Making Science Meaningful

Some of the most meaningful learning experiences for me as an educator has involved teaching science. For some time it was a lost or misplaced content area after a district driven by making scores pushed it out. During this void, I was fortunate enough to be a part of engaging professional development. Reflecting on myself as a learner, I loved projects and learning through them.

Image of a student project.

A flow chart created in Google Drawing illustrating the food chain and flow of energy of an endangered species.

My joy for new and enticing PD led me to venture into project based learning (PBL) and trying some STEM courses over at Teachers’ College a few summers ago. It was idealistic that these two active learning pieces would fit nicely over the course of the next four school years. In order to not overwhelm myself, I started with a very loose PBL structure that embedded reading and writing skills within the science learning. It was easy for me to incorporate these content areas because I was also actively utilizing AVID strategies within my routine instructional practices.

Image of a student made insect model

The insect baby made from chenille stems a student created through drafting Punnett squares to uncover the alleles the insect would exhibit.

What eventually became the icing on the cake was infusing art into my teaching of science concepts. I had the pleasure of teaching for two school years at Elmwood Elementary where art is “the thing.” My time and experience in using art in my lessons really changed the dynamic of the “finished product.” I found it easier to include the elements of art in many of the projects and students were enamored by the idea of using art.

Image of a student project.

Students learn about simple machines and build a compound machine that incorporates multiple machines using recycled materials.

Here’s an outline of my instructional process. I build units based on major science concepts using the Next Generation Science Standards. Within those units I incorporate reading, writing, collaboration, communication and technology skills. I backwards map the major ideas to be learned and follow that learning using assessment checkpoints. Most often these checkpoints build on one idea to the next leading up to the final product. All units are built organically and the projects or tasks may have changed from year to year upon reflection.

Creating these interdisciplinary units have been developed over time through constant reflection and an earnest desire to have my students fall in love with science. They may seem overwhelming but I have found it as a way to work smarter by combining necessary skills from other core subjects. Fall in love with the idea of having students learning science with meaningful experiences that will spark their curiosity while practicing skills that will make them better learners in the process.

 

 

 

 

 

Padlet.com as a Homework Alternative

The dreaded homework dilemma.  How much should be assigned to get the right amount of practice?  Will students get it done? How should it be graded and how do students receive feedback?  Developing a homework philosophy can be a tricky endeavor given the severe implications it may have on family time, learning retention, and student morale.

In the book, Ditch That Homework by Matt Miller and Alice Keller, the authors address many of the classic issues students and teachers face when it comes to homework. It also outlines some key strategies and practices that can help make homework more meaningful, empower students, and move away from the inefficient turnaround cycle with minimal academic benefit of traditional worksheet/textbook practice.

Cover art for the book The essential question the authors pose asks educators to evaluate whether assigned homework is given purely to foster compliance and can be classified as busy work, or instead; facilitate collaboration, creativity, and deeper learning.  The book goes on to to discuss various alternatives and resources for those who may fall under the former category of homework ineptitude.

After digesting the material from the book, of which I was more than happy to take a huge helping of, I obtained the nourishment needed to spark an idea of my own using one of the resources mentioned in Ditch That Homework.  The result was an assignment created using Padlet that I hoped would result in a more valuable homework experience.

Through many conversations with my daughter during her advanced high school math homework sessions I realized that she didn’t have many opportunities to problem solve and collaborate with her peers on some of the most complex and rigorous items.  She also didn’t have the chance to practice some kind of retrieval every so often during her studies. In the book, Matt Miller and Alice Keller present powerful evidence that suggests stopping learning often to retrieve information (self-assess, summarize, or create mind maps) dramatically increases mastery of content.  

Screen shot of the homework question.

This is the assignment posted.

So how can educators embed these type of important opportunities into a homework assignment using a simple and free resource such as Padlet?  I started with Google Classroom. This way I could lay out all of the expectations of the homework and provide a link to the Padlet assignment created.

An example of student responses

An example of student responses.

From home the students can click on the link to the Padlet resource itself and access the math performance task posted.  In this medium they have the ability to collaborate and problem solve together. 

An example of student responses

An example of student images submitted as a response.

Students can post their calculations and work by uploading pictures or using the drawing application available in the Padlet post.

Audio and video are also an option to post questions, justification and reasoning, or even demonstrations of solving the problem.  Feedback within the student group can be instantaneous. To extend the discussion even further, take a few minutes in class to debrief the work as a class.  Management of how many groups or different tasks will be assigned may take some planning but overall the students will be the ones doing all the heavy lifting – as it should be.

A student submitted audio file.

A student submitted audio file.

Using Padlet.com as a homework medium allows students to have a discussion around the critical thinking process and receive peer support.  This type of assignment promotes student agency where they are directing their own learning and assessing others. It doesn’t burn them out by practicing numerous problems of which they have already mastered or by just getting more and more frustrated if they don’t know the content.  Just one complex task that is an application of the content standard is sufficient. It won’t take all night to complete but still promotes a deeper understanding of the concept.

This resource is user friendly and has many different styles of templates to follow. Performance tasks for other content areas could work in a similar fashion. Through AVID professional development sessions I have seen Padlet used for Socratic Seminars and other collaborative strategies.  These activities could be modified for homework purposes as well. I recommend exploring the resource specifically for homework purposes and ideas. The possibilities seem only limited to the imagination.

GSuite in the Math Classroom Part II

For the past few years, I have assigned slide presentations and technology based projects as options in semester final projects. In the 18-19 school year I made presentations required since they need to know how to use presentations for not only the SBAC but in college and career.

Each student pair is assigned a topic lesson that is covered on the semester final.  Students are to do a multitude of tasks along with their Google Slides presentation. Students are to create interactive activities using technology such as Kahoot, Quizizz, Quizlet, etc. for the class to do during the couple of weeks right before finals as part of their presentation.  In at least one of the examples that they do on their slideshow, they must use Desmos to create a table, diagram or graph that models the situation.  I created a folder on Google Classroom where their Google Slides will live as they work on them so that other students can look at their work to help them review for the semester final. It becomes an amazing resource for their semester review that they themselves created and can use!

Students were given a couple of months to work on their project. All of my classes had to do this project. At the time of this writing are currently working on semester 2 final projects.  There are some pictures and a video for you to see how the presentations are run. They are definitely engaging and student led. Enjoy!

As I have previously stated in part one, implementing the use of Google Apps and other technology in the math classroom covers at least two topics from the Common Core 8 Mathematical Practice Standards.  Students are engaged by modeling with mathematics and using appropriate tools strategically.

I am a lifelong learner and this year has been quite challenging. Many would say that I am well-versed in technology usage but I disagree. I have much to learn and have enjoyed this journey immensely.  Have a great new school year and I hope to do something innovative this school year!


Below is a gallery of pictures from some of the student presentations.

Some teams of students created an interactive activity using Quizlet. Students also had to create presentations to demonstrate their mastery of concepts.

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In the video below students are participating in a student led interactive activity using Quizlet.

 

GSuite in the Math Classroom Part I

This school year I have given multiple professional development workshops on using Google Suite in the classroom. I had also challenged myself in creating them for my students to use in a few of our units of study.  

In our Algebra 2 course this year, I had created a template for personal budgeting as an introduction into our unit on Exponential and Logarithmic Functions. Students learned how to use the functions on Google Sheets along with inputting data and information.

Here is a link to the all the functions you can use on Google Sheets.

Image of a students budget.After using my template for a basic budgeting activity, students were assigned to do research on a career choice and look up statistics on income, future outlook, education requirements and experience requirements. Students then created their own personal budget on Google Sheets with data on what it would look like for them in the future where they would be making loan payments and other personal financial responsibility payments. All students were highly engaged and thoroughly enjoyed the projects involved in the unit. Most saw the relevance of mathematical concepts in their life.

Implementing the use of Google Apps in the math classroom covers at least two topics from the Common Core 8 Mathematical Practice Standards:

Standard#4: Model with mathematics.

“Math doesn’t end at the classroom door. Learning to model with mathematics means that students will use math skills to problem-solve real world situations. This can range from organizing different types of data to using math to help understand life connections. Using real world situations to show how math can be used in many different aspects of life helps math to be relevant outside of math class.”

Standard#5: Use appropriate tools strategically.

“One of the Common Core’s biggest components is to provide students with the assets they need to navigate the real world. In order for students to learn what tools should be used in problem solving it is important to remember that no one will be guiding students through the real world – telling them which mathematics tool to use. By leaving the problem open ended, students can select which math tools to use and discuss what worked and what didn’t.”

Image of a students budgetEffective teaching of mathematics engages students in making connections among mathematical representations to deepen understanding of mathematics concepts and procedures and as tools for problem solving.  

Creating such authentic assessments took time and strategic planning. But the rewards heavily outweighs the work it took to get there.  If you are struggling in using this technology software, here is a link to where you can explore and learn more on your own rather than me posting steps on doing one type of thing when there is massively more you can do! (Or you can attend one of my workshops in the future!)unnamed (3)

 

 

 

 

 

Using Games to Make Learning Fun

There are a lot of ways to use technology in an engaging way that’s makes learning fun.  In this blog I’m going to focus on 3 “games” you can use with students. They may be so focused on the game that they don’t realize they’re learning.

Break out EDU logo

In Breakout EDU a group of students work together to solve puzzles, search for clues, open locks, and open the final locked box before time runs out.  The game’s puzzles and problems to solve are built around an academic content or topic. The teacher can create their own or use the many Breakout EDU Games created by other people. The games can be completely digital, use physical locks, or a combination of both.  Some of the games on the Breakout EDU website are free, but they charge an annual fee for full access to all the games. The SUSD curriculum department has purchased some of the physical kits and are working on creating a check-out system. Each kit includes different types of locks, 2 lock boxes, UV light, invisible ink pen, and more.

If you pay the annual fee for full access you can also have your students create digital Breakout EDU Games.  They have tutorials to help you and your students get started and soon you’ll be creating challenging puzzle activities focused on the curriculum.  Student can save their work in a class space that you set up on the website. For more information go to www.breakoutEDU.com.

**Breaking News: Coming soon, over 600 new Breakout EDU Game aligned to curriculum.

Quizizz is an engaging, digital game show format where students can learn while competing against other students and the teacher can check for understanding.  Students get points for answering questions correctly and get more points for answering quickly. Students can compete individually against other students in the class or they can work as a group to answer the questions.  Students use their computer to join a Quizizz game that the teacher has set up. Teachers can use the many pre-made Quizizz games or create one themselves. Quizizz is very similar to Kahoots! but is different in one way.  Students are working at their own pace, so you don’t get the group cheering and talking between each question like you do in Kahoots!

Flippity-LogoFlippity uses Google Sheets to make it easy to create many useful tools such as word search, random name spinner, and flashcards.  Flippity can also be used to create a Jeopardy style game show that you can play with your class. Each Flippity activity or tool has a demo, instructions, and a google sheets template.  To create your own Jeopardy style game show use the template to substitute your own questions and answers. Then follow the instructions to publish the google sheets template, click on the link, and bookmark it for easy access later.

When you click on the question it will show you the correct answer and allow you to award the points if the student or team answered the question correctly.  As your 2 teams continue to answer questions it will keep track of the points for the 2 teams. Play around with it, it is fairly easy to use. 

 

Online Math Resources

I’ve always felt like it was hard to find good math resources online.  Sure, if you want a worksheet, your options are nearly limitless, but when you want a worthwhile, free, standards-based supplement for your curriculum, it’s sometimes hard to find.  I’d like to add a disclaimer before I go on. In the 2019-2020 school year, every SUSD student should receive rigorous tier one instruction that maintains the integrity of our newly adopted curriculum.  Since most of us are new to this material, I believe we should do our best to use what is provided by the publisher. All of the websites I’m including in this post should be considered a teacher resource.  For example, Khan Academy can be used by adults to deepen their understanding. It should not replace instruction.

Recently, someone shared an article with me that I found to be very helpful. In this link are over 60 websites for teaching and learning math.  I’d like to share the ones that are free for teachers and (in my opinion) will be most useful for Stockton Unified School District staff.  I’m also throwing in a few that are not on the list.

My long-time favorite has to be Khan Academy.  With video tutorial content that can be assigned by the teacher to individuals or the entire class that are standards-aligned, this resource works great for a flipped classroom, as an intervention, or for acceleration. Students can access all content (not just what is assigned) at any time, using almost any device. There is even a version for preschoolers now called Khan Academy Kids. Math content goes all the way up through college level courses and can be customized to follow grade level standards or align to PSAT and SAT needs.  Another website that offers something similar is Freckle.  It has a diagnostic and customizes practice to meet student needs.  A third option is Moby Max.  This website has a paid version that provides more features.  Even more sites that deliver something of this type include Math Help and Splash Math.

In the past, I’ve seen how the Chromebooks can become babysitters while kids play on websites like Cool Math Games, Fun Brain, Sheppard Software or Math Game Time. If I’m being honest, even Prodigy Game is more game than it is learning.  That’s not to say that these don’t have a place in the classroom at all.  In my opinion, they should be relegated to rainy day recess activities because they are games.  Another option would be to tell students to play these games for homework. If we assign specific practice that students actually need, they’d get more out of these programs and they’d probably be more likely to do their homework if it involved playing a game instead of completing a worksheet. One website that goes a little bit further than just providing games is Math Playground. In addition to having games, it also has logic puzzles, instructional videos, and a “Story Math” section that models word problems with step-by-step solutions.

If you’re interested in playing math-themed music videos for your students, Flocabulary and Numberock have free songs that kids enjoy.  If you want a neat site for online fluency practice, Xtramath might be what you are looking for.  Many of the websites I’ve listed provide a variety of resources in addition to the pieces I’ve mentioned and I encourage you to click on the links and explore the features to see what might be beneficial.  The next few links provide what I think are great activities to get your students thinking about math in new and different ways. At  Which One Doesn’t Belong, classes can get into some amazing math dialogue about which one doesn’t belong.  KenKen puzzles are what I would call the next level of Sudoku, and require students to use number sense and mathematical operations to solve a puzzle. It doesn’t have the strongest math problems, but Free rice does give students the chance to fight hunger while they practice math facts because it donates rice with every correct answer.

This section is dedicated to middle and high school math teachers.  I haven’t recently met a single subject math teacher who didn’t already know about Desmos, but if you’re new to the profession, or you somehow missed it, Desmos provides a free online graphing calculator with many features.  In addition, at Teacher Desmos you can find a myriad of activities to use with students.  You’ll want to get comfortable with Desmos if you’re teaching high school math in SUSD next year because it is embedded in many of the Pearson enVision lessons.  A different website that also has a graphing calculator is Geogebra. This site also has 3-D math features and worksheets.  A third reference for high school teachers is Shodor.  This site provides interactive activities for students in grades 3 through undergraduate level.

More resources for teachers can be found at Illuminations.  This is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics page, and it contains lesson plans, games, activities, and brain teasers from a very reputable source.  The same organization has another site, Figure This, with games, family practice, and challenges in English and Spanish for the middle grades.  Another source for middle grades is PBS Learning Media.  Here, you can find culturally relevant video logs that are added to regularly.  The website Greg Tang Math is helpful because it offers a variety of resources for both student and teacher learning.  Like many other pages, it has games, worksheets, and student lessons, but unlike others, it also provides teacher professional development and center activities (be aware that some are not free).

Finally, one last resource that I have found to be helpful over the years, is Natural Library of Virtual Manipulatives.  Here, you will find virtual manipulatives for just about every math concept from pre-K through twelfth grade.  The site is clearly organized by math strand and by grade. Unfortunately, there may be issues with Java, depending on which device you are using to access the website.  However, if you are able to use these virtual manipulatives with students, they can be very powerful and are a free alternative to purchasing physical manipulatives for your class.  If you’ve read this far, I hope you came across at least one resource that will support student learning.