Engage Your Students with Merge Augmented Reality

I stumbled upon MergeEdu about three years ago when I saw it shared on Instagram. I am a teacher who firmly believes that seeing is believing, so if you have never seen this augmented reality before firsthand watch this video below!

So now that you have seen the incredible augmented reality IRL, the question is how do you create this magic for your students? All you need is a Merge cube and the Merge Explorer app on your device. You can purchase a foam Merge cube or make your own FREE paper version by visiting http://www.mergecube.com/paper. Next, go to the App Store on your phone or tablet and download the free Merge Explorer app. Open the app and launch a lesson/topic card and it will ask you to allow the app to access your camera. Point your camera at the Merge cube within the app, and BOOM! Now you have augmented reality for you and your students from the click of a button.

The best thing about MergeEdu is they offer FREE trials where you will have access to their content, lesson plans, teacher created lessons. Each different augmented reality showcases science content that is directly from our state standards. Each lesson comes with “topic cards” and students can interact with the augmented reality to learn more. During distance learning, I used the food webs topic card to show my students producers, consumers, and decomposers. This was a great way to enhance engagement during distance learning and get them excited about an important topic in my life science classroom.

In addition to the free trials, MergeEdu always has 3 topic cards that are FREE (Mr. Body, Galactic Explorer, and Terraforming Earth). These are ALWAYS available even without an account and part of the amazing resources they offer to ALL educators. Even better, if you are looking for a FREE way to provide your students each with a Merge cube they offer a FREE printable version. Simply head to http://www.mergecube.com/paper and you can print and build your very own Merge cube or have your students assemble them. This is perfect to limit sharing of objects and providing each student with a FREE Merge cube they can use in class or at home. If they don’t have a printer at home, simply print these at school and send one home with them.

Another great way you can use Merge as a teacher, is screen recording a lesson where you explain the content you are showing your students and use it as a tool to enhance how engaging your lesson is. The great thing about this is you do not need your students to have a phone or merge cube. You will use your phone and FREE paper Merge cube to create your lesson and simply share it out on whatever platform you use. You can screen record yourself using the Merge Explorer app and now both you and the augmented reality are in one video together. When you are finished, you can upload this to YouTube, Google Classroom, Canva or wherever. The options are ENDLESS! See my video tutorial below to see how I did this!

Merge is great to increase engagement and a great tool whether you find yourself in-person, in a hybrid model, or in full distance learning. Each topic card comes in 15 languages, which makes this especially great for our English Language Learner students and our visual learners as well!

Follow Merge on Instagram and Facebook where they provide tutorials, getting started guides, and tons of fun tips on how to use Merge in your classroom. Start your free trial today by visiting http://www.trymerge.com.

The Wonder of Ward’s Science!

Each school year, I have my students observe the stages of metamorphosis and chrysalis as our caterpillars transform into butterflies.  In seventh grade science, we teach about plants, pollination, the life cycle, cells, and ecology.  In our outdoor raise bed garden, we wanted to introduce and promote pollinators to help our garden grow year after year.  We decided to add plants that attracted pollinators to our garden.  We also hatch out our very own butterflies and release them into the garden.
What I love about Ward’s Science products is they think of everything a teacher will need to from beginning to end.  With this butterfly kit, I received all of the information, instructions, food supplies, netting, containers and caterpillars.  Each step of the process is detailed and very easy to manage and show your students.  My students made observations and recorded what they saw happening with the caterpillars on their transformation journeys.
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My students throroughly enjoyed getting to see this first-hand and I highly recommend it to other teachers.  If this doesn’t connect to your state standards, Ward’s has SO many amazing activities, labs, and products that I know you will absolutely love!
Cook in the Classroom readers Get 15% off  your order total Plus Free Shipping with exclusive promo code WardsWorld15Cook


Offer valid on web only at wardsci.com. To activate offer, use promo code at checkout. Offer expires 10/31/19. Free shipping includes standard ground shipping only and excludes items with hazardous shipping; standard hazardous shipping fees will apply. Unless otherwise specified, contract discounts and special offers may not be applied to any item priced with a final digit of ‘9’ (i.e. $6.99; $10.09; $129.99.) Offer excludes Somso models due to custom nature of the product. Offer excludes all Triumph Board products. Promotional discounts also may not be combined with other offers, discounts, contracts, or promotions. For more details, visit wardsci.com/terms. Selected items may be or contain chemicals, live materials, or hazardous materials and may be restricted for purchasing by educational institutions only. To purchase restricted items, please log into wardsci.com with your Full Web Profile, or create a new Full Web Profile here using your school’s Shipping Account Number. A full profile also allows you to pay with purchase orders, receive tax exemptions, contract pricing (if applicable), and other advanced features.  Don’t know your Shipping Account Number or not sure what it is? We can help. Email wardscs@vwr.com or Click to Chat on the profile registration page and a Ward’s Science Representative will help you locate your Shipping Account Number or apply for a new one.)

Check out all of the amazing things Ward’s Science has to offer:

I acknowledge that Ward’s Science is partnering with me to participate in the promotional program described above.  As part of the program, I am receiving compensation in the form or products and services, for the purpose of promotion Ward’s Science.  All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words.  My post complies with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

Q and A: 21 Questions

I am taking a page from Josie (@maniacsinthemiddle) and doing a question and answer session because I have been slacking on my blog lately and want to do better.  I am answering your questions from Instagram and also my most frequently asked questions below.

1.  How long have you been teaching?

This is my fifth year teaching and my fourth year teaching 7th grade science in my classroom.  I was originally certified to teach social studies and my dream subject was Advanced Placement US History.  Despite my best efforts and what felt like 100 interviews, I did not get a position and ended up long-term subbing at the high school to my middle school.  While I was there, I co-taught biology one class period each day, which made me realize how much I actually loved science.  I added my science certification and was hired for the first science position I applied to.  The rest is history.

2. When did you know you wanted to be a teacher?

I always admired my teachers and principals and knew that one day I wanted to be that person in the lives of students.  When I went away to college, I had that in the back of my mind but ended up pursuing a business degree instead.  I worked for my parent’s business for a few years doing mainly accounting and human resources.  This job was a great experience and I value my business degree, but I knew I wanted to do something more meaningful with my life.  I saved up and went back to school to get my Master’s in Education and became a second career teacher.  I always tell my students to never buy into the idea that you have to know what you want to be.  Your dreams can change.  You can always start over.  You can rewrite your life story at any age.

3.  How do you balance your personal and professional life?

I get to school early.  Some people stay late, but  I find that I am most productive when noone is at school and I have made myself become a morning person–something I never would have thought possible before teaching.  Getting to school early keeps me from staying after school or coming in on the weekends.  I go to the gym immediately after school and I have to leave as soon as school is out.  The gym helps me separate work and home and really clears my mind of anything that went on that day that I need to decompress.  I also found that when I started getting to school early and getting everything done before students arrived, my stress level was lower, my ability to focus only on the students and building relationships became much easier.  I do not bring things home to grade or do on the weekends.  I will do personal things with the podcast, blog, Instagram, or creating a fun lesson, but only things I don’t consider to be true work.

4.  I’m a first year teacher, any classroom management tips?

First, know that classroom management is trial and error and boy did I make some errors my first year.  During my first year I tried things and when they failed, I tried something else.  Don’t let it get you down–you will figure out what works for you.  One thing I struggled with my first year was focusing so much on being an expert on the content, that I was distracted from my most important job–building relationships with my students.  It IS important to know your material, but your students need your attention, your feedback, and to know you care and value them MORE than they need you to know every fact about cell organelles.  When you focus on being prepared, but living in the moments, allowing yourself to have fun with your students, and being yourself you will find a lot of your classroom management falls into place.

5.  From a student, “Do you plan on getting any more class pets?”

Wouldn’t you like to know!  LOL.  Well, I am not planning on it at the moment.  To be honest though, I wasn’t planning on getting a guinea pig either but fate intervened so … stay tuned.

6.  Do you take your pets home each weekend?

When they were young, I took them home all the time.  Now that they’re older, they enjoy their homes at school more than the one I have at home.  Sioux has a mansion and does not appreciate her smaller, more modest home at my house.  We have large food bowls, water bottles, and we will check on them over the weekend.  My school also has the thermostat set to stay on at night and over the weekends for the pets.  I do take them home over long breaks though.  The teacher next door has students sign up to take hers home (her husband is allergic to rabbits), which they love so you can structure it in a way that works for you and your home life.

7.  What do you recommend for my first classroom pet?

I would suggest either a reptile or a guinea pig (if allowed in your school).  Reptiles can be very low maintenance and I have yet to find a student that is allergic to Raphael, my red slider turtle.  Guinea pigs, in my opinion are easier to care for than rabbits.  They require smaller homes and students love that they squeak/talk to them.

8.  How do you pay for your classroom pets?

I would suggest to any teacher interested in their first class pet to consider the lifelong commitment of caring for the animal, first and foremost.  They bring so much love and positivity into your classroom, but they deserve a forever home.  Then, apply for a Pets in the Classroom grant.  They will help you cover the costs of bringing a pet into your classroom.  The grants are VERY easy to apply for and are funded quickly.  They provide a list of approved pets and partner stores (like Petco) where you can go and use your grant.  They also offer yearly sustaining grants and provide you $50 to help pay for your supplies.  Apply for a grant here:  https://www.petsintheclassroom.org/

9.  How do you clean up after your pets?

I teach 7th grade and my students in homeroom clean their cages.  They make sure they have food and water, tidy up their cage each morning, and change the litter two-three times per week.  I only clean the cages over long breaks.

10.  What made you create a Teacher Instagram?

Kayla Phillips (@thelitteacher_) talked me into it, thankfully!

11.  How do you keep your passion as a teacher?

TEACHER INSTAGRAM!  I am constantly motivated, inspired, uplifted, and learning from other incredible teachers.  They motivate me to be the best version of myself.  And most importantly, my students.  When I focus on them and not on the 1,000 things going on in education I can’t control, it puts into perspective what is truly important.  Their futures can be impacted positively or negatively by me.  It reminds me to choose wisely and to value the impact I can have in their lives.

12.  How do you teach vocabulary and basic concepts without notes?

Flocabulary and BrainPop!  These two are my go to when I want a fun way to teach vocabulary without it being boring.  If you have not tried them, you have to check it out.

13.  What is your favorite thing to teach?

I would have to say cells.  It was something I was very stressed to teach the first time, but now it is my favorite unit to teach.

14.  How long are your class periods?

My science class periods are one hour and five minutes long.

15.  What is your average class size?

I teach anywhere between 26-33 students.

16.  Do you only teach science?

I co-teach four sections of science a day.  We also have two shorter periods each day where we do a reading and math program for 40 minutes each, school wide.

17.  What is co-teaching?

In our county, we have a regular and special education teacher in the same classroom.  We work together to meet the needs of all our students and teach science together.

18.  What are you going to grad school for?

I am getting my Education Specialist degree in teacher leadership.  It is a degree that is newer and only offered in a few states.  It helps develop your skills as a teacher leader and is not a degree that will prepare you for being in administration.

19.  How do you afford to travel as a teacher?

I budget and always set aside money for travel.  I use Scott’s Cheap Flights to find airfare deals (an email subscription) and then book low cost AirBnB’s.

20.  What is your favorite place you have traveled?

Probably Ko Samui, Thailand.  I fell in love with the people, the food, the elephants, and the islands.  It is heaven and I really want to go back.

21.  What is on your list of places you want to visit?

South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands.


Escape the Operating Room: Digital Escape Room

This week, my students scrubbed in and were tasked with the job of saving my life!  Yes, you heard that right.  My life was in the hands of my students, or should I say doctors.  As we are concluding our unit on the human body systems I wanted to do something fun and engaging to assess their knowledge and provide them with an engaging way to apply what they have learned.  I decided to create a digital escape room that requires them to use this knowledge to help save my life and escape the operating room.


Ever since I first experienced a breakout or escape room myself, I have been obsessed.  The thrill of the unknown, the rush to solve the puzzle in time, and the unique experience that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to another world is really something special escape rooms provide.  I wanted to bring this excitement into my classroom and let my students experience these feelings and transform our classroom.  I decided to reach out to our local businesses and get hospital gowns and surgical masks donated and was so fortunate that they provided these to our classroom.  The only items I purchased for this lesson were blue tablecloths and manila file folders to contain the clues for the escape room.


A blue table cloth covered my classroom door, with a sign stating they were entering the operating escape room.  As they entered, they heard operating room sounds playing in the background including an EKG monitor, a heartbeat, and a ventilator–all playing simultaneously.  I was dressed in scrubs, a surgical mask covering my face, a doctor’s coat, clad with a stethoscope and playing the role of Dr. Do-little (Mr. Cook’s doctor).  I let my students know Mr. Cook was out sick that day and they would have thirty minutes to escape the operating room and save Mr. Cook’s life.  I had them scrub in and place their surgical gowns and masks on before we began.  I then played a video message from Mr. Cook who provided them with a clue to get started.


With thirty minutes on the clock, students used their private medical files to help answer questions in their digital escape file (A Google Form).  Students had to work in groups to answer the questions in the digital escape file, but were challenged to understand how to find the answers using their clues.  Each lock required them to dig deeper into the file and encode their answers to break open each lock.  As they answered correctly, the progressed to the next lock and were one step closer to saving Mr. Cook’s life.  When students were stumped, they were able to cash in a Hint and ask for help from Dr. Do-little.  Students rushed frantically and luckily, opened the three locks in the nick of time and saved Mr. Cook’s life, escaping the operating room in time.



I am so glad that my students were able to have this experience and know that this will be a lesson I use in my classroom for years to come.  I have created everything you will need to bring this digital escape room into your very own classroom and have uploaded it to my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  If you want a lesson your students will never forget, head to my store and purchase it today:

Escape the Operating Room – Human Body Systems Breakout TPT Product



PASCO Magic!

This is a sponsored post.

If you know me, you know I absolutely love and am grateful for technology in the classroom.  Technology allows us to engage our students in ways that were previously impossible.  My favorite technologies provide us with new experiences to enhance students’ understanding of concepts we are learning in class.  I am so excited to share with you a new technology I just learned about and tried out in my classroom this week.

Click here to learn more about PASCO

Click here to learn more about PASCO’s Wireless Motion Sensor

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In science, measurements are an integral part of labs and experiments and I recently tried the PASCO Wirless Motion to help us record position, velocity, and acceleration of objects using ultrasound.  My favorite part about this product is the fact that it took me a matter of minutes to get started with and worked flawlessly on my first try.  This is really important when I am trying a new technology in a room with thirty sets of eyes on me.  The product came with PASCO’s free MatchGraph software, which took me a matter of minutes to download onto my computer.  This software tracked the data being observed by my wireless motion and allowed me to view, save, and share with my students everything we recorded.

Click here to learn more about PASCO’s FREE MatchGraph Software

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The great thing about this motion sensor, is it is easy for students to use in a lab or activity.  They can measure themselves and watch their motion graphed in real-time.  The Wireless Motion Sensor can detect objects within a range of 15 cm to 13 feet away. This device is wireless, which makes it very flexible for classroom use and it connects directly to your devices via Bluetooth or USB.

The Wireless Motion Sensor uses echolocation, similar to a dolphin or a bat. In order to determine the distance to an object, an ultrasonic pulse is emitted from the sensor which then listens for a signature ‘echo’ reflected back from the object’s surface. The distance to the object is calculated based on the time of flight between the ultrasonic pulse to the detected echo, and the speed of sound.  It is extremely accurate and incredibly precise, which is also a very important part of measurements and observations in any science classroom.

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There are so many ways I can incorporate this motion sensor into labs in my classroom.  In Life Science, we begin the year by teaching our students about the scientific method and making and recording accurate and precise observations.  This tool will allow us to show our students hands-on activities to do just that.  In 8th grade physical science, students learn about velocity, acceleration and can use this motion sensor to track measure and record these in real life.  I have also been showing the math teachers on my team this motion sensor and they cannot wait use this to help them teach the concepts of motion graphing, interpreting graphs, and rate of change or slope.

My favorite part of this product is that it gives our students hands-on, first hand learning experiences.  Technologies allow us to expand our students’ understanding and provide them with engaging, meaningful activities that they will remember for the rest of their lives.  This will also help so many students who struggle with understanding complex topics by showing them with real-life applications the ideas and concepts we are teaching.  The applications and possibilities with this product and limitless.

If you have not been to PASCO’s website and explored, I strongly urge you to run on over!

RUN on over to PASCO’s website for FREE educator resources, trainings, and more!

They have so many FREE, I repeat FREE, resources for teachers.  And as a teacher, I always appreciate companies that are helping make my job easier and better.  They have free labs, activities, and tons of free resources available to help you bring engaging and exciting activities into your very own classroom.

I acknowledge that PASCO is partnering with me to participate in the promotional program described above.  As part of the program, I am receiving compensation in the form or products and services, for the purpose of promotion PASCO.  All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words.  My post complies with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

Science Fair Central — Build Your Own Hydroponic Garden!

This post is sponsored by The Home Depot.

Three years ago, we built a raised bed garden for our students to have hands-on and engaging experiences that directly tie into our standards.  In life science, we learn about plant cells, photosynthesis, the life cycle, pollination, ecology, and so many topics that the garden highlights.  As we have grown the given garden over the past couple of years, we have added our chicken coop, an outdoor classroom, and planted our first fall garden last year.  We learned a lot of lessons last year with our first fall garden. The first, was that it is ideal to start many of the seeds indoors in a seed starter before transplanting them into our raised beds.  The second thing is that we wanted to find a way to bring our garden inside. We wanted our students to get to see the garden and our plants grow every day in class, regardless of whether we went out to work in the garden that day–especially during the cold winter months.  

This year, I set a goal to find a way to start growing plants in our classroom and starting our own seeds so we could be a part of the entire process.  A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon Science Fair Central and my dream became reality. Science Fair Central is an amazing resource for teachers, offering an array of STEM projects with hands-on and engaging experiences for students.  With many lessons to choose from, I immediately found the “Farming for the Future” activity. I have wanted to learn about hydroponic gardening for a long time now, but really didn’t know where to start. Thankfully, this activity walks the teacher through all of the steps to get started and guide your students through building their own hydroponic garden.


I began by reading through the items that I would need to purchase for this activity, all located and available on Home Depot’s website.  I decided to do two hydroponic gardens instead of four because we are limited with space in our classroom. The resources give you a list of options for each item you will need to set this up.  Below are the items I purchased (some vary from the quantity listed in the instructions):


(1) package of Net pots

(2) Storage totes (10-20 gal)

(2) Air pumps

(2) packages of Air stones

(1) 128 oz. Black Magic Base Nutrient A

(1) 128 oz. Black Magic Base Nutrient B

(1) 8 oz. Black Magic pH Down

(1) 8 oz. Black Magic pH Up

(1) Aquatest TruTest strips

(1) pack plant starter plugs

(1) Seed tray with a heat mat

Seeds (suggested seeds to start with include lettuce varieties such as romaine or spinach, or herbs such as basil)

The great thing about this activity is it is something that you can continue to use each year and the only thing you will need to repurchase are the seeds, and eventually additional seed starter plugs and nutrient bases.  So the initial investment will be well worth it and very inexpensive to maintain in future years. If you need help purchasing the supplies, I would consider starting a DonorsChoose project, applying for a small grant, or reaching out to your science department head for funding.  There are lots of great ways to fund a project and with a very low start up cost, this one would be well worth it.

Once I purchased the materials, I incorporated some discussion questions provided in the activity about hydroponic gardening in class.  We have already been working in our raised bed garden this year and we asked our students to research hydroponic gardening and why it might be used instead of traditional farming.  I was blown away by all of the amazing benefits they cited about hydroponic farming. We discussed so many benefits to this innovative farming method and they provided reasons why certain farmers might choose this instead of traditional farming methods.  They stated this would be a good method in a large city without land, it could be very beneficial for climate zones that are not suited to farming, or for lands that have poor soil quality. They also discussed how it is eco-friendly, uses no soil, uses less water, and grows plants faster, healthier, and at a lower cost.  


Once we began our discussion, I explained to our students that we would set up a hydroponic garden in our classroom and we could start our fall garden plants in our seed starter in class.  We will transplant our seeds into the raised beds outside in the garden and also in our hydroponic system in class. We began the school year learning about the scientific method, so this will be a great hands on experiment we can conduct in class using the scientific method.  We will examine whether hydroponic gardening grows plants at a faster rate than traditional farming and test the claim they cited in their research.

The students are very excited and intrigued by the hydroponic garden we built in class.  We began to grow our seeds in our seed starter that acts as a mini green house in our classroom.  We decided to grow romaine lettuce for this experiment. As our seeds began to grow, we decided to involve some students to help me create our very own system with the supplies I bought from The Home Depot.  We used two 20 gallon storage totes. We cut holes out of the lid of the totes in order to insert our 2 inch net pots, which will hold our plants. Next, we filled our totes with water. We cut a small hole in the lid to run our tube for our air pump into the water so that it can supply a steady stream of air to our plants.  We attached an air stone to the end of our air pump hose. Next, we used Miracle Gro Perilite as our soil-less growing agent.


Our next task was to make sure that we had the right water levels that would support growth for our plants.  We used the nutrient bases to supply our water with the boost of nutrients our hydroponic garden would need. The PH strips and PH up and down were used to help determine if we had the correct PH levels to support optimal plant growth.  Once we had determined our water levels were ideal, we transplanted our seedlings into the net pots to begin their hydroponic journey. We also transplanted seedlings into the raised beds in The Giving Garden so that we can compare our results for our experiment.  Over the next six weeks, we will be measuring the plants’ growth, analyzing our results, drawing conclusions, and of course, sharing our results with you!


I cannot express how incredible Science Fair Central’s resources are.  From material lists, to discussion questions, to step by step guides, they provide teachers with the tools to bring hands-on STEM lessons into the classroom with relative ease and at a very affordable price.  As a teacher, I appreciate the fact that The Home Depot (@thehomedepot) is supplying us with engaging lessons that excite our students and peak their curiosity. Not only are these lessons engaging, but they also get our students thinking about incredibly important topics.  Regardless of what grade level you teach, they have activities, scientific investigations, and resources galore. I encourage you to run on over to their website and check out all of the amazing things you can use in your own classroom!

Science Fair Central (@thehomedepot):


I acknowledge that The Home Depot is partnering with me to participate in the promotional program described above (the “Program”). As a part of the Program, I am receiving compensation in the form of products and services, for the purpose of promoting The Home Depot. All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. My post complies with the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

Going for the Gold

I have always been a huge fan of the Olympics.  I remember when I was able to attend the the summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.  Those are memories that I will always cherish. I still look forward to and enjoy these events each time they take place.  This is a time when countries come together to compete as nations and as teams.  Meanwhile, it is also an event that reminds us of the common bond we all share with people from around the globe.  It instills a sense of pride in one’s country, a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie, and it allows a space for countries to unite despite their differences. These are the qualities I love about the Olympics and precisely why I felt it was important to incorporate this into my classroom management.


Since my first year in the classroom, I had grouped my students together in groups of four to six students.  For labs, students have a lab partner who they share a desk with. For group projects, the students work in groups of four to six students to complete projects as a team.  In my classroom, I believe team-work and group-work is essential for students. Students must learn to interact with all personality types, people with different opinions, beliefs, cultures, talents, and abilities.  It is through these interactions that they will take real-life skills with them that will be of paramount importance in their adult lives.

In 2016, I was entering my third year teaching–my second year teaching Life Science.  As school started back from summer break, my students and I were abuzz about the summer Olympics.  This was the first time in the games’ history that they had been hosted in South America. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is a place many of my students had never heard of or seen before the Olympic games.  The games provided us with the opportunity to take pride in our country, to learn about other countries and cities around the world my students had never been exposed to. My students began to see these foreign places through a different lens and we bonded over the excitement.  When the games ended, I decided that I wasn’t going to let the excitement escape from my classroom.

The following week, I worked to develop a way I could incorporate this magic back into our very own classroom and allow my students to “compete” and feel like an Olympian.  I decided that I would have each table represent a country from one of the seven continents. I decided that each nine weeks (a grading period in our middle school), countries would compete for and accumulate points.  I placed flags above each group and let them know they now were competing on as a team to accumulate points for their country. I offered many different ways individuals and teams could accumulate these points each week in class.  I wanted to ensure that individuals at each table were motivated to be an active and supportive member of their team. I also wanted teams to be motivated and excited to excel as a group and work together.


I also wanted to recreate the magic of the medal ceremony and bring it into my classroom.  I decided that each week, I would look for gold medalists in each class period and announce them on Monday.  We discussed what it meant to be a gold medalist. We brainstormed qualities of an outstanding student and discussed the qualities that I would be looking for as their teacher.  We included their academics, behavior, kindness, personal best efforts, ability to contribute to their teams, and other qualities we felt were important. Each week, I discussed the qualities of the student that I had chosen and built up the excitement of who would be named the gold medalist as the Olympics theme song played on the smart board in the background.  I ordered gold medals (from Amazon) and called the student up for the medal ceremony in each class period. Students earned points for their country, a special reward on the day of the nine weeks reward, and the pride of a job well done.

One of my favorite parts of this activity  is calling home to parents with positive news and bragging on each student.  Parents often answer the phone worried that their teacher is calling home with something that has gone wrong or telling them that their student is in trouble.  Sadly, this is because too often, we as teachers only report home when something IS going wrong. Going for the Gold allows me to change this and call home about what is going RIGHT.  The best part is to share with them the qualities that caused me to choose their student for this award. Parents appreciate this call home and are so excited and radiate joy as I brag on their child.  Students come into school the following day to let me know that their parents told them why I called home. I cannot express enough how important this part of Going for the Gold is.



At the end of the nine weeks, we have a movie rewards day for students with no missing assignments in our class and an A, B, or C class average for the nine weeks.  Each gold medalist receives an extra special reward on the day of the reward day. The team with the highest amount of points (averaged by the amount of team-mates at each group) also receives an extra special reward on the movie day.  It’s always a great end to the nine weeks and a special way to reward our students for all of their hard work, individually and as a team.

The great thing about this classroom management system is it is entirely adaptable.  You can tailor this to meet the needs of your classroom, students, and classroom management style.  My Teachers Pay Teachers product will give you more information about rewards, how students/teams can earn points, scoreboards, country flags, a gold medalist wall of fame, a motivational quote poster and much more.  I have also adapted it for classrooms that have varying amounts of groups/teams and have included scoreboards for classrooms with anywhere from three to nine groups. Regardless of how you decide to incorporate this into your classroom, you and your students are going to have an amazing time.  Let the games begin!

Teachers Pay Teachers Product – Going for the Gold: Classroom Management and Rewards System

The Giving Garden

30705558_10108570687704980_2455315584875757568_nOne thing I learned quickly as a teacher is that the best ideas and moments in a lesson are not the meticulously planned out ones, but the ones that present themselves in the middle of that well-intentioned lesson plan.   These are the opportunities that present themselves in class when you take the time to stop and listen to your students and be present in a lesson, noticing what is taking place right in front of you.  During my first year teaching 7th grade Life Science, I was conducting a controlled experiment in class during the first month of school.  We were testing whether soil types would affect the growth of corn seeds over a one month period.  I wanted to demonstrate the steps of the scientific method and never anticipated students being so eager to watch the seeds grow.  At the end of the experiment, I had a pack of leftover corn seeds that I was going to throw out.  I offered them to my students first and was surprised that they all began fighting over the seeds.  Because I didn’t have enough to go around, I went to the store that night and bought enough for each student to have two seeds.  Over the next few weeks, students came in with photos of their plants and told me stories of their experiences.  I soon learned that many of my students had never before seen a plant grow, let alone grown one themselves.  Seeing their excitement over the seeds stuck with me for the next months to come and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

In Life Science, students learn about plant cells, photosynthesis, pollination, and much more.  I felt strongly that the students needed hands-on experiences growing their own plants and seeing these processes take place first-hand.  As a new teacher, I wasn’t sure how to go about creating a garden at the school.  I wasn’t sure how to raise the funds, how to get it approved by the principal, or if it was even possible.  I held off for the remainder of the school year until we finally finished with state testing.  At this point in the year, we had a month left in school and could cover any topics we hadn’t had time to cover before testing or work on projects with our students that we felt were important.  I went to our principal with the idea of the garden and he loved the idea.  He gave me $100 to start our garden.  I was elated and set out to start our project.

I began to search the school grounds to figure out where I could place the garden.  After searching high and low, I found an abandoned area similar to a courtyard in between two hallways in the school.  There was a considerable area that was not being used and I had never even seen before stumbling upon it this day.  There was even an outdoor concreted area the size of a classroom that had not been used in ages.  I went to the principal and asked him if I could use this space and he agreed.  What started as a small garden, quickly grew in my mind as I saw what a large space we had to work with.  I went to businesses in our community to see if they would be willing to help us with our project and was extremely grateful when Lowe’s agreed to donate all of the materials we would need at cost.


Each day, I would take students outside to the garden and we began cleaning up the area.  Students were incredibly excited about the project and very eager to help.  What I found out very quickly is that 30 students can accomplish a great deal in a small amount of time.  So much so, that I would run out of things for each student to do.  We began dividing up the work, building a chicken coop, preparing our 13 raised bed gardens, painting our outdoor classroom, and building benches for the classroom.  Over the next weeks, the once abandoned and dilapidated area was transformed into a now beautiful area that everyone in the school was suddenly noticing.  The garden began to gain interest and organizations at our school donated money to help fund the project.  Our principal even donated extra funds.


We were finally through with construction phase of the garden when we hit a road block.  We had not been able to find anyone to donate the soil for the raised beds and did not realize how expensive this purchase would be.  With all of the raised beds ready to be filled and an empty bank account, I decided to reach out to the community for help.  I posted on social media photos of the garden and asked for their help in sharing our story and need.  Within 24 hours, we were contacted by a local nursery who said they would be willing to donate ALL of the soil at no cost.  The following day a delivery truck arrived at our school and my students quickly worked to fill the raised beds.  The generosity they showed our school was heart-warming and I can never truly thank them enough.


With only a week left in the school year, we decided to have our students complete a garden research project.  Although I had planted a garden myself, I wanted them to work through the process on their own.  They were tasked with researching what fruits and vegetables we wanted to plant in the garden.  They had to find plants that would grow well in our climate, in raised beds with limited space, and would have a high yield.  As we built the garden, we had discussed we wanted to give back to our community as a way to thank everyone who had pitched in to make the garden possible.  We decided everything we grew in the garden would be given back to the community and eventually landed on the name, “The Giving Garden.”  Once students completed their research, we went to Lowe’s to purchase our plants and planted the garden on the very last day of school.  Over the summer, the science teachers checked on the garden and our chickens that we had hatched out in our incubator in class.  We took turns picking vegetables, watering the plants, and feeding the chickens.  When we were out of town, the custodians who work throughout the summer offered to pitch in and help check on it. When the students returned in the fall, we created a club for our 8th grade students to come back and work in the garden once a week after school.


Since then, we have planted a winter and summer garden each year with our current students.  Every other Friday (when the weather permits) we take students out to the garden to work in it.  Students research what to plant in our garden each year and students also feed our chickens and collect the eggs each day.  The students get an opportunity to experience things first-hand and are always eager to go outside to the garden.  What started out as an experiment in class, transformed into something much, much bigger.  It always reminds me to take time each day to stop and listen to my students and look for those moments where opportunities reveal themselves.  We simply must take the time to stop and look for them.

I have always been fascinated by plants and animals.  I believe this fascination blossomed in large part due to my grandmother.  She was an avid gardener and taught me a lot of what I know about plants and how to care for them.  She always had a wide collection of plants throughout her house and beautiful garden.  She knew exactly how to care for each one of them.  She treated them as though they were her children and she certainly saw the beauty in each one.  She passed away last year and I keep a stone of hers on my desk that is inscribed with a quote that reads, “the seeds of today are the flowers of tomorrow.”  This could not be more fitting for us as teachers and something that we need to be reminded of each day.  It is the very work we do in each of our classrooms every single day that will create the flowers of tomorrow.


Google Expeditions Virtual Reality – The Real Life Magic School Bus


Last school year, I was extremely excited when I learned our classroom was receiving a grant from the Mozilla Gigabit Community in the amount of $10,000.  Mozilla awarded ten $10,000 grants to various schools and entrepreneurs in our city.  Some of the grantees hoped to develop virtual reality classroom experiences for their foreign language students.  Others wanted to develop robots that would allow teachers to observe other classrooms and transform the collaborative process among their teacher community.  For our grant, we hoped to bring virtual reality into our classroom and also connect with museums, scientists, and other amazing outlets to take our students on virtual field trips.

Google Expeditions is a classroom virtual reality set that allows a teacher to direct and lead students on a virtual field trip that can take them virtually anywhere in our entire solar system.  Teachers are no longer bound by their classroom walls and the opportunities they have available in their own communities or within their reach.  We are now able to create experiences for our students that were before unimaginable and even unattainable, at times.  With hundreds of virtual reality lessons to choose from, the teacher is able to conduct the field trip from the comfort of their own classroom using the Google Expeditions kit.  For my Life Science classroom we will travel to the Galapagos Islands when we discuss Charles Darwins’ finch observations.  We will travel inside an animal and plant cell and take a look inside organ systems when we learn about the human body.  As we cover biomes, we will take our students to a tropical rain forest, underwater on a scuba diving expedition to a marine ecosystem, and to the very top of Mount Everest as we see an alpine tundra firsthand.  To see what the full list of all of Expeditions available follow the link below:

Google Expeditions List

Before I tell you how much a classroom set of Google Expeditions costs, know that I provide options for as cheap as $15.00 to bring virtual reality into your classroom later in this post (so keep reading)!  It is also important to know that one set can be used by an entire school.  The Google Expeditions kit is in a travelling case that is easy to take from classroom to classroom and can be used by almost any and every teacher in your school.  It is possible to have technology bought out of Title One funds and one set could serve the entire school.  Other possibilities include creating a DonorsChoose or applying for grants to provide this for your school.

A classroom set (30) for Google Expeditions is roughly $10,000.  There are options to purchase a set of 10 and 20 as well, for a fraction of the price.  The kit comes with 30 virtual reality sets (phones, viewers, chargers), a teacher tablet that allows you to direct the Expedition, a wireless router for everything to connect to, and a rolling case that everything can be stored in that makes this a travelling set.  With relative ease, the teacher can search through available expedition lessons and each lesson downloads in a matter of seconds.  The teacher clicks on the Expedition they would like to direct and presses play on each scene.  Students follow along on their virtual reality set as the teacher guides and directs them through the lesson.  The teacher is able to see on their tablet the scene the students are viewing, along with information to share to the students about each scene.  The teacher can direct students to specific areas in each scene and is able to see what each student is viewing represented by a smiley face.


Without fail, my students get so excited each time I bring out the virtual reality set in our classroom.  When I launch each lesson, the classroom explodes with excitement.  The students are able to travel to places around the globe, explore foreign lands, see microscopic organisms and even go inside the human body.  Google Expeditions not only gets students excited about learning, but provides a visual understanding of many complex topics.  Currently, I am teaching the human body systems unit in our Life Science class.  As we finished discussing the cardiovascular and respiratory system I was explaining to students how these two systems work together to get oxygen into the body and delivered to each cell in the human body.  It is one thing, to teach students, but an even better feeling to show them exactly what you mean.

With Google Expeditions, I was able to transport my students into the human body and show them how oxygen is transported from our respiratory system into our cardiovascular system.  We were able to view the inside of the lungs, where capillaries wrap around the alveoli and the exchange takes place.  The Expedition goes even further by taking you into the alveoli itself where you can view the oxygen molecules moving into the bloodstream.  There is zero doubt in my mind that my students have a much greater understanding of and appreciation for the amazing machine that is the human body after seeing it at work, first hand.  I always feel like Mrs. Frizzle taking our students inside the human body, except there is no Magic School Bus–only a Google Expedition set.

The exciting part about Google Expeditions is that it applies to all subject areas.  There are amazing lessons for all types of teachers.  Social Studies teachers can take their students to the Great Wall of China, to view Mosques of the Middle East, to ancient and modern wonders of the world, or to live as refugee for a day.  ELA teachers can view Shakespear’s roundhouse or take their students to a unique location and have them write about the setting, describe other cultures, or simply set the stage for a story that connects to one of the Expeditions.  There are career explorations, college tours, and all sorts of other neat experiences you could incorporate into a variety of classrooms.  As we have been realizing how adaptable these Expeditions are, other teachers have been using this in their classrooms.  Because it is a case with rolling wheels, it makes it very easy for the entire school to use as a traveling set.

Whether or not you would like to have a set for your school, even one virtual reality set could be a great addition to your school or classroom.  Cardboard viewers are available online and are relatively inexpensive.  Cardboard viewers allow you to place a smart device (phone, ipod touch, etc) inside and create a virtual reality experience.  Simply download apps in your app store, many of which are entirely free, and launch the app in your cardboard viewer.  This could be an excellent option for teachers to use for enrichment, rewards, or even a rotating station in your classroom.  For students in middle or high school, they can place their own phone in the viewer.  For elementary school teachers, you could simply use your personal phone or find an extra smart device that someone has retired to place in your cardboard viewer.  These options would all give you the virtual reality experience in your classroom at a relatively inexpensive price.  The link below is the official Google Cardboard Viwer sold on Amazon for $15.00:

Google Cardboard Viewer on Amazon

Cardboard Viewer

I hope that you get to provide your students with this experience and witness the incredible learning opportunities that stem from this engaging and exciting virtual reality experience.  If you have any questions or need help getting started, please message me.  I would love to hear from you if you are using this in your own classroom and hear your experience!

My Teacher Journey: How My Journey Led Me Here

Welcome to my teaching blog!  I am very eager and excited to share my classroom with you.  My name is Ty Cook and I teach 7th grade life science.  This is my third year teaching science in the same classroom and I taught social studies at the high school level for one year prior to teaching science.  My teacher journey has not been a typical path to the classroom.  My first college degree was a Bachelor’s of Business from the University of Georgia.  I worked in finance and accounting for a few years (still unsure of what I wanted to truly do).  I truly value my first degree and work experience, but I knew deep down I was not fulfilled in that profession.  I had always dreamed of becoming a teacher and one day being able to inspire children the way that I had been inspired by so many incredible teachers along the way.

I went back to become a teacher and received my Master’s in Education Degree in 2014.  With the goal of teaching high school social studies, I set out in search of a job.  After many failed attempts, interviews, and countless rejections, I was approached by a former professor who had an opening at his charter school.  The position opened up during the last week of summer break at an elementary charter school.  Although I had never taught elementary school before, I was desperate for a job and interviewed for the 4th grade position.  Of all the positions I had interviewed for, I felt the least equipped and prepared for this particular one.  Naturally, I was chosen for the position and began teaching the following week.

I will never forget my first day teaching.  My classroom was located in the gym–construction for their school’s expansion had run behind and four teachers were placed in the gym with wall partitions as the only classroom “walls.”  The noise was unbearably loud and the conditions were not ideal.  I was given a classroom of students who had looped up with their teacher THREE years in a row due to their behavior.  She was a phenomenal teacher.  I on the other hand, was not.  I floundered in the classroom for weeks, unable to manage my student’s behavior, teach the simplest of lessons, or barely make it through the day without breaking down in tears.  My anxiety level had never been higher and I felt panic attacks coming on each day as I entered the school.

I am not a person who accepts failure readily or has found myself in the position of not being capable of a task I set out to complete; however, in this moment I came to the conclusion that not only was I not able to teach elementary school, I was also not the teacher these students so desperately deserved.  I felt like I was doing the students a disservice and turned in my notice the following morning.  This was a very low moment in my life as I felt I had made an absolute mistake going back to become a teacher.  I questioned if my dream of becoming had been just that–something that was merely an idea in my head.  Perhaps the idea would never become a reality.  Perhaps I was not equipped a teacher and what I hoped to become would never come to fruition.  Rejection, failure, and guilt were the things that weighed heavily on me as I was now at home, unemployed, and uncertain of the future.

A month or so later I received a phone call from my teacher idol, Mrs. Lane.  She was my high school social studies teacher all four years of high school and someone I deeply respected.  She is a huge part of why I became a teacher.  She let me know the department head where I attended high school would be out for many months on leave and asked if I would be willing to long-term sub at the school.  The class was AP US History and AP Economics and I jumped at the opportunity.  Still shaken and nervous from my recent experience, I knew if I did not get back on the proverbial horse that I may never actually follow my dream.

The first day of school, my second first day in one school year, had me in a state of panic.  I barely slept the night before, tossing and turning, worrying that I might have another tragic end result.  To my surprise, the next day was a teacher memory I will never forget.  As I interacted with each class and began to get to know the students, I felt my heart rising and confidence building.  The next days and months to come were challenging, as all new teaching experiences are, but I realized that my first experience would not define the rest of my teaching career.  I had not allowed myself to be defeated by my first failure and refused to give up on my dream.

While I was long-term subbing, the school asked me to co-teach one period of biology each day.  It was while I was in this classroom, that I realized my love for science.  The teacher in this classroom was phenomenal and a veteran teacher who not only knew her subject, inside and out, but was extremely passionate about teaching.  I quickly developed a new love for science and the hands-on learning that took place in the classroom.  As I continued my long-term sub position and it drew to a close, I constantly sought new opportunities that would land me a full-time teaching position.  I decided to add on a middle grades science certification, among many others, and was lucky enough to have a position open up at the middle school for the upcoming school year.

Middle school was an uncharted territory for me, once again, but I had very few options and was feeling more confident after my recent experience.  My first science interview was for a 7th grade life science position.  I felt more prepared and more experienced than I had before and I envisioned myself as the science teacher who would occupy that classroom.  I wanted the job very badly and had already began to run through my classroom setup, the layout, lesson plans, state standards, labs, and the vision of being my middle school teacher, Mrs. Travillian.  I still remembered her class as if it had just been yesterday.  Her classroom was always fun, upbeat, positive, and hands-on and she was a role model to her students.  I wanted this job to be the one and to be that teacher that students remembered years from now.

After an intense interview, I walked away feeling unsure if I had impressed the principal.  I received a call later that day expecting to be heartbroken, but was shocked when he offered me the position.  I immediately accepted the job and went to work.  My first year teaching middle school was one of the most memorable years of my life.  The year was not without its challenges, sleepless nights, or sheer exhaustion.  I reluctantly become a coach, and practiced every day after school and came home late from cross country meets.  I experienced so many firsts, learned from the teachers around me, and grew tremendously in my first year.  It was through this year that I realized that everything that I had gone through on my journey had led me directly to where I needed to be.  I fell in love with my subject, I explored new ways of teaching, I deeply cared for my students, and felt I had come home as I was teaching at the same middle school I attended.

I want to share my journey that brought me to this very moment with you for an important reason.  There were so many instances where my journey could have gone in so many different directions.  At the time, it was difficult, but I could not be more thankful or feel more grateful that my journey led me to where I am today.  For teachers that are reflecting on their journey, in the midst of it, or soon to begin it, I hope that my story inspires you to stick with it.  I hope that you believe, as I firmly do, that you will end up where you are meant to be even if you cannot figure out where that will be during those trying times.

My goal in beginning this blog is to share with teachers anything I feel may help you along the way.  I plan to share the good, the bad, and the ugly and to be as honest about my journey, as possible.  This is the beginning of my blog and the start of a new journey.  I hope that by me sharing my story, you will also return the favor and help those teachers in your own school, community, or that you connect with whenever you are able.