#BreakoutEDU Science

Recently, I and my Digital Learning Coach (DLC), Trisha Goins @heartinlife, discussed #BreakoutEdu. We both were interested, but hadn’t found much in our research. She then texted me and asked if I had time for a breakout activity in my class. I am always game for innovation, and that is how our journey began!

We met several times to design our breakout session for a genetics activity for seventh grade science. We started a little lost as we still couldn’t find a tangible example of a breakout lesson that wasn’t expensive nor broke down the lesson in steps to show the design. We went to Youtube and watched some videos and got some ideas. And, our design started to develop in our planning.

I love the Dollar Tree, a teacher’s best friend. I found two small tool boxes, key locks and combination locks. This does beat the hundred dollar kit you can find online.

The Case of the Missing Chromosome became the breakout activity with four challenges, 1  per group, duplicated for eight groups. Each group of four where challenged to “breakout” their missing chromosome from a normal male karyotype. I set aside two class periods of fifty-two minutes each for completion as I did not know how long it would take the groups. You can see in the photo below, I have a missing chromosome at 6 and 21, one for each of the two large groups. I made these with pipe cleaners.

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I designed four challenges, one for each small group of the two larger teams. My challenges were: DNA Model Challenge, Natural Selection Challenge, and a Punnett Square Challenge.  I used Learn.Genetics for the digital resources. I love, love this site. You should check it out. (My all time favorite is Lick Your Rat Pups! Seriously.) My fourth challenge was a puzzle with the clue below.

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This puzzle was a challenge to me! I wanted to cry at times when I made it. Really, I did. I persevered and did like my product. Well, at least one of them. I’ll share that news in a minutes. So, I don’t know why it was so hard to keep blocks straight, facing the same direction, not flip them, etc. BUT, IT WAS?!! Oh my goodness! I questioned my intelligence and if I should really be teaching young people. Again, I persevered. My husband’s comment after two episodes of Big Little Lies and Shield, “You’ve worked on that for a really long time.” Yep. Be quiet now. Cry a little on the inside.

It took me several hours, but I do like the product. The idea is, that they should know from class, that a flower reproduces sexually. They should put the puzzle of a picture of a flower together and then find the code to the combination lock when they flip it over. The other pictures are of a hydra and a bacterium; which would give them the wrong code. Mrs. Goins used Google Drawings to create the photos that I Mod Podged on the block. I purchased the 1X1 blocks from Amazon. In hindsight, I would not use so much white on the blocks. Three sides all have white corners and  even though I did it to be challenging, that lead to some confusion.

However, I mentioned I share some other news? Well, one puzzle wasn’t so successful. My students put the flower together and flipped it over to find a bit of a mess. Mrs. Goins, my DLC partner in crime, tried to help. Then I looked. Hmmm. I gave them the code; which you could kind of see in the mess on the back. Here is their reflection video App Smashing Pic Collage and ChatterPix. (Don’t you love their honesty?!) We were stumped. Mrs. Goins stayed in class trying to make the puzzle work. Our brains were tired. I tried the next day as well and still got my learners’ results. I swear every time I finished a side I flipped it to check the code! Cry a little on the inside. Resist the urge to throw the puzzle across my office.

That was really the only hiccup in our #BreakoutEdu challenge other than my students finished it in about twenty-five minutes! They were intently focused. So, in the future, I will add challenges or make them harder. This was also my learners’ requests. Check out their feedback on this Padlet. They loved the pressure of the challenge, the competitiveness and that it reviewed what they already new, but also challenged in some new ways.

Finally, I wanted learners to summarize their process and reflect on this breakout session for their learning and for my learning. Here is the the reflection assignment to close the breakout activity. On the first day, I had them end with capturing their process and taking the  photos listed in the reflection and any others they wanted. On the second day, we completed the Pic Collage and ChatterPix App Smashing sharing them on our discussion board in our LMS (Learning Management System), Schoology. I liked using ChatterPix suggested by Mrs. Goins. It had been a while since I used it and it worked well for this activity.

Hopefully, this helps any of you that may be wondering what is the #BreakoutEDU thing! Let me know if you have questions or comments! Try it! Your kids will love it!

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Flexibility, Adaptability and Sacrifice

There are so many more things that come along as you become a teacher leader than what’s in your job description. I had a very interesting week that may me think of this fact. I wear many hats in my position: Blended Learning Specialist, Science Instructional Coach and CBL (Challenge Based Learning) Specialist. These are my titles this year. Oh, and I teach a section of 7th grade Science!

This week I temporarily filled some other shoes as a PE teacher! We had a need for coverage for PE so the PE team could have a UbD (Understanding by Design) planning day. Another teacher leader and myself volunteered to help so that the PE team didn’t have to be split for their planning session. Why didn’t they just get subs, you say? Well, they did. However, you can’t just have four subs in PE when you have to remember about safety and procedures. We needed some experienced staff present too. The perk is I got to wear sweats! I got a little sun and got to cheer on learners as they jogged the straights and walked the curves!

I’m also pulled for standardized testing because when I’m pulled multiple classes are not disturbed. I’m also pulled in emergencies when sickness surprises in the morning until a sub can be contacted, etc. But, you see with leadership comes the extras that you may not be prepared for in the beginning. However, if you are adaptable and flexible, it will all balance out. If not, you will not last. You’ll either burnout or decide you don’t like this leadership thing.

Sacrifice is a big part of the role as well. When others see you as a leader, they will look to you for advice and help — a wonderful thing! You’ll find yourself flinching at times because you really need to get that quote for a purchase order so your department may dissect frogs or you’re way behind in grading and this time was set aside for that purpose, or you promised to design a menu board or a Blenspace for a grade level or fellow teacher. But, you’ll happily go and you’ll help because that is how you are made. Whether you are a natural leader or you have a specific title, you’ll need flexibility and the ability to sacrifice.

Like teaching is the hardest job you’ll ever love, teacher leading is challenging but oh, so rewarding.

 

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Many years ago I watched this movie I’d call a “c” movie. The “c” comes from growing up being forced to watch these bad movies because we had one TV and my Dad chose the movie! Remember those old Kung Fu movies where they just grunted a lot and made Kung Fu movements? Yeah, those. So, I started a rated system of letter grading for them. He’d just laugh. But, it was the summer in the middle of the night and I watched it. I can’t remember if the name of the movie was Lather, Rinse Repeat or it was just the moment at the end of the movie that pulled all of it together. (A Google search did not help  me.)

The storyline was a group of grown friends stay at the home of a friend’s whose parents are selling the house in which she grew up in and the whole group had memories there. So, they stay one more night and party like they used to or tried. The culminating point of the story is that they haven’t past the best parts of their life as they thought, they just need to lather, rinse and repeat. Have you ever tried it? Followed the directions on the back of the shampoo bottle? Well, if you have, you’ve experience a much richer lather and fuller experience.

For some reason, this movie kept popping into my head at the most random moments; in my classroom, in our PLC time, researching, etc. It kept coming up. What came to me is the connection within the classroom. When educating our students all of whom have very diverse background experiences, we must lather, rinse and repeat often. We must let them experience our content in multiple ways so they can grasp the meaning and connect to their prior learning; and hopefully, close the performance gap increasing their success.

 

Good Stuff

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Today I facilitated my 7th grade science class in constructing a social contract. I always love hearing what they have to say and it is very eye-opening at times. If you’ll let them, students will remind you of what is really important. They should have a stake in their classroom from lesson design to classroom environment. Above are the common themes share by each table. We discussed that these were probably more for me to know as their teacher and they agreed. But, don’t you just love them! I would want to be in that class! As educators we need to constantly reflect and ask ourselves, “Would we want to be in our class?”

Check out this video of their products from group collaboration. This is what they came up with in small groups as what they wanted to their class to be like. There is a lot of good stuff here! 

Our final product:

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If we honor this contract, the learning will take place! I hope that you too allow your students voice and choice in the classroom and honor their needs and wants as best as you can this year! I’d love to hear your great activities. Share in the comments section. 

Empathy & Probation Officers

As I worked with a colleague on our next topic, Empathy, in our Leading Innovative Change Series through our Tech Tuesday professional learning community (PLC), I reflected back on my own experiences.

To add to my personal Learning Moments Blog Series, a very dear to me student came to mind. After four years teaching and coaching north of Houston, I was ready to move back to the Dallas area closer to family and away from the humidity and bird-sized mosquitos! I found a job on the Irving side of Valley Ranch. As I started the year, a young man (we’ll call him JA), asked me to sign a form for him. I gladly took it and said, “Ok, what is it for,” as it didn’t look like the normal school form for anything. He said, “Oh, my PO.” In my mind, I thought PO. What’s PO. And it dawned on me, Probation Officer. It made me wonder about him. I was still getting to know my students. As I progressed day to day, I watched this young man. I saw pleasantness, courtesy, calmness…I saw love in his eyes. His eyes that were as deep as wells, showed love and kindness. I wondered, Why does this kid have a PO?!”

I learned over time that he has a twin brother that was always getting into trouble and who was not kind in any way. JA being the good brother he is, would always back his brother which got him in trouble as well. JA became one of those students whom I would fight you for, a surrogate son of sorts even though I was not old enough to be his mother. Maybe and little brother. I say this because I did develop the relationship with him that allowed me to stop on the side of the road when I saw him trying to look “hard” with a group of boys he did not belong with to tell him if I ever saw him there again with those boys that I would lead him by the ear to my truck and drive him home to his mama. That got some, “yes ma’ams” out of him. He knew my threats were not empty.

One day, JA, was in a neighboring class and was brought out in the hallway because he was so upset. I joined as I was on conference, the teacher was a friend and it was JA! We learned that he was upset and crying-a 17 year old boy crying at school-because he was caught “slap fighting” and this would be his third strike and he would go back to juvenile detention. On our campus students could not “slap fight,” the act of play hitting and rough-housing, as it would typically turn into a rumble between students.

Oh, well… I wasn’t having that! I marched straight down to the principal’s office and said let me talk to his PO! The principal trying to talk me off the ledge said he would talk with her and explain things, etc. After much debate, I told him I would trust him to  handle it. I was skeptical, but he did handle it to my liking. He later told me that he had never had a teacher come in and go to bat for one of the “bad” kids.

That’s just the thing. Yes, JA had been in trouble and yes, he was a teenage boy and “slap fought” in the hallway not remembering that behavior was not allowed. That’s how boys go through their entire life! What a ridiculous thing in which to send a kid back to juvenile detention! Are you kidding me?!

I could empathize with JA. I could understand how being a teenager is hard enough even when you don’t have a brother bringing you down. I have lost touch with JA, but I think about him daily. I wonder how he is. His mom finally separates him and his brother by sending JA to a private school so he could be his true self.

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So, I challenge you to see all your students with empathetic eyes; especially the ones whom give you gray hairs and make you rethink your professional decisions. I could have written off JA at the first signature on the PO form like so many others. Make those connections. Grace goes a long way.

Do you have stories to share? Share them in the comments.! I would love to hear of the ways you’ve shown empathy with your students.

Smoking Weed to Cap & Gown

To continue my Learning Moments series, I want to share a story and a connection to an activity my Digital Learning Coach (DLC) and I lead in our campus’ Tech Tuesday Professional Learning Community (PLC.) Today we launched our Leading Innovative Change Series (Inspired by George Couros‘ The Innovator’s Mindset) in our Tech Tuesday PLC. We started with getting back to our beginnings and why we chose the teaching profession before we jumped into innovation. We wanted to remember why we are “here” and what keeps us going. We used the Teachers2Teachers toolkit for #whyiteach to focus our thoughts for today’s PLC time. Take a look! (Check out the hashtag #whyiteach on Twitter.)

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When thinking of the why behind teaching a memory came to my mind of my first year teaching. I had a student, we’ll call him Tommy, in my first year who was assigned ISS or Alternative School often due to his use of weed and lack of shall we say focus. We’ll as all teacher’s know if a student is assigned one of these alternatives to their regular day, you have to make an assignment and send work for the day(s). (And, this was before technology.) If you’ve read my previous blog, Horses, Goats & Prayers, Oh My!you know that I had the surprise assignment of PE and Speech my first year of a non-teaching position!

Tommy was in one of my PE classes; in which I had to just makeup work for him to complete as it was an activity class. Since I knew why he had been assigned to ISS and his extracurricular activity, I made him research Cannibis – the effects, longterm issues, etc. This evolved into writing essays as to how weed was going to help him be successful in the future. He knew every time he was in “need” of an alternative assignment I would get creative with the assignment  and center it around his use of weed.

Well, after this year Tommy joined the work program offered in the district. He was able to work and alternatively finish school as he was behind his fellow classmates. Two years later, Tommy found me in my new (fitting) teaching assignment, Biology, in a new classroom. Why did Tommy come find me? To show me his cap and gown as he was graduating from high school. As I am typing, I’m getting goosebumps. This still affects me nearly 15 years later. This is #whyiteach. When you can see success like this from students in general and, especially; in those circumstances where they have a few more hurdles in their way.

Why I Teach:

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Today was one of those days that was just uplifting!  It is great to learn more about your fellow educators and remember the reason(s) we go back day after day to a very demanding job with little light at the end of the tunnel at times. Today we remembered the real reason we teach: our learners.

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On the Floor with the Rabbit

One of my favorite learning moments came many years into my teaching. I had a class pet, Captain Jack, a California Angora short-haired rabbit. He was litter boxed trained thanks to my niece who raised rabbits. I had read that training rabbits was possible and a rabbit fit my “clean,” not stinky animal requirements. I wanted a class pet for the longest time, but didn’t want a stinky hamster, guinea pig, etc. So, a rabbit it was. He was named Capt. Jack, as all of her rabbits were named after the Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Capt. Jack joined us and became a beloved member of our classroom (and school.) Once he acclimated to the many predators- Ha! –  and felt safe, he hopped around the room checking out everyone and their backpacks! As I taught Biology, he was a great addition to class; which brought some great questions and discussion.

I had a few students bond with Capt. Jack more than others. In particular, I had one boy who in my class was very quiet and meek. He loved Capt. Jack and Capt. Jack loved him. He was the only one that could dress Capt. Jack in his festive outfits.

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One day I had five guests walk in my room to observe my class with my curriculum director. At this point in my career, this didn’t bother me at all. I had/have observers all the time. Well, in the moment I saw them come in I thought, “Oh, people.” The next moment, as I had a discussion on the characteristics of life with my learners, I had an uh-oh pass through my thoughts, “G is on the floor with the rabbit.” I wondered what my guests would think. I wondered if I cared. A few more moments into the discussion, I posed a question and guess who’s hand flew up from the floor. That’s right, G’s hand went up. I called on him and he added his viewpoint. I also noticed in that moment that two of the onlookers didn’t even know he was down there and started looking around the table to see where that voice had come from! Win!

Even if he hadn’t participated in that very moment, I knew then that learning doesn’t only take place in a desk while you are sitting upright. I think as educators anytime a guest comes into your room, you do a once-over and check to see “how things look.” What’s more important is the learner. I found out later that G had an emotional disorder. (I had not been privy to that info.) Least to say, I was shocked to find out that he had outbursts in other classes in which he cursed his teacher and classmates. I had a totally different kid in my class; which was thanks to Capt. Jack and G being allowed the freedom to move about the room and learn in the way that best fits him. In the next couple of years, G would return often to visit Capt. Jack. He quietly came in and left the same way. I believe he needed a moment or a “time out” in his day.

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The Innovator’s Mindset – Must Read

Do you want to create something new and better? Is your campus wanting to change and innovate? Well, The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, is hands down the book you need! I was inspired as I read George Couros’s words. It is a practical guide to changing the mindset of your campus to that of innovation. I am already incorporating some ideas with my team and have plans in the works to go bigger! All educational stakeholders should read the Innovator’s Mindset.

Do you have any good reads to suggest? Leave them in the comments. I would love to add them to my to read pile.

No Rules, No Problem

A colleague of mine shared this article by Valerie Strauss discussing how schools ruined recess and it hits a nerve with me. I have forever not understood why we take away recess so students can have more tutorial/practice sessions. Yes, as an educator, I understand the need to use every minute to the fullest to prepare our children….hmm, but what are we preparing them for? You see what the real problem here is TESTING. I guarantee if you walked into any class in which students were held back from recess to work, it would be because they needed help with passing the state/national test for that grade level. That would be the underlying reason. Yes, they may have gaps. Yes, they may be below grade level, but the driving force of “punishing” that student is standardized testing.

This article makes me think of this sweet student my mother taught. This little girl was stripped of all recess, downtime, before school time and after school time. Every minute of her day was spent in class and in tutorials for extra help. She accepted it, but would ask why she couldn’t go out. She was promised from administration that she could go out every Wednesday and then that was taken away. She then was allowed to think there was light at the end of the tunnel and after testing she would be allowed recess again. Testing came and left and when she was supposed to go out and play, she was told no, that they better start preparing for next year. My heart broke for this little girl and my mother. My mother had no control  and would bend the rules when she could. What are we really teaching here? I think we are teaching this little girl and others like her to hate school and to hate learning.

This can be likened to school breaks in the upper grades. I know teachers that will assign projects over a break. It is a break. A break is a pause in work or during an activity or event. Do students not deserve a break as well?! These same teachers would throw a fit if they were given an assignment from their district to complete over a break.

I do love how the article gave steps to fix this situation. Check them out! Here is my favorite quote:, “When the rules left, so did their ‘behavior issues.’ He saw more independence, improved creativity, healthy risk-taking, less falling, better coordination, and improved attention in the classroom.”

There is much research out there that supports the need for recess and active play. Let’s let kids be kids.