Bond with James: 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Mint Bag...

Skip to the bottom if you're only here for the Mint Bag ;)
I co-facilitated another science instructional leadership seminar today. The seminar is made up of the science instructional coaches and department chairs from our high school campuses. I haven't had the chance to blog about instructional rounds; however, this was the second one of the year.

I'm sure you've had a group of suits in your classroom, poking around, asking questions, providing cold stares, not providing feedback etc. during an observation. I did not want this to be that. I know that observations can be frightening for many teachers.However, I think a paradigm shift is needed if we truly want to develop our pedagogical skills, increase student performance and close the achievement gap. From what I've seen and experienced, teaching is an isolated profession. Yes, we have PLCs but I can easily say one thing in a PLC and then go about my business behind a closed classroom door.  

To make a long explanation short, my teaching program encouraged the observation of other teachers. As a full-time teacher I always wanted to observe my peers, but for one reason or another I never had/made time to do so.  My current position has provided hundreds of teacher observation hours and I feel I have grown tremendously as a result. I now am working with other instructional leaders/current teachers to:
(1) develop our capacity as science leaders
(2) visit and assist host campuses with self-identified challenge areas, and 
(3) bring ideas and/or new learning back to the home campus to share with colleagues

I wanted to make sure that our leaders were providing appropriate / descriptive feedback to teachers at their home campus.  For example, instead of saying that the students were engaged, I might say 17 out of 20 students could be seen looking at the teacher and writing notes as s/he talked. The first description is judgmental in nature. I don't know if the students are engaged - perhaps they're just compliant for whatever reason. The second description is specific and, for the most part, objective data a teacher can use to gauge his or her instruction. A teacher and I can interpret the second statement in many ways; however, the point is to provide the teacher with as much data as possible in order to help improve his/her instruction over time.

Okay, I'm getting off track. The main reason for the blog was to talk about the Mint Bags. :)  
I wish I could say this awesome idea was mine but it's not. I saw a picture similar to this on Pinterest when I first joined a few months ago. Actually, the mints were tied in pretty ribbon and wrapping paper. Unfortunately, these teachers were getting the $0.99 Ziploc baggie bargain deal. It's the thought that counts, right? I created Mint Bags as a way to say thank you to the host teachers for allowing the science leaders to observe their classrooms today. I personally delivered each one. I even heard one teacher (who had his blue tooth microphone on) reading it to his class - I chuckled as I walked by. 

Looking back, this time of year was hard for me as a novice teacher. I found strength and renewed commit-"mint" to press forward through the encourage-"mint" of students and colleagues. :)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Facebook Frenzies...

Do you know what a Facebook Frenzy is? If so, have you participated in one as a member and/or a participant? If not, let me briefly explain what a Facebook Frenzy is so that you are up-to-speed and can join in on all the fun and great items.

The Facebook (FB) Frenzy idea was created by Heather (Creation Castle) a few months ago. Since then it has taken off and become a fun event to obtain free items and follow great FB pages. Since I was a co-leader in the December 6th-12th group, I will use this group as an example. 

The 6th-12 grade group hosts educators from all background and content areas - math, science, social studies, ELA, technology, etc. Everyone in the group offers a FREE product that you can obtain by liking their FB page. Once you LIKE a page, you receive a free item and access to a link that will take you to the next person's page. You repeat this process until you've gone through all the pages. This is a great way to find new pages and be alerted to future sales and/or free items from that particular individual.

Groups are: K, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th-12th, Music, and Clip Art (starting links are below)

 A PDF of the image with clickable links may be found here.

Make sure to look for this tab (located on the top right) of each page. Once you click it, LIKE the page to gain access to the free item and link to the the next page.
Remember, the December Frenzy occurs for a limited number of days (December 6th-9th, 2013). I hope you LIKE a lot of pages and stay with them. Many of the pages offer flash freebies or other great ideas.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Reaction Types Interactive Graphic Organizer & Card Sort

What did I spend my time on leading up to the USA Thanksgiving holiday? Well,  as you can see from the pictures below, I spent it creating my latest product - Reaction Types Graphic Organizer and Card Sort. I recently finished my molecular clip art set (which you can see projected on the TV and the finished product) and was working on another graphic organizer when this idea popped in my head. I stopped Project A to start this project (actually, I seem to be working on at least 4 other projects at the same time).  Also, please excuse my make-shift office :)
Approach reaction types in an engaging yet rigorous way by utilizing the Reaction Types Graphic Organizer and Card Sort. Each reaction type has its own interactive flip tab illustrating the reaction type using clip art representing elements and compounds. Students can tape and/or glue these tabs into their Interactive Notebook (I did not glue/tap in my notebook as I still needed to take pictures for how to use the tabs). The teacher can have students write notes on the backside of each tab or the teacher can write notes on the back prior to printing. 

Additionally, students can practice identifying reaction types through a card sort. If you're interested, please click here: Reaction Types Graphic Organizer and Card Sort.

UPDATE: I have added a Spanish version.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Molecular Compounds Clip Art

This is going to be a short post. I wanted to update you all concerning my newest product, the molecular compounds clip art set. I was actually working on another project, an interactive graphic organizer, when I realized I needed molecule clip art to finish it. At first, I browsed Teachers Pay Teachers. However, I could not find anything. I did notice that many clip art artists there tend to make the same clip art (it's very obvious) but make subtle changes by adding one or two new pieces to try to offset it from a competing clip art seller. Anyway, then I tried to find clip art that was copyright free and/or was available through a commercial use license but I did not find anything I liked (or I had to pay a large sum of money). Then I realized that I was completely capable - to some degree- of creating my own clip art. I mean I only created the beaker and graduated cylinder clip sets last year.
Overall, I am happy with the way the set came out. There are 94 PNG images total. If you are interested in obtaining a set, click here. I think I may add include larger molecules at a later time/date.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST) 2013

I had the opportunity to attend CAST this year as part of a proposal I helped write back in May. CAST stands for the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching; it is a huge conference held yearly in Texas. The proposal allowed approximately 60 middle and high school science teachers from my district the opportunity to attend CAST. I was excited, nervous, overwhelmed, and tired. I had to plan for my presentation, plan for the sessions I was going to attend, and help the teachers develop a plan of action as well. I definitely learned a few lessons! With that said, I wanted to share my experience. I also hope that I get to attend and present next year in Dallas. :)

Not only did I get to attend for the first time, I also presented at a conference for the first time. I had a blast. Of course, my co-presenter and I learned our lesson in regard to bringing so much stuff - that was a pain.  Our session was titled: Reaching for the STAARs: Interactive Chemistry Games and Graphic Organizers.
Here the participants are playing with my Periodic Table Tarsia Puzzles, as well as a game designed by my co-presenter, Adrienne. 

Here are a few pictures that my colleagues and I took during a some of our sessions.

The night before and each night after the conference, the middle and high school teams met to process the sessions they attend. Campus teams put together an interactive notebook of their experiences. Additionally, we had teams create a Turn-Around PD in order to share their experiences, strategies, and documents with colleagues who did not attend. I wanted to make sure that the conference experience was not an "I got to go and now I'm back and that's it" experience. Team submitted their presentations to the appropriate specialist for review and PD dates are yet to be determined as the process is on-going.
Overall the experience was great. I heard nothing but positive feedback in regard to the experience and the time we allowed campuses to process and collaborate amongst each other. The post was becoming too long and so I deleted a few of the pictures. I will add more pictures / descriptions in a later post.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Chemistry JiT #4: The Mole & Stoichiometry

I tried posting this the day of the training and had uploading issues. Anyway, the 4th Chemistry Just-in-Time (JiT) training was held for teachers about two weeks ago. I met with my Region  Service Center counterpart, also a former teacher from my district, in order to plan for the Chem JiT workshop.  As mentioned in an earlier blog post, the workshops are geared toward upcoming standards in our scope and sequence in order to provide teachers with ideas and/or activities to utilize in the classroom. Additionally, we adjust our sessions based on teacher feedback. A majority of the feedback we have received has been positive; all cool feedback resulted from insufficient planning time with campus based PLCs [although, I would argue they had plenty of time ;) ]

Let me get straight to sharing one of the activities via pictures and descriptions...

One of the first activities that was shared was part of an introduction to the mole concept I developed 2-3 years ago when I was still in the classroom. I had always introduced the mole concept by showing students a dozen of several different items - a dozen doughnuts, a dozen pencils, etc. However, reflecting back on my experience as a chemistry student, I remember still struggling with what a mole was/meant even when my teacher explained it that way. All the conversion factors (1 mol = molar mass (g), 1 mol = 6.02x10^23, 1 mol = 22.4L) were too much to handle when learning this topic for the first time; in addition, MATH was involved. 
So, the first thing I had my students do when class started was to go to their assigned lab table and find  at least four different substances.  The first time I did this I used large paper clips, beads, cheerios, and toothpicks as I had thought of the idea a day before implementing it and needed a large quantity of items fast (the types of items do not matter as we had to substitute  materials at the training because our requested items were not prepared). 

At the station, I ask students to create 3 groups of a dozen and weigh each group separately. After, students answer a few questions that scaffold the overall purpose of the activity.This task may seem extremely elementary, however, it has helped me tremendously while teaching the mole concept. 

First, I am driving home the point that we have words that represent a certain quantity (1 dozen = 12 items; 1 mole = 6.02x10^23 particles) no matter what we are talking about. Most students will recognize this fact. Secondly,  students can develop a general relationship between quantity and mass. Looking at the pictures above, the mass of each group of cubes is approximately 12.0 grams. From here, students could develop a general rule that 1 dozen blue cubes = 12.0 grams and use that information to calculate problems or unknown situations in the future. Students also realize that the number of blue cubes and yellow circles is the same - a dozen each; however, the substances do not weigh the same. 
After completing the activity, teachers were asked to develop a concept map or other visual that would help them process the activity (as if they were students themselves). Even if you do not use interactive notebooks, I would suggest allowing students time to process the information that makes sense to them (drawing, concept map, acrostic, etc.). I really like how a few teachers drew 12 blocks and 12 paper clips to indicate the same quantity and showed how they may not necessarily have the same mass.

When I originally did this activity, I wrapped up and went straight into the mole concept. I constantly referred back to the activity to help students process the information. I will say this activity made teaching moles much easier the last 2 years I was in the classroom.

UPDATE: This post is was written in 2013; however I have used the idea since 2010. I recently developed an interactive notebook product specifically for the mole concept and have included the activity in a note-format, which may be found by clicking here or on the picture below. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Biology Just-in-Time #3

We hosted the third Just-in-Time (JiT) session for the high school biology teachers in our district today. The topics included photosynthesis and respiration. Click here or scroll down to an earlier post to read an overview of the JiT Science workshops we offer.

The biology teachers were led through various activities that they could, for the most part, immediately take back to their campus and implement. The activities included hands-on manipulatives,  lab investigations, and creating graphic organizers and/or foldable manipulatives to incorpate onto the right-side of an interactive notebook. Teachers also discussed activities students could do on the left-side (output) of the interactive notebook.

Here are a few of the foldable manipulatives and graphic organizers to help students develop an understanding of where photosynthesis takes place in a plant. Additionally, our Region Service Center (RSC) specialist also stressed the importance of using other photosynthetic organisms, such as bacteria, in order to address a student misconception that plants are the only photosynthetic organisms on the planet.

Here are three foldables to help students compare and contrast photosynthesis and cellular respiration. As mentioned earlier when teaching these topics, teachers should address the misconception that plants do not undergo cellular respiration (they do!). Additionally, teachers should use non-plant examples as frequently as possible when speaking of photosynthesis and respiration (i.e. bacteria, single-celled organisms, etc.)

Teachers also participated and received several card sort activities that they could use with their students as pre-, during, and post-assessments. Here is an example of a card sort teachers participated in.

The card sort activities could be created as a class set or for each student to place in a baggie or envelope in his/her interactive notebook.

The JiT sessions also try to incorporate actual lab activities. Below are pictures of an inquiry lab teachers participated in using live organisms. Some of the bromothymol blue solutions began to change color half-way through the session. Teachers were able to take their samples home/school to view the results as well. Our district has a living materials warehouse where teachers can check out live specimens.

We had a microscope lab, but we ran out of time prior to lunch. However, we did leave the microscopes out during the afternoon planning session in case teachers wanted to engage in the activities provided. During the planning session, the curriculum specialist and I support the teachers while they plan. Some teams need more assistance than others, however, we provide support for everyone. :)

Stay tuned for more JiT blog posts! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Aqueous Solutions Task Cards

This set of task cards is probably my best to date. I probably only say that because I was much more engaged while making them because I invested in various clip art and borders. While I wish I was more knowledgeable in graphic design, I like how my cover page came out in the end. There are four concepts covered: water, acids and bases, solubility, and electrolytes. Each concept is represented by a different colored border (as shown in the cover above). Originally, I was going to do one set, however, I decided to break this topic up into two task card sets - the first one seen here. 

Why two sets of Aqueous Solutions Task Cards? Well, I knew I was marketing the product for grades 8-12 and potentially even 7th grade depending on the region. As a result, I wanted to make sure Grades 7 and 8 students could answer most, if not all, of the questions. Including pH/pOH, as well as weak acid/base calculations would be too advance for those students. Therefore, I decided to create two sets. Set One, shown here, is complete and I am unsure of the release date for Set Two (it should be prior to the time most teachers begin covering this unit). 

Finally, I should note that this set of task cards includes activity cards (a few smaller cards and most of the larger cards seen above). This means that some of the cards may ask students to develop a lab procedure or investigation, write a letter, song, poem, or acrostic; and so forth. This obviously may require the use of additional materials, such as technology for Internet access. However, I believe adding the activity cards to the task card set makes it a great differentiation tool for the chemistry classroom. Some students may be able to go directly to the activity task cards, while others may need more practice prior to attempting such cards. Additionally, teachers can give the activity task cards to students who finish early or use at the end of a grading period for students that come in seeking "make-up" work or extra credit. The possibilities are endless! 

Here are two example task cards:

The full product can be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


         My district offers professional learning (PD) for our high school science teachers known as Just-in-Time (JiT). We offer JiT sessions for biology, chemistry, and physics and have done so for the past three years.Why is it called Just-in-Time? Well, we offer an analysis / discussion of our state standards (TEKS) and provide activities a few weeks prior, or "Just-in-Time" before the new unit in our scope and sequence. 

Year I – JiT only included biology as that was the first year of Texas’s new standardized exam, STAAR. A full day planning session was offered to our teachers. I facilitated this  myself and mostly offered support concerning standards (TEKS) analysis and lesson pacing.

Year II – The curriculum specialist joined me for the second year of JiT. After attending one of our Region Service Center PD sessions, I came up with the idea of reformatting the JiT sessions. The morning half of the session would include the following activities:
  • unpacking/repacking the standards (TEKS)
  • Modeling best and research-based instructional practices that teachers could utilize with their students
  • New ways to present lessons/activities per content standard.
In the afternoon, teachers planned with their campus PLC teams to develop SMART goals, pacing calendars, and lesson plans.  In Spring 2013, we teamed up with our Region Service Center counterparts to facilitate the meetings (which made it easier on the curriculum specialist and myself).  Additionally, we began to encourage campus PLCs to interact with one another as I noticed that inter-campus interactions were limited.

Year III (current) – The curriculum specialist and I decided to keep the format of Year II slightly the same as our survey results from Year II indicated that teachers valued the JiT sessions.  The only difference is that we vary how we conduct the morning/afternoon sessions. Certain sessions offer activities in the morning and then planning time in the afternoon. Other sessions embed planning immediately after an activity has been presented so PLCs can brainstorm how they might utilize them. Not only does this allow them time to process the presented activities, they also have time to share their ideas with the larger group. 

I will say that the continued success of the JiT experience has been a collaborative effort between my office and the office of the science curriculum specialist; as well as our Region Service Center counterparts. Furthermore, we self-assess ourselves by asking participants to complete surveys to provide us with feedback (we usually have an 85-100% completion rate) and collect additional data through our conversations with individual or groups of teachers. I believe listening to the teachers is what has contributed to our success as we adjust our training to their needs (similar to what we would do in the classroom).

With that said, let me share some pictures from our latest chemistry JiT session. Participants engaged in activities and dialogue centered around the following concepts
  • Chemical bonding (ionic and covalent)
  • Chemical nomenclature (ionic and covalent)
  • VSEPR Theory
I Notice / I Wonder: Compound Gallery Walk. Here teachers (acting as students) conducted a gallery walk by looking at various covalently bonded compounds. Teachers were asked to leave 1 "I Notice" and 1 "I Wonder" per poster. Several great ideas on how to use or modify the activity emerged as a result.

Teachers use transparencies to help build Lewis Dot Structures for compounds. In addition, several teachers were introduced to the NASL method of drawing Lewis Structures.

Here we have a campus that brainstormed ideas immediately after a model lesson and activities were shared. We provide frequent time for PLCs to share ideas with one another

Compound Rummy, anyone? Here teachers learn how to play a compound building game to use with their students as a review of ionic bonding.

I'm looking forward to our next session. Stay tuned! :)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

For the Interactive Notebook: Strategies to engage students in writing

My district provides embedded professional development days known as Late Start for high schools. These occur on selected Thursdays throughout the school year. Faculty and staff start at 8a.m., and depending on the campus, engage in a variety of PD until 10am; school officially starts at 10:15am. I was asked to present strategies to engage students in writing for the Interactive Notebook at  a recent Late Start. 

I should note that several schools in my district were mandated to implement Interactive Notebooks INBs (or ISNs) in all core content areas - ELA, math, science, and social studies. The mandate occurred prior to the start of the school year and teachers who were unfamiliar with INBs had very little training and/or time to think about how they were going to utilize these in their classrooms. I was a little worried that this great tool for helping students would soon become something that our teachers would despise. Fortunately, many of the teachers realize the potential the INBs have for learning in the classroom. 

With that said, let me share with you some of the strategies I shared. I want to emphasize that I shared these strategies for writing as a tool for helping students with their thinking. 

Some key points to remember:

  •  Students may need more time to process content related information just taught. They may need more time to talk, learn, and/or investigate the concept.
  • Help students by modeling writing, as well as giving them tons of practice to build up their experience. 
  • Teachers must believe that students can be successful at writing at higher levels. It may take a lot of effort and scaffolding, but the eventual goal is to help develop students writing proficiency.

1. Photo of the Day

Use content or non-content related pictures to inspire students to write. The Photo of the Day could be used as a warm-up, during a break from the lesson, or as an exit ticket relating to the concepts learned that day.  Pictures can be utilized from various sources; however, National Geographic provides awesome graphics to help engage students in the writing process. The first time I went to the site I had only planned to browse for 10 minutes and ended up browsing over 2 hours! 

You may ask the students to write an observation, inference, and prediction concerning the photo. In Texas, for secondary EOC purposes, inference is a skill needed in all  4 core areas; while prediction is needed in math, science, and social studies. 

2. Prompt of the Day 

Similar to the Photo of the Day, you may use content or non-content related prompts to inspire students to write. Additionally, you may wish to include the prompt with a picture, song, video, animated gif, or article to help inspire students to write several paragraphs related to the prompt (I cannot remember where I located the Mario picture. It was from a blog, so if you know, please let me know so I can provide a credit).

-How is solving an equation like playing a video game? 
-Scientists have discovered a way to bring back certain species of dinosaurs. Discuss your thoughts on why this may be a good or bad idea.

3. Choice Menus** 
Differentiate! Provide students with choice and voice in regard to how they demonstrate their understanding of a concept. Students may show their understanding in writing by telling a story or creating a song, acronym, concept map, or rebus pictogram. 
**While preparing for the Late Start PD, I found this great resource from Jennifer Szymanski on Teachers Pay Teachers. Currently, it is a FREE product. The product allows students to showcase their understanding in fun and unique ways. Additionally, you can add more activities as the year progresses.Check it out: 

4. Writing Frames & Graphic Organizers
According to Besty Rupp Fulwiler (2010), students may not have received enough experience, modeling, or practice with different forms of writing.  Writing Frames scaffold student writing by providing a skeleton outline depending on the format of the frame such as: compare and contrast or providing opinions. 
These are useful for all ages and abilities as they help struggling writers activate prior knowledge in order to generate and organize their thoughts during the writing process.

I also had the participants engage in several strategies that I used with my students to get them up and moving; however, I will save sharing that for a later post. :)

5. Collaborative Poster
I wrote about this in an earlier blog post (click here to read about it). Depending on how you utilize collaborative posters, students may have an opportunity to read, write, listen, and speak. At least here in Texas, teachers would hit all components of the ELPS (English Language Proficiency Standards). Additionally, it is a great tool to provide students with practice and the experience needed to help them process content related information on the left-side of the interactive notebook.

Last but not least - resources: