A great way to introduce the concept of elements, compounds and mixtures

Last week marked the introduction of elements, compounds and mixtures.  I always like to begin the unit with an activity that will make my students pose questions and raise their level of curiosity.  One great activity that I came across by Flinn Scientific, Inc. is titled “Classifying Matter: A Nuts and Bolts Demonstration”. Click here for a copy:  Nuts and Bolts Activity What I like about this activity is that you are representing elements, compounds and mixtures with bolts, nuts and washers.  You provide the students with different scenarios such as: all bolts, or bolts with nuts attached or bolts with nuts attached and scattered washers.  Students are a little confused at first when you ask them to identify which ones represent elements, compounds or mixtures but they quickly pick up on the pattern and enjoy the activity.  After, I give them the short quiz, which is provided on the second page of the attached activity and have them work in teams to see who can correctly identify the most scenarios (this time using shapes).  For homework, since my class is flipped, I assign a video that defines elements and compounds and explains where they are located on the periodic table.  See my flipped video below for more information.

After watching the video, I want my students to become even more engaged with the periodic table.  The next lesson does just that utilizing the power of augmented reality.  Using DAQRI’s Elements 4D Blocks, students now have the ability to manipulate elements they could never see in a middle school science laboratory setting.  Today, my students scanned up to 36 different elements and discovered concepts such as location of the periodic table, color, state of matter and classification.  Click here for a copy of the lesson plans.  See the video below to watch this lesson in action!

Tomorrow we will be making pyrite!  Looks like an exciting unit in science. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!



Screencasting Tips

Here is the interview I did with TechSmith this past spring discussing tips when using video in the classroom.

Using augmented reality to make learning come alive!

As ISTE 2014 approaches, I begin to reflect on all of the amazing experiences I have had with my students this past year.  It was a little over a year ago when I took my practice to a whole new level with flipping and the incorporation of a lot more technology.  I attended my first Michigan Ed Tech conference (MACUL) in March 2013 and soon after, ISTE  in San Antonio.  This blog was one of the many things I created as a result of my experiences.

This year, I am not only attending ISTE in Atlanta, but I was also selected to present a poster session on using augmented reality to make learning come alive.  Augmented reality (AR) is the digital overlay of video on top of real-world images. I introduced my students to this “new-age” technology in the first-week of school during my introduction to laboratory safety and equipment.  Students used the app, Aurasma, to scan images that linked to a video describing the laboratory equipment and how to use it properly.  My trigger images were pictures of the equipment, rather than the actual equipment due to the irregularity of the light which did not work with Aurasma (images need to stay the same).  Students rotated from station to station and the beauty of this process was that each student heard the exact information.

Augmented trigger pictures for laboratory equipment

Augmented trigger pictures for laboratory equipment


Augmented trigger pictures for laboratory equipment
Augmented trigger pictures for laboratory equipment


Watch this video to see how it happened in the classroom.

The “bait was set” and my students could not get enough of AR.  I decided to implement an idea that I came up with during the summer of 2013.  “Why don’t I have the students create an augmented periodic table?”  This tied in nicely with a project I developed where students created a unique 3-D model of a specific element (see the gallery on this website for pictures) and an interactive Glog that informed the reader about specific information on the element.  Seeing how the students were already “experts” with their element, creating an informative video that was linked to a unique trigger square using Aurasma would be easy.

Trigger squares

Trigger squares


Wall with augmented cards arranged. Glogster posters hung around perimeter.

Each student was given a 4×4 card stock and instructed to create a unique image that included their elements symbol.  Duplicate element squares are shown due to the repeated elements in the different classes.  Aurasma instructed the students to link their videos to the image.  I learned that having all of the students upload their videos in to a common channel on Aurasma worked the best.  Click the video below to see this project in action.

The last augmented reality app that I incorporated into my curriculum was the Elements 4-D Blocks from DAQRI.  This app allows students to interact with elements on a whole new level while learning chemistry.  I ordered the wooden blocks off of DAQRI’s kickstarter project but you can download the app and print the paper cubes as well.

element blocks




There are six cubes with six different faces providing 36 naturally-occurring elements .  By scanning the iPad over the cubes, a 3-D cube appears revealing a sample of the element and other relevant facts.  I created an in-class assignment where the students investigated the different samples and how they interacted with other element blocks.  If two blocks interact, a new compound appears revealing the chemical equation.  Click here to see the PDF of the activity sheet.


Student using app "Elements 4D" for a discovery lesson.

Student using app “Elements 4D” for a discovery lesson.

Example of Gold(I) Iodide

Example of Gold (I) Iodide

Click here to see DAQRI’s augmented chemistry blocks in action.

The great thing about this activity is that students can now see more dangerous reactions happen.  They are excited about manipulating the blocks and learning more about chemistry than my middle school lab can accomodate.

I, as well as my students, have had a great time discovering the “magic” of augmented reality.  AR can really take your curriculum to the “next level”.

Thanks for reading!



Rube Goldberg Projects and video “mash-ups”

Ever do a project with your students and you are blown away with their creativity and uniqueness?  This is how I felt when I received a two-week assigned Rube Goldberg project that my students complete and videotape at their home.  This year seemed particularly smooth.  I think I finally figured out how to present the project effectively (after numerous years) but I also made time to show previous year projects.  I created a video that took each students’ project and morphed it into one video…a “mash-up” if you will.  This way, the current students get a taste of what to expect.  It didn’t bother me that they saw past project ideas because when it came down to it, I just wanted to get the girl’s hands dirty.  I wanted them to explore simple machines at a more intimate level, manipulating and designing.  The results were amazing and I wanted to share my 2014 Rube Goldberg project mash-up’s with you.  Enjoy!

All of my project and science content videos are created using the video editing software, Camtasia designed by Techsmith.

For additional videos check out my You Tube Channel: smithsciencegms.

Thanks for reading!


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 http://www.techsmith.com 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! http://youtu.be/XKBwM-YzEV8 imageimage