Using Phenomena to Engage Students

The term “phenomena” is the newest buzzword in many education circles, including science. You know what I think of every. single. time. I hear this word? I visualize the muppets and this gem…

I smile and laugh to myself every time I hear this word, which immediately puts me in a good mood, and after a year of learning about and *attempting* to apply phenomena-based learning in my classroom, I still smile and laugh. As the new school year approaches I want to share my insights and hopefully persuade you into trying this type of student-driven learning in your classroom too!

Let’s begin at the beginning: what is a phenomenon (plural: phenomena)? The definition for this word is slightly different depending on your resource but all definitions have this in common: a phenomenon is an event that is observable. In a science classroom, students must be able to use disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts as evidence to support explanations for the cause(s) of the phenomenon in question. Hearing the term “phenomena” may connect you to the term “phenomenal” and lead you to believing a phenomenon must be an unusual or extraordinary event, however this is not true! While unusual and extraordinary events may seem like the most engaging options (i.e. What causes the Harvest Moon?Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 9.48.34 PM Why do we see dew in the summer but frost in the winter?), phenomena can also be the more common or “simpler” observation (i.e. How does a tiny acorn become a big tree? How/why does an icy drink become wet on the outside?). There are two ways to use phenomena in the classroom: anchoring phenomenon, which needs an entire unit to explain the observation, and a lesson-level phenomenon, which is an observation explained by smaller pieces of information that’ll eventually support the bigger ideas.

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My Interview with Brett Moulding & 3-Dimensional Science Learning


Meet Mr. Brett Moulding!

This summer I was able to complete the most challenging professional development I have ever attended and it has transformed my teaching forever. Very rarely do I come across the opportunity to attend a PD that focuses on both instructional strategies and science so when my District was approached about attending this PD I was excited! BIG THANK YOU to OKC Public Schools for bringing this amazing opportunity to teachers in Oklahoma! My teacher friend (and fellow OKSci Leadership Alumni!) is trying to bring this PD to the Tulsa/North Eastern area and I truly hope she can. Science education is changing, not only in Oklahoma but all over the US. This change is going to be hard. Teachers are going to need help with this transition. PD, like the one I attended, is going to be an important part of this process. For teachers that can’t attend PD I hope blogs like mine can provide the support they need. While I’ve done a short review of Moulding’s book, “A Vision and Plan for Science Teaching and Learning,” this post is going to focus on a short description of 3-Dimensional Learning and my interview with Brett Moulding. My posts this summer will then focus more on the 3D framework and provide examples and other links for more information.

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OSTA/OCTM State Conference!

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 6.16.05 PMLooking for a great, (and cheap!) local conference this summer? Don’t miss out on the joint Oklahoma State conference hosted by Oklahoma Science Teachers Association, and Oklahoma Council of Teachers of Mathematics. There will be 40 amazing presentations from local teachers to choose from AND lunch on site!

The Conference is Friday, June 10th and is located in Tulsa, OK. Cost is $15 and you can register here or register on-site at 8am. First presentation session begins at 8:30am.

I hope to see you there!

Reflecting on Year 6


Dear Classroom,

Year 6 was hard, harder than any other year. This year I taught 3 different preps, all in chemistry but different levels. My Chemistry 2 students pushed me to be a better teacher. They were always curious, always interested, and always wanted to understand why, and that was wonderful! This was my first year to teach CP Chemistry (college prep) and the pace was very different; fast. The students learned what I asked of them but I wasn’t very happy with what I was asking. There just wasn’t enough time to do what I would’ve liked to do with that class. And lastly my Chemistry 1 students; these kiddos pushed me to build better teacher-student relationships. I’ve never met a group quite like them. Labs required too much work. Lectures required too much writing. Task cards took too much time. Assignments had too many questions. You mean we have to look it up in our notes?! Watched ‘The Bomb’ documentary to extend nuclear chemistry concepts and I get, “Why should we care? It’s just a bunch of old people talking about something that happened forever ago.” My response? *@?!#@%* Needless to say, it was frustrating. Most days I managed behaviors rather than teach. Parent contact helped sometimes, but you can only contact parents and administrators for the same behaviors so many times before you just give up. Then I would get frustrated with giving up, and I’d try again. It was exhausting, and there were tears (by both me and the students). We openly acknowledged their dislike for chemistry but tried pushing them anyways. I know all parties involved were happy summer finally came. lol Whiteboard

Despite the crazy, I love, love, love that group of students. Every single one of them. From the students that would never sit in their seat, to the students who never stopped talking. I learned what they loved, where and how often they worked, after school activities, made deals for retweets, became more creative with assignments, and so much more. I was very aware of the hardships in their lives, and would attempt to work with them to find solutions on how to keep up with their class work.  I saw how much they cared for each other, and the support they’d give each other. It was beautiful to watch and be a part of. It was a great reminder that the students in my room are so much more than bad chemistry students. They are smart, caring young men and women, and will do and accomplish many amazing things, it just won’t be in chemistry. lol  I will miss them, and hope that maybe one day they won’t hate chemistry (even if that is wishful thinking lol). Continue reading

Culminating Projects as Summative Assessments

Making science relevant to teenagers. There’s a difficult thing to do! It’s not as simple as: “Oh you like explosions? Let’s learn about the science of explosions!” I mean, yes we could do this however it’s such a small part of “science” that what will I do with the other 175 days of school???? The challenge is finding ways of making all science concepts relevant to the teenager who is more interested in the latest snap chat lol I am trying to find ways of engaging students in the required concepts of reactions and stoichiometry with their curiosity of blowing things up but of course this requires time and it requires getting educators out of their comfort zones of the “usual” teaching routine. I am not just talking about other educators, I am most definitely including myself. We get comfortable with a certain order and then stick to it. It can be very hard to step-out and try something new and I am accepting this challenge. I’ve made small changes for about 3 years now and am beginning to LOVE it!

One of the changes I’ve made is using culminating projects as the summative assessment for standards we have completed. Students seem to enjoy them and I can still check for understanding. Sometimes I also have another supporting assignment but not always. I’m (currently) a fan of poster projects because 1) students always check out each others work and 2) I use them later for reviews and/or a way to assess student understanding of the concepts by having them check each other’s work.

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Science Centers in a Secondary Classroom


Science Centers: a hands-on approach to learning, that encourages students to experiment and explore using interactive activities. My thoughts about using science centers in my classroom began with my daughter and how she learns. Here’s a little back story:

My daughter is a very energetic child that has a hard time focusing. Pre-K was repeated because of this (which was one of the hardest parental decisions I’ve had to make so far but boy did it make a difference!). Year 1 in Pre-K students learned their letters based on the order of the alphabet; seems logical right? I mean, we say the letters in a particular order so why not learn them that way? But have you ever stopped to think why letters are in that order? Does it really matter? The answer is no, it doesn’t matter. We’ve put letters into alphabetical order for so long that the reason we continue to do so is simply because that’s the way it has always been done. Now put yourself in the shoes of a 4-year-old. Doing something “simply because that’s the way is has always been done” doesn’t really interest you. You want to explore the world around you. That’s how you learn and very rarely is this done in a logical order. Learning “a” then “b” and now “c” and finally all those letters mixed together to spell something called a “word” can be overwhelming! This is what happened to my daughter. She wanted to learn. She tried very hard to learn but learning this way did not work for her. So we repeated Pre-K, this time in a new District where learning was done differently. At this new school students would move to different centers when learning. My daughter had options of drawing the letter, coloring the letter, and recognizing the letter in words that had meaning to her (mom, friends, names, etc…). This made a HUGE difference in my daughters success at school.

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Science Sundays – Augmented Reality!

Imagine a classroom of fully engaged students, using technology to create an interactive 3D environment with a regular piece of paper. Sounds crazy and expensive right? Nope! Not only can it be done for FREE, nearly every student already has the required technology!


It’s called augmented reality: the ability to manipulate one’s perception of reality with a computer device (including cell phones!). Students are not only excited about it, they will actually WANT to do their work! I discovered this amazing resource at a local EdCampScience event. If you haven’t been to one of those, you are missing out! EdCampScience is a professional development opportunity led by the teachers that attend. Each session is dependent on who is willing to share, and the great thing about this event is that everyone wants to collaborate. To me, that is the best type of professional development. Continue reading

Science Sundays – Catalyst Investigation!

New year. New goals. One of them being more blog posts, so welcome to Science Sundays! Each Sunday I’m going to write something about science, and classroom activities, instructional strategies, or current events!

This week’s topic will be: Catalyst Investigations! I felt this should be the first ‘Science Sunday’ since my last post was all about the stress of implementing labs and it’s only right to write about the great parts too 🙂

The slow-mo video below shows my students testing a gas that is produced when hydrogen peroxide and potassium iodide interact:

The glowing wood splint reignites as it interacts with the gas being produced by the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide (into water and oxygen gas). While I used this lab to study catalysts, it could also be used for learning types of reactions!

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The Trouble with Lab is…

The trouble with lab is…said to the tempo of Kelly Clarkson’s song “The Trouble with Love Is.” Don’t know the song? Here ya go…

What’s got me singing the lab blues? Exhaustion, frustration, and well my belief that it will be better next time. We all know students can’t wait to do a lab. They beg for them starting day 1, “Mrs. J, when are we going to do a lab?” “Please can we do a lab?” I have 3 preps this year (Chem 1, 2 and college prep) so my Chem 1 classes have seen the set up for the others and have been particularly eager.

Last week the time had finally come for my classes to do a lab….all of them….at the same time….over multiple days. (Side note: we’ve been doing labs all semester but I’ve been able to stagger them….unfortunately not this time) To say the week was stressful would be an understatement. First, I want to say I work with amazing colleagues who help with set up when they can, but even with their help managing three different labs was a bit much. Chem 2 is working on Collision Theory and the conditions that affect reaction rates, CP Chem is beginning heating and cooling concepts, and Chem 1 is focused on mixtures, solutions, and chemical/physical changes. The only thing these labs had in common was a ring stand lol If you’re a teacher that has to set up labs I don’t have to tell you about the amount of time required to set up for ONE lab, let alone three! (It’s HOURS, for everyone else) Thank you Ryan Reynolds for knowing my pain….

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Safety Posters

I love when I can make learning rules less boring and one way I’ve done that is by having students choose a rule and make a poster based on it. I heard about this idea during the many, many hours of safety video training I had to endure. 7 hours of training resulted in 1 new idea BUT the students love it and we’ve now done this for 3 years! Once all the posters are completed (they get 1-2 days) we do a poster walk-through; the favorites are laminated and hung up in the classroom. Students love looking at their artwork and I can decorate a part of my room for free! It’s a win-win 🙂 I also did this activity with my Advisory using the school rules from our handbook. It made that discussion much more interesting! lol

Below are some of my favorites from the safety posters. Enjoy!

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