Last week I updated you on the ongoing forensics project. This past Monday, the students setup their crime scenes in various places around campus – four to be exact. It is very quickly turning out that this may be the project in which I have seen the highest amount of engagement from the most amount of students. I couldn’t be more excited about it all!
On Monday, the students meticulously assessed their assigned crime scene. Photos were taken from all angles. Gloves were worn and tweezers were used to prevent the tampering of any potential evidence. Artists sketched the scene on the sidelines. The lead investigators all did a phenomenal job managing their team so they could collect the evidence in the most careful way possible. After collection, they filled out Single Evidence Collection Forms and Chain of Custody forms to document the details and handling of each piece of evidence. From there, they began their analysis!
During the past week, students have been running around interrogating their suspects through hair collection, fingerprinting, feet measurements, and handwriting. All four groups have leads towards one major suspects but some groups are still debating between others that they are unsure of. Come Thursday, lead investigators will present their case in front of a panel of experts (teachers). To convince the panel, the Case Analysts and Case Managers must successfully put together a 2-3 page paper describing how they reached their conclusion and a visual that will support the lead investigators presentation.
That being said, we’ll have an update with the final results next week! Stay tuned!
Good morning, readers! It’s been a little too long since I’ve posted, about 4 weeks I think. After a bit of traveling throughout Central American over Christmas Break, school is back in session for probably all of us. I wish you all the best in the second semester!
The project opens with a PowerPoint and discussion about the types of forensic evidence that could be found at a crime scene. This refers to the categories of evidence, not specific pieces of evidence. Secondly, the students dive into a wonderful RadioLab episode about Otzi the Iceman in which they listen and try to write down the pieces of evidence that were found at the scene. Afterwards is where the fun starts!
Lab #1: Forensic Fiber Analysis
The Forensic Fiber Analysis lab is the perfect way to get students engaged in the labs – lighting things on fire! Students will determine an unknown piece of fabric by conducting burn tests on known pieces of fabric and recording their observations. They will observe the burn tests using all their senses (minus taste, of course) to see how the known samples match up to the unknown sample.
Lab #2: Forensic Fingerprint Analysis
The Forensic Fingerprint Analysis lab is the class go-to method of forensic analysis. I guarantee you that if you were to mention “forensics” to your students, the first things they will think of are either DNA or fingerprint. The only additional speciality material that you’ll need is a fingerprint ink pad which is available on Amazon for cheap. Students will be taught how to closely observe their own fingerprints to look for their basic pattern and, more importantly, their more detailed ridge characteristics. Fingerprint analysis takes tons of patience and close observation which is perfect for the science classroom!
Lab #3: Forensic Hair Analysis
The Forensic Hair Analysis lab gives students the chance to observe their and their peers’ hairs under a microscope. They are first introduced to the hair growth cycle and hair anatomy to use as background knowledge. Hair is a very common piece of trace evidence that is left behind at crime scene, so they have the potential to be crucial in the solving of a case. Students will be taught what visual characteristics to look for when differentiating between known and unknown samples.
Lab #4: Forensic Handwriting Analysis
The Forensic Handwriting Analysis lab introduces students to handwritten notes that could be left at a crime scene. While it is very easy for criminals to forge handwriting, this lab gives the students a note found at a crime scene and 5 suspects’ handwriting to compare it to. They are to closely analyze the loops, patterns, dots, crosses, and everything in between to see which suspect matches the unknown sample at the crime scene.
Lab #5: Forensic Footprint Analysis
The Forensic Footprint Analysis lab engages students by having them first measure their height and length of their feet. From there, they measure their stride length. Using these measurements, they can easily calculate two ratios so that, if they were to ever encounter a crime scene ;), they could estimate the approximate height of potential footprint found at the scene.
This last Friday was a half day for our students which means that teachers had an opportunity for some professional development. I was lucky enough to be asked to lead one of the workshops on my passion and specialty: project-based learning (PBL). The workshop focused around the very basics of PBL and how it can engage students in authentic, meaningful learning. We also discussed how teachers new to PBL can dive in and get started with the daunting task of project planning. I am more than happy to share the details of my workshop below! I discuss the workshop as it happened in chronological order. I hope that it helps you in your potential adventure into project-based learning or, if you have tried it, is a nice review for you. Enjoy!
Step One: Project Exploration
High Tech High is a charter school organization located in San Diego, California. They are incredibly famous in the local San Diego community and with those who read consistently about innovation in schools. It is strictly a project-based learning schools that also, impressively enough, runs its own teacher credential program and Graduate School of Education (offering a Masters in Educational Leadership).
When exploring HTH’s website, an excellent place to start is on their Student Projects page. From here, you can analyze specific projects by doing the following:
Look through the long list of projects and choose three (3). One should be a project dedication to your field of teaching. A second one should be a project outside of your field of teaching and new to you. The third one should be one of your choice.
For each project, read through the project details.
As you learn about all three projects, respond to and discuss the following three questions
What impressed you?
What similarities did you see between the three projects?
What questions do you still have?
The purpose of this introductory activity is to show what is really possible with PBL, especially for those who are beginners. Seeing the innovative techniques that can be employed can spark some great inspiration for readers.
Step Two: The 6 A’s of Project-Based Learning
While this is obviously just a guideline, many PBL designs should center around the six A’s. Each of these characteristics are detailed in the PowerPoint below.
Now that you have a very basic understanding of what it takes to design a project, let’s design one! Use the following guidelines and, if available, design a project with teaching partner who is is in a completely different discipline than you are.
Step Three: Project Design
The details of this activity are discussed in the last slide of the PowerPoint above. To complete the activity, use the following Project Design Template to help you get started. This is my design template which was adapted from the many that can be found from various sources online. You can also find a link to the template here.
As a teacher in Guatemala who shares one income between two people, money can be hard to come by. This is ironic because, aside from wanting to grow professionally, I originally moved to Guatemala to save my extra income due to the lower cost of living. So much for that! I’ve had to be creative in how I earn extra income – some of it passive, some not. There are so many ways of earning money online, but I wanted to utilize my skills as an educator to do so. Additionally, I can’t run an Etsy store from Guatemala or sell my old goods on Amazon. None of that stuff really interested me anyway because I’m passionate about education and love to apply it whenever I can. Below are three (3) ways to earn extra income online and do so as an educator.
1. The Obvious One: TeachersPayTeachers
TeachersPayTeachers is the classic method for teachers to earn passive income online. Just don’t expect it to be easy or fast. I first opened my store, Mr. Noondi, in April 2014. To this day, I’ve yet to reach $100 as a monthly income. Still, all that money adds up over time. I’ve grown a ton since I opened my store, but I wouldn’t have done so with the help of my girlfriend’s genius marketing knowledge. Let’s face it – your TpT store is a business. My girlfriend has taught me that running a business requires consistency such as consistent posting of materials and in the aesthetics of your products. You cannot just blindly throw up a product without a unique theme and expect it to sell well. Some of the most successful products and brands are as such because of their easily recognizable logos and mottos.
The trick for me is to set a dedicated time during my winter, summer, and spring breaks to get products posted. To do so, I reflect back on the recent lessons, activities, and projects that I have done with my students. I then decide which would be the best fit for the theme of my store and the highest in demand. This huge product dump is not ideal as you should space out your listings as equally as possible, but this is what works for my schedule. That being said, setting up the products for sale can take anywhere from a day to a week of full-time weekday dedication. Here is a checklist of what I include with each listing:
catchy main cover photo that is consistent with all your other products
detailed descriptions that tell the reader what to expect and how the students will benefit
choosing the accurate resource types
clear thumbnail images that give the potential buyer a good idea of what the product may include
a properly formatted sample document (watermarked with the word SAMPLE) available to download so that potential buyers can assess the quality of your work (without giving too much away)
quick response to reviews and questions that customers may write
My overall opinion of TpT is wonderful! It’s incredibly valuable for myself as an educator and, now, an entrepreneur and marketer. There are certainly some downsides to the platform and some of the products available for purchase. That being said, I think the best thing you can do is stand out from the rest. Be unique and don’t hesitate be different.
2. The Oblivious One: Chegg Tutors
While not passive income, Chegg is a platform in which anyone can apply to become an online tutor. When I started on Chegg in mid 2016, I believe it was relatively new. Starting as a tutor on Chegg was much easier than what it is now. In recent weeks, they have cracked down and tightened their tutoring policies. I personally think this is a good thing. It will help identify subjects that are in the highest demand and find tutors who are the most qualified.
The hardest part about Chegg is starting. At first, you are a newbie. No student has given you a review, so you are further down the list of available tutors. Do not let that slow you down! Be patient! It’s very similar to TpT in that regard. Once you get that first request from a student, it motivates you further! If they leave a positive review—even better. Now you are on the right path to getting more students to request lessons.
The tutor dashboard is very user friendly. Students who need help appear under the Opportunities tab. Be quick! Other tutors are also waiting just like you for requests. Send a quick, friendly message to the student and hope for a reply (Hint: Have preset messages ready to go so you can reply to a request faster). If you are lucky enough to be accepted for a lesson, the virtual classroom is also very user friendly. Most students prefer to chat (as I do), but there is the option of video chat if you’d like.
Tutors earn $20/hour! Not only that, but all time counted is rounded up to the nearest 5 minute interval. In other words, if your lesson lasts 13 minutes, you actually get paid for 15 minutes. Payments from Chegg are super easy and very convenient. Tutors get paid weekly(yes, weekly) every Thursday morning through PayPal. I have made upwards of $200 in one week if I am really dedicated or have tons of free time. My experience shows that Sundays (especially at night) are the best days to be on since that is when many students are completing homework for the upcoming week.
Again, it takes time. Just be patient and you could very well be on your way to making plenty of extra money.
3. The Flexible One: Udemy & Teachable
I do not want to get in too deep with Udemy and Teachable because I myself have no experience in using these platforms as a seller. What I do know is that both can be very profitable passive income, but they take a ton of work upfront. The basis for both is that you create your own full online course taught mainly with videos and screencasts. The topics can be about virtually anything you want and that you are (presumably) knowledgable about. There is one main pro and con for each. 1) Udemy does not have a subscription fee, but Udemy sets the price for each course that you upload and 2) Teachable has a minimum $39/month fee to create courses, but you can choose your own price for your course. I myself don’t know which I would chose, but I am leaning towards starting with Udemy to gauge the demand for my course and, based on that, switching to Teachable. You be the judge and feel free to let me know your experience!
Do you earn passive income online as a teacher? Tell me about it in the comments below!
About 20 minutes outside of Antigua is a tiny village called El Hato. The town is made up of a one lane dirt road next to a cliff that barrels down the side of the mountain. What you’ll find in El Hato is one restaurant (El Tambor), kids playing in the street, women cleaning clothes in the local pilas, and one eco-hotel that provides for essentially the entire town, Earth Lodge. Earth Lodge is well-known with locals in Antigua and tourists alike. It’s a mountain getaway with excellent food, cozy treehouse accommodations, and an even better Thanksgiving dinner. My last two Thanksgivings, including just two days ago, have been at Earth Lodge. They serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal in family style setting. Strangers and friends from all parts of the globe come to enjoy a great meal together sitting at large table benches. Throughout the night, we all stuffed our faces, drank too much, and enjoyed each other’s laughter playing various card games.
Earth Lodge is crucial for the sustainability of El Hato. In the three times that I have visited, there have been goods for sale promoting that some of the proceeds will be donated to the local school. During the famous Thanksgiving dinners, local businesses specializing in artesian, handmade goods donate a product to be auctioned off after dinner. The entire proceeds are donated to the local school. It’s a win-win situation. Businesses benefit by having their name promoted and, more importantly, the school is provided with a large sum of money to help them purchase simple items such as pens, pencils, notebooks, and backpacks for the children.
Thanksgiving isn’t the only time in which donations are requested. On their website, Earth Lodge explicitly states that you can “Help the El Hato school by packing school supplies.” Since 2004, when Earth Lodge first opened its doors, they have helped “fundraise to buy school supplies, food for the breakfast program and anything else needed at the school” and have assisted in “getting running water and helped fund the computer lab.” Such a simple business with a ecology-based mindset can go so far in supporting local communities who are not as lucky to have consistent, modern amenities.
Also, don’t forget to check out my full story of moving and teaching in Guatemala featured last week with Haute Teacher!
It seems as if the brilliant podcast Serialnever fails to make the news somehow – for good reason! This last Thursday, my students and I had the incredible opportunity to have a Skype Q&A session with Sarah Koenig, the amazing creator and host of the podcast. I’m not sure how he did it, but my high school English teacher colleague managed to find a personal connection who happened to work with Sarah at some point in their career. Within 24 hours of that contact, we were Skyping with the fantastic journalist.
When I read the email from my colleague about the news, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity. The bad news was that I had a class exactly at the time in which the Q&A would take place. The good news is that I’m lucky enough to work at a school in which teachers are given much autonomy. So, I told my 7th Graders that there was a presentation from a major figure from the journalism world that I could not miss seeing. I let them loose at the ping pong tables while I had the privilege of watching and listening in.
Most of the questions from the students for Sarah, for good reason, focused on the basics of Season One of Serial (they had listened to Season One in English class). What are her thoughts on Adnan as a human being? Does she think Adnan committed the crime? What inspired her to become a journalist? Me, personally – I couldn’t help but ask about her concerns, if any, about the state of journalism with the current political climate in the United States. She addressed my question with a very intricate, detailed answer. Essentially, she believes that the current administration has actually improved reporting by the media and has caused citizens to be more aware of the political climate. She stated that subscriptions to many media outlets have actually increased as a result. I would know as I myself subscribed to various outlets in recent months – which brings me to the point of this blog.
Something about the combination of living in Guatemala, an incredibly impoverished country with one of the largest income gaps in Latin America, and the current politics of the United States has inspired me to incorporate elements of currents events in my curriculum. Now, keep in mind I have a lot of freedom in my current position. And I count my lucky stars for this reason. Yet, I firmly believe that so much of the disengagement seen in students is because of a lack of connections. Students should be presented opportunities in which they can connect the content to their personal lives. Current events is crucial to make this happen. For example, as I currently work on a forensics project with my students, similarly we recently discussed the neurological effects of solitary confinement in prisons. We did so by examining the case of Kalief Browder and reading the first published story about the then-teenager. In this case, I was sure to emphasize the point that Kalief Browder was only 16 years old when he was arrested and subsequently spent 3 years at Riker’s Island without having been convicted of a crime. This really stuck with them. They could never in a million years imagine themselves, the same age as Kalief, being put in the same situation. I’ve yet to observe so much emotion and passion from my students as I saw when I read them Jennifer Gonnerman’s piece.
These types of connections give students an incredible perspective of the world and how it can affect their personal lives. All this being said, journalism, I think, is crucial for educating the youth with authentic, meaningful learning. I highly recommend doing anything you can to incorporate these journalistic elements into your curriculum. An excellent place to get started is with The New York Times’The Learning Network.
Regardless of what you do or what your teaching philosophy is, I think we can all agree to be passionate, be aware, be educated, and be open minded.
My first ever teaching job, a long term biology substitute at High Tech High in San Diego, CA, I had the fortune of having an incredible teaching team. They welcomed me with open arms considering that I was filling a position in which the former biology teacher was extremely popular with the study body. Nonetheless, we were able to pull off my first PBL project with huge success.
I don’t think there was a particular news event, film, or experience that inspired me to implement a forensics project, but I knew that teenagers dig that kind of stuff. Now in the midst of doing this project for the second time, I’ve managed to switch it up a bit. Instead of integrating typical evidence analysis such as fingerprints or DNA assessment, I’ve learned to integrate current events and media into the equation.
I am a huge fan of Radiolab. The hosts of the show have great radio voice and engage the listener by using unique sound effects to paint a very visual picture in your head. Back in 2013, they released a short piece about Ötzi, a famous case of a perfectly preserved corpse found in the Alps who was determined to have lived hundreds of years before the Pyramids of Giza were constructed. I first learned about Ötzi when my brilliant mentor teacher, John Maschino, taught about him in his middle school history class. It was interesting, but didn’t really spark too much attention to me. I found this podcast and immediately found a connection to forensic science.
The main difference in my implementation of this project than last time around is the collaboration between my two classes, Biology (sophomores) and Global Scientific Inquiry (juniors/seniors). I am teaching each class virtually identically in both cases. This reduces stress on my end by having essentially one less prep. The goal is that once both classes have learned how to analyze a crime scene and various piece of evidence, each will devise and write their own crime. Then, each class will be presented with the other’s crime and will need to solve it using the techniques learned over the weeks.
Now, I fully understand the forensic science isn’t necessarily a true science that utilizes experimentation and the scientific method. Nevertheless, I am a proponent of using the concepts in a science classroom for two crucial reasons: critical think and problem solving. Solving a case successfully requires the utmost of dedication and attention to detail. It requires that investigators find and piece large amounts of evidence (along with the many types of evidence) together to reconstruct the crime and, eventually, determine a suspect. These steps involve problem solving and forming conclusions. Isn’t this is what science is all about? Inquiry and discussion?
I know forensics is not a true science. The important part for me is that engages the students in critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving, and does so with more passion than I’ve seen in other projects.
In April 2016, representatives from around the world came together in Paris to discuss and reach the landmark ratification of The Paris Agreement. At the time, I was not following current events as much as I do today. Nonetheless, I knew that addressing climate change was at a critical turning point. Fight now, or it will be too late for Homo sapiens as we know them. Now, day to day, I see positive news about countries banning gas-powered cars by 2040 and the State of California considering a similar measure. This is all well and good, but sometimes I do think we are already too late.
Nonetheless, I was inspired to do a mock climate change conference with my students. The purpose is to engage students in both the science and dangers of climate change along with the policies involved in mitigating the effects. Hence was born The Climate Change Agreement project (click the link for more info on TeachersPayTeachers).
Students are asked to interact with the actual, legal text of The Paris Agreement. They respond to various questions to understand the purpose of each of the 29 articles written in the agreement. From there, students are assigned a role as a representative of a country. They are required to think from the perspective of this role to understand the current effects of climate change seen within their country. These effects include economic, social, political, and environmental aspects. Following extensive research, a climate change conference is simulated in which all representative parties must unanimously agree on a given number of guidelines and goals. These goals are then written in a formal document by each individual student as the form of assessment.
This has been one of my most achieving moments as a teacher. I felt like I was truly empowering and engaging the kids in an incredibly meaningful and increasingly important discussion about a scientific topic that is crucial for social and economic survival. It engages students who may not be into the political side of current events, but immerse themselves easily in science. It works the other way around, as well. Students who do not normally naturally engage themselves in science can be involved through the political aspects of the project.
Whether you use this project or not, consider these lifestyle changes below that make a positive impact on your global environment.
11/7/2017 UPDATE: Within the last few weeks, both Nicaragua and Syria have pledged to sign The Paris Agreement. This leaves the United States as the lone outlier in the entire world to not be committed to the respective climate change goals.
I first devised this project after reading constant news about Mars One, SpaceX, and the Orion spacecraft back in 2014. This inspired me to designed a project in which students design a working, habitable Mars colony completely from the ground up. The project involves groups of four propose a colony including a name, food sources, technology, religion, etc. From there, students do research based on the role that they chose within their group. They will then design colony blueprints, technological advancements necessary for survival, a colony flag, and a marketing campaign to convince others to move or visit their colony.
Two great ways to introduce this project and get the students excited is either watching The Martian (starring Matt Damon) or reading excerpts from The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. From there, I guarantee that students will be hooked! In the end, this project could last anywhere from 1-3 weeks depending on your commitment and district standards. You may even see some incredible results from your students! Just check out the physical model (picturedabove) of a Mars colony built by one of my students from the first time I did this project!
This projects includes elements of scientific research, engineering, astronomy, entrepreneurship, budgeting, collaboration, and innovation! It’s the perfect PBL project to engage all types of learners. There is technology involved for those who learn best using that resources. Textual resources for those who enjoy reading. Visual resources for those who enjoy creativity and design. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Last year, I took the daring leap to leave the security of my family and friends behind in San Diego, California to pursue further growth as an educator. Where I ended up is here in the colonial city of La Antigua, Guatemala. I had accepted a position teaching middle and high school science at Antigua International School. It has been the most incredible personal and professional decision I have made thus far. It’s a place of sheer beauty. A place in which there are magical places to call home (such as Hobbitenango – pictured above). A place in which learning Spanish as a second language is critical to your success. A place that opens your eyes to the severity of some of the societal issues that humans must face.
It has been a time for me to view the world from, most importantly, the perspective of students raised in an immensely different cultural and socioeconomic background than of many students seen back in the United States. I surely have grown during my time spent here.
My time here will never be forgotten. The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences as an international educator, my unique project-based learning resources, and their positive effects on my students.
I look forward to sharing my writings with all of you readers. In the mean time, please check out my current resources available on my TeachersPayTeachers store.