First day with the new microscopes!

Our building recently was able to acquire a set of new microscopes – and we went with a model from Ken-A-Vision that has a middle-school-friendly design and a built-in camera.  Soon, our students will be able to save, publish, broadcast, and annotate images from their adventures in studying microscopic worlds. Microscope images will be able to be saved into a PowerPoint, Word document, Wiki, blog, or academic social network page, and teachers or students can project images onto our BrightLink whiteboards.  Using whiteboard pens, the displayed images can be annotated, important items labeled or circled, and this process will help learning become deeper.  We will be able to have learning conversations in ways that we have not been able to do before.

Lab Station Setup (s)

More on the specs another day, but here you can see a few of our new microscopes set up in the 7th grade science lab, ready to use for today’s experience.


Today, 7th graders had their first experience with the microscopes.  We don’t have the cam software installed yet, but these scopes also work traditionally, which is an experience we want the kids to have too.

Students viewed prepared slides, which were purchased as part of an introductory slide set.  These were fresh out of the box, and the quality of the preparations seems to be great.  We’re also very, very impressed by the clarity of the new microscopes.   Even though the built-in cameras can not be used yet while waiting for the software, I found I could line up my iPhone with the eyepiece and take a pretty good photo image:

iPhone pic - Mixed Green Algae

Mixed Green Algae prepared slide – via iPhone!

Here is another iPhone pic – of a pine needle cross section:

Pinus Leaf, Two Needle Type - Flinn slide, iPhone photo

Pinus Leaf, Two Needle Type – prepared slide, iPhone photo

All of this was very engaging for our students.  Something interesting added to the mix was that we found a box of very old slides in a drawer in the lab.  Since we wanted to have 4-5 slides for each team to view, we included these in the mix.  It was clear they were hand-prepared slides, and very old, and some were labeled with stickers from universities and medical centers. What we didn’t notice until a student pointed it out, is that some had dates listed.

Found slide - 1947

Yeast slide from 1947

Found slide - 1913

Does that really say 13? As in, 100 years ago in 1913?

Students asked a lot of questions about the labels and the scientific names listed on both the new and old slides, and… were often grossed out.  Pig embryo cross sections, full cross section of gammarus (a marine amphibod that at first glance looks similar to a flea), hydra, and a fly eye (from the 1960’s university set of slides) were some of the ones that drew stronger reactions.  Allium, algae, and pine needle were some of the tamer ones, so there was a nice balance.

Next week, students will be checking out pond water, and we’ll try out the whiteboard abilities of the microscope and its built-in camera.  Look for a new post then!


M&M’s: A project on probability

My co-teacher and I are working with our enrichment group (Success period for those of you who follow the 8-step protocols) on probability this week.  We’ve been able to bring in a lot of engagement activities for the students through this unit.

– We’ve used M&M fun-size bags to take data and study probability of certain colors being in a bag.
– We’ve taken data and based on that data, created rules to reverse engineer what happens in an M&M plant: what the rules are for bag assembly.
– Students are gaining practice entering data into Excel, and creating bar and pie graphs for this data.  They have some stringent requirements to refine the graph so the colors of the pie match the colors of the M&M’s, and also we are focusing on labeling.

In the reverse engineering study with a sample size of 18 bags, we’ve discovered that:
(1) Two M&M’s out of every bag must be green.
(2) There are never just one color of M&M’s in a bag.
(3) The number of M&M’s in a fun-size bag varies from 13 to 21. (Wow.)
(4) The only colors that will definitely be in every bag are red and orange.

Kidblogging at Dickinson

Since my last post, two of our seventh grade teachers have begun using KidBlogs.

What KidBlogs offers educators is a blog for every student in a class.  When you set up your class, you choose a subfolder name (ours is DFAA7thGrade) and then each student completes an easy signup process to start a blog under that subfolder.  The instructor can also start a blog page.  Within your class set of blogs, students and teachers can comment on each others’ posts.  The blogs are locked off so that only the registered users in your class can view these.  The instructor has full administrative privileges and can moderate and delete posts or comments.

Students were blogging the same day as the signup.  Since our two teachers are in the same grade level and see many of the same students, they decided to use the same blogs for both math and social studies.

How are students using KidBlogs?

  • To post summaries of a class activity or project, on their own blog pages.
  • To respond on the instructor’s blog to a post or writing prompt.
  • To upload e-files, such as PowerPoints, Excel, or Word documents — for grading and for peer review.
  • To practice digital citizenship.

Our students are enjoying it.  Having students blog also adds some continuity to the days that you have the laptop cart in your classroom.  If it becomes a routine for students to blog  at the end of every class period when you have the laptops, it adds some order to the day and also gives students a focus.  It also give you something to show for every day you use the laptops in your classroom: student posts could be scored similar to an exit slip, and you will have an ample portfolio of evidence of learning that accumulates throughout the semester.



What can you do with an iPad in the classroom?

Most of these ideas work best with a full class set of iPads, but some may be able to be adapted.  We plan to have an iPad set available in the building for STEAM-related projects.

1. Students create iPad games using Sketch Nation Studio

2. Teachers monitor class behavior and engagement with Class Dojo

3. Students use VoiceThread to annotate photos and blueprints

4. Students use PuppetPals to produce digital animated stories

5. Students create new fonts using FontMaker

6. Students draw using Brushes

7. Students dictate using Dragon Dictation

8. Students practice math skills using Super 7 HD

9. Students or Teachers use AirSketch or ShowMe to transmit from iPad to SmartBoard

10. Students use WhiteBoard Lite in place of physical whiteboards

11. Teachers use StickPick to randomly call on students (popsicle stick application)

12. Students use SliceIt to slice shapes into geometric components

13. Students use Writer’s Hat word generator as a prompt

14. Students synthesize music using Alchemy

15. Students obtain live earth science data in the Quakes app

16. Students manipulate a 3D virtual globe in the Globe app

17. Students display their understanding to their instructor using the Traffic Light

18. Students view Prezi’s in the viewer app

19. Students time work or labs using Time2

20. Students respond to teacher prompts using Socrative

21. Teacher transmits content to all iPads using NearPod

22. Students use various paper styles with Kids Writing Pad

60+ ways we can use laptops in the classroom

Did you know that at all of the state of Maine’s seventh and eighth graders  – over 29,000 middle schoolers – are issued a laptop, and have been since 2009? (Over 200 schools and 17,000 students began this program in 2002.)  A good article about lessons learned from the Maine initiative is here.  What we must realize is that the Maine students and other schools implementing 1:1 computing are setting a new standard for what our students need to be proficient in.  Our career and collegiate opportunities play out on a national scale, and we do not just compete with our own locality.

Several Maine studies came to conclusions that the laptop program related to improvements to middle school students’ skills as writers, and that alternative assessment via multimedia projects showed greater gains on content post-assessements and on retention assessment.  In the summary of the 2011 report by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute of the University of Southern Maine, “middle school teachers report substantial benefits from the laptop program. Teachers indicated the laptops helped them teach more, in less time, and with greater depth.” Research is continuing, and it is important to note that the gains shown took several years to realize.  But, by these accounts, all signs appear to be positive.

There are advantages to technology in increasing student engagement, and one report provides anecdotal evidence that one segment of students showing gains are students who struggle with attention deficit conditions.  Very interesting observation considering that is one of our greatest challenges as educators.

We are not yet at 1:1 laptops in our building for every student every day, but we do have that opportunity available on the days you have the COW in your room.  We still have several days per week when there is a COW available.  Some idea starters include the list below (compiled from a wide variety of sources.)  I’m willing to provide any help you need in getting a one-day or multi-day project going.  As always, it is important we think about how to gear any project to our current window, and decide how we are going to assess student performance – and some flexibility is needed when an activity is brand new.

1. Students post to their own blogs (Kidblog or Edublogs)

2. Students write papers (lengthy or short) on Word

3. Students research

4. Students learn the intricacies of online research: critically thinking to find the best information.

5. Students play learning games

6. Students watch LearnZillion lessons individually, then practice skills

7. Students comment on others’ blogs

8. Students read posts and comment on the class blog

9. Students communicate with another class

10. Students use Edmodo to communicate with each other and their teacher

11. Students create PowerPoint presentations

12. Students use the built-in webcam and integrate photo & video into their work

13. Students add entries to Wikipedia

14. Students watch Khan Academy lessons and tutorials

15. Students engage with PhET science simulations

16. Students read authentic informative text on government & research websites

17. Students create a Web 2.0 presentation using Glogster or Prezi

18. Students practice naming and saving files according to a specified protocol

19. Students practice digital citizenship online

20. Students submit work online

21. Students build charts using one of many different chart generators

22. Students manipulate authentic data using Excel or GoogleDocs

23. Students crop and manipulate photos

24. Students create video using Flipcams, upload and annotate it using Loopster

25. Students create Social Studies data maps

26. Students create infographics using a drawing tool or SumoPaint

27. Students build a class wiki using pbworks or Google Sites

28. Students build webpages

29. Students build vocabulary crosswords or find-a-words

30. Students build word webs with Wordle

31. Students read the day’s news

32. Students compare and contrast coverage of a news story from various sources

33. Students create specialized Google maps

34. Students explore ecological data sets

35. Students explore sample book chapters on Amazon

36. Students use Kidpedia for research

37. Students create vLogs

38. Students participate in the Flat Classroom project

39. Students create a Personal Learning Network

40. Students publish newspapers or storybooks

41. Students create cartoons using ToonDoo, Bitstrips

42. Students annotate a photo series using Voicethread

43. Students use Discovery’s interactive atlas

44. Students create posters using PosterMyWall

45. Students complete research using Google Earth

46. Students write using Storybird

47. Students create online flipbooks using Flipsnack

48. Students brainstorm as a class using a shared Google Docs page

49. Students share comments with you and the class on Wallwisher

50. Students organize online artifacts using Museum Box

51. Students engage with teacher-created EdCanvas boards

52. Students create “what if” endings for video clips using Voicethread

53. Students critically review books and other content

54. Students create learning canvases with EdCanvas

55. Students create digital CV’s and resumes

56. Students watch teacher-selected TED talks

57. Students follow favorite content daily and journal on it

58. Students create digital narratives for periods in history through a variety of means (websites, canvases, presentations, multimedia voicethreads, brochures)

59. Students edit and check their writing using Grammarly, Grammar Girl, or other writing checking sites

60. Students utilize free versions of advanced scientific calculators online

61. Students use online timers and countdown clocks to time science activities

62. Students self-assess their learning styles using online surveys

63. Students use calculators to understand the economics of buying a house or car

64. Students plan a travel itinerary and research culture and destinations

65. Students integrate foreign language translations into their work

66. Students take multiple-choice assessments online and get immediate feedback on their performance

67. Students competently transfer files to each other and to instructors using a variety of web tools and cloud services


21st Century Curriculum and Assessment: New NCTE Position Framework

You may be interested in reading the full Position Paper and Guidelines on 21st Century Literacies:  it is a four-page, clearly written document that was updated just this month, February 2013.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) began the work toward this framework in the 1990s.  According to the position paper, “the continued evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary.”

Included in the framework are proficiencies of inquiry, problem-solving, technology utilization, digital resources and tools, academic risk-taking, and synthesizing multiple streams of simultaneous information.  Also mentioned is the importance of cross-cultural connections and relationships.

Page three of the NCTE position paper demands that we consider authentic assessment that relates to the complex real world.

Much of what is shared in the position paper has been also identified by other streams of research, including the book Best Practice: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools by Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (4th Edition (PDF sample) is the newest; a PDF excerpt of the 3rd Edition is here; and I have a copy of the 2nd Edition in my office.)

According to Zemelman, et al., although standards, positions, and guidelines come from a wide variety of sources and authors within the field of education, there is “a surprising and encouraging level of agreement” on what these standards actually suggest.  “The consensus is that students learn best in schools that are student-centered, experiential, democratic, and collaborative – yet rigorously challenging.”  My own addition to this list is also that these schools have an orderly environment and have a culture of high standards for interactions within the community, whether student-to-student, student-to-adult, adult-to-student, or adult-to-adult.

We are well on our way to becoming a true 21st Century school.

Project-Based Learning in Math: Getting Started

Andrew Miller, consultant for the Buck Institute of Education, published a nice article on getting started with Project-Based Learning in Math.  Included are some thoughts on when projects are appropriate and how PBL fits in well with the Common Core.

I also recently found a Maryland teacher blog with a great deal of content (specifically for math and engineering on the high school level) but with one important lesson to remember: moving toward PBL is a process.  Mr. Yates, who teaches in Maryland, states he began with projects interspersed when the opportunity was there (time, resources, and alignment.)  After several years of teaching in this way, he has moved to a new goal of building the course around a themed and scaffolded series of projects.

Moving from writing to blogging

One of the focus points this spring as we prepare for ISTEP is persuasive writing.  For the seventh grade test-prep group I co-teach, this led me to develop a series of basketball-related essay prompts, one for each day this week.  After I saw the first set of essays though, some without conclusions, and very few with strong conclusions, my co-teachers and I needed to get on our soapbox and reiterate those basics.  Also helpful was the Fish Skeleton graphic organizer technique — that I picked up from someplace unknown during the time I substitute taught across Michigan and Indiana.

While working on these lesson plans, I also felt driven to review what I could find on the web about persuasive writing, since it’s been a while.  I found some good advice, but what stood out to me was this article, “Blogging is the New Persuasive Essay,” by Shelley Wright.  Wright makes a case against the persuasive essay, which I don’t fully agree with, but over the course of the post she makes an excellent argument for why we should have students blog.  Not only can blogging bolster the sentence structure and grammatical skills that students need, but there is an element of playfulness to blogging that can be exciting and engaging for students.  There is also the benefit of feedback, discussion, and debate that can occur through blog commenting.  (The comments on Wright’s blog are equally interesting.)

When you have laptops in your classroom, consider the idea of blogging.  Another idea is Edmodo, an academic social network, which is a different vehicle for writing, but is along the same lines of 21st Century communication skills.  More on Edmodo will be discussed in another post soon to come.

[Side note:  The fishbone technique apparently has an interesting history.  As I searched the web for a sample diagram, I found this piece about Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa’s work developing this graphic organizer.  What I use is a simpler version of the fish skeleton writing organizer, which is very easy to draw and explain on the whiteboard or on a student’s paper in just a few seconds (by rolling this out quickly, it gives them more time during the period for writing) and is very middle-school friendly and memorable.]


Welcome to the STEAM blog.  Here, you will find news, articles, and resources related to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics teaching and learning.  We will also relate stories of what our teachers and students are accomplishing at Dickinson this year.  Please feel welcome to add comments and share your thoughts on the blog.

A note: As STEAM coordinator, I admittedly have a biased opinion in favor of engaging and integrated science education, 21st century learning, technology implementation in the classroom and beyond, and project-based learning.  I strive to consider the up-sides and down-sides to the approaches I discuss on the blog.  Please add your own feedback in the comments section.