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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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):

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(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.  

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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.

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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!

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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):

https://www.sciencefaircentral.com/

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.

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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.

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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.

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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