September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Teaching Tips for New Teachers: The Importance of Bell-to-Bell Instruction

Posted: Saturday, September 1st, 2012

by Amanda L. Smith

During your first few years of teaching, it’s easy to become preoccupied with mastering craft of content, discipline, and classroom management.  However, it’s also important to follow the best practice of using your class time as efficiently and effectively as possible. One teaching method that may be used to accomplish this is called “bell-to-bell” instruction. You might think that this means having students participate in one particular task or activity for an entire class period.  This is a common misconception, partially due to the name “bell-to-bell” instruction itself, but also because teachers may be more focused on getting through all their content in the duration allotted rather than thinking globally about overall classroom learning objectives and management.

Although I’ve spent seven of my nine years in education teaching middle and high school science, I still find myself altering my instruction each school year around this idea of time management.  The main concept underlying the “bell-to-bell” approach is learning how to properly allocate your daily classroom minutes.  This can be used in both the elementary and secondary classroom but will vary dramatically with individual classroom needs, so I will provide some basic examples and ideas for your classroom, and you can alter them as needed for your specific grade level and subject.

One of the first ways to break up your instructional minutes is to examine the age of your students (e.g. mine are typically 12- and 13-years old).  Accordingly, in my own classroom I don’t remain on any one topic, activity, or teacher-led discussion longer than 12-13 minutes. Likewise, a kindergarten teacher may want his/her students to do a particular task for no longer than about 5 minutes, and a high school teacher may have up to 15-20 minutes before students lose interest.  As you may well have already discovered, if you try to cram in more than your students can handle they’ll likely shut down. This leads to a waste of precious classroom instruction time, rather than gaining progress towards the standards and learning objectives for the day or week.

Another factor is how well your students handle transitions between activities. These might include going from one activity to the next within a single class period, moving from class to class in secondary settings, or from the classroom to recess or lunch.  This will take practice not only for the students, but the teacher as well. My personal rule is to spend a good amount of time within the first two weeks of school setting clear expectations and practicing transitions with the students, which will ultimately make the rest of your school year much smoother for everyone.  For example, I have my students practice lining up in the hallway outside the classroom door, and then come in and sit down quietly.  As soon as they master this, I show them how to submit homework items into the basket as they enter, then sit down quietly.  You can continue to work on building these procedures for morning activities, such as going to the carpet to do the daily calendar, or washing their hands before they go out to lunch.  The more they practice simple procedures and transitions, the better their classroom behavior will be, which frees up valuable time to be used with more effectively.

Once classroom transitions are well in hand, there are additional layers you can add to maximize teaching and learning. Instead of having the students sit and wait for you to take the daily attendance and lunch count, you can ask them to discuss or write about a prompt on the board, work on a math problem, think about a science current event, or even answer a question about what was covered in class previously.  These daily questions can be part of your morning warm-up routine and can be graded or not, but either way can provide a great opportunity to share their ideas or just practice their writing skills at the same time you are finishing administrative duties like attendance. For example, if you ask students about something that was covered during an earlier class you can treat this as a warm-up for further discussion. Over the course of the semester you can also consider keeping their responses or artifacts in a composition notebook or binder as a portfolio demonstrating their progress.

An additional option for bell-to-bell implementation is to include the use of classroom jobs that are grade-level appropriate.  I find that my middle school students can easily be responsible for collecting homework, passing back graded worksheets, greeting guests, caring for classroom plants, picking up trash, etc. This approach not only creates less work for the teacher in the long run, but I find that it also fosters good student behavior when they perceive having a classroom job is a privilege.

Of course, the typical classroom day almost always also includes some type of teacher-led activity, instruction, or lesson.  As science teachers, we have the luxury of having a variety of resources in our “tool belts,” and one of my favorites is doing demonstrations followed by open discussions about the students’ observations.  Alternatively, teachers might have the students take notes from a lecture, guide students through a chapter in the textbook, or play a review game for a history topic, etc.  No matter what the activity, it’s important to budget time appropriately for grade and age-level and as you’re leading the activity, to be mindful of adhering to your planned timing as much as possible. However, it’s also crucial to plan ahead for any unexpected daily disruptions that might arise.  These might include unplanned observations by Administrators, discipline issues with students, fire/earthquake/lockdown drills, changes in weather (my students love to stare at the rain falling outside the window for some reason!), or technology problems.  You should always have a backup lesson plan just in case these distractions arise, as they can drastically alter and hinder your ability to keep your students on track with your daily teaching minutes.  If you work hard on your classroom management and discipline plan early on, these distractions will be less of an issue as time goes on.  The important part is to be flexible and to be prepared to just take a step back to revise your game plan.

Bell-to-bell instruction is a critical part of your teaching strategy, and as long as you “keep your eye on the prize” (which for most of us is reaching proficiency on the state exams), you will maximize the chances for your students’ success!

Written by Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith is a science teacher at Wilder’s Preparatory Academy Charter School and a member of CSTA.

One Response

  1. I appreciate your thoughts on Bell-to-Bell.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.