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Showing posts from October, 2016

Great Ideas From Great Writers and Educators: Part Two

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess

Transformation: Two Questions for Raising the Bar
If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room? I have been in many college classroom with few students and later discovered why. A boring, disengaged teacher does not spark curiosity, interest, or motivation. Make sure your classroom is authentic, active and relevant for students.
Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for? I know some of my lessons are awesome, frog dissection, Dyson vacuum engineering lesson, but I am not sure people would buy tickets. This makes me ponder. I am inspired to create lessons that people would pay to see.
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Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students To Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed by Paul Solarz

Chapter 3: Peer Evaluation
"Give me five" is not just a …

Great Ideas From Great Writers and Educators: Part One

The Power of Questioning: Opening Up The World of Student Inquiry  by Staar Sackstein

Dissecting Questions Chapter 3: We need to teach students how to break apart the questions, how to find deeper meaning in the question. If students can look beyond the words and answer choices and dissect the true meaning of what is being asked then they can better absorb the information and learn from it.
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Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes For Every School

Hack One: Meet Me in the Cloud:  by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez  
Use google docs, Voxer, Twitter to have parent/teacher and teacher/teacher, teacher/administration meetings when applicable. In person meetings are crucial to building relationships but sometimes it is a great tool to communicate.
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Launch: Using Design Thinking To Boost Creativity, and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student …

Most Needed Items

Canned meat, poultry, fish
Peanut butter Canned fruits and veggies (low sugar, low salt) Cereal Soups, stews Pasta (whole grain) Dry beans Rice
pantry  limited
Paper, pencil pen or sharpie colorful hand sanitizer case full of glue and scissors pencil shavings on the bottom dirty kleenex personal size various books 
backpack tools
Knowledge Listening or seeing Discovery Inquiry Curiosity Determination Motivation and skill Failure stepping Back into the forum of experience to Succeed and grow
learning achieving
human need
existence
childhood

My Life in a Nutshell: Part One

In the 1980’s Laguna Beach High School was a school of normal adolescents; artists, musicians, and strange individuals; but for the most part normal. Wizards, dragons, and Hobbits were only alive in books and the Internet, I-phones, and X-box were not even heard of. We used type-writers, Atari, and payphones. We wore bangle bracelets, parachute pants, and head bands. But we were normal. Prince, Madonna, and Thompson Twins blared from over-sized boom boxes while the Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and St. Elmo’s fire were the inspiration for our witty banter and social norms. The 1980’s was a decade of decadence and spontaneity. Growing up in a decade with no war, no economic depression, and no Columbine allowed for us to focus on the little things. These little things were the essence of what we became. These minute behaviors created a way for us to stay individuals but also to find a connection with our peers; to truly belong to a generation called lazy and greedy but who were actual…

Not My Child: A Parents Blinders Need to be Lifted

I have four children at home. A week does not go by that I am not getting communication from one of their teachers. Usually about homework never about behavior. As a teacher myself, I have instilled proper behavior in my children. Academics have always been at the forefront of our family discussions and this has always been the most important thing to my family: education. But alas, as with many children mine get lazy and neglectful. I get emails, calls, and even visits, one of my sons attends the school at which I work, in regards to this matter. I am never happy. I always address it and they get their missing assignments completed quickly and turned in for late grades.

What I do not do, is blame the teacher. My children over the years have had amazing, dedicated, insightful teachers, and eager, motivated teachers, and alas disengaged teachers. But never has the grade of my child been the result of teacher competence and friendliness. I have teacher conferences, I accept the teacher …

Changing Perspective: A Mothers Acceptance of the Inevitable: Part One

My oldest son is a senior in high school. I know this means college next year and him moving away from home, but I just can't wrap my head around him not being here. It is a year away why do I need to think about it now? SAT's, ACT's, college applications, tuition/financial aid, living expenses. The list is endless. You want them to want to stay home forever, but you need to nudge them out the door to find independence and self-worth, You want them to get accepted into college but worry is it a party school, will he fit in with dorm life? He is not a social butterfly but will he transform into one losing sight of classes and academics?

These are the endless concerns going through my head. I am truly lucky because my daughter lives in Albuquerque and that is where my son wants to go, UNM. So he plans on living with her, helping her out with her son, while building up his residency he will attend a community college for a year. Then enter UNM with residency and a much cheape…

A 7th Grade Teachers Journey into 6th Grade

I am a 7th grade teacher. I have taught 8th grade but really, 7th grade is my passion. I love the age, the eagerness to learn and still respectful nature of 12 year-old's. I also am the mentor for many different science competitions varying from Future City to Quiz Bowl both of which I have opened up to 6th graders. I was eager to include all three grade levels because many competitions exclude sixth graders due to their age. So I ventured into the deep.

Let me preface by saying I am very happy that I have included 6th graders because they need an outlet for their creativity and drive. They are smart and funny and offer a lot to any team. But what I discovered very early on is that they are very different from 7th and 8th graders. In subtle and not so subtle ways. They are a lot smaller on average. They are louder then most 7th and 8th graders. They are more emotional than their older counter-parts. Most obviously they are a lot more hyper and easily distracted than 7th and 8th gr…

Homemade Soup: A Weekend of Family and Food

I love to cook. I wish I had more time to. This weekend I cooked two soups: broccoli cheddar and potato cheese from scratch. Fresh ingredients, painstakingly washed, peeled and diced. No frozen broccoli for me. I wanted to eat it long before it was finished. The house smelled awesome, my children kept wandering in to the kitchen asking, What is that wonderful smell?" The anticipation was rising and rising, all of us wanting a huge, piping hot bowl of soup. But it took nurturing and coaxing to get the potatoes to blend and the cheese to melt slowly and thoroughly. It was about four hours of nudging and stirring until finally, they were finished.

They both came out very tasty and my children are gobbling them up. It is amazing what a little anticipation and curiosity can do. My children, who scoff at vegetables, are digging into a bowl of broccoli or potato. The inquiry about cooking and why it takes so long to meld together and become a perfect union of taste was a hot topic of th…

School Spirit: How Do you Build Classroom Spirit!

School spirit is about sports, music, science teams and cheer leading and camaraderie. It is about wearing school colors and displaying pennants and shouting from the rooftops. But it is also about academics and student growth and diversity. School spirit is incorporated into a positive school culture. Students and teachers are proud of their school and show it through participation, social media, and word of mouth. A community often revolves around its local schools and when the school embodies a supportive, respectful climate then the neighborhood is more likely to respond.

A classroom spirit encompasses much of the same ideals: Academic success, cooperation, collaboration, open-dialogue, respect, eagerness to learn, student-centered, flexible, independent thinking, relevance and most important student interest. An authentic, active classroom revolves around student choice, not a teachers demands. It is designed around options for demonstration of knowledge and innovation. When a cl…

Fireside Chats: They Worked for FDR, Can They Work in A Classroom?

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The 9th Planet: Are There Students Who Continue to Revolve on the Edge of the Classroom?

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This week my students and I have had a lot of one-on-one conversations through our one-minute check-ins. Students who revolve around the edges of the "community" to whom have never spoken to me at length, have now ventured in to the center of the class to speak to me about science and their interests. The once 9th planet phenomenon occurring in all of my classes has slowed and brought these distant celestial bodies closer to the center of the universe that is my classroom.

Often students can be seated in the middle of the classroom and still be on the outskirts of the galaxy. My classroom motto is "colliding with science" and I tell my students that this flexible seating, student-centered classroom has been designed to cause these collisions. Science with interest, science with curiosity, students with inquiry, growth mindset and innovation, the collisions are endless. We are all planets, satellites, comets, asteroids, even black holes. It is imperative that we wo…

Buckle, Lace, Velcro: Tying up a Lesson

A buckle is secure, a tight concise closure. To unbuckle requires more effort than untying or tearing velcro. This seems to me to be more of a finality to a lesson, where one might need to leave it more flexible in order to revisit, reteach, and re-explore. I rarely ever, buckle up a conversation or lesson for this reason. Buckles have their purpose, they make sure a toddlers shoes are nice and tight so they can learn to walk. They tighten a belt so pants are secure in order for someone to go about their day without fear of losing their pants. But, alas they are rather fixed.

Laces are intricate and can be loosened or tightened depending on need. They can be left dangling at the end, often leading to a trip or fall, or they can be knotted which can lead to frustration. The best lace is wound up nicely in a bow but can be easily unwound to re-secure. These are the lessons that are more fluid and flexible allowing students to reach different conclusions: rabbit hole ties or two-loop sty…

Inventing to Learn

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk- Thomas Edison

No where does it say that you need technology to be able to invent and create. Technology can enhance learning by providing opportunities to connect with the world, use gamification, and design amazing presentations but using your hands can also allow us to imagine, inspire, and innovate. It needs to be a balance between tactile and kinesthetic learning and digital awareness. Together these two encompass what it means to invent to learn.

Tinkering opens the mind to new possibilities. It brings together the artistic side of us with the mathematical, engineering side. We see the world in a new light when we are simply combining random objects into something new. Inventing new ways of doing things changes the way we think and learn. Discovering we have a creative mind leads us to a growth mindset. Leads us to seek new challenges. New paths to explore. New voices to hear and learn from.


Invent- create or design (somethi…

Authentic Learning: A Success Story

As a teacher we always seek the most engaging and authentic learning experiences for our students. We create opportunities for students to grow through collaborative work as well as individual assignments. Together these provide a balance between self-driven inquiry and team discovery. Having a learning disability myself, I am always looking for new creative ways to make connections with reluctant learners. Many believe that students behave better for other teachers because the teacher does not discipline or "has a loud, uncontrolled environment." This could not be further from the truth. First, my class room is rarely quiet but it is very much monitored and organized. Secondly, it is the classroom dynamic, respectful relationships, and student-centered environment that allows my students to thrive. Not me, but the way our classroom is designed as a whole.

I have a student who struggles with other teachers. This student has Autism, is younger than most of his classmates, an…

The Reluctant Learner: How Do You Make Connections?

I was a reluctant learner growing up. I suffered from Dyslexia and reading and Mathematics was such a struggle that I completely gave up. I was an introvert, rarely did I speak in class or ask questions. I was also bullied a lot and hid in the bathroom for lunch or in the corner of the playground by myself at recess. I just turned inward and because of this speed bump in my education I have had to work very hard to overcome my doubts and insecurities. Not until high school did a teacher finally say to me, "You are so smart and I love to read your narratives, why don't you ever do your homework?" For the first time, someone took the time to ask me why? This same teacher, rather than writing it on one of my papers, took the time to make eye contact, and wait for a response. I shrugged my shoulders, he responded with "I care about you and your learning and I will make it my priority to make sure you have a voice." This was shocking to me, I stared at him. He smile…

Positive School Culture: How do you impact it?

A positive school culture is felt as soon as you walk in the door. The energy permeates through the halls with laughter, engaging, insightful conversations, and an excitement to be there. The positive vibrations permeate across the community like a wave. Infecting the neighborhood with pride. Eager children exit buses, albeit tired from the myriad of after-school opportunities for learning and growth. Teachers are happy to be there and are seeking opportunities for professional development. Collaboratively teachers, students, parents, administration and neighborhood members piece together the "community quilt" that is a school.

I have been fortunate enough to work in various schools with different levels of positiveness. While one was struggling, others were more successful because of the responsiveness, support, and involvement of the administration. The integrity, encouragement and resilience of a schools leaders drives the vision, goals, and determination of a school. A t…

Empowering Student Voice Through Competition

Competition is healthy, it is what makes us human. It has been apart of our genetic makeup since the beginning. It is inevitable that every one of us will enter a competition at some point in our lives. Whether it is athletics, music, grant applications, college applications, a job, or to move up the social ladder. As children we are taught to compete and win or lose but to play the game, to challenge ourselves and practice and do our best. Competing has become downplayed in some schools and geared up in others.

How can we empower students to have confidence and determination but also be humble and have character? Giving students the power of voice enables them to build strong respectful relationships with their peers as well as their teachers and mentors. When students feel valued and responsible for their own actions the humility and character will come naturally. It is important for teachers to provide numerous opportunities for students to display their strengths and passions and …

The Squishy, Colorful Facts About Digestion: Makerspace Models

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The culminating activity for digestion, the review before our test on Monday, is all about using the makerspace, having fun, laughing at ourselves, and reinforcing respect and community goals. Students were asked to create a model of their assigned organ. I did not say it had to be to scale, or what materials to use so the digestive system models are all very different. Most students chose play-doh, however, many students stepped outside the container literally, and used other materials provided in the class makerspace.

The digestive system lends itself to models and diagrams. It is an uncomplicated system and students can relate to it. It is a process they understand, eating. We have discussed organic compounds, energy transformation, chemical versus mechanical digestion as well as the organs of digestion and their structures and functions. Enzymes, acids, and other digestive juices are crucial to this process and students also discovered through labs and research what the most impor…

Energy Transformation: A Mooverlous Lab with Hydrogen Peroxide

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This week my students have been doing various demonstrations representing various digestive organs: Cracker in mouth to demonstrate saliva and amylase, bread and orange juice to represent stomach and hydro-chloric Acid (HCL) and aspirin in vinegar, then transferred to baking soda and water to represent the stomach to the small intestine. Today students demonstrated energy transformation chemical to thermal by using cow liver and hydrogen peroxide. 
All organisms rely on enzymes to catalyze chemical reactions.  An enzyme is a biological catalyst that increases the rate of chemical reaction by lowering the level of activation energy necessary to start the reaction.  In other wards it is the spark that ignites a reaction quickly without needing extra energy to do so. Without enzymes, many of the chemical reactions that occur within living things would proceed to slowly to be useful.  We need these reactions to occur quickly during digestion in order to receive the energy in a timely fash…

Standing Desks: A Classroom Adventure

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The standing desks, ordered in June, purchased through a grant, finally arrived. This is the first of many posts about how these desks enhance our classroom setting. Our classroom is a flexible seating room, we were just missing the standing desks. Now that we have them, the room is organized community style with round tables, a group of six slate, science tables, and now groups of four standing tables. They are all arranged and here are a few pictures of the new set up of my classroom. 

The first day students had an opportunity to use them was today. I have taken pictures with them in use for a lab activity and to allow students to have an alternate seat or should I say standing arrangement. I am excited to get them in full use. Standing desks have many purposes as well as many benefits.

The workstation/standing desks can be used during classroom instruction, after-school clubs, and at school events if needed. The workstations can enhance instruction by allowing for student choice in s…

Aspirin? How can that Demonstrate Digestion?

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This week in my class is all about digestion. Yesterday student did an activity about the mouth, saliva, and amylase. They chewed up a soda cracker, into a bolus, and held it on their tongue for 2 minutes until it tasted sweet. As a class we discussed how the salivary glands secrete saliva which has the enzyme that triggers this-large complex carbohydrates to be broken down into simple sugars. So the class said, "digestion begins in the mouth."

Today Students used one cup of vinegar (represented HCL in the stomach) and a second cup of water, baking soda ans salt (represented the small intestine). I provided each group two aspirin one un-coated, and one coated. They placed both aspirin in the vinegar simultaneously and waited for two minutes making observations. The un-coated on dissolved quickly while the coated one lost its coating but remained in tact. This demonstrated that the stomach does not break down everything entirely.

Then students took the remaining aspirin and p…

A Journey Through Digestion: Interactive Word Wall

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This weekend I decided to create a review game about the digestive system for my students from a poster someone made for me. Rather than just hanging the poster on the wall as one piece I decided to laminate it, cut out the organs and use it like a puzzle for the interactive word wall. Over the weekend I wrote out cards of all the structures, functions, processes, what food is called at different stages, and the mechanical and chemical processes. Then I laminated them and added magnetic tape on the back to make them stick to the blackboard.
Today, I gave each table two organs, and several different cards to place on the board. I asked for the puzzle pieces one by one until they made the digestive tract-they had to adjust and move things around until they got it right, this they did as a class.  After they read each function they explained which organ it matched until finally all the cards were on the board. 
Finally, students walked up to the interactive word wall and drew it in thei…

Professional Development: Ed Camp Katy 2016

I am a person who is courageous and takes risks in my classroom. I strive every day to find new ways to encourage, engage, and inspire my students. I continually seek opportunities for professional development because I know that there are amazing educators out there that share insightful and creative ideas and I want to meet them. I chat on Twitter and Voxer with eduheroes who motivate me to be better. I have had a growth mindset my whole life. I have always sought out experiences for evolvement. But, I also lack the confidence to be a leader. I step outside my comfort zone within my classroom but then skirt the border when it comes to face to face interaction with my peers.

Ed Camp Katy is an amazing camp where phenomenal educators meet to chat about relevant, pertinent, and diverse topics. Rather than a speaker discussing innovation and change, a community circle is formed and everyone in the room shares ideas and insight about what they are doing in their schools and classrooms. T…

A Week in the Life of a Teacher

A typical week begins with a stressful Monday morning; children complaining, making lunches, sharing the bathroom with four boys. Our second bathroom has a plumbing issue. The last to get the bathroom, no hot water, steamy mirror, stinky clothes and towels in the hamper. But, I go into my walk-in closet close the door, sit on the floor and just meditate for five minutes. This calms me and I get into the car ready to begin the week.

The days are filled with 7th graders exploring, playing with play-doh, creating, laughing. I love teaching even on the most stressful day (grades due, paperwork, grading quizzes, labs, planning) I stand in the doorway greet my students and smile, they make me smile every day. This week so much to do, 2 copiers down at school everyone cranky and fighting over the remaining ones, I do not make many copies so I am not to stressed. I stay late with my clubs and run to make copies when everyone else has left.

A club everyday after school Quiz Bowl, Future City, …

Is Coffee a Priviledge?

I live in a single income household. I am a teacher so even with a Master's and nearly a PhD it is not a huge salary. But, we do alright. With four boys at home, Starbucks is a luxury, but I do get gift cards from students for teacher appreciation or Christmas. They get saved up and then over the course of the year I get to treat myself. I recognize that 5.00 is a lot of money to purchase, albeit a yummy beverage, a coffee drink. However, I never thought about the cup and the status that it does denote. the white cup green emblem is infamous at schools. Nowadays students are arriving a hot cocoa or decaf espresso in hand.

You know when you hear something and you go, man how had I not thought of that before? Well, thanks to a Voxer I heard today that happened to me. The difference between privileged and underprivileged students has never gone unnoticed by me. My own children are far from privileged. But, getting a Starbucks never caused me pause. My former school was not affluent o…

Failing Forward

Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently- Henry Ford

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm- Winston Churchill


These two statements have always resonated with me. I have never claimed to be successful. I make mistakes all the time. I doubt myself, lose confidence, shy away from naysayers, but I always always get back up and keep going. When I wake up every day, before I stir and climb out of bed, I always remind myself that the day will be a balance between successes and failures, I will learn from both. 

I seek new opportunities all the time especially in my classroom. I am mid-sentence and I say, "No, I no longer want to try it this way let's change it up and...." My students always smile because they know something cool is going to happen. This makes my classroom a very fluid environment, where students are collaborating to reach their weekly goals more often than I am teaching. I like to take-risks in my l…

One Minute Check-in's: Weekly Feedback with Students

A few months ago, I was watching my students collaborating and while they were engaged and interactive,  a few were dominating the conversation. I observed a bit longer, trying to determine why these two students in particular were steering the discussion. Then it dawned on me that one student might have been more knowledgeable about the topic but the other was simply more confident and outgoing. I decided then that I needed to communicate with my students one-on-one every week to bring out the voice of certain students, have others share their doubts or struggles, and allow others to ask questions and share new ideas. Thus began 1-minute check-in's.

I have a check list I use every week to keep track. I count up all the check in days and they total a grade at the end of the quarter, this makes those students who ask "Is this for a grade" on track. The first week or so I had to remind them, "Come see me, you can ask me questions, share ideas, and even provide me with…

Digits or Digital

The current trend in most educational circles is incorporate more technology into the classroom. While many teachers are redesigning their lessons to include technology, they are often losing the core processes of student learning, active involvement. Sharing ideas on google docs, blogging on Seesaw, even using Audioboom for podcasting are all great tools that do not distract from learning but enhance it. But alone an active learning environment they are not. I think sometimes as educators we place too much emphasis on digital learning.

Digital learning should follow alongside hands on learning. Students should use their hands to create and design as much as they do to type and web quest. Rather than use online clip art or drawing programs why not have students hand draw or even make a model from play-doh or other materials. Rather than have a table of ipads and laptops alone also have a table full of art supplies and trinkets that students can use to innovate and build as with a make…