Friday, June 9, 2017

2016-2017 School Year Reflection

Year 5 is in the books!

I am amazed at all I've accomplished. And I'm grateful for the incredible people that have surrounded me on this journey.

One of the big themes this year has been overcommitment. Now that the school year is over, I am exhausted. I took on way more than I should have, but it is a learning experience. Now, after a week of summer break, I’ve almost recovered.

I know we live in a time where busy is a status symbol, and if that is the case, then I am a queen. I have been blogging more, presenting more, and taking on new big projects. One of my big accomplishments this year is a collaborative book project called Fueled by Coffee and Love! It was a lot more work than I expected, but it was work of love. The paperback and ebook should be published sometime in late June 2017.

That’s not to say I haven’t loved every minute of everything I’ve done! It’s just been a little more than I should have taken on. And, it has taken a few extra naps to get there.

Paper Airplane Lab in Science 7
Although this has been a very busy year, it is also been a time of reflection. I have identified that I am overcommitted, and I have tried to take steps to reduce my commitments and say “no” more often.

My saving grace is this year was teaching 0 period. It may sound strange, getting up extra early to teach at 7:19am, but it was worth it. One of the benefits is that I was done with school early on Tuesdays and Thursdays giving me a couple extra afternoon hours to relax (teaching periods 0-5, on block schedule). This allowed me to take better care of myself throughout the school year. I spent those extra few hours running errands, napping with the dog, reading, and not working.

Science 7 and AVID 8
Even though I was involved in a lot of professional development activities and events, it always comes down to my kids. As long as I am doing the best job for my students, then I know that I am doing a good job as their teacher. We had a lot of fun in science this year with plenty of hands on labs and activities. My students love that we are active in our classroom.
Touring UCLA with AVID 8

This year, I took on our new AVID 8 0 period class. It was my first time having 8th graders, and I love them. The best part was getting to loop with the kids--I had about ⅔ of the class as 7th graders in science and/or AVID, and knew the rest of them from around campus. In AVID, we went on college field trips to USC and UCLA (yes, on the same day!) and CSU Fullerton. We researched colleges and careers, and did 20Time Impact Projects.


Science with Mod/Severe
Crayon art with leaves from the
school garden
One of the highlights of my year was doing science with our moderate/severe special ed class. For the last seven weeks of school, I did science with this class once a week during my prep period. We grew tomato plants, made observations about our tomato plants and school garden, and kept a blog. (Eventually I’ll write a whole post about this.) I love working with this class because they are capable and imaginative learners, and love hands-on science. The goal for next year is to do science together once a week. And, we want to occasionally combine class so that our students can spend time together.

This class has been a second home to me, and their teacher and support staff are so welcoming. I love being their science teacher!

Unified Sports
Additionally, we are also bringing Unified Sports to our campus thanks to my friend Val Ruiz. I think it is important that all our students have the opportunity to interact, no matter their physical, emotional, or intellectual abilities.

Recording green screen videos in
Science 7
Blended Learning Specialist
Another highlight of my year has been my technology role as a Blended Learning Specialist--I have a .2 (1 class period) to work with teachers, provide tech resources and support, and work on tech project. Additionally, I still run monthly Parent Tech Breakfasts. One new things this year is I started a “Virtual Vikings” newsletter that I post monthly in the bathrooms. Our staff LOVE this, and I got lots of positive feedback via text message, email, and in-person conversations.

Technology Adventures
This school year, I had the opportunity to travel many places to present and learn with teachers from all around the country. I’ve been to New Mexico, multiple places within California, Georgia, Tennessee, and Arkansas to present at conferences and EdTechTeam summits. One of the best experiences was Google’s Geo Teachers’ Institute back in July. Although I missed days 4 & 5 of school, the learning opportunities were so worth it!

Goals for 2017-2018
Some of my goals for next school year include making my class more student centered and student run. I would like to turn over some control to my students. Another big thing coming up is that we are creating a few teams in our school. I am teaming with a math, English, and history teacher to better support our students, and we will share the same 90-100 kids. I’m looking forward to having the time and space to build better relationships with our students.

Thank you all for making the 2016-2017 school year fun, productive, and a learning experience.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Socratic Seminars in Science

[This post was originally featured on Kids Discover, How to Promote Critical Thinking with Socratic Seminars, on April 18, 2017.]

As teachers, we’re constantly being told to implement 21st Century Skills and the 4Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity). However, beyond that, we frequently aren’t sure where to begin.

To tackle each of the “Cs” in one class period, one of my favorite activities to do with my 7th grade science classes is a Socratic Seminar. Although Socratic Seminars take some preparation for both the teacher and the students, the outcome is well worth the effort! The goal is to get students to dive deep into what you’ve covered in class, and think critically about the topic at hand

A Socratic Seminar is a student-led discussion where part of the class is in an inner circle speaking, and the other part of the class is in an outer circle observing. In my classroom of 30 students, I put students in groups of 3, with one speaker and two “wing people” observing. These jobs rotate at set time during the discussion (more on this below).

My role as the facilitator is to silently watch the discussion from outside both circles. I make notes on who participates, who refers to the text and classroom activities as evidence, and I silently redirect students who get distracted. I also give instructions when we rotate jobs. During the discussions, as much as I want to, I don’t chime in!

To prepare for a Socratic Seminar, we read at least two articles in class on a topic. Our most recent Socratic Seminar was on human impact on ecosystems. Our preparation included:
  • Reading news articles about microtrash, pollution, and how human activities change ecosystems
  • Using Google Expeditions to go on a virtual field trip to Borneo to observe how humans have impacted the rainforests through deforestation, land encroachment, and agriculture
  • Watching The Lorax movie and talking about how that ecosystem was affected by the Onceler's choices
  • Studying the California Condor rescue and re-population efforts

Having a wide variety of multimedia sources is essential for a successful Socratic Seminar.

Here’s how to set up a Socratic Seminar in your class:
To set up the Socratic Seminar, I provide students with a few open-ended questions ahead of time, and have them brainstorm their responses. Additionally, I ask students to write out a few of their own questions that they can ask the class.

The day before, I volunteer a few students to set up my classroom with 10 chairs in an inner circle, and 20 chairs with desks to form an outer circle.

When students walk in, I assign them into groups of three. Sometimes these groups are randomized, other times they are intentionally grouped based on personalities and strengths.

Person A sits in the inner circle, and the other two teammates, Persons B & C, sit in the 2 chairs directly behind Person A.

Each student receives a paper copy of the “Socratic Seminar Preparation & Student Handout” (make a copy here). (You’ll notice there is a blank page in the middle. This is intentional. When printing & copying back-to-back, this ensures that the two observation sheets are single-sided.)

Socratic Seminar jobs:
  • Speaker: The speaker participates in the discussion with the rest of the speakers, taking turns to share ideas. The speakers ask their own questions, and guides the discussion.
  • Body Language Observation: This wingperson is responsible for observing the body language of their speaker. They mark off different characteristics, such as “spoke in the discussion” or “looked at the person who was speaking.” They are silent during the discussion.
  • Content Observation: This wingperson observes what is said during the discussion. They write down notes on both what their speaker said, and summarize what the rest of the speakers say. They are silent during the discussion.

The Socratic Seminar runs in three rounds, so that each person has a chance to do each role. Since I teach on a block schedule with 100 minute periods, it is easy to have students complete the whole Socratic Seminar during class. It can be spread over two days if needed.

Each round breaks down to:
  • 1.5 minutes - “Speaker, turn to your wingpeople and brainstorm questions and ideas you’d like to bring up in the conversation.”
  • 15 minutes - “Speakers, turn back to the center. You may begin.” [This is all I say--it’s ok if it takes 30+ seconds before someone talks!]
  • 2 minutes - “Speakers, stay silently facing the center. Wingpeople, you have 2 minutes to answer the ‘after discussion’ questions.”
  • 1.5 minutes - “Speakers, turn to your wingpeople. Wingpeople, each of you share 1 thing your speaker did well, and 1 thing they can work on for next time.”
  • 1 minute - “If you were speaker, move to content. If you were content, move to body language. If you were body language, move to speaker.”

Then, start back at the beginning for the next round.

Each round lasts 21 minutes, and with 10 minutes for initial instructions and set-up, and another 15 minutes for the final reflection, the whole process can be done in about 90 minutes.
At the end of the Socratic Seminar, students remove the two observation sheets from their packet and give them to the people they were observing. They receive the observations from when they were the speaker, and re-staple their packet. And finally, students complete the reflection on their participation.

My students also self-grade their participation in the Socratic Seminar based on this rubric:

Socratic Seminars are great ways to get students thinking deeply before a larger writing assignment. Many students benefit from talking through their ideas before they write. Even if you’re not doing an essay or a term paper, you can have students write a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning paragraph based on one of the questions discussed in the Socratic Seminar. Read more about how to scaffold a CER here.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Whiteboard Desks: Low tech can be really fun!

My desks before the transformation
Somehow by the luck of the draw, I ended up with the worst desks in our entire school when I joined this staff in 2013. Not only are the desk legs loose, and I’m constantly tightening them with a wrench, but also they are peeling and carved up. One even says “I hate this class” in big letters across the front. Let’s not even get into the gum artwork under the desks...


It finally came to a point where I was fed up. These desks have been through a lot, and they aren’t serving my kids’ needs. I can’t exactly go out and buy new desks. Solution: do some DIY and make whiteboard desks.
Rewind: A few years ago I went to the Home Depot down the street from my school, and really nicely asked the employees to cut up some panel board into 12” x 12” squares. Normally they charge for cuts; however, it wasn’t busy that afternoon and I made my case that I’m a local teacher, so they didn’t charge me! I had students use colored duct tape to cover the edges, and I had my own student white boards.


After the transformation. Thanks Eddie! 
Fast forward to this year, I mentioned that I wanted whiteboard desks to a math teacher at my school, and he jumped right on it! We found that for every 4’ x 8’ panel board, we could make 2 tabletops for me, and 4 tabletops for his classroom. Eddie went to home depot, bought the panel boards, cut them, and we glued them to my desks. Yes, we glued them. No, it wasn’t an issue because it is a drastic improvement in desk quality.






To do my whole classroom in whiteboard tops, it cost just under $80.


Thanks Eddie!

With my new desks, not only is writing more pleasant, but also it has brightened up my classroom.


Students rotating and giving feedback after making claims
and finding evidence from an article. 
Since we did this in January 2017, I’ve used them multiple times with students. They’ve brainstormed for projects and given peer feedback (in a different color), drawn diagrams of science concepts, and reflected on their work.

My favorite part of it is that students can quickly do a gallery walk to see their peers’ work, and add in comments and feedback in a different color marker. When they’re all done, they take a picture and we erase the desks.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Just Push Publish!

I’m a teacher, and I love blogs. I love reading other teacher’s blogs, sharing blogs on social media, and writing my own teacher blog.

So, you’re interested in blogging? And, you’re somewhere in the education world? High five!

However, you may be saying to yourself, “but Mari, I don’t have anything special to say!” Past Mari, the one you may have met in 2015, said the same exact thing! She wanted to blog, and felt like she didn’t have much to contribute.

Fast forward to present-day Mari...or, well, me. I remix things I learn about from friends and at conferences and add my own unique twist. I’m sharing my experience in my classroom and eduworld, and that’s enough for me.

Your voice is valuable! Your voice needs to be heard!

So, where exactly do you start?
  1. Pick a blogging platform. I prefer Blogger. Some of my friends use Wordpress, Weebly, or Edublogs.
  2. Create a blog! Pick a name that relates to who and what you teach.
  3. Write your first post! I prefer to draft my posts on Google Docs, then copy & paste into Blogger. (Need some sentence frames? That’s ok. Here’s a handy “my first post” template.)
  4. Push publish!

I know it’s scary to push publish! Terrifying, actually. But it’s so worth it. Remember, you’re not a professional writer, and mistakes are ok. The edu-community is very forgiving, and is excited to read what you post.

Your first post is published. Now what? Share you post on social media and with colleagues, read and comment on other education blogs, and keep up your learning spirit!

It’s ok if you don’t blog on a regular schedule. Blog when you’re inspired or when you have an idea. If you need to keep up a writing habit, try using Google Docs to write every day, and post when you have something you’d like to share.

If you want to join a community of bloggers to continue your blogging journey with friendly support, read more about the SunchatBloggers here, and check out our resources.

Happy blogging!

Did you write your very first blog post? Comment below with a link, I’d love to read it!  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Read alouds aren't only for English class!

Why does reading a novel have to be compartmentalized to English class?

There’s such a huge push for reading and annotating text in all content areas, and most of these are informational texts. While helpful, I can’t say my students are super excited by reading tasks (although the content might be interesting), and it definitely doesn’t foster a love of reading.

My students were shocked when I told them we would be doing a read aloud in 7th grade science. "Why are we reading a book in science?!" they immediately asked.

We Are All Made of Molecules
The book I chose was We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen. I preordered it back in the spring, and when it arrived, I binge read it. It was that good.

The story comes down to Stewart and Ashley, two complete opposites who are thrown together when their parents move in together. It deals with social status and social perceptions, bullying, LGBT prejudice and unhealthy relationships.

If you’re planning to use this book (or any others) with your students, make sure you pre-read it, and decide if it’s appropriate for your students. There are some intense parts relating to Ashley and her boyfriend, which can be shocking or upsetting to some students. However, it all fit in perfectly for my class.

As part of our health unit, we have to incorporate information about LGBT identities, as well as healthy versus unhealthy relationships and dating violence. Even with my passion for teaching help, I was unsure how to approach these topics. The conversations that followed our reading were deep and emotional, and way more meaningful than any Slides presentation.

The Read Aloud
At first, I had no idea how to structure the read aloud. I tried reading at the very end of class, but I kept running out of time. My good friend, Doug Robertson, suggested that I start class by reading. I switched it up, and reading became a habit. It was really nice for students to decompress before moving in to science content.

Each day, my students begged for another chapter! Mind you, many of my students are highly reading-averse...sometimes I indulged their request, sometimes I would quietly close the book while they protested. It took us about 4 months to read the book, although it wasn’t until the last 2 that we actually read steadily.

After the Read Aloud
We finished the book with a huge round of applause. I created a Form for them to share their thoughts on the books, and ask questions to the author. As a class, we narrowed down the questions, and we posted them on our classroom Twitter account (I/we haven’t done much with it as of now, but I’m hoping to add more pretty soon).  Then, we waited patiently for our responses.

Here are a few of the tweets and responses:



Reflections on the Process
I am just in love with the read aloud. First of all, it was such a relaxing way to start class with my squirrely 7th graders. They were super engaged in the reading, and I rarely had anyone being a distraction. This could be a much more ELA-heavy activity, with reading and writing prompts: I opted not to, so my students didn’t feel like we were actually working. Instead, we had partner and class discussions after each chapter.

I’m also so extremely thankful for Susin Nielsen and all her support throughout this process. I reached out to her on Twitter when we first started our read aloud, and kept her updated on our progress. She has an excellent website with educator resources for her books! Thanks for letting us celebrate you!


What’s Next?

Now I’m deciding which book to read next...we’re going to be learning about ecology and the Earth. Considering Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.  Suggestions welcome!