5 #EdTech Tools I’ll Be Using This New School Year


This year, I am very excited to be working at a school with a 1:1 Google Chromebook program. It will be a brand new adventure for me as I learn with my Grade 6 students on how to use the Chromebooks; experiment with learning management systems like Schoology for my Grades 7 and 8 students; create blended unit modules using paper interactive science notebooks and online simulations and labs; and figure out an efficient work flow with assessments and feedback.

I wasn’t able to experiment as much as I liked last year with #edtech tools, but I know right away that there are a handful I’d like to use again this upcoming school year. They worked really well for me, so I’m hoping they can be tools in my toolbox I can use again this year!

  1. Classroom Timers – Pacing is key when it comes to a good classroom. As a first year teacher, I struggled with this until someone mentioned using timers in the classroom. Now I plan out my activities and use timers to create a sense of urgency and keep my class on time so they’re set before the bell rings!
  2. Remind – With Remind, I am able to send daily text messages to parents about science homework, events and special reminders. This worked well last year because not everyone had access to email, but they all had a cell phone! Remind is web-based, so I can type up one message in the morning and send it out to different classes. We have homeroom teachers this year who will check student planners, but I think I will continue to use Remind. In fact, I’ll set up a QR sheet for Back To School Night for easy parent sign-up!
  3. ClassDojo – I rolled ClassDojo out as a behavior management system in the middle of the school year last year, and despite the late use, it worked wonderfully! Students and I had a conversation about desired behaviors and incentives and rewards for top performers in the science classroom. Students loved their “creatures” and worked hard to earn their points so they can customize them at home. They also loved seeing their points on the board while they worked in class–they worked really hard and competed with each other to earn the most points. CD also had a good communication system with parents so they too can see and keep track of their students’ behaviors and progress.
  4. DropBox – I had Dropbox account and a DropItToMe extension installed on my class wikispace. Boy did it come in very handy when my students and I worked in the computer lab! Most of the time I forgot to bring a flash drive so I could save students’ final projects, so DropBox was my lifeline. Students were able to upload their multimedia projects to me via DropBox, and I could access them instantly. With Chromebooks, I’m sure we’ll have Google Drive folders but I’d like to still have DropBox available for students in case of missed work or other projects that need to be turned in.
  5. Evernote – Evernote is like my digital notebook where I scribble everything in. I have it installed on my personal laptop, and I can sign on the website anywhere and access my notes, PDFs, receipts, etc. I’m really trying to go paperless as much as I can and Evernote allows me to do that by scanning all my papers, filing them away in Evernote, and adding multiple tags to them so I can find them again very easily. This year, I have my personal laptop, a work desktop, and a work iPad. I’m going to try to create most of my files in Google this year, but Evernote is my catch-all app so I have no doubt I’ll be using it too this year. #productivitywin

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. Teacherspayteachers.com 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!

WWIDD: What Would I Do Differently?

Several days ago, Larry Ferlazzo posted on his blog: “What Are You Going To Do Differently Next Year?” I still have about a week to go before I start packing up my classroom, but his question has been rattling around in my head since I came across his post. What exactly would I do differently?

Thinking... please wait


I think a particular sentence from the book, “The Confidence Code” by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, best sums up the gist of my thoughts: Think less. Do more. Be authentic.

Here are some of my thoughts:

1. I will focus more on being in the present with my students. Sometimes as a teacher, you get inundated with so much stuff that you forget to slow down, and really think about why you’re doing it in the first place. Will a meticulously written ten-page scripted lesson plan really matter in the long run? It won’t if it means missing out on making vital connections with my students, and being able to meet them where they are, instead of pushing them along to where they’re not yet ready to be.

2. I will encourage students to take on more responsibility in the classroom. Middle-schoolers are messy; learning is messy. I have to be willing to let go of some control, and let them take over with classroom jobs to clean up the classroom, and to take over classroom routines. I can’t do everything and be everywhere at once; I need to be able to trust that they can do things safely on their own once I model for them the appropriate procedures. I also need to be patient and willing enough to guide them through it multiple times, instead of wanting to take over and do it all by myself instead.

3. I will encourage hard work, effort, and perseverance through positive praise instead of physical incentives. Not everyone in the real world gets a gold medal. I think I do my students a disservice when I’m asked to provide classroom incentives and rewards for something they’re expected to do, and for mediocrity. These rewards should be reserved for work that shows improvement, or something exceptional. I believe that it means more to students when they are able to experience the effects of hard work.  However, I am aware that I’m dealing with middle-schoolers, and they do need that little extrinsic motivation once in awhile. I’m not quite sure how I’ll revamp this next year, but I definitely will think about how to get around those incentives.

4. I will speak up more often for myself. Once caught in a very stressful situation, I found myself in tears just seconds before the bell for homeroom rang. I thought I would find guidance and assurance from a mentor, but was instead told to “not get so emotional” and “man up”. It was at that moment that I realized that as much as I love my work and its adult culture, work is work. Work does not take care of me.

I was, and still am, an introvert; the thought of having to speak up in meetings, or seek out my principal for 1:1 conferences, gives me heart palpitations. Other coworkers interrupted and spoke over me. As a result, they were seen as more competent and were offered more lucrative positions. I learned this year that I have to take care of myself. I could do that next year by letting go of my fears and hesitations, and by giving myself a stronger and louder voice.

What would you do differently?

My Favorite Highlights of the 2013-2014 School Year

Hello, dear readers! I apologize for being an awful blogger; obviously I have not yet mastered the balance of work, home and posts! I do hope you are well, and thanks for sticking around! Can you believe that it’s mid-June already? Most of my teacher-friends are already out of school! In fact, my own kid is out this week, but here I am, with still approximately seven (torturous–oops, did I type that out loud?) days left on our extended school year calendar.  What’s that sound? Ah, it’s me hissing in envy as I imagine my peers frolicking on the beach, while I sit in a hot second-story classroom, trying to teach.

To take my mind off those lovely beach scenes, I am posting my favorite highlights of the school year. If this post was a scrapbook, it would have glittery stickers with “super star” and  “awesome” all over it.  Don’t get me wrong; this year definitely posed a lot of challenges, but I believe I experienced more highs than lows. A lot of my professional growth this year centered on my decision to put my fears aside and just do something different. I did exactly that, and boy, was it a lot of fun!

My Top 7 Favorite Highlights of the Year:

1. Acquiring classroom pets through PetCo grants. (Watch out for Max’s stinky poops!)


Here’s Max, our bearded dragon, who helped us learn about the major characteristics of organisms throughout the year. 

2. Setting up more (free) field trips throughout the year. (Thanks, Field Trip Factory!)


Students performed a Pet Store scavenger hunt, where they learned about different animals, their habitats, and adaptations.

3. Helping my students make real-life connections with science instruction, application, and careers in science through multiple guest-speaker visits and field trips to local colleges. (Thanks to our service women at Stratton Air National Guard Base!)


Female Air Force pilots shared their experiences transporting NSF scientists to Antarctica with our students during Career Fair Day.


A doctorate student from The College of NanoScience and Engineering talks about her research on biomedical engineering, and debunks female scientist stereotypes. “Science is sexy!”

4. Setting up and supervising a year-long all-girls after school STEM mentoring program. (Go #STEMGirls!)


One of the students got to experience how to put on appropriate work gear before entering a Clean Fab room in the research facilities at The College of Nano Science and Engineering.


My rad #STEMgirls and I posed in our lab coats, and checked out each other’s DNA extractions.

5. Focusing more on hands-on activities and engineering design practices to help students learn science concepts. (It doesn’t hurt to indulge in our sweet tooth once in awhile!)




Using candy manipulatives to build DNA structures and practice base pairing.


Using timed challenges to build structures with limited materials to encourage problem-solving and collaboration between students.

6. Incorporating more long-term collaborative problem-based unit projects in my instruction (The following photos show students in various stages of research, design, and presentation during our month-long Code Blue Human Body Systems Unit. Many thanks to the pediatricians from The Children’s Hospital, Albany Medical Center, for listening to and assessing our Grand Rounds presentations!)


Students worked in specialty groups to teach each other about their specific human body systems.


Students worked in “home base” groups, where they designed their medical clinic signs and earned their licenses after taking board exams.


One group’s 3D model of their chosen human body system.


Doctors listened in as students presented their mystery patient’s diagnosis and treatments during Grand Rounds.


7. Attending the NSTA Boston Conference as a conference speaker, and getting to talk about  the uses of social media in the science classroom with some awesome kick-butt people!



Hello, Boston!


“The Social Science Teacher” presenters!

Reflecting Over Interactive Science Notebooks

One of my goals for the school year was to use an interactive science notebook (ISNs) in class. I had previously attended workshops on science note booking, and thought it would be a great idea to implement in the classroom to help my scholars actively process the content they are learning in class. This decision coincided with administrative changes to our daily lesson plan formats. To encourage more academic rigor, science staff went from the gradual release of responsibility model to the 5E learning cycle model. The first few months of the school year were a challenging time as we learned how to adapt to a new format and try to fully incorporate new strategies in our teaching. Starting an ISN in class for the first time was made even more challenging as I struggled to find classroom examples of ISNs using the 5E format.

A lot of the things I write next are a compilation of thoughts, reflections and experiences I had over the past year experimenting with ISNs in the classroom for the first time. First, to mirror my daily lesson plan and class agenda, I structured the ISN so that it follows the 5E format.

Stages of 5E With Some Examples of Scholar Activities In Their ISNs

Engage – Timed free-writes to writing and photo prompts, introductory video clips, formative assessment probes, KWL charts

Explore –  Teacher demos, discrepant events, short 10-15 minute labs, vocabulary strategies, pre-reading activities

Explain –  Concept maps, multiple graphic organizers, Cornell notes, recording observations, reading and annotating activities (with text packet)

Elaborate – Longer labs (reserved for 1-2 days), “Stop and Jots”, more diagrams, short-response essays with text-based evidence

Evaluate –  Exit tickets, quizzes, unit tests, and performance tasks



Setting Up The Interactive Science Notebook

I sorely underestimated how much time it would take for scholars to set up their ISN! Initially, I planned to introduce and set up the ISN in three days during the first week of class. To encourage ownership and accountability for their notebooks, I had scholars design their covers and first inside page with self-portraits, family portraits, personal goals for the new school year, and their thoughts about science. Scholars were really excited, and naturally took a long time to meticulously decorate their notebooks. They brought in photos, which I had to scan and print out in color (against front office rules, shhh). In retrospect, I should have not waited until the first week of actual teaching to introduce the ISN. I should have used our “pre-season” time to set up the notebook. (Note: At work, we spend two weeks before our first week of teaching to go over school-wide and classroom-specific expectations and routines. This is known as “pre-season” by staff.)

Pros of Using An Interactive Science Notebook

• Saved a lot of wasted paper (no more packets and worksheets, yes!)

• Provided scholars with a place to organize their information and learning experiences

• Allowed me to differentiate my instruction and assessment

• Allowed for both teacher and scholars to show off individual creativity

• Encouraged more academic writing and small-group/whole-group discussions in class


Cons of Using An Interactive Science Notebook

• Super expensive! Providing and restocking supplies throughout the year is a pain in the derriere

• Set up eats up a lot of instructional time (ie. coloring, cutting/gluing, formatting notebook)

• Gets messy and requires time for clean-up before transitions

• Requires consistency; 1) need to use on a daily basis to make it relevant and; 2) teacher’s ISN need to be updated frequently too!

• Needed to find a more efficient and painless way to assess and grade multiple ISNs at once

By February, our lesson plan formats changed again to include more independent scholar work. As a result, the ISN got pushed aside to meet these requirements and other deadlines. Thinking back, the ISN was a perfect vehicle to encourage more reading and writing in class but I honestly wasn’t thinking about that then. There was a lot of stress regarding board visits and prepping for state testing, so I banked the ISN and didn’t think about it again until now during spring break.


Things I Would Do Over With The Interactive Science Notebook Next Time

• Introduce the ISN during pre-season and give a longer time frame for set up

• Fold the Table of Contents page in half to save more space

• Use more color! Scientific writing should also be a piece of personal creative art

• Reserve the ISN as a meaningful place to get scholars’ thinking out; don’t make them write everything down for the sake of it. See Engage/Explain/Elaborate sections for ideas.

• Use Evaluate section separately from the ISN. Provide graded assessments on different printed paper so you don’t have to lug home crates of notebooks over the weekend.


Another Thought…

…stretch out the 5E format over several days instead of one whole day. When we were first introduced to the 5E learning cycle model, science staff designed lesson plans that went through the entire cycle in one day. This was because we were used to creating daily lesson plans that were posted on our doors for each day. I think now that we really didn’t see the big picture…  learning doesn’t happen neatly that way.  Learning doesn’t happen in precise 5 stages in a 70-minute block.  It’s meant to be a guide for teachers to help facilitate learning organically.

I think that my experiences with these lesson plan changes this year have shown me that my thoughts on teaching practices have changed a lot. When I was a first-year teacher, I didn’t question these changes. My goal was to survive my first year so I did what I was told. Now as a third-year teacher, I’m more reflective about what I do and I ask more questions about what I am asked to do as a teacher. It is no longer about personal survival in the workplace, but about what I am doing to help ensure positive scholar learning in my classroom. How does the ISN fit in with this? Is squeezing in the entire 5E cycle in a 70-minute block really helping? These are things now that I am constantly reviewing and figuring out how to change in my instruction.

I definitely will try the interactive science notebook again and look forward to how it grows and changes as my own learning grows and changes next year.


Some Helpful Resources on Interactive Science Notebooks

“Teaching Science With Interactive Notebooks” by Kellie Marcarelli

• www.sciencenotebooks.org


Welcoming Class Pets In The Science Classroom


This is Max the bearded dragon, our new class pet. Max, meet the blogging world.

The mister and JR14 helped me pick him (her?) out and set up his (her?) two (yes, two!) terrariums today. The boys were not quite as excited, preferring to ooh and ahh over larger and furrier animals at the pet store today but I was beyond excited. I can’t wait to see the happy faces of my scholars when they come in to school on Monday and see Max.

Max is partially funded through the Pets in the Classroom grant, which I stumbled upon two weeks ago while browsing the PetSmart website for dog treats for my Samoyed/Labrador mix, Chloey. It was quite fortuitous as I was planning my animal unit. I have never had class pets before, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Thank you, Pets In The Classroom, for helping me take the jump and to the wonderful PetSmart staff who answered all my questions and helped me gather all the materials I needed.

So, how do I plan to use Max in our animals unit? Last week, we began our introduction to animals by observing various plants, crickets and goldfish. We discussed how they are all examples of living organisms, and tried to articulate how we know an animal when we see one. That led to our study of invertebrates and vertebrates.

This week we begin looking at the various major groups of vertebrates. I plan on using class observations with Max, to reinforce how the pet meets the criteria of living organisms and the major characteristics of vertebrates, and to emphasize academic terms like “endotherm” and “ectotherm”.

In the following week, we move on to animal behaviors. We’ll talk about innate VS learned behaviors, survival needs, etc.

Through some Internet research I did tonight, I also learned that another pet store, PetCo, offers free in store field trips through a program with Field Trip Factory. This is another fantastic opportunity to expose scholars to more animals and learn about animal welfare, habitats, and diversity. FFT and PetCo offer a downloadable curriculum guide that teachers can use as they tour the pet store. It’s too bad it’s 10 PM Eastern time here right now or I would have picked up the phone and set up an appointment for my school already!

For more long term ideas, I plan to keep daily logs of Max’s measurements, feeding habits, etc. MiddleWeb just shared a PDF on top 50 Web 2.0 tools earlier this week, and there was a great link on Infogram. I’d like to use that info graphic tool to create visuals using data from our class pet. Writing prompts, generating questions (gotta finish reading “The Right Question”) and personal research reports about the class pet are more examples of ideas on incorporating the class pet into lesson plans and curriculum.

If you too have classroom pets, how do you use them in your science lessons? I’d love to hear your ideas! Please share!

Creating A Teacher Brand So You Can Get Hired

Not too long ago, I met with one of my former graduate-school classmates for coffee. Donica* (name changed for privacy reasons) is a wonderful friend and an optimistic bubbly individual, so I was quite alarmed to note a slump in her shoulders as we exchanged greetings and bits of news. While sipping and sighing over her mug of coffee, Donica related her troubles trying to get into the teacher job market for the past three years.

Donica is a Full Bright scholar who speaks multiple languages; she is extremely smart, and very passionate about teaching languages, and equally passionate about sharing her love for instructional technology. Being the nerdy academic geeks we were back in grad-school, she and I actually competed with one another for the highest grades! We later found out we worked really well together on projects, became good friends, and now continue to attend various teacher conferences together in the Capitol Region. Needless to say, I was blown away by the fact that no one wanted to hire her. However, the teacher job market is what it is—full term positions are very hard to come by, and it’s increasingly becoming more of a networking game. It’s not only about what you have and what you can do, but also about who you know (and it’s even better if that person has the authority to pull a few strings!)

Being a West Coast transplant at the time, I definitely did not know the right people when I began my job search for a science teacher position in New York. That’s how I got into researching using social media to create a brand name for myself, so I could make myself more marketable for hiring managers. It worked; I was hired a month after graduating from grad-school! So, this post is inspired by Donica. I don’t claim to be a job or social media expert, but I’d like to share what worked for me, and hopefully, it can help her and others like her find a teaching job.

Haiku Slideshow

Create a brand name. Be clear about what makes you stand out. Take time to go over your mission statement. Who are you? What can you do? Why should they hire you? If you can come up with a one-statement headline, what would it be? Make your name into a brand!

Go digital. Get creative with your resume. Clean it up, and make sure you have a strong unified message. Then, take it to the Internet! Join LinkedIn. Upload photos and examples of your work and link them to a digital CV. Design an online portfolio– you can use any web tool such as wiki spaces, free website generators, and photo galleries. Create videos, or commercials, about who you are, what you can do, and where you plan to go. Add a friendly face to your name and brand.

Get online. Use social media to learn and share. Create a professional learning network with the help of social media. Avoid informal gravatars and post a well-lit photo of your face! Keep your profiles simple, personable, and professional. Link back to your digital resume. Use social media to connect with others through Twitter #edchats, online discussion forums, and email list serves. Sign up for free online webinars and video conferences. Subscribe to newsletters and blogs. Use Flipboard or Feedly to manage your reads. Pick and experiment with one tool at a time. Don’t forget to share what you know and what you have learned! Comment on others’ blogs. Retweet. Forward interesting and helpful articles to friends and comrades.

Manage your rep. Create a positive digital footprint. If a hiring manager were to Google your name right now, what would he or she find? (If you don’t know the answer to this, I suggest you try this yourself!) Build your brand by creating a positive digital footprint. Then, capitalize on it! Showcase your skills, interests, and experiences. Set automatic alerts to notify you if anything shows up on the Web with your name on it. Manage your privacy settings. Practice online ettiquette, post professional and work-related photos in public spaces, offer advice on LinkedIn’s Q&A section, and reply with positive feedback to teacher email queries on list serves. Start a blog. Offer to write short pieces for other bloggers. Get your work published on various online communities. Make an e-book. Share slide shows. Make sure that whatever you leave behind always reflects you in the best light!

Be personable. Share your interests and hobbies. Remember my second slide? Right now, there are tons of candidates out there with similar degrees, certifications, and work experiences. Stand out of the crowd by sharing more about who you are. Don’t be afraid to let your great personality show! Post those souffles or knitting projects on Instagram. Ask your Twitter friends about what to do with those pesky squash bugs! Volunteering with the local Boy Scouts to clean up trails? Just attended a great Edcamp on flipped classrooms? Be colorful, be personable, and be approachable. Be you!

Share it! If something works for you, share it. :)

New Teacher Chronicles: Evernote Checklists & Classroom Organization

In less than two weeks, I report back to work for in-service training and begin classroom preparations. I find myself randomly playing clips of Peter Griffith from “Family Guy”  in my head, where he pushes things he doesn’t like away and pouts, “No!” That’s me right now; I’m not quite ready to get into “school mode”.  I have been avoiding the school supply aisles in Walmart and other stores, and grouchily muttering that I need more time to lay in bed, read beach books, and work on my tan.

Time is marching on though, and my Feedly and mailbox are being inundated by blog posts and emails by teachers who are preparing for the first days of school. It’s telling me that I need to start prepping too. So, I whipped out Evernote and started going through my checklists. Yes— you heard it right, checklists. When I first started teaching, there was so much to do that I would wake up at night, anxious that I may have forgotten something. Hence, the “checklists” were born.  I’m sharing these checklists here on the blog, so other checklist-minded teachers can find them, tweak them, and use them.

My Classroom Supply Checklist (shared from Evernote)


As a science teacher, I am very fortunate to have a large classroom and laboratory space. However, its large size and the fact that I have to share it with other teachers do pose some problems for classroom organization.  Two things I need to focus on are 1) create a “home base” for my homeroom students and classes, and; 2) make sure my home base, posters, and visual anchors (teacher-created posters I use for reference during explicit modeling) can be easily transported out of the way when another teacher comes in and teaches his or her subject. It can be quite the pain to write and rewrite objectives and the like on the whiteboard, or set up and put away lab equipment multiple times throughout the day.

Below are last year’s photos of the “Project Room” from September. The Project Room is divided into the “science side”, which is shown in the second photo, and the “art side” (not shown).

Back View of Lab Stations On Science Side

Back View of Lab Stations On Science Side


The “Science Side” of the Project Room

Front View of Science Laboratory

Front View, Teachers’ Desk in the Project Room

Last year, when I was teaching at the boys’ side, one of the students commented in his feedback form that he would like to see more “color” in the room. In my defense, I came in mid-year and had one weekend to clean out and organize my science side. However, his comment stuck with me and I was determined to create a more colorful and logical flow to my classroom organization this year. So I made another checklist of what I wanted to post, and create for classroom decor!

My Classroom Organization Checklist (shared from Evernote)


This checklist is quite extensive, but I already have most of the materials from last year. The new things I plan to add this year are 1) a more centralized “home base” and; 2) more visual anchors and posters on academic vocabulary and fostering a more positive interdependent learning environment.

Home Base, or Mission Control Center

Last year, I used a collection of bins, trays, and crates for everything. They were on my desk and side counters. The students knew where to pick up and submit their work, and I didn’t have to keep repeating myself. One of the downsides, however, was that I kept having to pick up all the storage bins and relocate them to the sink whenever another teacher came into the classroom. (Photo will be inserted later, I’m still fighting with Photostream on my devices!)

This year, I will use the left counter space and designate it as a permanent home base. I’ll create a laminated poster entitled “Mission Control Center“, and that’s where I’ll put all of my bins such as the Templates Bin (most commonly photocopied documents), the Absent Bin (extra student handouts are placed within folders labeled for each day of the week; students pick up missing work here), the Colleges Bins (each class represent a college, and students drop off finished assignments in their designated “college” bins; each bin has a laminated college logo velcro’d to it). This year, I plan to use interactive science notebooks (ISNs) for the first time, so college-labeled crates for their ISNs and textbooks will be placed here too.

Here at Home Base, I will also set up a Supply Center. It drives me nuts when I’m asked for looseleaf, or an extra pencil, or tissue in the middle of explicit modeling or guided instruction, and I have to scavenge for it in one of my drawers—thus, having to pause and make students wait. At the Supply Center, I’ll have the bins for extra looseleaf, and areas for staplers, tape dispensers, and the pencil sharpener. Here’s where I’ll also stash 6 supply bins with laminated inventory checklists of the materials; which make distributing glue-sticks, scissors, and crayons among the 6 stations easier for when we create foldables or projects.

I thought about including storage for Emergency Supplies too. I can’t count on my two hands how many times I had students ask to go to the nurse for things like lotion (“But my elbows are ashy!”), bandaids for paper cuts, and Chapstick (“My lips are chapped, and they HURT!”) Last year, I asked the school nurse to give me a Ziploc bag of bandaids and it drastically cut the number of students trying to get out of class and wandering the hallways. This year, I will collect these items and just put them in my drawer.

Visual Anchors and Posters

Last year, I was lucky to be observed multiple times at various lengths and received great evaluations from administration. They commented frequently on my organization, frequently updated public displays of student work, and print-rich environment. However, one of the areas of improvement they wanted to see me work on was promoting a more positive interactive learning environment. I was told that although students were observed interacting and working with each other, there were a few who were overheard saying mean things to one another. This deflated my ego a bit, but in retrospect, I understand now that I could have done more.

Over the summer, I thought about what I can do personally in my classroom to achieve this, and I came up with explicitly modeling language for students. A lot of teachers simply state their classroom expectations and rules (“Be nice! Treat others with kindness and respect!”), but not a lot of time is spent on showing students how this looks and sounds like. After purchasing and reading some ASCD and NSTA books on productive group work and science writing this summer, I think I will create and put up posters on  the Language of Learning (talk stems and examples on how to properly give and receive help from classmates), Accountable Talk (question and clarifying stems for group discussions on informational reading), and Science Writing Styles
(two-column vocabulary lists that students can use to switch from popular science writing style to professional writing style, and vice versa).

We teachers are expected to spend two weeks during the first month of school going over expectations. At work, this is called “Pre-Season”, and we use the time to teach school-wide and classroom-specific routines and procedures. Since I am working with students already familiar with most of the school-wide procedures, I plan to spend more time on specific classroom expectations and routines. I want to simply classroom expectations, and post them up in large font over my whiteboard– “Work Hard” and “Be Givers and Receivers of Help”--to emphasize that classroom culture of positive interdependence I want to promote.

Other posters I’d like to create and post include Groupwork Roles and Tasks (list of 3-4 roles and responsibilities for group activities and labs), Vocabulary Word Walls, and a Greek/Latin Root Word Wall.  Many of these posters are written on large Post-it sticky paper, which are later laminated.

If you’re a science teacher, how do you organize and decorate your classroom and laboratory space? I’d love to hear back from others, especially on how to create mobile lab stations and lab equipment. That’s still something I haven’t figured out yet, especially with other teachers using the same classroom space. Please share!

(Late) End of Year Reflections

For most teachers and scholars, this post is about two or three months late. However, since I work at a charter school with an extended school year, I’m finally out of school for the next several weeks! At this point, I am just so very, very relieved to have some time off to recharge [physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally]; and to fully reconnect with family, friends, and my social networks.

No school today?
2012-2013 was, overall, a wonderful year for me.  I began my second year of teaching at the same school with a new superintendent, two sets of new administration, and a summer’s worth of training based on the book, “Teach Like A Champion“. The year definitely had its challenges, but it was not as difficult or as overwhelming like my first year of teaching. I have to credit my administration and colleagues for its success. Their constant feedback and support definitely made a large difference this year. The following paragraphs are a compilation of feedback from administration, scholars and my own reflections from the school year.

Major Challenges and Highlights of the Year

  • As shared staff (read: the only 7th grade science teacher), I had to divide my school year between two middle schools. Crammed a year’s worth of 7th Grade Life Science curricula into 5 months. Taught the 5-month curricula twice to 45+ 7th Grade female scholars from September to February, and then to 45+ 7th Grade male scholars from February to July.
  • Was accepted to the National Science Association New Science Teacher Academy in November (NSTA2). Juggled weekly forum discussions, web seminars, and two semester-long action research projects on analyzing student work and designing effective inquiry labs while teaching full-time.
  • Got engaged to my military man in December!
  • Attended the annual NSTA science conference at San Antonio, TX, in April. Saw many wonderful sessions, thanked our DOW sponsors in person for their generous contributions in the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy, and befriended many fantastic science educators during my time there.

Mid-year and End-of-Year Evaluations

  • Received many 3.5’s and 4’s on my teacher evaluations! This meant a lot to me personally because I had a horrible first year, and I took every opportunity to practice this year to strengthen my classroom management. While we received training on many “Teach Like A Champion” (TLAC) techniques year-round, I really focused on 3 main techniques each day–100%, Break the Plane, and No Opt-Out. It is very critical, I found, to insist (and to do it consistently) on having 100% active attention from everyone before teaching or doling out instructions. It sets the tone for learning in class.
  • According to the class surveys, practicing these main techniques every day paid off ! 100% of survey respondents listed my ability to teach difficult concepts in multiple ways  and give instructions clearly as one of my greatest strengths as a teacher.

Positives (these are common phrases that popped up from student surveys)

  • “strong classroom management”
  • “not afraid to let us do stuff [open inquiry labs]”
  • “respectful”
  • “print-rich environment–always has our work posted”
  • “provides clear instructions”
  • “a nice teacher, but strict!”
  • “a loud talker, but rarely yelled”
  • “motivating”
  • “makes it easy to learn because [she] explains a concept in many different ways”
  • “treats us all with same expectations/treats us fairly”
  • “uses lots of examples [so I can understand]”
  • “gives us choices and second chances [if we screw up]”

Deltas (things I’d like to improve on for next year)

  • update the curriculum to more rigorous and challenging materials (thinking of layered curriculum, choice menus, and more true open-inquiry labs)
  • work on incorporating more hands-on labs, especially dissections (even if only virtual!)
  • tie topics of study in with more real-world connections (thinking of “Current Events Day” in the computer lab with articles on current topic)
  •  encourage a more collaborative and productive learning environment (thinking of redoing groupwork roles and using accountable talk)

Summer Reading (books and topics I’d like to read up on during vacation)

  • “First 20 Days” by Fisher and Frey (collaborative work)
  • Experiment design diagram
  • Accountable talk
  • Nunley’s layered curriculum
  • NGSS standards
  • science cafes
  • “STEM Student Research Handbook” by Harland
  • the Genius Hour
  • interactive science notebooks