Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Three Apps to Manage Your 21st Century Toolbox

If you are anything like me, managing your online toolbox can be a bit mind-boggling. I have apps on my phone, apps on my computer, and online apps. Figuring out how to organize these apps so that they are readily accessible can be a challenge. I am going to share with you some of my management and organization strategies so that you can be more efficient and effective problem-solvers by quickly locating and accessing all of your favorite tools in your toolbox.

*Note: All of my organizational strategies can be used with any smartphone, any computer, and any internet browser ... and they are all completely FREE.

1. Symbaloo

I use Symbaloo as my start page because it is a simple and visual way to organize my bookmarks.

I love Symbaloo because I can organize my bookmarks, however I want AND I can access my bookmarks from any computer. All I have to do is sign in to Symbaloo and BOOM, I have all of my bookmarks in a nice organizational scheme to which I can quickly access. Some tricks I use is to have iGoogle as my first bookmark, Google Docs as my second bookmark, and Diigo as my third bookmark. I will talk about each of these individually, but I use these three the most for online storage.

I can also create an unlimited amount of bookmark tabs. The tab that you see in the picture is "My Webmix" which is a tab that contains all of the websites and apps that I most frequently visit. I have other tabs such as "EDU Tools". You can create any title for a tab and organize your bookmarks however you like. You can also upload any picture that you would like to use as your bookmark icon which is another great feature.

2. Google Drive

I use Google Docs because it is the easiest way for me to create, upload, download, save, and edit all of my documents in the same place.

Regardless of the web browser that I am using, when I sign into my Google Account, my Google Docs are always waiting for me. I can create an infinite amount of Google Docs, completely free. I can even upload iWork or Microsoft Office Docs right into Google Docs, which takes up very little space. However, if I convert my iWork or Microsoft Office docs to Google Docs, then it takes up literally, zero space. Google Docs is one of the only document resources that provides you the opportunity to store an infinite amount of documents free of charge.

I also have the Google Docs app on my smartphone. I can view, create, edit, and organize all of my Google Docs right from my phone and I have it as a Bookmark Icon on my Symbaloo page.

On a side note, I would recommend consolidating to all Google Apps as much as possible. Having one place for everything makes my toolbox much more efficient. Check out Google Apps for Education to get started.

3. Diigo

I use Diigo to bookmark websites that I want to archive such as blogs, articles, resources, reviews, apps, tools, etc.

I love Diigo because it allows me to organize and archive all of my bookmarked websites. With Diigo, I can create Tags to help me search for specific bookmarked websites. I can also create Groups to organize my bookmarks. For example I have a group titled "Apps for Education". I bookmark any app that I think I can use for educational purposes in this group. Then I can share that folder with my colleagues or my students.  I also use the Diigo app on my smartphone, which allows me to take notes, pictures and video on my phone and upload it to my Diigo Library.  I can also Bookmark websites from my phone as well.

The Diigo Toolbar allows me to quickly and easily bookmark websites from the click of a button. It even gives me suggested tabs and directly imports and archives the website directly into my bookmark library. I can also highlight, add arrows, shapes and additional text on my bookmarked websites, which helps with making notes of key points on the webpage.

Are you currently a Delicious user? If you are (like I was) Diigo makes it quick and easy for you to upload your Delicious Library into Diigo. There are so many more added features that you get with Diigo, so switching over was a no-brainer for me.

Lastly, I use my Diigo Library as a Bookmark Icon on my Symbaloo page. This allows me to quickly access all of my Diigo Bookmarks with the click of a button.

Get Ahead of the Technology Curve with BYOD

Guess what? BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is coming to schools sooner than we think! Some schools are already enforcing BYOD as a way to save money and get students interacting and collaborating more in the classroom. Students are bringing in their cell phones, iPod Touches, iPads, laptops, etc.  Mobile devices are sweeping the nation and they will soon be sweeping the classrooms.  

The Technology Curve is something that will make or break our 21st century students in the workforce.   The way I see it, students are either behind the curve, on the curve, or ahead of the curve.  BYOD is coming! I don't know about you, but I want my students to be ahead of the curve when it does!

With great power comes great responsibility! We have to teach our students how to use these devices appropriately and effectively.  Digital citizenship should be modeled and taught in our classrooms so that students may learn how use the latest technology resources for education, under supervision and facilitation. 

In The "Bring Your Own Device" Debate One participant asked the group, “Can you imagine having this discussion about the pen? If we allow pens into classrooms, students will be distracted -- doodling, playing Tic-Tac-Toe.” He suggested that mobile devices are the pens of the 21st century.

I could not agree more with that participant. I bet at one time, parents, teachers, and administrators were all saying, "If we let students bring pens to school, they are going to be permanently writing and drawing inappropriate things on desks, on walls, in their books, etc. We can't trust kids to use this device, so it mustn't be allowed." What eventually happened? Students wrote and drew inappropriate things on desks, on walls and in their books. However, it is a very small percentage of students who do, and they learn to accept the consequences of their actions. Why is BYOD any different? Is it really fair to prohibit all students from using their pen or their smart device in school? Absolutely not! We can't be afraid of letting students make bad choices, because in reality, students ARE going to make bad choices. If we don't teach students to correct their mistakes and learn how to use technology appropriately, then who will?

This poem is exactly how I feel about technology in the classroom. Please feel free to post a comment, share on Twitter, or like on Facebook if you agree!

Don't teach your kids this stuff. Please?
By: Scott McLeod on August 26, 2009, 8:28 AM

dear parent
board member

don't teach your kids to read
for the Web
to scan

don't teach your kids to write
pen and paper aren't going anywhere
since when do kids need an audience?

no need to hyperlink
make videos

no connecting, now
no social networking
or online chat
or comments
or PLNs
blogs and twitter?
how self-absorbed

what a bunch of crap
and definitely, absolutely, resolutely, no cell phones
block it all
lock it down
keep it out

it's evil, you know
there's bad stuff out there
gotta keep your children safe

don't you know collaboration is just another word for cheating?
don't you know how much junk is out there?
haven't you ever heard of sexting?
of cyberbullying?

a computer 24-7? no thanks
I don't want them
you know they're just going to look at porn
and hook up with predators
we can't trust them

don't do any of it, please


'cause I'm doing all of it with my kids

can't wait to see who has a leg up in a decade or two

can you?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Why Do I Have To Memorize This, When I Can Just Google It?"

"If we teach today's students, as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow" - John Dewey

I bet you've heard this one before: "Why do I have to memorize this, when I can just Google it?" We should listen to our students ... I think they might be on to something!

We as teachers need to stop wasting our time feeding students with trivial facts and information that they can easily get online from reliable sources. 

Any of these sound familiar? They should, because students today are STILL being required to "memorize" these facts. Why? Because of standardized state testing! Having students memorize useless information is a complete waste of their time and education, when they can easily get the answers to these questions in a matter of seconds, online. We as teachers need to spend more class time on the upper levels of Bloom's Taxonomy such as Application, Analysis, and Evaluation, rather than focusing on Remembering by regurgitating facts.

If we as teachers are going to make our students memorize anything, we should be teaching them how to memorize where they can find the answers to these questions. 

Its like the old saying, If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a life time

I am suggesting that if we teach students how to successfully harness their inquiry by conducting effective research, then we are empowering them to take ownership of their own learning, thus becoming life-long learners.

Students today need to know how to successfully conduct research in order to solve their own problems. Moreover, in order to efficiently perform research, students need to know HOW to access the fastest, most reliable resources to get information as 21st century learners. To help with this issue, I have provided some helpful resources, tools, and "research" on the topic of research.

Below are some excellent research tools and resources that students can use to conduct effective research.

Research: Reliable Resources



For Video

Below are some helpful tips to tell if a website is reliable. These are tips that ALL students should know when conducting research online!

Eight Ways To Tell If A Website Is Reliable

"The Internet can be a wonderful reporting tool for journalists. Data that once was only found in paper documents can now often be accessed with the click of a mouse, and research that once took hours or days can be done in minutes.
But for every reputable website there are probably 100 that are full of information that's inaccurate, unreliable or worse.

Here are eight ways to tell if a website is reliable.

1. Look for Sites from Established Institutions

The web is full of websites that were started five minutes ago. What you want are sites associated with trusted institutions that have been around for awhile and have a proven track record of reliability and integrity.

2. Look for Sites With Expertise

You wouldn't go to an auto mechanic if you broke your leg, and you wouldn't go to the hospital to have your car repaired. I'm making an obvious point: Look for websites that specialize in the kind of information you're seeking. So if you're writing a story on a flu outbreak, check out medical websites, and so on.

3. Steer Clear of Commercial Sites

Sites run by companies and business - their websites usually end in .com - are more often than not trying to sell you something. And if they're trying to sell you something, chances are whatever information they're presenting will be tilted in favor of their product.

4. Beware Bias

Reporters write a lot about politics, and there are plenty of political websites out there. But many of them are run by groups that have a bias in favor of one political party or philosophy. A conservative website isn't likely to report objectively on a liberal politician, and vice versa. Steer clear of sites with a political ax to grind and instead look for ones that are non-partisan.

5. Check the Date

As a reporter you need for the most up-to-date information available, so if a website seems old, it's probably best to steer clear. One way to check - look for a "last updated" date on the page or site.

6. Look at the Site's Look

If a site looks poorly designed and amateurish, chances are it was created by amateurs. Steer clear. But be careful - just because a website is professionally designed doesn't mean it's reliable.

7. Avoid Anonymous Authors

Articles or studies whose authors are named are often - though not always - more reliable than works produced anonymously. It makes sense: If someone is willing to put their name on something they've written, chance are they stand by the information it contains. And if you have the name of the author, you can always Google him or her to check their credentials.

8. Check the Links

Reputable websites often link to each other. See which sites the website you're on links to. Then go to Google and enter this in the search field:


This will show you which sites link to the one you're on. If lots of sites are linking to your site, and of those sites seem reputable, then that's a good sign."


Saturday, November 26, 2011

If You Had One Lesson Left to Teach Your Students Before You Die, What Would It Be?

I asked myself that question after reading the National Bestseller: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Professor Carnegie Mellon. While reading the book, I typed up quotes that I found inspirational and realized that they can be applied not only to education, but to life in general.

If I had one lesson left to teach my students before I died, my lesson would be this: You are all unique and valuable and you all have a purpose in this world, it is up to you to go out and find it!

What would your last lesson to your students be?

Below are my favorite quotes from The Last Lecture that will always teach a lesson regardless of the subject that you teach:

What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance?

All parents want to teach their children right from wrong, what we think is important, and how to deal with the challenges life will bring. We also want them to know some stories from our lives, often as a way to teach them how to lead theirs

An injured lion still wants to roar.

What makes me unique?

What do I alone, truly have to offer?

If you can dream it, you can do it.

We cannot change the cards that we are dealt, just how we play the hand.

If there is an elephant in the room, introduce it.

Never make a decision until you have to.

Just because you’re in the driver’s seat doesn’t mean you have to run people over.

How many men are on a football team? And how many people are touching the football at any given time? So we are going to work on what those other twenty-one guys are doing.

When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.

There is really only one way to teach kids how to develop self-esteem. You give them something they can’t do, they work hard until they find they can do it, and you just keep repeating the process.

The second kind of head fake is the really important one—the one that teaches people things they don’t realize they’re learning until well into the process. If you’re a head fake specialist, your hidden objective is to get them to learn something you want them to learn.

Shatner was the ultimate example of a man who knew what he didn’t know, was perfectly willing to admit it, and didn’t want to leave until he understood. That’s heroic to me.

The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.

Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

You can always change your plan, but only if you have one.

Time must be explicitly managed, like money.

Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think.

It is an accepted cliché in education that the number one goal of teachers should be to help students learn how to learn. I always saw the value in that, sure. But in my mind, a better number one goal was this: I wanted to help students learn how to judge themselves. Did they recognize their true abilities? Did they have a sense of their own flaws? Were they realistic about how others viewed them? In the end, educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective. The only way any of us can improve is if we develop a real ability to assess ourselves. If we can’t accurately do that, how can we tell if we’re getting better or worse?

It’s a thrill to fulfill your own childhood dreams, but as you get older, you may find that enabling the dreams of others is even more fun.

Getting people to welcome feedback was the hardest thing I ever had to do as a teacher. It saddens me that so many parents and educators have given up on this. When they talk of building self-esteem, they often resort to empty flattery rather than character-building honesty.

Give yourself permission to dream. Fuel your kids’ dreams, too. Once in a while, that might even mean letting them stay up past their bedtimes.

Don’t complain, just work harder. Too many people go through life complaining about their problems. I’ve always believed that if you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out.

Treat the disease, not the symptom.

Don’t obsess over what people think.

Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.

Get people’s attention.

Write thank you notes. You never know what magic might happen after it arrives in someone’s mailbox.

If we kick him out right now, we’ll be missing the whole point of what we’re here for. We’re here to teach, to nurture.

I find the best shortcut is the long way, which is basically two words: work hard.

Eaten By Wolves Factor: Yes, I’m a great optimist. But when trying to make a decision, I often think of the worst-case scenario. If I do something I think to myself, what’s the most terrible thing that could happen?

I mean, I don’t know how not to have fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there’s no other way to play it.

He’s just this phenomenal ball of positive energy; completely physical and gregarious. When he smiles, he smiles with his whole face; he’s the ultimate Tigger. He’s also a kid who’s up for everything and befriends everyone. He’s only three years old, but I’m predicting he’ll be the social chair of his college fraternity.

I’m aware that Chloe may have no memory of me at all. She’s too young. But I want her to grow up knowing that I was the first man ever to fall in love with her.

As I see it, a parent’s job is to encourage kids to develop a joy for life and a great urge to follow their own dreams. The best we can do is to help them develop a personal set of tools for the task.

Randy Pausch Last Lecture: Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

My Top Free Online Tools and Resources for PBL

As an advocate of Project-Based learning and Challenge-Based Learning, I have accumulated lots of different online resources that I frequently use with my students. The best thing about these resources, is that they can be used and applied to any topic, in any subject area.

For pedagogy, research and examples on PBL, check out my blog post: Could PBL be the Solution to Education Reform?

Below, you will find a list of my favorite FREE online tools, applications and resources that are perfect for student-directed learning.

Photo Editing
Audio Editing
Video Editing
Applications and Tools

For a more detailed list of online applications for Project-Based Learning, visit my blog posts:

You Might Also Like
The 21st Century Learner Needs a 21st Century Teacher
The Evolution of Education, From Teacher to Co-Learner
Could PBL Be the Solution to Education Reform?
Get Ahead of the Technology Curve with BYOD
5 Ways to Prepare Our Students for Their Future

JMU: College of Education

As a proud alumnus of James Madison University's College of Education Undergraduate and MAT Program, I would like to share some information about the program, and about the university.


The mission of the James Madison University College of Education is to prepare educated and enlightened individuals who can skillfully contribute to the common good of society and who can enter competently into positions of teaching and educational leadership, civic responsibility, and national service. The personal and professional development of students is accomplished by emphasizing excellence and continuous innovation in quality undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs.

James Madison University’s College of Education is distinguished through faculty and student achievements, academic rigor, excellence in teaching, student and faculty interactions and relationships, technological innovations, and national recognitions. The College maintains relevance through active and growing interactions with other colleges within the University and with local, state, regional, national, and international communities.

The college is committed to providing:

  • Undergraduate programs that are composed of or complemented by strong liberal arts preparation, in-depth specialty studies and opportunities for students to develop professional knowledge and skills.
  • Graduate programs that emphasize advanced knowledge in a specialty area and the development of effective leadership and professional skills for addressing the needs of a changing society.
  • Continuing professional development and service programs in cooperation with public and private schools and agencies, other colleges, institutions, and businesses.
  • The undergraduate and graduate education programs are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Virginia State Board of Education.

The basic philosophy of the college is reflected in the following goals:

  • To educate men and women for the multiple professions included in the college at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, not merely by transmitting skills and knowledge but by stimulating creativity, developing cognitive abilities and encouraging the testing of hypotheses and reinterpretation of the human experience.
  • To encourage a balanced faculty orientation toward teaching, research, scholarship, and community service and professionalism that recognizes individual strengths and preferences of the college’s faculty.
  • To create an environment that fosters an atmosphere of open communication among students, faculty members and community.
  • To anticipate societal needs and provide necessary resources for implementing effective off-campus programs now and in the future. The college has undergraduate and graduate programs that are designed to lead to majors and minors in interdisciplinary liberal studies, teaching, educational leadership, adult education, military science, and individualized study. The college is organized into the School of Education, the Department of Military Science, and the Adult Degree Program.


The vision of the College of Education is to be recognized as a global leader in facilitating Learning across the Lifespan through the practical application of best practices. The College prepares professionals to knowledgably integrate diverse perspectives and positively impact the lives of all they serve. These ideals are embodied through:

Educated and enlightened Professionals who value civic responsibility and social justice and who demonstrate leadership for positive cultural transformation. These professionals inspire others to improve schools, agencies and organizations and to engage all learners in reflection, discovery, renewal and transformation.

Performance-focused Programs grounded in inquiry and evidence-based methodologies that leverage educational technologies for learning.

Collaborative Partner Relationships that enhance programs and practice and develop and inform policy.

Informed Participants who value the diversity in people and perspectives.


JMU College of Education E-Book created and published by students

Open publication - Free publishing - More education

Interesting Facts from Wikipedia

"The school is nationally recognized for its academics. U.S. News & World Report has ranked JMU as the top public masters-level university in the South (3rd overall) for 16 consecutive years, and among public colleges ranks JMU 22nd in the nation.

The University is also ranked 22nd overall in value for money in the nation amongst public colleges and universities, according to Kiplinger Magazine's 100 Best Values in Public Colleges. According to BusinessWeek magazine in its 2011 ranking of undergraduate colleges of business, JMU's undergraduate business school is ranked 28th in the nation, and 3rd in Virginia.

Money Magazine, in 1996 ranked JMU 5th in the nation for best value among in-state students. Princeton Review, in its 2007 rankings, called JMU one of "America's Best Value Colleges". And in 2010, the food at JMU was ranked number 3 in the nation."


The Five E's of Science

One of the best practice models for teaching science is the Five E's Model.

"The philosophy about learning, that proposes learners need to build their own understanding of new ideas, has been labeled constructivism. Much has been researched and written by many eminent leaders in the fields of learning theory and cognition. Scholars such as Jean Piaget, Eleanor Duckworth, George Hein, and Howard Gardener have explored these ideas in-depth. The Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS), a team whose Principal Investigator is Roger Bybee developed an instructional model for constructivism, called the 'Five Es'."

Object, event or question used to engage students.
Connections facilitated between what students know and can do.
Objects and phenomena are explored.
Hands-on activities, with guidance.
Students explain their understanding of concepts and processes.
New concepts and skills are introduced as conceptual clarity and cohesion are sought.
Activities allow students to apply concepts in contexts, and build on or extend understanding and skill.
Students assess their knowledge, skills and abilities. Activities permit evaluation of student development and lesson effectiveness.

In order to show an example to other teachers, I decided to document myself teaching, using the Five E's Model to demonstrate how this model can be used in the science classroom.

The great thing about this model, is that it can be used to teach any topic, in any subject. This can be easily modified to teach a math, social studies, or language arts lesson, as well as elective courses such as art, technology, music, and physical education. Give it a shot and your students will be appreciative!

Mythbusters: Bust a Myth Video Challenge

In the Spring of 2011, I stumbled across an email from Discovery Education promoting the Mythbusters Bust a Myth Video Challenge.  After reading the description, I immediately wanted to enter the competition:
"One lucky educator will be able to do just that, and win a class room prize pack from the show as well. If you’d like it to be you, all you have to do is enter the “Bust-A-Myth” Video Challenge.

"We’ve chosen three popular myths from the show.
  • Is a piece of buttered toast more likely to land buttered side up or buttered side down?
  • Is it possible to fold a piece of paper more than seven times?
  • Will cola clean a penny? Discolor a tooth? Dissolve a steak?"

 "Once they’ve chosen the myth, they have to learn about the scientific process and how the MYTHBUSTERS tackled the same myths through resources from Discovery Education. From there, they just have to develop a project plan, do the investigation, and create a video to document their results (5 minutes or less)."

"Our team of judges will evaluate the videos based on Creativity, the Investigative Process, and Student Engagement. The top five videos will be posted up on our Facebook page for the Discovery community to vote on."

"What’s at stake?
  • (40) backpacks & (1) MythBusters DVD Prize Pack for the winning educator’s classroom
  • A trip for two people to San Francisco to attend a live taping of a MYTHBUSTERS episode"
In order to get the word out about the competition, I submitted morning announcements, spoke at lunches, and held an information meeting in my classroom after school.  I had so many students that wanted to get involved, that I had to create an application in order to select the best candidates.  After all, this was a national competition.

We began working immediately as soon as we had our team.  The competition only allowed a month for the video to be created and submitted on the DEN's Facebook Page, and one of those weeks was our Spring Break. 

After a lot of deliberation, the students selected the myth, " Will cola clean a penny? Discolor a tooth? Dissolve a steak?" As the facilitator of the team, I made sure that the entire challenge was student-centered and student-directed.  My role, was to digitally record the students going through the Scientific Method, as they worked through the challenge of testing the myths. 

So, will cola clean a penny? Discolor a tooth? Dissolve a steak?

Watch our video to find out!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Extracurricular STEM Activities

Since the Fall of 2011, I have been the director of two, highly regarded extracurricular activities at my middle school. I am currently the director of the Northern Virginia Regional Science and Engineering Fair (NVRSF) and the director of the MEH-TV Morning Announcements.

This year, I am leading my participating middle school students in the NVRSF, which is a local science fair that will provide students with the opportunity to participate in the (ISEF) Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The NVRSF is an ISEF-affiliated fair and is the first round of this competition for my middle school students. This competition is significant because it stimulates the curious young minds of my students, and provides them with the opportunity to showcase their talent on a national level. This impacts student learning because students are using inquiry and hands-on investigation in order to make a discovery or solve a problem using science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For example, two of my students are using inquiry in order to conduct an experiment to test the adhesive strength of different types of glue on balsa wood. These students will be using STEM in order to yield quantifiable results. This is significant because science, technology and engineering are basic skills that twenty-first century employees will be expected to have.

As the director, I have been the teacher to get my students involved in inquiry-based learning where they can practice problem-solving in a controlled environment. This is significant because when students are provided with the opportunity of choosing their own topics and designing their own procedures, they are more likely to take ownership of their work and become personally invested in learning. This impacts student learning because this science fair project allows students to practice scientific thinking and problem-solving, improvise when a procedure doesn’t work out as predicted, and constructively critique each other’s work. For example, two of my students who are working together on their experiment needed a way to effectively communicate and collaborate on their project outside of school. To solve this problem they performed research and decided to try the Google Docs application to share a common document that they can both simultaneously edit at home. Now, the students can successfully collaborate on their project inside and outside of school.

I am the director of the Morning Announcements for my middle school. The MEH-TV News Crew is made up of talented and dedicated students who broadcast a live recording of the morning announcements throughout the entire school, every day for an entire marking period. Anyone who shows an interest in the program is selected from an application pool of students who are currently enrolled in my 7th Grade Technological Systems and Careers class. These students are most suitable for this role because this curriculum coincides with the skills needed to successfully operate studio. This is significant because the knowledge and skills that are needed to run the MEH-TV studio derive from the career clusters of Arts, A/V Technology and Communications; Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics; and Information Technology, which are all a part of STEM education. This experience impacts student learning because these students are exercising hands-on learning with STEM education in order to produce the morning announcements and give technical assistance to other programs that would like to use the studio’s facilities. 

For example, by the end of nine weeks, each student will learn how to successfully operate a digital video switcher, an audio soundboard, digital video cameras, and video editing software in addition to improving their communication skills as a news anchor. Furthermore, by participating in the morning announcements, these students are empowered by having the opportunity to create video news segments, which require them to operate technical equipment and work together as a team. This is significant because students are able to practice their workplace readiness skills in a monitored and controlled learning environment which will help to prepare them for the work force in the future.  

Here is an example of the MEH-TV Morning Announcements

Family and Community Involvement

As a CTE teacher, I have used many strategies to engage parents and community members in two-way, interactive communication focused on significant teaching and learning. In the Spring of 20011, I created my own school website for the CTE courses in which I teach in order to conveniently provide academic information to students and parents. My website uses multimedia to provide parents and students with information about STEM education and explains why it is important to 21st century students. Parents and students can also communicate with me by leaving messages or posting responses to announcements that I make. My website offers online tools and resources that are directly related to STEM education. In addition, I have a specific webpage for each individual course in which I teach. For example, each course webpage offers information such as course resources, documents, files, announcements and an online calendar. This is significant because both parents and students can access important information designed for the specific course to which the student is enrolled. Moreover, parents and students can also understand my use of STEM principles and resources in my class. This is linked to student learning because it empowers students to work at their own pace by keeping up with course work if they are absent, or if they want to advance in the curriculum, and it empowers parents to remain aware of what their students are learning. Moreover, my website provides students with the opportunity for enrichment and exploration from the supplemental resources that are available. 

I establish and maintain an active role in communicating with parents. I believe that parents and teachers share responsibility for creating a working relationship that will help children succeed academically. To monitor my parent communication, I keep a parent communication log, documenting the conversations that I have with the parents of my students, and conversations about my students with other professionals in the school. This is significant because I understand the importance of making personal connections and establishing partnerships with parents and guardians of my students to create a safe and inviting learning environment. Moreover, fostering positive relationships helps me collect information that I can use to ensure that my students are getting their individual needs met. Parent-teacher relationships are linked to student learning because my students are more willing to be engaged and invested in their learning inside and outside of my classroom. For example, one particular student took a family vacation to Florida and visited the Kennedy Space Center to witness and document a spacecraft launch. She took video and pictures and created a PowerPoint to help explain Newton’s Three Laws of Motion in action. When she returned from her family vacation she gave her presentation to the class.

I frequently attend PTA meetings throughout the year in order to stay informed of parental involvement and offer opportunities for parents to volunteer. In September of 2011, I attended the first middle school PTA meeting of the school year. This is significant because I was able to promote and explain volunteer opportunities that are available in my CTE classes this year. This has impacted student learning because several parents became active participants in my CTE classes. For example, lots of parents contributed to this year’s sixth grade project by responding to an online survey, which allowed students to select a problem to solve from a list of over sixty problems that were submitted.

From 2009-2012, I have been the Parents as Educational Partners Program (PEPP) parent liaison for my team of colleagues. I have worked closely with the PTA in order to relay information from parents to my teammates, and to relay information from my teammates to parents. In addition, I work to schedule parent volunteers to help in the school wherever they are needed. This is significant because I facilitate the transfer of information between parents and teachers and help to provide the parents with volunteering opportunities. Stimulating parent communication and involvement impacts student learning and builds parent partnerships by keeping the parents informed and engaged in their child’s education; thereby helping to keep students organized and productive. Since 2011, I have been successfully collaborating with the Falls Church, Business in Education (BIE) committee. I have worked closely with local business owners and community members in order to provide them with opportunities to volunteer in my CTE classes. This is significant because continuing to establish positive relationships with community members maintains their involvement as valued stakeholders in our school district. These relationships are linked to student learning because when community members volunteer their time in school, our students continue to get exposure to different career clusters and make real-world connections. For example, this year I invited community members to serve on a panel by giving helpful feedback to my sixth-grade CTE students as they presented their final project. This impacts student learning because when valued community members volunteer their time and services, our students continue to get exposure to different career clusters and make real-world connections outside of the classroom.

Action Research on Constructivism

In the Spring Semester of 2008, I successfully completed an active research project when I was enrolled in James Madison University’s Masters in Education Program. As a graduate student, I learned that constructivism is an inquiry-based teaching method that offers a student-centered learning community where students work collaboratively together to solve real world problems. I became interested in inquiring more about constructivism, so I decided to use it as my topic for my active research project. The question that guided my inquiry project was: How does constructivist teaching impact student academic performance in a middle school classroom? The purpose for the inquiry project was for me to discover if constructivism is an admirable method of instruction to use when teaching middle school students.

As a student teacher, I was assigned to a sixth grade science classroom. All of the students in my classes served as my sample for data collection. I used a variety of methods to collect data such as student journal entries, graded labs and activities, student surveys, interviews, and formative and summative assessments. After analyzing all of the data, I discovered that students were actively engaged and they performed exceptionally well, academically from learning via constructivist teaching. The findings in my active research project are significant because constructivism was found to positively impact student performance in a middle school science class.

After I graduated from James Madison University, I decided to adopt the inquiry-based, constructivist teaching method into my practice with middle school technology students. This is significant because I have proven that teaching with this type of instruction empowers my students to take ownership of their learning by allowing them to explore problems and uncover their own solutions. 

Currently, as a CTE teacher, I aim to provide my students with the tools that they will need to become life-long learners and creative problem solvers. For example, I have written curriculum for students in my sixth-grade technology class to use challenge-based learning in order to solve problems. In the Architect’s Challenge Unit that I created, teams of students must design a floor plan of a house that satisfies the needs of an imaginary client.  Students will first create a blueprint of a floor plan on graph paper in order to ultimately create virtual 3D model of the floor plan using Google Sketchup.  Students work in their groups using the engineering design process in order to solve this problem. This is significant because I act as a facilitator by helping students to formulate a plan or scheme to assist them in creating a product, such as a floor plan. This impacts student learning because students are using their workplace readiness skills in order to solve a problem as a team via inquiry and hands-on exploration. Moreover, students also have to discover how ratios are used to create scale models of buildings and structures as they collaborate together to create a floor plan, which helps to create a real-world STEM connection.

Another example in which I use constructivist teaching to promote student learning is in my seventh-grade Education in Careers Technology course. In this course, I facilitate students in partners as they use inquiry in order to solve problems in STEM related, computer-based modules. These modules are delivered through a combination of hands-on activities and multimedia curriculum where science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are interconnected throughout each module. For example, in the Robots Module, two students learned how to operate, program, and use robots in different environments. Each student learned to manipulate the robot and program it to conduct repeatable tasks. The students learned about each of the sensors and how to program them to control a self directed robot. Ultimately, the students programmed and operated a robot to complete tasks using the sensors as inputs to solve a challenge. This is significant because a goal for this course is for students to become responsible learners and to work cooperatively with others in order to problem solve. This impacts student learning because each module is student directed, giving students control of their own learning experience. Moreover, due to the fact that students work with a partner to complete each module, the experiences they share in common promote positive communication, teamwork, inquiry, learning, and social skills.

The Siemens STEM Institute

In August of 2011, I participated as a fellow in the 2011
Siemens STEM Institute located at Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. The Siemens Foundation and Discovery Education, in conjunction with the College Board, chose me as a fellow to be immersed in hands-on STEM professional development for an entire week. As a fellow, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate with 49 other educators from across the U.S. in a unique professional development program. 

 Focused on providing participating educators with new tools, skills and strategies for improving student achievement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, I was selected from an impressive pool of over 4,000 educators nationwide. Throughout the institute, I met with government officials, leading scientists, and esteemed educational thought leaders whose work across STEM disciplines, shapes and defines today’s education landscape. In addition, I engaged in discussions and workshops around key topics such as using technology and social media in the classroom to improve student achievement. This is significant because I gained a plethora of knowledge and experience about how to best meet the needs of my 21st century students in STEM education.
Following the Institute, I am currently serving as a STEM ambassador in my school and community as I continue working with my colleagues using the tools and knowledge gained from the Institute. This is significant because I returned to my district, empowered with new knowledge to share with my colleagues with a goal of improving student achievement in the critical disciplines of STEM. This is directly linked to student learning because now all of my colleagues have the opportunity to use the resources and tools that I acquired at the institute with their students. By sharing what I learned from the institute with my colleagues, I am creating a ripple effect that will positively impact the education of all our students.

As a STEM ambassador, I created a project titled, STEMtrepreneurship, for my students to execute this year. The project that I created is an example of challenge-based learning by encouraging my students to use inquiry in order to solve a problem within their school or community. Students apply what they have learned in my technology class by creating a product (a good or a service) that will solve a problem, or satisfy a need or a want within their community. For example, after researching and reviewing over 60 problems within their school and community, my students decided to respond to the problem of not having enough barbells for Physical Education class. After two weeks of working through the Engineering Design Process, my students were able to successfully design and build four barbells made from PVC pipe, sand, rebar and glue. These barbells were then donated to the Physical Education department at my middle school. This directly impacts student learning because my students are empowered by demonstrating their workplace readiness skills that they have learned in my CTE course to solve a real-world problem in their own community. 

In addition to creating and implementing this project, I was also able to get four other teachers from the institute to commit to this project with me. This is significant because I am encouraging my peers to join me in challenging our students to excel in the disciplines of STEM by engaging them in a real-world experience. The four other teachers and I communicate via the Internet in order to collaborate on this assignment. This is significant because collaborating online allows us to learn and share the results of our students’ projects with each other, which we can then share with our students. This impacts student learning, because our students are able to learn how other students in different parts of the country are solving problems within their school and community.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

America's Resiliency

Danny Forster's Autograph to me
STEM education has never been as important for U.S. students as it is today. Compared with other students around the world, U.S. students are particularly falling behind in math and science. As a result, fewer students are graduating college with math and science degrees and thus, failing to fill math and science positions in the workforce. America needs to be RESILIENT!

Shaking hands with Danny Forster
Danny Forster, from Build It Bigger, is helping America to be resilient in more than one way. Not only is he an outstanding architect who designs "green" houses and other buildings, but he is also passionate about the powerful symbolism that architecture can provide. Danny is the host of the Rising on the Science Channel, which is a documentary about rebuilding "Ground Zero" and reconstructing the new World Trade Center in New York City

I had the honor and privilege of meeting Danny at the Siemens STEM Institute at Discovery Education Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. He inspired me as an educator to spread his passion for STEM education. His new show, the Rising is a symbol for America's resiliency to "rebuild" as a nation.

After speaking with Danny, I decided to visit Ground Zero just a week before its grand opening to the public.  Here are some pictures that I took to show America's resiliency!

The New Cool

So, what is the new cool? 

After reading 
The New Cool by: Neal Bascomb I became even more excited about the fact that I was a TECH teacher and that I had the power to motivate my students and get them excited about STEM.  Below are some of my favorite  quotes from the book.  I hope you get inspired as well!

"Dean Kamen decided he needed to create something that made kids want to excel in thinking, something that truly showed how thrilling science and technology could be. He needed to invent a sport that was about smarts, that had its own set of heroes, its own hall of fame, its own supporters and coaches, its own Olympics. Frustrated, incensed, and excited all at once, Dean formed FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) the same day."


"Overall, American students were failing to pursue the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in great enough numbers, and the statistics were even more abysmal for women and minorities."

"If the United States did not do everything in its power to promote STEM careers, then the country would fall far behind its competitors around the globe, threatening both its prosperity and security. The country had known this when the government invested in science and technology after the Russian launch of Sputnik satellite in 1957, but Dean felt America had lost its way since."

"Dean wanted America to flourish, but he was focused on the bigger pictures as well, evidenced by his activities at DEKA. He wanted more engineers and scientists so that a greater army would be battling the challenges tha the whole world faced. Only when these were solved would he feel like he could rest easy and enjoy those vacations he never took."

The New Cool by: Neal Bascomb
A speech by Dean Kanen to the FIRST student competitors:

"Why do we do FIRST? Because the world's a mess. Read the news. Look around you. We got lights, clean water, ways to get around. We have hospitals, schools, safe malls. But two-thirds of all people alive today, 4 billion people, live on less than $2 a day. Half of them live on $1 a day. That's their whole life. We're the richest in the world, by far. And the world's a mess. Somebody's got to fix it. Do you think the people living on a buck a day, who don't have clean water, schools, technology, education, do you think those people can fix it? No. You have to fix it."

"I started FIRST because so many kids in this country were ignoring that opportunity. Our culture has convinced so many that knowing about Britney Spears or Paris Hilton is more important than real knowledge. We've got to find a way to convince all kids that we have to start celebrating the stuff that matters. We not only have the opportunity, I think we have the obligation--the moral obligation--to help the rest of the world."

"So why do we do FIRST? I think it's easy, because the world needs a lot more technology quickly. You've got to be better at it than we were, you've got to learn faster, and you've got to deliver at an earlier age. If you want exciting careers, you better start remembering what used to be true: We have to create wealth. For a while there, the bankers were doing a prretty good job of moving it around. We've got to start creating it again. People who create solutions for problems with the tools of physics and engineering are the people that we will count on. To rebuild our economy. To rebuild the world to make it better than it was. Why do we do it? I think it's pretty easy."

"The robot is just a vehicle, just a tool. The skill sets you walk away with will give you careers for a lifetime. FIRST is a genuline card-carrying microcosm of the real world of engineering. We give you a little bit of material, never what you'd really want. You never know what the competitors are doing. FIRST really is a way to show you what the world of science, technology, inventing, and problem solving is. It's all hard, and if this frustrates you, tough, it's important."


STEMtrepreneurship is the act of undertaking innovations centered specifically around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in an effort to transform innovations into economic goods and services. - Bradley Lands, August 2011

While attending the Siemens STEM Institute at Discovery Education Headquarters in August of 2011, I created a project that empowers students to solve problems within their own school or community.

Students, grouped by career clusters, will create student-directed projects using a STEM focus in order to create a product (good or service) to satisfy a need or want within the school and/or community. Students will use inquiry in order to identify a need or want within the school and/or the community, employ integrated STEM skills in developing a solution, and use digital media to communicate and publish results. The teacher will act as a facilitator as he guides the students to their finished product.

The sixth-grade students in my Research and Design Technology course are currently solving problems within their school and community. Check out my Student Projects Page to see their work!

My Teaching Philosophy

As a middle school STEM teacher, I feel students learn best through a constructivist teaching approach. Constructivism is an inquiry-based teaching method that offers a student-centered learning community where students work collaboratively together to solve real world problems. I believe that teaching with this type of instruction empowers my students to take ownership of their learning by allowing them to explore problems and uncover solutions.

To be a successful educator, student learning should be the focal point of instruction. For that reason, I consider myself a facilitator rather than a teacher. As a facilitator, I aim to provide my students with the learning tools to construct their own education. For example, I help students find ways to answer their own questions by encouraging them to perform active research, rather than giving them the answer. I also provide guidance and assistance to my students to help them accurately formulate their own hypotheses, discoveries, and conclusions. If one were to walk into my classroom, he or she would find my students working in groups, solving problems through hands-on investigation and technology infusion.

I empower my students by teaching via challenge-based learning. This allows my students to take full ownership of their learning by using their own inquiry in order to problem-solve. They must use the engineering design process in order to overcome their challenges. Students learn how to research to answer their own questions, successfully collaborate with other students, effectively and purposefully use technology, and harness their creativity and critical thinking skills in order to solve the problems that they faced with in the classroom. The experience that my students gain and skills that they build upon will ultimately prepare them to be productive 21st century citizens.