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Showing posts from 2017

Time to Fly

What if I fall?
Oh, but my darling. What if you fly?
- Erin Hanson

By this point we all know that "effective" teaching involves less of the teacher teaching and more of the students doing. But letting go of control in the classroom can be scary. This is a tale of how I faced my fear of loosing the reins, how it paid off in spades and how you can do the same.

My educational experience growing up was chalk and talk. I learned everything I was supposed to pretty well. So did my friends (likely because they were just like me). So, why change something if it isn't broken? In my first several years of teaching, chalk and talk was my default mode. When in doubt, just deliver the content. But, I knew all the research. This isn't really the way it should be done. Kids learn better when they do, when they are more engaged in the lesson, when they have more ownership, blah blah blah. But chalk and talk was working. So, why change the system? And what if I let go a little, try so…

I heart Middle School

I teach middle school. Yes, I chose to teach middle school. I have taught every grade from 6 through 12 and middle school is my happy place. When I moved and had to find a new job, the first places I looked were middle schools. In middle school the kids are old enough to have serious, adult-like conversations. But sometimes, they forget that they are trying to be all adulty and they act like kids. It's the best of both worlds. Yes, they can be moody and difficult as they try to navigate their way through the roller coaster ride that is puberty. But it is an awesome privilege to be a part of their lives as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to be.
My first formal teaching job was in a middle school. We were a new school with very green teachers. There were four classrooms, 6 teachers and a whole lot of sixth graders. I went in on the first day nervous and excited. I love science, love teaching science and I love working with kids. I was going to rock it! Fast for…

The Project that Worked...And Didn't

I love space. I love to learn about space and to teach about space. And kids love space. When I taught earth science I spent waaaay longer than I needed to on the space unit.  Our current seventh grade curriculum doesn't include space.  So, I found a way to include it.

In the spring I teach the physics unit. This includes magnets, electricity, sound and electromagnetic energy. On it's own, without a "hook", this can be fun unit. It's very hands on. But I wanted to kick it up a notch and I am always looking for ways to integrate space science into the curriculum. This seemed like the perfect unit for space integration. Thus, my NASA unit was born. For the past 2 years I have taught this unit through the lens of space exploration - specifically the Journey to Mars.

I begin the unit with the history of space exploration and the introduction of the unit project. By the end of the unit, students will design a ship that gets astronauts safely to Mars and they will inte…

The Power of the Hive

For six weeks my students were engaged in a physics unit. The culminating project was to design a ship that will get astronauts safely to Mars.  They worked on it in bits and pieces since the unit began, completing one task at a time. Part of the project has been to engage in peer review. Today, after sharing his work with a peer, one student said to me "Ms. Cimini, the peer review so useful". Um, yeah. That's why we do it! He is starting to see the power of the hive mind.

For many years I planned on an island. I was the sole teacher of my subject in my school. We were all the sole teachers of our subjects. We retreated to our rooms, planned and executed our lessons and that was that. We never planned together. We rarely exchanged ideas. If you were friends with another teacher you might share ideas with her but that was the extent of it.

Now I am at a school where department meetings are a regular thing. We regularly share ideas and I LOVE it! Five heads are so much bet…


For almost as long I have been teaching I have wanted to go to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) national conference. Finally, I've made it!! Every year I asked to go and every year I was told the school didn't have the money to send me. Fast forward to 2017. Thanks to a grant from Math for America and a generous principal that supports my professional growth, I have made it to my first NSTA national conference. Woo Hoo!!!

Day 1 - I arrive in Los Angeles
It's March and I live in New Jersey. So, it's cold. Two weeks ago we had a major snow storm. Cue the California sunshine. As soon as I stepped out of the airport terminal in LA I began to peel off the layers and whipped out the sunglasses. Sandal season is on! After arriving at the hotel I was able to sit outside and get some work done. In March. So nice....After that, an unexpected dinner with a friend and then off to the conference.

Tomorrow is the first official day of the conference but tonight there …

Change Your Game

For years, professional development (PD) was something I had to drag myself to. It was mandated and usually kind of boring. In my second school it got a little better because most of the staff went to PD together. We got yummy lunch and got to bond as group. Now, I'm in my third school and in the next phase of my career. I have found the PD groove. The key it seems is to choose the PD you want to go to (as much as you can).  You can even organize PD's if you feel so motivated. Get involved in your own education and it will become something you look forward to rather than dread.

For me, the shift started when my friend Starr started taking me to PD's and pushing me to get more professionally involved. It started with an EdCamp (as I am writing this I am sitting at an EdCamp event). It was exciting to be in a space where everyone was excited to talk about pedagogy and was looking to better their practice. Before that, my colleague interactions at PD's  largely consisted …

Musings about Rubrics

If you are reading this you probably know what a rubric is. If you don't, here's the quick and dirty. A rubric is a grading guide that is available to students. It tells them how their work is going to be evaluated and allows them to evaluate themselves. Rubrics can take many forms. Here is one I recently used with my students:

In our school, as of this year, we grade on mastery grading system. There are 4 "grades" a student can get: Mastery with Excellence = you understand it so well you can teach it to others Mastery = you get it exactly as well as you should Approaching Mastery = you are almost at mastery but not quite there Not Yet Mastered = New to a skill or no where near mastering it
Now, I don't know if this is the case with all mastery schools, but in our school we are all about the rubric. Not only are there project rubrics (which I have always had a hate hate relationship with) but we also have unit rubrics.  There are rubrics for standards and rubrics for…

I Made Cheese!

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be a about science and pedagogy. When I look at what I've written so far, it's all pedagogy. So, now it's time to bring on the SCIENCE! This is the science of making mozzarella cheese. Or, at the very least, the science of the ingredients.

Here's what I needed to make the cheese:

MilkSaltRennetCitric AcidWater Here's what I learned about the science behind the ingredients. 
Milk: Any milk will do as long as it isn't ultra high temperature pasteurized (UHT). Apparently, if the milk is ultra high temperature pasteurized, the heat may cause the proteins to denature, or lose their shape. When proteins denature they are not able to function appropriately. If this happens they will not be able to come together to form curds. When milk is UHT pasteurized it is heated to 280 degrees. That't pretty hot for the proteins in milk. And while I would want the proteins to denature if I was making yogurt, I definitely don't want i…

Creating Opportunities

No matter how hard I work, I am never going to get a promotion. I will never get a bonus. If I want a promotion I have to go back to school (even though I am already 30 credits beyond my master's) and take a job that is no longer in a classroom. Working directly with students is why I got into teaching and I'm not ready to leave that behind. So, according to the definition, I am in a dead end job. I can work my butt off, create fantabulous lessons, give all I have to my students and next year be in the same position making essentially the same money.

Every four or five years I have a teaching crisis of faith. I question what I am doing and why. I think about the other things I could be doing with my life (though as I get older some of those other options are becoming much less likely - I don't think NASA wants to send me to space or that my career as a rock star is going to take off). This most recent crisis was the "I will never get promoted" crisis. Right now, …