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

Idea Blurb: Genius Hour + STEM Student Research Handbook


Warhol's Light Bulbs

Idea blurb

As I was catching up today on my emails from several science listserves, one of the teachers shared the link above in response to a question on designing and setting up year-long projects. The Genius Hour is an educational movement, based on the “Google Way”, in which its employees spend 20% of their work time on personal research to encourage more creativity in the workplace. With the Genious Hour, scholars are given a set amount of time in school to “explore their own passions”.

Just having recently had my end-of-year evaluation, I was quickly reminded of my administrators’ feedback on creating more rigorous and challenging instruction for my scholars for the new school year. A few months ago, I attended an NSTA2 web seminar presented by Darci Harland (better known as STEM Mom in the science blogosphere) on her STEM Student Research Handbook. I knew then that I wanted to incorporate more student research for next year, but it wasn’t until these last few weeks that pieces began falling into place.

So… this post is basically me just thinking out loud and typing it out (hence my title: Idea Blurb!) so I can find it later as I work on and update my curriculum maps, units and lesson plans for the new year.

  • Take a look at the ELA scope and sequence to see when in the calendar year scholars will be working on their ELA research papers
  • Team up with the ELA teachers; scholars can work on the writing specifics in ELA class, but do their hands-on research and experimentation in science class
  • Set up a weekly “Genius Hour”, preferably Fridays, for research and catch-ups
  • Focus on teaching/modeling the “Design Diagram” for the first two months of school so scholars are familiar with the design process and become more confident as they do their independent work
  • Start transferring some of my direct lectures to short videos for blended learning

I think setting up Genius Hour in class and having them work on a STEM Student Research project may be just the thing to help bump up the rigor (or “riggah”, according to my Long-Island native colleague). I haven’t yet come across any teacher who has implemented the Genius Hour in his or her science classroom, so I’d love to hear from those who have! How do you use Genius Hour in your classroom?

#NSTA13 Academy: Day 2

Note: These posts were written in April 2013 as I attended the NSTA Annual Conference at San Antonio, Texas, as a New Science Teacher Academy Fellow. Due to standardized testing and a hectic schedule back at home, I am now only able to upload these posts! Sorry for the long delay.

#NSTA2 Series: Day 1


Hello from #NSTA13, San Antonio!

Receptions and Meet-and-Greets
Thursday was quite busy! As a National Science Teacher Academy (NSTA2) Teacher and DOW Fellow, there were several meet-and-greets and receptions I had to attend. I thoroughly enjoyed the networking opportunities and befriended many passionate and wonderful people. During a breakfast reception, we were introduced to several NSTA2 alumni. It was good to hear about their experiences with the Academy; they talked about how their experiences have helped them with their careers, and where those experiences have led them to where they are now. The importance of building a professional learning community (PLC) during your first years as a teacher was a common message I heard from their discussions. It was a message I definitely agreed with, and certainly passionately talk about with other new teachers.


NSTA2 Breakfast Reception

Here are some excerpt tweets from those receptions, which I found inspirational and motivating.

Best quote of the night from the Academy Dinner: “You’re among your kind! This is your professional learning tribe!”

Great #PDisms from the NSTA2 Alumni Panel: “Perfect your craft, bring it back, and never stop learning.”

“We have to be model life-long learners. Be a reflective practitioner. Don’t wait for an invitation to do something.”

“Use your passions to find something new. Make it your own! Stay open, go learn!”


With 3 amazing women: Tiffany, Damaries, and Mary Ann!


Found my Pinterest social networking card

Sessions attended and Lessons learned

Despite the many mandated events, I was able to make it to 2 different sessions for the day. Based on my reflections from the previous session, I picked the NGSS strand on effectively measuring student learning and resolved to attend as many sessions offered in this genre. The first session was a follow-up from my all-day PD; it was on developing effective formative assessment and was again presented by Anne Tweed. From this session, I was quite surprised to learn that formative assessment was not only a feedback loop between the teacher and a student, but also between the student and his or her peers.

In order to promote feedback among students, it is imperative for the teacher to create a positive and supportive classroom culture. I was glad that the session touched upon this, and I was able to take away some strategies to work more on this component to ensure that I can make formative assessment really work in the classroom.

The second session was on the Common Core and writing in the science classroom. Our ELA and Writing teachers are phenomenal, and I have seen exemplary written work from the students. However, I noticed that when I ask the same students to write in science, the quality of their work is not level with their work from their ELA or writing classes. Many of them do not see science as a “writing” class, so they do not take their writing as seriously as they should. This session was very helpful; it provided me with great ideas on how to introduce and teach academic vocabulary, how to make the science textbook less intimidating and complex through “picture walks” or “text navigations”, and to come up with ways to make writing in science more structured and more motivating for students.

Sadly, I was unable to stay for the whole duration because I had to man a booth in the Exhibit Hall. However, the presenter’s PowerPoint is available through Carolina Biology’s website so I am going to go back and view it when I get home.

The DOW Chemical Booth
In the early afternoon, I was one of the NSTA2 representatives who had to man the DOW Chemical Booth in the Exhibit Hall. This was a great opportunity, because I was able to meet one of the company’s associates and their marketing team and thank them in person for their support of the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy. I honestly did not know a lot about DOW, but after my time spent at their booth, I know now how invested they are in supporting new teachers and STEM education. One of the biggest things I learned was that they are also seeking to connect their scientists and engineers with teachers to promote science literacy, STEM education, and careers in science. I will definitely be taking advantage of that in the future!


With the DOW fuzzies demonstrating lab safety

Scientist Talk
One of the last receptions I attended on Thursday was the “Scientist Talk”. At this reception, all of the NSTA2 fellows listened and interacted with a panel of scientists and representatives from our respective company sponsors. It was eye-opening; I didn’t realize until then that there is also an entrepreneurial side to teaching. There are actually many science education outreach programs available, and many companies are seeking teachers who can use those programs to supplement their instruction or even provide their students with internships.

The panel members gave some great advice regarding how to reach out to companies and their scientists. “Be specific about your classroom needs. Do your research, and make contact with the companies and organizations. Share your own ideas on how you can use the programs in your classroom. Focus on the scientific processes, problem-solving skills, and applying knowledge and skills to new situations—these will help students be successful beyond school and in life.”

If you have a scientist guest speaker in the classroom, they also recommend asking the following questions: “How do you use the scientific processes in the real world? How do you apply science and technology in the real world? How do you really use science in the real world?”

One of my new PD goals is to spend some time in the summer researching these programs, and trying my hand at writing more grants to secure funding and more equipment for my classroom next year. We have GE and the new College of Nanotechnology here in Albany, and it would amazing to have their scientists come in to our classroom and possibly work with us on collaborative STEM projects…


Found Alfons, a fellow mentee, at the DOW booth

Thank you, NSTA and DOW
As I was walking around and trying to absorb as much as I could from the conference, I couldn’t help but send out great waves of appreciation and gratitude to NSTA, the DOW Chemical Company, and the world for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Even though I’m more than halfway through with the NSTA2 program, I still find it hard to believe that I am one of the lucky candidates, and that I am here at the conference. I have learned a lot this past year, and I can feel the change within me. I am more aware and more confident about my teaching. There are a lot of resources and materials I can use, but the most beneficial aspect of this experience is the community. I have definitely learned a lot not only from my mentor and colleagues, but also from the other teacher fellows, conference presenters, and other attendees. I met and befriended many science teachers during the conference, and that to me is the most valuable part of this experience. It lets me know that as a new science teacher I am not alone and that there is always help available when I reach out and ask for it.


Clapp’s mentee group!