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.

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Math In the Digital Age: The Resources (Part 1)

Teaching Math in this age requires a lot of technical skills when it comes to creating and implementing curriculum. Luckily there are many programs out there that can guide you on your path to teaching Math in this day and age. In this blog I will give you a quick rundown of the tools I use with my students as we go from paper and pencil to stylus and screen.

The first and most interesting website to me, which is incredibly interactive, is Desmos. Desmos is geared towards most standards from 6th grade to college calculus. It can double as a graphing calculator and the best part is that it is totally free.There are interactive activities that students can give feedback in anonymity, manipulate graphs, and even play games with. You as the teacher, can easily connect this program and activities through google classroom or many other mediums by creating a class code, copying it, and pasting it into a link in Google Classroom.

This leads me into the next program/programs that I use daily which are Gsuite, (formerly known as Google Apps For Education). The main program that I use to give access to websites and information to my students is Google Classroom. It is very easy to set up and can generate class lists for all of the programs I am mentioning in these blogs. To assess my students I use Google Forms which can allow teachers to insert answer keys into the assessments so students can get instant feedback. It also frees up time for teachers because Forms will do the grading for you. There are always new features coming out, most recently the screen lock feature which will lock the screen as seen in Smarter Balanced and MAP assessments. You can also import grades from Forms into your Google Classroom if you do chose to use Google Classroom’s grading system.

This leads me into Google Sheets which can be used as grade sheets all the way to creating graphs of students’ data. Students and teachers should get familiar with Sheets because it can save massive amounts of time for teachers and gives students a tool to use in their future endeavors. I mainly use it for data analysis of assessments and to post grades in Google Classroom. The students use it to collect, organize, and display data with graphs and tables. I will introduce Sheets to them once we have gone over general statistical analysis tools and how we derive them. Once they know how they work, I will show them that they can compute what would take them 20 minutes into 1 minute. This saves time for the students and allows them to get a better grasp on the story the statistics are displaying.

The beautiful part about Gsuite is that a student can create a spreadsheet and insert it into Google Docs or Google Slides with a few clicks of the mouse. The student can display data in a presentation with a pie, bar, and many other types of graphs of their choosing. The students can all work on these platforms together through sharing them with other classmates, which allows collaboration to be done anywhere, anytime, very easily. Once the students are done with their assignments or presentations all it takes is a couple clicks of the mouse to turn them in to me in Google Classroom.

In part two of my blog I will go over more online platforms that go deeper into Math and Science which can easily be posted into Google Classroom for easy access. If you start with a few of these programs mentioned above, it will not only save you, the teacher time, but it will save the students frustration by making collaboration and access to materials extremely easy.

A Few Modest Goals

drizin3

Welcome to my first blog for SUSD Site Tech Cadre (STC). I have been tasked with keeping a blog as a member of the STC and I have been struggling with what to contribute. I am embarking on new adventures in technology and looking for destinations unknown. I am just getting started on this adventure and feel that I really have a great deal to learn and very little to share. I have set a few modest goals for myself this year:

  •       Tech up my ELD classes.
  •       Retool my Graphic Design Pathway to better meet industry standards
  •       Create collaboration opportunities among the CTE (Career and Technology Education)  and core teachers.
  •       Build lasting bonds between middle schools and high schools.
  •       Strengthen CTSOs across the district

drizin2

My first goal is to introduce more technology into the ELD curriculum. I noticed almost immediately that my ELD students were disengaged and bored when interacting with the curriculum; if you are not engaged, you are not learning. My first adaptation was to incorporate Google Drive, Google Classroom and Google Docs for Joint Construction Paragraphs (JCP). JCP involves students working together as a class to construct a paragraph on a topic about which they have just learned; students dictate while the teacher writes out what they say on chart paper.  The process allows students to contribute what they have learned without the pressure of writing alone. It works well if you are not a member of the legibility challenged (I am the in the Hall of Fame), and if your students are not timid when it comes to participation (A persistent challenge in any class but even more acute in ELD). A quote from the textAs a replacement for writing on chart paper I started to use Google Applications for the JCP activity. I created a folder in Google Drive, a shared link which I posted to Google Classroom and then added a Google Document in the folder for students to enter in their contributions. This allows the students to add without having to raise their hand and be singled out. Students’ contributions appear on the document as they type, each having their own color allowing the instructor to see who is participating. Additionally, the instructor can see who is logged in and contributing at the top of the page. I went from about 20% participation to about 90% participation. Students edited as we discussed, correcting spelling and grammar for each other, shifting sentences up or down for continuity and adding ideas freely. When we debriefed after the lesson they unanimously agreed that it was a great deal more fun than watching me writing their ideas out. It was the first time in the class that the majority of students had been genuinely engaged and participating all year. I am now looking for the next upgrade.

Here Is Where You Come In

As I embark on each one of these goals, the first improving the ELD experience, I will share the journey and look to you, the reader, to help direct my course. I would like to hear how you apply technology in your classes or about the challenges you are facing that might be solved by applying technology. Please email me at Doctor.Izzn@gmail.com and I will share your contributions (anonymously if requested), questions and potential solutions here on the blog. I may not be able to find all of the answers but perhaps we can solve them together.

Let the adventure begin,

Dr. Izzn

Skill Mastery: Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk!

By Adriana Cruces

Currently, our school is using a new textbook, as we have navigated through the textbook in our second year after adoption, it has been found that most of the specific skills to become proficient in the subject and level have been missed by the assessments given by the publisher and or are at a higher level of study since the adoption was a college-level textbook.

Untitled drawing (2)One particular idea has been brought to the table: using the textbooks as a resource and not as the main tool used to drive instruction.  Why not select and construct mastery assessments that each student be given with multiple scenarios of assessment for one skill and be required to pass and master the skill at least at an 80% rate. This could possibly set the stage for students to know that the particular skill, one, it’s not going away, and two is really needed to understand the skills and know how to apply them in order to move forward in a real-life situation.

As a reflective practice, I have asked the question: What are those essential skills that each student must master in order to function and be successful in the next level of study? And How can I provide real-life scenarios where each student must depend on knowing how to apply this skill that will allow them to internalize and retain the learned objective? Finally, how can I continue to spiral those skills to ensure the use of the skill becomes automated and mastered?

Image of students and teacher discussing work

Educators need to work together to identify which skills students need to master in order to be successful in the next level.

Together with all reflective practices, I have come to terms that one single textbook cannot be and should not be the main nor the only driving force that provided practice for students. But rather, as a district, as a department, and as a single classroom, we could study the possibility of finding which essential skills must students master at each given level of subject matter in order to go on to the next level of study. How will students show they can walk the walk and talk the talk!

I would appreciate feedback on ideas that would help construct data-driven skills based level assessments when individuality in each class and each school and each district will be a factor as students transfer from one class to another or from one school to the next school or even from one district to the next. On more than one occasion, I have discovered that although we believe we deliver quality instruction in our individual classrooms, if one student transfers from one class to the next, or one school to another, the delivery and expectations of each individual classroom  hinder students success, as there is no common ground currently for some subjects here at SUSD! Shouldn’t we as educators be part of solutions! Shouldn’t we walk the walk and talk the talk?

Breakout EDU Games

Breakout EDU is an immersive learning game platform where students use critical thinking skills and teamwork to solve a complex puzzle in order to open a locked box. You may have heard of Escape Room activities that have become very popular and are popping up in cities all across the country. Stockton has two Escape Rooms that opened in early 2018. Breakout EDU is the educational version of an Escape Room. In an Escape Room, a group of people works together to solve puzzles, search for clues, open locks, and escape from the room before the time runs out. In Breakout EDU a group of students works together to solve puzzles, search for clues, open locks, and open the final locked box before time runs out.
A unique thing out Breakout EDU is that the games can be completely physical with real locks or completely digital with virtual locks or my favorite a hybrid of both physical and digital locks and problems to solve. Click on this link to see three types of digital puzzles and locks. See if you can unlock all three locks before the time runs out.

A physical Breakout EDU will require you to purchase some items (separately or as a kit). Once purchased these items can be used over and over for different Breakout EDU games. The kit that is available for purchase from the Breakout EDU website comes with:

  • Large Box
  • Small Box
  • Key Lock
  • 3-digit Lock
  • 4-digit Lock
  • ABC Multilock
  • Directional Multilock
  • Hasp
  • Color, Shape, and Number Mulitlock Wheels
  • Invisible Ink Pen
  • USB Drive
  • UV Light
  • Hint Cards
  • Reflection Cards

There are hundreds of Breakout EDU games already created for all kinds of curriculum and content topics and for different grade levels.  You can also create your own or easily adjust one that has already been created. In addition to the content knowledge that students will be learning or applying, Breakout EDU games require the very important skills of critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication.

Students use critical thinking to solve the problems and puzzles.  This may involve sorting, ordering, synthesizing information, making connections, evaluating, and comparing.  By collaborating on solving the puzzle students will utilize the different strengths of each student. You will probably not finish in time unless you work together and collaborate.  Communication is also key to finishing the Breakout EDU in time. One person may find a clue that another group needs to solve a puzzle or open a lock. When one locked box is opened there may be something inside that will help another group solve their puzzle.  Without good communication, the group will waste a lot of time unnecessarily. Creativity is important because solutions to puzzle are not always obvious and require students to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to use the information and solve the puzzles.

Students will be engaged, working with others, and actively learning.  Breakout EDU is adaptable for any subject and grade level. Once you do few of the ones available on their website, you will be ready to create your own Breakout EDU games with the help of their creation programs.  If this sounds interesting and you want to know more about Breakout EDU, I will hopefully be presenting this during the beginning of the year Professional Development days.

Using WeVideo in the Classroom

There are many reasons why students should be allowed to use video in the classroom. In this blog, I will focus on five.

Independent, active learning

One of the greatest ways to gauge students’ understanding is to let them demonstrate a concept in their own words. When they create videos, students are able to work independently to clarify a topic in ways that can be appreciated and understood by their fellow classmates. To put it plainly: they learn by doing which increases their retention rate. If a student is able to explain math concepts with audio, visuals, Serpa Quoteand text in a video they created, they will most likely retain far more information than if they had simply written down the definition.

Differentiated instruction

Video demonstrations allow students to work at a level they are comfortable with. Even students whose skills are still progressing can create a memorable video they can be proud of. More advanced students are able to focus on creating a video that is more complex linguistically and visually. Lessons that allow students to create videos also provide opportunities for ELL and RSP students, who may have difficulty when producing written assignments, express themselves visually and audibly in a video.

Real world application

When students see the purpose and reason for acquiring a new skill, they tend to work harder. A teacher may assign a lesson where the student is asked to illustrate a poem. Students will welcome the chance to apply their acquired video skills in other ways outside of school by gathering video and audio outside of the classroom. Knowing they are learning a skill that will allow them to create a video for YouTube that may develop into a much sought after job skill in their future after they graduate may motivate them to focus on classwork during the school day.

Student engagement

Student engagement will increase when students use real-world applications when creating their video projects. The benefits of this are that engaged students tend to disrupt class less frequently, as well as participate more in lessons. They also retain what they’ve learned far longer than students who do not see value or meaning in what they are learning.

Peer collaboration

Many video lessons are often created as group projects and offer students a chance to work with and help their fellow students complete the task. Learning to problem solve when working collaboratively is a skill that will be much needed in the future. Finally, technology assignments, like creating a WeVideo, will help support equity among all students, since students who understand and are proficient with technology can help students who do not have the same skill set.

A Saturday with Alice Keeler

Image of participants

Some of the S.U.S.D. Ed Tech Cadre with Alice Keeler at the P.D.C.

I will have to admit, I was one of those teachers who created worksheet templates on Google Docs and had my students answer their questions on the computer. It felt amazing not having to waste paper, let alone carrying the worksheets back and forth from work to home.  Finally, I realized that I was doing the same thing with paper, but instead, giving the worksheet on the computer. Don’t get me wrong, worksheets aren’t bad. There are days when I need worksheets, but how can I utilize computers in a more effective way? This year I got “the group”, you know “the group”. I had to figure out creative ways to keep them constantly engaged as I’m putting out rapid fires.  I started following teachers on Instagram and did what teachers do best. I “borrowed” ideas from them to make it work for my class. Quickly, I created weekly Google Slides with my priority standards, expectations, warm-ups with a visual timer and 2-3 minute math videos that aligned with my lessons. This helped, but did it help enough?

Image of teachers

S. U. S. D. teachers gathered for a Saturday session with Alice Keeler.

This past Saturday, I gathered with about 40+ SUSD teachers to laugh and listen to Alice Keeler (#Threedotsandatriangle) speak about engaging strategies and time-saving tips and tricks when using G Suite.

Tip 1: Title your Google Classroom Assignments or Documents with a hashtag, number, and a catchy title. (ex. #002 Kool-Aid)

There are times where it will take a while to find a document because I assigned my students using the same title as a previous assignment. When students, or even myself, search for an assignment there will be multiple results,  there could even be old assignments from previous years!

Tip 2: Ever post something on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter waiting for someone to like or comment on it? Students want that instant feedback/comment, also!

Utilize the private comments in Google Classroom to provide instant feedback. Think of it as instant messaging.

Tip 3: How long does it take you to open 30+ assignments your students turned in on Google Classroom?

Download Alice Keeler’s Chrome Extension “Alice Keeler Drive20”. This Chrome Extension is magical. It opens the first 20 files in a folder all at once, saving lots of time. Give it a try!

Tip 4: for my tech-savvy people:

Give students your question and give them one slide deck for the whole class to work on. Students put their name in the speaker notes and BAM! (One student per slide) All student responses/work all on one slide deck. Yes, there will be some hiccups, but Alice reminded us that kids will be kids and slides are free, so they can easily make another one!

A good idea image

A bitmoji example that can easily be used for student feedback.

Tip 5: How can we get our students engaged?

Add the Google Extension “Bitmoji” to personalize feedback, comments, Slides, or add it to the background of the Google Classroom header. Students start listening and paying attention when they can relate to you. Editors note: Do NOT give students access to this app as there are some very inappropriate images (language) in the app.  For more on this, go here.

 

I felt differently after I listened to Alice Keeler. Look her up, buy her books, or if you’re frugal like me, the least you can do is follow her on Twitter. She has an overabundance of great tips up her sleeve. Even for the primary teachers!

(Editors note: Alice was the third of a four-part Saturday Speaker Series held at the P.D.C. The final installment will be featuring Jon Corippo on Saturday, May 19, 2018. Go Sign Me Up #371301.)