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.
Are you envious of teachers who leave school without a bag overflowing with papers that need to be graded? I am that teacher who leaves with nothing but my lunchbox, purse, and relaxed mind. Guess why? I plan ahead (don't worry this part is not required) and I grade with purpose (REQUIRED). Let me define both for you.
1. Plan ahead- I plan entire units, semesters, or years all at once. I use a general template to structure my lessons and leave freedom to add in PBL opportunities that arise. I publish all of the lessons online but you can use a word document, binder, online notebook, or whatever you want to compile your work. If you teach on a team and cannot plan ahead, no worries because you can still save time by grading with purpose. If you use a general template, your grading will speed up because you will be looking at familiar formats over and over.
2. Grading with purpose- only grading work that will be assessed. Yep, I said it. Do not grade everything your students record. Do not grade using a super detailed rubric. Do not grade work that will not be tested. YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME. Lastly, grading for completion is acceptable given conditions I'll discuss later.
Learning is not about being able to master an assessment. Learning is about gaining knowledge and experiences and nourishing a curious mind. If you assess everything your students learn, you may be taking the fun out of learning and instead creating robot students who meticulously record everything for fear they will be tested on the material. Students should not walk into a learning environment driven by anxiety and fear but should waltz into a learning environment driven by collaboration, curiosity, and inquiry. So what does this grading with purpose method look like?
Example 1: You require your students to complete an online simulation accompanied by 25 questions. The purpose of the simulation is to teach your students about energy transfer via the energy pyramid. I suggest you look over the questions, choose 3-5 questions that represent materials the students will be tested on. I would look for a question on the law of conservation of energy, energy "loss" aka energy transfer, and calculating joules passed throughout the trophic levels. After I find 3-5 quality questions that cover these main topics, I grade them only. Each one is worth 2 points, so the assignment is worth 6-10 points. The other questions do not need to be graded. Don't even peek at them. MOVE ON!
Example 2: Take the same 25 questions accompanying a simulation above and instead of grading specific questions, quickly flip through the work and assign a completion grade. When you return the work, go over the answers to the 3-5 key questions you identified as assessment material and allow students to correct their work.
Example 3: You require your students to work out 10 math problems for homework. Choose 3 to grade. Provide an answer sheet and have the students correct any other problems they calculated incorrectly. If they have a question, they can ask you for help during independent work time (or whenever you designate this time).
Example 4: PBL (project-based learning) and lab general rubrics. Keep your rubrics short and specific. This post gives more insight.
Example 5: You assign your students to read a data-filled article and respond to a prompt. They must support their argument (answer) using data from the article. When everyone is finished, you ask students to compare their answers to their learning teams' answers and discuss strengths and weaknesses of everyone's argument. The grading is in the form of peer evaluations and discussions. Your job is to walk around and contribute to the conversations and to keep the groups focused. If your students are not great at evaluating one another's work, you may need to provide them with questions to ask one another or with a Venn Diagram or other chart they can use to guide the conversations.
I hope the examples above inspire you to grade with a purpose. Remember, you can always provide an answer key for students who want or need to check every answer. If parents have a problem with your grading, send the answer key home and let them go over every question with their student. Your time is valuable. If you want to enjoy your job, you need to keep balance. Balance means work shouldn't come home with you every day.
Overall, try to modify the number of individual questions you are grading and try to develop or find some general rubrics. Also, rely on students to evaluate one another's work. Collaboration and peer evaluation happens every day in the real world. Don't all teachers at your school get evaluated by a principal or other personnel? Exactly- students need to learn to give and to accept peer feedback.
Trust me, you are not improving test scores or preparing students for life by micrograding.
Differentiated instruction is a method of teaching that accommodates students' differences in academic level, learning style, and time needs. Originally, teachers were asked to create the same version of a lesson multiple times using a variety of resources in order to appeal to all students. Some teachers still use this timely method. I personally do not think differentiating the same lesson multiple times is the best approach to differentiated instruction. I mean honestly, should a teacher really be spending her time writing the same lesson 10 times? Probably not.
So how can you effectively differentiate instruction in a timely manner? STUDENT CHOICE! I'm going to provide you an example of how I would differentiate a lesson with the template
1. Do Now- Article with Questions
2. Mini Team Inquiry Lab
3. Video with Prompt
4. Mini project (continues into next lesson)
1. Do Now- For the article, all students read the same article and answer 3 of the same questions in their notebook. You can provide a summary of the article at the end for students who are struggling with the article. Simply let your students know the summary is there and allow them to choose what to do with it. When they finish, the students have to synthesize and answer 2 HOTS questions on their own and may choose to either write them down or have a conversation with someone at their table about the questions and answers. Provide a second, interesting article for early finishers on the same topic. When everyone has finished, have a class discussion and write down important facts on the board. Be sure to give everyone time to correct his/her work before you move on. What I have just done is accommodated struggling readers by providing a summary, and have accommodated advanced readers by providing a second article, and have accommodated everyone by giving complete freedom with the 2 HOTS questions. As long as your students are grouped in a way that everyone has a teammate who is on a similar academic level, this method will be successful. Just try it! And don't worry if strong readers skip the article and just read the summary. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, just pull the student aside and privately request they read the entire article next time. If a slower reader is trying to read the entire article, perhaps discreetly suggest they first read the summary and complete the assignment then go back and read the entire article if/when they finish the required work.
2. Mini Team Inquiry Lab- you provide the materials and topic, the students design and carry out the lab. Again, freedom is lab design and procedures. Have everyone follow a general lab template. I just developed this one.
3. Video with prompt- Everyone watches the same video and responds to the same prompt. Give students freedom in response type: verbal, written, or model (play-doh and CAD are great modeling tools). Set a timer or 5 minutes and let students know they can choose 1 form of response or multiple forms. At the end of 5 minutes, have a class show and tell with discussion. What I have just accommodated is all types of learners and students who respond both slowly and quickly. If a student responds quickly, she may have a model, a conversation, and a written response whereas a slow responder may only have a written response and a kinesthetic learner may make a model while having a conversation.
4. Mini project- I always allow students to choose the form of the presentation aid and I also provide a minimum of 2 topics. You can provide options within strict or non-strict creative constraints depending on the project and your students. I do recommend some non-negotiable items when implementing PBL to ensure they learn the concepts you targeted.
5. Closure- Again, give students freedom in restating or reflecting on what he/she learned. You can use a bullet list as a guide for reflection or you can provide complete freedom. I would definitely limit the time to 3-5 minutes. If you are grading the closure, form may matter but if you aren’t I’d leave the form up to the students.
Differentiated Instruction does not have to mean more work for the teacher or the students, it can simply be accommodated by providing multiple student options. That old saying "work harder not smarter" definitely applies to differentiated instruction.
STEM- Science Technology Engineering Mathematics
STEAM- Science Technology Engineering Art Mathematics
STEEM- Science Technology Engineering Entrepreneurship Mathematics
Have you ever wondered why I use STEM instead of STEAM or STEEM? Here's the deal, that "extra" A for Art in STEAM and that extra "E" in STEEM for entrepreneurship were woven deeply into my pedagogy when I first started my teaching journey.
After earning degrees in Biology and Chemistry and deciding I did not want to pursue med school (my original goal), I was approached by Dr. Larry Sellers at Louisiana Tech University to apply for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program. He was one of the best teachers I've ever encountered, quite possibly the very best, and he told me he thought I would make a great STEM teacher. At the time, I had ZERO idea what the heck I wanted to do and he told me graduate school would be paid for, so I jumped on board. STEM stuck with me from the day Dr. Sellers led me to meet with Dr. Dawn Basinger. In her office as she explained all of the details and requirements for earning the NOYCE STEM Scholarship, I immediately knew I wanted to work with her, so I decided to apply. I was accepted into the program and was introduced to STEM education, not STEAM and not STEEM. I am proud to say she and I are still close to this day and she is someone I admire and she is a source of encouragement and inspiration.
When my grad school classmates and I started designing our lesson plans, we implemented ideas that required students to design products they could potentially sell. We even had the students calculate production costs in order to determine market value. Entrepreneurship. We also challenged our students to produce three unique designs of which they would choose one final design to prototype. Art. We labeled ourselves as STEM educators, but we were also STEAM and STEEM educators.
As I have now moved on from graduate school, I realize I am not much of an acronym junkie. Acronyms drive me nuts for several reasons:
1. Too many acronyms exist for educational methods
2. I'm never going to remember and implement thousands of acronyms every year when I write lesson plans
3. Acronyms are always being modified, so to me they are a waste of time most of the time
Clearly, I could write an entire post about my feelings on acronyms… so moving on.
Don't get me wrong, I think art and entrepreneurship are extremely important. I just do not personally include them in the acronym I used to describe my work. Art and Entrepreneurship remain a part of my STEM methods and materials and always will. If STEAM or STEEM fits you better, by all means, use them! However, I'm going to hold on to STEM and continue to pay homage to my roots in education.
What is spatial awareness and why is it a valuable skill?
Spatial awareness is having knowledge of objects in relationship to oneself and to other objects in the space we inhabit. Spacial awareness is understanding the distance, speed, and placement of materials. If a student has spatial awareness, she understands "over, under, behind" and similar directional words. She has a realistic and accurate overall perception of her learning environment.
Spatial awareness is valuable, because students who have mastered this skill are able to follow directions and are able to design directions as well as work effectively in a team environment.
So how can STEM classes refine the skill "spacial awareness"? The answer is something you are probably already implementing- team projects. Team projects help refine this skill, especially if students are challenged to follow directional-based steps to build a prototype, solve a problem, or to perform a series of tasks. These directions can be presented as pictures, written steps, verbal suggestions from teachers, or from classmates. Students can even design these directions on their own. Inquiry-based learning projects definitely help kids strengthen spatial awareness.
For example, if a team of students is challenged to design a procedure for growing radish seeds using a petri dish, paper towel, pipette, scissors, and water the team may compose a procedure such as:
1. Cut out two pieces of paper towel approximately the same size as the petri dish
2. Place one piece of cut paper towel in the bottom of the petri dish
3. Place 5 radish seeds on top of the paper towel in the petri dish
4. Place the other cut out paper towel piece on top of the seeds
5. Use the pipette to transfer water onto the seeds and paper towels until the towels are saturated
6. Close the petri dish
7. Repeat with a minimum of two more Petri dishes
Imagine 3-4 students working together to complete the above task- they have to be spatially aware of the supplies as well as aware of the tasks each teammate is completing in their given space (a table or lab station). Direction will inevitably be assigned to each teammate in order to successfully carry out the student-created procedure. They know they have to have at least 3 Petri dishes growing radish seeds, so they have to figure out the best method to accomplish the setup in their given space as well consider any time restraints.
Another great example is robotics. Building a bot requires excellent spatial awareness. Just watch kids work on one and you will observe exactly what I have defined in this post- spatial awareness.
If students one day take on a job that requires collaborative efforts, they will definitely benefit from mastering spatial awareness during their school years. Some students are very spatially aware while others will struggle to follow directions and will struggle to stay in their own workspace. Regardless of what level of spatial awareness students have, it's our job to nourish this skill and to challenge our students to successfully carry out and design directionally-based tasks.
Whew! I've had one heck of a week and a half. As many of you know, we live in Tampa, FL and just experienced quite the scare with Hurricane Irma. Luckily, Irma did not follow the final predicted path and our home experienced the west side of Irma's wrath.
We were in a mandatory evacuation zone so I packed up all of my tech, put everything of value upstairs, and headed to South Louisiana. I am just returning home and am trying to unpack and restore normalcy. Luckily, the two trees that fell by us blocked our driveway but missed our home. Nonetheless, the stress over the past week has been at an all time high so I am just now able to think half-clearly.
My kids are also settling back in, and we are all adjusting to the attempt at restoring a normal sleep and eat schedule. Any one with a baby who wakes up to nurse 2-3 times a night understands the pure exhaustion I am feeling.
With all of that, I am planning to post on "Spacial Awareness" sometime with the next few days. Every time I start the post, something happens. As things settle back down, my post will return to normal.
Thank you for hanging in here with me and for continuing to read my posts, especially during the chaotic time. Y'all are truly amazing readers. If there's a topic you want to see soon, comment or email me and let me know :)
Have you ever googled a topic an NOTHING came up? Lucky for us, an empty google search of "women in science coloring book" served as a motivating factor Sara MacSorley to create an incredible coloring book that chronicles the STEM careers of a diverse group of women.
After earning a science degree and delving into an independent science research project, Sara realized research wasn't a good match for her. Anxiety began to build as she struggled to figure out a career path that would marry science and her own interests. Just as many science majors, she wasn't quite sure how else to use her degree beyond research. She learned from a set of amazing mentors - other women in science - that science outreach and communication work could be a good fit for both her interests and her degree. She is still close with both of these women, relationships that have been incredible professionally and personally throughout the years. She learned science degrees provide opportunities for a diversity of jobs that aren't typically advertised. She finally settled into a career including science outreach and communication, but her anxiety returned when she realized she was missing science in campus life and in her own life. Like many of us, she was struggling to balance interest, talents, and personal needs. She turned to coloring to help ease the stress and was hit with the idea that other women and girls may also enjoy coloring as a positive outlet for stress and anxiety or just for fun. She also felt that learning about the diversity of jobs available to science majors needs to be information readily available to our youth. Sara merged the two ideas and came up with the outline of a coloring book that would present women in diverse STEM careers.
The coloring book was first developed to target girls ages 5-12, but as the book came to life the age range was increased. Sara put her idea on Kickstarter, and began to reach out to some incredibly talented STEM women including Dr. Sylvia Earle, an influential marine biologists. The coloring book includes numerous influential women in science who can definitely serve as inspiration to the next generation of women in STEM.
Her coloring book is available for purchase on her website, Super Cool Scientists. Now through September 30, 2017, she has a back to school special on bulk orders. For 100 or more books, they're just $10 each plus shipping. These make great class sets, after school program material, and stocking stuffers! Not only can you color with a young girl but you can also share the story of a powerful woman who pursued a STEM job all at the same time. They are a great activity and a great read. I highly recommend purchasing one for any young girl who has the potential to pursue a STEM career.
Thank you to Super Cool Scientists for sponsoring this post.
Have you been told you have to transition to the NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) instead of the typical standards you have been teaching your entire career? If not, it's coming. Some teachers will be required to combine the old standards with NGSS for a year or two while others will be expected to delve right into NGSS. Don't worry, I'm here to help you out.
First, you need to know that the NGSS are EASIER to work with. Majority of the standards follow a theme- modeling, math, science, media. Here's the deal, you need to find a few ways to incorporate the 4 themes I mentioned and use them for every unit you teach. As you become more familiar using the 4 themes, branch out and keep a running list of your "go to" resources and methods.
My favorites are:
For modeling, I like Explore Learning Gizmos, phet Simulations, play doh modeling, tinkerCad/Autodesk, and 3D printing.
For math, I made an entire lesson on math and data found here targeted at grades 9-12. Excel is your friend. Labs are your friend. For younger students, data and data analysis collected during labs would be a great place to start. Simple data such as measuring the height of a plant in order to learn addition and subtraction would fit in quite nicely. The focus should not only be on the data but on the appropriate analysis of the data, which means making an argument for a solution or answer based on data. I'll talk more about data analysis in another post, but for now just make sure your students are applying meaning to data trends versus simply restating data trends. EX: My plant grew 50% of its original height in one day (not sufficient). My plant doubled in size in one day, because the plant received 8 hours of sunlight and 4 ounces of water which increased its photosynthetic abilities (sufficient and data based).
For science, read the NGSS that apply to your course and you will find the content is very similar to what you have already taught. The content now includes math, modeling, and media as a means to deliver, reinforce, and analyze this content. You will be expected to incorporate scientific content from resources outside of a textbook. I like to use scientific articles to introduce and reinforce content. You can find a list of my favorites here. Consider using skype to connect with field-based professionals as well as use any grant opportunities that cover your content. Just google "education grant for (topic)". Labs and PBL are also a must for delivering content. You can always take time to directly instruct where clarification is needed using the old fashioned method of white board explanations accompanied by graphics. I 100% still use this as needed.
For media, you can use my favorite science article sites I linked above. If students are creating their own media, I highly encourage you to explore cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com. You or your students can explore media resources by need and by description. The site provides anything from presentation tools, mapping tools, graphing tools, music tools, to widgets and everything in between. I've been using the site successfully for 5 years.
Next, when you are exploring the standards on the NGSS site, look at the parent guides. I have attached one below. The parent guides get to the point rather quickly. You can easily see the transitions you are expected to make. For example, instead of teaching a vocab lesson, the students are expected to learn the meaning of scientific terminology by using the words in both verbal and written communication. I have implemented this technique for years, and it definitely works. When I come across a new term, I make the students repeat the term out loud three times as a class then have them use the term during a verbal collaboration session such as a "turn and talk" about the topic we just learned. After talking, they record their own version of the topic in their notebooks (I use a virtual notebook). You can achieve these vocab implementations however you see fit. I do highly encourage you to read the entire parent handout. It's insightful and lacks the intimidation the teacher handouts present.
I encourage everyone to embrace the NGSS and to relax and have fun with your new techniques. Look at the NGSS transition as an opportunity to expand your own pedagogy and to expand your PLC. Social media has a lot of great ideas and information on the transition to NGSS. I am confident we can all move forward to provide an influential learning experience for our modern science students.
Professional Development- opportunity for professional growth, inspiration, innovation, and networking.
Professional Development (PD) is being revamped all over the world to meet the needs of forward-thinking educators. If you want your PD to be able to compete with amazing opportunities, I suggest you highly consider these 3 suggestions.
1. You audience leaves with a tangible. This tangible can be anything from simple swag to a lesson plan completed during a PD session. People LOVE to leave workshops with completed projects ready for immediate implementation.
2. You audience interacts with presenters using technology such a smart phones, tablets, and laptops. People will periodically check for messages and emails using tech regardless, so you might as well take advantage of the opportunity and invite your audience to interact with you. You can use polls, quizlet, padlet, social media, or any other free online interactive tool.
3. Options, options, options. In general, educators appreciate being given options. Everyone shouldn't have to attend the same sessions or use the same exact materials. Also, include time and opportunity for free choice if you are hosting a PD session.
What I do:
When I host PD sessions, I like to use padlet to create a mutual sharing space for all of my participants. I have every team or individual in my sessions create a project on the padlet page, so when the session concludes everyone in my audience has access to all of the materials created during the session. I also give my audience the option to choose a project topic or choose a topic from a list I provide. The list includes topics that I find are super easy to develop a project around. Fortunately, I have also been given the opportunity to give away 3D printers during PD sessions as well. But let's be real, giveaways of that magnitude aren't possible for every session. I've had positive feedback during sessions with and without the 3D printer giveaway.
Speaking of giveaways, I’m going to be giving away a 3D printer soon so stay tuned for that contest!
I hope you feel inspired to amp up your PD!
Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) is a growing industry and an incredible opportunity for students. Why? Well, 3D printing allows for fast prototyping and production at a low cost (printers are more affordable than you think- I'll provide you a discount option below). Imagine that one of your students who learned how to CAD and 3D print under your instruction gets hired by a business, implements 3D printing, and revolutionizes his/her company's product development process. HOW COOL- major contribution on your part! The video below will show you just how easy setting up a printer can be and will give you ideas for setting up a workstation in your classroom. I will be following up with a video series on the next steps including leveling the build plate, CAD, first print, and troubleshooting. Be sure to post questions for me to address in the next videos.
If you watched the video, you now can see how simple the initial set up process is. Now, how can you use 3D printing in your education field?
1. Include a 3D printer in a MakerSpace and challenge the students to create a prototype within creative constraints. Example, create a 5-inch tall modern rendition of our school mascot. The principal will choose a winner who will receive one week of "skip the lunch line" passes.
2. Have students design and 3D print simple models of scientific phenomenon. You can have them design and print a flower pot to use during a plant unit as part of a lab on plant growth or have them design and print a model of the heart in order to learn heart anatomy and to understand blood flow. If your students are not yet capable of design, you can find CAD files online that are available for free download. Thingiverse has a pretty diverse selection.
3. Incorporate 3D printed prototypes in projects. Example here. The first example is targeted at high school students and the second can be modified to include grades k-12.
4. Have students design and 3D print parts or materials for science fair/ STEM fair projects. Example: Students print models of synthetic coral reef structures aimed at preserving oceanic biodiversity.
5. Have students design and 3D print items to sell to raise money for clubs. Ex: robotics students sell personalized key chains designed by club members.
I have seen 3D printing implemented in workshop classes, robotics clubs, science classrooms, math classrooms, kindergarten classrooms, engineering departments, and university labs. Additive Manufacturing options are endless!
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I have worked for/with 5 different principals, and I have been SUPER lucky. All of them were fantastic. As in 5/5 A+. Now, of course, each had his/her strengths and weaknesses and I did not always 100% agree with all of their decisions, but overall they made excellent decisions and truly loved the school, students, and staff. For the record, my favorite principal had more school spirit than anyone else. He truly believed the school and all people within the school were champions. I looked forward to his daily announcements that were full of pizzazz and to watching him go nuts when the football team scored...or lost! He was the ultimate school cheerleader.
Back to the topic- this list comes from my overall experience working with 5 different principals and with hundreds of teachers. I've heard a lot of compliments and complaints concerning principals over the years. I think teachers who read this will be like "Yassssssss" and good principals will be like "oh, I need to work on that". Weak principals will be offended or make excuses- luckily that won't be any of my past principals because they almost all do each of these things.
1. Email me back.
For whatever reason, some principals are scared to death to email teachers back. This is the #1 complaint I have heard over the years from my colleagues, so I'll indulge you in the details of those complaints. The auto reply "see me in my office during your planning period" is pitiful. If a teacher emails you, email him/her back with something of substance. We don't have time to walk to your office or we would have done that instead of emailing you. The request is annoying not to mention inconvenient. Some emails are exceptions and a face-to-face conversation is necessary, but don't ask me not to email you about certain topics. Teachers should feel like they have the email option for any reason: it's quick, convenient, and allows communication at the time of an incident when the details are fresh in our brains; moreover, we should get some type of response other than "schedule a meeting" or my absolute favorite- no response at all. Lastly, showing up in my classroom and INTERRUPTING me while I am planning or doing something valuable in place of an email is basically making me disdain you so STOP IT! On another note, my current principal is an excellent emailer so kudos to him!
2. Treat me like you would a teammate.
We are on the same team here. Our goal is to foster the academic growth of successful individuals. I love a principal who treats people as his/her equal and works with not against you. I'll never forget when I had my first parent meeting with one principal who did not know me well. He stopped by my classroom to feel out the situation, and you know what the first thing he said to me was? He said, "I trust you, Whitman." I have adored this particular principal ever since. The parent meeting was a breeze, because he let me do all of the talking and "negotiating" with parents as this was a disciplinary issue. After he told me he was proud of the way I handled the situation and that I make his job easier. Now that's a principal I want to work with.
3. Do not make me attend pointless meetings.
I get that principals have to meet a certain quota for meeting time, but make it worth my time, make it optional, OR let me sit in the back on my tablet and plan lessons. Can I get an Amen? How can you make a meeting worth my time? For starters, if the meeting can be captured in an email that will take me 5-10 minutes to read and comprehend on my own then it's NOT WORTH MY TIME. On the other hand, if you feed me fruit, cookies, or donuts and provide water and cover a topic I NEED to know about, we are in business. You make me come up with money to purchase classroom supplies, so I am sure you can come up with money to feed staff during meetings, right? One principal I worked with only hosted 15-minute meetings. After 15-20 minutes we were allowed to go back to our rooms or as he said "leave and no one will know". He even emailed us required lengthy videos and let us sign the "I watched the video" paper in his office by a certain date. We all liked him. I also like meetings with guests who have cool technology to demo. Even if the demo only takes a few minutes, you are adding a level of excitement. Also, have a teacher everyone likes co-host a meeting with you. This popular teacher will be sure to invite all of her teacher friends and it'll be one big social. Now that's more fun. Basically what I am telling you is there's absolutely no chance the majority of teachers are going to focus on you and your APs talk for 50 minutes/show me a boring power point. Make it a skit, wear a costume, give away prizes, or let others participate in presenting if you want me to quit faking an emergency illness every 3rd staff meeting (kidding about faking the illness).
4. Follow through.
When a principal tells his staff he is going to do something, follow through. Otherwise, you are a liar. No one likes a liar. On the other hand, everyone likes a hero, so be our hero!
5. Be fair, be kind.
I get that principals are going to have favorites (that's human nature), but you need to be fair. If you let one teacher wear jeans on a Monday, then everyone should get one free jeans Monday. If you nominate a teacher for an award, then you need to also nominate other hard workers for an award. Don't expect your teachers to help you out if you are playing favorites and have an overall sour disposition. This is when I tell you to be kind. Kindness goes a long way. Teachers are in small spaces with kids who misbehave and test them all day. Kindness can overcome any bad day.
And that's a wrap on my advice to principals.
STEM: Science Technology Engineering Mathematics.
That darn T though- what actually qualifies as technology? I think this is a topic all STEM professionals need to address. Some people appear to be under the misconception that the T stands for exclusively digital technology. Let's think about that for a moment...
Scenario 1: A math teacher is using a tablet to teach students how to solve a basic math problem by drawing on the tablet and projecting the image on a whiteboard in the classroom. Students are copying these notes into their digital notebook.
Scenario 2: A teacher presents a problem to math students: their class pet (a stuffed animal) is locked inside one of three breakout boxes found in various places throughout the classroom. The other boxes contain clues as to how to pet was captured. The students must solve basic math problems displayed on pieces of paper around the classroom in order to gain the codes to break into the boxes. Students are using no digital technology.
Which teacher is implementing STEM techniques?
Obviously the teacher in Scenario 2. This teacher has presented a real-world problem to her students and is asking students to use math to solve the two problems. The first problem is the pet is in danger and needs to be rescued. You can also think of this problem as a goal "save our class pet from entrapment". The second problem/goal will be to design a plan to prevent the pet from being captured again. See where I'm going.. Perhaps some students will even use play doh to design a special habitat for the pet so that the pet is protected- now we are bringing in engineering. What would be even better is if the pet is an endangered species, the students also need to display a plaque on the front of the habitat explaining factual information about the species and why the species needs to be protected- hello science! Scenario 2 can easily encompass all aspects of STEM without the use of digital technology. So what is the technology in this scenario? The tech is the breakout boxes, the paper with the problems, the play doh, and the materials they choose to use to make the informational plaque.
The T in STEM should really be defined as "the supplies students use to solve a problem or reach a goal". Supplies can be anything. Also, keep in mind you can provide students with "technology/supply" choices, so not every student or student team has to use the same technology to solve a problem or goal you present.
I hope this post enlightens some individuals to the real definition of STEM and reveals what STEM looks like in a classroom (scenario 2).
Dinosaur Teacher- Teacher who uses outdated practices combined with mostly teacher-led instruction to deliver material to students.
Outdated practices include but are not limited to: reading power points to students for an hour, using "traditional" worksheet style workbooks (especially in science classes like chemistry, physics, biology, physical science, earth science), forcing students to read aloud from a textbook while the class listens for an extended period of time, lecturing the entire class period, defining thousands of vocabulary words on note cards, providing cookbook labs once a month, using prescribed lessons with no room for adjustments, and the list goes on. We all know using the above-mentioned teaching methods does not appeal to the majority of modern students. Any of the above-mentioned methods is small doses can be effective; however, note the time frame I suggested.
Now, what can we do to help these dinosaur teachers?
1. Be the example.
When other teachers realize students want to transfer into your class and are asking you for tutoring, they may start to ask themselves "why?". Expect a little bit of a bad attitude for a time period (or maybe you will get lucky and get a teacher dinosaur who is stuck in his/her ways but loves everything you do and admittingly isn't willing to put forth the effort to change but is thankful you are making the effort). Continue to be an example regardless. You don't need to advertise yourself to the dinosaur. Students talk and teachers hear whether we want to or not. Let's be real- students blurt out brutally honest comments sometimes inappropriate but that's just how it is. Soon enough, parents and admin will talk to. That talk will include you and how your methods are really making a difference in student attitude and test performance. Over time, hopefully the dino is inspired to create the same type of engaging learning environment. Here's the kicker- let your test scores be the ultimate example. Whether teachers admit it or not, almost all teachers care about test scores. In many cases, test scores affect pay. At the end of the year, that teacher will find out about your test scores and will want to match or surpass you. No one wants to be the loser.
2. Ignore the negative.
When dinosaur teachers complain to you or about you, ignore it. Do not under any circumstances bad mouth your students or specific staff members. All children are blessings from above, even teenagers. If you need to vent, tell your spouse in the privacy of your own home.
3. Offer all teachers access to your materials in a way that helps them keep anonymity.
I chose to publish my materials on a website. I emailed the link to all Biology teachers I knew in our entire district and said "feel free to use any of my materials. This is what we will be using this year. If you have any questions please let me know". I opened the door and left it. Guess what? Another teacher at my school immediately jumped on board. The first year he used select lessons then the next year he implemented the entire STEM curriculum and is now 3D printing and making unique STEM lessons for his kids. His class is AMAZING!
Honestly, the three suggestions above are about all you can do. Some dinos are not going to change, and it's not your place to force them to. Remain kind, be the ultimate example, encourage and share when you can, and focus on improving your own classroom.