My Well of Creativity

I absolutely love the schedule I have this year. Spending half my day working with teachers and students integrating technology into lessons has been what I have been doing most of my career and now I get to do it officially every day. To be honest, I spend more days than not troubleshooting problems on the fly (PowerSchool isn’t calculating properly; my computer won’t start up and is making a weird whirring noise; my projector isn’t playing sound). I had hopes that I would be in every classroom during this year, but it just didn’t happen. This was partly due to me trying to understand what this job would entail and partly because there are only so many hours in the day, some of which is taken up by having to prep/teach actual classes.

Then I get weeks like this.

Monday: Go through tutorial about interactive videos embedded in AR app. Get interrupted several times (in a good way) so that 45 minute tutorial takes nearly 3 hours.

Tuesday: Meet with Art teacher to explain AR being used in Art Show, setup her account, and start uploading content. Meet with Assistant Principal for extra-curricular evaluation. Meet with TV Production teacher about building a mobile movie theater for showcasing student work at Art Show. Teach stop-motion animation to the Tech Tutors during lunch.

Wednesday: Train Physics teacher on Vernier equipment, prep labs, and help with lesson planning. Research Raspberry Pi lighting system for use in the Media Center for a student-designed project.

Thursday: Teach a lesson on 3D printing and TinkerCAD to a Biology class for a project.

Friday: ???

Those are my mornings. And every afternoon I teach Chemistry, attempting to squeeze in lesson planning, lab prep/clean-up, and updating grades. Oh, and I am trying to get our Makerspace (aka #CRAfTLab) up and running.

And I love it!! I am excited to come to work because I get to do what I am most passionate about every day.

The problem I am having is something I have been struggling with all year. I have all these ideas and all these people that I want to share them with, but there is only one of me. I have an endless amount of ideas and creativity, but I can’t be everywhere, doing everything, and because of that something always gets pushed to the side. About a month ago, Nick Provenzano made a similar post and I could not agree with his sentiments more. Sometimes I feel like I have failed this year. It is hard to be creative in Chemistry and Technology Integration at the same time. If I am prepping for innovative teaching in my classroom, I can’t be prepping for innovative teaching in someone else’s classroom. I met with my Principal recently to informally discuss how this new role was going this year. He expressed that he was expecting more technology integration into lessons and I shared his disappointment. I should have been able to accomplish more.

But, I look at this year much like my first year in teaching. I knew very little of what this job would entail and over estimated my abilities. Now I can take what I have learned, reflect on it over the summer, research and plan better, and come back ready to hit the ground running in CRAfTSeptember.


Putting the AR in Art

I was talking with one of our Tech Teachers and she started telling me about a Senior project that was done in an Interactive Media class at TCNJ. The student used an Augmented Reality app to create infographics. She hung various pieces of art on the wall and when you scanned the art, information about the artists to the style of art or the time period the art was completed appeared in an infographic style design. The concept was in the back of my brain all night and this morning I had an epiphany. What if we brought AR to the Art Show?

Here’s the dilemma: Students work all year in their Art classes, but due to the limited space can only put in a few pieces. And, what do we do with students who have created multi-media Art pieces? I did a quick Google search about very basic programs for creating AR displays and I stumbled across an app called Zappar. The website said I can use the program as a 30 day free trial, allows for both video and image display, and had 3 ability levels available for me so I jumped on board.

A quick step back. For those of your not familiar, AR is similar in idea to a QR code. An app on your phone uses the camera to scan a unique image. That image then displays specific content on your screen. While QR codes can only link to 1 thing and it has to be web based, AR allows for interactive media such as photo albums, videos, and can even sense the direction of the phone so the program can interact with your environment.

Our AP Studio Art students are in the middle of photographing their work for their AP online portfolios so I created a Team Drive in Google Drive and dumped a pair of students’ pictures in there to play with. The website was extremely simple. I uploaded a few photos that the student will use in the Art Show and then a bunch more that will appear in just the photo album in AR. Since she happens to follow me on Instagram as well, I copied a link to her Instagram account as well. The code on the left will be printed and put on her display for people to scan. The image on the right is what attendees will see on their device.

Feel free to download the Zappar app to see what how it works.

Naturally, I couldn’t just do the AP students so I spent the rest of this morning building content and running to each of the teachers involved to explain my idea. We will have various levels of traditional Art students (from Autistic classes to Advanced Placement), Graphics Design students, Photography students, and TV production students. There will be codes created for individuals, teachers, classes, and possibly even style of art. While all attendees will be encouraged to download the app, we will also have iPads at several stations with the app pre-loaded.

Oh, and the best part, as you can see above, the image created is digital. Now we can post this to our website and anyone, no matter where they are, can view our ARt portfolios.

Did you even notice she was here?

I got observed today and it totally freaked my students out. We were doing a new lab–a lab even I had never tried before–so my Supervisor just wandered around and talked with the students about what they were doing. I completely ignored her because I have to teach and make sure everything is going well so I don’t have time to think about the critical eye that is staring at my back.

Some of the students would come up and whisper to me things like:

“Did you see that there’s someone staring at you?”

“Are you getting evaluated right now? Are we screwing things up for you?”

When she left about an hour later, one of the students came up to me and asked why I would do something I have never done before when my Supervisor is in the room. I asked why he thought her presence would make any difference in what I do on a daily basis. He said that his “other teachers” [side note: that is one of my least favorite phrases] make these huge lessons, prep the class in advance for what their expected behavior is supposed to be, and is a totally different teacher during the block when they are being evaluated. I explained that nothing should change just because we have a visitor in the room. If I am doing something wrong, I want her to find it and help me correct it. I am in no way perfect, and am always striving to improve. I bring the awesome every day and I expect the same of my students.

The best advice I can give any new teacher is bring the awesome every day. Invite your administrators in when you are trying something new so you can get meaningful feedback. Invite your colleagues to come to. Share what you are doing often and incorporate the best practices you find around you.

You can never have enough awesome in your classroom.

Making Our Ideas A Reality

I am making an effort to write more as my way of engaging in the act of creation every day. I am not an artist so I won’t be doing the draw everyday challenge, but I can certainly write something every day. Today’s writing is about something one of my TED Ed Club members did and I am so, so proud of him for it.

First, some background. Remy is a sophomore in our TED Ed Club and was forced to attend a meeting by a senior who was on the soccer team with him. Remy’s parents are from France and he is fluent in both English and French. But, it didn’t take long for him to realize that this was the exact type of club he was looking for. As we have been talking this year, and especially after attending the TED Ed Weekend even in NYC, we realized that the thing that makes our club so unique from anything in the school and from other TED Ed Clubs is we don’t just have ideas we want to share, but we try to turn them into reality. The club has engaged in a variety of projects over the past few years, and Remy was insistent on making something big happen this year again.

After the event in NYC, Remy was talking with his grandfather (who still lives in France) about our club and his grandfather remarked that nothing like that exists in the school that he works with. His grandfather, who is like the Alumni President, said that he thought the students at the local schools would really benefit from this type of experience. So, Remy decided to start a TED Ed Club in France while still in the US. He wrote an email explaining his idea to the TED Ed people and they loved it! It turns out there are only 5 clubs in all of France, and nothing in this region. They sent him information on how to get started, are going to do a video call with him to discuss the idea further, and are going to feature his work in an upcoming newsletter they are sending to all of the clubs! If he is successful, this will be the first club whose Student Leader doesn’t even live in the same country as the club.

I am so proud of Remy for acting on his great ideas. Being a TED Ed Club Advisor is one of the best things I have had the opportunity to do in my career and I love working with amazing students like Remy.

If you are interested in starting your own TED Ed Club, just check out this link or contact me directly. You can also find us on Instagram and Twitter. Also, check out Remy’s other project, Humans of the Dog Park.

Flipping Your Classroom: The First Steps

[Note: This article was originally written for Carolina Biological’s Articles & News section.]

One of my Physics colleagues took an online Flipped Classroom course over the summer which required her to create a short (3-5 minute) video explaining a topic of her choosing. She hated the assignment. She hates the sound of her own voice, but, more importantly, she is not tech-savvy, so the assignment really scared her as to whether she could pull off a full-year Flipped Classroom. When we sat down together during the first days of the school year, she expressed to me all of her concerns:

  1. What program do I use to make my videos and where do I find all of the equipment?
  2. Videos take so long to make. How am I am going to get them all done in time?
  3. Am I going to be spending all my time making videos and not preparing any other activities for my class?

Many people have similar concerns when they first flip. Like any method of instruction you need to focus on what you are trying to accomplish by trying something non-traditional. For me, I wanted to increase time with my students assisting them with problem sets in class to tackle any problems they might encounter and complete more laboratory activities. The video is not the focus of my Flipped Classroom, but rather the method I use to achieve greater inquiry in science.

To get my students ready for instructional videos later in the year, I start them with watching certain TED Ed Videos found on We start the year with the Periodic Table and Atomic Theory. Instead of me standing in front of the room talking about Mendeleev and his ideas, we watch The Genius of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table ( in class and then discuss why his ideas were insightful or why they may have been misguided. When we move to Atomic Theory, my students watch How Small Is An Atom? ( for homework and complete the 5 multiple choice questions that are in the THINK section. When they come to class the next day, we discuss their answers and some of the interesting things said in the video.

The benefit of starting the year with TED Ed videos is they are concise and animated so they keep the students’ attention very well. During these early videos, I don’t ask students to write anything down for two reasons. First, I generate the notes about the topic based on their comments from the in-class discussion. Students don’t always know what is important so they need a little guidance filtering the information. But also, some students have really insightful ideas generated from the video and I want to make sure to include them in the class notes. Second, I want their first impression of instructional videos to be a positive one, not one where they listen to me drone on (i.e. read a PowerPoint slide to them) about a topic that is difficult to visualize.

After these introductory units, I begin to use short videos for daily instruction that I have made. But if you are like my colleague, making videos can be overwhelming so don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel. Start by finding videos on YouTube created by teachers who are teaching the same subject as you are. This may require some hunting and watching videos with various styles and qualities. Here are some suggestions my students have given me when they have watched other teachers’ videos for my class:

  1. Find someone who matches your energy level when you speak. If you are high energy, don’t pick someone who speaks calmly and with a monotone voice.
  2. Videos need visuals. This may mean someone standing in front of the camera or text bubbles or simply writing/picture appearing. Don’t choose someone who is simply reading text.
  3. Watch the entire video and make sure it covers the exact topic(s) you want. I talked with a Calculus teacher who used a college professor’s videos. They were over an hour long and often went into topics that didn’t apply to what the students were learning at that time. There is no better way to create disconnected students than giving them irrelevant videos to watch.

Keep all the videos you find that you like in a YouTube playlist, even the ones you aren’t going to show to your students. This will give you quality examples to refer back to when you decide to make the leap into creating your own. Like your first year teaching, the first year flipping your classroom is the hardest so find ways that allow you to be innovative in all aspects of the learning process.

Making it on the ‘Gram’

My students love it when I take pictures of their work and post it on Instagram. They call it ‘making it on the ‘Gram.’ I have found they get upset if I don’t tag them, even if it is just their hand that made it in the picture. Many teachers are very cautious when it comes to social media, more afraid of what could go wrong than the positive effects it can have. So, I wanted to offer up a couple of suggestions on how to get started Instagram in the classroom.

  1. Pick an Instagram name and class hashtag. I am @DaretoChem and we use #chemisawesome for any of the activities we are doing in class. This allows all your content to be easily searchable for anyone in the community. Give the information out at Back To School Night or in your Welcome Letter home on the first day. Also, on your class website, insert a widget for Instagram that shows your feed. Now, even if a parent/guardian doesn’t have Instagram, they can see the pictures you are posting as they are happening.
  2. At the beginning of the year, I collect Media Release Forms for every student. While we have these on file in the main office, some parents never send in forms or have changed their mind about what they want the school to post. Keep a Post-It in your desk of the students who absolutely don’t want their pictures taken for easy reference. But, no matter what, I do my best not to get faces in the pictures. This is easily accomplished with the over the shoulder shot or focus on what they students are doing and just get their mid-section in the shot.

3. Find the super eager kids in your class and take pictures of their work first.

These students will talk openly about seeing themselves on your Instagram feed and others will work harder to get their work on the feed.

4. Some students will want to pose for the pictures. Don’t be afraid to take their pictures with their work, but double check that it’s ok to post it on the Internet. Even though I collect the release forms, I still ask if they want to post the picture and if they want to be tagged in it.

5. If you are still unsure about having students in the photo, just take pictures of their work with no one in the picture. Your students will still get excited about seeing their work in your feed.

The world needs to see what you are doing so please share. And share often!!!

Make Your #Hashtag A Movement

Anyone can put an octothorp in front of a word. Yeah, that’s what the hashtag/pound sign thiruter_logo_number_signngie is actually called. I once had a 5 minute conversation with someone on Facebook entirely in hashtags. #youcanhashtaganything

When I was listening to Shonda Rhimes’ book A Year of Yes, something she said has really stuck with me. She was talking about how we all seem to have time to send a tweet or make a post expressing our support for something, tagging it with the appropriate hashtag, but what do we really do beyond that? It is fine if you want #justiceforharambe, but the fact is your public outcry on Twitter isn’t helping the cause unless you get up and actually do something. Start a fundraiser, call your local politicians, start a website and Internet campaign. It doesn’t matter what you do, but you need to do something beyond just saying you support something.

I regularly talk with teachers about using social media better in schools. I tell them to create a class Twitter/Instagram account or create a hashtag so that you can document ad show the world what is happening in your class. But as I have been rolling Shonda Rhimes’ words around in my head, I realize we need to do more than that. You need to make your hashtag a movement. Make it mean something. Make it change peoples’ mindsets or views of your classroom. Let it embody everything you and your students do in the classroom.

Last year, I started #roomofawesome. When I assign projects, I purposely only give them the bare requirements because I want their imagination and creativity to be the focus of their work. When they ask me to give them better direction, I open my arms and sweep them around the room where there are previous students’ work and bulletin boards with my hashtags on them. I tell them the best projects (aka the most creative) will end up on the walls/bulletin boards and posted to my social media accounts where thousands of people around the world will see them. Make it good enough to make it on the #chemisawesome board. Students will always work a little bit harder when they know their work will reach a global audience.

Hashtags can do so much more than just keep the community informed of what is happening in the school. It is the opportunity to change the expectations of what is possible in the classroom and show everyone the awesome that is happening every day.