Hidden Figures: Why lighting other’s candles only brightens your flame!

This movie could not have better timing… minority women rocking it…  I love everything about this movie… but I love the support of women in this movie and it showing girls today that lighting a candle doesn’t diminish YOUR flame.

Keep making this movie number one in the box office. Show all women that we need to support each other.

I have so many favorite parts of this movie. Truth is, nothing beat seeing it with the panel of women, who would not be here if it weren’t for mentors and  people believing in them, in front of our future women stars of STEM. #becauseofthemwecan is the reason we are here. The support of these women, bringing up by each other by a hand up, paves the way for all of us now. We are not diminished by helping each other but we shine brighter by lighting each other’s candle. We cannot do it alone.

Prior to our red carpet viewing of Hidden Figures, panelists  Dr. Stephanie Wright, Velda Jones-Potter, Dr. Sharon Hardnett, and Mariella Juhasz were moderated by Dr. Teri Quinn Gray. My take away message from these inspirational ladies is find your mentor, don’t take no for an answer, and believe in yourself.

I loved the questions our all girls audience had for these women. By hearing the discussion from these group of girls grades 4th through 12th grade, I have hope for our STEM program.

A special thanks to my champion and mentor, PJ Simon, for inviting me and my girls. Thank you to DuPont as always for supporting science education, STEM and women. Thanks to Girls, Inc of Delaware, Delta Sigma Theta, Wilmington, DE Alumni Chapter and of course  NASA for allowing these women to be Hidden Figures no more. Special shout out to Grand Hank who always supports women in STEM.

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Life Changing Professional Development, what positive PD are you doing to change your teaching?

There are moments in our lives when we know we are forever changed for the better. Not very often does a single experience transform a professional philosophy like this one has. I have had the privilege of witnessing the beauty and excellence of teaching in its most pure form.

My professional career as well as my personal life changed forever in 2011. In the summer of 2011, I participated in a program called Classroom Leadership Operative in µ-gravity Discovering Science (CLOµDS) through Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). This program gave teachers a real-life science experimental experience. Moreover, it allowed me to change the way I think about teaching science, modified how I teach students, and then revised how I view professional development and prepare me fully for the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards.

In 2010, I was selected to participate in Department of Energy’s Academies Creating Teacher Scientists (ACTS) program at PPPL. The ACTS program was unique professional development for science teachers because it allowed the groups of teachers to simulate real science in a laboratory setting. The PPPL’s ACTS program then grouped a mentor-scientist with a group of five teachers for the following year’s CLOµDS program. My group of teachers from New Jersey consisted of 2 high school teachers, 2 middle school teachers, one elementary school teacher and one scientist from PPPL. Our group decided to test the effects of microgravity on surface tension. One of the participating teacher’s 4th grade students had asked what happens to soap bubbles in microgravity.

jsc2011e072154A Trip in the ­­­­CLOµDS, what does the engineering process look like as professional development?

One of the most valuable parts of the CLOµDS experience was being able to design a real experiment through the scientific and engineering design process, something I began to notice was not happing in the classroom setting. We were given a challenge to design an experiment to be tested in microgravity. Each group had to come up with an experiment that had not yet been tested under various gravitational conditions. Then the experiment had to be designed in the laboratory setting in one-g and once completed, then packed up and flown out to NASA CLOµDS’s Johnson Space Center and rebuilt and tested in zero-g.

Our first duty was to get our Test Equipment Data Package (TEDP) approved by NASA. The TEDP was an in-depth document that detailed every part of our experiment. It listed all the hazards and how we would contain them as well as all the details of our testing and design process. Diagrams and lists of our design were to be approved here. Being that the teachers were from all different areas of the state, planning often was done via 6 am conference calls starting in January of 2011. Once we had approval of TEDP, we began our build. We designed how we would test it, how we would record our data and how we would meet the parameters of NASA’s flight restrictions. We used different ratios of soap to water (variable). It was to be tested in one-g first (control) then in microgravity. We even had our extra barrier, a Plexiglas case we designed with two camera mounts, because NASA has strict guidelines for using liquids on the flight. We were then able to start building our experiment and testing it. Our lab notebook had to be perfect in order to communicate what our jobs were during this experiment and what was left for the next person since we all couldn’t met at the lab at the same time.

Deputy working out 'kinks'

Deputy working out ‘kinks’

Even after starting to build the experiment, we realized that some of our engineering needed to be redesigned. How do you get uniform bubbles? I found a bubble gun, a toy that one could hand crank out uniformly sized bubbles. We would not have to blow bubbles; the gun would do it for us! A motor was added in place of our hand crank. Subsequently, the bubble gun became the inspiration for our team name, Space Cowboys. There were things we didn’t think about until we were in mid-process of our engineering design:

  • How do you record your data while in flight?
  • How were we going to measure the size of each bubble or record when it bursts?
  • What happens to the excess soap on the bottom of the box?

These were all valid questions that needed to be answered to complete the design process. It took our team the whole seven months to complete to design and build our experiment to be ready for flight.

P1000833Once we arrived at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, we needed to reassemble the experiment in a glove box. NASA let us have about 4 hours to reassemble our experiment in the glove box for the Test Readiness Review (TRR). Our seven months of work with PPPL’s CLOµDS program was riding on passing the TRR. Was our experiment ready for the microgravity flight? As many scientific experiments go, we didn’t plan for everything that could go wrong. We did not think about the position of the gloves in the glove box! Our bubble gun power switch was not easily accessible from where the glove box openings were located. The TRR was our final approval before we were “Go for Launch” with our experiment and we had to fix a problem before we passed inspection. Luckily, we were able to mount the power switch closer to the opening without much adjustment. We passed TRR! We were flight ready.

Flight day was incredible. Seven months of planning for a 90-minute flight. It was a perfect flight: 32 trials- thirty parabolas at zero-g to 1.8 g; one equal to gravity on the moon; and one equal to gravity on Mars. There was one small problem: one part of our experiment broke during the first parabola. A loop came undone during the first microgravity trial. We still were able to achieve some data but due to the harsh conditions of microgravity we were unable to fix the problem mid-flight. The team did not realize until we were in flight that we would not be able to control our own bodies’ movements in micro and macro gravity, let alone try to manipulate small items like screws or string. Luckily, NASA divides the team into two smaller groups, which allows for the experiment to be flown twice. We were able to fix our design flaw and achieve recordable data.

The results were not what we expected. We analyzed the data over the next month. Our claim was that microgravity would have an effect on the surface tension of soap bubbles. Our data did not support that claim. The evidence showed no effect on the surface tension of soap bubbles. We concluded that the fuselage’s pressurized cabin might have had a role in the surface tension not responding to zero-g as we had claimed and that further studies would be needed.

I remember thinking: “Wow, this is real science!” Even with all my years of experience in the science field, I have never been given the opportunity to test an experiment where the outcome was still unknown let alone build the experiment from scratch. We struggled with frustrations of not knowing what would happen or what to expect or even how we were going to record data. I do not do this in my class. We do activities in my class that the students record data from but we all have an idea what the results are going to be. From this experience, I realized we don’t do real science; this needs to change.

Back on earth: PBL begins with NGSS

We, as science teachers, need to create scientists by doing real science, not just from a textbook! This is when This Efficient House, my shoebox project, was born. I wanted to create the same research experience I had for my students. I use project-based learning to teach them real science like I had during our CLOµDS trip. Students work to build a model of an energy-efficient house, a project that was inspired by my experiences that summer. This project replaced a traditional classroom learning activity with open-ended exploration. Learning that scientists don’t always have the answers and that they often revise their experimental design after preliminary tests are done, I wanted my students to experience the same thing that real scientists experience. Often in the classroom, we test a concept, and move on to the next content that our curriculum tell us to teach. Normally, we don’t have time for redesigning or retesting our ideas or concepts because our curriculum is full. Since this project incorporates multiple strands of standards it allows for the engineering design process to happen in my classroom without sacrificing curriculum plus it allows for real scientific research to be experienced in a middle school classroom setting. It is a win-win!

The Shoebox Project allows students at all levels to work through the scientific and design process with success. The students worried about failing, but the goal is to understand that in science there are no failures, just ways that do not work. Yes, the results are not always what we hope. But data is data. It isn’t good or bad, it just is what it is. The students learn that their claims may not be what they had hoped. They learn that their supporting arguments may need to redone but that they will not fail if their data isn’t what they had predicted or had claimed.


Ultimately, students realize that most scientists do not have all the answers, but rather can learn from the process. Certainly, inventors can fail but learn from that failure. These students take this experience and learn not only what real scientists go through on a daily basis but learn that even if their claim doesn’t work, they learned something. Unquestionably, scientists and students learn that what doesn’t work is just as important as what does work. Guess what? This is what the Engineer Design Process is all about! Our group actually lived through the Next Generation Science Standards before they were even released. It turns out we were very prepared for the transition of the implementation of NGSS.

Professional Development, a larger impact

Since attending the CLOµDS program, I learned that not all-professional development experiences are as remarkable and life changing as this one. The CLOµDS experience gave me insight to how science should be taught and a preview into NGSS. In the CLOµDS program, I was the student. I came to that realization that giving me total control over my learning was the best way to learn. During this trip I was the student and then transferred my own learning that first year after the trip to my students on the shoebox project. I learned first hand what PBL was by experiencing it for myself on that trip. From the trip, I learned that project-based learning and engineering design are the way students learn. That was how I learned. Hands-on, student-lead. The CLOµDS program modeled this. I realized there was very little PD going on teaching teachers how to do PBL. Very little PD teaching teachers to let go of direct instruction and have the students lead the learning. The CLOµDS program was the progressive example of professional development that taught me, through modeling PBL, how to do PBL and how to let go of direct instruction by giving me the task of designing an experiment. The CLOµDS program was student-lead learning, the teacher being the student. Project-based learning gives students a problem to solve with some limiting factors. The students do all the research, engineering design and testing. The students take the lead in their own learning during PBL. This has been the best way I know for long term learning, by doing.

CLOµDS inspired me to facilitate professional development sessions and collaborate with other teachers on presenting best practices so they can teach real science through project-based learning too. Since I have started teaching with PBL, the outreach has become national. Teachers and administrators from around the country have participated in my professional development workshops and continuing dialogue for student lead learning. Additionally, I have been asked to present both national conferences and local workshops on PBL. Clearly there is a growing interest in this progressive philosophy of teaching.


Having a project-based learning experience gives students of all academic levels success in the classroom. The students look forward to project days. Students who are labeled “problematic” are often found busy working on the project, free from any discipline issues. My colleagues were afraid to add the engineering standards to their lessons. Not me. I lived the process a few years back and already started adding them to my lessons and units. I love teaching but this overall experience has propelled my career into places I never thought it could reach. Now, I’m a Next Gen pro!



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A shocking surprise! 

Today’s lesson included everyone who wanted to try out the Van deGraaff. One student has many fears and anxiety. He wanted to try it, went back and forth teared up and all…. Finally I said, I’ll do it with you…. I had no idea what that would mean for shocking … Would I shock both of us? None? 

As luck would have it… None was the answer, with in 2 minutes, he said step down… I said I can’t, so we stopped and he got to go by himself… Fear relieved… He can’t wait to do it again. Proud teacher! I love my job.

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I want to #BeLikeBen

So it has been awhile since I blogged. I always want to make it meaningful…

THURSDAY 11/12/15



This is my first NSTA Regional Convention! I’ve been to a few National Conventions but this is my first Regional. AND I’M HERE DOING TWO PRESENTATIONS.

Hey Philly!! IMG_0575


I am meeting so many wonderful people. So many positive people in the field. I miss my students but  will have so much to share with them.

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The first presentation started out as one of those, it was a good idea at the time. I haven’t done my second presentation yet, so we will see if that is the same…


I presented This Efficient House. It is a modified version of the shoebox project. I wanted to do a hands on presentation but I knew it was hard to bring shoeboxes to modify. The bad news was I only had an hour. The other bad news was it was raining. And the next bad news was I had 5 boxes to move about a mile, across a street, up two different elevators… by myself. I did it though.

The presentation was great. The teachers loved it. Of course all my project based learning lessons go back to my zero-g trip. Great PD, life changing. Why it became important to do real science…. everything goes back to that. I can only give my teachers in my class a small portion of that experience. I wish I had more time.

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A Taste of Chicago #NSTA15 #coolscience

The Palmer House Hilton was spectacular. This is the lobby.IMG_7121_2

The convention center was so big it took me 30 min to find one room I was meeting in! This is just one side of it.

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The city of Chicago (at Wabash and Monroe) was empty…. until the parade watchers came out…. starting at 7:30am. These pictures are showing off the L, for elevated train. IMG_7141_2 IMG_7142_2 IMG_7143_2 IMG_7144_2 IMG_7145_2 IMG_7146_2 IMG_7147_2

Our hotel hosted the 2015 Maryland Men’s Basketball team. It was really cool cheering them on as they left for their game (they lost though ).IMG_7148_2


SAINT PATRICK’S DAY – Dyeing of the river green! Don’t worry the dye is safe.IMG_7193_2 IMG_7194_2 IMG_7195_2


The parade revelers made the streets so crowded they had to start closing streets. Our van driver to take us back to the airport had to park a block away and find us. Some travelers missed their flights. It took over an hour just to get out of the city. IMG_7199_2 IMG_7201_2 IMG_7203_2


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Welcome Reception from NSTA’s President

Yes, I got myself invited to the President of NSTA’s Welcome Reception on the first night of the convention. Its how I roll. However I was fashionable late (real late) so the crowd had died down. It was more intimate that way.

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I truly am a group! A #NSTAGroupie


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Oh What A Night! ( and Day) #CoolScience

First full day in Chicago.

DuPont and NSTA sponsored my trip. Everything is first class. This is the lobby and the steps lead up to the Welcome Breakfast from DuPont.

I attended a workshop on science safety as I am now on NSTA’s Safety Board.

Tons of opportunity to learn here.

I did attend a talk and discussion panel.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaking with a panel of teaches. He was inspiring and he listened!! He actually took notes. Very impressive.

What an experience! But….the best was yet to come.

Dinner at the Musesum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Il.

As you know, I flew in zero-gravity with Leland Melvin. He was at our dinner and autographed a picture of us from a few years ago. And yes I’m in the picture…I’m just too short in the photo. 

SaladSurf and turfThe theme was cool science… And we were … And it was…EditAlways learning … Even at dinner


Selfie in front of museumDinner under the planes 

And at the end of the night of coolness… We must say good night…

Again always learning… Leland Melvin told me ( and this is the security guard not LM), I’m taking a wheezie, or is it ‘we’sie? Not a selfie…

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I’m in mid air! Literally. Don’t know where I am except I see frozen water. And I’m in a plane.

I’m pretty excited, I have been sponsored by NSTA and DuPont to attend the National Science Teacher’s Convention in Chicago this year. I have never been to Chicago and rarely fly. I think I over packed…

Frozen lake…. Lake Michigan!

I can’t wait to meet other inspiring teachers and learn new strategies. 

Thanks NSTA and DuPont! 

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Don’t Give Up On Me

I have been affected by things students do and say. I have had many ups and downs of things that happened at school. I had many students with a less than optimum home life. But this was different.

It is hard for middle school students to self-advocate for many different reasons. One, it is hard to do even for adults. Two, they are afraid to ask for help from an adult. Three, they don’t want to be rejected. Recently, a student self-advocated in a way I didn’t expect.

I have a student who is very bright, but not living up to the student’s potential. Typical middle school student. Our team had a student-teacher conference. No improvement. Protocol would move to parent-teacher-student conference. As these things go, the student was upset and we all are working toward helping this student succeed. However, a few days later something happened. The student asked for a private meeting with me. Which meant meeting in my doorway as classes changed periods. This short meeting sent my head spinning. The student just simply stated, “Don’t give up on me.” In all the years I have been in education, I have never had a student say to me, “Don’t give up on me.” Whoa, I couldn’t believe it. Who would give up on a child? I told the student, “NEVER!” I was saddened by the fact that this young person thought that was even a possibility. Some students need more attention or help than others, but never, ever, do we give up. I might get mad. I might be disappointed. But never, ever give up. Ever. I said, “I treat you like I treat my own children (for better or worse), I will be hard on you but I will never give up. No matter how old you are!” Later that day, I came home and cried. I went through the day’s events and really processed what the student was saying. Don’t reject me. Love me for who I am. Help me. Don’t give up on me. Wow, I never want my students to feel that way.

I am grateful this young person felt safe to come to me with this request. Everyone gets what they need. This student is going to need a bit more attention and push. That is ok. It is what this young person needs now. But give up? NEVER!

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I recently had an experience of a teacher’s lifetime. I got invited to my former students’ 20th high school reunion. It was a dream come true. I was able to see ‘my products’! Not many teachers get to see their students long after the students leave their class. I hadn’t seen them in 20 years but recent caught up with a few on Facebook. It was wonderful to see how successful and happy they have become. Although truth: I REALLY enjoyed hearing how my class impacted them. I was their HS Physics teacher. It was early in my career and I profusely apologized for being a new teacher. While I have become a much better teacher now, I still had the same passion back then ( I only know because they told me). They reminded me how I made them feel: important, loved, and I believed in them. How many teachers get this kind of feedback years later? My reflection on this experience, hearing from formers as well seeing them, it was my fuel. It keeps me going. It gives me strength to continue to fight the good fight. To keep being positive, keep getting better. Giving me my WHY.

I haven’t done this alone though. I have had people who have believed in me, people who gave me opportunities to improve or have experiences that few have had. That has always been my initial fuel. My starter. My opportunities to shine.

The past couple of years I have had lots of fuel. My professional career has had many accolades the past few years. I had been facilitating professional development for teachers. I flew in zero-gravity with NASA and PPPL. Only a few teachers are certified to borrow lunar rocks and meteorites from NASA, I am one of them. I became an inventor. I had been selected to present my best practices at the NJ Science Convention as well as be a national presenter at the National Science Teacher’s Convention in Boston this past spring. I had been asked to kick off my school district’s STEAM initiative to the BOE. From these experiences I had been asked to go to Washington DC to help out at the USA Science and Engineering Festival and was invited to attend a teacher workshop week with DuPont to represent an INSPIRED teacher. I am also now going to be facilitating teachers at NJEA’s High Tech Hall during the convention in November. Fuel, all Fuel. Getting more and more opportunities. They all just keep adding fuel to my fire. My desire to keep going. To keep getting better at what I do.

I have additional fuel. My students. They greet me with a smile. They are proactive. They ask questions. They THANK ME for TEACHING THEM. The remind me of my WHY. It doesn’t get any better than that. I always think: TEACH THEM WELL. My Fuel.

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