Math Physics Olympics- A “STEAM” approach to project-based learning

CK Math Physics Olympics

One of my more memorable experiences in high school was participating in the Physics Olympics as a senior.  Our whole day was devoted to competing against our classmates in various physics-related activities.  The day culminated with a cardboard boat race after school in the swimming pool.  Everyone showed up to cheer on their teammates and watch the boats that carried two passengers paddling with cardboard oars navigating across the pool. The most memorable moments were when the boats would sink.  Ah…the good old days!

In the summer of 2005, my colleague (Debbie Kridler, 8th grade math teacher) and I decided to create our own “Olympics” using the knowledge and resources from my high school teacher and our combined math and science middle school experiences.  We are now in our 9th year of this highly talked about, eighth-grade event and have been selected to present our project at the prestigious National Conference on Girls Education hosted by the National Coalition of Girls Schools and Young Women’s Leadership Network in Philadelphia!

better conference pic

The Math Physics Olympics at our single-gender middle school incorporates the entire grade of 60 eighth-grade girls.  We start by breaking down the 60 into four groups.  We separate the class based on friendships, enemies, math skills, leadership qualities, drive, creativity and artistic skills, just to name a few.  Each of the four groups has a teacher that oversees the progress, monitors safety (with items such as the power drill) and helps with communication issues.  

Here are two students creating a catapult for our Math Physics Olympics.

Here are two students creating a catapult for the Math Physics Olympics.

The time frame is typically one month using roughly 3 hours a week to work on the various projects in school.  On the week of the Olympics, the groups may get additional time if they are behind.  On Olympic day, an altered schedule is created where the eighth-graders do not have normal classes and instead participate in the Olympics from 8:00 am- 12:00 pm.  A schedule of the event day can be found on this blog under the menu tab titled “Downloads”.

Right from the start, the groups are asked to assign a leader or co-leaders, create a theme that is math/physics related and divvy out the “jobs” for the group members.  The jobs include: banner making, song lyric writing, instrument building, egg drop device creation, tennis ball catapult building and Pringle packaging building.  These events hit every letter of S.T.E.A.M.!!  Too see a more detailed description of the events, click on the “Downloads” tab above.

Egg catching device made out of limited straws and tape.

Egg catching device made out of limited straws and tape.

Student created wind instrument made out of a carrot.

Student created wind instrument made out of a carrot.

On the day of the Olympics the girls arrive in their “themed” costumes and prepare their event materials.  Most of the activities take place in the gymnasium.  Spirits are high and noise level is in full effect.  We end the day, tallying up the points and announcing the winners.  The competition is fierce, but the girls love the experience.  They derive a greater appreciation of science and math and better understand how the two are related.

Thanks for reading!


Good things happening in my world of “flipping”!

screenchamp banner

As I think back on the year 2013, there is one recent event that I have been wanting to reflect on and thank those individuals involved.  I think December got the best of me; the three weeks of school was on fast-forward and when my winter break hit, I took a little vacation from social media :)

December was an exciting time for my “flipped” classroom experience.  TechSmith, a Michigan-based company, hosted a ScreenChamp competition that allowed content creators to submit their favorite videos into 4 different categories: Education, Sales and Marketing, Training and Tutorial and a Wild Card.  I decided to submit one of my physics videos into the competition not thinking too much about it.  Two months later, I was shocked to find out that my video was selected as the winner in the education category!  I was so excited!  The winners were broadcast on TechSmith’s blog “The Forge”.  I enjoyed watching the finalist video submissions and reconnecting with an old friend of mine, Ben Rimes (@techsavvyed), who’s video on “How to Screen Record your iPad” won in the Wild Card category.

On “The Forge“, Matt Pierce (Judge and Host of The Forge) and Steve Garfield (Judge and Video Blogging Pioneer) discussed the things that caught their eye and set the competition apart in each category.

the forge

I enjoyed watching this episode and appreciated the comments on my video, especially Steve Garfield’s praise for using “visuals that tell a little story and help me remember.”

work and power

I make all of my videos using TechSmith’s video editing software called, Camtasia.  This has been a huge asset in my teaching because it has allowed me to create unique videos for my students.  Here are a couple of key concepts that I learned along the way.  These are the same concepts, I believe, helped me to win the ScreenChamp award this year.

#1.)  Be aware of the length of the video.  Kids have a short attention span.  A golden rule is to try and keep your video under 8 minutes.  The video I submitted was 7:40.  If you have  a lot to cover, don’t be afraid of making a Part 1 and Part 2.

#2.)  Be creative with your content.  Keep it relateable and apply it to real world interactions.  I use my own children.  I have also used student videos embedded into the content video.  I also screen capture my SMARTBoard notes.  Your video is a one-way medium, keep the content simple.

Thank you TechSmith for hosting a competition that allows teachers to showcase what they are doing in their classrooms!

Thanks for reading,


ScreenChamp Flipped Video Competition

My head has been spinning this past week. Not only are my students going nuts before the Thanksgiving week, one of my flipped content videos has been selected as a finalist in the TechSmith ScreenChamp competition.

TechSmith, a technology company based out of Michigan, developed the software that I use (Camtasia).  I love this company, so many cool products; this year I am trying to incorporate Ask3 into my curriculum.  Check out to learn about all of their products.

The competition is now in the “People’s Choice” phase where the finalist videos are posted on TechSmith’s youtube channel (search ScreenChamp).  Please help support my video by “liking” it! imageimage

Ok, so I flipped my classroom….now what? How do I improve it??

Last year, I felt like a first year teacher.  After attending a Techsmith workshop on how to use Camtasia ( video-editing software), I made a commitment to myself that I was going to flip my entire school year.  This was a huge task, but I made it and I think my 2012-2013 students enjoyed riding the roller coaster with me.  I constantly had my headset on and every free moment that I had, I was on my laptop editing my videos.  Most of the time, I was putting my videos online down to the wire.  As the year progressed, I got rather fast at the software and was better able to see how I wanted to “layout” the video in my head.  My colleagues helped out video taping me explaining things in the lab or had fun being in the videos with me!  In my second semester, I asked my students to send me clips of themselves being active (i.e. playing sports, dancing, some even taped themselves on the Tea Cup ride at Disney) so that I could put them in my physics videos.  They loved it and were eager to see who would pop up next!

This year, while I was excited to have an entire curriculum of videos in my online “library”, I new that I would need to “tweak” some.  I learned how to embed quizzes at the end of last year and knew that I would need to add this feature to my 2013/2014 videos.  The quiz questions are not meant to be challenging but to check for basic comprehension and build homework points.  I also knew that some of my longer videos needed to be cut down.  I was excited to find out that my schools’ website got a face lift over the summer and I now had a better way to organize my videos into folders with accompanying pdf’s, images and reinforcement websites.

I wasn’t terribly excited how my students were taking notes from the videos last year and knew I needed to improve it.  I discovered The Cornell Note-Taking System and loved it.  My students use this method to take notes during the video and provide a summary at the end.  Within 5 days, they must go on their Google Doc Summary page and add that particular videos’ summary with attached link, date of viewing and pertinent trigger images. This on-going document is shared with me.  I am able to view and grade it.  This document will be so important to have for the final exam review and preparation.

I’m feeling a little better this year about my flipped classroom experience and know that each year it will get better and better.  The videos are being cleaned up and streamlined, there are creative openers and endings as well as quizzes.  If you have any questions about flipping your classroom, please leave a comment!  Thanks for reading!


Please check out my next post on the ScreenChamp contest hosted by TechSmith.   I need your help, please “like” my video!  To “like” it, you must login to youtube with your gmail address, or youtube account.  Press the “like” button underneath the video.

Augmented Reality in the Science Classroom

Check out this VIDEO of Augmented Reality in the Science Classroom!

I just finished week one of the new school year.  What an exciting four days!

Thanks to the ISTE Conference and a series of new connections, this summer was an inspiration.   Armed with too many new ideas to implement and a slew of new technologies, I jumped in, iPad first.  My new eighth-graders had never used iPads in the classroom, but based on their enthusiasm for technology, I knew anything I threw at them would be a huge hit!   I decided to go big and introduced them to augmented reality right from the start.  To say they were “impressed” is an understatement!

If you haven’t heard about the augmented reality app Aurasma, get ready because it will blow your mind.  Aurasma uses augmented reality to make 2 dimensional images come to life.  This simple-to-use app allows users to create “auras” or video overlays.  Pass a device like an iPad, smartphone, or android tablet over the still image you have “augmented” and video springs to life.

Click here for link

Click here for link

APPLICATION: Week 1 every year is spent teaching students about laboratory safety procedures and equipment.  I typically spend a full day talking about the exit procedures, fire extinguishers, calling for help, chemical safety and laboratory equipment/uses.  I repeat this 4 times throughout the day!  This year, I decided to put Aurasma to the test and augment the whole lesson.

Augmenting the process proved to be simple.  First, I created short videos about each piece of lab equipment, and dress code and emergency procedures.   Because the transfer process was easier, I stored the videos on my iPad.  To launch the videos, I initially tried to set the “trigger image” as the 3D piece of lab equipment but quickly realized that this didn’t work.  Instead, I printed and posted 2D pictures in front of the 3D objects.  Students could then scan the 2D more reliably.

A student uses the iPad to scan an image that brings an informational video to life.

A student uses the iPad to scan an image that brings an informational video to life.

On the day that I rolled out the new lesson,  the students were so excited.  I prepared them to bring ear buds knowing that each student would be on a different video and the noise would be hard for them to concentrate.  You could hear a pin drop as the students made their way around my room, taking notes on the equipment at their own pace.  The augmented photos and equipment remained out for the rest of the week to aid students who did not finish or wanted to hear the information a second time prior to the quiz.

Augmented trigger pictures were placed next to the physical equipment throughout the room.

Augmented trigger pictures were placed next to the physical equipment throughout the room.

PROCESS: While the process was smooth overall, here are a few valuable lessons I learned along the way.

  1. All of your students iPads must be following your Aurasma channel or they will not be able to pick up the Auras.
  2. Your “triggers” should be a picture or something 2-D that can not be altered. 3D lab equipment and people’s faces did not work reliably.  The 2D pictures that I printed and posted in front of the equipment were much more reliable.
  3. Limit video length.  Aurasma does not like videos over 4 minutes in length.  To make note taking easier on students, keep the videos concise.  Unless you change the setting, videos are typically played in a loop.
  4. Moving the iPad away from the target object will stop the video making note-taking near impossible.  Trick:  Once the target object triggers the video, double tap the screen to lock the video in place.  The iPad can be repositioned and/or set down while still playing the video .

RESULT: I was very pleased with the lesson and Aurasma.  Students picked up the content quickly and at their own pace.  Students were so enamored, many have inquired as to how they can make their own auras at home.

Based on the initial success and engagement, I plan on augmenting the periodic table as well as other things in the classroom this year!

Do you ever find yourself spinning your wheels…..

After returning from ISTE in June, my brain has been flowing with new ideas/resources that I want to investigate.  I go away for the summer to a more simple life in Vermont because of my husband’s business.  Unlike the city where I can drive to any store in less than 15 minutes (and spend way too much money), the rural mountain life forces me to slow down, spend time outdoors with my two little boys and “hopefully” forget about the stresses of the school year.  I have found myself getting lost on my iPhone a lot this summer, more than others.  This is primarily due to Twitter.

Here’s why Twitter is a bad thing for me:  I find myself getting caught up in the posts  and blog links for over an hour (multiple times a day) until my kids start fighting/break something or my husband yells at me to be more interactive or I stay up WAY PAST my “bedtime” :).  I felt like this with Facebook a year ago but it was different because my mind was lost in petty things like pictures of my friend’s kids or their vacations or whatever…..I don’t like the feelings that unearth when I saw the posts that seemed so egocentric.  The difference with Twitter is that I have made it primarily a PD tool, inspiring me to be a better educator and do greater things.  The bad thing is that I start getting overwhelmed and anxious that my summer is going to end and I won’t be able to get all of the things that I originally set goals to complete.

Here’s why Twitter is an AMAZING thing:  The educators that I have connected with just in these past few months on Twitter have been incredible.  I have been inspired to start this blog, participate in Google Hangouts, sit in on chats via Twitter and collaborate with individuals who are doing similar things in their classroom.

Here’s why I titled my post “Do you ever find yourself spinning your wheels?”.  I have spent a good portion of July investigating sites like Sophia, Haiku, Edmodo, Evernote, 3ring, Live binders to establish a better management platform to organize my flipped videos and other sources of media (pdf’s and word docs).  Last year I had my students go to to watch a video because of the embedded quiz function and auto grading that would not work on YouTube.  I really want the ability to have everything available for my students in one place (with some links to other resources).  TURNS OUT I HAVE BEEN SPINNING MY WHEELS!!!  My school’s website got a make-over and I was one of the few that got to test it out early.

Here is a picture of my new dashboard.  Includes links, downloads, news, announcements, RSS feeds, Video/Picture/Audio and Remind 101 widget

Here is a picture of my new dashboard. Includes links, downloads, news, announcements, RSS feeds, Video/Picture/Audio and a Remind 101 widget.     NOTE:  Whole page is not shown.

I’ve been spending a lot of time investigating other sites and now (July 30th) I am going back to my original school website!  SPINNING WHEELS?? This is the way I need to go the upcoming year.  I am able to combine everything that I want to work with (links, downloads, video, media, widgets, RSS fees, etc.) and combine into one main page.  There are tabs on top for assignments, gradebooks, calendar, grading, dropbox, roster.  One of the neat things I am excited for this year is the topics tab which I am planning on having as an online lesson planner (yet another way I can eventually go paperless!).  Here’s a picture:

I haven't filled in all of the information yet but you can see how each topic is a chapter and will include various for forms of media.

I haven’t filled in all of the information yet but you can see how each topic is a chapter and will include various forms of media.

This picture shows you a specific  topic.  As you can see, I have added my flipped video lessons (that include the embedded quizzes), assignments and laboratory exercises.

This picture shows you a specific topic. As you can see, I have added my flipped video lessons (that include the embedded quizzes from a embedded code), assignments and laboratory exercises.  There is also space for discussion.

I am excited that this popped up on me.  Our old version was not organizing my videos in a unit.  I had to just provide the links.  I am liking the aesthetics of the topic folders.  Some of you may be thinking, great but my school doesn’t have that.  I have found that Sophia and Edmodo were organized in similar fashions where I could group a topic together with various sources of media.

So now that I have conquered this hurdle, I can now move on to what I wanted to do this summer which was to tweek my Fall videos (via Camtasia) and prepare a flipped video presentation for August.  I am slowing getting back into that but there are also other apps and projects I am wanting to integrate this school year.  I’m looking into incorporating The Answer Pad app into my assessments, Ask3 by Techsmith for classroom sharing and review utilizing video, Aurasma for augmented reality projects, Doceri for screen sharing and collaborative screen work, and CargoBot for a club which is a fun way to learn programming.  I am still planning on placing a lot of my paperwork/lesson plans on Evernote, starting a Remind 101 class texting group and updating my blog with the happenings of my class.

That’s all for now!  I hope I can provide insight and ideas as the school year progresses!

Thanks for reading, Ashlie

My first post: Reflections and what lies ahead…

I feel like I have been sucked into an edu-tech tornado….

It all started a few months back when I casually mentioned to a colleague, Erin Klein (@kleinerin), how I wasn’t satisfied and needed more with my career but didn’t know what.  I was half way through the year of  “flipping” my classroom lectures but felt that something was missing.  She introduced me to Twitter and quickly my PLN and ideas for the future took off.

As I sit here and reflect on the amazing people I have met, friendships I have created and projects I now am looking forward to implementing into my classroom, I can’t help but wonder, “why was I in the dark for so long?” and “why aren’t more of my colleagues taking advantage of this other world of teaching?”

Ashlie and Erin at the Renaissance Center in Detroit.

Ashlie and Erin at the Renaissance Center in Detroit.

My journey started this past March when I attended the Michigan Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) conference held in Detroit, MI.  I basically “shadowed” Erin because I had no idea what I was doing, which sessions I should choose and didn’t know a soul.  Luckily, I was blessed with the gift of gab because I quickly made friends and figured out which session fit me.  I attended a gadget workshop and a Web 2.0 workshop both presented by Leslie FisherRedesigning Schools with Flipped Learning presented by Brian BennettThe Epic Evernote Experiment with Nick Provenzano, Adam Bellow’s favorite apps and a social media session held by Erin Klein.  I was also privileged to listen and be inspired by Kevin Hunnicutt, Adam Bellow and Steve Dembo’s keynote addresses.  Each one of them had a message I needed to hear.  They definitely got the wheels turning in my head.

The connections that I made during the MACUL conference were unlike most first-time attendees;  David Prindle (@dprindle), Gwyneth Jones (@thedaringlibrarian), Ben Rimes (@techsavveyed), Jennifer Bond (@teambond), Adam Bellow (@adambellow) and Nick Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) were some of the people that I developed a great connection and friendship.

Dinner with Jennifer Bond, Erin Klein, Nick Provenzano, Adam Bellow

Dinner with Jennifer Bond, Erin Klein, Nick Provenzano, Adam Bellow among others.

Christine Garland (@CAGarland) in particular got me totally “geeked” about implementing Remind101 (a safe way for teachers to text message their students and stay in touch with parents) into my course this Fall.

Remind 101 guys, Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) and Amber Teamann (@8Amber8)

Remind 101 guys including Christine, Todd Nesloney and Amber Teamann (Photo actually taken at ISTE)

After the whirwind of MACUL, I couldn’t relax my brain, I needed more.  Hence, my “off the wall” request to observe Nick Provenzano’s 9th and 10th grade English class at Grosse Pointe High School in Grosse Point , MI.  Now, I teach 8th grade physical science so you are probably wondering why I would want to observe his class.  Nick has been doing some incredible things in his classroom including the implementation of Evernote as a tool to change his traditional English classroom into a 1:1 iPad, paperless, environment.  AMAZING, I thought!  I needed to learn more and how to apply it to a science classroom where my students draw pictures of experiments and diagrams.  How could I use this program to help me go virtually paperless?Nick Provenzano classroom

Have you ever heard of a paperless English classroom?  Nick’s 9th and 10th graders come right in, grab their assigned iPad and sign into Evernote to begin class.  If they want to brainstorm or prefer to write that day, Nick’s desks are covered in Idea Paint, which is this amazing product that you can paint anywhere to create a white erase board.  Nick’s students use it to jot down ideas and notes then take a picture with their iPads to place into their Evernote e-portfolio.Nick Provenzano classroom 2

This got me thinking, and although I will not have access to a classroom set of iPads everyday, it’s in the back of my head.  I definitely am using Evernote now to organize everything from faculty meeting notes, to my lesson plans, to my assignments.  I plan on keeping them in organized folders in my Evernote account.  And the great thing is, I can access them from any device!

You can imagine how I felt when I returned from Nick’s class that day.  So many ideas, again brain was bursting (and just a side note, all of the above happened over my 2-week spring break!!!).  I immediately returned to school and began writing a grant to attend the ISTE 2013 conference held in San Antonio, TX this past June.  Needless to say, I won the grant that sent me to ISTE!

ISTE was unlike anything I have ever experienced.  While I attended some amazing keynotes (Jane McGonigal on Gaming) virtually (Adam Bellow’s “You’re Invited to Change the World”), workshops (Nick Provenzano’s Evernote), sessions (Bellow and Dembo’s Untangling the Web and Alan November’s) and Ignite Sessions (Erin Klein/Jennifer Bond), nothing compares to the “out-of-session” connections I made with other ed-tech junkies!!  I think this is one of the main reasons to attend these conferences!

Ignite session with Amber Teamann (@8Amber8), Kyle Pace (@kylepace), Steven Anderson (@web20classroom), Ryan Vanden Heuval (@techsavvyclass), Brad Waid @techbradwaid), Drew Minock (@techminock)

Ignite session with Amber Teamann, Matt Gomez, Kyle Pace, Nick Provenzano, Steven Anderson, Ryan Vanden Heuvel, Brad Waid , Drew Minock ISTE friends Matt Gomez (@mattBgomez), Joan Young (@flourishingkids), Angela Watson (@Angela_Watson)

Ignite session with Matt Gomez, Joan Young, Angela Watson 

The bloggers cafe was a happening place to be.   Two Guys and Some iPads (Brad Waid @techbradwaid and Drew Minock @techminock) practically camped out there talking non-stop about how augmented reality is a game-changer in education (and I agree!!).  They had tons of people stopping by to see real Aurasma and DAQRI demos.  Andrew Vanden Heuvel (@avheuv)/Google Glass Guy/STEMbite was there explaining how he uses glass to virtually teach SCIENCE!! Way cool! You can guarantee we are Skyping this up-coming school year.  Check out his youtube channel.

Here me wearing Andrew's Google Glass.

Here’s me wearing Andrew’s Google Glass.

Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) and I spent a lot of time together discussing how we flipped our classroom this past year.  He has done some amazing things with his 5th graders and has gotten me excited about exploring as a means to organize my videos and upload various other media.  I’ll leave a flipping discussion and what I discover about Sophia to another blog post.  Drew Minock and I also spent a lot of time discussing an ipad app called Cargo Bot where students can learn programing!  This is something I will be implementing as a club this upcoming school year.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

I ended up spending quite a bit of time in the Expo Hall, not to browse all of the vendors and collect all of that free junk, but to get one-on-one time at the Edmodo booth so that I could learn all about their platform and figure out if this is something I want to implement in an 8th grade classroom.  Turns out I ended up winning $100 in Edmodo money to use in their “store” to buy apps!  The other booth that I spent a lot of time at was Techsmith.  Now, I have a little place in my heart for Techsmith, #1 because they are from MI and #2 I fully immersed myself in Camtasia (their video editing software) this year.  I also presented an “off-the-cuff” session about flipping and Camtasia at EdCamp Detroit with Dave McCollom (Techsmith guru).  I consider myself an honorary Techsmith cheerleader :) I learned some new animation tricks courtesy Ryan Eash and did a Google Hangout with the guys back in MI from TX to get more information on their product called Ask3 (which I am also looking to implement this year).

ISTE Social w/ Jennifer Bond

ISTE Social w/ Jennifer Bond, Drew Minock, Brad Waid, Kyle Pace, Nick Provenzano, Erin Klein, Joan Young

Erin Klein, Tom Whitby and Adam Bellow

Erin Klein, Tom Whitby and Adam Bellow

I could go on and on about ISTE but recognize how long MY FIRST POST is! Like I said, it’s been a whirlwind!  I’m up for it though, I was in a rut for the past couple of years.  I feel like I have been revived!  There is so much out there to make your classroom the best it can be.  Erin Klein said it best in her ISTE Ignite presentation, “Would you want to be a student in your classroom?”.  I really think I would.  I’ve flipped my lectures (an ongoing project) and plan on implementing some pretty cool things into my curriculum this year that I have picked up on from some inspiring people.  Stay with me now, my posts won’t be as long in the future (I promise)!  I also promise to give you a taste of what it is like to be a student in my classroom!  Your comments are welcome!  I hope to learn from you as much as I hope you may learn from me!

Thanks for reading! -Ashlie