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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Improving Literacy with Fluency Tutor

Fluency Tutor logo.Hi everybody! So, I’ve recently been using a fantastic reading app called Fluency Tutor. The app is meant to take the place of traditional timed fluency tests and running records, both of which are extremely time consuming. The app has several tools/functions that make it a breeze to use. First, it is completely Google compatible. You can import classes from Google Classroom and create Google Classroom assignments from within the Fluency Tutor app. You can also assign to individual students or the whole class, all from with the app. It is also very easy to update your class if you’ve had new students join your Google Classroom.

Fluency Tutor also comes with Fluency Passages that are leveled. You can search passages by lexile level or AR level. This is just my personal opinion, but I’ve found the passages to be of high quality. Many are non-fiction and contain interesting topics like the process in which diamonds are created or how your tongue works. I also really like that some of the early-reader passages don’t look like early-reader passages. But the thing that I really like about this app is the digital tools it contains for students and teachers. Students can record and listen to themselves or even save their recording directly to their Google Drive. They can also have the text read to them and there’s even the option to have it read back in a different language! I’m not sure if every language works for every passage but I’ve seen a HUGE list of languages to select. Students can also click any word in the text and get a definition or a picture definition.

The teacher can create a vocabulary list for all of the words a students has clicked. The list features definitions and is created in a Google Doc. Once passages have been graded, students can see their scores  on a graph- there is a words correct per minute score and a ‘fluency score’ which grades them on phrasing, expression, etc.

For teachers the tools make grading a breeze! Once a student has finished their recording you can listen to it (or any past recordings) while looking at a copy of the text. If you click on any word in the text you can mark it as an error. You can also select the type of error, omission, insertion, substitution, etc. Also, when you click a word to select an error, the recording pauses. After you select the error-type the recording resumes. Awesome! You then mark the last word read in the text and fluency tutor calculates the words correct per minute for you. Once you’ve graded all the recordings for a particular passage you can download a spreadsheet (Google Sheets) with all the scores.

My very favorite tool allows the creation of fluency passages. This can be accomplished by the teacher or the student! Once the Chrome extension is installed a page can be turned into a fluency passage with the click of a button. Now, this doesn’t work with every page and will not work with pdf’s but when it works it is amazing. The resulting page typically looks very clean and pictures that were on the page are often embedded within the passage without errors. For older students, this is really fun and puts them in control of what they are reading. I really love this app because of how easy and useful it is. If you’ve ever hated trying to find time to do 20+ fluency tests then I would highly suggest this app. It does cost 99$ a year, but for me it was totally worth and this will be a tool that stays in my toolbox.

12 Books in 12 Weeks 

Our school district, Stockton Unified School District, recently concluded a 12 week reading campaign. The challenge was for all students of SUSD to read 12 books in 12 weeks.

I thought it was a benevolent activity so I gave the flyers and challenge to my classes. I quickly realized this challenge was accepted by more of the elementary students and teachers than the high school audience.  My high school students laughed and satirically asked what a book was?  I guess they use cell phones and videos rather than pass their time reading pages on paper.

 I decided to “do it myself” just like the Little Red Hen in one of my favorite children story books.

I gave it the good old college try but came up short in total books read. I could analyze and make a list of why I didn’t meet or complete the challenge. I could dwell on dissatisfaction of not obtaining the worthy goal. Instead I have decided to share my list of books.  

The order of the list doesn’t have any strategy. Following is just a list that came to mind and a reason why I would like to read it.    

I hope you enjoy reading.

Books to Re-read:

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The Little Train That Could  by Watty Piper  

Childhood favorite.


15014._uy630_sr1200630_Crucial Conversations   by Kerry Patterson, et. al.  

Hints on how to talk when the results could cause a loss or really hurt feelings.


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One Minute Teacher: How to Teach Others to Teach Themselves by Constance Johnson       

I wonder if there are any suggestions to make me a more effective teacher.


 

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Mindset: The New Psychology of Success  by Carol S. Dweck  

Top guru of having positive attitudes about success.


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Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions 

by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana

My  students are very weak at asking investigative questions. Will this book help?


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Ditch that Homework: Practical Strategies to Help Make Homework Obsolete   

by Matt Miller and Alice Keeler  

Excellent book to learn better strategies to help students learn.


Books on the first time to read list:

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Blink   by Malcolm Gladwell  

I have read other books by this author and believe this would be an awesome read.


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The New One Minute Manager  by Ken Blanchard, PhD

I used the previous book which was excellent as a help for managing people.  I am curious of what is new in management styles.


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Measure What Matters    by  John Doerr    

Sounds like a statics and a help guide for science experiments.  I am curious to see if it will help me teach investigation to my science students.  


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Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom   by Matt Miller  

This title sounds like additional hints and helps from an excellent author I have read.


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Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport  

I am curious what hints and behaviors will help me focus deeper and longer than I already do.


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Out of Curiosity: Restoring the Power of Hungry Minds for Better Schools, Workplaces, and Lives    by Bryan Goodwin

This book was suggested by a friend to see if science students can be taught to be curious and thus engage in science classes.

 

Top 5 FREE educational websites every teacher should be using in their classroom

It amazes me how time has flown so quickly in my career as an educator, but what I find most fascinating is the leap technology has taken in the past 8 years. Eight years ago, I thought the most innovative tech in the classroom was Accelerated Math published by Renaissance Place. Back then, you needed a lot of hardware and scantrons to use the software. Reams of paper were used to print out practice problems (poor trees!).

But as we enter 2019, the amount of technology students have access to both at home and school is quite remarkable. From Chromebooks, Ipads, Ipods, Iphones, tablets with Android software to Android devices, students and families do have access to a lot of technology. The graduating senior class of 2019 was born in 2000. The kindergarten class that just entered the 2018 school year was born in 2013. We as educators have to shift our mindset to teach and train our kids around technology in becoming positive, proactive “digital citizens.”

The purpose of this blog is to encourage teachers to use technology not only as a reward for good behavior during free time to play games. We as educators have to start seeing Chromebooks and tablets in our classrooms as equitable tools to help advance our students educational abilities and see computer applications as a means of “customizing” our students’ education so they can maximize their full potential.

The top 5 FREE educational websites that I am recommending are engaging and will promote a love of learning in your classroom through the use of technology.


5: Nitro Type

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Nitro Type is a typing practice website that allows students to strengthen their typing skills by competing with one another. As students press the correct keys typing, students cars increase in speed. Student feedback from previous classes and my current class love to compete against each other and it is quite engaging. This is valuable for teachers to promote a love for typing, but practicing typing in the correct way. It forces students to practice correctly to increase their speed.  With Nitro Type, students practice typing about passages that are educational and can learn interesting facts. Students have an option to purchase a membership to customize cars, buy options for their cars, and alter the appearance of their car. This could create a great classroom activity for all students to better themselves and to practice true 21st century skills.


4: Prodigy

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This is a great way for students to practice math problems and to target content specific skills that are also engaging at the same time. Prodigy also keeps track of student success and tracks areas where students struggle, which is relevant data for you to pull small groups to do mini math lessons for students who all struggle with the same concepts. Great website for student engagement and data collection to drive your math lessons!


3: Khan Academy

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Khan Academy is not only a great resource for teachers but a great spiral/on grade level support for students as well. With a little time, teachers can sync their google classroom accounts to Khan Academy and assign assignments to students based off of academic needs and MAP scores. If teachers are using Eureka Math/Engage New York, Khan Academy has a section devoted to on grade level support that pairs well with the lessons along with practice problems that students can earn badges and points to advance and change their avatar. Great website to foster a love of math and much-needed math support.

2: Epic

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Epic is probably one of the more engaging websites I have come across that students really love. Students have access to an online library at school with countless books, read-to-me books, audiobooks and educational videos that students will gravitate and spend hours on. I have used this in 3 different classrooms and all kids love the ability to read books and choose different types of books. The only drawback to this program is they can only access it for free at school, but parents can pay $8 a month for their students to enjoy access at home. This is a huge selling point at conferences to encourage reading. On the educator side, you can assign books and make quizzes on books online for your students to take and track the data of how well they are doing.

1: Google Classroom

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By far the most game-changing application personally for me in my classrooms I have taught in the last 3 years. Google Classroom is essential for the 21st-century teacher and for students to be exposed to technology that will be seen in high school and in the college classroom. Classroom allows teachers numerous ways to optimize lesson planning and create class work for students without always running to the copier and duplicating worksheets throughout the year. It also allows teachers to build in the perfect scaffolds to optimize instruction for the most advanced students to students who need the most support. Classroom, in my opinion, is the ultimate game changer in a 21st-century classroom, especially because it is able to be downloaded as an app on all devices and makes it easier even for parents to track student work and build a strong school to home relationship.

I hope this encourages teachers to incorporate more technology into the classroom. It is crucial in the times we live in that we optimize technology to prepare students for the 21st-century world that is around us and that is truly evolving every day.