Friday, December 18, 2015


The day before holiday break....40 minute classes....everyone sugared up.  I needed something fun that did not involved watching a movie....

Please meet YETI-MAN.

Student Challenge: Please don't let Yeti-Man die.  He and his tribe are being relocated to an island in the tropics.  He needs a device that keeps him from actually touching the water.  You must use a minimum of 3 supplies to attach to Yeti-Man and he must be able to float without the saltwater touching him.  He must be able to breathe and we need to be able to see his face.

1. Name your Yeti-Man.
2. Build him a life saving device to help him travel through the water to his new home.
3. Take a group selfie with him and share with #savetheyetiman

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Visual Thinking

I have been trying to come up with different ways to practice the large amount of vocabulary associated with middle school science.  I actually like the vocabulary, but so many of these words are new to kids, I think they need lots of practice and repetitiveness to understand and connect these terms.

Here are a few of the things that have been successful in my class -- I am looking for other ideas that are fun to help kids increase their science vocabulary.

1. Sketchnotes
I started teaching my 7th graders how to Sketchnote this week.  They are crazy artistic and I love combining art and science. I think this helps them see how a series of words are connected and fit together.  Once we start applying these words to real world problems, it helps them to have a good understanding of the concepts.

Created by Nausheen

Created by Pravallika

2. Heads Up
We played a few games of Heads-Up with the create your own cards version.  This was quite hilarious.  I hear the app Charades is the same, but haven't tried it yet.  The best part about this one was it really helped me to identify some big misconceptions kids had about some of the words.

3. Infopics
We went outside and took pictures of things that represented some of our vocabulary and then created an infopic. I have collected these in a Schoology media album for students to refer back to this year.  The top two pictures were taken with our Pro-Scope iPad microscope attachment that our class received from a Donor's Choose Grant this year.  This one was just fun because we got to go outside and who doesn't love an iPad microscope??

Created by Juliana, Pravallika, Renee, and Anuj

I would love to hear other ways teachers have incorporated fun ways to remember terminology that can be easily embedded into any subject area.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

iPad Summit Boston

After an amazing 2 days at the iPad Summit in Boston, I am still trying to process all I learned.  It was so fun to see other ADE's and conference friends and ALL the sessions were so good.  Here is a quick overview of who I saw and my big take aways.  Overall I was reminded of the power of collaborating with like minded educators.

Love the idea of design thinking and loved the practical examples of how to make that happen.  Sabba shared Global Goals which I think I will start my year with next year.  It would be so cool to start the year with the 17 global goals and have the students select one to focus our content around next year.  We could let them design the year based on that big picture goal of impacting society.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Middle School Life

I get the same question a lot these days...."Are you surviving at the middle school?" or  "Do you regret your decision yet?"

So here it official reflection of the first few months as a middle school teacher ...

What do I love about teaching middle school?
Students have an undeniable excitement to learn.  They aren't "too cool for school" and still really have fun while learning.  I love how much progress I have seen in them in such a short period of time.  From writing to behaviors to higher level thinking, I am so impressed with how quickly they learn. 

They are super compliant and still respect and like their teachers. Kids don't come to class complaining about other teachers or classes. They live in the moment and do not seem to dwell on things beyond their control. 

They do not judge. I have yet to feel judged by anyone in the entire building. They are incredibly accepting and so very sweet. I can't tell you the number of notes, emails, and treats kids have given me just to say thanks for teaching them. 

This doesn't mean all of these things were missing in my previous classroom with older kids, it's just different. 

What do I miss?
Mostly, I miss the respect and trust the parents had in my ability to provide the best possible opportunities for their kids. It is hard to adjust to being questioned daily by parents who don't know me and will accuse or point fingers when truly my goal is to help their child be more successful and independent. I can't speak from their point of view though. Maybe when my own kids are in middle school, I will feel the same way when I see them becoming more independent and not making the choices I would like them to make.  Either way, I miss the trust. 

I wanted a challenge and needed change. I got both. I love the challenge of creating lessons to appeal to a younger crowd. I love having a team to work with, who push me to try things outside of my norm.  I love the environment of my campus, one of equality and acceptance for all and everyone putting kids first. 

So, yes I am surviving and no, I absolutely do not regret my decision to mix life up a little. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mystery Skype

In honor of Global Collaboration Day, we decided to do a science themed Mystery Skype, thanks to the amazing idea from DianaLyn Perkins.  So each period of the day, students came in and Skyped with another classroom.  The goal was to try and identify the other schools location before the other school identified us.  
Questions could only have yes or no answers and they needed to be science themed.

We talked to Colorado, Massachusetts, Canada, California, and Virginia - 4 different time zones - all in one day.  

Students had different jobs during the cell -- Thanks to Mrs. Alaniz for these ideas!

Google Masters
Team Geography
Social Media
Crowd Control and Security

We ran a Todays Meet to send questions to the interviewers so the room stayed quiet (sort of).  Here is an example from one class.

The bloggers had to write a blog post about what was going on.  Here are a few examples excerpts from them.  Keep in mind they are 7th graders and this was their first time on a Mystery Skype.

"Today we are doing a Skype call with another class somewhere in the Americas! We are trying to guess where they live. Everyone has a job to do so that it goes smoothly. We are starting soon! I'm so excited! We are skyping with them right now! About to ask questions! They don't live in the U. S. They live near Toronto. This is so cool! I can't wait to figure out where they live! We are getting pretty close. They thought that we lived in Colorado! We found out that they lived in Ontario! Yes we won!"
Sydney P4

"Everyone is really excited to meet a mystery class! You can feel the anticipation in the room! We are starting to quiet down because the other class is going to call soon. The four  interviewers are receiving the call. The other class is still organizing itself, the teacher told us, so we will wait 5 or so minutes before she starts the Skype adventure. We can see four different students and we wait silently for them to talk. They also appear to be in a science lab. They tell us their names and we decide to ask them a question first.  We figure out that they live in the northern hemisphere,They don't live near a body of water, and have had a natural disaster in the last 5 years.Earthquakes and tornadoes are rare there for them. The Google team is plugging away. They live in the U.S, and have very harsh winters too. But alas, the girls guess that yes, we are from Texas! We have been found!"
Jordan P2

So proud of my East Broncos for today!! It was fun to see the excitement around and everyone laughing and having fun.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

1st 5 Days Middle School Version!

The first 5 days are most important, which is why I am starting off letting them design our class and have input on what is going on in the room.

Day 1 - Round Robin Input!
Students will rotate through 8 stations -- about 4-5 minutes per station.

Station 1: What do you want to learn in 7th grade science?
At this station, students will find 3-4 pieces of butcher paper with our course themes on it.  They can write what questions they have or identity topics they are interested in.  I am going to take their ideas and tie them into our year plans.

Station 2: What songs do you want to add to our class music playlist?
Students add songs to our Apple Music playlist. The only requirements are that they cannot be inappropriate or have the "E" next to them in the store.  I play music in the background all day, almost everyday.

Station 3: How would you improve the world?
This station is another piece of butcher paper where students write down what they would do to improve the world.  They can identify what bugs them or what they see as the biggest issues in society.  We will try to address some of these throughout the year and offer solutions or suggestions on how to improve society.

Station 4: What makes you happy?
I do this station because talking about what makes you happy makes you feel good -- and everyone should feel good, especially on the first day of school!  At this station, students wrote on the table with neon markers.

Station 5: School would be so much better if only...
This station is a writing prompt that students complete.  I was curious to find out what about school makes them anxious or stressed.  If we can find ways to avoid that, it would make school better for all!

These answers were hilarious.  From an indoor pool to free pizza vending machines, kids really know what they need to be happy.   Many students wrote "no homework", which I COMPLETELY agree with!  A couple wrote "no mean teachers", which again, I totally agree with!

Station 6: What do you love about your school?
Since I am new here, I wondered why they love this place so much. Groups submitted to a Padlet all the things they love about CMSE.

Station 7: My favorite teacher ever was...because...
This one is my favorite. Every kid has a favorite teacher, but most teachers have no idea.  At this station students write a quick note to their favorite teacher saying WHY they liked them so much.  Now I get to see what kids think about awesome teachers and I will put all these notes in the teachers boxes on the first or second day of school as a surprise!  #win-win

Station 8:  Meet the teacher: ME!
No one wants to stand in front of the class and talk about themselves in a room full of strangers, but I need to meet each student. I want to speak to everyone of them on the first day. This station allows students to meet me with only 2-3 other students around and allows me to put a face to a name.

Here is the link to the Google Doc with the station information documents that are at each table if you are interested in the specific details!

Day 2 - Angry Bird Challenge
Team building time!  Design a new angry bird tower that can support the weight of a tiny angry bird.  Students had about 10 minutes to complete this challenge and the only supplies available were 20 notecards and 10 pieces of tape.  Loved the creativity, energy, and competitiveness!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Change is Good

I have always been a fan of change.  I don't have a teacher desk or a filing cabinet. Over the last 18 years I have taught biology, environmental science, microbiology, pathophysiology, nutrition, and anatomy and physiology at CHS.

But I haven't taught the same year twice.  Each year I completely start over.  New kids = new ideas.

This year is different. This year I am really starting over.  As I pack up my classroom, I am not sad or hesitant.  I know I have made the right decision to try something new.  New things are exciting and anticipation is fun.  I love not really knowing what to expect when school starts back up in August.  I am looking forward to being pushed and challenged in a new way.

I am excited to work on a team, decorate a new classroom, be on a smaller campus, and work with someone I truly admire for always putting students first.   I can't wait to see how seventh graders think and what they are interested in learning about.  With that said, I am also slightly terrified of being the "new kid" and messing up.

So for everyone that continues to question my decision...I am moving because I enjoy change. It took me three years to develop enough nerve to follow through with this decision, but now I have no regrets.  I am choosing to challenge myself in a new environment so I continue to learn and improve my teaching.

Some of my favorite things from CHS that have been here as long as I have.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Health: Inside Out

As I look at this book my class created, I still can't believe how awesome it turned out.

When my students suggested that we create a textbook for our iTunes U course, I was somewhat skeptical.  I wondered how high school students could create an entire textbook in just 3 months, how I could be sure they were writing their own material and creating their own images, and how I would ever organize it all.

THEN they said they wanted their textbook to look like Life on Earth from E. O. Wilson.  At this point, I was even more scared....but once again, my students proved that they are capable of way more than is typically expected of them.

Here is a basic outline of how we made this happen:
1 - Create an outline that matches the content from our course Health Without Borders in iTunes U.
2 - Organize classes into chapters, 1st period was the digestive system, 3rd period was the heart, etc.
3 - Organize each chapter into sections and decide what content to include.
4 - Let students sign up for jobs based on their strengths - writer, illustrator, videographer, etc.
5 - Pick 2 editors per class period to assemble the book on our class iMac.

That makes it sound so simple...but it was a LOT of work.  The first round of information coming in was ALL over the place.  Students were submitting documents, links, videos, was a mess.  We couldn't find what we needed and when we did, we didn't know who had created it.

Fast forward to round two...I had all students submit work to a form that organized everything by chapter.  This worked really well and helped us find what we were looking for by searching in one place.

We looked at the rough draft and spent a day or two (or twelve) editing.  Once they saw what our book actually looked like and how amazingly talented their peers were, the bar was significantly raised.  Students were working together, asking each other how to use apps, how to create things, discussing the content, and asking how they could connect their content to another chapter or topic in the book. To make it even more awesome, teachers from other locations offered to help!  From Kentucky to Minnesota, to New Zealand, our students collaborated and worked together.  Thanks to Trish, Amanda, and Geoff and their classes for the feedback and advice on the book.

While the book is free in the iTunes store for anyone to download and use, we started this project with a goal in mind.  We are giving our work to a school in South Africa that was awarded an iPad and projector from Kaya and the Oceans Project.  The school has limited access to educational resources, so as a class, we decided to share what we know with them.  We are hopeful to get feedback from them before the end of the school year and hear what they think about it.

So here it is:
Health: Inside Out
Written, produced, and illustrated by Coppell High School Anatomy and Physiology students!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Genius Hour

I first heard about Genius Hour a few years ago at a conference in Boston and thought it sounded so interesting. I loved the idea of asking students what they were interested in and what they wanted to learn about.

My first thought was why only one hour a week? Why not all day everyday? Not practical you say? Probably not, but still, it sounds way better than rotating classes every 52 minutes and sitting and listening to teachers talk about individual subjects that seem unrelated and unapplicable to the real world. 

I decided to apply the the idea of genius hour with design thinking and challenge based learning. That's a lot of educational buzz words there, but it actually worked better than I expected. 

1. The first week of school, I ask my kids what they want to learn and do in my class.

2. I organize their requests into connected themes.

3. I ask them how we can improve society and what world problems exist today that they would like to propose and work towards a solution for.

4. I build my syllabus based on their ideas and figure out a way to tie my objectives into their ideas. 

Sounds simple right?
Yes and no...

Yes because they want to learn a lot of really interesting things, some of which I had to really learn along with them.  They have really interesting questions and ideas when there are no restraints. 

And no, because they of course didn't want to learn about some of the topics the state of Texas says they need to how their kidneys work.  Not one single student asked me to provide a lesson experience involving kidney filtration. Shocking, right? Not one person wants to know how they make urine?!

This is when it got fun...frustrating and challenging, but also fun.  How can I stick with my plan of letting them guide the learning and study what interests them, yet cover all the objectives as required by my state? Oh and find a way for them to give back to society?

For me, the answer is to think differently and creatively about lesson design and to ask lots of questions from my Twitter PLN.  I am in year two of implementing this in my classroom and this year looks totally different than last year, which I love. 

For the kidney one wanted to know about kidney function, but many wanted to learn about babies and pregnancy.  So we developed a case study where the students posed as new parents and learned the reproductive systems, fetal development, pregnancy diet and nutrition, etc.  Once their baby was "born" , they found out it had a kidney disorder that they had to figure out as if they were new parents in that situation. Finally, their culminating project to show me what they learned, they created a book (as a class) on a topic of their choice. Groups focused on how to have a healthy pregnancy, how to survive the first year as a new parent, and misconceptions regarding pregnancy. Each class selected a topic and each student decided what they could contribute based on what they were interested in or good at. 

This year several asked about a news story in our area regarding a student who overdosed on water at a college party.  Thanks to ideas shared by Tricia Shelton and Amanda Meyer, we are going to study water intoxication to learn about the kidneys.  I am looking forward to trying their lesson idea!

Too big of an idea for you to tackle the entire year? Maybe try just one unit asking them what they want to know about it.  We just started talking about vaccines and I asked a follow up "What do you really want to know?"  Students posted ideas to this Padlet wall and we are discussing some of their specific questions as we go through the unit.

Next year I plan to start the year the same way...what do you want to learn and do in my class this year ?  I am looking forward to working with a team next year and possibly creating cross curricular lessons and experiences as well. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Teaching the World

This is where it started...a simple question.  How can we help improve our world? 

Kids all over the world want to learn, yet some have no access to schools, technology, or teachers.  We are in a privileged society, with more technology than we often know what to do with.  How can we connect kids that want to learn with free educational resources and provide them with teachers and technology?

A team working together is the answer to that question.  Here are two of our inspirations and collaborating partners.

Oceans Project - A non-profit organization devoted to fundraising to put technology in schools in developing nations and raising awareness about the importance of science education in schools.

Kaya - A non-profit organization finding schools in developing areas and providing them with teachers.

So how can students at Coppell High School help?
We are creating educational materials for the iPads in those schools, or for anyone else who wants to download our work. We are collaborating with schools in New Zealand, Kentucky, and Minnesota to make the best possible products.  Students are working together to create resources to teach the world.

The Project:
A collaboration, involving around 200 students from four different locations, creating an interactive textbook using iBooks Author, inspired by the work of E. O. Wilson's Life on Earth, will inspire our young student audience to read, be healthy, and interact with peers around the world. Special thanks to Tricia, Geoff, and Amanda for connecting your classrooms with us and helping create this product!

The iBook will not only be published to the iBook Store, but will be linked in the iTunes U course that my students created last year, Health Without Borders.  This course currently has an audience of around 45,000 subscribers around the world.

Thank you Coppell Education Foundation for providing us with this awesome new iMac station to create our iBook on.  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Zombie Brains

Typically my class runs through a Challenge Based Learning approach and I allow my students to design the curriculum. Sometimes in order to guide them through experiences they design, I have to step outside of my comfort zone.
This is one of those times.

When I asked my students what they wanted to learn about the nervous system, many of them mentioned zombies.  As a scientist, the ridiculousness of pop culture zombie brains makes me laugh, but at their request, I researched "zombie lesson plans" and surprisingly found a LOT of information that was almost interesting!!

I "met" Amanda  and Tricia sometime over the last year via Twitter.  They are both fantastic anatomy teachers and we have talked about connecting our classes in Texas, Minnesota, and Kentucky in some way.  When Tricia mentioned a Zombie activity, I was super excited to connect my kids to her ideas!

All of the experiences in this lesson were things I have done in the past or ideas that Tricia or Amanda created or found.  This collaboration really showed me the power of connecting with other teachers to create unique learning experiences for learners.  They both really pushed me to think differently and try something in my classroom that was outside the norm for me.

Here is an overview of the project to answer the student question "Are Zombies possible?"
The complete details are located here in this Google Doc.  
This document also has links to all of the labs and assessment rubrics I used.

1. What are Zombies?
Identify characteristics unique to zombies and discuss what part of the brain might be responsible for that particular characteristic.  I showed a quick movie trailer I created to begin the discussion and then had students look at a few clips from the Walking Dead and other zombie movies to determine the characteristics.  We also looked at PET scans to see how different areas of the brain light up due to different types of stimuli.

2. Brain Dissection 
Students dissected and photographed sheep brains. They used the app Aviary to label the parts.  Labeled images were uploaded to ThingLink and then they added functions to their labels.

3.  Crash Course Video
We used this fantastic video by Hank Green to better understand how the brain works and took notes.

4. Senses Labs 
We did labs over all the different senses and discussed how zombie senses were different, or if we thought they were different.  We tested vision, dissected cow eyes, examined our hearing, and determined how smell connects with memories.  Students created a tutorial over one of the senses to explain to others how the brain interacts with its environment.

5. Reflexes Lab 
We tested our reflexes and our reaction time.

6. Neuron Physiology
We build neurons out of recycled materials and created a stop motion animation to show how a stimulus is received, how an action potential is generated, and how neurotransmitters are released in the synapse.

7. So what did they learn? 
For the summative assessment, students were asked to create a one minute digital story to answer the question "Could a virus infect the brain and cause zombie like characteristics"?

We did a class video competition for this final product, as an incentive for students to be creative and original.  Top videos received a special recognition and were published to our class portfolio.  My favorite part of this was the fact that many of my students would not let me see their story while they were working on it.  They wanted to keep their idea a secret since there was a "competition".

Our students will be providing feedback to their peers in Kentucky and Minnesota.  We are exchanging videos next week and I can't wait to see all of the final products coming in this weekend.

Sharing thoughts via video on FlipGrid

Here is the class portfolio that shows samples of student work throughout this entire project.  I will continue to add to this over the next few days as final products come in.

Portfolio created in BulbApp Portfolios. 

I also incorporated multiple formative assessments to measure where students were in their learning and to help them figure out what areas they still didn't understand.  After each major assignment, students had to write a reflection of their learning and connect back to the zombie question.

Overall, I feel like students learned this content on a much deeper level than in previous years, and it was fun.  If I were to repeat the experience, I would certainly allow more time and incorporate more workshops/scaffolding activities and formative assessments in to make sure they "got it" and felt confident in their knowledge before the final assessment.