Posted in Teaching

I’m overwhelmed!

How do you do one thing at a time when everything clamors to be done at once?

I’m cursed with an overactive brain. The more I learn about learning, the more I want to change the way things are going in my classroom. The more I want to change things, the more overwhelmed I become with the changes that need to be made.

As I look ahead to the new year and going back to the classroom, when ever I start to think about what I will be teaching students, I can’t stop the spiral of thoughts. It starts like this, “Ok, I know that I will be using the online program that the district bought this year with my English only science kids. Therefore, I have to read through the next lessons and figure out what is happening each day. While I do this, I will see if the teacher who is ahead of me has begun a Google slides presentation and adjust or add what I need for my classes as I go. If they haven’t made anything, then I need to take the time to do this. When is this going to happen?”

Then I think, “Now for my dual language science kids. They need the same content and they will do the same hands-on activities, however, I have to provide the content in Spanish and also figure out how to give them practice with that content. How will I do this?”

I delivered the last bout of information by some Google slides and a Nearpod that I had made two years ago with Cornell note templates that they filled in and added their summary and questions to. I gave them daily formative mini-quizzes which drove them crazy. I ended up the unit with an engineering project for them to apply the basics of force and motion to their design. I originally planned for the summative grade to come from their analysis and conclusion about how the building went and how they could improve if they were allowed too try it again from scratch. But as I look through these papers I see a ton of copying going on because all of the papers are the exact same thing. So the teams just took the information from each other and copied the reflection and analysis answers from each other. Who knows if they actually understand the principles of science that I planned for them to learn? Which student wrote it or if it was all of them together, I have no clue.

So now I begin to rethink what I need to do to find out what each individual has learned. Maybe a short online Google form quiz to get a quick reading of what really stuck about force, motion, mass and speed. Or, as I just watched in a #DitchSummit interview with Eric Curtis, a shared slides with students making their own representation of what happens and then commenting on each others’ responses.

“This time for the next bit of content”, I muse, “I would be really happy if I could give them some sort of lesson where they find the information themselves and then teach each other what they need to know, like in a jigsaw.”

I don’t really know how to do this properly, though. Last year I had this brainstorm idea that I thought would be quite awesome. I split the earth science that they needed to learn into expert groups. One was in charge of the earth’s layers, one plate tectonics and plate boundaries, one had to learn about continental drift, one had to learn about convection currents and it’s connection to the movements of the crust. Each group had a scientist to learn about who discovered something about their main subject. Their task was to answer some specific questions that were given to them, make a Google slides presentation with the information, make a note frame for their learners to fill in and find a lab or hands on activity that would help their learners understand their content and finally make a quiz in Google forms for their learners to take after they got the content. Well, it was too much for most of the students to wrap their minds around and I wasn’t able to give the support that they needed to do their tasks well enough to be ready to teach when they were divided into their teaching groups. It felt like a lost cause for several of the groups and I had to end up giving them the information in the end anyway. It would have been much better if I had realized that they needed to learn about how to prepare each part of lessons like this before being given the monumental task of teachers.

Maybe for this unit,  I could make a hyperdoc lesson for the expert groups to follow along in and I could have them make videos of the content they have to present instead of Google slides. They could post them to the comment feed in the Google classroom assignment and then watch each other’s products, comment on them and use the feedback to improve their learning.

Next I think, “Ok, so since I have to teach them this content in Spanish, I need to make sure to have a bridge lesson that will wrap things up by teaching them some aspects of grammar and language that are either exclusive to Spanish or English or are similar, like cognates.”

This worked well for the short unit I did at the beginning of the year for the carbon cycle. I made a drawing of the cycle and then projected it onto butcher paper and added the labels for the processes along the way in both languages and then posted it in the classroom for the students to use for making a process paragraph and a mini poster of the cycle. They also had a list of process sequencing words in Spanish to use as they did their writing. It even helped my second language learners in my English only science class to get the content easier to have that poster up in bilingual format.

Well, I have been writing this post over the last 5 days or so and tomorrow is the day I have to go back into the classroom with 4 lessons ready, (or actually 8 since I have the two different languages to contend with). I still haven’t a clue as to what to do. I have been watching Matt Miller’s Ditch Summit videos and want so badly a do-over with this vacation. Juggling family and work has never been harder for me. I HATE having to go back and not have something new and better for my students. Something that will inspire them to want to learn. Something exciting that draws them in and makes them not want to let go. I’m afraid that I will be going back to the same old thing because I haven’t been able to take the ideas I’ve gleaned this break and flesh out a new system of engaging learning and assessment. Read and answer chapter questions. Watch a YouTube video and respond to some prompts. Create a Google slides presentation to show to another group. Less than 18 hours to go. What to do…


Posted in student-led assessment, Teaching

Student reflection

So far nothing has come from my last blog post besides a short response from admin stating that elementary schools seem to be farther along in this gradeless system of evaluation of students. It did not seem that there was much enthusiasm to lend support for this much-needed change. This does not mean that I won’t be trying to shift to more self-assessment and student reflection on how they are doing.

Last night and tonight are student conferences and I am sitting here watching my students come with parents and tell them about how they are doing in my class. There is a table set up in front of my main table with a sign at the end that tells students to find the reflection they did in class the day before and to sit down with a chrome book and show their parents what it is like to work out of the Google classroom and Amplify online science.

They start out a little confused about what to do since I am the only teacher who is doing this, but before long they have sat down and begun to show their parents what we are doing. I can see the questions coming and the parents getting interested as the students share. Once they come to me most of the questions have been answered and we can focus on inquiry about behaviors or other concerns.

I really am enjoying this style of conferencing and it seems that parents are too.


Posted in Teaching

Modeling Innovation #IMMOOC

So, I believe that I have been modeling my learning for my students since I began teaching. I am always trying new things and allow myself to fail right in front of them.

One example would be when I created videos of labs for them to observe and follow the steps to do it themselves. I made one for the extraction of DNA from crushed strawberries and I came to a step where the directions I had gotten from the internet said to put a paper towel in the strainer to collect the juices and I realized that this would probably take more than an hour for a good enough amount of liquid to make it’s way through the paper. So I changed course in the middle of the video and told them that the paper towel step wasn’t going to be necessary and just dumped the crushed berries right in the strainer. Within seconds there was plenty of clear juice to use for the next steps. Because I had made the video during my prep period, there was no time to edit so it was posted as -is to YouTube.

Another, more recent example is when I listened to the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast by Danny Sunshine Bauer. I listened to him explain how he used the five love languages to connect to his teachers and staff. I got the inspiration to get to know my students in a different way by using the five love languages. I went online and found a playlist of videos that only had music without words and and cute little generic animated characters that acted out each of the love languages, each in a separate video. In case you don’t know, the love languages are: quality time, acts of service, physical contact, words of affirmation, and gifts. So I also found on the love languages website from Gary Chapman, a questionnaire that was for teenagers to use with their parents. Because I have Spanish language classes in English language classes, I had to translate the questions for my Spanish classes and adjusted some of the wording, but I printed directly the English language PDF from Gary Chapman.

When I implemented the lesson several of the English-only students seemed to be uncomfortable with the fact that a teacher would be finding out how they felt loved. One student even wrote on the questionnaire, “I don’t need to tell you what my love language is, you are my teacher.” This implied that he was feeling quite awkward with his science teacher asking for this sort of personal information.

From the very beginning of the lesson, I told the students that this was the very first time I was doing this and why I was doing it. I told them that I had learned about the languages, told them what mine are, and that I was curious to know what theirs’ might be so that I could build a better relationship with them. After seeing their level of discomfort at some of the questions; for example, one of the questions asked if they felt loved when their parent touched their face, I realized that I needed to make some adjustments if I wanted to use this lesson again next year as part of the beginning of the year get-to-know you type activities.

My classroom looks like this most of the time. With my dual language students I am able to be very creative and innovative. I learn new things all the time along with my students and I am very transparent with my successes and failures. I hope that they are seeing that it is something that everyone needs to do to be able to have a fun and interesting life.

Posted in going gradeless, individualized learning, mini conferences, self-paced learning, student engagement, student-led assessment, Teaching

I cannonballed in! Aaaaaah! #IMMOOC


So here is the text of the email I just composed and hit send to my principal:

Since this summer I have been learning about how to do assessment differently. I have read the book: by Starr Sackstein and have subscribed to the author’s Youtube channel (Watch her TEDxYouth talk here: ) with her video reflections about implementing a classroom without traditional points or letter grades for her assignments.

Obviously, she had to enter letter grades at the grading periods but she was given permission by her principal to use a coding system in a standards based grade book (Like JUMPROPE) for the assignments rather than points and percentages and she conferenced constantly with students with helpful feedback like the SE2R explained here:

One of the keys to a successful student-centered, Results Only Learning Environment is the use of narrative feedback over grades. Although feedback isn’t …

She used projects with clear guidelines aligned with the standards they had to focus on and she interspersed mini lessons and discussions for concepts that needed to get demonstrated in the project. She conferenced on a weekly schedule about the learning, and sent them back to re-do and improve until the grading period came. By the end of the year she had students talking about their learning and not the points they had earned.

There is research to support the idea that when students receive a grade, they tend to shelve the learning and stop wanting to improve anything on that one thing
How One Weird Finding Changed My Perspective on Grades Now that I know, there’s no going back

At the grading period she would give the students a reflection assignment in which they had to provide evidence of their learning according to the standards they had been working on and together they decided on the grade that they should have recorded in the grade book. All of this is also supported by the characteristics of growth mindset as well.

Here is a podcast with Mark Barnes speaking on his book Assessment 3.0 (which I have yet to get and read myself). He is speaking with the hosts of the podcast, a superintendent and his assistant from Pennsylvania.

Each episode we leave you with a couple of questions to think about…with the idea of provoking conversation. This episode’s question: Ask us a question or suggest …

And this is a TEDtalk by Mark Barnes explaining more about giving feedback instead of grades:

I would very much like to embark on this journey of downplaying grades and up-playing enjoyment of and awareness of learning to reduce the number of D’s and F’s in my DL classes. If you give me the go-ahead, I will be making a series of YouTube videos myself to document what I am doing, keeping data, and teaching students about how to take and give feedback. I will make my experience public to share with the parents and kids.
Let me know what you think and if you are ok with this, I will make a more deliberate, detailed plan of what I will do.

Mrs./Maestra Espinoza

South Meadows Middle School

Dual Language Science teacher

Room 118

503-844-1220 ext. 5878

Posted in networking, personal life, Teaching, time management

Time for Networking #IMMOOC

I am trying to find time to read the Innovator’s Mindset by George Cuoros but my home life and job are getting in the way! Or at least that is what it feels like right now. I am normally a very organized person – when I am living alone, that is. Add a husband, 4 children living at home who have yet to be trained to do their chores without me standing over them, 160 students who need me to figure out how to engage them in lessons that they enjoy learning from, let alone having to ‘grade’ them and I often feel like I am going crazy.

Of the 8 characteristics of an innovator, I believe that I still need to really work on networking. I have Twitter and Facebook accounts. I also have a Voxer. During the summer I spent a lot of time (relatively) diving into the education groups that I have found out about through listening to various podcasts.

What I think that I need to do is make sure to schedule in time to do the networking. My mind is full of so many creative and reflective thoughts but I don’t block out the time that I need to get things out so then I feel overwhelmed. If I could spend full time reading, reflecting and writing, I’m not sure I would be able to get it all out and into a cohesive plan, but it sure would be best if I at least knew what days and what time I will work on posting my ideas and reading others’.

So my conclusion is that I need to take the time to sit down and schedule out my week so I can be more deliberate about networking and, in this way take better care of myself so I don’t get so stressed about not doing it like I know I should.

Posted in Teaching

What now?

Regardless of the fact that my dream class is one of personalized, self-directed learners, I still work in a very constrained system that doesn’t seem ready for the radical changes that I and my students are so ready for.

Last year our district finished the process of adopting a new science curriculum. They opted for the full online version so that students and teachers work from a platform that contains a scripted, open up the box, follow along with the directions, do the activities, have students at pretty much the same point along the way so they meet the NGSS  (Next Generation Science Standards) style. There are online simulations and canned “problems” for them to investigate by taking claims that were created by the writers and finding evidence which support or refute the claims to come to a pre-determined conclusion. Granted, at least they are not being fed the content along the way and are supposed to be “discovering” it as they go, but still I am not as free as I was last year in creating student-directed lessons that end in projects that show me what the students found out from their own questions that were gleaned at the beginning of the unit during the Question Focus technique that I wrote about earlier.

Because this is a new thing for us, all of us on the  Science PLC are expected to follow the curriculum as is so that we can all discuss and decide how things are going. We will meet to plan together and do the same lessons and assessments, taking data on student learning and deciding how things are going for each one of us.

There are 145 total lessons that are supposed to last 45 -50 minutes so, supposedly we have about 35 leeway days within which we can flex and adjust to teach extra content and possibly take more time on some things. With my 8th graders, about 10 of those days will be taken up in state testing and at least 5 will be for starting out the year. Two days will be end of the semester stuff and 4 will probably be used for before and after winter and spring break. So that only leaves a few days for lessons that go over, make up days and other unforeseen circumstances.

Needless to say I feel kind of trapped. When I first started teaching science I longed for something like this to lean on as I got my feet under me but now that I have been underway enough to have shifted my philosophy to teach with more freedom to express myself and expect the same from my students, it feels like someone clamped a ball and chain to my ankle.

My only consolation for now is the fact that I am one of two dual language  (DL) science teachers in the middle school level of our district program and the canned curriculum isn’t offered in Spanish yet so I can give my DL students the same learning experiences that I was doing last year with my 8th graders. I can use the Google classroom to push experiences out to them that will challenge them to search for the information on their own or in small groups and create products and presentations that demonstrate their learning.

It would be great to hear from anyone who is as frustrated as I am with the way we are being asked to continue in the compliance-based old ways of teaching that continue to keep our students in contrived, four-walls situations. I’d like some encouragement and ideas for how to keep on with a positive attitude when things seem so stuck.

Posted in Teaching

How hyperdocs worked for my dual language classroom

Screenshot 2017-08-07 at 3.29.43 PMThis last winter break I attended Matt Miller’s Ditch that Conference  and learned sooo much!


One of the days he had as guests the Hyperdoc Girls Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis, authors of  The Hyperdoc Handbook.

Screenshot 2017-08-07 at 3.36.50 PM.png

So I went out and purchased it on Kindle and got right in to figuring out how to use a hyperdoc in my classroom.

In case you don’t know what a hyperdoc is, I’ll give you a quick description. It is an all-in-one lesson for students to jump into and go through at their own pace. It can be created in Google docs (the ‘doc’ part of the name), or slides. The teacher follows the format of generating interest with a hook like an embeded video or even an in-class live demo, then students are guided with hyperlinks embeded in the hyperdoc (that’s the ‘hyper’ part of the name) to go explore and learn about the topic. They are prompted along the way to answer questions or create a product. At the end of the lesson they are to demonstrate their learning in a concrete way through a presentation, video, blog post or other creative format, preferably then to be shared with the class, school or the world 🙂

So in my class, I went to the website that the Hyperdoc Girls set up for teachers to share their hyperdocs on called Teachers Give Teachers, and chose one that had lots of color and an interesting format and went to town creating a lesson for my students to learn about molecular movement and phase changes. I chose the 5E’s Template because our district has been focusing on this style of lesson planning for science classes.

Screenshot 2017-08-07 at 4.04.06 PM
My first attempt at hyperdocs

I assigned this in Google classroom and sat back to watch the fun… But for many of the students, it was not so fun. There were so many confused looks and questions that I was circulating around the room the whole class period explaining to individuals what they were supposed to do at each step. I learned very quickly that introducing this sort of self-directed lesson to students who didn’t normally read directions all the way through before starting in on something or who hadn’t had access to technology, was too much too soon.

So I had to modify the things that they did after exploring the first two sections of the hyperdoc to accomodate their lack of experience.

I had to teach them to be independent learners again. They had unlearned this between babyhood and 7th grade. It seems that this complicated of a hyperdoc with so many new things to do needed to be broken down into separate parts or given in a simpler format.

My next attempt at a hyperdoc was with an Explore, Explain, Apply doc with a much simpler, but still rigorous process to follow. This one I used for my 7th and 8th graders in four different iterations, as seen below:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Students performed much better on this format. It was simple and a little more like a worksheet in some aspects. This I didn’t like so much as they tend to copy answers from each other, especially on the What is a theory Apply section. The others had an acutal project to do for the apply section so that made it more individualized.

So what did I learn? For sure, when you introduce hyperdocs you need to take into account whether your students have done some of the things that you are asking them to do in the hyperdoc. Start simple with the explore, explain, apply and then move on to something more complex like the 5E’s one I made. Once your students become familiar with more tools on the web, add these to your hyperdocs and watch them wow you!