Nov 13

It’s time to talk PBL with #STEMchat

It has been my intention this year to fully chronicle my new adventures in project based learning (PBL) in a high school STEM program. It’s hard to believe that in a few short weeks our first semester will be over, and we will be half way through the year. It feels like we just started, and I am just now writing a post!

Last Friday we wrapped up a five-week project called Tools of Tomorrow. It was the first time we had ever tried a school wide project. The results for our students were amazing to see. It was so exciting to see our students ready to present to investors and inventors. They were all dressed up and coordinated within their groups. They set up computers and models and excitedly shared their innovations. The atmosphere kind of felt like a high tech science fair – only better. It was amazing!

Tonight, I am honored to be part of a panel to discuss STEM and project based learning with #STEMchat hosted by The Maker Mom. I hope you’ll join us on Twitter from 9-10 pm EST to hear about what PBL looks like and how it can enhance STEM programs.

Here are the other panelists who will be participating:

  • @Venspired, Krissy Venosdale is passionate educator, STEAM advocate, Space Camp alum and maker of inspirational classroom posters. Learn more about her at
  • @BetaMillerAndrew Miller, is an educational consultant with ASCD and the Buck Institute for Education as well as a regular blogger for Edutopia.
  • @SaraFHawkins, Sara Hawkins, is an attorney, robotics coach, and mom to a STEM Girl. She blogs at Saving for Someday.
  • @LaurieEDU, Laurie Kreindler, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of IT’S ABOUT TIME®. You can read her writings at Education Insider™.
  • @ItsAboutTimeEDU, IT’S ABOUT TIME®, is the leading provider of SF-backed, project-based STEM curricula and edtech for K-12 and college students across the country.
  • And @KimMoldofsky, also known as The Maker Mom and founder of #STEMchat. You can also follow at @STEMchat, which is the default account if landed in Twitter “jail.”

I look forward to chatting with you this evening!

Aug 28

Shall we gather at the river #C2CwithGP

It’s been seven weeks since I left on my Creeks to Coast trip with Georgia Aquarium. When the opportunity to be a part of this weeklong experience was presented, I had no idea all of the amazing things I would learn. I also had no idea how the experiences from the trip would permeate throughout the content I teach. I feel like I mention our trip down the Chattahoochee River at least once a day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor instance, I am teaching engineering to high school students this year. This week, we are studying the history of engineering – focusing on how civil engineering projects have advanced society as we know it. We looked at things like roads, plumbing and sewer systems, bridges, canals, and dams. While discussing dams, I was able to share my personal experiences from visiting Buford Dam and Bartlett’s Ferry Dam. Since Buford Dam is nearby, I asked students if they knew the primary reason the dam was built. Most of them thought it was for hydroelectric power or to create a reservoir. Thanks to my Creeks to Coast experience and visiting Buford Dam, I was able to share that flood control was the initial reason for green lighting the building of the dam. Of course, hydroelectric power generation and a reservoir are additional uses of the water source.

IMG_5024Another exciting experience that I reflect on often is the macroinvertebrate sampling we did at Smithgall Woods. I never thought I would get excited about sifting through collected material to find bugs in order to monitor the quality of a stream! Now, I can’t wait to get started in my area. Just this week, I received by official Georgia-Adopt-a-Stream certification to conducting quality assurance/quality control testing of local streams by monitoring macroinvertabrates.

Providence Canyon was the highlight of the trip for me. To see such an amazingly beautiful place with the layers of time and sediment right in front of me like a book was so exciting. But even more amazing is how this canyon formed. When the original settlers moved into the area, they tore down the trees and began planting their crops. However, these settlers did not use good OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfarming practices. Over a relatively short period of time, the rains washed the loose sediment away forming gullies and eventually gorges leading to the canyons that are in the area today. It’s a testament to how humans directly impact the geography of the land around us.

This was such an amazing and exciting trip. I know you’ll keep hearing about it because I can’t stop sharing about all of the wonderful experiences. Before you go, please take a moment to watch this awesome video that overviews the trip. This great video is thanks to Georgia-Pacific who helped sponsor the trip. Enjoy!


Aug 05

My first day as a high school teacher

Today was the big day. As my freshman chemistry students made their way to my door, I handed them a copy of their schedule and welcomed them into our classroom to find their assigned seats. Wait – that’s not right because it’s way too traditional, and I am part of a nontraditional project based learning (PBL) program this year. So what really happened?

After students arrived and received their schedules, we gathered all of our CDAT* freshman into a large classroom in order to introduce our very first project: Lowe’s Toolbox for Education. On Friday, each group will pitch their idea for the grant (a way to improve our school using $5,000). Tomorrow, each student is bringing 10 ideas and will begin working with their groups to narrow down their final idea and pitch. (Students will have work time in their science, language arts, and tech classes.) Thursday students will put on their finishing touches, and Friday groups will have 30 seconds to pitch to their classmates and teachers. The best part? We’ll be submitting the best group idea for the grant. I am so excited to see where this project takes us, and it’s such a great introduction into what we are all about.

*CDAT is the name of our STEM academy – Center for Design And Technology. Our guiding principles are authenticity, creativity, and efficiency. You’ll be hearing a lot more about the program throughout the year.


Jul 16

#CreekstoCoast feed

Here is a collection of tweets from the week of this adventure!


Jul 15

Backyard Fish #C2CwithGP

Pat Markey explains the trout life cycle

Pat Markey explains the trout life cycle

Do you enjoy fishing? How about a dinner of fresh mountain trout? Trout require a special environment: cold water and swiftly moving water. If the water is too warm (much about 55 degrees F), they will become stressed. Moving water is aerated increasing the oxygen which is also vital to trout. Because of this, trout are found in higher altitude streams and further north. However, we have a very unique situation in our area (Metro Atlanta, GA). As we saw in the last post, Buford Dam over the Chattahoochee River creates Lake Lanier. The water in Lake Lanier is about 170 feet deep at the deepest point, which is right near the dam. Because the water is so deep here, the sunlight does not penetrate past the surface zone. The intake penstocks through Buford Dam are deep in the lake, so the colder water is what passes through the dam.

So what does this mean for our backyard fish? The water in Chattahoochee River from Buford Dam south to downtown Atlanta is cold enough for trout. In fact, Atlanta is the furthest south you can catch trout. Before the installation of Buford Dam, the trout habitat only extended to Helen, GA. To meet the demand for trout fishing, the Buford Trout Hatchery raises and stocks trout right off of the Chattahoochee River. This used to be a true hatchery where trout were raised from spawn until release. However these days, the Buford Trout Hatchery acquires fingerlings (trout that are about 3-4 inches long). They then tend to the fish in a series of raceways until they reach a size of 9.5 inches. The trout are then released into the Chattahoochee River and other streams in North Georgia. The Buford Trout Hatchery raises both rainbow trout and brown trout. The hatchery has a 70% survival rate from egg to 3 inches. In nature, the survival rate is only 1-2%. Did you know that brown trout and rainbow trout are not native to Georgia? Georgia only has one native trout species: the brook trout. Brook trout are only found in mountain streams. They are much smaller than brown trout and rainbow trout.

Raceways at the Buford Trout Hatchery

Raceways at the Buford Trout Hatchery

The Buford Trout Hatchery is open to the public. It is a great place to learn about the life cycle of trout and the importance of our unique Chattahoochee River environment. Next time you are looking for something to do locally, why don’t you go check out your backyard fish? There are guided tours every Saturday at 1 pm, but you can visit any day from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm. There is even a family fishing pond on site.

Young trout in the raceway

Young trout in the raceway

Creeks to Coast Day 2, July 10, 2014, Buford Trout Hatchery

Jul 13

Ancient Journey

Imagine walking through a tunnel surrounded by granite bedrock. Water drips down the sides of the rock while calcium leeched from rocks slowly deposits as stalactites. You know there is history in the rock as a feeling of the ancient washes over you. As you reach the end of the tunnel, you walk into a room and board an elevator. Where do you find yourself? Extraordinarily, we’ve just walked through the solid granite of Buford Dam and find ourselves on the intake side of the dam. As you drive over the dam, did you realize that solid granite bedrock is below the tires of your car? The granite only accounts for a small section of the dam as the majority of the dam is earthen works. Did you ever wonder why Buford Dam was built here? Granite core samples were collected from many sites during the planning stages in the 1950s, and this area was deemed the best. A peek in the granitic tunnel reminds us of the solid granite and gneiss beneath our feet all over Gwinnett County. Next time you cross Buford Dam or one of the many other dams in Georgia, stop and consider for a moment the engineering marvel that is dam. I hope one day you have the chance to experience this amazing wonder as you walk through solid rock holding back billions of gallons of water behind a dam. If the name of our schools are indication (Lanier Middle and Lanier High), the dam is in our backyard. This unique look behind the scenes of Buford Dam will help me provide concrete information to my students so they too can marvel at the ingenuity of this amazing dam that created Lake Lanier.

Erosion around Lake Lanier

Where Lake Lanier meets Buford Dam

Creeks to Coast Day 2, July 10, 2014, Buford Dam

*Cross Posted on the Georgia Aquarium Blog.

Jul 10

What is the value of a river to you? #C2CwithGP

Horse Trough Falls

Horse Trough Falls

Imagine driving a few miles out of town to a wildlife management area. You pull up to the parking area near a trailhead and head out. In a matter of moments, you hear the sound of falling water, and you feel the stress of the day melt away. What is the value of a river to you? As you sit in a pristine wilderness with trees, a rushing creek, and a cascading waterfall surrounding you, what is the value of a river to you?

Rivers are a unique environment. Based on your relationship with the river or where you are on the river, your perspective of that river and its impact on you will change. Have you ever though about that? The Chattahoochee River is prominent and important river throughout Georgia, but wherever you are your view of the river may change.

Imagine instead wading out into a creek to monitor the quality of the river. How would you do that? Did you know sampling for macroinvertabrates is a great way  to gauge the health of the river. Some of these critters can only live in clean, clear water. Others thrive in polluted waters. Depending on what you find and the diversity of life, you can determine the health of the stream. Why is a clean stream important? What is the value of a river to you?

As we continue this journey down the Chattahoochee River, different perspectives on the river will be uncovered. I challenge you to think about what the river means to you.

Creeks to Coast Day 1, July 9, 2014, Horse Trough Falls and Duke’s Creek

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