Goodbye July, Hello August!


It’s hard to believe we’re already through the first week of August! Some young learners and fellow teachers are already back in school. I wish them all an exciting and very productive school year. In an attempt to create a more regular habit of writing, this post focuses more on my personal goals and what I’ve been working on lately.

July has been a very busy month, but I can’t say that I’m sad to see it go. In July, my school officially closed and I have been busy getting back in the job market. After seeing a career counselor, I learned that I was more interested in pursuing my interests in educational technology, but that I also was not yet done with teaching. I began to network with technology and e-learning specialists in my Twitter PLN, and they have been so helpful in answering my questions about the field.

My main goal in July was to find a new teaching position. After a long month of multiple interviews at various districts and companies, I am glad to say that I accepted an offer at a small private school as their new middle school teacher. I am excited to be part of a wonderful and supportive faith-centered learning community, and even more excited to further pursue my interests in educational technology through their growing technology program.

Other notable events in July include my week-long summer biology workshop at Cornell University (see posts one and two), my first year wedding anniversary, and my progress with Couch to 5K. In a show of support for my husband, I began to take up running to keep him company as he trained for his PT exam at work. It became a personal challenge to me (I didn’t like running), and currently I am working through Week 6! I never thought I’d be a “runner”, but it really is a wonderful feeling when you accomplish something you thought you’d never be able to do!

Made it through Week 5 of Couch to 5K (#C25K) at the time of this photo

A teacher-friend created this beautiful wedding anniversary cake for us

A teacher-friend created this beautiful wedding anniversary cake for us

For August, my main goal is to focus on purchasing our first home. My husband and I have been searching the house market on and off for the past few years. As we continue to run out of space in the apartment and focus more on growing our own food, we realize we really need to buckle down and commit to the search!

Other goals for August include spending some more family time with my boys, doing some research on 1:1 technology programs (and figuring out how I can use it in my science classroom), preparing to teach a Living Environment Regents class for the first time, setting up my science classroom, and continuing with the Couch to 5K program. Notable upcoming events include seeing one of my old middle-school friends get married this summer! My family from the West Coast will also be visiting later this month. I am so excited to see them and to spend some good quality time with family and friends.

Geeking Out at CIBT 2015 (Days 3-5)

Back again, with a quick review of my last three days at Cornell University’s Institute for Biology Teachers Summer Workshop (#CIBT2015)!

Day 3 of #CIBT2015 was spent mostly in Snee Hall exploring various biology labs such as The Tooth Kit, The Spice Lab, DNA Modeling, and a fun CSI activity called “The Case of the Missing Diamond Maker”. I liked all the labs, but I think the biggest take-away was to encourage more thinking skills by using more of these hands-on open-inquiry labs. They all pique student curiosity and encourage students to design investigations around their own questions. 

On Day 4 of #CIBT2015, there was a field trip to Cornell’s Department of Animal Science. There was a short presentation on animal careers, and then we teachers bravely donned on gloves to collect rumen microbes from Rosie, a fistulated cow, to observe later for our microscopy lab. Note my look of mixed excitement and terror on the photo below. (Ignore the crate.)

Collecting rumen microbes from Rosie

Collecting rumen microbes from Rosie

The Holey Cow presentation is one of the community outreach programs offered by Cornell’s Dept. of Animal Science. If you can get your kids there, the presentation is free. Don’t forget to bring them over to the Dairy Bar and taste the latest ice cream flavors created by students from Cornell’s Dept. of Food Science!

Nothing like enjoying fresh cold ice cream after sticking my hand in a fistulated cow

Nothing like enjoying fresh cold ice cream after sticking my hand in a fistulated cow (after I cleaned up)

On our last day, we learned about Cornell’s Naturalist Outreach Program. Local schools can request presentations from undergraduate and graduate students to share their work and talk about a variety of life science topics. Kristen, an entymologist, shared her own personal collection of insects with us. She also answered all of our curious questions about all things bugs. For example, I asked her what happened to all the fireflies–they seemed to have disappeared over the last few years! This was an actual question investigated by researchers over at Tufts University and Fitchburg State College; your students can join their citizen science program, “Firefly Watch”.

Learning about the ghost mantis

Learning about the ghost mantis from Kristen

Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time with the CIBT staff members, presenters, and fellow summer workshop teachers. It was good to have a group of people with similar teaching backgrounds to share ideas and resources with, and to learn about a variety of different biology labs to bring back to class.

Lessons learned from #CIBT2015:

  • Get involved in one or more citizen science programs. Students have to do actual science to learn science. Citizen science in the classroom builds a sense of connection to the community and the world around; it emphasizes the 3C’s– critical thinking, collaboration, and communication; and it also gets the idea across that science and research is for everyone, not just scientists alone. One particular idea shared which I loved is using students’ collected data for graphing and analysis practice.
  • Don’t be afraid of guided– and open-inquiry labs. Bring back that sense of curiosity and exploration by letting your students pursue their own questions. One of my biggest hang-ups as a middle-school science teacher is having to make sure everything is “under (my) control”. If my goal is to help grow independent life-long learners who are not afraid to take risk, then I must be able to let them try things on their own and make mistakes. The slug and spice labs were great examples of how I can do this in the classroom. Start with a topic (ie. food preferences of slugs, effect of spices on bacteria) and let your students do the rest. Scientific inquiry? Engineering design? Success!
  • Use models, models, and more models. Hands-on activities > 3D science models > paper cutouts. We teachers talk about differentiation all the time. I personally am a visual learner; it makes sense to me to include a huge variety of visuals, diagrams, and 3D models in class. Looking at models of various molars, canines, and skulls (tooth lab and comparative skull lab) actually helped me learn more about the feeding habits of local animals and trophic levels than reading from the textbook or looking at pictures. Obviously, money and access to available models may limit these types of activities in the classroom, but it may be worth it to write a grant or look into local colleges and their lending libraries.

Geeking Out at Cornell’s 2015 Summer Institute (Days 1-2)

Hello from Ithaca, New York! This week, this lucky girl is participating in a week-long free summer professional development workshop offered by Cornell University – Institute for Biology Teachers (CIBT). I learned about the summer workshop through one of the NSTA science list-serves earlier this year. I applied, and now here I am… one of the twenty middle school science teachers from New York, New Jersey, and West Virginia attending Cornell’s 2015 Summer Institute for Middle School Science Teachers.

“Ithaca is Gorges” is a popular tee-shirt slogan here. Without a doubt, the campus and location in the middle of summer is absolutely breathtaking. Right now, as I type this, I think about what a blessing it is to listen to water flowing from Cascadilla Gorge right outside my dorm window.

Cascadilla Gorge

Cascadilla Gorge

However, as much as I’m enjoying the scenery, this post is about the amazing biology labs and activities I’ve been learning about for the past two days. The workshop highlights recent research in biology and promote interactions between teachers and scientists. They introduced many citizen science programs, which we teachers were able to further explore through our own participation.

On Day 1 of #CIBT2015, we visited the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I learned about their citizen science programs such as eBird, Project FeederWatch, NestWatch, and YardMap. I got to bring out my inner-birder by participating in a bird count and submit a checklist. Yay!

Aside from learning about citizen science programs, there was also a lot of focus on exploring and evaluating middle-level biology labs that foster more student inquiry. The slug lab was an example of one of the open-inquiry labs we explored on the first day.

Here’s a picture of “Slugger”! He seemed to enjoy the yellow bell pepper more than the leafy greens we provided in our sample. Hmm, I wonder if the water content of the food samples might influence the food preferences of the slug… 

Slug Lab

Did you know that the nine-spotted ladybug is the official state insect of New York? I learned this fact from John Losey on Day 2 of #CIBT2015 when he introduced the Lost LadyBug Project to us. I had no idea that the native ladybugs were disappearing. In fact, our native ladybug has been placed by the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation on the List of Special Concern.  Here we are, combing through the herb and vegetable gardens looking for the lost lady bugs!

Searching for ladybugs in one of Cornell's herb and vegetable gardens

Searching for ladybugs in one of Cornell’s herb and vegetable gardens

Here’s another fun fact I learned: Did you know that the deeper the color red, the more endangered that ladybug is? How fascinating! Is this little ladybug one of our nine-spotted friends, or is it the invasive Asian ladybug? Hmm…

A vial with several ladybugs collected from the garden

A vial with several ladybugs collected from the garden

6 Non-Fiction Literary Resources For More Reading in Science

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To encourage more reading (and reading comprehension) in science, it is important to share a variety of engaging non-fiction text in the classroom. As a first-year teacher, one of the things I struggled with was trying to find free (or close to free) literary resources that I could easily differentiate for different reading levels and share with my students. Over time, I learned some very important survival tips: 1) Ask your ELA teacher to share their favorite sources; 2) Create your own class library by asking for donations from local community organizations and; 3) Cut, paste, and edit your passages to meet the specific needs of your students.

Here are some of my favorite resources that I’ve used in the past–

1. Readworks – Readworks (RW) offers leveled and standards-based K-12 non-fiction and literary passages for free. In the past few years, they have beefed up their science collection. If you sign up for a free account, you can save your favorite passages to your binder and download the PDFs. RW also provides Lexile levels and scaffolded comprehension question sets. I do suggest reading through the passages first; many of them are quite lengthy so you’ll have to customize them for your students’ needs.

2. NewsELA – NewsELA (NE) was a resource that an ELA teacher shared with me. NE offers leveled and standards-based high-interest current event articles. Like RW, you can sign up for a free account, save favorite passages to your binder, and use their quizzes. NE, however, also offers a paid version called NewsELA Pro where you can assign articles to different classes and track their progress online. Unlike RW, NE offers articles in 5 different Lexile levels. Some articles also provide Spanish versions.

3. ScienceNews for Students – ScienceNews for Students (SNS) is an offshoot of Science News provided by the non-profit Society for Science and the Public (SSP). SNS offers a variety of free high-interest science current event articles for students. Readability is geared generally towards sixth graders and upwards, but I found that most middle-level struggling readers found it difficult to read. Readability scores are included at the bottom of the article. I edited and shortened many of the articles for students, but also linked it to a class wiki news page for independent reading and research for higher-level students.  SNS offers engaging visuals, often link to more explanatory articles to further inform curious readers about the topic, and provides Power Words sections that highlight difficult and important vocabulary from the text.

4. NYS Conservationist for Kids – Digging around your state’s department of environmental conservation website can lead to free educational resources. That’s what I found a few years ago when I was looking for local material for an ecology unit. For example, the NYS DEC offers a free class set of 30 copies of their Conservationist for Kids magazine for public fourth-grade classrooms, along with teacher supplements and activity sheets. Reading level may be a bit too easy for my middle-level students, but there were a great supplement for struggling readers.

5. National Institute of General Medical Science Electronic Publications –  The National Institute of General Medical Science (NIGMS) offers a great selection of free publications for high school and college students. The publications can be accessed electronically, but you can also request a class set of free booklets. I ordered sets of Inside the Cell and Findings Magazine and offered them as advanced supplemental reading for our middle-level units of cell biology and genetics. They were an excellent resource for students performing independent research tasks.

6. Scholastic Science Magazines – Scholastic offers various science magazines. For elementary, there are Science Spin and SuperScience. For secondary, there is ScienceWorld. I know they’re not free, but I thought they were worth mentioning. I was able to secure a year’s subscription through DonorsChoose during my second year of teaching, and the students absolutely loved the ScienceWorld magazines. The magazines are highly visual, provide a variety of engaging articles from different science subjects, and have an engaging online component.  Here’s a excellent tip I learned from a Scholastics vendor representative I met at an NSTA conference: you don’t have to order a whole class set! Call their hotline number and ask for the individual rate. You can pay $20 for one magazine for a whole year’s subscription, and it still comes with the teacher guide and online access.

Last Chapters and Brand New Books


This has been a very difficult post to write. I kept putting it off, making excuses and losing myself in the busyness of end-of-year tasks and summer plans. I must have hit the delete button many times, trying to find a positive angle on what has been a very dark time for me. In the end, I’m just going to write plainly.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated the graduation of our 8th Graders. This cohort was our last batch of graduates since our school closed mid-June. I have proudly witnessed their growth from gangly and timid 5th Graders to confident and fashion-conscious incoming high school freshmen. Also, last Friday, we officially closed our classroom doors and turned in our keys for the last time.

It pained me deeply to think that my colleagues, students, and I would not be returning in the fall. The school had become a second home to me, and my colleagues were my second family. Already, many of them have relocated to different states, to different schools, and even different career fields. Each day was a joy to work with such funny, loving, and supportive people. I wish them the best in all that they do, and hope that we can continue to keep in touch.

It is very easy to get lost in sadness, and to get overwhelmed with anxiety and fear of the unknown future. However, I remind myself of a graduate’s quote shared in her farewell speech–“This is not the last chapter, but just the beginning of a new book.” I think back to who I was five years ago as a new teacher, and to who I am now.

I’m thankful for the experiences and the people who have helped shape me and my teaching. Without them, I would not have…

…learned how to become an advocate for myself, my students, and colleagues.

…developed strong classroom management and communication skills with inner-city students.

…evolved my teaching philosophy and experimented with different styles and practices.

…created a professional learning network with social media and found so many mentors.

…applied for the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy and become one of its conference speakers.

…become fearless and tried new things in the classroom each month, even if it failed.

…learned it was okay to fail too.

…tried flipped classrooms.

…bring an after school STEM program to life.

…gained confidence in my strengths and focused less on my weaknesses.

…learned to accept and rely on others’ support and love to make myself a better teacher.

There are so many more wonderful memories, good times, and valuable lessons to remember and take away from all these years working at the school. I will remember them always, and hold them close. Now, I look at this new fresh page before me and wait to see how the next story unfolds! Oh, I hope it will be a grand adventure, full of bigger and better things to come!

Five Positive Ways to Beat The End-of-Year Slump


A few weeks ago, a fellow teacher blogger wrote about how April and May are the worst months for her. At this point, testing is over, but there are still some weeks left before the end of the school year. There are no more snow days or long weekends to break up the long days, and school programs and events seem to pile up during this time. It can get quite stressful, especially when you’re not only trying to keep up a good attitude, but also trying to keep the learning momentum going and the students just aren’t having it.

As teachers, I think we all go through this at some point of the year. For me, personally, having worked at a school with extended days and an extended school year, there were moments where I didn’t think I would see the end of it! However, over the past few years, I’ve picked up a few pointers from veteran teachers and positive psychology authors to help me beat the slump.

Do you want to know how to get over it? Choose positivity. Most, if not all, positive psychology and happiness books will tell you that happiness is a choice. Positivity is a choice. You choose to focus on what’s right, and what’s good with your life.  You make a plan by making small changes, and you make these small positive changes into daily habits.

So, when I hit my mid-year or end-of-year teaching slump, I find myself relying more and more on these particular positive habits.

Positive habit #1: Make a “Good Morning” song playlist (and play it loud).

Confession: I am not a morning person. Well, at least, not until I have had a cup of coffee and some quiet time to get myself together. I have found that listening to upbeat happy songs in the shower and while eating breakfast gets me in a happy mood, so I made it a habit to listen to  music in the morning—anything that can get me to sing and dance! This definitely wakes me up, and sets the tone of the day for me.

Positive habit #2: Meditate before you begin your day.

Okay, another confession, I can’t meditate. I’ve tried and tried so many times, but my mind just goes all over the place. So when I say meditate, I really mean, try to find a way to find just five minutes to yourself where you can find some quiet and reflect upon your intentions for the day. For me, this is where I go to my prayer closet and read a page from my daily devotional before I leave for work. Sometimes I may run late, so when I don’t get a chance to do this, I use my commute time to pray quietly in my car and give myself a pep talk about how great my day is going to be, and how I’m going to make it a great day for someone else! Just find some quiet place and try to ground yourself, whatever works for you.

Positive habit #3: Surround yourself with positive people.

It’s the law of attraction– like attracts like. If you’re positive in attitude and expect good things, you’re going to attract positive people, and create situations that conform to your positive expectations. One of the first things I love to do when I get in to work in the morning is to check in with my colleagues and ask them how they are doing. While I wait for my laptop to boot up, I make my rounds to different floors and say hello to everyone. During my lunch break, I don’t hide away or work over my laptop. I walk around, check in with admin, and talk to friends. Some of my best lessons have come from these rounds because I get to talk to people from other departments. We share ideas, feedback, and collaborate on projects. This would never have happened if I stuck to toxic work areas and kept to myself!

Positive habit #4:  Allow yourself to laugh more.

By this point in the year, I’ve been with my students long enough to get to know their personalities and quirks. I used to think that I had to be “on” all the time, meaning that I had to keep my strict teacher face on every single second. It took me awhile to learn that students respond best when they know you’re human, that they can connect with you, and that  despite all that, you’re still the teacher who expects them to their best every day. These kids are really funny, and some of my favorite laugh-out-loud moments happen when we get together in the classroom.

Positive habit #5: Push yourself to do something different.

While the previous habits were mostly personal, this last habit is more for my teaching profession. To get myself through the slump, I try to step outside the instruction box and do something different for the last 2-3 months of school. Last year, I tried the Code Blue Human Body Systems Unit. This year, I’ve tried the flipped classroom. I’m also trying to pull together a STEM Family Fair or a short CSI Forensics program in June.  When I try something new, I get to rev up my brain and get my creative juices flowing. I get over the slump because now I’m getting excited over what I’m doing. It’s like planning for a vacation— you look forward to doing something and you anticipate it!

These are five positive ways I have found to help me get through the end of the school year. What are some of the things that have worked for you?

Image Credit: “Sunflower Field” by Skykisser

Using Community Resources for Free (and Unconventional) Science Field Trips

My class and I had a fantastic time on our field trip three days ago… at ShopRite! Yes, going to the local grocery store for a middle school science field trip may sound strange, but it was actually an entertaining and very informative way to learn about healthy eating. Just last week, we finished our lessons on the Digestive System so we visited ShopRite as one of our culminating activities.

My class and I with the ShopRite dietitian

My class and I with the ShopRite dietitian

We met with the store’s registered dietitian, Adrian, who gave us an interactive tour of the store. The students reviewed My Plate guidelines, learned what to look for in the store when meal-planning and purchasing healthy foods on a budget, and met store managers who gave them a behind-the-scene look in the produce, bakery, and seafood aisles. They also calculated how many teaspoons of sugar were in their favorite drinks, and sampled fruit bars as an alternative healthy snack. In the picture below, some students meet one of the lobsters up close and learned about the store’s local sustainability program for seafood. We all had a great time–students, teachers, and store staff alike.


One of my favorite parts of designing lessons and units is figuring out how to tie in local community resources in our objectives. Field trips overall are wonderful experiential learning opportunities, but local field trips are even better because they’re free, close by to our school, and connect the students to their immediate community. They are no longer learning about some intangible science concept or topic. Now they are interacting with people they see in their every day lives, making real-life connections, and also learning that these professions are something they can do too when they grow up.

Here are My Top 5 Community Resources for Science Field Trips:

1. Field Trip Factory – This website offers free experience-based field trips to participating stores and companies in your area. It even provides printable lesson plans and student handouts. Last year, I took the class on a trip to PetCo where they learned about animal adaptations and habitats on a self-guided store scavenger hunt. They were so excited when store staff brought out the reptiles for them! Grocery stores, pet stores and even retail stores usually have a community outreach department so do your research and reach out to their directors.

2. Nonprofit community organizations – Last year, as I was working on classification and the animal kingdoms, I wrote for help on a science email list serve looking for ideas for free field trips in our area. The Helderberg Workshop, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “an adventure in learning”, offered a free trip to their center where their staff could lead the students on nature walks. When the weather became too cold for outdoor hikes, they even offered to travel to our school, bring their animals, and teach the students about them! Check for a list of educational organizations in your area.

3. Expos – Expos are great opportunities to network with local businesses and organizations. In fact, my connection with the ShopRite dietitian came about when I stopped at the store’s vendor booth at a local health and wellness expo! Annual garden and flower expos, I’ve found, are also valuable sources of information for volunteer services and community outreach programs for many biology topics in science class!

4. Local colleges – Make a list of all the colleges by your school and do some careful digging through their websites. Most colleges, if not all, have an educational outreach or community outreach program. When SUNY’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering first opened, I came across their website and signed up for one of their NanoCareer Days. One thing led to another, and now we’re in our second year of our after school STEM Mentoring Program with them!

5. Parks, trails, and nature centers – As an avid hiker and former field biologist intern, I think students today–especially urban students–need to spend more time outside. Being outside reconnects us all with our inner child, with that sense of awe and wonder at the world around us. Many of these places offer free tours and workshops. There are even some great junior naturalist programs! Use The National Wildlife Foundation’s “Nature Finder”to search for parks, trails, and nature centers in your area. If you are in New York, use the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s Education website to find out more information about local educational centers. (Pssst! If you’re an elementary teacher, you can even request free environmental science magazines for kids for your entire class!)

5 Ways To Keep Up Student Motivation During State Testing

It’s that time of year again—state testing! For months, teachers all over the country have tirelessly reviewed, practiced, and helped their students show off what my dear colleague, Robbi, would call their “AC”– academic confidence.

Last week, we finished three whole days of ELA testing. Naturally the girls were nervous, but their anxiety wore off as the clock ticked on. As I actively proctored and checked in on them, I was so proud to see so many of them using multiple ELA reading and writing strategies we have worked on together throughout the year. They were annotating passages, eliminating answers, and even writing short response checklists on the margins like pros!

For middle school students, sitting silently and testing for 90 minutes straight can be downright stressful. A grown adult can’t sit that long silently! Below are some things I have done to help alleviate that stress and help motivate my students during state testing.

1. Provide healthy breakfast snacks in homeroom during test prep. Even though our school provides students with healthy breakfasts, I also make sure to buy granola bars, muffins, go-gurts, and juice boxes for my homeroom kids. For some reason or other, some students miss breakfast in the cafeteria. When they have a full belly, it’s easier for them to focus on the test.

2. Post inspirational messages on the whiteboard under the Start and End times.  Pinterest is one of my favorite online go-to places to collect and print free beautiful motivational posters and quotes. also has freebie posters that you can use, such as this one that says “Stay Calm and Rock The Test!”

3. Pass out “brain mintsSome students just have a hard time staying awake during the entire testing period. Since they can’t leave the room for water or bathroom breaks during testing time, I discreetly place Life Savers Wintergreen mints on their desks. The mints help wake them up, and gets them back on track. I also pass them out to all the hard working students; they love getting little surprise treats as they’re working on their booklets.

4. Write positive feedback on tiny post-it notes and post it on a student’s desk. As I proctor, I take note of who’s working hard and what they are doing to be successful on the test. I write 1-2 sentences like, “I like the way you’re carefully annotating there! Keep it up!” I try to make sure each student has at least one post-it note, and do several rounds throughout the 90 minutes.

5. Make a list of “Bright Spots” and read them aloud to the class when they are finished testing and the test materials have been collected. As I proctor, I write down a list of who’s working hard and what type of strategies I observed them using during the test. For example, I’ll say, “I love how M.C. annotated vocabulary words, and how L.L. pushed herself to give four details instead of two in her short response essay.” I try to catch all students doing something well, and make a big show of how long my list is. Students love hearing their names, and they all celebrate each other’s hard work and perseverance on the state test. Even better, I share the list with the principal and she publicly acknowledges their hard work in front of everyone during our all-school morning meetings.

My students and I have had a rough year together with our pending school closing, but I know two things to be true facts. 1)They know they can count on me, and 2) I can trust them to pull through the hard times and do what they need to do!

#NSTA15 Chicago and Changes

Last month, I was very fortunate to attend the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) annual conference for the third year in a row–this time in Chicago! It was my second time co-presenting in an interactive session called “Social Media for Science Teachers.” In this particular session, my colleagues and I shared strategies for use in the classroom and for professional development. Below is our group photo taken before we started with one of Lauren’s awesome hashtag props! From left to right: Adam Taylor (@2footgiraffe), Tricia Shelton, Brad Graba (@mr_graba), Me!, Christine Royce (@caroyce), and Lauren Jonas.

“The Social Science Teacher” at #NSTA15 Chicago

Honestly, when I arrived at Midway Airport late Wednesday evening, it was with a heavy heart. Earlier that week, my colleagues back in Albany and I received official news that our charter middle school was closing at the end of this year. We all worked so hard to fight back last year with rallies, board meetings, and letters to newspaper editors–it never occurred to us that we would actually lose. I was demoralized, but that quickly evaporated as I realized I was where I needed to be in order to heal and recharge—with my tribe!

Brad's capture of my HaikuDeck slideshow

Brad’s capture of my HaikuDeck slideshow

For those who have not attended our session, part of my talk on using social media for professional learning networks (PLNs) explains the importance of PLNs. As human beings, we search for connections with others. As teachers, we search for these connections through our passions–our passions for learning and sharing what we’ve learned! I found inspiration immediately Thursday morning during a shuttle ride to McCormack Plaza. This type of inspiration came in the form of a special education teacher who has taught for over 20 years; she told me to “keep fighting for my passion”.

As I attended different sessions over the next few days, I continued to meet and befriend more teachers whose passion for what they do shone so brightly on their faces. It was a light that enveloped me, and drove away my sadness.  They were all excited and happy to be at the conference, sharing what they know and learning new things to bring back to work. It was even more exciting when Friday came around, and I met for the first time in person some of the teachers I befriended online when I created my Twitter PLN almost six years ago! Here’s a snapshot of Chris Ludwig and I trying out my selfie-stick!  Chris presented his own session on student-managed portfolios Saturday.
Selfie w/ Chris

Selfie w/ Chris (@chrisludwig)

Though I had to leave early on Saturday, I came away with a heart full of joy and a mind full of ideas. Even though I had 2-3 months left of school, I decided that I was going to not give up and let the negative behaviors of students and colleagues get to me. I decided to choose excellence and enthusiasm, and go out with a bang by trying out whatever was on my teacher’s bucket list.

So, what have I been doing since I came back from #NSTA15?

I flipped my middle school classroom! In Chicago, I attended several sessions on flipped classrooms and I finally let go of some of my hang ups such as not having enough time to make the videos, or not being able to get my students to watch the videos. I use my work Mac laptop, iBooth app, and a free Screen-o-matic web 2.0 tool to take screenshots of my lectures or concept maps. My videos are less than 7 minutes, and they’re surprisingly fun to make.  Even more surprising, my students love them! They appear more engaged and take more notes watching me on the screen instead of watching me in person….strange, but not questioning it! Most of my students don’t have Internet access at home, so I show the videos in the beginning of class and then have them work in groups on problem-based projects.

Other things I’ve started to phase in are more guest speakers to help supplement our lessons and Fun Fridays. I wanted Fun Friday to be similar to Genius Hour where students work on a project they’re passionate about. Finding materials for everyone is tough though, but I’ll guess I’ll figure out the kinks when we get there!

It’s been tough emotionally every day, especially when even my students are giving up, but like I tell them every day now… only you can control your future. Push through and fight for it.

The NYS STEAM Kickoff Conference and Lessons I Learned From Girls in STEAM

Almost four years ago, I attended my first NSTA conference in San Antonio, Texas, as a NSTA-DOW Teacher Fellow. One of the last workshops I took was presented by the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP). Their mission was to connect educators with organizations around the nation to help inform and encourage young girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). As a science teacher at an all-girls middle school, I of course jumped at the opportunity to sit in at this workshop and network with its project leaders. I asked if they had a chapter or database in New York State, and was disappointed to learn that they did not.

Yesterday, NGCP finally arrived in New York State! They held their first NGCP Steam Kickoff Conference at the Hudson Valley Community College TEC-SMART facility in Malta, New York. It was a beautiful autumn day; the colorful foliage and stark-white birches were a sight to behold through the tall glass windows of the LEED-certified building. However, what I enjoyed the most was the sight of many people–educators and CEOS of local business organizations– talking and collaborating about ways to create more STEAM programs in our schools. The highlights were the panels of local high school and college female students talking about their experiences with STEAM and their advice for adults and other young girls; and of local presidents, CEOS, and business representatives sharing their advice on how to get in contact with their organizations for funding, mentorship, and collaborative programs.

As I listened in on the discussions and conversations, there were several strands that stood out to me. Below I list some of the lessons I learned as a science teacher from each panel, along with some great STEAM resources.


Hudson Valley Community College TEC-Smart Facility

What I learned as a teacher from the panel of young independent females in STEM fields

1. Most of the young females did not like math and science during their formative elementary and middle-school years. It was not until their transition from middle school to high school that an adult turned them on to these subjects through challenging and hands-on creative work. These adults encouraged them to ask questions, taught them not how to ask for answers but how to figure things out on their own, and pushed them to keep trying when they failed.

2. When asked how educators can better encourage more young female students to go for STEM careers, the panelists emphasized the importance of student-driven inquiry. “Let them make something. Ask them what they want to do. Let them come up with the materials and project deadlines.” Students are more likely to be engaged and motivated throughout  if they are working on something that is meaningful to them.

3. Despite research on differences between genders, the panelists also stressed that educators should not single out young female students in the classroom. “We are people. Yes, we love math and science and we may be very good at them, but we also love to act, sing, dance, and play sports.” Help your students break down gender stereotypes by setting up mixed collaborative groups, occasional girls vs. boys competitions (to show boys that when the girls win they too are smart and have many strengths), and frequent team-building activities in the classroom.

4. Many of the panelists admitted that they struggled in school. Some talked about adults who stayed long hours after school to tutor them. Another panelist strongly urged educators not to give up on their struggling students. “Don’t underestimate the power of one conversation. In sixth grade, I almost gave up on science until my teacher pulled me aside and told me I could do it. I ended up in honors science.” Nowadays with the stressors of Common Core and standardized testing, I often forget why I went into teaching. This particular moment was a loud wake up call for me. Teaching is not about getting my lesson plans in on time. Teaching is not about the test scores in my grade book. Teaching is about listening to the students, especially the struggling ones.

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Panel of #STEMGirls at the #NYSTEAMkickoff

What I learned as a teacher from the panel of local businesses and organization representatives

1. Ask, ask, and ask. Often times, there is funding and resources available if you just ask for it. Many educators may be discouraged by politics and communication barriers with big companies, but there are others out there who are looking for educators and young audiences for their resources. Keep looking, and keep asking.

2. Look through the NGCP Program Directory, or contact your local chamber of commerce and other established non-profit organizations to find mentors and resources for your classroom.

3. Don’t forget the “A” in STEAM! While students need to know how to quantitatively measure and figure out problems, they also need to know how to read and write. They also need to know how to present themselves as well-rounded professionals. Science, math, and engineering are all creative processes and so educators should also encourage more creativity in their students.

Helpful STEAM and collaborative-project resources I picked up from the #NYSTEAMKickoff

Cornell Cooperative Extension puts knowledge to work in pursuit of economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being. We bring local experience and research based solutions together, helping New York State families and communities thrive in our rapidly changing world.

We’re young women with the power to make a difference. We believe in the potential of computing to build a better world.

FabFems are women from a broad range of professions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). They are passionate, collaborative, and work to make the world a better place. Many girls have similar interests but aren’t connected to adults who exemplify the STEM career pathway.

Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, providing more than 138,000 girls across the U.S. and Canada with life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face. Girls Inc. gives girls the right tools and support to succeed, including trained professionals who mentor and guide them in a safe, girls-only environment, peers who share their drive and aspirations, and research-based programming. At Girls Inc., girls learn to set and achieve goals, boldly confront challenges, resist peer pressure, see college as attainable, and explore nontraditional fields such as STEM.

Maker Faire and Make: Magazine have inspired makers for almost 10 years with the greatest show and tell on earth and quality editorial coverage. is our new online community that helps connect makers with each other, and give everyone simple new tools to organize and share projects, as well as find other interesting makers and projects to follow and collaborate with.

Million Women Mentors is an engagement campaign and national call to action that mobilizes corporations, government entities, non-profit and higher education groups, around the imperative of mentoring girls and young women in STEM fields.

NGCP offers many resources to strengthen Collaborative networks and advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for girls.

Pathways to Science is a project of the Institute for Broadening Participation (IBP). Pathways to Science supports pathways to the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We place particular emphasis on connecting underrepresented groups with STEM programs, funding, mentoring and resources.

The RPI Engineering Ambassadors are a group of RPI engineers devoted to inspiring younger students with what they are doing in their chosen major, the newest technological breakthroughs in their field, and the obstacles yet to be overcome. We do this by visiting middle schools and high schools and giving presentations to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related classes.

SciGirls is a PBS Kids show, website and outreach program with a bold goal to change how millions of girls think about STEM. The SciGirls Connect is a resource website for teachers. Don’t forget to take a look at their book, “SciGirls Seven: How To Engage Girls in STEM”, which is also offered as a free download.