Category Archives: Math-Science Connections

Practicing to be a TLC student leads to learning and questions

I am very intrigued by Steve Goldberg’s use of Google Earth for education and empathy.  Yesterday he posted A typical morning at TLC middle school.  For context, here’s what Steve predicts a day might look like at his school, opening in fall of 2013 in North Carolina:

In the spirit of learning by doing, I thought I’d practice being a student at Triangle Learning Community middle school and follow the typical morning plan for the Morning News Discussion…with a Synergy twist. In Synergy, we wanted to work in ripples – local, national, and international. I gave myself the 45 minutes to read and investigate. This 45-minute exercise turned into the entire two hours! It is the most concentrated news reading I have done in a while!

I started with the AJC to read and learn more about Atlanta. The article Three options for the ‘Gulch’ caught my attention. I noticed the “Gulch” just last week. I used Google Earth to see the area. I immediately thought of how to use the map view in 6th grade math when we teach the area and perimeter of “funny shapes.”

I was intrigued by the vocabulary and meaning of “multimodal passenger terminal” because I have just been reading about how car-oriented Atlanta is which can be frustrating for cyclists. The search for multimodal passenger terminal lead me to’s Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal page.  I did not know Atlanta was planning to have a street car.  I also did not know about Bikes and Bites on July 21.  Bikes and Bites is billed as a car free initiative during Downtown Atlanta Restaurant Week where Central Atlanta Progress (CAP) and the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition (ABC) are encouraging diners to ride their bikes to dinner at more than 20 Downtown restaurants.  What positive environmental outcomes are predicted?  Wow!  Bo’s Whatever It Is I Think I See Becomes a PBL to Me! is so true!

I read and researched and connected these ideas for quite a bit of time.  I wanted to “go global” with my news reading too.  I returned to A typical morning at TLC middle school. After watching the video again and reading the linked article about child brides in Niger, I wondered what the headlines were from the paper in Niger.  Did they have a daily paper? I found Le Républicain Niger using Newspaper Map, a new-to-me resource suggested by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. Thankfully, Newspaper Map would translate this newspaper into English (from French) so I could read the headlines.  Talk about a lesson in perspective!  Not one mention of the plight of child brides, the hunger crisis, rapid population growth or infant mortality in the headlines of Le Républicain Niger.

How often do we not see problems in our own community?  How can we find (do we seek) new perspectives to see and observe what is happening in our neighborhoods and larger communities?

Passionate Motivated Learners: 2011 Google Global Science Fair winners

Meet this year’s Google Global Science Fair winners:

  • Lauren, 13, studied the effect of marinades on the level of  carcinogens in grilled chicken. (Google n. pag.)
  • Naomi, 16, proposed that making changes to indoor environments to improve indoor air quality can reduce people’s reliance on asthma medications. (Google n. pag.)
  • Shree, 17, discovered a way to improve ovarian cancer treatment for patients who have built up a resistance to certain chemotherapy drugs. (Google n. pag.)

Listen and watch as they share their thinking and learning at TEDxWomen:

The idea that sticks with me comes from both Lauren and Shree.  Lauren said she emailed approximately 2oo different people for space to work to work in a lab, and she got 1 positive response, 1.  Shree says she emailed all the professors in her area asking to work under their supervision in a lab and got rejected by all but 1 professor.

It makes me wonder about PBL in school.  How often do I fall in the 1 positive response category?  Can we mobilize teams of learners to do meaningful project work? Work and learning driven by the questions, passions, and interests of the learners?  Will our disciplines serve their projects?  How can we configure time to accommodate rich meaningful project work?

Check out the photos posted on the Google Science Fair Facebook page.  Talk about presenting to an authentic audience, wow! Look at the panel of judges.  The list includes Nobel Laureates, scientists, and technology visionaries.  Notice the technology at each station; these presentations are dynamic and interactive without trifold display boards.

We should also celebrate the 15 finalists from Mississippi, Georgia, California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Calgary, Singapore, Texas, Chennai, Cape Town, and New Jersey.

From Top 15 finalists from Google’s international Science Fair by Rachel King published by ZDNet:

And from Matson, John’s article Down to the Final 15 at the First-Ever Google Science Fair published by Scientific American:

We are in the positive response category in several ways.  Bo Adams (It’s About Learning) and I co-facilitate Synergy, a non-departmentalized, non-graded, transdisciplinary, community-issues-problem-solving course for 8th graders.  Our 8th grade advisement program, LEAP (Leadership Experience Advisement Program) engages in a year-long experience to take on a global issue or social-justice concern with a locally enacted project.

We would love it if you would share your positive response actions to help us add to our toolkit of ideas, strategies, and actions.


Google. “Hats off to the winners of the inaugural Google Science Fair.” The Official Google Blog. 12 Jul. 2011. Web. 11 Jan. 2012

King, Rachel. “Top 15 finalists from Google’s international Science Fair.” ZDNet. CBS Interactive. 11 Jul. 2011. Web.  11 Jan. 2012.

Matson, John. “Down to the Final 15 at the First-Ever Google Science Fair.” Scientific American. 11 Jul. 11. Web.  11 Jan. 2012.

Enrichment Activity: The Fibonacci Sequence & Series

What do we do with or for learners that enriches their view and learning of patterns and math?  How to we inspire learners to connect math and patterns to real things?

In our Algebra I team, we’ve been discussing how to offer enrichment learning and activities to promote growth for learners who master topics quickly.  We don’t want to make it “harder” or a “higher pile” so what do we do?

While I was researching video for my previous post, If a picture is worth 1000 words, what is video worth?, I ran across Nature by Numbers:

The Nature by Numbers video then made me think of Vi Hart and her post Doodling in Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant [1 of 3].

The combination of these two videos is awesome.  Which is more engaging to you?  Could we design enrichment opportunities that promote communication, collaboration, creativity, and investigation of real world patterns and beauty? Could these enrichment opportunities lead to project-based learning and integrated studies?

Meet Aidan, Grade 7, Young Naturalist Awards, 2011 and read The Secret of the Fibonacci Sequence in Trees to learn about his redesign of solar panels based on his observations of trees and a connection he made to Fibonacci.

Wow! This is the type of learning – PBL – that I want for my learners.

How do we use the December exam as formative assessment?

Our learners took exams (summative assessment) prior to the Christmas break.  But, can’t we use the exam as both a summative assessment AND a formative assessment?

I’m interested and curious about different strategies and methods used to help learners process and reflect on their exam experience and the accumulation of what they know.  Since each learner will have different bright spots and strengths, what strategies are used to differentiate for intervention and enrichment?

In Algebra I, we aim to get “in the weeds” about this reflection and intervention.  We want every child to reflect on what they could demonstrate well and where they need additional help.  We do not want them to move to high school and geometry next year with any doubt or weakness if we can help now.  But, how do we know who needs help?  We collect data, but we let our learners do the data collection.  We need to be informed; they need to be informed.  We are a team working toward the goal of mastery or proficiency for all learners.

Our process:

  1. Return the exam to the learner on the first day back.
  2. Have each learner complete the exam analysis and reflection form (shown below) to identify strengths and areas of need.
        1. Circle the number of any missed problem.
        2. Begin, and possibly complete, correcting missed problems to review the material and determine if any error was a simple mistake or if more help is needed.
        3. Write the reflection about strengths, struggles, and goals.
        4. Report results on our team’s Google doc. (This is a copy; feel free to explore and “report” data to see how it feels. You can view the results here.)
  3. Meet in team to review all results and analyze for groups to design and provide necessary intervention and additional learning experiences.
  4. All assessments 2nd semester will have questions from first semester essential learnings to offer learners the opportunity to show growth and to help with retention.

Okay…so I am a member of the Algebra I team, but it important to note that all members of our math PLC in the junior high follow approximately this same strategy for exam correction and reflection.   We are also shooting for this level of analysis with our science PLT and our US History PLT.  We have made it to stage one, having a table of specifications, and we hope to start working toward using the table of specifications for student reflection and growth.

We would love it if others would share methods and strategies for helping learners grow from an exam experience.  How do students reflect on their work?  What opportunities are offered to help students carry the essential learnings from first semester through second semester and/or into the next level of learning?

If a picture is worth 1000 words, what is video worth?

Which is most appealing to you?  Which draws you in and generates questions?

Data represented above gleaned from worldometers: real time world statistics.

Infographic from Bits of Science.

Infographic from Data Visualization Encyclopedia, Information Technology, Symbols, Posters, Infographics

Video from NPR.  (Watch the video, seriously; it’s only 2:34 and well worth it!)

So…Which is most appealing to you?  Which draws you in and generates questions? I think we need all of the above, the hands-on investigation of the data with technology, the infographic that gives perspective, and the video that offers an alternate way to visualize and think about this population growth.

[Note:  I’ve written more about PBL ideas for population at Population at 7 Billion – What PBL can we facilitate?.]

I keep thinking about visualization and having multiple representations of ideas.  In Five Things Students Want Their Teachers to Know about Online Learning from Tech&LearningLisa Nielsen indicates that visualization is important to students.  The “five things” student want us to know:

  1. Socialization is important!
  2. Students Want to See Each Other
  3. Students Want to See Their Teacher
  4. Students Want You to Know Them
  5. Keep it Relevant

If you read the article, Nielsen indicates that visualization is important when learning online.  Video is a tool listed in all five of the above topics.

How are we “leveling up” concerning visualization?  Have our learners been introduced to infographics?  Better yet, have our learners produced infographics to communicate data creatively?  How are we using video to engage our learners?  Have our learners produced video to communicate data, learning, and growth?  Are we teaching (and learning) 21st century skills if we are not expecting multiple representations of ideas from our learners?

So…In 2012, with lots of technology at our fingertips, if a picture is worth 1000 words, what is video worth?…and…what if we only communicate with text?  What learning is lost when/if we only offer one representation of what we want others to learn?

What is lost when we don’t show and tell?

1 image ~ 1000 words…think about it.

Integrated Studies: Gardening, Obesity, Open Source Learning

In Synergy we have six groups working on community issues: obesity, cafeteria design and cleanliness, Nancy Creek, designing a fair to raise awareness for Habitat for Humanity, sleep, and graffiti.

How do we create a movement to raise awareness?  How do we connect people to work for a common cause?  How do we learn from one another?  (All good questions critical to Synergy success.)

Listen to Roger Doiron, the founder of Kitchen Gardeners International:

Could you pick out the essential learnings from many areas of school?  Economics, persuasive writing, biology, arithmetic, algebra, geometry,  environmental science, and more, right?  Did you catch how he used social media to promote his agenda?

How much space does the White House vegetable garden require on the lawn?  How much would it cost to buy the plants to grown in this garden?

Suppose you don’t have that much space to dedicate to a garden?  How much space do you have?  How much would the plants you need for your garden cost?  What plants should you grow?  How will you determine the nutrients needed to amend your soil?  Will you eat more vegetables if you grow them yourself?  Will you save money by growing some of your food?

Live in an apartment?  Don’t like dirt?  Interested in having a garden in your classroom? Got a window? Want to see “Learn and Share” open-source collaboration in action? Listen to Britta Riley talk about Windowfarms, vertical hydroponic platforms for growing food in city windows:

What could we learn if we built the latest windowfarm design, the V3.0, the Modular Airlift Multicolumn Array?

Increasing intake of healthy food is one way to fight obesity.  I wonder if our teams can find threads to connect their projects – could they choose to work in their interest for a common cause?  Could the Nancy Creek team raise awareness of how to care for Nancy Creek and advocate for a healthier lifestyle at the same time? Would they consider creating exercise information stations along the trail that follows Nancy Creek? Is there a link between the appropriate and necessary amount of sleep, exercise, and health?  How could the spring fair team plan to advocate for all Habitat Houses to have a garden in the backyard?  Could one team build a “getting started gardening” resource guide?  Could the graffiti team create a movement using art to motivate making healthier choices?

Zooming out, what can we learn about integrated studies, student choice, and interdependence?  Could we choose to work in our field of interest for a common cause?  How do we harness the power of social media to create opportunities for open-source collaboration to improve, learn, create, innovate, reflect, and revise?

FAAR – Connecting Peer Observations to Learning for Life

As part of our formative Faculty Assessment and Annual Review (FAAR) plan, we engage in a process of peer observations. We also have a new Learning for Life vision statement.  With his permission, I am publishing my peer observation of my friend and colleague, BC.  As I reviewed my notes taken during his class, I realized that he, in this one lesson,  seized the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century by promoting all six essential actions called for in our Learning for Life vision statement.


Focus of the observation (if any) and class context:

Algebra I team’s lesson study on Phases of the Moon.

Teaching methods and practices observed (strength-based)/Indicators of student learning.

  •   Integrated Studies
  •   Project-based Learning
  •   Learning Spaces
  •   Teachers working in teams
  •   Assessment and feedback
  •   Content that connects us to the larger world and the world to us.

Assessment and feedback, Teachers working in team, Project-based learning
BC uses inquiry to engage our learners in the context of the lesson.  He solicits prior knowledge to have learners take an active role in driving the lesson.

Integrated studies, Teachers working in teams, Content that connects us
CB used multi-media, a video from the History Channel (, to confirm the students’ prior knowledge and introduce necessary vocabulary not discussed by the students.

Teachers working in teams
In the face of no network access, BC calmly transitioned to the team’s Plan B.  Rather than using  the resources for Phases of the Moon on our Google Site, he used a Keynote presentation.  This modeled for our learners that we continue to learn; we do not stop because “we have no Internet.”

Teachers working in teams, Content that connects us, Learning spaces
While the students did not leave the classroom, they definitely utilized spaces.  The students used their MacBooks to find answers and questions concerning the moon.  CB addressed visual and kinesthetic learning styles by having the learners graph the illumination of the moon over the days of a month.

[Note:  Video evidence inserted here.¹  ]

Some questions to consider:

Did you like teaching graph interpretation this way?
How can we have more classes like this?
Where do we turn for more resources to find integrate lessons that engage our students and connect their learning to many disciplines?

What did I observe that I would like to incorporate into my own teaching/Other notes:

This is an awkward question since we built the lesson together.  We observed each other; we all went to DD’s class as a team.  DD and I went to BC’s class while WB was teaching Algebra II.  It is difficult to say what I would like to incorporate since we observed, learned, and tweaked the lesson as it was delivered to all Algebra I learners.


Our new technology made this observation a richer experience from my team.  I used my iPhone (forgot my Flip camera) to collect video snippets of examples so that we could review and analyze what happened during class.  I used my MacBook with Pages to import the video into my notes in class during the observation.  My team and I had my raw notes from the observation right after class.  (See my raw notes from the observation at the end of this post.)

If a picture is worth 1000 words, what is video worth?

  • How does technology help us learn?
  • Is it “good enough” to do things the way we’ve always done them?
  • Do our learners need different than what we need?
  • How are we practicing?
  • What one thing could you explore, experiment with, and practice that would blend learning?

Our challenge as learners is to learn by doing, to practice new techniques, to use technology do things better, and to make connections.  The video artifacts in this observation allowed us to “view” parts of the lesson over and over.  The video doesn’t just make the observation different; it makes it better.  We have the opportunity to see what we might otherwise have missed.  We have “replay” to continue to question and observe.

As a learner, I had the opportunity to blend my learning.  I observed a colleague deliver a common lesson designed by our team.  I practiced with technology by integrating the use of video into my note taking.  While I don’t have as many written notes, the video tells the story is a way that my written notes could never tell.  As a team, we have evidence that we are taking steps to transform our traditional classes in order to align learning with our vision.  We had the opportunity to learn together as we revised and refined the lesson between “shows.”


¹  School policy prevents me from showing you the video of the learning that occurred during this lesson. [Awaiting permission.]

PBL Field Guide: Strive for Information Artists ~ Examine Essential Learnings

Can we help our learners choose and collaborate projects that they care about?  Can we join a team of learners to discover how the content of our discipline can be used in the process of finding, working on, and solving problems?  Can we use technology to move past rote learning to analyze, synthesize, create, and innovate?

Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age asks

What big ideas, what core concepts and processes, should students know after studying with you? [p. 43]

During our PLC-F meeting Thursday morning, LAL asked us to consider

Can we challenge ourselves to ask how our content serves the project rather than how the project serves our content?

Steven Walker of Tech High School during his 21st Century Thinking presentation on STEM teaching and learning indicated

We should use technology to help us perform routine procedures while we emphasize learning to analyze, interpret, and apply the results.

Our PLCs establish essential learning for our student-learners.  We research what is essential by reviewing local, state, and national standards.  We interview our colleagues who receive our learners in future courses as well as collaborate with our learners’ current teachers.  But, do we ask

Outside school, who cares about these topics? [p. 57]

In a discussion with Bo Adams, Paul Van Slyke, and David Stubbs concerning the design of collaborative spaces for learning, I responded to the suggestion that teachers initially say no to change and innovation with the idea

Sometimes we initially say “No, I don’t think that will work” when we really mean that “I don’t see how I can do that by myself.”

Look at The Blood Bank Project from High Tech High.

When we say, “I can’t do that” do we really mean, “I don’t know how to do that, and I don’t know who will help me?”  These teachers made the commitment to learn something new, to learn from each other.  Did you notice how these teachers are using technology?

Are we serious about being lifelong learners who serve and lead in a changing world?  Do we practice using technology and research to help us hone the essential skills: communicate and collaborate, problem-find and problem-solve, create and innovate, reflect and revise, serve and lead?

When it gets down to the brass tacks, is it really that critical to solve a quadratic function by hand?  How important is it to know the time period of the Era of Good Feelings?  How often, outside of school, will we need to know the formula for kinetic energy?

What are we willing to trade in our curriculum to make space for blended, complex, integrated learning experiences?

PBL Field Guide: Who forms your learning team?

The Professional Learning Communities reflection in Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age challenges the reader to model collaborative learning, learn and share, and develop learning teams. This is right in line with our Learning for Life vision statement, NET•S, and NET•T.

Three of the essential actions called for in our Learning for Life vision statement are

  • Problems that require critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration
    (Problem-based/Project-based learning)
  • Teachers in teams supporting learning and innovation
    (PLC/Critical Friends Circles)
  • Content and Relationships that connect us to the larger world and the world to us  (Global Citizenship)

Bo Adams (@boadams1, It’s About Learning) and I co-direct our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).  Our school makes a commitment to adult learning and collaboration by affording teachers job-embedded time to work and learn together.  For a glimpse into our PLCs, see Pull Together, Part II from It’s About Learning and Learning as a Team – A Big PLC Brightspot from my blog.

From Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age:

Professional learning can certainly support your shift to project-based instruction, but the fundamental program changes you make will require frequent and intentional collaboration with your colleagues.  [p. 31] 

In Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital AgeCarmel Crane describes her process when getting ready to launch a project with her students.

Before [introducing] the project to students, I presented it to about 10 teachers.  I laid out all the planning details, and they gave me critical feedback.  It was a great opportunity to see things I may have overlooked.

Other teachers could see how we might work together on future projects to reach our shared goals.  [p. 31]

On Friday, the 4th Period Math-Science PLC took another step toward PBL and Lesson Study by participating in the Eggs Over Easy project that our Science 8 team is planning for the Monday-Tuesday prior to our Thanksgiving break.

In the 55-minute period, we assembled our carriers, did the drops, and debriefed the lesson.  There is more video coming about the debriefing session.  Our plan for Monday is to “do the math” and the reflection questions concerning potential and kinetic energy.  But, the lead teacher for Algebra I has already asked how we can support this lesson in our Algebra classes – another step in integrated studies.  Woohoo!

Again from Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age:

A project-based learning collaboration among students is a lot like a professional learning community among teachers.  For both, the learning is relevant and rigorous, and the “students” learn to learn together. [p. 32]

Bo and I co-facilitate Synergy 8, a non-departmentalized, non-graded, transdisciplinary, community-issues-problem-solving course for 8th graders.  A new school policy about student images on faculty blogs prevents me from showing you how closely the work of our Synergy team matches up with our PLC teacher teams.  [If you want to know more about #Synergy, then you can search that category/tag on either of our blogs.]

Paraphrasing Professional Learning Communities at Work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement:  PBL delivered by a high-functioning PLC of teachers can be the “engine of improvement” that drives a school forward.

Once again from Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age:

Anne Davis, an advocate for blogging with elementary students, suggests using your personal blog as a tool for making connections with like-minded colleagues.  A team of two is better than no team at all, but image the compounding effect of a large team, an entire faculty, or an international community of colleagues. [p. 33] 

If you could assemble your “dream-team,” with whom would you collaborate for PBL? How and with whom do you learn, reflect, and share?  How do you create opportunities for your learners to build their “dream-team” to learn, reflect, and share?  How do we leverage technology to engage with our learning teams?

Gapminder: Teachnology for Integrated Studies

Have you explored Gapminder: for a fact-based world?  Check out GapMinder for Teachers.

Have you seen/heard Hans Rosling use multiple representations to visualize problems and trends?

Here’s a 4 minute start:  Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes – The Joy of Stats – BBC Four


In Curriculum 21, Heidi Hayes Jacobs says:

Geography should be cut as a snapshot unit with an integrated approach continuously woven into the academic year. Rather than the token “let’s start off the school year with our classic unit on geography,” the curriculum should include an ongoing injection and use of geography and a full range of maps. When schools do not use maps of all kinds with regularity in a range of classes (English, science, art), our students do not get to apply geography in a meaningful way.  [p. 36]

If you are teaching about Asia, Africa, Indonesia, etc., can you integrate math into your lessons using this resource?  Likewise, if you are teaching math – from plotting points on the Cartesian plane to graph interpretation – can you use this resource to help your students have a global view of our world?

If you are teaching about the environment, can you use this resource?


And my favorite, Hans Rosling and the magic washing machine, for teaching women’s studies, the environment, and/or the industrial revolution:

Aren’t all of these talks connected?

What questions will our learners have?  Can we make graphing more engaging by using real data connected to the economy, health, education, etc.?  Can we teach writing, geography, history, science by interpreting and analyzing these graphs?

Who will join forces to form our learning team so that we confidently integrate and mashup content?


Jacobs, Heidi Hayes. Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2010. Print.