Category Archives: Class Ideas

Finally a successful Genius Hour

Yes, this topic has become a major point in many academic discussions lately I just recently attended a webinar with AJ Juliani who is a guru of the Genius Hour.  It was mentioned at my school recently during a faculty meeting and I found out another teacher was using the project format.  This really got me pumped because I have been the only one doing this project for the past 2 years. My version of the Project’s a little different but after looking at other teacher’s blogs and some of the resources on Genius Hour I started to realize that I am on the right course with it. This is my introduction to last year’s Genius Hour which was a great time for the kids I believe.  I think most of the students were engaged in their task and most of the students enjoyed their projects. Sorry for such a delay with the blog post, but it’s been a busy summer and beginning of the year.

Last year’s Genius Hour went well, because of student’s choices for the project, they were part of the success. Some of them decided instead of creating and solving a problem, they would help gather data and research their topics.  So, what they did was they joined citizen science projects.  At first, I was a little leery of this because I thought this really isn’t the purpose of Genius Hour but this is what they were interested in and what they wanted to do so I allowed it to happen.  One young man got involved with North Carolinas Critter cameras which I thought was great idea, he applied for a critter camera and when he set it up he started to help with research, sending photos in to scientists.  He was so enthusiastic about this project and at the end when he presented his enthusiasm just overflowed. The student thought it was such a great project that he is continuing to do it even beyond finishing the Genius Hour project.  After presenting there were some students who got really excited too and wanted to know more about the project.  I know it was not problem solving or creating something to solve a problem. But it was helping scientists and I was happy I let him do it.  No regrets.

The second project I wanted to mention was completed by a young woman. She came to me and she was fretting about the project. Her concern was that she was not a science person. I asked her what was she interested in and this initiated a discussion on what would she might like to do.  My guidelines required that the project only needed to be within the area of science technology engineering or art.  We started to discuss the project and I told her to think about. She came back the next day with this idea to create an alien world and alien race with the knowledge that she obtained from biology and other Science courses. Her project was amazing, she created a new alien race and the planet they lived on. I’ve inserted some of the pictures of her alien and some of the worksheets.

I was amazed at the detail she put into her creation. She told me she was so excited about this and she felt that it was something she would love to continue. I told her I thought that was fantastic and that maybe she could find somebody to write a story around the alien.  The student thought that was an awesome idea and over the summer we kept in contact.  I continued to receive updates on her progress during the summer.

I think this is a great example of what Genius Hour is about. The excitement afterwards with some of these projects really made me understand how important it was to give students their learning back.  Putting learning back into the student’s hands has become a goal of mine this year. The combination of Genius Hour and Blended Learning, has been successful in implementing this goal. I think the success of the Genius Hour Project last year, has driven me to improve the project.  I won’t change much however, I will allow a bit more leeway on their topics and see what comes of it. I did do a journal last year to try to keep an eye on how they were doing. I found that it kept them on task and could be used as evidence of their learning.  I’m already planning the next one for the 2nd semester.


Freedom to Learn — User Generated Education

I was painfully bored during my K-12 education. I looked forward to college anticipating that it would be different – more engaging, more interesting, more innovative. I was wrong. My undergraduate education, except for a few bright spots, was just an extension of my K-12 education including more grill and drill with sages on the […]

via Freedom to Learn — User Generated Education

Below are just a couple of quotes from the blog post that I truly appreciate. I’m not interested in reading this book. Carl Rogers, Freedom to Learn.

Much significant learning is acquired through doing. “Placing the student in direct experiential confrontation with practical problems, social problems, ethical and philosophical problems, personal issues, and research problems, is one of the most effective modes of promoting learning” (p. 162).

One cannot measure the difference in attitude, the increased interest, the growing pride in self-improvement, but one is aware that they exist. (Rogers, 1969, p. 19)

Climate Change

Source: Climate Change

Check out the response to the Booklet being sent out to Teachers about Climate change from the Heartland Institute. Here is another source mentioned on the NESTA website The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change

Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming: the NIPCC Report on Scientific Consensus, and a DVD, History of Climate Change in Greenland. The package looks official with the NIPCC’s seal in the upper left corner. The deceptive marketing is intended to take advantage of many teachers’ unfamiliarity with climate science….

Citizen Science Projects

Oh wow! Another blog entry! This time it’s about another project I having going on in class. I’m always looking for different ideas to use for class projects. If one works then I will use it again, if not I try others. This year I decided to use an idea one of my NASA colleagues has used in class; Citizen Science Projects. I really had never thought about this type of project before until I listened to this person give a discussion on the topic at an NSTA conference.

The reason I choose to do this project is because I believed that students should know more about what is happening in the science community and become informed citizens of science. I also like the environmental issues that some of the projects address. Different environmental issues are being addressed every day in the news, so I felt my students should understand the problems their generation will face. Which leads to a positive of this project, I have a good number of students working with the National Wildlife Foundations certified habitats. They are creating habitats that meet the criteria to become certified habitats by the NWF. Many of the groups are working with their parents to develop an area in their backyards to a “Garden for Wildlife” or “Wildlife Habitat”.  Another project a number of students are doing is Project Noah, a site that you post your spotting (pictures) of wildlife in your area.  The site allows a teacher to create a classroom and students can sign up. Through this site, the teacher can keep track of the student’s spottings. Students learn about different species from around the world and their scientific name for these species. I have taken part in this project and have posted some awesome pictures of animals. My username is rippie772011. I’ve enjoyed doing it too!

Project Noah is a tool to explore and document wildlife and a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere

This has been such a success in class that I think I will be doing this again. I’ll give students a project survey at the end to see what I might have to do to improve the project. But overall I think it is going great. I’ve listed the various resources students used to pick their projects.

Project Noah: You will sign up under my classroom
Cornell Labs:
Globe Observer:
Hubble Telescope:
National Geographic:
National Wildlife Federation: Certify your garden (this one you will need your parent’s help)-
Globe Program: There are various readings and projects to do with this program. Please see the Teacher.
Museum of Natural Science- There are opportunities to work in labs. You need to see the Teacher for this.


10 Things Pixar Can Teach Us About Creativity

Source: 10 Things Pixar Can Teach Us About Creativity

Could be used as a teachable moment in class when working creative projects. Thinking about reading the book too.

Learning from the students

I’m starting my blog challenge by writing a few words about a learning moment I had in class. Yep, I learned something from my students and it was fantastic.

We had been talking about geological history and going over various topics in the chapter. Our discussion began with my sharing my experience I had with the Siemens Program. During my time there I had the opportunity to work at a dig site with mammoth bones. My training also included getting certified as a lab technician with radiation certification. We were working in a lab with radiation materials and working with the  XRF(X-ray Fluorescence) to identify the layer’s elements in the dig site. You can check out my blogs on my PD experience in an earlier blog entry.

Students began to talk about mammoths and elephants. Their size differences. I was honest and admitted I had no idea. I know I should have, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember. Especially because I was an Earth Science teacher I should have, but… So they decided they needed to look it up and show me. I decided to go with the flow, thinking “Let’s see where this takes us”. Yep, learning experience. By the way mammoths stand at about 5 m tall while elephants are about 3.5 m tall, I’m rounding here.

Point to this post is as a teacher to admit you might not know the answer can be an asset to your students. It seems after this we started to discuss various other topics that the students were interested in and wanted to understand that was related to the geological time line. By admitting I didn’t know something this sparked inquiry in my students and made the class one of exploration and inquiry. While having fun. And the students? I think they actually respected me more because I fully admitted to them I did not know all the answers.

Resolutions or Goals?

Its that time of the year when everyone makes their resolutions. To me they are Goals, what do I want accomplish this year. A challenge, because by April, I’m totally lacking the determination I was in January. And my teaching goals are a bit different from my personal goals. I’m not sure everyone agrees, but my personal goals are more geared to me, teaching goals more geared to students and others. I thought this infographic was interesting, these are the top responses for resolutions. More personal, but now look at the teacher resolutions.

Both have some great resolutions, but just a bit different right? So what’s my point? My point is I think why people give up on their “resolutions” or “goals” is because we overwhelm ourselves with too many.  Start simple and work your way through the year, add more when you think you are ready. As a teacher I really think that my goals in the classroom help my personal resolutions. Ms. Cabeen does a good job in summarizing some resolutions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with your own.

So what are my Goals? Again I’m calling them goals. Honestly, I just want to take each day and try to do the best I can in being a positive influence on my students. There are many ways to do that and that is where some of my personal goals meet my teaching goals. Positive is the key word for this year. Bring out the best in myself and my students. And be optimistic, negativity never works. Too much energy spent on the negative thoughts. If teachers are going to be that positive influence on their students they need to show students there is always hope. Optimism and being positive can be that hope.

Bridges and Towers Part II

In my previous post I talked about the Bridge/Tower project we did in class. In this post I’m going to go over “the Good, the Bad and The Ugly” as they say. Let’s start with the good, students seemed very engaged with the project. Groups were working together and coming up with some great ideas. At first it was a bit slow for some, they seemed to be having a hard time with an open-ended project. I allowed them to decide on their design process.This was a bit different for them at the beginning. But once they knew the criteria and what was expected of them they off to the races. The open-ended part of the project I really liked it because it gave students a chance to experience the problem-solving I was hoping to introduce with the project. I did have some students come after school and during lunch to finish their design.


The Bad, well only a few towers fell. And you might think it weird that I’m saying bad for this. But I think the criteria was good, but fewer materials should be used. Or a budget created for the project. This might restrict the structures and create a more realistic goal. Due to the amount of the materials allowed and no real restrictions there weren’t many buildings falling. For the Bridge part of the project I think we need to come up with a few more restrictions. None of the bridges failed. I actually added weight to some to see if they would fail. So bottom line is we need to adjust our material use to increase the challenge.


The Ugly, Glue! They went through more glue than I’ve ever seen. Once they attached the different parts they had to use blow dryers to dry their work.  I think the glue needs to be regulated also. A bit messy also. Make sure they have tables or desks covered. I have high school students and quite honestly I was glad I used plastic table cloths. Made a huge difference with cleanup. As for anything to do with the material. I would introduce Earthquake Waves before giving this project. We had thought having students research the background information, such as Earthquake waves, would be ideal for this project. But I feel like the students really didn’t get a better understanding of that information. Part of the lab activity had background information on Earthquake waves. It’s good information, but I think I need to access their knowledge after the project. We did more of a survey.  I think this goes along with all the other changes we have talked about doing next year. For the Tower, limit the material and create a budget. For the bridge, limit the weight, materials and create a budget.


A definite project for next year, I think the improvements we make on it will increase the student’s learning process.

Bridges and Towers of Disaster

Alright so I’m still at my next blog post this one is going to be about the bridge/tower building project we did in class. One of the great things with this project is we didn’t use any 3D printing. Not that 3D printing has its benefits. But.. when I gave my conference talk earlier this year with the Diocesan conference I said that “3D printing should be used in the proper manner in a classroom meaning it’s a great tool just like virtual reality will be a great tool but you need to use it when it’s needed not just because it’s a tool or a toy.” I think what I’m trying to say is this; 3D printing has its proper place in the curriculum. You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. Just because 3D printing is cool and the kids think it’s cool that’s not the point of 3D printing. 3D printing should be used for an educational tool such as helping students learn about modeling and problem solving.

The bridge/tower building project is going to be based on earthquakes and students are going to construct a bridge or tower that can withstand the shaking of a magnitude of 8.5 and 9.2 earthquake. The lesson is coming from the Shaker, Rattle and Roll Earthquake Board and The Towering Toothpick Disaster lab activity. The Towering Toothpick lab is  already created, we purchased both together. The Shaker table is already built and we purchase the table through Sargent Welch. It made it a little easier for us, however it can be expensive so you can find other ways to make a cheaper shaker table. Here are some resources:

Engineering is Elementary

Shake Table

The activity fit perfectly into our curriculum. Students were allowed to use a certain amount of materials to build their towers. Materials included popsicle sticks, toothpicks and wood splints. There were two projects going on at the same time, I had half my classes building Towers and the other half building bridges. The bridge component was a bit different. I used some of the Tower lab to create a background. Bridge builders had a reduced amount of materials. They also had to complete an activity at Bridge to Classroom. This was their background work to the project. Part of their assessment I had my students create a journal on Google Documents for their lab group. Each day they answered questions and summarized their build. Pictures were taken each day and inserted in the journal.

Basically the criteria was set out in the lab activity for the towers, see below:

In addition, your building must meet the following requirements:
Buildings must be 45 cm tall.
Buildings must have 3 stories.
Each story must be 15 cm high.
Each story must have a floor; however, the floor does not have to be solid.
Buildings must have flat roofs.
Buildings cannot have solid walls (instead, the structures should be more like scaffolding).
Building bases (footprints) must be 22.5 x 22.5 cm.

The bridges had different requirements. Most of the criteria related to the materials. However, students were required to have a 30 cm long bridge. They were to follow their design from the website. The bridge component of the project was new. So student feedback on the project would be important to improving it for next.

In my next post I will go over the positives and negatives about the whole project. We are already thinking about what we are going to do next year.   

Far tooooo Long

Time, what’s that? I’ve been really  behind with my blog these days. I haven’t made an entry  in a while so we’re going to start the first entry about the beginning of the school year. I know it’s 4 months into the school year actually more than 4 months for us into the school year because we started really early in August this year.

I decided to change a couple of things, I had to actually make the change. With regrets Zaption went away and I had switch to another site. I now use PlayPostit  for all my videos PlayPostit used to be Educannon. The good thing about PlayPostit was that you had until September 30th to switch over all your zaption videos. Of course I completely forgot and did not switch mine over. However I did start posting on PlayPostit. Here are the some good points and the bad points about PlayPostit. One good thing is that you can place questions in the video, so students will have to answer questions as they are watching the video. I know many of my students have said that they prefer having questions within the video then at the end of the video. Some of the controls in the video allow you to control the rewind and fast forward.

The second thing you can do we play posted as you can keep an eye on what questions students got right, the analytics isn’t bad for a  free version. The pro version  is a little bit different than the free version. I’m still working with the free version. Some of the advantages of having the pro version is the analytics. You can see when students hand in their work late and there are more in depth views of questions. One thing you should tell your students that they have to finish the whole video if they don’t finish the video it will put down incomplete or lock them out. I would say that I’m not happy but I’m not unhappy with the program. I am thinking next year to go back to Screeencast which is part of Camtasia. I do like the interface between Camtasia and Screencast. Once you are ready to produce your video in Camtasia you can upload automatically to Screencast. What’s stopping me from changing? I don’t like making my students change in mid-year, it can complicate things.

If I were flipping my class for the first time I would start with PlayPostit. It’s easy to use and pretty straight forward. You can upload your video to YouTube and then create the vodcast. Once you are comfortable using that tool I would then suggest expanding to Camtasia and Screencast. Just my opinion.