Tag Archives: #roomofawesome

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.

Experimenting With Hyperdocs in the Flipped Classroom

One of the reasons I love the Flipped Classroom is it allows me to constantly make modifications for the needs of my students. I have been doing some work with Hyperdocs and really wanted to jump into for the Gas Laws unit we are starting at the beginning the 4th MP. The benefit of a good Hyperdoc is it gives the students all of the links to files up front, but only gives them 1 link at the beginning. I have been using Assignment Charts to show the students everything they need for an entire unit. I insert links to all of my instructional videos on YouTube into the Assignment Chart, but still students have a hard time going back and forth between Google Classroom, Google Forms, and YouTube.

So, I decided to package everything for the unit a little differently this time. In the Gas Laws unit, there are a lot of little bits to remember which requires a lot of podcasts. I rerecorded all of the podcasts into 4-6 minute videos and inserted them into an organized Google Slide file. Here is a screenshot of one slide:Gas Laws Slide screenshot

Each part of the unit is grouped into slides like this. I used the PHeT simulation for Gas Properties to explain the concept in that section, then recorded examples of how to solve the problems in a series of additional videos. All of the videos now play directly inside the Google Slide, instead of opening a new window and shifting to YouTube, and the students can still see everything else in the file while watching the video. For students that are pretty Math-savvy, they may only watch the concept video and figure out what they need to do on the Self-Check Quiz on their own. Others may watch every video on the slide before they attempt the Self-Check.

I have not abandoned the Assignment Chart, however. Since my Flipped Classroom runs asynchronously, it is important to give students all due dates up front.Gas Laws Slide screenshot 2The important factor is everything is now fully organized. Previously, if a student couldn’t remember where he/she was in the Gas Laws playlist (that has 14 videos), he/she might watch several incorrect videos before finding the one he/she needed. Now, he/she can click the link to the assignment he/she wants to work on and it sends him/her directly to the slide with all of the podcasts. If he/she has watched a video, a small “WATCHED” appears in the corner from YouTube. The Self-Check Quiz, if completed, not only changes color when clicked, but is auto-graded using Flubaroo, and the student’s score along with the answer key is emailed immediately. Even the labs, which are posted as assignments in Google Classroom, are linked so the students can see in advance what they are going to be doing.

As always, I have no idea if this is going to work. The Flipped Classroom (and my very supportive administration) gives me the flexibility in my classroom to try out new techniques. At the end of the unit, I will survey my students to get their feedback on the new method and report back here how it went.

Using Hyperdocs In The Chemistry Lab

When I was at the Google Teacher Academy in 2014, Lisa Highfill led a session on creating Hyperdocs. Basically, a hyperdoc is an interactive Google Doc. Previously, when I was using Google Docs for my Chemistry labs, I simply took the old paper labs and turned them into digital form. It was great for going paperless because now I wasn’t printing 100 copies and the students were typing their information into the lab instead of writing it into the space I gave them. But, nothing was really different about the approach to the lab. The part that always bothered me was that students read the labs less now that the labs were digital. Even if I posted it in Google Classroom in advance, fewer and fewer students were reading the labs before arriving to class. I needed to find a way to get the students to interact with the lab more both during and after the experiment.

In the past, Chemistry labs were used to illustrate why a particular topic was important. Basically, it was the “real-world” example of why you were studying Chemistry. The teacher would teach everything important, then you would go to the lab to practice that information. I wanted to use the lab to teach as well as illustrate. That’s when I remembered what Lisa told us. As you can see in the screenshot below, my Chemistry labs now have links embedded throughout the lab that lead the students to a variety of online resources: wikipedia articles, images, YouTube videos, simulations.

FP Depression screenshot

The Background section of my labs are much shorter because rather than define what specific words mean, I just hyperlink them to other resources. I also use them throughout my procedures as reminders of how to perform a specific task. For example, if it says to measure the volume of water in a Graduated Cylinder, there will be a link to an image of a graduated cylinder as well as one that links to a 30 second video showing them how to measure the volume correctly. In the Analysis section, when students are asked to answer certain questions, I link them to other resources they then use to analyze their results. For example, in a Stoichiometry lab, they were asked to determine if the Law of Conservation of Matter was followed. I hadn’t taught the topic specifically beforehand so I linked them to an online resource. After reading the article, they then looked back at their data to answer the question.

But I think the most important change has been in the reporting of their results. At the end of the lab, rather than simply answering questions as submitting the lab back to Google Classroom, each group must add their data to a collaborative document. For Introduction to Solution Making, that was a Google Slides file; for the Freezing Point Depression Activity above, it was a Google Form. As the data came in from that form it was then displayed on the screen as a scatter plot  for the entire class to see. We then had a discussion about the class’ results and possible sources of error that caused the outlying points. FP Activity Screenshot 2

Too much of what my students were doing in the lab was done in isolation from their classmates. With each group’s work displayed for everyone to see, not only can they quickly compare their work to others to see possible sources of error, but I can catch mistakes in their work before they make their final submission for grading. We learn better together and this method is a perfect demonstration of that.

Now, I have to figure out how to take this to the next level. When doing guided-inquiry labs, I do link instructional videos at different points in the lab. Students should be doing Chemistry labs with a certain level of wonder. Then, as they develop questions on their own, I need to step in and provide the resources to answer those questions.

I would really love to develop a multi-step lab experience. My original thought was something like they perform the experiment for Part 1, they submit their results to a Google Form and then it gives them a link to the next experiment, and so on. Each part has to be completed in order to get to the next. A little gamification, a little inquiry, a little traditional. I almost wonder if I could do a form of choose your own adventure chemistry lab.

Hmmm, something to think about on my drive home.

3 years and 500 posts

January 9, 2013. It starts with 1…2013-01-09 14.48.57 - Copy.jpg

The #wordsofawesome turned 3 this year. To be honest, I almost stopped. I had a completely different idea planned for the space that the whiteboard occupied. When I total social media that I was giving up the #wordsofawesome, a lot of people got upset. There was an outpouring of support. Friends are telling me how it gets them through the day; former students say that the words make them smile; there was even a security guard who was retiring and said that he was going to miss looking at the quotes as he made his rounds every day. But, it was my hallway neighbor who said I had to keep it. When we returned to school in September and I didn’t have my whiteboard in place, he told me he was disappointed. He said that he always stopped to read the words at some point during the day and would really miss them. Well, how could I deny my adoring fans?

In January of 2013, I stumbled across this video on Twitter:

I loved the idea of simply making people smile with a message they could read as they were passing by. Hallways of schools are really no different than roads in cities so it was like I was doing the same thing. Every day of school, part of my routine has been to write the #wordsofawesome on the board. This past January, I posted the 500th! It has been an amazing journey, which apparently has no end in sight.

I have done silly ones…

I have done serious ones…

I have done some in remembrance…

I have done some that I really wish I could forget…

I have done some that turned people on their heads…

I have even done some that have impressed me..

We even have other people doing their own #wordsofawesome boards!

Thank you to everyone who has sent me quotes, inspired me, and have just been along for the ride.

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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]

You’re a Glitterbomb of Glory!

There are 5 things I hate in this world and one of them is high-stakes testing. I don’t like what it does to my students. They become either neurotic or completely apathetic during testing time and the mood in the classroom has been completely destroyed. The Room of Awesome is supposed to be a positive learning environment, but what are you supposed to do to raise the kids spirits right before you hand them an assessment that could get them in a lot of trouble at home?

A few years ago, I ran across this post on Pinterest about giving students pencils with positive messages on them. We were about to enter Final Exams and I thought this would be a great present for my Honors students that year. Problem was I didn’t have enough time to get the pencils before the exam so I made my own.

2013-06-20 12.41.56Instead of keeping a pile of spare pencils for the test, I wrote a positive message on them and left them on the desk for each student. Some students left them behind, some traded them for ones they liked better. I think the best one was the student who tweeted to me the following year telling me that she went to take her SAT, found the pencil in the bottom of her bag, and made her smile.

The following year I wanted to do this again, but expand it to all my students. Problem was I had 156 students that year and there was no way I was writing out messages on that many pencils. Instead, I grabbed a whiteboard marker and wrote on their desks right before they entered for the exam.

2014-06-20 06.31.28

The students loved this! Many came in and wandered around the room reading the messages and sitting at the desk with the message they liked the best. While this was a much easier method for getting the positive messages out, it was cumbersome to write on every desk before each exam, the messages wiped away as the kids were taking the exam so I had to rewrite them for each class, and the students couldn’t take the messages with them.

I used the whiteboard marker method in 2015 as well, but wanted something new this year. I happened to find a pack of small Post-It notes in the bottom of one of my desk drawers this summer. This would be perfect because I could write a lot of them in advance and hand them to the students as they walked in the door.


I quickly ran out of fun phrases so I Googled “phrases to tell someone they are awesome” and came across this site. My favorite was “You’re a glitterbomb of glory”, “You are a polished opal in a pewter world”, and “You’re my personal Yoda.”

Did every kid appreciate the gesture? Absolutely not. Most smiled. Some put the Post-It on their phone or water bottle to take with them. Some students asked if I get upset when people don’t appreciate my random acts of kindness. To be honest, it doesn’t really bother me. I didn’t do this to change the lives of every one of my students. I did it to change the outlook of as many as I could. If it was only 1, then at least one more person had a better day because of me.