What Schools Say

Why the best schools use Science Bits

Mario Sánchez Macia
Mario Sánchez Macia

Central High School, Illinois, USA

Central High School in Champaign, Illinois, is a Grade 9 – 12 school with more than 1,500 students. It is home to the Champaign Maroons and part of the Champaign Unit 4 School District System.

Mario Sanchez, teaches Biology, Chemistry, and Physics to ESL (English as a Second Language) and multilingual students.

 So, can you tell us about you and your work in Central High School?

My name is Mario Sanchez. I’m originally from Spain and this is my second year teaching at Central High School, Champaign, Illinois. I’ve taught science for more than a decade, and before starting in Central High School, I taught science in Spain for more than eight years.

I came to Central as part of the Visiting International Teacher program. I teach Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. My students are mainly ESL and multilingual learners from Central and South America. We have students from Guatemala, Mexico, and Honduras, but we can have students from anywhere.

That’s interesting. So, are many of your ESL students native Spanish speakers?

Yes and no. Some of my students are typical ESL students. While students from Honduras or Mexico are native Spanish speakers, students from Guatemala speak Kiche,’ one of more than 20 Mayan dialects. Spanish is actually a second language for them.

It’s very challenging for all ESL students. It’s a privilege but also a big leap to come to the United States. They are in a different country, in a different educational system. Students have difficult economic and personal circumstances; they want to learn but have many challenges.

One of the features I love in Science Bits is switching languages. My lessons are bilingual, in English mainly, but also in Spanish. When I see them struggle, I can switch fast to Spanish: the limited text in English, in Spanish, and the great visuals really help my students understand.

Can you explain what Kiche’ is?

Kiche’ is what most students from Guatemala speak. There’s also Q’eqchi’ and another 20 dialects. This is one of the reasons it is so challenging: Spanish is not their native language, they are learning science and everything in school at the same time as they learn English.

Another thing I really like about Science Bits is that it includes everything we need for class. It’s well organised, fully prepared, and very easy to use. I don’t need to make copies, I don’t need to create worksheets: it’s all there prepared for me and my students, and it’s in English and Spanish.

Students have great activities that are graded automatically. There are loads of videos and lab simulations, so we don’t need to look at anything else. I can focus on supporting my students and my peace of mind is their peace of mind; there are no handouts to lose, it’s all there in one place.

With Science Bits, we work through activities together and do lab simulations. They’re intuitive, very well designed, and the students can try multiple times. It gives them more opportunities to learn and understand. They can learn and do labs 24/7/365 not just in my class: it really helps them.

One thing I insist on, like most science teachers, is that my students must have a science notebook. I’ll ask to see it from time to time. And this is the only thing they need to bring to class. So, in a very real sense, Science Bits helps make everything simpler!

How many students do you have in your classes?

On average, around 20 students. In some of the classes we can have 25 students, but there are also classes with 15 students.

You’ve used Science Bits over two years. How do students respond to it in class?

Firstly, it reinforces what they need to learn because the structure of the lessons gives a little bit of knowledge and then tests their understanding through activities. I can then see in the Grade Book if they understood and track who got it or if someone needs more help.

So, we work through the lessons, with time for the activities that are included and test their understanding as we go. One thing I have seen is that they have become more confident, more resilient; they can check their own understanding with Science Bits. They don’t get lost!

This is really important—they don’t get lost because they can very simply go back a step and work out that they were missing something and try again. It’s well scaffolded and supports student learning. Even if they miss class, they can still keep up and they can catch up. I can tell them what they missed.

My students often have economic challenges; as well as school, and learning English, many also have to work… They have to miss school to go to work. Or maybe they worked the night before. They don’t have easy lives, but they are determined to learn and improve, and Science Bits really helps.

The platform is so well structured, they can find what they missed, see the work they need to do and come back to class without issues. The organisation is so logical that they can’t get lost and they quickly work out that they’re able and responsible for their learning: I’m there to help.

When students are absent, do you follow up with them about what you did in class?

Yes, we use an LMS called Classroom, and I use that when I need to communicate with students. The way it works is that our students are enrolled in Classroom and we connect from that into Science Bits, there’s no passwords, it just works. Very easy!

That’s good to hear. Do you have any funny stories from class to share?

Many, many stories, but not all may be apt for sharing! Once, we were talking about living things: some students insisted their computer was alive. That was kind of funny, if you think about it—we all say things like my phone is dead, my computer just died. We do!
So, from that moment on, I made a rule that they weren’t allowed EVER to say that my phone is dead, my computer has died. It had to be clear that they were not living and could not live! It was one of those funny moments only teachers live and you suddenly see how your students see the world!

It was also very rewarding. They can be very shy, insecure, and I’ve seen them grow over the past couple of years. I really admire ALL of my students, they have tough lives, their situation is not ideal and they have a lot to overcome. It makes me happy that we can laugh about things like that.

How do you motivate them, do you have any special methods you can share?

I focus on building our relationship. I share my situation. I show I understand but, most of all, I show interest and that I care. It means the world to them. I’m also an immigrant and even though my circumstances are different and better, my daughters are also learning English.

I show I understand, I care and will support them. Sometimes, they just need a little empathy, some recognition that they have to work very hard. They don’t have it easy, and sometimes they need a little encouragement. That’s perfectly normal.

It’s not just about being a teacher; it’s about preparing students, being an educator. Helping them learn how they can learn and to improve. It’s also about being a carer, maybe they won’t use science, but with Science Bits I’m teaching them critical thinking, better communication skills, and science!

In many cases, no one has ever asked them EVER what they think or why something happens. Often, when we do something new in Engage or Explore lessons, they are really surprised, amazed and intrigued. It’s very rewarding to see them suddenly start the process of asking themselves, ‘Why?’

Something that they never even thought about becomes very interesting?

It’s very engaging and well thought out! With Science Bits, I can grab their attention and challenge them to find answers. The simulations of different situations make them think, question, is that right? Was what I thought before right or not? It makes them think and learn.

Do you also do physical lab work in your science classes?

We can do and one of my improvements for the next school year would be to add some physical labs once we’ve completed and understood the lab sims. The virtual labs means students know what to do in the physical labs and can get more value, so we’ll do that from next year.

Would you ever go back to teaching with a physical textbook?

That, for me, would be a step back. With Science Bits, everything is much more organised and structured to help students learn. There’s less paper and it includes everything. A textbook can’t do the things Science Bits does, like the videos, simulations, and switching languages.

I prefer Science Bits because it’s flexible: I can edit all the units, I can create my own units. I can even create my own assessments using the question bank. As a teacher, as a student, you are supported with Science Bits and teaching and learning is more intuitive than a textbook: it’s prepared for you.

To be honest, Science Bits is harder for students than a textbook. It’s more challenging, but their learning is deeper and much better. They don’t learn facts; they learn skills. It also prepares students for doing research, investigating, reporting, defending positions. They advance and they know it!

I’m proud of my students: they inspire me. They have challenges and want to overcome them. They know, if they work, I am there for them. I want them to succeed! I want them to be successful in class and in life. I want them to have more opportunities to live better, to learn better, and progress.