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Sep 30 14

Sharing is a Good Thing

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I came across this post by George Couros, 4 Reasons People Don’t Blog and Ideas to Help Change Their Mind. He gives some great ideas to the reasons people give. I have to admit that I’ve heard those reasons when I tell people how wonderful blogging is to me.

In his post George shares this video I’ve seen before. It’s a great video to watch if you’re considering starting your own blog and sharing whatever is on your mind. Watch the video because you never know when your thoughts can become someone else’s inspiration.

Sep 29 14

The Story Continues…

by Alfonso Gonzalez


Here’s the presentation that started the Voyages of the Starship Equinox. The Equinox is a Starfleet Science vessel that will propel me and my students on a voyage of the imagination as we learn Science this year.

And here’s the latest installment:

Sep 26 14

Help Following Directions!

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Readers, I need your help, advice or let me know if this happens elsewhere. I recently wrote about my dilemma with either talking too much or letting students work independently to the point where they struggle.

I have this preliminary assignment to get my students blogging. Students can access the assignment with written directions using their 3D GameLab accounts. I also show them how to use their blog as a whole class instruction. Many students get it and successfully complete the assignment but many do not.

My question is how can I get more, or all, of my students to complete this assignment correctly? If I already show them myself, give then written directions in case they missed or forgot what I showed them, and include a video of me showing them what I already showed them, then what else can I do and why aren’t all students getting it??

Here’s an old video of me showing them how to set up and customize their blog plus start their first blog assignment called 7 Random Facts. On the video I start from our class Moodle and now they use 3D GameLab but it’s still pretty much the same directions.

Here are the written directions on their 3D GameLab accounts:

When you are done watching the video log in to your Class Blogmeister account. Choose your colors to make it your own then complete your 7 Random Facts blog assignment.

Choose complete when you finish this quest and put the link to your 7 Random Facts blog to show that you did it.

And here’s a shorter video (I know, my videos and instructions tend to be too long) showing students how to copy and paste the correct link on 3D GameLab to successfully complete the quest and get the XP.

So maybe I need to redo my videos so they’re more up to date. I also struggle with giving maybe too many directions at once? So how should I scaffold this? Should I give shorter instructions, let them do, then give another set of shorter instructions?

I’ve experienced this with other assignments and part of me is wondering if kids are both missing parts of the directly taught instructions and not reading the written instructions carefully. I keep reminding kids to read written instructions carefully and ask me questions if they are still confused. I don’t get many questions so I think my written directions are clear.

Someday I just might figure this out.

Sep 23 14

Tech via SAMR

by Alfonso Gonzalez

We kicked off the new school year with a tech training for the whole district. Here’s the Prezi we used for our kick-off tech training:

As we train our district staff this year to implement our new Tech Plan, we are making use of the SAMR model (resources included in the above Prezi) to help teachers use technology to transform their teaching. We also have this collaborative document I started years ago with examples of 21st Century Teaching/Learning models.

This year we are going to run a tech levy to make our plan come alive. I’m especially excited because when we pass that levy the middle school can implement our 1:1 plan! I can’t wait and I’m really excited to work with everyone to bring our district into the 21st Century.

Sep 21 14

Live Action Role Play #gamification

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Balsavor-Some rights reserved.

Balsavor-Some rights reserved.

This year I’m adding a new element to my gamified courses. I’m developing a fully gamified course based on the Science I’ve been teaching for years. The goal is to add a level of fun and engagement to Science both for those who love gaming, gamers, and for those maybe aren’t intrinsically motivated to learn Science (yet). For those who love Science and don’t like gaming or aren’t gamers, they can still learn and love Science! I’m working at making my course accessible to ALL my students.

Last year I improved my gamified Science courses by using an awesome learning management system (LMS) for gamification called 3D GameLab3D GameLab really streamlined some of the elements of a gamified course for me so that students can enjoy things like gaining XP (experience points) while making my life easier so that I can keep track of what my students are doing and learning. And on top of all that I was also able to give each student individualized feedback on any or all of the assignments they submit for me to review.

So this year I’m adding a storyline to the “game” that is 6th grade Science. I chose Star Trek as the theme for the story because I’m a trekkie/trekker. I was going back and forth between Star Trek and Star Wars because they’re both so cool and fun but Star Trek won out because it’s more Sciencie and Techie than Star Wars and fits my physical science curriculum better. Here’s how I introduced it to my students:

I got the idea for this at NCCE 2014 from Jeff Crews and Dean Phillips from Beyond the Chalk. By using Google Docs with parts of the main story and linking those bits of story to QR codes kids can immerse themselves in the story.

As I place new QR codes somewhere in the room kids will bring up the next installation of the story! Sometimes it will introduce characters, sometimes it will give information or specs on the starships in the story, sometimes it will be part of the story to read, and sometimes it will be part of the story with choices as to what happens next (choose your own adventure)!

I was worried about coming up with the story so I read some Star Trek novels this summer and am totally using those stories instead of having to create my own!

While introducing this new aspect of our gamified classes a student asked me if this was like a Live Action Role Play (LARP). I hadn’t thought of that but totally loved it and said, YES!” I thought it was more of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) and it is kind of like both, isn’t it?

Here is the presentation from the above video in case you want a closer look at how I’m starting:

Sep 20 14

More Direct Instruction

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Teddy Rised-Some Rights Reserved

Teddy Rised-Some Rights Reserved

I started this year off pretty well. I had some activities for students to work on such as the Marshmallow Challenge on the first week of school so I wouldn’t be talking too much or going over our rules and procedures right from the start.

For the last few years I’ve tried to talk less and have students get right to learning and working. I did that after getting feedback from students that I talked too much at the beginning of the year. I found that a lot of students floundered without more direct instruction so I tried to balance that this year with more direct instruction. I think I’ve done too much because for the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking a lot. I’ve already heard that from a few students.

Part of the reason I’ve been giving so much direct instruction, besides to provide more guidance and support for all the new things students are learning in my classes, is that this 6th grade group has been very well behaved. They have a pretty strong work ethic and a strong sense of how to behave in a classroom full of people. Sure they have times when they talk while I’m instructing, where they are off task, and where they are less than kind to each other like any group of students. But overall they feel remorseful and work to do better the next time more so than other groups of students. It’s a phenomenon that exists when there is a majority of kids that kow how to behave in a classroom versus groups where the majority of students tend to misbehave. The class climate is determined by this majority and when more students pay attention to instruction and value helpful classroom behavior then the overall effect is quite positive. This group has so far made it easy for me to talk at them so I’ve tried to be really engaging and use visuals when I present and instruct.

My plan is to front load a lot of what I expect of them and as we move on with our school year I’ll talk less and less. My goal is for students to know my expectations clearly so they know how to be successful and have a positive learning environment. I also want to show them how to use the technology to learn and how to show me what they’re learning in different ways so they all have an opportunity to thrive.

There’s so much I want to do with them and I tend to be impatient by jumping in before kids are ready. This year I don’t want to make that mistake again so I am forcing myself to go slow. Having 80 minute periods instead of 50 minute periods has helped a lot.

We do have our four day camping trip to Camp Cispus next week and that might set up back in terms of all we’ve done in class so far, but our trip is also a great way for kids to bond together and practice teamwork while doing some fantastic outdoor learning.

When we return from our trip I will do some talking again to remind students of our expectations and what we need to be successful. In order to create an environment where students can learn at their own pace and share their learning in exciting ways we did an activity to develop Class Promises by Bill Ferriter. I really enjoyed that activity (thanks, Bill!) because the idea was to generate three promises for me and for students to have a safe, happy and fun classroom!

I am excited with our class promises and I start every class by reminding students to practice keeping their promises so we can have a safe, happy and fun classroom. Here’s what each class came up with:

Period 1

Period 2

Period 3

I’m so excited about this school year and after my experience last year I really needed this. :)

Sep 11 14

ClassDojo or Classcraft #gamification

by Alfonso Gonzalez

logo-full-small  or  logoLogin

So far I’ve only been using ClassDojo and Classcraft for a few days but I’m liking them both. I’ve been wanting to try ClassDojo for a while now and this year I finally took the plunge (I also have to admit that this is the first year I’m using Remind as well instead of using Facebook Groups like I did last year because I didn’t get very many parents joining my Facebook Groups and so far I’ve got more than half of my parents signing up for Remind). I decided to use ClassDojo with my three 6th grade Science classes and my decision was partly based on being able to use something that both complimented 3D GameLab and didn’t create too much more work in addition to 3D GameLab.

ClassDojo can be used pretty much daily because it’s very quick and easy to use. If the whole class does something well you can select all and give them all the same feedback, which helps. I told students that I would give them feedback on their behavior using ClassDojo a few times a week and not everyday because that way they never know for sure when I’ll be providing them feedback. Besides, I don’t think they will need feedback for every little thing they do. In the beginning, as they are learning our routines, I plan to use it more often and as they get better I’ll provide less feedback, maybe once or twice a week unless more is warranted. As with any reward-like system tapering off or weaning them off is the long-term goal so they begin to internalize the behaviors and rely on my feedback less and less.

The reason I referred to ClassDojo as a reward-like system is because the feedback comes first and foremost in the form of positive, green points for the good behaviors we want and negative, red points for the behaviors we don’t want. They can practice some math if they get positive and negative points. My main concern was that students would focus on the points and not read the actual feedback. Luckily, I’ve heard students mention the actual feedback and not just the points while I’ve also heard some just check to see if they’re totally or mostly positive. One reason I finally decided to try ClassDojo is because I read on a blog that you can edit the feedback narratives and add your own! The presets are pretty good but I added a little more detail after observing my students and seeing what they need like this:
Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.16.35 PM

Same with the behaviors that need work:
Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.16.44 PM

It cuts off when you write too much but parents and kids can see the whole feedback when they mouse over their pie chart:
Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 7.52.24 PM

So far I only have slightly more than half of all my 6th graders’ parents signed up but I’m going to keep encouraging because the parents who are checking it are loving it. They get more feedback about their child’s behavior than I’ve ever been able to give. For me that has been invaluable because they’ll know so much about how their child is behaving in Science when we finally meet for a parent-teacher-student conference! We’ll be able to focus on academics and the learning of Science!

ClassDojo uses cute monster avatars that the kids can customize and they get points, which are the game mechanics that make providing behavior information gamified. So far I’m really liking it.

I thought Classcraft was going to be similar to ClassDojo in that it was a gamified system for providing kids points to let them know how they are doing in my course. It looked very cool with more video game-like avatars and the use of powers with experience points, action points, hit points and power points so I was very motivated to try it out. So this year I started using it with my 6th grade exploratory class, which is basically my 1st period class coming back to me 4th period for the Peace4Kids curriculum.

The first thing I learned is that Classcraft is not like ClassDojo. Classcraft doesn’t do as good a job at letting kids know how they are doing in my course because there is so much else going on. It does provide them feedback if they gain or lose points but what it does really well is it turns your course into a game. Really. 3D GameLab does that too but not in quite the same way as Classcraft. Classcraft provides students an avatar that is either a Mage, a Healer, or a Warrior. Depending on which character class they choose they benefit their group in different ways so Classcraft really encourages teamwork and cooperation.

Here’s a typical team. Kids are encouraged to balance their teams because as things happen in class, such as random events from Classcraft that I, as the teacher and Gamemaster, chooses or from making poor choices by being off task or bothering others that causes them to lose hit points (get to zero and you’re dead). As players take damage (by making poor choices or from bad luck) Warriors use protection powers to take the damage for a teammate because they take less damage than the other character classes. Then Healers step in and heal those who are low on hit points. Using those powers cost action points and Mages are key because their powers restore action points to their teammates.

Lots of fun and very motivating. The kids and I are loving it. And the coolest part is that kids get points and feedback by doing their classwork (much like 3D GameLab). It takes a little bit of time at the start of class to pick a random event. Then kids react to it if teammates need healing or action points. After that class runs normally. I can go around and give feedback by choosing a behavior much like ClassDojo and give kids XP (experience points) or deduct HP (hit points or life) but so far I’ve been doing that after class. There is also a discussion forum where I can share information with the class.

Classcraft is free with a paid version available with features kids love such as being able to earn coins to customize their characters and train pets. They also have a freemium option where kids get coins and it’s still free but at home the students can ask their parents to spend real money, up to $5, on the class coins. I offered the class that option but we agreed to not spend real money because it wasn’t equitable for those with money to have well equipped characters next to those who are just doing all their work (sorry Classcraft!). I know Classcraft, as a valuable resource, needs money to keep the service going but I can’t send kids home asking their parents to spend money at the same time I don’t want to deny kids something they love. It’s quite the quandary.

The class that is using Classcraft is enjoying it so much that I’m considering adding it to my Science classes. That would mean that kids and I would have to juggle a 3D GameLab account, a ClassDojo account, a Classcraft account, a blog account, and a class discussion forum account all the while learning and doing Science! I think it’s all worth it. I’ll be reflecting here on how it all goes.

Sep 7 14

Great 1st Week!

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Our first week was four days long because of Labor Day and we got off to a great start! I had been teaching all three 6th grade Science classes and two of the three 8th grade Science classes but this year I only have all three 6th grade Science classes plus a 6th grade exploratory class, so I’m just a 6th grade teacher! This first quarter the other two 6th grade teachers and I will be teaching the Peace4Kids curriculum to all our 6th graders, basically we each have our 1st period homeroom class again during our 4th period. Peace4Kids is really cool and I’m excited to help 6th graders with some awesome strategies. For the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarter I’ll teach each 6th grade group the WoWinSchools curriculum! Exciting!

Being only a 6th grade teacher has some advantages especially when it comes to being part of just one grade level team but I’m going to miss getting my kids back in 8th grade before they go off to high school. Even though our schools are small, only about 240 kids in grades 6-8, and our high school is right next to the middle school, many kids are embarrassed to “know” me once they move on to 7th grade and beyond. There are those who still say hi and even those who talk to me but so many of them seem embarrassed to talk to their 6th grade teacher. Not having them in 8th grade will make it harder to re-connect with them in their last year of middle school. We’ll see how that goes this year.

We also had quite a change to our schedules this year. We went from roughly 50 minutes periods to about 80 minute periods! That means I get 30 more minutes of Science each and every day! I’m expecting to do great things with that extra time and I can’t wait to do labs in 80 minutes periods! Because of that extra time I’ve started off the year slowly. The first week we basically took a personality test, did a cool activity (the Marshmallow Challenge, and did an activity to determine how we can have a safe, happy and fun year together. I found this fun 5-minute personality test from someone’s blog I read (sorry, I can’t remember whose blog I got it from) and it was great. Walking around helping kids understand the words on the test was also a great part of the process.

I had intended to have kids re-arrange their teams to get more balanced after finding out their personality type but kids made the teams they chose on the first day work by knowing which personality types they were dominant in and which ones they were strong in even though it may not be their dominant type. They made their teams work and were aware of the different personality types that are needed for successfully getting work done in a group. It was a win-win!

The Marshmallow Challenge went great and kids loved it. They were all on task, participating and working very well together! Then I had kids do an activity that I got from Bill Ferriter to determine how we can have a safe, happy and fun classroom. It’s a great way to have kids learn what they each need to learn in school. We’re still kind of working on it because even with 80 minute periods it still takes two to three periods.

I’m trying out ClassDojo for the first time and so far finding it very useful. Kids really do want feedback on how they’re doing and for parents who want to know how their kids are behaving this is one way I can totally let them know regularly. I love how I can edit the behavior presets to provide detailed feedback.

I’m also trying out ClassCraft with my 4th period Peace4Kids exploratory class and so far kids are loving it! It has taken us three days to get started using ClassCraft and kids are ready and excited to start learning the Peace4Kids curriculum to level up their avatars! Our 4th and 5th period exploratory (like elective) classes are still around 50 minutes so these go really fast.

Next week I plan to start introducing my students to blogging and using our class discussion forum. I’m still going to start slowly by having them start on paper first, to practice. After last year’s disaster where kids hated using technology I’m waiting to have kids use the tech this year and training them more, which having more time in Science really helps. I’ll get them using 3D GameLab soon too.

I’m really enjoying my new 6th graders and am so excited for this year! And on top of having great kids my daughter is in 6th grade and since I’m the only Science teacher I have her in my 3rd period class! :)

Here’s a glimpse into our Marshmallow Challenge:

Aug 29 14

Differentiation Training

by Alfonso Gonzalez

One of the math teachers and I attended a BER Conference on differentiation to meet the common core. We got some really great ideas for helping all our learners engage with our curricula. We presented the first part of our three or four part training with ideas for offering more student choice. Here’s the Prezi we put together for our session:

We put together a packet of resources in a Google Drive folder to share with some handouts teachers can use to offer their students some choices in how they show their learning. The two main ideas we shared with our staff was RAFTs and Lit Log Codes.

Lit Log Codes or Literature Log Codes are different ways that students can write about the content they are reading. Do a Google search for Lit Log Codes and you’ll get many examples that teachers are using. Lit Log Codes aren’t only for English or ELA classes though. Our course instructor noted that Lit Log Codes are also known as Thinking Log Codes by other disciplines such as Math, Social Studies, and Science. For differentiation offering students choice as to how they reflect on what they’re reading satisfies our kids’ need for autonomy while satisfying our need to have our students write and engage and show us what they are learning/thinking! They are great, just make sure to teach each code and not just assume that your students will know how to respond to each code.

RAFTs are pretty awesome and are totally new to me. RAFT stands for Role, Audience, Format and Topic. Basically, RAFTs provide fun, sometimes silly, unique options for kids to write about any topic they are studying by taking on different roles for different audiences. The format adds another level of fun by having students write friendly letters, news shows, speeches, ads, etc. Here are some RAFTs I created for our Mt Saint Helens learning.

By even offering two different RAFTs for kids we give them choice and make it so we get more enjoyment and engagement with our content. Plus it makes reading and/or listening to their responses more fun because you aren’t getting the same thing from all your students.

In our training we offered teachers the following RAFT choices as an example of how they work:

Here’s a template for creating your own RAFTs. And this website, Writing Fix, has random RAFT generator for creating your own RAFTs! The link goes to Science RAFTs but if you dig around you can find the generator for other subjects. These are just too much fun! I can’t wait to start using them with my 6th grade Science students. :)

For our next session we will probably share ideas for differentiating modes of learning or using tiers for differentiation.

Aug 28 14

Innovative PD Grant!

by Alfonso Gonzalez

Our school was chosen as one of 45 schools added to a WA STEM innovative PD program! I will be sharing our professional development model soon.

Here’s the official press release:

Chimacum middle school to participate in Initiative to fuel professional development FOR TEACHERS in STEM education

For Immediate Release

August 26, 2014

Chimacum – Chimacum Middle School has been selected to be among 45 schools across Washington state to participate in a cutting-edge initiative to provide teachers with stronger professional development in math and science teaching aligned to Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards.

Chimacum Middle School teachers are very excited to begin working together on this innovative professional development model to help all students learn and be successful!

Washington STEM’s professional development initiative for STEM teachers, called STEM-PD, builds on a pilot project in the Anacortes, Nooksack, Bellevue, Renton, and Highline school districts. The professional development initiative uses state-of-the art technology that enables teachers to take charge of their own professional learning. Additionally, six teachers, with a history of excellence in teaching, will be participating and sharing their practice as they explore new ways to use technology in their professional learning. With this technology, teachers can collaborate, share and learn from one another, and even request real-time coaching. For a statewide list of schools participating in the initiative go to

STEM-PD is part of Washington STEM’s nearly $4 million in investments announced today that support innovative, regionally based programs aimed at improving teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering, and math across Washington state. The statewide nonprofit’s investments have two main focuses: (1) Continuing the growth of regional STEM Networks across the state and (2) Expanding its cutting-edge professional development initiative to help teachers with implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. Washington STEM is investing $2.5 million to expand the STEM-PD initiative to 45 schools statewide, the majority of which are in STEM Networks.

“These investments will bring STEM professionals, educators, and communities together to improve STEM education and prepare our students for the STEM careers that drive Washington state’s economy,” said Patrick D’Amelio, Washington STEM CEO. “The Networks will improve STEM education coordination in their community and across the state; and rigorous, high-quality teacher professional development will help ensure students in the classroom are STEM literate.”


Chimacum Middle School
Home of the Eagles!

About Washington STEM

Washington STEM is a statewide nonprofit advancing excellence, equity, and innovation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. Launched in March 2011 with support from the business, education, and philanthropic communities, our goal is to reimagine and revitalize STEM education across Washington. For more information, go to

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