I would first like to say that I am deeply saddened and horrified that parents, communities, friends, and society have lost precious children, parents, coaches, teachers, and principles at the hands of school shooters. I am absolutely brokenhearted that students now attend school in fear and with anxiety and now associate learning environments with an absolutely devastating experience. We have no excuse.
I wish I had a quick solution, but I don't. What I can tell you is that we need to invest more time in nurturing our young adults. When elementary students show up to school in dirty clothing, we provide them with hugs, fresh clothing, snacks, and an escape. What do we do for our young adults? We might give them an old sweatshirt from the lost and found box from 5 years ago. As a high school teacher, you can't hug your students. So what can we do? I think too often we picture our teens as adults and we treat them as if they should be able to take care of their own needs. Children all mature at different ages, and we must nurture them according to their individual maturation needs. When we notice a student is falling behind or changing negatively, we must come together and contact counselors, parents, and other adults heavily involved in the students' lives and try to help these young minds overcome mental illness, physical limitations, and general setbacks. Are we doing that? Are we actively and actually noticing students' needs beyond test performance? No, we aren't. At least not enough. We are encouraged to "stay out of it" for fear of overstepping our boundary, losing our job, and being sued.
Are we listening to our young adults? Teens use several forms to communicate from social media posts to clothing choices, behaviors, conversations, attitudes, and performance. I think when a young adult confides in anyone his or her troubles, we must have a concrete plan for options to nurture these individuals. We can't tiptoe around reports made by students for fear of upsetting a student's parents or interfering with freedom of speech. We are eating those words now, aren't we? If a teen high school student reports that a student is threatening him or her via social media outside of school, teachers are asked not to interfere but to at most send the student to the counselor or tell the threatened student to talk to his or her parent or report the incident to the police. Schools have no place interfering or involving themselves with students' social media posts, but are we sure that's the right approach? Can we allow schools to inform parents of what is going on outside of school without getting sued? Sadly, the answer is no. Not even if it could save lives inside of schools.
As high school teachers, we are told not to allow students to confide in us but to instead direct these students to a counselor. A counselor the student has perhaps never met before. I'm so sure the student is going to feel right at home...not. We see these kids every single day of the week for hours at a time. Do we need to train teachers to handle mental health? Can we certify them to at least allow a student to break down and share a struggle? Teachers attend hours of professional development a year, perhaps some of this PD time should be directed towards students' mental health. I think the fact that teachers are not supposed to allow a troubled student to confide in them is ridiculous. We are talking about children here. Children with hearts, with needs, and with pain. For some students, a teacher is all they have.
Troubled students are going to cause trouble when they aren't cared for. Unfortunately, sometimes this trouble is at the expense of others. I think we all need to ask ourselves what we can do to allow teachers to inform others of students' problems inside and outside of school, especially when clear life-threatening messages are involved. Protect our young adults. Nurture these kids and lead them to freedom from overwhelming circumstances. We have to do more. We have to somehow allow teachers and schools to report without fear of losing their jobs. Instead of fighting for kids, schools cower down in fear and rightfully so considering our laws. What can we do?
What it's like to be fem in STEM? It's a wonderful, challenging, and fabulous.
Although I work with mostly males, I've never felt more empowered as a female in STEM. There is no better time than now to be a female. #feminist I have had my fair share of inappropriate Facebook messages from men; however, I ignore the inappropriate messages and address the content-related messages or appropriate portions of messages only. If men are outright disdainful, I block them. We have to remember some cultures think nothing of a message that says, "Hello beautiful, your STEM video on engineering in the modern classroom was so inspirational. I shared it with my female coworkers." To me, that message is simply a complement of my work and not a man targeting me for anything except a STEM inspiration. I do not address the "beautiful" complement but instead explain how glad I am that my video is inspiring others to bring engineering to more students. I discuss my work only, point blank end of story. I don't think there's a right or wrong way to address or deal with soliciting men, as long as you make your intentions clear. My mission is to bring STEM to more kids. Stick to your mission, and if people don't get the hint then drop them.
Beyond men hitting on me, I also deal with not being taken seriously. A HUGE key to overcoming the whole "your just a cute little woman" mentality is to get people on the phone or video chat. Verbal conversations rather than digital communication have helped men particularly understand my mission, my efforts, my intelligence, and my talents. My background is not in education but in the science field. I was actually recruited out of the science field by the NSF NOYCE STEM program. The program aims to recruit individuals with strong STEM backgrounds who otherwise would not have considered teaching as a career. That fun fact usually shocks people. Anyway, anyone can post a bunch of content online but being quick on your feet seems to gain you a whole new level of respect. I am a 5'2" tall blonde bubbly STEM woman, and I will remain true to myself. If someone can't get past me being a woman, I ditch them. Work with people who listen and respect you and leave everyone else in the dust.
Lastly, I have had a few men think I will do work for FREE for them...? I would hear I've got a guy I pay for xyz but I want you to do xyz for free, um HECK NO. If you pay a man for his work, you will pay me for mine or I will move on to another project. I've never had a woman ask me to work for free. On the other hand, I have some really great relationships with men in STEM who help me with certain aspects of my business and I return the favor. We happen to be a great match of differing talents. For me, my "NO" voice has been a game changer. I am not afraid to tell people no and I'm not afraid to exit a project that turns out to be different than originally presented. If you are talented, other options will come your way.
Now on to my positive experiences. As a female in STEM, I've developed some great relationships with female students who otherwise would not have been exposed to or interested in CAD, coding, robotics, engineering, and science data analysis. We are talking HUNDREDS of girls. Many of these young women are still in touch with me today and share their success stories. I just found out one of my STEM girls is headed to MIT next year to pursue a STEM degree. Another female student just informed me she has a 4.0 GPA in Biomedical Engineering currently. Her original plan was to major in HISTORY. My class changed her life by unveiling the world of STEM and allowing her to discover talents she did know she had. I've had many girls tell me things like, "I'm so glad you are teaching STEM, because Mr. Teacher just doesn't get me and I can't take his STEM class". For some girls, have a female STEM leader is the original spark of interest they need.
Not only have I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of female STEM students but also with females in the STEM field. If you have been following me for a while, I bet you've read a few post highlighting women in STEM. I also have worked with a female leading a VR development effort. She was originally a techie, has coauthored techie books, and is now applying technology in education working with gamers and programmers. I've also had the privilege to collaborate with several females across the STEM field via friendships developed both in person and on social media platforms. The diversity of female talent I get to tap in to is incredibly inspiring.
Now on to the juicy stuff- my relationships with males in STEM. First and foremost, my husband is an Engineering Director and plays a huge role in helping develop STEM materials. He has been a constant source of helping me understand how to use words and phrases that make my intention extremely clear to males in the corporate world. I learned the power of "technical talk". I also work with several male-owned STEM companies. These guys are great to work with. We bounce ideas off of one another and help refine projects, labs, and products. I can proudly say that these men are honorable and thrilled to be working with an intelligent, creative woman. Luckily, I grew up with brothers so I am not scared to ask these men questions when I don't follow. They follow suit when they are unfamiliar with concepts I present. If the relationship is not a two-way relationship, it won't work. Through robotics, I also communicated with only men on robotics projects and learned so much. Attitude and approach make a huge difference.
Just because a person (male or female) knows more about a topic than I do does not mean I am not smart. This mindset has greatly helped me continue to build relationships with all people. I am a collection of others' knowledge mixed with my own. I will continue to lead STEM efforts and will continue to lead young women and men in their STEM endeavors. I love being fem in STEM, and I hope other women feel the same.
In response to my last post, I've gotten tons of positive feedback and agreement that we still aren't seeing the increase we want in number of STEM professionals finishing a STEM degree and moving into the field. Even more specifically, we aren't seeing a huge increase in diversity of STEM professionals. We are failing and I suspect I know why... two words. FOLLOW UP.
I came to this realization when I was talking to a teacher friend about her attending an ROV camp for the second year in a row. She is allowed to take 3 girls from challenging circumstances with her that attend the school she works at. Here's the problem, the girls are 15 and under and she teaches IB HL Biology juniors and seniors only (ages 16-18 and elect to take HL Bio). She was chosen based on her love of marine science and her success as a teacher (she is incredible and loves her job so much). Last year, the girls who attended were not in the IB program. So... what's my point? The point is after the 3-day camp, the experience was over for these girls. They returned to their own science classes with their own teachers and that was it. Candle burnt out. The teacher kept the ROVs and is planning to utilize them in the future, but she doesn't really have access to the girls as they 1. aren't in the IB program 2. will never have her as a teacher and 3. there's no after-school program at her school that would give the girls access to the ROVs. I am sure the girl's had a fabulous experience, but memories fade and I bet we lose them. Those girls are probably going to pursue college majors and careers that are fresh in their minds and that they are actively a part of. The teacher would gladly follow up if a program existed, but there is not one. She tutors after school and leads a number of organizations, so she does not really have the time or resources to continue to nourish these girls' interest in STEM. This is one of many examples of its kind. A one time experience isn't enough. (Just found out they decided to bring back some of the girls as mentors! Way to follow up ROV camp!)
Second example: STEM elementary school, STEM middle school program, traditional high school. Do you see the problem?
Kids are being challenged with STEM projects up until a critical age- right before they enter college. Senior year of high school or summer after is when our kids choose a college major. Some high schools are STEM and some offer Robotics which will keep STEM interests going, but those schools are few are far between compared to total number of schools. WE ARE LOSING THESE FUTURE STEM PROFESSIONALS. When kids stop seeing and doing STEM, they latch onto other career ideas. I don't blame them; I usually pursue options that are tangible in the moment. Don't we all?
Third example: Student pursues a career in engineering after student was inspired by a 5th-grade project. Student attended a traditional high school. This student, now a college freshmen sitting in first engineering class is tasked with using SolidWorks to design a tool to solve a problem. Student is in a study group with 4 other kids who learned how to use SolidWorks in high school through a STEM program. Student leaves group to learn how to use SolidWorks. Student returns to group to find everyone else has finished the project and are making plans for their weekend. Student feels behind and makes plans to work on the project all weekend. Which students do you think are more likely to finish a degree in Engineering? EXACTLY. I know I would have been tempted to pursue a degree that I felt I was equal to my classmates in. STEM majors are already difficult enough for students without being overwhelmed by lack of experience compared to classmates. Again, we lose some potential STEM professionals.
Fourth example: Student majors in Biology with the goal of becoming a physician. Student's friend designs and launches an app that is making money. Student decides to change major from Biology to Computer Science. Student fails first Computer Science class and returns back to Bio. Why? Because this student did not learn the beauty of failing and redesigning and trying again using a variety of resources in a STEM class. Ask any high school Robotics kid how many times they had to reprogram their bot and how many lines of code they have edited dozens of times… These STEM kids look at failure as a problem to solve not as a defeat. The Biology major probably experienced failure for the first time and walked away instead of finding resources to help him conquer the class on the next go round. He lacked the experience with failure in a more controlled environment. STEM professionals have a different mindset concerning failure. We need to help our students solve more problems instead of walking away from them to pursue a different option that they are more prepared for.
My point is, you can't plant a seed and neglect to water it. You also can't neglect to groom a unique, gorgeous plant once it grows. These STEM kids need more attention and more nurture. They need mentors, projects, exposure, and encouragement. They need to experience that feeling of success when they solve a problem. They need to celebrate with their classmates and revel in their accomplishments year after year. We have to keep "watering and grooming" these STEM kids or the STEM interest is going to shrivel and die inside of them. (Do I sound crazy right now?)
Now let's address the elephant in the room: who's job is it to follow up with these kids? Are teachers responsible? Administrators? STEM Directors? STEM Companies? Who the heck is going to see through with the follow-up?
Teachers need resources and supplies. I am in the middle of developing several STEM projects for grades K-12 that are designed for ANY teacher to use. The projects range from history content to science content to writing challenges. Hopefully, I can be part of the follow up by providing STEM to kids in ANY classroom. What else can we do? Who is going to take on some of the responsibility with me? WE HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER.
Sometimes STEM finds itself in an identity crisis or more accurately mislabeled as "science". Not all science is STEM. Unfortunately, some science classes are being falsely labeled as STEM. Students taking these mislabeled science classes are not getting a true STEM education and are not going to be as prepared to enter a STEM career as they are being led to believe. Let me explain..
When I first started teaching, I knew I wanted to teach Biology. I have loved Biology my entire life and could not wait to teach students using hands-on science, labs, inquiry assignments, and projects. Throughout my education and professional life as a teacher, I have met dozens of effective science teachers. Most of the Biology teachers were using labs and other interactive practices to deliver science content. Many of these teachers have won awards, contributed to textbooks, and are overall excellent teachers. One "problem", they are not STEM teachers. Yes they are incredible and they discuss real-world problems, but they were not actually solving problems using a STEM approach. I am in no way saying these teachers aren't incredible because they absolutely are. Their students do science, they understand science, and they are encouraged to become physicians, researchers, and nurses. However, they are not teaching STEM, they are teaching science. (Note: interactive science classes as part of a STEM school in which students are using learned science content in other STEM classes such as graphic design, programming, etc and teachers are cross-collaborating is a completely different situation.)
We have a responsibility to label education accurately, so as I continued my educational and professional life I became more aware of STEM. I made a realization, my Physical Science Teacher buddies were teaching STEM. These teachers were turning science lessons into projects that challenged kids to build, explore, research, and actually solve a problem. These teachers were addressing content, numbers, design, build, redesign, and data recording. I was very fortunate to meet a Bio teacher who taught at a New Tech school and was starting to teach more STEM than science. I pulled from these resources and started to build my own teaching methods. I married "science" and "STEM" and started challenging my students to become more than a physician, but a physician and a biomedical engineer. Why just study conditions that cause a need for a prosthetic when we can also design a prosthetic, 3D print it, and use it?
Do you see where I'm going with this? Science classes are science classes. STEM classes are STEM classes. Both types of classes are wonderful, but they deserve to be labeled properly. If we are going to fill those thousands of STEM jobs, we need to be honest with ourselves and our students. If we label a science class as a STEM class, students are going to miss out on much-needed STEM skills. If you label a class as STEM Biology, it better dang well be STEM Biology and not just an interactive Biology course, make sense?
There's nothing wrong with teaching or taking a traditional science class, but don't fool yourself or your students into thinking they are getting a STEM experience. Mislabeling STEM is unfair to our kids and to our world.
The sooner we start properly labeling STEM, the sooner we can provide genuine STEM experiences to students and start to fill those STEM jobs with #futureready professionals. We are responsible for delivering an actual STEM class if we are advertising our ability to do so. If your school offers zero STEM experiences, perhaps you need to consider outside resources, maker spaces, or after school STEM programs.
I hope this brings awareness to the need to properly label STEM and to provide students with genuine STEM experiences in STEM classes. Interactive science is great, but it's not STEM and it cannot prepare students for STEM professions in the same capacity as a true STEM class.
I fully support interactive science teachers and STEM teachers. Both types of teachers are needed and are valuable. But let's give credit where needed so we can provide our students with true STEM experiences and get those STEM jobs filled.
If you follow me on social media, you probably already know I resigned from my job as STEM IB Biology teacher at Robinson High School last Friday. I had every intention to return to my dreamy job at the end of my maternity leave, but my heart started feeling a little heavy when new opportunities to reach thousands of kids kept coming my way. Robinson High School is a unique, smaller school with an incredible IB program, staff, students, and overall community feel. With that being said, I am only able to reach around 200 kids between classes, Robotics, and cheerleading every year excluding the professional development outreach (unknown numbers as I have been out of the follow-up loop for almost a year on leave). Although I worked alongside some of the best teachers in the world and very much loved my job, I knew it was time to move on. My outreach is destined to reach beyond the walls of a few classrooms in one state.
I am going to outline exactly how I know my time needed to be focused elsewhere:
1. My contract working on virtual reality with a neat company has been extended. The modules will reach students worldwide grades k-12.
2. An opportunity to continue worldwide professional development for teachers with PBL Consulting.
3. I am almost finished developing my own STEM projects in collaboration with Solidworks, Craft Unique, and field-based STEM professionals from various companies. So flipping cool, just wait!
4. A large university just contacted me- I have a meeting to discuss STEM with them this Friday. I have no idea where this will go, but I am thrilled to find out!
5. A HUGE virtual reality development opportunity with a top software company is in the making (more details as this develops further).
1. I work from home and am able to spend quality time with both of my beautiful children.
2. My husband likes that the pressure of "who's going to take off work with the sick baby or toddler" is alleviated. He is an Engineering Director in a demanding job and is rarely available to take off. If he does leave the office, he has to bring work home and extend his next work day(s) by several hours to catch up.
3. With budget cuts continuing in my school district, my salary would only cover daycare expenses for two. Yes, I would be working for $0. Neither of my children are of "free school" age yet. That means next year would be a complete bust for me financially.
I am still very connected to teachers in classrooms and plan to participate in guest teaching opportunities, educational conferences, and professional development. I am also working closely with teachers to pilot several STEM lessons. If you are a STEM teacher and want to try them out and provide feedback, email me with reasons I should choose you: email@example.com.
I'm not leaving the classroom, I'm just moving MY classroom. I have a passion for working with teachers and STEM professionals and am thrilled to have the time and energy to dedicate to this expansive effort. More trained STEM teachers mean more STEM for students, which is my ultimate goal.
My main reason for leaving the classroom is to expand my outreach and focus on more STEM for more students. Below is a list of reasons to leave your classroom:
1. You have an opportunity to share education with more teachers and students.
2. An opportunity in a field you are passionate about pops up.
3. The pay doesn't cover childcare (sad, but true).
Teachers can overcome burnout, crappy administration, tough students, and lack of materials, but we cannot pass up opportunities to better ourselves and our nation's students. Resigning has not been easy, but resigning was the right decision for me. I hope if your desire is to move beyond your current role, you just go for it!
Do you have zero engineering experience? Is your engineering experience limited to listening to engineering majors during college complain about trying to solve one problem for 36 hours straight? YIKES- a lot of people (I assume) are overwhelmed by engineering based on their initial experience with the field. Especially if you saw multiple whiteboards covered in formulas, number, and sketches that were well beyond your basic physics classes. I challenge you to somewhat start a new relationship with engineering. Remember, you have to break down engineering in order to match the cognitive level of YOUR students who may range from 5-year-old kindergarten students to 21-year-old biomedical engineer majors in college. And if you are a field-based engineer, remember educators have to break down complicated careers and problems to suit the needs of our students. We have to be careful not to overwhelm our student's minds, or they will shut down.
Teachers, I get it, asking your students to take on the role of an engineer is pretty scary when you have zero experience in engineering. But what if I told you that you are an engineer of sorts? The definition of an engineer is, "A person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures." according to en.oxforddictionaries.com. If you have designed and implemented your own lab or lesson plan, then you are an "educational engineer". I bet you have even designed and used some sort of tool to enhance learning in your classroom. If you looked at Pinterest for ideas, consider Pinterest your resource for looking at previous solutions to problems just as engineers look at case studies much for the same reason. Nonetheless, you invented a lesson and actively used that design to create learning. You can certainly ask your students to invent a structure, right? Think of engineering as "inventing".
Okay, so now that we have broken down engineering, let's move on how to address that E in engineering during class time. You need to challenge your students to either 1. design 2. build or 3. maintain a structure. So how in the world can you accomplish this? I would start by combining "design" and "build".
First, defining engineering for your students in simple terms such as the ones I have suggested below.
Elementary: Engineer- an inventor
Middle School: Engineer- a professional who designs and builds structures
High School: Engineer- "A person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures." (en.oxforddictionaries.com)
Next, provide your students with some examples of engineers. Just google "examples of engineers" and choose examples that best suite your students. You can include years of school required, basic description of job, and average salary. A basic powerpoint presentation would be appropriate as long as you keep the slides down to a pic and three short bullet points in addition to a youtube or other video about engineering. I'm sure you can find a short video you like.
Alright, now you need to decide on a goal and on building materials. Your goal should include a structure such as "Your goal is to design and build a small desktop structure to organize all of your class materials.". Choose building materials that are readily available to you or are cheap to purchase such as modeling clay, Popsicle sticks, glue, cotton balls, and pipe cleaners.
Next, choose a design method which can range from a paper drawing to a CAD, and ask your students to design a structure to accomplish a goal. Be sure to let them know what building tools will be available to them. A simple example is "Design a structure that would sit on top of your desk and hold all of your class materials. You will be using modeling clay only". As you can imagine, they need to know if they are using toothpicks and marshmallows or modeling clay to accomplish the goal of building a structure to organize class materials. Materials impact design. When students are designing their structures, walk around the classroom and ask intuitive questions about their design such as "Why did you choose this shape?" "How tall is your design?" "Do you think your design will work well for other students? Why or why not?". You can also use this opportunity to suggest modifications to designs such as "Your structure is tall and skinny. Do you think that structure will get knocked over easily? If so, how can you change your design to withstand students' bumping into your desk?" I recommend approving all designs before students are allowed to move into the build phase. This will allow you to 1. save class time, especially if your students are 3D printing or using a machine 2. preserve building materials and 3. interact with your students to aid in creating realistic designs. If your students start producing realistic designs consistently, feel free to skip this teacher approval step or leave it open to the students. Regardless, your job is to actively monitor the design process and ask key questions that lead to design enhancement. Your students need you, so be active and involved during class time.
Alright, we are ready for those designs to come to life! Be sure your students have access to all building materials. Set a time limit, because this is the fun part of engineering and some students can spend hours building. Again, you need to monitor this process and ask key questions such as "Does your model reflect your original design?" "Have you had to make any modifications? Explain why." "Is your model sturdy?". If students finish early, challenge them to use new software to reverse design their final model such as TinkerCad or graph paper modeled to scale. A little reverse engineering is great for our students!
When all students are finished with their model, have a class discussion on characteristics that make a great design. Write down a list of these characteristics on the board, then have the students vote on the best model. Evaluating other models will help your students develop new ideas and modifications for their next design. I almost always allow my students to complete engineering challenges in groups, but they can certainly work alone if needed. As long as the teacher is actively involved, all group members will be participating.
As you continue to develop engineering challenges, you can add in design software, unique building supplies, and creative constraints (design boundaries such as size, shape, etc.). 3D printers, robotics, and lab procedures created by students are also wonderful ways to include engineering in your classroom.
Please share your engineering challenges with me! Tag me on social media, so I can share your accomplishments :)
STEM can be a scary thought for many teachers who have compartmentalized education for years. When I say "compartmentalized", I mean lessons focus on one subject only. Most teachers were trained to focus on a specific subject and to only include other subjects if time permits at the end of the year. Well, education is moving away from compartmentalized subjects, and these teachers are being asked to turn their backs on the practices they know and to implement this new, STEM mindset. We have to provide teachers with a realistic way to rethink and reorganize their lessons. Changing what has worked for years is a daunting task for any person. I have some thoughts on how to tackle STEM one month at a time. That's right, you have 1 month to nail down a change before you add anything new. And the best news is you only need 1 partial day a week to do this.
THIS IS NOT AN ALL OR NONE SOLUTION. You can combine weeks or leave some practices out if you don't have months to transform. You can also shorten the time to 2 weeks per implementation per your discretion. Go with whichever timeline works best for you and your students. I recommend implementing this tactic once a week towards the end of class only one day a week. So choose a day to be your "STEM" day and set aside non-negotiable time. I would go with Thursday or Friday last 15-20 minutes of class.
STEM is really about challenging students to use a combination of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to develop a realistic solution to a real-world problem. But, teachers cannot be expected to design and successfully implement a STEM project that perfectly captures every facet of STEM the first time around. What we are going to do is focus on one change for 2-4 weeks, master this change, then add in another facet of STEM. At the end of 12-24 weeks, your lessons, classroom, and mindset will be transformed and you will have tackled STEM.
Note: directions to students will be the first statement of each week(s) and will be in bold print.
1st 2-4 weeks: "Work in teams to develop a solution to the following problem ...(insert problem). You have 10 minutes to discuss a solution with your team, then every team will share out loud."
STEM idea: Solve a real-world problem.
Challenge your students to work in teams of 4 for 10-15 minutes to develop a solution a real-world problem related to your subject at the end of each week. Have the teams share their solution out loud. You can choose a verbal or written solution; however, I recommend verbal and not assessed. When you transform your classroom, you want your students to embrace and enjoy the new techniques, not stress over a grade associated with their new performance. Easy as pie, and you only have to come up with 4 questions and approximately 1 hour of time in an entire month to accomplish this. EX: How can zoos provide a means for the zebras to get more exercise? How can school morning traffic be reduced? Be sure you randomly call on one team member to explain the design during discussion-this ensures all team members are participating and that the effort is truly collaborative.
2nd 2-4 weeks: "Work in teams to develop a solution to the following problem ...(insert problem). You must build a model that represents your solution. You have 12 minutes to discuss and design with your team, then every team will share aloud."
Stem idea: design and build a model.
All you do is add "build a model" to accompany the solutions to either the same real-world problems or new real-world problems related to your subject. Going back to the "How can zoos provide a means for the zebras to get more exercise?", the students can design and build a zebra habitat out of play-doh. Key questions to ask "How does your habitat provide exercise to the zebras?" "How can your habitat be improved?". The teams should be able to explain how their design is accommodating the need for zebras to exercise. Be sure you randomly call on one team member to explain the design during discussion-this ensures all team members are participating and that the effort is truly collaborative.
3rd 2-4 weeks: "Work in teams to develop a solution to the following problem ...(insert problem). You have 14 minutes to discuss a solution with your team, build a model, and create one criteria point for determining best realistic solution."
STEM idea: create criteria for evaluation of realistic solutions.
Add "create criteria for determining best realistic solution" and you are now challenging students to judge whether or not their solution can actually be implemented as well as comparing their solutions to others. You make a criteria list on the board as student teams share their solutions. I would nudge older students to consider criteria such as cost, time, material needs, and longevity. Younger students can consider size, time, materials, or easy to build. When each team has presented, the class votes on a winning solution. Winning team gets a sticker or a high 5 from you (or prize you choose). For the zebra exercise habitat example, criteria might include obstacle for zebras to jump over, easy access to water (hydration is important during exercise), easy to build, or 200 yd long run area. Be prepared to help your students develop criteria for evaluation. As student teams continue to create criteria, they should be developing more realistic solutions to problems. If teams are creating unrealistic solutions, be patient and nudge them in a more realistic solution during problem-solving conversations. Sometimes the most unrealistic solutions end up being the best. I had students design "poop paper" as a means to get rid of horse waste and a field-based engineer pitched the idea to his company. Ya never know! Be sure you randomly call on one team member to explain the design during discussion-this ensures all team members are participating and that the effort is truly collaborative.
4th 2-4 weeks: "Work in teams to develop a solution to the following problem ...(insert problem). You have 14 minutes to discuss a solution with your team, build a model, include at least one numerical value to your solution, and create one criteria point for determining best realistic solution."
STEM idea: apply numerical data to solutions.
Add "include at least one numerical value to your solution" and you are now challenging students to think of their solution in terms of numbers. Size, cost, and time are usually where this starts. For the zebra example, students could provide measurements of the habitat in yards or feet, provide a timeline of habitat remodel, or estimate the $$$ of the habitat remodel. Encourage students to include these numbers in criteria for most realistic solution. For example, criteria might be "cost is kept low", "habitat fits in zoo property", or "habitat remodel will be completed quickly". If your students are older, you can get specific with criteria such as "cost is kept under 30k" etc. You will follow the presentation protocol listed in the "3rd 2-4 weeks". Be sure you randomly call on one team member to explain the design during discussion-this ensures all team members are participating and that the effort is truly collaborative.
5th 2-4 weeks: "Work in teams to develop a solution to the following problem ...(insert problem). Your solution must comply with the following creative constraints... . You have 25 minutes to discuss a solution with your team, build a model, include at least one numerical value to your solution, and create one criteria point for determining best realistic solution."
STEM idea: solution falls within creative constraint boundaries
Add "creative constraints" and provide two sessions instead of one for students to develop a solution to this problem. Notice the times moved up to 25 minutes. Keep in mind you are only presenting these problems once a week for a part of one class period. Creative constraints are guidelines the student must follow. You can constrain size, shape, timeline, materials, or cost. For the zebra example, I would challenge students to create an exercise-friendly habitat that fits within a 200 sq yd area. For younger students, perhaps just say "square shape". For older students, I may limit materials to sand, grass, 4x2 ft watering hole, include 4 large trees, and construction must be completed in 5 weeks. Customers provide companies with flexible and non-flexible constraints, so allow students to bargain these constraints if appropriate. Cost is almost always negotiable. You will follow the presentation protocol listed in the "3rd 2-4 weeks". Assign a participation grade. Be sure you randomly call on one team member to explain the design during discussion-this ensures all team members are participating and that the effort is truly collaborative.
6th 2-4 weeks: "Work in teams to develop a solution to the following problem ...(insert problem). Your solution must comply with the following creative constraints... . Be sure to comply with the grading rubric. You have 75 minutes to discuss a solution with your team, build a model, include at least one numerical value to your solution, and create one criteria point for determining best realistic solution."
STEM idea: solve a problem and receive compensation in the form of a grade
Okay, you are there. Light at the end of the tunnel! Make yourself a simple rubric. I have discussed rubrics in a previous post, so I won't go into details. Attach a rubric to your project and you are officially grading STEM projects! Just like field-based STEM professionals get paid for their work, your students are receiving a grade for their work. YOU DID IT!
Now, attach the link to this post to an email and share with everyone you know who is interested in swapping to STEM or is being forced to STEM and needs help. Encourage teachers to tackle STEM one week at a time, one day at a time, and one tactic at a time. The more teachers we reach, the more STEM talent is discovered.
Are you a programmer, teacher, principal, engineer, doctor, or other STEM professional? We should all take some time next year to share STEM and to revitalize ourselves. I have 5 resolutions (more like challenges) for you.
1. Introduce people to 5 unique STEM careers.
2. Connect with a STEM professional from another country.
3. Learn a new STEM skill.
4. Keep a tally of STEM problems you solve and give yourself a prize for every 5 you solve. My prize will definitely involve wine and bath bombs!
5. Incorporate physical activity into your schedule 3 times a week.
Happy New Year!
Do you want or need a "RESTART" button for your STEM classroom? Whether your students have pushed your classroom expectations to the point of no return or you just want to change things up, these 5 suggestions will help you achieve a new classroom vibe. You are going to repeat most of these steps for 2 weeks, and they start the moment your students walk through your classroom door. You can implement these suggestions at any time: after break, midweek, on a Monday, or whenever you need that restart button.
1. New Seating.
Rearrange your seating into teams of 4 (if you can) and hand your students a newly assigned seat when they walk through the door. The seating needs to be purposeful. Team up students so that you have an outgoing student (class clown or distracted student works well here), a shy student, a strong student, and a struggling student or as close to this as you can get. A new seat will do wonders for some students. I change my seating chart every 2-4 weeks.
2. Do Now.
Have the students complete a timed "Do Now" that requires a short, easy read, a written answer to an open-end question, and a model build. You can use play-doh for the model. They key is to get them engaged and motivated to sit down and work. The timer starts before they walk in, so I would set a timer for 12 minutes and design the Do Now to take 5 minutes for the average student to complete. The model is last because students are likely to continue to enhance their model until the timer goes off. I allow freedom to work with a partner or entire table if all team members are present at the same time. Students will know where to go, what to do, and will have the option of working with a partner. Most of the time, the students will choose to work alone. I have no idea why. I think they get engrossed in the simple "Do Now' and look forward to the model. Either way, this Do Now model has always worked for me with all types of students. Don't knock it before you try it! Do Now happens every day.
3. 1-2-3 Magic Discipline.
I adapted this from Dr. Tom Phelan's book 1-2-3 Magic. Here's how this works. You need a "break time" desk that is removed from any team. When a student misbehaves, you say "That's 1 for [insert behavior]" then say NOTHING else. I mean NOTHING. Do not address the behavior. If the student repeats the behavior at any time during that class period or continues the behavior for another 5 seconds after the first warning you say, "That's 2" and nothing else. If the student continues the behavior for another 5 seconds or repeats the inappropriate behavior during that class period you say "That's 3, you need a break" and you move the student to the break time desk for 5 minutes. You do not say anything else concerning the behavior nor do you address it in any way. The student just sits in the break time desk. When 5 minutes is up, you discreetly excuse the student back to his/her desk. Again, no addressing the incident. Ignore the student while he/she is in break time unless the student progresses to behavior that admin needs to address. If the student acts silly while taking a break, no worries. Just continue as normal. The key is not to do any more talking or explaining than the script I provided and definitely no negotiating. If the student spends his or her break time acting like a fool just ignore the behavior and proceed on as if nothing is happening. By the end of the day, I would also email or call the parent and let them know what happened as a courtesy to the parent and a way to record the behavior. Use this method every day with every student and within 2 weeks your kids will stop the annoying behavior. Whining, refusing to listen, and talking while I explain all fall into the discipline category as do the more obvious discipline issues. Be sure you explain the system to your kids before you implement 1-2-3 Magic, so they know what's going on. Perseverance is the key. Keep at it for at least 2 weeks before you give up on it and remember to stick to the script. No explanations or negotiations. Read the book if you have time. It works for 3-year-olds and for ages 14-18. Warning: it takes kids around 2 weeks to adjust.
4. New Project, New Form.
Introduce the students to a new project, requiring a new form to be completed during class time only. You can either assign the form or have them choose. Examples of forms are Animoto, Voice Thread, Creaza, Poster, Model, Comic Book, and PowerPoint. Only allow the students to work on the project during class, so they have to communicate with one another and work together to solve a problem. You are establishing a collaborative, cooperative classroom. The marshmallow toothpick challenge and aluminum foil boat challenge are engaging and inexpensive. You can adapt these challenges for any grade level too. For instance, using marshmallows, you can teach macromolecules. Using a foil boat, you can include properties of water or the physics behind the boat shape. The goal is to reinstate a classroom vibe where students are working, learning, and effectively communicating with one another and you. Google the topics if you aren't familiar with the challenges.
5. Student Reflection.
No matter what, reserve 5 minutes plus at the end of the class period for student reflection. Ideas for student reflection:
A. Team discusses answers to 2 open-ended questions.
B. Individuals write answers to 2-4 questions.
C. Independent quiz either formal or informal.
Your goal is to establish reflection as a norm in your classroom. You want your students to settle down and think about what they learned or accomplished with you that day. This will help them appreciate your class time and respect your class as an environment where learning and progression are occurring.
6. Time Everything.
Buy yourself a simple, beeping timer, and time all of your activities. Make a schedule that includes flex time. Make sure the timer beeps loudly because time will inevitably slip away when you get distracted. Give time warnings as well, so students stay motivated but not stressed. Your goal is to designate time and importance to every activity every hour. I find the timer extremely motivating. When you time your activities, you are also motivated to plan a class period full of changing activities versus teaching the same thing for 30-90 minutes. 90 minutes for me might look like
12 mins- Do Now (only takes 8 class minutes because time starts before students enter the room)
3 mins- flex time to discuss answers and clean up
10 mins- teacher explanation of a topic
3 mins- flex time to answer questions
15 mins- student activity
5 mins- project intro
25 mins- work on project
5 mins- flex time for clean up and questions
8 mins- student activity or finish any activities from the day student's weren't able to finish or correct.
8 mins- reflection
You need to follow your time schedule as closely as possible. I write the schedule on the board for my students excluding time and flex time activities, so they know exactly what is going to happen that day but I have the freedom to adjust the time allotment if needed. The fewer surprises, the better student participation. When the timer beeps, students know its times up. They will also understand very quickly that another timed segment of class will start, so they need to stay alert and "in the know". Notice I provide 8 minutes at the end of class for students to wrap up anything they didn't get to finish. You may or may not need this extra flex time, so plan a student activity if your kiddos don't need it.
Now you are armed with 6 techniques for pressing that restart button. Expect your student to resist for at most 2 weeks. I promise after 2 weeks your classroom will be running like a well-oiled STEM machine with very little discipline problems and lots of innovation, excitement, and motivation. The first day is going to be rough, so is the second, but by day 3 they will understand the expectation and will be eager to step into your classroom and see what's happening that day.
Exam Week. Ugh.
Personally, I loathe exam week. Sitting still and being quiet or occasionally walking around while being careful not to disturb students is just plain boring. I love exam review week. I get all excited preparing my students for a test I know they are going to perform very well on (on account of my class is cumulative and I spend all semester preparing them). But then exam time comes....and the room is very quiet and kind of serious. A total letdown compared to fun, relaxed review week. So, how do I survive the student stress, boredom, and longggggg class periods?
1. Peppermints. Seriously, try it. You need 3-4 per day. Leave them open on your desk and have one every once in a while. This will prevent you from bored eating chocolate and all of the junk food that comes with
Christmas. Plus, peppermint allegedly helps you focus which will come in handy later on my list.
2. Challenge yourself to do 30 calf raises (yes the exercise) and to take 150 steps or more every 90 minutes. If 150 is too many, start with 50 and work your way up. Might as well work on those hot calf muscles while the kids are testing (ladies: your legs will look so toned in heels after exam week if you take the challenge).
3. Arrange a potluck lunch with your coworkers. This will give you something to look forward to and will help your street cred on campus. Everyone loves the person who arranges food! Here's a healthy and yummy taco soup recipe you can throw in the crockpot or instant pot if you aren't a master chef.
4. Make a group text with your colleagues and discreetly text one another using GIFs only. You will get a good laugh.
5. Plan for next semester... while you enjoy a peppermint. Honestly, don't work over break. Just go ahead and plan now. Bring your laptop (the keys make less noise) and plan away.
6. Plan a nice meal at home for the last day of exams. I'm talking drinks, apps, dinner, dessert. The whole shebang. It'll be fun and your family, friends, or roommates will appreciate it. Hopefully this takes up a good 2 hours of your time.
-Drink recipe: white wine (optional), cranberry juice, ginger ale, lime. Just mix it until it tastes good. Heavy on the wine.
7. Pilates. Buy yourself a pilates DVD if you don't like going to a gym or studio and do pilates after school. Not only will pilates improve your physical well-being but will relax you. Plus, if you are out of shape what a great time to start exercising! You don't have to do all that much at school and you might inspire yourself to continue working out through the holidays. You will forget mostly about stressing over exam grades and/or grading.
8. Team up with your department to grade exams. This is super easy for me because my current district requires all students to take the same scantron exams. During your planning period, you go around and collect all of the exams and mass grade for everyone. If your department stinks, I'm sorry. If you have to grade by hand, you can still swap off grading during planning.
9. Supply apples, oranges, and/or bananas for your students unless a student has an allergy. Your kids will feel more relaxed and prepared. I'm not sure the psych behind this phenomenon, but it works brilliantly. If you don't have any extra money, ask your local grocery store manager if he can donate the fruit. Usually, they will!
There you have it, 9 ways to deal with exam week. Hope everyone has a super exam week full of peppermints, exercise, food, texting, and planning!
IB- International Baccalaureate.
IB is a European style, rigorous academic programme. I have only taught the "Diploma Programme" which is the high school years here in the US, so I am writing purely from the perspective of an IB Diploma Programme teacher.
I'll start by saying that teaching IB students is an amazing opportunity for any driven teacher. Students have to apply and be accepted to the program. Test scores, other grades, among other factors are considered for acceptance. The program is a fantastic match for intelligent, driven students who do not have major anxiety (I will explain this later).
IB encourages students to embrace 8 learner profiles:
Inquires, Knowledgeable, Thinkers, Communicators, Principled, Open-Minded, Caring, Risk-takers, Balanced, and Reflective. The graphic below goes into details on each one.
IB embraces student-led learning and lends itself to a rigorous curriculum full of opportunities to expand knowledge and experimentation design. IB students are challenged by rigorous projects, materials, and inquiry-based lessons. Students are challenged every day. STEM is easily integrated with IB, especially considering the hands-on approach and emphasis on expanding knowledge and solving real-world problems. The students also have to complete community service hours and must write specific reflections on these experiences outside of the classroom.
So what does an IB teacher do exactly? IB teachers ask their students to research and experiment beyond what most school programs require. The materials present detailed processes and ideas that students can use to solve problems. Novice research and methods are implemented throughout the year. Beyond classwork, students have to write research essays, perform inquiry experiments, perform collaborative research efforts and become experts at presentations. Some student work is graded internally (by a teacher at the school site) and some work is graded externally, in most cases overseas by a moderator. Grading is not flexible as specific guidelines are set and apply to ALL IB schools.
As an IB STEM teacher, I usually introduce really tough materials using a novice article with questions and allow collaboration. I then use a mix of direct instruction, modeling, and collaboration to delve further into the material. Finally, I use an inquiry-based lab or PBL to complete the topic. Teachers have to spend a lot of time prepping assignments. Although students are encouraged to try to learn on their own, IB teachers spend the better part of their day explaining concepts to student groups and individuals, based on the group's or individual's needs. Homework assignments are a must as rigorous material typically requires some review and reflection time outside of the classroom. Also, lab write-ups, essays, and group efforts usually extend beyond the allotted class time. IB teachers are busy as most of the students want an explanation until they all 100% understand the material. They expect top-notch materials, projects, and experiences.
Both students and parents can be extremely critical of an IB teacher's work due to the expectations of the program. IB teachers must grade in detail and be able to defend every lost point. You are expected to have high test scores no matter the students in your classroom. There is definitely pressure to produce high test scores and to create a unique classroom experience. You are expected to have guests visit your classroom, to sponsor a minimum of one club, to tutor students for one hour every day after school or work on classroom materials during this time (at my current site), and to be present for multiple parent conferences beyond the norm. Personally, I thrive in high-stress environments and love the challenge of creating a unique, rigorous experience. I have great relationships with my colleagues, students, parents, and administrators. The beautiful thing about all of this time dedicated to your work is that you build closer relationships with the students and their parents. IB has been a great match for me and I am fortunate to say the same for 99% of my colleagues. We are all highly involved on campus and genuinely like the job.
Okay, now let's talk about the anxiety thing I mentioned. The IB program is not a great match for all intelligent students. Students need to be able to work effectively in a fast-paced, collaborative environment. Students who require extra time to complete assignments or have social difficulties that inhibit group work may not be a great match for the program, but then again I've seen the program help students overcome both obstacles. The program is competitive, so students need to be prepared to face grades that may be lower than their "typical" grades before entering the program. Students also need to be able to manage their time inside and outside of school. Homework load can be rather large, so students must balance time spent on homework, sports, music, other extracurricular activities, and family and social life. The program is not impossible but can create cause stress and aggravate pre-existing anxiety. Also, many students stay up late at night to complete homework for various reasons (procrastination, personal choices, parental choices, etc.), and this lack of sleep can also increase anxiety. In all, the program is a great match for some students and not so great for others. IB is fabulous, but the program is not the be all end all to life. I would recommend evaluating the program for a student on a completely individual basis.
I purposefully did not go into details concerning the specific classes, as classes vary from school to school. I can't speak for all IB programmes, but I can tell you teaching IB has been a wonderful experience for me and I have watched so many students thrive throughout the program. On the flip side, I have also seen some students try to force themselves to be a match for the program and suffer through this process.
Overall, IB is a unique, rewarding, rigorous programme that can enhance a student's learning experience and lead to great opportunities. I recommend trying it out to any student who thrives when they are challenged and who loves to learn.
Almost all people experience life events that prevent us from working, and it happened to be my turn these past few weeks. Unfortunately, our son was hospitalized for quite some time over the holiday. Of course, this happened while the kids and I were traveling sans husband. We have finally returned home and everything is starting to feel normalish again. We haven't fully recovered, but we are adjusting back into a routine and trying to get some much-needed rest.
I know you have probably ached in my shoes before. My family has and always will come before my work. I struggle to nourish my family and my business, but I am always going to choose my family first. Nonetheless, you have to survive these times and the guilt associated with not being able to work. So... how do you cope?
I rely on God and have been humbled by His grace these past three weeks. I am fortunate that I can talk to Him along with my Christian mentor and author of Anguish to Blessing blog, Joy Wade. My point in telling you this is to be open and honest with how I deal with stressful situations that prevent me from working.
Yes, I feel guilty and terrible about pushing my work aside, but I remind myself that Christ should serve as my ultimate example and I know He wants me to take care of my family. Work can be done anytime. I can write curriculum, review modules, code, 3D print, and design any time of the year at any hour I want to. And I will. I know I will feel re-energized in time and the work will get done. I am confident I will find relief and motivation and rest. I know these things, because I have my faith to depend on.
Now, this isn't a religion blog but this blog is about education and work. And bettering education for all kids. We have to be an example to our youth and our peers when it comes to facing rough times. I once was told kids do 90% of what you do and 10% of what you say. I think those stats are real. Yes, our students need to learn scholastic material but they also need to learn the soft skills associated with having a balanced, fulfilling life. I am not saying you have to explain what you are doing or reveal your religion but instead just be an example through your actions.
My actions were not to write any posts, not to review any modules, and to email all of my contracts and tell them I am on hold until further notice. I was nervous to write those emails, but every client was completely understanding and showed kindness and grace. I also know my store may not launch in December as planned- oh well. The store and new site launch when I'm ready. The products are timeless and will remain relevant for years to come.
I hope this gives you more confidence in the choices you make concerning your job. Whether you have to take a week off or just stop for a bit like I did, I want you to know it's tough for most people. Guilt may creep in and you may feel twinges of anxiety. Totally normal. We have important jobs. Peoples' futures depend on us and the experiences we present to our youth. But don't forget part of that job is to be the ultimate example.
The US Navy is using a railgun to shoot down incoming missiles. The railgun is less dangerous and less expensive than conventional ones by relying on electromagnetics to fire rounds. This same technology is being applied for use in space.
The technology that makes the railgun work and that is a potential for other uses is explored in Cross Cutting Concepts Earthbound and Down Mass Driver Lab.
EarthBound and Down Mass Driver Lab encourages your students to take on the roles of an engineering team who will design and test a mass driver that will launch Helium-3 shipments from the Moon to Earth. They will explore energy conversion and use Ohm's law to solve electrical circuit problems. Best part, they get to shoot a projectile! Yep, a ball bearing will be flying out of a plastic tube aimed at a target.
My husband and I completed this lab together and, of course, he launched the ball bearing at my KITCHEN WINDOW! Luckily, no damage was incurred. We had a great time and our kids absolutely loved it. The lab definitely works.
I will say that you need to be available to your students throughout this lab. We ran into a few glitches that were a bit challenging. For instance, we had to solder a wire that came loose from the circuit board and the origami instructions weren't all that clear. I would suggest you complete the lab before assigning it to your students for two reasons:
1. This lab is challenging.
2. You may have to make adjustments.
I think the lab does an excellent job of exploring the difference between Potential, Kinetic, Magnetic, and Electrical Energy. I also think the modeling aspect is a strength- students create a model for projectile motion in two dimensions. If you are teaching NGSS, this lab is ideal for energy conversions.
Overall, I would recommend this lab for an AP or IB Physics class and for other physics classes made up of disciplined students. The lab is challenging, fun, and rewarding. Great quality and all you need in addition to the kit is a hot glue gun and a stapler.
Thank you to CrossCutting Concepts for sponsoring this post.
What is blended learning?
Blended learning basically means students are learning new material using a digital resource that allows them some element of control in a designated location away from home. The material they are learning needs to correspond to concepts they are learning in the classroom, not reinforce or repeat what they are learning in the classroom. In other words, this is new material.
1. Digital Resource- Students learn the material online. I'm talking web-based content and instruction (such as a prerecorded video) replaces teacher face-to-face instruction. A facilitator is required to be present during learning time.
2. Element of Student Control- Students must be able to control some aspect of the instruction. Options for student- control include pace (ability to go back, skip, pause), time of day, location (away from home such as library, after school program, etc), or learning path.
3. Corresponding Material- Students are learning NEW material. The teacher will not reteach this material in class but will continue with content that picks up right where the online material left off.
What's my opinion?
The ability to teach oneself material is invaluable. Blended learning provides students with the skills necessary to learn outside of the classroom. This skill will enhance their academic, social, and professional life do doubt. I cannot even count the number of times my husband and I have watched video to learn how to make and fix things including laying down a basketball court, turning an antique chest of drawers into a bathroom vanity, coding a new website, changing the calipers on a truck, etc. Now, we did learn all of this at home, which is not a part of blended learning. We have saved a ton of money and learned new skills in the process. My husband and I also used online resources to learn material in college when we missed class or needed a second explanation or were told to learn the material on our own. He still watches YouTube videos in order to learn skills to improve his engineering. As a matter of fact, last night he watched a video on MATLAB. We both also use PDFs, online manuals, and other online materials to learn new skills or improve some aspect of our jobs. We do not rely on someone else to enhance our skills but instead teach ourselves using online resources. This ability to learn using online resources has opened the door for me to start my own business and for him to become an engineering director, so yes I feel strongly that students need to learn using online resources outside of the classroom.
I fear stating this, but I do not think blended learning is a realistic opportunity for many students. Some students just do not have access to a location away from home that would allow them to learn online. If a school provides a distinct program with transportation in place, I would be willing to try it out. But...what about sports, music, and other after school activities? How are you going to fairly accommodate all of your students’ time needs? I teach 150 plus students a day, so I am not sure this would work for me personally. Also, many of my students participate in extracurricular activities and do not make it home until dinner time or later. I think blended learning would work really well and be beneficial to college students, but I am not as convinced this is a fair idea for k-12 unless an entire district or school is on board and provides a place, transportation, and designated time when nothing else is happening (either a class period during the day or right after school before any extracurricular activities are allowed to start at that particular school). This means all after school activities would have to be pushed to start later. Or perhaps one day of the week would be "blended learning" day and the media center on site would accommodate this. How would this affect parents, students, and siblings of students? Great idea in theory but I am not sure in reality this will work. We haven't even looked at the extra costs associated with blended learning. Can a school or school district even afford to accommodate this? How often and how many classes would be implementing "blended learning"? All subject grade teachers would have to take turns using this method in order for students to have enough time to complete this type of learning outside of class time.
I think a good compromise is to provide students "blended learning style" opportunities during class time. Perhaps take your class to the media center and have them use an online tool to learn new material for one day out of the month. You can even incorporate this method within a project. Have them learn the background material for the project on their own using online resources.
I am not sure all k-12 students are mature enough to handle tons of "blended learning". I would suggest implementing this technique on a very part-time basis. We cannot expect our students to complete a "blended learning" lesson for all 7 classes in one day. Teacher collaboration would be imperative to make this work. I think a lot of money and community collaboration would be needed in order to make this a reality.
I haven't been posting twice a week and with good reason- guess what? I AM ABOUT TO LAUNCH MY NEW SITE!
I cannot wait to share my new site with all of my readers- y'all are going to love it. I have also been busy developing projects for my store. That's right- you will be able to purchase projects for all grades coming soon. The projects are easy to implement and span from art to history to math to science to engineering. I also made them affordable. Developing these projects obviously takes a ton of time, so that's been my main focus in addition to transferring everything over to my new site. Formatting is a stinker, let me tell you. I wish I could simply copy and paste everything over and viola, have a new site. Butttttt transferring one site into a new format is not that simple. Honestly, I have been challenged by the task which has been a stressful but nice distraction from the constant #momlife.
In addition to developing my new site and store projects, I am working with a virtual reality company to develop modules for science classes. I cannot go into details right now, but the work has also been a nice challenge. We are finally getting into a good rhythm and have sustained a format, so hopefully, development will speed up there. I really like the people I am working with and wish they were closer so we could meet at a coffee shop for tea or something. Long distance work relationships are difficult, especially when the people are cool.
In other news, we are now an official partner of SolidWorks. I am pumped about this. Just wait on all of the collaborative efforts to surface- we won't disappoint.
My last project is a personal one. I have been setting time aside to strengthen my relationships with my children and my husband. Working from home as a stay at home mom really drains me, so I need to make sure I am doing more than working. Taking care of my children is work, cleaning my home is work, and building The Practical Educator is work. I am making sure I am playing with my children sans technology while they are still home with me. We have been enjoying hours of sunshine lately. I only work on The Practical Educator while my oldest is at school (total of hours a week) or both children are asleep (at night). I know that I am a better boss lady when my personal life is being nourished. My husband and I have also been focusing on our relationship with Christ which has tremendously improved our marriage and our work lives.
I do have several posts planned including one on blended learning, so watch for it later this week or early next week.
Thanks for continuing to read as I take time to get my new site launched. Y'all are awesome!
I've had an influx of new readers, so I figure it's time for a little introduction.
Hi! I am Xandy Whitman, The Practical Educator. I started and finished college in a pre-med program at Louisiana Tech University. I was extremely involved in campus life as a cheerleader, VP of AWS (Association of Women Students), VP-PR of my sorority Kappa Delta, and a member of several academic clubs. At the bitter last moment of my BA, I declined medical school. Luckily right after a NOYCE STEM grant recruiting educators with science backgrounds fell into my lap. I then pursued my MAT is secondary science education.
Now, I'll copy and paste a more formal intro from my About Me section:
I have been teaching STEM science courses for 6 years and am a leading education professional in 3D printing and its application in Project-Based Learning. I have developed numerous STEM practices, including a STEM Biology curriculum currently utilized in 41 different countries, cross-curriculum virtual reality curriculum development, and 3D printing curriculums and models for ages spanning k-university level. I also designed and taught professional development curriculum for PBL (Project Based Learning) and for Best Practices for 3D Printing in the STEM classroom to hundreds of teachers. I have published my work for public use on my website, http://www.thepracticaleducator.com/, which includes an education blog that addresses a myriad of topics including problem-solving via Engineering Design Process, collaboration with industry, rubric development, NGSS transitions, CAD, and 3D printing. I founded the Robotics Club at my school and have won over $7,000 in technology grants over the past 3 years.
I earned a BA in Biology and an MAT in Secondary Science Education at Louisiana Tech University. I am a fellow NOYCE STEM Scholar and have researched, published, and presented materials on technology integration in the secondary classroom during my time working with Dr. Dawn Basinger at the LA Tech Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership. I currently live in Tampa, Florida with my husband and two children.
What's your story?
What characteristics of STEM make STEM classes advantageous in preparing students for life over traditional math, science, art, and engineering classes?
1. Students are challenged to solve real-world problems on a range of topics.
2. Projects answers are open-ended.
3. Student answers can vary greatly and still be correct.
4. The Engineering Design Process (EDP) allows for students to redesign and retest "failures".
5. Communication skills are key.
I'm going to give you a quick explanation of each:
1. Students are challenged to solve real-world problems on a range of topics.
When students transition into a career one day, they will face problems that will need to be solved. These problems will arise from human impact, miscalculations, material failures, miscommunications, unhappy customers, etc. Students need to become comfortable synthesizing a solution to these types of problems and need to gain confidence in their problem-solving skills. Students also gain from exposure to a range of topics, because they are exposed to more career options, types of problems, and diversity of materials used to solve these problems.
2. Projects answers are open-ended.
We want our students to be inquirers; we want them to be curious and to act on that curiosity. We want them to solve a problem, but to also be curious in how to improve, refine, or extend this solution. Students may want to explore shortening production time, cutting costs, using different materials, or altering a design for a different climate. Answers to real-world problems should never end. As technology and materials advance, so should our solutions.
3. Student answers can vary greatly and still be correct.
I love that STEM projects provide students with the opportunity to design a unique prototype, solution, or implementation tactic. Keyword- unique. Unique solutions to problems are one facet that drives our economy. Companies win contracts based on their unique materials, products, and methods.
4. The Engineering Design Process (EDP) allows for students to redesign and retest "failures".
In a nutshell, EDP involves defining a problem, researching the problem, brainstorming multiple solutions, choosing a solution, building and testing the solution, communicating redesign ideas, retesting, then repeating any of the steps needed. If a prototype fails, students may go back to their initial brainstorm board and pick an entirely different solution or may choose to redesign the current solution. Redesign can include substituting materials, changing measurements, or tweaking designs. EDP allows students the opportunity to work until a realistic solution is found.
5. Communication skills are key.
Most STEM projects are completed in teams and communication is forced on the team. Every team member must communicate and contribute in order for a solution to be reached. I recommend assigning STEM roles to your students to help with communication. My STEM roles allow only one delegate per group to communicate issues to me which forces all students to accurately convey problems to this delegate. Here is an example of STEM roles I have used.
STEM can prepare students to transition into any career. Everyone, no matter the job, faces problem-solving from customer service to engineer director. Why not prepare our students starting now?
I am officially challenging all of my teacher readers to relocate their classroom for one day before the new year. DON'T STOP READING- THIS IS EASY!
Students sometimes need a change of scenery much like they need a change of seating. Now, I teach in south Florida so I usually relocate my classroom outdoors or the gym pending the weather, but you can relocate to a media center, auditorium, computer lab, or other large space available to you. One the day of relocation, you should try to implement an activity or lab. Have the students move and gather data. Trust me, your students will LOVE this "out of classroom experience" and will request it again. So... what do I do?
Idea 1: Math, Science
Outdoor physical education lab where you measure heart rate. We will incorporate data to cover math and we will incorporate heart rate to cover science.
- Divide your students into teams of 2-4 students.
-Set up several stations for students to choose from such as 15 yd sprint, push-ups, jumping jacks, hula hoop, cone obstacles, etc. Ask a PE teacher for help or google "PE game ideas".
- Elementary/Middle Students: Teach your students how to time one another using a stopwatch, digital device, or by counting
-Middle/High Students- Teach your students how to measure heart rate or if you have blood pressure cuffs, you can include blood pressure
- Require students to visit at least 3 stations (number flexible pending time) and record data. See data table suggestions below.
If you want an outdoor field-based lab, this Ecology project for middle or high school students is really easy. All you need is string.
Other ideas are scavenger hunt, breakout boxes, pretend field trip (you set up stations to mock a museum, park, etc), and labs. All of these activities can be completed outside of your classroom. You don't have to get fancy with this, just get your kids into a new learning environment. New location= excitement. With that being said, be sure to constantly monitor and to group in a manner that cuts out as much mischievous behavior as possible.
Take photos of your set up, tag @thepracticaleducator on social media, and include the hashtag #ClassReloChallenge
Successfully implementing a Flipped Classroom model can be quite the challenge. The idea of a teacher depending on students to learn material ON THEIR OWN with little reinforcement seems a bit risky, right?
What exactly even is a flipped classroom?
Flipped Classroom- activity first (students learn on their own or in a group), teacher-led instruction later.
Traditional Flipped Classroom Example:
Day 1: Students are asked to watch a video on photosynthesis for homework.
Day 2: Students complete a team-based inquiry lab on photosynthesis.
Day 3: Teacher gives students a quiz, students self-grade the quiz, and finally teacher clarifies any misconceptions on photosynthesis based on quiz data.
If you teach Magnet students who are all disciplined and are willing to ask for clarification, the above method may work out great. However, most teachers do not teach classroom's full of self-motivated, scholastically gifted kids every hour of the day. Heck, most students refuse to do homework. So....what's a better plan?
Modified Flipped Classroom Option 1:
Activity A: Entire class watches a short video on photosynthesis then, in teams, students discuss the answers to teacher-provided prompts. Teacher visits each group and corrects any misconceptions that arise.
Activity B: Students design a lab on photosynthesis and begin setting up.
Activity C: Students read an article on photosynthesis, then in teams record answers to teacher-designed questions.
Activity A: Students complete a team-based inquiry lab on photosynthesis.
Activity B: Teacher gives students a quiz, students self-grade the quiz, and finally teacher clarifies any misconceptions on photosynthesis based on quiz data.
Option 1 above allows the students to work in teams to gain conceptual understanding with teacher influence readily available. Notice no homework is required.
Flipped Classroom Option 2:
First, divide your students into two equal groups of mixed-ability teams. Secondly, try to position half of your seats facing your whiteboard or teacher-led instruction area and the other half facing away from the teacher-led instruction space. Designate the group facing you "Group A" and the Group Facing away from the teacher-led instruction area "Group B".
-Group A: Using your preferred teacher-led instruction method, teach photosynthesis to Group A.
-Group B: Group B watches a video and answers prompts in teams. Have a backup article for early finishers.
Swap groups for activities above.
-Group B: Using your preferred teacher-led instruction method, teach photosynthesis to Group B.
-Group A: Group A watches a video and answers prompts in teams. Have a backup article for early finishers.
Activity C: Students design a team-based inquiry lab on photosynthesis.
Activity A: Students complete a team-based inquiry lab on photosynthesis.
Activity B: Teacher gives students a quiz, students self-grade the quiz, and finally teacher clarifies any misconceptions on photosynthesis based on quiz data.
This method is great for rambunctious classes. By dividing the class in half, you are teaching half of the kids while keeping an eye on the group completing the activity. As long as you walk and teach, you will be using proximity control to help with behavior. This method has worked very well for me in both high level and standard level classes. The key is that you swap which group gets the activity versus the teacher-led instruction for the next lesson. For instance, if after photosynthesis you teach cellular respiration, you would use teacher-led instruction on Group B first and have Group A watch the video first.
Flipped Classroom Option 3
Activity A: Set up your room with several stations student will be visiting in teams. Each station has an activity that lasts 5-7 minutes that teaches the student a new concept or adds on to concepts already learned. You can have a mini lab, an article, a video, a modeling station, etc. You will be monitoring and directing students the entire time.
Activity B: Students are allowed to ask questions for approximately 5-7 minutes concerning concepts learned via the stations.
Activity A: Repeat Day 1 and visit stations not visited Day 1.
Activity B: Students are allowed to ask questions for approximately 5-7 minutes concerning concepts learned via the stations.
Activity C: Class quiz.
Option 3 appeals to a diverse learner. You can give students the option to work in groups or to work independently. I would group all of the "independent" students together and have them visit the stations and work in silence. All of the other students should be grouped in teams of your choice. I recommend mixed ability for this "carousel station" type method. You need to constantly monitor students during station times. I usually find that one station is troublesome for students, so I "hang out" around that station prepared to help during each rotation. If you aren't using proximity control or if you poorly group your students, they will quickly deviate from that station's instructions and start a class activity of their own. Be sure you stay on top of your students and offer gentle, kind motivation. They need to gain confidence in their abilities to learn on their own. The abundance of types of activities in the stations will also give you and your students an idea of how they best learn. WIN!
Traditional Flipped classroom works really well for university-level students and for highly motivated gifted students. If you have a class of diverse students or young students, I would probably recommend starting with a modified version of the Flipped Classroom. Remember, the idea is that students try on their own first. Some students will "mislearn" concepts, so be sure you are an integral part of reflection and misconception clarification. Also, flipping your classroom does not mean you have to assign homework and depend on the students to learn on their own. Use student collaboration to your advantage and try to divide your students into small groups so you are target areas of need.
I understand the frustration that can come from a failed flipped classroom attempt, but try these methods and just see what happens. Let me know if you do!
The most common email/ message “I’ve been getting lately is "I just got hired to teach a STEM course and I need help. Where do I even begin?"
Think of swapping to STEM as a process, not a drastic, immediate change. Give yourself time to develop projects and remember not everything you do has to be STEM. You can incorporate traditional methods with STEM projects. As a goal, try to do 80% collaborative or STEM work and 20% independent or traditional work. If that’s not feasible, start with 50/50 and shift into 80/20.
I have 5 tricks to get you started.
1. Start by designing a project that covers a topic you love or know a lot about. PBL (project-based learning) is a great way to ease yourself into STEM life. The quick steps are
A. Choose a topic.
B. Propose a problem associated with the topic that students need to solve.
C. Decide what form for the project you want the students to use (build a website, design a poster, etc).
C. Decide what types of materials the students need to solve the problem.
D. Create an Outline of the project.
E. Create a rubric.
2. Get yourself some basic STEM supplies that can be used as building materials. Play-doh, straws, glue, cups, toothpicks, etc. You can always ask your students to build a physical model of the topic at hand. Modeling takes time, thought, and engineering skills.
3. Get on Pinterest and build yourself a STEM board. Mine is here.
4. Sign up for a free CAD program, reserve media center time, and have your kids learn CAD. Project Ignite is really great for younger students.
5. Make a STEM team. If you cannot find anyone at your school, find people on social media and explain your needs. You will then have a constant resource supply.
I am so thrilled that hundreds of teachers are swapping from traditional teaching methods to STEM teaching methods. We live in a beautiful maker world and our students are going to benefit from our hard work. Everyone's STEM looks different, so relax and take it one project at a time.
Reflection is an essential part of learning and of revising our methods to better our experiences in the future. We have got to make a valiant effort to provide our students with time to reflect on their learning experiences and to decide what is important to them. When students reflect, they are provided with the opportunity to sort their learning, identify needs areas, and commit experiences to long-term memory.
During graduate school, I made 4 activity sheets intended to be closure activities as well as student reflections. They require anywhere from 5-10 minutes to complete. I have used these reflection sheets successfully for 6 years. Yes, 6 years. I will admit I sometimes forget to use them or I run out of time or I use other methods (I'll address these later). I learned this technique during grad school, and I realize the importance of retaining this particular method. I think the longer we teach, the further we fall away from techniques we learned in graduate school. I encourage you to rethink this one. If your students are not reflecting, they are missing out on opportunities to correct habits that could change their educational experience in your classroom.
I am linking all of the closure reflection actives as a PDF within the activity name. Click the Name to download!
1. HOTS, NOTS, GOTS
This reflection sheet is designed to help students categorize concepts they learned by how well they understand the material. You can provide students with a list of topics or have them use their own notes. Any materials they have completely mastered and are ready to be tested on goes in HOTS, materials they know but need to review again goes into GOTS, and materials they did not understand at all go into NOTS. The students can use this sheet next class period to get help with NOTS or to review any GOTS. They can also compare sheets and help one another with different areas of weakness. For instance, if student A has photosynthesis on NOTS and student B has photosynthesis on HOTS, student B can review photosynthesis with student A for bell work.
This reflection sheet encourages students to identify three facts they learned, 2 questions they still have, 1 new, old, or revised opinion, and finally, asks them to prioritize 3-2-1 points from most interesting to least interesting. Again, students are reviewing concepts they know and questioning concepts they did not fully understand. 3-2-1 also leaves room for students to again review any misconception that was cleared during the lesson. By prioritizing everything, they are deciding which topics mean the most to them which helps with memory retention.
3. Synthesize Science
This reflection sheet is designed to get students to contribute to their own learning. Students are asked to predict what they will be learning next and to provide an explanation of their prediction. They are asked to create an example activity that will help them remember the lesson- you can and should use these ideas. Students know what helps them retain and understand information. Next, they revise confusing parts of their notes. This helps them restate information in a way that makes sense to them. Lastly, they formulate a plan or find a way to study/remember the lesson. Students have wacky little methods they use to study- now is the time to pull those out. Students can share these ideas with classmates, so others can benefit from methods derived to help information retention.
4. Evaluate Your Learning
This reflection sheet is designed to get students to think about learning in terms of what concepts interest them the most and what concepts are going to be hardest to remember. First, they will recall and rewrite a statement a classmate made that they agree with. Next, they will prioritize 3 things they learned in any way they want. Lastly, they will rank what they learned from hardest to easiest. They can use the ranking to determine which concepts they need to review for homework or need to ask for help on.
I usually make all 4 sheets available to students and have them choose one to use. They must use all 4 every two weeks. You can use them how you see fit.
I mentioned that sometimes I use other methods for reflection. If we are in the middle of a project, I often use a group meeting as closure. Other times, I give a small pop quiz or have a verbal discussion where I randomly call on students to go over something they learned or have a question on. If I notice several students share a common misconception, I address the misconception as closure.
Ultimately, you can use whatever you want as closure. I just encourage you not to forget reflection, because with a shortage of time and overwhelming curriculum the method is often forgotten.
Usually, I am not a huge fan of "prescribed labs", but I must say I found the gold mine of prescribed labs. Desolation STEM Modules from Cross Cutting Concepts has made several modules that provide students with the opportunity to solve a real-world problem then create a model using their solutions. The modules come with everything you need to carry out all tasks with the exception of basic lab supplies like beakers, multi-meters, and graduated cylinders. Best part- THEY WORK!
The first module I completed is Total Redox™ Fuel Cells. As described on Desolation STEM's website, the goal of this module is:
"Your students will help design and construct a makeshift fuel cell to get the stranded HAWC astronauts back to the outpost. Power output from the substitute fuel cell will be severely limited, so the optimum route home must also be found."
Students will construct the battery using given supplies and will use software to model the route home. My husband happens to be a battery engineer, so I decided to make him my lab partner for this module. He agrees that overall the module is an excellent representation of a problem students could face in a future engineer career.He was especially impressed that the battery we built reached 1.37 volts, near maximum voltage potential of 1.44 volts.
How the module is set up:
1. NGSS and Common Core Math Standards: especially useful during evaluations or for test prep.
2. Teaching Time Line: provides options depending on how much class time you have.
3. Teacher Notes: Literally includes everything you need to do and everything you need to instruct your students to do. Numbered instructions with a loose script are clear and thorough.
4. Story: A story from the perspective of a field-based engineer is presented to the students. The real-world problem is presented through the story.
5. Background Information: History, diagrams, explanations, and example problems are all provided.
6. Pre-Lab Questions: Aligned with the background information.
7. Lab Procedure: Challenging and extensions are presented. Explanations are provided where needed. Definitely need a group of students to work on this. Everyone may approach the main challenge differently, so inquiry is present. If you are wanting a procedure that challenges to build something as well as model, these modules are for you. EXCELLENT!
8. Post Lab Questions: Challenging questions I would recommend solving in groups.
9. Glossary of Terms.
These modules would fit nicely in a math class, STEM class, physics class, or MakerSpace. Students are not only building but are also modeling and solving math problems. You could complete the module independently, but the problems are design to be solved in teams.
We did have to deviate from the procedure slightly to for the electrons to flow into the zinc chamber by unscrewing the top of the small tube. This allowed air to escape the "air piston" that was created during the battery build which was pushing electrons down. It was an easy, 2-second fix. Lastly, be sure you properly label everything you use that is not provided in the module.
Overall, I think students will walk away from this module feeling a sense of pride for accomplishing a task that solves a problem with a team. I highly recommend these modules, as they are thorough. It's as if a field-based professional and a teacher designed these together to meet the needs of industry and modern students. I cannot wait to try out the next one!
The intent of this post is not to convince or warn you against vaccines. This post is intended to provide you with ideas on how to educate parents so they can make an informed decision on whether or not to vaccinate their children.
Every year, students "fall out" for weeks at a time during flu season. Students are sent to school with "contagious germs", and viral illness spreads like wildfire. Stomach bug usually means 2-3 days of missed school, but the flu can mean weeks of absences along with hospitalizations. We all genuinely care about the well-being of our students, so we try to prevent illnesses and absences. We wipe down our stations and desks, spray Lysol like it's a cheap commodity, and encourage hand washing constantly. But can we do more? The answer is yes.
We can inform parents.
1. Send an informational email with an infographic on vaccinations.
2. Send home a printout with vaccine information.
3. Teach students how vaccines work and encourage them to share learned information with parents, understanding that parents may choose not to vaccinate for a plethora of reasons (religious, personal, etc.). You are teaching the science behind vaccines not convincing your students they need to get vaccinated.
I have attached some resources below.
Use your own judgment in deciding which if any approach is appropriate for your students and their parents. Vaccines are a sensitive topic, so be sure to stick with the science and leave opinions completely out. Again, your goal is to educate parents so they can make an informed decision concerning the well-being of their own children.
How should I manage student behavior?
I'm discouraged from writing referrals, so what can I do with these kids when blatant misbehavior is happening every day?
I have 30 students in a tiny classroom at one time, what the heck am I supposed to do when they are all hyper or all tired?
I will admit I am not a star disciplinarian. I do not have an elaborate behavior plan and I do not implement a ton of rules. You probably think I'm nuts, right? My discipline plan is below.
I honestly do not have a behavior problem in my classroom. I hold students accountable for the information on the discipline plan and my kids behave. They don't sleep and they don't act out constantly. But how?
I have five main secrets for managing student behavior. Ready?
1. Ignore behaviors that just aren't that big of a deal, albeit annoying. I do not even acknowledge some behaviors. I just teach right through this misbehavior and students who want to learn take care of it. Positive peer pressure. I find that other students will "shush" and call out disruptive classmates. They will ask students wandering around beyond the needs of a hyperactive student to go stand in the designated area I have for standing, etc. I literally do nothing but pretend these annoying behaviors do not exist. I highly recommend a standing area as well an independent work area. Make space. These are a priority for managing student behavior. Disclaimer: behavior that is harmful to students does not fall into this category.
2. Involve the parents from day 1. You are going to have to work on this. If you are lazy or aren't consistent when it comes to parent contact, you are missing out. Parents are a tremendous help and influence. They have the power to take away technology, free time, or whatever else they know works to motivate their kid to behave. Don't tell me parents don't care. You just haven't found a way to connect with parents. You need to find them and let them know that you are on a team together and that this team is going to help their student become a successful young man or young woman. Read this post for more information. No excuses here.
3. Free time is a joke. My students know I utilize every second of class. The beauty of teaching STEM is that students can work on projects when they finish activities early. I almost always have a project going on that runs anywhere from 2-4 weeks. I designate class time to work on projects, but I also allow students to work on projects anytime they have "nothing else to do". I provide students with extend assignments that cover several topics we are learning about. These extend assignments are usually interesting articles with visuals or cool videos with more information on topics we are learning or have learned. Lastly, I have technology they can tinker with during this time. They can 3D print something for personal use or examine anything they want under a microscope. Sometimes they even come up with their own ideas for activities during this time which I usually approve. However, if I catch a student working on something for another class, I simply take the material away and stick it in that teacher's box with a note explaining what happened. Usually, I only have to do this 2 or 3 times and it miraculously never happens again. Word spreads.
4. Constantly monitor. Don't wear uncomfortable shoes to teach STEM. You need to be walking around your classroom ALL DAY. Suck it up, put on your Fitbit, and enjoy all of the steps you get ;). In all seriousness, you need to be aware of everything going on in your classroom at all times. The only way to be aware is to be present and be involved. Proximity control (teacher stands close to student) does wonders for controlling students' urges to act out inappropriately. You should be walking around and conversing with students. Fix corrections, explain misconceptions, and give a lot of verbal praise. I like to carry around stickers or stamps and put them on impressive work. I am always a few steps away in the event a student gets off track. I can hear and see the misbehavior, so I simply walk over and engage that student in conversation and guide them back to the assignment. Even when I need to provide direct instruction, I only explain a concept for a few minutes during which time students are not allowed to talk or write. When I finish, I answer questions as I walk around then I allow the students to record the concept in their notebook. You have time for this even though you think you don't. If you control behavior, you have time for way more educational options than you can imagine.
5. Consistency is key. Teachers must be predictable in how they handle student behavior. For instance, all of my students know I will contact mom after school if homework was not turned in that day. Every time. I make this happen. Sometimes, I'm late to practice, but the contact happens. I prefer to make a general email, bcc all of the parents and viola save some time. Our current email server does not allow bcc, so I send a generic message via our grading platform to every parent whose student did not complete homework. I also send an email or call home for any inappropriate behavior, especially if the behavior distracts other students or is disrespectful to me or other school staff. If a student explodes gets snappy with me, I'm calling his/her parent that same day. Here's the best part, I don't even tell the students I'm contacting their parent. They find out from their parents what happened and what the next consequence is for repeat behavior. Sneaky, but it works!
STEM classrooms are not designed to require students to sit still for long periods of time. STEM classes should look like collaborative, design, movement, and reflection. Remember that you have to have realistic expectations for student behavior and ignoring some behavior does not make you an ineffective classroom manager.
Warning: this post is not for the light of heart. Some students really do hate unfair teachers. I've observed students' behaviors towards these unfair teachers. It's not pretty.
The one quality that students may say is the most important for their teacher is that the teacher is fair. How can teachers possibly treat all students the same when they are all so different- the answer is by being fair. I guarantee you that if you are not fair some students will (yes this is a strong word) hate you. There I said it.
Teachers who do not treat their students fairly have groupies who love them and almost everyone else who hates them. The groupies are the students the teachers do not hold accountable for the same types of actions and work they hold everyone else accountable for. The groupies get away with "everything" and still somehow manage to make all A's in the class. The teacher blatantly favors these groupies. Do you remember a teacher or admin who played favorites? Were you the favorite or did you dislike this person? Very few people fall in the middle. But why?
Students are constantly observing what a teacher does. You may not realize it, but your students are watching you and they know exactly who can get away with what. They can also probably predict your final grade book results. Scary, right?
So what are they looking for? Students look for opportunities to sneak in some bad behavior and they look for opportunities to impress you. They watch to see how you respond to them then they compare your response to them with your response to other students. Student friends may even set you up to test your fairness. Haven't you ever heard, "Xandy did the same thing and you didn't call her mom."?
I am telling you that students are comparing how you treat them to how you treat others and they are developing an opinion of you based off of this fairness. Bad and good news- the opinion is contagious.
Example 1: Students at lunch.
Chase: "Mrs. Whitman emailed my mom during class because I did not complete my homework assignment. Ugh. She is so mean."
Alexandra: "OMG Mrs. Whitman did the same thing to me. Guess we actually have to do our homework for her. How annoying."
Miranda: "Crap, I better do my homework now. I have her next class period."
Example 2: Students at lunch.
Chase: "Mrs. Whitman emailed my mom during class because I did not complete my homework assignment. Ugh. She is so mean."
Alexandra: "Really? My mom hasn't said anything to me, and I didn't do my homework either. Let's ask everyone else. Are you going to say something to her about that? So not fair. Oh, and don't call me out, I don't want to get in trouble."
Miranda: "Well maybe she favors girls. Let's hope so because I didn't do my homework either. Let's see if she emails my mom or not."
Do you understand why you have to be fair? Kids talk. They talk about you. They want to like and trust you, but they need you to be fair. If you do not treat everyone fairly, you end up severing a bond that helps the student effectively learn. When students like a teacher, they tend to try hard to impress that teacher. Students treat fair teachers with respect and are willing to buy into their class. Students do the opposite to unfair teachers. Groupies are taking advantage of unfair teachers and the haters are doing everything in their power to tick them off and to further test their unfairness. Unfair environments are toxic to student success.
When you are fair, students will work hard for you. They will walk into your classroom ready to learn and willing to try out new methods. When you aren't fair, expect a 10% return rate on homework and less than stellar test scores.
You have got to treat all students fairly. This does not mean all consequences have to be the same, they just have to be equal.