May 03

Chasing balance: my biggest concern about teaching #edBlogaDay

balanceI have a weakness. It is finding balance in my life. There are 14 school days left in the year, and I am using this to justify the long days at school, the weekends filled with work, and hours spent in front of my laptop. However, there is always an excuse for me; the time of year rarely matters.

But you know what? I shouldn’t think this is okay. Our profession should not place demands  on us that require almost as many hours working outside the classroom as we spend inside the classroom. Now, I know not all teachers spend hour upon hour a week working, but I think most, if not all, of the great ones do. Why? Because we care about our students, our profession, and the world.

In the process of caring so much, we forget about someone very important in our classroom.


We neglect balance in our lives and justify it because we are working with kids and impacting the future. I am the worst at this. I generally start a year with some semblance of balance, but as the year progresses, I become more and more unbalanced. By the time I reach this point of the year, my entire life is school, and I have lost all sense of balance.

This summer, my goal will be to find balance and to establish a plan to maintain balance throughout the school year. I need to find balance between what happens inside of school and what I need to do outside (like take care of me, my husband, my dog, my cats, my house, etc.) Will it be easy? No. Do I always manage my time well? No. Is there a huge room for improvement? Absolutely.

How do you find balance?

Note: I wrote about a similar topic a month ago, so obviously this is a huge weakness for me! Just Breathe


May 02

Spring is love #edBlogaDay

I grew up in Florida. People will often joke that Florida doesn’t have seasons. Of course Florida has seasons; they just aren’t traditional: hurricane season, tourist season, strawberry season, and citrus season are just a few. Growing up in Florida, I always wondered what the big deal is about spring.

When I moved to Georgia almost ten years ago, I finally discovered spring.


Spring is bliss.

Spring is incandescent.

Spring is buds and flowers and pollen.

Spring is green, verdant and lush.

Spring is hope bursting forth.

Spring is petals floating on the wind.

Spring is bird song greeting the morning.

Spring is bees buzzing.

Spring is world made new.

Spring is the bluest of skies.

Spring is life blossoming.

Spring is love.

May 01

Sketchnotes experiment: Day 1 #edBlogaDay

IMG_6696If you have been following the blog the past month, you know that I have been brainstorming a way to bring sketchnotes/doodling/art journaling to my chemistry classroom. This is a concept I would really like to incorporate next year, so I am piloting it with one of my classes for our last unit of the year.

A week ago, I passed out simple bound books to my students (our “sketchbooks”) and asked them to decorate the covers by Thursday (yesterday). When students got to class yesterday, I asked them to start by walking around the room and looking at each others decorated covers.

I spent the next part of class explaining my big idea for sketchnotes. There is actually a lot of great research supporting the use of doodling in the classroom (like this article from LiveScience that explains Doodling May Draw Students into Science). Next, we watched a short video from Mike Rohde explaining the Sketchnote process. After that, I had a short discussion with students to hear their initial thoughts. The biggest concern students had was making sure they had all of the details of the notes. Since Sketchnoting focuses on the big ideas, they were worried they would miss a detail that would be important for an assessment. Except for that, students seemed pretty open to the idea. I had already anticipated that this would be a concern, so I was happy to tell them that they would receive a packet of completed notes for the unit. (We usually do cloze style notes.)

After watching a longer video of the Sketchnoting process in action, students were ready to try it themselves. They were starting to realize that the visual elements did not require a lot of drawing skill. It is more about doodles and lettering. For our first challenge, I displayed the two standards we will be covering this unit.

  • 13b. calculate temperature, pressure and volume of gases using Charles’ Law, Boyle’s Law, and Gay-Lussac’s Law
  • 13e – use concepts of the mole and Avogadro’s number to calculate the molar volume of gases (GPS)

I then asked students to interpret the standards using sketchnotes based on their prior knowledge and what they thought the standard meant. It was a great way to preview the content of the unit and for students to uncover things they already know.

In the slideshow, you can see some of the decorated covers and initial sketchnotes from students. I think they look amazing for just beginning. I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out. Many students were really excited to have the chance to draw and doodle and were asking if the process could be applied to other classes. Students even suggested I should do this with my students next year!

I am also participating with my students. I think it’s a good idea to model something new (or even well known). I’ve found that students are much more likely to buy in to your crazy ideas if you do it along with them. It shows students that you think it is important enough to do, too. I am so excited to see where this journey takes us, and I hope you’ll continue to follow along!



Apr 30

Celebrating #AprilBlogADay Success! Looking forward to #edBlogaDay

edblogadayWhen I stumbled on the #AprilBlogADay challenge 30 days ago, I thought it sounded like an awesome idea. I knew I needed motivation to become more consistently. I decided to sign up and hope I could keep with it. The first few days were the first couple of days were in the run up to spring break, and then spring break arrived. The first 12 days of the month were relatively easy to keep up.

As the month continued, there were definitely a few times when finding time to post was a challenge. However, I wanted to stick with it, and I am so glad I did. I have been able to reflect on my practices, celebrate the amazing things my students are doing, cultivate exciting new ideas, and make connection outside of my classroom.

Thirty days later, I am happy to celebrate successfully blogging every day in April!

I am so glad that I joined #AprilBlogADay. It was worth every minute spent brainstorming and composing posts. I am now looking forward to the continuation of the project with #edBlogaDay. My goal is to read, comment, and share (via Twitter) a different blog each day during the month of May. I will also attempt to continue blogging daily. This part will be a bit of a challenge as the school year is winding down. It’s definitely going to get a bit crazy the last 15 school days and with our Maker Fest on May 16th, but I am sure I will have many amazing stories to share from the last few days of school.

So, once again I invite you  to join us for #edBlogADay in May. You will learn so much, and it will be worth every moment you have to spend on it (even if you can’t make every day). I hope to see you next month in #edBlogaDay!

#edBlogaDay Sign Up

Apr 29

We need more doors #AprilBlogADay

This is a follow up to yesterday’s post: Doors IMG_6691Look down the school hallway, and you’ll see door after door. But are the doors where we need them? Are the doors performing the correct function?

Last week, we were discussing a possible move to the third floor next year. As we looked at the map of the third floor, we realized that there were no connecting doors between the classrooms there.

My classroom has three doors. One door opens into the hallway, one door connects to a computer lab, and the other door connects to an adjoining classroom.

I have come to rely on doors connecting me to these rooms, to connect me to teammates, to connect me to my students. We have connecting doors between two of our computers lab, too. We have doors everywhere it seems. Doors that are almost always open as students flow between classrooms, work spaces, and computer labs. I can easily hear what is going on in other rooms or stand in a doorway to watch two rooms. We (teachers) often flow in and out of rooms during work times. Students do, too. The doors keep us and our students connected to each other.

If we moved to a different floor, we would need more doors. Apparently, it costs a lot of money to put in doors.

And it got me thinking. Why do we isolate ourselves within four walls and only one door? Why do high school classrooms not have connecting doors? I know our middle and elementary school classrooms have doors that connect to at least one other classroom. It seems strange that high schools would not have them.

Doors can keep people – and experiences – safe and sound inside the walls, but doors can also open us to people and experiences not available inside the confines of our classrooms. I think the trouble of missing doors on the third floor is a metaphor for missing doors to the outside world that rob our students of the connections they desperately need. Students need to see the relevance of what they are learning in the classroom. The best way to find relevance – to show our students the opportunities available in the world around us?

Open the door!

And if you need to, knock down a wall and make more doors.

Apr 28

Doors #AprilBlogADay


Keep us safe inside,

Locked in our cocoons.





Join us to the world around us,

Expanding our horizons.





Is it time to open our classroom doors to the world around us? I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past couple of days. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll share my theory on doors.

Apr 27

Want to see change in your classroom? Step back and let go! #AprilBlogADay

lettinggoIt is interesting that today’s topic is about building a more powerful classroom by letting go as I was just having this conversation with my teammate at lunch today. We are finishing our first year as a fully PBL school. However, I teach in a program that has been PBL since the school opened five years ago. For us, stepping back and letting go is second nature, but for many teachers it is a scary proposition.

If you let go of full control of your classroom and let students have autonomy, what will happen to your classroom management and discipline? How will you make sure that students are on task 100% of the time? Can students really learn if you are not feeding them information at the front of the room day in and day out? It sounds like chaos. Chaos can’t be good, can it?

As a science teacher, I have always lived by the rule that science is loud and messy. I am sure that helped set the stage for me moving more and more to full PBL over the past few years. I also don’t like giving answers. It is so much more beautiful when students discover concepts on their own. To me, it is the only way to teach science. Inquiry and discovery is the nature of science.

Stepping back and letting students take control of the their learning does not mean that all of your classroom procedures go out the window. It just means you develop a new set of procedures for the environment. Organized chaos can be a really good thing because it really isn’t chaotic. I think sometimes in education we have been fed the lie that noise equals chaos. That’s simply not true. However, as students work and learn together, your classroom will not be completely silent, and that is completely okay!

I have been talking about our upcoming STEM Maker Fest in several of my recent posts. I want to tell you the story of one of our groups . Three of my freshmen boys weren’t initially sure what they wanted to do for their project, so they were brainstorming with one of my teammates for ideas. They decided to make a Power Wheels style car initially, and over time it has morphed into a robot. At first, they wanted it to be a tank, but I suggested it did something more positive. Our robotics team already has a t-shirt cannon, so they are integrating the t-shirt canon into the robot design. They also called local businesses to donate t-shirts to be shot out of the canon during the event. The robot is almost finished, and on the day of the Maker Fest, they will be driving it via remote control around the event space and shooting t-shirts to the crowds.

What does this have to do with letting go in the classroom? A whole lot. (That’s a completely scientific term.) These three students are in my chemistry class. What does this project have to do with chemistry? Not much – especially not the concepts we are currently studying. It’s really more of an engineering/robotics project. Do you know how much robot building experience these kids had prior to the project? Basically none. By stepping back and allowing these students to discover on their own, they have created something way beyond what I could have taught them in my chemistry classroom. They have been working on the build during our project time, at lunch, and after school almost every day. They were there this afternoon working for a couple of hours. Do you want students to have powerful learning experiences in your classroom that revolve around things they really want to know?

Step back.

Let go.

See what happens.

Oh – you’re worried about the students performing on the tests they have to take and the standards that you cover? Don’t be! Our students routinely outperform the other students in our school. Why? They are motivated to get the required work done in an efficient manner (and we are consistently checking for mastery via formative assessments) so that they can work on what interests them.

Do you know what happens when you allow students to follow their passions? They have time to do amazing things. Two years ago, a small group of sophomore students pitched their 3D animation modeling skills to a local firm to create something to be part of a PBS documentary. They ended up creating a 90-second segment for the documentary and won a student level Emmy award. Here is an article about the project if you would like to know more. You can also watch the documentary, or just their animation, on Hulu. The animation is just after the 7:55 minute mark. This project took the majority of the year, so while other students were working on more traditional projects, they took advantage of the efficiency model to get their needed assignments done and then work on the animation. (I can’t take credit for any of this, as this year is my first year with CDAT.) This is another example of what happens when you step back and let kids do what they love.

So are you ready to let go – even just a little? Trust me; it’s worth it, and the results will be beyond amazing!

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