Training Day for My #2NightsInSpace

Today was training day! I was confident after learning more about Ham the NASA Chimp yesterday. I figured if a chimpanzee could qualify for space flight, certainly I could.

We arrived at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center and had to go through a security check since it is a military facility. We watched a short video on the facility and the regulations we were expected to follow. They then gave us our badges (which I’m not allowed to post photos of) and we were escorted into the hangar facility. That is where we got the first look at the SOFIA plane!


We were briefed on what we could photograph in the hangar and what we were specifically not allowed to photograph. Apparently, NASA and our military are doing some confidential research with certain aircraft. There were 5 aircraft in the hangar used for various types of airborne astronomy, SOFIA being the largest by far.

The different components of SOFIA were explained to us and how it is different from commercial aircraft. The project team was explained to us and how many people were involved in a flight mission. It is amazing the amount of coordination that must happen to ensure our mission is successful from a research perspective.

After that, we were taken to the Egress training room  to learn all the safety procedures in case there’s an emergency. Oxygen is apparently hard to come by in space, so we need access to oxygen quickly.I laughed when I saw one of the oxygen masks had two settings….normal and emergency. If I’m putting on that mask, trust me, it’s an emergency! We also had to learn how to exit the aircraft, signal for help, and all the other fun stuff you don’t want to think about. Fortunately, there will be two safety specialists on board the plane, so I’m just going to stay close to those guys.

Safety training

After that part of the training, a NASA scientist approached me specifically and introduced himself. This was odd because as me met people, they usually wanted to meet each educator (there are 4 of us). This guy just wanted to talk to me and already knew my name. It turns out, he was forwarded the Indy Star article about use from one of his college professors. Coincidentally, his brother lived 3 blocks from my school!

On-board training

We were then taken onto the aircraft for the first time and showed where all the safety equipment was and also instructed about the on-flight procedures we must follow. Then, we were allowed to walk around the aircraft and take photos. We were given very specific instructions to not touch anything. Don’t worry, sir. I want the aircraft to stay in the air as much as you do.

That's the telescope behind me!
That’s the telescope behind me!

We are now getting some rest time before we have a dinner meeting with some of the flight team we will be flying with tomorrow. You can follow the flight on Flightaware and search for the tail number “NASA747”. It is becoming very real that this is happening!

Long First Day Upon Arrival For My #2NightsInSpace

We arrived at LAX at about 9:30 local time (which was 12:30 our time) after a pretty good flight out. We were picked up by our handler for the week, Pamela, and informed that the two other educators flying with us, Jackie and Melissa, would be arriving from D.C. and New York soon. We grabbed “breakfast” which was really lunch for us, and then waited their arrival.

Once we were all loaded into the van, we made our way to the California Science Center. Here we got to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor and tour some of their other space craft.

DSC01575The Space Shuttles were assembled at the facility where we will be spending our week, so it was very interesting to read all the history behind the different shuttle missions. We did some pretty cool science with these bad boys. Go USA! Unfortunately, the shuttle program ceased operation in 2011. So the Endeavor is retired here.

Since the California Science Center is right next to USC and also the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, we stopped for a quick photo.


Pamela then gave us some briefings on our week while we drove the hour long drive from Los Angeles to Palmdale where we will be spending our week at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research facility, which is located just down the road from Edwards Air Force Base.

On the way, we made a quick stop at the Vasquez Rocks. Since we are with a bunch a science nerds, the Vasquez Rocks hold significance as the setting for many famous Star Trek episodes. Some other movies and TV shows were filmed here as well.


Because of an awful experience working at a low-power TV station in college, I despise Star Trek, but the geological features were cool to see. Pamela also pointed out the view of SOFIA’s hanger, the aircraft we’ll be flying on, across the openness of the Mojave Desert.

We then were taken to our lodging for the week so we could unpack and get acclimated a little. We still have a dinner at 7 pm local time. They said that is by design. Since we will be flying overnight in 2 days, they are trying to get our sleep cycle adjusted. We will get more info at dinner about what our expectations are. Then tomorrow midday, we are visiting the hanger that houses SOFIA to get our first look at it and also tour the flight facility.

Countdown to my #2NightsInSpace

It’s almost here. Less than 12 hours until I’ll be landing in Palmdale, California. I’ve been waiting for this week for 10 months. Ten months since I got the email that said I’d been selected to participate in the Airborne Astronomy Ambassador program at NASA with my co-applicant Jeff Peterson.

Yes, you heard right, NASA…that NASA. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration! Many people think NASA was shut down in 2011 and no longer exists. Not true. While the decision was made to stop funding the Space Shuttle program, the government is still actively funding the International Space Station research, as well as unmanned and commercial crew initiatives. Part of the current research NASA is doing, along with selected university researchers, is with the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). It is a highly modified Boeing 747 equipped with an infrared telescope mounted to collect data in flight. SOFIA saw first light in 2010, but was preceded by the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) and is a joint operation of NASA and the German space agency DLR. I’m one of 28 educators selected to fly on this aircraft during a scientific mission.

During our week in California, we’ll be passengers on two flight missions. The scientists on board will be studying a variety of cosmic objects. These objects can be star, planets, dust clouds, and more. The list include Beta UMi (brightest star in the bowl of the “Little Dipper”), HL Tau (star in the constellation Taurus), and NGC 2264 (a cone nebula and star cluster) along with others. During our second flight, we will be capturing images of Neptune and Uranus!

In order to participate in this program, after being selected based on the merits of our application, we still had to complete and pass an online graduate-level Astronomy course. I hadn’t had any advanced science or math classes since high school almost 25 years ago and now I was being thrust into a graduate-level astronomy class? It wasn’t easy, but I passed and learned a great deal in the process. We also had multiple video conferences with the staff to learn what safety training and equipment we would receive on site.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be arriving at LAX and will be taken immediately to the California Science Center for meetings and a tour of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, then proceed to the NASA Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale for more briefing and training. We’ve been sent the schedule for the week and we don’t have a lot of down time between meetings and preparations. However, I plan to blog daily, if possible, to keep everyone up-to-date on my adventure.

Talking to 2nd graders about my #2NightsInSpace

On Friday, I was asked by a 2nd grade teacher to come in and talk with her students about my upcoming trip to space since I am leaving next week. I was happy to visit but was concerned at how much 2nd graders understood about space. The kids were engaged and had a lot of great questions. Here are some questions on the mind of 2nd graders when I tell them I’m going to be flying just outside the atmosphere:

  • How will you sleep?

Since I will only be airborne for 12 hours at a time, sleep is not that important. But, I assured them I would have plenty of time to sleep when I am on the ground so that I can enjoy the full experience.

  • Will you wear a helmet (got that one 4 times)?

A helmet would be needed if I left the aircraft because there is limited oxygen at that altitude. However, since I do not plan to intentionally leave the aircraft, no helmet is needed.

  • Will you fly the plane?

They have specially trained people to do that. They’re called pilots. If I’m asked to fly the plane, I would respectfully refuse.

  • Will the plane shoot fire?

Rockets launched far into space need an extreme amount of propulsion which is the fire you see. There may be a small amount of fire coming from the initial propulsion, but since we don’t need to get that far up, we won’t see a whole lot.

  • What will you eat?

Astronauts that go into space for extended periods of time, like on the International Space Station need specially dehydrated food to preserve. (I plan to get some Astronaut Ice Cream to show them upon my return.) However, since I will only be up there 12 hours, I can take most any kind of food I prefer.

  • Will you float away?

This opened up a small lesson on what gravity is and why you float in space. Unfortunately, I won’t be high enough to be significantly away from the gravitational pull of the earth, which is what causes the weightlessness (known as Zero G). The other way I would float is if the plan descended at a rapid rate, which I sincere hope does not happen!

That’s the gist of the questions. They opened up some great conversations about how space and gravity work and what our atmosphere does for us. One student kept calling the atmosphere “the shield” so the other kids picked that up too.  I survived the 2nd graders and their barrage of great questions. Next up, 1st grade on Monday morning!

Creative Play and Genius Hour

Recently, my school was honored to be selected to be a new chapter of the Imagination Foundation with me being the chapter leader.  While I’m still learning all the perks and training that goes along with the chapter status, I have been thinking a lot about how the work that the Imagination Foundation does applies to my own practice.

For 5 years as a classroom teacher, I implemented a 20% Time Project similar to what many people know as  20 Time or Genius Hour. Each semester, I would tweak the process to meet the needs of my students and find out what works best to get the most from them. If you aren’t familiar with Genius Hour or 20 Time, it is simply a project wherein students are given class/school time to learn anything they want. I am also a doctoral student at Indiana University and one of my research interests is finding actionable models or frameworks for implementing 20 Time and Genius Hour in any classroom or school setting.

This school year, in my role as Director of Innovative Teaching at a K-8 school, I am embarking on a journey to build this concept school-wide. I will be working with 3rd-8th graders directly and K-2nd graders with their teachers to implement a Genius Hour project as a “special”.

I’m lesson planning and coming up with inspirational videos for multiple grade levels, while at the same time reviewing the Imagination Foundation materials and I became very interested in their concept of the Process of Creative Play. As they describe it on their website, “In this process, kids open up their minds to what’s possible, take chances, solve problems, collaborate and become better creative thinkers and doers. ” This is exactly what I’m striving to achieve with Genius Hour and 20 Time.

The five components of Creative Play are Inspire, Imagine, Build, Play, and Share. Their provided infographic explains it well.

Source: Imagination Foundation

I always tell my students the best projects inspire someone else to want to do the same. As I examine the components and think about how I can purposefully implement them with my students, one piece really resonates with me. The Share component is vital because that is how students can inspire others….by sharing. This idea of sharing to connect I  got from following the work of George Couros and Rusthon Hurley.  The epiphany I had today was that the process was cyclical.  I want my students to be inspired, to imagine, to build and play, and then ultimately share so that they inspire someone else to begin that process.  How can I do this? Through Genius Hour and Creative Play!


Featured Image from gfpeck

8 Reasons Why a Flipped Classroom Works

Many people ask me why Flipped Learning works and so I came up with 8 reasons why it worked for me.

1. Individualized instruction

It is amazingly rewarding when I can sit down with all my students and discuss their work one-on-one. I can invest the time in each student because I now have the time. I’m able to focus more of my attention on every student.

2. Community

In a flipped class students have more time to collaborate with each other. My students are constantly reading and revising each other’s work, brainstorming ideas together, and making the working process communal. They want to work together and help each other. They are all invested in each other’s success. My students became a community!

3. Self-pacing or Guided-pacing

I do have deadlines that must be met, so I call my class “guided-pacing”, as opposed to totally self-paced. However, what students work on when is up to them. If their creativity isn’t sparked that day, they work on something that may require some lower level skills like watching a video or completing some grammar exercises. Others will storm into my room beaming with energy. They are enthusiastic to get working right away because they just can’t wait to get these ideas out. When I see a student with unbridled enthusiasm, I can release the reins and let them run with it. When I see a student with motivation problems, I can discuss and problem solve with that student. The students aren’t bound to wait for me to give any direct instruction and I am not either.

4. Choice in activities/alternate assessment

The ability to individualize instruction also gives the ability to individualize assessments. I can offer my students multiple options in how they show learning. When I teach concepts, students aren’t constrained to one way of showing me understanding. My requirements are objective-based and not assignment-based. The student’s goal then is to show proof of understanding the objective. Many will choose the assignment I’ve set up for them because that is what years of schooling has taught them. But, not all will. Students always surprise me with their creativity.

5. Focus on the “fun stuff”

We may have said it once in our career, “Students, I know this is boring, but we have to get through it.” Let’s hope we’ve only said it once. Put this material on video. Now, I’m not saying your videos having to be boring. For me, the “fun stuff” is the activities we do. The application of the material and watching the students grow and make deep connections to the material. With a flipped class, very day we do the “fun stuff”.

6. More Effective Grading

After flipping, I take significantly fewer papers home to grade at the end of the day. I don’t want to say that I don’t still work hard. I just work harder in different areas. When I assess students’ work, many times I’m able to read it in class with them. I can give them feedback immediately. If I want more time to digest it, I’ll make myself a note to look at it again later. And, since I’m not reading stacks of papers all in one or two sittings just to get them a grade, my feedback is more targeted and richer

7. Efficiently use time

Some skills can be taught in a relatively short time frame. Other advanced skills cannot. While I can teach the basics of MLA formatting in a few classes; teaching proper research skills takes much longer. Now, I shorten the time needed to teach these skills. I’m sitting there with the students as they’re doing research. This contact with each student allows the entire class to move through the content more efficiently with deeper understanding. But, saving that time is not worthwhile if the students aren’t learning. I can confidently say that they are more engaged in the process and learn it much better at a level I didn’t see before flipping.

8. Autonomous learning

A flipped class is student-centered and can create very autonomous learners. With the model,

teaching students how to learn becomes a big part of the instruction. Teachers can now spend the time to talk with their students about choices they make in their own learning process. Students have a larger responsibility to manage their own time and, with necessary support, can learn crucial time-management strategies.

Because of these 8 reasons, the freedom and rewards I now feel as a teacher are because of the environment flipping has helped me create. It constantly evolves and gets better all the time. I can’t express emphatically enough how much this change has revolutionized my teaching.

Image credit: Moise Nicu

Fun uses for Thinglink in the classroom

Sometimes you hear about a great tool and then end up forgetting about it. That’s what happened with me and Thinglink. I had heard about it at a conference maybe 2 years ago and thought it looked like a good tool to make some multimedia resources, but subsequently forgot to try it out.

Recently, I saw a post on Twitter from Lisa Butler giving some packing advice for ISTE using Thinglink. I thought it was a clever idea and was reminded about how interesting Thinglink can make resources.

Lisa Butler’s ISTE Packing List. Linked to Thinglink.

I had been intending to make a packing inventory for an upcoming month-long trip to Asia I have planned, so inspired by Lisa’s packing image, I made one of my own adding some text and links to websites.

My Asia packing list. Linked to Thinglink.
Linked to Thinglink.

You could use this for class trip or camp packing lists in the classroom.  Another use I thought of was to include resources connected to a map.  So, I made an example using my upcoming trip.

These were really very simple to do and everything I did was available in the free version. There are some upgraded educator versions that give you a bit more versatility in your content.

I could see classes using this as video messages to parents or another classroom around the world linked to the students’ image. You could link flipped videos to visual representation of the content.  You could create virtual fields trips. The possibilities are endless.  What fun uses do you have for Thinglink?

Different Models for Flipping Your Class

Many teachers are surprised to find there a different models emerging of the flipped classroom. This is because flipping isn’t really a model, but more of a guiding principle of how (and when) to deliver direct instruction.  In my book, I identified 5 different frameworks of flipping and have since been introduced to a 6th.  I’ve divided them into First Iteration and Second Iterations because, in practice, teachers tend to transition for their First Iteration to their Second Iteration, with the later being more student-centered.  I used a mixture of all.  Don’t feel constrained to one model. The best part about flipped strategies is that they are flexible.

First Iteration Flips

Traditional Flip

This is the flip you hear hyped in the media. The Traditional Flip is frontloading a video of content followed by problems, activities, or writing in class.  It is the entry point to flipping for most teachers.  It is still a teacher-centered model, which gets it criticism. However, for the teacher that is struggling with innovating their classroom or who want to be more student-centered, this is a good place to start as they develop the skills to move on.


Writing Workshop Flip

Another way many teachers, English teachers especially, start in flipping is to modify the Writers Workshop made popular by Lucy Calkins. This is not surprising since many principles of the Writing Workshop are shared by flipped teaching. The Writing Workshop starts with a direct instruction mini-lesson (which is a flip video), followed by writing time in class, and finished with class sharing.  I started with this model because I didn’t have long enough classes for the full Writing Workshop process. Taking mini-lessons to video freed up more class time for students to write and share.

Second Iteration Flips

These are the flips that teachers move into once they’ve decided to move their flip to a different level.


This model is inquiry-based derived from the work of Ramsey Musallam and is a variation of the Explore-Explain-Apply model. The framework consists of the learning cycle beginning with an Exploratory activity. This activity is designed to introduce the topic, evaluate prior knowledge, and instruct through inquiry.  Once the students have reached a point they cannot progress without some direct instruction, a flipped video is made and assigned to help the students.  After sufficient inquiry and practice, the students are moved to an Apply stage which is an assessment.  It could be a project, a writing task, or other forms of skill or content application. If students have the knowledge or are gaining the knowledge on their own, there is no need for the teacher to intervene with flipped instruction. The videos in this model tend to be shorter and more focused on specific content to the needs of each inquiry group.


This model was Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams second iteration of their Flip. The Flip-Mastery model combines flipped videos with mastery instruction. In this model, students can self-pace through the direct instruction content and move on based on mastery standards determined by the teacher. The determination of what qualifies as mastery is the guide for assessment.

Mastery learning is more easily identified in Math and Science classes, because many times there is an explicitly correct answer. When I did Mastery-type units, I used more guided pacing as opposed to full self-pacing, allowing students to work at their own pace but with all the same deadline for assessment completion.

Peer Instruction (PI) Flip

The Peer Instruction model was developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard in the early 1990’s.  He, along with Julie Schell, have advanced the model to also include video instruction.  In the process, students watch a pre-class video or reading.  At the start of the class, the teacher asks a question based on the pre-class video.  The question should be ambiguous enough to spark debate.  Students are then paired with someone that believes a different answer and they are tasked with convincing each other which is correct.  Once the student pairs commit to answers, the teacher reviews the correct answer with the group.  The flip could also come as the explanation piece of the cycle depending on the complexity of the material.

Gamified Flipped

This is a new flip that has emerged over the past year or so.  Teachers are taking elements of gamification (a badge system) and combining it with Mastery-Flip.  Students progress through flip videos and assessments at their own pace, earning badges and levels.  This is still a developing area as not many teachers are using it.  These teachers are using quest-based LMS (3D GameLab) making it easy to insert videos.

The spirit of a Flipped Classroom is innovation and individualization. With that as your guiding principle, there is no limit to the evolution of your classroom.

Image credit: Chris Devers

Curate or Create Content in a Flipped Classroom

Many teachers make the decision to flip their class, but don’t know where to start. Choosing how to provide content to your students can determine the success of your flipped class.  You certainly can go between curated and created content, but generally it is better for the students if you are consistent with one method.


The movement for Open Educational Resources (OER) has made a significant amount of content available to learners that haven’t had access to it in the past.  Curating that content to pick the best for your students is a popular way to flip your class.


  • There is content that is free and available to all.  Teachers could eliminate expensive textbooks from their syllabus and provide content that is rich and dynamic for their students.  
  • Much of this content is produced in a digital format to allow for easy distribution.  Some tools, like EdPuzzle, not only provide an easy way to curate that content, but also set up simple ways to distribute that content.
  • The content can come from a variety of sources. You can find high-quality content made by professional filmmakers, very specific content made by experts, or even very relatable content made by students.
  • Curated content can save time for the teacher. Flipping can be time consuming and hard-work in the early stages, so finding ways to be efficient with your time can help.


  • Curated content isn’t always specific to your curriculum or what you want to teach. That can be confusing to your students or leave you with gaps in learning that need to be filled.
  • Sometimes finding just the right content can take more time than anticipated. Sometimes it’s just quicker to make your own.
  • Curated content can seem impersonal to students and even lazy practice. A good practitioner is teaching in the classroom everyday with personalized instruction and valuable activities. Unfortunately, there are some people believe that if students can learn from already created content, there is no use for a content teacher in the classroom.


  • EdPuzzle is one of my favorite tools that allows you to search a variety of created content and provide a tool to remix and distribute that content.
  • TedEd is a good source for dynamic professionally created content and has some interactivity by adding a quizzing feature.
  • Khan Academy has the goal of “providing a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” While initially a source for math and science content, they are quickly adding more content for other subject areas and grade levels.
  • Mathtrain is a wonderful resource by teacher Eric Marcos for student-created math content.

Created Content

The past few years has seen an explosion of tools that make it easy for teachers to create their own video content even with limited technical ability.


  • Having students hear your voice or see your face in the video helps you build better relationships with students.
  • You can adapt your content to the needs of your students and teach it the way you want.
  • While OERs can often be remixed and reused, creating your content allows you to own and distribute how you want.
  • It can be empowering to create and catalog your expertise.  At the same time, it can model that behavior to your students.
  • Watching your own content can be an excellent reflection tool to improve your teaching.


  • It can be time consuming.  Until you develop efficient methods to create your videos, you can spend a lot of time making just a few minutes of content.
  • While it is a great reflection tool, it can be very humbling. Many teachers need time to get used to seeing and hearing themselves.
  • Sometimes someone else just says or does it better and trying to recreate that is not worth the time invested.
  • While there are free tools, some of the best tools can also be expensive.


  • Camtasia Studio is my favorite tool.  It is a robust screencasting tool that allows teachers to create very professionally looking videos.
  • Screencast-O-Matic is a free online tool that allows teachers to screencast.  It has some limitations, but can be great entry point for teachers learning to screencast.
  • Quicktime is a great tool for Mac users.  It is powerful and even allows you to screencast an iPad screen.
  • Explain Everything is my favorite iPad tool. It allows those using an iPad to create some nice videos and has many output options.  This is the tool I use with my students when they are creating videos.

These aren’t the only tools or resources available, but the ones I’m most familiar. I recommend teachers move themselves to using primarily created content supplemented by curated content on some occasions.  However, curated content is a great way to get started in flipping your class.  Whichever methods you choose, if you keep your students best interest in mind, you won’t go wrong.

Image credit: Nick Saltmarsh

Writing a Book in One Day – How We Did It

The project is near completion.   On May 6, our 5th & 6th graders embarked on a journey to write a book in one day.  Originally, we had 6 other classes that agreed to do it with us.  As the day grew closer, 3 classes had to drop out for various reasons and  one class was MIA on the day of the book.  We set the project up so that we could complete it independently, so, while it was nice to have two other classes still participating, we could have still finished it alone.  Two of the books can be purchased on Amazon: “Tsunami Survivors” & “Shimmer and the Case of Superman’s Missing Dog”.  I’m still waiting for a 3rd class to send me their book for print.  There are also .pdf versions at the bottom of this post free for you to download.

Due to an expected delay in statewide testing, we lost 2 hours in the morning.  While we still finished, that 2 hours would have been nice to have those two hours to breathe a little easier and have more time for editing the final book.  Prior to lunch, the kids were very engaged, asking great questions as they planned their story and collaborated.  We had to conflict manage a bit more than I expected having to solve problems not related to the story so groups could get back to work.

First, we had the class list all the elements (characters, plot, conflict, setting, etc.) they needed in their story.  Then we went element-by-element and had suggestions.   As a group, the students voted on 3-5 choices for each element.

Here is our brainstorming board after we were finished.

Once the elements were all determined, we divided them into groups to begin writing.  Each group was responsible for one chapter.  Students talked with their group about what direction they wanted their chapter to take but quickly realized they needed details from other chapters.  Although their was some conflict during this process, I was pleased to see the students really analyzing their story.  If a group wanted a character in chapter 8, they realized they needed to get an earlier chapter to introduce that character.  One early chapter realized they had too much happening too soon for the story, so they made it into a flashback to use as character development instead.  A lot of great discernment was happening on how to construct a good story.

We then reconvened every group and had them explain to everyone what plot points they were going to write into their chapter.  As a group, we smoothed out some discrepancies between chapters, made group decisions on the final story and then began writing.

Students collaborated with their group in Google Docs to write their chapter.  We had a plan in place for early finishers, but we didn’t have any of those.  Students were typing and revising up until the final minutes.  Since we had lost the 2 hours in the morning, we asked a member from each group to go into their document that night and give their chapter one final edit and clean up.

I then took those chapters and used Amazon’s Createspace to publish the book.  We would have liked to do a Google Hangout with one of the other classes participating, but I realized we wouldn’t have the time to do it.  We did tweet with the other classes and let our students see the others’ tweets to remind them this project was bigger than just their classroom.  The kids are still asking to read the other schools’ books!

picture 2015-05-12 at 10.06.51 AM

picture 2015-05-12 at 10.07.19 AM

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Overall, it was a wonderful experience and we are already in the planning process for next year!

Here are pdf’s of the books:

picture 2015-05-08 at 11.33.28 AM          picture 2015-05-12 at 10.11.53 AMChangeTheWorldVolume1    ChangeTheWorldVolume2