Apr 18

Just one example of our awesome high school students #AprilBlogADay

Code Quest at Lockheed Martin

Code Quest at Lockheed Martin

Today I accompanied three of our high school students to the Code Quest competition at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta plant. The competition to to give students exposure to Lockheed Martin and have fun while solving some Java coding problems. The theme for the event was Superheroes, and students were encouraged to come in costume. Initially, my team was planning to dress up as Guardians of the Galaxy characters. However, at the last minute they decided to be everyday heroes instead. So, one girl wore fatigues (she is entering the Air Force Academy after graduation), another girl dressed as a physician, and finally our last team member dressed as the tenth Doctor (from Doctor Who) complete with red blue 3D glasses. (I wore my blue flight suit because I don’t need much of an excuse to put that thing on!)

The emcee for the event was dressed as Captain America, and a couple other of the Lockheed staff were dressed up, too. Once we registered and had our group photo, we headed down to cafeteria/competition area. It soon became apparent that no one else was really dressed up for the event. My kids started having fun run away. There was music playing, so they danced along in their seats, they interacted with staff members, and got set up for the competition. Once the welcome started, they asked who had the most spirit, and my group was the most animated. We were even invited up on stage to help lead warm up exercises. I was also impressed as I watched my kids interact with others, especially the Lockheed Martin volunteers. They were kind, respectful, and considerate. They made a fantastic impression.

Throughout the day, so many of the Lockheed Martin employees came up to me to say how impressed they were with our students. They also thanked us for coming, for dressing up, for having fun. In fact, the one of the community relations representatives gave me his card and offered to bring some engineers to our school to talk to our students. I noticed that my kids were kind to everyone, cheering on all winners, and very engaged the entire day. They were happy to be there, and they had fun!

At the awards, my kids swept the costume contest. We didn’t win any of the coding prizes, but we weren’t expecting to. However, we won something much more. They won exposure. My students showed how awesome high school students can be. They left a great impression, and I am so proud of them!

Apr 17

TGIF: Sometimes it’s the little things #AprilBlogADay

Doritos calorimetry

Doritos calorimetry

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a day great. Today, I decided to give my chemistry students a “pop quiz” over the material we covered in class on Wednesday. I wanted a quick formative assessment to see if they could work through slightly different heat equations then we did in class. (This was focused on food calorimetry.) When students walked in the door, I let them know about the quiz and asked them to take out their notes. I passed out the quiz and let them use their notes as they completed the quiz. (It was a calculation based problem.) I then asked students to bring me their quiz when they were done.

As soon as students started turning in the quizzes, I noticed a common error. This let me see that their was a disconnect in one of the steps of solving the problem. Once all students had finished, I immediately went over the problem so students could understand the misconception. It was great.

But that wasn’t the best part.

The best part?

One of my students who struggles in chemistry but works hard, answered the question correctly. He figured out all of the variables and completed all steps in the problem.

And that made my day!

Apr 16

Hands on space challenge activities to end the year with fun! #AprilBlogADay

IMG_3513Today I am remembering fondly the three years that I helped facilitate our end of the year space camp activities in sixth grade science classes.When I taught middle school, I found that the time after state testing until the end of the year could be difficult to keep students excited and engaged since all the standards and content had been taught. We decided to design something new: hands on, engineering style activities to keep kids excited through the final days of school. I first shared this big idea when we were planning activities three years ago. Basically, we designed hands on activities for students to complete. Each teacher hosted an activity, and students rotated through the activities with each teacher. Students spent 3-4 days with each teacher before rotating to the next teacher and activity. We made changes in the following years to some of the activities as new teachers joined us or to replace less engaging ones.

We had so much success the first year that we continued to do our space camp style activities. Kids were engaged, having fun, and learning. And, we had lots of great excuses for being outside. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of the other content area teachers jealously watched us launching rockets while they were stuck inside trying to find something exciting to do with their students. It was a huge student hit, and many students still say that the bottle rocket activity was one of their favorites. (Don’t you just love this picture of everyone’s reaction post launch?)

If you’d like to try this with your students, there are so many engineering design challenges available online. The activities that we had the most fun with included bottle rockets, egg drop landers, and cardboard lunar rovers. You could definitely implement this on your own in your classroom; however, it’s even more fun if you can get your content area colleagues on board. We found that students are on their best behavior with “new” teachers, so discipline issues are lowered. It can take some creative scheduling to work out the rotation, especially if you have some teachers who teach more than one content area. (For instance, we had three sets of science classes each period in the first half of the day, and five sets of science classes each period n the afternoon.) It is definitely worth the time to plan with your team and work out your schedule. You will find the end of the year will be so much more fun for you and your students.

Although we did these space camp style activities with middle school students, the activities can definitely be adapted for elementary or high school students. In fact, many of the NASA guides have ideas for adapting to different grade levels.

I highly recommend you take photos and videos throughout the activities. I would assign students to help take photos in class and outside and videos of our rocket launches. This provided some really fun end of year photos and videos for my farewell movie.

So, are you ready to try something new with your students at the end of the year? I have made a zip file of the activities that we used that you can download. There are student handouts, student directions, lesson plans, and some other materials like videos and slideshows. I also recommend you do some internet digging of your own to find other activities you might want to consider. Have fun, and enjoy the end of the year! If you’re like me, I know it will be hard to say goodbye.

Space Camp Style Activities

Apr 15

The positive impacts of social media in my classroom #AprilBlogADay

Make a poem from your tweets using Poetweet!

Make a poem from your tweets using Poetweet!

I could probably write a book about how much of a positive impact social media has been in my classroom. It’s opened the door to amazing experiences, provided endless sources of inspiration, and connected me with educators and other professionals around the globe. I could relay story after story from meeting astronauts and seeing shuttle launches because of NASA #tweetups to forming incredible relationships with other educators that have led to meetings in real life and some amazing friendships.

But instead of relaying a long list, I thought I would share just one recent example. Yesterday, I joined in the #BFC530 chat (Breakfast Club 5:30). The topic of the day was poetry uses in the classroom. I shared how much I love to use haiku as a summarizing strategy. Which got me thinking as I started the school day that I hadn’t used haiku in a while. So we summarized our lesson yesterday on the basic role of heat and energy in chemical reactions using haiku. At the end of the day, I typed up everyone’s haiku and posted them around the room. At the start of class today, I gave students eight sticker votes and asked them read the haiku to review from yesterday. It was a really fun way to initially summarize the end of the lesson yesterday and then to review today. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Calories are lies;

Kilocalories are real.

Read the food labels.


Energy is work.

It is not created

Nor is it destroyed.


Define energy?

The ability to work

Or can produce heat.


Thermal energy:

Form warm to cool objects, in

Degrees Celsius.

So why do I love social media? It makes me a better teacher with new ideas and reminders of old favorites and in doing so makes my classroom better.

Apr 14

To teach is to learn #AprilBlogADay #WhyITeach

Learning and Identifying lunar features.

Learning and Identifying lunar features.

It’s probably no surprise, but I love learning. Learning new things, discovering new ideas, developing new skills – it’s all so incredibly amazing to me. My brain needs to constantly learn.

I also love to share what I have learned. To pass on the excitement. To show that the process of learning isn’t boring but engaging and incredible. There is joy in the struggle of knowledge acquisition. I love the struggle.

I want people to fall in love with science. The beauty, the order, the chaos. The theory, the practice, the known, and the unknown. The rules and the exceptions. I want to understand the universe.

I want to make a difference. I want to have an impact. Sometimes, I want to be remembered.

I want the world to know that “kids these days” are awesome. Our students do amazing things. They have incredible ideas. They are accomplishing things as teenagers that many of us have never even tried as adults. They are filled with hope.  The future is bright, and I fully expect them to change the world.

I want to change education. I want to make it better. I want to show that there are many ways to learn and that the traditional classroom can be turned on its head by just one teacher. Just imagine what we can accomplish as a group!

I want to have fun. I want to laugh. I want to be challenged. I want to grow. I want to learn. I want to explore. I want to touch lives. I want to leave the world a better place.

And that is why I teach.

Apr 13

The Importance of science literacy #AprilBlogADay #AgeofLiteracy

Have you have read a scientific journal article? Unless you have a background in science, you probably haven’t. However, on an almost daily basis news headlines proclaim the findings of new studies. The reporter has taken the time to translate the information into bite-sized pieces of information the general public can understand. However, you often see a much different picture regarding the results of the study if you read the actual journal. (For instance, the results are rarely as statistically significant as news articles portray.) Believe it or not, journalists can be biased.

Or think about some of the scientific greats: Copernicus, Newton, Einstein. Do you know how they shared their ideas, discoveries, and theories? Through writing and publishing books. While these scientists made initial observations, they kept journals of notes, diagrams, and calculations. All of this is part of literacy. Without language, it would be difficult to fully communicate science.

My point is, we don’t leave reading and writing at the door when a student enters science class. We can’t leave literacy instruction outside the doors of the science classroom either. Will the texts we read and words we write look the same as a creative writing or language arts class? Probably not. Our focus is on technical writing, journal articles, and nonfiction. However, in order to be truly literate in society, or students don’t just need to be able to read and write generally. They also need to be able to analyze and interpret scientific information to determine if the data supports the conclusion. Students also need to be able to interpret data they have collected, draw their own conclusions, and communicate these results. Given the special requirements of scientific literacy, it is important that science instructors also incorporate literacy consistently in the classroom.

Apr 12

The dream is alive: A passion for space #AprilBlogADay

Disclaimer: In this post, I share my passions, my dreams, and my faith. As you read it, you may decide I am completely crazy. Aristotle said, “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” Maybe he was right. This is also one of the most personal and revealing posts I have ever shared.

Minime
See that girl standing in front of the lunar module model? She has a dream.  Maybe the dream began that day. It’s hard to say. But she has a dream. What is it? It looks a little something like this:

Dream Job Title Package: Astronaut from North Point Media on Vimeo.

She’s been chasing this dream for as long as she can remember. A dream of space, and stars, adventure and exploration. It’s a consuming passion. Not all consuming. She still has balance in her life, but she is on a path that she is sure will land her among the stars one day.

Which is kind of crazy for many reasons. Do you know the specific requirements for becoming a NASA astronaut? There are many from physical conditions to education and experience. She doesn’t meet some of them. She’s too short, her eyesight is too bad (at least that’s fixable these days), and she has asthma. She’s also clumsy. Really clumsy.

But that hasn’t deterred her because she knows. She knows. She knows that one day she will float in space among the stars.

How does she know? Because her life path has already led her on unimaginable adventures. She studied micrometeorites for science projects and fell in love with astronomy. She went to Space Camp. Twice. She’s floated in microgravity. Floated! Just like they do in space! Who gets to do that? This girl. She walks outside on a cold, clear night, and looks up. She sees the stars, the moon, and she knows. She knows. She knows that she will visit there one day. She can feel it in her bones, in her heart, in her soul, in a tiny whisper on the breeze.

She loves space so much. It’s her passion. She’s the crazy science teacher down the hall. The one who wears a flight suit just because it’s Friday. The one who can weave space into a lesson about anything. All the students know they can ask her any question about space and get an answer. (They also know that’s the easiest way to get her on a tangent during class!)

She knows she’ll get to space one day. She just doesn’t know how.

That girl?

MGX

She’s me.

I realize it seems a bit unlikely. It seems crazy to have such a passion; such a dream. For a long time, I would have agreed with you. But lately, as I have been exploring more, researching more, and growing in my faith, I’ve been reminded of a few things. Like

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

and

Now unto him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. Ephesians 3:20

I think God gives us dreams and passions. If we let him, he guides our lives towards the perfect experiences. During a recent sermon series at my church on Dream Jobs, I took notes from Pastor Jeff Henderson’s sermon (part 2):

  • You have a unique race that you were called to run. How do we find it?
  • God’s thumbprints on you are clues about his plans for you.

I believe my career in education is a dream job. However, I also think this burning passion in my soul to explore, discover, to see and experience space is also from God. I think it is just one leg of the unique race God has called me to run. I have had so many amazing thumbprint clues in just the past few years. Here are some of them in no particular order:

  • Seeing the launch of STS-132 from the press site
  • Seeing the launch of STS-135 (last shuttle launch) from the press site
  • Seeing the launch of Curiosity/Mars Science Laboratory from the press site
  • Visiting all three Mission Control centers at NASA Johnson Space Center
  • Space Academy for Educators
  • Advanced Space Academy for Educators
  • NASA’s Teach from Space MicroGravity eXperience
  • Students interviewing a scientist live on NASA TV
  • Students talking to an astronaut in space through amateur radio

The experiences merge my passion, my love, and my career. I am able to share my love for space with students. In fact, this fall, I will be teaching a research based astronomy class where students won’t just learn facts and figures about astronomy. Instead, they will become astronomers.

So what is my passion project? Obviously I am passionate about education and STEM and making a difference in students’ lives. But one of my deepest passions and loves? Space exploration and the faith that I have in a God who will one day create a path for me to get there.  I am just crazy enough to think I’ll have a chance to be a part of space exploration. To go to space. To see it for myself one day.

Maybe I am a little crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Dare Mighty Things!

 

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