Yellowstone Virtual Field Trip with Skype

This fall my 7th grade students have been studying planet science, specifically geology and plate motion. We have discussed how the channels on Mars were formed, did they form from water or lava? As our studies continue, we’re investigating geology on Earth, thinking about the connections between fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate motion.

Yellowstone Ranger Brian

Yellowstone Ranger Brian was awesome!

Last week we had the opportunity to chat via Skype with Yellowstone Park Rangers about the geology of our first national park. My three 7th grade earth science classes were fortunate enough to chat with and learn from a different Yellowstone Ranger for each class. During our chats my students took digital ink notes in OneNote, focusing on important points the Rangers talked about regarding Yellowstone’s history, geology, wildlife, and ecology. Sometimes it is easy to forget how effortlessly technology can bring our world closer. Each Ranger talked to just us, our chat was not a prerecorded video, and were essentially our own personal tour guides for the Park. They shared how the geology and ecology of Yellowstone are interconnected and we learned how the wolves in Yellowstone help to maintain the ecological balance of wildlife and plant life throughout the seasons. We discovered that Yellowstone is really a very large volcano and that geothermal vents provide the evidence of the magma chamber underneath. My students asked questions, lots of questions, and our Rangers answered each and every one.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am reminded how thankful I am for our classroom technology, my students who want to learn, our Ranger tour guides who share their knowledge, and the forward-thinking visionaries who preserved the treasure of Yellowstone as a national park. My gratitude is plentiful.

As a teacher, I am delighted to share how easy it was to set up our Virtual Field Trip through Skype in the Classroom using the Microsoft Educator Community. I requested three sessions and the Rangers very quickly emailed to confirm times and asked me the desired focus of our chats. I am looking forward to future Skypes in the Classroom; I have already requested chats with other scientists and we have been invited to a “Mystery Skype” with students in Asia. I can’t wait for my students to learn with and from others all over the world.

Mobile Skype Station

A mobile Skype station makes it easy


Mindshift, Embrace, Imagine – Flipgrid

Classroom Mindshift

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the educational shifts happening in our classrooms, reflecting on how to foster the growth we want to see in our students. Although sometimes “old school” still has its merits, old school style classrooms should truly be a thing of the past. I was recently listening to the Mindshift podcast– Be the Change You Want to See, where the teachers were flipping how student work is evaluated. In this podcast, students were an integral part of driving what they were learning in their integrated English class. They were also front and center in evaluating their own work, reflecting and rating the quality of their work. My focus in this blog is not about evaluating student work, but rather the shift in our classrooms to foster student academic understanding, and later their reflection and review of their work.

Embracing the New

While preparing for a Microsoft Education TweetMeet about STEM topics, I had a conversation with a few innovative thinkers, the types who seek to embrace the new. Feeling inspired, I was left with two key ideas:

  1. You don’t have to be an expert, but you do need to be willing to try something new
  2. If you’re a little freaked out to do something new but also excited to try, then you’re good to go

Listening to their stories, I learned about their perspective and the challenges they have overcome. As I think about our students, I also realize they have stories to share, perspectives that can help us to understand their thinking and point of view. These two key ideas apply to all of us, students and teachers alike. If we update our classroom modes of teaching, it can freak us out, it is new. For our students, it is comfortable to be passive learners, and it is scary if the classroom style changes. If we’re willing to be the change, we change how we become an expert and this is exciting.

Igniting Imagination

As educators, we must be willing to embrace the new, shift our mindset to foster student conversations and reflection about the quality of their work and hence their own understanding. As we change our classrooms to fit a more modern style of education, it will look different, it will be noisier and more chaotic. This “new school” classroom is more reflective of the future world our students will be entering. If we want our students to embrace innovative ideas we must provide a venue for students to try, to fail, to try again, ask questions, and ultimately learn. We must ignite imagination, both as teachers and students. We need to reimagine our classroom teaching style as well as helping our students ignite their own imagination to be their own learners. As teachers, we can facilitate, monitor, and jump in with direct instruction, when needed, to help our students understand content, as it is applicable to the learning. We also need to support our students to become their own best teacher.

Innovative Ideas and Conversations

My 6th graders recently finished a fantastic egg experiment, where they learned how water passes through the cell membrane. They initially observed how vinegar dissolves the egg-shell, and then how the egg changed size when placed in a container of different liquids. Students recorded their observations and posted egg “selfies” in OneNote over a course of a week. In class, we discussed and asked questions about what they observed. After the experiment, I provided direct instruction about diffusion and osmosis, to better explain what they observed happening with their egg. The overall goal of the experiment is for my students to apply their new-found observational knowledge to understanding human body systems. The egg experiment is a bit “old school,” as they followed directions and observed what happen. The change will come when my students begin applying what they observed in another scientific context. The exciting (and sometimes scary) part comes in when my students share their observations and experimental questions in a Flipgrid conversation. Utilizing new technology to reflect and explain their understanding in a video response is the first step in becoming a confident science student. While we may not become experts, and we don’t have to (yet), we just need students willing to learn and share what they learned with others. Sharing the learning often leads to questions with innovative ideas. We want the willingness to try innovative ideas.Flipgrid Egg Exp

Next Steps

As I reflect on my more noisier and wonderfully chaotic science classroom, I think “how can I apply what I have learned and become the change I want to see?” Flipgrid is one tool, of many, that allows for this change to begin, a change in conversation of me talking about the science to my students talking about the science they learned. Part of the change might be for educators to listen more and let students do more of the talking.

Cape Leader Roles

Trying something new this week, harnessing the power of purple capes to motivate leadership roles in my science classes. Since I teach middle school, I have a bit of latitude to be silly and hence make use of a super hero themes. The idea is to utilize a purple OneNote cape to designate student “Cape Leader” status. I instructed each lab group to nominate a team leader who could help with technology and learning questions. I told them to nominate someone who could help lead discussions, at their lab table, about our science topic for the class period. And if they nominated more than one individual who met the qualifications, then they would need to solve it scientifically. They asked “how?” I answered with the only reasonable decision maker solution known, by rock, paper, scissors, of course. Once newly elected, the Cape Leaders garnered the coveted purple cape. To set expectations, we discussed the leadership responsibility that comes with the cape. We talked about how the group can also help support their Cape Leader as well, that leadership is a two-way street. We also discussed the safety considerations about wearing a cape and acknowledged the wisdom of Edna Mode, from the Incredibles, about flying too close to jet engines. We agreed we would stay inside the classroom to alleviate this risk.Call Super Hero

The first trial of Cape Leaders was a success, the last class of the day agreed they wanted to continue the opportunity to nominate a new cadre of Cape Leaders next week. It was obvious watching the faces and animated conversations that students were having fun having caped leaders in class, but I also watched how many of the Cape Leaders embrace the leadership role. In our 6th grade class, the Cape Leaders were the team leaders who received clarifying instructions about the cellular metabolism whole classroom model. These leaders helped their group members understand how the molecules would need to move to the various body systems to demonstrate a functioning healthy body. In 7th grade, the Cape Leaders assisted leading group members with a vocabulary review. They led their team to discuss how geology terms could be broken down so an elementary student could understand how to use the academic science word in context with their plate boundary map analysis work.purple capes.jpg

Teaching middle school science is not always about teaching science content. Sometimes teaching science means providing opportunities for students to practice leadership skills, even if its cloaked in a cape. Science in the classroom is also about making scientific thinking visible to others, sharing ideas, revising ideas, and demonstrating how to understand a scientific process. I don’t think we would want to have Cape Leaders every day, but if well timed, the power of the purple cape portends potential for prevailing positive effects.

Summer Travel Reflections

Dad-Daughter Time

After I graduated from college, my Dad offered an opportunity to take a road trip with him. He wanted to drive down to Pensacola, FL. He was in the navy and he wanted to share a bit of his memory lane with me. It was an opportunity that I cherish, we had a great time playing in the surf along the gulf barrier island, learning about NASA in Huntsville, AL, ending with a morning sky view at the top of the Arch in St. Louis. It was a fun and relaxing time with my Dad.

Mom-Son Time

Fast forwarding to the present and a travel opportunity with my son. Since my school year begins at the same time his college year begins, it is not feasible for me to have the traditional weeping mother, drop kid off at college moment. So, my son and I decided to take a road trip after his college “New Scot” orientation day.

We opted for a trip to the UP, or the Upper Peninsula for non-Michiganders. The state of Michigan is a mitten and the top of the mitten is northern Michigan or “up north”. The UP is different, it is the upper peninsula of the mitten and it is truly a unique place. As a kid, I grew up sailing around the Great Lakes. Since we were road tripping it, there were a few places I wanted to revisit, places I wanted to see by land this time. And so off we trekked.

Small towns and Alma College

The starting point of our journey was Alma College, which is in the small town of Alma in the central part of the mitten and is my and my husband’s alma mater. It is flat farm country. Upon our arrival, it was hot, humid, and wonderfully feeling of college home. Since we live in the Pacific Northwest, or PNW, we don’t have a lot of bugs or humidity. It’s something we don’t advertise much. On the other hand, Michigan has a lot of both – bugs and humidity. The day before his college orientation, we shopped for dorm stuff. We organized everything, wrote it down on a list to remember later, and finally stored all his new stuff. Predictably the humidity was high, it was a “welcome to Michigan” day!

Later that night, we drank a bottle of Vernors (local pop from Detroit), sprayed ourselves with “Off” bug repellant, and sat down to watch a full orchestral performance of lightning bugs. The cicadas had quieted from their daily opera, but in their place the crickets chirped an evening serenade.

The next day was his official college orientation. I did the parent tour stuff, he did the student pre-college stuff, it was a good day. We were walked around campus, toured various buildings and dorms, talked tuition and student life, and met the coaches. Of course, we also bought out the bookstore with a variety of required collegiate clothing options.

Up to the Bridge and Sault Ste. Marie

The next morning, we ventured north and crossed the Mackinac Bridge and headed up the “Soo.” As a kid I sailed under the Bridge a few times, but I always wondered what it would be like to drive on the Bridge. The view was spectacular, it was certainly a bird’s eye view of the water! Sault Ste. Marie has shipping locks, an engineering feat that allows the big Freighters to move from Lake Huron to Lake Superior or vice versa. We watched a few “boats” go through, walked through the visitor’s center, and were amazed at the complex structures that utilize the simplicity of gravity to move water.

Paradise, Whitefish Point & Lake Superior

Whitefish point on Lake Superior is known as the “Graveyard of Ships” as more ships have been lost here than in any other part of the lake. There is a long fetch of water to the point of land which narrows the waterway towards the Soo. Most Michiganders know of a famous wreck off this point, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. It vanished to the freezing depths in a November storm years ago. The museum at Whitefish Point also told the heroic stories of the rugged individuals who manned the Lifesaving Stations. I always knew about the lighthouse keepers, but I didn’t know there were “life savers” too. These men were the ones who would rescue those who shipwrecked along the shores. They truly risked life and limb to save the survivors of the wrecks. We were stunned to learn about their grit, determination, and strength of soul.

The northern waters of the Great Lakes have an almost “tropical” color ranging from deep blue depths to turquoise in the shallows. The shore is composed of fine amber grains that make the sand hot in the sun and flow easily through the toes. While we stood on the beach, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing whitecaps, making for cool wind and hot sand. We found ourselves scouring the beach to find colorful and interesting patterns on rocks made of granite, basalt, gabbro, and gneiss.

Pictured Rocks to Marquette

The following day, we traveled to see the Pictured Rocks national park lakeshore. The road was a slow, meandering drive through “covered bridges” of green leaves and high rock cliffs of color. The Painted Rocks shoreline appears as if it was painted with a brush of wide strokes of water color paint. Along the park we periodically stopped to walk to discover water falls that lead to rocky shores. We’d pick up flat rocks to practice skipping them. Sometimes it was the simple joys of getting the rock to skip multiple times that heightened the feeling of a successful morning.

We agreed it was obvious the best way to see the colored cliffs would be by boat, but that would have to wait until another trip. We wrapped up the day landing in Marquette, a former Iron Ore town and now a university town. As we walked the downtown streets, after a lovely whitefish dinner, we talked about colleges, sisters, and friends. It is kind of cool when you can have the opportunity to just have a good conversation with your kid.

Fayette to Escanaba 

As a kid, my family sailed around the southern side of the UP. One summer we found ourselves weathered in at the old ghost town of Fayette in Little Bay de Noc. Fayette was a company town, built solely due to its proximity to timber to make pig iron. The UP is rich in iron ore but the cost to transport was prohibitive. The Jackson Mining company built a town to smelt iron ore. This “pig iron” was more economical to move across the waterway to access the railways. The town was in operation for a little over 20 years, but closed when it was no longer useful. The cool thing about Fayette is that is essentially hasn’t changed. The state park service has done a nice job of making the old town historically informative but not touristy. After Fayette, we drove back around to Big Bay de Noc to Escanaba. At dinner, we watched the dark storm clouds roll in and, although I expected to see lightning and a downpour, we were treated to a light misty rain. Rain over water has a calming effect, flattening out the white caps. I remember Escanaba fondly, years ago it was finally our next day’s sail after being weathered in at Fayette. We had the opportunity to get groceries, do some laundry, take a shower, and then we walked to the downtown movie theatre. It was a welcomed return to civilization. This trip, we enjoyed listening in on the local camaraderie as we dined, a warm window into a slice of humanity.

Back to the Bridge 

The next morning, we packed up to travel back to the lower peninsula, treated with beautiful sunshine and lakeshore views along the way. We decided to pop into Petoskey, near the pinky of the mitten. Again, as a kid, my family used to keep our boat in Petoskey. It is a tourist town for sure, on the bottom of Little Traverse Bay. Petoskey is known for the state stone, a long ago marine coral fossil.

Return to Alma

My son requested that we make one more stop at his future place of residence for the next four years. One thing about a small college is the ease of assistance. We asked if there was availability to stay overnight in the alumni house, and of course, there was. We meandered the campus again, confirming buildings and locations, and pondering what he would need to bring in a few weeks.

Travel Reflections

After traveling a few days, we realized we had a few routines. I was up and ready by 7am, then I had to raise the Kraken himself by 8:30am to take advantage of the breakfast bar at the hotel. We also realized Cliff Bars were sufficient as a travel lunch break. Dinners, on the other hand, were an excellent opportunity to discover good local food spots. We enjoyed our dinners a great deal. Road trip travel provides opportunities to have conversations about life, family, college, music, and silly stuff in between. We both enjoyed the long stretches of Michigan highway, windows down, accompanied by a myriad of bug splats, no traffic, music playlists playing. Occasionally, we lost connectivity which helped us to remember (or learn for some) map reading skills. I was pleasantly reminded of Michigan chatty talk and friendliness. My kids often tell me I can talk to anyone and it was nice to be back among my peeps who the do the same. It was fun to look at basic geology and geographic changes as we drove. We compared Midwest flora and fauna to PNW flora and fauna, or more succinctly pine trees to evergreens. Lastly, we again skipped rocks on the shore.

Back to PNW

All travels have a story, and our travels presented us a 1,500-mile canvas of landscapes and shorelines. Michigan will always be home for me, and the Great Lakes hold very cherished memories of family summer sailing. The PNW will always be his home and hopefully he will have his own cherished memories of summertime with family. For this trip, I am happy to return “home” and I’m glad my son has had the opportunity to explore the water wonderland of Michigan, his new college home.

ISTE ’17 Reflections – behind the scenes

I just attended, and presented, at my first International Society for Technology in Education conference, or ISTE for short, in San Antonio.  It was a Texas-sized conference with a ginormous amount of educational technology connections, learning opportunities, and inspiration. Because educators are passionate people, when we all gather in one place to celebrate learning we also inspire others to do more. It was an intensely energizing experience.

Now that it is done, it is time to decompress, unwind, and reflect on all the learning and all I have to share. My ponderings of ISTE begin with the following;

  • Presenting and what I learned about confidence, trial, and error
  • Conferences are a confluence of being hungry, having to pee, and google maps, while pressing through it all to learn
  • Being in tune with the mantra of “My Tribe” and “Teachers are wizards and ISTE is Hogwarts”

Ready for ISTE!

Sunday Teach Meet

One of the cool things about being part of an educator network is learning about opportunities to both present and learn. One such opportunity was the “Teach Meet” on pre-conference Sunday. It was set up in a relaxed format of 2, 7, and 20-minute teacher-driven presentations on a variety of topics. All were informative, insightful, and relevant. It felt like a teacher learning oasis before the all-encompassing chaotic din of professional learning.

ISTE Teach Meet

I presented my science classes’ work with “Cubes in Space” in a 2-minute spot and it was amazing. I could share what the “Cubes” program is and how my students have a participated this past year. It was an awesome ISTE icebreaker for me.

Later, when I sat in the audience, I picked up some cool tech tips and tools, all low pressure and teacher-tested and applicable to me. I was encouraged to “tell our story” as a school with social media, because if we don’t, who will? I heard about the ed-tech classroom goodness of Flipgrid and Lifeliqe, both of which I have used in my classroom this year, confirming how awesome these tools are with students. In addition, I met some good “table neighbor” teachers from Ohio to California and in our short chats we all shared the same passion and excitement to learn more so as to help our students learn more. I will most definitely consider adding future Teach Meets to any future conference agendas.

Microsoft Partner App Facebook Live

Since my colleague and I were presenting Class Policy, a Microsoft partner application, we were invited to participate in a Facebook Live interview with Anthony Salcito, VP of Worldwide Education at Microsoft. It was fascinating to watch the preparation and planning necessary to highlight a variety of applications including Ohbot, Lego Robotics, Class Policy, and Lifeliqe, among others. Truthfully, it was a bit stressful to be on “live,” especially when the network feed dropped and we needed to record our interview a second time. Overall, it was an honor to be on the Expo floor discussing Class Policy, an absolutely indispensable 1 to 1 device classroom management technology tool.


Chatting about Class Policy with Anthony Salcito

Microsoft Education Partner App Live

Connected Classroom poster session

In every conference, there are a variety of methods to disseminate information. At ISTE we were fortunate to have a poster session for our “Connected Classroom” presentation on the benefits of being connected with both Microsoft Teams and Class Policy. My colleague, Tamara Traux, and I divided and conquered the two tools, presenting and answering a myriad of questions from grateful teachers and administrators from all over the country. Some needed to know the basics of using OneNote and others needed to pick our brains about how best to maximize Teams to promote class collaboration and conversations. Meanwhile, others wanted to understand how best to manage students being on task with Class Policy and facilitating within a 1 to 1 device environment. It was an intense 2 hours of talking, but I absolutely loved the real-time interactions of sharing classroom technology.

ISTE Resources – Connected Classroom

Hack the Classroom

Microsoft Education hosted an online event to showcase a variety of the latest technology in the classroom where short “ignite” style presentations on topics such as Minecraft Education, Code Builder, and Paint 3D were streamed live. Participating as a live audience was pretty cool. Again, I find the behind the scenes fascinating, but realizing how truly authentic, caring, and empowering these educators are to their students was awe-inspiring. I loved Cathy Cheo-Isaacs’ authentic talk about using Minecraft Education and Code Builder with younger students to help build their understanding of computational thinking. I giggled with her obvious love of Hello Kitty and using the code builder agent to quickly build within a student Minecraft world. I was also inspired by Paul Kercal, the creator and artist behind Paint 3D. To build a tool that allows a student to visualize, think and create in 3 dimensions is mind boggling. He said it well, when he said, “I stepped back and let students be brilliant.” That is the essence of a master teacher, especially one teaching with technology.

Hack the Classroom Live

1 in 3 ISTE session

In this “listen and learn” session, teachers sharing their best technology integration moments in a quick 3 minutes, my colleague, Tamara Truax, was inspired to share her student’s journey project. She promoted the idea that they could and should amplify their family’s migration stories. Tamara shared how teachers can help students amplify their voices through technology. I was proud to be the support system to help amplify this teacher’s voice to encourage other teachers to do the same for their students’ voices.


 Finally, it was the connections at ISTE that made ISTE so valuable. Conferences are an excellent opportunity to foster a professional network as there so many passionate educators to share ideas and stories with and make those connections. I am fortunate to be part of an awesome educator network in the Microsoft Innovated Educator Experts or #MIEExperts. We use social media to stay connected regularly, but meeting in person and catching up is electrifying. We are extremely passionate about teaching, technology, and advancing student learning and voice and our conversations stem from wanting to hear about new teaching techniques, tools and tips. We are nerds, geeks, and wizards. The keynote by Jennie Magiera, chief innovation officer at Des Plaines Public Schools in Chicago, was spot-on when she said, “teachers are wizards and ISTE is Hogwarts.” A teacher’s PLC, or professional learning network, is their tribe, the people who get “it,” the passionate drive to promote what is best for student learning. They invigorate and energize us. We need them and ISTE is our gathering place. I am so glad I went and I look forward to returning in the future. ISTE was my Hogwarts and though I’m now on summer break, I am also so ready to return to school in the fall.

Connected Classroom – ISTE 2017

In a few weeks my colleague and I will traveling to San Antonio to present at ISTE.

We’re excited to share how we utilize classroom technology in a 2 hour poster session. We’ll share how OneNote, Microsoft Classroom (now Microsoft Teams for Education), and Class Policy helps to foster student collaboration and conversation.

Connected Classroom: Digital Conversations & Collaboration with Microsoft Classroom & Class Policy

Monday, June 26, 2:00-4:00 pm
HBGCC Tower View Lobby, Table 24

Cheryl McClure and  Tamara Truax
Learn how to utilize Microsoft Classroom and Class Policy to foster online student conversations, OneNote for lesson collaboration and connected assignments in Outlook. Suitable for those already familiar with OneNote but accessible to all as an introduction to the collective collaboration of a central digital space for connected learning.

ISTE sessionConnected Classroom



Cubes in Space – Year Two

What does magnetic putty, kinetic sand, aluminum, and carbon fiber have in common? These are all materials that will be tested on a NASA sounding rocket for Cubes in Space experiments.

For a second year in a row, my students have brainstormed, hypothesized, designed, and written proposals for experiments in 4×4 cm cubes. In our 7th grade science classes, we are primarily focused on earth and space science. We are fortunate to have an amateur astronomer who regularly visits our classroom to help us think beyond the classroom walls. This year we sent three science classes worth of “Cube” proposals for flight (test) consideration. We were excited to learn three cubes were selected for flight this summer.

International School Team Granted NASA Rocket Flight

Cubes in Space™ a program by idoodledu inc., in collaboration with NASA’s Langley Research Center, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and Colorado Space Grant Consortium, offers global design competitions for students 11-18 years of age to develop STEAM-based experiments for launch into space.

Used in formal or informal learning environments, students and educators are exposed to engaging online content and activities in preparation for the design and development of an experiment to be integrated into a small cube. Throughout the experience, students develop key 21st century skills; communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

Since 2014, Cubes in Space has flown nearly 400 experiments representing 1,500 educators and over 20,000 students from 57 different countries. This year nearly 600 educators and thousands of students from 39 countries participated and proposed experiments for a space on a NASA sounding rocket or high-altitude scientific balloon mission.  A total of 160 experiments were selected and were designed by students from Australia, Austria, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Mexico, Serbia, the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, and the United States of America.  

The experiments will be launched via sounding rocket in late June 2017 from NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia or by high-altitude scientific balloon in late summer 2017 from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico.

This year’s Cubes in Space experiments will be testing the extreme conditions and forces present in a sounding rocket on their materials. Students have taken note of their pre-flight material data and observations and they will be ready to analyze their materials once their cubes are returned in the fall. If asked, I suspect students will report the tricky part of their experiment was making sure the weight of the cube met the 64 grams (+/- 2 grams) requirement. The materials used in the cubes did not weigh very much, which meant they had to be creative about how to add ballast to their cube without affecting their experiment. Once the cubes were prepped with experimental materials, there were many smiles, high fives, and joyous laughter that the cubes measured within the acceptable weight range!

We are excited to mail our package of cubes to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. We are looking forward to the summer launch and our hypotheses will have to wait until this fall to be confirmed…or not.


Teacher in Space

More specifically, a Teacher Learning about Space Education 

Recently I was invited to a NASA & CASIS presentation about the International Space Station at the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, WA. As a science teacher, the nerd meter was off the charts, “What, me? Take an afternoon to listen about being in space? You bet!”

NASA and the International Space Station (ISS) exhibit have been on a “Destination Station” Northwest roadshow. The purpose of their presentation is to share the wealth of ISS information readily available and how companies and students can take advantage of ISS research opportunities. Small breakout Q&A sessions for the local STEM educator community provide time to talk and share. For me, the afternoon provided a list of NASA/ISS/CASIS connections for my curriculum next year. It was stated that the “possibilities are endless; the rewards could be outstanding,” and I couldn’t agree more.

CASIS, Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, is a non-profit manager of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, and its aim is to create public awareness of National Lab research by making space science more accessible to the world. The US Lab on ISS is currently conducting research and development from big companies to small schools, with their focus ranging from STEM to life science to physical science. The question is, “Why do research on ISS at all?” The answer is supremely simple, the US Lab on ISS is like no other lab on Earth. The vantage, perspective, and conditions are not constrained by gravity. Experiments can be tested in a micro-gravity environment, thereby providing excellent environmental controls or removing the limiting factor of gravity. In the extreme conditions of space, forces and fluids will be less constrained, fluids will take a spherical shape, there is no “up” or “down” and sedimentation and solidification are not determined by gravity. There is much to learn, test, discover, and invent in a home laboratory that is away from home.

Astronaut Mike Barratt spent 6 months on ISS and shared a day in the life of living on the Space Station, traveling in both Shuttle Discovery and Russian Soyuz. It was “Zero to 15,000 mph in 8 minutes 45 seconds for orbital velocity.”

The dominant factor of being on the ISS is weightlessness. Apparently it takes a bit of effort and time to coordinate moving around, from flying “superman style” to using hands to locomote. I was surprised to learn how big the Space Station is, particularly when you shift your thinking from a traditional “square footage” to a 3D or cubic footage view. All available space is utilized and there is no up or down. It is a funny idea (prank) that if a crew member was carefully guided to the middle of a compartment, ensuring they were not in motion and where they could not touch walls, then they would be stuck. In micro-gravity, Newton’s laws of motion (or lack of motion) are in affect.

Since Mike is also a medical doctor, he spoke of anthropometry, recycling urine to water, and various medical tests and blood draws. In space, the neutral body position is not straight and thus requires rethinking work and sleep stations. In space, the internal organs are not affected by gravity and thus their positions are changed. In space, toilets require directed airflow since there is no gravity…let that sink in. In space, bone and muscle mass will decrease unless astronauts exercise daily with countermeasures, since there is no gravity to lift or move your body’s own weight against.

Astronaut Mike Barratt

Astronaut Mike Barratt

As a science teacher, learning more about ISS meant learning there is a wealth of student opportunities for my science classroom. There is so much happening on the station that the challenge is narrowing down which lesson, research, or connection to utilize. To assist with this, I had the pleasure of meeting with Pete Hasbrook from the ISS Program Science Office to discuss NASA and ISS resources available to educators. I am excited to spend time organizing my curriculum to make room for these research opportunities for my students next year.

MS Edu NASA-ISS Pete and Cheryl Chat

ISS Chat with NASA’s Pete Hosbrook

For more information about NASA or ISS or CASIS in Education go to;





Living Life on the Beta Edge

This school year has been a preponderance of pilots and beta testing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a tech geek and I’m very appreciative of my forward-thinking school district. I am also extremely appreciative to have the freedom and flexibility to beta test new technology that may positively affect my students’ engagement in learning. This year, by my own choice or district curriculum options, I have been introducing, testing, or using a multitude of new tech or curriculum.

Curriculum Pilots

As a middle science teacher, I piloted and incorporated the following curriculum:

  • Project Guts – computer science in science
  • Amplify – middle school science curriculum
  • IQWEST – middle school science curriculum
  • Minecraft Education Edition – fostering student creativity & anything actually
  • PASTL – fostering students to think and process science visually in conversations

Technology Pilots

As a geeky tech teacher, I piloted and incorporated the following new educational technology:

  • Microsoft Classroom (will be changing to Microsoft Teams for Education)
  • OneNote – OneNote app compared to the 2016 OneNote desktop app
  • Lifeliqe – 3D models and augmented reality
  • FlipGrid – amplifying student voice captured within video responses
  • Slack – team group communications
  • Microsoft Paint 3D – making and modeling objects and art in 3D
  • Synergy – student information and gradebook application
  • Whiteboard Preview – whiteboard writing meets digital sharing technology

What did I learn?

What I learned is when educational curriculum and technology is chosen wisely, it can foster student creativity, amplify student voice, and streamline student collaboration. This is important; as our classrooms have changed, the demands and distractions on learning have changed. I believe students want to learn, but just like adults, they want the learning to be authentic and they want to have a voice in their learning.

What’s next?

We will be choosing curriculum companies that have integrated technology that easily navigates concepts, assessments, and simulations. For the traditional textbook based curriculum companies who are just transferring the text to an online format, please don’t bother… it is not worth our time. Piloting new curriculum and/or technology requires “beta” teachers to quickly assess how big the learning curve will be for both teachers and students. The more input the curriculum companies and/or technology companies listen to from teachers, the better. The demands of the classroom require an easy to figure out format for both curriculum and technology applications. Since we’re piloting new curriculum and new technology, we appreciate when our feedback is listened to. We appreciate when we see updates that reflect our feedback. We’re all wanting the same thing, we want an authentic learning platform and we want our voices to be heard in our learning.

*Stay tuned for follow up posts for specific details for piloted curriculum and/or technology

Fostering Project Collaborative Learning

My middle school science classes often just blow me away with their creativity and energy. To capture this, I strive to foster collaborative and creative projects. Specifically, this year, I have been setting up science projects that require students to productively function in teams, more specifically to shine within a team.

Project 1 – Step 1

For the first big group project, I offered students their choice of medium to create a weather “lesson.” Although there was choice in presentation, the group worked in a traditional project team. The students were excited to try out new tech for an audio-visual “Ted-Ed” style weather lesson, but without specific work to coach the soft skills of team collaboration, there were the usual pitfalls of who does what work, how much work, and whether the work was of good quality. The product of the “lessons” was amazing in the style and variety of creativity, but the downside was we didn’t work on improving how the team collaborative functions.

Project 2 – Step 2

The next big group project team experience gave us the reason for the next step in team collaboration a “Team Contract.” Students were to write a proposal for a small cube experiment to travel on a space flight. As students choose their teams, I asked them to review, discuss, and define their requirements to be a successfully functioning team. When we had group class time to work on our “Cubes in Space” projects, students referred to their Team Contract when a team member didn’t meet their work requirements. Students began to hone the essential skills of collaboration and communication that are so vital in our everyday world.

Project 3 – Step 3

Our current project, an Earth Safety Challenge PSA, takes all of the above and moves it beyond team collaboration to group creativity. Students initially completed background research on local earth science events such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. Students were grouped into 3 large “company” teams based on their research area. Their task is to create a company and assign the roles of research scientists, engineers, media specialists, and project managers. Their job is to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to inform the public about the science and safety of their assigned earth event. This project is majority student designed and managed. Students are using a variety of skills, research, technology, modeling, communication, collaboration, and creativity. I am so impressed with their level of positive engagement, motivation, and the direction of each company team to produce a creative and effective earth science PSA. Although I can’t wait to the see the final products, I am already extremely proud of the collaborative learning in which these students are engaged.

Lesson Details If you’re interested in the specifics of our Earth Safety Challenge Project, please see my lesson plans here: Earth Safety Challenge Project Lesson Plan

Lesson technology – for this project we utilized the following technology;

Since we are a 1:1 school (students are issued district laptops for the school year), we are comfortable with utilizing technology in our classroom. Class notes, agendas, and group project work is all conducted in OneNote. The final Earth Safety Challenge PSA will be posted in for other grade level science classes to review and offer feedback. We also use Class Policy to group team members and monitor technology on task time. Modeling in Minecraft is an awesome way for students to use their analytic thinking in a creative format to make a 3D model – of anything. Making use of student voice was easy with FlipGrid and Forms. FlipGrid offers accessible technology for students to video respond and reply, it is fun and informative. Forms provides an easy means to access or survey online, providing accessible data to share. My students are using a variety of tech tools to make their PSA presentations, including PowerPoint, Office Mix, Sway, and video, to be posted in class collections in If used appropriately, technology can enable and amplify student knowledge and voice on any project. Totally amazing collaboration.