This post originally appeared on the blog Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy.
Want to walk a day in our shoes? Here’s what a day in the life of a Nerdy science teacher (aka Mel and Gerdy) looks like:
7:00 am: Arrive at school. Gather materials to be copied if needed. We loved raiding the copy machine for as long as we could each morning in order to get our copies made for the day, week, month, unit, and one time even for several months for maternity leave! Try “copy calisthenics” using the copier as a support device for squats and leg lifts. Complete lunges, jumping jacks and hallway races/stair races after flipping the page to copy the other side. If the machine is occupied, move this activity to planning, lunch, or after school.
7:30 am: Head to the classroom to get started on setting up the day’s lesson. Depending on the lesson, this could look like a raid on the lab closet, pulling our grab-and-go boxes for mini-labs, microscopes for a cell exploration, or a stack of dissection trays and tool kits, OR it could be as simple as hooking up a computer, projecting the warm-up and placing copies for the day in the appropriate day of the week drawer (you need one of these btw – you’ll never hand out papers again!) You’ll see why at 9:11…
8:50 am: Here they come… Drink coffee. A lot of it. Then get ready for the onslaught of students as they move to homeroom. Take attendance, prevent fights, make eye contact with other adults who get your pain of “herding cats” as students chit-chat before moving to their final destination.
9:10 am: Why is homeroom so long? Seriously? Does it REALLY take people 35 minutes to get from the lunchroom or bus to your door? Anyhow, the bell is ringing. Kids move to 1st period… and the day begins. Deep breaths. You got this…
9:11 am: Hall duty time. Get in the hallway. This is the bane of many a teacher’s existence EXCEPT… you’re the most amazing teacher ever, so hall duty is actually instructional time. As you stand in the hallway, start chanting to your incoming students…
“Grab a sheet…”
“Have a seat…”
“Get started on your work…”
Make it funky – clap your hands to it, do a little dance with it… just keep saying it over and over again. Start on day one, ’cause guess what? By the end of week two, those students will know exactly what they are supposed to do. That “days of the week” organizer you’re gonna buy? Yeah, you’ll use that. Students will walk in, open the appropriate day of the week drawer and grab what they need. If you have more than one sheet for the day’s activity, tell students to grab one of each. Trust us, the more responsible you make your students from day one, the more you’ll enjoy teaching.
BEGINNING OF CLASS (5-10 MINUTES): Ding ding – time to teach! Now that students are inside, have grabbed their work for the day, and are seated, what’s next? At this point, you should have your bellwork written or projected on the board and any supplies needed for the activity on their desks. This could be a simple question to get them thinking about the day’s topic, a puzzle or group activity, or instructions to get them started on something more complex, like a demonstration or an inquiry lab. Students should be given ample time to complete the activity, but not enough to finish and find something else off-task to get into. We typically had about 5 minutes for students to respond to the warm-up or complete the task, and an additional 2-5 minutes to go over results and clear-up any misconceptions. Ultimately, your intro to class should be completed within the first 5-10 minutes of class, depending on your lesson goal(s) for the day. During their work time, you can be circulating the room checking over homework from the prior night, as well as ensuring students are engaged in the warm-up activity.
DISCUSSION/NOTES/DIRECTIONS (20 MINUTES): Lesson meat. Your intro should segue into your lesson somehow, whether it’s covering new notes, going over a project, or starting a lab.
If you’re covering new notes, begin by talking about how the bellwork got them thinking about the day’s topic – lead into the important information and have students discuss, write, participate, whatever your mode of delivering information. We used a lot of fill-in-the-blank notes and graphic organizers because we felt that students spent more time asking clarifying questions and engaging with the material than if they had to write every. single. word. we said.
If you’re working on a project, chat about instructions, supplies needed, deadlines, etc. We would project those details onto our board, mostly for students that needed additional modification or visual support, but also to ensure all students were listening and understanding expectations for their assignment. Have students decide on a topic, form groups, or begin research. You can circulate and assist where needed.
If you’re ready to get your hands dirty with a lab, start with some pre-lab questions, establishing a hypothesis, or determining the variables for the day’s experiment. Go over lab instructions and/or equipment, safety procedures, have students get into groups, and detail out who will be doing what during their exploration.
ACTIVITY/LAB (15 MINUTES): Let’s get busy. Class discussions and lectures in our class always had some form of activity embedded within the lesson. We found the more students engaged with the material, the more information they retained and could analyze. For example, if we were completing a lesson on the respiratory system, we would complete our warm-up, any notes and diagrams, and then follow it up with a mini-lab that demonstrated lung capacity. Students would learn about the respiratory system, how lungs work and what organs were involved, and then relate it to real-life experiences that ultimately link to how lung capacity is affected by health and environmental changes.
To save on time and experimental mishaps, for labs with any sort of time trial, we led the class as a group. If we had a difficult-to-see specimen, we projected it on the board using a digital microscope or embedded slide in our PowerPoint. If we had an experiment that was hit or miss, we did it as a demonstration with the class. We tried to make sure we allowed tons of room for inquiry within the time constraints of our schedule.
WRAP-UP (10 MINUTES): Check. In the last 10 to 15 minutes of classes that involved notes, labs or mini-labs, we spent our time going over results, conclusion questions, clearing up misconceptions, and wrapping up the lesson with an exit ticket. Again, if time was short, we’d do lab questions as a group and discuss them. For us, it was more about having the students understanding the material, than to try to go home and complete things on their own, only to get the questions and analyses wrong and then never revisit their answers.
10:05ish am – 4:05 pm: Repeat from 9:10 am through 10:05 am for as many classes as you have in your rotation. Throw lunch in there somewhere. Bake some cookies in the toaster over in your lab closet during planning. Taunt kids with said warm chocolate chip cookies, telling them you have no idea why your room smells like the Keebler elves were hanging out in there. Keep drinking coffee – Gerdy drinks hers cold. Or if you’re more like Mel, you’ll have multiple types of drinks, including that coffee, some water, an orange juice, and a Capri Sun a student gave you. You’ve made it through the entire day.
Except, wait… DANG IT. You have a PD right after school in the auditorium.
4:20 pm – 5:30 pm: PD. You pretty much already know all of this stuff. We’re hungry. Are you hungry? Those flamin’ hot Cheetos your fave student in 4th period gave to you are definitely NOT helping your hanger.
5:30 pm: Go home. Enjoy your family, your friends, your fur-babies. That’s what we learned to do. It’s hard to be a teacher — the expectations are high to do ALL the things, but it’s also important to take care of yourself. So while we had an excellent time teaching, we found ways throughout the day to connect with our colleagues, squeeze in a bit of healthy exercise, bake a few cookies, and breathe. Take care of you…
…and happy teaching!
Melissa (Mel) and Gretchen (Gerdy) are a dynamic pair of very “nerdy” secondary life science teachers who have a true passion for curriculum design. Armed with degrees in Education and Biology, they enjoy creating adaptable and engaging science lessons for diverse learners that grab students’ attention and get them excited about the natural world. Their passion led them to becoming TpT Teacher-Authors and opening their store, Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy, in 2012, where they love helping teachers focus on their students rather than on lesson planning. You can check out all of their goings-on at their blog, Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy.