Sunday, March 30, 2014

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative Learning


"The strength of the team is each individual member.
The strength of each member is the team."
                                                                 - Phil Jackson

The development of a network of collaborative learning teams within you classroom can create an educational environment where the responsibility for learning lies upon both the students and teacher who comprise that leaning community.

Learners learn by teaching one another. When students teach one another they take ownership of the material by passing it along they actually make it part of themselves. 

The process of teaching one another is by its very nature active learning.  Student engagement increases the opportunities to learn. 

The saying goes that "Two heads are better than one."  Sharing knowledge creates opportunities for more ideas, alternate approaches, increased possibilites and new perspectives.

Students who have difficulty in the larger classroom may find comfort in smaller groups. This provides avenues for increased communication and the unleashing of ideas that may never be shared in a larger group setting. 

Collaboration brings about an ease and comfort that encourages further attendance in the class as interdependence breeds both responsibility and commraderie. 

Although the goal is increased learning for all, the idea of positive competition among smaller groups may lead to greater problem solving success.

Collaboration encourages the development of leadership skills.

Students who work in groups learn to delegate tasks to maximize group success.

Collaboration increases the development of time mangement skills.    

"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success."
                                                             - Henry Ford

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Allow Students an Opportunity to Tinker

Allow Students an Opportunity to Tinker

"I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to
provide conditions in which they can learn."
                              - Albert Einstein-

Today is a pre-fab world. A world where it is no longer necessary to put things together yourself. From computers to toys and even chocolate cookies, we could "make" them ourselves and not even need to be able to decipher directions.

Have you put together a desktop computer recently? Unless you are colorblind or failed at putting the shapes into the correct slot when you were two, it is almost impossible to fail at putting the computer together. If a toy does not already come assembled, the most difficult part of putting it together, is deconstructing the packaging without damaging the toy.  Even Toll House cookies come in pre-fab slabs scored into cubes for the perfect size cookie.

Do most kids today understand the satisfaction of making something from scratch?  Building a model of the Apollo rocket from two hundred pieces, including the lunar lander, and sixty authentic decals.  Paint optional.  Even with gaps between the rocket panels, wispy strings of model glue and creases in the decal strips, displaying it lovingly on the shelf for all to see.

Most kids today are not very often given the chance to be creators.  They are manipulators of a touch screen world.  They can format a movie from a plug and play system on the computer.   They can put together a playlist from iTunes and add music to their PowerPoint. But, how often are they asked to actually create something from scratch?  How often do we as teachers create a rubric so detailed that it is impossible for students to make a mistake?

Heck, the last time I was at Michael’s, There was an aisle completely dedicated to pre-fab California Mission projects with everything necessary to create the perfect styrofoam mission complete with friars, indians, animals, trees, bushes, brick walls, animals and crops all pre-packaged for ultimate success.

I have found that most students are very uncomfortable with creating anything that does not turn out perfect and will avoid trying to create anything that they are not certain will meet all expectations.  Teachers also create rubrics that are so detailed it is impossible for a student to make a mistake.

But, how valuable are those experiences,when students are allowed to struggle through a process and try to figure out what works and what doesn’t?  How valuable is that experience that allows our students to make the mistakes that provide opportunities to learn?

One of my favorite in-class projects is to build Lou-vee Air Cars. 

Lou-vee Air Cars are composed of file folders, drinking straws, paper clips, rubber bands, and masking tape.
They provide an opportunity for students to discover their capacity to create a car that moves utilizing everyday objects.   I provide students with a set of directions and a schmatic diagram. I provide all of the supplies and tools necessary and I give them three blocks (95 minute periods) to create their car. And then on day four we have Lou-vee Air Races.

The first day I allow the students to work through the process and I provide very little guidance. On the second day, I build my own Lou-vee Air Car.  First to show them that it can work, and second to give them a model as a guide. The third day I offer suggestions and do some troubleshooting.

It is interesting to watch the dynamics that take place in the classroom as students interact with the process and each other.  Even though each student needs to create their own car, it does become a very collaborative process.  In some cases there is a natural division of labor that occurs. Those that are good at straightening paper clips take on that role for others.  Those who cut well start manufacturing wheels that are smooth and rond. It is wonderful to see the fear dissipate as students assist each other and try to help each other succeed.

The Louvee Air Car Challenge
Making a Louvee Air Car

The project is graded in two parts.
Part I, is to produce a Lou-vee Air Car
We set up a Lou-vee Air raceway in the dining hall divided into five foot sections. A fully built car at the starting line earns a student a 14 point score. (14/20 = a C grade) A car can earn two points for every portion of five feet it travels. ( 7 ft = 4 points)  Students can earn up to 24 points if they can get their car to travel more than 20 feet. (4 bonus points) 

Part II, is a write up that includes a series of questions about the process. 
What did they learn about themself?  What were they most proud of? What would they do different?
What worked? What didn't?  etc...
The write up also includes a section for students to explain three topics in physics that are demonstrated through the Lou-vee Air Car.  I typically do this project the first three class periods after the Christmas Holiday break.  This allows students to review the concepts of motion, Newton's Laws and Friction covered before the break.

I am always pleased to hear from students that they appreciate the project even though their car may not have worked as well as they had hoped.  They are usually most proud that they were able to get a car to the starting line.  They often mention a greater appreciation for following directions and reading carefully.  But. most often they write about how the process helped them to see the value in making mistakes and correcting them, thinking through  a process and using knowledge to create their own success. 

It is so important in a world that becomes less and less demanding of our students to afford them the opportunity to figure things out by trial and error to provide those opportunities in a manner that allows students the ability to make mistakes and find solutions in a safe environment.  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Incorporating NGSS in Your Classroom

Incorporating NGSS in Your Classroom

Here is a link to a set of three printable posters that provide great information on incorporating the Next Generation Science Standards in your Science classroom.

We are Teachers NGSS

Creating a Thinking Attitude In Science

Creating a Thinking Attitude in Science

As a science teacher are you instilling in your students the characteristics necessary to have a 
Thinking Attitude.


In a microwave world, learning does not take place in a manner of  seconds. Learning is a process and does not happen in a 22 minute time frame, like an 80's sit-com.  Understanding takes time and therefore both students and teachers must demonstrate the patience necessary for the learning to take place.


Students must be able to ask the questions that develop a path to understanding. Too often, students become satisfied with the, Who? What? and When? Students must feel secure enough look deeper and be willing to search for the How? Why? and What if? of each situation.


Students need to have the ability to remain focused through the completion of the learning process.  Maintaining concentration through observation, questioning, data collection, argument, testing and conclusion.  Students need the stamina of mind to stay the course.

Respect for the Evidence        

Details, details, details.  Do students value every piece of evidence every bit of the data, each portion of the argument. Can students gather research with an eye for the validity and effectiveness of the information.


Students must embrace the idea that all that seems true, may not be true. The ability to question the evidence to validate the validity of the information.

Acceptance of Others Perspectives           

Respect for each person and an inclusive community help to create a classroom where students can safely share their opinions without fear of being judged.  It is through the sharing of different points of view that students gain insight into the ideas of their classmates and perspectives on the lesson at hand.

Monday, March 24, 2014

TEDitorials - Increase Science Literacy

TEDitorials - Increase Science Literacy

For the last five years, I have incorporated more writing in my Science curriculum by an online assignment called a TEDitorial.   

I use these TEDitorial assignments as a means incorporating the 6 C's of my classroom into one assignment.  In developing an editorial opinion students are encouraged to develop critical thinking skills.  Many of the TED Talks involve aspects of Art and Culture, bringing to light for the students the importance of design and beauty in the process of science. The aspects of online assignments, viewing the TED and researching support brings the 
utilization of connectivity into play. 

Students have become so compartmentalized in the subjects we teach they tend not to bring their English minds to the table when it comes to writing in science.  While I explain to students that their are differences in the way we may present information in science, it is important that their written communication is organized, clear and concise and demonstrate the same expectations of gramar, punctuation, capitalization and spelling as they would in a paper for English or History. 

To accomplish this, I have used an assignment called a TEDitorial.  I select and post a TED video ( on my classroom Moodle site every Monday throughout the semester.  Students must view five TEDs throughout the semester and compose and post an editorial supporting or denying the claims of the TED presenter.  Students must incorporate their own research and information from our classroom discussions to support their opinion of the presenter's information. Support for their opinion can be made through an outside source, A personal experience or a counter-example.

The trend through the semester of this assignment has been very typical.  I usually need to spend a great deal of time explaining the difference between a summary of the TED and an editorial for the first two submissions.  I also spend a great deal of time correcting the English aspects of their writing. Which most students can't seem to understand why this is important in science course.  By the third submission most students are actually writing editorials and submitting extra in the way of links to websites they discovered while researching the topic further.  I also have discovered that interest tends to peak about the fourth editorial and students watch several of the TEDs before choosing one that they have more passion about and truly want to editorialize.

I have found that many students begin to visit the TED site on their own to search out information about other topics on top of the science and learning based TEDs that I have selected for them.

Making a Flipped Digital Resource - Screencast-O-Matic

Making a Flipped Digital Resource 

How would you like to make a video and upload it to a You Tube channel in less than 20 minutes?

I am going guide you through the video production using a chemistry lesson from a  SMART Notebook file, and software from Screen Cast–O-Matic to create, publish and upload a digital resource. 

The Screen Cast-O-Matic software combines a very basic recording platform, some simple editing features and options to save the movie to your own data files or upload directly to a You Tube channel. Screen Cast-O-Matic can be used with any SMART Notebook, PowerPoint or Key Note presentation.  The screen capture software allows for the control of the capture screen size, which makes it easy to work within smaller windows on a larger platform.

The software can be downloaded for free at free version has a fifteen  minute recording limit.  The full version can be purchased for $12.99 and allows for longer recording time and additional editing tools.

This example is making a video about how to write electron configurations in chemistry. This lesson uses a pre-made SMART Notebook lesson.  I prefer to pre-make my lessons with animations of the steps fading in on mouse clicks.  I personally do not like the way I write with the mouse or using a wireless pad.  But, this is entirely up to you and what the objectives of your lessons are.

First I open the platform for my lesson.  In this case my SMARTnotebook software.

Next locate and activate Screencast-o-matic (SOM) from the dock on my desktop.

When the SOM software opens it asks if you would like to enable the pro features purchase or use the free version. The free version is fine for anything under fifteen minutes.
Remember to keep your videos short.

The SOM will open a frame with a control center on the bottom. This frame can be adjusted to capture as much of your desktop, SMART Notebook, PowerPoint or Key Note as you are going to use in the video.

The original frame size may not fit the portion of your screen that will be recorded.  The SOM software will prompt you to manipulate the frame to the size needed for your recording. 

Drag and re-size the frame to the appropriate size for your recording.  I capture only the workspace for the lesson.  I leave the tools outside the frame.  I still can use those tools without them being seen in the recording. 

The control panel for the SOM software is at the bottom of the recording frame.

The red circle is the record/pause control.  Make sure the mic and sound check is working during the recording.  There is nothing worse than getting the perfect take and your mic is not on.

You can set up an external camera if you would like to add your image to the recording.  The X on the right will close the recording window. 

When you begin recording the record button changes to a pause button. Use this to provide time to catch your breath, gather your thoughts, change slides, etc….

The recording time will also appear.  Be aware of the fifteen minute time frame as you record your video.

Once you begin recording, whatever you do on the software platform will be recorded.  Your voice, writing, typing, manipulating objects, changing slides, animations, slide transitions, will all be recorded by the SOM software.


At the end of the recording press DONE.

The SOM upload screen will appear.

You can preview your video at this point.

There are three options for upload.  Publish to Screencast-O-Matic,  publish to You Tube or publish to a video file.  Always publish to a video file.  This allows you to have a file available to use outside of SOM or Your Tube.      

When you publish to a video file you have the opportunity to add notes to the video or add captions and some other basic options.

Save at Full Size.  HD is nice for your computer, but HD affects download speeds and students may not have great bandwidth at home.

The MP4 option is recognized by most formats on the web.

After saving to a video file, you can then publish to SOM or You Tube.  Or you can upload the file to your learning management system of online platform. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Whiteboarding for Accountability

Whiteboarding for Accountability

One of the major concerns in the flipped classroom environment, is are students learning the content based material from the video lessons? Are students actually understanding the material?

I personally do not like to have a quiz everyday to check for student understanding. This develops a mentality that students learn to get a grade on a quiz. And in today's world for many of our students this means that once the quiz is completed the material is no longer necessary. 

I use three methods online to share information with students and monitor their completion of the at home assignment.  I use Moodle as my LMS and have students complete GIFT format and online assignments that correlate to the material presented. I also use TED-Ed ( and create lessons with questions based upon the videos viewed to check that students have completed the information.  The last two months, I have also incorporated SOPHIA  ( playlists and tutorials with quizzes to check for student accountability.  


Now, I am a realist and I understand that students at home, left on their own could simply contact friends and get answers to complete the assignments. I hope this isn't the case, but how easy it in this world for a screen capture to be sent out with the necessary information for everyone to complete the assignment on the shoulders of a few conscientious and helpful students.

This is why we use whiteboarding in my classroom. I have 20 - 24"x24" and 10 - 24"x36" inch tile board for students to demonstrate accountability and for me to use as a means of formative assessment. (I get a 4'x8' tile board $13.00 at Home Depot. They will usually cut them for free for a teacher.)

I have students work in pairs to answers questions, solve problems, outline solutions, format lab procedures etc…. The boards are large enough for students to work together and also to share their work for the entire class to see. I have students rotate partners through several questions so that I can witness interaction and listen to explanations as they help reinforce their understanding of the material.  If a student did not actually complete the assignment, it becomes very apparent to me and their classmates. However, in this exercise they are able to catch up to the class through peer learning. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

If, As A Teacher

as a teacher,
I present the same lessons in the same manner that 
have used in the past;
I seek no feedback from my student,
I do not analyze and evaluate their work in a manner 

that changes my own emphasis, repertoire, and timing,
I do not visit and observe other adults as they teach,
I do not share the work of my students with 
for feedback, suggestions, and critiques,
I do not visit other schools or attend particular workshops or seminars or read professional literature on 
aspects of my teaching,
I do not welcome visitors with experience and expertise 
to observe and provide feedback to me on my classroom 
I have no yearly individualized professional 
development plan focused on classroom changes to 
improve student learning,
and finally,
I have no systemic evaluation of my teaching tied to 
grade, department, and school-wide goals,

I have absolutely no way to become better as a 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sophia - Flipped Learning Platform

Sophia - Flipped Learning Platform

Sophia is an online learning platform that provides teachers an opportunity to create tutorials, playlists and pathways for learning.  The Sophia site has been developed  through Capella University,  Bill Nye - The Science Guy, the Mayo Clinic and New Classrooms in an attempt to empower students with an online learning platform with more than 37,000 tutorials from a wide variety of educators with a vast array of educational styles to opportunity of student success. The site provides free professional development opportunities for educators to develop technology use in the classroom.  The Sophia site also provides college credit through Cappella University. 

Through the Sophia platform educators can create class groups and provide students with tutorials for guided learning and practice utilizing, video, slide presentations, pdf, Google forms and other media. These tutorials can be grouped into playlists for themed lessons, sectioned units or complete chapters.
Student progress can be monitored with embedded quizzes.

Sample Playlists


Software for Creating Flipped Video

Software for Creating Flipped Video
New software is introduced everyday for the creation and processing of digital resources.  There are a wide variety of software available form full movie production editing, to simple shoot and load technology.  The software for Mac may differ from PC and Apple apps may differ from Android apps.
Each educator needs to find a few pieces of software for media production and a means to upload the digital content and work with them until the production and upload process become part of the educator’s digital toolbox.
Camtasia Studio
Camtasia is another screencasting tool made by Techsmith that allows you to record, customize and edit your content videos. It allows you to record your screen, edit the recordings and more. Camtasia is one of the more commonly used tools used by teachers who flip.

This tool has both a
 free and a paid 
option and it works
on any platform,
 since it is web-
based. The free 
version allows you 15 minutes of video capture, and the site also allows you to either host the video on their website or download it for use somewhere else. This website also allows you to upload directly to YouTube.

Screenchomp (iPad App)
If you need a simple basic software, you may find that Screenchomp is all you need to produce content videos. Screenchomp is a Techsmith app made for the iPad. It is a digital whiteboard that allows you to record and easily store your digital materials. Screenchomp’s layout is easy enough even for younger students to be engaged in media production.

ShowMe (iPad App)
ShowMe is a simple digital whiteboard that allows you to record your lessons. It offers an online community where you can share videos. ShowMe has an RSS feed function that makes it easy to embed the feed automatically into your online environment, blog  or website.

iMovie (Mac, iPad App, iPhone App)
iMovie is part of the iLife package on the Mac. It is also a pretty groovy app for the iPad and iPhone. iMovie makes it easy to turn your home or content videos into amazing trailers and/or films. It uses very user friendly drag and drop features. All you have to do is drag
your recorded video, photos, sound track or parts of it, arrange it as
you please, drag in titles and transitions. iMovie allows for direct uploads to your YouTube Channel.

Windows Movie Maker
Windows Essentials is a free download from Microsoft. It comes as the basic video editor in the bundle from Microsoft. Movie maker allows you to drag and drop video clips, still images and audio files to create digital content.   It allows you to edit video footage but it is a stripped down version of iMovie.

Educreations (iPad App)
Educreations is an iPad app that allows you to use your iPad as a whiteboard. You can upload pictures from your photo album and annotate over them. You can also record your voice as you annotate to create more interesting video lessons.

Explain Everyting (iPad App)
Explain Everything is an easy-to-use design interactive whiteboard that lets you annotate, animate, and narrate explanations and presentations. You can create interactive lessons, activities, assessments, and tutorials. You can import Photos, PDF, PPT, and Keynote files.