The Intersection of the Soviet Union and COVID-19

IMG_3941This is me when I was in junior high. I know… Great haircut, right?

When I was in seventh grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Courtney. He was my social studies teacher and was truly one of the more interesting teachers that I had in my middle school years. The recent developments with COVID-19 have me reflecting on one of the long-term projects that we did while in Mr. Courtney’s class that year. You see, I was in seventh grade during the 1991-1992 school year. If you don’t remember the time, this is the year of the fall of the Soviet Union.

As a child of the 80s, I remember living through a somewhat constant level of… Fear? (That doesn’t feel like quite the right word now, but I’m not sure what works better). Also, there was some incredible music and hair! Anyway, there was this awareness of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. Who knew when things could erupt into a real war? But during the late 80s and early 90s there started to be some changes in the structure of the Soviet Union. Things really came to a head in 1991. This isn’t a history lesson, so I’m not going to go into the details of what I recall from the time.

Mr. Courtney, in a moment of great wisdom, made a decision to pivot with some of our learning. I’m sure that the fall of the Soviet Union was not on his curriculum guide for that year, but world history was. He knew that we were living through a moment of history. As an assignment during that school year, Mr. Courtney had us begin a journaling activity. We were asked to take newspaper clippings from the daily news about what was happening in the Soviet Union, as well as how it might be affecting the rest of the world. Then we were asked to write a journal response each day.

It’s got me thinking about what’s happening right now. All of us are living through a moment of history. What an authentic learning experience to bring into what we’re already doing. (And please understand, I’m trying to be really cautious not to use the phrase “opportunity” because this is a scary time for us all, and that word sounds kind of icky to me given the context of what’s happening around us. Sometimes authentic learning isn’t the topic that we’d ideally choose, and yet we go with it.)

In a team meeting with the fourth-grade teachers at my school, we began talking about an authentic writing assignment of a pandemic journal. Students can write about their lived experiences of this time around COVID-19. Students could share what they’ve learned about the virus. And to go with it, we talked about using resources on newsela as a way to read about COVID-19, viruses, and so much more of what is happening in the world. Here are just a few ideas I had around teaching during this period of COVID-19:

  • Create an informational brochure about viruses. Include ways to avoid spreading the virus, information on how long the virus can live, etc.
  • Have your students write a persuasive letter convincing their neighbors of why they shouldn’t be playing together with their friends right now.
  • Have your students learn about how a disease can spread through some of the amazing graphics from the New York Times here (or any of the other great graphics out there).
  • Have your students record a video showing what they are doing in their own homes to help keep things clean and prevent any potential spread of the virus within their own homes.
  • Have students use Wakelet, or something like that, to curate a list of news items that they find interesting relating to the world around them.

These are just a few ideas that come to mind in the short amount of time I spent thinking about it, but I’m certain that the chances for learning are endless. Here’s the thing, we sometimes get caught in what our curriculum guide says that we “need” to cover. At least here in Indiana, we know that we won’t be giving any standardized tests this year. While I’m not suggesting that we should throw out the curriculum guide completely, we can think critically about our standards and how we might be able to meet the learning goals of our students with a meaningful and relevant learning experience right now.

I still think about the assignment that Mr. Courtney gave us when I was in seventh grade, not because I want to reflect on the fall of the Soviet Union. Rather, I think of it when I want to talk about a model of what it means to be authentic and relevant for our students. I think about it when we contemplate how to be responsive to the world around us.

What things have you done with your class as a result of what is happening in our world now? Have you adjusted your plans? Created learning opportunities for your students that relate to what is happening in the world around us all? Share with us in the comments below a little about what you have tried, or are planning to try.

Time

Today I was sitting in a meeting with colleagues. During the meeting, we had a conversation around the idea of whether we were a person who led through checklists, or if we were one who led through the rally cry mentality. I know that for me, definitely trend towards the rally cry side of things. I like to think about big ideas, about making change happen, about causing good trouble, about being a ruckus maker for the benefit of all the learners in my school (notice the intent of learners – that’s not just students). But the tradition in educational leadership has trended more towards the checklist mentality.

I think that this checklist leadership has led to an education system that relies on their checklists. I think that those checklists are what cause us to pull out the same activities from year to year, not being responsive to our students, not being responsive to the environment around us. It’s why in January we write stories about snow even when there isn’t any snow on the ground, or why we might spend a lesson in science on what a full moon is even though if we were to look at the night sky we might notice that the moon is currently in the new moon phase.

If we operate on checklists, our system is going to stay the way that it is. And here’s the thing… The system as it is can be hard to argue with for some. If you teach in a school that “does well” on the standardized assessment, even though you operate from that checklist mindset, it’s going to be hard to convince you, or your families, or maybe even your students, that there might be a better way to make learning happen.

But I believe there is a better way, because our checklist mindsets create kids who think in checklist ways. But our world doesn’t need checklist thinkers. In a recent article from Forbes (The 10+ Most Important Job Skills Every Company Will Be Looking For In 2020), the following list was shared:

  1. Data Literacy
  1. Critical Thinking
  1. Tech Savviness
  1. Adaptability and Flexibility
  1. Creativity
  1. Emotional Intelligence
  1. Cultural Intelligence and Diversity
  1. Leadership Skills
  1. Judgment and Complex Decision Making
  1. Collaboration

Or you could take a look at the list of Key Attributes that Employers Want to See on Students’ Resumes (click here). This survey, put out every year by National Association of Colleges and Employers, doesn’t list skills that could be achieved by checklist thinking anywhere near the top of their list.

Excitement and CuriositySo, my mindset is that education needs a little bit of a jolt. A swift kick in the behind. Because the system as we know it doesn’t help create students who are prepared for these skills listed above. Not to mention, I’m very fearful of any system where its users enter with excitement and curiosity, and exit feeling bored and disconnected. Visit a kindergarten classroom… After you get past all the hugs and stories, you’ll see learners who are excited to tell you about the littlest details of their curiosity. But somehow, by the time they reach late elementary or middle school, that excitement is mostly gone.

These fears drive me to a lot of conversations with other educators about what schools could be. About what we need to do to create a system that our users exit just as excited as when they enter, but with all the skills listed in the lists above. What’s hard about those conversations – so many of the educators I have those conversations with are checklist thinkers. They have the thing that they do every year because it’s the first month of school, or because it’s almost winter break, or because it’s the middle of winter and no matter what it looks and feels like outside we’re writing our snow stories.

And here’s the thing that drives me crazy. As soon as I start talking about my admittedly crazy ideas, as soon as I share a little bit about what it might mean for us to truly adjust what we do to be more responsive to the day to day needs of our students, and be responsive to the future needs of our society, I almost immediately get one word thrown back at me…

TIME

And I get that, I really do. When we live in a checklist mindset, our most important factor of those checklists is being able to check off the things on the list. And that means we have to do it at the time that we plan on checking it off.

But when I’m talking about change, that means we need to go into design thinking mode. When I say the word innovator, who do you think of? Maybe Einstein, or Edison, Tesla, Jobs, Musk, Wozniak, Gates… Those are the people that we think of as innovators. As we get into a problem-solving mindset for education, I want to remind you of a quote from Einstein that I love:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about the solution.”

You see, Einstein got that our ability to solve a problem doesn’t lie in the solution itself. Rather it lies in the ability to appropriately identify the problem. And if you were able to talk to Einstein, or any of the other innovators that I listed above, you’d learn that one of the last things you do in an innovative design process is start to allocate resources.

Time is a resource.

Let me say that again a little louder for the people in the back:

Time is a resource.

And as a resource, it’s not part of our innovative discussions. As educators, there are definitely some resources that we can’t solve. We probably don’t get to pick the location of our school. We typically don’t get to make many changes to the physical building itself. We can’t ignore our state standards of learning. But what happens within the walls, the pedagogical decisions, the allocation of staff, the assignment of students, those are all things that can be adapted. There are schools who have found ways to build regular collaboration time into the school day for teachers. There are schools who have removed a grade-based system, and instead meet each kid right where they are in terms of the instructional decisions that need to be made. Other people have figured out ways to make these innovative things happen. And they didn’t let that pesky issue of time get in the way.

Unless I’m missing something, that 24 hours a day thing is kind of consistent everywhere. Others who have made massive changes to the way they do education don’t have any more time than we do. They’ve just chosen to allocate that resource in a different way. They’ve chosen to change their dispositions, to change their mindsets.

So here’s where I am right now. I’m ready to throw the whole system out on the table. From soup to nuts, what’s not working? What might work better? Let’s try things. Let’s ideate as a staff. What do our kids need in order to be able to leave our building just as curious as the first time they set foot in it. Let’s put it all out there. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Then, let’s start testing. Just like how SpaceX must test each and every part in order to build a rocket that can do this:

We must be willing to ideate, innovate, test, reiterate, and test again. Eventually we can land our own system that creates students who are ready to leave us with the skills that employers need.

This IS GOING TO BE A MINDSET SHIFT for us all! But I’m on board. I’m ready to start testing, start trying, start building. These kids are too important to not.

Take it up a notch

Take it up a notch

I was at a training last week and the presenter stated the following:

“When we stretch (students) brains beyond the baseline, they will be prepared for the baseline.”

It struck me because every year I hear statements like “This group can’t handle that because they don’t yet have the basic skills.” As teachers, we sometimes believe if students don’t have the base level skills, we can’t move into project work, or more hands-on assignments. We feel the need to make sure that our students had those base level skills first.

When I was in the classroom, I had points in time where I felt that way. For the majority of my career as a classroom teacher I taught 5th and 6th grade science. As a kid, I loved science! It was a hands-on subject, and that suited me well. I’ve never been one who learned well by being talked at, instead I needed to do something to help that learning to stick. Science was great for that. I remember building different styles of rockets in elementary school to investigate flight. I also remember days in elementary school of “creek stomping” in the creek that ran behind our school looking for fossils and learning about rocks and minerals. In high school, I remember spending hours in the chemistry lab making solutions and testing what would happen if you added X to Y. And in physics I remember using a laser to make my own hologram of a six-sided die. Those hands-on activities were the parts of the content that stuck with me over time. Science was awesome!

Once I moved into the classroom, I was excited to bring those awesome experiences to my students. Early in my career though, I think I may have lost my way. You see, I was of the impression that for my kids to be ready for a lab or project work, I had to make sure they all had the conceptual knowledge first. So, we’d spend time building that conceptual knowledge. What I didn’t realize completely at that time is that it’s really hard to build conceptual knowledge from taking notes, drawing diagrams, and watching video clips. True conceptual knowledge comes from the hands-on experiences that students do. Unfortunately because of the amount of time it took to learn that conceptual knowledge, sometimes we wouldn’t get to the fun stuff.

One year, I was teaching one enriched science class, and several classes that were not enriched. My students in the non-enriched classes started asking me why they didn’t get to do the fun stuff, and it caused me to pause and reflect. That year I worked on reorganizing the way I did my lessons. I started placing my lab activities and hands-on learning experiences at the beginning of each unit. What I found was that students seemed to do better in class when they had done a hands-on activity prior to teaching the conceptual skills. And as an added bonus to me, we often didn’t have to spend as much time on those concepts, because students had gained a greater understanding during the hands-on learning activities.

The same is true and other subject areas too. When we create math lessons that allow students to draw and visualize their thinking, they will better understand the concepts that go with what they are doing. When students look for grammatical structures within their own reading or writing they are more likely to value the importance of those grammar skills than when they work off of a grammar review sheet.

What I’m beginning to realize about the innovative work we are doing in education is that whether we call it project work, project-based learning, or something else, every time we take the learning up a notch our students are able to accomplish that much more. And I understand that sometimes we freak out about doing something innovative in our classroom because we may not feel like we are experts in the technology that goes with that activity. As teachers we don’t need to be the technology experts, rather we need to be the pedagogy experts. I know for a fact that no one taught me how to use Facebook or Twitter or many of the other apps that I use on a regular basis, rather I figured it out by clicking on stuff and seeing what happened.

So, what are some of the ways that we can have our students actually take it up a notch? What if every 10 to 15 minutes you pause what’s going on in class and have the kids record an audio or video reflection of what they have been learning? What if you have them create a photo or image or meme that represents their learning in class thus far? What if you asked them to sketch out a picture that shows a solution to the math problem they are working on? Each time we do something like this we are forcing our students to stretch their brains beyond that baseline and I would argue we aren’t doing anything that is that difficult. When we ask our students to do a drawing or create a video of their learning in class, we are helping them with their summarizing skills. I would also say that those small moments of creation help our students to develop one of the most in demand skills in the job market: creativity.

expected skills

I challenge you to look ahead at something that you are planning to do with your students in the next couple of weeks. Identify an activity that you would typically start with conceptual knowledge and find a way to do it hands-on in the first place. See how your students react. Weave in the conceptual skills that they need as you go through the project. Then take some time to reflect. Do the students end up with a better conceptual understanding of the topic? It may take a try or two but in time hopefully we can integrate more of those skills that are expected in the workplace into the things that are happening in our classrooms.

So, what activity have you selected? Share with us in the comments below so that we can check in with you to see how it goes.

Experimental teaching in progress

The beginning of the school year is exciting for a lot of different reasons, but in the past couple of weeks I have been really fired up by the beginning of the year goal setting meetings I’ve been having with our teachers. It’s been so exciting to hear about the goals that teachers are setting to push themselves to new learning experiences and create amazing opportunities for their students. It’s a lot of fun to talk with them about their ideas and how to create a goal that will truly impact their teaching and learning throughout the year.

One of the things about learning new things, we all need to reflect on our learning. It’s a part of that learning cycle, and I look forward to the opportunity to help our teachers reflect on their goal throughout the year. But in addition to reflection, we also need feedback from others on how we are doing. When I think about my most powerful learning experiences, there has always been someone there to provide feedback – let me know what I was doing well and where I needed to improve. That feedback may have come from my coaches on the basketball court or football field, or it may have come from a teacher or professor in the classroom.

I respected the feedback that I would get from my elders, but sometimes the best feedback came from my teammates and classmates. They could often connect with me in ways that an adult just wasn’t able to. Even today, some of my most trusted people are peers who are in similar positions as mine. It’s so great to make a call or send an email to someone that I trust, share my thinking, and get their feedback. While there are definitely times that I hear “You seem to be right on track”, there are times they have said “You might want to think about that a little more and here’s why.” It helps me so much to get that peer feedback.

The problem with this in teaching is that we often live in our own silos. What happens in our classroom is often invisible to our colleagues, whether they be across the hall, on another floor, or in another wing. So what do we do about that? Luckily there are awesome people out there on Twitter who help us find solutions to our problems. This week I saw a tweet from Jed Dearybury that took me to his newsletter “A Dearybury of a Day”. (You can – and should – follow Jed on Twitter here). At the very end of the newsletter was this Fab, Fun, Freebie:

Screen Shot 2019-09-20 at 7.09.04 AM

Here’s what Jed said about this sign:

Whenever you are trying something new with students, hang this sign on your door to let those passing by know you are experimenting with a new teaching strategy. When this sign was on my door, it always made me relax a bit more because sometimes, experiments fail, and that’s ok!

So, here’s a thought – What if every time you are trying something new and you want to have feedback, you could hang this sign outside your door? What if you sent an email to the staff at your building with a picture of the sign? What if you shared the sign on Twitter (and tagged @mrdearybury)? There would be an awesome opportunity for people to come and watch what you are doing and give you meaningful feedback on what they saw. I know that many of us feel a little uncomfortable when we have other adults observing what we’re doing in our classroom, but we aren’t living on the growing edge when we’re totally comfortable in what we’re doing.

Remember, we’re all in this together guys! Our goal is to support the students we see on a daily basis, and the best way I can think of to do that is to support one another in our own teaching and learning. I’ll include a link to the pdf that Jed shared below.

So what are your thoughts? Are you comfortable to use a sign like this? I’d love to see some pictures being shared throughout your building!

Want to download the poster? Click here!

This is hard…

Recently I was talking to a friend who is a teacher. I noticed some cool project-based learning activities that she shared on Twitter, and I was talking to her about them. She’s a fairly experienced teacher, and one of the things that she said really struck a chord with me:

“You know, I used to teach really differently than I do now. Ten years ago, the things I was doing were easier for me. The things I do now are harder, and I keep hoping that those things will get easier. As I reflect though, while things have gotten harder for me, the learning experiences for my students have gotten better. I guess I’m not sure that I’m hoping for the right things. It’s not easy for us, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Woah! What a powerful statement! A favorite author of mine is George Couros. In his book The Innovator’s Mindset, he says:

“I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either ‘invention’ (something totally new) or ‘iteration’ (a change to something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of ‘new and better,’ it is not innovative. That means change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword as many organizations do to appear current and relevant.”

And in a recent blog post, AJ Juliani took it a step further… He argued that just being new and better isn’t quite enough. We need to make sure that it is also better for our learners.

Our job is not to prepare students for something. Our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything.

And here’s the thing about that – we all know it is difficult to plan for a project-based learning experience. It’s difficult to build an inquiry project for your students. It’s difficult to create learning opportunities that integrate Language Arts, Math, Science, and more into a single unit of study. But what about the opportunities it creates for our students?

We talk about preparation for the next in education all the time. Whether we’re thinking about the next year, the next step, the first job, whatever… The reality is that with the world changing so rapidly, we’re naïve to think that we have any idea what the future really holds. I’m sure my elementary and middle school teachers never imagined that some of the kids in their class would be making money by taking pictures and posting them to Instagram. What amazing things that we can’t even imagine will our students be doing when they are out in “the world”?

So, given the fact that we can’t predict the future, more than anything we need to provide a skill set to our young people that prepares them for anything. We have no way to know where they might go!

So often we have been talking about 21st century skills, but we have to remember that we are now almost 2 decades into the 21st century, and some of the students sitting in our classroom will actually see the 22nd century!

So here’s the question. Why do we do these hard things? We know that it takes us more time and effort to create these deep learning experiences for our students but look at the results. Most students are more highly engaged when given true project-based learning experiences, or student driven inquiry projects. And with that higher level of engagement comes stronger learning experiences. And with those stronger learning experiences our students will be better prepared for whatever their future may hold.

If we’re worried about preparing kids for the “real world,” then this should concern us:

Yes, it’s harder to teach this way. The reality is that it’s harder for administrators to lead this style of learning. But when we look at the children walking into our building, and we remember that we have no way to know what their future may hold, we’ve got to focus on those skills that take them anywhere – critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication.

As you have shifted to deeper learning activities, what has been your experience? Have you noticed a greater desire and drive for learning from your students? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Gone sailing…

Gone sailing…

As I sit at my kitchen table tonight, just after having received the news that school has been cancelled tomorrow, and trying to wrap my mind around how cold a -40°F wind chill will actually feel like (yes, I do plan to go outside just to say I did it!), I find myself thinking about summer and much warmer weather. For some reason, I started thinking about my summers spent on Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin at Camp Brosius, and the time I spent learning to sail on one of the many Sunfish sailboats.

campbrosius
The sunfish that I learned on may very well be one of the boats in this picture, with one of the buildings of Camp Brosius in the background.

My first experience with sailboats involved a Hobie 16, my dad, and a little help from the rescue boat. We were both learning what we were doing! Over time he became better, and I recall as a young boy enjoying riding with him while he guided us around the lake – sometimes on the Hobie, other times on a Sunfish, or any one of the other boats that the camp had available to use.

Eventually, around middle school, I decided I wanted to learn to sail all by myself. I remember Jim, the camp director, pulling one of the Sunfish into the swim area one morning, teaching me about the various parts of the boat, and what they did. As I reflect on it now, after a shockingly short lesson (probably not over 30 minutes), he had me climbing aboard and shoving me out into the lake. I can hear Jim saying “You don’t learn by talking about it and looking at it, you learn by getting out there and trying!” The wind wasn’t that strong yet that morning, it normally picked up in the afternoon, so I was planning to tool around just off the shore in front of the camp’s waterfront. I grabbed the rudder and main sheet, set my sails, and I was off! Or so I thought…

As I got further from the shore, the wind caught a bit more of my sail, and instead of heading straight, as my rudder was pointing, my boat seemed to be sliding sideways across the top of the water. No matter how I moved my rudder, the boat just wouldn’t go in the direction I wanted.

As I drifted further from the shore, without any real control, I could hear someone yelling at me from the swimming t. Jim, the camp director, was yelling “You forgot the centerboard!” I looked, and sure enough, the centerboard was laying inside the cockpit. I quickly pulled it out and placed it down the middle of the hull. Next thing I knew, I was moving (mostly) in the direction I wanted (remember, I was just learning).

Thinking about sailing got me thinking a bit about teaching and learning. Part of what I love about the Sunfish is how simple of a boat it really is. There’s the hull (or body of the boat), the mast that holds the sail up. Then there’s the sail that absorbs the energy of the wind and translates that into motion. The rudder helps the sailor to guide the boat in the correct direction. And finally, there’s the centerboard. Even if everything else is working in perfect harmony, without the centerboard, the best sailor isn’t too likely to stay on course.

What’s the connection to learning? The hull of the boat is our classroom. Then let’s think of the rudder as being our standards. They help us decide on what our students “need” to be learning about. It gives our boat direction. The sailor on the boat (most of the time) is the teacher. You get to make the decisions about how to set the rudder and the mainsail (although hopefully your students are getting some input here too). You point the boat in the direction you think it needs to go. The sail is our students, and the wind is the constant opportunity for learning. So that sounds like most all that we need to think about, right?

Not quite. For true learning, we need to have the centerboard to help keep us on course. That is our North Star of Learning.

Moving the RockGrant Lichtman, the author of Moving the Rock: Seven Levers WE Can Press to Transform Education, has often used the metaphor of the North Star to talk about the idea of having a shared vision of where we want to get to in terms of great learning. If we don’t agree on where we are going, we have random movement, in random directions, and we end up nowhere! Think about the North Star, no matter where you stand, we can all find it, we can all point to it, we can all figure out our route to get there. In that same way, when we have a shared vision of learning, and we understand that no two educators are moving towards it from the same place, we all have to set a course of our own.

As educators, we are used to the idea that our students all come to us from a different starting point, and we have to adjust our teaching to meet them where they are in order to get them to where they need to be. What does it mean though if not all educators are starting their trip towards the North Star from the same place?

It means the day of one size fits all professional development has passed us by. It means that each of us has to be reflective on where we are on our path towards our North Star. It means recognizing our own strengths and weaknesses, accentuating our strengths, and being willing to seek out opportunities to professionally grow in order to move closer to our North Star. It means deciding to take your own learning into your own hands. If there’s something you need to get better at, seek out a resource. It might be someone just down the hall, it might be a blog post or article, it might be a book. It could also mean approaching your administrator to ask for ideas on how you might continue to grow in that area. Given that our focus is on LEARNING, I would hope anyone would feel comfortable to ask for assistance in finding the best possible resources for their personal growth. I know that I am constantly seeking resources from colleagues, mentors, and leaders that are around me.

As an educator, I’m hopeful that this post encourages you to reflect on a couple of things. First and foremost, do you feel that there is a North Star for your district or school? If not, start a conversation with your colleagues, ask your administrator, reflect on your own opinions and beliefs, and start that conversation for a true shared understanding. Next, take a moment to reflect on where you are as an educator, and what it is that you need to do to course correct so that you can help your students to reach that North Star.

As we come to the end of this post, take a moment and think about what your beliefs are about students. What is your personal North Star of Learning? Share with us in the comments below!

Indiana STEM Education Conference

Last week I had the privilege to attend the Fourth Annual Indiana STEM Education Conference at Purdue University. Purdue’s College of Education sees K-12 STEM education as one of its two signature areas of focus for pre-service teachers. In this K-12 STEM path, Purdue is “preparing teachers who can weave STEM subjects throughout their curriculum and introduce the concepts through real-world application. Our focus goes beyond the specific STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and math – to include literacy, social studies, problem-solving, critical thinking and communication.” This belief fits well with the Indiana Department of Education’s STEM Six-Year Strategic Plan (can be found here: http://bit.ly/IndianaSTEMPlan). This plan has the stated mission to “Ensure Indiana teachers are prepared to provide every student in grades K-12 with an evidence-based, effective STEM education…”

aldrinThe opening of the conference included a guest speaker that I was super excited to see – Buzz Aldrin!  It was cool to hear Aldrin talk about his experiences, as well as his hopes for continued space exploration. Aldrin is a huge supporter of getting a human being to Mars. Not to mention, there’s something pretty awesome about being in the same room as someone who actually walked on the moon.

The rest of the conference was made up of several break-out sessions, and I have to say that every one I attended was excellent. I want to share some of the tidbits I picked up while I was there.

My first session was on the connection between STEM and Project Based Learning. In that session, we began by talking a little about the Science and Engineering Process Standards (SEPS). If you look at the science standards of any grade level or science curriculum, the first two pages of the standards are made up of these process standards focusing on 8 key areas:

  • SEPS.1 Posing questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  • SEPS.2 Developing and using models and tools
  • SEPS.3 Constructing and performing investigations
  • SEPS.4 Analyzing and interpreting data
  • SEPS.5 Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • SEPS.6 Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  • SEPS.7 Engaging in argument from evidence
  • SEPS.8 Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

By looking at the specific standards for your grade level or subject area, you can see a deeper description of those process standards. Look here for more info: https://www.doe.in.gov/standards/science-computer-science

In two of the sessions I attended, presenters talked about the value of STEM Challenges or Engineering Projects as a way to help meet some of these process standards. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The Paper Chain Challenge: For this challenge, students need 1 piece of paper, scissors, and tape. The challenge? Try to make the longest possible paper chain. As a constraint, you could change the materials allowed. Another variation on this was that you do not provide tape, and you had to make the longest continuous piece of paper without using tape, paperclips, or any other objects to connect the paper back together. When we did this challenge, we were only given 5 minutes, then had a 5 minute conversation to process our designs, compare the length of each chain, etc. In those 10 minutes, we hit on 5 of the SEPS!

 

  • Drop Copter Challenge: Have you ever made a drop copter? For directions, click here: http://bit.ly/DropCopter. Once you have the students create their drop copter, then you add in the challenge. Now they have to make one modification to their copter to improve the way the copter falls to the ground. I’m sure there are a variety of ways you could define “improve”, so you can figure out what it means for you (or even better, let the students decide!). After the adjustment and testing, spend another 5-10 minutes processing the challenge with students. Again, several SEPS hit in less than a half hour!

 

  • Parachute Challenge: Provide students with large sheets of tissue paper (like for wrapping a present), tape, 5 paperclips, and 2 pieces of string (you can decide on the length). Give students 5-10 minutes to design, build, test, and redesign a parachute. The goal is to design a parachute that takes the longest to reach the ground. When time is up, have all the students come to the front, drop from the same height, and compare the fall time. Finally, spend some time processing the challenge with the kids. Again, we’ve just hit on multiple SEPS in less than a half hour!

These are just a couple of the potential STEM Challenges that were fairly short. Another session I attended also hit on the SEPS, but they were coming at it from the Engineering Design process. I’ve seen lots of different models for the Engineering Design Process, but I liked the language that was used by Science Learning through Engineering Design (SLED). Check it out:

sled

SLED has an awesome website, STEMEdhub.org, but I wanted to direct you in particular to their Design Resources page (check that out here). This page lists a multitude of activities and various grade levels. When you click on a title, it takes you to a page with more information about the project. Want to see more (like the lesson plans, materials needed, etc.)? Click the purple Download button to the right of the title. Unlike the STEM Challenges above that could be done in a half hour or less, these are more in depth, long term projects that will take your students through the design process you see above.

real worldI wanted to briefly touch on my final two sessions, which were on similar topics. One was about an intermediate school in Ellettsville that implemented a school-wide genius hour program. At this school, every other Friday, the entire school basically shuts down for the last hour of the day. Students then work on their genius hour projects. These projects are ungraded, student-led, and lead to a STEAM Night Showcase where students share their findings from their genius hour project. The teachers, administrators, counselors, custodians, and other adults in the building are all able to serve as advisors for students who choose projects on a topic that they have an interest or understanding in. The school has even partnered with outside professionals who can come in and help be mentors for topics students are interested in. Being located near Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center and Cook Inc. opens up the possibility of some great partnerships for this school.

recipeThe final session of the day that I attended was put on by the innovation director and principal from New Palestine Intermediate. This year they created a new day in their related arts rotation called Innovation Hour. Other schools might call this learning clubs, or choice activity time. To create the clubs, staff members signed up with something they were passionate about. Examples include gardening, drones, coding, woodworking, etc. Students then sign up for their top three choices. Once assigned to an Innovation Hour, then they meet every 4th day from 8:30 to 9:20, and all the students are able to participate in the club they are assigned to. So far, everyone has been able to get one of their top 3 choices.

One of my current goals is to figure out how to bring something like either the Genius Hour project, or the innovation hour to Riverside Intermediate. On February 6th, our students will be participating in the Global School Play Day, and we have it set up with choice activities that students will be able to get involved in. It is my hope that this will serve as a jumping off point for one of these more long term learning opportunities for our students!

So, what are your thoughts? Anything here that you plan to use in your classroom? Anything that you already do that you can share with our readers? I’d love to hear what you have to say!