Oct 20

How Much Change is Enough?

I’ve watched these two powerful videos, which seem to be meant to go together or at least were inspired by the same problem. The problem? Modern day schooling, which hasn’t changed enough to do right by our modern day students. It’s no secret that education, as a system, is slow to change. That even with pockets of creativity and outside-the-box innovation, school looks a lot now like it did in the early 1800’s. We are stuck in a factory model of educating classrooms full of kids that no longer has a place in a global, connected, networked world. These two videos bring to light some of the problems with continuing to educate our children the way many of us older, Gen X’ers, were educated (even the way some Baby Boomers were educated!), take a few minutes to watch them:





I have struggled with the desire to provide all my students a meaningful, relevant, fun experience while working in a system that still has children sitting in rows, listening to lectures, doing worksheets and taking multiple choice tests as the majority of their school experience. Every time I implement a change in the direction of 21st Century, student-centered learning the biggest push-back I get is from the students themselves! I’ve seen first hand how well schooling has indoctrinated students into thinking that school should be sit and listen, then complete a worksheet to be tested on later experience. I’ve had students ask me for that! My response is usually that it’s too easy to sit and listen, or tune out, and that I expect my students to actively learn by doing the work for themselves. What I see is that students are used to tuning out from the moment their first class starts until they get on the bus to go home. At home they are doing amazing things and using technology to look stuff up and learn things. Funny how when I record myself and provide students a Youtube video of me showing them how to do something they act as though they don’t know how to watch a video to do something! It boggles my mind until I think that this is what six years of schooling has done to a lot of our kids!

Even when I can convince the students that doing is the best way to learn and that the technology they are using will help them learn and give them valuable skills too, I still find myself falling back to things that are traditional forms of schooling! It drives me crazy but the reason I fall back to old fashion schooling techniques is because they work! I know, I know, they work but are they the best ways to educate our kids? I don’t know. If they learn at least it’s a minor win.

Besides having to go by a bell schedule and being ruled by the almighty bell, my students should have the freedom during my Science class to explore, do and learn Science. Yet year after year it’s my curriculum and projects that I’ve created that I have my students do. So what innovations I do are within that structure. I’ve gone back and forth every year now for the past few years as to whether to do some kind of genius hour and I always choose to skip it in favor of having kids engage in my curriculum and projects.

So no matter what I do, whether it’s give kids choice on how they access the content, allow them to work at their own pace, gamify my course, integrate technology, have them blog and use online discussion forums, use Google Classroom, take them to Mt Saint Helens, have them do real Science on our creek, brings gaming into the classroom, and try to connect with other classes I wonder if I’m doing enough! Am I making education relevant for my 6th graders? How can I reach them all and have them enjoy and take advantage of what school has to offer? Sometimes it feels like it’s all uphill. Maybe I would see more change if I could follow one class of students for all three years of their middle school career.

Yeah, if I had it my way, I would change a lot more of what I’m doing right now. I would love to team teach. Take two or three teachers, give them 60 or so students for two to three years, a multi-age model, and give them the freedom and autonomy to do what those 60 students are interested in. My preferred reality is to start with what we have here, in our community. See what the kids would like to tackle, some community issue or problem, and build a project-based curriculum around that issue or those issues.

So I don’t know. How much change is enough to benefit all our students?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/10/20/how-much-change-is-enough/

Oct 19

Diigo Links (weekly)

Here is another batch of awesome resources!

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/10/19/diigo-links-weekly-36/

Oct 18

What is STEM?

CC - Ton Rulkens

STEM? CC – Ton Rulkens

[Note: A mere few hours after publishing this post I check some old Diigo links that I had saved for a later read and stumbled upon this similar post, yet way more indepth, on STEM and Integration by Nigel Coutts! No way! WAY!]

I responded to a comment on a blog post I wrote here and my response got me thinking of the purpose of STEM.

Here’s the part of my response that got me thinking:
The more we embrace STEM, STEAM, STREAM, SHTEAM, whatever we call it, the more we mix and combine the CCSS-Math, CCSS-ELA, the NGSS, and any Social Studies standards. The mixing and blending of standards is perfect because what STEM calls for is integration to learn in the proper context. In school, especially secondary school, disciplines were separated to teach kids. I think it’s time to bring them all back together. Let them separate in higher ed, maybe for Masters or PhD work, where focusing is supposed to happen.

In the classroom history provides context, reading makes the information accessible, writing allows us to reflect and share what we are learning, and the Science guides us through making meaning with Tech and Math as tools for understanding. Add Engineering and we design solutions to the problems! It’s pretty awesome.”

So whatever you call this STEM, STEAM thing I keep hearing and repeating that it was never meant to leave out the humanities, reading, writing, or the arts. It’s all about sense-making.

So what do you think?

Does History provide a context?
Does Reading (or consuming media) provide us access to information/knowledge?
Does Writing (or creating media) allow us to reflect and share what we are learning?
Does Science guide us through asking and answering questions?
Are Math and Tech the tools to help us understand and answer our questions?
And does Engineering provide us the way to design solutions to our problems that we discover or create from all of the above??

And can all that be done in one classroom?!? (Isn’t that what Elementary teachers have been doing all along?)



When I first wrote about STEM back in 2011 I obviously didn’t get the whole integration thing! How embarrassing.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/10/18/what-is-stem-2/

Oct 17

CER Rubric

Originally posted here.

CC - Wikimedia Commons

CC – Wikimedia Commons

I don’t use rubrics very often and when it comes time to have students self-assess I prefer proficiency scales. When I last wrote about using CER, Claims – Evidence – Reasoning, for having students write experiment conclusions, I didn’t mention using a rubric to score their conclusions. A rubric for general CER’s didn’t make sense because students and I assessed their experimental conclusions based on each individual experiment. If the experiment was comparing the amount of time batteries are charged to the amount of time a flashlight stays lit, the CER will look different and be assessed differently than for an experiment looking at how different surfaces affect the sliding friction force of a wooden block.

But what if what we’re assessing is our students’ ability to write claims, provide evidence for the claims and then explain how their evidence supports the claims? This is what my 6th grade PLC is doing as part of collaboration TPEP work. The Humanities Teacher, the Math Teacher, and I, the Science Teacher, are all having our students write using CER!

When I met with my principal and he asked how we were going to compare how well our students are writing their CERs across our different content areas I shared a CER rubric I found somewhere a few years ago. I hate to admit it but I can’t remember where I found it! I just did a quick Google search for CER rubric and found a lot of samples, not the exact one I’m sharing here so if anyone knows where I got this from please leave me a comment so I can give them credit for using their rubric. This one seems perfect for 6th graders to use as they self-assess their CERs. We’ll see how well it works out once we start looking at student work! Here’s a link to the CER Rubric if you can’t see the embedded Google Doc below (remember to go to File, Make a Copy, to save a copy for yourself on your Google Drive).

Here’s a link to the CER document I use with students and here’s the one I use with sentence starters to help scaffold the writing.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/10/17/cer-rubric/

Oct 14

NGSS Science Shifting

Originally posted here.

Time for NGSS Shifts!

I wrote a series of posts on the shifts in teaching called for in the Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) standards. Now it’s time to look at the shifts called for by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) because they are looking to change the way teachers teach Science and the ways students learn Science.

The NGSS has a document called A New Vision for Science Education where they outline the shifts required to truly implement the next generation of Science standards in our classes. I like the way they laid out the document as it’s easy to read. Looking at the examples they give, the NGSS is really just making sure we are using 21st Century strategies that are most likely to prepare our students for THEIR future and NOT OUR past. I’m all over these shifts!


Science standards of the past, at least in WA state, focused a bit too heavily on facts. Focusing on facts makes it easy to assess “learning” because you can assume students are learning those facts with multiple choice type assessments. Multiple choice type assessments are not very accurate at showing what learners actually know and they are not the best way to show learning of Science (we need to be careful what we do with the data collected from multiple choice assessments)! Focusing on facts leads to instruction that focuses on memorization. Also not the best way to learn to DO Science. Personally, I think any Science assessment needs to have an experimental segment where kids are working in teams coming up with questions, designing procedures and coming up with answers to their questions based on the results of their experimentation.

I am impressed with the way the NGSS are organized on their website. The NGSS does something no other Science standards I’ve worked with did, they have what they call the three dimensions. Science teachers who have been working with the NGSS know this all too well. I myself need repetition to really get something so I need to go over this again and again.

First, there are the DCI’s or Disciplinary Core Ideas, let’s call this one the first dimension of the NGSS. Those are the actual Science standards most of us are familiar with because they are the Science content students should be learning. When searching the standards through the DCI’s one finds that there are three Earth Science DCI standards. Let’s take Middle School Earth Science Standard 2 http://www.nextgenscience.org/dci-arrangement/ms-ess2-earths-systems:

Earth Systems is the big idea that can be broken down into more detailed DCI’s like this:


Next, the NGSS included Cross Cutting Concepts or CCC’s, which I will the second dimension. These concepts go across all the the Science disciplines and are even relevant in other disciplines. For example, the Earth Systems standard includes the following CCC’s:


Finally, there are the Science and Engineering Practices or SEP’s, the third dimension. Integrating Engineering into Science is a huge addition to these new standards. I don’t remember any Engineering in any of the Science standards I have worked with. Here are the SEP’s for the Earth Systems standard:


The Earth System standard, MS-ESS2 has six performance expectations of ways students can show understanding of the standard. Here’s is one standard that most closely aligns to our study of Mt Saint Helens, the second standard in the series:

Here’s where the writers of these standards did some amazing work; they embedded a DCI along with an SEP and a CCC into every single performance expectation! I know, I still think it’s brilliant. And if you use the website you can mouse over every performance expectation and see what part is the DCI, the SEP and the CCC!

Check it out.
The DCI part:


The CCC part:


The SEP part:


They are pretty cool! Go try it out!

So you’re ready to align your curriculum to the NGSS1 or you are going to create a new NGSS unit2. How do you start it? Start with a phenomenon! This is right from the Using Phenomena in NGSS-Designed Lessons and Units, “Natural phenomena are observable events that occur in the universe and that we use our science knowledge to explain or predict. The goal of building knowledge in science is to develop general ideas, based on evidence, that can explain and predict phenomena. Engineering involves solutions to problems that arise from phenomena, and using explanations of phenomena to design solutions. In this way, phenomena are the context for the work of both the scientist and the engineer.” You know, this reminds me of INTO activities that teachers have used to hook their students into a new unit of study. It makes sense to give students something that starts them thinking about the topic they are going to study to start the inquiry process! Just make sure that your phenomena are such that can lead to deeper inquiry throughout your unit.

The reason I start the year with Mt Saint Helens is one of the best reasons ever: I get to take my 6th graders to Mt Saint Helens early in the year! It’s part of our Camp Cispus three-day and three-night 6th grade trip. Talk about starting with a phenomenon!

Here we are at Windy Ridge facing Mt Saint Helens!


Here we are looking at the crater from Spirit Lake!


We lucked out and got the most gorgeous day EVER!

Here’s the famous video pieced together from the photographs that survived the eruption the moment Mt Saint Helens erupted! Thank goodness the photographers were right there to get those pictures or countless generations would only see it via animated models.

So I took the MS-ESS2 standard, specifically the performance expectation MS-ESS2-2, using the volcano as the geoscience process and ask students the following question breaking down the performance expectation to scaffold their writing:
Explain how geoscience processes (volcanoes are an example of a geoscience process) usually behave gradually (meaning slowly) but are punctuated by catastrophic events?
Construct an explanation based on evidence you have learned in class for how Mt Saint Helens has changed Earth’s surface at varying times and spatial scales (spatial scales mean areas close to the volcano, farther away, and really far away) since 1980.

Every performance expectation has a support called evidence statements that you can use to make a rubric or proficiency scale. (I prefer the concept of proficiency scales over rubrics.) Here’s the proficiency scale I put together for Mt Saint Helens.

Students use this website from the USGS to gather evidence of how Mt Saint Helens changed the surface of the Earth back in 1980 as well as since then through repeated eruptions and expulsions of lava in the crater where the lava dome is growing and growing.

Not a perfect lesson or activity but it’s one of my attempts at helping my students learn Science NGSS-style. We’re all learners in this wonderful journey. 🙂


1. I’ve been told that aligning existing curriculum to NGSS is not the best but being 100% honest, it’s less time consuming than the creating curriculum from scratch. Our job is hard enough without having to be curriculum designer AND teacher (I work in a small district where we don’t have a curriculum person; we all have to do that for ourselves or for our departments). Go Back.


2. Until they come out with NGSS aligned curricula, which I hear there are some out there right now, many teachers are creating their own, which is a huge burden, especially on teachers who teach multiple subjects. Go Back.









Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/10/14/ngss-science-shifting/

Oct 10

Diigo Links (weekly)

More excellent resources and great reads!

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/10/10/diigo-links-weekly-35/

Oct 03

Medals for All vs Medals for Finishing

License: Free For Non-Commercial Use Author: Limpa

License: Free For Non-Commercial Use
Author: Limpa

I started watching this season of Survivor. I’ve always liked Survivor and reality games like that because it appeals to the part of me that likes to see how people act in out of the ordinary situations. I did major in psychology in college after all. This season they are pitting Millennials against Gen X’ers. As a Gen X’er I’m curious how this season will play out. I’m also seeing just how old Millennials are getting! I was talking to my 13 year old, 8th grade, daughter about it and she was wondering if she fit under Millennial or Gen Z. She was actually happy and I think identifies more with Gen Z!

While watching the player interviews one Gen X’er said something I’ve been hearing and reading about, how Millennials are enabled and spoiled by getting trophies for participation without having earned the trophies. There are people who are bothered when kids play a sport and everyone gets a trophy for coming out and playing. Traditionally, the trophy has been reserved only for the winners, and the top or overall winners at that.

I think about stuff like that. I tend to think that if kids are young enough, maybe getting a trophy for playing can be all right but I’m just not sure. The whole concept of competition is that there will be winners, or a winner, and losers. When it comes to education and the things we do in schools, cooperation and collaboration help kids learn better than competition very often. Sometimes a little competition is fun and livens up a lesson so I’m not opposed to competition entirely.

But last weekend I was running a 10K race and overheard a man talking to his wife about running the race. The man told his wife, “Just don’t come in last.”

“Why not?” She replied, then said something like, “I just want to finish and if I do, even if I come in last, I still met my goal.”

That put quite a bit into perspective for me. I like to run races. It’s great being around so many people who also like to run and I get my best times when I run with other runners. I am not good enough to win any of the races I run. There are many, many people out there who are way better and faster than me. In many races only 1st, 2nd and 3rd place runners get prizes but in many of those races everyone who finishes the race gets a medal. I think that no matter where you are in your running, whether you are just getting started and finishing is your top goal or whether you’ve been running for a while and looking to beat your best time, completing the race is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Here are some medals I’ve gotten that mean a lot to me even though I was nowhere near “winning” those races:

I’ve run a bunch of 5K’s and 10K’s but two of the races handed out medals and I have them with pride. The half marathon medal is the only one I’ve ever run so that one is unique. I’m working towards running my second half this year.

These are medals for completing two 5K Zombie Infested runs. Those were fun. Notice the medals say Infected. I didn’t “win” by any means. I finished the run but had all my flags taken by zombies which means I was technically infected. “Winning” would have meant finishing the run with at least one flag left.

These medals I got for completing four virtual runs on the game that started me on the path of running, Zombies, Run! A virtual race is one you run alone but are still competing with everyone else running the race. The game and phone GPS keeps track of your time and distance. I ran a 5K and a 10K for the 2015 and the spring 2016 races. It was fun and I was nowhere near a top speed but I still appreciate the medals and they mean something to me. I did happen to get good times, especially considering that I was running alone.

This one shows a series of digital badges I got on MapMyRun (another app I use to track all my running). I joined a challenge to run 1,000Km in 2016 called You vs the Year. After a calf tear last summer I was ready to get back into running this year. I was amazed that I reached 1,000Km before the year is even over! So those digital badges, especially the last one, mean a lot to me. There are lot of better runners out there, I am in 13,834th place overall! But comparing me to me, I am a complete winner! The You vs the Year group on Facebook is a very supportive and encouraging group populated with top runners all the way to beginning runners. No matter where you are we are all in it together and can help each other.


So yeah, there are times when everyone who participates getting a medal is completely appropriate. Maybe this works in running because it is mostly a solitary sport. I don’t know. I just know that the medals I have, and the bibs for all my races, remind me of what I overcame to become a runner. Every race I finish is a win for me. And for some of our students, every “race” they finish, whether it’s writing an essay or trying their best on a test, is a definite win for them. Does that mean they should get medals and trophies for all that? I don’t think so, but every now and then, giving everyone a medal for completing something that requires work and effort and maybe even training, is okay. I keep remembering that for those of us who aren’t intrinsically motivated to complete a task, an extrinsic motivator can at least get us started on it and we may even become intrinsically motivated after trying it!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/10/03/medals-for-all-vs-medals-for-finishing/

Oct 02

Diigo Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/10/02/diigo-links-weekly-34/

Sep 25

Diigo Links (weekly)

Here are some more excellent resources:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/09/25/diigo-links-weekly-33/

Sep 23

Setting Up Science Notebooks

Post originally published here.
img_9061I can’t believe that we’re already at the end of our third week of the new school year! The first two weeks are a blur and I feel like we’re just starting to get into Science now!

I didn’t want to talk too much the first week of school, which were only four days due to Labor Day weekend. I learned it was a bad habit when on one end of the year survey several students commented about how much I talked on the first day of school. Yeah, kids were commenting about the first day of school in June! I used to talk so much that they never got over it!

So this year I added more activities to my Intro Prezi because on day 1 I still gave myself a lot to say. So I started with a paper puzzle activity on day one and then the famous Marshmallow Challenge after that (I’ve been starting with the Marshmallow Challenge, the paper puzzle activity was new for me this year and it was great!). Both were fun and engaging!

The second week of school the 6th grade team, along with a LOT of help since there are only three of us, took most of our students on a four-hour bus drive to Camp Cispus near Randle, WA in the gorgeous Gifford Pinchot National Forest for a three-and-a-half day and three night camping/outdoor education experience! That was an exciting week!

So this week, our third week together, I was finally ready to get my students started on setting up their Science notebooks. Even though I use an online Learning Management System (LMS) and all my students have access to devices in room to make use of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) including Google Classroom, having a notebook is essential. I haven’t been able to go completely paperless. I attended a training this summer as part of my Olympic STEM Pathways Partnership (OSPP) work and learned a couple of new handy dandy tricks to make notebooking in my Science classes go even more smoothly than ever. That is really great because it has not been going smoothly! Kids do strange things when working in their notebooks! I was a bit astonished to find many 6th graders skip pages and do not go in order when working in their notebooks. It makes finding notes and data a nightmare! I also started using Science Openers at the beginning of class and noticed too late that kids were mixing their openers with their lab notes, observation and data!

Another problem I find is that when kids put handouts in their notebooks and do not have glue sticks or forget to glue them in, they fall out very easily. So this year I got kids started setting up their notebooks then made available the following video to allow them to finish setting up their notebooks at their own pace. The video is on my LMS so all my students have access to it.


Now kids are putting handouts in the back of their notebooks!


Actual student notebooks!

We haven’t put ribbons in to use as bookmarks yet but I’m looking forward to that. No more seeing kids flip through countless pages to find where they left off the day before! Well, one can hope. 🙂


At the OSPP training they bought us each a copy of Writing in Science in Action. It is full of ideas for fully integrating notebooking into your Science classes. I haven’t read through all of it but the parts we used at the summer training were quite helpful.


So if you’re looking a couple of new notebooking ideas I hope the ribbon bookmark and the back of notebook pocket can help.

What notebooking tips and tricks do you have?

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2016/09/23/setting-up-science-notebooks/

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