Tag Archives: MYP Science

Steal This Presentation!

Good afternoon,

Communicating ideas clearly is one of those ultra-important skills critical for successfully navigating school, relationships, jobs, and…well, life in general.

As a teacher, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of sitting through hundreds of excruciatingly, mind-numbingly boring presentations over the past 15 years. Surprisingly, many of those were generated by educators, myself included. So many PowerPoints/Keynotes/Slides were little more than text on a wall. So many class presentations involved students standing at the front of the room, back to the audience, reading verbatim from the screen.

As my late grandmother Thelma “Toots” Hayden used to say when my cousins and I were in trouble, “For the love of all that is good and holy, DON’T DO THAT!

Several years ago, Jesse DesJardins‘ brilliant SlideShare presentation, “Steal This Presentation!” came to my attention, and I’ve used it ever since to push students down a more creative presentation path. It’s a great contrast between how most people create presentations and how they should create presentations.

In addition to Jesse’s presentation above, I collected a few rules from a teacher, whose name I have long forgotten, at the American International School of Lusaka, in Zambia. Those rules, which I’ve bullet-pointed below, along with “Steal This Presentation”, comprise my instructions to students every time they have to present to class.

The 10-20-30 Rule: How to structure a presentation for success.

  • Maximum 10 minutes – attention spans aren’t that long
  • Maximum 20 slides – don’t overwhelm your audience
  • Minimum 30 point font – make sure the people in back can read it

The Rule of 6: How to build great slides, engage with your audience, and avoid plagiarism.

  • Maximum 6 lines of text per slide – minimize temptation to read the slide
  • Maximum 6 words per line – focus on the most important key words and vocabulary

There you have it – short, sweet, and to the point, just like a presentation should be!

Happy learning!

Reflections on Genius Hour for Science

Good morning.
In response to an email I received from alert reader Tamara Gonzalez at the Baldwin School of Puerto Rico, I’ve been reflecting on the Genius Hour projects my students have completed over the past decade. Today’s post outlines how I structured Genius Hour to maximize student learning, facilitate meaningful feedback during the creative process, and minimize the stress of overseeing several dozen individual projects simultaneously.


My first attempt at a Genius Hour-like project was for the AP Physics and grade 9 general science classes I taught at The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) in DRC. I’ve also run a Genius Hour for my MYP science students in grades 8, 9, and 10 here in Tanzania. In all of these classes, I’ve had the luxury of teaching in 85- or 90-minute blocks meeting on average 3 times per week. In general, students have had at least one full 9-week term to complete the project so that students complete four Genius Hour projects over the course of a school year. A couple of times my team and I elected to give students more time, so that they completed 2 or 3 projects during the year.


I ran 2 Genius Hours with the AP physics class: a projectile motion project in the 1st semester and a Rube Goldberg project during the 2nd semester. The objective of the projectile motion project was to design and build a trebuchet, catapult, or ballista capable of hitting a 1-m² target with a 1-kg projectile from a distance of 50m. I introduced each project at the start of the term with interim due dates every 2 weeks and a final due date in the last week of term. Students had “normal” lessons (notes, problem solving, lab practicals, quizzes and tests) in blocks 1 through 4, with every 5th block dedicated entirely to work on the Genius Hour project, when I’d conference individually with each student. The Rube Goldberg project had a similar structure, but the objective was to have 5 distinct steps from units other than those covered in the projectile motion project. In addition to the dedicated block every other week, students had access to my classroom every day after school so that they could work on their designs as needed. Students were also encouraged to work on their projects at home and film their work as evidence of progress.
For the MYP classes, I’ve made extensive use of Google Classroom and Drive to monitor students’ progress. I wrote and shared the Genius Hour task instruction sheet with view-only privileges. Then I created a color-coded organizational document, which I shared with the “make a copy for each student” option in Classroom. The organizational document is an easy-to-follow repository of information at all phases of the project, from brainstorm to publication, where the student completes formative tasks and records progress toward his or her final goal. Work is not lost or misplaced, and because it is a shared document, I can monitor each student’s progress and verify whether they’ve met interim deadlines.


I collaborated with our librarian so that my students were always in the library during that 5th block dedicated to Genius Hour. The first few library sessions incorporated her lessons on research, plagiarism, and citation skills, with students using my organizational document to keep notes and record progress toward their final product. During the GH-dedicated block, I opened every student’s organizational document and used it to guide a 3-minute individual conference about his or her project, during which I added comments to the document so that they’d have a written record of my feedback. This arrangement meant that every student received both verbal and written individualized feedback from me at least 4 or 5 times before the final product was submitted, and because of the commenting feature of Google Docs, they could ask questions at 1am if that’s when they were working on it.


Overall the quality and depth of student work was far superior to anything I’ve gotten via other projects or assignments, enough that Genius Hour has become a central feature of my teaching. The first time my team submitted student work for MYP moderation, our scores were moderated down because the projects weren’t all standard essays or research papers – we submitted videos and podcasts as well as traditional papers – but I view that more as a reflection on the IBO’s rigidity around moderation samples rather than on the quality of student learning. In subsequent years we figured out that it was best to only submit the essay/research paper products, and the moderation marks were fine.
That’s a bit of a rambling analysis, but it touches on most of the major questions I’ve had while discussing Genius Hour with other educators.
Happy learning!

Science Apps for Your Smartphone

I just stumbled across this Slideshare presentation by Stephen Taylor, and I think it’s a fantastic resource. He’s done all the research and written succinct explanations, so I won’t try to improve upon his work. There’s something in here for students and teachers of almost every discipline.

Thank you Mr Taylor!

Celebrating Women in Astronomy

In honor of International Women’s Day, I am focusing today’s lessons in grade 8 science on the many contributions of women to the field of astronomy.

We start with an overview, courtesy of The Woman Astronomer, with stories of women from Hypatia of Alexandria and the “Harvard’s Computers” to Debra Fischer and Jill Tarter. Students will examine how these women have influenced our knowledge of the heavens throughout history.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific also has a nice collection of short biographies about women who have contributed to the field of space science.

Then we’ll wrap up class with a showing of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos episode titled “Sisters of the Sun,” in which we explore not only the structure of the Sun and other stars, but the stories of Annie Jump Cannon and Henrietta Swan Leavitt.

Remember, every person on Earth owes his or her life to a strong woman – Mom!

Thursday Science News Update

It’s been a few days since I’ve posted here, due in large part to a hectic work week as I still settle into the new school year. In words from my 12-year-old son describing the start of his year, “When you get hit by a train, it’s not the caboose that kills you.” I’m sure he got that from a book somewhere, but I don’t which one.

Today is just a quick update on some of the news stories I’ve been following this week, a few of which I’ve tweeted out @bradleymkremer.

“The history of life on Earth is a history of extinction.” These are the words that summarized Discovery’s article asking “How Advanced Are We Earthlings?” It examines the interaction of how civilizations need time to develop and evolve, much like living organisms.

We haven’t seen any Ebola here in Tanzania, but this is a story I’ve been following with some interest for the past few weeks. I’ve had a bad feeling for a while now that this outbreak seems to be bubbling and simmering long enough that it will elude containment efforts, and it seems that there are a number of public health officials who feel the same way. Here’s the story from National Geographic.

A paper was just published in Nature Communications (subscription required, or pay-per-read), outlining how some researchers have developed bacteria to synthesize propane, essentially creating the possibility of renewable petroleum product. It sounds like a paradox, but is worth investigating further.

So that’s my news summary of the day. I’ll try to get back with some more video resources in my next post.

Happy learning!