Teaching

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 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 

Leveraging Our Stories

Leveraging our stories, utilizing social media in school

Lately I have been hearing the call for educators to tell our stories. Often the news highlights a negative school story while the student success stories are on the back page. We need to reverse this, we need to highlight what really happens in our classrooms. Our students are doing and learning amazing things. Our teachers and administrators are boldly teaching and utilizing 21stcentury skills. The call is for us to tell our amazing stories, because if we don’t, someone else will.

I recently attended the Northwest Council for Computer Education conference, better known as NCCE, in Portland. I had the opportunity to learn from Ginger Lewman , an amazing education consultant and keynote speaker, about “Changing the stories heard: leveraging social media in schools.” She stressed how important it is for educators to share their classroom stories. Every school, every student, every teacher has success stories to share and how it is important for our community to know. In the short time in our NCCE session, the educators in the conference room quickly shared a small sample of what was happening at their schools:

  • creating makerspaces in their school
  • working with their district on an internship to advise the mayor
  • received a $6,000 James Patterson grant
  • received Summer Innovation grants
  • received 7 grants for nonfiction books
  • created classroom libraries of 200 books in each ELA class
  • middle school robotics team placed at a local university competition
  • created a math/science night at their school
  • sponsored a Tech and Art Fair this year
  • started a STEM specialist class
  • worked with community to improve school track
  • created student murals in the hallways
  • and my own story where my middle school students sent 4 experiments in small cubes on a NASA rocket

In less than 15 minutes we shared positive news of what we and/or our school are doing. Unfortunately only our schools or classrooms are aware of the awesome works on this list. So instead of the negative news about our schools being told, we need to tell our students’ stories, our stories, our school stories, it is important to share.

How do we do this?

We use social media to share our stories. But then haven’t we been told we shouldn’t be using social media at school? Social media is where most stories are shared, it is where our students share their daily story with each other through Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. There is really no reason why educators shouldn’t use the same platforms students are using. In another NCCE session, entitled the “Peripheral Learner,” Kevin Honeycutt had a profound quote that resonated loud and clear with me regarding the importance of modeling social media. He stated, “students are on a digital playground but no one is on recess duty.” By sharing our stories, we have the opportunity to model appropriate use of social media for our students and school community. We can also teach digital citizenship skills. If we think about it, we learned citizenship etiquette but it was just on a different platform.

What about privacy concerns?

It is true, social media has changed our views about privacy. Once you enter a public space, such as a football game or educational conference, then you have accepted being public. There is no real expectation of privacy. If we publish news highlighting the athletic achievements of our school football teams, then student information is being shared. So why wouldn’t we share the learning achievements of our student classroom teams? We, our school community, need to decide it is also valuable and important to highlight our classroom learning. Having done so then we can work to ensure privacy and safety considerations once we publish and share. This can easily be done by not sharing names or pictures of individual students unless we have parental permission.

What needs to change is that individual educators and schools have permission to proudly share the stories of learning and thinking happening both inside and outside the classroom. Schools need to have Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. Stories of schedules, school updates, and classroom celebrations need to be openly shared. Stories of students creating makerspaces, painting murals, and sending experiments on rockets need to be shared. These stories are important and our parents and our community need to know. We need to model how to share success and how to communicate in private when necessary. Not everything or every story needs to be told, but modeling how to do this is important for the students in our classroom. Let’s hope we can begin leveraging social media to make our stories be heard.

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

Challenge of Time

EdublogsClub – short #6 Challenge

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

Time.

The challenge of time: Being full-time Tech and full-time Teacher.

I find the lack of time to be challenging. Specifically, the lack of time to do all the things I want and need to do as an educator such as;

  • synthesize science content into small bite size concepts
  • present engaging technology
  • concoct creative lessons
  • provide timely feedback
  • prep lab activities
  • write student growth goals
  • build routines to solidify learning targets
  • lead SEL (social and emotional learning) lessons
  • formulate efficiencies for grade data entry
  • articulate how awesome middle school students can be
  • encourage participation
  • teach digital citizenship
  • communicate how cool crafting minds can be
  • research and review content and concepts

Full-time Tech

I have always truly enjoyed sharing technology in the classroom. If used appropriately technology can enhance and supplement learning, but it takes time to teach how to use technology for both students and teachers. It takes time to learn the technology of an online curriculum. It takes time to teach teachers how to use digital technology devices. It takes time to walk students through accessing technology resources. It all takes time, but it can be well worth the time to do so.

Full-time Teach

I am a full-time middle school science teacher who happens to love technology. Throughout the school year my students gain proficiencies in using a digital notebook called OneNote, creating presentations in Sway, and sharing and posting on Docs.com. They also build their basic coding skills with lessons from Code.org and create programs from Project Guts in Star Logo Nova. They can successfully navigate within a digital environment whether it is in an online science curriculum with graphs and simulations or even just having fun in Minecraft. Teaching technology skills is important; it is critical for students’ future college and career endeavors. Today’s students need to be able to embrace and command their use of (academic) technology. As important as these skills are, they are not primary to my teaching science concepts that are essential to being a science literate life learner. The art of teaching science content lessons in conceptual chunks that are applicable to a student’s daily life takes time to create and foster. Again, the time is so worthwhile.

Question of Time

The challenge is to find enough quality time for both technology and teaching. The challenge is best solved by setting priorities, being organized, delegating when applicable, and occasionally saying “no” when you can’t do more. Of course, even as I write this, I am multi-tasking which means the above solution is easier said than done. I have wondered what if I cut back on the technology? If I did cut back on classroom technology would I simplify my schedule and create more time? Or if I cut back on technology would I narrow the scope of experiences in teaching science? The question of time is answered over time, for me it is striving to find balance between the “shiny new” technology and the status quo of science content.

To be an educator is to always be learning, particularly learning to master challenges. My challenge is to look for solutions to the challenge of time, learning how others master the time challenge. So, I’m curious, what do you do to master the challenge of time?

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.

Administration leadership, it is what is on everyone’s mind.

EdublogsClub – short #3

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

Peaceful Transition

This week the news and media have been reminding us that will we witness another “peaceful transition of power” within our democracy. I find it interesting that the words “peaceful transition” were said so many times or that it even had to be said at all.

I find it a telling sign when a speaker, leader, or even parent begins a message with “I know I don’t have to say this but…” and then they proceed to say that very thing they said they didn’t need to say anyway. It appears to me when a leader or speaker feels the need to overtly tell their audience what they should “know” or “feel” then they have not been doing their job to ensure this in the first place.

Qualities of Leadership

I believe the qualities of a true leader are to set the conditions within their environment, whether it is work, school, or even public office, to allow knowledge or impressions to grow organically. There should be checkpoints along the way to ensure what the leader has worked to create is, indeed, working. There can be discussions and even debates about how well it is working or if it should be working at all. I have been fortunate to have worked with a variety of administrators, the ones I have admire most are the ones who create an environment that truly fosters growth. They hold their “audience” to high standards, they provide the necessary means or support to get the work done, and then they get out of the way to allow the work to get done.

I also believe there are natural leaders, those that seem to just be born with the skills and attributes that make them shine above the rest. They inspire us. They challenge us. They support us. This is not to say that leadership is Darwinian and either you have the traits or don’t.  Rather it is acknowledging that educators, leaders, or administrators who are blessed with a bit of charisma or intuitiveness understand they do not need to tell you what you “know” or what you “feel” at any given moment. As a professional and as an educator, I don’t want to be told to “feel” my work or school environment is “great” or “horrible” because we already know this. Instead, our leaders need tell the audience “how” to improve the environment from what we already know exists. As a leader, inspire or challenge us with ideas, concepts, or strategies to improve our work or environment. In other words, lead us by example and support us to do better. I am often reminded of a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” I want my leaders to have great minds.

 

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.

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.