All posts by Nancy Foote

A Curiosity Table

A curiosity table.  That’s what I call it.  Whenever my students have a free minute (which rarely happens), I encourage them to investigate the materials on the curiosity table in our classroom.

Today I added something new—an Atmospheric Mat .  20160908_143810

It was a gift from my good friends at Educational Innovations.  This unusual and uniquely shaped article elicited intense curiosity from my students.  They wanted to know what it was, how to make it work, what you could use it for, and what was the science behind it.  “Figure it out,” I told them.

As I watched them explore and experiment, I realized this mat was much more than something to elicit my students’ curiosity.  It was a way to teach them what scientists do.

Students first keyed in on the fact that the texture of the surface mattered.  They decided to try to lift a desk.  The surfaces of our desks are very smooth; we use them as whiteboards.  They could lift the desk a little, but not very far.

Deciding that it was because of the smoothness of the surface (as opposed to the weight of the desk), they decided to try something a bit rougher.  Success.  A rougher surface seemed to work better.  The fact that the second object was lighter was not obvious to them.

Next, they decided to try the hallway floor, given that it is concrete and supposedly rougher.  Obviously, they were not trying to lift the floor, but rather to see how hard they needed to pull on the mat before it came loose.  The floors in our hallway are sealed, which makes them relatively smooth.  This meant that the floor in the hallway did not give much more information about how the Atmospheric Mat worked.

20160908_144339_015-animationTo get back into the room from the hallway, students needed open the door.  Why not see whether the Atmospheric Mat had the ability to open the door?  This trial was followed by hoots and yells as the door opened.20160908_143903

This prompted a huge influx of questioning.  Students tested the mat on the wall.  They tested it on the board.  They tested on their iPads (which did not work, because the iPads are too small).  Would they reach a point where the surface was too rough?

Each test gave additional data which led to additional questions about how and why the Atmospheric Mat works.  They even tried using it upside down, expecting that it would behave like a suction cup.

As you can see, this is an incredible tool to study forces and atmospheric pressure… and more.  At some point, I’ll bring up the fact that there are no “sucking” forces in science. We’ll figure out together that the roughness of the surface isn’t what makes it hard to pull off an object.  That’s it’s atmospheric pressure. But for now, the Atmospheric Mat is a tool that I’m going to continue using to ignite my students’ curiosity.  I’m going to let my students explore it for as long as they want.  Their exploration won’t be driven by me; their curiosity will be what drives them.

At the end of the day, when it was time to stack our chairs, one of my students asked me if she could use the Atmospheric Mat to lift her chair onto the top of the pile.  “Give it a try,” I said.  She was delighted when it worked and worked very well.


“Hey, Mrs. Foote,” she said after the chairs were stacked, “I feel like a scientist today.”

“You are!” I told her.  And it was all due to the Atmosphere Mat that I put on the curiosity table.


This is What Awesome Looks Like


Anyone who knows me at all knows that my most precious resource is not my money. It is my time. Given time I can make more money. But I cannot make more time.

That’s why it’s critically important that things are streamlined for me as a teacher. I want to spend my time focusing on kids – on their strengths and on their areas that need work. I don’t want to spend my time trying to figure out how to take attendance or how to put in grades or how to make assignments available to them.  I want to spend my time working with kids.

At my current school, my technology situation is doable; it would be great if it were streamlined. I have one HarriedEmployeeprogram  I use for grades. I have a learning management system that’s completely separate from my grade program.  I have a class website using a third system.  When I post an assignment, I have to post it on my class website, upload the document in two separate places on a daily basis. There’s my learning management system. It’s great and I love it! But it’s one more thing for me to do. I have to make sure I upload the assignments and any resources as well as any links. I seem to spend more time posting assignments than I spend reviewing them.
This summer I went to the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Denver. And I searched for gold. And I searched and I searched and I search. And I actually found it a few times.

20160902_100343I’m a sucker for tee shirts. Especially cool ones with cool sayings. I was walking around the exhibition hall and I noticed a tee shirt that said, “This is what awesome looks like.” I had to have it.  Of course to get the shirt I was going to have to listen to what they had to say. But I’d do it!  Anything to get my hands on one of those tee shirts. But there was another treat. If you got caught wearing the tee shirt, you could randomly select a gift card.  If I’m a sucker for tee shirts, I’m an even bigger one for gifts cards! Especially Amazon gift cards!


I walked into the booth, just to get the shirt. I was skeptical but I listened attentively to their demo. I wasn’t sure that I was the right demographic, thinking that they needed more district level people. I am a classroom teacher. What I heard absolutely blew me away. One place where I could have my grade book, my learning management system, my class calendar, the class website. All. In. One. Place. I began to imagine the time savings that it would give me. I started thinking about the ease of use for students and their parents. I was so excited I could hardly stand it.

That’s what eChalk ( )  is about. It’s the one-stop shop for everything that you need for your class. Want to post homework? Use eChalk. Need to put something on your class calendar? Use eChalk. Grades? eChalk. Tests, quizzes? eChalk.  Have a place to host PLC discussions? eChalk.

I’ve often said if you want to give me a gift, give me the gift of time. eChalk does that and more. It’s hard to believe that it can do all this but it can. I’m eager to give it a try. And I will let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, if you want to know what awesome looks like, take a look at eChalk. They do.

Electricity from Mud?!

When a little kid comes up to you and asks you do science, it’s hard to say no.  But when you’re a science teacher, and that little kid is your granddaughter, you know you have to come up with something fast.

In July that’s exactly what happened to me.  I knew my granddaughter wanted something fun and exciting and preferably messy.  We’ve already done bubbles, gak, slime, chromatography, and helicopters, so what was left?  I had a MudWatt kit (a gift from my friends at Educational Innovations,  So I decided to give it a try.  What a great idea!


To make a MudWatt clock you need some really stinky mud, a kid who’s willing to help and a little patience, because this takes a few days.

Unsure of what type of mud to use (the smellier the better, the instructions said) I chose to gather some mud from our pond.  I know that there are wonderful microorganisms growing in that mud – they are thriving and surviving.  We looked at the pond water under a microscope for a previous science “lesson.”  Since it was teeming with life, I figured it was a good choice. And that proved to be correct.

I was skeptical to find out that you could make electricity from mud.  I had no idea how it worked – or even if it worked.  The user’s guide not only showed me how to set up the MudWatt clock, but it also educated me about why it works.

We used the mud, gloves (which might not be necessary) and set up the clock according to the very clear directions.  I’ll be honest; I was a little disappointed that the light didn’t start blinking immediately.  In some ways I’m no different than my six-year-old granddaughter. I should have read the directions, which explain that it takes 3 to 7 days for it to get going.  When you think about the fact that the exponential growth of microorganisms is required, this timeframe makes sense.

Soon after the red light began to blink and blink and blink and blink.  I quickly downloaded the apps I could see exactly how much power was being generated and how many microorganisms I actually had in that jar of mud.  Every day the blinking gets faster.  The electricity generated gets greater.  And there are more and more microorganisms.

This begs the question about why this is not used as a renewable energy source.  I suppose it’s because the amount of power generated is minute to compare to the amount of mud that’s required.  I’m not a biologist.  I’m a physical scientist, but this really had me very excited.  It’s addictive and fascinating.

In order to run the clock, you have to disconnect the light. That means you can’t use the app to measure the energy. My recommendation? Leave the light on.  Watching it blink faster and faster is addictive – and intriguing.

As a parent/grandparent this is a great tool to use with the kids.  It’s a long-range project so don’t expect results overnight.

As an educator I can’t stop thinking about all the possibilities for this tool.  My students can set these up in series or in parallel.  They can learn about renewable energy sources.  They can discover that there are microorganisms that actually expel electrons (something I didn’t even know was possible). We can learn about dependent variables and independent variables.  We can examine exponential growth – and really big numbers. The possibilities are endless.

If you’re looking for a science fair project, MudWatt is it.  Perhaps you want to test the pH of the soil vs. the amount of energy that is produced.  Perhaps you’ll test that temperature of the soil versus the amount of energy that is produced.  Perhaps you do want to conduct an experiment about series vs. parallel circuits.

I recommend this for parents and grandparents, for teachers and students.  I recommended for the person is hard to buy a gift for.  I’m fascinated with it.  Priced at under $40, it’s a steal.  You can get your own MudWatt here.

I’m so glad that little girl came over and said “Nana can we do some science today?”

Speed Dating + Science = Speed Geeking


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If you haven’t tried speed geeking in your class, you should.  You students will be engaged, communicating, thinking critically and having fun.

Although I teach physics, I have a handful of non-physics learning targets for my students to master.  One of them is “describe factors that allow for survival of living organisms.”  This includes things like beak design and protective coloration.  The final turn-in for the lesson is a drawing and description of their invented animal. I absolutely did not want to spend a day listening to students describe their animals.  That’s where my idea of speed geeking arose.

I split my class in two, labeling one half A and the other B.  They were in teams – with A and B facing one another.  They had to shake hands and introduce themselves to one another (although most already knew their partner). When I gave the signal, person A told person B about their creature. They had 90 seconds to talk.  Then person B talked for 90 seconds.  After that they had one minute for questions.   When they finished, both stood up, shook hands and thanked one another.  Person B moved on to a new Person A.  (Person A stayed in place.) Each rounds takes about 5 minutes.

I can see this being used in all subjects.  Give an even number of math problems.  Person A will teach the even numbered problems, Person B the odd ones.  Writing assignments, projects, timelines, etc. can all be evaluated using Speed Geeking.

How will you use speed geeking?




What’s in a Name?

Want to strike fear, disgust and dismay into the heart of any middle school students?  Tell them that in class today they are going to “do a worksheet” or that you have a packet for them.  Eyes will roll, groans will erupt, and kids will shut down.  According to students, worksheets are boring busywork that teachers assign when they have something else they want to do.  They are useless time wasters.

Except when they aren’t.  Because sometimes they’re not.  Practice is important. It’s not reasonable to expect that a student who has been exposed to an idea only once can sudden apply that idea appropriately in a problem based setting.  It’s not always feasible to have concept application be problem based, although it would be nice if it was feasible.  Sometimes I need my kids to practice.  Not  practice  in a drill-and-kill kind of way, but practice in a simulation, word-problem, answer the question kind of way.  Practice is a – dare I say it? – worksheet kind of more worksheets

But to call it a worksheet is a kiss of death.  So I began to reflect.  Part of this is my National Board Certification mindset, part of it is my natural geekiness for data and rationale, part of it is my how-can-I -get-the-kids-to-eat-their-vegetables mindset.  Why do I need them to complete this practice/application?  What will they get out of it?  If I can justify to myself that it is a valuable use of time (which, by the way, is my most valuable resource), I’ll assign it.  If not, it gets discarded.

I needed to find a way to spin the work – to but a label on it other than worksheet.  The label needed todescribe why the assignment was made and what I wanted to achieve.  I tried changing “homework” to “home fun” for a year.  It did not work for me.  I was not eager to repeat that mistake and I knew I wouldn’t.  Changing homework to home fun only changed the label and not the content.  The stuff was the same.  The difference was what I called it.  (It reminded me of Andrew Clement’s book Frindle.  Nick starts called a pen a frindle, and his friends do too.  It’s still a pen, it just has a different name.)

I decided to call it a “Learning Opportunity” or LO for short.  That’s what it is.  It is an opportunity for a student to learn.  The emphasis is on the LEARNING, not on the working or the keeping busy.  It’s all about learning.

It’s working really well for me.  Students don’t fight LOs.  They don’t roll their eyes.  They don’t moan and complain.  They get right down to work because, after all, they have been given an opportunity to LEARN.

Save Time – Use Plickers


When I went to the ISTE ( conference this summer in Atlanta, I had high expectations.  Extremely high expectation.  Unattainably high expectations.  But I was disappointed.

I’ve always thought that being a teacher was a lot like being a gold miner.  When people first came out west, gold was everywhere.  It was easy pickings.  Now we sift through tons and tons and tons of ore just to find a little nugget (if we’re extremely lucky) or some gold dust.  That’s what it’s like to be a teacher.  A new teacher finds gold everywhere and can’t pick it up fast enough.  But as the years go by, it is harder and harder to find gold.  We search websites, go to conferences, read magazines, books, journals – all in a hunt for our elusive gold.  We usually end up with some gold dust – that’s what makes us keep hunting.  Finding a gold nugget happens will less frequency.

The first ISTE conference I went to allowed me to be a new teacher again.  Gold was everywhere!  The second ISTE was a bit less gold, but I brought back some big nuggets.  This was my third ISTE conference.  No gold.  No gold dust.  Or so I thought.

The last day of the conference, on the day I was taking a 6 hour flight home, I woke up with a terrible headache and a sinus infection.  No conference for me.  As I say in the hotel restaurant with my husband, there were 2 women at a nearby table.  They were obviously teachers (I’ve been told we have a look).  So I started a conversation with them (I talk to everyone).

“What’s your best take-away from the conference?” I asked.

“Plickers,” one told me. “Definitely Plickers,” the second added.

When I asked what Plickers were, they had trouble describing them.  To me they are what you get when you cross clickers with pickers – but with no expense.  They are like clickers in the each students has their own and their answers are tracked (by student).

When I went to the website ( and looked at their explanation, I was hooked.  My gold!  I found my gold!

When school began (we begin early here in the desert) I couldn’t wait to get them in the hands of my students.  My administrator told the teachers that she expected daily tickets out the door – and that we had to keep track of student responses.  With an average student load inching over 150, teacher looked panicked.  Not me. I had Plickers.

A couple of months later – and dozen of teachers trained – I still think that Plickers is gold.  My most valuable resource is my time and using Plickers is like giving me an additional hour or so each day.  I use it for attendance, formative assessments, tickets out the door, to poll the students.  Daily I find additional uses for Plickers.

Because it is both an app and a website it can be a bit confusing.  I made a video on how to set up Plicker and use them.  (  Take a few minutes (OK, a couple of hours) today and get it set up.  By Friday you’ll have your time investment back – and more.

Leave your comments about what you think of Plickers and how you use them.