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Dec 10 14

Navigating Systems for Students

by Alfonso Gonzalez

This past May and just recently in November I was fortunate to be able to present a session at two wonderful leadership conferences for newly certified National Board Certified Teachers or NBCTs. Washington state’s Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession or CSTP invited me to show some of the ways that I was sharing what was going on in my classroom to help those who make policy for education, but don’t work directly with kids, understand what goes on in a classroom. I also shared ways that I have been able to get funding for my students to do Science.

The title chosen for my presentation was Navigating the Systems of STEM. It took a while for that to grow on me and now I think it’s a pretty good title for what I shared. The only part that isn’t quite so accurate is the STEM part because the ideas I share can be used by anyone, in any subject area and/or grade level. So really the STEM should be SHTEAM (adding Humanities and the Arts).

Here’s the presentation I created with links and resources I shared:

Dec 9 14

Rule Out the Klingons?

by Alfonso Gonzalez

star-trek_communique Our class ship, the USS Equinox, was dispatched to investigate the mystery of the destruction of the Bombay when they discovered another destroyed ship, the Tholian Aen’q Tholis. Unlike the Bombay, the Aen’q Tholis was destroyed by what appears to be phaser fire from another starship. Whatever destroyed the Bombay was not responsible for destroying the Aen’q Tholis. The question the crew of the Equinox has is whether or not the destruction of the Aen’q Tholis and the destruction of the Bombay are related in any way?

The only starships near the Aen’q Tholis belonged to the Klingon Empire so Ambassador Jetanien, back at Starbase 47, is questioning the Klingon Ambassador to determine if the Klingons had anything to do with the Aen’q Tholis’s destruction.

To find out what happens next, students found this QR code in the classroom (it is a clickable link for those who are viewing it on the device they use to scan QR codes):

To figure what to do next, students also found this QR code in class the day after finding the above code (also clickable):

Dec 8 14

Personalized Learning

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I found this cool infographic on personalized learning:
Personalizing Learning Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Nov 17 14

Text-Dependent Questions #ccss #ngss

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I read this article in the Instructional Leader on Text-Dependent Questions. As part of the WA STEM PD grant that my school got we are working in our grade level PLC (Professional Learning Community) for one cycle followed by departmental PLC. There’s a different dynamic to PLC work when you meet with your grade level PLC than when you work with your Science PLC. In a grade level PLC we have the same kids but one of us teaches Humanities (Language Arts/English and Social Studies), one of us teaches Math, and I teach Science. I can share parts of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that are cross cutting with the Common Core (CCSS). Text-Dependent Questions (TDQs) is one such concept that does not depend on subject matter. We can ask TDQ’s in any subject area since it’s all about asking good questions that come from a particular text.

I took the image from the article and embedded links to the explanations of the different types of TDQs for easy reference. I placed embedded links with ThingLink by making webpages of the written descriptions (copied, not my own or paraphrased in anyway). Just click on each TDQ type to get the explanation.

I wanted an easy way to remind myself when I forget. Maybe someone else will find this useful.

Nov 14 14

PBIS & Acknowledging Students

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Public Domain Image

Public Domain Image

I had a most enlightening conversation with my advisory group about rewarding, I mean acknowledging, students. Our school is now a PBIS school and part of our efforts to reward positive behavior includes teachers giving slips of paper to students when we catch them engaging in positive behaviors. The slips of paper have the traits we are focusing on this year written on them. Traits such as cooperation, patience, and perseverance are what we as teachers are supposed to notice our students doing then hand a slip of paper to say thanks.

That is difficult for me. I struggle with rewarding students for what they naturally do or what they should be doing anyway. It’s like saying you should get rewarded for being a good person instead of just being a good person. There is another way to see it though. I’ve been trying to shift my thinking to seeing it as acknowledging instead of rewarding hoping there’s a difference (see this post).

I got my advisory group to film short skits demonstrating the behaviors that show the traits so that teachers and students could see examples of what to look for when deciding on whom to give the slips. A few students had mentioned that they often demonstrate the behaviors and have yet to get a slip. They really want to get a slip because if you sign it and turn it in to the office you get selected to win a pizza lunch for you and a friend, or to be principal for a day, or some other wonderful prize. If I was uncomfortable with giving away rewards, I mean acknowledgements, this makes me even more uneasy.

I had an idea and was sure that it was brilliant when I read about it in a couple of the blogs I regularly read. Since it’s so difficult for me to hand out those slips of paper acknowledging students for demonstrating the traits of the month why couldn’t my students hand them out? They see way more of what goes on in school than I do.

I shared my idea with my advisory group that meets on Thursday for half an hour. That group is made up of 6th, 7th and 8th graders and we discuss school climate, among other things, get to know each other, and prepare for student-led conferences in the spring. I was totally unprepared for their reaction. While a few of the 18 kids thought it was a good idea and were on board to choose a slip to hand out many of them thought it was a bad idea.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because we could cheat,” was a common concern.

Some thought that kids would just give the slips to their friends. They also thought the slips would be given to friends without the friends actually earning the slip. Then they thought, “what if someone just makes copies of them and either gives them away or sells them!” I have to admit, they made really good points. I tabled the idea until, or when, they bring it up again.

I totally did not expect any of that. I thought they would all love the chance at being able to acknowledge their peers and give slips to those who are missed by teachers yet doing the right thing. I’m still shocked that it turned out the way it did. Here I thought I was going to do something different and help more students get acknowledged and empowered and instead they thought it was a bad idea.

Nov 13 14

Literacy with WoW

by Alfonso Gonzalez

After last year’s failed attempt at using World of Warcraft in Science to have students learn about classifying living things I finally get a chance to try using World of Warcraft to explore the journey of a hero! I thought the Science angle was a good idea but my 8th graders didn’t really take to it. They really enjoyed playing WoW but when it came time to do the Science part, very few of them actually did it.

This year I’m taking my three 6th grade classes for one quarter each on a journey of a hero. Using the WoWinSchools curriculum, minus the reading of the Hobbit, 6th graders will take part in a grand adventure instead of just reading about it. They get to be the hero and make choices instead of reading about the hero’s journey. Thanks to the incredible work of Lucas Gillispie, Craig Lawson (authors of WoWinSchool) and Peggy Sheehy I have the full curriculum on 3D GameLab! I modified the curriculum for a 9 week quarter by leaving out the reading of the Hobbit entirely. I think that there’s plenty of reading and storyline in the game itself. We’re able to play such a pricey game because I’m having students use the trial version for free. That free trial comes with several limits. We can only reach level 20, we can’t use the chat, we can’t use the auction house, and we can only have 10 gold maximum. I’m sure there’s more but we’ll discover them when we start playing.

My 6th graders will be carrying online discussions here and blogging/journaling about their hero’s journey here. This is the presentation I shared at the beginning of the course:

Here’s the information I sent home to parents:

Here’s to having a much better Game-Based Learning experience this time!

Nov 12 14

Following an Energy Trail

by Alfonso Gonzalez

star-trek_communiqueThe crew of the Starship Equinox had to decide whether or not to follow the energy trail from the massive weapon that destroyed the Bombay. After a quick deliberation they recommended to the Captain that he follow the energy trail back to its source to see if they could find what can wield such power.

This was the next segment in the ongoing story of the Chimacum Middle School 6th grade Room 410 Voyages of the Starship Equinox.

Here’s the code that appeared in the classroom for students to scan. (If you can’t scan the QR code, because it’s on your phone, just click on the QR code image):

I also included this as an idea of Star Trek team jobs (I fudged the colors, they are a mix of the original series – TOS – and the Next Generation):

Oct 23 14

I Modified #NGSS

by Alfonso Gonzalez
Public Domain Image

Public Domain Image

At a summer institute NGSS workshop I heard the presenter say that we could modify the Next Generation Science Standards to meet the needs of our students. So I did just that!

We get to visit Mt Saint Helens as part of our 6th grade outdoor education experience to Camp Cispus. Because of that 6th graders learn about volcano types, lava types, eruption types, and then specifically learn about Mt Saint Helens. The next gen standard that most closely fits this learning experience is NGSS MS-ESS2-2 Earth’s Systems:
Students who demonstrate understanding can: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth’s surface at varying time and spatial scales.

Clarification Statement – Emphasis is on how processes change Earth’s surface at time and spatial scales that can be large (such as slow plate motions or the uplift of large mountain ranges) or small (such as rapid landslides or microscopic geochemical reactions), and how many geoscience processes (such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and meteor impacts) usually behave gradually but are punctuated by catastrophic events. Examples of geoscience processes include surface weathering and deposition by the movements of water, ice, and wind. Emphasis is on geoscience processes that shape local geographic features, where appropriate.

Well, there are many parts of that standard that we won’t do this year. We have other things we study this year in Science so instead of using a standard that no 6th graders can show evidence that they learned, I modified it to fit what 6th graders are actually learning.

Here’s an assessment I gave along with different learning opportunities:

So I modified the standard by making the following proficiency scale to help me and students assess their understanding of the part of the standards that deals with volcanoes only:

Now kids can meet standard and we can spend weeks instead of months on this one standard. I know this isn’t the best way and is an example to Standards-Aligning instead of Standards-Based but it’s what needs to be done unless I can find time, or the will, to create units based on the NGSS. Here’s an example I wrote of Standards-Aligning what I already have in the form of curriculum.

Oct 22 14

PBIS and Rewards

by Alfonso Gonzalez

After wondering if I was being hypocritical for denouncing the use of rewards systems to encourage positive behaviors from kids yet using experience points and badges in my gamified classroom I had the following Twitter conversation helping me think through PBIS and the use of rewards.

This issue, which researchers like Alfie Kohn, make seem so simple is filled with shades of gray and such nuance that I’m just swirling with what I should do to best serve my students! I know issues such as rewards are complex, therefore, not so easy to choose either no rewards or reward every positive behavior, but really? See this post by Joe Bower.

Some of the ideas that @AngelaWillyerd shared in the Twitter discussion above are to distinguish between differentiation via incentives such as experience points and badges for completing high quality work versus bribing kids to do work by giving them prizes. At least that’s my takeaway from what she said.

Where I found a familiar thread with giving rewards as extrinsic motivators via PBIS was when she said that initially we are supposed to reward kids for positive behavior but we should move past using those external motivators as the year progresses. Wean them off the rewards, right? At least that’s the what I hear from teachers who use rewards, they plan to wean kids off them once the kids figure out what behaviors will help them be successful in a classroom. And yet we are to somehow continue to reinforce the positive behavior, without rewards I gather, while reteaching those with poor behavior. In a gamified classroom experience points and badges are earned all year as kids successfully complete learning tasks. The experience points and badges are evidence of learning accomplished. Digital badges are the equivalent of paper certificates. In my class each badge comes with a list of quests complete to have earned that badge. So the experience points and badges are not rewards to be wean kids off of but rather examples of what they did to earn them.

It was at this point in the conversation that @thomasstacho added that we need to change our vocabulary from rewards to acknowledgement. That is what I hear when I ask kids about getting rewarded for positive behavior. Over and over kids say that they want feedback, that they want to know when they are doing something right or doing well. They really crave acknowledgement. So we need to find ways to authentically praise, all kids, to acknowledge their successes while teaching and reteaching those who struggle (reminds me of lagging skills from Lost At School).

What is mostly resonating with me is to have students nominate who should get acknowledged and for what. Diana Williams called it “self-refer” in a comment on John Spencer’s blog about working in a PBIS school. (Make sure you read the comments.) I struggle with nominating kids who are doing the right thing because I can’t see everything that is going on so if I miss a kid they begin to wonder, “why bother if no one notices?” The kids see way more than I do! That brings us to the issue then of whether to acknowledge and honor everyone, and risk cheapening the acknowledgements, or only select a few, as most reward systems do, and leave out many worthy kids. In my experience leaving out worthy kids doesn’t motivate them to want to do what is being rewarded. It create dissension amongst those that get rewards and those that don’t.

I still don’t know how to proceed by at least have much to think about.

Oct 21 14

Next Episode in the Voyages of the Starship Equinox

by Alfonso Gonzalez

I am using this butcher paper poster to collect our room 410 continuing story of the Starship Equinox. I have been adding a story element to my gamified Science course and the story continues.

On this poster I am storing all the QR codes that have appeared so far in our classroom in case students want to go back to any part of the story (it’s more fun than using the QR Reader history). :)

I incorporated the story into our recent volcano assessment!

The highest ranking member at each table, based on class level or XP as shown on their 3D GameLab account, got a top secret folder, pictured above, with a communication from Starfleet and tests for each person at their table.


Table leaders opened their top secret folders to find the following:



Then the test had a question right from the story! Students learned about different volcano types so I put a photograph of a volcano. That volcano was the one on the planet Palgren. Students were supposed to use evidence to justify which type of volcano they thought it was and tell me whether we should recommend that the Palgreni relocate to a different region or be evacuated from their planet!

Then more QR codes appeared in the classroom!

After our mission to the Taurus Reach, helping the Palgreni determine whether their active volcano was a danger to the whole planet or just a danger to the region, we got the following message from Starbase 47 in the QR code that appeared on the above poster in class.

Then this QR code appeared the day after the Bombay code. This one is the first where students get to choose what comes next. A true choose your own adventure story!

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