Engage Online Students With Pear Deck and Padlet

I absolutely love teaching online. Students choose online school programs for a variety of reasons, but many suffer from some form of anxiety. This quarter, I’m teaching a high support Algebra class and A-G Earth Science. We hold our classes in zoom, and most students do not want to turn their microphones, and definitely choose not to turn on their cameras. This makes teaching synchronous lessons online a challenge for many teachers, but I’m finally finding my groove. I’ve been able to engage students with three low-risk strategies that help to create a sense of a safe place to learn.

 

First, if you are an online teacher and you aren’t using PearDeck for your direct instruction lesson you’ve gotta start!  There are a lot of blogs that have already done deep dives into Pear Deck, so I’ll just tell you how I use it (when you’re done here, see what Maneuvering the Middle has to say!)  When I’m teaching a synchronous online lesson, it’s hard to know if students are paying attention, if they are getting it, and if they are even there! With Pear Deck, I get to interact with the students during the lesson by providing multiple low risk formative assessment opportunities. Even high anxiety students participate because the lack of social risk (the answers do not display the student’s name!) and they generally become much more comfortable as the weeks go on. It also creates a sense of belonging in the classroom, as they see their answers and opinions displayed alongside their peers.

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A second favorite low risk engagement strategy is Padlet. I use padlet when I want to see students answering questions and interacting with content in real time. For one of my lessons, Noodle Science, I have students use Padlet to record their thoughts and questions about fixing a sink with ramen noodles (seriously!). The students are prompted to post on the padlet board and they learn from each other’s responses during the lesson. Another benefit of Padlet is it provides the opportunity for students to ask questions privately during or after a lesson. If students are working in Padlet, I always add a column for questions. The idea for the questions column came from the amazing Jennifer Gonzalez at Cult of Pedagogy. She has a great post about making your classroom academically safe. In the article she reminds teachers to allow time for students to ask private questions about assignments. Most of the time, if there is something posted in the questions column, other students have been wondering the same thing. 

Screenshot of Noodles SEP

 

Finally, I love giving students a Google form at the beginning of the quarter. In the form, I provide students with the opportunity to share their concerns about the online classroom. Are they nervous about turning on their camera?  Are they scared I will call on them during class? The form is such a great tool for me since it’s impossible to “read the room” like I normally would on the first day of class. The Google form gives me a heads up about student concerns and helps me take the temperature of the class. I think it really helps students feel safe with me from the start. 

Screenshot of Welcome Assignment Earth Science B

Teaching online direct instructions is new for many teachers but it is definitely the future of education. If you’re an online teacher I’d love to hear how you are engaging your students during direct instruction.

 

May your teacher heart be full and happy,

 

Sarah

 

Pop Culture in the Science Classroom

POP CULTURE IN THE SCIENCE CLASSROOM

When Neil deGrasse Tyson tweets about football, his 12 million followers delight in learning about physics through his in the moment observations. There’s a term for this called the “Pop Culture Scaffold”. Tyson uses the scaffold of popular culture (like the average American’s  basic knowledge of football) to show people how physics is at work in their world. Science teachers are so lucky because we have so many pop culture moments at the ready for teaching our curious kiddos. The Olympics, the latest pop song, and even (ugh) Fortnight can be bridges that connect our students to scientific concepts that they have not yet been able to name. Our students will benefit from our use of the pop culture scaffold as they stay engaged in lessons, have fun in learning, and tackle tough concepts through the lens of something familiar.

Don’t be afraid to get it wrong.

During a lesson, the first celebrity names that come to mind are always Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift. Just last week I said, “So many things in our world contain carbon. So that means plants, donuts…Justin Timberlake…” and the kids were like, “huh?”. It may not be the most on trend  example, but my high school students all have a mental image of Justin Timberlake. They probably picture JT at the Super Bowl halftime show attempting a selfie with an awkward teenager, while I still picture a crush worthy 1999 NSync version. Sometimes my references fall flat and that’s okay too. Don’t be afraid to get it wrong. One of my favorite things from last year is when my 8th grade girls would roll their eyes and say *cringe* in response to one of my attempts at pop culture connection. Oh what satisfaction I got when I knew my lesson was keeping them awake!

Embed pop culture treats into your lessons.

In my conceptual physics class, I know the students are insecure when it comes to the math. So I like to spice things up with a GIF of Drake. I put this slide into my PowerPoint before every math practice. It’s a little signal to the students to relax, smile, and re-frame their feelings about math.giphy

My other ultimate favorite is my YouTube teacher hero, Mr. Parr. He writes parody songs about science that are equal parts cringe worthy and clever. I’ve used them with both middle and high school students with great results. Here’s a great tip:  Copy and paste the lyrics from the video description and make it into Cloze notes. Make blanks throughout so the students have something to do during the video other than pretend they don’t actually love it.

Use Pop Culture to Teach the Tricky Stuff

Scientific argumentation is a crucial piece of student learning in the NGSS framework. A popular way for students to demonstrate mastery of a concept or to write up a lab report is the Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning (CER) format (Haven’t heard of it? This is my all time favorite video explaining the CER). Students answer a guiding question with these three pieces of information. Many times, the students struggle to understand the evidence and reasoning portions of their write up. After attempting to explain it multiple times, I finally had the idea to connect the CER with something they know. So I created the guiding question, “What was the best song of 2017?”  Of course there will be many answers to this question in a single classroom, and most of those answers can be backed up by some kind of evidence. The amazing thing about 2017 is that the most popular song of the year was “Despacito”. I once heard a podcast about how “Despacito” is actually scientifically pleasing to our ears (Read more about that here). This CER lesson was engaging and fun and really got my students to own and understand the difference between reasoning and evidence. If you’d like this CER lesson already made here you go!

I hope you are inspired to infuse your lessons with pop culture!  May your heart be full and happy,

Sarah

More pop culture lessons from Happy Teacher Heart

Middle School Classroom Hacks You Can Start Today

When I went from high school to middle school teacher, I found out really quickly that there were quite a few classroom strategies I needed to rethink.  It took me the whole year to perfect the craft of a pencil system, to create a bathroom pass that they hate, and to keep them engaged with social pressure.  Here’s what I learned that I hope will help you too!

Hack #1: Throw it Back to the 90’s and Invest in a Fanny Pack

My must have classroom fashion accessory carried pencils, tardy slips, and the occasional confiscated student phone (“You’d better put that phone away or it’s going for a ride in my fanny pack!”)  With the fanny pack, pencil trade became easy business.  Need a pencil? I’ll take your school ID and put it in the pack.  Then, I get my pencil back at the end of class when they realize they are ID-less (a major crime in middle school hallways) and I always know right where it is!  Fanny Packs are super nerdy, but middle school is a gloriously awkward place for its inhabitants so it’s kinda fun to embrace the weird and jump on that train with them!File_000 (4)

Hack #2: Make a Bathroom Pass They’ll Never Want to Use

 The bathroom is a pretty popular place in middle school.  Every period there were always various desperate dramatic pleas for a bathroom pass.  In search of a pass that would deter students, I scoured Pinterest for ideas and even bought a set of punny passes on Teachers Pay Teachers, but nothing ever worked.  Until…I had an idea! First, I found a giant outdated college textbook on my bookshelf (I’m talking a thousand pages of goodness). Then, I duct taped the heck out of it, so it could NOT be opened (no bathroom reading on my watch!).  Finally, I taped a post-it with my name and room number to the cover. Ta-da! A free brick-like (but not weapon) bathroom pass they won’t want to carry across campus. This one simple hack reduced bathroom usage in my class by 1000% (*not real data—but a close estimation!).IMG_0125

Hack #3: Keep ‘em on Their Toes with the Popsicle Sticks App:

Equity sticks and formative assessment are nothing new, but hey, “there’s an app for that!”.  The Popsicle Sticks app will rock your world because it can be programmed with all your student’s names in every period, randomly choose a student from a class list, and even track discussion points! I used to let a superstar student be the “picker” and they got to have my phone on their desk during the discussion and hit the “Random Name” button.  I’d say that at $2.99, this app is an amazing purchase and well worth the money in return for some student engagement (and public speaking fear).

The three hacks above helped me solve some of my problems, but I saved my best classroom practice for last. Even worse than the above problems, my students came into my classroom like bulls in a china shop.  Trash on the floor, cursing, hanging out the windows…had no one taught these kids manners? The answer was mostly, “no”. So, I created these manners advisory lessons. They help my students learn manners such as how to introduce themselves to others, how to respond in social situations politely, and of course how to act in my classroom.  I made them the lessons funny and interactive and they are perfect for advisory lessons, back to school expectations, or times when you have 15 mins to spare.

I solved my very biggest classroom problem with a fanny pack. What hacks are you using in your classroom?

May your teacher heart be full and happy,

Sarah

 

Permission to Try NGSS and Resources for Success

3 -Dimensional Learning ,Cross Cutting Concepts, Disciplinary Core Ideas…these new terms have been plunked in the laps of science teachers all over the country. A new set of state standards, The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), are written in a way that equips teachers to engage a new generation of learners. They are unfamiliar, confusing, and quite frankly, terrifying (at first!).

I think science teachers are a special kind of people. We love to explore and learn, we are filled with curiosity, and we also like to be right. There’s a common feeling I’ve picked up on from my own teachers, other department heads, and countless others in Facebook groups: they are scared of doing NGSS wrong. There’s so much room for interpretation and individual teacher ownership of the standards that teachers new to NGSS are left feeling abandoned and hung out to dry. In addition to that, most districts, even my district in a large Southern California city, have not adopted a new textbook despite adopting an integrated model. Here’s a few things I hope will help you take your first steps toward rocking out with NGSS confidently.

Understand What NGSS is and What it’s Not

At a staff meeting a few months ago, I had my teachers complete a circle map together as a team (side note: I am in love with thinking maps). We talked about the spirit of NGSS and what it IS and is NOT. (See below) IMG_0145 I think this helped the teachers feel more confident because they discovered they already knew more than they thought they did. NGSS is not unlearning everything you thought you knew about teaching science. I’m willing to bet you’ve already been teaching in the spirit of NGSS long before you ever heard that one little (big) word.

Find Your NGSS Peeps

There are some awesome teachers trying NGSS in their classrooms and writing about it!  Sure, you can look at the NGSS website, but I’ve found a few teachers who are great at explaining NGSS in a real person way.

One of these is Erin Sadler from Sadler Science. She has a great blog with categories like “NGSS”, and “NGSS Newbies”. One of my favorite things there is her “Ten Minute Guide to Reading the Next Generation Science Standards” It’s like having your own personal instructional coach!  She’s also committed to really understanding all of the aspects of NGSS and passing along that information to her readers. I totally don’t know Erin or anything, but I think she’s pretty great!

The next NGSS awesome is NGSS Nerd. Juli’s instagram is adorable and her TPT resources are some of the best out there. I used several in my class and especially like her “Be the Engineer” bundle. My 8th grade students completed the challenges last year right before Winter Break and they loved it!  (see pic).File_000 (2) The NGSS Nerd blog also has some great info for NGSS teachers!

Finally, my go-to TPT store author is Karla from Sunrise Science. The resources from Sunrise Science are solid and her artistic eye makes everything look so great. I’ve been 10/10 happy with every single thing I’ve bought from her. Also, her post about finding anchoring phenomena is worth its weight in gold. Karla, I don’t know you, but I’m fangirling your stuff! Thanks for making great things!

Take a Risk, Ignore the Haters

I’m active in several science Facebook groups and I’ve generally found the collective vibes supportive and warm. However, there are always a few whose comments will drench you in shame and make you feel like you are doing everything wrong. Fear of making mistakes or  doing NGSS “wrong” can stop even the best teachers in their tracks. For science teachers trying NGSS in their classrooms for the first time, there is risk. There will be failures, and there will be great victories. Our students will thrive as we try new things with them. They will love engaging with phenomenon and attempting inquiry labs. Things will probably be messy and hard for us science teachers as we lead our students on a new adventure. Friends, it is scary to try new things (especially in front of 35 kids!), but I want to give you permission to try. Just try, and model growth mindset all along the way. Remember that your students adore you, and if you’re doing your best to research and plan NGSS aligned lessons, you’re doing great!

One of my all time favorite people, renowned shame researcher Brene Brown, is full of encouraging quotes about risk and vulnerability. I’ll leave you with this: “It’s worse to spend your life on the outside looking in, wondering what if, than it is to try and dare greatly and risk the chance of failure. Dare greatly; get in the arena and try.”  —Dr. Brene Brown

May your teacher heart be full and happy,

Sarah

Bring some happy NGSS vibes to your classroom with these NGSS phenomenon video guides! 

Read how I’m rocking NGSS in my classroom here

How Real Heroes Can Change a Student’s Life

 

A Teacher and a preacher, he still had time

No this is not just a rhyme

From ice cream to boat rides, he was there

Yes that was my grandpa down to every last hair

—An excerpt from a poem I wrote to read at my grandpa’s funeral 1992

When my grandpa suddenly died of a massive heart attack at 57 years old, my world changed dramatically. I adored my grandpa and he adored me right back, his very first grandchild. Soon enough my sisters and cousins would be born, but he made me feel like the most special girl in the world. Then, the summer before sixth grade, my awkward phase displayed in its full glory, he was gone. The aftermath of his death was excruciating. Our family, pitifully composed of three sad little girls and one financially destitute and newly divorced mom, moved in with my grief stricken grandma.

Soon enough, school started, and we piled into a barely running car for the drive across town to our old school.  The trek was time consuming but necessary to try to keep some normalcy in our upside down lives. I wonder what my teachers saw?  Did they know how much chaos I lived in? Did they know I was trying to handle the overwhelming grief of the loss of my hero on my own, so I could be the strong one in our house of sadness?

That year, our teacher introduced a research project. We would write about person who changed the world. My grandfather changed my world, but there were no books written about him in the local library for me to check out. My mom suggested Clara Barton, since I was interested in nursing. I went to the library on a Saturday and I found all the books I could about Clara Barton. I remember checking out books meant for adults and feeling oh so grown up about it all. As I read through the books, I learned about Clara Barton’s work in starting the American Red Cross, and the way she was called the “Angel of the Battlefield” because her  desire to help wounded soldiers was greater than her fear of death.

I never forgot about Clara Barton and what I learned in my research about the way that she lived a life that was brave and different. There were no growth mindset posters adorning the walls of my early 90’s classroom nor commonplace vocabulary words like GRIT, but I learned about those things organically when my teacher gave me the opportunity to discover a new hero that year. I learned that there were other lives well lived that could impact my own, even if I’d never met them. I discovered elements of Clara Barton’s story that were also part of the life I hoped to live.

My hope in creating the growth mindset worksheets, “Their Story, My Story”, was to give kids a chance to see that well remembered, successful people also faced setbacks in their lives. I wanted them to see that despite their own circumstances, they could still live a life worth talking about. The people I included have faced the messy realities of life. They too wrestled with the grief of lost loved ones, they faced financial uncertainty, and they were strong enough to choose to keep going.

I hope you’ll be able to use these worksheets in your classroom too. I think you’ll love reading your students written responses and learning more about their personal stories. I hope this activity will allow your students to connect with a hero that could inspire them to change the world.   

May your teacher heart be full and happy,

Sarah

How YouTube Transformed My Lessons

This year, as science department head, I attended several meetings and full day trainings about how to adopt NGSS standards and practices in our middle school classrooms. Throughout the meetings hands shot up all around the room as teachers wrestled with the implications of a completely new, phenomena based way of teaching science. “What about the textbook?!” a teacher would ask, shocked at the answer that our district wont even look at new, NGSS aligned textbooks for 2 more years (our current book could be considered a fossil, with 20 plus years of penis doodles and scribbles throughout EVERY page in EVERY book). Another popular question, “Since we are moving to an integrated model, how will I know what to teach if I don’t even have a textbook and haven’t touched earth science in years?”  

The NGSS standards adopted by California are really changing the game for teachers. NGSS is replacing standards that were last adopted in 1998!  As the field of science is driven by technology and changing daily I think we can agree that twenty years is just too long without change. In addition,  I think the questioning teachers above really want to give their best to students, but need tools. So with no textbook, armed only with a few loose ideas and examples of what phenomenon based teaching looks like, now what?

An answer for me was a deep dive into the wonders of YouTube. Most science teachers are really good at finding resources to teach themselves long forgotten or never fully understood concepts (oh hey, Khan Academy!), but finding the right videos for middle and high school students is different. I’ve found that creating a well developed lesson that includes intentionally curated YouTube videos is as fun and effective at facilitating learning as the best wedding DJ’s are at creating a party you never want to leave. Here are a few of my favorite channels to get you started:

NPR’s Skunk Bear is a series of videos starring Adam Cole, a witty, nerdy and awesome guy who never fails to make me laugh (even though the jokes and culture references often soar above my 8th graders heads). The videos are broken up into playlists sorted by science discipline. The videos range from about three to seven minutes and are really well produced. My students loved them, especially the “Good Question” series!

My second favorite is PBS’ It’s Okay to be Smart channel featuring Joe Hansen. Joe Hansen is lovable and funny and he doesn’t talk too fast, (sorry, I’m talking to you Hank Green). It’s Okay to be Smart’s videos have silly jokes and nods at pop culture but as they engage in phenomenon the videos teach students to do the same. Hansen’s channel is also divided into playlists sorted by subject from Biology to Space to Food Science. The videos are done in PBS’ classic, not too flashy, smart style and students really love them.

Finally is the band Okay Go. I had never heard of these guys until I became a science teacher. In one of my science Facebook groups, a member had mentioned their Rube Goldberg video. I checked it out and I wasn’t sorry!  As well as being talented musicians, they are probably also super nerdy. Many of their videos play with the laws of physics. A particularly awesome video called “Upside Down and Inside Out” is the perfect way to introduce gravity to students without even saying the word.

I hope you enjoy these YouTube channels as much as my students and I have. I developed a series of worksheets that will guide your students in understanding the concepts and phenomena presented in some of these YouTube channels which you can find here. #sorrynotsorry for the YouTube rabbit hole you are about to jump down!

May your teacher heart be full and happy,

Sarah

Teaching Our English Learners Well

There is nothing quite like the first days of the new school year. There is the excitement of fresh school supplies, newly decorated classrooms, and the challenge of matching names on a roster with the shining faces of eager students. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle as you get to know your new students, here are some things you need to know about the English Language Learners in your classroom:

  1. Your students have language. That language just might not be English. One of the best things that a teacher can do for the English Language Learners is affirm and appreciate their home language. The fact that they have acquired one language means that they have capacity to acquire another one. Their first language is a crucial jumping off point to acquire English.
  2. What are your students’ proficiency levels?  This information can be obtained by looking at their language proficiency results on state tests (this usually differs by state- and may be changing soon, like it is for us in California!) and can tell you a lot about how to differentiate your instruction and assessment for English Language Learners. Students are given an overall level, and then all the domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing are also leveled. Looking at the domains specifically can help identify interventions for struggling students. For example, it is not uncommon for students to be Advanced in Speaking but struggle with their Writing. Taking a look at their assessments might tell you if their struggles are a language development issue and help you take proper action.
  3. What are the previous educational experiences of your English language learners?  This will give you tremendous insight into what your student needs in order to succeed in your classroom. For example, many of the students who I worked with last year were actually born in the United States, but have a language other than English spoken primarily at home. These students feel like they “speak English” but need to focus on Academic Language Development. I also worked with another student who has what is considered “interrupted education” because she spent a significant portion of her middle-elementary years bouncing between the US and Mexico without really completing a full year of enrollment in either country. She struggled both with language and gaps in her content knowledge. I had another student who immigrated to the United States at the age of 16, but had attended secondary school in Mexico. His primary struggle was English; he had a broad base of knowledge in content areas such as Math, Social Studies, and literary analysis skills. Especially for these last 2 students, even though they had similar proficiency levels on paper, their needs in a classroom look very different. Simple, open-ended questions, such as “What was elementary school like for you?” can start conversations that will give you more insight.  

 

While there is so much for a teacher to keep straight as the school year starts rolling, taking the time to find out some of this information about the English Language Learners in your classroom will pay off- both in the quality of your relationship, and in your knowledge to support their growth academically.

Download our free “Speak Like a Scientist” printable sentence starters that will support your English Language Learners during classroom discussions.

May your cup always be full of coffee,

Deanna