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Sunday, January 14, 2018

My science site

Prompted by an invitation to run an after-school science workshop at my local school, I decided to revisit and revise my sccience site, created around 2013.

Take a look when you have a moment - just google Johnpaullsciencesite  and it should appear on your screen.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Motivation protocols

‘Curiosity is the cure for boredom.   There’s no cure for curiosity.’

                Dorothy Parker.

Arousing curiosity - to motivate and engage your classroom community

  • About motivation,
  • a motivation teacher checklist,
  • examples of motivation and engagement protocols/strategies.

About Motivation

Motivation is critical for learning, Learning does not take place without a motivational event. (Girmus, 2008).

Motivation has been divided by education researchers into two components, intrinsic and extrinsic.

  • Intrinsic motivation represents the inner drive or passion students have to excel in class.

  • Extrinsic motivation represents the drive to achieve rewards, such as colored stickers or candy.

There’s a consensus that both play a motivational role in classroom settings.

This booklet concentrates on intrinsic motivation and describes a variety of strategies (aka protocols) that I use to engage students in the processes of learning.

‘Every classroom, like every community, has its own
distinct culture, values and rules.

By building a community in the classroom, teachers create
a common and predictable
cultural experience that helps students feel connected to others. A community is a place where individuals share
common values, goals and activities. In communities,
everyone does not do the same thing at the same time,
but groups work together to achieve common goals.

A community is a place where social bonds are
established and individuals can flourish.

(Bredekamp and Rosegrant, 1992)
First, a Motivation Checklist

(After Girmus, 2008, adapted 2010)

The classroom environment




Books and other resources for learning

Are the classroom books and resources well displayed and accessible?

Is there is a wide range of topics and levels of difficulty?


Is student work prominently displayed?

Do bulletin boards feature the current lesson focus?

Classroom furniture

Are the tables and chairs well placed for student collaboration, allowing easy access to all resources?

The classroom’s atmosphere




Positive atmosphere

Are the students welcomed at the door?

Is the atmosphere warm and respectful?

Conveys expectations

Does the teacher enjoy being with students and want them to succeed?

Does the teacher expect students to learn, achieve and work well with each other?

Do the students know the classroom expectations – and those for  behavior?

Conveys effort and participation

Does the teacher emphasize the importance of  student effort and participation?

Conveys collaboration and support

Does the teacher emphasize the importance of working with and for each other?

Conveys encouragement

Does the teacher provide consistent encouragement for good behaviors, learning successes, and classroom helpfulness?

Does s/he provide immediate and constructive feedback?

Encourages risk-taking

As making mistakes is part of learning, does the teacher encourage students to take chances?

Encourages persistence and independence

Does the teacher discuss the importance of persistence in accomplishing learning goals?

Models interest and enthusiasm

Does the teacher share genuine interest in

learning and academic matter?

Student choice

Are there opportunities for student choice in learning?


The teacher…….




Attention to school work

Communicates its importance. Checks and corrects all schoolwork.

Encouragement of student understanding and reflection

Monitors student understanding. Encourages self-correcting.

Clear directions, goals and objectives

Gives clear directions and sets realistic goals and objectives. Communicates the value of learning.

Concrete activities

Uses hands-on activities, encourages students to create and explore.


Relates lessons to other lessons and the real world.

Collaborative learning

Uses collaborative learning strategies.

Critical thinking

Helps students to develop critical-thinking skills by modeling and explaining.

Curiosity and suspense

Stimulates curiosity and builds suspense by using authentic engagement strategies


Uses games/playful activities

Home-school connection

Communicates with families and integrates them into the learning experience when possible.

Lesson Planning

Is well planned and organized. Uses manipulatives/artifacts to teach lesson concepts. Scaffolds/models to assist struggling students.

Stimulates cognitive and creative thought

Provides lessons that promote higher-level thinking  - encourages students to be creative.

Value of education emphasized

Communicates the value of learning and how it can impact the quality of one’s life

Classroom management

The teacher……




Appropriate pacing

Monitors the pace of lessons for students with differing abilities.

Classroom adult helpers

Has parents and other adult helpers  to assist all students

Classroom rules

Has clear and negotiated classroom rules posted for all to see.

Explains decisions

Discusses reasons behind activities, rules, procedures and routines.

Intrinsic motivators

Has a range of strategies to introduce the day, the lesson, the activity.

Group work rules

Has students working in groups, have assigned roles.

Positive management strategies

Uses positive, constructive and consistent  management strategies.

Consequences are appropriate.

Devises rules, procedures, policies and routines that provide smooth transitions between activities/lessons.


Provides mechanisms for students to monitor their own learning and transition independently between activities/lessons.

Learning is social.

We inevitably learn through and with others, even though what is finally understood is our own mental construction (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 1999).

Cooperative Learning…..………

transforms the classroom from a collection of individuals to a network of groups. That alone alters the social structure of the classroom from one of being an audience (collection of students) focused for long periods of time on the performer (the teacher), to a social system comprised of interacting groups.              (Shlomo Sharan)

                   ABOUT JP’s PROTOCOLS

I’m privileged. For over 14 years I regularly visited
40 classrooms in 14 schools and worked with
over 400 aspiring teachers and master teachers.
I saw how they built involved and motivated
communities of learners through a range of
authentic and engaging activities and rituals
while teaching a content-based curriculum.
I saw how they valued students’ interests and
passions, and I saw how the teachers created a classroom ethos that encouraged students to
work collaboratively.

These teachers:

  • Know that it’s important to capture student interest and involvement by beginning a teaching session with an engaging story or activity that may model the key point of the ensuing lesson.
  • Know that students ask questions about stories, artifacts, and activities that interest them.
  • Know authentic discussion and inquiry are fun and enjoyable; and it matches what we know of how students learn
  • Know that most students have a need to chatter about what they see – as talking, it seems, aids their understanding.
  • Know that such interactions encourage students to collaborate with each other, AND have a settling, brain-break effect.
  • Know that an atmosphere of learning may be achieved by encouraging students to bring things into the classroom and talking about them during meeting time.
  • Know that once students are involved practically, group/class discussion will usually raise new and interesting problems, so that one inquiry leads to another, and the work continually develops.
  • Know that when students use their own efforts
to discover for themselves, the flash of
insight     seems to give them special satisfaction, which affects their attitude towards other activities.
  • Know that writing is a process better understood by students if there’s a real point to it.
  • And, they know that displaying students’ pictures and words around the classroom completes the record of ‘work’ done and acts as a reference, a resource, and a stimulus for others.

When I teach, whatever the age-range of students sitting in front of me, I
I set up the tables and chairs (4 students on each table), set up and fill a science/curiosity table with fossils, minerals, plants, whatever I’m currently into, and greet each student at the classroom door with a handshake, telling them to sit wherever they wish.

I then ask them to bring their chairs/sit on the floor around me, and I introduce myself and begin right away to use a protocol I call Picasso in a bag……….I also have something in my pocket (usually in a tin) to show my students, for example, a rock that I have found). I show it and I talk about it – where and when I found it.

This, and other strategies, help my students unwind and feel comfortable - and help me engage and build my community of learners.

I also use curiosity arousal protocols as frequent ‘brain-breaks’ and to:
  • create group activities that  involve everyone;  
  • ease transition from one activity to another;  and to
  • focus attention on the seminar/lesson/session ahead.

This booklet describes some of these strategies.
Some are specific to the start of the day or to various parts of a presentation or lesson; some provide a focus for group activity, or to celebrate and close our time and our work together.

You may find them helpful in your teaching.  I certainly hope so. Please feel free to adapt and adopt.    JP  

                    JP’s PROTOCOLS
Picasso in a bag!!

I heartily recommend this protocol as something to use at the beginning of a new academic year. I use it with all ages.

It’s easy to resource and easy to put in action. All each student needs is a large paper bag, a marker pen, and a small piece of white paper.

So, after greeting each student at the door, we sit and I model the process by putting my white paper inside the bag. Holding my pen in hand, I rest it on the middle of the paper and let the bag cover my hand. Then I look at a person next to me, and without looking inside the bag, I proceed to draw his/her face.

When I’ve finished, I ask the students to look at the person closest to them and do what I did – draw the person’s face, resisting the temptation to look in the bag! The room goes quiet as the students draw, and then erupts into laughter when the results are shared.

The drawing then becomes page one of each student’s personal classroom journal.

What’s in the OLD OXO TIN?  

This is my favorite protocol, one I use at the beginning of another year’s work with a new class of students, either in a classroom or a science workshop setting, following the Picasso in a bag activity.

It’s aimed to tell my students a little about me and my interest in science.

When everyone is seated in a circle around me, I slowly take an old tin from my pocket.

I open it ………slowly. Inside is a small pebble I found many, many years ago. It’s my wishing rock.

I put it in the palm of my hand.
Using my softest voice, I tell the class why it’s important to me.

I then close my eyes and send everyone in the class the BIGGEST wish!

At the end of the day, I give each student an empty tin (usually an old, rusty one) to take home and fill it with an artifact that has a story. I call the tins pocket museums.

The next day each student shares what’s in their tin, first with a small group, then, if appropriate, with the whole class. Then they place them on the curiosity/science table for all to see.

********  Tins have many other uses, too, and can be great mini shadow boxes, displays and/or pocket museums.


When I’,m out and about and spot a cottonwood tree, I pick up a handful of dry cottonwood twigs and break them at the growth scar. If I’m REALLY lucky, I find a beautiful star inside the twig.

I then collect as many twigs as I can and bind them in threes and give them to my students, telling them the Native American legend that all stars in the sky come from the earth below our feet.

I tell them how I’m looking forward to everyone shining like a star!!  

The Secret of the Star…..

Some Native Americans believe all things come from Mother Earth. They believe that stars form in the earth and search for the roots of the magical
cottonwood trees.
They finally come to rest in the small twigs at the end of the cottonwood branches. Here, they wait.................until they are needed. When the Spirit of the Night Sky decides that she needs more twinkling, beautiful stars, she calls on the Wind Spirit to shake all the cottonwood trees.
The Wind Spirit blows and blows, and as the cottonwood twigs break off, the twinkling stars are released and race up to a special place in the
Night Sky.

If YOU want to add a new star to the night sky, find some dry cottonwood twigs, wait for a clear night, and hold up your twigs to the sky - and SNAP!   
Then, look up into the night sky again.
Can you see YOUR star twinkling?

Imagine -   you have added a beautiful new star to the night sky kingdom.....


I start this first-thing-in-the-morning protocol by putting my very special piece of amber inside what I call a treasure box. When my students are sitting in a circle around me, I open the treasure box and take out my amber. I tell them its story, how I found my amber on the beach when I was five, and, at the end of the day, I invite my students to bring in something special to them and place it in the treasure box which is placed on a table I call a CURIOSITY TABLE.

At our next meeting/circle time, they take out their ‘treasure’ and tell the class about its history.


I often began a Monday morning class by asking:  “Does anyone have anything to share? I do………”

I usually take the lead and I tell them what happened over my weekend.

Someone always has an experience to share that draws everyone’s attention.

FILTERING out all those thoughts

Students come to classes with a lot on their minds. They need time to transition from there to here or here to there.

I often ask my classes to take no more than ten minutes to write some of their thoughts on a filter paper, and thus filter out what’s going on inside their heads.                                                          

Each student writes on his/her filter paper and then shares with another person. When the time is up, it’s time to move on with the lesson.


I use blank index cards for a variety of community-building strategies - and for data collecting. I also use the cards for literacy.

My thinking/writing/feedback prompts for using the blank cards include:

  • What I don’t want to write about………..
  • What I like and what I dislike
  • My fears and my hopes
  • What I want and what I got
  • I liked this lesson because…………………..
  • I didn’t quite understand …………………..

Picture Postcards            

I collect pictures from newspapers that
I think are interesting and provocative. Sometimes I use them in class to provoke discussion.

I also collect interesting black and white art cards from a local bookshop.

I give each student and ask:
Can you think of a caption?

The students share their captions with a


Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times has a science section. My wife, Jeannine, glances through the science section over breakfast, choosing one topic to share with her students during classroom science time.

She tells me how that motivates scientific discussion and science activity with her students.


Here are some powerful team-building ‘hands-on’ activities for all ages of students.

I challenge my class to work in groups of two to use the materials supplied (sheet of cardstock, strips of paper, adhesive tape, and a marble) to build a marble run.

I challenge my students to:
  • Make a vertical marble run.
  • Make a vertical marble run that takes 20 seconds for the marble to complete its travels.

BUILD a BRIDGE from newspaper

I supply a complete Sunday New York Times for each group – and a roll of tape.

I challenge my class to work in groups of four to build a paper bridge that links two tables together AND is able to support the weight of a brick at its center point.

BUILD A TOWER as high as you can from 6 sheets of typing paper – and a roll of tape!

Can it support a glass of water at the top?

Sometimes I leave 10 cards in the middle of each classroom table. I challenge the class to build a structure as high as they can WITHOUT tape! I end each of these team-building activities with a discussion focused on:

‘What team roles did your group use to respond to the challenge?’

Use a blank index card to make
the world’s SMALLEST boomerang!

I give every student 1 index card and a pair of scissors and challenge him/her to make the world’s smallest boomerang!
I also give them these instructions/guidelines:

Cut out a 1” square from one of the file cards

Draw and cut out a small boomerang
             Use the other card as the launching platform.

Balance the boomerang on the edge and flick with your finger.

And the challenge?

Can you get the boomerang to return and land on the  launching pad?


I collect chicken wishbones. I clean and bleach them in hydrogen peroxide. I use them to make wishes for the group’s success in working together, and bring closure to the protocol by telling my students about the scientific interest in chicken wishbones:

The FURCULA is the V shaped bone that we call the wishbone.  Discoveries of the last few decades have shown that the wishbone is a characteristic of bird-like dinosaurs (theropods), thus a major link to the modern bird.
CAPTURE the MOMENT                 
This requires some creative thinking!  
Quarter fill a plastic bottle with water. When your classroom is buzzing with students involved in some inquiry, stand in the middle of the room.
Turn the bottle upside down over a bowl. Take off the top. As the water runs out, the air and the atmosphere of excited learning rush in!
Think about what you’ve done. You have captured the time and the moment, the smells and the sounds……forever!


I tell this familiar story to teachers to illustrate the impact they have on their students.

Resources:  A small sea star pin for each student.

‘One bright morning, just as the sun was peeping over the horizon, an old man walked across a sandy beach. Looking across the beach, he spotted a young man running towards the waves and throwing something into the deep blue sea…………..

He watched the young man turn, bend over, and pick up a stranded sea star and throw it as far as he could into the sea………..

The old man gazed in wonder as the young man, again and again, threw more small sea stars from the sandy beach to the sea. The old man walked up to the young man and asked him why he spent so much energy doing what seemed a waste of time……….

The young man explains that the sea stars would die if left in the bright morning sun………

‘But there are thousands of miles of beaches and millions of sea stars. How can your efforts make a difference?’
The young man looks down at a small sea star in his hand, and then throws it to safety in the sea…………….

‘Well, sir,’ he said, it sure makes a difference to that one……………’


I tell my students about the two teachers - one when I was five, the other when I was grown up - who shaped my life, how they influence what I think, and how I teach today.

I then ask them to write on a card their memory of their favorite teacher.

I close the protocol session by reading John Steinbeck’s description of one of his favorite teachers, Like Captured Fireflies

In her classroom our speculations ranged the world.
She aroused us to book waving discussions.
Every morning we came to her carrying new truths, new facts, new ideas cupped and sheltered in our hands like captured fireflies.
When she went away a sadness came over us,
but the light did not go out.
She left his signature upon us, the literature of the teacher
who writes on students’ minds.
I’ve had so many teachers who taught soon forgotten things
but only one like her who created in me a new thing, a new attitude,
a new hunger.
I suppose that to a large extent I am the unsigned manuscript of that teacher.
What deathless power lies in the hands of such a person.                   


A teacher I know uses this protocol at the beginning of a new calendar year. The Japanese paper crane is a symbol of hope. This is the instruction:

‘Make your paper crane and write all of your secret dreams and wishes for the New Year on the white side of the paper.  Include the names of people you love and want to remember. 

  • When you fold your crane, your secrets will all be safely concealed inside.
  • Light each crane with a match, and drop into an empty flower pot or fire proof container.  Because of the special dyes in origami paper, the flame will sometimes burn in unusual colors (bright blue or orange).  It can be quite beautiful!                
Keep the burnt crane in a glass jar (burned origami paper keeps its shape).

Note: Paper made specifically for origami can be found at most craft stores.


Which protocol did you like best?
Will you try it out in your classroom?

If so, I’d like to hear how it went – if it helped you build community in your classroom.

Email me with your comments and observation – and ideas for more protocols!!