NCMSA12: Virtual Science Fair

Ravenscroft Middle School

Melissa Spainhour, 6th Science and Math, Math Dept. Chair
Janet Vande Berg, 6th Science, Dept. Chair
Kathleen Christopher, ITF

Science Fair with a Twist
Students are not doing it at home…doing it at school with teacher and e-mentor help
Connects to scientists around the world
Traditional Science Fair the teacher becomes the lead…took the teacher out of the equation
Each group gets an e-mentor who helps them develop the project
National Assoc. of Independent Schools or Google Science Fair…or do it independently

Why Do a Virtual Science Fair?
Connect kids with scientific method
Authentic vs. Inauthentic learning…virtual help from others makes it more student completed…all done in classroom, e-mentors can’t do project FOR them like a parent could
Parents don’t see it until project is completed.

Communication – forces kids to talk to one another…groups of 2 to 3 students…develop group procedures, group work early and often, “this is a kind place”…toughest place is in picking a topic…pick groups for kids, and keep it so they are working with those they will get along with fairly well…

Virtual Science Fair takes a couple days a week over the course of 9 weeks…don’t want one kid taking over so it’s not “the smart kid with a couple of kids he drags along”

Everything outlined in rubrics…including behavior…how do you talk to each other? how do you talk to an e-mentor?

Research piece…6th grade skills are pretty basic…ExpertSpace, teaches paraphrasing, and summarizing…spent 4 or 5 days on research…e-mentors just coming on board so teacher plays a larger role…experiment about baking cookies, more talk about baking soda, less about just baking…teacher helps guide this part a lot…also students not as strong of a writer as you’d hope…

Believe this is best suited for 8th graders (those that win the competition from NAIS and GSF tend to be older students)
Writing for Science…GET ELA TEACHER TO HELP…but e-mentors also helped, because they have experience in the field…have e-mentor break it down for the students in 6th grade terms to help kids learn to paraphrase

Paired with a ELA component would make this even better…PERHAPS PAIR UP WITH ANOTHER ELA TEACHER IN THE COUNTY?

Critical Thinking…what is the conductivity of each metal? They connect it to a battery which puts the same voltage through all…talk them through it and let them think…some just won’t get it

Reflection…what have they done? What did e-mentor suggest? Have to evaluate each piece based on rubric…have to look at videos? THERE ARE VIDEOS?? MORE TO COME…

Revisions…spend lots of time to get them to make it “perfect”…working for self, group member, teacher, and e-mentor…so many folks looking at it helps keep them working.  e-Mentor suggestions REALLY have an impact on the kids. When they ask a question, the e-Mentor really wants them to come up with a response, so the kids have to do it, and it’s non-evaluative.

Gather People for Support
Tech People

e-Mentors – scientist from local community and around the world…1 per group, required to check in on a weekly basis…teacher sends weekly email telling what has been completed and what to check for…e-Mentor responds…have some replacement e-Mentors…sometimes you have to…but not often…
Take Risks…email just about anyone in scientific community…work through circle of friends, local organizatons, Bayer, Glaxo-Smith-Kline, for us UNC/NCSU/DUKE MARINE LABS…they got 36 e-Mentors this year, grad students…contact ECU science dept. or UNCW…careful about student identities, no last names etc for safety reasons and for parent assurance

ORGANIZE! First year it was thrown on them in Oct, it started in Nov “We don’t do science fair…thanks” but they did anyway…with a small group of kids that were technology students…two years done in 6th grade now

Google Docs did not work as well as expected…this year implemented Team Folders…kept at school, students not allowed to take them…How to create a background, how to create a procedure, etc

NAIS runs this through Google Sites…GOOGLE PROBABLY DOES TOO…all communication done on Google Sites…no email back and forth…e-mentors log into Google Sites…kids have grouped emails VSF1, or VSF2 (CAN TALK TO GOOGLE APPS ADMIN ABOUT SETTING UP THESE NEW SHARED EMAILS)

Documents were created on Word, saved as PDF and posted…this year the did group work on individual Google Docs, shared with group members, still posted as Group Team…There are some schools that do first and last names…that wouldn’t fly  for Ravenscroft

Videotaping is not a requirement for NAIS, but they thought it would be good…used Flip Cams to begin with…used iPads this past year…

Google Site: Ravenscroft VSF 2012…Kathleen set up all of the Google Site NEED A GOOD ITF TO HELP OUT WITH THIS…separate PAGE for each team within SITE
e-Mentor comments on the page…teacher isn’t doing the “nit-picky” work the e-Mentor as a professional scientist is doing this…

Folder Page for Documentation…could probably also be done on wikispaces or pbworks…
Saving to PDF is a good skill for kids, and then have them openable on ANY operating system, etc
When revising they just save as a new PDF

Table set up for the videos…Intro, Background, Experiment, Conclusion…possibly scale this back in the future…possibly use advisory time to teach the tech skill of video recording and editing prior to starting this for the class…Ravenscroft has a Mac Lab with 9 computers for Video Editing…AND HERE’S AN ISSUE, MOST SCHOOLS HAVE A MAC LAB WITH ZERO MACS…Could take lots of pictures if you can’t do the video component…If only one video, have them record the experiment

Videos they have their group Letter Sign to help identify each group…GROUP X was a winning group…DEFINITELY WANT TO WATCH THIS IF I CAN GET ACCESS TO THEIR SITE

How long does it take?
Pick Topic and Introductions – 3 days (before Thanksgiving)…purely interest based topics…NOT SURE HOW THIS WILL CONNECT TO THE MOVEMENT OF SCIENCE SKILLS ACROSS THE ESSENTIAL STANDARDS…
Intro Video – 2 days (not required)
Research and Variables – 3 days…this was after doing ExpertSpace to learn paraphrasing, plagerism, etc…done the 2 days prior to researching science fair topic (so 1 week total)
Background Video – 2 days
Hypothesis, Materials and Procedure – 3 days (jumping back and forth the whole time with curricular topics…pick an easy curricular topic that could have good mini-units for 3 or 4 days at a time…don’t have the stamina for doing this every day for a long time)
Experiment and Experiment Video – 4 days…did it the 4 days after christmas break, all materials had to be in BEFORE christmas break…
Data Analysis and Graphing – 3 days
Conclusions – 3 days
Conclusion Video – 2 days
Final Report – 1 day…cutting and pasting parts into a final page with Sci Method headings

e-Mentor time requirement…15 to 20 minutes a week…teacher sends email reminder to all e-Mentors just to remind them…

Picking Topics
Hosting Videos…did them as mp4s and they were slow to load…WONDER ABOUT HOSTING ON YOUTUBE?
e-Mentors…used faculty members to supplement e-Mentors if emergencies came up…not all are as into it



NCMSA2012 and Blogging from an Asus Transformer

Hi folks, I’ll be blogging a few sessions from the NCMSA conference this year, but mostly working in the Tech Sandbox. When I am able to get out and go to sessions I’ll be blogging using an Asus Transformer Tablet/Dock combo. I like it fairly well so far. The keys on the dock are a little bit “marshmallowy” in that there is a lot of give before letters actually type, but having the keyboard as an option is nice. The 16 hours of total battery time will be nice as well. We’ll see how it holds up in the real world.

More to come soon!

Dusting off the blog…and a new career move

So…long time no see…Life has been especially hectic for me the past year.  There have been several changes behind the scenes, and now a big one on the forefront of my career.  Beginning Wednesday of next week, for the first time in my educational career, I will be embarking on a journey that doesn’t involve a classroom of students directly in front of me. After 8 August “first days of school” I will be transitioning out of my 7th grade classroom and into the position of Director of Technology and Science for my district.  This presents a few challenges:

  • Lowered student interaction – While I’ve been told that the ideal amount of time out in the schools will be high, I will be visiting classrooms across all 17 schools in our district. That means the connections I’ve been able to make with students the past eight years will be limited to occasional interactions. Telling the students this past week was very difficult, because leaving in the middle of the school year is incredible unusual.
  • Job Expectations – When I began my career in a 7th grade classroom, I kind of knew what to expect. I would be in front of a room of twenty-five or so 12 and 13 year olds, I would likely know more than them, and (show of hands, how many never felt like this?) if I didn’t know more than them, I could just make it up.  Oh, and then there was the fact that I knew if I could be just slightly funny to a 12 year old, I could get them to like me.  Enter thousands of situations where I convinced them I was just “one step crazier” than they were, and it didn’t take long for me to have 7th graders figured out.  This made integrating technology pretty easy as my relationship with the students was the foundation of all my other endeavors.  Now as the lead Tech and Science teacher for the county, I’m going to be responsible for building relationships with many other adults throughout the county.  I’m sure they will be much less easy to win over than my groups of early adolescents.  But, I’m convinced, even in this situation building those relationships will be a positive toward moving forward for our county in the future.
  • Picking up some pieces, and moving forward – This job does not come without a few things that are obviously going to need to be attempted early on.  Part of my job will be developing the vision for Carteret County Schools moving forward throughout the next few years. Early on, I want to get into the schools, get a view of what they are currently being successful with, and where they need to go. Some of our schools have both a Media Coordinator and a Technology Facilitator, others have a single individual serving both purposes.  Our district has had a tendency in the past to jump on a few bandwagons, and perhaps wound up purchasing things that in reality didn’t serve their intended purposes. My job will be to develop a plan for those kinds of purchases, so we don’t find ourselves with a set of equipment that is suddenly outdated, under-utilized, and laughably unnecessary.

So there you go…a few of my reservations heading into an exciting new adventure. This is a big move, but one I feel like will be a fantastic journey over the coming years. I’ll definitely be leaning on some of you over the course of the next few months as I get my feet wet and encounter some of the challenges I know I’ll be facing.

Technology at your fingertips

Images of screens from iPads with apps being used discussed





Showing FUZE for meetings, classes, etc

Fun session…lots of new folks playing around with iPads…great selection of apps for folks to play with!

Re: Social Networks as Exclusive Clubs…and more…

In a couple of recent tweets, comments, and blog posts I’ve hinted at my feeling that Twitter and other social networks used for informal learning, may be collapsing under their own success.  During the PLN Backlash conversation last week, there was a tweet which implied that Twitter as a PLN is becoming somewhat of an “exclusive club”.  I wanted to hash out a few thoughts I’ve had that don’t entirely fit into solid post format:

  • It’s already hard to stick with Twitter…from the Nielson study in April 2009, we learned that 60% of Twitter users quit within the first 30 days.  That means, most of those who have a cursory introduction to PLNs will likely struggle with Twitter before adding any of the things below into the mix.
  • Twitter restructuring has caused problems…Initially, when you followed someone on Twitter, you could see their tweets to users you did not already follow.  This meant you could see half a conversation, which allowed you to find other half and follow that user if they interested you enough.  Now, you can only see conversations between those parties where you follow both (or all) users.  This severely limits the visibility of those within the community of educators.  Someone starting out small (as I’ve suggested frequently) will struggle to see who else to follow.
  • Increase in network size makes it hard to get started…As we build larger and larger groups from which to learn, it becomes harder for new users to wade through hundreds that someone is following.  For example, I started building my learning network through Twitter after a session (like many) with Will Richardson.  Will has kept the number of users he is following relatively small at ~150.  That is a reasonable number to wade through.  As many of our networks grow into the 400 – 2000 range, it becomes entirely impossible for a new user to wade through and find the users with the most relevance to themselves. This leads to…
  • Lists as the starting point…hey, look there’s a dead horse, let me beat it…seriously, digging through a small list (<50) and finding the most relevant from there is great, just don’t follow a list en masse because it’s easy.
  • Plurk isn’t easy either…This is not a problem inherent in Twitter.  From my own recent experience, Plurk is a different environment, but with many of the same issues.  It’s been stated that Plurk is a more tight-knit community.  If Twitter is becoming an exclusive club, Plurk is a different “club” if you will, but it’s still hard to get a foot in the door.  Despite having been an active participant on Twitter for nearly two years, an active user, blogger, and general PLN/NIHCTTAR supporter, I’m struggling to find folks to follow on Plurk, and am having very few response to my attempts to engage the community.  Time will tell, but it seems to be the same song, different verse for new users to either service.
  • When everyone knows everyone it’s hard for the new folks to get their voices heard…going back to the analogy in my previous post: When everyone at the party knows everyone else, it’s hard for someone new to come in and join the conversation.  This is where it becomes imperative that we, as a community, work to embrace new members.  We can’t just hand them a network and say “go to town”.
  • Strange occurrence…for the first year I was on Twitter, I maxed out at being able to follow tweets from 100 users.  Beyond that, I began to get lost in the stream.  In the last 6 months, my time “reading” Twitter has drastically decreased.  During that time, I’ve ballooned from following approximately 100 users, to following 400 users…May never get comfortable with 2,000+ but it seems to me, that the less I focus on reading everything the more conversations I can get involved in.

Some Advice to those Building PLNs…

…or Freds…or Sergios…or NIHCTTARs…

image from flickr licensed through creative commons by e.m.fields

The conventional wisdom passed along to those just starting out on the Informal, Networked Learning Path is to jump in, start following some people and engage with them.  After my recent rants here and here I had an encounter today that has totally cemented in my brain that network formation is an art/skill that cannot be distilled down into a few succinct statements of “Here’s how you build a PLN.”  This encounter happened in large part due to the sharing of a couple of TweepML lists during recent trainings I completed with @kellyhines.  I tried to stress to my group of participants that the lists were merely a suggestion, and not a definitive staring point.  However, today I got a plea from one of the participants:

I need twitter help!…when I wake up and have 300 tweets, I’m overwhelmed and want to shut it down. Advice, please

I received this plea as a DM while I was walking through Wal-mart and began to think through responses while I was walking around.  Here’s what I wound up telling her:

1) It’s not email…remember you don’t have to READ everything that comes through your Twitter stream.  Many times I will simply scan through the 20 or 30 most recent tweets and see if anything catches my eye. If not, I move on…if so, then I’ll pull up the link in Firefox, and leave it sitting in a tab until I can clear out my FF tabs. It’s nothing for me to have 20 tabs open in FF, go through and read some articles, add others to Delicious, and just nix some of the others. The key is, I do this when I have the time…if I don’t have the time, then I’ll close them out and move on, because…

2)  The best stuff will show up again…another reason not to feel like you need to read every tweet is because the sites and info that are the most useful will show up in your Twitter stream again. If you have a focused group of people that you follow, they’re going to be finding a lot of the same things you are and sharing them again.  That way, if you see a link show up 2 or 3 times, you know it’s probably pretty good (just like we discussed more people bookmarking a site in delicious giving you some idea of its value).

3) Focus your Following list…This may be the biggest recommendation I can give you…you’ve been on Twitter for roughly 4 days now and you’re following 72 people…after a year on Twitter, I was managing to keep up with 120…Network building is a slow process (trying to keep from getting on my soapbox here). The reason I’m somewhat against the “Instant PLN” idea is a personal learning network is just that: Personal.  Who you follow makes sense to you…someone else can’t tell you who is and is not good to follow. So task #1, whittle down your list…pick about 20 folks from your list that you want to continue to follow.

That final point was the one that I think has really been sticking in my craw lately.  This teacher is a high school, Family and Consumer Sciences teacher.  She came to a week of training on Web 2.0 and has begun to incorporate some of the things she learned into an awesome Weebly website.  She’s added a blog, knows what it means for her blog to have an RSS feed, even found out how to add a single tag category to her sidebar of her blog.  She is a pretty savvy Internet user from what I can tell through working with her for just a few days.  But the Prefabricated PLN created through suddenly following a laundry list of users was overwhelming and counterproductive for her.  The focus of many of these lists (at the present) is on social media thinkers, big idea guys in education, the “movers and the shakers” if you will.  Sure, those of us in the fight to get more SM attention in schools love their ideas and their tweets, but to the standard Educational Twitter user, they aren’t the right place to start.

During our session I gave this analogy:

You’ve moved to a new town.  In an effort to gain some friends, learn the area, and become more comfortable, you throw an enormous party.  During the course of the evening you have 200 people whom you’ve never met show up.  They all know each other.  They all have a lot to say.  In fact, there conversations are so interwoven, you can barely get a word in edgewise.  Is that the best way to get acquainted with your new town?

The parallels to Twitter, Plurk,, Diigo, Ning, and many of the other social networking sites people use to build personal learning networks are very important.  I “network” starts small, and takes time to build.  When you move to a new area, you generally meet a few similar individuals, branch out into their networks, and make more and more connections on your own over time.  Plopping down 200 new friends in your life is not an advisable way to get acquainted with any of them.

There is still no one “right path” for everyone beginning to use social media.  Sure, some out there could jump into the conversation with 200 others, just as some could do that at a party in real life. For most, however, it’s important to gain traction and a foothold on the conversation, and go from there.

What other advice do you have for those folks coming into social media for the classroom for the first time? Especially those that are not specifically exploring from the most technological perspective?

K12Online Conference Staff Development

For our monthly IMPACT staff development meeting this time around, we asked each of the teachers in the building to find and watch a session from the K12Online Conference archives that interested them. During the meeting, they each gave a brief presentation on their thoughts from the session and on the conference in general.  Our IMPACT meetings are held during grade level planning time, so I worried that information from each grade level would never make it out of their own meeting.  In an effort to promote continued sharing, I created a Google Form for basic information on the sessions: Title, Summary, #1 Takeaway, Usefulness, and Other Information.  To continue the sharing, I thought I’d post the document here.  Names of those who viewed the sessions have been removed.  Many folks viewed sessions from previous years, a few people gave their takes on the same sessions.

If you’ve never watched any of the K12Online Videos, you’re missing out on an amazing Professional Development experience. After the 2008 Conference, I walked around with about 20 sessions loaded on my iPod Touch for anytime, any place learning. Hopefully these notes will give you a little taste of what some of the sessions are about, and point you in the direction of a few to start your learning. Enjoy!