Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mystery Box Challenge

Everyone loves a good challenge, especially the day before Christmas break! Here is the overview of Mystery Box Challenge: Holiday Edition:

  • 8 groups 
  • 4 different Mystery Boxes
  • Each group was competing against one other group.
  • The challenge had to be completed using a minimum of 4 supplies from the Mystery Box.

Each Mystery Box contained random supplies such as spoons, cups, plastic wrap, bottle lids, yarn, etc. Really, I just took the contents of my junk drawer and any leftover project supplies and threw them into random buckets. No two Mystery Boxes were the same.

Students had 15 minutes to complete the challenge and take a group selfie with their creation.  Then they came up to test it out.  Most had no idea they were applying science principals to their creation but it was fun to listen to them discuss if weight made things faster, if the surface area was smooth or rough, and how sound could be echoed through a cup.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Global Goals Project

Want your kids to solve world problems and collaborate with other students across the globe?  This project might be for you...

Starting the first week of school, we will devote every Friday to working on solving a global issue as identified by the United Nations.  Students will start by researching the 17 Goals to Transform Our World.   Once they choose one area of interest, they will work through the iTunes U course, Global Problem Solvers or GPS. (click this link on your iPad or iPhone to subscribe to the free course)

The final product for part one is a short documentary that discusses which problem they selected, their research and their plan to solve the problem.  Students will try to convince the audience how their plan can be implemented in the spring semester of 2017.

Students will attend a screening of the documentaries and vote for which projects should move forward to the implementation phase.  Once projects are chosen for implementation, students will form action teams and begin their plan to create a positive change.

This course is designed for secondary level students, grades 6-12 and is interdisciplinary.  So far students in Maine, Texas, and Illinois have committed to completing the course. Once students select topics, they will be partnered up with collaborating schools for brainstorming, peer review, and feedback.

Here is our general outline:

  1. Introduce the 17 sustainable goals
  2. Write YOUR purpose


  1. Create a graphic organizer
  2. Develop an infographic of statistics


  1. Develop a Slogan
  2. Share idea and gather feedback - 6 word story video
  3. Develop a Plan of Action
  4. Interview an expert, explore community connection
  5. Collaborate with Global Partners
  6. Write or create a product that explains connection to content
1. Develop a documentary (1-2 mins)
  1. Showcase purpose, research, why important, action
  2. Share globally, garner feedback



If you want to join us, have your students subscribe to the course. We will continue to build the course over the year and look for opportunities for our kids to work together. We would love thoughts, feedback, or ideas you might have to improve this project! :)

 This project was created by @jdeinhammer@miaLmorrison, and @smyles2100 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

16-17 School Year Challenge

Even after almost 20 years in the classroom, I still LOVE back to school.  I love all the excitement and positive energy seen in both the students and teachers. This year I encourage you to mix it up and try something new as you start your new year. Maybe you are already doing these things. If you are what other ways can you challenge yourself to step it up and try something different? Change is good!

7 Ideas to Mix Up Your School Year

1. Ask your kids what they want to learn. "What questions have your always wondered about?" "What would the syllabus look like if you could design it?" Let students generate the guiding questions for your class. Use their guiding questions to drive the learning in your room. Keep their questions posted in the room to allow for more questions to be added throughout the year. Give them the state objectives and let them make connections to their interest and then try to tie those interests into your routine. 

2. Don't give them a list of class rules. Instead of going over all the things that they can't do this year in your room, develop a list of class goals and post those instead.  "We will make a positive impact on our community." "We will encourage each other to take risks and not be afraid of being wrong." See what they come up with when you ask what CAN we do?

3. Be present. Get to know your kids and who they are.  Try to attend events like a volleyball game or art show. My own kids get so excited when their teachers show up at their little league games. It truly makes their day when you are present. Simply make an effort to recognize that your kids are more than just students in your classroom. 

4. Try Genius Hour. Last year we did a genius hour type project for our final exam and kids presented their ideas to our community. This year I plan to do this for the full year. Students will choose a topic they are interested in during the first month of school and we will devote every Friday to working on it. Students will be required to connect our objectives to their topic as we move through the year. They will have a folder in their digital portfolio to keep up with their work and creations. At the end of the first semester they will create a documentary explaining why their topic is important and we will do an Oscar type screening of the documentaries to decide which projects we can implement the following semester. 

5. Don't give your kids homework. I know a lot of people would have a hard time with this, but think it through. When you get home from work, the last thing you want to do is more work. Our kids need a break just like we do. They need to play outside, they need to hang out with their families or just chill out. Instead of homework, can you give your kids a warm up problem or question each day to determine where they are? Can you incorporate 10 minutes of "practice time" in class each day so you are there to help if they don't understand? Can you better utilize or rearrange your class time to avoid outside of class work?

6. Connect and borrow from your PLN.  We learn best when we share and connect with other teachers.  Use your PLN to help you improve or change up a lesson or idea.  For example, this past year I was able to present with the great Katie Morrow. She mentioned that she had her students run a class blog. She had a blogger of the day that wrote about what was going on in class that day. I am going to try to replicate that in my classroom this year.  Katie sharing this stratagy allows me to implement her idea in my own room, giving my kids a chance to share their voice and practice their writing skills for an authentic audience.  Share your ideas and borrow from others. Don't monetize your work, sharing is caring! We make each other better. 

7. Let your kids create something for an authentic audience.  Have students write a book, create a tutorial or teach someone else.  Connect with a local elementary school and have your kids teach them about something in your content area. Nothing is better than watching your kids become the teacher.  We had a kindergarten class teach high school seniors how to use a Makey-Makey one year. The littles were so proud to know something that the bigger kids were so impressed with. You could also have your kids create helpful information for next years class, for example an "in 60 seconds" of a topic that you could use to introduce something next year.

Try something new this year and let me know how it goes. I would also love to hear about other challenges that you take to improve your classroom. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Through Their Eyes

This year we partnered with the Dallas Zoo to learn about endangered animals and the conservations effort the Zoo has in place to protect them.

First, we visited the zoo and captured images and videos and talked to the zookeepers to learn more.  Students were divided into teams based on which animal they were researching and then we came back to class and shared what we had learned.

As we started writing the book, students had the choice of how and what they wanted to contribute to the book.  Each student decided if they wanted to illustrate, create, or write and submitted original work to our class editors.  The student editors filtered through the work submitted and selected the items that were publishable to add to the book.

After the majority of the work was added, we contacted several organizations to see if they could proofread and give us feedback on our work.  We heard back from Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation, The Cheetah Conservation Fund, VulPro, SANCCOB and even the World Wildlife Fund.  SANCCOB took the time to FaceTime with us and introduced us to a South African penguin named Princess.

After we edited and corrected our mistakes, we sent the book to Ben and Marti and the Dallas Zoo who did a double check of grammar and facts and then gave us the go-ahead to publish.

The book was published to iTunes and now my 7th graders are published authors! This interdisciplinary project connected science, art, language arts, and math as different teachers jumped in to help us create this multi-touch book. We will be showcasing our work at Wildlife Weekend at at the Dallas Zoo on May 21-22.

Our final product?  Through Their Eyes  
Download it now and see what some amazing 7th graders are capable of when you set the bar high. 
We created a video response board so if you download their book and want to give them feedback, click on our FlipGrid and let them know what you think!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Skype with South Africa

This week, we Skyped with Tamlyn and Princess the penguin all the way in Cape Town, South Africa.  Tamlyn is a penguin rehabilitation expert who works to help injured birds and raise awareness about pollution.  She is the education manager for SANCCOB, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.  One of the chapters of our zoo book is on the African penguin so it was great to get first hand information from an expert that works with them. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Amazing Animal Adventure

Goal:  For students to learn about endangered animals, conservation, and ecology in an engaging and entertaining way.

Overview: Students take a virtual journey around the world, game style, visiting 5 locations, which they have to identify based on clues.  Once identified, they are given roadblocks to test their knowledge of the area, animals, plants, biomes, etc. They also will receive detours, which will allow them to create something to teach others based on what they have learned.

I have attempted to get students from the locations we are "visiting" to provide clues about their location.  We are using FlipGrid as a place to leave video messages for each other, since the time difference is too difficult for asynchronous communication.  I am really excited for my kids to see the first of video messages left for us.

Game Play: Students are on teams for this journey.  Several opportunities are provided at each stop for teams to gain points.  I created a leaderboard to track points during the adventure to help keep students motivated and competitive.

Product Created: Groups will create a digital travel journal, using Book Creator, of their adventures to share with a local elementary school.  We will take our iPads to the kindergarten - 2nd grade classrooms and have the 7th graders share their journey with the littles, teaching them about biomes, ecology, and endangered animals.

Our big picture goal is to have our kids study endangered animals around the world for a project we are doing for the Dallas Zoo.  We are writing a multi-touch book on eight endangered animals to share their story.  We hope to raise awareness regarding these endangered and threatened species and showcase the conservation efforts that the Dallas Zoo has in place.  Many of the detours we are doing along the way provide an opportunity for students to create visuals for the book.

If you want to join the journey, you can follow along in our iTunes U course, Life Science.

The section titled Ecology will be built over the next few weeks, adding as we go through our journey.  I am happy to share any of the files directly so email me if you want more information, or if you want to connect with our classes.