Friday, March 20, 2020

How a Significant Loss Prepared me for #Quaranteaching

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
It was a Sunday evening two years ago. I was getting ready to serve dinner and watch a movie with my family when my phone rang. I would have let it ring, but it was my principal. When the principal calls on Sunday night, you answer the phone. He delivered the worst news: The man I had taught next door to for over twenty years had died suddenly that day. It was totally unexpected - he was younger than I was, had lost weight that year, was working and working out at a gym. The heart attack that killed him stole a beloved teacher with one month of school left and one week until his AP test.

Because I am the Science Department Coordinator and his next-door neighbor at school, I stepped into his classes daily for the first couple of weeks. After the initial shock and sadness gave way to moving forward, his students had many questions about their grades. In the most teacher move ever, when he went to the ER with chest pain, he carried his school bag with him; it was, of course, full of papers to grade. The students wanted to know if they could turn in late work, if those papers would be graded, if they could still participate in senior project. The answer to every question, due to this terrible situation, was yes. I made one promise: no one's grades would suffer due to this horrible loss. And then I worked with my tremendous colleagues to make sure that was the case.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately because it mirrors at least a little bit what happened in our classrooms last week. At my school, I saw my students on the last day before spring break and told them to take their books home in case we were closed for some days due to illness. Hours later the governor closed all Ohio schools for three weeks. The next day my partner and I raced to plan online teaching week 1. The following week our buildings were locked. Now we are all anticipating that we will be home longer than these three weeks.

My takeaway is this: Our students are caught up in a terrible situation. They are trying to manage their worry and fear, maybe their siblings or nieces and nephews, while they help out at home and complete their schoolwork. We have worked with these students now for three-fourths of a year. We know what grade they will likely have earned. We can give them the benefit of the doubt that their grades will not decrease. We don't have to worry about assessment and points and number crunching. We can instead try to provide some normalcy, some routines. We can provide materials and assignments with a focus on helping them learn, not helping them earn a particular grade. 

One of the chief complaints I hear about education is testing. Imagine that you've gotten a "snow quarter," a reprieve from testing. Why spend time figuring out or preparing for online assessments? Instead try something you've always wanted to try. Provide lessons that highlight what you love about your discipline. Stop grading things. Ask kids to demonstrate learning in whatever way feels right to them. Maybe they will make something or do something that will become an important part of your future lessons. In the grand scheme of things, will it matter if students can't write an electron configuration or calculate an equilibrium constant or identify the shape of a molecule? If you're not a chemistry teacher and you can't do those things, then you know the answer is that it won't matter. 

We are one week into online teaching in Ohio. Ten days ago we had three COVID-19 cases; today we have 169 (up _50_ from yesterday). Remember that your students are going through this too. They need our grace and understanding now as they would during any other tragedy. Please provide that above all else. Those things are way more important than assignments and assessments.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Really "Rotten" Book Review Template

The inspiration for this post came from two factors: 1) my family loves to watch movies and my daughter always tells us how the movies we are considering have fared on Rotten Tomatoes and 2) I was thinking about a way for kids to do an assignment with a book report or review. Thus, "Written Tomatoes" was born:

I was picturing a class of students would read some books. Maybe these are books the students chose or maybe they are required reading of books or stories or articles for a particular class. After they read, they create a fake book review website. Kids might think it's fun to review the book in this way and other students could view the reviews and perhaps find a book that they may want to read.
You can click here to get a copy of this template. In addition to the template seen above, there is a "front page" that can be linked to individual pages for reviews of separate books. The template comes with instructions for customizing it for your class. 

As I write this, much of the USA has transitioned to online K-12 schooling in response to COVID-19. Perhaps this would make a good online lesson. Students could read a book and then create a review. If you use it, I would love to hear how it goes!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Take a Guess!

Image by Jondolar Schnurr from Pixabay
Remember those contests from your elementary school carnival where you would guess how many jelly beans or gumballs were in the giant jar (and if your guess was best, you won the jar!)? I've always loved those contests, but I haven't had much luck winning them. I'm sure there are great strategies of estimation, but I usually just went with winging it.

In my high school physics course, my teacher implemented a variation on the theme with Fermi Questions on the first day of class. A Fermi question asks participants to make a quick estimate as an answer to a math problem, often about something very big or very small. Perhaps it was equal parts jelly beans and physics class that inspired a guessing game I use in chemistry class.

I teach the mole relationship early on in class and circle back to it in every unit. I like how each time we return to the mole, the students' understanding of the concept, and the bigness of the mole, deepens. With each revisiting, I pose a question for them to guess. How many atoms of iron make up this nail? How many molecules of sugar are in this sugar packet? How many molecules of carbon dioxide can I liberate from a bottle of Diet Coke? And my most recent question: What is the weight in pounds of the oxygen in our classroom?

I asked my students this question a week or so ago in class. They write their names and their guesses on a small strip of paper (and the winner gets the oxygen!). A picture of the guesses of one class is below:

Notice the difference in the sizes of the guesses, from 0.000000001 lbs to 120 lbs. Of course, they immediately want to know who has the best guess, so then I provide them with time and space, but not too much in terms of directions, to figure it out. 

There are several reasons why I love doing these guessing games. First, it heightens their desire to complete the task (that I was always going to make them do anyway). Sure, I could just pass out a worksheet and tell them to calculate it, but asking them to guess first - and making it a contest - makes them invest and makes them want to win. Second, it is a great way to formatively see how they are thinking about the mole, how their understanding of a huge number is progressing. When I first ask about the atoms in a nail, many of the answers are numbers like 100 or 1000 and very few are in scientific notation. It's very hard to comprehend how small the atom is. Would they be able to see atoms if they were 1/100 of a nail? They aren't so sure because, at that point, they struggle to differentiate between a small number and a really really small number. Finally, it gives them a frame of reference for whether or not their answers are correct at the end. When they have first made a guess, they wonder if their answer is correct. They compare it to the guess. They think about what they calculated.

As to who had the best guess in the photo above, I don't want to say and spoil it for you or for my future classes, but I highly recommend completing the investigation and the calculation to find out!

Monday, December 9, 2019

There's No Substitute for Good Plans!

It's officially cold and flu season and that means people will be absent from school. And sometimes those people are the teachers! With my school's transition to a 1:1 technology plan for students, my options for sub plans have also changed. Without a computer in the classroom for the substitute to use, I often have to choose activities my students can do without much teacher input. One thing that hasn't changed about my sub plans is my need to do them quickly, especially when I am under the weather. Enter Google Docs.

I created a Google doc called "Roediger Sub Plans." Each time I am absent, I keep all the general information about my teaching schedule the same and just delete and change the specific activities that I am leaving for my students. This saves me a little time since I don't have to re-do all the basic information about where I teach and what time the bells ring and who in my department can help if needed.

After using this process for a while, it occurred to me that I could use Version History in Google docs to streamline my process even more. I started opening the Version History and clicking on dates to find a previous version of sub plans that included a quiz (or whatever). Then I restored that version and made little tweaks as necessary.

Then I remembered about naming versions of documents! So now I give different versions of my sub plans different names to remind me of what was happening in each class in that particular version of my sub plans. To name a version of your document, click the three dots to the right of a date in Version History. Then click on Name this version. You can even flip a digital toggle switch so you can only see the named versions, look for the one you need, and click restore!

When I am scrambling to leave lesson plans for my substitute, any time-saving technique is appreciated. Streamlining sub plans is especially useful when illness takes its toll.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Get in the Mood [Board] with Wakelet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Bracket Challenge

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Experimenting with Google Science Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are two of the graphs. 

Can you guess which object created these graphs?

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

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

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