Science

All students can do science with Tomatosphere!

No matter how crazy my week is, I always look forward to Thursday afternoons. This is my weekly science period with our moderate/severe special education class. I’ve been working with Ashley, their teacher, for the last several years, doing science every few weeks–this was the first year that I went every week! It’s always been 100% voluntary, I am paid in smiles and hugs, and that’s all I need.

For the last three years, we have participated in Tomatosphere, a citizen science project! The premise is simple: we are sent two seed packets of tomato seeds, one has been to space and the other has not. We plant the seeds, count how many sprout, and submit the data. The scientists are measuring the effects of space on seeds and food production, for future long-term space travel.

“These space-faring seeds will be distributed in 2017. The seeds were launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on board SpaceX’s Dragon on July 18, 2016 and docked with the ISS two days later.” (image credit: www.firsttheseedfoundation.org/tomatosphere)

There are plenty of teaching resources on the Tomatosphere website, making it a suitable project for any grade level. It’s perfect for elementary school (especially big/little buddies!), general ed + special ed partnership, or in middle or high school for deeper scientific investigations.

Each year, I have run Tomatosphere differently, mainly due to timing. In year 1, Ashley’s class came to my 3rd period class, and we planted seeds and collected data together. In year 2, I went to them, and we blogged about our experience. In year 3, we had a little less time and the students were a little lower academically, so we did a few learning activities about plants and seeds, planted our tomato seeds, and made a few observations. Next year, we are hoping to create science journals to practice measuring, writing, and (possibly) graphing skills.

I love that no matter the academic and social level, all students are able to participate. We can work on a number of skills, including counting, sequencing, and writing. I love that I bring the science, and Ashley guides the skill-building.

Sample student observations, practicing measurement, observations, and drawing.

It’s easy to get started with Tomatosphere! Order your seeds from the website and get set-up for planting. We use Jiffy Peat Pellets, and it takes about 4-5 days to see sprouts. The 36 peat pellet trays fit about 3 seed packets. I use two trays, one for each letter packet (one letter has been to space, the other hasn’t).

After we’ve grown our seeds and submitted our data, we plant some of the tomato plants in our school garden and plant the rest in small cups for students (and staff) to take home. Each year, at least one person (not me…) has kept their plant alive long enough to produce tomatoes to eat!

What ideas do you have to build out a meaningful Tomatosphere unit? 

GSuite, Technology

Exploring our World with Google Expeditions AR

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One of my students viewing the layers of the Earth

In May 2016 we welcomed Google Expeditions Pioneer program to our school (read about it here), and our students and teachers loved it. I am so excited that we were able to host the Google Expeditions AR Pioneer program at the end of April.

I signed up for the Google Expeditions AR Pioneer program back in June 2017 at ISTE, when I got to play with a demo of the augmented reality (AR) app. Finally I received an email that they would be in San Diego. I quickly reserved my date and got to planning!

Setting Up Google Expeditions AR

As I prepared for our Expeditions AR experience, I was chatting with my friend Ben Kovaks. He shared this awesome See, Think, Wonder (Ve, Piensa, Pregunta) chart with me. It ended up being one of the most transformational parts of the day because it kept students centered and focused on the learning. Most of our teachers ended up using it or creating their own version, and agreed that it was integral to their students’ engagement with the technology. As Ben so wisely puts it, “there NEEDS to be a structure to help kids think through innovative tools.”

We had two rooms for simultaneous Expeditions, my classroom and our school library. I provided support for the teachers coming through my room, and our Expeditions Googler, Calvin, assisted the teachers in the library. We had 18 classes and about 450 students participate in the Expeditions experience over the course of the day.

Teacher training before school

 

The day began with the training session for our participating teachers. Calvin showed us how to use the devices, went over rules, and allowed for plenty of teacher exploration time. Once the bell rang, we started running Expeditions AR with classes.

Expeditions AR is similar to VR in how it is set-up in the Expeditions App (iOS & Android), and with a Guide and Explorers. One major difference is that it is not necessary to have a student:device ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Instead, 1:4 was just fine, and everyone was able to participate. Because students had to share devices, they interacted a lot more, described what they were seeing, and talked to their peers, and asked more questions.

Using Google Expeditions AR with our Classes

I got to be with my own students first, and my wonderful sub, Mr. Smith, helped out and explored with us–it’s even cooler because he subbed for me 2 years ago when Expeditions first came to our school! This was my favorite class all day because we had multiple teachers, our principal, and even our campus assistant join in for a while.

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Exploring earthquakes around the world.

One of the best parts of our day was when our campus assistant came in to deliver a pass for one of my kids, and I convinced him to come take a look. He rarely gets to be involved in positive things around campus, as he is picking up students, delivering passes, and keeping students safe in the hallways. I watched him interact with my students, and he had the biggest and realest smile on his face! Even better, I heard from multiple people throughout the day that he kept talking about his experience!

Throughout the whole day, everyone was engaged and curious. We are grateful for this opportunity, and we can’t wait for the Google Expeditions AR app to launch!

 

Reflections

April 2018 No-Work Challenge

What if I told you that I made it the entire month of April without doing any work-work at home? Would you believe me? That’s right, no lesson planning, no emailing, and no grading at home for an entire month. As crazy as it sounds, it was a necessary leap.

Why I started this challenge

This past year I’ve been working toward a healthier work-life balance. I’ve written a few blog posts about my journey, including: Work Hard, Rest Hard, Work, Work, Work…What About Life (co-written with Meagan Kelly and Aubrey Yeh), and Navigating the Sea of Shoulds. I’m grateful for some excellent friends who have walked with me in this learning experience.

The no-work month challenge started on a whim, as I ended spring break and realized I had enjoyed periods of time without doing work-work or even thinking about teaching. However, I honestly doubted I could do it. I mean, I always have so much to do, and my to-do list never seems to get any shorter.

My guidelines

Very simple: All work-work had to be completed at work. Including grading, lesson planning, and checking email. Oh, and taking attendance.

I spent a lot of afternoons playing with my dog, Ollie.

There were text messages about work to friends, but nothing like serious work. Also, work-related errands (because birthdays, celebrations, science supplies) could be completed outside of work.

Tracking my progress

I kept a Google Doc journal throughout this month. I didn’t write every day, only when I thought of it and had something to say.

I’ve set the permissions to “anyone with the link can comment” and I would love it if you would add in a comment on something that resonated with you, or if you have a question.

What I learned

Aside from my reflections in my challenge journal, there are a few things I learned about myself:

  • Work is like a gas, it fills the container you put it in. If I allow myself to work all day, every day (except Sunday, because that work-limit has stayed strong), then I will have enough work to fill that space. Therefore, if I decrease the size of the container, then work will still fit.
  • Doing this challenge has forced me to put limits on what I say “yes” to. In the past, I have a hard time saying “no” because I can reason I can get things done at night or on the weekend. It just ends up being more stress. Unless I’m getting paid extra duty for these extra projects, I’m carefully considering additional commitments. This is a procedure I’ve had to put in place to safeguard my personal balance. Of course, there are exceptions for exceedingly cool things, such as working in the school garden on a Saturday morning.
  • Never do something you can have a kid do for you. I’ve always lived by this motto, but it really ramped up in the last month. Plus, my students love any opportunity to help. I need something taken to the office or another teacher? Please take this. There’s a lab to be set up? I’d like 2 volunteers who are done with their work to set up materials for tomorrow. Now the lab needs to be cleaned up? I will bribe you with chocolate if you stay for 5 minutes to help clean. Please, and thank you!
  • I have my brain back! I don’t find myself thinking about work every single second of every single day. It’s really refreshing; I’m learning to see myself as a human outside of my teacher identity. Don’t get me wrong, I love my teacher identity, but I felt like I was losing a bit of myself in the process. I’ve reclaimed something for me, and I’m much more relaxed.

Our district’s motto is “Putting Students First.” While it sounds counterproductive, I’m putting my students first by taking care of my own needs so that I can be a better teacher for them.

What’s next? I only have a month of school left, and I plan to continue this habit through the end of the school year. This summer, I will reevaluate my personal limits for next year.

Maybe this exact challenge isn’t for you. How will you ensure you set your own limits on your work-life balance?