Adventures in Wellness!

“The roots of education are bitter but the fruits are sweet.”

– Aristotle

My fellow teachers and counselors, I know I am not the only teacher chronically near burn-out by the end of each year. All summer I’ve reflected on the rocky year I just had – being yelled at by teenagers, seeing loss or violence in their lives, gaining or losing ground with my most challenging students… I felt like I might not be ready for another year. This is why I think it’s so important to tell this story now, right before school begins again. I needed more than just resting by the pool before going back into the classroom (although who can afford that?). I was so exhausted, I knew I needed therapy on a whole new level. So, I started a new adventure in teaching and learning, and it’s not in science. This Adventure in Wellness helped me respond to a significant call for action in bringing social and emotional skills to my science students. Be the change, right?

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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This Adventure is not about science or STEM; it’s about Wellness! Granted, there is a science to wellness and there are amazing advancements in understanding brain chemistry. Just one example is the burgeoning evidence of increased learning when physical movement starts the day, just like Dr. Ratey expressed in SPARK, the Revolutionary New science of Exercise and the Brain. Regardless of the physiological benefits of exercise which promote health and wellness, and hence academics, I found a hard truth this year. I know there are students who are hungry, abused, truant, bullied (and bullying), assaulted, traumatized, and worse, violent. That’s not even counting the extreme psychological toll school and mass shootings are sweeping our nation. Things seem like they are going out of control, and stress and anxiety is DEFINITELY affecting people of all ages. Sometimes, the last thing on these kids’ minds is science, especially if they’re not sure where their next meal is coming from.

I can’t teach science if my students aren’t available.

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This hard truth, and a concern for my own wellbeing in such a demanding profession, caused me to take a big step back and look at the how violence in schools may be trending in the USA. Even if we aren’t worried about violence and seek to promote student achievement, it’s hard to know where to start.

Is teaching wellness even worth it? According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotion Learning, or CASEL, there is a tangible return of investment to bringing teachers to teach social and emotional skills in schools, $11 per student actually. In a recent scientific report from the Aspen Institute, we need to be a Nation at Hope and “accelerate and strengthen efforts to support the whole learner in local communities through recommendations for researchers, educators, and policymakers.” So, when I heard our county was ushering in a new Be Well 365 program, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. I see the value of 12,000 teachers approaching instruction with a common language using the 6 Essentials for wellness, particularly through the lens of equity. I teach in the most international town of the USA, representing 150 languages with 33% on Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS). Perhaps if we, as a county, were more synchronized in our approach to content AND social/emotional instruction, students would achieve more. Just the effort alone helps increase awareness for mindfulness in our schools, no?

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Let’s talk about engineering the synchronized approach by the development of Learning Experiences and Global Experiencers. These are two documents aligned to each of the wellness Essentials, which we’ll get to in a bit. The problem is teachers and counselors can’t ADD anything new to the already heaping tray of responsibilities they carry every day. What is a way teachers and counselors can strengthen an already existing lesson which embeds one or more of the 6 Essentials?

The solution is building Learning Experiences and Global Experiences teachers and counselors can access while working in existing curricula, respectively. Teaching physics and debating climate change? Why not use a Learning Experience and strengthen the lesson by modeling the debate using Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices, an Essential aligned to helping students see the merits of discourse among peers. Teaching middle school social studies and reviewing the merits of services provided for war veterans? Imagine all social studies teachers using an exit ticket aligned to Mental and Emotional Health. Elementary art? How about the Learning Experience called “Diversity of Life, Diversity of Us” which ties into their science lessons on ecosystems in 2nd grade and promotes Culturally Responsive Relationship Building?

Available preK-12, individual teaching Learning Experiences for art, science, health and PE, reading, and even math are in production. Global Experiences are for school-wide use with themes to approach all 6 Essentials:

  • Positive Character Development and Empathy
  • Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices
  • Physical Health and Wellness
  • Trauma-Informed Practices
  • Culturally Responsive Relationship Building
  • Mental and Emotional Health

My favorite example of a Learning Experience is from 4rd grade art, but I’m stealing it for my 6th graders. “Zentangle Hands & Therapeutic Art” is an extension aligned to Trauma-Informed Practices where students make Zentangle shapes of their hands. Not only are students learning about positive and negative space (or in my science adaptation, scale and proportionality), but it promotes calmness. I’ll make more examples with animals.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMThis summer, our classroom was full of teachers as we provided Professional Development for hundreds of teachers. Even though Be Well 365 is still being developed, I got to help teachers and counselors brainstorm ways they can use the Learning/Global Experiences in everyday instruction. It’s been about a year since I got to spread my Professional Development provider wings with fellow teachers, and it felt GREAT to co-present with such an awesome team!

I thoroughly enjoyed getting caught up with teachers and finding where our practices and challenges are similar. Our work is overwhelming, but we are all in this together!

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The beauty of this program is no one is being asked to do more during instruction, just do the same great stuff the same way other peers are doing it. Asking a teacher to engage in a best practice has a very different ring than asking a teacher to do something more (or even different). The program also houses a lot of existing best practices, like suicide prevention and personal body safety, through these “nuggets,” (my nickname for Learning Experiences). So far, we have a couple hundred of these nuggets, each being prepared and edited for implementation and improvements. Who is behind that job? Yours truly.

As a result of reviewing and revising hundreds of Learning Experiences, I got a glimpse into other curricula from subjects I don’t teach nor have a background in. I’ve worked with K-12 science curriculum before, but not art, social studies, health, reading, etc. SO INTERESTING, and my extensive curriculum background came in handy. The most important thing I found during this compilation process was to assure inclusive language for all learners and teachers alike. Using a Learning Experience should empower the teacher to build in transparency of their own wellness and instruction; in a way it’s another type of modeling. This project has made me proud of how hard teachers and counselors work to build the whole child.

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What will this look like when I bring it back to my own classroom and campus? I’m happy to report this project has helped rejuvenate my planning and you can expect to see major updates to my management plans, both for behavioral and academic success.

Sure, part of this recharging is from the simple science of having summer to (barely) regroup. However, the bulk of this inspiration comes from working with so many people to pull the Be Well 365 vision together. Now, it’s go time. I’ll post some results after I see how the county involves professional staff through the process, as well as from my own classroom once we get rolling.

In the meantime, I’m picking up some strategies I got from Trauma-Informed Practices training and upgrading my lesson sequencing with a set schedule for transitions. Using my easy FOCUS acrostic to help students keep time, we will be excited (for 10 minutes), calm (for 10 minutes), and then concentrate (for 20 minutes) every day regardless of the type of lesson. Here’s the mechanism for class segments that leverage student energy!

Seeing as I’m switching to 6th grade this year, I think the shorter, timed, and predictable segments will be even more helpful. Especially as I complete my positive behavioral management plan!

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Based on some community input this year, I think it’s true that over 10,000 other teachers need more training, especially in Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices. This is an area I intend to strengthen this year, as well as more effective approaches using Trauma-Informed Practices. I can’t Undo the past, there is no Undo. I do, however, recognize and applaud my own resilience. Maybe last I year I struggled with thriving, not just surviving… it’s hard to know for sure, especially since secondary trauma IS REAL. I can improve my craft, in both content and pedagogy, ever year. Oh, and I can use, which is free for educators 🙂 

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.53 is a great resource for digital citizenship. Don’t have the same kinds of resources available? Perhaps try this organization to bring webs of support into your school. My favorite video from training this year is from Jacob Hamm on the “Learning Brain vs. Survival Brain,” included here to remind me us that we are all mama elephants working together.

This Adventure is not about how using Wellness changed my instruction (yet), since school hasn’t begun. It’s about how changing my approach to instruction, as well as updating my own healthy habits, saved my summer. I happened to be in the right spot at the right time to find this program at its start, and everyone has to begin somewhere. No matter how challenging our professions are, we have a real opportunity to bring wellness into our everyday lives.

Be well, y’all.

Download & Thanks

In the spirit of preparation, I’m building some signs for science and STEM identity, included here as a download. Good luck out there and enjoy teaching!


This Adventure is dedicated to my most challenging students. You know who you are. Thank you for making me stronger and smarter. Here’s to another great year of teaching and learning!

The mission of is to engage teachers cultivating student-centered classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright © 2019 Jess Rowell. All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow my adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike and #bewell365


Adventures to Invent the Future!

“If you get up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day.”

– Elon Musk

It started with an empty cafeteria and my principal’s vision to involve students from all backgrounds in STEM. After all, it’s our first time bringing “Invent the Future” to our school. Really, how many students would be interested in doing this expanded engineering club? How many parents would show for Parent Information Night? 5? 15? When over 40 families arrived and over 30 commitments resulted, we realized we had our work cut out for us.

Together with a special partnership between Bethesda’s Kid Museum and Montgomery County Public Schools, our principal, Dr. Murray, shepherded in our school’s first-time involvement for the “Invent the Future!” county-wide engineering showcase and competition. At the helm of this Adventure was yours truly. I should have been overwhelmed, starting a new program from the ground up with nothing but a directive, but for the first time in years, I was finally back in my element.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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In one semester, 30 of our “middle” middle school students – all with a wide ranges of abilities and no prior experience in engineering – designed, built, and presented something to help the environment. The beauty of the Invent the Future program is it challenges students to think about solutions to “protect life on Earth.” The immediate connection to life science challenges the misconception that middle school engineering is only reserved to coding, mechanics, or design for the sake of building for physical machines. Inventions must be directly linked to how they are solving environmental problems affecting plants and animals on Earth. Great integration!

Click on the gallery below to see our Orange Team in action!

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Another significant attribute to Invent the Future is enrollment. For all 40 middle schools, a certain percentage of students must be enrolled in the Free and Reduced Meals program, contain a lower-middle GPA, and otherwise include populations underrepresented in STEM. Our school also represented a 50/50 split of female/male. Not once were these students screened for their interest in a future of science or engineering. Instead, they were recruited for their passion in finding solutions in our future on and off this planet. Even if none of those students shown aptitude in a STEM-related career, all of them were simply invested in a project important for everyone. And we did it with cardboard, hot glue, and iterations through the Engineering Design Process.

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Even though it was extra-curricular, I got to see students with little exposure to engineering come up with, design and build ideas with teams. This is what my classroom should look like! My favorite part was requiring detailed sketches and redesign notes in their journals. The collaboration which came over these students was what a science teacher pines for in her science class.

Since these were not typical students on an engineering track, many were not familiar with the concepts of engineering save what they’d done for their embedded science units. I used a simplified Engineering Design Process model and a lot of open-ended journaling techniques.


Most importantly, I focused on presenting ideas through practice presentations, introductions, and weekly updates through Google Classroom.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMThis project allowed me to work with students from all three grades, and join them on five field trips to the Kid Museum maker space for a sequence of hands-on building workshops. Since I’ve been in the science classroom exclusively for the last two years, this was a chance for me to get out of my room and into a creative maker space as well.

Our “classroom” was filled with tools, drills and saws. We used Tinkcad and Arduinos with buzzers and lights to build robotics components, with sensors even. It was great seeing students actually designing and building!

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Two things culminated on a brilliant Challenge Summit May 11, 2019. First, grouping teams by major environment group (deserts, forests, marine animals, insects, etc.) was a quick decision I made which cemented the concept of our work. Second, my task was actually to run two clubs – one monthly engineering design challenge for regular students (“Blue Team”) and Invent the Future (“Orange Team”). The duality of involvement through this process was astonishing. Sometimes Blue Team events built incredible structures in an hour but didn’t know how to communicate their findings, and sometimes Orange Team got stuck because they’d spent so much time on one topic they couldn’t see the big picture. I simultaneously facilitated both processes, and kept ushering Orange Team toward the May 11 Challenge Summit to prepare them to present their findings to a small group of judges.

I mentioned I was in my element. Building new programs is my thing, and I have 15 years experience in just this thing. Fortunately, Invent the Future itself was a year old, so I was able to enter the program with some existing structure at the county level, even through our school’s involvement was new. It was a ton of startup work, but when it came to students CREATING and PRESENTING their work, well, let’s just say I enjoyed letting my 15 years experience pay off. They are the ones on stage, they had roles getting to it, and they’d been rewarded for their perseverance. All I had to do was pave the path for them, and stand back as they ran by me!

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This once-abandoned display case at school now houses the students’ inventions, journals, and materials for all to see. Most importantly, I filled it with books about endangered species, not just about coding and engineering.

Also, here’s our Spring 2019 Newsletter for our Middle School. Go Orange Team! I’m so proud of you!





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If I have an Undo, or moment I wish I could change about this experience – which I don’t, but if I did – it would be to involve more staff and actual engineers in the process. Since I’ve now seen a full cycle, I’d like to bring more community in to the process and see how students are learning to Invent their Future, and vice versa. Additionally, the science teacher in my pined for a room of the enthusiastic collaboration I saw in the engineering club. I’m trained to bring this into the science classroom, and yet in practice it’s not always this way. I’d like every science classroom to have the student-centered autonomous learning we experienced in Invent the Future. It’s why I started this career to begin with!

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.53 PMPart of the entry process for groups was to provide real-world problems and open-ended videos to help guide their thinking toward inventions. I started with this video on the Engineering Design Process, then assigned each interest group various videos like the ones enclosed. BirdsDeserts, Humans (below), etc. Finally, I included as much biomimicry independent research as possible.

Below are just some of entry videos used to capture each group’s ideas for current issues facing humans, insects, marine animals, deserts, etc.



Other resources:

Download & Thanks

This Adventure’s free download is an open-ended STEM Journal I created for both Blue and Orange Teams (Orange Team eventually kept their own journal). It’s aligned to the Kid Museum Markers of Success around Ideas, Solutions, and Presentations.

STEM Journal

The mission of is to engage teachers who are cultivating student-centered STEM classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright © 2019 Jess Rowell. All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

This Adventure is dedicated to Ms. Argentina Valencia, a beloved support staffer from our middle school campus, lost too soon. To me, she is forever a lesson to be kind to everyone, everyday.

Follow our adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike #kidmuseum #inventthefuture #wannastem

Adventures in Climate Science!

“I’m often asked whether I believe in global warming. I now just reply to the question, do you believe in gravity?”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

While playing a game of “Who can teach climate science better?” Kim won and I lost. It wasn’t a game we were playing for fun, or even knew we were playing at all. As you’ll find by the end of this Adventure, Kim and our friendship is centered around a sense of what’s right, good, and works. Oh, and she has to the best at wins just about any game she plays. Her loyalty to helping students and teachers is an inspiration and included as the free download. In return, please take our resources and teach climate science. Win, lose, or draw.

Resources in order through this SPECTRUM Acrostic

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I can’t speak for Kim, but I’m going to save the world by bringing students to STEM so they choose STEM careers and save us from ourselves. At the very least, I intend on cultivating millions of scientifically-literate citizens. As an 8th grade science teacher for an impacted middle school in the DC area, I try to do this by building student-centered opportunities, yet sometimes I wonder who is teaching who. We’ll get to issues around student engagement and restorative justice later. Right now, and I mean right now, we must talk about and teach climate change in the context of dynamic interactions of the atmosphere and biosphere. Global warming might be depressing, yet it’s the most valuable lesson I’ve taught this year (and I lost!). Sure, it may be challenging with student resistance, information overload, or in my case, data interpretation issues, but it was also the most rewarding process in spite of this. So… I won?

The metrics of success around teaching climate change are tricky. Progress means different things to different people. Is progress really measured by the amount of buildings we build or, ideally, forests we save? What about student progress while teaching climate change? It’s a depressing yet oddly rewarding process. Yet, what EXACTLY equals success when teaching climate science? This year, it’s the fact that we actually taught it at all, using graphs and charts. I thought, as a colleague recently counseled me,”done is enough.” Until I saw what Kim developed for her lesson.

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Who is Kim, anyway? Good question. She just came out of nowhere one day early in my work at Space Center Houston ten years ago. If you’re lucky enough to know someone like Kim, you understand how loyalty and honesty, let alone sheer strength, can and will transform your life forever.

Her loyalty to me came before our friendship. One day she just introduced herself to me, in between space classes for NASA’s many visiting groups, and that was it. Our work soon moved to Rice University’s aggressive curriculum building projects, and now finally to the classroom- hers in MA, mine in MD.

To say we have similar interests is redundant at best. While I was teaching international space school, she was running space day camps. While I was writing Biology curriculum, she was running its teacher feedback programs. While I was reading David Quammen’s Song of the Dodo, Kim was reading The Sixth Extinction. She’s the first person I called, yelling from a literal mountaintop, when I successfully defended my thesis in interactive reading passage development. We are the virtual Cagney and Lacey of curriculum development, the Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy of science education, the Grace and Frankie of STEM.

You’re almost caught up. There’s one last thing you need to know about Kim and I. We may be friendly, but we are fierce competitors. Well, she’s more competitive than I, so she wins this one, too. She may empower you more than any other human (because apparently she’s also the best at this), except she will also win any game placed in front of her, including out-teaching you. This year, it was 7th grade science using IQWST for her, and 8th grade science using a homespun curriculum for me (we had to skip climate change last year, so the playing field is level). Both in early NGSS-adoption states, we didn’t need to worry about whether we could teach climate change, just when and how we would teach it. Without planning it, our schedules synched up for the Weather and Climate units. Let the games begin.

Since my school had to abandon the climate change lesson last year during an already train wreck unit on Weather and Climate, I thought just teaching it at all was a win. Over the summer, we committed to not repeating this mistake and overhauled major portions of our calendar to allow for the lesson this year. Every curriculum improvement – from streamlining paper-usage and differentiating with scaffolds, enhancing language with less complexity and more relevance, and increasing culturally-proficiency and real-world scenarios with multimedia and literacy – was an effort to assure four valuable days of climate science. Our storyline reflected the conceptual flow of a scientist launching a rocket to explore not only our solar system, and also using extensive satellite imagery to inspect our own planet. I even made a word wall! Aren’t these strides in getting the Weather and Climate unit JUST TO par enough? Nope.

Improving the behind-the-scenes stuff is great, except to effectively teach climate change, you’re going to need much more than a more organized curriculum. The data, graphs, or even aiching stories of losses in biodiversity help instruction, but you’re going to need even more than that. You’re going to need literacy strategies, cooperative learning opportunities like PBL and ways for students to feel connected to the world around them.

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This is a commercial break for an upcoming Adventure to “Invent the Future.” I’m fortunate enough to run our school’s first-time involvementwith Kid Museum and the Montgomery County Public Schools. Together with 30 students from under-represented populations in STEM, we are bringing our inventions to “protect life on Earth” and showcase prototypes, journals, andamazing “Orange Team” collaborative spirit with all 40 middle schools in a Challenge Summit soon. Stay tuned!

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.13.45 PMIn a classroom intended to focus on graph interpretation during the most challenging time of year for 8th graders, I was instead immersed in an education for teaching and learning equity. Some schools are transforming to a restorative justice school, growth pains and all. Restorative Justice helps give all people a voice without holding anyone accountable. In my experience, it’s helped in some areas yet leads to unintended consequences in others, particularly in perceptions of race and equitable teaching practices. Here I was, just trying to teach the graphs for climate change, when I discovered how inaccessible the lesson was for all learners and how planning for both academics and behavioral progress is nearly equal this time of year. Here are the important lessons I’ve learned in this critical journey of teaching equitably:

  • The intent of action can make an unintended impact with individuals of any gender, race, or ethnicity. What seem like a small drop in a pond to one may seem like a tsunami for another (regardless of age).
  • The process of achieving equity needs to be transparent and issues need to be resolved quickly through early-intervention, but may not be. That said, sometimes things have a way of working themselves out over time.
  • We can’t confuse apathy for science with caring for learning in the class. Kids are constantly learning what’s in the room, regardless if they getting the science content.
  • Kids can’t learn science, let alone how to interpret a real-world graph on climate change, if they aren’t available to learn at all.

The wellness of students and educators – from cultural proficiency to trauma or character-building, is essential to learning. This humbling lesson has forced me to take a BIG step back and look at the landscape before me. I now see the journey I am beginning to empower empathy – for others and our environment – in all learners.

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Next stumbling block of my career – graphing instruction. I thought my passion on the topic would be enough for effective instruction. It wasn’t (Kim, meanwhile, has weekly graphing activators using a variety of data sets). If you made a Venn diagram for my passion and my competency of teaching graphing interpretation last month, you’d have two circles with no overlap, and it made me very sad.

We need more graphing instruction professional development for science teachers. Our PLC unpacked the NGSS standards for students identifying and describing evidence of changes in climate AND comparing the many figures provided by Climate Central from the curriculum. As we did, it became apparent students are being asked to appreciate the width of data available, not each topic at expert level. This is good, because our PLC had GREAT difficulty teaching even the SPECIFICS from graphs like the following. Wanna try?

I think the basic gist is clear from the graphs… yet in 8th grade concrete terms, it’s unclear how to explain them or get students to explain them, even with prompts and discussion. As a temporary solution, they listed figure names with summaries and ask questions.

This is a fine solution for now, but MUCH room for improvement in the future. Maybe that’s why I was so happy with Kim’s solution, the obvious winner today, and have included it below as the free download.

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” Margaret Mead

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This is not completely climate science-related, I’m throwing in a celebration for awareness and our environment! While serving on our campus’s School Energy and Recycling Team (SERT) Committee, I had a win by initiating the “Skip a Straw, Save a Turtle” coloring contest for all three grades. It was quick to build, easy to implement, and made the intended impact, plus some.

Here’s the 6th grade winner, pictured behind me:


Weeks after the contest was over, I walked into an art class where a 7th grade student shared with me her latest creation. It was her own watercolor rendition of a turtle in its ocean, soon-to-be uncluttered from straws.

This is progress measured one more aware student – and one less plastic straw – at a time. Also, what a great way to bring the art in STEM – full STEAM ahead!



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If you’re not careful (and you don’t have a Kim), it can be easy to fall into traps of doubt or regret. There will always be a parent, student, admin, family member, friend or peer who steps on your mojo, even inadvertently. I’ve learned there will be times where we feel well-supported or under-supported, betrayed even. The world’s getting smaller, we have less space to navigate on our own, so it’s all about how we treat ourselves and others when, not if, unfavorable things happen to us. Sometimes it will feels like adults and students give us a hard time, but they are just having a hard time. Big difference.

It might not always be easy to meet people where they are, but we’ll get there eventually, we just gotta try. If people take things away from you, take the lesson and run with it. It’s impossible to hold on to a loss anyway. So, if you eff up your first time teaching climate science, do it better next time. And if you really do fail at something, then be the best at it and make that shit a success.

This Undo is dedicated to the lesson of not only meeting kids where they are, but going to get them where they are. If they are all falling down at different points on the trail, I cannot wait patiently until they all arrive. I need to go pick up each and every one of them and teach each one separately while they get caught up on the trail. Every reading, video, and especially graph. Otherwise, they aren’t available to learn, no matter how patiently we wait. It’s a tooooouugh lesson to learn and stinks when you fail teaching it the first time, and it’s a very ‘sophomore slump’ type of lesson. Except it’s a valuable one to own and move on. Actually, not move on, per say, move forward.

“We have a single mission: To protect and hand on the planet to the next generation.”

Francois Hollande
President of France

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There’s a special section below for the many resources available to teach climate science, beyond the GLOBE, Bill Nye, National Geographic, and interactives available. If not enough resources are provided, please comment and we’ll post more. Climate science is a great way to hook everyone, and as you’ll see in Kim’s lesson, everyone can relate to it. It hits all modalities. Kim won, and now you can, too.

Download & Thanks

Get full student engagement with Climate Science From All Angles Lesson 2019, now available as a free download for us all.Many thanks and safe travels!

Special Segment: More Resources

NASA For Educators: Global Climate Change
Climate Resources for Educators

Alliance for Climate Education has a multimedia resource called Our Climate Our Future, plus more resources for educators and several action programs for youth.

The American Association of Geographers has free online professional development resources for teachers.

American Reading Co. sells an English Language Arts curriculum called ARCCore that includes climate change themes.

Biointeractive, created by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has hundreds of free online education resources, including many on education and the environment, and it offers professional development for teachers.

Climate Generation offers professional development for educators nationwide and a youth network in Minnesota.

CLEAN (Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network) has a collection of resources organized in part by the Next Generation Science Standard it is aligned with.

Global Oneness Project offers lesson plans which come with films and videos of climate impacts around the world.

Google offers free online environmental sustainability lesson plans for grades 5-8.

The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility has a group of 19 lessons for K-12.

“We believe that the social and emotional skills we help strengthen in young people and adults are sorely needed to combat the fear and avoidance we and students experience around climate change,” spokesperson Laura McClure told NPR.

The National Center for Science Education has free climate change lessons which focus on combating misinformation. They also have a “scientist in the classroom”program.

The National Science Teachers Association has a comprehensive curriculum.

The Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, N.Y., has a book called the Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change.

Ripple Effect “creates STEM curriculum” for K-6 “about real people and places impacted by climate change,” starting with New Orleans.

Ten Strands offers professional learning to educators in California in partnership with the state’s recycling authority and an outdoor-education program, among others.

Think Earth offers 9 environmental education units from preschool through middle school.

The Zinn Education Project (based on the work of Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History Of The United States) has launched a group of 18 lessons aimed specifically at climate justice. Some are drawn from this book: A People’s Curriculum For The Earth: Teaching Climate Change And The Environmental Crisis.

This Adventure is dedicated to my long-time colleague and daily inspiration, Kim C. Without her, I would not be able to navigate the world and its break-neck pace, let alone teach. Without planning it, we both put our money where our mouth is by returning to the classroom with over 25 years combined experience. I’ll speak for both of us; when it comes to teaching climate science, it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. It only matters that you play the game at all.

The mission of is to build and share opportunities for teachers which share journeys in cultivating STEM classrooms, one Adventure at a time. Site content and SPECTRUM acrostic copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved. Not responsible for any third-party content.

Follow our adventures with #thisiswhatstemlookslike

Do what’s right, good, and what works.

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.

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.”

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.

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.