Getting ready: ISNs and Mystery Cubes

As the back to school sections at various stores suggest, the next school year is waving hello already. I haven’t moved along anywhere near as far along in my preparations for my second year as I would like but I can at least say I’m doing something worthwhile.

I’ll be using Interactive Science Notebooks this year. However, the ISNs are part of the reason my planning is only inching along. That’s not all bad, though. Putting together a proper ISN unit takes careful thought, especially since ISNs all about inquiry nearly every day. And despite desperate searching, I’ve had trouble finding any good ISN examples that could guide me through how a unit should look. That had me stalled for quite a while. The book I’ve been using as a guide, Teaching Science With Interactive Notebooks by Kellie Marcarelli, is great except for the lack of a unit example. There are lots of examples of various types of pages and sections and there are wonderful day-by-day instructions, but no “this is how a whole unit would look like” example, which had me frustrated. The provided instructions tended to be vague, which was probably on purpose so that teachers could simply plug in their subject matter material. But as a new teacher I had a lot of trouble visualizing how my biology material would fit. I finally took a few tries at running a mock nature of science unit in a practice ISN and I think I finally got the hang of it. Hopefully, I can pick up the pace planning future units.

I was disappointed in my overall instruction last year. Granted, it was a survive-my-first-year marathon but I think my students were cheated. I spent so many weekends scrambling to figure out how I was going to teach the curriculum the upcoming week. Everything was last minute. There were way too many direct instruction days and worksheets. There was barely any inquiry. My sincere hope is to completely flip that next year. Planning units in the ISN is forcing me to incorporate inquiry activities that build on one another throughout the unit and even throughout the year. It’s definitely challenging me during my planning. My hope is that there will be a big payoff once school starts!

20150720_092136-1One activity that I will be doing in the nature of science unit is Mystery Cubes. (Link goes to a pdf.) I spent part of Saturday afternoon printing, cutting, folding, and taping a classroom set. I did the Cubes last year, borrowing a set from another teacher. The lesson then was good and the students enjoyed it. But, due to my constant last minute planning, the lesson lacked a clear goal and I didn’t establish connections to the rest of the unit. It was isolated and an activity meant to occupy the students for a day. Not a good thing. Also, I struggled to get the students to take written notes about their observations one step at a time. I remember how the kids would give me blank looks when I told them to write things down and many of them just blew me off. That won’t happen next year, doggonit! The goal of the activity is for the students to observe patterns and develop a hypothesis about what the bottom of the cube has on it. Can you figure it out based on the picture?