Saturday, September 24, 2016

Who'd Have Thought? Sporcle to the Rescue!

Last year, while working at a Speech and Debate Tournament, I watched some friends play a bunch of online trivia games on Sporcle. The games were all "name these" kinds of games - name NFL teams by stadium picture or name movies Mel Gibson starred in and other such diversions. I have to admit that it looked like a pointless waste of time, so I really never thought I would ever need this website. And then, this month, I did.

My son was assigned the task of memorizing a bunch of prepositions for his English class. The goal was to build prepositional fluency and students were expected to simply rattle off a list on demand. I have to admit that when my son described this to me, I didn't take him seriously. And he took his first quiz over this and bombed. We talked about how to manage this task. It's not a great task for flashcards because what do you put on the side opposite the preposition? And then I thought of Sporcle. 

It's very quick to create a Sporcle account. Once you do, it is also very simple to create a game. I spent about 20 minutes, mostly thinking of hints for the prepositions, to create the first game. My son played it four times, each time trying to beat his previous time, and had already learned 16 of the 24 that were assigned. Mission accomplished.

Want to try your hand at preposition Sporcle?



OK, you might not love the idea of preposition Sporcle, but my son has also really enjoyed playing the hard vocabulary Sporcle games we found in our game making process. Here is one with difficult A words. See if you can beat our record of 21/25. I liked these so much that I am including Sporcle in some vocabulary centers I am introducing in an inservice next week.

Sporcle games race the clock which is part of their appeal. In addition, games can be shared on Facebook and twitter and embedded as I did above. Friends can challenge each other on Facebook as well. Users can create up to 100 playlists of 50 games each. Sporcle is free, fast, and easy. People seem to love playing it. With over 1,000,000 user-generated quizzes, you are certain to find one that interests you. I'm glad I stumbled upon it while friends wasted time so that I knew about when I needed to save time for studying!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

PAEMST 2015 Washington DC Trip - Day 3


By Day 3 awardees were approaching overload. We began, again, at breakfast at 7:00 AM. As we entered the hall, the presidents of three PAEMST alumni organizations were there to greet us. Who knew there were alumni organizations? CPAM, APAST, and SEPA all exist to continue the connections and learning that begin during this weekend. It was great to meet the presidents and hear just a bit about these organizations. Each of us gets a free membership into these organizations this year!

Following breakfast, we were invited to participate in the Next Generation STEM High School Forum. The Forum kicked off with some terrific speakers:

  • Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation for the White House Office of Science and Technology, shared some of his work and vision with the audience. People loved his statement that learning needs to change from "just in case" to "just in time" as students stop "covering" material and start pursuing their passions. Tom is an engaging speaker who furthered endeared himself to me when he told me that he is also a former high school policy debater (now working in policy!).
  • Dr Sharon Lynch, professor at George Washington University, returned to the podium and shared with us the details of a study of eight STEM high schools. The goal was to create a scalable logic model to implement and affect change in STEM education. Her data was interesting and I hope we will have access to her slides so I can share them at some point.
  • Dr Barbara Means, Director of SRI Education, presented data and information about the importance of inclusivity in STEM education. Some of these statistics were truly alarming in terms of poor access to science and math courses in high schools across the country. Again, I hope at some point we gain access to these slides so we can share the information.
Our group then boarded buses and headed for the White House where we went on our tour. I had never been to the White House before so this was definitely a highlight for me. I loved looking at all the photographs of Presidents and their families at various events. The decorations in each room are so beautiful and ornate, steeped in tradition and history. 

Our group was hoping for a miracle, that when we arrived for the tour, a change in plans or opening in a schedule would result in a quick hello from someone with the word President in their title. Alas, that was not to be. Rumor has it that we are the first cohort in 33 years of the award to not meet a President or Vice President. I don't know if that is true or not, but I was disappointed with the outcome. I was also determined to get a picture of me with the President, so the selfie to the left is the best I could do!

Presidential disappointment aside, it was a memorable and exhausting trip that will remain a milestone in my career. I am looking forward to continued contact with the people I met this weekend. The 2014 and 2015 awardees are an impressive and inspiring collection of educators.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

PAEMST 2015 Trip to DC - Day 2


Day 2 of the trip started early, with breakfast at 7 AM. I had a delightful conversation with my tablemates, a mix of K-6 and 7-12 math and science teachers. We shared stories of our PAEMST videos, both our instructional choices and our blooper reels. Most of us agreed that we tried to show different types of instruction, often large group and small group, in our videos. We all included a hands on or active learning component.


After breakfast we lined up by award year and height and moved to our group picture location. Once in place, we were introduced to Megan Smith, the US Chief Technology Officer. Megan congratulated us, shared stories of inspiring teachers from her education, and talked just a bit about her work. She has an infectious enthusiasm for STEM projects, including education, and an authentic affection for people, like the awardees, who are deeply committed to STEM education. 

At the conclusion of her remarks, Megan introduced us to the Secretary of the Department of Energy, Dr Ernest Moniz. He shared an overview of the work at the Department of Energy and gave us an open invitation to visit any of the Department of Energy Labs. He shared a statistic that 50% of the US economic growth since World War II has been due to STEM efforts, providing a foundation for the importance of our work and recognition. Then he joined us for our group picture!

Next on our agenda was participation in a Symposium on Active Learning in STEM Education. Our keynote speaker was Dr William Penuel, a professor of education psychology and learning sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He talked about the characteristics of and importance of active learning in STEM education, emphasizing these key points:

  • Active learning should be anchored with authentic student questions and life experiences
  • STEM learning should include all students and all students should be visibly represented in examples of STEM learning
  • The idea of smartness should be expanded to include qualities we see emerging in ur students, not just the skills they have mastered
We watched a video and discussed the active learning principles we saw in action to develop a common understanding of active learning. I was also intrigued by the idea of "talk moves" and watched this video about it to learn more.

Then we listened to a panel of three more engaging people:
  • Dr Barnett Berry, CEO of Center for Teaching Equality, talked about the importance of teachers driving their own professional development and taking back PLC time to meet their needs. He also emphasized the importance of modeling great teaching for others and of hybrid coaches who share time between classroom and coaching.
  • Talia Milgrom-Elcott, Executive Director of 100kin10, shared her organization's work to prepare 100,000 excellent STEM teachers by 2021. She invited teachers to sign up to collaborate with 100kin10 here.
  • Dr Sharon Lynch, professor at George Washington University, previewed work she would share with us the next day about the inclusive success of students in STEM high schools across the country.
During lunch, Megan Smith returned to the podium and shared with us some interesting initiatives and work at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The awardees used words like "amazing" and "inspiring" to describe her. We could have listened all day, but the message was this: include all students in high quality STEM education that is tied to student passions and you will unlock more talent and unlock the possible. 

After lunch we attended breakout sessions. My session was called "Developing and Testing a Model to Support Student Understanding of the Sub-Microscopic Interactions that Govern Biological and Chemical Processes" and was led by Joe Krajcik, professor or Science Education at Michigan State University. He was awesome! Here is a link to the slides. He shared an exemplar unit that starts with a natural phenomenon and builds toward student understanding through activities and questions. See sample phenomena here. He also shared two resources, Michigan's Create for Stem Institute and the Concord Consortium which are free.

At the conclusion of the symposium, we had one hour to catch our breath and change clothes before boarding the bus for the DAR Constitution Hall where our awards ceremony would take place. Once there, we lined up and had a brief rehearsal. Then had 20 minutes before we lined up and processed in for the real thing. The venue was spectacular and the attendees included our family members, some congresspeople, and representatives of professional organizations like AACT. We heard congratulations and inspiring words from Dr Sylvia James and Dr Joan Ferrini-Mundy of the National Science Foundation, Dr France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation, and Dr John Holdren, the Science Advisor to President Obama. Then we each received our award and attended a lovely post-ceremony reception.
Ohio 2014 PAEMST Awardees: Susan Dankworth & Marcy Burns
Ohio 2015 PAEMST Awardess: Beth Vavzinczak & Amy Roediger

Following the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's Call to Action to improve STEM education through active learning, the Office announced an initiative to celebrate Active Learning Day on October 25. I hope many teachers in Ohio will join me in participating.

Friday, September 9, 2016

PAEMST 2015 Trip to Washington, DC - Day 1

This week I traveled to Washington, DC to receive my PAEMST award. I ambitiously thought I would blog while in DC, but we were promised that the trip would leave us "exhilarated and exhausted" and it did indeed! Still, I want to record my thoughts on this action-packed adventure while they are semi-fresh in my mind (and the reality of my classroom responsibilities is still a couple days away)! 


I arrived in DC in the morning and headed for our hotel, The Grand Hyatt. I registered and headed for a two hour orientation. At orientation, the details for the trip were spelled out for us and we were introduced to the team that planned the trip. It was great to meet all the awardees - yes, all 213 of us introduced ourselves in turn - and begin to hear some of the stories that brought us together. Our trip was unusual because the awardees were from two cohorts, the 2014 Elementary PAEMST awardees and the 2015 Secondary PAEMST awardees, instead of one.

At the end of orientation we practiced our lineup for the awards ceremony which would take place on Day 2. We were arranged by state and then by cohort, so I got to meet the 3 other Ohioans on the trip, Beth Vavzinczak, Marcy Burns, and Susan Dankworth. After we demonstrated our lineup prowess, we boarded buses for our dinner at the National Zoo.

The weather was stormy and many of the animals had turned in for the evening, but it was still a lovely stroll through a beautiful setting.We had a delicious dinner under a tent near the Lion and Tiger Hill. As we entered the text, we received our PAEMST pin. After dinner, we were welcomed and congratulated by William Lewis, the Deputy Assistant Director of Education and Human Resources at the National Science Foundation, and introduced to our keynote speaker Margaret Honey, CEO of New York Hall of Science.

There were many great takeaways from the interesting talk by Margaret Honey. She shared the statistic that there will be 8 million new STEM jobs available by 2018 but there will not be enough qualified US citizens to fill them. This was a call to action that was echoed by many speakers over the course of the three days. She also shared her fascination with the Google Science Fair and two things she had noticed about the students who had been successful in that venue: First, students had been given the time and space to follow a passion to through their projects. Many projects start with an authentic problem, local to students' lives, that needs a real solution. Second, students were encouraged and supported by talented educators. The message here was clear: In order to inspire students to become qualified to be the next generation of STEM innovators, the US is counting on us help and encourage students to follow their passions. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

How Do You Win the PAEMST?


Well, first off, I'm not entirely certain I know the answer. I do think that it's important to share some information, including my process, with people who might apply and people who have applied and are waiting on pins and needles now. I have read Mike Soskil's blog account of his PAEMST many times, so I feel obliged to add to the collection of firsthand information about this award.


PAEMST General Info

It starts with a nomination. Nominations open in the fall and anyone can nominate a math or science teacher for the award. Teachers can also self-nominate. Elementary and secondary teachers are recognized in alternating years. 2017 will be a secondary teachers year, so teachers of grades 7-12 are eligible in 2017.

Once nominated, the nominee receives an email from PAEMST, encouraging an application. Applications are due in the spring and are composed of an unedited video of a lesson, a narrative explanation that answers specific prompts, and supporting artifacts. These materials are uploaded to a website.

A committee from each state then views the state applications and chooses up to five finalists in math and up to five finalists in science. The finalists then move on to the national selection process.

A national committee then reviews the state finalists' applications and chooses one math and one science winner from each state and the US territories. Up to 108 teachers can win each year. The winners receive a trip to Washington, DC to receive the award, a $10,000 stipend, and the award signed by the President. The award is the highest honor a math or science teacher can achieve in the United States.

Read more about the PAEMST here.


My PAEMST Story

I was first nominated in 2013 my an assistant superintendent in my district. I was completely flattered to be nominated, but somewhat daunted by the demands of the application process. Still, I decided to try it because I had been nominated. I started by reading the prompts that must be answered to try to formulate a plan for what lesson I would showcase. I chose the lesson and arranged for videotaping.

Funny aside: On the day of my lesson, my videographer (a student in our interactive media program) was absent. My arranged class period came and went and I was not videotaped. During my lunch that day, I called my mother and frantically begged her to come to my school and videotape me. Thankfully, she did. We used a small Flip camera and followed me around. I had no special equipment, no fancy microphones. When I watched the video, I could see and hear what I thought was necessary, so I used it.

The writing I did was extensive. Choosing exactly what to say was a challenge, but I stuck exactly to the guidelines that are provided about how many pages should be devoted to each question and topic. Having earned my National Board Certification (and my renewal), I knew that following the guidelines was a must. I also included twelve pages of supplementary materials. Most of what I submitted was student work to show what I had written about in my narrative. I submitted my package in April 2013. In June 2013, I learned I was an Ohio finalist for 2013.

Then the waiting began. Finalists are told that it could take up to a year to learn whether or not you have won, so I knew we would be in for a wait. By summer of 2014, I was checking websites pretty regularly and searching out blogs. No word came in 2014. Toward the end of winter of 2015, we received an email from PAEMST explaining that because we had waited so long, we could choose to resubmit out entire package for the 2015 award cycle if we wanted to. I decided to do that.

I requested my state feedback on my 2013 submission and made just a few changes to my original submission for April 2015. Though I still had not heard about the outcome of 2013, I felt reasonably certain that I would not win for 2013 and was now looking toward 2015. There are Facebook groups and hashtags (#PAEMST) to follow. I noticed sometime in the spring that some people who had been actively tweeting about yearning to know were no longer tweeting. I suspected that some had learned they had won.

In July of 2015 we finally received word about the winners for 2013, but I had not won. At that time, I also received my national feedback. Oddly, it did not match up at all with my state feedback. It just goes to show that a group of people armed with a rubric can watch the same lesson and read the same materials with different ideas about what they saw. Still, there was nothing I could do at that point but hope. And search the internet.

In June of 2016 I received an email that I was being considered for the award. The email explained that I could not share the news with anyone outside of my immediate family and it requested permission for my FBI background check. All my internet creeping told me that this probably meant I had won, as long as my background check came back ok.

In August 2016 I received an email to say that I had won the PAEMST for Ohio! We still were not allowed to tell anyone until the official announcement came from the White House. On August 22, the announcement finally came! This month has been a whirlwind. This Wednesday I will travel to DC to participate in the three-day trip where I will receive my award. I hope I will have time to blog a little during the trip. Here is a link to a news article from our local paper.

If you're thinking about applying this year, go for it! It's a long wait and a lot of work, but it's definitely worth it!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Breathing Fresh AIR into Lab Reports

One of the first posts I ever wrote for this blog was about using the PARCC rubric for Narrative and Analytic Writing to create a rubric that I could use for lab reports. My reasoning was that some of my students would experience PARCC tests and using this rubric would help cement it in their minds. Also, that rubric was developed by a team of people and I believed it to be stronger than what I had been using. 

I used my adapted rubric for one year, and Ohio gave the PARCC tests one time, but then our state legislature voted to abandon PARCC and write our own state tests. This happened during the summer and when it was time to start school, a new rubric for writing had not emerged, so I stuck with the adapted PARCC rubric last year. Now Ohio has developed rubrics to use with its newly designed assessments, so a friend and I adapted the Ohio AIR rubric for Explanatory Writing for this year's lab reports. Here is what we came up with:


In past years I provide students with a set of guidelines for writing lab reports and we take a quick look at the rubric. Still, when I grade the first set of papers, some students have really missed the mark. This year I tried a different approach.

I provided my students with two sample reports from previous years. I chose one report that was a very strong example and one report that was a very weak example. I asked the students to read the reports, referring to the rubrics, and then, as a group, determine a grade for each report out of 20 points. I asked each group to report their scores and we listed their results on the whiteboard. 

Sample 1, the strong report, was scored as an 18, 19, or 20 out of 20 by every lab group. The students agreed that it was well-written, contained all pertinent details, and could be regarded as an exemplar. Sample 2, the weak report, received a much wider range of scores, from 4 to 12 out of 20, so we looked at this one in greater detail. We talked through what the author did well and where she faltered. The students were much more critical than I was. I think I recorded this report as a 13 or 14 out of 20 when I graded it a few years ago.

Overall, this was a better approach to introducing lab reports than just reading the guidelines and glancing at the rubric. At least I hope it was. First lab reports from my classes are coming in today and tomorrow. I am hoping for much better first reads!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Another Reason to Check Out ChalkUp

In April I posted about my use of Chalkup to teach a PD course. This summer I used Chalkup again to teach a new section of that same class and I found another feature that I really liked - the collaborative discussion.

We chose a text that we wanted the participants to read and we attached it to a collaborative discussion in Chalkup. We also posted some questions about the reading and vocabulary. Then participants read the article and, as they did, they commented on the text using some cool commenting features. You can attach a comment to a point (that you create) or to some text (that you select) or to an area of the text (that you select). Others can respond to your comments and create their own, all in the same document. The result looked something like this:


I like the idea of this tool to help with close reading and to get initial ideas on a text before discussing it widely in class. Maybe students could read and comment or select text as evidence while they read. Then, after everyone is finished, a face-to-face discussion could follow up. I also like that the ideas of the participants are still there for a closer look once a lesson is over.

Chalkup is a neat and free option for an online version of a class. With collaborative discussions, it moves even higher on my list of tools that are a must try!