Middle School, Science

Day 1: NSTA National Conference on Science Education

Business Card Sized PaperSo yesterday a fellow science teacher and I spent the day traveling from good ol’ Erie, Pennsylvania to Boston, Massachusetts for our first day at the NSTA’s National Conference on Science Education.  Today we will be attending the Professional Development Institute for a day-long program on the Next Generation Science Standards. Right now, I am (well, obviously updating this blog but also) waiting for my fellow teacher to get ready to hit the road!  We stayed last night in a hotel just south of Boston, so it will probably be a 40 minute drive to the Convention Center.

Side Note: I really have no idea how this happened, because usually I make great time on the road, but it was only supposed to take us 8.5 hours and it definitely took us closer to 10.  It was a long drive and kinda sucked. I mean, I have done long drives before (and alone at that!) from Erie to Charlotte (and on several occasions!), but this drive definitely felt longer. Maybe it was because we were literally on I-90 for like 400 miles (that’s just a guess, I don’t know exactly how many miles).

Anyway, I started off yesterday morning with my car packed and ready to go:

Ugh, I hate mirror-selfies and this picture as a whole, but I don’t have time to be picky, and I feel like I need to justify how my leggings look is still cute and not ridiculously casual.

I definitely overpacked. However, my dilemma this morning was that I didn’t have enough clothes.  Last night, I didn’t want to bring up my huge suitcase since we were just staying here one night, so I tried to grab just a few clothes to wear today to the PDI session…  It left me with very little wiggle room this morning (although that might be a good thing because I sometimes have trouble deciding what to wear).  Anyway, I am doing black leggings, long white shirt, black vest, and maybe a scarf (haven’t decided).  I really hope I’m not underdressed… but I also really hate real pants. Maybe I’m wrong, but I like to be comfortable – and I think the learning that is going to take place today is way more important than my fashion decisions. (Because who can argue with that statement? Hah!)

Anyway, so now I am in Boston and ready to go! The PDI session I picked is called “NGSS 101: An Introduction to the Next Generation Science Standards.”  Basically, it is a look at the new standards, what they mean, and how to adapt teaching and classroom learning toward implementing those standards.  I expect to learn a lot… but I’ll let you know!


When I saw this in the gas station (even though we were still about two hours away), it made me feel better.


Curriculum & Planning, Education, Life Lessons, Middle School, Science

National Conference on Science Education

As a first year science teacher, I am always looking for advice and ideas to use in the classroom.  I have long been a believer in professional organizations – like the National Council for the Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, and most recently, the National Science Teacher’s Association.  As a member, I receive a monthly journal with lots of amazing lesson ideas, science content, and resource reviews, and I can access additional material on the web – including old journal issues, email lists, and mini science content courses.

Browsing the site earlier this year, I came across an opportunity for new teachers to apply for an award to help defray the cost of attending the National Conference on Science Education, to be held this year in Boston.  To be honest, I was not expecting the award.  On the application, it directly states that preference will be given to teachers who had been members of the NSTA Student Chapter of their college or university, and to make matters worse, I realized I forgot to send the main information form with my entire application packet and had to send it in a separate envelope.  I figured it was a long shot, but why not try.

I was incredibly surprised and honored, then, to receive an email from NSTA, announcing that I had been one of 25 teachers selected for this award. WOW! I can’t begin to share with you my excitement — it only grew after I began browsing the sessions to be held at the conference as well.

Being selected for this award has not only filled me with excitement to travel to Boston and to attend these amazing conference sessions and (yay!) FIELD TRIPS, but it has given renewed life to my drive to continually improve — to gain new experiences, to make connections, and to become a leader in my field.

I have definitely had my ups and downs with education — when I left Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools last year, I thought I would give up on it entirely.  I felt like a failure of a teacher, and I wasn’t sure what to do with the career I had spent the last seven years working toward. Teaching at OLCS this year has entirely turned that around, though.  I work with an amazing team of teachers, with awesome students, and with administrators that are there for me.  I have the freedom and support to meet curriculum standards creatively and to incorporate the authentic learning experiences so important at the middle level.  My students have video-conferenced with professors from Penn State Behrend, collected water quality data from Cascade Creek, and conducted an energy audit of our school.  They are engaged in independent research projects, investigating original questions and sharing their results through journal-like reports.    Some of my students will even share their research at Allegheny College’s Creek Connections Symposium in April.  I am lucky to work at a school like OLCS, and the culture that our teachers, students, and administrators have created has been a huge factor in my success.

I look forward to what’s to come, and I can’t wait to share it all with you!


Curriculum & Planning, Middle School, Science

Energy Education Resources: Citizen Power

While my sixth graders are busy learning about our local watershed, my fifth graders are looking at energy.  I love authentic learning  — opportunities where students can feel like they are having a real impact and making a real difference — so when I began planning my science units, I tried to select a topic that would tie many areas of science together and would also provide an opportunity for students to engage in a service learning or “citizen science” activities.  Energy is a perfect match for those goals.

First, the issue of energy is so relevant to today — the decisions we make today on the issues of national security, energy independence, and the dangers posed by climate change will literally shape the future of our planet.  Second, everyone uses energy, and it is within our power to impact our use of energy.  Finally, the broad topic of energy connects to so many different areas in the field of science — from the physical science areas of matter, atoms, molecules and (of course) energy, to the earth science topics of natural resources and their formation, weather and climate, and finally to life science themes like how changing climates will affect life on earth.  Energy is the perfect topic to tie all of these areas together.

With a topic settled on, I just needed that exciting activity to make the learning worthwhile — to add an application of this knowledge, to make it authentic.  I settled on having my students conduct an energy audit of our school.  As a culminating activity, they will submit their recommendations regarding energy use and future energy decisions to the school, providing a rationale for each recommendation.  Yes, this is pretty hefty work for fifth graders, but with support and scaffolding, I know they can do it, and I know they can produce something they can be proud of.

So… As I began to look for resources to assist me in building this unit and tying these diverse areas together (the textbook wasn’t much help at this point), I discovered a binder from an organization called Citizen Power in my predecessor’s cupboards (retiring teachers leave behind the best stuff!).  After a few phone calls, I was delighted to find that not only was the organization still active, they were offering a professional development workshop in my area designed to familiarize teachers with renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies (like a watts meter and LED lights!).  With the approval of my principal to play hooky for the day, I was able to attend!

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We learned about how solar and wind energy works and also practiced conducting an energy audit.  Citizen Power has a tool bag teachers can sign out that includes a digital infrared thermometer (to identify thermal leaks and such stuff), a digital thermometer pen (to measure air temperature), digital hygrometer pen (measures humidity), light meter, flicker checker (determines efficiency of fluorescent ballasts), and a watt meter that determines how many watts appliances are sucking out!  My students will use tools like these when it comes time to conduct our own energy audit.

We also looked at a tool scientists use when decided where to place solar panels.  They called it a Solar Pathfinder – there are also electronic versions.  Basically, the numbers and lines on it show when that area will have direct sunlight — down to the hour — for the entire year.

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Finally, we got to see solar energy produced with this mobile monocrystalline photovoltaic panel.

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In addition to all these nifty activities, I got to take a goody bag home!  They generously gave all the teachers a flicker checker, LED bulb, solar power windmill kit, wind power turbine kit, a DVD about renewable energy, and a book about home energy audits.  That is quite a haul for a FREE workshop!!!

Anyway, I am looking forward to working with Citizen Power, along with a few other community organizations like Asbury Woods Nature Center and environmentERIE, as my fifth graders begin explorations in energy.  Stay tuned for more exciting news!!!

Education, Life Lessons

Regrets: But I Can’t Go Back, and I Don’t Want To

I’ve never bothered much with regret.  Perhaps it’s a pride thing (after all, to say you regret something means you’re admitting you did something wrong…), but I think regret is a waste of time.  You can’t change it anyway, so why bother regretting it?

I moved to North Carolina to teach at a public school in Charlotte in August, and I moved back to Erie a mere six months later.  I spent a lot of money moving down there, and I spent another good chunk moving back up north.  I’m sure to some people that looks like regret — I regretted moving south so I moved back north.  Well, it’s not.  I don’t regret moving to North Carolina.  It was something I had to do.

When you make a decision, you obviously have reasons to do so.  You may change your mind about those reasons later, but at the time, you had your reasons.  So why should you regret it? I had to go to North Carolina.  I was working in a private school, and at the time I believed it “didn’t count” as real teaching.  “Real” teachers were public school teachers, and you weren’t a real teacher ’till you taught at a public school.  In Pennsylvania it is very difficult to get a public school job — there is a ton of competition, first of all.  Then there are some districts that only hire people who went to the school, whose parents teach at the school, etc.  And there are other districts who only hire people who are in no way connected to the school (such as the district I was raised in and worked in for five years).  On top of that, I was just itching to get out of Erie.  I had lived in Erie my whole life, had gone to college and grad school within fifty miles of the city, and was worried I would never get out.  At that point in my life, I had to leave, and teaching in North Carolina was the first opportunity I found to do that.

While I ended up hating my job down there and moved back north just six months later, while I’ve lost money in the moves and have had to go back to substitute teaching up here, North Carolina was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in terms of my own personal and professional growth.

Personally, for the first time since I really entered the “dating world,” I didn’t care about having a boyfriend — moving gave me distance from the stupid non-relationship thing I was doing with a moron up here, and it also gave me time to get over the real three year relationship I had ended the year before.    When we broke up at the end of 2011, I jumped right in to seeing someone else to help me forget about the one I really loved, and even when I knew that new person wasn’t right, I didn’t want to be alone.  Erie held too many memories of the guy I thought I was going to marry — from grocery shopping together at Wegmans to gardening/landscaping together in the front yard.  However, in moving to North Carolina, I rid myself of the moron, I separated myself from all my memories of the love, and I was just plain old too busy to even think about dating anyone else.  I discovered I’d rather hang out with my friends on Saturday nights than go meet up with some guy and have to make awkward conversation for an hour.  I got back into crafting in my free time and started my Etsy shop, Eva M Designs.  And this new independence followed me back to Erie when I moved.  Moving to North Carolina was something I had to do.

Professionally, I learned more about the “art” of teaching and classroom management than I would have learned in years up here (mostly because you had to learn to survive!), and I know I am a much better teacher now than I ever was before (and considering I had always had good observations before, I think I’m going to be pretty excellent now!).  I also realized what I had had up here at that private school I didn’t think was good enough.  I realized how important it is to have supportive administrators, and I learned what questions to ask and what things to look for as I seek out a new position and interview potential bosses. (Haha, flipped that one around!)  I realized that public school teaching is NOT for me,  considering the directions public schooling is moving towards. Frightening.  Finally, I realized I’d rather be poor than miserable, and I can’t wait to get back into a private school and share all I learned from my brief venture into public school.  I don’t care what they pay me – I’d rather get to teach and enjoy it.

So instead of regretting my adventure in North Carolina, I prefer to look at all I’ve learned from it and know that it was something I had to do.  I had my reasons for it at the time, and I never would have been satisfied until those reasons were addressed.  There are plenty of other situations in my life, actions I’ve taken, roads I’ve gone down, that sometimes I wonder if I should regret.  But I always remind myself that I had my reasons, and I would not be the person I am today if I had not made those decisions.

But I can’t go back
And I don’t want to
‘Cause all my mistakes
They brought me to you.
Education, Life Lessons

Great Professional Development — and No, I Don’t Even Mean The Drinking Kind

Today I had a very exciting day of Professional Development.  — I’m not even being sarcastic.  I really had a great day in a PD workshop.  I’ll admit, part of that goodness is the fact that I had a “kid-free” day.  Now, I don’t mean to sound like I don’t like being with my kids.  That’s not the case at all.  But being with my kids every single day, good and bad, can be wearisome.  When I am running around like a crazy person, finishing plans, writing PEPs, entering grades, attending PLC meetings, grade level meetings, parent-teacher meetings, intervention meetings, IB meetings, and PD workshops – it is easy to get run down.  When I am getting up at the crack of freakin dawn to work over-12-hour days with literally no breaks (nope, not even lunch breaks), and then you throw in thirty adolescent girls and boys with language and ability challenges, motivational issues, family and home life crises, social dramas and mood swings, it is easy to forget what I like about teaching.  And that is a whole lot of effort to put in to something I’m not really caring for.  At that point, we’ve reached a real problem.

So, the point is, it is nice to have a day away–to recharge, to remember what I like about teaching, and to see someone else doing it.  Aside from the “recharge” value of the day off, it was really nice to hear from other teachers who are facing the same challenges I am.  It was a relief to know that it’s not just me, that I don’t just suck at teaching (seriously, that was a real concern).  It was also great to spend some time in someone else’s classroom, to see what other teachers are doing and how they are doing it.  The “Master Teacher” we observed to day was so impressive. The way she interacted with students and the way students behaved in her classroom–it was so quiet and calm and orderly.  I dream of having a class like that!!! But like she said, they didn’t come to her that way.  She had to teach that behavior and it took time and practice.  Thus–there is hope for us all!


Something I found quite interesting: Several of the teachers at this workshop were from my own school.  They teach a different grade level, but their rooms are just down the hall from me.  I was shocked as I listened to them recount their experiences so far this year.  They said they felt “alone,” “abandoned,” were “drowning.”  They felt like the administration was not providing them support, was overly critical, was even disrespectful in the way they addressed the teachers.  Seriously, I was shocked as I listened.  I had been telling my family, my friends, etc. how lucky I felt to be in a school that was providing me so much support. Between my Assistant Principal, the Literacy Facilitator, and the few veteran teachers on my content PLCs, I always had someone to turn to–and someone who really knew what they were doing.  While I had once felt like those teachers at the workshop (just a few weeks ago), my experience has really turned around.  I mean, I’m not going to argue–my classes definitely need fine-tuning. A lot of it. That said, I am able to teach now, and I don’t leave work frustrated and tired with a headache and sore throat.  Having come so far as a result of the support I have received, it is crazy to me that someone just a few doors down is having such a different experience.  It definitely has made me appreciate what I have, and I’ll be sending several thank-you notes tomorrow!

Additionally, listening to these concerns many teachers are having with their administrators has been a big reminder that “honey attracts more flies than vinegar.” (Is that the correct saying? You know what I mean.)  Encouragement and praise are much better motivators than criticism–not just for kids but also for adults.  I know when I receive praise, I find myself working harder just to make sure I am deserving of it.  Criticism, on the other hand, can just break you down.  Considering the nightmare of my first student teaching experience, I of all people should remember that (by the time I finished student teaching, I had decided I never wanted to teach again–and this was not at all the result of the students I taught but rather the teacher I worked with).  Anyhoo, it was a good reminder, and all in all, a very worthwhile PD Day!