NGSStweeps: A Look Inside NGSS Classrooms



Coming soon, @NGSS_tweeps!

As an educator, I am always curious about how other educators approach lessons, units, content areas, etc. I have never walked away from a peer observation or a student teacher/practicum experience without feeling like I better understood how to improve my own practice. To see how others do things makes it more clear why we do our own practices and find areas where we can continue to grow. I started blogging in my first year teaching to connect with a larger PLN and grow my practice. Blogging is great, but I still want more. I want to see inside the classrooms of those embracing NGSS. It is very vulnerable to share. As reflective practitioners, we are so critical of our own work. So, many of us still stand guarded in sharing our day-to-day adventures in implementing new standards.


My friend, Patrick Goff (@BMSscienceteach), has developed an idea for the NGSS community based off of accounts like @biotweeps. This idea will bridge this gap! Accounts like @biotweeps, let the community join in on what is happening in a biologist’s lab/research/field for a week and share in the experience. @NGSS_tweeps aims to do the same for the NGSS community.

I am so excited to support Patrick and others who share their professional experiences to benefit the NGSS community.

No matter where you are in your journey with NGSS, we can all learn from each other. Together, we can grow professionally and improve scientific literacy. Our students will even benefit from participating because they too will enjoy showing what they are DOING because NGSS gives them the skills to THINK and DO like scientists!

Join us in opening the doors on NGSS classrooms and celebrating the journey of implementing NGSS by following @NGSS_tweeps and consider hosting!

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It’s funny I am just now experiencing this firsthand, but, tonight, I met my first parent that didn’t believe what we were doing in our NGSS classrooms is better. I have talked to many other parents who are so impressed by the changes and wish they had these courses instead of their drill and kill style experiences. Yet, as always, the negative is what I bring home.

So, as I sit here wondering how I failed, if I am doing the right thing by changing so much, I am reminded about the reason I became a teacher. Our system is broken. The way it always has been is not working for many students. Good students, top scorers with great GPAs are arriving in college campuses around the country unprepared. Jobs in high need fields like high tech manufacturing are going unfilled. Students are being left out of science education because of their life experiences and circumstances. Bottom line – what we have been doing is not meeting the need of students or our country. 

I do not believe, however, that I have arrived as an educator or I have it all figured out. But, I believe that I am part of a movement to make changes that improve science education for all students. I am making a difference for the students in my room today and making strides to better prepare students for the ever changing future. I believe in NGSS and I believe we can keep doing better for all students. 

Because ALL Kids Are Worth It


I have always had a soft spot for the outsiders, the outliers, the underrated, the left out. Even as a privileged student there were times I still felt out of place and that education wasn’t designed for me. I know that students in my school today feel that way to one degree or another. From the day I decided to become a teacher, I have made it my goal to be a teacher for ALL students. That is why I was delighted to learn about the focus on ALL students when the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were developed.

For so long I have heard, “I’m not good at science” and “science isn’t for me”. I can’t wait to tell kids that this science is for them. It is not the goal of the NGSS to make every student the next great scientist, but what it is there to do is to make science an option for all students.

I have been working with the NGSS my whole teaching career (this is my 3rd year teaching), but it wasn’t until this summer when I joined my friends (Tricia Shelton, @Tdishelton, and Jessica Holman, @bchsholman) in a Twitter book study on the book “Science for All Students” that I truly learned the depth of consideration given to all students when developing our new standards.

This realization has only strengthened my resolve that the NGSS is going to improve science learning for all students and that the hard work currently being done in science classrooms is worth it – because ALL kids are worth it.

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How I Plan to Eat an Elephant Named NGSS

NGSS Elephant

Change doesn’t come easy for me. I embrace it. I encourage it. I survive it. But it does not come easily.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were in review as I trained to become a teacher and released as I was hired for my first Science teaching position. So, in theory, the standards I am expected to teach have not changed in my career. However, the thinking behind the NGSS is so fundamentally different than how I was taught that I face the same shift as veteran teachers. One benefit I might have is that I am still developing my arsenal of strategies, units, and activities, rather than having to evaluate my favorite “go-tos” for their fit to NGSS.

As I learn more about the NGSS, the more I realize I don’t know. The biggest obstacle seems to be finding consistency with the 3-Dimensional Learning called for by NGSS. Traditionally, the focus has been on the core concepts, now called the Disciplinary Core Ideas. The shift comes as we add 2 more intentional dimensions to Science learning, the Science and Engineering Practices and Cross-Cutting Concepts. As a teacher, I am intimidated by the addition, but as a scientist and learner I am excited by their inclusion.

The practices used by scientists and the interdependence of concepts were only illuminated through my research at the college level. I learned these by doing. In my lab, I was expected to know the content and the connections and perform. Much of the time, I found myself chasing down information to fill the gaps in my education. It is because of this that I am thrilled to give students the opportunity to have these experiences during high school and be able to excel in later endeavors. If I had been taught with the lens provided by NGSS, I know the transition to collegiate research would have been a breeze.

Now, I know very few of my students want to go on to be science researchers, but I also know the approach to learning described by the 3-dimensions is applicable beyond just Science. Being able to ask the questions, define problems, analyze and interpret data/information, identify patterns and cause and effect relationships, are all skills that will further any student as both a citizen and professional.

The complicated part is also the most important part – implementing the necessary changes to accomplish the goals of NGSS. This is my elephant. How am I going to eat this elephant? Same way as any elephant, one bite at a time.

First bite – using the driving questions found in the NGSS Storylines to guide student exploration of scientific phenomena. Gulp.

Here we go!


Time to Step Up at Teach to Lead 2014 Louisville, KY

Teach to Lead

I am honored to have been “anointed teacher leader” by my department chair. I am even more excited to collaborate with her on building a community of adult learners sharing the journey of implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

This weekend, we made our first steps as a team toward developing a structured plan for implementation by attending the Teach to Lead Summit in Louisville, KY. While participating in this conference, I was able to network and be inspired by the talented teacher leaders collaborating to improve education for all.

A new era of education seems to be approaching and I am excited to rebel against the tradition of leaving the classroom to pursue leadership and instead champion the hybrid role of teacher leader or “teacherpreneur”.

Thank you to all who continue to inspire me to be better everyday!


“Anoint Yourself Teacher Leader”

Ileadershipday2014_01-300x240 am fortunate to be employed in an environment that is supportive of teachers taking initiative and becoming teacher leaders. I was even told, “anoint yourself ‘Teacher Leader’”, by my department chair during my very first week in the building. It is clear that my value is not based on number of years I have taught or solely on the test scores from my classes, but also on my contribution to the school community. This invitation to lead from my administration has fueled my passion for sharing instructional strategies and tools with my colleagues and the world.

When I heard about #leadershipday14, I was inspired to participate in the challenge to speak (blog) about the role of administrators in fostering innovative technology-based programs in the P-12 setting.

The first concept in which I differ from other points of view on the subject is how I define my expectation of administrators. I expect effective leaders to not limit themselves by doing the modeling of practice themselves. Our current P-12 system removes our school-wide leaders from the classroom in order to perform their duties. There are many reasons for this, but it leaves us in a situation in which implementation is not modeled directly. Rather, it is the role of the administrator to inspire teacher leaders to provide the most current and relevant models of good practice.

I also differ from others when I believe the role of administrator does not include uncovering all applicable research to improve teaching practice. Instead, I suspect that inspired and empowered teacher leaders would find more relevant and timely resources to share. The role of the administrator then becomes the ‘disseminator’ of the information and the platform to support teacher-led professional development.

In order for an administrator to be both of the above, it is critical that they recognize two things:

  1. The potential for leadership in their employees
  2. How to empower teachers to rise and lead in areas like technology (especially in areas they might not be experts in)

As I am already fortunate to have received this call to leadership in my building, I challenge other administrators to lead their schools into the future by lifting up the gifted and curious among their staff and anointing them – teacher leaders.


Technology Implementation – Class Dojo

ClassDojo-IconThe Need

We have all been there – the parent conference for the formerly straight-A student. “I don’t understand. [Insert name here] has always done well in [insert subject here]. Why does he/she have a [insert non-A grade here]?”

There it is – the need for specific instances of student behavior that have led to their failure to learn. As teachers, we are aware of what behaviors lead to student success and which can stand in a student’s way, but how we respond to these difficult situations can be tricky. Sometimes, all it takes is your word. Other times, it takes data. Collecting behavior data can be problematic. It is inherently easier to note the bad behavior and to focus on only a couple of students.

That is where Class Dojo comes in.

The Tool

According to their website, Class Dojo is designed to “improve behavior, share data, and save time”. I have found it to be have a simple user friendly interface with great customization potential. When you first join Class Dojo, the tutorial and example class will teach you the basics. From importing rosters to inviting parents and students to view their progress, Class Dojo has made set up a breeze.

Deciding which positive and negative behaviors to monitor can be more difficult. Some questions to consider when choosing are:

  • How does this behavior impact student learning?
  • How will this behavior help students regulate their own actions?
  • How will tracking this behavior help parents support their student?
  • Which behaviors are valued by the school administrators?

Once your class is up and running, this tool is only as useful as you make it. Teacher accountability is necessary to keep useful and consistent data. Integration of Class Dojo into your daily class routine is essential. One easy way to integrate Class Dojo is by using the “Random” feature. You can easily call on students or check student participation by clicking “Random”. Class Dojo picks a student for you and then prompts you to assign either a positive or negative award.


The Plan

My plan for implementation of Class Dojo includes parent and student involvement. At the beginning of the year, I am using the parent and student invitations generated by Class Dojo to share login information. I will be encouraging students and parents to frequently check their accounts to monitor patterns in their classroom actions.

However, the most significant point of including parents and students in Class Dojo is to meet the need described at the beginning of the post – responding to parent concern. When something goes wrong, we can collaboratively identify points of concern related to behavior and isolate the results of behavior from academic concerns.

Although this responsive use of Class Dojo is the main purpose of promoting parent involvement, my biggest reason for implementing Class Dojo in my instruction is to be PROACTIVE rather than RESPONSIVE. By monitoring class data, I intend to identify patterns and changes in student behaviors and INTERVENE IMMEDIATELY. Student interventions become more meaningful as I can separate behavior from academic issues and respond appropriately.

The Evaluation

Good implementation of any tool requires a mode of evaluation in order to assess effectiveness. The points of evaluation to be used for Class Dojo include:

  • Teacher Data Collection
    • Successful teacher data collection is demonstrated by consistent tracking of student behaviors at a frequency of 3 times per class session.
  • Parent Involvement
    • Successful parent involvement is demonstrated by a participation percentage of 50% or higher.
      • Participation is defined as parent account set up and some use of portal
  • Student Involvement
    • Successful student involvement is demonstrated by a participation percentage of 75% or higher.
      • Participation is defined as student account set up and some use of portal
  • Successful Interventions
    • Successful interventions are demonstrated by useful application of Class Dojo generated data to inform next steps to improve student performance behaviorally and/or academically.

As the semester progresses, I will post about how implementation of Class Dojo measures up to the evaluation criteria listed above.

The Conclusion

Class Dojo has tremendous potential to empower teachers, parents, and students. The usefulness of the data generated and the ease of collection makes Class Dojo an easy addition to classroom instruction.

Technology implementation for student success!



New Year, New Educational Technologies

A brand new school year is upon us!

Due to my husband’s job change, I have relocated to the Northern Kentucky area and will be teaching at Boone County High School. My teaching duties now include Integrated Science, Honors Integrated Science, Biology, and Chemistry classes.

I am excited to continue to share with you the implementation of innovative strategies in my classroom. In the upcoming posts, you can expect a description of technologies to be used this year along with follow-up posts on the success of their implementation.

Here are a few teasers!

ClassDojo-Icon Geddit-300-150x150

google drive Google-Classroom

Digital Formative Assessments: Socrative vs. Geddit


socrative 1


Formative assessments are not new to the classroom, but their value has not diminished as new innovative practices steal the limelight. One factor that reduces the implementation of formative assessments in today’s classrooms is the time it takes to evaluate the data collected. Master teachers can informally check student understanding without even putting pen to paper, but these “pulse checks” often do not go beyond the teacher. The usefulness of these assessments comes not from helping students answer questions, but rather by informing instruction.

Why go digital?

With the widespread use of technology, we have broken down the barriers to global communication. Whether you are in the next room or the next country, instant access is not only available, but expected. We should have the same expectations in education. Teachers have long been isolated from one another by classrooms in supervision driven systems. New initiatives for common summative assessments strive to unite the separated instruction. Yet, they demand a consistency not supported by the antiquated school structure. One solution to this separation is digital formative assessments.

By digitizing formative assessments, we can not only instantly check student performance, but also share our results with students, parents, and colleagues. No longer should the teacher be the keeper of the data. Instead, teachers can share findings to identify commonalities across forms of instruction, content areas, and even states.

How does it work?

The two internet-based systems I have tested – Socrative and Geddit – take advantage of the widespread availability of web-enabled devices already in student hands. In my district, the BYOD or Bring Your Own Device initiative has been a game changer for student use of technology. Environments like ours make the old student clicker systems irrelevant and exceedingly costly.

Both programs allow for development of assessments online through a teacher account. Teachers can use quick question formats to save time, but may also create their own quizzes within the system. Students gain access to quizzes through a course code or room number. Once students have joined the digital “classroom”, they are prompted to answer the teacher’s questions. In both Socrative and Geddit, teachers control administering the quiz. However, once the quiz is complete, the two programs begin to differ.

Socrative provides the teacher with choices on reporting. A teacher may download the report immediately or have the report emailed to them. Reporting in Socrative takes the form of an Excel spreadsheet. Those comfortable with the Microsoft Office suite or Google docs will enjoy the ease of filtering data and creating visuals to share with others.

Geddit, on the other hand, maintains the reports online. In a Geddit report, teachers can view a breakdown of the student confidence in their responses, a clear list of students who may have struggled with the content, and a question breakdown.

How to choose?

Out of the many digital formats available for formative assessments, I have only used Socrative, and more recently, Geddit. I first learned of Socrative through a PD I attended and then learned about Geddit through social media. My current preference is Geddit, but I did not make this decision in isolation. Rather, I asked the students.

Student voice in the classroom has proven to increase student ownership of learning. In this case, students had been using the Socrative system for several months and been content. When I discovered that there was a good alternative to how we had been doing formatives, I had the students pilot Geddit.

Our schedule provides students with an opportunity to work on the University of Kentucky’s campus one day a week. Half of our students attend UK on Tuesday and the other half attend on Thursday. Students who attended my class on Tuesday took a formative assessment on the usual Socrative, while students who attended on Thursday took their assessment on Geddit. Thursday students then responded to a quick question on Geddit to vote for the system they preferred. Option A was Geddit is better than Socrative; Option B was Socrative is better than Geddit; Option C was I do not like either; and Option D was I like both. The results are below.

Student vote Geddit

Student response to choice of using Socrative or Geddit.

Based on student choice, we are going to discontinue use of Socrative and instead use Geddit.

If you are not ready to bring students into making this choice, here are some teacher-centered considerations when choosing:

1) Comfort with report formats.

If you are not an Excel spreadsheet fan, Socrative may not be the tool for you. However, the benefits of creating your own visuals and filtering specific requests does provide a level of control not easily used with Geddit exporting services. On the flip side, Geddit does provide the visuals for you and if they meet your needs, it saves you the time of creating them.

2) Content area concerns.

As I work with other staff members on digitizing their formative assessments, I have found the needs of each subject are different. Math in particular is tricky as equation editors are not a strong suit for these programs. We did find that when creating quizzes on an iPad uploading a picture from the camera roll to both Socrative and Geddit allowed for a bypass of equation editors.

Another feature that relates to content area is the ability to tag Common Core Standards in the new Socrative 2.0. An easy selection from a list of standards is all it takes to track your use of formatives to assess standards. Alternatively, Geddit offers a topic/activity portion to the lessons where you can type the standard or portion of the standard relevant to the day’s lesson.

3) Student self-evaluation.

Student self-evaluation has become a staple in many innovative classrooms as we continue to value the meta-cognition required by such activities. Both programs provide this feature, but the how may influence your choice. Socrative provides a standard exit slip that allows students to select from choices of confidence. Geddit, on the other hand, incorporates student confidence into all assessments. Geddit features a selection tool that looks like cell phone signal indicators and students evaluate where they stand. The visual representation of understanding vs. selection of the phrase that describes them could alter student responses.

geddit 1

4) Sharability

You may be the first at your school to incorporate digital formative assessments or be a member of a team looking to share data. This, too, will inform your choice between Socrative and Geddit. Socrative has an import and sharing feature using a SOC#. Geddit offers a share by email feature.

5) Accountability

The biggest difference I found between Socrative and Geddit is the need for students to form accounts with Geddit, whereas Socrative does not require a log in. Students first question when it comes to any activity is, “Will this count for a grade?” If you subscribe to the practice of formatives not being graded (even for completion), both programs will serve your needs. However, if you do wish to provide participation or accuracy grades for responses, Geddit might be the better option as it requires students to log in vs. self-identify by typing in their name.


Ultimately, the choice to digitize formative assessments is yours. What I have found is that digital formative assessments have increased student engagement, provided an opportunity for student voice, serve as a tool to track student self-evaluation, and a wonderful possibility for sharing assessments with others.

Implementation is not without its challenges. Use of blended learning in my classroom has illuminated the error in thinking of digital natives as innately digital learners. As with any learning, students must be scaffolded and given clear expectations of how to use the tools provided to them. Yet, as students become comfortable with the technology, they can find some comical ways of entertaining themselves.

When I implemented Socrative, a student accidentally typed in the wrong “room number”. Instead of taking my two question assessment, they stumbled upon a foreign class’s twenty four question assessment. This first student quickly mended the error, but others then joined in the game of trying to find other classes and take their quizzes. I even had a student give a friend at another school the room number for my quiz and had them participate. While this could be a great opportunity for collaboration across locations, it was a bit confusing when looking at my results.

Students have also amused themselves on Geddit by playing with the hand raising feature. A student can alert the teacher that they need help by digitally raising their hand. One young man in particular tested this out Day 1 by raising his hand on Geddit. To illustrate the usefulness of the feature, I called on the student and asked what he needed. Clearly excited by the attention, he replied, “Nothing. I was just stretching.”

The creativity of students always keeps me on my toes!


Design Thinking for the WIN!

Design to be shared on Earth Day with all FCPS schools.

Design to be shared on Earth Day with all FCPS schools.

The truest advice I received in student teaching was, “When students do poorly, teachers blames themselves; when students do well, teachers praise students.” Where does the praise for teachers come in? Well, today, I want to praise the teachers of STEAM Academy.

In our very first year, we have introduced many new approaches school wide. One of our biggest struggles was determining the role of Design Thinking in our structure. At the end of first semester, we realized that the wires of previous training in Project Based Learning teachers, administration experience, and parent understanding was being confused with the client/empathy centered structure described in John Nash’s “Design Thinking for Educators”.

Adapted from John Nash's "Design Thinking for Educators"

Adapted from John Nash’s “Design Thinking for Educators”

What I find remarkable and deserving of praise today is – that even with the difficulty in figuring out the true place for design thinking at STEAM – we have imparted the meaning of the design process to our students. We have done this to the point that their instincts now reflect the very client-centered approach that confused the adults!


Members of the club, E=USE², have been given the go-ahead from FCPS’s Sustainability Initiative to design their plan for $1500 to improve energy conservation and sustainability at STEAM. I am so proud to say that when given this news, our students immediately wanted to survey the needs of individuals who will make use of their purchases!

Design thinking for the win!