Apr 22, 2018

Behind the Scenes at TpT Flock


5 Takeaways from the TpT Flock Regional Conference

I was lucky enough to go to the Teachers Pay Teachers Conference, or Northeast Regional Meet Up called TPT Flock last weekend. It was an inspirational event with many educators who are really changing the face of education and having a huge impact on students, not only in their classroom, but on so many other classrooms in the US and around the world. 

Many of my biggest takeaways apply not only to TPT but also to the classroom of a regular teacher outside of the classroom. I wanted to share some of those takeaways with you.

Details matter, but everything doesn’t have to be perfect

Of course we don't want to make materials for our classroom, or to share professionally, that are full of errors or look messy. However, I think often we try too hard to make something perfect. As we use it it will grow and develop. It's more important sometimes to get something of good quality out (either to our students, or our colleagues) and start using it than it is to keep it on our computer, or in our heads, until it's a hundred percent perfect. Details do matter, but “strive for progress, not perfection.” - Unknown

Don’t try to do it all

This is the biggest thing that I felt like I kept hearing all day: don't try to do it all! This also applies to your classroom! Everybody has their strengths. Maybe you're really good at games and making class fun, or having a sense of humor. Maybe you're really good at connecting with students, or have really innovative and fast ways to grade and assess. Perhaps you are good at building in teachable moments or differentiation, or reading strategies. Maybe you are really good at read alouds and doing demonstrations. There are countless pieces of being a good teacher. No one is good at all of them! Focus on your strengths and build on those! Focus on one thing at a time that you want to learn and improve on, but realize that you do not have to do it all. If you spread yourself too thin you probably won't be successful. Instead, maybe take one unit to try something new, or try one new method at a time.

Collaborate, and reach out for Support

Teaching is often a solitary endeavor, even though we are constantly around people. No one is really in our classroom with us, and we may or may not be in the situation where we plan as a team and really collaborate with other teachers. In my teaching experience there are many times when we're really working alone in our classroom with our students. This is why it's so important to reach out. It could be within your school to to your administrator, to other teachers in your school, or to Facebook groups or discussion boards. Realize that you're not alone! You have things to offer to other people and they may be able to offer you simple solutions in an area that you're struggling

Learning happens when you connect with other people, and with what you already know

Sometimes we think that we're going to learn a bunch of new information on our own by going to a training, reading a book, or seeing something online. In reality there are many times that the best learning happens when we build on what we already know and discuss it with other people! We may see someone doing something just a little bit different than what we're doing, or add on one new twist that makes a big difference. As educators we know that students need a foundation for what they are learning and that they learn best when building on what they know. We often forget this ourselves. It applies to us too! Take what you're doing, talk about it with other people and go just one step further than what you are doing. You might be amazed at the results.

Remember your why

Remember why you became a teacher, and began this journey. Teaching can be a rocky road, and often a draining job. You may have to deal with difficult parents or behavior problems. Think about why you got into this and what were your goals. Maybe you wanted to help students understand the world around them, get them excited about science, help them see that they can be successful or help them grow as young adults. I'm sure you have your own reasons. Take a couple minutes and think about what those reasons are. There have been several times throughout my career when I got to the point where I didn't think that I was wanted to teach anymore. Just as I thought I couldn't take it anymore a something really positive happened. A student had a breakthrough learning moment or came to thank me for something or some other small action happened during the day that made me remember why I come to work every day.

I was lucky enough to go to the conference and meet up with some fantastic teachers from many different states and even Canada I felt honored to be part of that group. However we work with many great educators everyday and we need to remember that and be thankful for each other and for our students.

Apr 1, 2018

Looking to Make Weathering and Erosion more Student-Centered

Making Weathering and Erosion More Student-Centered

Tips, strategies and resources to teach weathering and erosion in a more student-centered, hands-on way.


Weathering and erosion is one of my favorite topics to teach! I get excited every year when that unit comes up. Why? Because it's something that is reallys so visual, and easy to make hands-on. It's happening all the time, all around us, but many kids aren’t aware.

Introduction

I start off with some very quick stations where students look at some pictures, and small examples of weathering, and real life examples similar to weathering (a rusty nail, a tree root that grows and splits a rock, calcium chloride tablets that are put in a jar and shaken to see how they break down, and chalk is put in vinegar to see how it changes and breaks down. At each station they are asked to make some observations, and answer a simple question or two about what happened.

We then re-group and discuss the changes that we saw. We come up with a common definition of weathering. Then we break it down further -- two of these stations that we saw are chemical weathering, and two are physical. What do they have in common? How can we define those? 

Physical and Chemical Weathering

Then we go into weathering in more detail. This is a great place to do lots of shorter labs (such as this weathering lab pack), and practice experimental design skills, and some other basic science skills like graphing changes, writing conclusions, etc.

I do a lab on chemical weathering where students design how to test the effect of acid on weathering rate, using coffee, vinegar, water, and chalk. They have to get their procedures approved before the proceed, but they will need to come up with a way to measure their changes, and write their procedures and conclusions.

Observing chemical weathering changes during a lab

This is a great chance to practice skills such as observation, measuring, and even writing procedures.

For physical weathering we do several small stations on the factors that affect physical weathering (particle size, time, composition). Then they do a summary on these factors, where they have to apply it to a real life situation, and write about it (practice writing and using evidence).

Erosion

Then we move into erosion. This is a great place to integrate high interest activities, because we start off erosion with video clips of avalanches, rivers flooding their banks, etc. Again, we look at what all these have in common to define erosion, and how it is different than weathering. This is memorable for students, and helps them make a connection!

I then structure the erosion part of the unit very similarly. We do a lab on factors that affect stream erosion, and they get to test out things like slope, water velocity, amount of water, collect their data etc. We may do this as a whole group lab, and study stream development.

We also do stations on other types of erosion. I use a big block of ice to simulate a glacier. You can see some great photos and feedback from @teaching_science_irl below. Students at that station compress the ice into a bin of sediments, drag it across, and make observations. Then they draw parallels to the features that are seen on earth with real glaciers and glacial erosion. Similarly, some mixed sediments and a piece of cardboard can simulate erosion by gravity. A hair dryer, or even a straw that students blow on, and some fine sediments can simulate erosion by wind. This allows them to start to see the features, and draw some conclusions. When this is coupled with additional resources, students can really connect!

student making observations during a lab on wind erosion

Here is a picture of wind erosion as students examine which size particles travel farther, and the patterns that they make.

photos from a lab on glacial erosion

Benefits of Teaching this Way

For us weathering and erosion are a real life topic, but for many students who have never travelled and seen these features it can be very abstract. These hands-on activities help to make it more real, and then allow them to make the leap to test questions and other real-life situations

These hands-on activities help make these concepts more real-life, and keep kids engaged. Once they have the foundation and background knowledge, on the topic, they are then much better able to take it the next step and apply to other real life situations or test questions. 

Wrapping Up

Then we do some review and summary. I usually do this on paper, but some of these review activities could be integrated within the unit as stations or activities to break up each section if you are looking for a change from the hands-on. I have this activity where students look at different pictures of weathering, erosion, or deposition, and have to identify which it is. After that, they then have to identify what type of weathering, or what the agent of erosion was.

I also have the students do an activity where they create a concept map of pictures and terms of weathering, erosion, and deposition. This can also, of course, be done with just one of these topics. This is a great way for students to think through the processes, and also for you to really better understand their thinking.

a good way for students to organize and show their knowledge - use of concept maps for weathering and erosion

This is also a good time to have students practice with vocabulary, through either Quizlet, matching terms and definitions, or doing any number of other vocabulary activities.

Sometimes, depending upon the group, I like to have a summative assessment where they are given a situation (an erosional feature, or photos of Cleopatra’s Needle, or cemetery photos and having them explain what they see, in terms of weathering and erosion.

An example of changes due to weathering in different conditions


different weathering of gravestones due to different conditions - a problem to explain

What can you add?  How do you teach like to teach Weathering and Erosion?  

If you are looking for all of my resources together, click here to check them out. 
Tips, strategies and resources to teach weathering and erosion in a more student-centered, hands-on way.

Mar 18, 2018

How to grade differentiated assignments

Whenever there is discussion of differentiation, or creating and using differentiated assignments, one of the biggest struggles that comes to my mind, and I think for many other teachers, is how to grade those assignments fairly (and hopefully without creating excessive work for the teacher).
Tips, strategies, and reflective thoughts about grading in a differentiated classroom

It can be overwhelming to think about how to grade all these different assignments or how to make sure that students are fairly evaluated when they're given different assignments here are a few ideas:

First of all, keep in mind that in some cases differentiation is simply another way to learn the content, or practice with the content, and that it does not need to be graded separately. It is a different way to arrive at the same goal and only feedback or formative assessment may need to be given.

If you do decide to grade the differentiated assignment, here are a few suggestions:

  1. You could create a checklist and then simply add or subtract a few items on that list from the differentiated assignment.
  2. Create a rubric so that whichever format of an assignment students are doing they need to meet the same general criteria but they might meet it in different ways.  The rubric should be focused on the content and the goals of the assignment, not the format.  Here is an example of that. Along with rubrics, here is a more in-depth discussion of something called the “slide rubric” which allows students to show growth, and to show more differences between levels on the rubric. It would take a bit of work to set up, but be easy to score when finished. 
  3. The differentiation may be scaffolding that is provided within the assignment, in order to reach the same goal. So, it may not be visible in the final grading.  The final assignment that is turned in may be the same, but it may have some scaffolding built in. 
  4. If it's a small assignment, you might want to consider giving a check, or a completion grade for partially complete, incomplete, or not done scale, given whatever their assignment directions were.
  5. Assessment could also focus on progress monitoring, such as showing growth, depending upon the needs of your classroom.  I think elementary classrooms do a much better job at this than secondary.  We have a lot to learn from them!! 
As you are thinking about this, remember that 

Grading should ultimately reflect the standards so you're grading should come back to what are the key points that students need to know did they demonstrate their understanding?? Maybe they demonstrated them in different ways but if they sufficiently demonstrated that they know the material that should be the focus of their grading. In other words, the grading is tied to the content of the project, not the format of the project. This is discussed further in this webpage (a very thorough look at differentiation, with a discussion of grading).

If you are using technology, Google Classroom has great options for differentiation as well, that you should be aware of! This article doesn’t specifically address grading, although it touches on it, but it is a great description of using Google Classroom to differentiate, and may give you some great ideas!

As far as a more theoretical perspective, here is a great slideshow from Carol Tomlinson (Differentiation Guru) on grading. She outlines 6 principles on grading that absolutely apply to grading differentiated work as well, and help put things in perspective.

How have you differentiated and graded those differentiated assignments in your classroom? I would love if you would share your experience and your ideas with us either in the comments here, or in our Facebook group.

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