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12 Practical Tips for New (and veteran) Science Teachers

Updated: Jun 14


A new science teacher visiting her classroom for the first time


Starting a career as a science teacher is both exciting and challenging. From mastering lab safety to engaging students in hands-on experiments, there's a lot to manage.


When I started my first teaching job straight out of university I was terrified. I had no idea what I was doing, or what to expect at my new school. Not to mention, I kept getting contradictory information from everyone I spoke to.


It goes without saying... I had a terrible first year.


But in the 10 years since, I have learned a lot.


To help you navigate your first year successfully, here I have compiled 12 practical tips (with actionable steps), to set you on the right path.



READ MORE FROM THE NEW TEACHER SERIES

Tip 1: Get Organized Early


One of the keys to a smooth start is getting organized before the school year begins.


An organized classroom not only helps you find what you need quickly but also sets a professional tone that students respect.


After my first chaotic year of teaching, I began using the weekend before school each subsequent year to label shelves, organize lab supplies, and set up a filing system for student work (though you may want to start a little earlier than the weekend before school).


Assignment and grades tracking sheets for new teachers

Consider using digital tools like Google Drive to keep lesson plans and student records accessible and well-organized. Or, if you're like me keep a binder with all your forms close at hand.


Check out this blog post for a list of the essential forms needed for you teacher binder.


Action Steps:

  • Create labeled storage for chemicals, glassware, and lab equipment.

  • Develop a system for tracking inventory and replenishing supplies.

  • Organize your digital files with folders for each class, topic, and assessment type.



the new science teacher checklist ebook


Tip 2: New Science Teachers Must Prioritize Safety


Safety in the science classroom is paramount. Ensuring that students understand and follow safety rules can prevent accidents and create a secure learning environment.


Thankfully I have never had an accident in any of my classes, however not ever teacher is so lucky.


Conduct a safety orientation, complete with a quiz and demonstrations on how to use the lab safety equipment and familiarize students with the lab safety symbols.


You may be tempted to bypass this under the assumption that students already know them, but I will urge you not to. Lab safety is one of the most important topics in science and the more you can review it the better.


You can make the activity more engaging by doing a Scavenger Hunt, playing Lab Safety Bingo to review safety Equipment and Hazard symbols or by playing Lab Safety Dominoes.


Lab Safety Dominoes for teaching lab Safety



Action Steps:

  • Create and enforce a safety contract that students and parents must sign.

  • Regularly review safety protocols and conduct drills.

  • Keep safety equipment, such as goggles, gloves, and first aid kits, readily available and in good condition.


Tip 3: Build a Support Network


Having a support network can make a significant difference in your teaching experience. Connecting with other teachers, both within your school and through professional organizations, provides a wealth of resources and advice.


In my second year I joined a local science teachers' online group and found a mentor who had been teaching for over 20 years.


Her insights into managing the curriculum and handling student behavior were invaluable. Additionally, attending meetings and workshops provided me with new ideas and techniques to try in my classroom.


Action Steps:

  • Network with colleagues at your school to share resources and support each other.

  • Join professional organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).

  • Participate in online forums and social media groups for science teachers.


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Tip 4: Engage Students with Hands-On Learning


Hands-on experiments are a cornerstone of science education. They make abstract concepts tangible and foster a sense of discovery and excitement among students.


One memorable experiment involved making slime to teach about polymers. The students were thrilled, and the hands-on activity helped them understand the concept in a way that a lecture never could. Their excitement was contagious, and even the most reluctant learners were engaged.


Action Steps:

  • Plan a variety of hands-on experiments that align with your curriculum.

  • Ensure all materials are prepared in advance to minimize downtime during class.

  • Encourage students to hypothesize, observe, and record their findings, promoting scientific thinking.


Tip 5: Develop Clear and Consistent Classroom Management Strategies


Establishing and maintaining classroom discipline is crucial for a productive learning environment. Consistent rules and consequences help students understand expectations and reduce disruptions.


In my first year, I struggled with a particularly disruptive class. I was young and they were seniors and they tested my patience at every opportunity. There were many tears shed and I really wanted to quit even before I started.

After the first term, I sat and had a discussion with my mentor, from the teachers group, about classroom management.


I implemented a clear set of rules and consequences, and I was consistent in enforcing them. The improvement was remarkable – students responded well to the structure, and the classroom atmosphere became much more conducive to learning.


Action Steps:

  • Set clear classroom rules and review them regularly with students.

  • Be consistent in enforcing rules and applying consequences.

  • Develop routines for common classroom activities to create a predictable and stable environment.


Tip 6: Incorporate Technology Effectively


Technology can enhance your teaching and make complex concepts more accessible. From simulations to interactive quizzes, the right tools can engage students and support their learning.


Consider using interactive workbooks and online simulation such as pHet Interactive Simulations to demonstrate chemical reactions that would be too dangerous too expensive or too time-consuming.


Students could manipulate variables and see the effects in real-time, which deepened their understanding of the concepts.


I enjoy using digital resources with my students where they are engaged in the learning process. Check out my collection of Digitial Resources in my Tpt Store.


Action Steps:

  • Explore educational technologies such as virtual labs, interactive whiteboards, and educational apps.

  • Integrate technology into your lesson plans where it can enhance understanding.

  • Ensure all students have access to the necessary technology and provide alternatives when needed.


Tip 7: Foster a Growth Mindset in Students


Encouraging a growth mindset helps students see challenges as opportunities to learn rather than insurmountable obstacles. This mindset fosters resilience and a love of learning.


My college students, especially those doing chemistry as part of the prehealth program to get into nursing usually have a difficult time as it is their first time encountering the course and for some it has been years since stepping into a classroom environment.


I try to encourage them by sharing stories of my past students who struggled and even failed a few times before succeeding and I always emphasize that mistakes are part of the learning process.


With this strategy, over time, you will notice your students' attitudes his attitude shift as they become more confident and comfortable making mistakes.


Action Steps:

  • Praise effort, not just results, and highlight the learning process.

  • Share examples of how persistence leads to success in science.

  • Encourage students to set personal learning goals and reflect on their progress.


Tip 8: Plan for Differentiated Instruction


Differentiated instruction is an approach that tailors teaching methods, resources, and activities to meet the diverse needs of all students.


By recognizing that students have varying backgrounds, readiness levels, learning styles, and interests, we can create a more inclusive and effective learning environment.


For example, In a mixed-ability class, you can different sets of problems tailored to varying skill levels.


Advanced students had more challenging problems that required deeper critical thinking, while others received support and resources to master the basics. This approach will keep all students engaged and learning effectively.


Action Steps:

  • Assess students’ prior knowledge and learning styles at the beginning of the year.

  • Provide varied resources and activities to cater to different learning needs.

  • Use flexible grouping so students can work with peers at similar levels or mixed groups for peer learning.


Tip 9: Use Formative Assessments to Guide Instruction


Formative assessments provide ongoing feedback that can inform your teaching and help you address students' needs promptly. They are crucial for guiding instruction and ensuring students' understanding.


using exit tickets for formative assessments

I regularly use exit tickets at the end of lessons. Students write down one thing they learned and one question they still have. This simple technique provided immediate feedback on what concepts needed further clarification and allowed me to adjust my teaching accordingly.



Action Steps

  • Incorporate a variety of formative assessment techniques such as quizzes, exit tickets, and think-pair-share activities.

  • Use the data from these assessments to identify areas where students struggle and need more support.

  • Adjust your lesson plans and instructional strategies based on assessment results.


The new science teacher checklist


Tip 10: Develop a System for Grading and Feedback

Consistent and timely feedback is crucial for student learning. Developing an efficient system for grading can help manage your workload and provide students with the feedback they need to improve their understanding and performance.


In my first year of teaching, I struggled with managing the grading workload, often feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of assignments and assessments to review.


As a result, students received feedback later than desired, and I found it challenging to provide detailed comments that would help them understand their mistakes and areas for improvement.


Recognizing the importance of timely and constructive feedback, I sought out strategies to streamline my grading process and enhance the quality of feedback provided to students.


Stay organized with these assessment and grade trackers.

Assignments and grade tracker editable templates

Action Steps:

Establish clear expectations with rubrics.

  • Utilize online tools for efficient grading.

  • Set deadlines for timely feedback.

  • Consider batch grading similar assignments.

  • Provide specific comments.

  • Offer one-on-one feedback sessions.

  • Encourage self-assessment and peer feedback.



Tip 11: Connect with Parents and Guardians

Building a strong partnership with parents and guardians is essential for supporting student learning and overall academic success. When teachers and parents work together, they can address any challenges that arise, celebrate achievements, and create a supportive learning environment both at home and in the classroom.



Action Steps

  • Communicate regularly through newsletters, emails, or class websites.

  • Schedule parent-teacher conferences to discuss student progress and concerns.

  • Offer volunteer opportunities for parents to get involved in classroom activities.

  • Host parent workshops to provide support and resources for supporting their child's learning.

  • Personalize communication to build positive relationships with parents.

  • Celebrate student achievements with parents to foster a sense of community.

  • Address academic or behavioral concerns collaboratively with parents.

  • Maintain open communication channels and actively listen to parents' feedback and concerns.


Tip 12: Reflect and Adapt Regularly


Reflection is a powerful tool for professional growth. Regularly reflecting on your teaching practices and being open to change can lead to continuous improvement.


After any particularly challenging semester (and I still have those over ten years later), I sit down and review my lesson plans, student feedback (from exit tickets and surveys, and assessment data. Often times I realize where improvements can be made such as the need for more interactive elements, and clearer instructions.


Action Steps:

  • Set aside time each week to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t.

  • Seek feedback from students, colleagues, and mentors to gain different perspectives.

  • Be willing to make changes and try new strategies to improve your teaching.


Conclusion


Navigating your first year as a science teacher can be overwhelming, but with the right strategies and support, it can also be incredibly rewarding.


Remember, every teacher has a unique journey, and it's okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Embrace the challenges, celebrate the successes, and enjoy the incredible experience of inspiring the next generation of scientists.


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The new science teacher checklist



What tips do you have for new science teachers? Share your experiences and advice in the comments below! And don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for more educational content and tips.



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