Friday, May 5, 2017

Pitch Your Mars Settlement Plan!

Right now, we are getting into a PBL unit for Mars settlement plans. The 8th graders are getting that excited look of CREATION as we begin!

We began the unit with the NASA game, Marsbound! Mission to the Red Planet Kids LOVED this game. It was a great way to introduce concepts about a budget, mission goals, and available science. Plus, my favorite part...budget cuts! Kids get so invested that they are hilarious when I do this. Printing out these game boards and pieces and laminating them was definitely worth it!

Then, I integrating the movie, The Martian, for some background and inspiration. I have a video viewing guide that we work through that includes various levels of questions and background science. I also have the areas listed to mute and do a quick hide of the screen for questionable material. I have students get a parent release signed even though it is PG13.

Then, students chose to work in teams to design:
    • Rover design (working from the game) and 3D printing- I have 3 printers in the room to work with. We use a super simple app and website for design. The students also have the freedom to integrate Legos, cardboard, recycled products, and more! Whatever they need to pull together to make their design come to life. With so many print jobs, you might wonder how I manage the student requests...Google Form! They have to request a print by filling out a form. 
    • Space suit- Research, design, and drawing on paper or in the Paper53 app on the iPad. LOVE this! The kids are talking about basic human needs, material science, flexibility, function, and more. I will be so excited to share those designs.
    • Crew welfare- Students work to provide for mental and physical needs of the crew while on the 8 month trip to Mars and when on the planet! This entails a lot of students creating Spotify playlists, finding apps on the iPad to create music, designing work out facilities, and more. Having them research the ISS workout plan is a great place to start.
    • Settlement model- Students design a model for what they want the settlement to look like and have in it. This starts with research and watching videos like and Then, students can 3D print, use cardboard, Legos, recycled products, duct tape (more duct tape) to build the structure. Super fun!
    • Food production and distribution- Research, design, and possible model building. This is turning out to be one of the best parts of the project! Students are researching caloric needs and comparing sample diets from around the world. Talk about eye opening. Thinking of raising insects or guinea pigs for food was not the initial idea, but research shows... Also, a great way to get kids talking about sexual and asexual reproduction in plants.
    • Coding- I have a group of students that designed a Martian surface with mountains, craters, and debris using an old Lego competition table (4 ft X 8 ft). They used recycled products, sand, duct tape, garbage bags, cardboard, and more to design a challenging surface mission that other classes will code Sphero and some Lego Mindstorms through. The table is 2 levels of awesome student design!

    • Rocket building- I asked my local Meijer store to donate rockets, and they did. They are level one rockets. So, definitely, very little teacher assistance required. I bought extra charges for multiple launches. This will be fun to have a couple of students launch rockets for each class period. I'm going to require this group to collect video for an iMovie in which they share their settlement mission statements, include the other teams' artifacts of learning, and show the rocket launch. So, basically, this team will become my media team by the end of it.

Now, all of this will come together in a large table for models, videos, and other artifacts in a Shark Tank method of pitching their settlement plan to me, a group of 7th graders, and a retired NASA engineer. The class that has the most developed plan will be "contracted" for the Mars Settlement Mission.

I will definitely be posting updates on our Instagram feed! @lacrossescience

Friday, February 3, 2017

Sphero: Playing to Learn

These are my kids...

They are the eighth graders that make me laugh often, think deeply, and pour myself into my career. I really love them! Now, 3 years into teaching 8th grade, I finally feel like I have my footing with them, the content, and the learning styles and uniqueness that comes from 13-14 year olds.

My Ohio Standards have a marvelous section for 8th grade scientists that allow them to explore Forces and Motion. From the unseen to contact forces, there is some fun curriculum to work with. My Sphero Physics Fun had a phenomenal start this week!

Student groups began by creating a Book Creator lab report in which they used Sphero to demonstrate some of the basic concepts for Forces and Motion. From Newton's Laws to vocabulary associated with forces and motion, these kids were creative. They captured footage, used slow motion, and built some amazing lab reports.

It was pretty cool to see them working together, talking science, and working with the concepts. While some students still struggled with the content, I could definitely see progress. We were building #sciencecommunication skills the entire time, and that is a win!

My next step was to give students a competitive experience like Kaci Heins does at Space Center Houston! She inspired me with her Sphero activities. 

I decided to challenge my students to a triathlon! The athlete...Sphero. The training...programming and driving. The engineering a bathing suit and bike for the first two legs of the triathlon. The and more science!

So, I "rolled" the project out to students with this SLIDE SHOW.

We have 2 pools for the first leg of the triathlon built with pond liners and LEGO tables (Familiar?
Our stream table used these structures. #reuse) We have a bike course set up with foam pipe covers. #cheap Our marathon course is outlined with Sphero tape. It winds around lab tables and has 2 hills on it. #toughprogramming

Day 1 was used for student brainstorming, planning, and measuring.
Days 2 and 3 were ALL about building, testing, 3D printing, redesigning, programming, talking, FAILING, and more!

Goofy videos:




Why did I love teaching this week SO much?

I didn't introduce the formulas for speed...until the students asked.

I didn't remind students to use the metric system...until TinkerCad software and Sphero tape forced them to.

I didn't ask the students to memorize the different types of friction...they were asking about them on their own! Sliding friction, rolling friction, static friction...we were chatting all day long about them. 

Do we want to minimize friction? Should we try to increase this force? How is it helpful? How does it hurt?

I wasn't forcing students to look at random diagrams of forces...we were mapping out the forces together to represent Sphero's motion.

and, the list goes on!

Playing to learn isn't a new concept. I'm not doing anything special. I'm just following instinct, other amazing educators, and using some amazing tools! I love teaching. I love my students. And, I love learning and growing.

Here are a couple very cool links to resources, if you are interested:

My Place

My space.

Room 201.
Where science happens...

It's messy.
It's cluttered.
It's full of materials acquired from grants. Because that's what I do.
Write. Grants. Like. A. Boss.

It's full of ideas, questions, mistakes, and success.

We FAIL...we learn.

We PLAY...we learn.

We SHARE through #sciencecommunication...we learn.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Science Extension...Electing to Follow Interests Part 1

It's almost been a year since my last blog post. I'm not thrilled about that, but I recognize that life can speed up in a heartbeat! Parenting has been a massive challenge for me. Home improvement is sucking the life right out of me. And, my science and tech world hasn't slowed down at all! I appreciate all of this, but just can get overwhelmed. So, lately, my platform of sharing ideas has been through FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter. It has been easy to share a picture or video with a short narrative. Ultimately, I'm trying to make my way back to this space for journaling, sharing, reflecting. My blog title is Conversations: Learning and Growing, and I believe that this type of writing has a more impact on me as a reflective learner.

 Here goes...

Science Extension Class:

I'm really excited about a new class that I'm teaching this year, my Science Extension class. My principal, Chad Carter, worked with our school schedule to allow for a rotating, 6 week course that students attend. We were asked to brainstorm how we would use these 6 weeks with students. With the 7th grade Science teacher, I brainstormed an extension class that would ultimately give students the support to run through their own "science fair" type of investigation. Supporting the students as they work through their questions, engineering challenges, building projects, or any topic that they are curious about has been my focus in that class. My identify resources, narrow down focus, supply materials, pose questions, answer questions, and generally stay out of the students' way unless support is needed.

 My students have shown a range in passion. This is just a quick list of where the first 6 week's of rotation has brought us:

  • designing plant walls
  • researching how cosmetics are tested
  • learning to code
  • building a dog house
  • designing a prosthetic leg for a dog using 3D printing
  • learning to sew and creating a line of dog products
  • getting answers to questions about our solar system
  • testing light in different classrooms to see impact on plant growth
  • designing and 3D printing a container for hair accessories

  • creating a Friday Science news show (Link for a sample video)
  • creating a model of the Wheel of Fortune game show set with little Bits
  • dissecting (link to Instagram video)
  • and so many more!
I am absolutely loving the variety. Students are taking what interests them and designing projects that allow them to follow that interest. Seeing the investment in most students really leads me to believe that this type of independent study should be a reoccurring class for students as they progress through our school. Getting an opportunity to pave the way, make mistakes, recover, and keep moving forward is such a powerful pathway.

I titled this blog "Part 1" because I have a list of moments in this class that have caught my attention and felt worthy of blogging. Who knows if I will return with a Part 2, but I wanted to share a super cool story for a couple of students.

Bella...and her (probably not going to happen) prosthetic leg:

This is a favorite for me, partly because it involves Bella and partly because the multiple connections.
Two students, Faith and Jenny, decided that they wanted to develop a prosthetic leg for Bella in Extension Class. Bella is a 3-legged Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix that lost her leg years ago in an accident. She actually gets around fine with her little hopping motion. She even chases down our Alaskan Malamute, Leo. So, she doesn't really need a leg, but based on another students successful process with this a couple of years ago, I had a feeling the project would be worthy. It has been awesome!

The girls started out by just meeting Bella. They watched her walk, even taking video and discussing her hopping motion. They measured Bella and recorded all the details about where the leg was amputated. Then, the girls started doing research on prosthetics. They looked at materials, connectors, and possible structures. 

With some designs and ideas, I directed the girls to check out the virtual reality dog dissections on the zSpace machine that we are piloting in the classroom. Faith and Jenny were amazed at the connectedness of the muscle, bone, nerves, and blood flow. By just manipulating the zSpace simulation, they gained so much information and knowledge. The machine was also wonderful for a Prosthetic Lab simulation. The girls were able to investigate the structure and composition of prosthetics in more detail. Win! 


From here, enter Jon Jarc. Jon is a high school teacher that I consider a guru on many topics, but in this case I knew that he would be an excellent resource for my young scientists in the area of prosthetics through 3D printing and the mechanics of the device. I set up a Skype call with Jon and turned over the teaching to him! What an excellent collaboration. Jon chatted with the girls for about a half hour sharing his thoughts and recommendations. He asked them guiding questions to help them make discoveries on their own. When he held up the prosthetics that his students were making for children, it was an amazing connection. I couldn't have asked for a better moment for those girls. This really authenticated their work. It brought focus and possibility to their ideas.

Moving forward, the girls have used the sewing machine for creating a harness. (Link to Instagram video) They have used 3D printing for initial prototypes in the leg. They have worked with testing various material for strength, weight, and flexibility. The work is definitely on going. With every hurdle, the girls are discussing, problem solving, and referring back to their resources.

Will the leg get finished in time for the 6 weeks? Probably not. Does it matter? Maybe a little. I know that the girls are invested and hopeful. We will probably have to get Bella to make some more appearances in the classroom, which is just fine for me. The kids LOVE her, and she has some unintended pay offs for students.

So, following interests, passions. That seems to be a key in this Extension. I'm loving it. Not all students have had this awesome of an experience. Some students look less at following their interests and more at making time with peers. These projects don't always have the pay off or end well. I'll share about those too. But, my conversation...where I'm learning and growing...moments of success make all the difference for me. This Extension Class has had some awesome moments in it that have helped keep my heart in education.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Science Literacy: Sketching in Science

Continuing with some of thoughts on how to build science literacy. I'm thinking about how to use sketching in science...

I believe that students develop thinking skills when we ask them to write, draw, and sketch their thinking out. In my room, I use the app Paper by 53 on the iPad. Students always have the option to jump back to spiral notebooks, and some students do choose that method. But, I scaffold their interaction with the technology and process of sketch noting.

These are my steps with some gorgeous samples by a very talented artist, Millie Pettegrew. She created these amazing sketches using the Paper by 53 app without any stylus.

First, I show students my process in using the Paper by 53 app by mirroring my iPad to the big screen. I demonstrate how to change colors, undo, erase, use shapes, etc. I do this as a guided activity with a science topic. I'm not teaching the software as much as talking and thinking aloud about science WHILE I use the app. I hope that makes sense. During this time, students are periodically looking up at the screen and discussing the science with me.

Here is Millie's example from very early on in the year. We had watched a short news clip about an earthquake in Afghanistan. You'll notice that the drawing is relatively basic with minimal words and just some color, shape, texture changes.

I am a firm believer that for a video to be useful in class, the students must have an opportunity to strictly WATCH the video. Then, we discuss the video. Finally, we watch the video a second time with the sketch noting activity occurring simultaneously.

Students grow in their ability to share details in videos. This shows Millie's growth from the first sketch note done for a video.

Also, I ask students to use sketch notes to make meaning of the reading that they do. I also model this with students. This connection to text is super important. I believe that it gives students necessary practice pulling meaning from text to a visual representation. This is Millie's review of a website about Old Woman Creek.

Another way that we work on science literacy through sketch noting is when students use the process for designing. Giving students an opportunity to map out their ideas in a visual manner connects them to the build. This sketch note was completed by a group of students in my first period class. It shows their initial ideas for a protective placement for an Egg Derby. Not only is the design pretty cool, but the sketch is a gorgeous artwork!

Finally, making meaning of apps that share science is important. We use various apps for learning through simulations and interactive games. I think it is important to ask students to connect to the content BEYOND closing out of the app. So, frequently, I will ask them to sketch something that they connected with. Millie does a beautiful job using Paper by 53 to share some of her learning from iPad apps.

A closing thought...

there are so many ways for student to make meaning in science beyond text notes. Sketch noting is an option for supporting students as they develop science literacy. How else can we use these powerful tools?

Please share your ideas...