Saturday, September 24, 2016

Making Progress

After a three-day high school retreat and week-long vacation thanks to the Korean holiday called Chuseok, I was anxious to get things in class back into a rhythm this week. Now that the week is done, I can say with confidence that learning was happening and students are making progress!

I'm still getting used to teaching Biology to 9th graders (as opposed to 10th graders) who haven't yet been exposed to the CER framework or any modeling exercises. For a warm up this week, I asked the students to draw a model (explanation) of what happened in their greenhouse investigations from before break. It was a train wreck. However, it did give me insight into (a) their lack of understanding of what a model is and (b) their shaky conception of the greenhouse effect and its relation to the carbon cycle. What to do? Scaffold, scaffold, scaffold.

So I put everything else on hold for a day and a half, and the students practiced designing models, with help from me along the way. I started with direct instruction and gradually released the task to them. They probably created close to ten models in the course of 2 class periods. Afterwards, I assessed them again with a warm up: "Diagram a model of how rice cooks." (I wanted something that all students were familiar with and wasn't overly complicated. The results were amazing. One student drew the steps for how rice cooks instead of an explanation, but was able to make corrections once prompted. Otherwise everyone was on target. Whew.
Practice models for the Greenhouse Investigation. Getting better!
AP Biology students finished their first CER poster session this week. I didn't want to assess their posters this time for 2 reasons: They created the posters in groups, which makes individual assessment tricky, and with this being their first attempt at this type of work, I felt it would be unfair to penalize them while they're still novices. Instead, I required the students to complete peer reviews on each others' posters. My classes have had a less than stellar track record with peer review in past years; students don't take it seriously and/or they just aren't very good at assessing work. These AP classes, however, did some great work. I gave them the rubric below to record their assessment. For most of the students, their feedback matched mine almost exactly. I was especially focused on their understanding of statistical analysis (Evidence) and natural selection (Reasoning) and very happy with the outcome.

By the way, I designed this CER on a real-life data set of lab mice at the University of California, Riverside. The mice were artificially bred to run for long periods of time. I got the idea from this site,, and reworked it a little to make it more CER-friendly. The students developed their own research questions and method of measurement. They were able to incorporate standard deviation and standard error of the mean into their calculations. It ended up being a very robust investigation.

In Environmental Science, students are working through a unit I decided to call "Principles of Ecology." I had them complete a pre-assessment to see what types of Ecology topics they remembered from Biology, and then designed the unit around what they had forgotten. I've wanted to have students build Winogradsky columns for many years, but it never fit perfectly into any of the standards. However, range of tolerance is one of the Ecology topics my ES students are learning about, and the columns fit in perfectly! It was a challenge to find mud from a stream or pond in metropolitan Seoul, but I successfully trekked down to the local canal before school one day and dug up a bunch of sediment. With no buckets or trowels to be had, I used a plastic storage crate my sons keep LEGO in and a soup ladle. I got some strange looks from the elderly Koreans and commuters on the bike/walking trail. The sediment was pretty sandy, so I'm hoping it works okay. The ES students had fun mixing in the newspaper and egg yolk for carbon and sulfur resources. One student had never separated a yolk from the egg white before, so he even learned a new baking skill - bonus!

To model limiting factors, ES students did some "hunting" of yellow, puffball mice with pipe cleaner owls. Kind of reminded me of the "ring the bottle" game I used to see at county fairs. The class will be writing CER arguments based on their results in class next week.

One final accomplishment for the week: I found a bike and rode it to work a couple of times (not on the day when I had to collect canal sediment, though!). It feels good to be getting into a rhythm and feeling comfortable in my new city and new school.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Trip To Singapore

During my first week at APIS this fall, all staff were presented with the opportunity to apply to be on a team of teachers and administrators that would travel to Singapore, visit some international schools, and bring back ideas and inspiration for APIS. The focus of this trip was to be, "personalized learning."

I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of 14 staff members to go on the trip, and at the beginning of September we took off for a 4-day whirlwind visit in Singapore. Two of the days were spent traveling, and on the other two days we visited schools.

The first school we visited was Singapore American School, the focus of this blog post. It's a huge international school with a stellar reputation. However, recently they decided that they needed to start thinking more about the future of education and adapt their instruction to fit 21st Century Learning. Over the course of a year, they sent teachers to many schools around the world to gather information about advances in education, and then a core group of staff members worked together to develop plans, based on what inspired them, for the future of SAS. They are just now in the first years of some of these changes.

Several teachers had conversations with us about the SAS Advisory program, and we also got to see their cutting-edge Early Childhood classrooms. The two initiatives I was most interested in, however, were in the high school. One program that was piloted last year and has been extended to include all Seniors this year, provides time, resources, and mentors for every Senior to complete a "project" of their choice. These projects might be writing and performing a play, starting a business, or completing long-term scientific research. Along the way, the students have classes to support their goal-setting and people skills, but also have some flexibility in their schedules if they need to leave campus for their project.

The other intriguing program we were able to visit was for those Seniors who have already completed all their requirements for graduation and have potentially reached their limit for AP courses. As Juniors, these students can apply to a special group of approximately 20 students who meet as a "class" all day every day to experience a truly interdisciplinary, personalized curriculum. The class has 3 teachers (one ELA, one Math, one Science) who are in the room all day as well, and the students receive various English, Math, and Science credits for taking the course. There are short, direct-instruction sessions for those students who need them, as well as large-group discussions, but there is also plenty of time for students to explore individual passions. The space they spend every day in is pretty amazing too. Check out some photos below:

Central work area. Kitchenette in the back.

Cafe-style booth seating for more intimate conversations.

A glassed-off conference room within the larger room. Plenty of whiteboard space for ideas.

Comfy seating in the conference room.

Project board with standards the students are working on, as well as a timeline for daily goals.
I would love to teach in an interdisciplinary, passion-based, personalized environment like the class I saw at SAS, and I'm excited that APIS is looking in this direction! I feel so fortunate to have been able to visit these schools and see the creative ways they're thinking about education.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Classes Begin!

Week one of classes at APIS is officially done!

Overall, it was a great week and it made me happy to interact with students again. I think the biggest teaching adjustments I will be making this year will be in regards to school culture, not necessarily Korean culture. Like anyone who changes to a different school district, you ask all the questions you can think of before classes start in an attempt to be fully prepared, but you don't completely get a "feel" for the school until the students arrive. Only then do you finally start to get an idea of how things work and what social norms exist. Here are some observations of similarities and differences between week one of classes at APIS and my former school in MN:


  • The first week was HOT! Above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and humid every day.
  • Students not knowing where to go because of schedule changes.
  • New students joining my class rosters each day because of schedule changes.
  • Working out a few small technology kinks: my printer stopped working, the SmartBoard wouldn't connect, the grade book was being temperamental.
  • I spent the first week focused on getting to know my students, building a class culture, and starting to introduce some science practices.
  • Locker issues: Some students don't like to use lockers, some students don't lock their lockers, students with the lockers that are the farthest away from classrooms are stressed.
  • Started the week with homeroom, going over the student handbook.
  • Weekly staff meetings, with snacks provided!
  • Crazy daily schedule changes. Day 1 had shortened classes to fit in an assembly and homeroom.
  • Students and teachers alike excited to be back and happy to see each other.


  • Air conditioning units in each classroom. Thank goodness!
  • Wonderful use of Google Forms for all sorts of administrative needs (facilities requests, technology help, time-off requests).
  • A lunch period of FORTY-FIVE minutes! Can you believe it? Students have time to play soccer, hang out in the library, and get some class work done - as well as eat their lunch. Amazing!
  • No composition notebooks to be found in the local stores. Needed to change my game plan for class notebooks.
  • Using Edmodo instead of Schoology. So far, I'm sorely missing Schoology. (Sad face)
  • Students carry their backpacks (and sometimes multiple other bags) to class. What???
  • Students wear uniforms, which I did experience at a previous private school in MN, but there are so many variations as to what that uniform can be at APIS it makes my head spin.
  • High School students are expected to provide most of their course supplies, such as highlighters, scissors, colored pencils. Ordering classroom supplies is a tricky, time-intensive process.
  • Staff gets together regularly after school to play basketball, ultimate frisbee, and just have snacks in the park. Teachers' families are welcome!
  • Weekly Science Department meetings with the High School principal.
  • I've already received welcomes from the parents of three of my students in response to my weekly email.
  • I get to walk to school and back each day - love it!

I could probably add quite a bit to those lists, but I think you get the general idea. A few photos will help to round out what the experience has been like so far. First, some photos of my classroom. It's smaller than my room in MN, but my biggest class here only has 15 students, so it fits our needs perfectly. After that, a glimpse into some of our "Week 1" lessons. I can't share photos of my students on my blog like I did in the past, but I was able to take some pictures to represent their work this week.

My Desk: Butterfly decals on the wall traveled all the way from MN, as well as the "365 Days of Wonder" book on my cupboard and big, pink Post-It notes tucked against the wall.
Front of the room. Whiteboard space is minimal, so I laminated some white papers to make more writing surface on a bulletin board.
One side of the room. Another item that traveled from MN - my "questions" poster.
Back of the room with my Mindset reminders on the back bulletin board.
Fume hood, storage, and a couple of windows on the final side of the room.
NHS students brought us rice cakes the day before classes started. They're a traditional Korean dessert. I have to say they they are much too starchy for my taste. Kind of like eating very lightly-sweetened, thick, raw bread dough. I appreciated the very kind gesture, though! 
One of the first week activities to highlight teamwork and science processes: LEGO Build. Each group builds a structure with provided LEGOs and writes instructions on how to make the set. Then another team of students gets the exact same LEGOs and has to build the structure based on the instructions. Great student descriptors came out of this activity, such as the importance of seeing something from someone else's point of view and how working on a team can produce more creativity than working alone.
Another "first week" activity to introduce the "Question Formulation Technique." Students did the classic Milk Fireworks Activity with different types of milk. (At least, I think they were different types of milk. The packaging labels were all in Korean, so I had to guess a bit...) The activity was their question prompt, and then they were able to discriminate between open and closed questions through a sorting exercise. Hoping to incorporate even more PBL this year, and the QFT will be integral to that process.
Have started AP Biology with animal behavior in the past, and decided to take that approach again. In MN, I was able to gather lots of pillbugs for this, but although they can be found in Seoul, I couldn't locate as many. So my first idea was to use cicadas, which are amazingly huge and loud here. The local kids can often be found creeping around with nets attempting to catch them. I figured my family and I could capture enough to use in the lab, but we were foiled; we only caught one! So I made some insect traps with local melons and Asian pears. I have been able to capture tons of ants, a few crickets, and a couple of earwigs. The students have been designing some really interesting investigations based on ant behavior. So far, I've been very impressed by their scientific thinking and insight.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Week in Seoul

The Meyer family has been in Korea for over a week, and it's hard to believe how much has happened during this time. I can tell already that I need to be more prolific in my blogging while I'm here, considering that we seem to experience something new every day. To prevent this post from becoming a novella, however, I'm going to try to sum up the highlights in a few areas.

We arrived at MSP Airport around 11:00 p.m. on July 24 and didn't arrive in Incheon until 5:30 p.m. on July 26 (Korean time). We started with a flight to Los Angeles (about 4 hours) and then flew to Seoul from there (about 12 hours). Being stuck in an airplane seat for 12 hours is a form of torture I hadn't previously considered. My feet were so swollen by the time we landed, I almost couldn't fit my shoes on. Positive note: The food was good, especially the bibimbap for our first meal.

Played some travel Scrabble to pass time in the airport.
 Getting Acclimated
Andy, the high school principal at APIS, picked us up in the airport, helped us get my cell phone up and running, and then drove us to our apartment. He lives in the same building, so he was kind enough to go through some of the confusing parts of our apartment for us. The apartment has a lot of appliances/amenities that are digitized, and of course all the instructions are in Korean. Here are some of the digital controls in our apartment: electronic card entry to get into our building, keypad to get into our apartment, washer, dish washer, air conditioner, wine chiller, kimchi refrigerator, electronic lights panel, hot water for appliances, sinks, shower, and in-floor heating, and the bidet. I'm pretty sure I accidentally hit the buttons for the in-floor heating on our first morning here because things were getting pretty warm, but I think I figured out how to turn it off again by pressing some random buttons.

It didn't take long for the boxes we had shipped to arrive. Number one priority for the boys: playing Magic the Gathering.
The morning after we arrived, Jodi, a counselor at APIS, and her daughter, Katrine, stopped by with baked goods and an offer to take us around the neighborhood. We were just about to go out to search for a market, so it was perfect timing. Besides a small grocery store, we also have coffee shops, a bakery, a stationary store, and multiple restaurants in our neighborhood. Oh - and a McDonald's across the street (Dan and the boys have visited - I'm determined to never cross their threshold!). There is a large stream with bike/running/walking trails along it only a few blocks from our apartment, and APIS is less than a mile away. I've been walking there and back every day. It's mostly a residential area, though, with quite a few schools in the vicinity. I've run on the trails early in the morning (to beat the heat), and there are all sorts of people up and active at the same time.

This looks like playground equipment, but it's actually exercise equipment. It shows up periodically along the trails. Older Korean men and women pause along their walks to work out. The boys thought it was pretty fun too!
Stepping stones across the stream.
One of the first things APIS did for all of us new teachers and families was to take us around Seoul on the busses and trains so that we would get practice using the transportation system. I love not having to drive anywhere! Busses, subways, and taxis are all fairly inexpensive, clean, and easy to use. Our first taxi trip was to EMart to pick up some groceries we couldn't find at our local store. Our first bus/subway trip was to Costco. Hoping to travel to IKEA Korea tomorrow.

Keeping Busy
To start the school year, APIS planned three days of Incoming Faculty Orientation and a three-day retreat for all the staff. There were traditional "workshop week" activities, such as going over the school handbook, procedures, and a school tour, however these were accompanied by some pretty amazing additional experiences: Eating a traditional Korean barbecue, a trip to Insadong (an "arts" neighborhood in Seoul), Shabu Shabu dinner, whitewater rafting, dinner at Todai, and a Korean baseball game. The food here has been delicious so far. I'm going to need to do a separate post on all the wonderful dishes we've tried - and the fun Korean snack foods we've discovered. Even the school cafeteria food has been yummy!

The boys have been very open to trying all sorts of new foods - and they've found some they surprisingly enjoy. Egen likes this type of mushroom you can find in a lot of dishes here, and Quinn loves octopus.
Painting ceramic figures - one of the activities the boys did in Insadong.
Dan at Korean barbecue. So many side dishes! You grilled your own meat at the table and then built it into a lettuce wrap.
Eating snacks at the Korean baseball game.
Panoramic of the field.
Hot and exhausted while waiting for the subway after the ball game.
If you can't tell from my descriptions, I am loving Seoul, and so is my family. Despite the heat and humidity, we feel very much at home here, and a lot of that has to do with the warm welcome we've received from the APIS faculty and staff. There is so much more I could write about, but I think it's time to wrap up this post for now. I'm hoping to write future posts about Korean food, my classroom, and my walk to work, so keep checking in!

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Meyer family in our APIS hats.

Starting with this post and continuing for the next two years at a minimum, the content of this blog will begin to change a bit. I originally started "Disciplined Rebellion" as a way to share and organize my thoughts about science teaching. While I'll continue to write about this, I hope to broaden the scope of my topics a bit by sharing stories and reflections from my newest adventure: teaching science in Seoul, Korea.

Since I first became a teacher almost 15 years ago, I've wanted to teach abroad. I traveled internationally in college and realized quickly how little I knew about the world - and that I wanted to keep learning. Luckily, my husband, Dan, feels the same way about exploring the world, so I started researching how I could teach in a foreign country. In the midst of this, we had two children, who we knew we wanted to experience global travel as well, but not when they were too young.

This fall, when my boys were 11 and 8, Dan and I were talking about future opportunities for them and came to the conclusion that this would be the year I'd try to get an international teaching job. We felt the boys would be old enough to remember the experience, and they were starting to need more diverse opportunities than what our small, rural community could give them. Knowing that not many international schools hire teachers with families - and without a teaching spouse on top of that - I figured I'd work as hard as I could on my application this year, see where it took us, and then call it quits if it didn't work out.

I sent all of my teaching credentials to the University of Northern Iowa, which hosts an International Teaching Job Fair every winter. They shared my information with hundreds of schools, and I started getting interview requests from around the world. After a few Skype interviews, the offer I decided to accept was from Asia Pacific International School (APIS) in Seoul, Korea. I am very impressed with the vision of the school and excited about living in Seoul.

So, the Meyer family will be moving across the world at the end of July! Needless to say, the next couple of months will be very busy for us, but I'm hoping to share some of our experiences on this blog. So you might get to learn more about my family and personal life than you have in the past! Once I arrive at APIS, I will see how much they are comfortable with me sharing about my students and classroom. I will continue to blog about science teaching as well.

I'm very excited about where this journey will take my family, and me personally, as an educator. On my last day of classes here in Springfield, I gave all of my students a pair of chopsticks. I told them how I have always wanted to learn how to use chopsticks, but it was hard for me so I never stuck with it. Now that we'll be living in Seoul, I'm more determined than ever to become skilled in the use of chopsticks. So we bought a pair of metal chopsticks for each person in the family, and we've been practicing using them at every meal. It takes me about twice as long to eat my food, and I often get impatient and frustrated, but I'm making progress. I shared this with my students as a metaphor for my hopes for them. I told them to find that "thing" they're passionate about and work as hard as they can to fulfill their goals associated with that thing. It might be difficult or frustrating, but eventually progress will be made. On the chopsticks I gave my students, I attached a piece of paper with this quote:

"If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you." - Fred Devito
I know there will be stressful times in our move to Seoul and adjusting to a new home, job, and culture, but I am looking forward to the challenge and the changes in my own learning that will result.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My Favorite Things, 3rd Edition

Every once in a while, I share a favorite website, book, and podcast that I’ve found useful for teaching science. This article is published in the MnSTA Newsletter and cross-posted here.

Website: HHMI Biointeractive.

If you are a Biology teacher and have not yet explored HHMI’s Biointeractive website, you will be amazed at the amount of information and number of classroom resources you’ll find there. Offering everything from videos to posters to interactive online labs, HHMI is a treasure chest of Biology-related content. Some of the resources I’ve used in my own Biology classes are the Gorongosa Food Web activity, video clips from The Making of the Fittest, the Neurophysiology Virtual Lab, and the DNA Transcription animation, just to name a few. I appreciate that HHMI is constantly updating the content on this website. If you want to receive weekly bulletins with current science news and the most recent Biointeractive resources, you can sign up for their email newsletter, “Biointeractive News.” All of these resources are offered free of charge to teachers.

Book: Biology Inquiries by Martin Shields.

This is an older book that I don’t open up very much any more, but it was the impetus for quite a few inquiry-based activities that I still use in my current Biology class. The book is divided into subject sections, such as “Science as Inquiry,” “The Cell,” and “Science in Personal and Social Perspectives.” For each of these sections, there are a handful of inquiry-based lessons related to the topic. Each activity lists materials, approximate time requirements, and a lesson outline, as well as including copies of any student handouts. In this way, the lessons are ready to go straight out of the book. However, I found Biology Inquiries to be most valuable as a launching point to consider a topic from a more inquiry-based perspective, then designing my own adaptation of the book’s activity. For example, in the “Interdependence of Organisms” section, there’s an activity entitled, “History of a Carbon Atom,” for which students write a creative story about all the different places a carbon atom could travel. I took this idea and transformed it into an outdoors QR code scavenger hunt that introduces my students to the Carbon Cycle, after which they write about their experiences. If you’re looking for a way to infuse more inquiry into your Biology class, this book is a terrific resource.

Podcast: Science Magazine Podcast from Science Magazine.

Once upon a time, I was lucky enough to have a friend with a subscription to Science. He would give me his old issues when he was done reading them. Eventually, he ended his subscription, and my time for reading journals started dwindling. Then I stumbled upon the Science Magazine Podcast, which I found was an even better solution than waiting for my friend’s old copies. This podcast covers current science research from the Science journal articles as well as other additional topics. It’s usually only 20 to 30 minutes long, so I can fit it in during a short commute, and the host of the podcast (Sarah Crespi) often interviews the scientists behind the journal articles. I find this a much more engaging experience than simply reading the article in the standard format. On the most recent episode I listened to, an experiment that used 3D-printed orchids to isolate pollinating preferences was described in such a fascinating way that I’m considering sharing it with my students to prompt discussion about experimental design. If you don’t already use an app to listen to podcasts, you can also download Science Magazine Podcast episodes online at

Sunday, January 31, 2016

My Favorite Things, 2nd Edition

Each month, I share a favorite website, book, and podcast that I’ve found useful for teaching science. This article is shared in the MnSTA Newsletter and cross-posted here.

Website: “PhET Interactive Simulations.”
Many science teachers are probably already familiar with PhET simulations, but I was introduced only a few short years ago, so I’m guessing there are still some of you out there who have yet to be acquainted with this multi-layered resource. At its basic level, the PhET website provides a variety of science simulations from different disciplines, including physics, chemistry, and biology. As a Biology teacher, I’m hoping the designers will continue to bolster the choices in this particular area, but I’ve used the Membrane Channels and Lac Operon simulations nearly every year. Beyond the simulations themselves, there are also activities submitted by teachers linked to each simulation. I was inspired one of these activities to create an inquiry-based “stop-motion” lac operon lesson in my College Biology class. The simulations run best on a PC or laptop, but PhET is in the process of making HTML5 versions of some of their more popular simulations so they are usable on iPads as well.

Book: Remarkable Creatures by Sean Carroll.
Not only is Sean Carroll a Biology rockstar based on the genetics research originating in his lab, but he’s also an engaging popular science author. In Remarkable Creatures, he tells the stories of a handful of individuals whose scientific work has been important in advancing the theory of evolution. Each chapter is dedicated to a different historical figure, from more familiar characters such as Darwin and the Leakey team, to those I had never heard about, like Roy Chapman, whose group discovered the first fossilized “nest” of dinosaur eggs. Research on Neanderthal mtDNA and Neil Shubin’s famous tiktaalik round out the more modern scientific advances at the end of the book. Because each chapter is a stand-alone story, a section of Remarkable Creatures could be easily used in the classroom to supplement a genetics or evolution unit.

Podcast: Big Picture Science from the SETI Institute.

Are you looking for a way to keep up with the newest advances in science, but don’t have enough time to read all the journals? Big Picture Science will provide this for you on a weekly basis, and also manages to translate the research into a cohesive show that is easy to understand, accompanied with splashes of humor. There is a “theme” every week, and each of the science stories in the episode relate to that theme. “Look Who’s Not Talking” was the title of the show I last listened to, with information about the impact of social media on members of the armed services, an interview with one of the programmers for Hello Barbie, and a discussion about various ways people can “disconnect” from devices. If you don’t already use an app to listen to podcasts, you can also download Big Picture Science episodes online at