations. Well, that’s it for now, enjoy the rest of the summer and don’t forget the August 21st solar eclipse!

Change is Blowing in the Wind

This past December the NYS Board of Regents approved the New York State Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS); STANYS was one of the lead partners in developing NYSSLS and the plan for implementation in New York.

STANYS’s Annual Conference held in Rochester spans three days with workshop opportunities over ten sessions, keynote speakers, exhibits, and field trips. The 122nd STANYS Annual Conference, November 4-6, 2017, will be the best place in New York State to find out what is going on in science education. The focus of the Conference will be on Science – Now in 3-D (Three Dimensional Learning) as teachers begin to prepare for the NYS Education Department’s implementation of the NYSSLS. What better place to learn about this new constructivist approach!

At the Annual Conference’s Exhibit you will have an opportunity to meet with company representatives and learn about their company’s:

  • Advancement of scientific products / technologies aligned with the NYSSLS
  • Impact on the environment
  • Educational programs/activities for K-12 science teachers and or students
  • Scholarships for high school to attend summer science workshops / research programs

We hope you will make every effort to attend this year’s Conference so you will be able to share the information you acquire with you colleagues.

Cool Tools: Loopy

Systems thinking is as important as it is hard.  As we look at the New York State Science Learning Standards, we see a clear role for systems thinking.  Systems and System Processes is one of the Cross-Cutting Concepts, and Developing and Using Models is a Science Practice.  It should be obvious to all of us that where we are going as a state is very much to system-land.

There are many ways that we can model system dynamics.  Many of us model systems in our classrooms whenever we engage in “simulations”, or other types of modeling activities.  And I’m sure most readers are well aware of the various interactive computational simulations that have been created for students to work with.  But there are not a whole lot of computational resources that allow students to construct relatively robust models of systems for their own investigation.  This is mostly because programming computers is relatively difficult. As such it’s not often tenable to train students in how to create a computational tool prior to having them use it.

Which is where Loopy comes in.  Loopy is a very simple systems dynamics modeling tool where anyone can create a system and then see how its dynamics affect the system.  No programming is required, and the tutorial should take anyone <5 minutes to be able to render a system of their own interest.

Here’s an example of Loopy at work in a simple food web model that I created for this article:

See?  Not that hard (also, I totally understand that it’s “not that good”).

Tools like Loopy can help give students opportunities to model systems, without the high cost of entry that usually accompanies computational model construction.