Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Classkick + Manipulatives = Winning

I've written about Classkick for practicing skills, fostering collaboration, and differentiating instruction. If you haven't tried Classkick, here are the basics: You create assignment slides and students work on them. You can see work, and offer feedback, in real time. Students can also offer anonymous assistance to each other. Classkick offers an iOS app and also a browser-based tool. No matter which way I use it, I always love it! Last week, I tried it in a new way, to support work with manipulatives. True to form, Classkick exceeded my expectations again.

I wanted to create an assignment where I could monitor student progress as they built models atoms and molecules with little velcro balls called Bunchems. I started by uploading a PDF to Classkick. The PDF was made of images from slides I created to help students understand the differences between elements, compounds, and mixtures on a particle level. Between content slides, I created assignment slides where students would have to build something and take a picture of it with the iPad. Then upload the image for feedback. In the images below, you can see the "Good work" sticker that tells a student that she completed the task correctly and, in the second, my green helping text that seeks to redirect.


With Classkick, I could easily respond to each student as s/he built a model. The feedback inspired conversations at tables where students worked together. "How did you represent this one?" "Why is that better than what I did?" "Is there another way we could build this?" The conversations were even better than the activity itself.

As always, I love how I can look at the whole class view pictured below. All of the work is captured and saved, so I can return to this assignment to study misconceptions and create my next instructional steps. 


I loved how all the work they did was recorded. With manipulatives, once you take them apart and move on to the task, the work is gone. With Classkick, students can return to this assignment and study the pictures or revisit their ideas. 

Whether or not you use manipulatives and models, I recommend Classkick for your short list of apps to try this school year. With so many great options, it will likely fit whatever lessons you can think of. As kids draw, write, and insert images, they will work collaboratively and you save all the data. You can grade assignments within the tool, too. With so many good features, Classkick always feels like a win.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Host Remote Meetings with FreeConferenceCall

I had a great experience this week with FreeConferenceCall. I had assembled a committee of people from all over Ohio and we needed to meet to finalize a recommendation. Rather than try to get to one location, we used FreeConferenceCall to meet digitally. It was so easy. I downloaded the desktop app and clicked the video button to begin the meeting. I could invite people by email or share a link. As people joined the meeting, they showed up on the right of the screen. If they used a webcam, we could all see up to five video feeds. If they called in, they had a white placeholder screen with their name or phone number.

I had considered a couple of other similar services, but what swayed me toward this one was that many people could participate at once. I only needed space for 12 participants (2 more than Google Hangouts allows), but FreeConferenceCalll allows for 1000 participants! That was just one of many things I liked. Here are some of the others:

  • When someone is talking, they automatically move to the center of the screen. Other participants' video feeds (or placeholders for audio callers) move to the right.
  • Screen sharing is so easy with the click of a button. Screen sharing also includes a drawing tool and the ability to switch presenters.
  • The entire thing can be recorded for people who were unable to participate.
  • The very simple dashboard includes common icons that make using the tool easy.
  • The chat feature allows users to send responses to all participants or to certain ones. This feature was great for one of my participants who we couldn't hear.
  • When the meeting is over, data is available about how long it lasted, how many people participated, and so on.
  • It's free.

If you need a free way to connect with people and conduct a meeting or bridge classrooms or collaborate with faraway colleagues, FreeConferenceCall is one I would recommend. Check out their list of features here and the FAQs here.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Stroke of Genius [Hour]

Dalton created a chicken nugget game controller.
Kids bitsboxing during Genius Hour.
In my last post I mentioned the inclusion of a Genius Hour into coding camp. The addition of an extra day this year created some found time in our camp structure. With a plethora of new coding apps and tools coming out all the time, we decided to allow for free exploration of a variety of these tools at the end of camp each day.

Our daily routine at coding camp includes completed the unplugged and computer-based activities provided by code.org. We also schedule time to work with ozobots. When we finished those projects, we set up centers around our room where students could choose coding activities to further explore. Our coding centers included:


As high school teachers managing upper elementary students, we really weren't sure what to expect when we first provided this time. We worried that students would not be able to focus for find enough to do for the full time we allotted. To say we were pleasantly surprised is an understatement. Each day they worked diligently. Some stayed in one place for the entire time, while others moved around, but they rarely had to be reminded of expectations during this time. They couldn't wait to get to Genius Hour every day. In fact, one student said she wished every hour of school was a Genius Hour. Several campers said their favorite thing about camp was something they learned during Genius Hour. Not convinced? Watch this video where Katie describes what she learned through Scratch.

My only previous experience this sort of loosely structured activity or assignment was in a professional development class that I teach about Google at Lake Erie College. After a typical class here, the participants write lesson plans or reflection papers about how to incorporate the tools we explored. In an effort to include Google's "20 time," I encouraged class members to propose a project, focused on a Google tool, and begin it during class instead of the typical lessons or paper. I just finished teaching this class for the fifth time and almost everyone chose the project option this time. Some created school calendars to share with colleagues and schedule events, some set up Google Classrooms or blogs for the coming year, and others leveraged Google tools in ways they hadn't before this class. Regardless of the project, people were grateful for the time to work on something that was meaningful to them. Just like the kids at coding camp.

As summer begins to wind down and my attention turns to returning to my own classroom, I need to think about how I can incorporate Genius Hour in my classroom. Any chemistry teachers doing this? I'd love it if you'd share your ideas.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

When Coding is Your Jam

Last week I co-hosted our second annual Coding Camp for students entering fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. This year our camp expanded from four half days to five, so with that change came some new activities. One of them was the addition of Genius Hour (more on that in a subsequent post) where we encouraged campers to explore an application of coding that interested them. One of the more popular selections was the new Osmo Coding Jam.

Osmo is an attachment for your iPad that allows a child to play with Osmo toys in front of the iPad and interact with the Osmo apps on the iPad. There are nine different apps, with more on the way, that target everything from language arts to math to art. Read more of my thoughts on Osmo here. In a post a year ago, I highlighted Osmo's Coding app. This spring Osmo released Coding Jam, an app that creates music by arranging coding blocks.

I tested out the app before camp. Though the app is very intuitive, users begin with a tutorial mode that asks for certain combinations of the coding blocks to create certain sounds. This is especially helpful for students who are new to coding or new to Osmo. Through this process, a player learns where the blocks have to be placed and how to click them together and turn arrows to create the drag-n-drop style code that is similar to Scratch. As users work through levels of coding challenges, they earn new characters who play different sounds.


In addition to this step-by-step walkthrough, a studio mode allows free play and creation of masterpieces. Here coders can choose characters (and their unique sounds) and use the coding blacks to program a melody. They repeat this process until three character musicians combine their talents to play a collaborative tune. This studio mode is where Coding Jam really surpasses the capability of the original Coding app. The studio mode encourages application of coding steps while simultaneously valuing creation and musicianship. With interesting programmed chord progressions like those from Pachelbel's Canon or a typical blues sequence, kids will make beautiful music where they can change and incorporate many elements. My children, ages 11 and 13, both preferred the studio mode because they were very familiar with the Osmo and Coding apps and wanted to be left alone to create.

Last week at Coding Camp, Osmo Coding Jam was an option for all campers at the end of our sessions. Once a child sat down and started creating, we often had to almost drag them away from the station for parent pick-up. Osmo seems to specialize in engaging, intelligent toys and apps; Osmo Coding Jam definitely lives up to its brand. Check it out for your small coders!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Are you #NOTATISTE, too?

This week you can't swing a dead cat without hitting 5 or 10 tweets about ISTE17. I've never been, and I'm sure it's awesome (or is it?), but I have participated a couple of times in the #NOTATISTE Community on Google Plus. The community was started in 2013 by Dennis Grice, but this year is hosted by Peggy George, Vicky Sedgwick, and Jennifer Wagner.

In the #NOTATISTE Community, there are resources to make your own badge, connect with others, attack daily challenges, and win door prizes. In short, lots of great sharing like there is at ISTE without delayed flights and overpriced hotel rooms. Today's daily challenge was to post about someone you follow (Here's looking at you, Eric Curts!). The community of G+ has almost 2000 members (wow!) and you can meet some of them here.

I like the atmosphere and the sharing on Google Plus, but I really like the communities. Anyone can start a community about any topic. I belong to a bunch of them (Google, iPads, Apple, Science Specialists, Math Specialists, Coaches, Makers, STEM), some more active than others. Communities are a great place to connect with like-minded educators. If you have never joined one or checked one out, this is a great opportunity to do so. You might even win a door prize! Come learn with us!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Recap Journeys

In one of my most popular posts, I compared some key features of Recap and Flipgrid, two great tools that use video to capture student thinking. Last week I had the great fortune to talk a bit with Brian Lamb, co-founder of Recap, about some of the innovative things happening at Recap. The one that I was most excited to learn about are Recap Journeys.

The foundation of Recap Journeys is student curiosity. Pose a problem. Show a scenario. Do a demo. What do students notice? What do students wonder? Use the questions of the students to drive the learning of the lesson. The Recap Journey begins with a 60-second video that quickly introduces a topic. Students can use Recap to share their noticing and wondering, their predictions and estimations, their ideas and hypotheses. When building a Journey, teachers can curate a small set of resources that students can use to explore the topic. The student ideas can then become the focus of the lesson.

As a long time lover of scientific inquiry and a new admirer of modeling instruction, this focus on curiosity at Recap has captured my interest. When I introduce a new topic, I sometimes show a quick demo to get students thinking about what we will learn. That could become a Journey. Using Recap Journeys, I can easily adapt many of the inquiry labs I already do to collect student thinking along the way. Love three-act math tasks? Those are made for Recap Journeys. If you like the approach of modeling instruction, that aligns perfectly with what a Journey will accomplish.

What makes Recap Journeys so perfect is how they combine several hot button topics. Technology can be integrated in ways that heighten learning or squander that opportunity. Recap has created a great tool; now they are modeling ways that it can maximize engagement and learning. Much has been written about how traditional school can drum the creativity right out of a student. Along come Recap Journeys to shine the light back on curiosity. We know that students learn more when they are engaged; the focus on student-driven questions will increase engagement.

To help teachers get started with Recap Journeys, Recap has created Discover, a platform for sharing great Journeys so that we don't all have to start from scratch. Discover is searchable by subject and grade-level. Teachers can submit Journeys to Discover with some incentives in place to reward hard work. The vision is for Discover to become a YouTube-like resource, entirely focused on student curiosity.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

6 Highlights of my Apple Teacher Training

Last week I posted to my blog that I achieved the Apple Teacher designation and that I picked up a number of handy tips during the process even though I had been using iPads in my classroom for over five years. Here I share my favorite things I learned:


1. Slide Over


OK, in fairness, this one was not really new to me. I learned about Slide Over, the ability to slide over a multi-tasking work panel while in an app (two apps open at once), last year. I admit, though, that I haven't used it much at all. During the Apple Teacher work, I often worked in one app and used the slide over panel to read directions for the projects. Now that I have done that so much, it's becoming part of my work process. I can be browsing with Safari and adding things to my calendar or responding to text messages without closing an app. It feels more productive!


2. Markup Photos


I can't believe that I didn't know that there were markup tools native to the Photos app. Click the Edit icon and then the More icon. Click Markup. You can write on photos, add text, magnify a bit of the photo, draw shapes that will autocorrect to make straight lines. I love it!



3. Interactive Charts


Within the iWork Suite, you can create interactive data charts. When you use data to create a chart, in Pages or Keynote for example, you can choose a 2D or 3D chart like in other programs. You can also now click interactive charts to insert a chart with sliders that you can move and watch data change. It's very slick! Check out this great YouTube video to see more about it from the people at lynda.com.


4. Keynote Live


You can use Keynote Live to play a presentation over the internet so viewers can see it beyond the room where you are presenting. This concept isn't new to me. I use Nearpod for this all the time. Still, I didn't know you can do it with Keynote and just a few clicks. Presentations can be "joined" with or without a password by 35 people on a local wi-fi network or 100 people around the globe. How cool is that?!


5. Magic Move


And speaking of Keynote, there is a really fun animation feature called Magic Move that allows you to animate an object to move from one position to another during a slide transition. Here is an example I made in fewer than five minutes:



A quick aside: Keynote also just added hundreds of beautifully drawn shapes. I used two of those in the video above.

6. Instant Alpha


Like Slide Over, I think I knew about this one, but haven't used it. Instant Alpha allows you to remove parts of an image by simply dragging a finger across the image. In the example at the right, I used a piece of artwork my daughter created as a background image. Then I took a photo of her with other artwork and used Instant Alpha to remove most of the background so that I could layer her on top of her artwork. Instant Alpha can be used in Keynote and Pages! 

These are just the best 6 things I learned on my way to Apple Teacher. Maybe some of them are new to you, too!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

An Apple for the Teacher


Last September I signed up for Apple Teacher. Apple Teacher is a free professional development program that offers educators an opportunity for self-paced PD and recognition for what they know and are able to do on an iPad or a Mac. 
It was my goal to earn this distinction by the end of the school year, but I didn't quite make it (until this past week!). One of the reasons that I kept back-burnering this was that I didn't know exactly what to expect. In case, you're in that same boat, let me give you some details.

By earning eight badges, a teacher earns the distinction of Apple Teacher. There are three tracks: iPad, Mac and Swift Playgrounds. The badges are

iPad:  iPad, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Garage Band, iMovie, Productivity, & Creativity

Mac:  Mac, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Garage Band, iMovie, Productivity, & Creativity

Swift: Swift Playground App, Coding Concepts, Swift Code, Coding in the Classroom

Once a teacher is signed up, she gains access to the Apple Teacher Learning Center where resources have been collected to help earn the Apple Teacher recognition. The most valuable resources in the collection were the iBook interactive guides. Each guide takes the user through a project using a particular tool. By the time you finish the project, you have learned the key features of the tool. Because I have been a active iPad user for six years, I didn't need to complete several of the projects, but I still read through the guides and learned several new features. I have very little experience with GarageBand or iMovie, so those projects really helped me understand the important elements of those tools. I am inspired to use iMovie more this year!

After you have mastered material, you take a five question quiz. You have to answer four of the five questions correctly to earn the badge. If you don't answer four questions correctly (Grrr, GarageBand), you can take another shot. The quizzes are not timed and you can easily refer to notes while you take them. A couple of times I opened up an app and fiddled around with it for minute to be sure I knew an answer.

The amount of time you spend on this will depend on your proficiency with the content. I spent about 20 minutes reading guides for apps where I felt very confident, but for the apps that were relatively new to me, I spent 45 minutes or so. The quizzes all take 5-10 minutes. I am also a Google Educator and Trainer; those modules and tests were much more difficult and stressful than these Apple Teacher training tools.

So why bother to become an Apple Teacher?
Most of what I know about iPads is what I learned on-the-fly. I appreciated the opportunity to work through some formal lessons at my own pace, discover some tips and tricks that will make me more productive, and explore a couple of apps I have rarely used. If your school is adopting Macs or iPads, I would recommend everyone work through these lessons. The modules emphasize the value of applying the tools to maximize learning! They are fast and fun essentials that will boost skills very quickly. The Apple Teacher credential verifies those skills.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Don't Just Copy & Paste! Store it on the Web Clipboard!

I have just finished teaching equilibrium, so my near daily need for a double arrow is done. Where I can type two dashes and a greater than sign (-->) in a Google doc and get an arrow, a double arrow is harder to come by. To solve my problem I used the Web clipboard

What is the Web clipboard?

The Web clipboard is a place where you can store copied text or images for use in Google docs. It's like your computer's clipboard, where all your control+C or command+C text and images go, except it lives on the Web. Here are a couple of things I love about the Web clipboard compared to Cut, Copy, and Paste:
  • You can copy between computers. Put something on the Web clipboard at work and then access it on your desktop computer at home. Because it's web-based.
  • You can store many images on the Web clipboard at once. Your computer's clipboard can only store your most recent copied or cut text or image. The Web clipboard lets you store several and choose the one you need when you need it.
  • Things stay on the Web clipboard for 30 days. Need a double arrow for the next 30 days while you teach equilibrium? Store it on the web clipboard!

Here's how you use the Web clipboard:

Highlight text or an image that you want to copy. Go to the Edit menu and drag down to Web clipboard. Then select Copy to web clipboard. If you have created a Drawing (like a double arrow to use while you teach equlibrium), go to the Actions menu and drag down to Web clipboard and then Copy entire drawing to web clipboard.



In the document where you want to place your copied item, put your cursor where the copied item belongs. Go to the Edit menu and drag down to Web clipboard. Then hover over the Drawings that are copied until you find the one you want. Click on it and it will be pasted into its location.


With a couple of quick clicks, I can turn this 
into this

Once I create that double arrow and copy it to the Web clipboard, it remains there for the next 30 days, so it is available every time I write a test, lab, or quiz and I need the double arrow. Next year, when it is no longer on the web clipboard, I can just put it there again! If there are things you need over and over - maybe graphic organizers or certain diagrams or phrases or directions - consider trying out the Web clipboard. It is a great time saver!

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!