Adventures in Geology & Growth Mindset

Coming Soon ūüôā

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.

Adventures in Oceans & Climate!

“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.

‚ÄúThe 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.‚Ä̬†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 ūüôā

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.

Adventures in PD & Motivation!

Jack Kennedy always said to me, “Hedy, get involved. That’s the secret of life. Try everything. Join everything. Meet everybody.”

– Hedy Lamarr, inventor of Wi-Fi, actress.

“What made you go into teaching?” This is the first question we were asked in our 12-week Skillful Teacher Professional Development course a couple weeks ago. It’s an obvious place to start, except it’s not an easy one. Why did I get into this, and where is this path in science education taking me? Is it weird to admit I did all this because I hated my own experience through science classes in school and in college? Or, instead, is it on point how in joining a massive group of professional learners in science and STEM education, I have found where small paths turn into well-guided trails to ridges and peaks in education? Last summer, I led a group of engineers through a career-immersion experience in China. As we walked through Tianamin Square in a hot, breezy Beijing afternoon, a scholar shared with me what his mountain-climbing mother taught him, “One must have a guide the first time. You cannot find the top of the mountain all by yourself.‚ÄĚ

This Adventure celebrates how the continual involvement of educators to engage in professional development, and in my case, professional development development, elevates us to new vistas. We are teachers, we are educators, we are developers, we are researchers, and practitioners — and we are all in this together. If you love the levels of science education education (like science education “Inception”), continue. Otherwise, choose a different Adventure. But before you do, consider this question: “What made you go into changing the world through education?”

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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At last, we are concluding our Astronomy in Unit 2. Don’t get me wrong, it’s my favorite topic. Yet between the holidays and interruptions with snow days, it just keeps going… It seems like after the solar system and planets, too much time is spent on our galaxy without current applicationof scientific research (ie hands-on labs or current research). Days on the shape of galaxies (I get it, there are three). Nearly a week on Big Bang Theory, really? That said, I love how we end this mind-boggling unit on the solar system, galaxy, and universe, with the beginning. It was also appropriate timed in the passing of the great Stephen Hawking, for whom this Adventure is dedicated to.

“Is it difficult to comprehend? Perhaps. But I believe it is still worth trying.” Stephen Hawking 1942- Pi Day 2018

Soon, we explore weather and climate. My students are primed, already 
asking questions like “Does snow come from space?,” “Can we grow potatoes on Mars the same way as on Earth?,” and “Why do we have snow days when it’s 32 degrees Fahrenheit but not 33?” To strike up interest as we come back to Earth from space, I’ve started countdowns to the vernal equinox and shared pictures of buds as they begin to appear. I also started natural history club for the introverts, where we silently exchange notes about the changes happening outside in our journals, and often I read a short passage from Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. In an interesting twist, the schedules in my two schools have recently switched and there’s either no lag between topics or I’m now teaching in the opposite order as before. It’s fun, albeit a little confusing when routines change. We are, I hate to say, creatures of habit.

The national NSTA conference in Atlanta was perfectly timed to add some verve to the craft. Here, among my 12,000 peers in science education, I picked up (literally picked up, because teachers are and always will have sticky fingers for the fun and nifty schwag) tons of ideas for 8th grade activities in Earth Science! It’s not just Earth Science, although visiting NASA, NOAA, and USGS¬†always creates fun highlights. Science educators¬†have the coolest careers ever. From biomedical science to soils to drones, we have an innate interest in picking something up and getting involved, because we know it will be benefit us and help benefit someone else, some day. Maybe even Monday when we arrive back at school…

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In the spirit of professional learning and embracing the never-ending cycle of teaching and learning, I’m sharing my adventure in both attending professional development and leading professional development development at the same time. While attending the Skillful Teacher course, I’m also managing the production of an amazing PD program for¬†Accelerate Learning, Inc.’s National Institute of STEM Education. In coordination with their esteemed STEM Teacher and Campus certifications, as well as the STEMscopes curriculum resources, I have¬†the privilege of harnessing the writing expertise of a half-dozen professionals for a brand new NISE product. As for professional development development, I’ve always found great reward in coaching adult writers and learners to build resources for others. I use to struggle in this role, working with developers with dozens more experience than I. Now that I’m teaching and managing at the same time, I’ve found even greater reward to building these relationships as we build a sturdy product together. In the same evening, I get to share with my teaching peers in Skillful Teacher, and then over break in my truck, bring the same ideas in, say, Master Objectives and Learning Outcomes to my writing team. produce the same thing for teachers. With a cup of tea to boot.

I¬†digress. How in the world does this benefit you, reader, as you await (patiently) resources to build student-centered STEM classrooms? The answer hit me as I listened to Mr. Dempsey on NPR recently. Leaders¬†of all kinds, teachers and teacher’s teachers, must demonstrate a commitment to reading and learning at all times in their career. We never stop learning. We must transmit to our peers, or the loop of growth within and among us stops, and the effort of sense-making for others fails. Will you join me in my pledge to engage in learning and leadership? You just did.

Skillful Teacher is a brilliant course dedicated to immediate and continual improvements in the classroom, filled with dozens of strategies and supports. We start with bringing in the powerful lessons in teaching the Growth Mindset, set forth by Carol Dweck and continue with learning partners in actionable areas of lesson-framing including curriculum development, assessment and peer-exchanges in class. “How elastic is your brain?” is what we are asked to do as educators looking at Brain Research at Stanford: Mindsets.¬†

Our learning partners range from elementary, middle and science,and we are all tasked with a project to match our strategies with growth mindset principles. We look at research from PISA and OpEd studies to see how teachers and growth mindset are a huge component to helping students feel a sense of belonging and leapfrog into a higher socioeconomic quartile. Specifically, we rehearse growth-mindset statements to increase students’ perseverance in class, which I myself see beginning to wane at this late winter. I just gave them a survey about how they are feeling about science, and overwhelmingly they asked for more hands-on labs, more outdoor opportunities, and more building, less reading. I hear you 8-graders, and I’m on it. But we need to get through this Earth and Space stuff, and your struggles will pay off. A friend once told me, “the struggle is good.” This always helped me nourish the growth mindset experiment.¬†

Attribution Theory. 

What are some things we can do to extend students’ learning when they consider themselves “done”? We’ve all heard the excuses:

  • I don’t get it.
  • You never taught us this.
  • You’re bad at teaching.
  • I don’t¬†want to do this, this is too hard.
  • Can I go to the bathroom?
  • When am I ever going to need this anyway?
  • And my personal favorite, when does this class end?

Sure, it gets tiring, but how do we attribute one’s success or failure? Internal vs. external factors play out the internal voice we hear in our heads (and our classrooms), so we need to emphasize the effort that goes into internal, more variable, results. Success is less about luck or talent, but effort. According to Skillful Teacher, “attribution theory is concerned with the explanations we give ourselves when we succeed for why we succeeded and when we fail for why we have failed.”¬†If students feel like school is something that happens to them, then they won’t want to participate. For me, I’m reminded of the importance of the word “yet.”¬†For the next few weeks, we will be focusing on a project using five different approaches in developing the growth mindset. It’s due in May, I’ll share it then!

Here’s another way to stay in tune with best practices; Action Research. It gives us a way to measure our own progress in practice while measuring the learning of others. It keeps things real. As one peer shared, using research in action helps teachers “prove their gut theories are correct.” Together with my peers from Montana State’s Master Science in Science Education (MSSE) at NSTA’s Teacher¬†Research¬†Day in Atlanta, our panel helped answer questions about other educators getting involved, either informally or formally.¬†

Among our audience were teacher¬†leaders who also lamented about lack of motivation in their own learning communities. I’d never connected this issue since, as I said, I’m intrinsically motivated by a cool science video or beautiful sunset. Maybe there’s a tie-in between action research and motivation, knowing eventually your voice can be researched and heard in your community. Mine has, and it’s a huge reward in itself. Way to go MSSE!

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One great thing pulling all professional development together is the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices. These eight actionable statements add clarity to the ambiguous term “inquiry,” and craft to the acumen of educators and developers alike. As we complete Unit 2 on Astronomy and students transition from Development and Using Models to Developing and Communicating Information from¬†NGSS Appendix J,¬†specifically with graphing and labeled diagrams. Since we are just now finishing their unit projects on building habitats for humans on other planets/asteriods, etc., I’ll share the results in another upcoming Adventure.¬†

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As promised, here’s a summary of the Emoji system I use to build autonomy and accountability among citizen-ship in the classroom. The prize itself? A tiny emoji eraser, or the occasional end-of-quarter keychain called the “dolphin prize” or “timberwolf prize” depending on where I’m teaching. As much as I hate using candy as a motivator and often do, I refuse to give candy for this prize. This prize is tangible and shared with peers.

What does it take to win the Emoji Prize? Each table group has weekly (now monthly) contests using a point system for good-citizenship each day. Was someone absent from their group? Then THEY are the ones supplying the make-up work for their peers. Did they push in their chairs? Did they self-monitor each other to limit calling out across tables and maximize staying on task? Did they turn in work, and if so, did they initial (dualing as a receipt system for proof of turning it in?)

I keep the grid in their table folders and each take turns filling out the grid, and I then walk around and grade quickly in between classes with points.

Using a system of tie-breakers, I give immediate feedback to show when table groups are either doing something or not. If they are listening without interrupting, that’s HAPPENING, but if they are interrupting, then that’s NOT HAPPENING. At the end of the contest, often table groups will have won or lost by a single NH. I can now just say from across the room, “y’all, that’s a Not Happening, you know what to do,” and they settle down.

They can see this development of behavior over time with the grids I show to announce the prizes.

There’s a little more to this system as it develops in sophistication over the school year, but I’ve supplied the link to the Google Doc where I write the criteria below as the free download. This system is subtle and tremendously helpful for providing consistency and opportunities for explicit citizenship building skills. Some of my co-teachers and teacher peers have taken to adopting it this year. I like how simple and effective it is.

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This month, I’ve learned a lot about learners – both young adult and adult. What is the same, and what’s different, other than age? I get to coach teachers through NISE’s STEM Teacher Certification program, and have found similarities in the pacing, motivation, and pathfinding for middle school students and teachers alike – motivation especially. I’m intrinsically motivated in this career, obviously emphatically. I teach middle school students after all, and get to use my PD-development as inspiration. I don’t need much to inspire me, and sometimes I forget others are not always so much.

My biggest teachable moment did not come from the classroom, or my commute between schools, NSTA networking with colleagues, or even on my conference calls with writers. It came from my kitchen, where a friend made a home-cooked¬†meal to save me from yet another microwave meal. As I lamented over the lack of motivation in young students and tired teachers, high-caliber PD-writing was taking place with my project, as we spoke. Such a stark difference! Why are some of my students bragging how they CAN’T WAIT to quit school when they turn 16 (this is apparently legal in Maryland)? They say they can’t WAIT to work at a gas station, except do they really know the stunting nature of this to their future? These aren’t just a few students, but half of one of my classes. How will our team, diligently writing PD modules on argumentation, misconceptions, or even response to failure, fix this? What can we do to help students care about their futures as much as they care about the here and now? These are not easy questions to answer, certainly over stir-fry. My friend, who is not a teacher but a parent, concluded, “There’s not much you can do, you just have to keep saying the good message over and over. People don’t change change overnight. It’s a gradual thing, and then they just sort of show up.”

So, that’s it. Teachers, like parents, just gotta stick with it. Be positive, kind, and caring. Demonstrate empathy every day with a gajillion different examples. My mentoring teacher taught me years ago a cardinal philosophy, “I’ll go out of my way to help you if you show me that you care.” To fight against apathy, I’ve since added “I can’t teach you to care, I can only show you the consequences when you don’t.”

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This month, I employed more strategies for integration and literacy than usual. Through active journaling in advance of the Maryland Integrated Science Assessment (MISA), I doubled-up on writing practice using brief constructed responses (BCR) as activators for students’ unit projects. Starting with a prompt about, say, growing potatoes on Mars, I’d ask them to write a statement on what is necessary for this to occur, then followup with showing other media and ask them to write follow up statements in their journals. I also enjoyed showing brief videos from a myriad of topics, like chemistry, geology and the water cycle, to ignite students’ minds as they recorded the main ideas on folded papers.

In retrospect and through student surveys, this video round-robin was fun but needed to be prioritized a little more. I’ll see what I can do to increase relevance for students.¬†

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How do you respond to failure? How do you define the failure to which you are responding to? For me, it’s not about content, but context and motivation among unmotivated students. A part of my dream of engaging in my “Science is Everywhere” philosophy dies when they threaten to cash in their school careers. Did I not follow through with every consequence to help them stay motivated? Did I not encourage their efforts enough? Did I fail them in some intangible way? I get it – motivation matters, and this is when it matters most. Recently, I made a pledge to a student to try to address this. She’s brilliant, yet suddenly and incredibly unmotivated. Usually, she’s one of those who is perfectly OK with a B if it means keeping her mind uncluttered to still enjoy her other interests, and that’s ok with me. (Of course I want her to pursue an A and choose a science career, except I’m also increasingly tolerant of honoring students’ choices in balancing their stress-loads. This might be another conversation…). Anyhow, this was my pledge to her since we generally relate on a more mature level. ‘I’ll go out of my way to make sure what we are doing is engaging to you if you’ll show me what you need for said engagement to occur.’ She complied. If I could undo anything, ever, in my career, it would be to never have had to have this conversation to begin with. Ugh. Student voice surveys created. Polls on topics for next unit created. Lists of titles of books and websites that students might find interesting, despite waning motivation, underway. Now I’m looking for guest speakers and might give this Skype a Scientist thing a try.¬†Opportunities for productive failure are in now progress.¬†Onward. The gravitas of making sure your class is somewhere people WANT to be really sinks in this time of year, doesn’t it?

Off topic: Here’s a cool thing which comes from spending a year trying to teach students to pay attention. I’ve found that sometimes we have to teach what’s wrong with an abstract concept before they really concretely learn what’s correct, like showing “What’s wrong with this picture?” At the very least, I’m learning to leverage the middle schooler’s tendency to rip apart an inaccuracy in order to expose what they know to be true.

Case in point. Actually, my lowest performing class caught this. “What is wrong with this picture,” from Crash Course? Comment when you find it! (I’ve already emailed them, hopefully this will be fixed before you show your students). Also, here’s a nod to the great work at Smithsonian Science Education Center for creating videos to help science teachers address misconceptions – particularly around the seasons, which is tricky to teach, albeit rewarding.

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OK, this video on from a writer working on¬† a claim-evidence-reasoning PD session just tickled me. And happy international women in science day!¬†Lovin the great work coming out of female researchers and stem careers. Also, don’t forget to submit your name so it can be on the Parker Solar Probe as it journeys to the sun!

Download & Thanks

If you’re interested in building student automony and accountability in your classroom and would like to try the Emoji Prize system, please email me at What I’ve provided is just a summary, and it’s evolved a lot as it should over the year. You can see me building it week by week here in this Google Link:

Many thanks and safe travels!

The mission of is to 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 #onejobtwoclassrooms and #crazybusiness for more.

Adventures in Olympics, Physics & Empathy!

The Olympics remain the most compelling search for excellence that exists in sport, and maybe in life itself.

– Dawn Fraser
Australian swimmer, 3-time winner at the Olympics

If you know me, you know I’ve always exclaimed, whole-heartedly, how the world would be a much worse place if it weren’t for the Olympics. It’s a cruel thought, really, because it postulates our world was a bad place to begin with. Our world is not a bad place. It’s just I think the Olympics help make the world a better place. This cloudy gray February, cooped up with my 8th-graders and a healthy dose of cabin fever, I couldn’t agree with myself more. This Adventure comes from a tired optimist championing through mountains of grading on Pluto’s dwarf planet status, rinks of endless planning instruction around the rest of the solar system, icy slopes of grief over Parkland, Florida, and colorful podiums of joy in the (science behind) the Olympics. It’s been a record-setting couple weeks.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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We are almost done with Astronomy. We still have the characteristics and formation of the solar system to go, and some mind-blowing looks at other galaxies, too. Soon, however, we’ll move from Unit 2’s Astronomy to Unit 3’s Weather & Climate and on to new Adventures. Did I miss writing about Unit 1 on Forces & Motion? Yes and no. I was swamped beginning a school year on two campuses, so am using this opportunity to bring motion and sports full circle through a celebration with the winter Olympics. Since summer Olympics occur before school starts, teachers can really only maximize on this unique opportunity every four years.

What I did not expect, however, was being able to make connections between Unit 1’s Forces and Unit 2’s Astronomy foci with a thematic approach like Olympic sports. That. Is. Awesome.

What do figure skating and Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion have in common? Duh, Angular momentum! Snowboarding the half pipe and potential and kinetic energy? Gravitational acceleration, of course. Engineering performance suits and spacesuits? Materials science and solar radiation. Speed skating, Newton’s Laws of Motion, Curling, friction. Thanks to the exceptionally well-done videos from National Science Foundation’s “Science and Engineering of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games,” each day was its own mini-celebration. I opened each day with a different video from this 10 part series (nicely fitting over ten days of instruction), and then opened it up for a quick brainstorm on how these videos are connected to our over-arching theme this year, “Science is Everywhere.” Keep reading and you’ll find examples of this in Teachable Moments. But first, an ode to Pluto.

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Pluto and Valentine’s Day go hand in hand. Not only is it nice when a holiday ties in to the curriculum, like when Valentine’s Day falls over an investigation and debate over Pluto’s fabled status as ninth planet vs. a dwarf planet, but it’s also fun. To celebrate, I created this valentine featuring Pluto’s icy heart.¬†¬†

I then used the last five minutes of Wednesday’s class to have students fill them out and paste in the hallway for all to see.¬†

Just some great responses from my students from both campuses:

  • “Pluto, come back! Maybe if you eat your vegetables and drink your milk, you’ll grow big and strong like the other planets!”
  • “Pluto, stay small.”
  • “Pluto, we all have to go sometime.”
  • “Pluto, I’m sorry you’re not a planet anymore.¬†Next time, maybe stay out of Neptune’s orbit.”
  • “Pluto,well, you tried.”

Using academic discourse and accountable talk strategies, we concluded our “what happened to the ninth planet” research with a debate (or panel in some cases) on Pluto’s dwarf planet status. We also had fun watching this video on how planets should ‘behave’ with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

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The NSF “Engineering Suits” video connection to the Olympics and space was kind of a last minute thing. We were studying sunspot activity and I needed a way to tie in how solar radiation is absolutely a factor in space exploration and space suits. We did a quick overview of Mars exploration (we touch on this through the year thanks to my obsession with Elon Musk, SpaceX and NASA), courtesy of¬†and Smithsonian. That tie-in helped hook students from an otherwise low-level scenario for why they were to graph sunspot activity with magnetic storms to begin with. Here was their original introduction to the topic:

As for our Unit project on consulting for movie sets and anatomy of scene building, stay tuned for the next Adventure.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMThis is the time of year where deeper connections are made with students depending on their independent interests, concerns, and development. I’ve enjoyed this rewarding, albeit exhausting, part of teaching. Some love me, some hate me. Some are checking in and some are checking out – it is middle school after all. Some are consistently improving, others in spikes. Two students made me a haiku on string theory, and another gave me a journal for exploring. I love letting them choose their own ’emoji’ eraser when they come in for extra time to work, because ‘with responsibility comes choice.’ One very diligent student loves flowers, and when I gave her my personal copy of a botany coloring book offering to make a copy of the pages she was most interested in, this is what she brought back.¬†

As for my Emoji prize system, I know I promised a section in this Adventure. It’s an awesome way to help emphasize my expectations of responsible citizenship in both schools, and it provides continual feedback. I have every intention to write about it, but I am heart sick about Parkland, Florida. And outraged. I am instead dedicating the rest of this Adventure to those 17 souls we lost in another round of senseless gun violence and the brave survivors who are standing up to make change. Being back in the classroom(s) has brought this (and sadly, the many other school shootings we’ve experienced) so close. A nearby arrest of a high school student who brought a loaded gun to school in my DC-area neighborhood brought this even closer. I am NOT prepared should this happen in my school(s), and I’m creating a network of concerned teachers and administrators who want to share knowledge in their preparation journey and make changes to our nation so we don’t have to ever use the knowledge to begin with. Please join the Blue Apple Network, and thanks to for the use of our icon.

As for my prize system, stay tuned for my next Adventure.

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Here’s just one example of how “Science is Everywhere” and can be taught with minimal effort, on the fly. In 10 minutes, we connected the concept of arm¬†movements and spinning in¬†figure skating with angular momentum of planetary motion by having students spin in an office chair and, for my higher-performing classes, previewing images of how this¬†works with planets and Kepler’s Laws.

For my even higher-performing classes, we extended our work to Dark Matter and Black Holes. They could see and feel how these concepts are connected in a universal way (pardon the pun), and it was fun. It was science education nirvana.

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I didn’t get to watch much of this year’s Olympics. I can’t tell you much about Shaun White’s big win, but we did enjoy watching a review on potential and kinetic energy and the science behind his boarding in the last Olympics. I missed Chloe Kim and Mirai Nagasu, I was buried in grading papers on gravity and revolution, both of which I’m sure these athletes appreciate on a whole different level. I missed the buzz about the eye-catching speed skating uniforms because I was reviewing the engineering suit clips, etc. I missed the Olympics because I was too busy teaching. It’s ok, because I knew the world was becoming an even better place in PyeongChang, with or without me. I chose to focus my time the way I did, because I wanted to teach, and I needed the focus given this sad time in our nation.

I did, however, make big strides in getting students to engaged in discourse. Yay me! On the list of favorites for students is debates. So, after a sobering lesson on comets, asteroids and meteorites, we had a 7-debate debate called “Are We Doomed?” inspired from assigned articles.

That’s Kathy, by the way, our new mascot (for this school). Her mate, Chuck, is the other school’s mascot. You’ll be seeing more of them as we go along, and they help remind me of the many lessons I’ve learned in my dueling trips to China.

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I had lots of notes for undoing the misconceptions we bumped into through all of Unit 1. Graphing speed over time vs. distance over time, fails over calculating momentum and misalignment of math vs science when it comes to teaching scientific notation, you name it, I have Undo notes for it. Instead, this section is again dedicated to what should not have happened in Florida or any of the schools that have had shootings, ever. These are children we teach, our future care-givers. Not only will they hopefully choose STEM careers to save us from ourselves, but they will also take care of us when we are old. Yet, their lives are quite literally our futures, and they are crushed under our ridiculous present. We teach empathy but do not embody it? There are no words to express this incalculable rage and concern I have except these. Undo it.

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I’m starting a new Adventure on literacy and looking at how reading for fun affects behavior in both schools. I’m meeting up with the Media Specialists in both schools for ideas, and I’ll keep you posted on the progress. Thank you Tennyson, for this wonderful song called “Beautiful World” which I play on sad days as students arrive (sadly, I’ve had to play it all to often this year).¬†Also, happy International Women in Science day to all! Check this out! New templates to teach about women in science!

As the closing ceremonies near and our next opportunity to include the Olympics in instruction will be far, I end with a sincere thank you to the Olympics for bringing some well-timed inspiration to my winter classrooms. Yes, I love the science, but I also love the flags, parades, the international colorful zeal, the stories across all ages and walks of life, and the connection of sport and comrade from around the world. The distraction, I mean therapy, was particularly helpful this time around. The Olympics truly do make the world a better place, or at least my world.

Download & Thanks

I don’t know where the awesome graphic in this PDF came from, but thank you to whoever made it. I’m sending it along in an adorable valentine for all to use and enjoy.

I love you to Pluto and back

The mission of is to 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 #onejobtwoclassrooms and #crazybusiness for more.

Adventures in Earth-Sun-Moon Interactions!

We ran as if to meet the moon.

– Robert Frost

Once in a blue moon, my teaching schedule from both schools lines up and I get to teach the same topic at the same time, like a celestial event. Even though I teach 8th grade science on two campuses just 15 minutes apart, I might as well be teaching two totally different preps, on different planets, in different universes. This “Adventure” is more a 10-day celebration of my very different lives synching up – even if just for a moment – than a thematic approach to the 2018 Super-Blood-Blue Moon, eclipses and lunar phases.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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Nice timing! Right when we’re covering lunar phases, eclipses, tides and gravity in the 8th grade Earth Sun Moon Interactions unit, this awesome Super-Blood-Blue Moon thing happened! For the first time in 150 years, the full Moon was at perigee (“Super”) at the same time as a full lunar eclipse (“Blood”), and January’s second full moon (“Blue”) robbed February of its own.

Here in Montgomery County near DC, we missed the lunar eclipse at 6:45 am (it was barely eclipsing at it set), but got a great view of the rising moon at 6:27 pm, appearing 30% brighter and 14% larger.

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I should have known that even though both schools’ schedules could line up to teach the same content around the Super-Blood-Moon event on January 31, 2018, the resulting approaches would end up being totally different. As usual. Even though their county-wide writing assessment was on solar eclipses, and that was the end-goal of this particular lesson sequence, I’m focusing on lunar eclipses and Earth-Sun-Moon Interactions in this Adventure. We’d already covered eclipses in one school prior to the Supermoon Week, but had not yet in the other school, yet I kicked off the festivities with a single plan. First, we had a one-day Supermoon Research Race to determine the difference between apogee and perigee. I worried that students mixed up these concepts if taught out of context with lunar phases, but I’ll cover that in Undo.¬†We then had a “Moon Off” Observation Contest where each winner of a class-wide show-and-tell contest from evidence of direct observations of the Supermoon event won some Oreo cookies and the¬†“Once in a Blue Moon” pass consisting of one free bell-ringer pass and a choice for the song of the day. Thanks to the great folks in the Kesler Professional Learning Network on Facebook for awesome support and suggestions, like the printable pass shown above! Then, one school proceeded to tides and gravity while the other completed lunar phases, and soon each school was in its own orbit once again…

Teaching the different phenomenon involved in these lessons is all about repetition. 5E is important, but so is making sure abstract concepts¬†like this Supermoon thing this sticks out to them in a relevant way. Obviously, the¬†perfectly timed Supermoon, etc. with our Earth-Moon-Sun Interactions unit was a huge bonus and motivation for me. My biggest take-home from teaching this in two classrooms, however, was the repetition¬†and various modalities needed. We emphasized 2-dimensional labeled diagrams, 3-dimensional models (like the lunar-phases in perspective model shown here), live demonstrations, labs with lamps and moons-on-a-stick and inflatable globes, videos, and simulations. It’s hard to know who ‘got’ what, and honestly the whole process is a blur. I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for our celebration ‘goals’¬† – I would have lost track of everything! I made as many notes as I could along the way, including how to STEM up these lessons when possible.

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The whole point of Unit 2’s “Earth Sun Moon Interactions” is for students to create a portfolio that responds to a “Request for Information” for being a movie set consultant with for realistic space movie production, similar to this¬†Anatomy of a Scene¬†from “The Martian.” They use SOME engineering principles like criteria and constraints to build this, but we haven’t come back to this project yet. Stay tuned for more “Adventures.”

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMIn my next Adventure, I’ll also cover more about my “Emoji Prize” system. It’s an evolving citizenship-building incentive program I run every week/month to foster positive and productive group learning. I give small rewards (tiny emoji erasers) for large gains in building student autonomy and self-monitoring. For now,¬†I’ll share howI’m finally able to use the Emoji Prize system to be responsive to students interests, including questions on black holes, galaxies, and constellations. If you like, I can make it the free download next time. But, like any good teacher, I’ve been so swamped teaching and using the systems, I haven’t much time to curate… although my co-teachers and paras have taken to the systems so I’m encouraged to share as soon as possible. Soon!

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Like I said, teaching Earth-Sun-Moon phenomenon is a lot of repetition. It’s important to use terms consistently, and I found very quickly it’s important to set the expectation that students do the same, particularly through labeled diagrams. Increased grading time aside, I needed to focus on students’ accuracy and detail through diagramming (or sketching).

Below are some examples of the effort involved with giving and grading. Fortunately by now, my students are well-aware of my high expectations regarding labeled diagrams. Even so, I found a great diversity, and learned a lot from student-produced models.

Here are some examples regarding rotation and revolution; how day/night is caused by something totally different than seasons, and how revolutions occur from Moon around Earth and Earth/Moon around Sun. Some examples are more detailed than others.

As we transitioned from overall Earth-Sun-Moon systems to lunar phases and eclipses, I found it was easier to get students to be more detailed with their work. This translated to more organized writing, including arguments on lunar and solar eclipses. It helps that we were given several scaffolds to use in the curriculum.

I LOVE this system of ‘rainbow writing’ one of my campuses developed. It forces students to color code their writing AFTER they compose an argument and correctly identify each criteria they should fill in a writing prompt. Definitely going to keep this up!

And this one is a little unrelated, but I definitely learned to be UBER specific with vocabulary definition instructions, like this humorous example below:

My biggest teaching moment was to make sure opportunities for accountable talk or academic discourse are not omitted. Never resist the urge to skip these steps in collaborative learning in an effort to save time. Yes, things get VERY busy in the class, and managing behavior takes lots of time. But of any strategy to omit, opportunity for discourse is not one. It’s what puts the STEM and student-centered classrooms in this, and every future, Adventure.

Hey, wanna tip for helping students understand that a waxing moon means the illumination will be on the right? I discovered that the waxing crescent “shape” on the right fits perfectly inside the word “wax” where no other permutation would:


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Borrowing from the inspiration I got from this popular meme on solar eclipses, I created the quick and easy the Eclipse Photobomb Booth. It went so well, it was a great way to have students model each phase of the moon, not just eclipses. We also used it to finish up our tides investigation to compare neap and spring tides. Students line up to get the best tide for fishing (spring tides, or all in a line), or any permutation you direct.


The photobomb activity is the free download below, if you like.

Here are just some of the results from the “Moon Off” contest. Over a dozen students competed, which means over a dozen students were challenged to make observations they may not have done so otherwise. Next ‘outdoor observation’ contest? New Moon February 15 ūüôā

This contest was actually a great way to get students outside looking up at night, on their own or with their friends and family. It was also a probe to see what access to technology they utilized and medium they used for delivery. Some gave powerpoints, others videos and images, and others still paintings and sketches. Nice range!

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Let’s go over misconceptions in eclipses and lunar phases. First, the term “eclipse” must be experienced before defined. Just saying ‘lunar eclipse’ vs ‘solar eclipse’ can confuse students if they don’t understand that the moon is in shadow vs. Earth, respectively. Like any vocabulary, the term should be experienced before defined, and this one was especially important for my English Language Learners. I learned this the hard way when students assumed that every full moon is at perigee and every new moon is at apogee.¬†

Next, beware the wording of how eclipses work, as well as ANY diagram, video or animation. For example, stated how “lunar eclipses are caused by “Earth comes between the Moon and the Sun.” This is misleading, because it is the movement of the Moon that causes eclipses and phases, and it really tripped up a lot of students. I didn’t even show this animation (source unknown), directly linked from our curriculum, because Earth and Moon are revolving the wrong direction and it shows the tilt of Earth changing!


Just like this awful (and I’m sure inadvertently included) example, it’s the unfortunate oversight of stating points-of-view with incorrect instruction for labeled diagrams which I would “Undo” in every curriculum and classroom if I could. In a labeled diagram, is the view of the Earth-Sun-Moon movement “from above,” or from “the side”? If from above, then a provided Earth image needs to be shown at the poles, not the continents. In this example from our curriculum, we have a responsibility to either provide the correct image of Earth’s poles if “seen from above” or specify that student responses will be from the “side” perspective.¬†

This one (source unknown) on Lunar Phases, while not incorrect, is misleading because it combines both perspectives. The moon receives the same amount of sunlight regardless of its revolution around Earth, but this diagram makes it seem like the amount of light is different, not our perspective.

Misconceptions come from all over, and sadly from our own mistakes. These points may be subtle, but they are HUGE when dealing with higher- and lower-performers simultaneously while teaching. Also, they drive the curriculum developer in me absolutely crazy.

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Unfortunately, the simulators for lunar phases we used were .swf files unavailable for linking here, but they were helpful for students on their Chromebooks. For some reason, my students really ‘got’ this analogy from Bill Nye (more so than usual) for Lunar Phases and baseball. As for the Gravity Party, we didn’t quite get to that in this Adventure once we transitioned to tides. But we did play this AWESOME parody on John Mayer’s “Gravity” with Derek Muhler’s scientifically accurate version on Veratasium.¬†The jist of tides is showing the extreme examples, like the Bay of Fundy in time lapse, and getting students to make predictions as to what is happening, why, and over how long. Also, I love this video on The Tides Song by Sisbro Productions from Riddle in a Bottle. I also liked the many different resources on NASA’s JPL page.

Just a few songs from the Supermoon Song of the Day Playlist: 

Moondance by Van Morrison 
Blue Moon by Frank Sinatra
Blue Moon by Ella Fitzgerald
Gravity by John Mayer

It’s been a phenomenal couple weeks!

Free Download & Thanks

Here is the free download for the Eclipses Photobomb Booth. Let me know what you think! I would love to add some cool comic bubbles and fonts, as well as other props like fishing poles for tides and a noose for gravity, etc.


Site content copyright 2018 Full Circle J. Productions, LLC. Not responsible for any third-party content. All Rights Reserved.