“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” —Bill Gates

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

TriConf 2017

It's been a week or so since I came back from Costa Rica where I attended the 36th Annual Educators' Conference. I had the opportunity to listen to inspiring keynotes, participate in a pre-conference session led by the legendary Michael Fullan, attend a number of concurrent sessions, and also present my own session that focused on facilitating virtual field trips.

Great personalities delivered the keynotes: Michael Fullan, Allison Zmuda and Heidi Hayes Jacob, and Douglas Fisher. However, throughout the conference I felt I was hearing the same things over and over. In a good way I mean! So, using the notes I took from all of these sessions, I created this word cloud using Wordle. This way I could quickly see what were the main ideas discussed throughout the event.

This is the word cloud based on my tweets during the event:

Taking the top words that appeared in the word clouds, I related them to each of the sessions or keynotes that I attended or presented. This is the resulting web. (Actually, I think everything connects to everything.)

My main takeaway from the conference is learning about the importance of establishing solid relationships between teachers and students, before embarking on any new initiative, in order to make the most impact on student learning.

To learn more about the conference, follow the hashtag #TriConf17 on Twitter.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Designing a Science Lab


Back in March, the TI team (Doug and I) was approached by the principal to see if we could help with the design of a brand new science space. At that time, we were under the impression that there would be a brand new STEM lab for Elementary, apart from the existing science lab. With the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, this made perfect sense. However, throughout the process we learned that it was not a new space, but rather the relocation and redesign of the current science lab. We also learned that our budget was going to be smaller than what we had thought.


To get started, we called a meeting with the science reps, the school's projects team, the admin team, and of course, the science lab teacher, Ms. Georgina. This was the first of several meetings. We decided we'd follow the ASFM design process, created in partnership with design expert David Jakes.

Provocation: How might we design 
a learning experience that allows students to be scientists?

Part 1: Identify learning verbs

The first step was to dissect the NGSS standards to identify the verbs. Teachers were grouped by tables and handed the standards according to grade level. Teachers wrote each word on a post-it note. Afterwards, the verbs were grouped and 5-7 learning verbs emerged per table. Those key verbs were shared and then the whole design team decided on which 7 learning verbs to work on.

Learning verbs:
  • Observe
  • Analyze
  • Design
  • Test
  • Identify a problem
  • Predict
  • Plan

Part 2: Develop learning statements and Spatial concepts. 

The next step was to transform the learning verbs into learning statements. That is, what experience or behaviors do we want to see in students, and what kind of space will support this statement. This is what the design team developed:

When students OBSERVE:
Observe relationship between different kinds of living things
Open space that allows movement
Observe the environment around you
Includes outdoor/indoor areas
Observe how things work
Offers/provides a variety of resources, tools, choices
Observe results of experiments and redesign the experiment
Flexibility in options for recording/observing data (both digital and analog)
Observe how things react
Safe environment for observation
Observe data gathered/given cause/effect

When ANALYZING, students:
Look closely at evidence
Space to create and collect different types of evidence
Compare findings
Space that is safe when using tools to analyze
Ask questions
Space to exhibit findings/learnings and discuss/reflect
Determine if a solution works
Flexible spaces - lights, inside/outside, flooring
Use appropriate tools
Space for exploring/experimenting, testing/changing

Space that is accessible for everyone (meets needs)

Space with access to different tools and a place to use them
What learning looks like considering DESIGN:
Designing looks like students designing and creating
Big space to draw/sketch a plan
Designing looks like collaboration and communication
Available technology to redesign and research
Designing with access to a variety of tools
Organized area to know where to find available tools
Designing looks like students making and adapting plans

Designing looks like students being flexible

The experience to TEST looks like:
Learning looks like the application of a hypothesis
Space allows for experiments to take place
Learning  looks like students examining variables
Space that has access to multiple materials
Learning  looks like multiple attempts at data collection
Space to demonstrate data collection, processes and experimentation
Learning  looks like scientists recording data
Space protected for data recording materials
Learning  looks like adjusting materials to examine the variables
Space for finding ideas and outcomes
Learning should look enjoyable and fun
Space that’s open to visualize learners and learning from other groups
When IDENTIFYING A PROBLEM, learning looks like:
Asking questions
Space where all ideas and questions are valid and acknowledged
Looking for things that work
Space where “non-solutions” lead us to a solvable problem
Space where time and materials are available
Finding similarities/differences


Focusing/zooming in



To PREDICT, learning looks like:
Students having fun as a team
Students wearing lab coats, experts, professional
People collaborating with different ideas
Table groups with notebooks
Students on stools with notebooks and pencils writing down observations
Testing water or oil, cups
Testing hypothesis
Big mess on table
People making mistakes and persevering
Table, liquids, stools, liquid, cups
Students perform experiments
Sinks, clipboards, tall tables, storage with doors, storage for lab coats
People observing

What learning looks like considering to PLAN:
Planning experiments
Space allows for experiments to take place
Planning how to make something, mixing substances

Part 3: Consolidation of discovery data into drivers and constraints.

At this time, we did not meet with the design team again. The TI team took all the data that was collected and determined the drivers and constraints.


  • Flexibility
  • Choice
  • Space


  • Budget
  • Room dimensions
  • Storage space

Part 4: Prototyping

We planned a third meeting with a smaller group of teachers. At this time, we provided teachers with the layout and the dimensions of the space. Basically it was just a rectangle that measured 10.6 m x 6.2 m. Teachers had the opportunity to provide feedback for the prototype of the lab. They also made a list of the materials and equipment they thought would be necessary to support teaching the Science standards.

With the help of Ms. Ime, one the teachers in the design team who has a background in architecture, we went about creating prototypes. We used the online application RoomStyler to have a 3D visual of what the space might look like. After many iterations we collected several layouts. It was time to take it back to the team to get more feedback. Actually, we posted the prototypes on the wall and asked the whole staff to stop by and look at the renderings. They could write down any comments, suggestions, or provide feedback.

Based on this feedback and keeping the drivers in mind, we developed this final prototype:

For the last few details we met with the projects team to talk about providers and constructors. Finally, the school year ended with all plans in place. Summer vacations meant waiting time for us. I was anxious to return to school and be able to see the final results. Take a look, below is the finished room:

This room transformed from being a classroom (Before)...         into a science lab (After).


Looking at the new science lab, we can see how the drivers are present in the finished space.
  • Flexibility: All furniture is mobile and agile. Carpet squares allow for flexible seating. Projector is not mounted, allowing for various display options.
  • Choice: Students have choice over where to work and where to sit. (Stools are still pending to be delivered). White walls are writable.
  • Space: Furniture can be moved and stacked to allow for changes in space arrangement. The back door leads to a terrace that extends the lab outdoors.


In the end what seemed like a daunting task resulted in a rewarding experience. I personally appreciate the invitation to become involved in this learning opportunity. We were faced with various obstacles along the way, but I feel the new science lab met our expectations. This lab has become a highly visited space, bustling with kids that are eager to be scientists!


This blog post was also published in ASFMLearns.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

My Takeaways from Live Curious, Go Beyond 2017

Hi all!

During the most recent edition of Live Curious, Go Beyond, I was fortunate to attend 4 different sessions. With so many sessions of such high quality, the choices were difficult to make.

- Gotta Catch All Students Through Pokemon Go
I was especially looking forward to attending this session. Some time ago, a Kinder teacher had expressed concern with the Pokemon craze and wanted to find an activity to focus their attention on the educational aspect of it. In this session, Ms. Rachel Lanquist, from the American School of Guadalajara, explained different approaches to leveraging the Pokemon excitement. One suggestion was to create activities centered around the Pokemon theme and characters. Another approach is to create activities that incorporate the same technology of augmented reality. The presenter demonstrated an app that could easily be introduced to Kinder students or any other grade level. This app is called Klikaklu. It's basically an app to create scavenger hunts, in which kids have to find and match images, once they find them, they are prompted with a question or a clue to continue with the hunt. This was just what I was looking for and plan to create a game for the Kinder students. Follow @rachellanquist

- ISP Near Space Program
I'll be honest, attending this session was mostly for personal reasons. I've always had an interest for all space-related matters, so I wanted to learn first-hand what other schools were doing. It was a delight to see what the high school students from the International School of Panama are doing. They have a complete program that launches twice a year a capsule to near space that collects data of weather conditions and also conducts biological experiments. Mr. Jose Rios' goal is to spread the program throughout all America and collect more data that can be shared with everyone to predict weather conditions. Don't miss watching the videos that give you a glimpse of what the students and Mr. Rios do. Follow @josedepanama

- Next Generation Science: Innovate, Create & Achieve
With the introduction of NGSS to ASFM I was curious to learn more about what these standards looked like. What a great opportunity to see what experimented teachers are doing. Ms. Pamela Garza and Ms. Brenda Silva, from the American Institute of Monterrey, guided us through a brief explanation of the standards and then through the Engineering Design Process. This is basic to solving problems when working with the science standards. We also practiced fun and simple STEM challenges that students are expected to carry out. Follow @pamelagza26 & @brendis99

- Shine With Your Story
It seems that nowadays everything is about telling stories, so I was eager to learn of a novel way to do so. This session led by Ms. Marybell Rodriguez, from the Universidad de Monterrey, centered around three tools developed by Adobe. They are Adobe Spark Page, Adobe Spark Video, and Adobe Spark Post. These applications require you create a free account that can be used for any of them. Well, just as the title suggested, you can "shine" with these amazing tools! They make publishing a breeze, with so many templates and features to choose from, in a few minutes you can have an amazing professional post, video, or web page. It's available online and through iPad apps. In fact, if you take a look at the recap of the 2017 conference, you'll find an example of a page made with Adobe Spark Page. Follow @marybellr

If you attended Live Curious, Go Beyond and want to share your experience, please leave a comment below.


This article was also published in ASFMLearns