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.

“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 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 🙂

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.

Adventures in Math!

That’s all well and good in practice, but how does it work in theory?

-Shmuel Weinberger

Things are looking up! If you’re a linear equation with a positive slope, that is… OK, no math jokes for me. For the first time in 12 years, I’m tackling an issue that’s been bothering me. What does it take to succeed in math education? A perfectly rational question… It’s taken daily practice, determination, and patience to find an answer, and I’m only getting started.

Resources in order of the SPECTRUM Acrostic

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Science…or math? “Wait,” I ask myself as I sit down to write my science and STEM education blog, “I don’t understand. This adventure is about… math?” Yes, math. “Except, isn’t this about adventures from a science teacher cultivating student-centered classrooms in STEM? Yes, and today we’re talking math. Math. Besides, “Mpectrum” doesn’t quite work, so let’s just roll with this.


Dominic Walliman.

Math, other than being the obvious character playing the “M” in STEM, is the language that science speaks. It’s the ball of sports – imagine trying to play football or basketball without the ball. One simply cannot do science without math. Science teachers use math to teach the math-y parts of science, like density or light years or population growth. Yet, at least in my experience, I don’t see a lot of science teachers who are certified to teach math or vice versa. Does this seem right to you?

This is a question I do not know the answer to. Knowing how involved teaching science is, I don’t automatically expect science teachers to get certified in math. Maybe they shouldn’t be. They are different professional disciplines, after all, supported by different administration and professional development conferences. They use different types of curriculum and are held to different knowledge and skills standards. As a member of several science education organizations, I can barely keep up with my own kind. Still, my heart aches as I hear math teachers complaining their students refuse to work on gravity “because it is science.” My man Einstein would, of course, disagree. I do hope there are science teachers like me who want to do more math/science integration and vice versa. More than any other combinations of subjects, I believe science and math need to be firmly integrated into teacher and student education. The trouble is, I have no idea where to start.

img_4580Once, through my alma mater at the University of Montana, we worked with the math education preservice teachers to build an integrated unit. Helpful exercise, sure, but it went unpracticed in the classroom and therefore quickly forgotten. Thanks to the direct integration of Common Core State Standards for Math through the Next Generation Science Standards, curriculum programs can better embed the needed math needed for each grade level in science. Yet that’s only for states that have adopted NGSS, right? Even with the uprising STEM education has established throughout the US, I’m concerned about the competency level a typical teacher needs to achieve to seamlessly combine subjects through a single unit, let alone with a whole school year.

Students measuring flag panels to scale in order to build flags for the exterior of the United Nations.

Students measuring flag panels to scale in order to build flags for the exterior of the United Nations.

The last couple months I’ve been working in several middle school math classes, humbled by 8th-grade linear equations and quadratic functions, rushed to recall distributive properties in 7th-grade algebra, yet relieved that two-step equations came back like riding a bike. It’s been awhile since I’ve completed these subjects as a student, let alone tackled as a teacher if not directly tied to scientific content. Do all teachers feel like this? I caught a break today and was able to work with students to calculate the composite area with each panel of various international flags as though they were ordering the material for manufacturing the exterior of the United Nations. Areas of rectangles, triangles, and circles…

Fortunately, STEM is a great place to start. Thanks to a gaining presence for STEM education and career awareness in recent years, I get encouragement from this push for interdisciplinary studies. Groups like the Maryland STEM Festival, National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), and professional development with programs like NAGT are doing a lot with effective integration.

Yet, I recently discovered with my very own eyes a disconnect between science and math middle school education. I speculate that we are widely varied in our competency levels for not just math and science integration, but STEM integration as a whole.

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What does a quality program for learning how to teach science and math look like? I recently came across a 7th class where science and math are combined. “Sometimes it’s double science, sometimes it’s double math, other days it’s separate. It just depends on what we are studying,” students explained when I asked them what their week looks like.

These magnet 7th grade students were conducting a collaborative investigation where they used shared data to answer questions on digestion including “What is the effect of being a vegetarian on calcium intake? Vitamin A?” “What is the effect of the average of weekly fast food on the average American’s fat intake?” and my personal favorite, “How does the time of day affect calcium intake in middle school? Carbohydrate intake?” They used Google sheets filled with anonymous data from their peers, Google slides to create presentations based on their data interpretation, and other multimedia to demonstrate their claim.

Closer to my answer, I met with their teacher and asked him what his goals were and how he thinks this type of approach can grow in the future. Mr. Greg Young, an administrator, and National Board Certified science teacher at Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown, Maryland, is in his first year of implementing the new science/math combined course for the campus. Because his background is in middle school education, with certifications in both secondary math and middle school science, he’s always approached science, math and engineering teaching with a combined focus. Before I forget, here is a Competency based curriculum, reflecting on practices in other countries than USA, just placing here for future notes.

“This is what I should be doing. [Since] we teach in such an isolated world, we are quick to forget that there is a world of millions of people trying to do the same thing we are. I know I’m hitting the right swings.”

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Soon, Mr. Young will begin an astronomy unit that will study the frequencies of radio telescopes and look at data from radio towers to prove the shape of the Milky Way Galaxy. Students will respond to a Request for Proposals to the National Radio Astronomical Association with to acquire time and data collection capacity on the giant telescopes. They will use multivariable quadratic equations and graphs to investigate measurable elements and molecules such as hydrogen, glucose, chlorophyll and water. It’s all part of the science of looking for life, “and we are looking at elements that are searchable through the universe. In all my prior teaching, I could imply a connection between subjects for students, but this is the first time I’m able to make a direct connection with them.I feel like I am at the beginning of a big wave.”

img_4578His students studying health in the example above were using overlapping skills for finding explanations in science and solutions in engineering. According to the NGSS Science & Engineering Practice “Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking,” they were using computers to work with large data sets and use mathematical representations (mean, mode, and median) to support or refute their claim. According to NGSS’ Appendix J, “During the middle school and high school years, students develop a number of powerful quantitative tools, from rates and proportional relationships to basic algebra and functions, to basic statistics and probability.” I like to make fun of science when I teach engineering. Context is everything, especially graphing and units. I always teach science with an engineering lens.”

Creating everything from scratch, Mr. Young is meeting all county benchmarks and students are completing their Quarterly Assessments for math and Common Tasks for science on schedule. He’s found lots of connections between the subjects, starting with bacterial and exponential growth and experiential design. When students are collecting their own data, and presenting it, they are engaged in inquiry – it doesn’t matter if they are in math or science. Students must explain standard deviation, p-value, and the overall value of their data in their statistical analyses. “Two plus two does not equal four. Two apples and two oranges do not equal four apples. Units are important,” Mr. Young reminds his students that numbers mean nothing without context and units of measurement.

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After primarily teaching science for 20 years, Mr. Young seems excited about the potential from this combined approach pilot. “I’ve always approached teaching from an integrated perspective, but have never had the opportunity to do both. I was always told that I should remain with one Professional Learning Community, either science or math. But not both,” said Mr. Young. “It wasn’t until last year, while at a training, that we just happened to have a conversation with the math chair, magnet center coordinator, and assistant principal that allowed us to begin this project.”

What about regular science and math programs on the same campus? While true integration has its merits, it might be more feasible to work with science and math teachers to create integrated units through the school year. What does your school do? What do you prefer? I want to hear from you.

I spoke with Mr. Ben Stano, a middle school math and science teacher, currently teaching 6th-grade science. On how to effectively integrate concepts and skills? “A good example of successful math integration in 6th grade science is using computer simulation with bar graphs with models of watersheds. It’s an easy interpretation from evapotranspiration to infiltration, and using simulations means they could easily check their own work. Arithmetic was not well represented, and I think it should be better represented.” When students reach for a calculator to finish their science assignment, “they are applying concepts without quite realizing it.”

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Integration does provide a certain flexibility and an approach that is likely teaching the teacher just as much as the students. “This is a drop in the bucket of what it could be if it’s done right. If you just give teachers a chance to naturally integrate and not segregate, there are lots of connections. We’ve spent so much time separating disciplines, now kids think that everything is different.”

When asked how he recommended for campuses to adopt this approach, he remarked, “it’s a structural philosophy that requires more than just teachers to get on board. It requires the support from the whole administration. I’m loyal to this campus, and it’s been loyal to me. I’ve never found a principal who was willing to try this before.”

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As for communicating the results from his research? “If I could communicate what we’re doing here, through a presentation of the data we’ve collected and gains among the students, then perhaps we could get district-wide encouragement to get more teachers involved. But we have to start with one school first.”

Both the US Department of Education and the National Science Foundation have Math Science Partnerships. Doesn’t this mean that there is funding available for more integration?

How would Mr. Young recommend young professionals proceed through this challenge? “Don’t quit. Don’t stop trying. I’m a bit of a stick in the mud, and I’m loyal to a fault. I will make it work here, this is the school where I started and will probably retire from 25 years from now. If I can convince my department chairs that this works out, show evidence of connections and successes, then maybe I can get another teacher to do it with me. Maybe I can start to build something.”

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As for me, I’m still stumbling along, teaching my various math and science middle school classes and helping out elsewhere when I can. I see students struggle, I cringe when I see math curriculum in standard measurements and science in metric. I regret not getting involved with this predicament 12 years ago when I got started in this field, but I like so many others got a degree and teaching certificate in science, not math. I’m just as guilty.

I’ve learned this. Provide context. No one can make sense of their world, or what you’re trying to teach them – be it music, math, history, English, PE, Spanish, or media – if they don’t have context. When we just threw the definition of density = mass/volume in front of those poor 6th graders in fall without coordinating the scope and sequence with the math teachers, we really did those kids a disservice. Perhaps with a bit more context, students can model this approach for us. This also goes for consistent units of measure, as Mr. Stano confirms, “This needs to be more cohesive. We could teach density AFTER students see the match concept, and we can put more thought into the science from a conceptual perspective. The logic that you’re asking to apply should match with the logic you are teaching them.”

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Since I have no idea where to start, I did some basic searches and included them here, both elementary and secondary. As always I’m including science/math/music by Herbie Hancock because this reference spans so many great topics. Somehow I found this blog, make what you will but it’s got some interesting headlines. And this newsletter has some great links to STEM organizations.

There’s so much more I wanted to cover in this adventure. Graphing, argumentation, assessment, solving problems (single and multi-step), and more. I realize now this is not an adventure, but an ongoing process in a journey unlike any other. I’ll be back, but for now I must move forward.

Site content copyright 2017 Full Circle J. Productions, LLC.
Not responsible for any third-party content. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures in Gains and (Habitat) Losses!

The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.

– Edward Teller

What do habitat loss, land use, and tropical rainforests have in common? What I taught this week. Allow me to explain.

Resources in order of this SPECTRUM Acrostic

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.07.13 PMBack with my 6th graders for a week, we jumped into to some pressing topics including endangered species and how they are affected by habitat loss, land use and the unsustainable farming practices from the Dust Bowl, and the products from tropical rainforests. Still new to the scope and sequence of this NGSS aligned curriculum in Maryland, I’m along for the ride through these seemingly disconnected concepts, but quickly got the hang of the goal this week. Connecting these concepts allows students to bring local and global actions in environmental use together, with lessons on how humans interact with the environment over time. Just before I began with this class, they completed a survey on endangered species using the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Redlist Species List. They then completed a reading on the driving factors pushing habitat loss including agriculture, deforestation, and degradation. Gloom and doom stuff for sure, except for this.

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It hit me as I was showing a Dust Bowl video and trying to give more context to the otherwise bland material provided (two-page article with no images or sensory input). The idea was still churning as we moved from Dust Bowl imagery to Google Earth Engine time-lapse satellite images showing how land use has changed globally since 1984. The seed of my idea finally germinated when we settled into making observations on a University of Maryland Earth Engine partner site’s deforestation satellite data products on forest gain, loss, and extent in various global and local points. Finally, I vocalized it with my students. Technology, particularly satellite imagery. We didn’t have this kind of technology during the Dust Bowl. We didn’t have the promise in massive banks of sensor data from space, air, and ground available to use to make decisions about land use and sustainable practice. But we do now, and the kiddos in my room are a prime age to embrace STEM careers and technology to make those decisions moving forward. Sure we can learn from the agriculture crisis and lessons from the 1940s, but we can equally learn from the potential energy of knowledge stored in the classroom every day. How do we leverage that power?

Students created business cards. This one stood out. “Make the environment great again.”

To carry the theme of my idea, I asked students to create their own business card after they turned in their weekly assessment. Some had never heard of a business card, others hooked the idea right away, skipping back to their desk with ideas. Most enjoyed being given a free and creative endeavor. This business card, in particular, stood out to me.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.12.45 PMUsing the above sites from Google Earth Engine was a nice start to addressing engineering practices through the use of technology, but there’s so much more we can be doing. In this unit, students design and create a solution called “Going Green,” which addresses sustainable practices for all ages. We’ll focus on that next week. In the meantime, here is a great resource on teaching endangered species and biodiversity from – I I hope I can do this in the classroom soon!

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As a rotating teacher for this campus, I’m in a lot of different classrooms every week. I’ve made a career out of it the last few months, teaching all grades and all topics. A basic observation I’ve made, other than how messy most of them are, is that they are not set up to be student-centered. Perhaps regular supplies are available (pencils, sharpeners, hold-punches, colored pencils, etc.), but not learning supplies. Books may be out for students, but they are scattered in bins or in sparse piles. Scientific supplies are carefully stored in the storage rooms, out of reach of the unsupervised room of adolescents untrained in caring for equipment on a daily basis. Even demo supplies like bins for model-making are absent or scattered along the classroom to look like litter. Often I’ve observed that in the effort of safety and classroom management, the room is void of decoration or student-produced work. It’s been tough, and this classroom is no different. I’ll save the topic of creating student-centered classrooms to promote classroom engagement for a future topic, but it’s on my mind more than usual.

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In one week, we combined the concepts on habitat loss, land use regarding unsustainable farming practices using the dust bowl as an example, and tropical rainforests. Because I’m brand new to this district, and state for that matter and NGSS is still a relatively new curriculum for them, I don’t always get to see the big picture and I’m often inspired to add features that may not have been written in the plan, like lessons from the Department of Natural Resources or the National Wildlife Federation. It made me realize that we as teachers rely on curriculum to feed the basic structure of lessons to students.

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Here is something I did to quickly change the culture in some really poorly functioning classes I’ve seen to date. Knowing my time with these students is short and praying for some grace under pressure, I started a daily “self” sheet. In lieu of a content warm up, we began each period with students adding to four categories for self-reflection on a blank sheet. Each day, we added to the following boxes:

Box 1 – Get to Know You
Box 2 – Guiding Question
Box 3 – Reflections on Learning
Box 4 – Goals for Learning

Each day, I’d pass out their sheet with different comments from me in varying colors, and they would add more guided writing in each box. Day 1 including favorite food and color (so I could learn their names quickly), guiding questions on how habitat loss affects endangered species or other scientific questions that students produced independently, reflections on what they’d learned the week prior and listing one academic and non-academic goal. After Day 1, I wrote comments on each sheet and learned their names overnight through pneumonic association with color and food. After Day 2, I continued to write comments in a different color pen. By Days 3 and 4, students knew exactly how their day would begin with me, and who doesn’t want to begin by talking about themselves? This ended up being an incredible effective management tool emphasizing academic and behavioral accountability in students, as well as a direct 1:1 relationship between us that otherwise cannot happen in the zoo of the class period. Wow.

Finally, on Day 5, they reflected on how their week with me. But I didn’t collect them on Day 5. I gave homework instead.

Homework. The lost frontier. My philosophy about homework is that it should cross multiple modalities, emphasize student choice and individuality, incorporate family and community by choice, and extend a love of learning (if not learning itself) outside the classroom in off hours, especially science and its infinite reach. Above all, it should be fun and something I don’t have to grade. Sure, a little Pavlov is mixed in, but students can choose what they will do. For a tic tac (or Tic Task as I call them now), they can turn in their daily sheet with a recorded observation of a phenomenon outdoors. For one small candy, they can attempt to answer their Guiding Questions through the week. For a chance to grab from the Parent Grab Bag (filled with rewards in choosing songs, videos and fun chores in the class), they may choose to get their parents’ signature and comments or questions. Notice they elect to do this without knowing what the reward is, a touch I thought kept things fair for all students regardless of their home life, and this concept was repeatedly expressed as optional. To continue our conversation about jobs, they can add questions about jobs in exchange for helping me pass out papers (why do students love to do that?!?). The bonuses are unrewarded but listed as reminders of how they can always improve, including teasers on events in the natural world that they can research on their own, like the Azure Arch’s fall in Malta due to a big storm. We’ll see what comes up on Monday.

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.43.14 PMIf I could undo anything, it’s the amount of paper that’s used to print the curriculum in this district. I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut about this since I’m new, but I find great irony in teaching about deforestation to tweens with piles of unused handouts surrounding every science teacher on the campus. Is it a consequence of migrating away from textbooks? Do teachers internalize their stress or are they as bothered by it as I am? Are they trying to roadmap their week to create double-sided documents efficiently? Are the curriculum providers supporting them focusing on paper-reduction? What can I do to help fix this problem?

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Media makes the teacher, curriculum writer, media producer, aunt and friend in me happy. This week was just about sharing it as much as possible to bring life into the classroom. Exciting wildlife film teasers like Planet Earth II. We need that kind of inspiration in our world, no matter who we are or what is happening in our world. And because I teach sixth graders this week, I threw in some fun humor. It is, of course, what we all need during times like these.

Site content copyright 2017 Full Circle J. Productions, LLC.
Not responsible for any third-party content. All Rights Reserved.