Showing posts from May, 2017

The Last Day of School: Rubik's Cube Mosaics

Earlier in the year I took a group of ten students to a Rubik's Cube competition. It was so much fun. I learned then that students love Rubik's Cubes, I wanted to do more with them then just solve them. So I went through You Can Rubik's and ordered a set, on loan for six weeks, of traditional Rubik's cubes. Then I decided to create two different mosaics out of them. Allowing my students to organize, solve and create the mosaics entirely themselves. It took 2 class periods to build one, our mascot the Beckendorff Bear and then the next day they created the Tardis. I am a huge Dr. Who fan and it seemed fitting.

All I did was order and receive the 600 Rubik's Cubes and then use the Rubik's Mosaic designer, inputting a picture and voila' a design and the students took it from there. But if I had more time I would have let them design their own mosaics. Alas, next year that is my plan. I wish I could keep them but nope, packaging them up tomorrow and off they go…

Keeping the Classroom Student-Centered

1. Create a maker-space or tinker corner for students to design, create, and redesign. A place for them to use inquiry and engineering to demonstrate knowledge and mastery.

2. Create an interactive word wall where students add artifacts, notes, and questions. This gives them a place where they control the content delivery they really make connections when they own their learning.

3. Make a wall something about you. Create something that shows your personality and passion. This lets your students know who you are. My Dr. Who mural really connected with my students and it recruited many more Whovians.

4. Allow them to have fun and play. Let them tinker and play with unexpected science. I ordered the Dyson Engineering Box and students made the connection between a vacuum and the human muscular and skeletal systems. We also made Rube Goldberg machines to discuss variables and experimental design.

5. Create a place for clubs to meet. A classroom where students come to build and practice fo…

Routines At The End of The Year: But Keep The Rigor Too

Routines do not mean long, boring, teacher led actions. They simply mean organized situations where behaviors and actions are modeled and practiced for efficiency and effectiveness. They can be structured around passing out or turning in papers, collecting materials, cleaning up, even warm-ups and tickets-out-the-door or brain breaks. They are consistent and make students feel there is a structure and organization for the class. Students need to feel like there is a purpose for things, they need to have something that is uniform and stable. Stability is key for students to feel comfortable and focused, this is when learning takes place.
Rigor and grit occurs when students are free from the tedious and can focus on the creative, innovative, and curiosity that drives their motivation and determination. When they have routines for the simple things they can accomplish them quickly leaving more time for the active, authentic learning experiences designed by their teachers. A makerspace cre…

Relax but also be Productive: Summer Challenges

Summers are a time for me to attend conferences, teach several classes to my fellow Katy ISD teachers at the Science Conference, teach science summer camp for a week to 4th-5th graders and hit as many Edcamps and PD as I can- the month of June. Then I taper off a bit, travel to Albuquerque and spend a lot of time with family. Especially this summer as my oldest son will be staying in Albuquerque to attend college. He will be living with my daughter so that at least is numbing the sting of my second child leaving the nest. Three more to go. Summer for many is do nothing, lying by the pool and tanning, sleeping in, and basically shutting down. I can not do that, any of it. I am very pale and burn in the sun no matter the SPF factor, I tend to wake up early whether I like it or not, a 7 year old has needs beginning at his wake up time 7:00 am and I literally have no idea what it means to shut down, be done, relax for long periods of time. I am a working, energetic, machine with a growth …

Objects Growing Clearer: A Little Focus

I keep sticky notes across my room, writing them throughout the day. Each day I gather them up and put them in a jar- well an old Cheese Ball container anyway. Each week I pull one out when I need inspiration or insight during doubt. Objects growing clearer, lessons becoming more student-led, classroom design becoming more and more mindful and flexible throughout the year as I pull a quick anecdote out to help reset my mind. I have also gotten some notes from different students, either thank you notes or reflection notes from Teen leadership assignments. I put them in the container too. This weekend is my weekend to read them and reflect. I love to see where my mind was at the beginning of the year- how my ideas have altered and my strategies have shifted to meet the needs of my students. The thing I appreciate most about this yearly endeavor is to see how much I have grown as a teacher.

With a little focus, objects grow clearer. I am already seeing the redesign for next year. More re…

Frog Dissections: A Comparison of Frog Body Systems and Human Body Systems

A dissection is a great tool to help our students make sense of anatomy. I have conducted dissections in my classes over the years: fetal pigs, sharks, worms and frogs. Even chicken feet. This week for our finals periods we are dissecting frogs. In groups of 4-5 students are completing a lab report comparing a frogs organ systems to those of the human body. We are also reinforcing lab safety and collaboration this last week of school. Rather than watching cartoons or signing yearbooks it is important to me to keep learning active and authentic. The school board decided that these students need to be here this week and it was based on learning not sitting idle. Why have them here if they are not ending the year with an awesome activity. Each day this week two classes will have 2 hours to fully dissect and reflect on the anatomy of a frog. They are enjoying this and have been waiting all year for this opportunity. So alas, frog dissection it is.

A Quiet Day to Reflect

Today is our last day before finals begin. So students are taking their last unit test of the year. It is very quiet and this has given me a day to just reflect on the year. It has been a great year overall: students were engaged and eager to learn, friendly students, sometimes a bit hyper, but never down right disrespectful. A lot of personalities. At the beginning of the year I was learning names very quickly but never felt connected to the 170 students in my 6 classes. So I implemented 1-minute check-in's between myself and every student every week. Each week they would find time in class, before or after school even in the halls to talk to me for 1 minute about science or anything they may be struggling with in my class. This was amazing, behavior instantly got more focused and on-task, and the classroom became more of a community. I have really gotten to know every one of my students.

My standing desks came in October so they changed the dynamic of the class pretty quickly af…

Application and Analysis: Designing and Testing an Aquifer in a Cup

It's the last two days of school before finals begin. The last two days where I will see every class and have a chance to end the year with a critical thinking, student-centered activity rather then a handout or busy work. Our unit is groundwater. What better way for students to bring together application of the vocabulary: porosity, permeability, percolation, non-point and point-source pollution, groundwater and aquifer and analyze their connection then to create an aquifer and witness it first hand. Many aquifer activities provide students with a lab sheet, including procedures, specific materials etc. To me that is boring and routine. Students would just merely conduct the experiment and get very little out of it. So I decided, lay out supplies and then have them design their own aquifer and demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the key terms of our unit. It also acts as a great review, the test is tomorrow.

Each group of four has to write a lab activity, including w…

Superhero Syndrome: Teaching Self-Reliance and Resilience

Television and on the big screen: Superheros, mutants, "Guardians of the Galaxy." Villains are trying to destroy the planet, don't worry the X-Men or Avengers are there to save the day. This phenomenon of humans needing extraordinary beings to protect us is everywhere. Now don't get me wrong, I am a huge Marvel and DC fan. Dr. Who is my favorite show on television. But, in the classroom I make a point of using these supernatural and fantastic guardians as examples of astonishing, phenomenal and unparalleled design. I have my students create their own, using real science to explain how they manage to be so strong, fast, pliable and invincible. This brings these characteristics into perspective. Their bodies must function the way a normal humans does, just with alterations or improvements. Comic books, films and serial dramas all depict these mythical characters as our saviors, I want to make sure in my classroom that every student sees themselves as their own warrior …

Let The River Run: Float On Down Stream

A classroom is ever changing like a river, displaying the progress, continuity and outpouring of knowledge. Rapids, falls, meandering, channels, banks, and eventually estuaries and deltas where they expand and release their flow into the sea of learning. Each bend of the lesson causing a course change, each student adding a plethora of personalities and mobility of mind. The flow of a classroom is roaring when these personalities merge from individual tributaries into a channel ever changing the landscape. Every teachers goal is to have the engagement level of their classroom high. Where the ebb and drift of the activity is guiding students to a place of self-awareness and motivation. When a situation is "flowing" participants are generally happy and content, and working at their peak performance. In other words, engaged, invested and on-task. But, how can we get to this point? How can we literally change the tide if it has become stagnate water?

An oxbow lake is a pool of s…

Doing, Thinking, Playing: The Triumvirate of Education

The three powerhouses of the classroom: doing, thinking and playing. Together they form the basis of all learning. The more we actively access new ideas and mold them to fit our schema the more integral they become. Elasticity, malleability and flexibility all qualities of a good foundation. Building models, analyzing their importance and then manipulating them to be both relevant and purposeful for ourselves. This is the way information is processed. In order for curiosity and inspiration to lead us down new paths we must be able to understand the way we think. They way we see the world. We need to be able to act out and alter our frame of mind, seize new opportunities without fear of failure but with an anticipation of it. To take risks in order to find our "calling" our passion and our zone of knowledge. An ever growing expanse of creativity, practice, reflection and application. A true triumvirate of personal growth and fortitude.

Students are the doers, the thinkers, th…

The Quiet Has A Sound Unto Itself

Why meditation can be so difficult for many is the fact that they try to relax in a dead silent room. Darkened and calm. But the quiet has a sound unto itself. A deep, ominous hum. So when one is trying to relax, the din of silence wraps around you like a stifling blanket, ever reminding you that noise is absent. White noise or ocean sounds can help remove the clutter of quiet reflection. I find that having music playing very low in the background is what I need. Not lyrics just instrumental to calm my brain into a lull and then and only then can I truly remove myself from distractions and meditate.

Mindful meditation can also be directed. Calm and Head Space are great apps for this. I often use them in times of stress and anxiety because I am too flustered to be able to sit still and let me mind wander. In those cases I cant seem to get "outside" my mind and let it unpack my doubt and uncertainty- in fact it exasperates it because then I open up to a flood of memories that …

The Importance of Interfacing: No Devices Just Glances

A piece of hardware is often the most utilized tool of communication. The internet a stream of consciousness for some, a platform for prejudice or greed for others. Many see it as an opportunity to network and connect with like-minded individuals. No matter its intent, technology has a way of bridging any gaps. Making sure that most people feel a part of the larger human population. Some rely on it as their sole communication, while others branch out into public and find other more constructive ways to communicate. Remember when letters and postcards were the norm? Now emails and Instagram. I find that I use Twitter a lot and Voxer some. At work though it is almost entirely email. It is easy to send a quick email rather than walk to a colleagues classroom and have a face to face. Lately though this has been disheartening me. I miss interfacing with others. Finding time in our busy days to say "Hello" to others. To seek out a one-on-one conversation, eye contact, smile, noddi…

Mindful Awareness: Teaching Students How to be Proactive and Responsible for their Behavior

Focus. awareness and respect. rigor and resilience. Growth mindset. reflection. These are the cornerstones of learning, behavior and personal growth. Each an element of a thriving student-centered classroom. All are trainable skills that can be intentionally taught and cultivated to strengthen student opportunities for growth and success. This year especially, I have come to realize that the extent to which I purposefully and mindfully incorporate them into the "community" of learning the more students integrate them into their personal learning styles. Mindful awareness is just as important as academic skills because it teaches students how to balance their emotions, stay focused, and take ownership of their behavior. When they take responsibility, they become proactive and behavior in turn becomes more on-task and respectful.

Mindful awareness in the classroom has the capacity to train students to nurture these qualities for progress and realization, as well as get them cen…

You Gotta Go Back: To Fill in the Gap

Its the end of the year, standardized testing is done, you are gearing up for the last few weeks of school. Why on Earth would you look back and not keep moving forward? These final days for my classes are full of lessons not only on the last unit but also mini-activities about what we have done this year. A year in review I call it. The human body systems, Genetics, Adaptations, Classification, Ecosystems just to name a few. I am trying to create a big mural of connection: a literal wall of tidbits from the curriculum. Then tie it together with yarn. This wall is just at the beginning, slowly it is interweaving to form a mosaic of 7th grade. It is so critical to go back and fill in the gap. Even if they have mastered the content it is a good idea to go back and let them see it in a different way. Change their schema. When students reflect and bridge together their knowledge they begin to see that science is not just facts, figures and fundamentals but observations, original ideas, ch…

Landing on Boardwalk or Park Place: Don't Leave Things to Chance- Keep The Community Chest Open

We have all played the game of Monopoly, a real-estate board game, in which the player’s goal is to remain financially solvent while forcing opponents into bankruptcy by buying and developing pieces of property. Players need to stay engaged and motivated because they need to purchase properties before someone else does and attempt to collect all the properties in a set and create a monopoly. The more monopolies a player has the more solvent they become. Much like in learning, the more "sets" of knowledge one gains, the more we see the big picture, the stronger foundation we have and the more connections we can make, thus solvency comes from our schema, our resiliency and our application of this new information. Bankruptcy can only occur when we choose to stop learning. We have to keep moving around the board, rolling the dice and adjust to the pitfalls that we are presented with. This is life. Competition, determination and data collection.

The real-estate in my classroom- kn…

Eco-regions of Texas Student-Led Conference

This time of year many teachers fall back on web quests, worksheets, and book work. Standardized testing is over and students feel like the pressure if off, like they can sit back and go unchallenged for the last three weeks. I beg to differ. Texas eco-regions is not one of their favorite subjects nor mine to be honest. I hail from California and learning about the geography and topography of Texas to me at least, is a dry subject. Pun intended. Texas being a large plain and desert region, for the most part, we are a very very large state. Last year as a team we had them color giant maps of Texas and create travel brochures, a glorified book report. The students thought it was boring, I thought it was too. It was a very mundane last few weeks of school. I wanted this year to be different. This year I have found my voice and stepped away from my team on a lot of lessons. This included.

Last Wednesday I showed a 4 minute video that summed up all of the eco-regions of Texas brief descrip…