Tag Archives: Personalized Learning

Science Olympiad 2016

Discover. Play. Build.

This past weekend, my school’s Science Olympiad team competed against 26 other Varsity Teams at a local university. Our team placed 10th overall! I am so happy that our team earned medals in 10 out of 19 events! Fourteen out of 18 of our students won individual medals where they placed anywhere from 2nd to 9th in their events. They had worked so hard to learn all that they could about 19 different events ranging from weather, force and motion, fossils, landforms, CSI, electricity/magnetism, animal adaptations, insects and plants, outer space, circulatory/respiratory systems and data collections to building a Pasta Tower out of hot glue and dry spaghetti, folding paper airplanes and flying them, designing a blueprint to build a rollercoaster out of K’Nex blocks, catapult building and launching marshmallows to specific distances, shooting bottle rockets after engineering the best designs after multiple test launches day after day and building a structure while following written directions from a partner. To see short descriptions of each event, go to this link: http://www.sciencenc.com/2016%20NCSO%20Elementary%20Event%20Descr

I took a chance when I decided to be their Head Coach this year. I didn’t want to feel overwhelmed but sometimes have been known to bite off a bit more than I can chew what with also being a wife and mom in addition to being a Technology Teacher.  Nineteen students were on this year’s team which was a much more manageable amount of students than when I had coordinated it in the past. My youngest child really wanted me to get the club started again like I had done when her older sister had gone through fourth and fifth grade. Back then, I organized around 100 students for each of the two years when I had done Science Olympiad Club three and four years ago. It was exhilarating while also feeling overwhelming as a classroom teacher to fourth graders. In past years, I devoted at least three hours for each event (except a few events that teachers and an expert parent coached) to create Smartboard files about each event which I shared with parents after school and then they used those files to deliver the three weeks of lessons on the events. My husband insisted that I not do it again until there was more support because of the time it took away from our family on weekends to prepare the S.O. lessons and afterschool while I met with each parent coach.

So, in the Fall of 2015, I asked my principal if I could send an email to each fifth grade teacher for them to send to each parent email list in their respective classes. I included a Smore digital poster with a link to which 19 parents responded. I included each of the 19 students in this year’s S.O. Club. I also put an announcement in the PTO newsletter announcing S.O.Club.

I decided that for this school year, with my own younger daughter being in fourth grade, I would start a club but allow students to be in the driver’s seat for many of the events. I created web links to support materials in a Google Classroom for my students and had them create collaborative Google Slides on their topics which they worked on during and outside of our Tuesday morning practices.  I am so glad that I personalized their experience by allowing them to choose the two or three events that they wanted to learn about and compete in then had them build Google Slides to curate their knowledge.  It was the way to go!  For the events that needed more hands-on participation, I was blessed with three parent coaches who helped them create Marshmallow Catapults and test them to reach various assigned distances, design a rollercoaster with K’Nex cubes in 40 minutes using a blueprint which they created and hot glue dry spaghetti pasta together into the form of a Pasta Tower to see how much sand it could hold at the tournament!

I was so glad that my daughter chose the 3,2, 1 Blast Off Event!.  I saw her go through the project based learning cycle and facilitated each step with her.  She had engineered bottle rockets and tested them several times at school.  We spent many weekends at our house with her cutting out wings from pizza boxes and taping them on numerous empty soda bottles.  We purchased clear cylinders from Lowes and taped them to the end of the bottle.  The rocket that she chose to launch at the tournament stayed aloft longer than any of her other test rockets!  It stayed up for around 12 seconds which was combined with her partner’s rocket time too for a final score.  They placed 11th out of 26 teams which was a great joy to us!  My daughter and I had to leave during the Science Olympiad tournament and drive to her Dance Recital.  She performed beautifully!  After taking pictures with family, she changed clothes, grabbed a snack and we headed back to the Science Olympiad Tournament. It was a very busy day but it was worth every minute to see her face not only as she retrieved her rocket after it performed so well but also to see her dance her heart away on stage!  She is a “Maker” reminding me of Krissy Venosdale’s description of them:

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Image Credit:  http://krissyvenosdale.com/2016/05/12/you-might-be-a-maker-if/

When this year’s S.O. Team came to my classroom from 8:15-8:45 this Monday morning for donuts with me to celebrate, I had them share their experiences about participating in the tournament during the past weekend. They were smiling as they wore their team tee shirts and talked about what went well and some things that didn’t go well.  I praised them for their effort to be at club meetings before school from January through May every Tuesday morning, to meet at each others’ houses for practices for certain events, for creating Google Slides about their Events then studying them and for giving amazing effort to be at UNC-Charlotte at 7:30 a.m. and competing all morning this past Saturday! It was a great day at the Tournament, however, very disappointing for the STEM Design Challenge team whose rollercoaster did not function as they had planned resulting in them not earning a medal. They had spent many practices together outside of school so this was very sad for them. It gave me the chance to praise their effort because it was never about earning medals. It was always about growing as problem solvers, collaborators, communicators and creators!  I decided to have this club to engage students in STEM topics and further their interest in STEM related careers. The process of meeting to learn about the 19 science topics from January through May of 2016 gave students opportunities to persevere, to work together on a shared project and to enjoy the journey.

They also appeared on our school news show today which elevated them as role models to rising fifth graders who will hopefully want to follow in their footsteps! I hope that by putting the S.O. Team on the morning news today, it elevated interest in the S.O. Club for next year for rising fifth graders. I have also been seeing more students wondering what the bottle rockets are which have been in my classroom and for me to explain a catapult that I have in my room.

In order to have a Science Olympiad club, there must be Administrative and parental support. My principal and Admin Team have been very supportive of me and encouraged me to not put too much on my plate. I was able to handle 19 students in a before school club much better than around 100 students which I had three and four years ago when I first ran a Science Olympiad Club. There is a lot of preparation and time that must be devoted to preparing students for the events.  It is my plan to continue to have One Varsity Team in the future because I can handle that amount of students and not feel like I am over extending myself with all of my responsibilities as a Technology Teacher to over 1,000 students. I will also have to gauge whether or not I can have the club next year based on the amount of coaches who will volunteer. I was able to manage this year with three parents as coaches. I know that one of those parents who will still have a child at my school is eager to help next year with the rockets and catapult events, but I will just need more help.

Our kids, overall, placed consistently higher in most Science Olympiad events than many other schools. Since I had run this club with only three coaches besides me, I couldn’t be happier with the results! I am celebrating my students and all that they learned in the process of preparing for the tournament.  I plan to announce the possibility of having an S.O. club in the PTO newsletter, on the school news and by parent email lists in the Fall of 2016 to gauge interest for having the club in the next school year. I hope we can do it again!
To see more about the Science Olympiad tournament, visit this link and look for posts around May 21, 2016.

After seeing the excitement for STEM in this before school club, I began to view our time together as Maker Time.  Students made designs, made Google Slides and made time to create!   Krissy Venosdale expresses her thoughts so well from her own Launch Pad experiences in her Texas school.  I wanted to end my post with one of her posters which has caused me to think about bringing out the maker in each child which is exactly what happened for five months during Science Olympiad preparations:

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Image Credit:  http://krissyvenosdale.com/2016/05/12/you-might-be-a-maker-if/

Thanks to Ruth Ayres who provides a linking space to share our Celebrations!

Personalized Learning

Discover. Play. Build.

I have linked up with RuthAyresWrites this Saturday to celebrate personalized learning.  I hope you will head over to the link above to enjoy other bloggers as they share their own celebrations.  Thanks to Ruth for the space to share my excitement about personalized learning.

I will start by saying how blessed I was this week to be mentioned by Sarah Broas in her blog called littlebitofliteracy.blogspot.com.  She wrote that she looked forward to reading my blog each week.  This was the first time someone wrote such a compliment in their blog about my blog.  I love Sarah’s blog and realized this week that due to her words and the words that bloggers write, I have grown personally and professionally.  Blogging about my teaching practices has given me a voice to add to the collective choir of educators around the world. It made me feel special to know that Sarah looks forward to reading my blog and encouraged me to continue my efforts. Blogging is a way to personalize my own learning as I write about what I have learned by trying out ideas that I have developed after reading other blogs, websites or Twitter ideas. My participation in Twitter chats on Monday evenings with the #tlap chat and the #flipclass chat along with the Sunday evening chat, #21stedchat, feeds my desire to make learning personal for me.

I also am celebrating how much I am learning about how to personalize learning for my students. One of the members of my PLN, Jill Thompson of #21stedchat, shared a link last Sunday evening to a video that jolted me into examining how playlists will be the future in education. Take a look here:


One of my responsibilities at school this year is to do morning and afternoon carpool duty.  I really enjoy greeting students.  Standing in freezing temperatures has been tough for me during the winter, but after eight inches of snow last week, we had 70’s this week so the thaw is beginning!  Getting to see the backseats and floors of cars with Barbie Dolls, empty fast food cups, and various other random items as I open the back door of the cars has helped me realize that I am not the only one whose car is not spotless.  I hear parents say one more time, “I love you,” as their bundles of joy scoot out of the seat with a load on their backs and lunchbox in hand.  I have grown to eagerly await this one two-door older model car each morning in hopes that I will get to open this child’s door instead of the other staff on duty.  Why?  Simple.  The mom in the driver’s seat always encourages her child with these final words as I close the door:  “Be the best you! “.   Say this sentence three times out loud.   Isn’t it full of empowerment and a call to rise to the challenge of a new day?  This mom’s voice is filled with joy as she exudes a spirit of confidence.  Her child expects mom to say it.  I expect the mom to say it.  It’s my cup of coffee by reminding not just the child but also me to put my best foot forward and be the best me.  I heard this mom say “Be the best you!” on Friday morning just as it started sprinkling.  As the mom drove away, the bottom of the sky dropped out, lightning began and thunder roared.  It was the  worst time for parents to have to drop off their children due to torrential rain.  The wind blew the rain sideways soaking my face, my hair under my hood and my pants.  Then, after enduring the flood, I entered the school to be the best me and teach.   (Thank goodness for getting to run home and change during my planning period!)

I also want to encourage my students to individually “Be the best you!” by setting up the conditions for them to learn and grow.  I have seen students’ creativity shine as they have designed amazing technology projects this year.  I have introduced them to a variety of new technology tools which they can now choose to use when creating content.  They can reach their potential by having choices in how they demonstrate their understanding.

In schools throughout the world, teachers are also redesigning their thinking about how teachers and students use technology.  The “sage on the stage” model is becoming replaced by the “guide on the side” as teachers allow web based resources such as videos to be shown to students to introduce content prior to the face to face lesson with the teacher.  This type of lesson delivery is known as The Flipped Classroom model.

During the last two years I have heard of teachers “flipping” their classrooms by assigning their students to watch videos for homework then diving into hands on labs the next day since the content had already been introduced.  I had taken notice of Kahn Academy’s videos, You Tube videos and videos placed in Educreations which would share, for example, math concepts with students.  Delivering content via video seemed genius to me since it allowed students the chance to listen to it as many times as needed.  If they missed something, they could just play it back.  I began assigning my fourth graders last year a variety of math videos at www.learnzillion.com.  I would place the links to the videos on my website to help students and to provide their parents with resources on how to help their child understand Common Core State Standards Math.  By combining my face to face instruction with digital sources, I blended the best of me and the best resources that I could find online.  I absolutely love how www.learnzillion.com has expanded their Common Core aligned videos this year!

During this school year, I started placing topical resources together at my website thinking that students could go back as needed to websites that I had bookmarked through an innovative website called www.blendspace.com.  I embed the specific code for the Blendspace that I create into grade level tabs at my website for my K-5 students called bit.ly/elonpark.  I love that Blendspace sends me weekly reports on how many times that one of my Blendspace creations has been used.

Last weekend, while participating in the #21stedchat on Twitter (Sunday nights at 8:00 EST) Jill Thompson suggested that I make playlists for my students using www.opened.io.  I investigated OpenEd and realized that it is a clearinghouse that connects teachers with vast resources that are related to a topic.   I began to see some similarities in my Blendspace topical creations and in playlists created with OpenEd.  I also discovered www.powermylearning.com as a way to search for videos on topics that my students learn.  PowerMyLearning also lets teachers create playlists for students built around specific topics and uses rich media Sources like PBS Learning Media, Scholastic’s Study Jams, etc.  I found an awesome resource for The Great Migration from a museum in Chicago through PowerMyLearning and will use it in my current historical fiction unit.  I put together a Fables playlist using my OpenEd account this week.  The digital resources that exist just need to be harnessed and compiled into playlists so that students can use them.  I can even see how students will create their own playlists that match their interests and levels.  This past week OpenEd just released their app which will allow teachers another way to flip their classroom and personalize learning.  See gettingsmart.com for a full description of how OpenEd is aligned to Common Core State Standards and other national standards.

Blendspace For Schools has just been launched by the Blendspace creators.  I signed up this week to receive a Blendspace for Schools demonstration via a Google hangout session to learn more about how I could use Blendspace.  I discovered that this tool will allow teachers to import their preassessments for students to take, grade the preassessments, and give students appropriate remediation videos to watch to build their knowledge about the topic.  If the student has mastered the concept, then Blendspace would provide the student with the next level of instruction.  Students would watch the instructional videos that had been previously selected by the teacher then take an informal assessment to show understanding of the topic.  Blendspace would show students who did not master the concept on the teacher’s screen then those students would be pulled for a small group.  The teacher would use her Face to Face (F2F) time with students to teach them while students who already mastered the content would move on to enrichment activities.  I was amazed at the pedagogical knowledge that Blendspace has which puts the teacher in the driver’s seat by still giving the teacher control over the resources that will be shared on the Blendspace with students in a linear, row by row, format, instead of in a grid format like the basic Blendspace.  I would encourage you to contact Blendspace and ask for a demonstration of Blendspace for Schools.

I learned that while in Blendspace, teachers can click on the OpenEd icon or the Gooru icon  and then resources can be found through these sites and placed in Blendspace.  I will share the ecosystems Blendspace that I had built two weeks ago, but then added on to it using the OpenEd search feature.  Even though Basic Blendspace doesn’t have the level of personalization that Blendspace for Schools has, I still like it as a way to bookmark web resources for lessons.  I will also share a few other Blendspaces that I have created this year.

Click on this link to see my Ecosystem Blendspace: http://blnds.co/LjRw3S

Click on this link to see my Digital Storytelling Blendspace:  http://blnds.co/17imYGy

Click on this link to see my Solar System Blendspace:  http://blnds.co/1eglq4N

I have allowed personalized playlist ideas to invigorate my thought process this week.  I am beginning to see how that personalized playlists will require a shift in the way teachers plan for instruction and in how they assess students.  Students will need digital devices in their hands to use Blendspace which is a challenge for some schools.  I allowed myself to see the possibilities of how teachers can personalize learning by searching for topics at http://www.opened.io and http://www.powermylearning.com.  I am excited about what is ahead for me as I personalize learning for myself and my students.  #bethebestyou

Please share how you are personalizing learning for your students.  I am eager to know more about managing playlists for each child.