Monday, December 31, 2012

Microcontrollers For Educators Workshop in Boulder

Just spent the weekend +SparkFun Electronics in Boulder Colorado for their Microcontrollers for Educators workshop.  Fun, fun!  Thanks a bunch to our instructors +Linz Craig & +Jeff Branson.

My Make2Learn class

I recently purchased 10 of their Inventor's Kits for my Make2Learn STEM elective class.  The kits include an Ardunio Uno board with lots of extras such as LEDs, a motor, resistors, etc.  It includes a GREAT instruction manual for setting up various circuits.  Great for a total beginner like me!

I started my class with the kits the week before the holidays.  Basically, we worked with the hardware, setting up the circuits then uploaded the code which is already written and can be downloaded at  We didn't get into the coding yet.  I spent some time over the summer reading Getting Started with Arduino but, of course, I forgot most of it.  I'm glad I was able to go to the Sparkfun workshop because it was a great introduction into coding with Arduino.

My students using Arduino

Basically, you can use the code they provide then show students how to make minor changes to it.  For example, to Blink Sketch blinks an LED for a second.  By changing two numbers in the code, you can change the blink rate.  So you can start easy and go as in depth as you like.

SparkFun's LilyPad E Sewing Kit

During the workshop, we also played with SparkFun's ProtoSnap LilyPad Development Board and the LilyPad E Sewing Kit. These kits, I think, are designed to get girls more interested in coding and electronics because it incorporates crafting.  The E Sewing kit uses conductive thread so you can create a circuit in clothing or purses, etc.  Very cute!

We also practiced soldering using SparkFun's Simon Says Soldering Kit.  When you are finished, you have a Simon Says game in which you push buttons to copy the sequence in which the buttons light up.  It's a great beginners kit for soldering because there are not too many parts, but just enough.

I'm not sure if I'll purchase the LilyPads or the Simon Says just because they seem to be consumables.  I like the Inventor's Kit because it is reusable (no soldering required because of the breadboard) which is great because I don't have a lot of money to be buying components.

SparkFun tour with Nate Seidle

The workshop was great fun and I would highly recommend it to beginners as well as for those with experience.  The instructors have a lot of knowledge and a passion for getting this information into the classroom.

One bonus, I was fortunate to meet SparkFun's founder, Nate Seidle, who stopped in with some friends to give them a tour.  I got to tag along on the tour.  It was interesting to see how SparkFun  is set up and to hear about how has grown from a basement business to what it is today.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

SLOCUE Connects!

I want to tell you about a great opportunity for Ed Tech PD on the Central Coast.  SLOCUE Connects is a one day workshop at the New Tech High School in Nipomo.  The cost is a mere $20 and that includes lunch.

I will be presenting how to use Google Forms to create Formative Assessments.  You can see an example here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Google Forms for Formative Assessment

I'm introducing my biology students to Google Apps of Education this week.  They are creating their ePortfolio websites where they will showcase projects.  They are following the tutorials on my YouTube Channel.  See the playlist for Creating a Google Site.  

Before they started crafting their websites, I asked them to watch a couple of youtube videos showing plants that move.  With my formative assessments, I'm finding students do not think plants are alive because they do not move like animals.

You can check out my formative assessment results on my website.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Marshmallows and Hermit Crabs

An exciting and busy first week of school for me.

I've created an elective class that is focused on the engineering design process and computer science.

This week students designed their Google websites which will be used as ePortfolios.  Students will showcase their projects and write reflection pieces regarding their work.  See my website for the class here.

Next students took part in the Marshmallow Challenge to give students a taste of design without a process.  Only one team got their design to actually stand up!  See slideshow from the challenge below.

Today students began the Boomerang Challenge using elements the design thinking process.  Today we focused on Brainstorming.  I gave students the challenge of coming up with 8 quick designs in 6 minutes.  I told students not to worry about getting it perfect, to just go fast and draw what comes to mind.  And the crazier the design, the better.  Sometimes we may not use that design, but it might inspire something else.

Next, teams looked for patterns among all of their team designs.  Then they chose the team design.

Tomorrow they will create their template and begin crafting.

In biology, we've gotten off to a great start.  We are investigating the concept "Is it living?  How do you know."  My intention is for students to devise a "rule" regarding how they know something is alive.  this will lead into our investigation of the cell.

I'm using the writing structure "claim, evidence, and reason" as described in the book Negotiating Science by Brian Hand & Lori Norton-Meier.

Teams started by observing 5 items:  hermit crabs, kelp, turban snails, water, and a rock.  Students pointe to the snail and crabs as being alive.  Their evidence/criteria was that they moved.  This is a limited notion that students have at this age.  I was surprised when I showed students a solar car and many of them concluded that it is alive also because it moves.

One technique I am using is NOT to tell students the correct answer.  Instead, I ask students in the class what they think.  I use popsicle sticks with students name and draw them as random.  I call another student and ask if they agree or disagree with the ideas of the first student.  Notice I said ideas.  We are not talking about right and wrong answers at this point.  This phase of the lesson is a mix of formative assessment and argumentation.  By asking students to comment on other student ideas, they are using higher level skills of analysis and argumentation.  I find a lot more energy in the class now that I use this technique rather than me just telling them yes that's correct, no it's not.

So to get back to the solar car.  The next day, I wrote on the board "if it moves, then it's alive."  I asked students to write whether they thought that was a good rule and why or why not.  I used this for my argumentation and analysis phase that I just described.  With guidance from my questioning, students arrived at the conclusion that a solar car is not alive.  (Phew!)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Maker Camp on Google+

Be sure to check ou the Maker Camp on Google+ for cool ideas for Making in your classroom and at home.  I will be using many of these ideas in my elective class this year.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

MENTOR MakerSpace

On Monday, I was fortunate to spend time "tinkering" with innovative educators at the Exploratorium in SF.  You can read more about it here:

I plan to use these ideas as I create our LVMS MakerSpace which will be home to my Design Thinking elective class.

Yay! I'm presenting a workshop at CUE to the Core 2013!

I'm excited to say my friend, Chris Scott and I have been accepted to present this spring at CUE in Palm Springs.  And not just a session, but an actual workshop!  The workshop will focus on designing the ideal learning environment and reaching the Common Core using a process called Design Thinking.

Participants will work in teams to get the feel of the Design Thinking process.  They will get a taste of each step of the design process.  They will engage with other educators to cement their design decisions.  

Bascially people are going to walk away with tools to use in the classrooms.

So many teachers have learned the apps. Students are blogging, podcasting, and editing videos.  Teachers use the latest free web 2.0 sites, but something is missing. How how do we get students to make meaningful connections and projects using these apps? How do we encourage students to apply their learning to real world challenges?

New technology, new standards, new resources won’t fit into the original classroom model. We need a new approach, a uniquely tailored approach for every school and every classroom. That’s where Design Thinking comes in. Design thinking is a dynamic, creative and collaborative approach to problem solving, it presents a unique model for educators who wish to facilitate from within the class, rather than impart knowledge to it. In this workshop teachers will use design thinking to rethink the culture of learning in their classroom. They will leave this workshop with the tools needed to take this dynamic approach back to your school to encourage problem solving.

The process followed in this workshop is adapted from the Stanford in collaboration with the world renown IDEO design firm (the people who designed the first Apple mouse).

Some of the most innovative schools are using Design Thinking to rethink the learning that takes place within their school, like the Henry Ford Learning Institute, The Nueva School, Stanford


Do We Need Light To See? Part 1

The video workshop Private Universe features a segment on student misconceptions about sight and light.  So I decided to give it a try since my state content standards focus on these concepts.  Here's the approach I took.

In the past, I tried starting lessons with KWL.  But frankly, I saw this as a waste of time.  I decided I had content to share with them so let's get to it.  I figured my students had various amounts of knowledge and questions about the topic.  It didn't matter because I was going to present the content and fill in any gaps they had.

But now I have a different intention for this pre-unit questioning.  It is to discover misconceptions students may have.  So I started this unit by doing a concept map.  I started with the question how does the eye work?  I wrote whatever students told me they thought they knew, even if it was a misconception.  That way, as we progress in the unit, students will be able to revise the concept map and see their learning.

Then I asked students to write down questions they have about how the eye works.  I went through the questions and found many students have the same questions:  Why do we see upside down?  Why does the pupil get bigger in low light and smaller in bright light?  Why do we have different color eyes?  We talked about what makes a question testable or researchable.  We decided (with my prompting) that the first two were testable.  One of the things I realized from these questions is that students do not realize the pupil is a hole which lets light into the eye.

One thing I noticed from the concept map is hardly anyone mentioned that light is needed to see.  I probably would not have noticed that if I hadn't watched Private Universe.  I decided this was the concept that I would target for their learning.

I challenged them by asking them if they thought they could see in the dark.  Initially, some said no and many said yes.  As I questioned further, I found that some that said no revised their response when I questioned them further.  I asked if you are in a completely dark room could you see shadows, shapes, or movement.  Many of the students who initially said no said you, you can see shadows, shapes, and movement.  They also said they'd be able to see these things after their eyes adjusted.

I asked them to write down what they thought they'd see in a completely dark room with no light.  Then I asked them to draw a diagram showing how the eye sees a red apple.  Many were at a loss.  So I prompted them to draw an eye and an apple and to draw arrows showing me how the eye sees.

Just to let you know, at the beginning of the year, we had talked about how we see color.  That some light is absorbed by an object and other light is reflected into their eye which our brain reads as the object's color.  When I saw their drawings, I realized most had not learned this concept.  I was blown away!  Most of the students drew an arrow coming out of the eye.  I questioned them.  They suggested that sight comes out of the eye!  This was the majority of my students.  Including my two honors classes.  And hardly any students drew a light source.

In a future blog post, I will share the activities that I used to challenge these student misconceptions.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Uncovering Alternative Conceptions

Welcome to my classroom!  I'm writing this blog for two reasons.  First, it's for myself.  For the past two weeks I've begun taking a Constructivist approach to my classroom.  Already, I'm amazed and challenged by what has been happening with my students.  This blog is going to be a journal of sorts for me.  I will be writing about what I'm doing in the classroom frankly so I can remember and revise from year to year.  The second reason is to possibly get a conversation started about this Constructivist approach and inquiry biology in the classroom.  I'm hopeful that others may share suggestions and ideas regarding what is working in their classrooms.

A little about me.  I've been a middle school math & science teacher for about 13 years.  Most of that time I've been what might be called a stand and deliver teacher.  I give the students the content outlined in the standards and expect them to learn it.  But I'm finding this approach has not been giving me the results I want.

I assumed that students were clean slates and that if I gave them information that was clear and interesting, they would learn it.  What I'm finding now is that students come to me with  misconceptions or what some educators call alternative conceptions.  A book I'm reading called Questions, Claims Evidence, The Important Place of Argument in Children's Science Writing by Lori Norton Meier and others explains this well.  It says we store knowledge in a conceptual framework which is an interconnected web of knowledge built around a concept.  When we learn something new, we try to fit it into the framework.  If our framework is based on a misconception, that presents a problem.  Students will take the new information and try to fit it to their misconceptions.

I began to see this more clearly when I watched a video workshop series called the Private Universe Project.  You can find it here:
I'd be interested in feedback on what others think of this series.

My next post will be about my first attempt at challenging student misconceptions.  Stay tuned!  ;)