Wednesday, April 12, 2017

15 Graphic Organizers For Text Structure Work

This week I participated in some great professional development about text structures, led by my colleague, MaryAnn Tatarunas. She explained that student understanding of text will improve when they are directly taught five text structures. Each of the five text structures can be identified by key phrases that are included in the text and they can be better understood by considering certain key questions. 

Here is a quick rundown of the five text structures:
  1. Causation: cause and effect relationships are explored, phrases like "as a result as" and "because of" are often used
  2. Comparison: things are compared or contrasted, phrases like "alike" and "different" and "as opposed to" are often used
  3. Description: information about a topic is presented, words like "characteristics" or "properties" or "qualities" are often used
  4. Problem/Solution: a problem and solution are explored, words like "answer" or "response" or "puzzle" are often used
  5. Sequence: an order of events is presented, words like "before" and "after" and "finally" are often used.
MaryAnn shared sample reading assignments with us for each of the text structures and then showed examples of graphic organizers that could be used with students to help them better understand the text and recognize these text structures.


I was so inspired by the practical tips that MaryAnn shared with us that I created fifteen Google drawing templates of some of these graphic organizers. They are color-coded by text structure. You can access them here. To use them, go to the file menu and select "make a copy" to make your own editable copy of the organizer. Google drawings are under-utilized but I really like them. They can be distributed through Google classroom or with Doctopus so that each student gets his/her own copy for individual work. Also, teachers can add text blocks in the gray space on either side of the drawing canvas to create drag-and-drop experiences because the stuff in the gray space gets shared right along with the drawing on the canvas. 

It's standardized testing season in Ohio. We just wrapped up testing at my school, but at this time of year, we are all reminded about the importance of helping students use all available strategies to be successful on these tests. Certainly teaching students to recognize text structures and apply appropriate graphic organizers will improve reading comprehension, a handy skill to have at test time.

Feel free to copy and share these graphic organizers. I will be adding more to the collection in the coming months.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Using Stop Motion Animation to show Reaction Mechanisms

Kinetics is a topic that I love to teach, but my students find it very difficult to understand. There are probably a variety of reasons for this, but one that I think contributes is that students struggle to think at the particle level in chemistry. If it's difficult to think about a sample of matter as being made of indescribably small and invisible particles, it is probably even more difficult to consider or propose the order of collisions that must occur in a successful chemical reaction. That is one of the challenges of teaching reaction mechanisms.

When the reaction     2 NO2 + F2 --> 2 NO2F    takes place, we know the reactants are 2 NO2 and F2. We know the products are 2 NO2F. We don't know, from the balanced equation, which particles must smash into which particles in order to change the reactants into products. We do know, though, that it is statistically unlikely that all three particles must crash into each other at once and instantly form products. Scientists propose a mechanism that outlines the order of the collisions that gets us from reactants to products.

I use a guided inquiry activity to tackle this topic every year. During my small group discussion with kids, I often need to use something to model the collisions that happen between the reactant molecules in the example reactions. Sometimes I use paper circles and sometimes circles I have drawn on the iPad. This year I grabbed small colored plastic cubes because they were handy. As I was talking with a student about the order of molecular collisions, it occurred to me that this would be a great occasion for a stop motion video, especially because, as a GIF, it could be watched over and over again until a student really understood the differences in the order of collisions of the same particles in two different mechanisms. 

I grabbed my iPad and took four quick pictures as the student and I talked through these collisions. Using the Stop Motion app, I created the GIF in fewer than five more minutes. Here it is:



It was very easy and can now be used as a tool to help students see the difference between two mechanisms. Next year I will try to incorporate making stop motion videos into the guided inquiry.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Modeling Reaction Kinetics

In my last post, I detailed my takeaways from a powerful workshop I attended on modeling instruction. Since attending that workshop, I find myself thinking more about incorporating the ideals of modeling into my instruction. For years I have created open-ended activities in which students explore and test hypotheses, but questions have remained. How can I make better use of my whiteboards? How can I facilitate more conversations about student experiments?

One of the first topics I applied some of these modeling ideas to was kinetics. Kinetics is one of my favorite topics to teach, so it was a perfect starting point for this new inspiration. For years I have attempted a clock reaction lab in hopes that students could use data to write a rate law. Unfortunately, the results are usually a mix of inconsistent and confusing and rarely lead to even a better understanding of rate laws in general. I have led students through at least four iterations of rate law labs, each year junking that year's plan and vowing to do it better in the future.

Here is what I tried this year: On Day 1 of the Kinetics unit, I demonstrated a clock reaction for my students by mixing a solution of potassium iodate and a solution of sodium hydrogen sulfite. It's a great hook. Then I posed the question "does the concentration of both reactants affect the reaction rate to the same degree?" I sent students into the lab with 10 mL of each reactant and some tips. I asked them to collect at least 10 data points that would support the position they took to answer the question. They completed the experiments in a spot plate, measuring the solutions by drops. Most groups took between 20 and 30 minutes to complete their data collection.




I had ordered whiteboards from The Markerboard People. Each group took a whiteboard and created a graph that showed the concentration of each reactant vs time. Without revealing the whiteboards, I asked each group to summarize their experiments. Most groups conducted similar experiments, so I asked the students to hypothesize whether or not they guessed the data, and the relationship between concentration and rate, should also be similar from group to group. They said yes. Then they revealed their boards. And the data was not the same.

I asked students to talk about their data. What did it tell them? How did they explain why their graphs looked differently? What did they notice about each other's representation of information. The conversation was fantastic. Students used math vocabulary ("It looks exponential" and "This section looks linear but we might have an error that explains that" and "why would you make the scale on the x-axis run backward?") to describe their graphs and identified, without my prompting, errors that might have contributed to poor data.

In the end, they wouldn't have been able to determine a rate law, but I'm not sure that is even what's important here. I kept coming back to the essential question: Do the reactants affect the reaction rate to the same degree? Students seemed almost unanimous that the reactants have different effects on reactant rate. That notion laid exactly the right foundation for the next day's learning about rate laws.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Model Lesson

The best professional development I have attended this year was a day-long session on Modeling Education. For years I have seen information about the summer workshops offered by the American Modeling Teachers Association. I have wanted to enroll in one, but they often last several summer weeks and I haven't found one close enough to home that means I wouldn't be away from my family. That's part of why I was excited when local experts Holly McTernan and Jeremy Secaur shared their modeling expertise with many Northeast Ohio Science Specialists on March 1st.

If you are not familiar with modeling, I created the infographic at the left to sum up its big ideas. The basics include showing students a demonstration or problem or phenomenon and use it to set up an experiment, conduct the experiment, and then present results to the class. The teacher facilitates group activities and provides instruction as needed, often in small groups and through questions.

We worked through this cycle at a rapid pace so we could experience several sample activities. Here is a brief rundown of what we did:


1. Water height vs Volume: Each group of 4 were provided with a glass of a different shape (think tumbler, margarita, martini, wine glass, and so on). The instructions were to collect data about how much water we put into the cup and how high the top of the water was off the table. We had to collect 10 corresponding values, including our glass' minimum and maximum amount of water. Then we graphed it on a whiteboard. Then the whole group formed a circle, with whiteboards in hand but without the glasses. We were peppered with questions about our graphs. Does anyone see a place where the graph looks like the height increases by the same amount each time a certain volume is added? Why don't the best fit lines go through the origin on some graphs? What does your graph tell you about the relationship between water height and volume?

After this presentation of our results, we put our whiteboard graphs against the wall and were challenged to get a glass that we didn't use and try to match it with one of the graphs. Now I recognize that we were all science teachers (read: dorky by nature), but it was very difficult to get the group to stop talking about the graphs and glasses as our presenter tried to switch gears to the next activity. The engagement was incredibly high. Seriously, it was like a great date that you don't want to end!

2. Mass vs Cup + Objects: Each group is given an electronic balance, a cup, a set of similar objects (marbles, washers, wrapped candies, etc). There are two rules: You can't mass the empty cup and you can't put objects in the cup one at a time. Acquire 8 corresponding masses and number of objects in the cup. In my group, we put the cup with two objects in it on the balance and recorded the value. Then we added objects two or three at a time and recorded masses.

Then we had to graph our data and draw a best fit line and find the equation of the line. Then we had to circle up for questions again. What do we notice about our graphs? Why do our graphs look more similar this time? What do we think the y-intercept represents? What does the slope tell us? I was giddy as I realized that the slop was the mass of one of our objects!

3. Who wins the race? Our instructor posed a problem about two students who run a race at different speeds and one of them starts 1 second before the other. Who wins the race and when will they pass each other? We solved the problem, we graphed the solution on whiteboards, we presented our findings. My group solved the problem using a chart and a graph so we showed both. More questions.


4. When will they collide? Our instructor showed us a constant speed buggy. She also showed us a trick. Take one battery out and replace it with a wooden dowel covered with aluminum foil. Then replace it. This slows the buggy down and will make all the buggies go a slightly different constant speed. Genius! She let us make some measurements on her buggy for about 5 minutes. Then we made measurements on our own slower buggy for 5 minutes. Then she took the buggies.

She asked us to figure out if both buggies were released from opposite ends of a 2 meter track, where would they collide? We had to mark our prediction on the track and eventually we all tested it. Here is the video of one group's test run:



This was really fun. Our instructor suggested we graph it, but it made sense to me to use formulas, so I solved that way while other people used graphs. It was interesting to see several ways to attack the same problem. It was also exciting to watch the buggy test. Students would love this challenge!

My takeaways: I came home from this day exhausted and inspired. I realize that I do not use my whiteboards effectively and I want to change that. In fact, I bought a class set of these whiteboards so that I can start using graphs more. I don't have students graph or solve problems and share solutions enough. That's on my to-do list now too. I gave it a shot with a solubility inquiry lab, but it was only mildly successful. I need to keep working on it! More posts will definitely follow up on this!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Flipgrid or Recap: Which Should I Use?

This year I have tried two great, and similar tools, for asking students to make quick videos of themselves and submit them for viewing. Last month I blogged about using Flipgrid to record students as they demonstrate a chemical experiment and then explain it using a gas law. You can watch a sample here. Earlier this year I used Recap to record the members of the Speech and Debate Team as they read something of their choosing so I could get to know them better at the beginning of our season. You can see what a Recap video looks like here.

Both tools were great - easy to use and provided valuable information about my students. So which one would I recommend? That's an impossible choice because they offer different features. In fact, so many different features are offered that the only way I can keep it all straight is by creating a data table. Here it is:



Hopefully this chart will help you determine which one better meets your needs. No matter what you're looking for, I hope you'll try Recap or Flipgrid out before this school year ends!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Memory Game: All Grown Up

As a kid, I loved to play cards. I have many fond memories sitting around the kitchen table with my grandparents, playing Go Fish, Rummy, and Cribbage. Once I got to college, my game of choice became Euchre. As a mom, I have gotten to revisit many card games, including the first one I remember ever playing which was the memory game.

On a recent trip to Target, my kids began squealing when they saw small figurines that go with a Basher Science card game. Longtime fans of all things Basher, they were very excited to see figures of the characters in the books they love so much. I was immediately attracted to the card game and told the kids that I was buying the chemistry version for my classroom. Of course, they each picked out a figurine too.

The cards feature the delightfully drawn Basher characters that represent science concepts, like catalyst or element or reaction. Each card also has a sentence about the science concept. It might be a definition or similar information. For example, one of the element cards says "all matter is made of me" and the other element card says "there are 118 variations of me." 

The card game has two variations. There is a battle game where two opponents flip over cards and determine the winner based on the point value on the card and the power listed on the card (think "War" meets a strategy card game like "Magic"). We played that one and I thought it was ok, but I liked the second version, a variation on Memory, much better.

In this grown-up version of Memory, the cards are placed upside down. On your turn, you flip over two cards but do not reveal them to your opponents. Instead, you read aloud the informational sentence on the card. If you find a match, you keep it. If you don't, you replace them, but your opponent has to think about what the card might have been based on what you read. This is harder than regular Memory because you have to pay attention to where the cards are on the board, but you also have to think constantly about the vocabulary words on each card. This would be a great activity for a center or station rotation and would give kids great vocabulary practice.

My son and I enjoyed playing the game so much that I created a polygon version for my daughter. Her fifth grade class is working on quadrilaterals right now and we have done a lot of dining room table talk about when is a rhombus a square and when is a quadrilateral a parallelogram. There are so many vocabulary terms that it seemed like an excellent occasion to introduce the game. I created a Google document of the cards if you'd like to take a closer look or even try it out.

When we played, my daughter found it to be pretty challenging (but she DID beat me!). She asked if I would draw all the shapes and label them so it would be easier to think about what the definitions told her about the shapes. My son also thought it was challenging but fun. I like the gaming aspect of learning vocabulary this way. With the game, the definition, the picture, and thinking and talking about the words, using it will hit at least 4 of the 6 Marzano vocabulary strategies.

I am going to keep buying booster packs to add to my Basher card game. I will use that one in my classroom for sure. In the meantime, I am also going to work on a chemistry vocabulary game that has one card with its chemistry definition (a tier 3 vocabulary word) and one card with its traditional definition (a tier 2 vocabulary word). For example, there might be Compound with a definition of "a pure substance made by at least two elements chemically combined" and a second definition of "made up or consisting of several parts." This will help students learn chemistry vocabulary but also help them apply that knowledge to words used in similar ways outside of chemistry. When I finish that set, I will write about it and make it available here. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Keeping Our PBL Relevant: A Wrap-Up

I spent several hours today [finally!] grading the PBL that my students completed in January. If you haven't read the previous 4 posts, here is a quick summary. In groups, students created an infographic about a topic related to chemistry because people don't like chemistry because it doesn't feel relevant to their lives.

I'd love it if you'd take a look at the final products. All of the infographics are housed at this website. If you don't want to sift through all the projects (my students' projects are there, but also my the projects of my PLC partners too), take a look at my favorites: Chocolate Chip Cookies and Ice Cream. If you feel compelled, please comment.

When I return from spring break, I will be working through the PBL reflection protocol with my PLC. To prepare for that, I asked the kids some reflective questions. What did they like? What didn't they like? What was the value of each step of the project? Here is the one that really jumped out at me:



Students selected "the option to choose our own topic" as "it was the best part of the project." If our goal was to show that chemistry is relevant, this feedback seems like we may have accomplished that. Or at least that our effort was not in vain.

A couple of students said they loved the project. One student said s/he hated the project. It would be interesting to see how the feedback might change after they see their grades (I asked for feedback before I graded them). The scores on the project were pretty good - an average of 35 out of 40.

Here's what I hope to change for next year: 
  • Students need encouragement to work on the project outside of class if they cannot finish inside of class. I need a better system of checkpoints to help them see if they have made good progress and to ensure that everyone is finished on time. 
  • I think the projects each need a driving question rather than a broad topic. This might help focus the projects and keep them from being a retread of material that is already available online.
  • I'm thinking about assigning groups rather than asking them to form with an eye toward what they need in a group expertise-wise. I need to think more about this.

Overall, it was a different approach to chemistry. I'm glad I tried it. Have you tried PBL in high school science? What can you share about how it went?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I Flipped for Flipgrid

Have you tried Flipgrid yet? Based on the activity and love they are getting on Twitter, it seems like just about everyone is trying Flipgrid! My students and I tried out this tool in a lesson this month.

Flipgrid allows users to create and submit a short video in response to a prompt. The tool works on laptops and also as an iOS app. Videos can be recorded within the webtool or app, but they can also be made with a different tool and uploaded to Flipgrid. That feature has some great app smashing potential! Once videos are made, they can be watched by the teacher or by other people who have the address of the "grid" or topic. Viewers can "like" videos too.

I wanted to give my students practice interpreting scenarios in terms of some basic gas laws. Flipgrid was perfect for that. In groups, my students completed one of six experiments. Then they did the experiment a second time but they explained and recorded it in response to my prompt. Here are a couple of samples:




After recording their own videos, I provided descriptions of all the experiments so that students could try to provide explanations for each other's experiments. Then they watched the other videos to see if what they thought matched each group's ideas. They liked the videos of groups that they thought had explained the scenarios correctly. Overall, it was a fun lesson and a nice change of pace as a formative assessment.

Flipgrid just recently rolled out Flipgrid One, the free version of their tool, which is what I used for this lesson. Flipgrid One gives teachers one "grid" to use for free. A grid is like a classroom. Within that grid, you can create topics, or prompts, that students respond to. The more robust version is called Flipgrid Classroom ($65/year) and has some added features, including providing video responses or emailed feedback within the tool, downloading videos, and exporting data to gradebooks. For what I needed, Flipgrid One was enough, but there are excellent benefits to Flipgrid Classroom.

If you're interested in giving FlipGrid a try, it's intuitive enough to sign up and get started. If you want more of a guided tour, they have an Support Center to walk you through and give you some ideas. They even have a way to connect with educators across the globe. It's loads of fun. I recommend it!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Keeping our Chemistry PBL Relevant: Week 4



I wrote three posts in January about the PBL that my PLC is trying out this year. Students are creating infographics about any topic in chemistry that interests them. Read more about the project here and here and here.

With half of our PBL-designated time behind us, we revved into high gear with Week 4. Week 4 was primarily designated as work time for groups. However, in an effort to provide a checkpoint for students, we wanted to design an opportunity for targeted feedback by the students. 

We took our project rubric which is broken into four categories and we created a feedback column. We assigned one category of the rubric to each person's role in the group and sliced the rubric into four strips. We placed the strips into baskets on each group's table.


Following a class period work session, each group displayed the rough draft of the infographic on their laptop. All the students moved around and viewed the work of their peers but only through the lens of their particular group role. In other words, the Graphic Designers critiqued only the Layout and Design, while the Researchers looked at the Chemistry Content. The students left the feedback forms at the group tables and returned to their home table receive their own feedback.

I didn't see any of the feedback that the students left for each other, but I did hear a lot of interesting comments while they completed this rotation. Some students were wow-ed by the work of their peers. Others were very underwhelmed by content or design. One student commented: "I have to be honest. I don't see anything visually interesting about this one."

I liked that we adapted the rubric for this purpose so that students had a chance to give and receive feedback with the rubric before the infographics are due in Week 5. I think it focused the process on the expectations of the task but also chunked this process so that a 10-15 minute gallery walk was doable and productive.

Coming up in Week 5: Finished infographics displayed on our website! Very excited to share the work on this project!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Most Popular Posts of 2016

Here they are:


Thanks for reading!

I used elink to make the page I embedded above. It looks pretty cool, doesn't it?

PS I know I need to update some of these comparison posts. That is on my to-do list!

Provide Web Resources with elink.io

Last night I tried out elink, a tool that allows users to curate web resources and share them as a newsletter, a web page, a link, or embedded in a page. It's VERY easy to use. Ten minutes after I signed up, I had created my first elink.

Here are the steps to creating one:








1. Click Create New and choose a layout. Some layouts are only included in the PRO version but there are several in the free version that appealed to me. 


2. Paste in a link.

3. Edit the link or upload a different image if you want.

4. When you have all the links you want, click done. Then you can add a header and publish your page. It couldn't be easier.

Today I used elink and my blog analytics to create a summary of my most popular blog posts from last year. I have embedded it below:



What I like about creating elinks is that this visual representation of weblinks is much more interesting than a boring bunch of links written as text. Have a project for your students? Providing resources? Why not do it like this? Perhaps the visual will draw students into a particular resource. It would also be great to have kids find resources and present them like this. I think elinks would also be useful as a landing page, especially for young students, to organize all of the webtools that are used in a class. In an increasingly visual society, elink.io is a great way to share resources. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Nuggets from the Nearpod Summit

Two weeks ago I got to participate in a Nearpod Summit for their PioNears. One of the main purposes of the summit was to see the projects they are working on and will roll out this year. I wrote about some of those when I returned home. Another of the purposes of the summit was community building. The PioNears are an amazing group of educators and we spent a good portion of the weekend working in teams. Many of the activities were very fun and easy to replicate in classrooms, so I thought I would share them here:

The Living Camera

Working in pairs, one person is the camera and one person is the photographer. The person who is the camera stands in front of the person who is the photographer. The camera has eyes closed and is directed around an area by the photographer. When it is time to take a picture, a signal is given (tap on the shoulder) and the camera opens her eyes. It was hilarious to see "photographers" line up perfect shots and modify the signal to take panoramas, selfies, and more. Definitely a good one for building partnerships and trust.


Make a video

Working in groups of 3, we were given four images to lay, face down, on the table. We scrambled them into a random order and turned them face up. Then we had to make up a story and make a video about it. That's pretty much all the instructions or equipment we were given. And we had 15 minutes to do the whole thing.


Count to 3

With a partner, count to three, alternating who says each number. Each time you get to three, start again. Go as fast as you can. Next, replace 1 with a clap. Clap-two-three-clap-two-three as fast as you can. Then replace two with a snap. Clap-snap-three-clap-snap-three. Then replace three with a stomp. Clap-snap-stomp-clap-snap-stomp. It's not as easy as it sounds.

At one point in the process, we were encouraged to watch our body language when we screwed up. It was about what you'd guess - fist shaking, face palming, slumped posture. Then we were encouraged, both partners, to throw up our hands and shout "ta-da" every time we made a mistake. This became a framing concept for the weekend. Every time we turned around there was another "Ta-Da" moment. I loved the celebration of errors!


Fashion Show

I am a huge fan of Project Runway, so when we were invited to form a team of six for a fashion challenge, I was in my element. There was a table of materials - rolls of paper, post-its, tape, markers, pipe cleaners, props - and we were all given a concept to represent with a fashion design. We had about 15 minutes to design and create it. Then we had a runway show. Our fashion represented Evidence Based Writing in Math. How did we do? I think this would be fun to represent characters in a book or new vocabulary or historical events.


Three in a Scene

Working in a group of 6, you create an improvised scene. Person #1 begins by assuming the position of something in the scene. For example, she might stand with arms outstretched and say "I am the tree." Person #2 adds himself to the scene. Perhaps he flaps his hands above one of the branches, saying "I am a bird in the tree." Person #3 adds herself to the scene in a similar way. Now the first person removes herself and either Person #2 or person #3 from the scene to create a new beginning and new people join. This was silly, but fun. Our scenes went to hilarious places!


Rock-Paper-Scissors Tournament

Challenge the person next to you to rock-paper-scissors. Whoever loses must become the loudest, most enthusiastic supporter of the person who just beat them as she takes on the next person. Eventually the room is divided in half where each half is cheering for one person. Good as a brain break or to bring the energy back after lunch!


Best of Seven


Everyone write their best idea on an index card. On the back, draw 5 squares. Walk around the room and exchange cards with everyone as fast as you can until someone says stop. The person closest to you is your partner. Read the ideas on the card and divide seven points between the ideas to indicate how valuable they are. How will you divide the seven points - 7 & 0? 4 & 3? Write your values in a square on the card. Then repeat the process again and again until all the boxes are filled. Total the numbers in the boxes to see which idea is the best. This was a fun way to sift through many ideas to come up with a great one.


Haiku Band

Working in teams, participants write a haiku to sum up an experience. Choose one person to read the haiku. All haiku readers make a circle in the center of the room. Everyone else surrounds them. The group is divided into fourths. One section makes a repeating rhythm, another section sings a repeating baseline, another section sings a repeating horn riff, and the last section sings a repeating melody. The "band" plays loudly until the leader quiets them and then the haiku is read. Then the music swells. A great finish!



Hopefully one of these ideas is one you might try. I hope to use them all in my classroom or in professional development that I lead this year. Thanks, Nearpod, for all the great ideas!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Keeping our Chemistry PBL Relevant: Week 3



Here is the third installment in a series of posts that will reflect on the chemistry PBL my PLC is trying this semester. Our students are creating infographics to explain the relevant chemistry of any topic they choose. The topics they chose are listed above in the word cloud. You can read the first two posts here and here. So far we have used a BreakoutEdu challenge as our entry event and used a BuzzFeed quiz to form groups. During our third week, it was time to settle on a topic, choose an infographic tool, and start researching.

Before we got down to the nitty-gritty of the topic, I wanted to do a quick group exercise to encourage group collaboration. I read this post on Sara VanDerWerf's blog and it sounded awesome, so I decided to give the 100 numbers task a try. It was awesome! 

As she reports, all the groups were able to identify more numbers the second time through the task. In addition, I observed that the groups were quieter with heads closer together and using strategies they created the second time through the task. Look at the photo on the left of students working on the task the first time. In the photo on the right, where they are working through the task a second time, they have created a smaller workspace, their hands are all closer to the task, and they look more focused. We talked quickly about what adjustments groups made in order to be more successful. Hopefully they will apply those things during the remainder of the PBL.

Then we watched a brief video about what an infographic is. I was worried that I was using that term like we all know what it means (infographics are everywhere in edcuation it seems). I also liked the video because it emphasized what makes a good infographic. Here is the video we watched:




Then I gave groups the rest of the time to narrow their focus and begin researching. Our web designers and graphic designers were encouraged to review tools for making infographics and our project managers and researchers were encouraged to focus on content for the topics.

Next week they will have the bulk of the class period to start to create their infographics with a gallery walk of rough drafts and focused comments at the end of the period. We hope to wrap up the whole project after two more class periods.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Keeping our Chemistry PBL Relevant: Week 2

Last week I wrote the first post in a series about the chemistry PBL that my colleagues and I are piloting this year. Here is the update for Week 2!

On our second day devoted to this project, we asked students to read the article that was the springboard for this project. Instead of reading it in its original form, I pasted it into Prism and asked students to read and highlight one thing they agreed with, one thing they disagreed with, and a reason we might be doing the project. After they submit their highlights, they can see everyone's highlights. Want to check it out? Take a look at the Prism article here.

We wanted our students to choose groups and begin thinking about a topic. We have identified four roles for each group - Project Manager, Researcher, Web Designer, and Graphic Designer - and we wanted to help students choose groups that would allow them to draw on diverse strengths instead of just relying on their pals. Since we are working on relevance, we decided to use a BuzzFeed quiz. Students completed the quiz and then received a match of their best role. Want to try our quiz? Here it is.

As they waited for everyone to finish, students put their names onto post-its and brainstormed a quick list of 3-5 topics for which they might want to investigate the chemistry. Chemistry of saxophones? Lattes? Drugs? I collected the post-its as they finished them.

After learning of their best match role, they grouped together with the other students in that role and read the description. If they didn't think it fit them, they could change, but we emphasized that all groups would need to designate a different person as each role, so they should carefully consider what their attributes. When they were firm in what role they could play, I put the post-its on the whiteboards in role categories. Then students could walk around and read what their peers might want to explore and begin choosing groups.

Once all the groups had formed, they had time to start talking about a topic and looking around on the internet to see if information would be available for the topic they chose. By Week 3, they would need a firm topic.

I liked using the BuzzFeed quiz and I think students did too. They thought it was silly, but it pointed them in a direction to get them started. One student said, "I love that we took a BuzzFeed quiz for school since I take so many at home!" Unfortunately, about half the students in each class came up as Project Managers, so compromises had to be made about who would actually serve in that role. This surprised me a little, especially the really quiet students who pictured themselves in this leadership role. I have obviously watched a lot more Project Runway and Top Chef because I know what happens to the Team Leader when the project goes awry!

The day actually had a reality TV feel. I'm not sure the groups formed in exactly the way I hoped. Many students opted to work with friends and made the roles fit. Also, in one class, two students didn't make it into a group, so there was an awkward conversation that had a happy enough ending (or so it looked to me!), but I hate that feeling of waiting to be chosen. I might change how I do this next year, but I'm not exactly sure how. Maybe identify the Project Managers first and then let them choose their teams? Not sure, but I would love your suggestions in the comments!

Nearpod: Hay Algo Aquí

I spent this past Saturday and Sunday at the second annual Nearpod PioNear Summit in Austin, Texas. It was great to see the 30+ people that I met at last year's summit and to connect with 60 more PioNears from all over the world. We started the weekend with a keynote address by Guido Kovalskys. During his inspirational talk, I created the sketchnote above. He focused on the important ways that Nearpod is used to provide context, improve content, and build connections. The data is impressive: 5.4 million virtual field trips have been taken using Nearpod. 1700 virtual field trips per day! 

The people and conversations in this community were the greatest part of the trip, but a close second was hearing about all the cool things coming down the pike from Nearpod. Here's a closer look:



Ready to Run PD

Nearpod is creating professional development modules on topics that teachers need to be successful in the classroom, like evidence-based writing in math. If your district doesn't have the funding to bring an expert to the district, perhaps a Ready to Run PD module can be substituted. Created in the spirit of Master Classes, these would be the content and ideas of experts.


Nearpod ELL

The English Language Learners are the fastest growing population in the United States. Often ELL teachers are stretched very thin, trying to support learners with a variety of native languages with differing levels of English mastery. Enter Nearpod's ELL modules. With lessons designed specifically to increase English proficiency in grades 2-12, these will come at just the right time. Look for these lessons to be available January 31, 2017.


Nearpod for Subs

Everyone has a nightmare story of the time a sub plan went wrong. Nearpod is working on creating a special distinction for lessons that can be used by a substitute. When a teacher is absent, she chooses the lesson and a notification is sent to a substitute by text message and email. Directions are included for using Nearpod (in case the substitute is unfamiliar with the platform) and accessing the lesson for the day. I am really excited to try this one out!


Nearpod Original Content

Nearpod also has its finger on the pulse of the movement to put students into the driver's seat as far as content creation goes. The think tank at Nearpod is working to design interdisciplinary lesson starters that will ask students to create an original product, allowing for creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. Teachers will definitely be more likely to try something like this if much of the advanced preparation for finding these started is ready to go when the lessons are downloaded.

Those are four reasons to keep your eye on Nearpod in 2017. I continue to be impressed with how this company listens to its stakeholders and tries to create tools and strategies to meet the needs of educators. When the company started, founders Guido Kovalskys and Felipe Sommer said "hay algo aquí" to each other. This phrase means "there's something here." I couldn't agree more!



Monday, January 9, 2017

Keeping our Chemistry PBL Relevant: Week 1

My school has a PBL focus this year. Every staff member is expected to try one out, so my PLC and I have designed one that I want to document here. Our students will work on it on 5 consecutive Tuesdays in January and we started last week on our first day back from vacation.

This fall I read this article that explains that though many chemists would say students dislike chemistry because it's difficult or boring, people actually don't like chemistry because it doesn't feel relevant to their lives. To a chemist, this is hard to believe. After all, our "central science" is the heart of every other science. What in the world, after all, isn't chemistry?

Using this article as our springboard, we developed our driving question: How is chemistry relevant to an aspect of your life? In the project, students, working in teams of four, would investigate the chemistry of something that interests them. We love the infographics we have seen at Compound Interest, so we decided we would ask our students to create one about their relevant chemistry. With some of the major decisions made, we needed an entry event. Something fun. Something that would welcome students back from vacation and catalyze their interest in the project. Something that would draw them in. A breakout!

We bought a BreakoutEdu box and created our puzzle. We wanted our puzzle, like our PBL, to be relevant to chemistry and relevant to our project. Because we were coming back from a holiday, we decided to focus on candy. We found, and loved, this infographic on the Chemistry of Candy. We would use that as the exemplar and put the project rubric on the back. We loaded the infographics and some candy into the Breakout box. Our puzzles and clues all had to do with the chemistry of candy and reviewed many skills that students learned during first semester.

I will admit that I felt a little sorry for my bleary-eyed first period students when they entered the room at 7:20 AM last Tuesday and two minutes later I told them they had to use first semester knowledge to solve a puzzle and unlock 5 locks. Though it must have seemed like the middle of the night to the vacation-brained teenagers, they quickly got up and started moving around the room to solve the puzzles. All my classes opened every lock on the box within about 30 minutes. 

Overall, I thought the entry event was a success. It was a great way to come back from break and get back into the swing of learning while reviewing first semester concepts. From the teacher standpoint, it was great to stand back and watch them work as a class of 20+ to solve these puzzles. Sometimes students would step back and watch too or disengage for a bit, but, for the most part, the engagement was very high. In two classes, two groups emerged - one of boys and one of girls, but eventually they intermingled again. The 30 minute solve time was terrific because, with our 48 minute classes, this left 15 minutes or so for a description of the project, including what makes a good infographic, a first reading of the rubric, and questions from students. That was Day 1. Day 2 is tomorrow. We will take a closer look at the relevance of chemistry, form teams and start to consider topics. 

Have you done a PBL? What advice do you have for us as we move forward? We can use all the help we can get! Please comment with your tips and hints.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

It's Always the Quiet Ones

I'm not quiet. There, I said it. I talk too loud, I've been kicked out of libraries, and sometimes I realize a few seconds too late that I shouldn't have said what I did (as loudly as I said it). This quality makes me a big participant and an incessant questioner when I am a student in a classroom. As a result, I find kids like this easy to teach. I understand what makes them tick. The ones that have me stymied are the quiet ones.

This isn't a new phenomenon. For as long as I have been teaching, I always react with surprise when the quiet students thank me for a good year or ask me to write their letters of recommendations. My fallback position is that if students are quiet, they hate the class. Or, at the very least, are counting the minutes until it's over. I know this isn't 100% rational, especially this many years into my career where many quiet students have expressed satisfaction or gratitude. Still, this many years into my career, I still don't think I am serving this population very well.

What has me thinking about this is a collision of two factors. First, it's a new year and people tend to reflect and resolve. There is a resolution in this somewhere for me. Second, my school made a change to make year-long classes into two semesters so students receive final grades twice a year instead of once. The result was that some students who might have raised their Cs to Bs by May finished in December with Cs. I have a group of quiet girls who have done their homework and tried hard and probably studied, at least a little bit, and are stuck at Cs. I'd like to find a way to help them improve.

I've added Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking to my reading list. I've considered offering a before school help session that is a small group of quiet students to see if in a small setting I can offer better assistance. I already use small group settings in class, but I could probably do a better job with letting students process thoughts for more time before reporting ideas to the whole class. None of this feels, though, like it will revolutionize my practice. Well, maybe I don't need a revolution, but I do need something bigger than a tweak.

What would you suggest? I'd love to hear your ideas.