Monday, March 16, 2015

Parent Conversations: Putting the Responsibility Back on the Student

Full Moon. End of the Quarter. A New Trend. I am not sure what it is, but lately, I have had some interesting parent conversations. 75% of parents who initiate the calls have to do with student grades. I love when parents are highly involved with their child's education. I think that the student, parent, and teacher are needed for success in the classroom. However, I also believe at the middle school level that students need to take ownership of their learning and grades, which should be supported at home. Many times, (we'll use Billy) Billy's mom calls in and is furious about Billy's grade or an assignment. In all of my instances, Billy has never brought homework home or asked how he could work on his grade in class.  After some reflection, I decided it is time to put the responsibility for Billy's learning on Billy when these phone conversations arise again. I have nothing to hide. For golly gee, I have a master's degree in curriculum and I spend countless hours after school designing lessons and gradings. I am not sure why I always am expected to feel that I was the one slacking for Billy's grade. So here are some questions that I would have and will ask parents in the future:
1. So we are not repetitive, could you explain to me your perspective of the situation so we have a place to start from?
2. What does homework look like for Billy at home?
3. If Billy has no homework, is he using any time to study for upcoming quizzes/tests?
4. What does Billy's agenda look like everyday?

These questions are solely meant to put the responsibility back on Billy. Billy should be the first person to question for Billy's grades not his teacher.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Organization of My Science Classroom

Tomorrow is the first day of school- at my NEW school! I am beyond the moon excited to welcome those munchins in my room. I kept my organizational system the same because it worked well for me in the past. I am not a cutesy pinterest decorator in my classroom, but I am allllll about function. Here's a tour of my classroom with some overviews of some of my systems that keep me and my students sane!

This is in the front of the room. My students know that they can at any time get any of these materials without asking the teacher. They are responsible for returning them as well. In case you don't have super vision, there are colored pencils, crayons, markers, rulers, scissors, notebook paper, white printer paper, glue, and small  pencil sharpeners. I haven't refilled any of these except the notebook paper in four years, and they allow students to have the materials they need when they need. My students also use interactive science journals in a little different way. They have a binder that is divided into 2 parts: their journal (comprised of looseleaf paper) and their graded HW/assessments. When students forget their journal, which they will, students will grab a sheet of notebook paper and they are responsible for putting that loose leaf sheet in their binder. I have found that this creates a no-pressure no-disruption environment. Students do not ask for a loose-leaf paper - they simply walk up and grab one if they forget their binder.

 On top of this supply shelf are three baskets for my three hours of science. They are the "turn-in" baskets for each hour of science. Students will turn in everything in these baskets. Yes, I have more than three hours of classes. I am also the eighth grade tech teacher for half of my day.
Every Friday, I have a mini-assessment on the week's concepts. I print off 30 mini-assessments or one class set and student answer sheets. When finished, students will turn in their quiz in one basket and their answer sheet in another. 

My most beloved items in my classroom are my flower pens. I know - crazy as a coon - but I love my flower pens. If a student forgets a "writing utensil", they quietly get up, go to the back of the class, grab one, and bring it back to their seat. If you want to see and hear more about my flower pens, I dedicated an entire post here. Missing from this table is a tissue box, and I am awaiting that arrival when the kids come. I put the tissue box in the back because I feel like it gets less visitors when it is out of sight. 

This is a view from the back of the room. Before you start judging, know that it is incredibly impossible to group these desks. If you have any ideas, I would loooove to hear from you. You can see that I have a smartboard and a long whiteboard! There is also a bulletin board to the right of the door, which says Future Scientists. I plan on covering that up with student pictures. 

This picture is an organizational/ storage area for me that students do not have access to. It is where I keep paper manipulatives, goggles, buckets, bowls, teacher books, masking tape, and word wall words. The orange buckets are extremely nice for delivering lab supplies "by the group".  

What are your organizational must-haves? 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Making That Back-To-School Checklist

In preparation for the new school year, I am creating a to-do list of items that need to be taken care of before August 18th. This year, one of those items is new: write a grant for field trip.

In the spring, I was working on my master’s degree, and I was inspired to put theory into practice. Research has proven that students learn best by doing. Authentic learning experiences allow them to act out their exploration (Oblinger, 2007). Although this is not radical news, I decided to try to theory into full action for an upcoming botany unit. One of the fundamental objectives of this unit is that students will understand that parts on a parts have a specific goal in the functioning of the plant. Around the school, there are a handful of different plant species, but in some museum, there are countless. Three hours north of my school lies the Field Museum of Chicago. What is special about the Field Museum is that it host the largest diversity of plant species in the world! In my mind, I imagined a lesson in which  students acted as scientists trying to learn about new plants. They walked through the museum, carefully drawing an illustration of the plant, as well as determine what each unique duty must be of each part. Another goal of the unit was to learn about the uses that people employ of plants. Also, in the Field Museum, there are simulations in which students can see plays and act like they are using the plants for traditional purposes. In my mind, this was a perfect example of learning by doing.

The only catch was the cost. To send seventy-five kids north three hours to the Field Museum of Natural History did not come without a price. Therefore, I began my search for grants. I thankfully soon learned that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources funds field trip projects, specifically like the one I had in mine. If you are an Illinois teacher and have goals for your students to learn about Illinois biodiversity, you can fill out the grant proposal here.  After several months after submitting the grant, I finally learned that I have received the grant! Click here to see all of the famous grant school recipients.  After a month of scrambling to get permission trips, buses, lunches, chaperones, and everything fun that comes with a field trip, we were on our way north!

At the museum, the kids had a blast. One of the students came up to me during the day and said, “Mrs. Repking, I feel like a real scientist”. Kids laughed (appropriately, which is always a plus) at the skits that demonstrated how plants were used for human purposes, and others were busy spending hours drawing plants in their botany world. It was a great feeling to know that the kids had so much fun and absolutely loved the museum, but more importantly the kids had the opportunity to learn about so many plant species through acting like a scientist would. They truly had the opportunity to experience authentic learning. I was always a believer in authentic learning, but I never saw the immense power and excitement that comes with it until that day, which brings me back to my checklist. My wish for you is that you will put one thing on your back-to-school checklist that will allow students to experience authentic learning to the fullest. There is no way that as human beings we can make every day like the Field Museum experience. However, if we do one added thing each year, we can slowly and manageably turn our classrooms into 21st century places, where students mimic the real world. So go forth, my teacher friends and warriors, and put that extra item on your to-do list under getting school supplies.

Click here to see my grant proposal that I submitted last year.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Can Only Imagine

When doing STEM projects, I have always imagined a school that completed operated the way STEM projects are done. We shove the desks to the back of the room, and we use them as "working tables". Students are constantly designing, testing, changing, redesigning, and retesting to get a construction that they are pleased with. I've ranted countless times about how great STEM projects are for kids, but what if we completed operated on a higher-order thinking level? Students that completed paced themselves? Chose their own activities?  No rote-memorization. No lines of desks. Here's an inspiring article that got me thinking about the topic. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Moving to a New School

My husband and I recently decided to move back to our hometown. We grew up minutes apart, and both of our families still remain in the area. You may have read my post here about how dreadful I was of the job hunt, which is why I am so excited that a new school has given me a home for next year! The more exciting part is that I wanted to teach at this school for such a long time, and I am teaching three classes of science and three classes of technology. Seriously, this is a match made in heaven for me! I am beyond excited to start the new school year, and I trying to hang onto the threads of motivation that I still have for this school year... #lastweekofschool #whyisthereevenalastweek

Monday, May 26, 2014

STEM Project: Glider

The school year is flying by in gliders! This week, students must construct a glider that will fly a total distance of 7 meters. By constructing gliders, I wanted students not just to use their imagination and creativity and  practice the engineering process, but I also wanted them to learn a few scientific concepts along the way. The scientific concepts are below:
1. Students will understand and apply Bernoulli's principle.
2. Students will understand and apply Newton's second and third law of motion.
3. Students will understand and apply thrust, drag, lift, and gravity.

Before touching any material used to construct a glider, students had to research a few things. I wanted them to understand Bernoulli's principle because it wasn't a concept that students were going to just "come to". Therefore, I did a mini-lesson about Bernoulli's principle. Here's a great video to help explain Bernoulli's law and how it relates to Newton's third law of motion.

After the mini-lesson, students went to the computer lab, and researched glider designs. All of my students have a school google account. Therefore, they used the drawing feature on google drive to create a plan with their partner for three possible glider designs. Here's a couple screenshots of their planned gliders.

Now begins the fun! Students have a limited budget and they can buy materials for a cost. For example, a cereal box cost them $4.00. A sheet of newspaper will cost then $1.00. I always always try to find very inexpensive or no-cost items. Students spend an 1-2 entire days constructing, testing, redesigning, and retesting their glider. I am lucky to have a classroom that is 8.5 meters long. So, I just mark off 7 meters as the "test zone" in my classroom.

During presentation students talk about what their original design was, how it changed, why they changed it, what their largest challenges were, and their biggest successes were. They then have three attempts to fly their glider past the 7 meters zone. This week, it was nice, sunny, and windy. So, we presented and tested them outside.

We didn't do this step this week, but if you had more time, I think that it is of great value. Students pick one variable they want to change on or about their glider (wing material, wing shape, wing length, body shape, initial flying height, etc). If their variable was initial flying height, they then might test the variable at three different heights (1 meter, 1.5 meters, 2 meters). They will record how far their glider flies at all different heights in a data table and calculate the probability to determine the most successful change. They will do this for three variables of their choice.

This step is critical for students to learn to put the academic vocabulary with the project concepts. Students will complete a few questions about the glider project with their partner that they worked with.

I hope that this tutorial helps if you are planning a project about Bernoulli's principle/ Newton's 3rd Law of Motion.

Monday, May 19, 2014

STEM: Action Research

As a part of my master's class on action research, I conducted research about how much the students are actually learning science in my classroom. Sounds kind of crazy right? How much are the students really learning about kinetic and potential energy when we do the catapult challenge? Are students really learning about insulators and conductors when they create a stylus or is this just a fun challenge? So, I set on my exciting, riveting action research journey. I am a big fan of action research... This busy class assignment just came when I was moving, changing jobs, going to weddings every weekend, etc. Too busy = master's classes not fun. Anywho, here's the down and dirty of what I discovered is happening in my own classroom. The students are learning the overarching concepts. For example, students are learning that more potential energy = more kinetic energy. Heat is conducted more efficiently by a metal than a cloth. However, students need the academic vocabulary to scientifically explain these concepts. Students need an academic lesson on the vocabulary of insulators and conductors. kinetic energy. potential energy. I am IN LOVE with STEM projects. They teach students critical problem-solving skills, perseverance, the engineering process, and they feed the natural inquiry of children. I would adore a curriculum that had a STEM curriculum to go with every scientific learning standard. While I am working on that, I work in peace knowing and having the data to prove that students are learning scientific concepts as well during these crazy chaotic project times.