Spring into Easy Grading

Is it research paper time again? The time of the year when all we math teachers congratulate ourselves for our subject choice as we witness the drowning of our ELA colleagues in mounds of papers to grade. There are definite perks to teaching mathematics, but grading can be difficult to keep up with in any subject. eady gradingHere’s what every experienced teacher knows: A little proactive thinking and work can make grading student practice a lot easier. We each have our tricks. (I would love to hear yours.) Here are two from my arsenal:

VersaTiles — These handy dandy answer cases married with a specially designed practice sheet make grading effortless. Just flip and peek to see if the correct design is made. While ETA Hand2Mind sells workbooks, design your own Versatile worksheet for versatility. 🙂 The down side: VersaTile cases are somewhat costly, although there is a cheaper mini version. Go treasure hunting! At my second school, I found a full set of these amazing cases collecting dust in the Math storage closet.

Encode with a message — In regard to student practice in any subject, do you ever provide students with a bank of answers? Multiple choice questions, a set of dominoes, matching questions — all of these lend themselves to easy grading if you abcd einoadd a little coding to the answers. For example, this multiple choice question’s labeling has been changed from A B C D to E I N O. The entire worksheet’s answers in order spell “Anterior.” Letters in the corner of the cards of a complex data displays matching activity frees me to have rich content conversations with the students because they clue me into whether or not students are making the right connections. (I learned that the hard way on that activity!) Warning: Some students excel at unscrambling letters. “Happy Halloween” is out of the question; that is way too obvious. How about “nefarious” or “labyrinth” (or “nefarious labyrinth”). Why does it even have to be a real word as long as it is easy to remember and I can see at a glance the correctness of the answers? Remember the message is not actually for the students, but the teacher — the purpose quick grading.


AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.

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Spring into Science Writing

writingWith common core, we are more and more commonly being asked to integrate writing in science classes. This sounds much more intimidating than it is. There are a lot of ways to integrate writing in science classes, or across curriculum. Here are a few ideas:

  1. We can easily think of ways to address non-fiction (lab reports, research projects) in science (or social studies). This is commonly done, and can be expanded upon. To be more successful, consider explicitly teaching students skills for successful writing, and possibly giving sentence frames or scaffolds to students who struggle.
  2. Poetry or songs: Students can demonstrate their knowledge through creation of a poem or song. I have done this with the water cycle (my life as a water droplet, as a drop of water goes through the water cycle), or with macromolecules (what type of food is it found in, when does it get eaten, what does it get used for in the body after it is eaten?) Students really get into it, and they undoubtedly remember better when they create a rap or poem! Students can also sing songs or create a song to remember formulas. My 8th grade math teacher had a song for the quadratic formula, and to this day that’s how I remember it! Students love creating these songs themselves!
  3. Persuasive writing: Science and Social Studies, and even math can lend themselves to controversial topics, particularly in application. Current news events, natural disasters, historical events, microfinancing, taxes, and loans, are just a few examples. Think outside of the box into where adults apply these topics, and would be discussing them at a dinner or conference. This is breeding ground for your students to choose a position and write about it. Students can write a short, very scaffolded position where they choose a position, supply evidence, and write a conclusion (maybe with a handout to help scaffold it).  This can be done in several quick ways at the end of a lesson, through the use of a variety of exit tickets.  Alternatively, students can write a full length paper on a topic, with the inclusion of content facts.persuasive writingI have had students write on whether people should rebuild or move after a natural disaster, the use of stem cells, informed consent, several environmental topics, etc. Students really get into it, and it gives them a chance to process what they are learning in a different way, and see the relevancy and importance of it. I use this persuasive writing guide to help steer their writing (for higher students) or to create a guide (for lower students).

I’d love to hear your ideas of how you integrate different types of writing into your class!


profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.

Spring into Song!

I’ve been teaching Inclusion Biology for the past 8 years. The collaborative model my school uses pairs a subject-area teacher together with a special education teacher in a diverse class composed of as many as 28 students. It has been challenging to teach principles of Biology to our students because they have such a wide range of needs and abilities. I’m always looking for new ideas, new techniques, and new strategies for differentiating our instruction, both in academic strengths and in learning styles. This video inspired me to use more music in our classroom. This is a short rough cut clip from the documentary film Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory. The film describes the effect of music therapy used with elderly dementia patients. Henry listens to the music of his youth – music that reaches a part of his brain (a part of his soul, perhaps) that is otherwise out of reach. And what might be the most amazing thing about this therapy is that its effect endures long after the music is turned off. Henry becomes animated, responsive, and active. His face lights up as he recalls his love of Cab Calloway – he sings lyrics he may not have heard in decades.

I started to look for more songs to incorporate into my classroom, so that I could reach into otherwise inaccessible parts of my students’ brains. I found several that I now use regularly. Sometimes the songs are silly, and at times the students groan, but I know that I’m reaching part of their brains that will help them to store the information they learn, and teaching them a useful technique to help them recall that information.

There are countless ways you can use music in your own classroom. I like these short animated songs for science topics, but you can use more “serious” or timely music to appeal to your students and access more of their brain resources!

  • ESL students can be introduced to American culture, stories, and patriotism or can practice reading and pronouncing words in repetitive lyrics.
  • English teachers can use popular lyrics in place of poems or grammar and spelling exercises.
  • History teachers can reinforce the feeling of a time period or the meaning of a historical event using period music.
  • Even math teachers can use music in class. Study what makes a tune catchy by analyzing the beat and patterns used in a favorite song.

Challenge yourself to use a song in your classroom at least once before the year is over. You might be surprised at how much you and your students enjoy it.


blog buttonTerri Lester has taught Biology in New York for more than 20 years, and is the teacher-author for Strawberry Shake (store and blog).