Sunday, February 4, 2018

One Lesson, Multiple Standards, and the Coolest Robots and Kids!

I begin my science lesson planning the same way most of the times. I get my sketchnoting action going while reviewing the standards. Four years of teaching 8th-grade science and I still use that workflow!

As I have been planning for our Physical Science unit, I also reviewed my lessons from the year before, my student work samples, my AIR test scores, and my available resources. It is quite the balance to mesh science, technology, and learning goals! 

Combining all these reflections helps me to build the science experience that I hope accomplishes these main goals:
  • deep understanding of the science content
  • ability to apply the science content to the world around them
  • ability to share their science understanding through various formats (#sciencecommunication)

I have been posting many of our activities on our Instagram and Twitter account (@lacrossescience) as well as my own accounts (@llacrosse). Sharing this way has helped develop the conversation between various people. I've been communicating with other science teachers about the processes being used and student understanding. A few technology directors have been reaching out for more depth and definition to the activities. Many interactions on Twitter lead to the email and occasional quick GoogleHangOut call. And, I've even gotten some feedback from @SpheroEdu and @BookCreatorApp on Twitter. So, very cool to have this dialogue about the science, technology, and learning goals happening.

I wanted to share one of our recent lessons in a bit more depth than a picture, video, or quick tweet.

So, here is One Lesson, Multiple Standards, and the Coolest Robots and Kids!

The standards...
Ohio works within our Model Curriculum. The 8th grade science learning is an integrated science class with Earth and Space, Physical Science, and Life Science. We also have the year-long focus on Science Inquiry and Application. Our lessons in class right now are focusing on these standards. (For more in-depth description, the link is above.

One Lesson...
This lesson allowed me to present students with a statement of inquiry in which they designed, conducted, evaluated, and reported on the results of their investigation.

The question, "How does friction affect Sphero's movement?" This is a very open-ended question that students could work in teams to address. The question allowed them to explore concepts of direct contact forces, as well as magnitude and direction. During the intro to the lesson, I identified different areas that Sphero could be tested in the room and hallway. I also reminded students of the location of materials in the room (tape, meter sticks, iPads, floor surfaces, and Sphero robots) and set the timer on the big board. Then, GO! Students worked quickly to group up, set up notebooks and brainstorm procedure, and begin the hunt for materials and space to work.

I know that students have the prior understanding that friction is a force that objects experience when in contact with other objects.
Our standards say, 
"Kinetic friction is a force that occurs when two objects in contact interact by sliding past one another. Drag is a force that opposes the motion of an object when an object moves through a fluid (e.g., gas, liquid). Kinetic friction and drag affect the motion of objects and may even cause moving objects to slow to a stop unless another force is exerted in the direction of motion." 

 So, the investigation allows them to evaluate not only the opposing force of friction on Sphero, but the necessity of friction for the movement of Sphero. I also wanted the students to come to the conclusion that the surfaces they were testing (carpet, foam, tile) had other variables besides friction that impacted the results. This addresses the part of inquiry that asks students to, "Think critically and logically to connect evidence and explanations; • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions"

Within this lesson, my students were also being asked to:
  • use measuring skills (Metric for the win!)
  • work as a team and communicate ideas and responsibilities
  • identify ways to keep variables controlled
  • record data in a clear and organized manner
  • calculate for speed

For some students, these skills are developed already and the pairing up in teams allowed them to showcase these skills as well as support their peers. So, now the activity allows for peer mentoring and an experience that will probably mean more than having the teacher direct the learning.


I was really impressed with my students. The conversations were right on the content. They were totally focused on controlling as many variables as possible. For example, many groups helped direct struggling groups to "set up a program, don't drive Sphero". They recognized the benefit of using coding to keep the variables constant. I was also happy with how they supported each other in setting up the data charts, using the units of measurement appropriate, and calculating speed. They kept referencing previous lessons, other groups' work, and my discussion at the beginning of class.

By the way...this is all with a robot that some might consider a toy.
Teaching science through play is OK! 

This lesson actually should have had 2 parts. Because our class periods are a short 41 minutes, I should have had students design, conduct, and collect data on the first day. Then, they should have reviewed their results and wrote conclusions on the second day. I think that we would have had more depth in our conversation with that setup. Unfortunately, I rushed the conclusion part of the investigation to be on the day of the lab. Then, I had to backtrack a bit to discuss variables that caused data to be skewed. We also had to do more discussion later about the science of friction (necessity) and the question vagueness itself. While this wasn't a huge problem for the lab, I think more time would have made it even better. #reflectionfornexttime

Do you have any suggestions, comments, or thoughts on science? Definitely, please share! I'm always trying to reflect, improve, and deliver science instruction that helps grow reflective, science communicators. I appreciate any ideas.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

When you are not the smartest person at the table...

This summer has definitely been one of growth and a changed mind set. Each summer, I anticipate a certain level of growth. I deliberately put myself in positions that foster that growth. For example, I try to sign up to share my learning by presenting at various local, state, and national conferences and events. I also use those opportunities to attend other sessions that are in my wheelhouse or way outside of my expertise. Always looking to learn, always looking to grow!

So, this summer was no different. I began my summer learning with a NASA workshop at Glenn Research Facility. This was a perfect way to jumpstart the summer. I found new resources. I shared some of my favorites. And, I just really enjoyed spending time with my pal, Patty Ryan. Sharing stories, brainstorming ideas, and just enjoying learning together.

I followed that awesome experience with local conferences in which I shared electronic book building, 3D printing, and Sphero. I truly enjoyed the small setting and sharing with teachers the success that I've had with my students using some fabulous tools. It was awesome driving with another pal, Jen Telenko. She shared her ideas for the classroom. I shared mine. By the end of the drive and conference, I was again energized by a fellow teacher. From Breakout EDU to flexible seating, we just connected. So many great ideas and plans.

I enjoyed a Drone training through WVIZ. My friend, Mary James and I had a lot of fun there! Just a couple hours working with drones brought awesome ideas for the classroom. We had a fantastic time flying drones together, and again it was all about the sharing of ideas. Conversations that just percolated ideas. The time flew by (literally) and we even left with a drone, curriculum, and extra batteries!!!

From here, I was off...traveling to San Antonio for ISTE and Houston for the ADE Academy and finally the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

Phew! If it sounds exhausting, it was because it was. The flying part is always a little rough. Being away from my kids and husband is super difficult. Even though the kiddos are on their own path, and my husband works throughout the summer, I still miss them terribly when I travel.

What was equally exhausting was the learning...

It was actually at the Boy Scout Jamboree that this summer's biggest learning came to me. As I was sitting around a table, I was listening to a high school Chemistry teacher, a biochemical engineer, a software programmer, and a high altitude ballooning expert talk. I was doing much more listening than talking. The level of conversation was fantastic. The continual excitement and "what if" of the conversation was awesome, but it was also just very humbling to me. I quickly could see that some of what they were speaking about was way over my head, my understanding. I was definitely NOT the smartest person at the table. I was a sponge, absorbing through their conversation. I was learning like crazy...but, I was definitely not the driving force in the conversation.

I reflected back on how many times I felt this way during the summer. It became pretty clear to me that my summer has been filled with moments where I thought I would have all the background knowledge, all the expertise...only to find out that I was not the expert in the group. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by amazing people that had so much to offer. My local teacher pals, Mary, Patty, and Jen taught me so much just on those car rides. My friend, Jon Jarc, had so much insight and learning to share at ISTE. Rich Perry and Julie Willcott never cease to amaze me with their creative genius. My time at the ADE Academy was FULL of moments where I just had to sit back, absorb, and be amazed by the educators around me.

We call each other our Tribe. We know each person has a strength. We learn. We grow.

This is one of the best parts of the human experience. I believe that if you always put yourself in situations where you are the smartest person at the table, you are missing out. Surrounding myself with much wiser, more creative, and gifted educators allows me to grow so much more than without them.

I know that summer is about relaxing and enjoying time off. That was my Hawaii trip this summer too! It's also about finding the inspiration that you need to continue innovating in the classroom. This growth is what I found as I worked with some brilliant people this summer.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Pitch Your Mars Settlement Plan!

Right now, we are getting into a PBL unit for Mars settlement plans. The 8th graders are getting that excited look of CREATION as we begin!

We began the unit with the NASA game, Marsbound! Mission to the Red Planet Kids LOVED this game. It was a great way to introduce concepts about a budget, mission goals, and available science. Plus, my favorite part...budget cuts! Kids get so invested that they are hilarious when I do this. Printing out these game boards and pieces and laminating them was definitely worth it!

Then, I integrating the movie, The Martian, for some background and inspiration. I have a video viewing guide that we work through that includes various levels of questions and background science. I also have the areas listed to mute and do a quick hide of the screen for questionable material. I have students get a parent release signed even though it is PG13.

Then, students chose to work in teams to design:
    • Rover design (working from the game) and 3D printing- I have 3 printers in the room to work with. We use a super simple app and website for design. The students also have the freedom to integrate Legos, cardboard, recycled products, and more! Whatever they need to pull together to make their design come to life. With so many print jobs, you might wonder how I manage the student requests...Google Form! They have to request a print by filling out a form. 
    • Space suit- Research, design, and drawing on paper or in the Paper53 app on the iPad. LOVE this! The kids are talking about basic human needs, material science, flexibility, function, and more. I will be so excited to share those designs.
    • Crew welfare- Students work to provide for mental and physical needs of the crew while on the 8 month trip to Mars and when on the planet! This entails a lot of students creating Spotify playlists, finding apps on the iPad to create music, designing work out facilities, and more. Having them research the ISS workout plan is a great place to start.
    • Settlement model- Students design a model for what they want the settlement to look like and have in it. This starts with research and watching videos like and Then, students can 3D print, use cardboard, Legos, recycled products, duct tape (more duct tape) to build the structure. Super fun!
    • Food production and distribution- Research, design, and possible model building. This is turning out to be one of the best parts of the project! Students are researching caloric needs and comparing sample diets from around the world. Talk about eye opening. Thinking of raising insects or guinea pigs for food was not the initial idea, but research shows... Also, a great way to get kids talking about sexual and asexual reproduction in plants.
    • Coding- I have a group of students that designed a Martian surface with mountains, craters, and debris using an old Lego competition table (4 ft X 8 ft). They used recycled products, sand, duct tape, garbage bags, cardboard, and more to design a challenging surface mission that other classes will code Sphero and some Lego Mindstorms through. The table is 2 levels of awesome student design!

    • Rocket building- I asked my local Meijer store to donate rockets, and they did. They are level one rockets. So, definitely, very little teacher assistance required. I bought extra charges for multiple launches. This will be fun to have a couple of students launch rockets for each class period. I'm going to require this group to collect video for an iMovie in which they share their settlement mission statements, include the other teams' artifacts of learning, and show the rocket launch. So, basically, this team will become my media team by the end of it.

Now, all of this will come together in a large table for models, videos, and other artifacts in a Shark Tank method of pitching their settlement plan to me, a group of 7th graders, and a retired NASA engineer. The class that has the most developed plan will be "contracted" for the Mars Settlement Mission.

I will definitely be posting updates on our Instagram feed! @lacrossescience

Friday, February 3, 2017

Sphero: Playing to Learn

These are my kids...

They are the eighth graders that make me laugh often, think deeply, and pour myself into my career. I really love them! Now, 3 years into teaching 8th grade, I finally feel like I have my footing with them, the content, and the learning styles and uniqueness that comes from 13-14 year olds.

My Ohio Standards have a marvelous section for 8th grade scientists that allow them to explore Forces and Motion. From the unseen to contact forces, there is some fun curriculum to work with. My Sphero Physics Fun had a phenomenal start this week!

Student groups began by creating a Book Creator lab report in which they used Sphero to demonstrate some of the basic concepts for Forces and Motion. From Newton's Laws to vocabulary associated with forces and motion, these kids were creative. They captured footage, used slow motion, and built some amazing lab reports.

It was pretty cool to see them working together, talking science, and working with the concepts. While some students still struggled with the content, I could definitely see progress. We were building #sciencecommunication skills the entire time, and that is a win!

My next step was to give students a competitive experience like Kaci Heins does at Space Center Houston! She inspired me with her Sphero activities. 

I decided to challenge my students to a triathlon! The athlete...Sphero. The training...programming and driving. The engineering a bathing suit and bike for the first two legs of the triathlon. The and more science!

So, I "rolled" the project out to students with this SLIDE SHOW.

We have 2 pools for the first leg of the triathlon built with pond liners and LEGO tables (Familiar?
Our stream table used these structures. #reuse) We have a bike course set up with foam pipe covers. #cheap Our marathon course is outlined with Sphero tape. It winds around lab tables and has 2 hills on it. #toughprogramming

Day 1 was used for student brainstorming, planning, and measuring.
Days 2 and 3 were ALL about building, testing, 3D printing, redesigning, programming, talking, FAILING, and more!

Goofy videos:

Why did I love teaching this week SO much?

I didn't introduce the formulas for speed...until the students asked.

I didn't remind students to use the metric system...until TinkerCad software and Sphero tape forced them to.

I didn't ask the students to memorize the different types of friction...they were asking about them on their own! Sliding friction, rolling friction, static friction...we were chatting all day long about them. 

Do we want to minimize friction? Should we try to increase this force? How is it helpful? How does it hurt?

I wasn't forcing students to look at random diagrams of forces...we were mapping out the forces together to represent Sphero's motion.

and, the list goes on!

Playing to learn isn't a new concept. I'm not doing anything special. I'm just following instinct, other amazing educators, and using some amazing tools! I love teaching. I love my students. And, I love learning and growing.

Here are a couple very cool links to resources, if you are interested:

My Place

My space.

Room 201.
Where science happens...

It's messy.
It's cluttered.
It's full of materials acquired from grants. Because that's what I do.
Write. Grants. Like. A. Boss.

It's full of ideas, questions, mistakes, and success.

We FAIL...we learn.

We PLAY...we learn.

We SHARE through #sciencecommunication...we learn.