Saturday, December 10, 2016

Splitting the Difference: Predicting Reaction Products

Tonight I started watching this video of a keynote address by Dan Meyer and friends from the California Math Council Conference. Dan describes teachers as being lucky because we get to consider interesting questions every day in our work. The first friend to share some questions is Shira Helft and she has me thinking about some of my questions. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about differentiation. How can I differentiate in a way that lets my students who are ready work on enriching content while providing extra practice for students who need that? I've been working on that in my current unit; it has been a good question to tackle this month.

By December, my students and I have finally made it to chemical reactions, the heart of chemistry, the fun stuff. I love this unit because every day leads naturally to the next, every day builds on a skill that came before it. Simultaneously, it's also the end of the semester and gaps in understanding have developed for some students; my awareness of those sharpens. This week I have been teaching students to predict the products of chemical reactions, a topic that traditionally slows many students down because it relies on so many skills they have learned so far. If students don't draw on all their chemistry knowledge, and this is especially challenging where gaps have developed, they struggle. 

To combat this, I started by giving the class 5 reaction beginnings and asked them to guess, individually and then with their groups, the products. In every class the results were the same: students were able to correctly guess at the outcomes but stumbled a bit with the actual chemical formulas. Then I introduced the activity series and solubility table as tools that allow us to predict whether a reaction will occur at all. I would have liked one more day for this to really develop the idea that sometimes a reaction doesn't occur, but the semester timeline did not leave me that as an option. After this first day, students completed a homework assignment where they had to predict the products of 7 reactions.

When they came to class the next day, I used our LMS to collect their homework answers. In about 5 minutes, I could see how many questions each student had correctly answered. Now to differentiate. I split my class in half and both halves completed a different experiment. For students who struggled with the homework, there was a predicting products experiment. Students explored six reactions - a synthesis reaction, a decomposition reaction, and two single and double displacement reactions - for signs of reacting. They would need to predict the products for each reaction that actually took place, providing them with the visual of what it looks like when a reaction does and does not take place and a second opportunity to apply the skills from the day before. For the half of the class that mastered the homework, a puzzle awaited. Given five solutions (AgNO3, BaCl2, CuCl2, K2CO3, and NaOH) in numbered droppers, could they discover which solution was in which dropper?

What I liked: It was easier than I would have guessed to run two different experiments simultaneously. I split my distribution table down the center and placed the chemicals for each experiment on one side or the other. The students managed that process easily. 

Students who needed more practice got it and students who were ready for something more got that too. Without two options, one of the groups would have missed out on what they needed.

I love this inquiry lab of discovering which solution is which. The thinking students do on this day, and the collaborating and knowledge checking, is rich. And fun to watch. The reactions in the other lab are also interesting; it never gets old watching a split relight when inserted into a tube of decomposing hydrogen peroxide. Good reactions (heh heh) by students to both experiments.

On the quiz that followed this differentiated lab day, the students achieved good results. The average grade was about a 90%, better than I have typically seen in other years. Only about 10% of my students scored below an 80%. It felt like a big win to see students who had only correctly answered half of the homework questions to ace the quiz.

What I think could be better: With a little more time, I could have done a better job at making sure students had predicted reaction products before each stage of both experiments. Instead, some are "predicting" after the experiments are complete so they can interpret results. That's far from ideal.

One of these experiments - identifying the five solutions - is a rich and engaging task. The other - predicting the products cookbook-style - provides good practice with engaging experiments, but isn't as cognitively challenging. I hate to remove this opportunity for great thinking from some of my students. On the other hand, without solid knowledge of how to predict products, would they have the foundation to really dig in to the problem? And, there I am, back at the initial question.

What are you doing to tackle questions like these? What are your answers? I'd love to hear more about them. Please comment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

6 Reasons to Take Another Look at Quizizz

Quizizz is one of my favorite web tools. If you need a quick game to review content, Quizizz can't be beat. Search for public quizzes and launch in an instant. Control many features like whether or not questions are timed (and how long), whether or not questions are scrambled or whether or not there's a leaderboard. Kids see memes when they get answers right or wrong. Even better, the memes can be customized. And, did I mention that it's free? Recently there are even more reasons to love Quizizz. Here they are:

1. Create Collections of quizzes. Like using folders, Collections allow users to group together quizzes based on topics. Any quizzes, the ones you write or just the ones you find and use, can be added to a collection.

It's easy to start a collection. Hover on a quiz title and click on add. In the pop-up window, select the collection you want to add it to or click the plus sign to create a new collection.

2. Eliminate users. This was one of the most requested features by Quizizz users! When students join a game, the teacher can hover on a name and click an X to eliminate a user. I guess most teachers would use this when a student joins with an inappropriate name, but my students ask me to do this when they don't like the cartoon avatar they are assigned! You can also remove a student from the Reports section of Quizizz.

3. Faster than ever. Quizizz has been redesigned to make it work fast on low bandwidth networks. If your school network stinks, Quizizz still probably works great. As many as 2500 people have completed a quiz at one time. That's pretty awesome!

4. Like a Quiz. Found a quiz you like? Now you can "like" it with a heart. That might sound stupid, but the quizzes can also be searched based on popularity, so liking quizzes helps all users find good quizzes.

5. Steal other people's questions from inside a quiz you are writing. When you create a quiz, you can search for questions that are used on other quizzes. Find one you like? Just click the red plus sign when you hover on it. Now it's your editable question.

6. New Chrome apps. Install the Student app and eliminate the need for a link to join a quiz. Or use the Teacher app to access all the great features of Quizizz without an address bar or tabs like you have in a browser-based tool.

This past month my students used Quizizz at the beginning of almost every class in order to help them learn the polyatomic ions. When I was scheduled to be absent, they asked me to assign the Quizizz as a homework assignment that they could complete in class since I wouldn't be there to launch in person. This regular, repeated practice did motivate and help students learn their ions.

This tool couldn't be easier to use. If you already use it, I bet you'll love these features like I do. If you haven't tried it, give it a try. If you search for a quiz on whatever you're teaching tomorrow, I bet you'll find one. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Individual Interactive Whiteboards: A Review of Ormiboard

Thanks to three great posts by Monica Burns about Ormiboard, I tried the tool out this month with my students. Ormiboard is a whiteboard tool. Where this one differs from some others, though, is that teachers can create interactive activities, give students a code to join, and then each student gets an individual copy of the board to use.

Start with a white canvas and a basic toolbox. Choose a background color. Add text, shapes, images, clipart, or drawings. With a couple more clicks, add some activities. In the picture above of one of my activities, I keyed each of the phrases like "Gain 1" or "Lose 1" to a particular shape. When the students try out this page, they drag the phrase to the appropriate circle. If it's right, it stays in the center of the circle. If it's wrong, it bounces back to where it started.

I used this activity to review a homework assignment. I changed each question of the homework into an interactive board. Students "played" while I walked around to see who had completed their homework. If students had done their homework, they received quick feedback on how they did from the activity. If students had not done their homework, they could still use the activity to review the content. While they worked, I could see a screen that showed where each student was in my set of four board that made this activity:

Want to try my activity? I'm not positive this will work, but let's try it. Go to this link and log in. Then use the code KS74J. Hopefully that will take you to the activity so you can see what it can do.

A couple of other things I liked about Ormiboard: There are ready-made templates for sorts and matching activities. With just a few minutes and the template, it is easy to make an interactive board to students. Also, there is a free version (try before you buy!) and a affordable GO Edition (currently on BIG sale).

Some of the functions of Ormiboard were not intuitive. I sometimes had to try things several times before I could figure out exactly what I needed to do to get the tool to do what I wanted it to do. Still, when I got stuck, there was a library of helping videos that showed me the way.

I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what I would use this for in my classroom. I lost my SMARTboard last year and I like the idea of replacing my SMART Activity Builders with Ormiboard. I liked using it for homework review so my students all participated and received instant feedback. I'd like to try to use it in a different way. Are you using Ormiboard? If so, please comment and share an idea.

Friday, November 11, 2016

NEW Graded Assignments in Classkick

Twice in October I blogged about Classkick, one of my favorite platforms for practicing skills in a collaborative way in my classroom. On my most recent post, where I compared Classkick and Formative, this comment was posted by Laura Litton, the Director of Teacher Happiness at Classkick:

Anxious to try out this feature, I used Classkick to monitor my classes as they completed The Molympics this week and then used the grading to assess their lab work.

As I created the assignments, I chose a number of points that each slide was worth. Then, when looking at students work, I could type in each score and leave feedback on the slides. 

Here is an ungraded slide:

Here is a graded slide:

After slides have been graded, teachers can see a color-coded grid that shows the progress of each student:

I love this at-a-glance view of how each student is doing on an assignment. Plus, a total score is tallied on the left as each slide is graded. I asked Laura Litton if teachers will be able to restrict student access to an assignment when it is time for grading and she reported that this will be available as a Plus/Pro feature.

This was a nice addition to Classkick and very simple to use! Here is a video from the Classkick YouTube Channel that shows the grading process if you'd like to try it out:

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Get Collaborative with Nearpod!

Last week I did one of my favorite things: I taught a chemistry lesson for fifth graders in honor of the American Chemical Society's National Chemistry Week. This year's theme was Solving Mysteries with Chemistry, so the students solved a mystery of a robbery at a hypothetical bakery. Because they completed many experiments to analyze a mystery powder, I needed a way to keep everyone organized. I decided to use another of my favorite things - NearpodNearpod had rolled out a new feature called Collaborative and I was anxious to try it out with students. This was the perfect opportunity.

Collaborative is an activity that can be added to Nearpod presentations. Like polls and quizzes and drawing slides, a click of a couple of buttons creates a message board that reminded me a little of Padlet. There are a couple of options for backgrounds and post-its. When students participate in the presentation, they can post messages (of 150 characters or less) to the collaborative board. Posts can also include images. After the messages are posted, students can "like" other posts by clicking on the heart icons.

I asked students to guess at how scientists might solve a mystery or catch a criminal. You can see some of the answers in the picture above. The best part of using it was the student reactions! Some were initially stymied about what to write. Once they saw a few other answers, kids were inspired to make some unique guesses. The students really loved the "likes." Maybe older students would be more jaded about the social media quality of this feature, but the fifth graders were cheering as their classmates liked their posts.

Collaborative is not yet available to everyone, but it is coming soon. I hope as it evolves, teachers might have the ability to hide responses on the board until they have been previewed or until all students have participated. Perhaps it would also be nice to allow for anonymous posting. Some of my fellow PioNears have also asked for the ability to "throw away" a response if it is inappropriate or off-task. Maybe we can look forward to some of these features once Collaborative is fully incorporated into Nearpod. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Classkick or Formative: Which Should I Use?

Classkick or Formative? This is a question I get a lot. The short answer is: BOTH. The long answer is, well, longer. Like any other tool comparison, it depends on what you want to do with them. I really like them both for different reasons. 

Here is a chart I created that compares some of my favorite features. I hope it helps you decide which one you need for your lesson tomorrow!

The good news with these two tools is that no matter which one you choose, you will have picked a great one.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Go Formative!

I am a big fan of Classkick. Often, when I describe what I like about it, people ask me how it compares to Formative. I have known, loosely, what Formative is, but I recently set out to learn more about it so I could answer that question with some authority [aside: a comparison of the two tools is coming as a post soon].

I attended a session at a local conference to see Formative in action. Formative allows you to ask students questions and see their answers in real time. Question types include multiple choice, true/false, short answer, and show your work. You can also add images, text blocks, and videos for students to view. At the conference, Jileen Urbanek described how she uses Formative with PDFs of already created assignments. Upload the PDF and anchor questions to it using Formative. Then see student responses in real time or grade them later without hauling a big stack of papers around. I was impressed and intrigued.

I tried it out in my classroom almost immediately after the conference. My students were working on a stations activity to learn about pattern of trends on the periodic table. They work through six stations and record predictions and findings on a guidesheet. I don't collect the guidesheet; it serves as their notes, but it would be helpful to see how everyone was answering while they worked. Enter Formative. I uploaded the PDF of my guidesheet and placed the anchor questions. That was a very easy and intuitive process. Then students created accounts with their school Google accounts and joined my class with a code.

As students worked, I could see how many were selecting the correct answers. Formative gives the ability to sort this data a couple of different ways. Plus, you can hide the names or whether answers are correct or not if you want to project this for the class. I liked that I could look at a glance to see if my students understood the concepts and I used that to determine which questions we needed to talk about as a class.

I didn't use Formative to provide a grade on this activity, but I can see where it would be very easy and useful to do so. The multiple choice and true/false questions grade themselves. The short answer and show your work questions can be hand-scored within the tool by clicking on students' names. Written comments can also be added. I like the idea of turning lab assignments into Formative assignments because questions could be graded one at a time without endlessly flipping through pages.

Overall, I really liked Formative for doing exactly what the name implies - checking for understanding of content during instruction. I like the versatility of using it to record grades or not and seeing student responses in real time. Thanks, Formative, for a great tool!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Foster Teamwork with Classkick

Lately I have been doing a lot of talking about Classkick. In August the webtool version of this amazing app went live and now schools without iPads can take advantage of this fun and useful tool in their classrooms. As a result, I have spread the word at a couple of local conferences and in some PLCs in my district. If you aren't familiar with Classkick, take a look at some of my previous posts to read more about it. Today I will describe a way to use it for group work.

I was using Classkick in my classroom last year and stumbled upon a feature that created a new avenue for teamwork. When students use a code to sign in to an assignment, they type their name and get added to a roster. I had two Mikes in class last year, so I told them - the first time we used Classkick - to sign in as Mike J and Mike T. Fast forward to March and we were working on an assignment. They forgot about their last initials and both signed in just as "Mike." When they did this, they both started working on the same version of the same assignment. In other words, they were sharing a canvas. They realized this when they both started solving the same chemistry problems and could see each other writing on their papers: "Hey! Someone is writing on my page!"

I was warning about this in a PD session this fall and, as I described it, it occurred to me that this could be a powerful way to use Classkick in a classroom. Create a group work assignment and have everyone in the group sign in under one group name. For example, I could create checkpoints for an inquiry-based lab experiment. Everyone in the lab group signs in as "Table1" and works on the assignment together. They could work on each page together or every member of the group could tackle a different part of the task, like a jigsaw strategy. Everyone has access and can edit the work. The teacher can see the group working together in real time. The hand raise feature can be used to have their group work checked or to request help.

I haven't tried this in my classroom yet, but my son and I tried it at home and had great results. We worked on this slide collaboratively (I used an iPad; he used a chromebook): 

He wrote in black and green; my writing is red. I drew the blue car, but he gave it the smiley face. As we worked, we could erase and change each other's work. In the picture at the top of this post, I changed the color of one of the lines. He edited my textboxes. On another slide, he wrote a just-the-facts story ("the object moved at constant speed, then stopped, then moved again") to match a motion graph, but then I added some details ("the wolf moved through the forest looking for food and spotted Red Riding Hood . . .") to make it more like a story. After we tried three slides, I told him that I had seen enough. I knew it would work and had the pictures I needs for my blog. He asked if we could keep working. He thought it was fun. I agree. It was fun.

Using Classkick like this could make group activities more manageable because teachers can use the great feature of watching work in real time to monitor group progress. Students can divvy up parts of the task to make the work go faster or more smoother. Or they can use the shared canvas to edit each other's work without waiting for someone to ask for help. I love the possibilities that this creates for a classroom that emphasizes group work!

Friday, October 7, 2016

An Extension of your Library

If I have said it once, I have said it a dozen times: The best part of teaching is what I learn along the way. Tonight, in a Google class at a local college, I learned about an extension called Library Extension.

Library extension is a simple but powerful concept. Install the extension and indicate the libraries you patronize. Then, when you browse books at websites like amazon or Barnes and Noble, the extension will search local libraries to see if they have the book and if it is available to be borrowed. 

Take a look at these screenshots:

I was browsing for the book Rain Reign and a overlay appears on the right that indicates which of my local libraries have the book available for borrowing. When you find an available copy, clicking on the Borrow button opens a new tab for the library website so you can arrange the hold.

When looking for a Harry Potter book at Barnes and Noble website, the same type of information is available:

This is a really simple concept, but a great one. Often, I am looking for books in one place and then opening new tabs, sometimes for several libraries, and searching them so that I can reserve the books. This extension eliminates several steps. Plus, they have a form for suggesting other libraries to include in their list of over 1200 already included. I have already filled out the form for a library I found missing from the list.

This is a Chrome extension only so far, but the website reports that Firefox is also in the works. Check this one out today!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Sharing PAEMST Resources

This month most of my blogging has focused on my PAEMST trip to Washington DC. This week the PAEMST awardees received some resources that I want to share.

If you enjoyed reading my post about Active Learning Day, or if you are just interested in Active Learning, take a look at this site that details the speakers and events of the Active Learning Symposium, including the slides from each of the breakout sessions. You can watch the keynote and panel discussions on the materials page.

If you enjoyed reading my post about Next Generation STEM High Schools, or if you are curious about reading up on the logic model that was developed around STEM High School research, please enjoy this site that details the speakers and events of the STEM HS Forum.

One last word about the PAEMST process and trip. If you have landed on my blog because you have been nominated and are thinking of applying, or because you have applied and you're waiting, please feel free to contact former awardees. I can't speak for all of us, but I know that many awardees in my class had networked with winners from previous classes. That's something I wish I would have done.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Who'd Have Thought? Sporcle to the Rescue!

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

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

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

Want to try your hand at preposition Sporcle?

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

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

PAEMST 2015 Washington DC Trip - Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 10, 2016

PAEMST 2015 Trip to DC - Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 9, 2016

PAEMST 2015 Trip to Washington, DC - Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

How Do You Win the PAEMST?

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

PAEMST General Info

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

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

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

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

Read more about the PAEMST here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Breathing Fresh AIR into Lab Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Another Reason to Check Out ChalkUp

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

Measure their Minds with Mentimeter

Last week I presented at my district's Blended Learning Conference. I had seen a blurb about Mentimeter, so I tried it out. I liked it a lot (details below) and will definitely use it again!

Mentimeter captured my interest right away because it offers question types that I haven't seen with a lot of other formative assessment tools. In addition to the standard multiple-choice type questions, mentimeter offers word cloud creation and sliding scales and a 2x2 matrix. I love a 2x2 matrix! Here are the question types:

After you log in to your account, you create a "presentation." The presentation consists of the questions you will ask. My presentation was just a quick poll at the beginning of my session about web tools we all use to bolster our own professional development. I started with the word cloud question you see above and followed up with the sliding scale question below:

At the session, it was very easy to launch. Click the name of the presentation and you are provided with a link and code to share with your audience. Participants join by going to the link and entering the code. The presenter has the option of presenting the questions at the presenter's pace or the audience's pace and whether or not to share the audience responses as they come in.

It's a little hard to see in the image above, but I liked an almost hidden feature of the sliding scale question. The number in the circles above represents the average score for each tool. When you hover on a particular tool, you can see a wave plot of how many people chose each of the values on the scale. I thought that was really slick!

Start to finish - from create the questions to launch - took me only about 15 minutes. I spent more time thinking about and deciding from among the cool question types than I did setting everything up. There is a free plan that allows for unlimited audience size (great for big groups) and the tool works on any device - smart phone, tablet, or computer. I thought mentimeter was a fresh look at formative assessment. Definitely worth a look!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Use Print My Cal to Print a Google Calendar

My students like a paper calendar. I use Google calendar and our class calendar is embedded on my website and on my Schoology page.  Every year I threaten to stop printing the paper version, but the students always ask me to do it, so then I do. This creates a bit of a hassle because Google Calendar doesn't print nicely, so I end up typing all the information into a calendar twice - once for Google, once to print.

Yesterday I tried out Print My Cal. This service allows you to print a Google calendar with some limited format choices. In the very easy process, you sign in to Google and make a couple choices for your formatting. Then choose the calendar (or calendars) you want to print and download the file to print. 

I have tried out a couple of different fonts and I haven't found exactly the right thing yet, but I think with this one

I am on the right track. It's very plain and the formatting isn't perfect, but if it means I can stop typing the calendar twice, I am happy to keep poking around to find the right mix of font and size to make it great! Thanks Print My Cal for this tool!