Science, Technology

Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching

I am excited to share that I have been selected for the 2020-2021 Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching! I will be among 22 US teachers traveling abroad to 10 different countries to complete an inquiry research project and learn from local teachers and students.

New headshot for Fulbright Distinguish Award in Teaching profile

From January – June 2021, I will live and work in The Netherlands (host city and institution still TBD). My proposed inquiry project title is “Using Technology to Build Bridges in Science Education Between School and the Community.” I am interested in how we can use technology to better facilitate science education through citizen science projects. Through this opportunity, I will visit classrooms and schools, meet with professors, participate in professional development, and explore the citizen science and science community engagement projects in The Netherlands.

Thank you to everyone who pushed me to apply, read my application, and encouraged me to step into this unknown. It is a little scary to take a semester leave of absence from teaching to travel abroad (especially during a pandemic). I am excited and ready to jump right in to learning and growth opportunities!

I will share my adventures and learning here on my blog and on Instagram.

This blog post is not an official U.S. Department of State blog. The views and information presented are the Fulbright DA Participant’s own and do not represent the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Semester Research Program, the U.S. Department of State, or IREX.

Classroom Strategies

Creating a Welcome Virtual Classroom Environment

This blog post was originally published on KidsDiscover on September 9, 2020

Back to school looked and felt a little different this year. The usual hustle and bustle of a new school year was replaced by worry over how to best create a welcoming and productive classroom for my students–100% online

Even with the big changes in our classroom format and the uncertainty over when we will return to the classroom, there are many things about teaching that remain the same. Most importantly, my focus in the first few weeks of school is how to create a welcoming environment for my students. 

Our current online schedule includes six 90 minute block class periods (three classes per day). Teachers are expected to meet synchronously with students for 30-45 minutes, then provide 30-45 minutes of asynchronous classwork. During the asynchronous time, teachers can support students and answer questions. 

Like every other year, I had the first day of school jitters. However, unlike all other years, I couldn’t pop into a friend’s classroom for a little excited pep talk. My colleagues and I texted throughout the morning to share our successes and encouragement. My students were also nervous–first day of middle school and they showed up to school all online! 

We started our class by going over our video chat norms. I don’t usually start the first day of school with rules; in this case, it was important to ease anxiety for students on what will be expected of them when we are online together. Most importantly, I want my students to know that, while their participation is required, they do not have to turn on their camera or microphone during class. 

Our community expectations

Building Routines: 

Much of the first few weeks of school starts with building and practicing classroom routines. Teaching online is no different. In my classroom, I have established routines for how class will begin and how students will use the online space for interactions. We begin each synchronous class with a warm-up and a review of our norms. As we have launched into more content in science class, I have used tools like Peardeck and Padlet to give each student a voice and an opportunity to share their learning. 

Activities for Creating a Welcoming Environment: 

As with every other year, it is essential to create a welcoming classroom environment. In the first two weeks of school, I spent time getting to know my students, their interests, and making sure they are represented in our classroom community. 

The first activity we did was a Flipgrid Name Intro. Students recorded a 30 second introduction to the rest of the class, including their name and a little bit about them. Not only is this essential for getting to know students, but also it is important for me to learn how to pronounce each name as the student says it. Unlike other years where I get plenty of name practice, this year this has been my only opportunity to match a name to a face (cameras, during synchronous class sessions, are optional). 

The second activity we did was a Getting to Know You Survey. I have iterated on this survey over the years; thanks to Ace Schwarz (Teaching Outside the Binary), I added in better-worded questions asking about students’ names and pronouns. I use the survey data to find ways to structure our class that value my students and engage them in authentic learning experiences throughout the year. 

Third, I had my students complete a quilt square for our Classroom Quilt. Instead of an artifact hanging on a classroom wall, I turned this into a banner for our Google Classroom. The final product turned out amazing! My students and I love opening up each class and seeing each member of our classroom community represented in the header! 

I am looking forward to this school year and whatever adventures will bring! I am grateful to work with amazing students who are flexible and willing to try new things! 

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Create a Community Quilt Google Classroom Banner

Back to school is an exciting time! Back to school during a pandemic where we are teaching 100% online is exciting, but in a completely different way!

As we head back to school, I am trying to find as many ways to connect with my students and build community in the online space. We have already done our Getting to Know You Survey and our Video Chat Digital Citizenship lesson. I will continue to do some fun class team building games during our synchronous class meetings too.

Creating a Community Quilt

My friend Megan Rowen does an amazing getting-to-know-you activity with her students every year called the Community Quilt. Each student makes a square that represents their interests, hobbies, personality, family, and friends (see our examples here). She hangs up each square on the all–it’s an amazing collage of the students in each class. She leaves it up all year as a reminder that each person makes up a unique and important part of the whole.

As we were planning for this year, Megan mentioned she wanted to continue to do that assignment, but she wasn’t sure how to continue it for the online space. That’s where my nerd brain went to work and suggested we turn the quilt into a Google Classroom banner image. In the past, I’ve taken a class photo and uploaded that as our header image–this is a fun alternative where all students are represented! Megan agreed and I set to work making the templates and instructions.

Sample classroom quilt (With only 3 students’ work. It’s much prettier with a whole class represented.)

Here’s how it works: (watch this video)

  1. Post the Community Quilt assignment on Google Classroom so each student gets their own copy.
  2. After all quilt squares are turned in, open each assignment to slide 2, then File > Download > JPG or PNG.
  3. Open the Google Classroom banner template and upload all the quilt square images to the Google Draw. Arrange the squares within the banner and customize the welcome text.
  4. Download the completed quilt: File > Download > JPG.
  5. In Google Classroom, open the class period to the Stream. On the bottom right corner of the banner image, click “Upload Photo” and select your classroom quilt!

Not using Google Classroom? Consider having students post their quilt square to Padlet!

In our online space, any little thing we can do to make our classroom feel like a shared community space is important!

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Getting to Know You Survey with Google Forms

I always start my school year with a student survey. In my first few years of teaching, this was a paper survey. Later, this turned into a Google Form. A couple years ago, I blogged about my getting to know you survey. (Here’s the original post.) I am constantly iterating on my class resources and activities, including this one.

Since starting to use this Google Forms survey a couple years ago, I have improved some of the questions, particularly asking students about their pronouns and name. Huge shoutout to Ace Schwarz for their phenomenal website and blog, Teaching Outside the Binary! (And thank you Ben Kovaks for sending me their way!) Based Ace’s resources, I modified the way I have asked some of my questions, specifically asking who I can use names and pronouns around.

Here is my updated getting to know you survey! I also added/changed some questions to better reflect our current remote school situation. Just for fun, fill out this one so I can get to know you!

Name question on the updated getting to know you survey!

I add names and pronouns to my printed (yeah yeah, I know, but sometimes paper is way more efficient) attendance rosters. It’s important to start using names and pronouns right away, and online is no exception. Our kids are counting on us to be their allies.

My students need to know I see them in every way possible. We will also be doing class introductions on Flipgrid; not only is this a fun beginning of the year activity, but also it is a chance for me to learn how my students pronounce their names.

What questions do you ask your students at the beginning of the school year?

 

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Final Course Evaluation with Google Forms

One thing I really love about my classroom is that feedback is a two-way street. I try to collect formal and informal feedback from my students as often as I give them feedback. Informal feedback may be an exit ticket question or walking around and chatting with students as they are working.

At the end of each semester, I ask students for formal feedback in our course evaluation survey (make a copy of this template). Students fill this out during the final week of the semester, and I read the feedback after grades have been submitted.

Some of the questions I ask are about what they like about our class, what they wish we did more of, and how they feel as learners in our class. One of my favorite sections is where students rate their feelings toward our class. This tells me so much about the class culture of our classroom. If they’re not feeling valued and supported, then all the rest of the academics are pointless.

Rating questions on our course evaluation.

Asking students for feedback

My students know that I value their feedback and that our goal is for everyone to grow and learn together (we use Mastery Based Grading in our class!). They see it in the actions I take in class: I will ask them for feedback, then talk through changes I’ve made based on what I’ve seen work and not work.

We’re still working on making feedback specific, actionable, and kind–they have improved greatly from the beginning to the end of the year. Although, I still do get responses like “nothing” and “idk” a little more often than I’d like. We’re not perfect and we’re learning.

Evaluating multiple teachers

Since I am working with two student teachers this semester, we duplicated the Feedback on your teacher questions and separated each set into their own section on the Form. Each of us modified and added questions for areas we’d like feedback. On the class period question, we turned on the setting “Go to section based on response” (3 dots in the bottom right of the question). Need help? Here is a template already set up for 2 teachers!

How to evaluate multiple teachers based on the class period they teach. 

The feedback process is important for my growth as a teacher. I am grateful my students are willing to help me improve!

What types of feedback questions do you ask your students?

 

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Showcase Student Work on Your Digital Fridge

I miss my kids. A lot. One thing I miss a ton is their creativity.

Whenever we have a less-structured minute in class, such as when some students finish an assignment early, many students choose to draw. They love the Sketchbook iPad app. Over the course of the year, I’ve seen many students improve their drawing skills. And, if allowing them to draw in class means they’re more likely to bring their iPad charged to school every day, then I’m all for it!

The best thing ever is when students gift me one of their drawings to hang up in my room! Their art immediately goes up on the wall or on a cabinet. If it’s a digital drawing, then I’ll email (with a pretty please) one of two staff members who have access to the color printer and ask them to print out the drawing.

A while back, I saw someone post a picture of an area in their classroom that they called the classroom “fridge.” (I can’t remember who you are! If someone finds the source, please send them or the post my way so I can give credit!) I love this idea, and it’s been on my list of things to do for over a year. Now I will have to wait until we can physically go back to schools–I already have the perfect place picked out.

On our weekly check-in Form, some of my students have mentioned cool art projects they are working on. I wanted to provide a digital outlet for my students to share their artwork with our class. So, I created a Digital Fridge using Padlet! The linked example is filled with contributions from teacher friends–feel free to contribute something!

Digital Fridge: Teacher Edition

In my Digital Fridge, I required all posts to be approved (Settings > Require Approval). This allows me to make sure a student does not misuse our Padlet. Plus, submitting a post for approval means students know I am looking at their artwork and hanging it up by clicking approve. So far, I have approved every post that contains an attached picture (I had a couple where the student must have started, then forgotten to upload anything), including one of a stick figure. One incredibly quiet student has posted multiple drawings; it’s incredible to see them so willing to share online!

If you want to use this idea, simply click the “remake” button on the top right corner. Then, share the link with your students through your online platform (Google Classroom, class website, email, or other LMS). Don’t have a Padlet account yet? Use this referral link and we both get a free extra Padlet!

What cool submissions have you received on your Digital Fridge? Share in the comments below!

 

Classroom Strategies, Technology

Digital Citizenship for Class Video Chats

With the shift to online learning, students and teachers are learning an entirely new skillset. Classroom norms and expectations are changing.

On a recent video chat with some of my students, one student asked “do we have to get dressed for school?” Much to their enjoyment, I explained the beauty of the Video Chat Mullet: business on the top, party on the bottom. And, if they do not want us to see their kitty cat jammy bottoms, they can always turn off their video!

Even though we were laughing and joking, I also wanted my students to know that there are real expectations for when we interact for school, both synchronously and asynchronously. At the beginning of the year in science, we spend a lot of time building community and practicing teamwork through activities like Saving Sam and our paper airplane lab. We also begin to reflect on the teamwork process.

The transition to online learning has forced me to consider how I will set expectations and norms together. I wanted to keep the expectations simple, concise, and clear. Finally, I settled on these community expectations:

Additionally, I created a mini Digital Citizenship for Distance Learning lesson using one of my favorite tools: Pear Deck! This lesson briefly defines digital citizenship (according to Common Sense Media), introduces the norms, and asks students to digitally “sign” that they agree to our community video chat norms. You can view this self-paced lesson on Pear Deck (or make a copy of the Slides and customize it for yourself). I also created a short quiz (make a copy) for the end of the lesson.

My students are completing this lesson asynchronously; I am posting the link to the student paced Pear Deck on Google Classroom. We will have optional weekly video chats for each class period; and, I will offer additional drop-in office hours (really, called “Ollie Hours” because my dog, Ollie, is my co-teacher) in the afternoons.

How are you teaching and modeling digital citizenship for your students during video chats?

 

Technology

Mari’s Favorite Chrome Extensions

Productivity is a mindset. It’s not a thing we do, it’s how we think. And, what works for one person does not work for another. Sometimes, one productivity tool works for one area of life, but not for another. For example, for the last four years, I’ve kept my work email at Inbox Zero; however, my personal email is a bit of a mess. In the last few months, I’ve worked hard to unsubscribe off of mailing lists I don’t look at and keep my personal inbox under a couple hundred. It’s a never ending work in progress!

Chrome Extensions help my productivity! Chrome Extensions are found in the Chrome Webstore and are tools that enhance the functionality of your Chrome browser. Here are eight great chrome extensions that make my life better!

The Great SuspenderHuge shoutout to my friend Dee Lanier for introducing me to this Extension! Seriously, this one is incredible. The Great Suspender will suspend tabs you aren’t currently using; mine is set to 30 minutes of inactivity. This saves memory space, and is especially great on a Chromebook.

ScreencastifyScreencastify is such a time saver! With the free version, you can record up to 5 minute screencasts. I use this to create learning resources for my students for learning stations or sub days. And, when another teacher asks how to do something, I can quickly make a how-to screencast instead of typing out instructions. Once you click the extension, you can choose your audio and/or video inputs, then start recording. The video automatically saves to Google Drive, with the option to also upload to YouTube or Google Classroom.

BitlyShorten all the links! This bitly link shortener extension allows you to quickly shorten and customize the link endings for a website. Go to a website, click the extension, customize your ending (the part after bit.ly/), and share!

OneTabAnyone else always have a zillion tabs open, but don’t want to lose them all when you close your Chrome window? Save them all to OneTab! Click OneTab, and it’ll save all of the tabs in your current window into a convenient list. When you restart Chrome, you can reopen them. Or, if you’re working on a recurring project with the same websites (or Docs/Slides/etc), save and lock that tab group to reuse later.

Save to KeepI LOVE Google Keep! (Sidenote: I can’t believe I’ve never blogged about Google Keep! I need to change that soon.) This extension conveniently saves a webpage to your Google Keep for easy reference later.

AdblockBlock all the ads, including on YouTube! I love that websites look cleaner and there are no ads to sit through on YouTube. Some news websites recognize adblockers, but all you have to do is click your adblock extension, click “pause on this site,” and refresh the site.

Tab ScissorsFull disclosure, I don’t use Tab Scissors anymore. I switched over to Magnet, a Mac app, which has a few more configurations. But, the idea is the same: split apart your tabs to work side-by-side. It’s so useful! Many people love Tab Glue too–the one downside is that it’ll gather ALL of your tabs, not just the ones you split apart. So, if you’re like me and have a zillion windows and tabs open, it’ll combine them all together!

Move It!Set your time interval, and Move It will interrupt your work to add a little movement! These movement breaks are so important, especially while a lot of us are working from home.

What are your favorite Chrome Extensions? Leave them in the Comments!

 

 

GSuite, Science

Observation vs. Inference: A learning adventure

Over spring break, I have been doing a lot of relaxing AND a lot of fun work. For me, creating and planning is fun, so I don’t always mind it when I’m on a break. That being said, I constantly check in with myself to see if this is something I want to be doing or I feel like I should be doing. As soon as this fun work feels like a burden, then I stop and find something different to do–it is a break, after all! Lots of making observations and inferences on the personal level.

I designed this lesson while sitting on my patio furniture (I bought myself new cushions, a little physical distancing gift to myself), enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Throughout spring break, I’ve been thinking about what types of skill-building activities I can do with my students when we begin distance learning. In the past, I haven’t done a great job of teaching observations and inferences, so I decided to dig in and create a better lesson I can use with my students in the coming weeks. As I was creating this lesson, I had both in-person and distance learning in mind.

5E Lesson Model

The 5E lesson model is frequently used in science classes, and has application for all content areas. Lessons are broken down into five phases: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. A 5E lesson could take a single class period or span a couple days or weeks. You can read more about the 5E model of instruction here.

For this particular lesson, I chose to use Google Slides because it makes each distinct lesson phase its own slide. I have found this helps to keep my students focused when the activities are chunked into smaller pieces. Here’s a 5E Slides template I created. Or, if you prefer Google Docs, there are some amazing 5E Hyperdocs templates here.

Observations vs. Inferences Lesson

First, check out the Observation vs. Inference lesson. If you like it, click “use template” in the top right corner. If you don’t like it, click “use template,” make changes, then share it back to me. I always appreciate the feedback!

For distance learning: I plan to send out these Slides to my students on Monday, check in with them mid-week, and have everything completed by Friday. Students can choose to complete one slide per day, or do it all in one sitting. Either way, the focus is on building skills rather than new knowledge.

For in-person learning: I predict this lesson will take an entire 100 minute block, and potentially need to extend into another period. I would also see the value of including a peer-review cycle using Google Forms and/or TAG feedback. However, I will not have the opportunity to try this live with my students until next school year! Sad face.

When you try this with your students, let me know how it goes! Leave a comment or send me an email 🙂

 

 

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Stay-at-Home Mad Libs!

My goal for my blog over the next few weeks is to share out as many resources that will keep education light, fun, and easy on everyone involved. Mad Libs is one of my favorite classroom activities. It’s a goofy review activity that sneaks in parts of speech skill-building too.

Therefore, I’ve created some super fun Stay-at-Home Mad LibsBefore you continue reading, stop and play the Mad Libs 🙂

These will surely be informative and give you a good laugh! Shoutout to the CDC for the content (no spoilers on the info, link is provided with your Mad Libs).

How to set this up for your students:

  1. Make a copy of the Stay-at-Home Mad Libs Form to use with your students
  2. Create your Sheet and install the Formule add-on.
  3. Open Formule (watch this video for Formule help) copy and paste this text into Formule at the “build/preview templates” section.
  4. Test out your form!
  5. Send it out to your students using a link shortener, Google Classroom, or other messaging platform.

If you want to customize this activity with your students, here are the complete Mad Libs instructions. For additional Google Forms help, start here.

These Mad Libs can be played asynchronously or synchronously. It’s a perfect lighthearted just-for-fun activity or a good review of part of speech. If your students are already using Flipgrid, have them record themselves reading their Mad Libs to each other!

Let me know how it goes in the comments!

And, if anyone translates this into another language, please send it my way and I’ll link it in the post!