Science Learning

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 Docs.com 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 Docs.com. If used appropriately, technology can enable and amplify student knowledge and voice on any project. Totally amazing collaboration.

 

Focus Week: Making of Minecraft – Part 2

Minecraft Part 2 – The How

At International School we have a Focus Week every spring, a one week, one class, CTE (Career Technical Education) focused week of study. The intent is to foster the opportunity for students to have quality work experiences, develop strong relationships with adults, and to cultivate relationships with students outside of their usual social group and outside of the regular curriculum and classroom. This year I offered a middle school “Making of Minecraft” focus week.

The pitch for my Minecraft focus week was: “What does it take to build, develop, test, and market new features in Minecraft? Come participate in a behind the scenes week with the Microsoft Minecraft Education Team. Try your skills at developing, marketing, and pitching your idea for a feature in Minecraft to the makers of Minecraft at Microsoft.”

Coordinating a focus week is as challenging as it is rewarding. The logistics basically mean you must create and schedule a massive, one week long field trip with all the backend planning, paperwork, permission forms, and prepping that encompasses, all while teaching a regular classroom schedule. Once planned and the focus week arrives, you only have one focus and that is what you prepped for previously.

To simplify things, I created a new focus week “class” in Microsoft Classroom and in Class Policy. Classroom allowed me to easily have a class OneNote, an associated Outlook calendar, and to promote group conversations all in one space. Class Policy, on the other hand, is a one-to-one technology management tool. Class Policy allowed me to monitor, and if necessary, lock student screens to help “focus” our Minecraft learning tasks during our daily schedule.

This week, we made creative use of the Minecraft Education Edition. As an Office 365 school district running Windows 10 laptops, we are able to take advantage of the classroom collaboration features within Minecraft.Edu. Specifically, my students found it helpful that they could see their (real) names within their Minecraft worlds and that it was easy to join and work within the worlds we created for Focus Week. Additionally, I also made use of the Minecraft “Classroom Mode tool, which allowed me to check-in on the progress of our challenge builds. Classroom Mode provided me a glimpse of who was where, what world, and what were they were working on, whether it was in the challenge build or in the survival game.

Our Minecraft Education Lead, Meenoo Rami, and I utilized our Minecraft class OneNote to post the daily schedule, warm up prompts, brainstorm pages, and links to FlipGrid questions. Since our focus week was tech-based, it only made sense to utilize technology for ease of communication and collaboration. Being smart with tech was especially important to me since half of my Focus Week students were not in my regular science classes. Since we are an Office 365 district using Classroom and Class Policy, it was pretty easy to do and absolutely essential in getting schedules and permission forms out to students and parents!

As the week progressed and my students were preparing to share their ideas for new features, we created a Docs.com page to foster online sharing with the Minecraft Education Team. My students had two in-person opportunities to present their new feature “Design Ideas” and then later to also do a “Marketing Pitch.” Each student team was responsible for posting their Design Ideas and Marketing Pitches into Docs.com. The Minecraft Education Team members were excellent with their feedback, it was honest, targeted to middle school understanding, and futuristic with helping my student strive to improve. The skills my students learned and practiced were the real deal; they had to figure out how to concisely explain their ideas and they had to be ready when technology didn’t cooperate quickly or when someone forgot to update their presentation. We all learn from mistakes and feedback, and so did my students this week. It was a good week of teacher collaboration between Meenoo and me as well as student to student. It was truly amazing to see the ease of communication, the skill, and the cooperation that happened during our focused week of Minecraft.

 Interested in learning more?

Meenoo’s Focus Week in Review

Minecraft Education

Focus Week: Making of Minecraft – Part 1

Minecraft Part 1 – The What & The Why

At International School we have a Focus Week every spring, a one week, one class, CTE (Career Technical Education) focused week of study. The intent is to foster the opportunity for students to have quality work experiences, develop strong relationships with adults, and to cultivate relationships with students outside of their usual social group and outside of the regular curriculum and classroom. This year I offered a middle school “Making of Minecraft” focus week.

The pitch for my Minecraft focus week was: “What does it take to build, develop, test, and market new features in Minecraft? Come participate in a behind the scenes week with the Microsoft Minecraft Education Team. Try your skills at developing, marketing, and pitching your idea for a feature in Minecraft to the makers of Minecraft at Microsoft.”

Now, truth be told, the fact is my school is close to the Microsoft Minecraft offices and this made it easy to ask if they would be willing to lead Minecraft focus week. To my happy surprise they exuberantly said, “Yes, we’d love to!” The thing is, the Minecraft Education Team is comprised of an awesome group of engineers, developers, marketers, and former teachers, this team understands how to connect to education. I am also fortunate to know two amazing Minecraft Team members, Neal Manegold and Meenoo Rami, both former teachers who ironically told me they were excited to create lesson plans for the week. Neal was instrumental in coordinating initial logistics and Meenoo was our amazing Minecraft lead in the classroom.

Over the course of a week my students brainstormed new features for Minecraft.Edu, shared and developed their ideas with developers, worked on their pitches to market their Minecraft features to a wide variety of audiences, discussed the business side of Minecraft, toured the Minecraft office, and participated in a community livestream.

During break times my students accepted the challenge of building a detailed Minecraft model of our school, complete with a working library and cars in the parking lot. The community aspect of working together for such a challenge is so apparent in Minecraft. My students had to figure out the who, the how, the measurements, the design, and the architectural structure of our school building. During the week they had multiple restarts, discussions, revisions, and a few accidental fires in their model library that caused some grief and rework. I look forward to seeing their final model – that is, if their creativity ever deems it finished, but then again that is the beauty of Minecraft, will it ever be finished?

Overall, it was a good week. Sure, my kids played a lot of Minecraft, but they also explored the work world of Minecraft too. One memorable comment made during a feedback session by one Minecraft Team Developer was, “You just did my job!” How awesome is it to provide an opportunity for students to preview their potential to the world! It was truly amazing to watch the wonder, the skill, and the learning that happened during their focused week of Minecraft.

Interested in learning more?

Meenoo’s Focus Week in Review

 Minecraft Education 

New to Ed-Tech? 10 Steps to Begin.

EdublogsClub – short #7 Listicle for the How To #EdTech

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

Are you new to #EdTech? Here are ten steps to incorporate Educational Technology for Learning in your classroom:

  1. Start small – consider one tech idea or app to increase technology and learning your classroom.
  2. Be willing to move out of your Comfort Zone.
  3. Join the #edtech conversation on Twitter* – contribute to tweet-meets and chats.
  4. Be Inspired to list future #edtech ideas – make the list accessible (see #10 on this list).
  5. Join a #edtech Network – join a school PLC or join an online community such as Microsoft Educator Community.
  6. Be Accountable to yourself – schedule weekly checks with colleagues or create a weekly “To Do’s” checklist and then check off that you tried something new.
  7. Just Do It – don’t wait, jump in and try (see #1 and #2 on this list).
  8. Monitor and adjust – you know your students, if students are engaged and learning then keep the #edtech, if not then don’t use it. Model a Growth Mindset to students that it is okay to try something new, learn what you can and move on if it doesn’t work.
  9. Share – be willing to share your new #edtech with your colleagues and students.
  10. Rinse and Repeat – don’t stop with just one idea, grow your inspiration and focus on student learning and technology in the classroom. Return to step #1 on this list.

*New to Twitter?  See Teacher Twitter 101.

Teacher Twitter 101

 

New to Twitter?  Get Tweeting in 5 Steps.

There is a whole side conversation about teaching and learning on Twitter. Many educators use Twitter to chat, share, and reflect about teaching and learning. There are a multitude of conversations happening involving every aspect of the classroom, some inspirational, some thought provoking, some funny, and some even critical. Following educators and using a content area #hashtag is one of the easiest ways to converse in the Twitter universe.

If you’re interested in joining in the conversation, it is not as daunting as it may seem once you know the basics.

Teacher Twitter 101

  1. Sign up and create a Twitter account Sign up for Twitter – you will need to choose a username. Since Twitter allows for multiple accounts, you can create a personal account first and then a professional or classroom account later.
  2. Add a profile and a picture – these can be updated, so don’t stress about this now.
  3. Write your first Tweet – it can be as simple as “Hello, this is my first tweet.”
  4. Follow others – this is where you begin to connect and learn from others. You can begin with a “who to follow” list, follow a colleague or use a #hashtag for a content area of interest such as #edtech
  5. Reply & Retweet – once you have a few people to follow then jump in and begin a conversation.

To learn more, check out these educator guide to Twitter resources:

New To Twitter – Set up Guides

How to Use Twitter for Teaching and Learning

 Tips for Teachers New to Twitter

Twitter Resources

The Teacher’s Guide To Twitter

Twitter #hashtags Infographic

Free Favorites Web Resources

EdublogsClub – short #5 Web Tools. This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

“Free” is a magic word for teachers. If there is a recommended free web resource then it is like gravity, we are drawn to explore. This week’s blog highlights a few of my favorite web tools I use in my science classes.

Web tools for teaching Coding – Code.org has a wealth of resources to learn and teach basic coding skills to students. The tutorials begin with visual block coding games to teaching computational thinking skills. If you are interested in introducing and sparking coding and computational thinking skills, I highly recommend these resources as a starting place.

Scratch is another kid-friendly coding resource site. Originally developed as a project from the MIT Media Lab, it provides a platform for kids to create, code, and share stories, games, and animations in an online community.

Science learning fun – Gravity Toy is a simple adobe flash player program that was created a few years ago. A player can place particle dot masses and explore the effects of gravity and velocity.

Classroom presentation tool – Docs.com is an awesome site where students can explore and upload class projects to share. Although it is available on the web, the caveat is that it is free as part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite supporting uploading Word documents, PowerPoint, Sways, and URLs.

If your school or organization is supported with Office 365, Docs.com is an amazingly easy way to share and collaborate student or teacher project work. In a previous blog I shared an example of sharing my students’ work: Office Blog – Cross-classroom Collaboration

Classroom review fun – Kahoot is simply a fun way to review. It is a boldly colorful and interactive online game. Players answer questions and points are tallied and projected. It is an easy way for staff and students alike to enjoy competitive questions in a round or two of Kahoots.

Content lesson resources – TedEd Lessons are wonderfully told and animated stories of history, science, and other tidbits of information. There is a plethora of lessons from which to choose, introduce, or expand content detail concepts.

Study Jams is a middle level science and math review web resource for students from Scholastic. Easily accessible as an introduction or review to content concepts in a short “cheesy” animated video, vocab, and key concepts.

It was snowing…

The week before winter break.

It began to snow.

6th grade science.

No need to say more.

EdublogsClub – short #4 focusing on images.

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. Simply write a post and share it (via social media w/ #edublogsclub or posting a link as a comment to that topic’s posting on the Edublogger site) to join in

Classroom Space for Science

EdublogsClub – short #2

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. Simply write a post and share it (via social media w/ #edublogsclub or posting a link as a comment to that topic’s posting on the Edublogger site) to join in, or sign up to receive email reminders of each new prompt.

Classroom Space, it is what you make of it.

For some teachers classroom design, available space, and set up is all important. For other teachers it is just a functional space. The question really is for whom the design matters; do we want the classroom to reflect us or our students, or both?

Classroom Personality Design

For me, my classroom is reflection of me, it displays my humor and my desire to allow play with science gadgets and toys. I think it is important to have science content posters on the walls for easy reference. I feel having a bright, colorful, and an appealing classroom is important. I want my classroom to be engaging for my middle school students but also for me, particularly since I spend a large portion of my day in this space. Alternatively, I love going to a high school science classroom that is messy, a bit disorganized with partial labs set up and chemicals on the back counter because it feels like a working lab classroom.

Design Space Logistics

The reality is that is there is no “right” or “wrong” way to set up or design a classroom space other than logistics. The logistics to the flow of students within the room is important as it can be integral to manage the pace of the classroom. There are design challenges and consequences to efficiency if a teacher doesn’t maximize the space. If the classroom has narrow rows that hinder students or requires students to bottleneck in an area, then there can be issues in routines and lab work. If students can move around easily, get supplies and have space to work, then the classroom routines can run smoothly. Sometimes function is more important than form, especially in a science lab class.

If function is good and the class has the ability to flow, then form can be whatever the teacher wants it to be (or not). Students are flexible and quickly learn the classroom either is an extension of the teacher’s personality or it is not. The design form is a bit like frosting, it can cool to have but it is not necessary.

My Science of Blogging or rather my blogging of science

#EdublogsClub – short #1

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. Simply write a post and share it (via social media w/ #edublogsclub or posting a link as a comment to that topic’s posting on the Edublogger site) to join in, or sign up to receive email reminders of each new prompt.

Why Blog?

I believe teaching is a skill, a craft, and an art. Teaching is also social, we need to share and learn from others. Blogging is one way to do just that, share what we do and learn from others and that’s why I blog.

A while ago I gave myself a personal challenge of writing about what I do in a blog, specifically what I do in the classroom. I am curious about many things and ideas and I believe it is vital, as educators, that we challenge ourselves to grow intellectually, professionally, and skillfully in the art of teaching.

I teach middle school science and occasionally high school biology. I get a kick of my students’ energy, enthusiasm, and questions, particularly the questions! I know many of my students may not pursue a career in science, but if I can help them grow their brains to think scientifically and critically, then I will have fulfilled a fundamental goal as a science teacher.

Goals to Blog By

Although I have challenged myself to write a science blog, it is often difficult to find time to write. There are always a myriad of other things that need to be done first, such as lesson plans, labs to set up, son’s soccer games, sleep, groceries… and the list goes on. When I came across the Edublog Club Challenge, it seemed like a good opportunity for some motivational reframing and getting back on track to write. My goal is to utilize the weekly blog prompts to build my routine to blog. I’m interested in learning from others. I want to share my stories about science teaching and reflecting on technology and learning. As educators we know all too well, if you can break it down and explain it simply then you have mastered the content of what you are teaching. Or more simply put, sharing is caring.

 

Put another wrap around the winch

Growing up I always felt supported that I could do just about anything I put my mind to. My mom was always silently strong and competent and my admiration for her grew as I learned how she made tough decisions in her young adulthood to build her own independence and became a pediatric nurse. In her small rural high school, she was told not to take higher level math courses because “girls didn’t need math.” As a child, she was my role model of how to be an exceedingly confidently competent woman. My dad was my stalwart encourager that being a girl should not stop me from my goals. Growing up sailing he would tell me that “any 200-pound suction footed gorilla” could haul in sheet lines or halyards and that as a girl I would need to be smarter. “Put another wrap around the winch” to raise the main sail or haul in the jib sheet, meaning I could get the job done just as well but that I would need to be smarter to take advantage of the mechanical benefits within the winch.

Growing up my dad and I talked science a lot and I knew there was a high value placed on the hard sciences. My summer evenings were often about what could I deduce, whether it was looking at the sky to determine weather, looking up at the stars and discussing astronomy, or even understanding the mechanical advantage of a winch. Being smart and competent were valued and I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that was valued by my family and society. Somewhere around early elementary I knew I wanted to be a teacher, probably because I had amazingly caring teachers as a role models. My mom thought I might become an elementary teacher, but then middle school came along, complete with many bumps and bruises, and with it an extraordinary free-thinking middle school science teacher. This experience combined with ongoing science discussions with my dad and I knew where my future lay…the ability to encourage thinking about science amidst the chaotic din of middle school seemed where I was destined to be.

For the majority of my years in the classroom I had confidence that my students could do anything, that their future was wide open and encouraged – just as mine was. Now, I’m worried that it might not be. In the last few years, the societal climate has changed to valuing pseudo-science as real while debunking real science. This year was the first time I felt the need to address early in the school year the mass amount of misinformation my students face and how they truly must learn the skills to search for credible sources at their young age.

So now what?

I truly hope science and education becomes valued and supported again as we need scientists and teachers. It is unfortunate that I, and a few of my colleagues who have college-age children, have guided our own children out of teaching. Our (own) children would be wonderful teachers as they have lived with us and know how much we adore our students, how important we view our calling, and much care we put into our curriculum. But they have also sat by us during lesson planning and grading and know how much we take home at the end of the day. They also have watched us get frustrated at the dwindling support from society (but not necessarily from our students’ parents). The legislature has continually defunded education while piling on more responsibilities and “accountability” to correct and fix all the challenges in our students’ lives. The result is that we, as current teachers, will continue to teach until retirement but own children are off seeking a more “valued” career that is more rewarded by society. If the education tide returns to shore someday, maybe they will change careers and come “back” and join the classroom. If not, I worry whether anyone will be in the classroom for their children.