YouTube Collab & Innovations in the Classroom

My favorite, classroom innovations mostly come from day-to-day interactions in my classroom.

Whiteboard Desks

The whiteboard desks were a result of me needing to do something with large strips of whiteboard surfacing that I had ordered incorrectly.

I covered half of each of my tables to give the students equal whiteboard and computer/paper space. Over the past months, we have tried the whiteboards in all kinds of arrangements. They have been a huge hit amongst the students for math work and collaboration, especially. Now the rest of the middle school teachers have them, and they will be moved to the primary school next year.

Youtube Collab

At the beginning of the year, I decided to sort my students’ science videos into two experiment playlists. There I published ongoing experiments from their units. It is an easy way for me to organize our videos all together. When they reflect on their units, the videos are all ready for them.

A month ago, two of my sixth graders started their own official Youtube Channel, Teenagers Life. Since then they have spent the past weeks showering the adults around them with their videos. As a result of their aggressive campaigning, I am subscribed to them on all three of my active gmail accounts. Kids today know all about the importance of subscribers. They also know about the signal-boosting power of Youtube Collabs.

When the Grade 6 started their Mission to Mars unit, by contacting Alexandria De Wolfe at University of Colorado Boulder via Youtube video, I could see that the kids were pumped about recording their project progress on video. As we pursue our study of the Red Planet, we have been building a physical model simulating Mars’ surface and assembling a rover to test out.


Click here to see the Mission to Mars Playlist!

Early on, the two boys offered to take over filming and editing the reflection videos. To me, this is a productive use of their time. It makes them consider why we are doing these various experiments and really show off what they know for their audience. It fulfills the standards set by the IB MYP programme, while being engaging and relevant to the learning.

I have always encouraged students to develop meaningful creative projects to demonstrate their learning, and collaborating on Youtube serves this purpose. Their production value is way ahead of my own, and they are constantly finding new ways of explain the what, why and how of our projects.


Reflection on Science Teaching (Order vs. Chaos)

Unfortunately, due to budgetary concerns, the middle school I helped develop will be closing after only two school years. This news, delivered not long after we all returned from Winter Break, came as a shock–not just to me, but also to the middle school students who have been pouring themselves into making our programme great.

To say that I am heartbroken would be accurate; however, I am now moving forward, hopefully in a direction that will allow me to provide support for my students and continue the innovative, inclusive brand of education that I so enjoy.

I’d like to dedicate my next few posts to BALANCE. Balancing teacher and student control. Balancing classroom tidiness with creative chaos. Balancing new technology and old technology. Balancing behavioral management styles. Teachers deal with BALANCE all the time.

Order vs. Chaos

I work in a open learning space with one or two other classes always occurring at the same time as mine. I oscillate between teaching mathematics and science.

At any time, my students have to navigate themselves around a number of ongoing experiments for their science classes. We try to keep them out of the way, but space is finite. Currently, we have a wave simulator (giant bin of water and sand), semi-working Mars rover robot, and pinhole cameras made from matchboxes. Science is a subject based on recorded experimentation. Outside of their lab notebooks, where they practice orderly application of the Scientific Method, the kids focus on proving the various scientific theories and facts that they find in their research.


My classroom can look like chaos, and I like it that way. I want them to catch their moments of inspiration and run with them, even if it doesn’t directly feed my plans for the unit. For example, in our Mars unit, the kids are choosing materials to represent the types of terrain on the Red Planet. We found two bags of perlite rocks, and I asked the kids how they want to dye it.

This led to a discussion of the different liquid solvents we have in the classroom: water, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol. From our experiments making soap, candles and molecular gastronomy, the kids already know that the solvent is important.

Now, I could’ve told them how to dye the perlite best to get them back to the project, but this tangential experiment still serves the central purpose of science class. It is inspired, engaging and allows the kids to practice the application of the scientific process.

From the chaos, we find avenues of order. From the explosive forces of creativity and experimentation, we can derive meaning.

This, I think, is authentic learning. What I teach my kids rings true to my experience in lab work and field work. Science is the making of ordered thinking from observed chaos.

The science classroom should reflect that!


Middle School Hosted Math Fair 2017

To celebrate 2017 and a brand new year of learning, the middle school math students designed versions of their in-class math activities for the youngest students at DESK.

To prepare for their first ever Math Fair, the Middle School made connections between what a child ages 3 to 6 might be learning and the following middle school concepts:

  • Ratios and Proportionality
  • Operations (Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division) with Variables
  • Geometry

The kids played happily until they had to back to their classrooms to get ready to go home. The middle school students enjoyed the enthusiastic reception to their self-designed math games and activities. Community events like this one help the children at DESK bond through action and learning. We at the Middle School look forward to hosting more subject-specific events in the future!


The middle school students were able to conceptualize, design, create and execute their math games effectively within a short time frame. Each child received 10 Doneillies (Mr. O’Neill’s Money) to play at the various booths.

Excursion Report

Statement of Inquiry

Environmental pressures lead to changes in different organisms.
~Grade 6, Science

The Middle School ventured out to Kobe Animal Kingdom to test our observational prowess and knowledge of animal adaptations.

Types of Adaptations

Structural Adaptation

What the animal or its parts look like

Behavioural Adaptation

What the animal does/How the animal acts

Physiological Adaptation

How the body processes work

The kids came face to face with many animals from different taxonomic classes. Grade 6, the acting experts on evolution, shared their knowledge of the three major types of adaptation.

Stay tuned for exciting updates about the rest of the middle school’s science units!

Summer 2016 Updates

Short update:

It’s over a 100° F and humid in Japan, so I have been making camp under the A/C in my apartment. This year I will be finishing my graduate courses at Boise State University for Educational Technology and continuing development of the new middle school at the Deutsche Schule Kobe / European School Kobe.


Thank you @satyadamours for making sure I had a productive summer! Now I’ve got my eye on that Google Innovator Program.

I also just passed the Google Educator Certification, Level 2. So now I can proudly display my new badge for the world to see. Using Google Apps for Education in my daily teaching practice provided me with enough experience to whizz through the test itself, and passing has given me more confidence in my Google skills.

Funnily enough, I learned a lot by taking the test. I am already applying some of the tools and skills that were introduced to me through the test-taking.



Looking at this next year, I will be working my professional development after a frantic year setting up a middle school program.

To that end, I am wading through the piles of teaching resources I bookmarked to look at “when I have time”. In that mix, I found some great stuff to use this year. I will be sharing my finds here.

Recommendation: ProDivas for Inquiry-based teaching

ProDivas is a resource that provides short, sweet resources for educators. A colleague at work recommended it to me at school, and I came across it today while creating my teacher planner for the year.

One of the areas I am looking to improve on is incorporating inquiry more effectively into my subject-specific teaching. Since I will be moving into more and more specialized levels of science and mathematics with Grade 8, I need to hammer out a plan for balancing higher level concepts and content with the project-based learning my students are familiar with.

This chart by Natasha Hutchins lays out a helpful breakdown of Inquiry Cycle steps into easy to digest, action-oriented parts. I will try to be doing the same in greater detail before the school year starts.


Moving right into the spring term, the Grade 6’s started off strong with their experiential study of the human management of resources. We began with a provocation to ignite curiosity and provide inspiration for inquiry.

Originally an economic theory, the Tragedy of the Commons refers to the phenomena that occurs with shared resource systems–people acting alone will tend to act in their own interest and against the common good.

To bring this to life for the learners, we played “Tragedy of the Commons.” This is a game where players manage a pile of tokens (resources) in the center of a table. A collection of 5 tokens can be traded for a treat. In the original version of the game, there was only one rule: Any tokens left in the center after one round is doubled. Each round lasts 10 seconds.

The first game lasted one round, with a few kids managing to snatch the majority of tokens to the chagrin of the class. The second game sparked a dialogue between students about how to better manage the tokens in the center; some learners wanted to let the pile double over a few rounds and then evenly divide resources among the students. Despite initiative to act in a way that suited the greater good, game after game ended with a few token-rich snatchers and some unfortunate token-poor players.
As the Grade 6 kids grew more frustrated with the gameplay, they tried a game without the aggressive Grade 7 students. In a smaller group, the students made and held agreements about letting the tokens increase over time. At the end, though, it was still every person for themselves.
To give the learners experience creating management policies, we suggested they devise their own rules for another version of Tragedy of the Commons.

Collecting samples from the ocean

Using their handmade plankton nets, the Grade 7 braved the strong winds and winter weather to gather seawater samples from Suma and Ashiya beach. The students learned firsthand what fieldwork is like for real marine scientists.

Finding plankton at the aquarium

Many of the students have been to Suma Aquarium, but few have looked for plankton there. Many kinds of sea animals begin life in planktonic form, and if you look closely at the water, you can see the tiny meroplankton (animals that are plankton as babies and grow into adult forms) moving around. With that in mind, we made it a goal to check out Suma Aquarium.
We even got lucky because there was a special Clione, or sea angel, exhibit, and Clione start off life as plankton.

Processing samples

After two days of collecting samples, we have begun processing and recording data. So far, the Grade 7 students have found a bunch of zooplankton and some phytoplankton in their wet slides. The kids are excited to continue their search in the next class.

Grade 7 is hoping to discover a new species in their water samples. Anything is possible!