Wednesday, January 18, 2017

6 Writing Prompts to Jumpstart Your Science Class

[This blog post, 6 Writing Prompts to Jumpstart Your Science Class, was originally featured on Kids Discover on January 11, 2017]

When my students see a writing prompt on the board, inevitably one of them sighs and says, “this is science, not english class!”

This always makes for a great discussion about what scientists do, and how the majority of their work involves reading, writing, and math. All scientists, and science students, must be able to effectively communicate their ideas. The Common Core Standards for Science and Technical Subjects grades 6-8 expect students to use the knowledge the gain from experiments, multimedia sources such as graphics or videos, and texts. Students also must be able to identify the author’s purpose and claim, and extract evidence that supports this claim.

Writing should not be reserved for special occasions, like research papers and lab reports. Instead, it is essential that we encourage our students to develop their effective science communication skills in frequent low-stakes activities, such as quick-writes and short paragraphs.

Writing in science also must go hand-in-hand with reading engaging and interesting pieces of text. There is a time and place for science textbooks. However, they rarely spark students’ love of science. Replace textbook reading with current event articles and news stories. Kids Discover Online has many great informational pieces and text on a wide variety of topics. Some of my other favorite sources for current events are Science News for Students (Society for Science), and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab News.

I use writing prompts as warm-up activities in my science class to build prior knowledge and get students brains to shift to science. Occasionally I collect their informal writing, but I never grade it. I prefer to keep the stakes low, and remove that pressure from my students. Typically, I’m circulating the class as students are writing, peeking over their shoulders, and asking them questions about their writing that will encourage them to write more.

Here are six writing prompts that will get our students’ brains in gear for writing in science:
- Who is a scientist you admire? Why do you admire them? What qualities do they have that make them special?
- Describe how our lives would be different if the lightbulb had never been invented.
- “Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth” (Jules Verne). What does this quote mean to you?
- Are humans hurting or helping our environment? Support your answer with evidence from your experiences.
- Should we colonize Mars? Why or why not?
- Science is all around us, when we do things like cook, ride a bike, or watch TV.  Pick a hobby or activity you do at least once a week, and explain how science is involved.

Anytime we write, at any grade level, it is important to scaffold the writing. Providing sentence starters and paragraph frames is an easy and simple way to support all learners. Also, allowing students to first brainstorm their ideas with a partner before they write is also a simple way to improve students’ writing.

One of my favorite ways to scaffold writing is to have students first do a quickdraw. Students divide a piece of paper in two (can also be done on any app that allows students to draw), hamburger style. I project the writing prompt, and give them 5 silent minutes to draw their answer. Then, I project the same prompt, and have them write their response. I’ve done this as a stand-alone writing prompt, in response to an article, and as a reflection on a short 3-4 minute video.

A new thing I’m excited to try in 2017 is Recap, an app and website that allows students to record short video responses to a prompt. As a teacher, I can listen to my students’ speaking skills, and watch as their confidence grows.

How will you get your students writing more in 2017?

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Building Breakfast Habits

Melissa d'Arabian's Instagram post
It all started when I was scrolling through Instagram and saw Melissa d’Arabian (Squirrel note: she was my #1 pick on the 5th season of Next Food Network Star from the first episode, and I literally jumped for joy when she won. I adore her!) post a picture of chia seed pudding she makes for her daughter. I took a screenshot of the recipe, and made a mental note to try this when we got back home from winter break.


In the next few days, I had some seemingly random conversations about breakfast, breakfast foods, and how we remember to eat our breakfast in the morning. Obviously this was a sign that I needed to change up my breakfast habits.


My personal breakfast journey
Growing up, my dad was the breakfast pro. He always made me breakfast, either cereal, frozen waffles, toast, fruit or other relatively healthy breakfast foods. When I’d visit my Nonno and Nonnie (grandparents), they always made breakfast and sat at the table together. My Nonnie’s toast was the best, mostly because she made it. But since they were grandparents, I could often find Lucky Charms and Pop Tarts at their house.


Once I left for college, the only breakfast I usually had was coffee in the morning. Now, 5 years into my teaching career, that’s generally what still happens. Coffee, sometimes a banana, yogurt, or protein bar. Real talk, I feel like I’m not adulting properly if I don’t eat breakfast.


I always pack myself breakfast to eat once I arrive at work. However, (squirrel) I get too busy and I forget to eat it until about 10 or 11am...and by then I'm hangry.


So, I realized that I need to make a change for myself. In a seemingly unrelated quest to be more mindful and take better care of myself, I realized I can double up by getting up a few minutes earlier, eating breakfast, and spending a few minutes relaxing before starting the day.


I can’t be alone in this breakfast struggle, right?!
Do you breakfast?
So, I created a Google Form (bit.ly/doyoubreakfast) and sent it out to my teacher friends on Twitter. My goal was to get at least 250 responses. Within a week, I had 258 and counting! I received responses from 11 countries, and 38 US states. Thanks friends from USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Dominican Republic, China, Spain, England, Ireland, Netherlands, and Iceland!

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the raw data from the survey.


So, the survey results**
I was really surprised that 198/259 (76.4%) of you all eat breakfast every day! I’m impressed!

As for when you all eat your breakfast, nearly half (124/264 = 47%) of people surveyed eat breakfast at home before leaving for or starting work, while 24.2% (64/264) eat breakfast on the way to work, and 20.5% (54/264) eat breakfast once they arrive at work.


So, what is everyone eating for breakfast?
Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 1.26.53 PM.png
I wasn’t surprised by the number of people who have coffee for/with breakfast. Seeing my colleagues walking around campus before school, many of us are holding a coffee cup. I was pretty surprised that so many people eat eggs for breakfast, seeing as that takes a while to make and clean up. Quite a few recommended hard boiling eggs at the beginning of the week; great idea, too bad I'm not a fan of hard boiled eggs.


Tips from the breakfast regulars
  • “Have kids that you have to feed you will feed yourself as well.” -- This was said by a few people, and made me laugh! I’m not at the kid stage of life, but noted for the future.
  • “Build a habit! I get up early enough to work out, shower and get ready, then eat breakfast and pack my lunch before leaving for work. Also find that things like "Overnight oats" or egg casseroles, that you can make ahead, make it easier.”
  • “Leave out what you need to make breakfast the night before (or make it the night before while packing a lunch).”
  • “I try not to limit myself to an idea of what breakfast "should" be and eat whatever is easily available - a salad, rice and beans, apple with almond butter, whatever. But I make sure I eat or I get cranky quickly!”
  • “I'm am more hungry at lunch and make poor eating decisions if I skip breakfast.”
  • “Put it on your calendar if you struggle to remember - make it habit”
  • Get up a few minutes earlier


Ideas for breakfast:
There were so many great ideas for easy breakfasts, things to make ahead, and methods for remembering breakfast.
Here are a few that looked especially yummy:
  • Use muffin tray and fill with eggs and/egg whites plus cheese, onions and assorted veggies. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes
  • Bake 2 loaves of bread (banana,  blueberry, etc.) on the weekend.  Slice and freeze - ready to grab and go.  Add fruit/yogurt/juice if you'd like.
  • Put the bowl, spoon and cereal out on counter the night before.
  • "Make entire pack of eng muffins, eggs, cheese sandwiches and freeze them. Microwave frozen sandwiches for 1:30 and enjoy!"
  • Include protein, good carbs, and good fats. Think of your small plate as thirds and fill each section with each of those. http://greatist.com/eat/whole30-breakfast-recipes/amp
  • Smoothie; frozen strawberries, blueberries & banana w/spinach, kale and vanilla Greek yogurt and add fresh POM juice or orange juice, crushed ice and blend in my NutriBullet. Provides a nice burst of energy to get the morning going.
  • This site is where the idea came from to make the cups. http://showmetheyummy.com/healthy-egg-muffin-cups/
  • Plan the day before for breakfast
  • Easy Green Smoothie - 1/2 cup of unsweetened ice tea, handful of fresh spinach, parsley, juice of lemon, frozen fruit of your choice (blueberries, banana, strawberry etc), Stevia if you like it sweetened. Have all ingredients ready to go the night before in frig. Avocado can be added to this smoothie.
  • Make breakfast fun! Nothing wrong with waffles with chocolate chips, especially if layered with fresh berries!
  • I tried making overnight oats. Added coconut and dried
    cranberries to one, and blueberries to the other. Success!
    Smoothies are great for people who don't have time to stop and sit down to eat breakfast, you can keep it in your hand while you are running around doing that 12 million things that always have to be done in the mornings. I always eat my breakfast at my desk while I am catching up on emails or planning for the day.
  • My favorite breakfast is toast with almond butter, a TSP of chia seeds on it and topped with dried blueberries. Quick, easy, delicious, and keeps me going for hours.
  • Easy is better when trying to get going in the mornings - even something as simple as a banana can really help my energy level throughout the day!

Something to consider...
Really interesting, someone shared a link to a NY Times article called Sorry, There’s Nothing Magical About Breakfast. It was a thought-provoking read with great ideas to consider about breakfast and marketing. For me, I often don’t get hungry until about 11am, but when I skip breakfast, I find myself (1) eating a ton more for dinner, and (2) more likely to get hangry.


**This is by no means a proper scientific or statistical analysis. It’s all for fun, and for qualitative life improvements. And, as I was writing this blog post, a few more people responded! Love more data!

Friday, January 6, 2017

What I Read in 2016

My goal for 2016 was to read/listen to at least 100 books, reading at least 52. I ended up reading 49 and listening to 17, for a grand total of 66 books. Normally I’d be disappointed about not meeting my goal, but I’m thrilled I read as much as I did! This year, I have the same goal. We’ll see if I can pick up the pace a bit.


For the last several years, my dad and I have done a book bingo together. We create 24 categories + 1 free space at the beginning of the year, then try to read a book from each category. These range from silly (book with an orange cover) to diverse (book that is a translation) to old (published before 1000AD). Last year, he finished his whole bingo--must be nice to be retired! I finished about ⅔. We have a new bingo game for this year, so I better get reading. I also created a bingo card to share. Happy reading :)


I check out the majority of my ebooks and audiobooks from the public library via Overdrive. I’m usually good about managing the number of books I have and the number of books I have on hold. Pro tip: add books to your holds, then suspend the hold. You’ll move up in position, but the book won't be checked out to you until you unsuspend the hold or your suspension time is up.


Here are my categories from 2016. As you can see, I mainly read education, young adult, and fiction books. Naturally, Harry Potter gets it’s own category. I used inspiration rather than self-help because it drops the negative connotation.


My book genre breakdown for 2016


I kicked off 2016 by reading Ditch that Textbook by Matt Miller. It was an inspiring edu-read, and I enjoyed occasionally participating in the #ditchbook twitter chat on Thursday nights. I love anything published by Dave Burgess Consulting, and I think I own about 75% of the collection. Thanks Dave & Shelley for letting me spin the Burgess stop and giving me some wonderful books!


Here are some of my favorite books I read/listened to in 2016*:
Creating Classroom Magic by Shauna Pollock (book) - I love Disneyland and Disney, and I was completely inspired to add in a little more magic into my classroom. Shauna is filled with great ideas and stories.


Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders (ebook) - My science nerd self was fascinated to learn so much about the human digestive system. This book is written to be accessible by all, and there is a lot of practical knowledge for the why’s and how’s.


How Google Works by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg (ebook) - So fascinating to hear more about the Google backstory, their vision and growth process, and their philosophy behind how they treat their employees. Reading this inspired me to dream bigger (10x, not 10%).


We are all Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (book) - A friend recommended this to me, and I preordered it on Amazon. When it arrived, I had forgotten I had ordered it. It was a quick read, but absolutely heart-wrenching and sweet. I loved it so much that I am using it for a read aloud in my 7th grade science class. It’s not about molecules, and technically it’s a fairly weak science content tie; however, the ideas and themes in this book fit the personal development of my 7th graders, and tie into a few topics we cover (molecules, health, bullying, healthy relationships).


Harry Potter books 1-6 by JK Rowling (audiobook) - I’ve read them multiple times, and friends kept telling me how amazing the audiobooks are. Truth. Jim Dale is incredible. He has a different voice for each character. Plus, it was nice hanging out with my old friends. I was 10 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out, and just graduated high school when the Deathly Hallows was released. I’m most of the way through the Deathly Hallows audiobook, but it expired before I finished it so I’m waiting to get it again.


So off we go in 2017. I’m excited to read more books, listen to more audiobooks, and go on new adventures. You can follow my book journey on my book blog (books.mariventurino.com). I’ll cross-post some of my favorite books to my main blog.

What books did you love in 2016? And what are you excited to read in 2017?

*I categorize books & ebooks (on my Kindle) separately, but count them together as physical books in my data.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 in Review

2016 was a great year for me, filled with lots of amazing adventures and opportunities. In the same theme as my “2015 in Review” blog post from last year, I will format my reflection in a “Where I was, where I am, and where I’m going.”

Where I was (December 2015)
  • I was overcommitted and exhausted. I said “yes” to way too many things, was working too hard at work and bringing lots of work home. My weekends were extra time to get things done, and I wasn’t spending nearly enough time relaxing. This put unneeded strain on my relationship, and too much stress on me. 
  • I presented at more conferences in 2015, including San Diego CUE, CUE, and CSTA. Overall, I felt more confident within the edtech world. 
  • I was onboarded as a board member for San Diego CUE, excited to learn and work with an excellent team. 
Where I am (January - December 2016)
  • 2016 started with a rush of excitement and new projects. Justin Birckbichler and I launched a project, Teach20s, focused on empowering teachers in their twenties to embrace this unique time in our lives. Ultimately, Teach20s didn’t catch on, but it was an excellent learning opportunity. 
  • I continued to work on other projects, especially EduRoadTrip and FlyHighFri. And I got to meet both Justin and Greg in real life! 
  • In March 2016, Justin and I launched Digital Breakout, which soon became Breakout EDU Digital. This was an amazing adventure, and caught on in the Breakout EDU community like a wildfire! (Read more here
  • In March 2016, I went to my first GAFE Summit. The only person I knew was Ari Flewelling, so I sat next to her for the morning keynote. Little did I know that it would turn into an amazing friendship, and my gateway to even more edtech and EdTechTeam excitement. 
  • In June, I attended ISTE for the first time. It was an entirely overwhelming experience, but well worth the exhaustion. I met many of my Twitter friends face-to-face, hung out at the Breakout EDU Bus, and learned from some incredible people. 
  • This biggest part of 2016 was becoming a Google for Education Certified Innovator! I attended the COL16 cohort in Boulder, CO, just after ISTE. It was an intense 2.5 days of thinking and learning from 35 other innovators, our coaches, and program managers. A few weeks after the academy, we were all paired up with our mentors. I am so lucky to have Chris Craft as my mentor--not only is he guiding me through my innovator project, but also he’s becoming a great friend and true mentor. Thanks Crafty! 
  • Our COL16 cohort, coaches, and program managers.
  • This year, I also took more time to blog. In August, I miraculously stumbled upon other aspiring bloggers and we started #sunchatbloggers. We have continued to grow and support each other via a very active Twitter DM group chat. I’ve been able to reflect on my blogging experiences with them, and compile my top blog posts.
  • One of the hardest parts of 2016 is that my good friend, Justin Birckbichler, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. We’ve had to take a break from our various projects so he can focus on his treatment and getting better. Meanwhile, he’s been hard at work to spread awareness through his new blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor. 
  • The fall also brought some tragedies at my school. In September, we lost a history teacher to cancer. She taught 3 classrooms down from me, and would stop by my room at least once a day to say hi. Then, in December, a 7th grader suddenly and unexpectedly died at home. Having to tell students, and sharing that grief with them is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. The student was not in my science class, but he was a member of my Viking Tech Crew club. 
  • Ari and me at the LA County Summit
  • Overall, I’ve done a much better job of balancing my personal and teaching life.  I finished 66 books, including 17 audiobooks. I’m doing far less work at home, and spending more quality time with my boyfriend and our dog. In fact, I’ve also cut back on social media in an effort to be more present with the people around me. I deleted Twitter and Facebook off my phone in November to stop the mindless checking. 
Where I’m going (2017 and beyond)
  • At this time last year, I felt a giddy excitement for 2016. There were so many things I wanted to do and accomplish, and I was ready to go out and take on the world. This year, I feel a bit more hesitant, though not in a bad way. Lately, multiple people (notably, my incredible mentor Chris Craft, and good friend Ari Flewelling) have asked me where I want to be in 5 and 10 years. This question has been nagging at my core and I don’t quite have an answer...yet. 
  • I’m currently working on my first keynote, and hoping to keynote an EdTechTeam summit in 2017. This is a huge step, and I’m ready to take this risk. If you would like to see the very drafty keynote trailer, watch my Ignite from the San Diego Summit. 
  • Personally my goal is to begin training my dog for the AKC Good Citizen exam, and then consider training him to be a therapy dog. We have a wonderful trainer who has been working with us since Ollie was 3 months old.
  • One thing I’m sure of for 2017 is my #OneWord is Fearless. Even though I’m uncertain about a lot of things about my future, I am sure that if I can let go of some of my fears, then so many new doors will open!