Category Archives: student centered

Gamifying My Flipped Classroom

I have been doing reading on gamification and its impact in the classroom for a while. I have seen posts on Twitter and blogs from a variety of teachers who are making it work, but it just never seemed like it was a good fit for my classroom. How do you add games to Chemistry?!

I have been listening to Chris Aviles a lot recently and his system really seemed to make sense. Think of a typical role-playing game and you will see that the classroom isn’t much different. The student is the game’s main character with certain abilities. The people in your group are your guild that you compete with. The assessments are the Quests your character must go through and accomplish in order to “level up.” And the classroom is the world in which you are currently competing. When you look at it from this perspective, gamification of the classroom should be a piece of cake.

But here is the other problem my co-teacher and I were having with this idea when I presented it to her last year. Some kids just don’t like to play games. Whether that be an actual video game or the game of school, some just don’t have the personality or the abilities to compete. It would take the right combination of students with the right personalities and the right level of ambition/competitiveness to make this work.

And so entered my 6B class.

When we played Nomenclature Boggle a few weeks ago, this class was cut throat. They are yelling their scores to each other, racing to finish just one more word before the timer ran out, and did it all with smiles on their faces. Some of the students in the class had accrued more points in 2 rounds than one of the other classes did in 3. I knew that this class would be totally into a system that allowed them to compete against each other.

So here is how everything works (and this very much follows . The class still has all of the same assignments as it would have before: Tests, Quizzes, Labs, HW, Quarterly. The average a student has in each of these categories averages to give them their Experience Points (XP). The students can also earn Achievement Points (AP) for a variety of additional tasks, some earned by behavior in the class, some outside. For example, asking an Awesome Question earns 50 AP, wearing your school ID is 10 AP, getting your name on the morning announcements is 100 AP. AP combines with XP to form a student’s Level in the class. So, someone who is a C student when it comes to assessments can actual have a Character Level above someone who is an A student because of AP. I have published 5 of these AP Badge categories for the students and the remaining 10 I came up with are all hidden. Once any student in class achieves that Badge, I will then publish it for all to see. Why do I keep it hidden? I want the students to be themselves, not purposely do things just to earn points. Plus, as Chris mentions, it leaves me a way to reward something a student does without having to predict it in advance.

But, the real key to all of this is the spreadsheet that I got from Chris. Here is a screenshot of it.Gamification Leaderboard screenshot

This spreadsheet keeps track of all the points the students earn during the marking period from either XP or AP. I have hidden the names of the students so you can only see their Character Names and Guilds. But, the real genius of all this comes from the script that Chris and one of his students wrote to automate the entire process. Here is a shot of it:Gamification Points Site

This is a website created from the Leaderboard spreadsheet that allows me to check off any student (names were removed from screenshot), Guild, or even whole class, and assign AP to them. Only myself and my co-teacher can see this site so students never know the hidden Badges nor can they cheat and assign extra points themselves.

So, we are off on a new adventure in 6B (no pun intended). We are flipping, doing guided-inquiry, and now gamifying the classroom. From Day 1, I have told my students that this is a ‘Classroom in Beta’ and to expect crazy on any given day. Now let’s see how crazy this actually gets!

[The files created by Chris Aviles can be found at Chris’ Teachers Pay Teachers site. Please also reach out to him (@techedupteacher) for additional information and assistance in setting up your class]

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Going on a #GoogleExpedition

My school had the unbelievable good fortune to get selected for the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program and it was AMAZING! Here is how our day went.

First, it can never be a bad day when you go out to the parking lot and there is a Google car waiting for you.

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Natasha was our Google Expeditions Coordinator for the day and she was fantastic. Energetic and quick on her feet; she was able to solve any problem we had throughout the day. She brought with her 3 sets of 30 Google Cardboard along with Asus phones, and a teacher tablet pre-loaded with all of the Expeditions. I arranged for classes to rotate throughout the day into each of the classes in 30 minute sections. While all of the teachers picked their Expedition in advance, they were free to change as the need arose because all of the locations were pre-loaded and we didn’t need an wifi connection.

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These 6 boys are all in the same location, but looking at totally different things based on what interests them the most.

The students took to Cardboard very, very fast, as was to be expected.

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Of course, our Principal and Superintendent needed to get in on the action, too.

I think the best part of Expeditions is the material that’s pre-loaded for each location. As you can see in the following photo, if the teacher was unsure of what she was looking at, she could swipe to the left and all the information was right in front of her.

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Included was an overall description of the location and some guiding questions for the teacher to ask the class. The teacher could tap on the photos and arrow would appear on the screen of the students’ devices to direct their attention to something specific. Smiley faces were on the screen of the teacher’s tablet showing where each student was currently looking so she could tell who was engaged in the lesson. The students loved going into the rainforests and any Expedition that brought them underwater, especially swimming with the sharks. Some of my personal favorites were seeing Jane Goodall’s home in Gombe, following the Museum Photographer from the Museum of Natural History, and standing on top of a building in Rome.

I think the best comment of the day was from a senior who said, “We’re in the freakin’ Colosseum but we’re really in a library in NJ!” I think that was the best part of this experience: showing the kids parts of the world that they have never or may never experience. We spent more of the day just having fun than actually linking it back to the curriculum, but I think that’s ok since we gave them an experience they will never forget.

So, where do we go from here? Actually, anywhere our imagination can take us. My Principal and I were talking and just in a couple of minutes we said: have teachers record vacations or locations from around the world and develop lessons with them, video ours of our school, walking tours of colleges, and a Google Street View walkthrough of our Art Show. Once the video and sound capabilities are included, Google Expeditions will become an amazing learning opportunity for students all over the world.

How Chemistry Explained Deflategate

I love Chemistry for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it helps explain the world around me.

In case you were living under a rock, during the AFC Championship game, it was found that the New England Patriots deflated their footballs by about 2 psi. The ensuing scandal was named Deflategate by the media. At a press conference, about a week later, the Patriots organization claimed that the rapid change in air temperature from their equipment room (approximately 72F) to the football field (approximately 47F) caused the pressure to drop.

A colleague (Mr. B) came to me and said that he saw a piece on a news channel that had Bill Nye the Science Guy facing off against a Harvard professor debating whether Chemistry was at fault for the pressure drop. It was very West Coast vs. East Coast like the Super Bowl was going to be. And, let’s just say, that people need to stop doubting the genius that is Bill Nye.

Anyway, any good Chemistry teacher knows that the relationship between Pressure and Temperature of a gas is directly proportional so, technically, if the temperature went down the pressure would go down as well. But, any good Chemistry teacher will also tell you that what applies on one side of the football will apply on the other; meaning if the Patriots had this problem so would have the Colts. Ok, I digress again.

Mr. B and I brainstorm and come up with an idea about mounting a pressure gauge on a football and having the students immerse the ball in several water baths. We knew that the small change in pressure the footballs experienced wouldn’t cause the almost 20% pressure drop caused at the game so we made the water baths go from over 100F to around 35F to have a more dramatic effect. After trips to Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Five Below, Home Depot, AND Lowes, I found our original idea of simply installing a pressure gauge attached to a ball pin wouldn’t work. I made some modifications and decided to add a Vernier Pressure Sensor to the footballs to give us better readings.  Here is a picture of the final setup:

This is the lab setup with the Vernier Pressure Sensor and Temperature sensor all attached to the football.
This is how I spent my weekend. Not pictured are the 3 footballs I destroyed trying to figure out how to remove the air valve. FYI, this was a lot harder than it seems.

I wrote up a lab experiment for the students to follow just so that we could have consistent results. I had some Gatorade containers like they have on the sidelines of football games for the hot and cold baths, and simply filled sinks for the room temperature baths. You can see the students holding the footballs underwater in each setup so that the air in the balls would actually change.

Room Temperature–approximately 23C

Hot Water–approximately 40C

Ice Water–approximately 5C

I ran the experiment with 6 groups in each of my 4 classes and NONE of the groups had more than about a 10% change in pressure and that was probably due to the fact that their valve was leaking and letting in water. We absolutely confirmed that Pressure and Temperature are directly related, but there was no way that only temperature caused the pressure in the Patriots’ footballs to deflate.

Thinking forward to next year, there are a number of changes I need to make to the lab. First, my valves kept popping out which caused massive error. The valves definitely need to be sealed permanently into the footballs so that they can’t leak. Second, I need larger containers for the water baths. Mr. B is going to try this with coolers instead and we think that will solve the problem. Third, since the plug on the football has a valve that will close to seal the air inside, I think I will have the students close the valve and move only the football to each station instead of moving all of the equipment. It became almost like a team-building exercise as they carried wires and probes and data measuring devices around the room.

Overall, this lab was a success. I loved that I planned this with a first year teacher. I loved that it had real world application. I loved that it was STEM driven. And I loved how it was real chemistry, but didn’t feel that way to the students. It reaffirms my belief that we need less formal labs and more real-world activities for the students to be doing. I also love that it was messy because that’s what learning truly is.

Lucky Teacher

I have been very fortunate this year to have a fantastic group of students as well as a wonderful co-teacher. Every crazy idea I have had they have all supported 100%. I get up every day excited to go to work for the chance to work with these wonderful people.

My Honors students are exceptionally open-minded. I decided to do away with traditional notes for the Gas Laws unit and let them tell me what they know about the properties of gases. We spent about half of the block breaking through all the misconceptions they had about their world and it led to great discussions in both classes. Then we learned about the relationship between Pressure and Volume using pressure sensors and a syringe. They quickly understood the inverse relationship between the two properties and I was very satisfied with the lesson.
I planned on using the Gas Properties simulation from PHeT just to verify what they had discovered earlier using the pressure sensor. The sim was projected onto the board and I asked for a volunteer to go up and manipulate it. The student quickly figured out how to add gas and I asked the students to explain what they were seeing. The shouted out things like:
  • The molecules are constantly moving
  • They spread out to fill the container
  • They are all moving with the same speed
And while this is going on, the student at the board is playing with the simulation. She is moving the little man to change the volume and pumping in more gas. Well, that’s the point where I was no longer needed in the room. The class began to yell out things they wanted her to do: raise the heat, lower the heat, pump in heavier things, blow the lid off, add tons of gravity. I had planned to use the simulation as the next class’ lesson, but the students were so into what they were learning that I literally couldn’t stop them. I tried to do it. TWICE. But I was completely ignored.
I sat down at a desk and snapped these pictures. 

Naturally others wanted a turn so we needed to rotate. I made whomever went to the board make a statement for the class to add to their notes on the topic. No PowerPoint, no outlines, no formal notes. In one block we covered an entire unit’s worth of material. And the best part, every word is theirs. I told them nothing.
I am a really lucky teacher to work in a school that has amazing students that let me do the crazy things that I do.

Reflections of TEDYouth 2014

I had the opportunity to take three members of my TED Ed Club to the TEDYouth event this past weekend at the Brooklyn Museum and it was a fantastic experience. For those who don’t know, TEDYouth is basically a TED Conference, but attendees are entirely Middle and High School students and their chaperones. The theme was “Worlds Imagined” and every talk had the underlying message of ‘You can do whatever you want in this life’ and ‘Your ideas matter.’ There were about twenty speakers ranging from a 15 year old chef to an astrophysicist to a street dancer to a social photographer to a leech guy. At the bottom of this post you can see some of the pictures I took.

As with every conference, there were good speakers and some less-than-stellar performances. I wanted to discuss 2 of them in this post: Ruddy Roye and Flynn McGarry.

Ruddy Roye is a photojournalist who describes himself as a ‘social photographer.’ One of my students had the chance to introduce him on stage and he turned out to be my favorite speaker of the day.

During his talk, he explains how he feels it is his job to tell the story of the people on the street that he meets through his photographs. He said everyone has a story and we rarely make any effort to learn other people’s stories.  There was one story he told that I wanted to relay to you. He said he was walking down the street and heard some men behind him catcalling at a woman that he realized was walking up from behind him. He let her pass and noticed that she crossed the street to stand in front of a door with a cross on it. He thought this was very odd so he followed her to ask why she was standing there. She turned to him and told him that it was Easter and for Lent every Christian was supposed to give up something. On that day, she decided to give up being a prostitute and Ruddy knew he needed to capture her image (unfortunately not pictured above). I was so completely taken by surprise that I actually lost my breath for a second. The story was so touching and the picture was beautiful. I highly recommend following Ruddy on Instagram (@ruddyroye) to see his amazing work.

The other speaker who had a great story was from Flynn McGarry who is a 15 year old chef. He started cooking when he was 10 because his father kept serving him beets and he very much disliked them. One day he was watching a cooking show and thought ‘what if I cooked them like meat?’ So he started using methods you would use on different meats to cook the beets such as smoking, grilling, barbequeing.

He found a few recipes that seemed to work and began to apply them to other vegetables as well. Instead of meat being the focus, he would use the flavors of the meat to highlight the vegetables. Then he asked his mother if he could hold a dinner party in their living room. The family kitchen couldn’t keep up with his experimenting so he asked his parents to turn part of his bedroom into a kitchen (seen above). Eventually his home-based dinner parties expanded to restaurants in both New York and Los Angeles. During the activities session we had the opportunity to taste one of his creations. It was a smoked, grilled beet with a cranberry reduction and Greek yogurt. I am not a beet lover and I found it delicious!

But, the most important part of the day had nothing to do with sessions or activities. One of the reasons I love being an advisor is the opportunity to build relationships with my students outside of the classroom; to see them as young people instead of just students. Eating lunch with my students, hearing their ideas, joking with them, recording a stop-motion animation, watching the smiles on their faces as they got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; these will be the memories from TEDYouth 2014 that will stick with me forever.

First Day(s) of School

One of my unwritten goals for this year is to make a post every week. The idea that I want to pursue for the TED Ed Club is to help others see the awesome that is around them every day. The truth is I have awesome students and we do awesome things in the classroom so I want to share that with everyone.

This was the first week of school. My oldest son entered 2nd grade and every year he comes back and tells us he doesn’t remember anything he did that day. When he entered Kindergarten, I remember him saying that the entire first day was him listening to his teachers tell the class the rules: where to sit, where to stand, when to talk. As he spoke all I heard was ‘Sit. Stand. Speak. Good boy.’ This year I vowed not to make class an obedience lesson.

The first day of school is a clean slate. I can be anyone I want. I can be the person I was last year or I can completely recreate myself. I chose the latter.

On the first day, I told my students that I didn’t want to talk about procedures or grading or a syllabus. I talked about learning and my expectations for them and their expectations for me. I talked about my experience at the Google Teacher Academy and how it changed my life. I did a lot of talking, unfortunately, but they did a lot of smiling.

My classes are very different from each other. I think my Honors classes surprised me the most. I talk about my bungee chairs and how I encourage the class to make the classroom their learning space, to be as comfortable as possible. One of classes just stared at the chairs as if I told them they could sit on a bed of nails all class. My other class stopped me, asked if I was serious, and the second we broke for the activity, began pushing each other out of the way to get to the chairs. One student didn’t make it so he sat on top of his group’s desks, happy as a clam.

Colleagues came up to me on Friday and told me how their former students who have me told them how excited they were for my class. That makes me feel good, that they actually heard what I was trying to tell them. But on the 2nd day of class I wanted to be sure. I ran a PollEverywhere poll and asked “What was your biggest takeaway from last class?” Obviously each kid took something slightly different away, but here is a screenshot of my favorite:

I wasn’t going for fun, but many realize that they will learn chemistry, they will learn new skills, and that they actually have to work. The ball is rolling and now I just need to keep this momentum going.

It’s All About the Benjamins

That’s a Cheeto on fire!
I realized on my drive yesterday that I now have the mist dangerous classroom in the school. We have eliminated all shop classes so there are no more saws and drills presses to potentially remove an appendage.  Therefore the chemistry lab is one of the few places left where the students can be seriously injured. We use chemicals that can’t be purchased except through special chemical companies.  We have acids, flammable substances, broken glass, hot metals, scalding water, poisonous chemicals and sharp objects.  And, I have labs in which I freely let the students mix these substances in whatever quantities they wish and I call it inquiry

learning.

And yet I really don’t have discipline or safety problems. I don’t have students misbehaving and running a muck in my room. And I have not written up a student for inappropriate behavior in over 10 years.  This doesn’t mean my class is perfect, but I take a slightly different perspective on classroom management than a lot of teachers.
You see, my class is all about the Benjamins. And the Christinas. And the Jaimes and the Roberts and the Mohammeds and the Ericas and the Jordans and the Alexs.  Our class is all about the relationships.  Our class is about the mutual respect we have for each other.  Our classroom is where risk taking is rewarded and failure is learning.
Sometimes, as teachers, we get so wrapped up in lesson plans, state tests, and completing our curriculum that we lose sight of what who is most important in our classroom.