Jul 13

Goodbye to my iMacs

Students using a 2004 iMac in 2017!

Students using a 2004 iMac in 2017!

Back in 2011 I wrote a blog post about going full circle, kind of, from integrating technology by having students work 1:1 student to computer in a computer lab to having computers in my classroom. In the classroom I started with one computer for all students to use, then I upgraded to a 1:4 student to computer, then 1:3, then a 1:2 with mobile devices, the 1st generation iPads, and finally a full 1:1. Almost full circle except that the new 1:1 was in the classroom so that the tech was available for anytime students needed it instead of having to wait for the computer lab to become available.

Last year I wrote about our use of iMacs in my classroom. In 1998 I got the Bondi iMac and it was great. But we only had one. When I got some big grants I was able to purchase ten new iMacs and by that time, 1999, they were the multi-colored, fruit flavored, iMacs. They were awesome and lots of fun, too. A couple of years after that I was fortunate to be able to replace all those lovely iMacs with the faster, improved eMacs and that really helped us because those poor fruits were starting to slow down on us.

The eMacs servied our needs very nicely but even they started to wear out. Thank goodness that in 2004 I got two nice grants from Best Buy and replaced the ten eMacs with ten 2004 G5 iMacs. These were power houses compared to the eMacs, with a 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor.

2004 G5 iMac

2004 G5 iMac

Fast forward to 2017 and those 2004 G5 iMacs are ancient. After a few years of using the 2004 G5 iMacs, when it was time to replace them I was still getting grants, but by then I was getting grants to buy iPads, Netbooks, Laptops, and Chromebooks. I kept the iMacs because having 10 computers in the room PLUS the mobile devices, gave my students a 1:1 so they could work as needed, whether that meant individually or collaboratively.

iMac 2004

The 2004 G5 iMacs reached a point where they could NO LONGER UPDATE THEIR OPERATING SYSTEM! They stopped updating at MacOS 10.5.8. For perpective, MacOS is now up to 10.13.2, which is light years ahead of 10.5.8. I would honestly set up the iMacs every fall expecting kids to tell me that Youtube no longer worked, or that they couldn’t access any Google Apps whatsoever or even that most Flash or even HTML 5 websites would not load. I am continually amazed that we were able to continue using those things year after year. Oh it wasn’t easy because they had problems. We had to find work arounds for much of what we had to do, especially with regards to Google (we also could NOT update any of our browsers – think of how often your browser asks you to update it so that it can continue to work). What those iMacs DID DO WELL was in using the software that was native for them such as iMovie, Comic Life, iPhoto, and even other software like the software we needed for our digital microscopes. For those things, they are still amazing!

Our iMac

This year I got the great news that finally, after years of asking and planning, the middle school was going to get a computer on wheels cart with Dell Laptops running Windows 10 for every, single classroom! First of all, that meant that for the first time in my teaching career since taking kids to computer labs I am going to have all students on the same device AND operating system! That means that I can teach one way to make something and they can all try it before they forget! That means that I only have to make ONE how-to video! As much as I appreciated having different devices to expose my students to different operating systems, this is going to be sooo nice. Second, this meant that I could finally retire those 2004 iMacs!

I have to say, after 13 years of service, I will miss those iMacs. They have been a constant in my room and they have been there for so many students. I still didn’t waste any time surplussing them once school let out. I am really looking forward to have regular computer issues and not the major issues we’ve been having for so many years. So as much as I apprecaited those workhorses I heartily say, “Goodbye, 2004 G5 iMacs! You had a great life here at Chimacum MIddle School.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/07/13/goodbye-to-my-imacs/

Jun 27

Adopting a New Curriculum

This post was originally published at the WA CORELaborate website.


May 24 our Science Subject Area Committee (SAC) presented our plans for a new Science Curriculum Adoption. This is the third adoption in which I’ve played a role in the 20 years I’ve worked at Chimacum Middle School. I played a much bigger role in this one as I was THE middle school rep and I did all the research for the middle school, put together the middle school presentation, and presented that part of the overall proposal. It was an awesome process and I’m glad I volunteered!

In my last post, How About Robotics, I shared the research I did as I looked for kit-based, NGSS Science curriculum. I was very happy and excited with Activate Learning’s IQWST curriculum and the other middle school Science teacher (there are only two of us) loved it too. The lessons start with a phenoma, go into a lab, then end with a CER conclusion. Just what we were looking for. I also explain in my last post how I made a complete change to the 6th grade curriculum after attending a tech conference and seeing the wonders of Robotics. I was impressed by the STEM Robotics 101 curriculum so I thought, what the heck, I’m going to see if the school board will approve a STEM Robotics curriculum for the 6th grade using the Lego Mindstorms EV3 robotics kits for education.

Here’s the presentation we put together for the school board (click here if you don’t see a Google Slides presentation below – the speaker notes provide more details):

I was really the one that was on because the high school’s plan is to wait until the 2017-18 school year starts in the fall expecting more NGSS native, as opposed to NGSS-Aligned, curriculum so they were just sharing their plan and not proposing to adopt any curriculum. It also made no sense to adopt a new biology curriculum because the sophomores of 2017-18 will need to pass the Biology EOC (End of Course) exam to graduate. The high school’s current curriculum has been doing a great job of helping kids pass the Biology EOC so it would be risky to switch with one year of EOC to go. The sophomores of 2017-18 will also take the NGSA (Next Generation Science Assessment) in their Junior year but not as a graduation requirement. It is the 2017-18 freshman who will need to pass the 11th grade NGSA to graduate so it makes sense to wait and see what is available starting in the fall and wait until 2018 to look for biology curriculum to adopt for the 2018-19 school year. If high quality, NGSS native curriculum becomes available by fall the high school will present to the school again for their adoption.

The school board presentation went by very quickly. First off, the projector connection went down so we couldn’t project our Google Slides. The school board members didn’t have laptops so they couldn’t access the slides either. Luckily, one of our SAC members had the foresight to print the slides on paper so at least the school board had something to look at!

When it was my turn, I told my story. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t have the slides. Looking down at the paper, I got lost and ended up taking much less time than I would have had I gone through every single slide I prepared. Once I was done, they asked a few questions, I honestly can’t remember what. They discussed for what seemed only a few seconds then approved our proposal and were happy to do it. I looked around astounded. Was that it? Were we at the middle school getting all our new curricula? The next day I was asked to submit the requisitions by the following Tuesday! That’s when it hit me, WE GOT IT! As of today most of the 6th grade curriculum has already been delivered! Yeah, and the IQWST order has been placed and is being filled. Wow, that was cool.

Building a robot that can do something.

So 6th graders will be designing and programming EV3 robots to solve cool and fun challenges. We end the year by having the fifth grade students visit the 6th grade teacher’s classes and I let them in on the plan for next year and they were excited! I can’t wait! Here it is summer, the beginning of summer, and I’m excited for September! LoL

An EV3 Robot Design

The best part is that I had also volunteered to lead a Northwest Earth and Space Sciences (NESSP) summer camp and I chose to have it be a robotics summer camp using the EV3! That’s where all the images on this blog post came from. This camp just ended (went from June 20 to June 23) and it was amazing! The kids were great and they had incredible stamina. The camp ran for six hours a day and the kids worked through lunch all the way until it was time to leave! Seeing how involved, challenging, exciting, and engaging building and programming an EV3 robot is for kids confirms my excitement at all the great things my 6th graders are going to be doing this coming school year.

Figuring out how to connect the sensors.

For the summer camp I adapted a Mars Mission that I attended and had a great time participating in with our very own WA CORELaborate blogger, Carina, at this year’s NCCE Conference and made that the focus for the week. Here’s the presentation I prepared for the summer camp, I plan on doing this with my 6th graders next year too! 🙂 Click here if there is no Google Slide deck below.


Our first challenge was to rescue Mark Watney. Along the way, the rover had to pick up supplies because Watney wasn’t going to have enough food or oxygen to make it to the Ares IV landing site.


Practicing in class to rescue Astronaut Watney.



Another challenge – get your rover through a maze!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/06/27/adopting-a-new-curriculum/

Jun 12

Tech Fails

https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-dropped-fail-failure-4091/Last year I wrote some posts sharing all the problems we have using a mix of different devices, some of which are beyond their prime.

Problems with Tech – Google Classroom on Older Devices
Android Tablet Accessing GAFE Tools
Multiple GAFE Accounts, Shared Devices

It’s been over a year since my last post having Older iMacs and they are still working for some things such as using our digital microscopes, using Comic Life, and using the easy version of iMovie to record and edit videos.

Using the G Suite set of apps is touch and go on the iMacs so if kids can use Docs or Slides, I’m happy! The iPad 2’s are still working quite well for almost everything but the Samsung Galaxy Tabs are barely used. Kids will only use them if there is nothing else available (well, the Galaxy Tabs and the iMacs are tied for last choice devices to use). Luckily, we have a few Chromebooks and some laptops, most of which are running Windows 10, that work quite well for just about everything we do (video editing is still better on the iMacs or the iPads).

I do appreciate offering students different platforms to use and learn so they can gain experience with Macs, iOs, Andoid OS, Chrome OS, and PCs. The downside is that showing a whole class how to use an app or website, or software, isn’t applicable to everyone. I often have to tell them how it’s different or how it will or won’t work on different devices. Next year I won’t have that problem because we will all be getting a computer cart with enough refurbished Dell Laptops running Windows 10 for all our students! I’m looking forward to having all my students on the same device. I will still have a bunch of iPad 2s so we will use the iPads for video editing and to use the apps that we’ve been using for the last few years! I can’t say that I’ll miss the iMacs. They have served me well and they lasted until I got enough devices to replace them! They had their problems but at least they worked for lots of what we needed to do in class.

Of course, that doesn’t help us bring this year to a close. Students are concluding their Environmental Stewardship projects sharing all their work, learning, conclusions, and evidence by making team websites. We’ve used Google Sites in the past and since Google Sites got a major update, I thought it would be better!

The new Google Sites does seem easier to use and I haven’t heard any complaints from the kids (aside from one who couldn’t figure out where to put embed code – I couldn’t see how to do that either). So I thought we could end the year easily and smoothly (this is our last week). Or so I thought. Google Sites was working fine on the Chromebooks and laptops but NOT AT ALL on the iMacs and the iPads! Both the iMacs and iPads could access the old, classic Google Sites but not the new one! On the iMacs Chrome wouldn’t access the new Google Sites but even though Safari did access the new Google Sites, we couldn’t type. Yeah, strange problem.

My workaround: with four days left of school I’m having the students in each team with the laptops be the web designer for the team. I created a Google Doc, see below, that I shared through Google Classroom. The web designer shares her copy of the Google Doc with everyone in the team. Each team member copies and pastes their work, including images, onto the space in the Google Doc I prepared for them. The web designer will then copy and paste that work onto a new page on the team’s Google Site! So far it has been working well. I am looking forward to not having these problems next year!

I prepared the document for my students because of how short on time we are. Having kids fiddle with the new Google Sites not knowing why it wasn’t working cost us some valuable time. The bright side of using the Google Doc is that teams now have to collaborate more closely to make sure their website represents well all that they learned and looks good. I hope they get to finish!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/06/12/tech-fails/

Jun 07

Putting Images on Blog Posts

Images make blog posts look better and help the reader make sense and visualize what he or she is reading. I teach my students about checking images to make sure they are not copyright so they are only putting Creative Commons or Public Domain pictures and photos on their blog posts. So many photographers out there load their photos for all to see AND they make them Creative Commons! It’s so cool for those of us who blog!

Recently I came across this handy infographic from Visme about adding photos to your blog (there are other great resources on that blog post so I recommend checking it out)! I’m going to share this with my students!

Created using Visme. An easy-to-use Infographic Maker.

Read more at http://blog.visme.co/how-do-you-know-if-something-is-in-the-public-domain/#p2OrxmJZoAlziSsp.99

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/06/07/putting-images-on-blog-posts/

May 24

What About Robotics?

Originally published on the CORELaborate blog!


Earlier this school year I volunteered to be part of our district’s Science Subject Area Committee (SAC) to come up with recommendations to the school board for a grades 6 through 12 Science adoption of new NGSS curriculum. The team was made up of two high school Science teachers, a grades 4 through 12 alternative education Science teacher and one middle school Science teacher (me). At the middle school we’ve been spending time the last couple of years aligning our existing curriculum, much of which is teacher-created, to the NGSS so finally getting a turn at not only new curriculum but curriculum for the entire year AND NGSS aligned got us middle school Science Teachers very excited.

One of the topics that came up while previewing what was out there in terms of NGSS-aligned curriculum was the kit versus textbook concept. The NGSS is aiming to change the way we teach Science to students and, in my opinion, using textbooks to teach science lends itself quite easily to teach traditionally.


The Earth Science text we adopted back in 2001.


Each chapter of this textbook is divided into three or four sections and each sections ends with review questions such as these.


This is a lab taken right from the textbook at the end of the section on soils.

Textbooks usually, as shown in the Copyright 2001 textbook above, start with an activity, have content for students to learn by reading a chapter or section, answer questions to review their learning, then conduct a lab to try out their new learning. The NGSS recommends starting with what they call a phenomena then have kids interact with materials to try and make sense of the phenomena. Once our students are hooked, the Science concepts will be easier to learn. They will be more motivated to learn Science because they are trying to unravel the phenomena (we are curious creatures after all).

Kits, on the other hand, typically come in containers with all the materials needed for all the labs (See photos below). The textbooks or student workbooks come separately and are usually thinner than traditional textbooks. Sometimes the books are soft cover books instead of hardcover.


Here’s what the Foss Diversity of Life kit looks like. This is one of the drawer-type boxes that come with the set.


Here’s the drawer opened to reveal the contents (this one has been used for a few years so is not as neatly packed or complete as it should be). 🙂


This is an example of what materials are included in the aforementioned drawer or box. Each box comes with different materials for the different labs in the unit.


The Kits I have used, Foss and STC/MS, start with an activity much like the textbooks do, what I gather is the phenomena, then goes right into a lab before asking reflection questions based on the lab. Slightly different progression. The part I appreciate as a Science teacher is that we start with a lab, then make sense of the Science (the reading comes after students have engaged with the lab). I have done more labs teaching from kits than using textbooks only. See images below of an STC/MS kit book.

Kit textbook is lab-based, starting with a lab.

The questions in a kit-based textbook are typically after the lab asking students to reflect on what they learned and the data they actually collected.

Another draw of kit-based Science curriculum, especially for elementary teachers and even middle school teachers, is that all the lab materials are in the kit and organized for immediate use! The teacher does not have to order all the materials separately because they come in the kit! The labs can be setup quickly freeing the teacher to focus on helping students learn. Plus, the teacher does not have to worry about pacing and developmental sequencing of activities because the kit makers took that into account when putting the labs together. I hear from many teachers who use textbooks that they have to come up with their own labs because they are typically not satisfied with the labs presented in textbooks.

So in my search for an NGSS kit-based curriculum, I went to the kit providers I’ve used recently. I started by looking at the STC/MS from Carolina biological. At the time I checked there was no mention of NGSS alignment (a recent search shows that maybe that has changed and they are now offering an NGSS curriculum!). I then checked Foss and they only had some of their middle school kits aligned with more to come in 2018 (we really want to adopt and be ready to go in the fall so that didn’t work). I then heard of IQWST from Activate Learning and their kit-based curriculum for middle school was fully NGSS integrated. I recently spoke with a gentleman who works for a company that was hired by Activate Learning to evaluate their IQWST curriculum development and he assured me that they built their curriculum using the NGS Standards!

So I built my middle school curriculum recommendation around the IQWST curriculum for grades 6, 7 and 8. I thought the work ahead was going to be smooth sailing working with just IQWST until I was able to attend this year’s NCCE conference in Portland. I was drawn to a few sessions and workshops about robotics. Science is cool and awesome but the idea of STEM and Robotics, in particular, was appealing to me because it’s something I’ve not been able to provide my students. And doing an Hour of Code every year for the past few years has shown me how engaging beginning coding and coding-type games are for kids. So I went to some robotics sessions to see what I could learn and boy did I come away inspired!

Curiosity on Mars!

By pure chance I saw a pattern emerge from the seemingly disconnected sessions and workshops I attended, a pattern of engaging students in STEM AND NGSS through robotics and coding! Specifically, using Lego Mindstorms EV3 robot kits. One session I attended introduced me to the STEM Robotics 101 free curriculum for the EV3. After that session, I attended a workshop where I got to play with an EV3 and program it to do stuff and I was hooked! Lego building also naturally incorporates engineering, an integral component of STEM AND NGSS! And come to find out, the STEM Robotics 101 free curriculum hit the physical science NGSS standards that I am already doing with my 6th graders in addition to the engineering standards! It all just fit too well.

This is what it looks like when kids are working with a robot like the EV3.

So tomorrow I present my new plan for a 6th grade STEM curriculum based on the STEM Robotics 101 curriculum targeting the same NGSS physical science standards we are supposed to help students learn, and an IQWST adoption for grades 7 and 8. I’ll share more and let you all know how it went in my next post (I don’t want to share too much before our school board gets to hear what I’m planning)!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/05/24/what-about-robotics/

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?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/04/25/how-do-you-engage-your-students/

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):

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/04/19/how-to-end-the-school-year-strong/

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 traps 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: https://6thgradeworldsolutions.blogspot.com

Students publish online magazine articles about Chimacum Creek specifically here: https://chimacumstewards.wordpress.com

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: goo.gl/VVMnvz

Our fish trapping data can be found here: goo.gl/eCCYOs

Here is a sample student team final project website: goo.gl/MKsdaA

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:

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/03/28/a-stewardship-stem-project/

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:

Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/03/27/my-ncce17-takeaways/

Mar 14

World of Warcraft Interview!

Thanks for Kae Novak, a true games master, I was interviewed by Classcraft about how I use Lucas Gillispie’s World of Warcraft in Schools curriculum with my 6th graders! While I gamify my Science classes, the class I teach where 6th graders play World of Warcraft is an example of Game-Based Learning or GBL as students play an actual video game, or more specifically, in this case, a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG). Click on the image below to read the article!

Click on the image above!

If you’re looking for some studies on using games to help students learn, read another one of Classcraft’s blog posts, 7 studies to proves game-based learning really works!

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.educatoral.com/wordpress/2017/03/14/world-of-warcraft-interview/