Future Engineers

Project Lead the Way logo.

By Peter Gallegos and Veronica Torres

Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth grade students at Harrison School in Stockton, CA  are off to a running start for their engineering future. Students in Mrs. Merriam’s PLTW Design and Modeling class learn by quickly understanding the importance of an engineering notebook to document and capture their ideas.

Image of students showing their work.

Students working early in the design process.

Students are introduced to the design process in order to help solve problems and understand how their ideas can influence the creativity process of their group and others.

Image of a team of students

Students work in groups and follow the design process from idea to prototype.

One important aspect of this class is students’ discovery of engineering and how the items that are invented within this process can help the populace as a whole. For example, the creation of a prosthetic device and a toy that will help a student with cerebral palsy gives students a greater appreciation of what a special needs student endures on a daily basis.

The academic language that students use during this process would seem unbelievable for students this age.  One can see groups working hard together to solve their design process challenges and coming up with solutions to attain a final product.  This process forces the students to “think outside of the box.” Higher order thinking abounds in this class.

Image of student working.

Students use industry standard 3D modeling software, such as Sketchup Pro and Geogebra

Merriam’s students use industry standard 3D modeling software, such as Sketchup Pro and Geogebra, to create a virtual image of their designs and produce a portfolio to showcase their creative solutions.

When students show proficiency in the modeling software, and are able to complete the design process from paper to virtual image, they will have the opportunity to print their final product using the school’s 3D printer.

Coding for Kindergarteners? Absolutely!

By Maridee Stanley

America is short on computer programmers. Currently, tech companies are recruiting programmers from India, not by choice but by necessity. Don’t we want our own SUSD students to get these high paying tech jobs so we can finally break generational poverty? This can happen if we start our students coding early. How early? High school? Middle school? Intermediate grades? Kindergarten is not too soon. For the past 5 years, my kinders at Kennedy Elementary have successfully learned the basics of block programming and began to think of themselves as the programmers and tech entrepreneurs of the future. Students have fun and the parents love it! “But,” you ask, “ I’m not a programmer. How can I teach coding?” Don’t worry. Coding isn’t as hard as you think. If I can do it, anyone can do it. Trust me on this.code1

All the instructional work is done for us by Code.org, Tynker, PLTW, or Google, and the beginning lessons are designed for pre-readers. Why wouldn’t any teacher want to do this? You have several options to get your students started on coding. The best known is Code.org, developer of Hour of Code. If your school has Project Lead the Way you have the PLTW computer science module. Tynker has some free content here  or you can sign up for free teacher account for an easy K lesson here. Google will send teachers a free kit to be used with their online material, click here. Even if you supplement with other programs, Code.org is indispensable as it has the most resources and an easy-to-navigate website. From there you can watch videos (Course A for age 4-7 ), visit the educator section and create your account, peruse lesson plans, or print out offline material .

If you and your colleagues want an enjoyable Saturday, attend a Code.org Computer Science Fundamentals PD, learn some tricks and pick up some swag. Or, take the online PD .

Students working with robots.

Students work with blue-bots, robots that the kids can program!

If you don’t have time for all this, simply take your class straight to an Hour of Code classic, Angry Birds, and start coding! I recommend starting offline. I use Code.org’s “Move It” for PE and PLTW as a center activity. Ozobots are a popular way to teach the concept of programming. But my students’ favorite offline activity is the Bee-Bot, a small robot that is programmed with directional arrows on its back. Kinders doing Code.org offline coding for P.E. Tip: Don’t try this on a windy day. Using the directional cards that come with BeeBots and Blue-Bots, kindergarteners write a line of code. Using direction keys, students program BeeBots and Blue-Bots to spell CVC words or order numbers. Bee-Bot and BlueBot programming was a big hit at STEAM Night and Literacy Night at Kennedy. Even some parents got hooked!

Image of student and laptop.

“Look, Ma, I’m programming!”

After the offline warm-ups, students should do Code.org’s Course A followed by Angry Birds and Minecraft on Hour of Code. Some may progress on to Star Wars or Moana, although you may have to tell students the objective …get scrap metal in Star Was and fish in Moana. I don’t recommend Frozen for kinders as this requires knowledge of angles. Many kinders begin to have difficulty when they get to loops, but with patience, persistence and careful counting they can overcome difficulties. Remind students that “fail” means first attempt in learning something awesome.

Coding a Minecraft game is a good incentive to finish ST Math and is an alternative for students who have completed work early. If you have never coded, try some super simple kindergarten block coding on the following Google Doodle celebrating 50 years of children’s coding. https://www.google.com/doodles/celebrating-50-years-of-kids-coding And please, get your students coding. You might inspire the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.

Google Slides

Google Slides may be great for presentations, but it is also a great teaching tool when parent-teacher conference time comes around. I took it upon myself to conduct student-led conferences with the help of….. Drum roll, please… Google Slides.

I created this template with possible measures in the speaker notes for students to follow along. I also provided a student led conference sample for students to refer to, in case they need some ideas.

I provide my students 10-15 minutes to fill in each slide according to the criteria on the  template. By doing so, students are taking the responsibility to input their scores, strengths, weakness, and setting goals. Aren’t we all working on reflecting and goal setting?  Students were able to be creative by adding a personal photo and style when designing their Google Slide. Students took responsibility for their conference, and I saw a large turnout of parents who showed up. Don’t get me wrong, there were those few parents that didn’t come, but no problem. The slide presentation format made it easy for those students to conduct phone conferences or the presentation can be easily printed out to be sent home, it is up to your discretion.

Image of a student and parent at a conference

Using Google Slides, students are able to lead parent-teacher conferences.

As with anything, when you invest your time during the beginning stages it goes smoothly when it’s ready to be executed. Here were some of my observation from the first parent-teacher conference:

  1. Parents were attentive
  2. Students were excited to share
  3. Students encouraged parents to come to see their Slides presentation
  4. I was a facilitator of learning rather than being the guardian of knowledge
  5. Parent, teachers, and students walked away feeling positive

Note: I did not go over any behavior during the conference, all conferences were data-driven.  

We are moving toward 1-to-1 devices district-wide. Let’s move forward with making the technology and home connection.

If you feel you need some more clarification and help with Google Slides, no problem. Come to my December 19th PD at Adams, and I can support you.  Email me at mtsou@stocktonusd.net, and I would be happy to provide a screencast video instructions based on your needs.






Titanoboa: Giant Snake From Earth’s Past

With all the hype right now with Megalodon Sharks (Meg), Prehistoric Dinosaurs (Jurassic Park), even the Predator films are dealing with evolution and (future) fossils. My kids this month took a step back as well. We took a step back in time, nearly 65 million years back!

This past summer I was lucky enough to receive a travel grant to attend a conference at the University of Florida Natural History Museum’s @iDigFossils Teacher Program. There we learned about incorporating fossils with our current 3D printers into the subject matter across all educational domains. We learned how to blend NGSS into CCSS, and include engineering, art, reading, and even PE into lessons about Earth from millions of years ago. We went panning for shark teeth, digging for miniature horse bones, and even got to touch the well-documented find-of-a-lifetime, Titanoboa vertebrae.

Image of 3D printed fossils

These students are working with the 3D fossils they printed.

Now, my 10-year-olds were more interested in what did it eat (full crocodiles), how did it catch its prey (asphyxiation), and how big was it really? To help answer that last question, we created our own PBL units that were published by the department. My class used the vertebrae template, the scanned image(s) of the fossilized bone found by UofF professors in Columbia, and worked in groups to design ‘the most efficient way to print them on our printers.’ Students worked in groups using computer assisted drafting (CAD) software, TinkerCad, to complete their tasks. They used math measurements to try and minimize supports (these are tree-like structures a 3D printer uses on overhangs, to keep the shape of the object you are printing). The problem with supports is that is wastes your printer filament (the plastic it prints with). So the kids finally managed to design a print that contained two bones on one printing plate, with minimized supports, and settings that allowed us to print twice a day, on each printer.

an image of students doing a compare and contrast activity with their printed fossils.

Students do a compare and contrast activity with their printed fossils.

The kids had fun working together towards a common goal. After about a week we had 45 vertebrae finally printed. We took some white yarn and our fossils and went out to the playground. I wanted the kids to really understand how long this snake was. We measured out 45 feet of yarn, and at about every 12 inches, a student tied their individual fossil onto the main string. It was quite the site to seek the shock, and terror, in some of their faces when they realized the size of this monster. We did a wiggle activity and the kids followed me around on the blacktop as we slithered back and forth as a snake playing follow the leader. Back in the classroom, we worked with units of distance and converted everything from millimeters, centimeters, inches, feet, and yards. We hit standards on standards and we weren’t trying too hard.

We finished up our Titanoboa Week with a ‘chat with a scientist’ interview with the awesome Ms. Jeanette Pirlo, representing Florida Museum Of Natural History, Vertebrate Paleontology Department! She gave kids a great glimpse into the fields of science and paleontology. We learned some new facts about Titanoboa, and she helped motivate some of my little girls to think about maybe one day going into a field of science and STEM. They are SO very excited to each be taking home their very own full sized Titanoboa 3D printed fossil!

a picture of students showing off their 3D printed fossils!

Students show off their 3D printed fossils!

Titanoboa might have been from Earth’s past, but with today’s technology, it is fueling the curiosity of kids from today. Check out the @FossilProject for plenty of 3D Printed fossils, lesson plans, and tips and tricks alike.

Cheers!

Number Talks

“My students struggle with number sense.”

“I have students that don’t know their basic facts.”

“The students in my classroom lack the ability to reason about math problems.”

Common phrases heard in math classrooms. I have said them when I was teaching and I hear them now all too often in professional development sessions. But why? Why are our students not grasping these skills under our guidance? What are students missing? Our teachers are implementing the standards, providing engaging lessons, and reinforcing skills all throughout the year. What else can be done? But alas I have the answer!

Number talks. Short math conversations where students solve problems in ways that are meaningful to them. Little to no prep on the part of the teacher, with a huge return from students! You read that right, little to NO PREP on the part of the teacher. Why wouldn’t you try it?

Number talks, developed in the early 1990’s, have recently resurfaced with the shift of implementing the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. The CA Math Framework references them as a strategy for increasing math discourse in the classroom and supporting the 8 Mathematical Practices that are foundational for learning in the CCSS. The Framework says, “the problems in a number talk are designed to elicit specific strategies that focus on number relationships and number theory. Students are given problems in either a whole- or small-group setting and are expected to mentally solve them accurately, efficiently, and flexibly. By sharing and defending their solutions and strategies, students have the opportunity to collectively reason about numbers while building connections to key conceptual ideas in mathematics.” (CDE, 2016) Implemented routinely for about 10 minutes a session, number talks have shown to increase students mathematical abilities to think flexibly, examine errors, identify misconceptions, and solve computation problems. All in all showing a strong understanding of number sense, fluency with math facts, and the ability reason about math without struggle.

numbertalk

But, don’t just take my word for it, hear from Sherry Parish, the author of Number Talks. Listen as she describes the process and its success. Consider watching students engage in at all grade levels. Dive in and take a look at the Number Talk resources linked in your SUSD Unit of Study resources; all available as Google Slide presentations (NO PREP) and chunked in a variety of skill sets.   And, finally ask for support or a demo in your classroom by reaching out to your site Instructional Coach or me, Angela Pilcher, at the Curriculum Department.

Ten minutes a day will change your phrases to

“My students are strong in their number sense!”

“I have students that know their basic facts!”

“The students in my classroom have the ability to reason about math problems!”

We grow at one rate and technology grows a thousand times faster!

I have to be honest. Lately, I feel like I’m the teacher that is afraid to turn on the computer. OK, it’s not that bad but I do feel like I can’t process one more thing. Since I need to know and I truly want to know it stresses me not being able to keep up. If I’m feeling that way, I can’t imagine how some teachers feel.

Keeping up with technology can be a challenge for many teachers especially teachers who only use technology in the classroom. Even more so if the teacher only uses it to take attendance or give MAP testing. Although I must say that by now we’ve been testing with MAP for over 8 years and you should at least know how to log-in! Sorry, I digress.

Considering everyone learns at different paces, and taking into account the less you use it the more you are likely to forget, it has been brought to my attention that it would make my life easier if I made “cheat sheets.” The cheat sheets should be printed on bright colored paper, laminated, and made in double quantity. My goal for this summer is to take some of the programs, reports, assessment, and anything else that I get called to help with and create the sheets. If anyone already has a few sheets to share, please do. The first one will be “What to check if nothing turns on” (Yes, there are times when I get called and all I do is plug something in).

The teachers that are new coming straight from college, for the most part, seem to have a handle on most of the basic technology needs. It is great when they help other teachers. One of the things, as we build our PLC community, is getting everyone comfortable with helping each other. I don’t always have time to help teachers when they need it which sometimes causes them more stress. But as they work with each other and they grow as professionals they all become more comfortable with at least clicking on the blue link.

One More Thing

Do you ever feel like you have to give your students one more thing? Whether it be
a survey, an assessment, etc.? Do you ever feel like there is one more computer
program that the students just “have” to use for them to see their test scores
soar? Imagine Learning? Mobymax? ST Math? Khan Academy? No Red Ink? Quizlet? Kahoots? The list seems to be never-ending and continues to grow. I know with my students the last thing they need is #onemorething. They, just like us, will become overwhelmed (and just maybe frustrated) with #onemorething.

Image of a quote in the textI understand that we are trying to move away from paper and more towards being paperless, but I think Alice Keeler said it best when she said that “paperless is not a pedagogy.” Alice Keeler! Thee Alice Keeler said that ‘paperless is not a pedagogy.’ For me, I think what I need to focus on the most is finding what works for each of my students and make those accommodations and/or modifications necessary for them to be successful and not just #onemorething. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that we can’t explore other, or even more educational programs, but I think we need to know when to say enough is enough and when to follow the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

 

Image of a tweet from Alice Keeler

If you don’t follow @alicekeeler on Twitter, you should.

I am writing this just in case there are others out there, who like me, are feeling a
tiny bit overwhelmed and are feeling as though you’re being pulled in every direction when it comes to #onemorething. You’re not alone, and we can get through this together. We need to do whatever it takes for our students to be successful. If one student sees success on Imagine Learning but not in Mobymax, then we need to find out why that is and tweak it. Make it work for your students and you. Not every kid learns the same nor do we. If we keep that in mind then we might be able to get through the rest of this year and all the other years more than just by the skin of our teeth.

Now if this post isn’t relatable to you or you need someone to blame, you are more
then welcome to #blameitonprescott, I’m fine with that.