Adventures in Oceans & Growth Mindset!

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.”

– Rachel Carson

If I’ve taught my students anything, it’s to go to their happy place. Study for a test? Go to their happy place. Have a problem? Think immediately of the silence and beauty of Mexico. Summative? The Greek Isles. Confronted with obstacles? Go to the ocean. This Adventure is about modeling the leadership, growth mindset, and perseverance I want to see in the world – as a science teacher in the middle of an 8th-grade unit on weather and climate. If the classroom itself is not the happiest place, then let the happy now, along with a dose of the power of yet, guide us there.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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Happiness takes preparation, especially when teaching is involved. How else can we prepare an entire generation to see their future without such preparation? Our unit on Weather and Climate is about helping people prepare for weather-related disasters like hurricanes/typhoons, monsoons, and tornadoes. As they learn about the significant humanitarian efforts of the American Red Cross and Red Crescent, students devise a plan for helping people if, and when, disaster strikes. They identify how weather patterns, geographical influences of climate, and ocean currents contribute to what type of weather-related disaster an area may experience. Hook their attention with the natural disaster, then teach the science from there. As students glimpse in to the numbers of people living in large ‘urban centers’ on this amazing planet, or why some areas have hurricanes and others tornadoes, they may not see how we are teaching that preparation is key to a happy and healthy society. And without that empathy, the world would be a much worse place. 

I admit I was surprised, at first, to see how building a unit project around the work of the Global Disaster Preparedness Center was not explicitly related to science concepts as previous units were. I quickly saw the connections, however, and did my best to guide students. Without this type of project, adolescent teens finish their 8th grade science careers with no lesson in empathy. They run the risk of thinking apathy is ok, at least in a science classroom, especially if we don’t teach them the Power of Yet.

In came the intriguing, albeit exhausting, questions and relentless comments. Climate and climate change seems to spark a 100 related and not-related questions. “Why should I care about plastics in the oceans? I don’t even like fish.” “Why should I care about helping people in Indonesia? Japan? Seattle?” “Why should I care about whales, dolphins, or turtles? I don’t want to live near the ocean.” Students confronted me with these questions the whole dang unit. The hardest were comments like “global warming has ruined everything anyway,” and “I don’t care.”

I decided to ‘be the change’ and pledge to my students the tasks I would do along with them for their unit. Donate blood, renew my First Aid/CPR/AED certification with the American Red Cross, and create a fire escape plan for my 4th floor apartment. The resulting report is a slideshow template in the free download below.

This unit taught me how science and pedagogy are often inextricably intertwined and an impetus for fostering a growth mindset. It is we, the teachers, who set the climate for how climate is taught.

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Content-wise, it was fun tying in concepts of turtle migration and ocean currents, convection and climate, and the similarities between hurricanes and tornadoes. At this stage of the year, we can see the improvements in students in so many different ways. For campuses which offer more individual choice to students, journals and differentiated products/processes are great ways to see powerful transformations over time. For campuses which offer more disciplined structure to students, debates and elaborate projects are always ways to assess growth in strides. Either way, measuring improvement during a tiring time of year requires the explicit teaching of growth mindset. It was brief, but memorable, and I will continue building on this.

It was also fun incorporating concepts of learning about learning, reflective thinking, and community building where I could. This is by far the biggest challenge of being in two schools this year – they are SO DIFFERENT! How do I develop my craft when the student populations are so varied? And where does the motivation come from when the demands are conflicting and rewards unspoken? From within I suppose…

A risk-safe environment from one campus to the next can mean very different things. As the school year progresses, teachers see very different climates throughout their student body. At some times the skies are clear, others they are stormy. Sometimes heated, others cold. The ebb and flow of how classroom climate changes over the course of the year inspired me to create the SPECTRUM Classrooms Book Club on Facebook (more outlets coming soon). We’ll start off with Growth Mindset Coach by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley and continue with the Differentiated Classroom by Ann Tomlinson. Join and let’s learn together!

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On a different note, I got to participate in a STEM night for the Dolphin Middle School. Every year, they host a STEM night and children of all ages attend a STEM festival with their families. I was asked to run the ‘rubber band cars’ as a way to get around for Mars exploration, I quickly realized we couldn’t build cars with that level of sophistication in a 6-year old’s attention span.

So? We made adorable rovers with Life-Saver wheels instead. They could design their own chassis and choose between a spectrometer for scanning soils, shovel for taking martian samples, or a camera (shown) for sending pictures back to Earth. Other than being covered with straw litter (an easy fix with the use of biodegradable straws), this was a fun inclusive event which shows students they, too, can design the future of space exploration.

Every now and then, it’s nice to take a break from the unit at hand and look at the big picture in our community.

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The more you get to know students from any school, some things get easier to manage and others harder. Some rules you get more lax on, others more astringent. You can’t take anything personally, but some days this is easier said than done. Yet every once in a while, there is a key moment which defines your career or how you deal with students. For me, that moment was teaching one of my best students the value in taking responsibility.

It’s a long story so let’s just say I work with 14-year old boys and girls who are easily distracted by technology, and each other. You hope it’s harmless, but sometimes it’s harmful. You do your best to create a safe place promoting focus and discipline, yet sometimes things come to a crashing halt. With the breakneck pace of teaching, sometimes it’s hard to know the difference. Is sending each other messages in Chinese, only to find innocent and silly memes are within the messages, harmful? 

In this example, three students engaged in inappropriate behavior yet, the initiator, one of my best students, did not take responsibility for it. A small thing, really. But not really. The wrong student inadvertently got the heat (and didn’t snitch either). It wasn’t until after the fact I discovered the whole story and I was up all night thinking how injustices of the world are caused by ignored opportunities to take responsibility. The very next day, I sat the initiator down and called both parents in his/her presence, informing of and correcting my previous actions. I had to model the process of taking responsibility, no matter how hard it was.

As we progress through resources and issues around cultural proficiency, I shared this story with my peers in the Studying Skillful Teacher course. Stay tuned for the big Growth Mindset final project results in my next Adventure, and in the meantime, check out these awesome resources!

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Speaking of being the change, I learned so much through my pledges to students on my own preparation. Due to some health issues (related to exhaustion, go figure), I haven’t donated blood, yet. I shared the process of signing up for and completing the hybrid First Aid/CPR/AED course online and in person at the national center in Washington DC. I shared the process of contacting my apartment building and neighbors for information to build my fire escape plan, which was actually much harder than I thought it would be. Preparation takes time and effort. I don’t want to use any of the plans I created. I do not want to provide first aid as a first responder. I do not want to flee my apartment if it’s engulfed in flames. But if I had to, I want a plan. And if I get to help others learn how to be the change, then that makes me happy.

“The importance of preparing ourselves for disasters is universal. Emergencies can happen anywhere – at home or at work – and everyone must take action to prepare for emergencies in case something unexpected happens. However, the truth is there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to being prepared.” Marcie Roth, FEMA

Another teachable moment: I’ve received feedback about the number of videos in the curriculum so I’m enjoying opportunities to try to bring in more magic when I can, even if it is just a demo. This will grow more and more as I gain materials, etc.

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Even though this might seem unrelated, allow me to use a cube example to demonstrate persistence and problem-solving modeling for students. I was able to help a student solve a very difficult Rubik’s cube, like the one shown below. A cube teaching and learning fan, I figured I’d get through it quick. I love the many lessons of teaching Rubik’s cubes, too. This was just another cube, right? Wrong. This cube took me forever. The individual cube pictures were similar from one side to the next, with few clues leading the cube way. It stressed me out in a lot of different ways. This student is calm, a hard worker, adores plants… anyway, I had to show him/her to never give up. I mean, I had to show myself. 

Teaching can bring out the best and worst in you. It can make you question your every move at the very core of you. So when opportunities come along that result in SUCCESS, well, you gotta celebrate. Got a problem? We can solve it!

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How will teaching about oceans help us prepare, help others, and be healthy? Let’s talk about failure. Without failure, we wouldn’t understand what success is. Defining failure and creating safe places for students to experience failure helps teachers as they pave the way to STEM classrooms. It’s often taught with the individual effort involved with success, like Michael Jordan or Einstein. I’m bringing it to the next level in environmental education. Teaching science can NOT be just the journey of learning facts and placing them in sheets. It MUST be filled with opportunities for failure, and this must be explicitly written in to curriculum. We as teachers are quick to either defend or denounce curriculum, which means we should be able to add this pedagogy to our wheelhouse. “Are students failing enough?” Check out what teachers in elementary teachers say on the topic in this article on STEM AND FAILURE. If I haven’t taught my students to experience failure and build solutions from those failures, I have not done my job. My Undo for this very challenging unit on climate and climate change is that I did not provide enough opportunities for failure. I let students and even some peers think success was only based on completion of the unit and the project plan, and not the continued discourse of ongoing questions and challenges we must answer beyond this unit. In the spirit of maintain a growth mindset in my craft, however, I begin my next Adventure with this:

I haven’t succeeded in letting my students learn from failure, yet.

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The curriculum we used called for a ton of videos showing weather-related disasters. We had to rush part of the unit, so we didn’t work on this site on buoy data for our ocean current section. There are so many good climate resources, like this climate reanalyzer and the National Center for Science Education Climate Change education information, attached here. I aspire to complete courses on ocean literacy like those provided by Ocean First Education. I’ve never seen as many students enjoy doing their work than while watching this turtle. Of course, you can’t teach ocean currents without showing a bit of Finding Nemo.

Teaching the Power of Yet? You’re gonna need the brilliance of Sesame Street 🙂

Download & Thanks

Creating this plan as a pledge to my students to “be the change” was a lot more time consuming than I thought it would be. Now I have an active template with updates to my family and friends. I hope you’re able to use something like this for your own classes, too. Please leave comments! What’s worked for you?

Emergency Plan Powerpoint TemplateMany thanks and safe travels!

This Adventure is dedicated to the 10 beautiful souls lost in yet another school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. On behalf of the Blue Apple Network, we thank JJ Watt for paying for their funerals, and for being the change we need to see in the world.

The mission of is to build opportunities and share opportunities for teachers to share their journey in creating STEM classrooms. document Adventures in cultivating student-centered classrooms in STEM and beyond. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright 2018 Full Circle J. Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow our adventures with #onejobtwoclassrooms and #crazybusiness.


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