Goodbye to the Science Fair

When I started my current position one of the projects being worked on was a redesign of the district science fair. It seemed everyone was frustrated with the status quo- a collection of cardboard tri-folds and volcano models. Not much had changed in decades, and no one felt it was a good example of what our kids are capable of. An emphasis seemed to be placed on quantity over quality. I joined the team and we all started coming up with ideas of what an engaging science fair could look like. We took a field trip to the Google Science Fair in Mountain View, CA. It was amazing. It was what we want our kids to do.

To get rid of the cardboard tri-folds we need to change the mindset, so we started with the name.  Everyone knew what to do for the “old” science fair: the same thing they did last year and the year before. So the Science Fair became the Science and Engineering Expo. No one knew what to do- they had never heard of one! Including us. We needed to figure this out. We would have a number of “events.” The science exploration event would consist of individuals or teams of students (depending on age) presenting their science exploration, similar to what we saw in Mountain View. Kids would submit a digital presentation rather than the traditional cardboard product. They would then bring artifacts of their project, and present to judges and whoever else happened to be there to watch.

We built the day around 4 sessions, each with up to 10 presentations. The young scientists would come in and set up their work in a relaxed, casual atmosphere, and deliver their presentations to judges and whoever else happened by and was interested. Each student repeated their presentation 3 or 4 times, each time to a different audience. Then, after an hour or so, those students would pack up and the next group would come in. It was fun to watch the students revise and improve their presentations with each retelling. Even in their final presentation they were refining their learning. It was amazing.

In addition to the science presentations, we had a Minecraft challenge, our first ever Vex Robotics demonstration, and even a paper airplane competition. One of the comprehensive high schools sent a student video crew to record the day. It was fun to see these kids interact with the competitors. Just like the world of work! And another school had their CTE kids use a laser cutter to make awesome awards!
It was a huge success. The kids were amazing. The projects were wonderful. There was only one cardboard trifold, and it disappeared quickly!  Kids talked about their learning, and it was genuine learning, not memorized stuff, or stuff copied from a book! Mission accomplished! In the words of one of the judges, “This was amazing. It was a science teacher’s dream. I am so glad I participated!” Or the words of one of the younger scientists “This is the best day in my whole life!” OK, she is only 8, but still.

*Featured image Goodbye 261/365 by  Dennis SkleySome rights reserved

Lets Make a Conference Team

I go to a lot of conferences. Maybe not as many as some people I know, but certainly more than most teachers. It is important to me that I get out of my school and district and see what other people are doing. I need to talk to other teachers to understand the challenges they are facing and how they are overcoming those challenges. It helps me in identifying and overcoming the challenges I face in my own classroom. I do try to manage the conferences so that I am not out of the classroom more than I really need to be. This means a lot of workshops and conferences on weekends and breaks, on my own time.

Some of the conferences are paid for by my district, some I pay for, and still others are paid for in trade for my services presenting at the conference. My biggest expenditure for this PD is my time. I invest a lot of time, and I want that time to be used effectively. I often wonder after attending a conference if my time would have been better spent not presenting, but by paying for my conference registration and attending all of the sessions in which I was interested. I usually am left wondering if my presentation was effective. I sometimes receive feedback from session evaluations. The feedback occasionally is timely, but it is rarely useful.

I have asked my PLN for advice; how can I become a better presenter? I have even asked if it is important for teachers to present at conferences. The answers I got were not overly helpful. Yes, it seems, it is important to present at conferences, because that is what teaching is, presenting. To get better you keep doing it, and watch others, and you will get better. I call poppycock on that last one. Practice, without effective feedback, does not make perfect.

I think I need a peer presentation team. I need to team up with someone and team teach these conferences. We would submit a proposal as co presenters. Each team member would review the other’s proposal, and provide timely, effective feedback. Each would review the other’s presentation, again providing feedback. And they would sit in on each others sessions, not to co-present, but to be a critical friend, to watch what is happening, and to provide areas to improve. By submitting as co-presenters we would not be scheduled against each other and be available to watch the actual presentation.  If I am going to improve my presentation skills, this is what I need to do.

So the deadline for Fall Cue is right around the corner. Does any one want to be on my team?

Summer Professional Development

The participants of the CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp aboard the USS Hornet. One of several amazing edtech events I attended this summer. (Photo from

I just came home from my last professional development of the summer. Today was the first ever EdCamp San Joaquin. This was a free “un-conference” that was sponsored by the Teachers College of San Joaquin and Central California CUE. The event, like all edcamps was free to the participants, and the program was decided upon by the participants themselves once they arrived. I had an amazing time learning all kinds of new things to try in class starting -ugh- next week!

Really the best part was that this was just one of several fantastic professional development events I attended this summer; CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp, Google Apps for Education California Summit, the Google GeoTeachers Conference and more. What did these all have in common? They were all attended by willing participants. No one (that I know of anyway) was “sent” to any of these events. They were all teachers, admins, and others who came out during the summer, on their own time, with the intention of improving their craft. And that willingness to give up their own time to learn something new really truly makes a difference.

So I want to thank all the people- those that I know and those that I do not know- who gave up time this summer and willingly, enthusiastically participated in or organized these events. You really make a difference. And to those who won’t give up your own time without getting paid? Well, you are just missing out, and so are your students.

Stuck in a Rut.

Another Chevy

This year has seen a dramatic change in my professional development. I made the decision last summer that I need to take more control of what I was learning and I needed to share more as a way to learn more. I really felt stuck in a rut. One of the manifestations of that decision has been that I have attended more conferences this year than I have attended in many years combined. It started with the Rock Star Teacher Camp at Minaretts High School. Talk about getting out of a rut!  I also attended CUE in Palm Springs for the first time in a really, really long time. Most recently I attended the SVCUE event last weekend in San Jose. (That is a really good way to get to attend for free!) This year I also attended or presented at events in Monterrey, Napa, Modesto, and North Hollywood. And I am not done yet. 

The results? I am  much more comfortable presenting to other professionals  than I have been. I think this is an important ability for an experienced teacher. I think it important to be able to discuss what I do, and why I do it. Presenting at conferences forces me to really think about this. It holds me more accountable.

I also am much more aware of how many really awesome teachers there are out there who have their students doing amazing things. If I hadn’t gone to these conferences I simply wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know what I should be expecting of my students. I wouldn’t know what I should be expecting of me. But I do know now. I know even more awesome teachers. I have more ideas for awesome things my kids can be doing. 

Prepare for awesomeness.