Dec 29

Space Academy for Educators Scholarship: Deadline approaching!

20120328-211814.jpgIt’s not too late (but it soon will be) to apply for a Honeywell Educators at Space Academy scholarship. The deadline is December 31st, and it only takes about 20 minutes to complete the application. If you are a math or science teacher to students 10-14 years old and have always wanted to go to Space Camp or you are looking for new ideas, I encourage you to apply. However, I’ll warn you, it will change your life!

The scholarship covers your travel, meals, lodging, week at Space Camp, and your very own blue flight suit! For more information, check out the website and application. Good luck!

Dec 28

Reflections on a #flipclass experiment

We had three weeks of school in between Thanksgiving break and winter break, and I had an entire unit to cover with lots of labs and activities as well as end of semester exams. In order to fit everything in, I decided to venture into the realm of the Flip Class. I conducted my “lectures” via video providing graphic organizers for students. In class, we completed exploratory labs and activities to solidify the information. A colleague of mine has been using the Flip Class model for over a year, so I used some of her ideas to help with the videos. Here are some of the basics for creating my videos and presenting the information to my students:

  1. Camtasia Studio: I used the free trial of Camtasia to allow me to screencast as well as record video from my webcam. This made creating the videos super quick and easy. (However, we quickly learned that the built in webcam on my laptop is not that great!)
  2. Sophia: I used Sophia to create the lesson “tutorials” and a playlist of the entire unit. It made organizing and hosting everything super easy. Here’s my unit: Weathering, Erosion, Deposition, and Soil. 
  3. Unit Planner: I created a unit planner to help students navigate due dates and requirements. (I totally copied my colleague’s layout for this.) The nice thing about this is it let students plan ahead and get ahead if they knew they would be busy a particular homework night in order to make alternative arrangements.

For the most part, things worked well, but there were a few issues.

  1. Poor camera quality: I learned that the webcam on my computer is not very good for recording this type of video due to lag time. Going forward, I will be using a Logitech HD C920 webcam. It’s a little pricey, but it is high quality with a built in microphone. I tested it out in a quick recording and the capture was significantly improved. I do think including myself with the screen capture is really important. I tried a couple of lessons without it, and students overwhelming preferred seeing me on video (go figure!).
  2. Students not completing the homework: I am very lucky. I have two classrooms with an adjoining door. I hooked up an extra computer to the projector and allowed students who could not watch the video for homework to come in and watch it during homeroom. Additionally, students who still had not watched the video once class began were allowed to watch the video. Usually, this meant missing an activity which gave them further incentive to finish the homework the next time. In most classes, only one or two students hadn’t watched the video upon entering class. That’s a pretty high homework completion rate.
  3. Students not watching all of the video and/or just copying notes: As the unit progressed, I realized some students were not listening to all of the videos and were just copying the notes. Going forward, I think I will have a short quiz at the start of each class in order to differentiate between those students who actually watched the videos and those who just copied notes.

At the end of the unit, I asked students to complete a survey to see if they wanted to continue with the Flip Class model. The results were very interesting.




Seventy percent of students said they enjoyed the videos yet 78% said they wanted to continue the Flip Class model. I think some of my students realized that even though they didn’t completely enjoy all of the videos, the idea worked well for them. I also asked students for suggestions, and there were some great ones that I had actually been thinking about like fewer videos and slightly shorter ones. (One of the videos was quite long at over 15 minutes. Going forward, I think five to seven minutes is ideal.)

streamtableOne of the things doing the Flip Class allowed me was time to do activities I had not done before. We study the formation of a river system in this unit, and I know that using a stream table would be a good idea, but I’ve never been brave enough to try it. This year, I finally did, and the results were pretty cool. Students really enjoyed seeing how water can change the land around a river due to erosion and deposition. (And on the plus side, we didn’t make a mess with the stream table, which had always been my fear.)

Some of the great things I’ve learned about the Flip Class model is how easy it makes it for students to go back and review a lesson. It’s not just notes and lab activities to go back and look at – now they can re-watch the lesson explanation. Many students commented on how helpful this was. It also helped students were absent. I had one student who missed several days of school, and yet this student performed better on the final unit assessment than the student had done on previous units.

I am sure that I will continue with new ideas and ways to improve going forward, but I am glad I finally took the leap and experimented with the Flip Class model. Students definitely seemed to enjoy the experience, and I look forward to seeing out this adventure continues to play out.

Dec 14

Kevin: How a lab supply turned into a class “pet”

photo 1This past Wednesday, I ran into the local grocery store on my way to school to pick up a small potted plant for an erosion lab I had planned for the day. One of the stations called for the plant to be taken out of its pot so students could observe the root structure’s ability to hold onto soil and prevent erosion.

During my final class of the day, one of my students decided to name the plant Kevin. Another student asked if he could be in charge of watering Kevin. By Thursday, Kevin and a decorated sign so everyone knew his name. On Friday, Kevin was wearing a necklace and a paper Santa hat. He also had a birthday card to celebrate getting a name.

My kids love Kevin. In the short span of a couple of days, Kevin the Kalanchoe has become a member of our class. If I had known that my students would love a little potted plant this much, I would have gotten one much sooner. I hope Kevin is a member of our class for a long time to come!

photo 2

Nov 27

Finding Passions

One of my many rough sketches as I brainstorm ideas.

One of my many rough sketches as I brainstorm ideas.

This year, I’ve been trying to ignite my students’ passions through a project based learning program I have had the privilege to start with some amazing teammates. The process of working on a project became real to me as I have been taking an online class for hand lettering I started a couple of days ago. The platform is project based, with instructional videos and assignments. You upload your progress to your project page.

Because hand lettering is something I’ve really wanted to become better at, I’ve been working a lot on this project the past few days. (It’s a great change from my normal daily activities.) As I have been working though, I have wondered how I can instill this same sense of passion and motivation to succeed in my students. It’s probably not an easy answer, but I know it has to do with uncovering passions. The tricky thing is linking those passions to the standards I need to teach. Of course this means more thinking and brainstorming!

(If you’re interested in checking out my work-in-progress, it’s over on Skillshare.)

Aug 17


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

There are times when I am sitting in meetings at school or reading articles about education that these lines from Princess Bride float around in my mind. The education sector is known for its “edubabble” as we make up words or reinvent definitions for words and phrases to fit our own parameters. It’s ironic that we want our students to use words correctly and make wise decisions with word choice, yet we feel the need to make it up as we go.

Here are a few of my current  ”favorites”:

  • rigor: Seriously, every time I hear us use this word, I think of rigor mortis and corpses. I’m pretty sure that’s not the visual image the government, my district, or my administration is going for!
  • setting norms: I took sociology, and norms are unconsciously set by the group. I like the sentiment; I just wish we would call them something else – like guidelines.
  • protocol: This one isn’t technically used incorrectly, but I always think of science or engineering. We use it to describe a lesson strategy. I wish we just called them strategies.

I know there are more, but I’ve heard these three used so much later. I always feel the need to jump up and start a lesson on the original usage of the words. Ah well.

What are your favorite edubabble words? Please share yours and the reasons why they bother you. I can’t wait to add to the list!

Aug 07

First Day Jitters

firstdayFirst day jitters – do you get them? I’m pretty sure most if not all teachers do. The excitement and anticipation of meeting 130 plus students for the first time can be a little overwhelming. Plus, I want everything to be perfect so that my students have a fabulous first day experience. And I try to plan an exciting, hands on, problem solving activity so my students get a clear picture of what class with me is like.

But you know what? I always forget a detail and scramble to find the supply I need. And it’s okay and never turns out to be a big deal. Why is that important? I want my brand new students to see that we all have the first day jitters. I teach the sixth graders, and starting middle school is a BIG change. Some students are very anxious about navigating the hallways, changing classes, and having lockers. At the end of the day, the first day of school is just about helping us all get to know each other and settle in. Don’t sweat the details! Instead, make beautiful memories with your students – since we only have one chance to make that first impression.

Aug 05


As teachers, we often do not get a chance to see the impact we make in our students. Sometimes, though, we are lucky enough to get a small glimpse.

Today we had Open House as we welcome students to the new year. We meet families, distribute schedules, and answer questions. It’s always one of my favorite times of the year. The excitement is electrifying, and I love seeing all of the new faces. I wore my blue flight suit so everyone would know I am super passionate about the subject I teach, and I loved seeing the reaction from students and parents.

But I have to say one of my favorite parts about today were the visits from former students. Students starting or continuing in high school as well as those starting seventh and eighth grades. It was really nice to see so many students from this past year (okay, just a few months ago), stop by to say hello and ask about how the weightless flight went. I’m looking forward to having a chance to share the details of the journey with them in more details. And many mentioned they had already watched the videos. Finally, one student brought me this photo. He had wanted to give it to me in May, but it didn’t arrive in time. I’m not sure exactly what long term impact I will have on these students, but they definitely have left an impact on me.


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