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Get Your Science Students to Gobble Up Reading

girlreadAs science teachers, we all want our students to become lifelong learners. We want our curriculum to give them a better understanding of what is going on in the real world. One way I have tried to accomplish these goals is through a variety of reading techniques.  Teaching kids to read about science gives them a much needed skill they can use in the future.

But wait, this isn’t English class! How many science teachers (or math, or history, or anything other than English) have heard this from their students? Reading is not something that should be limited to one period a day. It certainly won’t be when they leave school! So here are three reading techniques that I use in my high school biology classroom to give students a better understanding of how science happens in real life. Once your students get used to them, the complaints will go away. Who knows, they might even enjoy your class more!

Technique #1 –Biology Reading Days

Preparation: I put together a list of books (both fiction and non-fiction) that have a strong tie to biology. I find a variety of topics at a range of difficulty levels. I also make sure that the books are available through our library system so that students can check them out.

Implementation: Once a week I give my students an entire class period to read their book. Students also have to complete a weekly reading slip to bring in some of the Common Core Standards. We also do group discussions towards the end of the semester. I love walking around the room and listening to my students have conversations about what they read!

Reading Recommendations: A few of our favorites from the list are “Peeps” by Scott Westerfield, “Your Inner Fish” by Neil Shubin, “Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers” by Mary Roach, and “Crashing Through” by Robert Kurson.

Technique #2 – Current Event Articles

Preparation: There are tons of great news articles out there. One of my favorite sources is the New York Times science section (if you haven’t checked it out yet, GO NOW… then come back to this blog, of course). I assign articles from there at least once a week.

Implementation: I have my students turn the article in with the important information highlighted and they write a one paragraph response (what they thought about what they read- NO summaries allowed). This shows them real world examples of what we are learning about in class.

Article Recommendations:

Technique #3 -Collaborative Reading

Preparation: One thing that always bothers me is that when I give my students questions to answer, they just skim through to find the answers instead of actually reading. I also find that they have trouble listening (which I’m sure is shocking). So here’s my solution: I take an article and spilt it into two parts, going paragraph by paragraph.

Implementation: The students take turns reading and have to answer questions about the sections that their partner reads. This means they have to LISTEN! Let me be honest, they hate this at first (“why can’t I just read the whole thing myself?”). But if they’re struggling, it means they have to actually apply themselves and WORK! It’s worth the time and effort it takes to plan it out.

Hopefully these ideas are useful for your classes. What techniques do you apply to improving science literacy?







Aubrey Mikos is a LifeSciTRC Community Member, Scholar, and Fellow. She teaches Biology and Anatomy and Physiology at Serena High School in Serena, IL.


Six Steps to Flipping Your Classroom

Ask any teacher what they need to improve student achievement, and you’ll likely hear, “MORE TIME!” Because this is precisely the answer I would have given, I decided to give the flipped classroom a try, and found that it enabled me to spend more time facilitating investigations and projects, and less time in direct teaching mode. This is my first year to flip my science classroom, so I am still reading articles and books and attending training to improve the technique, but I am very pleased with the extra time I have with my students since I started flipping.  My students now come to class ready to apply what they listened to and watched at home, which allows me to interact with them during the school day. This was my ultimate goal in flipping- to be able to build relationships with my middle school students while they were creating products and conducting experiments based on the information from the flipped assignment. I’m also able to quickly clear up any misconceptions they have as they are applying the knowledge.


Here are the 6 steps that I took to flip my science classroom:

Step 1: To get started, I read Flip Your Classroom by the flipping gurus, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, and attended training offered by my district.

Step 2: Next I created a website devoted only to the flipped classroom, and linked it to my district teacher web page. At our open house I showed parents the website which includes a section of FAQs along with the rationale behind flipping, which garnered much support.

Step 3:  It was important to find out how accessible technology was to my students so during the first week of school I gave a tech questionnaire as an exit slip, asking them to check what was available to them outside of school (Smart phone, Internet access, computer, iPad/tablet, and DVD player/gaming system with DVD player). I could burn a DVD for students if that was their only access, but that hasn’t been necessary.

Step 4: In the classroom, I created a laptop workstation for students who did not complete the assignment at home, which has been the biggest struggle in the whole process. Before they were able to engage in the hands-on activities, they had to complete the flipped assignment.  I’m very conscious of the fact that many of my students will not complete lengthy assignments, so I have tried to limit each flipped assignment to 5 minutes or less, including a short fill in activity for accountability. The purpose of flipping a classroom is to gain more time, so avoid spending time going over what the students were required to do at home, even if they didn’t do it! Before long they will realize that the flipped assignments are mandatory, and will have them completed when they enter the classroom.  The five minute video at home has given me an extra 15-20 minutes in class because I do not have time spent redirecting distractive behaviors or transitioning between activities.

Step 5: I have found that some very creative teachers have already made (and posted to YouTube and SchoolTube) some awesome videos that I posted to my site so I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. To do this, I downloaded Screen Cast-O-Matic. This software enables you to record what you are showing on your screen. For example, if I want to move the mouse and highlight something important on a website or presentation, it is recorded so that I can upload it to my webpage as a video.

Step 6: Be yourself! Your kids know you and your teaching style, so when creating your own video, don’t worry about it being perfect. Chances are the kids will pay more attention if there are a few “bloopers”!

I will continue to hone this technique because I have witnessed the benefits of flipping for me as a teacher, and for my students. Flipping has given me a huge advantage of spending time interacting and teaching kids as they are applying content, instead of teaching and hoping they “got it” so that they can complete assignments at home. Flipping is a win-win for my students and me.






Anne Joy has a Bachelor’s Degree in elementary education from Texas Tech University with a specialization in history and a Life/Earth science certification, grades 6-12. She has taught in Texas for over 10 years and has spent the last 8 years teaching 7th grade science. Anne has served as an APS Frontiers in Physiology Fellow and Mentor. To read more about Anne’s experience flipping a 7th grade science classroom, visit her website.