Mr. Uchio’s Biology Lesson

I recently observed a student centered, hands on learning lesson in Mr. Uchio’s Biology class.  The students were dissecting pigs in groups at their lab tables.  They had to identify the various organs and take them out and identify them.  This was a very lively class.  The students were able to take the organs out of the pig and identify each organ with much discussion among the various members at each lab table.  The groups methodically worked through taking out each organ, placing the organ on a paper towel and writing the name of the organ on the towel next to the organ.  I observed one group that was looking on line at a college website about dissecting pigs.  These students were able to use this information to more easily identify the organs correctly.

Click the links below to check out how engaged these students are in this biology investigation. Way to go!

Ed Behrens, SMHS Principal

Pig Dissection 1 (video)

Pig Dissection 2 (video)



Book Review: Teach Like a Champion

Cover of "Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techn...

Cover via Amazon

Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov is an excellent resource for teachers. As the Introduction points out, it is a book that is full of ‘specific, concrete, actionable techniques’. It is not a book that focuses on theory or lofty ideas for what education should be. It is a book of techniques to help teachers make their classroom more efficient, engage their students more, and help make learning more visible to students and teacher. As the author himself admits, these techniques are not necessarily groundbreaking or innovative, which is part of the beauty of the book.

The techniques are placed into chapters based on whether they are; related to setting high expectations, planning that ensures academic achievement, structuring and delivering lessons, engaging students, creating a strong classroom culture, setting and maintaining high behavioral expectations, building character and trust, improving pacing, and challenging students to think critically. The structure of the book allows for teachers to pick and choose techniques to improve specific aspects of their teaching. The publishers also include a DVD of the 49 techniques in action that is handy for visual learners.

I have successfully implemented several of these techniques in my own classroom. “No Opt Out” is an example. The technique involves a situation where a student answers ‘I don’t know’, an altogether too familiar refrain heard by many teachers. The technique involves soliciting the correct answer from another student, then returning to the original student for the answer. This simple step requires that the original student is still responsible for the information. They may not simply ‘opt out’. Another technique that our school has embraced is the ‘Do Now’ activity. The idea is that there is an activity on the board for the students to begin immediately upon entering the classroom. This is an easy and effective way to help utilize the entire instruction period.

There are many other activities within the book that any teacher could benefit from implementing. I recommend this book to any teacher, whether they are just beginning their career or are a seasoned professional.”

-Dare Holdren, SMHS Social Studies Teacher

Book Review of The First Days of School by Harry Wong

– Submitted by Mary Lindenstein, San Marcos High School English teacher

The very readable book The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry Wong caused me to rethink the way I introduce students to my class and my expectations during the very crucial first week of school each year.  These are a few of the important steps Dr. Wong advocates taking during the first week of school:

  • Always have a “Do Now” activity listed on your board for students to immediately begin upon entering the classroom.  This should be a 5 to 10 minute activity and should be clearly described on your board.  Dr. Wong states that “Your first priority when the class starts is to get the students to work” (Wong 123), not to take attendance.
  • Have a PowerPoint presentation set up on the first day to lead students through your classroom procedures.  A procedure is the way you do things in your classroom, from entering and exiting the classroom, to having a pencil sharpened, to passing in papers, to what to do about being tardy. Furthermore, procedures must be practiced until they become a routine.  Dr. Wong says, “PROCEDURES are used to have an efficient and orderly classroom so that learning can take place.”  Procedures do not include discipline plans, which are necessary but separate from classroom management procedures.
  • Dr. Wong’s chapters on Lesson Mastery are also very useful, from “How to Create an Effective Assignment,” to “How to Enhance Student Learning.”  Dr. Wong is clear about the importance of having lesson objectives posted on the board for both students and teacher.

This book is a must-read not only for first-time teachers, but also for veterans who need a shot of energy and new ideas for their  teaching.  This is a very  “do-able” book written in a clear, understandable manner.  Inspiring!

Lara Willbanks’ students using our new iPad cart

Lara Willbanks’ economics class is using SMHS’ new iPad cart and the AppleTV to display the students’ graphs on the class HDTV. The mirroring capabilities of the iPad allow teachers and students to show what is on their individual iPad screens so that the whole class can see. It’s a great way to allow students to share their ideas visually with others. No more transparencies or even document cameras to show student work. Students can create their artifacts on the iPad, present them to the class, then “turn in” the artifacts via Google Docs, Dropbox or email.

See for yourself Ms. Willbanks and her students using the iPads. Click the photo to see a short video clip of the lesson. Great job Lara.

Come to the library if you’d like to learn more about the iPad cart and how to use it with your students.

Related articles

TED-Ed: Lessons Worth Sharing

If you are a follower of the amazing lectures found at, you know the quality of the speakers and the innovative ideas they have to share about a wide range of topics. If you’ve never watched a Ted Talk, spend some time browsing the selection of videos. You’re sure to find a topic of interest.

Now Ted Talks introduced TED Ed, which are especially selected for teachers and students. What a fantastic resource to bring into your classroom to help broaden your students’ (and our own) perspectives of issues of high relevance.

How have you used TED Talks with your students?

TED (conference)

TED (conference) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marzano’s Levels of Understanding – Student Self-Evaluation Sheet – Google Docs

Ed Behrens, principal of San Marcos High School, came across this great assessment tool to use with students. It comes from PLN – Not Just My Initials blog.

I think it is a nice way for teachers to have their students self-assess their understanding of a learning objective, concept or skill. I like the visual that goes along with the written description of each level.

What are ways you can see using this with your students? Leave a comment.

Marzano’s Levels of Understanding – Student Self-Evaluation Sheet – Google Docs.

The potential of 1-to-1 iPads in instruction

Earlier this week, Dovas Zaunius (SMHS English teacher) shared a link he found on the blog about 1-to-1 iPad initiatives. The post describes how the teachers of a middle school are beginning to incorporate iPads into instruction, where each student has an iPad for use during the class period.

There are great descriptions of free and paid iPad apps and how teachers used the apps throughout their lessons.

The post helped me to visualize how students and teachers can use iPads to engage further into content and how the workflow of sharing what the students create with the teacher.

Thanks for sharing the link, Dovas.

Do you have ideas of how to encourage more teachers to utilize iPads in their instruction? Please share in the comments.