Sunday, October 6, 2019

Get in the Mood [Board] with Wakelet


This year I am really noticing how I respond differently to things when they are beautifully designed. Whether it is fresh paint and furniture to revitalize an old space or thoughtful planning and use of a favorite tool, when it looks good, I feel better while I use it. This is why I am excited about Wakelet's newest design addition, the Mood Board.

If you haven't used it, Wakelet is a curation tool. Pull together images, video, text, tweets and more to create collections or digital bulletin boards of your best ideas. Until last week, Wakelet offered three ways to view your collections - Media View (a list view where each entry falls below the previous), Compact View (a similar view with small tiles and descriptions in a list) or Grid View (exactly what it sounds like, a grid of additions to the board). As of last week, there is a fourth option called the Mood Board.

The image above is a Mood Board view of a collection of tweets I curated following a terrific summer conference for chemistry teachers. These are all snapshots of ideas that I don't want to forgot, so this collection is a bit of an inspiration board. I don't know about you, but my inspiration often doesn't come in list or grid form, so the Mood Board is a perfect way to view these ideas. I love how it resembles an actual bulletin board! It looks like it was created to resemble the process in my mind when an idea forms from inspiration and then plays out through many iterations.

It's very easy to drag the curated items into different positions to get an arrangement that is pleasing to the eye. Hover on an item and then drag it to a new spot. Everything around it resizes a bit to make room for the new addition. In just a few minutes I had saved snapshots of the ideas I liked the most, so when I return my eyes can wander over the whole board, remembering all the possibilities while searching for a spark.

One of my favorite uses of Wakelet was as a review tool for my semester exam last year with my AP Chemistry students. The collaborative nature of Wakelet makes this possible - each student is assigned a topic for review. They had to include some text, a video, and image, and a link for their assigned topic. Each student created a collection and then added it to the semester review collection. I love the way this one looks as a Mood Board. It would be very easy for students to scan the topics and find the ones that they need to review. Plus, it's so easy to reorder them quickly into the order that they were learned in the semester.

If you're new to Wakelet, you may want to check out the Educator's Guide that is loaded with possibilities for using this tool in a school or classroom. If you're already a Wakelet user, try out the new Mood Board. You're sure to find that the beautiful design will improve your mood.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Bracket Challenge


One of the activities my daughter enjoyed most in middle school was her teachers' use of a Bracket Challenge. The premise is simple: Assign a person or a term or event or classification of something to a student or pair of students. Give them some time to research and develop claims as to why their assigned term (or whatever) is the best, the most influential, the most unforgettable, or whatever. 

Then, a tournament begins. Create a bracket of all the terms or people or events. For each match, students will compete against each other in friendly competition. One student (or pair of students) states the case about why their person/term/event is the best. The other student (or pair of students) will counter those arguments and make their own case. Then the class votes on which team was most convincing. That team will advance in the bracket. Eventually, a winner will be named.

According to my daughter, using a Bracket Challenge in class makes a lesson more fun. Kids like the competitive aspect of the process. For many, they are motivated to research more and prepare more when they have a chance to "win." I like that kids are doing most of the talking. Instead of listening to a teacher talk about types of energy, kids learn about the topic and talk about it with their peers. Because students have to debate a little, they probably listen more closely than if the lesson was more traditional.
I have written several times about the awesome tools at flippity.net. One of the templates there creates a bracket. The flippity templates begin as a spreadsheet. Type in your topics and click a few buttons and you have a completely customized bracket that can be projected in class during the challenge. Click the winner of each match and they will automatically advance. Not feeling comfortable with spreadsheets? Flippity has that covered, too. Each flippity tool has a set of instructions to walk you through the process, but there is also an option to create a quickie bracket without the spreadsheet step.

Which President was most influential? Which historical event most determined the outcome of a war? Which family of elements on the periodic table is the coolest? Which part of speech is the most important? Which musical genre best represents the US? Which algebraic property is most important? All these questions and more can be answered with a Bracket Challenge.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Experimenting with Google Science Journal

This month I familiarized myself with Google Science Journal in preparation for a session I led at the annual SPARCC conference. Evidently, Google Science Journal has been around for a while, but I have never explored it until this summer. It offers some good possibilities for creating and recording information and data during science experiments.

Google Science Journal is a mobile app, available for iOS and Android and Chromebooks that can run apps from the Google Play store. In order to use it with a G Suite for Education account, it must be enabled by a district's Google apps administrator. Regardless of which version used, the app allows the experimenter to use the sensors that are native to the mobile device to collect and record data. These include accelerometers, magnetometer, light sensor, sound sensors, and more. If you use any Bluetooth sensors (like the GoDirect line by Vernier), it's possible that the app can also collect data using those.

When you open the app, you will be prompted to sign in using your Google account. Once you do, a folder called Science Journal will appear in your Google Drive. In addition, the app will sync across multiple devices when a person is logged in to each one, so you can start and experiment on an iPhone and finish it on an iPad. 

The uncomplicated app is easy to navigate. Get started by clicking the purple + sign to create a new experiment. This will open a "card" on which you can record information. Add text to record observations or write a hypothesis. Tap the sensor icon to access the sensors and collect data. You can grab a snapshot (one data point) or create a recording (a graph of how a value changes over time). You can also access the camera or insert other images.


If you record a graph, simply tap it to edit or annotate. Text notes can be inserted to show where particular events happened on the graph. The recording can be cropped, shared, archived, or deleted. Cropping is as easy as dragging a slider to the desired location.


Here's an example of an experiment you could do with students. Get some noise making toys (or instruments or objects or whatever). Open the Science Journal and use the Pitch and Sound Intensity sensors to record what happens with these values when the object makes some noise. Grab screenshots of those graphs. Show the objects and the graphs to students and ask them to hypothesize which object created each set of graphs and record the hypotheses in the Journal. Then assign an object to a group of students for further investigation. As students record data, they should annotate the graph to indicate where the pitch or intensity changed and why. Complete the experiment by asking students to make a claim, supported by evidence and reasoning, about which graphs were created by the object the experimented.

We tried this in my SPARCC session today with these objects:


Here are two of the graphs. 



Can you guess which object created these graphs?

When the experiment is complete, it can be exported to Drive as a PDF. Then it could be shared like any other Drive file or turned in through Google Classroom.

There are many possibilities for using this with students, but luckily you don't have to think them all up! Here is a "long list" of experiments that can be searched by level and type of equipment or duration. The experiments are being authored by many reputable science organizations. If you are interested in learning more, you also might want to check out Google's Science Journal support.

Are you using Google Science Journal? Feel free to comment to share your uses.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Lessons from a Crocheted Jellyfish

For the last several years, I have wanted to create amigurumi. Even if you don't know this term, you have probably seen these small crocheted creatures and objects, typically about 4-6 inches tall and always adorable. I can't explain why they appeal to me, and I don't do any handwork crafts like that, but I have always wanted to give it a try. I did some research a couple of years ago; I read that it is helpful to already know some basic crochet stitches in order to make an amigurumi something. I tried in the winter to learn to crochet. It was a dismal failure.

My sister Paula visited me last week. She taught herself to crochet by watching YouTube videos a couple Christmases ago, so I told her that I wanted her to teach me. She said she was willing, but she only really knew how to make granny squares (she didn't know amigurumi). Twenty-four hours later, I had a crocheted jellyfish and some of my summer's best professional development, a reminder of things I need to think about as I head back to school.

Lessons Learned from a Crocheted Jellyfish

  1. You need essential skills before you tackle something big. Paula only knew how to make granny squares so she demanded (literally, demanded) that we make granny squares. A few rows in, I put my hand work down and proclaimed that I was ready to make the jellyfish. She handed my square back to me and told me to finish. Paula knew that I wasn't ready, that I needed to practice more before I tackled something bigger.
  2. You won't always understand what you're doing at first and you have to trust the teacher to get you there eventually. She kept telling me to count Vs and stitches and I often had no idea what she was talking about. I asked her to show me over and over again. After hours of trying, I started to see the patterns that I was blind to at first.
  3. Practice creates automaticity. I was guilty of wanting the end result without putting in the practice. At first, I was using my fingers more than my crochet hook. My sister kept firmly saying, "stop using your fingers." By the end of the jellyfish, I could crochet by just relying on my hook, but it took hours. There is no shortcut for putting in the practice.
  4. It helps to have an enthusiastic and supportive teacher. Learning something new, something totally out of a wheelhouse, is hard. I quit a lot of times. I berated myself. I cursed a lot. I kept saying I was incompetent, that I couldn't crochet. Paula just kept handing my work back to me and telling me I could do it. She wouldn't let me quit. I finished because she told me I could.
  5. When learning something new, you will make many mistakes along the way and if you fix them, you become better. When I graduated from granny squares, I started the jellyfish. In fact, I started it around seven times because I just kept tearing it out and starting again when it didn't look right. On the sixth time, Paula tried to stop me from tearing it out, but I knew it wasn't right.
  6. When you complete the task, you will feel accomplished. My jellyfish isn't perfect. It's far from perfect. But it looks like a jellyfish. And I made it!
None of this is earth-shattering. As you read this list, you might be thinking that this is pretty basic stuff. It is. But, as teachers, we know this but we don't always feel it or experience it. We know learners need to practice and learn in chunks, but when we have to be the learner, it crystallizes these ideas in a way that only learning something new can.

I'm taking the jellyfish to school this year. I'm going to start on a duck that I hope will join the jellyfish. I hope they will serve as a reminder of how hard it is to learn and how important it was to have my teacher-sister encouraging me. If you have a chance to learn something totally outside your wheelhouse this year, I hope you'll take it.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Why I Use SOLE

In my last post, I described using the SOLE strategy in my classroom. I focused mostly on the mechanics of SOLE, the three steps to the method with a few tips along the way. My post was getting long, so I decided I would save the WHY for another day.

SOLE can be used a lot of different ways, but I use it to kick off each of my eight units in chemistry. On Day 1 of the unit, my students consider a Big Question that previews the new unit content but also bridges to the previous unit. For example, I start my unit of chemical bonding with "How can knowledge of the periodic table help us explain and predict the type of compounds elements will make?" We have just finished the unit on the periodic table, so this is an attempt for students to pull information they have just learned and use it to lay a foundation for the next unit. There are many ways to use SOLE, but many of my whys are based on the way I use it.

Things I love about SOLE in my Classroom

  • The process previews the new content. I could use a pretest or entrance ticket or something to get a sense of what my students already know and understand about a topic, but this is more fun. For me and for them. In their two minute presentations, students give a concise description of what they know. Of course, I also eavesdrop as they work in groups. Hearing chemistry in kid words is helpful. I can use their language when I build on their ideas in our unit.
  • Misconceptions are uncovered. Sometimes what they present is flawed or just outright wrong. Hearing on Day 1 that they have a misconception gives me a chance to address it when it's appropriate in the unit. I typically don't do that during or right after a presentation because my focus on Day 1 is listening.
  • They make great visuals! My students make posters during our SOLEs; I choose the ones I like the best and hang them in my classroom so I can refer to them as we work through the unit. This raises the student expectations because they do like when their visuals are chosen. Plus, the visuals remain up during the test as references, so students get better at creating visuals that will be helpful.

Other things to love about SOLE

  • Students become better at collaborating. Because they have a set amount of time to create something and present it, they are less likely to goof off. They divide the work, they plan what to say, they focus on what is most important.
  • They all improve over time. The first and second SOLE of the year are not typically great, but over time, they get better and better. I ask for responses to three statements on my exit tickets to process the groups: My group worked effectively to answer the question, my group created a product I am proud of, and I understand more about the topic. In the first couple SOLEs there are a lot of Nos and Sort Ofs, but after a few more, there are mostly Yeses. 
  • Students gain experience speaking in front of their classmates. It's not a huge amount of time, but it's still an opportunity to work on presentation skills. 
  • Students do all the work and all the talking on SOLE days, so it's a chance to feel like the expert and also realize that you can figure out the answers to big questions with some friends and some resources.
  • The open-ended Big Questions get a cool variety of responses. Sometimes groups will mention similar ideas, but often different groups present very different answers. I like that students get to hear multiple perspectives on a topic.
What are the things you love about SOLE? Please feel free to comment!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Lessons Full of SOLE

Next week I am attending ChemEd2019 and presenting a session about using SOLE in my classroom. As I was gathering resources to share, I realized that I have never blogged about this terrific teaching strategy, so here goes.

SOLE is an acronym that stands for Self-Organized Learning Environments. Using SOLE in a classroom consists of three parts:
  1. Pose a BIG question.
  2. Investigate an answer while working in groups.
  3. Present findings to the whole group.
Many excellent strategies, like Problem-Based Learning (PBL), require a lot of time. SOLE offers some of the same benefits without as much of a time commitment because the whole thing happens in under an hour.

For the last couple years, I have been using SOLE to kick off each of my units in Chemistry. Here's what that looks like in my classroom:

On Day 1 of each unit, I pose the Big Question. The big question previews new content and asks students to connect what they will learn with what they have just learned. Some sample big questions:
  • Why do all models have benefits and limitations to their use and predictive power?
  • How can knowledge of the periodic table help us explain how and why compounds form?
  • What happens at the particle level to make some reactions slow and some reactions fast? 

We operate with some simple ground rules: You must work with a group. You can use one electronic device. You have to be ready to present in 30 minutes and everyone must contribute.

I give each group a research sheet where they can record answers as they investigate. They can also use this to brainstorm ideas for how they will visually represent their ideas and record citations for where they found their information. Then I give them about 30 minutes to explore and create their visual.

When we have about 15 minutes left, each group has two minutes to share their visual representation of the answer to the question and explain why they drew what they did. That leaves just a few minutes left for my exit ticket where each student answers the Big Question based on all they have learned. They also answer four group processing questions (did your group work effectively? Did your group produce something you're proud of? Do you understand more about the topic? What will you do differently next time?).

I choose the best visuals from each class and hang them up on the walls. Then we can refer to them throughout the unit as we talk about topics that were mentioned during the SOLE. It's a great way for me to hear what they already understand (or don't!) about a topic so I can plan accordingly. It also helps students understand our progression of topics and how chemistry builds on what we have just learned. I also try to write a short answer question for each test that incorporates the Big Question from the SOLE. This is a great opportunity to see growth in understanding between the first and last day of the unit.


Of course, this is only one of the many ways you could use a SOLE in a classroom. It would be a great culminating activity at the end of a unit. Or a progress check somewhere in the middle before moving on to a new concept.

Many resources are available to help get you started with SOLE. Create a free account at the SOLE website in order to search ready-made questions, use teacher resources (graphic organizers, rubrics, posters, and more), watch videos, and plan your SOLE). There is also a FREE iOS and Android app that will walk you through the process and help you monitor your SOLE while you implement. With a few clicks, the app creates a lesson plan that will make your literacy-focused administrator giddy.

I'm looking forward to sharing this next week. If you're looking for an easy way to let kids explore a topic and present ideas without dedicating too much time to the process, SOLE may be just the thing for you. I hope you'll give it a try!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

A Crash Course in Newton's Laws

Image by Marcel Langthim on Pixabay
When I started teaching, my assignment was 4 sections of physical science; one of my favorite lessons was the science of seat belts. We used Newton's First Law as a starting point for trying to convince kids to wear seat belts by presenting data and information about car crashes. The highlight for me was helping kids discover in the lab how fast a car could be going when it crashes and they could stop themselves from hitting the dashboard without wearing a seat belt. For most students, this speed is around 5 mph. Several years ago I had the opportunity to teach physical science again. When I reached for my favorite car crash materials, they looked so out-of-date that I hesitated to use some of them.

This week I saw a resource that could help teach this topic. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers free "videos, demonstrations and teacher-developed, classroom-tested activities aligned to the latest standards bring crash safety STEM applications to grade 5-12 classrooms." The eleven lessons range in time from 35 minutes to two weeks and include everything from simple experiments to detailed projects. The experiments look engaging and informative.

In addition to the lessons, there are two award-winning films on Understanding Car Crashes and some additional videos on things like teen driving concerns and how cars can avoid a crash. All of the lessons are aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and the 5E Instructional Model. I love the idea of teaching this material to kids in their freshmen year of high school because they will probably get a driver's license in the year or so following physical science, so it is a timely bit of convincing for using good driving skills. Take a look at these free resources and see what you think. You can provide feedback to the IIHS here.