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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What does a STEM Classroom Look Like? (cont.)

I posted back in November my ramblings on what a STEM classroom should look like.  Over the last two months I have thought about this a lot and I have begun making subtle changes in my classroom and in my plans.  On January 22nd I received a new group of students.  (I teach one group of 7th graders the first half of the year and the second group the second half of the year.)  So over break I reflected A LOT!  I revamped my Money Management unit and found new games and activities for the kids as well as restructured my general approach to lessons.

Learning Centers

I have always loved a centers-based approach to learning.  That is one of the primary things I miss about teaching elementary school.  There are TONS of resources for creating primary and elementary learning centers, but few on middle level and high school centers.  In the past I have always tried my best to integrate rotating centers in the classroom, but at times found it easier just to have all of my students working on the same game or activity.  This mind set was changed when I met with the literacy coach in my building for my wind energy unit.  She supported my passion for learning centers and offered a number of suggestions.  First, she suggested taking the packet of information I had planned to give to the kids and breaking it down into four centers.  Students would rotate through four centers in the course of two days.  Since my classroom layout lent itself for this, I gave it a whirl.  I took her suggestion for creating a puzzle at one station and reading to the students at another.  I then found a video very similar to the other article for the students to watch in place of reading.  For the last station the students looked at different forms of persuasive media and discussed what they saw in their groups.  This was what I did the first time around and I plan on making many changes the second time around.  Since this unit I have introduced the stamp.  As students complete centers and have them checked by me, they earn a stamp.  The kids love this and it makes grading the packets when they are collected much easier. 

As a whole the centers are FANTASTIC!  They take a lot of time to plan and set up for - making packets with questions that correspond to the games the students play, charts for documenting data or progress, reading comprehension keys for highlighting articles... - but in the end they are worth it.  I am promoting significantly more self-exploration in students and allowing them to figure things out for themselves.  The students all enjoy the centers, especially the fact that they are 20 minutes long.  If a student doesn't care for a particular activity, they know they will be rotating to a new one shortly.  (I usually try to have online games at two of the stations opposite each other so that each day each group has the opportunity to play a game.)


As I mentioned previously, I feel I need a STEM library.  Over the last two weeks a lot has developed on the STEM library front.  First, money was "found" in the library budget for science texts to be purchased.  Each grade was "assigned" $660 to use to buy book collections to be kept in the library and used by teachers in science class.  I am part of the 7th grade science team/department so while working on our list of book sets we wanted, I added a few STEM sets and then we hung around until all of the grades submitted their requests.  Our patience paid off, not all of the grades "spent" their money!  So, we absorbed their extra funds and my STEM book sets were purchased.  YIPPIE!  My plan is to have books for EVERY unit I teach so that I can incorporate them into my learning centers.  In addition, while meeting with the literacy coach in my building, she shared two texts that she had available for me to borrow and use in my classroom.  For each of the books (one on money and another on inventions/inventors) she would be able to gather multiple copies so I could use them at a center or as an entire class.  Next year I hope to continue to build my library with resources the kids can use.

Assessment Portfolios

For the second half of the year I have created assessment portfolios for each of my students.  MANY of my students are not sharing their rubrics with their parents and this is leading to a number of parent phone calls.  Parents are not understanding their child's grade because my feedback is not being shared with parents.  To solve this break down in communication, I created assessment portfolios to file all of the students' graded papers and rubrics.  From this point forth I will pass back papers and/or conference with student groups and then collect them and file them in the portfolios.  This way if a parent requests a meeting or calls in confused I have the rubric to refer to and can make copies to send home.  If this goes well, I think I may laminate a set of 250 manilla folders so that I can simply erase the students names when I am finished each semester and reuse the folders.


I want students to have the freedom to experiment and in order to do that I feel I need a variety of supplies available to students.  So, sitting out in the "student center" I have crayons, markers, colored pencils, and scissors.  I also have colored bins with colored paper and scraps of paper from other projects.  Tucked away I have recyclable materials for students to use, masking tape, rulers, string, and paint.  These supplies have come in handy with other projects, but shouldn't be left out because I teach 7th graders. :)  On each table group I have a colored basket with Post-it notes (for tweeting), highlighters, extra pencils and pens, glue sticks, and markers.  My goal in providing a variety of resources, even if they are just art supplies, is to promote creativity and self-exploration.  More recently I have begun creating resource folders for different units.  In these folders I include helpful or informative information for students to refer to if they are stuck or do not understand a topic of study.  For my Scratch unit, these folders had the "Getting Started" guide and the "User Guide" for Scratch.  Students constantly used this resource.  I made it available online as well, but the majority of students much preferred using the folder.  I will be creating resource folders for many of my other units as well.  (Just spit-balling...for my Restaurant Creation project I would include a guide to using Audacity and Paint as well as review information on scale.  Loving this!)

Back to work!  Have a fantastic week!!!

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Christmas and New Year's break did not go exactly as planned.  The way the holidays fell this year made the break feel like there were few non-holiday/weekend days to make appointments and get work done around the house.  My husband and I reconnected with some friends and our families over break as well.  Unfortunately we received heart breaking news on New Year's Day.  We were asked to come and say good bye to a very close friend that had recently suffered some complications from his cancer.  On January 6th he passed away quietly while surrounded by friends and family.  This has been a very difficult time for Eric and I.  We were delayed in our return to school and are just now readjusting to our school routine.

Now that I am starting to settle back into my school routine, I felt I needed to blog about my latest STEM project - SCRATCH!  My students have spent the last five days participating in mini-lessons that exposed them to how the different Scratch blocks work together to control a sprite.  I used many of the lessons and instructional videos found on Redware's Scratch website.  (There was one video missing and it was the video on importing sounds and graphics, but I found it on YouTube!)  We started with a brief vocabulary activity and then the video on creating sprites.  I gave the students five points for each day they completed the daily goal.  (Basically recreating the code from the instructional video.)  On the second day the students watched the video on turtle graphics and programmed their sprite to draw a shape or design.  Following turtle graphics the students completed importing sounds and graphics one day, sensing another, and then broadcasting last.  When I asked the students how helpful the mini-lessons were they told me very because it showed them what some of the blocks meant.  Most of my students met their goal just minutes after I told them to begin and then would spend the rest of the class period experimenting with the other blocks of code.  The kids are REALLY enjoying all of the freedom with this unit.

If you haven't checked Scratch out yet, you HAVE to download this free program developed by MIT to play with.  It would make a FANTASTIC middle school club.  More on Scratch to come!