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Blended Bites Blog

Exploring Astronomy Though Microbial Fingerprints

Jessica Anderson

Exploring Astronomy Though Microbial Fingerprints

A blog post by astronomy students Hunter, Jake, Justin, Heather, and Schelby

In our astronomy class, we took the time to research alien life or the possibility of it on other planets. We focused on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. During this process, we wrote down some of the questions we had about the possibility of alien life in our solar system. Using social media, we found Dr. Sarah Rugheimer, an astrobiologist who graduated with her PhD from Harvard University. We sent her our questions and received an audio reply from her, which we used to make our podcasts.

Listen to them below:

The Search for Space Fish (3:18)

Description: Looking into the heavens, pondering the possibility of life on other planets. What biological wonders lay in the upward abyss? How do we make contact with these extraterrestrial fish? 
Description: In this captivating podcast of astronomical phenomena, Jake and Hunter delve into the secrets of the cosmos. We interviewed Dr. Sarah Rugheimer to learn more about microbial fingerprints and telescopes that can be used to find them. Is there life on other planets? Listen to this podcast to find out! 

Blended Learning Tip #11: Tracking

Jessica Anderson

Tip #11: Tracking

When I talk about tracking, I'm not referring to putting students into groups based on their understanding of a certain subject. I'm referring to a blended learning teacher checking with every student, every day to make sure they both know what is being worked on during that class period.

I use one particular strategy that is simple and easy to duplicate:


Blended Learning Tip #7: Technology

Jessica Anderson

Tip #7:

The model of blended learning you choose depends a lot on the technology you have available to your students and you. Blended learning can easily be done with a few stationary computers or mobile devices. You'll find that if you truly want to implement blended learning into your classroom, you'll find a way to make the technology you have work for you and your students.


Blended Learning Tip #6: Model Flexibility

Jessica Anderson

Tip #6: Model Flexibility

Even if you pick a model, that doesn't mean you have to do that model every day. For instance, the model I use is a modified-flex. Students move at their own pace most of the time, but you'll see small groups happening when necessary, teacher-led small groups, and whole group activities happening too. Your blended learning model doesn't have to be rigid, it can be a fluid as you want it to be!


Blended Learning Tip #1: Changing Your Mindset

Jessica Anderson

Blending learning with technology and face-to-face teachers is a growing trend in classrooms across the country. As more schools grant students 1:1 access to a device and the internet, this model of teaching becomes available to more students. The model helps teachers make the shift from being the lead learner to being an academic coach. The students are in control of their learning, their mastery of the content, and how they navigate the course work. Models and strategies implemented in classrooms differ, but most experts agree that six models exist. Check out the models here.

I began blending three years ago as I implemented gamification into my classroom. Paul Andersen, a Bozeman, MT science teacher, was influential in my teaching shift. From my classroom observations, blended learning seemed like the direction I needed to go to evolve my teaching practice and the learning of my students.

As I enter this 30 day blended blogging journey, I'll share what I've learned about blended implementation. The tips will be short, but will give you a glimpse into what goes through my head while I'm implementing strategies into my classroom. If you want to see more, visit to see some of the strategies I've implemented.

Blended Tip #1: Changing Your Mindset

Mars Sphero Rovers

Jessica Anderson

Written by members of the 2014-15 astronomy class: Justin, Hunter, Heather, Jake, Schelby, and Mrs. Anderson

As we begin to implement the NGSS standards into science curriculum, incorporating STEM into all content areas of science becomes increasingly important. As a result, during Hour of Code week our astronomy class completed an activity called Mars Sphero Rovers. The purpose of this activity was to learn about the terrain of Mars, past and present rover missions, and program our rovers (the Sphero balls disguised as rovers) to complete a collection mission.   
Before we built the rovers, we had to find out how the Spheros moved and handled. The first thing we had to do was download the app (Sphero Drive) so we could drive them. After we started playing with them, we couldn't stop! We spent the entire period driving them around. We even held a race through an improvised obstacle course taking up most of the first floor hallway.
photo 1.JPG
Designing a rover for the Sphero ball was very challenging because the balls are spherical. The design took careful planning because the Sphero didn't use practical axles and wheels. We had to approach the rovers with a different perspective because they were like no other mode of transportation. We had to take friction and rotation into consideration when we were designing these rovers. We used material around the classroom like popsicle sticks, masking tape, and red solo cups to design our rovers.

Working on our rover designs.

One of the rovers around a Sphero ball. Designed by Justin
Using the green screen to make our commercials
After designing our rovers we created commercials to promote our rovers. We were tasked with selling our rover design and why it should be used as the rover to explore Mars. We used the DoInk app and a green screen to create our commercials.

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Example of what our rovers look like with the green screen.
After we created our commercials, we created a course similar to the terrain of Mars. Some of the objects we used to make the obstacles on Mars were rocks/fossils (samples we picked up) and boards/wood (to represent inclines on Mars’s surface). We also used one of our astronomy books for a ramp. The course was set up with a total of 12 obstacles to represent what a real rover on Mars (not even close in comparison) would have to navigate through.  Our obstacle course was set up in the junior hallway of the school where we attend. We set up the course 5-6 times before we had completed everything we needed to accomplish. 
FullSizeRender 2.jpg
As we started to program the Sphero, we came across many challenges. One of the challenges was consistency in calibration. As a result, we had to navigate the obstacles many times before we were able to accurately drive it. As we programmed the Spheros, we had to think about the amount of time the ball rolled in a certain direction and the speed.  It seemed like the ball would often go in the wrong direction or roll too far even though the settings hadn’t changed. After many trials, we realized we needed to put stops (pauses) into our program so the ball wouldn't roll too far. We also discovered that after each run we had to recalibrate the Sphero so it would accurately navigate the terrain.

photo 2.JPG

To collect data from our course, we ran numerous trial runs to record time and efficiency of the rover through the course. We took the fastest, most efficient rover designs to use for the final course run. With the final runs, we averaged the times of the rover.
Now that we are finished with the project, we realize that programming a Sphero is harder than we expected. However, we had a lot of fun and enjoyed the project. Please let us know if you have any questions about our project.

Here are a few videos of our experiences:

  1. Sphero with rover "attached" video
  2. Programming the Spheros
  3. Rover "picking" up samples
  4. Programming Spheros in a figure 8

You can purchase your Sphero here

Jessi's Favorite Things

Jessica Anderson

Every year around Thanksgiving/Christmas Oprah Winfrey does a show about Oprah's Favorite Things. I have actually never watched it, but have caught the media's broadcast of the list online.
When I arrived home today, I kept coming back to four resources/strategies that were incredibly successful this week. I'm calling this list Jessi's Favorite Things...

  1. Voxer: I actually wrote about Voxer in a previous blog post, but had to mention it again. Voxer, a walkie-talkie application, is one of the most powerful pieces driving my PLN. Everyday I listen and collaborate with brilliant, like-minded people who care just as much as I do about our profession. If I have a question, my professional learning network is one tap and a voice message away from providing meaningful answers. If you haven't tried it yet, let me know and I'll add you to the #MTedchat group. We'd love to have you!
2. Google Classroom and Google Apps: Yes, this is probably on many educator's lists. However, for a school that just this school year made the shift to using Google, it's awesome! I have used Google Drive for many years in my personal and professional life. I've used it to collaborate with individuals, store information in the cloud, and as my primary word processing program. I've also completed many collaborative projects with educators across the country using it. However, up to this point I haven't had students work as an entire class in one document. Today was that day! After completing our Mars Sphero Rover project I thought it would be great to share out the project (its successes, its failures) through student perspective. Therefore, when my astronomy students entered class today we set-up a document, made an outline, and started typing. Together they worked to complete an entire blog post on the project they'd just completed.  As a teacher, it was powerful to watch as they read each other's work, critiqued sentences, and then heard it verbally read aloud. They were proud of the work they created and they are excited to share it with the world next week.
3. Level Posters: This is the first year in the three years that I've gamified that my students have moved completely self-paced (no deadlines) in our blended classroom. As a result, I knew that it would be necessary to display students' progress in the levels in order to motivate them to keep moving. With the goal of displaying achievements and making the end and beginning of levels times to celebrate, I came up with a simple idea, level posters. I made posters for each level on, printed them out using a plotter, and laminated them. When students master a level they put their name on the next level poster. It's surprisingly the most simple motivator in our classroom. My 9th graders cheer and fist pump when they complete a level, and literally run to put their names on the poster. Who would of thought this would be so successful? Not me!

4. Leaderboard: I had intended to start this at the beginning of the year, but it got lost in the mix. As a result, I made it my new year's resolution to make the leaderboard visible every day to my earth science students. This week was the first week I used it in earth science and it was a HUGE success. I actually had a 50% increase in the number of battles (activities) turned in as a result of students seeing the XP they earned visible on the board. YAY!

Making 2015 the Year of the Teacher

Jessica Anderson

Craig Beals,@bealsscience, Montana's 2015 Teacher of the Year and science rockstar, proudly stated back in October that 2015 is the Year of the Teacher. He even has a scroll that you can sign if you're committed to celebrating and enriching our profession.

Also, a few months ago, I heard a song by Nickelback called What are you Waiting for that I found really motivating. I've decided it is my new theme song. If you haven't heard it, check it out here:

As I write my professional goals for this year, I'm keeping Craig's mantra and the above song in mind:

1) I'm going to learn to code. I'm so keen on this idea that I've already started using Code Academy. I'm excited to say that my coding language is increasingly by the minute! My goal by the end of the year is to create something using code. Maybe my after school coding students and I can collaborate on a project.

2) I'm going to start, even if we just take small steps, working on a science data project with Jeff Astor, @jastronaut.  We've found a gap, we both have a desire to fill the gap, and I'm eager to take small steps to make it happen. Jeff, are you with me?

3) I'm going to write.  (1) I really enjoyed blogging every Friday when Gary Abud, @MR_Abud, did his Teacher Leadership Challenge. However, I've found that my blogging has since wained a little. My goal is to complete 24 quality blog posts over the next year. Who's going to hold me accountable? Anyone want to do a blogging challenge? (2) I'm going to get my bum into gear and start writing my book proposal for Corwin press. I'm sure Desiree Bartlett, @BartlettDesiree, will be a great help in this area. We'll see how this goes... 

4) I'm going to put on a #MTedchat virtual conference with Crista Anderson, @cristama. We've been talking about it. Crista, I'm putting it in writing to keep us accountable :)

5) I'm going to continue to revolutionalize my teaching practice.  Better blending and more immersive gamification are in store for both my earth science and physics courses. I also have a desire to revamp/change how I teach my online oceanography class. Maybe then I'll actually like teaching the class.  

Besides my above goals, I have some upcoming awesomeness that I'd like to share out:

1) BetterLesson is launching the Blended Master Teacher portal in February where my practice will be displayed visually and in written form via this website:

2) I'm doing a Webinar with WizIQ in February on blended and gamified learning. 

3) I'm presenting in Chicago at NSTA in March. Topic: Level Up Your Students’ Learning: Introducing Game Elements into the Classroom

4) I'm presenting twice in Philadelphia at ISTE in June/July. Topics: (1) Vox and Tweet Your Way to a Professional Learning Network (PLN) and (2) Level Up Your Students' Learning: Introducing Game Elements into the Classroom.

Beads and Needles, A Metaphor for Schools

Jessica Anderson

I've been working on a Christmas stocking for my three year old niece for the past three years. It's been a tedious task of sequining, beading, unknotting, and sewing every detail into place. Excitingly, this is the year I will put down my needle, thread, beads, and sequins. Come Christmas morning this labor of love will be in her hands to enjoy for all future Christmas's to come.

Last night as I was feverishly working on some of the final details, I found that my needle and beads were not working in harmony.  It wasn't every bead, but most beads that would get stuck on the head of my needle. Feeling a little frustrated, I first tried to push the bead over the needle head. Secondly, I tried to turn the bead thinking it might just be misshapen and need a little guidance to its final destination, a colorful sequin. When that trick only worked for a few beads, I had to resort to looking and testing several different needles. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find the perfect needle to fit each and every bead. "Drats", I thought to myself, "this is going to take forever."

While in the moment, an interesting thought emerged. Beads and needles are just like students and school.  The majority of education systems try to slide the same needle (curriculum, grade, measurement system, standardized test, etc...) through every bead (students). When that doesn't work, they try work-arounds, like alternative schools, online credit retrieval, special education referrals, meetings with parents, etc, etc, etc. But most strategies are about getting the student through a particular process, not about making the process work for the student.

What this thought really brought to light is the question of How can education be tailored so that every student, no matter the process, can achieve an educational dream? It's not a new question, nor has it not been asked before, but it seems to still be a universal concern.

Our students are a lot like beads, they all have their own personality, shape, and challenges. Every student, even those that you don't think really care about school at all, has a dream they want to achieve. For teachers this can sometimes be frustrating. Why won't that student just do the work? How am I going to motivate a student who isn't motivated? When is enough, enough?

The true challenge emerges when a teacher, like myself, decides that what is happening in the classroom is no longer working. It's often an uphill battle to make tiny shifts, like from changing your teaching from direct instruction, to inquiry, to full out self-paced, blended learning. It's a process that takes time, energy, and downright determination. But it's really those beginning steps of stepping out of your comfort zone to help students that you know have always and will always need your guidance to reach their educational dreams.

Am I saying that a blended classroom is the answer, no. What I'm saying is that opening your classroom up to being flexible for the learners within it is imperative. Whether that's adapting an assignment for a struggling student or allowing a student to choose how they'd like to be assessed, it's about giving students the opportunity to show that they aren't just another bead trying to navigate the same needle as everyone else.

So, the next time you assign students an activity, ask yourself this question Am I doing everything in my power to tailor education for every student so they can achieve their dreams? If the answer is no, maybe a little rethinking is in order to help students reach the limelight. There really is beauty in every bead no matter what needle it goes through to reach the sequin.

Scotty, Beam me up! I'm Ready!

Jessica Anderson

Sometimes I wish I had a spaceship that flew around and picked up everything awesome in the world (mainly education related). You're probably wondering what I'd suck up into my ship. And if you're a Hitchhiker's fan, you may be wondering if a towel was waved by these choices or if there will be a guide on the ship? 

To enlighten your curiosity, here's a brief list of a few awesome things I think are worth beaming up:

1) Every ship needs a family. I think my boys and husband could play that role well. Not only are all three handsome, they provide endless entertainment. And if I were galavanting across the Universe on an education mission I'd miss them terribly. Therefore, they'd have to come along.

2) She's not an alien, but she could be mistaken for one with her innovative approaches and rock star persona. My good friend and #MTedchat colleague Crista Anderson (@Cristama) would have a permanent spot on my ship. She's a change maker focused on bettering education and supporting teachers.

3) Every good spaceship needs some mad scientists. I think I'd have to bring along my friends Jeff King (besides he's already a commander, @commander_king), Jess Henze (leader of Henzlandia, @Jhenze44), and Jeff Astor (Creator of "Beats by Astor," @jastornaut). All three of these science educators are going to change the world. They innovate teaching with approaches that very few teachers are using. Besides, there should definitely be at least two Jessica's and two Jeff's on the ship. I'm pretty sure that's a rule!

4) And not to forget the two individuals who are going to gamify the craft, Dayson Pasion (@MrPasion) and Michael Matera (@mrmatera). I'm not talking about just badges folks! They'll keep us competitive and learning through their innovative storylines and XP distribution. I'm pretty sure these two are PIRATES in disguise. 

5) Now that I've met all of the BetterLesson Blended Master Teacher's face to face, I can't leave any of them out. They all get a spot on my ship. Besides, in January they'll be revolutionizing education. Stay tuned for this story...

6) And of course I'll take along wifi. My wifi will never buffer. I'll be able to connect to my PLN on Twitter and Voxer anytime. Besides, I have too many awesome people I'm following and not all of them will physically fit on my ship. 

Now that you've read through my list I have to be honest, I'm not sure I really desire a ship. What I really wish for is a movement. I only created this list because these are people I think are capable of making it happen. When I say movement, I'm talking about making a shift to innovative practices, like blended learning, gamification, seamless technology integration, and throwing out grades. 
I know this movement can't stand on the shoulders of one person, but will be a collaborative effort. It's going to take innovative approaches that encompass several areas of education, including, but not limited to, personalization and learning ownership. 

So, how are we going to make it happen? How are you going to shift your practice to help make your classroom the beginning of a change? It begins with you, me, and all our connected colleagues. 

Scotty, beam me up! I'm ready for a change!

Are you?

The Power of a Snapshot

Jessica Anderson

When I signed on to be a runner for the Edtech Baton Project (, I thought, "oh, I'll be able to share a few ways I integrate technology in the classroom. That will be cool." In hindsight, I did more than just share. This one day project made me feel empowered. I truly felt like I had something awesome and unique to share with a community of learners. And quite possibly, they may want to know what I'm doing with my science students in Montana.

Along with feeling empowered, I felt as if it gave me a good chance to reflect on the methodology behind the activities my students are doing in the classroom. I was able to do this as I navigated my classroom seeking out good examples of technology integration and student engagement.  I wanted the world to see everything amazing room 105 has to offer on a daily basis.  I think we were successful! Check out a few of my posts from today:


These types of projects are an awesome way to authenticate your learning. They allow you to showcase your thinking and share it visually with a real audience. These projects are not only beneficial for teachers, but for our students. There are so many possibilities behind the Edtech Baton Project that are applicable to learning in our classroom. Why not have students showcase 5 snapshots of their learning during a class period? Could this project be used as a final assessment of students' understanding in a content area and be displayed via a blog, Instagram, or Vine account? How could students visually show their understanding of soils? The questions and ideas in my head are too many to type out. However, I know one thing, I'm going to find a way to include a project like this in some of my upcoming levels (units).

If you're interested in being a baton runner, head over to You too can share what works with educational technology in your classroom!


Language Barriers as a Connected Educator

Jessica Anderson

I never thought as a connected educator that I'd feel isolated. It's a strange feeling and would be considered an oxymoron to say that I feel like a lonely connected educator. However, it's a very real feeling for many educators I talk to and interact with online.

I know throughout history that many people have felt this way. For instance, Albert Einstein in a statement recorded in the diary of Johanna Fantova said, "I am a completely isolated man...though everybody knows me" (Dennis Overbye, 2004). I imagine he felt this way because many of his thoughts and practices in an effort to understand the universe were too extreme for many to imagine or understand. I believe this is also the case for educators that have embarked on the path of being connected.

From my short stint (1 1/2 years) on Twitter, I have learned that connected educators speak their own language. We use words like networking, collaborating, and authenticating in terms that many don't understand. Yes, other educators may have heard and used these words to talk about their practice, but I'm not positive that their use holds to same meaning as when spoken by a connected educator. We also throw around terminology like backchannel, Genius Hour, and Mystery Skypes like everyone knows what we are talking about. Believe me, I used all three of these in a presentation I did this past week and they stared at me like I had three heads.

Yes, we speak a different language and often when we speak this language we put ourselves in a situation where we become isolated. We share and spread amazing ideas we've implemented in our classrooms and often get silence and no emotion from the teachers we are presenting to. It's in these situations that it's hard to read those individuals. However, it all becomes worth it when one person approaches you after the presentation, says that you've "blown the teacher's minds" and thanks you for sharing your voice.

The next time you start to feel isolated, reflect back on a time when you were in their shoes. The terminology may have been scary. Taking extreme steps, against the norm, to change your classroom for students is scary. Remember, you are not alone in your thinking. However, you can do something about it. You are connected and know being a connected educator is powerful! You are continually speaking with educators who understand your language. You are benefiting as a practitioner, helping students become connected citizens, and sharing the awesomeness of teaching. You are a mentor to all educators currently practicing, as well as entering our field. You have the power to show educators just how powerful being connected truly is!

And heck, you make awesome friends you eventually meet face-to-face as a result!