Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What does failure mean?

As we have been working on our blog posts about the importance of Science and the Scientific Method, I keep stumbling upon big insights about the nature of Science. This is my response to some of you on the topic of Failure in Science.

Let's face it, no one likes to fail. Even worse, we (the grown-ups around you) are constantly drilling in you the need to succeed (AKA not fail); to get every answer correct. The reality is that failure is a part of life. In Science, experiments don't always go as planned, hypothesis are oftentimes dis-proven, the data we collect does not look right, or varies so wildly that we need to re-think what we are doing.

"Scientists fail all the time. We just brand it differently. We call it data." - Anissia Ramirez

In STEM, failure is very often our friend. Now, I'm not talking about committing to build a bridge, and not being exact in what you are doing so that the bridge, well, fails. I am talking about  the idea that failure leads to people trying harder and coming up with different solutions to a problem. STEM uses failure to teach us persistence and resilience. Failure is instructive to the design and innovation process; Trial and error (AKA "fail a lot") are the basis of innovation.

A failed experiment is only a fail if you stop and give up. If you attempt to do something and fail, but you keep trying and end up doing or producing producing something else, you have not failed; you have produced some other result. If you ask “What have I learned?” and “What have I done?”, you are paving the way for innovation.

Have the courage and strength to fail, pick yourself up and continue the journey!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Back to School Letter

Our Class

This year we will work with a modified block schedule. This means that we will see each other twice a week for two consecutive class periods, and once a week (on Wednesdays) for our 20% time - more on this later. Bearing this in mind, be ready to work on your projects outside of class, and always come prepared. If you need to have something ready, make sure you do have it, since you will not get a chance to recover at a later class.

Classroom Expectations

Project Based Learning

We will continue to use project-based learning tasks as our staple delivery, in order to grasp the relevance of the curriculum and obtain college and career readiness skills. It is imperative that all assignments, homework, and readings are completed well BEFORE deadlines and due dates. The level of rigor in this class will allow NO TIME TO WASTE. You are in control of your own learning!

If you are curious about some of our projects, visit the Adventure website where you will find links to exemplary projects from previous years.

Paperless classroom

As much as possible, I try to run a paperless classroom. In order to do this, I will teach you how to use several cloud-based tools in order to gather, sort, analyze and communicate information. Some of the tools you will learn to use effectively are Google Drive, Blogger, Wix, Prezi, Diigo, Edcanvas, Glogster, Smore, GoAnimate and Edmodo. You will learn more about these tools as we need them; and I will be giving specific instructions for their use. Please review the AUP included in the green sheet carefully, as you must abide this policy in order to maintain a professional online presence.

I love new tools, so if there is something you would like to use or see, let me know, and we can see about integrating it.

You also must know that this does not mean that you should not have a notebook and writing materials with you at all times. Your notebook is where you will gather your experimental data, as well as any notes that can then be uploaded as needed.

This also means that any paper given to you is important. If someone took the time to make all those copies, and I broke my own "paperless" rule, it is for a reason.


Edmodo is where you will find all assignments, quizzes and classroom resources. It is vital that all STUDENTS sign up in order to have full access to our classroom resources. Parents can sign up, too. Edmodo will help you to keep up with due dates, tests, quizzes, and more. It will serve as your personal at-home tutor as I will often post videos of instruction, as well as additional materials and simulations to enhance your learning experience. You will also use Edmodo to work collaboratively with other students in class, and in other classes. This year, all students will join two groups for science class:

1. 13/14 AdVENTURE 20%
2. 13/14 ADV________ (your cohort group)

I will be giving out codes soon, and will expect you to join ASAP. Remember, all of our assignments are EDMODO assignments.

Those of you totally new to Edmodo might want to watch the video below, (created by a wonderful Edmodo teacher, Travis Monk of Indiana U.S.), to get a good understanding of how you can get the MOST out of your Edmodo student account.


(Created by an amazing EDMODO educator, SANDY KING)

AdVENTURE 2013/2014 Green Sheet

For more information regarding grading, late work policy, AUP, rituals and routines, etc. click on this link to get to theGreen Sheet.

Contact information:

Students, it is always faster if you post your questions or comments on Edmodo.

Parents, I make a concerted effort to answer all schoolloop e-mails within 24 hours; you may also use my district e-mail (, but it usually takes me a little bit longer to respond. Phone calls, especially during school hours, are harder for me to get to.

e-Portfolios at AdVENTURE

I have been looking for a way for my students to understand what exactly it is to become a life-long learner.
How do I get students to "get" that the work we do can be so much more than just another assignment? That their effort goes beyond the classroom and can have an impact on their future lives.

As all students do, the learners that come into my classroom complete assignments, discuss their work and show what they have accomplished to myself and the class. Whenever possible we post things on the walls, on our website, and even create collections using QR codes. However, as we move towards a more paperless classroom, and with the availability of most of our work in digital formats, and often in the cloud, I am moving towards having our students create digital portfolios that they can continue to use beyond our four walls, to showcase what they have accomplished, not only to me and to the class, but to their parents, future teachers, and if they choose to the world.

How exciting it would be to have a collection of artifacts that they can use to demonstrate their growth. How incredible to have available work that they did in middle-school as a basis for their Master's thesis!

What is the purpose of the digital portfolio?

To demonstrate the student's achievement of the knowledge and skills they acquire throughout AdVENTURE. The e-Portfolio will show the growth and improvement of the student in all curricular areas, as they read, discuss and respond to the learning opportunities presented to them, becoming a thoughtfully arranged collection of multi-media-rich documents that the students compose, own, maintain and archive on the internet.

What are the components of the digital portfolio?
Tier 1: Portfolio as storage: 
As students respond to an assignment, they create digital artifacts using several tools such as Google docs, Glogster, Pixton, etc. These artifacts are organized and stored in the cloud. 

Tier 2: Portfolio as workspace:
Students use Blogger to capture background information on an assignment, and respond to prompts. Students use close reading strategies and collaborate in Diigo to annotate web-based articles and hyperlink their work to their blog in preparation for Tier 3.

Tier 3: Portfolio as reflective journal:
Students use Blogger to reflect on their learning as represented in the samples of their work. Students answer to prompts that require meta-cognitive abilities.

Tier 4: Portfolios as showcase:
Students organize a presentation portfolio around a set of learning outcomes, goals or standards, hyper-linking to the supporting documents. Students think back over the learning represented in the specific artifacts selected as evidence of learning, and present their rationale for why they believe these artifacts are clear evidence or their achievement of learning.

In addition to answering the "What?" and "So What?" questions, students address the "Now What?" question to include future learning goals in their presentation portfolios.

How will the portfolios be assessed?

Through all the different tiers of portfolio development, students will be given the option to update the work, based on the feedback and the rubric. The power of peer review comes into play, as students comment on and provide feedback. Parents and mentors can also become participants in the development of the student portfolio, providing opportunities to connect with student's opinions and ideas, and share intellectual curiosity.

Examples please!

  • Barrett, Helen. "EPortfolios with GoogleApps." EPortfolios with GoogleApps. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>
  • Barrett, Helen, and Jonathon Richter. "Reflection for Learning." Reflection for Learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>.
  • Hertz, Mary Beth. "Using E-Portfolios in the Classroom." Edutopia. N.p., 30 May 2013. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>
  • Brown, Mary D. "Using Technology | Electronic Portfolios in the K-12 Classroom."Education World:. N.p., 14 June 2011. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>.
  • "EPortfolios Portal." EPortfolios Portal. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>.
  • Lorraine Stefani, Robin Mason, and Chris Pegler. The Educational Potential of E-Portfolios: Supporting Personal Development and Reflective Learning. New York City : Routledge, 2007.

Edmodo at AdVENTURE

What is Edmodo?

Edmodo is an educational website that takes the ideas of a social network and reļ¬nes them and makes it appropriate for a classroom. Using Edmodo, students and teachers can reach out to one another and connect by sharing ideas, problems, and helpful tips. The teacher can assign and grade work on Edmodo; students can get help from the entire class, and participate in discussions 24/7. A student that is absent one day, can easily log on and review not only the content that was/is being presented, but interact with the class in real time. Students also have access to pretty much all class materials, documents, simulations, articles, etc. by logging on and perusing what is posted.

Is Edmodo safe?

Yes. There is no bullying or inappropriate content, because the teacher can see everything that is posted on Edmodo. Inappropriate behavior is easily corrected by setting the student to read only, which allows him/her to still interact with the teacher and assignments, while limiting postings to the group.

How do I use Edmodo in the classroom?

I use Edmodo in the classroom in a variety of ways:

  • Assignments: Almost all of our learning opportunities have been digitized in some way. Students will log on to Edmodo, and check for assignments. In their assignments, they will be given a link to their project details (including entry documents, due date(s), tasks, processes and rubrics). 

As they progress through the assignment, students are able to post interesting things they find, comments, struggles and victories, and myself and the class can provide feedback and guidance. Once the project is completed, the students can turn in the digital copy of their work to the assignment for grading. As the work is graded, the students receive a digital copy of the rubric, and, depending on the assignment, can access an annotated copy of the work for further development.

  • Quizzes: Edmodo allows me to create quizzes to share with the students. The student complete a quiz, and get their grades immediately (if it can be scored automatically), and I am able to provide personalized feedback. If the student is absent, he/she can take the quiz at home.

  • Communication: This is probably the most exciting feature. Edmodo allows me and the students to communicate with each other, and continue class conversations outside of class. Whenever I find additional curriculum related materials (videos, simulations, etc.) that I think may help the students understand the concepts better, I post links with a note on how it may help the student (particularly helpful if a student is absent). If a student finds something of interest to their project or for someone else's project, they can also post it as a note. All students can then interact with all materials without having to go on random searches on their own.

  • Digital Libraries: Students can create digital libraries (called backpacks) for housing the content they find online.

Can parents have Edmodo accounts?

Yes. Here is a link that gives details on Edmodo Parent accounts. It is worth noting that a student can and should have their own Edmodo account. Parent accounts are linked to their particular student(s), and parents cannot post to the classroom or even to their own students.

More Information: 


Grading at AdVENTURE

It is not about the A; it is about mastery

AdVENTURE students are graded using rubrics. A rubric is a scoring tool that explicitly represents the performance expectations for an assignment or piece of work. The rubrics are designed by the teachers and divide the work into its different components, providing clear descriptors, at varying levels of mastery.

We use rubrics in order to provide formative feedback to support and guide ongoing learning efforts. They help the teachers provide clear specific areas that need to be improved, and allow the students to see areas that might need improvement regardless of the final letter grade.

There will be several factors used to determine the final grade of our students. The following table specifies the weight of each component:


  • "Process: Why Use Rubrics?" The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA). N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>.
  • "How Do Rubrics Help?" Edutopia. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>.
  • Wolpert-Gawron, Heather. "How Can We Make Assessments Meaningful?" Edutopia. N.p., 31 July 2012. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>.

Project Based Learning

At AdVENTURE we use project-based learning tasks as our staple delivery, in order to grasp the relevance of the curriculum and obtain college and career readiness skills.

What is Project Based Learning?

  • Students are given a meaningful question to explore based on a real or fictitious scenario. 
  • Students then work with other students to inquire into the issues raised, learn content and skills, develop an answer or solution, create high quality products and present their work to other people.
  • PBL gives students a real need to know, understand and demonstrate what they learn, beyond simply getting a good grade.

How are projects structured?

  • We start with a scenario and develop an essential question. 
  • The lessons and activities that follow are geared to give the students the information and skills they need to solve the question.
  • The students are then given time to develop their projects with their teams.
  • Finally, the student teams present their project to the class and/or to a panel. 
                       Sometimes, there are mini-projects within the scope of the bigger project

It is imperative that all assignments, homework, and readings are completed well BEFORE deadlines and due dates. The level of rigor in this class will allow NO TIME TO WASTE. Students are in control of their own learning!


  • "Project Based Learning Explained." Project Based Learning., n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>.
  • "Project-Based Learning." Edutopia. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Aug. 2013. <>.

A letter to parents and students about the 20% project

Dear Students and Parents,

As you are well aware, one of the things that makes AdVENTURE successful is the Project Based Learning approach we have embraced. However, all of these projects are mostly teacher driven. We study the standards, come up with the questions and develop projects/problems for the students to solve. Students then decide what they need to know, do some research to learn the content and set about solving the problem or creating the products to come up with solutions. What is oftentimes missing from this equation is the passion for learning new things. The quest to study outside of class and to bring in new materials to study, not for the sake of getting a grade, but because there is a real investment in the outcome. This is where one of the unusual projects we’ll be taking on this year at AdVENTURE Science will come in.

This is a major project-based-learning assignment that spans the first semester of the school year (tentative due date Jan 21) and encourages students to pursue a creative interest they might otherwise not experience at AdVENTURE.

Before we get into the details of the project, please read my previous post, "What is the 20% project?"

How does the first semester 20% Project Work? 

We will start by brainstorming ideas for a project proposal. My only requirement in this is that it has ties to S.T.E.M. Since this is about individual passions, students will be working alone. Don't worry, you will have plenty of other opportunities to work in teams

Once the students have an idea of what project they want to pursue, they begin writing the proposal. This is how the student will “pitch” the project to me, the rest of the classes and the community. In this proposal, students will answer the following questions.

  • Idea:  
What is your project?

  • Motivation: 

What is the inspiration for this project?
Why did you choose this project? 
Why is it important to you?
What is your goal?
Why is this project worthwhile?
What do you expect to learn from this project?

  • Practicality: 
What will you have to show at the end of the semester?
What is your timeline for completing (or launching) your project?
What major milestones will you need to accomplish? By when?

  • Accountability
How will you determine if you are making successful progress?

The Blog 
Each student is required to write a semi-public blog post that discusses their progress. Every two weeks, they will write about their work, what they learned, what challenges they faced, and what they anticipate in the future.

I would like to see each team find an adult mentor who can help guide and inspire it. I hope parents will play a role in finding an appropriate mentor for this project. The mentor will serve to offer advice and provide informal leadership. Please visit the Mentoring Opportunity link.

20% Days 
Throughout the school semester, students will have one day a week (Wednesdays) to work on their projects. Students may choose to work at home and use the scheduled 20% time as a productive tutorial period, meeting period, or writing period. I will often offer mini-workshops during 20% time related to student needs.

The Final Presentation 
At the end of the semester, each student will give a five-minute presentation to students, teachers, and community members where they will show off their work. This will be carefully written, choreographed, and rehearsed to produce the best presentation they have ever given. These TED-style presentations will be recorded and added to the students' digital portfolios.

Here is a link to highlights of 20% projects created by Mr. Brookhouser's English sophmores in New York:

By now, most of you are wondering how I’m going to grade the 20% project. As discussed in the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About what Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, extrinsic motivators like grades tend to discourage the innovation and creativity I’m looking for in this project. I want my students to be inspired by the project itself, not by the grade they’re going to get on it. That said, I am going to assess students on the objective elements of the project. The 20% project grade will be dependent on the following elements with rubrics.

  • The Proposal (Is the proposal on-time, and does it address the required questions appropriately?)
  • The Blog ( Do you post regularly? Do your posts explain your own thinking and learning process? Do  your posts show where you are going?) 
  • Productivity (Are you spending your 20% time by actively and passionately working on your project? If not, we need to quickly adjust the project so you are working on something that is intrinsically motivating. This is less objective, but if I see students not being productive, I will intervene.) 
  • Final Presentation (Does your presentation meet all of the required elements? Did you successfully move from idea phase to production phase, and do you have something to show at the end of the semester?) 

What if my project is a failure? 

In this class there is a place for perfection. You will have ample opportinities in our other projects to demonstrate your learning and achieve perfection. The 20% Project is no such place. The world’s best entrepreneurs embrace failure.The only truly failed project is the one that doesn’t get done. I want students to strive to show off a successful project at the end of the semester, but I don’t want the quest for perfection to lead to an incomplete project.

I want students to follow the advice plastered on the wall of Facebook’s headquarters.

This policy doesn't work in all work-related environments. I wouldn't want to see this poster in my doctor's office or Boeing's production line. But for the type of creativity and innovation we are striving for, I find this idea compelling. If you feel that your project is a failure, I want to hear about it. What did you learn about it? Think about scientific work. If the hypothesis is proven incorrect, is the experiment a failure? Don’t strive for failure, but don’t be afraid of it either!

I am very excited about all of the different things we’re going to be doing this year in AdVENTURE Science. But I am more excited about being amazed, surprised, and inspired by the innovative projects you will produce in the 20% Project.

If you have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to e-mail me.


Mariana Garcia

Inspired by:

What is the 20% project?

For over 20 years a trend in education has been gaining momentum that suggests the role of the teacher ought to shift away from an industrial model where the teacher stands in the front of the classroom to dispense knowledge through lectures, and the students sit to consume the information. Rather than being the “sage on the stage” as some pedagogical experts maintain, teachers increasingly ought to play the role of the “guide on the side.” In this role, the students play a much more active role in how the content and knowledge is acquired. In this model, teachers provide resources, ask questions, and allow students to develop projects  to explore the content. 

The goal of AdVENTURE's 20% project is to provide students with the space and time to explore their passions and take control of their own learning. Why? Watch the following videos that put it much more eloquently than I ever could.






Who started this?

3M started it in the 1950’s with their 15% project. The result? Post-its and masking tape! Google is credited for making the 20% project what it is today. They asked their employees to spend 20% of their time at work to work on a pet project…a project that their job description did not cover. As a result of the 20% project at Google, we now have Gmail, AdSense, and Google News. Innovative ideas and projects are allowed to flourish and/or fail without the bureaucracy of committees and budgets.

How does this tie into the standards?

Although the connections to CCSS are abundant, here are some of my favorite:

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

“Students also acquire the habits of reading independently and closely, which are essential to their future success.”

Research to Build and Present Knowledge
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.

Range of Writing
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Science and technical Subjects

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.6-8.3 Follow precisely a multi-step procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

Standards for Mathematical Practice
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
CCSS.Math.Practice.MP4 Model with mathematics.

My Top 5 Reasons

1. Depth of Knowledge

By participating in the 20% project, students will become experts in their own topic. Along the way, they will learn the skills necessary to acquire, manipulate and communicate information effectively.

2. Passion

Passionate people are successful people. Students need time to find their passions. Oftentimes students struggle to communicate what their passions really are. They need time to explore their wonders (and often need some guidance with this, too) so that they can figure out what they love to do.

3. Inquiry based learning. 

Students will form their own inquiry questions to investigate. Being able to ask questions is a key competency that we need to develop.

4. Teaches resilience. 

Students will fail during 20% time. And they will problem solve and figure out another way to look at the problem. In real life failure happens, but we learn from our mistakes. Think Post-its, synthetic dyes, Teflon and penicillin.

5. Positive peer pressure

Students will get to share with the entire learning community what they are working on. Publicly announcing what they are trying to accomplish makes the goal real. 

Mentoring Opportunity