May 07

Diigo Links (weekly)

Yes! More amazing resources from this past week! Check these out:

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

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Apr 30

Diigo Links (weekly)

Here are this week’s amazing links:

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

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Apr 25

How Do You Engage Your Students?

This post was originally published on the CORELaborate blog!

Do kids already have grit??
A comment left on Kristen’s Movement in the Classroom post by Carina struck a chord with me. In her comment, Carina wrote, “If my students need a break from our learning every 10 minutes, what am I teaching? How can I make it more engaging and/or meaningful?” This post is not to discredit or in any way deny that humans, both adults and children, need movement and brain breaks! This post is just me questioning whether what I am having my students do in school is engaging and meaningful enough to them. I believe the questions we ask ourselves about the engagement level of the tasks we are asking of our students are important questions! We can argue if the things we are having our students do in school have to be engaging or meaningful to them or not but the truth is that if those tasks are not engaging and meaningful to students, some students will disengage. Carina mentions a post written by John Spencer where he makes an excellent point, when kids are doing something they really like, they do NOT have attention span difficulties. When kids are doing something they like, they will focus for extended periods of time. In John’s post he gives six strategies for cultivating creative focus in our students in class. He’s got some great ideas there. So that made me wonder about the kind of grit and perseverance our kids already have.

Ken Whytock - Some Rights Reserved

Ken Whytock – Some Rights Reserved

Is it all about Engagement?
How to make learning more engaging so that ALL my students are working and producing occupies a lot of my thinking! In a standards-based classroom environment, students can meet any given standard when they are ready there’s no such thing as losing points for learning later than others. Once a student meets standard, that student has met standard just like everyone else. Even then I still have students who do not meet all the standards. They have more time if they need it but they don’t all take advantage of that. We might say that the students who didn’t meet standard and quit trying to meet standard are lacking perseverance or grit. What John Spencer noticed about focus, I notice about perseverance and grit. All this perseverance and grit stuff works really well for things we like and/or are already good at. Kids DO have grit, perseverance, AND can focus for extended periods of time ON THINGS they love! We present perseverance and grit to our students sometimes as if they don’t have it or they don’t know what it is all about but that’s not the issue or problem. So the strategies we need, the real question we are seeking to answer, is how to do we motivate our students to do things that we deem as important for them that they don’t necessarily WANT to do themselves? It isn’t just about having grit or perseverance, it’s about having grit and perseverance to do things they don’t want to do. Or, it will have to be about changing what we have our students do so they will do things they can persevere through!

Compliance or Empowerment?
Some kids do what we ask in our classes and they do so regularly. They trust us and believe that what we are asking them to do will actually help them get the future they want. For the most part, these kids often find that they are good at the things we are asking them to do in our classes so it makes it easier for them to do those things. That is not true for all of our students. Some kids don’t seem to find that what we’re asking them to do is worthwhile or not worth their while. They might try some of what we ask them to do, but won’t persevere because it’s just not interesting enough. If they struggle with the tasks we are asking them to complete, it’s even worse. I have always found it amazing that some kids would rather sit and do nothing than engage in what the other kids in class are doing. So Carina’s question, how do I make what I’m teaching more engaging and meaningful to my students, is the question indeed in my humble opinion.

Ken Whytock - Some Rights Reserved

Ken Whytock – Some Rights Reserved

Is Genius Hour THE Way??
So I wonder, does that mean that all those schools that are embracing Genius Hour are on the right track?? I mean, homeschooling works for many children, and they get to have Genius Hour all the time. I wonder about this because I have never provided Genius Hour time for my students in Science. From my understanding, letting kids choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it and how they present or share that they learned it, empowers them and motivates them to focus and persevere through difficulties and problems. For teachers, it’s a leap where we will have to trust that our students will learn enough to do well on the standards we are assigned to teach so they can show growth including passing state tests. The teacher must somehow map the skills, content, and standards that all the students are learning when engaged in Genius Hour type projects and activities. I do not doubt that kids are learning, maybe even learning way more than doing something I created for them or something in my school’s scope and sequence or curriculum. The problem is keeping track of what ALL of our students are learning and maintaining a plan from grade level to grade level to ensure students get the content, skills, and standards they need for their future whether it’s college or career. Personally, if I saw an opportunity to teach at a school that had a strong student-centered Genius Hour style, I would want to work there!

So What Do I Do?
I have tried several things to engage more and more of my students.

  • I built a 1:1 program in my classroom through grant writing to put technology in the hands of all my students. How can our kids be fully prepared for their futures without using technology in school?
  • I went gradeless (here’s mine) to make learning all about intrinsic motivation to learn and not about getting or losing points. I wanted the focus to be about the content and not the grade.
  • When going gradeless, especially all by myself while other classes gave grades, didn’t work as expected (students loved having a class with no pressure but many of them used that freedom to do very little or no work), didn’t work I switched to Standards-Based Grading (SBG). SBG turns out to be a happy middle ground between traditional A – F grading and gradeless.
  • I’ve used Project-Based Learning (PBL).
  • I’ve tried Gamification.
  • I brought World of Warcraft to my 6th graders!
  • I’ve used technologies that make my presentations more interactive, such as Pear Deck, and make quizzing more exciting, such as Kahoot.
  • I give my students choice as to how to show their learning, for example, they can make movies, stop motion animations, Google Slides, comic books, or any other way they come up with. I even have flexibility with the content. As long as they are learning the standards, they can go in different routes from the rest of their classmates.
  • Currently, I’m working on a proposal to teach Science to my 6th graders using Lego Mindstorms EV3 programmable robots because we are on a Science adoption cycle and I got inspired at this year’s NCCE Conference! More on this on a future blog post!

You’d think I would have given Genius Hour a shot! Even though I understand that there is no silver bullet in education that will engage or reach ALL students, well at least not ALL the time, I’m still in search of it! It keeps me active and on the hunt. So what have you tried that engages more and more students? Do you have Genius Hour at your school?

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Apr 23

Diigo Links (weekly)

Here are some great resources I found this week:

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

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Apr 19

How to End the School Year Strong!

I was so happy to be asked by Larry Ferlazzo to be his Q and A BAM Radio show again! This time we tackled the topic of how to end a school year! I got to be on the show with Pernille Ripp, a teacher I’ve been learning from for years on Twitter and on her amazing blog! It was so cool!

Larry has us submit a written response then we get to record our ideas for the radio show. Here’s what I wrote on his EdWeek Teacher Classroom QandA blog:

Response From Alfonso Gonzalez

Alfonso Gonzalez has been teaching grades 4 to 8 for 25 years. He is a National Board Certified Teacher in the area of Early Adolescent Generalist with a Masters of Arts in Teaching and has completed two ISTE Capstone certifications. He blogs regularly at Mr. Gonzalez’s Classroom:

How do you keep all your students engaged in learning when summer vacation is quickly approaching? I’ve heard it before and I can tell you that it works for me and my students: a project.

Project-based learning or problem-based learning (PBL) has many benefits for ending the year focused on learning and schoolwork instead of watching movies, having parties, and passing the time away until summer vacation starts.

Why PBL? When ending a school year here are the benefits of ending with a project:

  • Students have the potential of being engaged in a project that is based on a real-world, maybe local, problem. That way you don’t have to tell them why they are learning about the topic they are studying, it’s built right into the project! That makes the work students do the last days of school relevant. Relevancy is important.
  • Projects lend themselves readily to collaboration and teamwork. Working with peers is important to students, especially those last days of school.
  • Teams can focus on students’ diverse skills and talents. Teams need a leader, a manager, artists, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, designers, speakers, note-takers, and technologists. Being able to use their skills and talents gives students a purpose and having a purpose is important.
  • Projects have the opportunity to allow for student choice. Even if the teacher chooses the main topic, students can still have choices. Students can choose:
    • Who they work with (let them self-select their teams),
    • What sub-topics they study,
    • How they learn about their topic(s),
    • How they show their learning,
    • What tools, for example, technology, they use to learn and show their learning!

Projects can happen before, during and after standardized testing. If you start a project before testing day it’s easy enough to take time off from the project to do some test prep and make sure students are ready for the tests. On test day it’s actually quite relaxing to sit with project teams, check in and get some work done on the projects. And once testing is over students can focus wholeheartedly on their projects and make sure they finish on time.

And if you build in presentation time and evaluation (self, team as well as teacher evaluation) then the last days of the year will be filled with student presentations and discussions of each other’s projects! I believe it is important to end every school year on a high note and ending with a great project does just that!

Click here to read Permille’s response and Jeremy Adams, the other guest on Larry’s show.

Here’s the radio show (click on the link if you don’t see the embedded radio show below):

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Apr 16

Diigo Links (weekly)

More amazing resources and incredible blogs:

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

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Apr 09

Diigo Links (weekly)

Amazing new resources for this past week:

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

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Apr 03

Diigo Links (weekly)

Here are this week’s resources!

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

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Mar 28

A Stewardship STEM Project

This post was originally published for WA CoreLaborate at the CORELaborate blog!

Chimacum Middle School 6th graders have been monitoring our neighborhood creek, Chimacum Creek, for the past 15 years! When asked to to develop an integrated STEM unit this year for our 6th graders I went to my fellow 6th grade teachers, the Humanities teacher, Ms. Langston, and the Math teacher, Mr. Meacham, and asked them if we could develop our integrated STEM unit around the Environmental Stewardship project that my 6th graders do every spring. They said yes and what follows is the document we created on Google Docs detailing the project including the CCSS and NGSS standards this project targets. Our superintendent paid us for our time spent developing this unit, which is not all that common and very much appreciated! Being treated like professionals is something we as educators have to advocate for. Here’s what we came up with:


The Chimacum Environmental Stewardship Project exists to raise the awareness of our students as to the needs of our natural environment, and specifically to our watershed. Chimacum is located on the Olympic Peninsula of our state and the Chimacum valley is home to Chimacum Creek. Our creek provides habitat for two different species of trout, Rainbow and Cutthroat, and two different species of salmon, Coho and Summer Chum, among other living things. Chimacum Creek runs through many Chimacum valley farms, properties and homes. Sixth grade middle school students work with and learn from the North Olympic Salmon Coalition (NOSC) as part of this project to discover ways they can protect their creek and support the rich habitats the creek provides.

Water Quality Testing

Sixth graders getting water quality data.

Besides raising awareness as to the reasons and ways to protect our natural environment, creek and watershed, this project also exposes students to authentic Science, Math, and History and gets them outdoors collecting real data and doing Science and using Math instead of just reading about it in a book. Students will participate in a tradition of fish trapping, fish identification, benthic macroinvertebrate identification, tree planting, environmental studies, and water quality testing making their in-class reading, writing, and learning highly relevant as they learn about climate change resulting from global warming.

Chimacum Creek runs along the Chimacum Schools campus. There is a section of the creek where a hatchery used to raise salmon. It has not been used at all for the past 25 years. We still use that creek access to set the fish traps but that’s about all it’s used for. We are going to ask students to come up with a plan to repurpose that section of our campus! Students will come up with plans for how we can use that section of our campus, maintaining the creek habitat by taking into account environmental impacts of their ideas. Student teams will submit proposals along with models, posters, computer graphic designs, etc. We reach more students with these authentic experiences than we do with just traditional teaching methods and in addition to traditional teaching methods. Students enjoy getting to learn about their environment by interacting with the environment and what better way is there to learn about creek restoration than to do creek restoration?


Ancient cultures water issues, Assyrian and Roman Aqueducts, importance of fishing and access to water and waterways.

Roman Aqueduct

Roman Aqueduct

As citizens and stewards of the world, students need to be prepared for a future where funding cuts may take place for issues such as protecting the environment and global warming. Fresh water for drinking, growing crops, bathing and keeping fish and other animals healthy is essential to life. Water has always been a critical need for all cultures and caused much conflict in early cultures. Humanities students studied how the ancient Mesopotamians left the hills in search of water and food which led them to form the first city-states.

As part of the background for this STEM unit, students studied how the early Assyrians dug canals to irrigate their land and ensure its fertility. The earliest aqueducts brought water as far as 30 miles from the water source. Students will be learning about how the Romans learned from the Assyrians and improved the aqueducts to bring water from 60 miles away and how Spain still uses part of the ancient Roman aqueducts.

In collaboration with their teachers, and using the Common Core Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects, students will collect sufficient data from the creek and determine its relevance. The students will follow a multistep procedure while they carry out their experiments, take their measurements, and identify key steps in their collection process. After they integrate their visual information from their charts and graphs and create their plan to repurpose the hatchery, student teams will edit and revise their conclusion and recommendation blogs and online magazine so they can publish it.

Communication of the STEM project to others will also address Washington State’s Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards; students will practice their presentations (in collaboration with their teachers) and prepare to share their proposal and team poster attendees at the Environmental Youth Summit in Belfair. A real life audience is comprised of other science teachers and teacher leaders as well as community leaders, chaperones, student ambassadors and parents. Plans could potentially be evaluated by the Jefferson Conservation District if students desire that feedback.


In Math students are studying area/perimeter/surface area of shapes and designs. Students will measure the area and perimeter of the lower Chimacum Schools field property. They will develop a plan to utilize that space and create a blueprint of their idea. Students will have choices of elements to add to their design. Students can calculate the area/perimeter/surface area of the elements they design to make sure the space fits their needs. Here is a Google Map image of the area for students to reutilize within their plans. The shape of the perimeter of the field to the left of Chimacum Creek is a close to a trapezoid. The goal would be for students to repurpose the property for student, school or community use while making sure the design allows for positive impact of the surrounding environment.

Here’s the presentation to introduce the repurposing of the lower field activity to students.

USGS ImageStudents will also determine the area and volume of Chimacum Creek for converting flow rate speed to amount of water flowing in our creek as part of the water quality data collection.

The 6th grade Common Core standards highlighted within this project include: 6.G.1: find areas of triangles, special quadrilaterals, and polygons
6.G.2: find the volume of rectangular prisms
6.G.3: draw polygons in the coordinate plane
6.G.4: using the nets of 3-dimensional figures to find the surface area of figures
6.RP.3: use ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world and mathematical problems


The project starts in the fall when all three 6th grade classes take turns visiting our creek every week to trap, identify and count fish. Each class goes to the creek on day 1 to set three fish traps using bread as bait. On day 2 students retrieve the fish to identify and count the fish. Each class will do their trapping, identifying and counting of fish about four times during the fall and winter months. The data we collect is shared with the Jefferson Conservation District every year. The Jefferson Conservation District provides the traps and the training.

By spring students begin to learn about water pollution, the water cycle, salmon, benthic macroinvertebrates, and water quality. Students go out and plant trees with NOSC restoration stewards to help restore the riparian zones along our creek. NOSC stewards also teach 6th graders the history of Chimacum Creek and how the restoration efforts keep our creek habitat safe for salmon and trout and how their work relates to climate change. NOSC stewards collect samples of creek water to help students find and identify the benthic macroinvertebrates in our creek. By identifying the different species of macros in our creek students can determine a biological integrity score that gives us an idea of how the habitat right by our school is doing.

Student teams, having background knowledge about why we need healthy water systems and how our water systems can be polluted, will come up with ideas for repurposing the part of our school campus with the defunct hatchery in a way that will maintain our creek’s habitats.

By April students visit the creek to test the levels of dissolved oxygen, the temperature, the pH, the turbidity, the flow rate and nitrates. Students graph their data to interpret their results. Students will use the data from fish trapping, macro identification, and water quality to write conclusion and recommendation blogs as well as an online magazine to share with our community through social media and with kids in other schools.

Students publish blog articles about environmental issues here:

Students publish online magazine articles about Chimacum Creek specifically here:

By June students will attend an Environmental Youth Summit to present their findings and recommendations to students from other schools.

Timelines/Schedule of Significant Events:
Fall and winter
– Use the Jefferson Conservation District traps to catch, id and count fish.
March – Guest presenter, Laura Tucker, for two days on Climate Change and Climate Justice sharing what kids are doing to combat Climate Change and Global Warming. By end of March students will attend a NOSC sponsored field trip at Finnriver Farms. Students will identify vegetation, complete a Project Budburst and Tree Carbon Sequestration activity, engage in food web and life cycle games, and plant trees! In Science class students study water pollution to write Public Service Announcements as well as learn about salmon and climate change.
April – Water quality testing, data collection as well as come up with a plan for repurposing the area of Chimacum Schools campus near the defunct hatchery.
May – Sharing data, graphs, conclusions and recommendations via websites, blogs and models. Proposals for repurposing our campus have to show how the ideas/plans support creek habitat.
June – Attend Environmental Youth Summit in Belfair, WA to present to other students.


This 2016-17 school year will be the 15th year that Chimacum Middle School 6th grade students have been testing the water quality of Chimacum Creek. This project started as a water quality testing project and expanded to the stewardship project that it is today due to the support of many grants throughout the years. We have been able to purchase water quality testing equipment that our school cannot afford. The Jefferson Conservation District and NOSC have also provided training, equipment, volunteers and support for many of the past 15 years. This project has benefitted hundreds of young people from the Chimacum, Hadlock, Irondale, and Ludlow communities and has benefitted our watershed and ecosystems! Trees that the first groups of 6th graders planted back in the early 2000’s have grown over six feet tall and records from the Jefferson Conservation District have shown that due to the shade provided by those trees, water temperatures have declined dramatically!

The Next Generation Science Standard or NGSS that this project most directly addresses is the third Middle School Earth Science Standard or MS-ESS3, Earth and Human Activity. The Science students learn through this project deals with Natural Resources, Human Impacts on Earth Systems, and Global Climate Change. In the NGSS, the aforementioned Science topics are known as the Disciplinary Core Ideas or DCI’s. Students also engage in what are called Cross Cutting Concepts or CCC’s in the NGSS by looking for and identifying Patterns, Cause and Effect, and Stability and Change. Another aspect of the NGSS are the Science and Engineering Practices or SEP’s. The ones targeted by this project are Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, and Engaging in Argument from Evidence. By weaving the DCI’s with the CCC’s and SEP’s, students are exposed to what the NGSS calls three-dimensional learning!

Student proposals for repurposing the part of our campus that houses the defunct hatchery will be assessed on how well their idea/plan is communicated in writing, how well their model communicates their written plan, how well they take into account creek habitat, and whether or not their idea/plan can actually happen. Those that are feasible might very well be implemented!

Students who return after graduating high school all tell me the same thing, that this Chimacum Creek project was one of their favorite experiences in school. That in itself is a testament to the impact this type of hands-on, real-life learning has on children.

We have data on our creek’s water quality going back all 14 years recorded here:

Our fish trapping data can be found here:

Here is a sample student team final project website:

Every year Chimacum Middle School 6th graders present at an Environmental Youth Summit in Belfair to other students from around the Hood Canal. Year after year our students do a fantastic job sharing their learning, their results, and their recommendations. This project helps students go into their futures understanding the importance of protecting our environment, our watershed, and the delicate food webs that make up the ecosystems of our planet.

Here are some photos of students setting fish traps and planting trees:

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Mar 27

My #NCCE17 Takeaways!

This is my 4th straight year of getting to attend the Northwest Council for Computer Education or NCCE’s three-day conference (although last year I was only able to attend for one day)! This year it was in Portland, OR. NCCE goes back and forth between Seattle and Portland and this year it was Portland’s turn to host the three-day conference.

I tend to use Twitter to take notes because I can take quick notes and focus more on being present in the session or workshop.This year I got to present again! It was so cool, I just love being able to share something that works so well for me. I led a workshop on how to use 3D GameLab to gamify any course. 3D GameLab has performed excellently for me as a Learning Management System (LMS) that automates a lot of what I do to gamify my courses.

This year was amazing. I can honestly say that every session, workshop, and keynotes I attended was amazing! I got a lot out the entire time I was there. As I reflect on all the great sessions and workshops I noticed the theme that bubbles up was student engagement. What I’m leaving with wanting to pursue more in-depth is definitely STEM, Robotics, and Programming. I have ideas that I want to make come true for my students.

Here are my Twitter notes from all the great sessions, workshops, and Keynotes that I participated in:

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