STEM Education and Making Learning Meaningful with Chanel Johnson (Ep 44)

January 11, 2021 / By

Chanel Johnson lives in Atlanta as a Science Specialist and Tech integration coach for a school district in Atlanta, Georgia. She has served countless students and educators since 2009, focusing on the areas of math, science, instructional technology, and coaching. Chanel believes in the power of community and collaboration through being a part of countless professional learning networks often sparked from social media platforms such as Twitter. She has presented at numerous national and local conferences, served as an ASCD’s Emerging 2019 Leader, MIEE, Flipgrid Ambassador, etc. On a personal level, Chanel is a proud wife to her husband, Martin. Mother to three kids ( a pre-teen, a set of wacky twins, and a new fur baby! You can follow Chanel on Twitter as @DC_STEMtastic.

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Transcript

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Welcome to the Deeper Learning with WeVideo podcast. I am Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad, on the show today. We have Chanel Johnson. Chanel Johnson lives in Atlanta as a science specialist and tech integration coach for a school district outside of Atlanta, Georgia. She considers herself a STEMinist. She has served countless students and educators since 2009, focusing on areas of math, science, instructional technology, and coaching Chanel believes in the power of community and collaboration through being a part of countless professional learning networks often sparked from social media platforms, such as Twitter.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: You can follow Chanel on Twitter as @DC_STEMtastic. She has presented at numerous national and local conferences served as an ASCD emerging 2019 leader, Microsoft innovation expert, Flipgrid ambassador, and so many other professional organizations she belongs to, on a personal level. Chanel has a proud wife to her husband, Martin mother to three kids, a preteen, a set of wacky twins, any new fur baby she says. Chanel was such a fun interview, she has such a wonderful spirit, and we talked about a lot of things and really focused on the importance of STEM education and making learning meaningful. I hope you enjoy the episode.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Chanel, it is so wonderful to have you on the podcast. Thanks for being a part.

Chanel Johnson: Thank you, Nathan. I’m so glad to be here today. How’s your day going?

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Oh my goodness. It’s going so well, it’s a beautiful winter day of five degrees here in Maine and you’re in Atlanta right now. So it’s I’m guessing a little warmer than it is here.

Chanel Johnson: Yes, It’s 51 degrees right now and it’s sunny [inaudible 00:02:00] .

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Toasty. That’s what we call a nice summer day here in Maine.

Chanel Johnson: Oh, this is a [inaudible 00:02:06] day

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And before we start recording, we were both talking about how we have very similar processes for podcasts. We make sure we have our hot teas going. So I currently have my hot tea here, I go back and forth between the throat coat tea, because I don’t have a sore throat, but I feel like it’s preparing my vocal cords for extended talking. Because I can talk a lot, I also like the one called stress ease and I don’t know if it really minimizes stress or not. I don’t know if I can tell a difference, but I like that one. And then also do just kind of standard peppermint tea enough about mine. What about yours? What are your favorites?

Chanel Johnson: Well, I love a good Green tea with some honey and there’s this wine that I found on Amazon, I found them in little K-cups because you know, it’s like a lemon blueberry green tea. Oh my goodness, it is good.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: It sounds good.

Chanel Johnson: It is good, we ran out of that. I need to order those again. And then of course I’m good hot Apple cider. They come in the little K-cups now. So

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Now when you say the K-cups. It’s like the Keurig machine where you can just pop it in and push the lever down and makes it automatic. It’s like a single serving cup, am I in the right track here?

Chanel Johnson: You got it.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I didn’t know if you’re like the old fashioned connoisseur, where you’re putting in the tea leaves in a French press and you’re adding the boiling water and waiting for the three and a half minutes. So you’re going the easier, innovative route which I appreciate. Because we got a lot of stuff going on. We don’t have time to wait around.

Chanel Johnson: Yeah, and you know what? I’m really trying to be careful about them because just thinking big picture of the recycling piece of it.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I think that’s wise yeah.

Chanel Johnson: So I don’t think they’re biodegradable and it becomes that challenge of doing what’s convenient versus what’s good for the earth. So I’m trying to reduce it and get to back to boiling my water on the stove.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: There you go.

Chanel Johnson: And I will honestly say it stays hotter when you do it that way versus coming out of the Keurig machine.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yes, definitely. I’m kind of old school with, with coffee. I do mine, I grind the beans up the night before and then in the morning I boil the water and then I use a French press and I set my timer for three and a half minutes. Well, I think it is, I don’t know, it’s probably way too much thinking to do in the morning, but I get really excited about my coffee and I have to have the same kind of coffee. And it’s my thing, I don’t know. Are you a coffee drinker?

Chanel Johnson: No, I am not. I’m really just a tea and Apple cider girl, but I will say this, every time I go to Starbucks and I don’t know if you’re a Starbucks drinker, I get anxiety when I go there and I have found that one drink, which is the white chocolate mocha. And that’s the only thing I’ve ever had it from there.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Well I feel like the green tea is a much healthier choice than the white mocha frappuccino.

Chanel Johnson: [inaudible 00:05:44] Naughty.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Well, it’s interesting. So you mentioned being very aware of the environment and recycling and I was so excited to connect with you because I saw that you are a STEM expert, and interestingly enough, you put on your Twitter bio, you’re a STEMinist, and of course I was guessing what that could possibly mean. So I have to ask you what is a STEMinist?

Chanel Johnson: Absolutely.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: And how can I become one?

Chanel Johnson: You can be whatever you want to be in your heart.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I appreciate that, thank you Chanel.

Chanel Johnson: You’re welcome, you can be whatever. But STEMinist, this is actually a word coined from a really good friend of mine. Her name is Patricia Brown and she’s @msEdtechie on Twitter. And she’s a STEM specialist as well, and she coined that word. And I remember her saying, you know what? I love that word. I love what it stands for. It is a female who represents in STEM and there are so many different components of STEM, right? Whether you’re focusing on math, just science, technology, coaching, or STEM as a whole with computer science and all of those other aspects of STEM. So being a STEMinist is kind of our way of saying, “Hey, there are STEMinism female, it’s not just for white men. It is for everyone.” And just standing in that space saying “I am a STEMinist and you can be one too.”

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I love it. I was a high school chemistry and physics teacher and, yeah right? I’m the big old science nerd. So leave it at that. But it was so wonderful to see the female students jump in to our laboratory activities, and push back the kind of the stereotypes and the boundaries. And I love the initiative of girls in STEM and pushing back on the… Because the textbooks that you and I grew up with, it was like you said, everyone looked like Einstein. Whenever you a picture a scientist, you picture old white men with goggles and a lab coat.

Chanel Johnson: Right, and that [crosstalk 00:08:22].

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: What’s that?

Chanel Johnson: I was saying, I also looked like “Doc” Brown from Back to the Future.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yep. Yep, exactly right. And it’s just not true, it was creating a narrative that was not a full picture narrative. It was one story that didn’t represent reality. And it’s so wonderful to see the contributions of females in science and also the contributions of amazing women like you, who are ensuring that everyone has access to STEM, science, math resources, and high quality instruction and especially females. And I think it’s fantastic, but so how did you get into that work? And then obviously the science has a passion. I’m guessing you saw an opportunity to help engage more females in science.

Chanel Johnson: You know what funny story, I am the girl who hated science. I wasn’t into it in school, but my dad, he was always into science and he was always into science fiction. And he would always, even as a child, just show different things going on in science, like certain misconceptions about the equinox, the egg can sit straight up. He would show me things like that, and then he would just show me, Hey, what do you notice about the moon? Like just having those conversations with me and I promise you I was not listening. Because back then, for me, it wasn’t cool. I had a reputation to uphold, I can’t be seen with you talking about science, but then, I knew I wanted to be an education and that’s where my love for math came. And I knew that I wasn’t necessarily good at applying math, but what I could do, I could teach you math.

Chanel Johnson: I can make you better than me with what I have. So I was like, I want to be a teacher. So with that being said, I went to undergrad for education, middle grades education. You had to have two concentrations one, and I knew I’m going to do math. I don’t know what else I’m going to do. And then an advisor said, “Hey, just do science.” And said, “What?” back to, how I felt about science, but I said, you know what? Let’s just go ahead and do it. So as I started taking those classes, I started to really love science, love thinking of ideas of ways I could make this simple because what I was noticing, even when I was having to learn it over again, that you guys are talking at me, you’re not making science real for me. You’re not making it touchable to me.

Chanel Johnson: So while you’re giving me this, I’m having to figure out ways to give it back to the population I intend to serve. So because of that, seeing that, they’re getting it, seeing that the ways that I’m engaging my students, that Hey, this is working, they’re getting it. They’re engaged with me, I’m engaged with them. And I’m becoming a better scientist or better science instructor. And for a while, I used to be afraid to even call myself a scientist. I said, well, what contributions have I added to science other than I am teaching others? And then I said, you know what? I am too a scientist. I am inspiring, I am creating opportunities for the next. So you know what? I’m going to coin that word. The credentials are there.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I love it. I wish that you were my science teacher because, similarly I didn’t make those connections early on. I enjoyed science enough to get a degree in science, but I compartmentalize it, I thought in terms abstractly of, formulas and algorithms. And I would come across things in the natural world. And there would be a gap there between my understanding of how things worked, and what I was observing. And it wasn’t until I became a teacher and started thinking about how kids learn and how that’s different than the way I learned it to memorize. And I so appreciate your focus and being able to discover, how making it meaningful. Obviously we’re going to have a deeper learning and deeper thinking around science and STEM.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Absolutely. I mean, I always believe you’re teaching the student first before the content. What good is the periodic table, if I can’t make this touchable to the students in front of me?

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah. Oh my goodness. And I feel so bad as a first year chemistry teacher, I made my students memorize the periodic table, and I thought this is what I was supposed to do. I thought you had to have this foundational knowledge. And of course now it’s a completely different narrative. I think that it is a tool, like many other tools and you get to reference it as needed. And it’s more about the application and the creativity and the discovery and not about, you have to memorize atomic number is an atomic mass. It’s not about that at all. And you’re exactly right. It’s making the periodic table come to life, and it’s two dimensional form. It’s not very exciting, but it is exciting when you see it in the context of the natural world.

Chanel Johnson: Absolutely. But you know what? I will definitely say this. Every teacher, we all owe our first year students an apology, none of us came in [inaudible 00:13:57] that did. And I know you just said it as well. We can’t say that, Hey, we did everything right. Maybe we owe our first two, three, four, five years of students an apology. And that’s okay. Because we recognize even us as educators, the growth mindset is real. How are you growing as an educator? How are you changing and enhancing your own practices to reach our students? Like I’m listening to you about the periodic table. Well, guess what? That’s the way we learned it.

Chanel Johnson: We had to memorize the first, what was it for me? The first one 50 elements not realizing what did the atomic number? What does the atomic mass, what does this symbol, what does this mean to me? And now looking at where we are now, it’s not even so much about the individual elements is looking at it as a totality. What is the pattern? How are they arranged? And knowing, and I actually learned that the periodic table was developed through a card game, Albert Ghiorso was a card player. Now imagine taking that information to a student, who’s a spades player, who’s a poker player. You already captured them.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yep, absolutely. Again, this is why I wish you were my science teacher. I think it’s, yes. You, you hit the nail on the head and I’m also thinking about, you have understanding of making science relevant and fun for students. And then also as a coach, being able to help other teachers wrap their minds around STEM instruction. And I’m curious, so tell me what I, what I did wrong here. Because I need your support and assistance here, when I became the administrator of a STEM school. I remembered seeing science kits being used. And that was the extent of STEM in the school. It was like, Oh, well the science kits, but what you realize was that the science kits were not really rigorous instruction. There wasn’t a lot of collaboration involved was a lot of critical thinking.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: It was literally follow the steps right on your observations. And then you’re done. And so as a school, we decided that we would create these organic projects. And we actually started calling them challenges where we would look at local issues and we would create these STEM projects based on real-world problems happening in the community, and then making sure they were tied to standards. So tell me, is this the approach you use? What could we have done better? I mean, is this how you think about STEM planning?

Chanel Johnson: Absolutely. And I love that you mentioned that the STEM kits, which is very recipe based like, Hey, step one step to almost like a really good tasty video, follow the steps and here’s your product, but that in itself contradicts everything about science. So one being able to bring a challenge for the students, being able to implement those four seeds of creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. And then you brought it real to the community. So you brought the science to the child versus bringing the kid to them, you brought real world. An additional feedback and I did notice you’ve mentioned the standards. I would even stay, let’s sit there for a second because remember, even in science specifically, and if you’re teaching the science standards by the design that they have implemented for us through NGSS, you are applying STEM.

Chanel Johnson: And remember our science standards are broken down in three dimensions, the core ideas, that’s what we know, Hey, periodic table. Right? And then the practices, that’s the part where we sometimes forget, that’s the part, what we’re doing. What are those practices, constructing explanations, analyzing and interpreting data. And then here’s a good one that I think sometimes we forget plan and you have to plan an investigation and actually do it versus just do the investigation. Did you give the students an opportunity to actually plan that investigation? So making sure that we’re using our practices. And then of course that third dimension, of cross cutting concepts. That’s how we think. Being able to make those relationships of cause and effect, making the relationships of systems and knowing that cause and effect and systems. This isn’t just something in the science that I’m in.

Chanel Johnson: This can be implemented in every science and guess what else you can see cause and effect and all other content. It was really interesting I saw this graphic that aligned the ELA standards, the math standards and the science standards and right in the middle of this Venn diagram, it shows where we all overlapped. And the biggest aha was all of us want you to explain using evidence. We all want you to construct an escalation explanation using evidence. Just imagine if you, as a science teacher are doing that, you’re hitting practices in three contents. So we have to remember, we can’t tell the child, just sit down, be quiet. If just you doing that, you’re not aligning yourself to the standards and the expectations these kids need to be talking to each other.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I love how you framed these practices. I’m wondering too, as teachers or as educators, we’re always thinking in terms of like what instructional strategy can I use to better engage my students. And as you were talking through the practices, I was thinking really, I think these practices inform our strategies. So I think about the mathematical practices for example, the SNP1 is easy since making a persevering. So if that is our job as an educator to make sure students, are making sense for problems, then that’s become the strategy right there. Is making sense, reasoning, visualizing, when I’m reading a problem, creating a visual that’s sense-making. And that is in a sense instructional strategy. So I’m curious if that’s, even working in science to do these dimensions kind of inform our instructional strategies?

Chanel Johnson: And they should, and I recognize that sometimes just in my observation, the standard, first of all, our standards are telling you they have all three dimensions embedded in there, but sometimes we hone in on, Oh, we’re focusing on matter, we’re focusing on the periodic table, we’re focusing on States of matter. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what are we asking the students to do with states of matter? Is not memorizing and depending on your grade is not necessarily memorizing solids, liquids and gases is being able to look at a graph to see when those phase changes are occurring. That’s more of our middle school standards. And like you said, the practices give you the instructional strategies. If it said, ask questions and define problems, let the students come up with the questions. You don’t have to do it for them.

Chanel Johnson: You can guide them, you can push them. If it says analyze and interpret data, they need some data and they need to analyze, and they need to make sense of it. So the instructions are there, the instructional strategies are there. And I even say this using those practices also helped me to determine what appropriate tech tool will help us get there. So that’s where that technology culture part comes in, where I’m looking at these practices to determine which of these tech tools is going to get me to make sure that I have met those practice.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I think you’re exactly right. And I like the strategic planning of technology in exactly the right place. I think that sometimes we might get so wrapped up in the technology that we’re using, that we say either we start with the technology and then go from there. But I think what happens and tell me what you’re thinking here, if I’m in the right direction. But what happens is that we limit ourselves we say, we’re going to use only this one technology and then go from there. But if we say, okay, my students are going to be in the driver’s seat and they are going to create some kind of multimedia experience. Then here are the tools, that are available near to them. I mean, I think tool technology planning has to be in the right sequence. You can’T start with the tool.

Chanel Johnson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I was kind of that teacher back in the day, trying to be one-to-one before we actually had the devices. So what’s funny, I always, I have pictures of just some of my students and what we’re doing about five, six years ago. And we were trying to do Hour of Code day. And it was so crazy because we weren’t one-to-one yet every student had a device, whether it was their cell phone. I had some kids on the promethium board on the desktop computers in the back, and then some of the laptops, because the laptop cart was only reserved for certain contents and certain teachers, but Hey, somehow, you know, you get you form good relationships with your colleagues and you can figure out a way to steal that card for a while. Nobody wanted to use the technology back then.

Chanel Johnson: So I had like best buy in my room, [inaudible 00:23:59] to use it. So I said, bring it all here. But seeing every student in their own way, making sense of computer science with our code, and this was five years ago. And I say that to say that we have to provide opportunities, we have to try to do the best that we can with what we have. And even for me as a science educator, moving from that, I didn’t have all the cool resources I didn’t have. I actually didn’t get science kits. We didn’t even have a science budget, at least I didn’t know about it. So for me, science on a budget, what can we do with this aluminum foil [inaudible 00:24:38]

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: [inaudible 00:24:40] straws. Right?

Chanel Johnson: I have to make something out of nothing. And that’s where the innovation comes in. And I remember finding out about virtual labs and like with PHET simulation, we didn’t have gizmos back then because you had to pay for that, but PHET was out and it was free. And seeing the opportunities of virtual labs even back then was such an amazing thing for me, because I remember back then for me, I was afraid, like okay, I’m trying to do this lab. I might be doing it wrong.

Chanel Johnson: And now I have so many resources, so if I do it wrong, I don’t know what I should see. I don’t know what the students should see, I’m not that expert. I’m just not, but these virtual lab, it takes away the guesswork. It does it for me. And it focuses on the practices of science, the actual analyzing and interpreting data, the actual constructing explanation. So I’ve always been that person. I am a huge advocate for virtual labs because it gets us to the point it gets us to the point.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, for the listeners who are just hearing a PHET the first time it’s P-H-E-T. Correct? And I love, especially now that we’re in this, as we’re recording this episode, we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but obviously still in the dark days of this pandemic and schools are shutting down for the most part, or have been virtual for the most part. And science has been… It’s foundational roots are in discovery and labs and cause and effect. And I love the simulations in virtual labs. And so I actually was about to go there with you and, and you so brilliantly, already brought it up, so there is that pretty much how you’ve seen science labs conducted then during remote learning is through, because I know the American Chemical Society also has some links there that are really great for virtual simulations.

Chanel Johnson: So yes. Repeat that last question one more time if you don’t mind.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, actually I don’t even know if it was a question. I think, I was just talking about what a great resource, the virtual simulations were. And then of course you brought PHET up and then also with the American Chemical Society, having some great resources on their website, but just asking, has that been your experience with, during the pandemic, is using virtual labs as a means of looking at data and then it’s what students do with that data. Is that’s where the learning experience occurs?

Chanel Johnson: Yes. I’m so sorry. Yes, absolutely. So in my district, we have been using PHET simulation and not just necessarily relying on virtual labs, we are making sure that we are relying on just those experiences and identifying, be engaged in a phenomena. So I’ve seen teachers actually, like I said, really trying to make science, very simple. Hey guys, go outside. Like if we’re talking about moon phases with patterns, I want you to go outside today. I want you to tell me what you see, or when we’re talking about changes in the environment, those things that’s right outside. And I think teachers are now having to be creative because back in our special space, we have the resources. We need to bring science to life. But now, because a lot of us are virtual, we’re forced to make science real.

Chanel Johnson: We’re forced to make it simple that you can have good sound science and instruction with the things that you have. And that could be just going outside to look out doors, to see what you see, notice what patterns you have finding living and non-living organisms right outside your door. You don’t always have to have the really fancy tools to meet those standards. So teachers have been really creative and then because they don’t have enough materials to get to every student, a lot of teachers are being really creative with the demo labs will let me show you.

Chanel Johnson: Hey, why don’t you tell me what I should do. Go ahead and plan your investigation. I have the materials, now tell me what to do. So that’s getting into just step by step, the computational thinking, what do you want me to do? You guys planned your investigation. Now I’m going to do what you say, then from there getting into that data analysis. So creativity is coming out of virtual learning. And I know some teachers are feeling discouraged thinking this isn’t the way I always do it. If I were in my classroom and we were all together, it would look like this and we would be all perfect. But guess what, you’re doing your thing now because you’re being innovative. You’re reaching them in ways you probably didn’t realize you were before.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I appreciate, oh go ahead sorry.

Chanel Johnson: I was going to say, I created a Wakelet with resources, for science investigations. I know PHET is out there and there’s a few more that’s coming on the rise as well. So I created that resource and what I’ll do, I’ll share with you and you can definitely share it with anyone that you see needs it.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I appreciate that, and I think it’s fantastic. And what I was saying earlier was I’m so appreciative that you’re able to affirm the wonderful work that’s being done right now. And sometimes as teachers, we might feel kind of helpless during this time where we feel like we can’t reach our students like we have before, but I feel like the, maybe the silver lining is that because some of these virtual simulations that are now kind of taking the place of these explorations, like you said, we are able to focus on the creativity and maybe we create a video portfolio, or like a time-lapse of how our thinking evolved or how maybe some particular observation, maybe even at home too, is looking at some of these labs that we can do at home and watching or better known… I was going to say mold growing on bread. But that’s not a very good example.

Chanel Johnson: [inaudible 00:31:06] You don’t want them to do that. But I heard you saying, but you brought up a point and let me tell you science safety at home, Oh my goodness, we have to be so careful about science safety and NSTA has a really good resource on just making sure we’re applying lab safety at home and making sure that our kids aren’t cultivating any bread on door knobs and all those other icky places, so you got to be careful.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Yeah, absolutely. Chanel, as we are wrapping up here, I wanted to give you an opportunity to share anything. Were there any questions that you were hoping that I would ask you that I haven’t yet, or any kind of final thoughts that you’d like to leave us with?

Chanel Johnson: Well, I’m just gone with the flow, I love this, but I do have a book coming out. I’m actually an upcoming author. It’ll be out in March and believe it or not. It’s about leaders in technology. So I’ll definitely share that with you when it comes out in March, 2021. I’m excited about that. And-

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: Tell us more, can you share the title yet or is that still being worked on?

Chanel Johnson: I think it’s still being worked on, but I think I can share my part now, but I’ll get that you. I’m excited.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: I want to make sure, but obviously selfishly that I get a chance to read it, but I know our listeners will want to as well. So yeah, absolutely. Please share that with me and thank you so much for all the work that you’re doing in education. You’re just such a positive light out there and you’re brilliant and you’re just such a likable person. So you definitely have brightened my day and all of the listeners listening right now. No matter when they’re listening to this episode, so I appreciate you and your expertise Chanel.

Chanel Johnson: You’re so sweet Nathan. We are going to have that virtual tea party, and I can look at the snow and you can look at the sunshine over here.

Dr. Nathan Lang-Raad: You got a deal, that sounds perfect to me. Hey, thank you so much Chanel for being on the show I’m looking forward to staying connected.

Chanel Johnson: Likewise, thank you.