August 31, 2016

YouTube Resource Round-Up: Videos for Teachers

Supplement your curriculum with videos for Teachers -- short, engaging, content-rich material for you and your students (mostly science, but other subjects, too!)

This past week, I found myself in a YouTube rabbit hole.  Has that ever happened to you? You go to watch one video on YouTube and the next thing you know, it's 3-hours later and you're still watching, but something so wholly unrelated to what you started with that you couldn't explain the path you took to save your life!

The good news for you is that my binge-fest resulted in discovering some short, engaging, content-rich material for you and your students! So much of this makes for great mini-lessons, review, etc. And because it's on YouTube, you can easily link to your class website for absent students to review, or just to watch again for deeper understanding! I find I notice something new every time I watch a video!

Part of the great content I found, I have embedded below.  (I also found plenty of less-than-awesome content, but that stuff didn't make the list! You don't know it, but I've saved you hours of time!)

Note: I don't have any connection to any of the content creators or their channels. I just really love what they're doing!

I've embedded my own YouTube video first, which is an introduction where I briefly give a quick introduction to several YouTube channels that span grades 2 - 12, focusing mostly on science, but not entirely. I'd definitely give that a watch first! 

Spotlight Playlists

I've included two playlists for your viewing pleasure! The first set of videos is for you, and the second set is for you to introduce the engineering process to your class. 

Failure is Important!

This set of videos is for you and potentially administrators and parents about the importance of teaching students to be creative, innovative, risk-taking, failure freaks!

Prepare Our Kids for Life, Not Standardized Tests

We Need to Teach Our Kids to be Makers: Marita Cheng at TEDxSydney

Why I Teach My Children to Fail | Jim Harshaw 


Engineering Videos for Your Class

The second set is for your students, covering topics in the Engineering Process in ~4 minute segments. The perfect amount for time for class starters/finishers! 

Engineers for 2nd - 3rd graders:

Solve Problems: Be an Engineer!
Video description from YouTube:
Learn about engineers, who dream up a lot of the things you use every day, from toys to tools!

The Engineering Process for 4th - 6th graders:
The videos below brilliantly and simple describe the engineering process in small, easy chunks. The series was designed to meet 5th grade standards, but I think they'd be great to use with grades 4 - 6, and perhaps younger and older students. Give a few a watch to see for yourself!

And a cool thing to know if you're a 5th grade teacher: Click on the video descriptions within YouTube, and you'll find the linked 5th grade Next Generation Science Standards that the video explores! I think they're all great, but my favorites are "Succeed by Failing" and "Fixing Failure Points".

What's an Engineer? Crash Course Kids #12.1
Video description from YouTube:
You've heard of Engineers, I'm sure. But, what are Engineers? Well, it turns out that they're all kinds of people doing all kinds of neat work! Want to be one? Well, join Sabrina in this episode of Crash Course Kids where she talks about what they do and why they do it!

The Engineering Process: Crash Course Kids #12.2
Video description from YouTube:
So, how do we go about being engineers? In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina talks to us about the Engineering Process and why we should do things in order, as well as many of the questions we should ask along the way. 

Defining a Problem: Crash Course Kids #18.1
Video description from YouTube:
So, how do engineers even figure out what problem needs to get fixed? And what's the difference between identifying a problem and just complaining about something. In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina talks about how we can all be better Engineers by understand what problems we want or need to solve. 

Defining Success: Crash Course Kids #18.2
Video description from YouTube:

In our last episode, Sabrina talked about how Engineers define the problems they need to solve. But how do you know when you've actually solved a problem? What do you expect to happen that would equal success? In this episode, Sabrina chats about how Engineers look at results to help them know when they've achieved success.

Got Some Solutions?: Crash Course Kids #26.1
Video description from YouTube:
So, there might not be just one solution to a problem. I know that may sound weird, but it's true. So, how do you come up with multiple solutions? In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Engineer Sabrina shows us how to do that.

Let's Fly!: Crash Course Kids 26.2 
Video description from YouTube:
Selecting which solution is the best solution to a problem may seem difficult at first. But if you are patient and think about what you need an effective solution to be, you can do it. In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina shows us how to do just that by going back to our original problem at the gorge. 

A Case of "What-Ifs": Crash Course Kids #29.1 
Video description from YouTube:
Variables: What are they? In the case of engineering, variables are a condition or value that can change. Sometimes we control a variable, sometimes we don't. In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina chats to us about how variables affect our choices as engineers.

Engineering Games: Crash Course Kids #29.2 

Video description from YouTube:
So how can a game teach us about engineering? Pretty easily! When you're trying to solve a game, or a puzzle, or whatever, you will have a bunch of variables. The trick is knowing how to change one variable at a time to see what changes. In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina plays a game with Catbot to show us how!

Bowled Over - Isolating Variables: Crash Course Kids #39.1
Video description from YouTube:
So, variables. There are lots of them when trying to test an idea. The trick is to isolate one variable at a time to get reliable results every time. But, how do we do that? In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina shows us how to isolate variables at the bowling alley!

Try Trials: Crash Course Kids #39.2
Video description from YouTube:
We've talked about variables and solving problems. But how do we keep working on a problem if the first solution doesn't fix it? Trials! In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina shows us how to use Trials to figure out what the problems are with our solutions.

Succeed by Failing: Crash Course Kids #42.1
Video description from YouTube:
We all know that failure is bad... but is it? Actually, Engineers need things to fail so they can understand how to make things better. In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina chats to us about failure points and how they can help us find better solutions to problems. 

Fixing Failure Points: Crash Course Kids #42.2                                
Video description from YouTube:
Now that we've talked about failure points, let's talk about how to fix them. In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina shows us how to set up models and trails to find and fix failure points.

Designing a Trial: Crash Course Kids #44.1                                
Video description from YouTube:

It's time to design some trials. Sometimes engineers need to figure out how to test ideas. In order to do that, we need to design trials to find failure points and see how things are going to work in the real world (with gravity, wind, and human error all factored in). In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina takes us to the fair to help us design a trial.

Testing and Trials: Crash Course Kids #44.2                                
Video description from YouTube:
More trials! This time we need to figure out what to do if you don't have all the things you'd like to have to perform your tests. How do you isolate a variable across multiple tests? A good engineer will work to find a way to make it happen. In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina shows us some ways to do just that. 

The Robot Challenge: Crash Course Kids #47.1                                
Video description from YouTube:
Robots! They're everywhere. We use them for all kinds of things that we can't, or don't want to do. In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina shares a problem with us that can probably be solved by building an awesome robot. So let's take the robot challenge!

Architecture Adventure: Crash Course Kids #47.2                     
Video description from YouTube:
If we want to build a place for us to live, or to hang out, or do eat dinner with our friends, we're going to need a special kind of engineering called architecture. In this episode of Crash Course Kids, Sabrina gets us to help her build a place where she can have some alone time and rock out to Taylor Swift. 

Let's Build a City: Crash Course Kids #48.1                                
Video description from YouTube:
So, we've built a lot of things over the last year and we've become awesome engineers in the process. But now it's time for a real challenge. Let's build a city! That's right, you heard me! In this episode, Sabrina shows us what we need to think about when we start engineering something as huge and full of problems as a city!

City-building challenges are a classic! They've been around for ages in many variations! If you like the idea of trying one for yourself, I created one called "New Earth City" in which students design a city on a distant planet at a time in he future when Earth has become uninhabitable. You can find it linked below.


I hope you'll find these videos as helpful and/or interesting as I did. If you head over to my YouTube channel, you'll can see some I'm subscribed to just a handful of channels. The clips for your classroom embedded above came from SciShow Kids and CrashCourse Kids, but there are other channels there you'll definitely want to check out, particularly for middle school students and above.

August 30, 2016

In Defense of the Lazy Teacher

In Defense of the Lazy Teacher: Blog post examines whether teachers who buy lesson plans are lazy or not doing their jobs well.

In friendly conversation, people sometimes ask what I do. When I tell them one of the ways I earn income is by creating and selling lesson plans online, a common response goes something like, "Wow ... that seems kind of lazy for the teachers to just buy lesson plans. I always thought that was part of their jobs... but I guess that's cool you can earn money that way."

If you are currently/have ever been a teacher or have one in your family, you are probably feeling that all-too familiar, bitter-tasting fury bubbling up from your belly to the back of your throat. I can't even count how many times I've choked on idiot-induced bile!  I can just hear someone saying, "Ooh - that's not nice! Teachers shouldn't call people idiots." Well, I'm not in the classroom anymore, and these are grown-ups. Any adult who classifies teachers as lazy is an idiot. Period. Let's not mince words.

People are constantly shooting their mouths off about teachers. They consider themselves experts on education by virtue of having been students, which has always struck me as bizarre. By the same logic, since I have been a patient, should I feel confident in asserting my "expert" opinions regarding the medical field?! 

And even though you know it's misinformed crap, their "expert" opinion tears at you. It makes you sad, furious, disappointed and depressed because you have given everything you've got to help other people's children -- often to the neglect/detriment of your own family and well-being. You do this at well-below most professional salaries, while politicians in the media continue to call you overpaid. You don't expect a medal for it, but to have your job so roundly misunderstood is sometimes too much to bear on top of the weight of the job itself. To be blamed for society's ills and called lazy, part-time workers, greedy, money-hungry pension hogs...

I'll admit, while I was in the trenches, all I wanted to do was cry when I heard things like this.  I was just so tired and worn out; I found it hard to continue a conversation with "experts" on education. Now, I react differently: rather than suffer fools, I have the energy to inform them.  

Flashback to 2012:
After 10+ years of teaching, I burned out and went to work for an entertainment company in Burbank, CA as an administrative assistant. My desk was a famously busy one at the studio, but it was basically a huge volume of relatively simple tasks. Doing work with such low stakes was such a relief to me. At the end of the day, I got to be done. I could go home and have a life outside of work. It was bliss.

One of my new co-workers engaged me in the following conversation one day:

You read that correctly: it would take about 6 weeks of full, 24-hour days to expertly plan just one week of instruction. 

Could you do it with less time? Obviously, teachers do it all the time.

Could you do it expertly, differentiated, and in a highly-engaging way for every subject area, every hour, every day on less time? I don't believe so -- at least not in significantly less time.  Perhaps there are a few unicorn teachers out there making this work in the allotted time using only their own materials, but I've yet to see one with my own eyes!

A devil's advocate might point out here that my co-worker doesn't give presentations all day long for his career, so it should take him much longer to plan than a teacher. Plus, a teacher already has textbooks and other materials; she isn't starting from scratch.

First, am I to understand that using a textbook that the teacher didn't pen herself is not lazy, but purchasing/using the plans of other teachers is? That logic isn't ... well ... logical, so I'll put that aside for now and focus on some other salient points. 

To the devil and his advocate, I say:

Yes, my co-worker's lack of experience planning presentations would put him at disadvantage time-wise. He, however, also has a great number of advantages to consider:

Just a few of the things those in the business world are not confronted with when they are planning an important presentation - but teachers will find all too familiar.

It's hard to imagine when you're in it, doing the work, that people have no idea about even half of what the job entails!  My points above don't cover everything, I know, but I hope it's a decent start to clear up any misunderstanding about a typical teacher's work ethic.

Incidentally, I do agree with my co-worker's number. It does take about 30+ hours of work to plan a one-hour lesson that is thoroughly engaging and addresses content standards in a deep and meaningful way for a diverse group of students. The whole-class instruction model my co-worker would use in his department meeting is the easiest kind of lesson to plan, in my opinion. Small-group, differentiated instruction requires even more time and careful planning. 

For example, my former school district occasionally gave teachers an opportunity to participate in lesson studies wherein four teachers worked for two days to create, test, evaluate, and revise one 1-hour lesson. That's 4 teachers x 16 hours = 64 hours for just one fabulous lesson.   

So, no, buying lessons is not a sign of laziness. It is a sign the teacher has a grasp of simple math. Could she create her own lessons given the time? Most certainly! But we've already established this time doesn't exist within the current framework of the universe: six weeks of planning for every one week of instruction isn't just impractical, it's impossible. 

Buying lessons that are creative, engaging, and well-thought-out is pragmatic for other reasons too; time is not a teacher's only limitation! People have different gifts and strengths. Why not embrace that fact? For example, I LOVE teaching science and writing. That's not to say I'm not good in other areas, but am I outstanding in other areas? I've seen incredible ideas for math and social studies that I have enough humility to admit surpass what I could come up with on my own, no matter how much time I had. And why should I exhaust my time and energy when it's already out there, fully-developed by a passionate colleague and expert? Ever hear the expression about reinventing the wheel? 

You might disagree, but I see no virtue in martyrdom. I wish I had the wealth of options that exist today when I was still in the classroom rather than relying on what I could find in stores from a few select publishers; it would have been a game-changer. Maybe I wouldn't have burned out after a decade of dedication. Maybe my career would have been sustainable if I hadn't been trying to do it all myself...

Lesson plans are tools of the trade. Creating your own tools is one thing. How you use, refine, and customize them for your students' needs goes more to the heart of excellent teaching. What's weird and gross isn't that teachers are buying lesson plans, it's that they're usually paying for them out-of-pocket on a salary that doesn't nearly measure up to their professional peers -- a wage-gap that grows wider each year

By the way, since leaving teaching, I've not paid for a single marker, pen, stapler, piece of copy paper, or anything else needed to do my job. Not even once.

Regardless of the field or task, one considers the goal and the best methods to achieve it. Cancer doesn't care how unique or "homemade" the doctor's treatment plan is; it only matters that it works. Teachers who buy lesson plans are applying the same logic: when the best tools to help their students succeed already exist, they don't hesitate in using them. That's not lazy; it's smart and it's effective. 

People outside of education often have no clue about what teachers do all day. What's annoying is how much they think they know by virtue of having been students in a classroom.


Linking up with some great bloggers this month -- check them out:

photo credit: Hanging at Twin via photopin (license)
photo credit: Angry tiger via photopin (license)
photo credit: the mustachioed unicorn : tshirt painting, torbakhopper, castro, san francisco (2013) via photopin (license)
photo credit: King George Military Hospital, 3rd floor theatre, Dr. Barrington Ward and Dr. Lillian via photopin (license)
photo credit: L'Heure de tous via photopin (license)

August 24, 2016

Guest Blog Post Announcement

Special Announcement:

This marks two times in one month I haven't posted on my own blog as usual on Thursdays, but the reason is a good one, I promise!  I was invited to guest post on a couple of great blogs. I want you to be able to find these posts easily!

This week, I have created a special guest post on Minds in Bloom:

The post combines video with traditional blog and covers the top reasons I hear from teachers about why they aren't using STEM challenges in their classrooms along with how to get past those issues! 

August 19, 2016

Back to School STEM Challenge: Apples A-head

Use this back to school STEM challenge with 2nd - 8th graders as an ice-breaker to build your class community!

I've mentioned before, I hate ice-breakers so much!  I acknowledge they're hard to avoid, but I prefer finding interesting alternatives to interviewing you partner and reporting to the class.

One I think is a lot of fun for back-to-school is Apples A-head -- get-it? A-head! hahahaha! I love a punny title! It's a STEM challenge combined with a relay race. Because I spent most of my ten teaching years in 5th-6th grade (with a few stints in 2nd, 4th, and 7th), I like to incorporate as many subject areas into an activity as I can. Bang for the buck, baby!

Side note - this is why I chose my master's degree program in Design-Based Learning in which we were required to design a year-long curriculum centered around design challenges, incorporating cross-curricular instruction between design iterations and using student designs as the context for learning...whoa! that's a mouthful! That's whole story for another day! Back to our regularly-scheduled post!

As I was saying, in Apples A-head students work against a Criteria & Constraints List in partners/groups to design headwear to balance one or more apples on their heads (more apples = greater difficulty) which will be used to compete in a relay race. 

Does this sound like something right up your alley? I explain more in this video below. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.

This one is so much fun! Deceptively simple, with plenty of small tweaks you can make to increase/decrease difficulty -- and plenty of opportunity for cross-curricular connections! 

My favorite (or I should perhaps say least-hated!) ice breakers are the ones where your team has to work together to accomplish a creative or otherwise problem-solving task. This one fits the bill and then some! 

If you do this with your class, I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to hear about it and/or see pics! You can message me in the comments or email (in the page header, click on the envelope icon on the purple ribbon).

Want to see an example of student designs in action? Check out these blog posts from other teachers who ran the challenge in their classrooms:

Stephanie at Teaching in Room 6

Kathie at Tried & True Teaching Tools

Susie at The Panicked Teacher 

Video Transcription

Welcome to part five of five. It's our last back-to-school STEM challenge. I'm a little sad, but don't worry, I will be back and I will have more for you. Let's go ahead and get started. At every challenge you know I like to start with a reason to do back-to-school challenges in those first weeks of school. So today, I have two reason for you. The first is there is a lot of great conversation that comes out of this, so if you like to have class meetings, a lot of topics will be generated from these challenges, some good, some bad. I had to deal with frustration and how to deal with team members when you aren't getting along. How to decide fairly whose idea to use. All of these are gonna be great fodder for your classroom meetings. And the other reason is students are gonna go home and they are gonna talk about these challenges with their parents and that is going to make it a lot easier for you to request donations of materials for future STEM challenges. Win-win.

As I said before, this is challenge five of five, it is called Apples Ahead. Let's take a closer look at the materials and I'll be right back.

I've discussed the details of the STEM Challenge Cycle in the Apples Aloft video. You can click on the STEM Challenge Cycle title above now and it will take you to that section of Apples Aloft. So, you might be familiar with some of my STEM challenges and I love to combine the STEM challenge with a little bit of PE and this is one such challenge. The students are going to be making an apple balancing device so they can wear on their heads and they can use it to compete in a relay race. It has elements of STEM, elements of PE, and elements of strategy involved.

Again, we are going to plan for 90 minutes in order to complete this STEM challenge and that does include the actual running the relay race. And one of the things that you wanna keep in mind is that each student and team should make his or her own head wear that way they don't have to transfer the head wear and you don't have to worry about having lice fiasco during the first couple weeks of school. Nobody wants that.

By now you might be wondering, is she going to wear that the entire time she talks? Yes, she is going to wear this the entire time she talks. One of the things you wanna do for set up is you wanna think about where you can hold the relay race, so make sure you have that in mind and you're gonna need either cones or you can use chairs so that at the far end of the relay course students will have something that they can walk around. And you also want to think about what is the mode of the relay race. Are you having students just walk the course, which is probably recommended and it's hard to go much faster with an apple on your head. But you might want to throw in some obstacles, like, they have to turn around in a circle or they have to hula hoop or squat or jump or whatever. You might wanna throw in some obstacles just for fun.

I recommend making sure that each group has its own timer. I'll let students use their cell phones if they have them for that or if I don't have a stop watch. It just makes it easier on you as the teacher not to have to call out times and figure out who was first and all of that. You wanna be able to have each group know what their own time is because when they do the second iteration which hopefully they will, you don't have to on this one, it's a little bit lighter. But it is fun to see how you can improve your time by improving your designs but also by grouping your team work from your strategy. So, this is a great team-building exercise and it's a lot of fun.

The reason you want to have the students have their timers is rather than determining their success based on, oh, our team came in first place or our team came in third place, it's better to use your time as more concrete. So, the time it takes you to complete the relay course for each race, that way you can compare over time how to improve.

Again, you wanna take a look for your cross-curricular connections and if you wanna save yourself some time and some prep work, take a look at the actual resource.

This resource is going to save you a bunch of time and ensure you get the most out of implementing the challenge. Just a reminder, the grade levels are set second through eighth because the resource contains modifications for grades two through eight. You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards for engineering and physical science for grades two through eight. In Teacher Tips, you'll find premise and set up, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, directions for running the relay race and measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions including links to videos and articles to help you and your students understand more about Newton's Law of Motion. Please, note although several of my back-to-school challenges explores Newton's Law of Motion, the links to articles, videos, and websites to enrich understanding are unique by challenge. You'll find the materials list as well as a Criteria and Constraints list which is editable so you can tailor the challenge to your students.

For Student Handouts, there are two versions. Four-page expanded room for response for younger students and a two-page condensed space paper saver version. You'll also find a set of group discussion questions. In the Extension Handouts you'll find an apple writing and math extension templates as well as process flow templates. This resource is available individually and as part of a discounted bundle. Links can be found in the description below the video.

I hope that you really enjoyed the back-to-school STEM challenge series. I really enjoy putting seasonal STEM challenges together and if you wanna see more like it, take a look in the links in the description below for my store and you can see the 44 challenges I put together so far, most of which are seasonal but not all. And there is a freebie in there too. Make sure that you like and subscribe. I will be back next week but I'm not telling you with what yet. I'll see you then.

August 11, 2016

Spotlight: August 2016

You might have noticed the "Spotlight" tab in my menu above. Each month, I'll be highlighting something special, and when the time comes to switch out that page (toward the middle of each month), I'll transfer it to the regular blog posts.  

Here's the spotlight from August 2016:

This month, I've launched a new YouTube channel to share tips, tricks, and walk-throughs of some of my STEM challenges. Here's what's up so far:

Intro to STEM Challenges: The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How

The 5 Keys to STEM Challenge Success

STEM Challenges: Your Role as Facilitator_part 1

STEM Challenges: Your Role as Facilitator_part 2

STEM Challenge Materials: Get 'em Free or Get 'em Cheap

Intro to Trello

This is a free, online task management tool that helped get some of the post-its out of my life! (some, not all!)

August 4, 2016

Back-to-School STEM Challenges

Yay! The time has finally come for me to share my BTS STEM Challenges! I wrote all about them as a guest post on Hojo's Teaching Adventures blog this month.

Check them out!