Friday, August 25, 2017

Building Together

Today is still a summer break day. But today was also a preparing for September Day. Yesterday, I visited school for a little while. Worked on testing all the computers in one of our computer labs. Want to make sure everything is ready to go on the first day. Then I spent some time rearranging #OurSTEAMCafe for the new school year.

A few weeks back I had an idea for an activity for my teachers when we return to school. I hope to help them see that bringing creativity into their classrooms can be easy. I hope to let them see that activities can connect to the standards in simple ways. But I also hope to let them experience the joy that is exploring, collaborating, building, and more with a hands-on #makermovement activity.

Every year on the first day of school, I provide light refreshments in my room. It helps to encourage teachers to stop by, ask for any help they might need, share ideas that might be considering for the coming year, and pick up their SMARTBoard pens. Yesterday I printed labels in preparation for this gathering. The labels read, "Welcome to the new school year! On September 5th or 6th, please bring this envelope with you to #OurSTEAMCafe. Let's build a great year together. ~Mrs. Shields".

Color, size, shape, angles, & roles vary but we work well together.
Today these labels were adhered to self sealing envelopes from the dollar store. 80 envelopes have now been filled with 1 varying Lego block each. The envelopes are sealed. Each envelope will be randomly placed in a staff members mailbox before the opening of school. My idea is that staff should bring their envelope to #OurSTEAMCafe. There we will open them. There each teacher will have an opportunity to place it on a Lego base plate. Together we will build something. Do I know what we will build? No. Do I know how big it will be? No. This is that freedom of expression part one has to expect when working within the #makermovement.

Surrounding the table will be some extra part containers with more Legos. These will be labelled "Community Parts". A reminder that we can't do it all alone. To make something better we may need to reach out to vendors, parents, social groups, consultants, and digitally connected PLN members.

I hope to make some signs reminding us that our shapes, sizes, colors, angles, and roles all may be different. But we have one similarity. We all work well together. Additionally, I would like to print some photographs of samples of how other teachers have been using Legos with their students. This summer I invested in a few books about projects with Legos like storytelling and working with simple machines. These will help decorate the area and offer some idea sparks.

As we build together I will be photographing so that we can see how each group of staff that arrives adds something to the greater whole.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Solar Eclipse 2017

Today gave new meaning to "Shields Up!" for us. Yes, we [my husband and I] spent the afternoon out in the backyard. Summertime is a great time to read and relax in the back yard. It is so important for teachers to recharge and refresh during our summer vacation. But part of me wished I was in school with kids. Thanks to friends that into Science I knew way in advance that the Solar Eclipse was expected. I knew to order solar shields that stated ISO 12312-2:2015. I knew that NASA was only recommending certain companies as legitimate manufacturers. I read that a good test for the glasses was to look at a light bulb. If you saw nothing, they were closer to right. If they worked like sunglasses they were wrong. Okay mine passed that test. But would they really let us see the sun and/or moon?

As we gathered in the backyard with IR thermometer, camera phones, and solar shields in hand we felt ready. I however, was not ready for the dexterity needed to place the solar shield over my phone, hold the phone, snap the picture ... all while looking at the ground. Why? Because I know I will need my eyesight more than I would need the photograph. I was not taking chances. When the glasses were not protecting my eyes, I was not looking at the beautiful bright ball of light in the sky. But while taking photographs in this manner, I did manage to capture this image (along with a bunch of grey shots where the solar shields weren't pressed firmly enough to my phone). The only digital editing that was done to this image was to crop the photo down a bit so that you can better see the tiny crescent of sun in the photo.

For the most part, watching the event LIVE through solar shields was better than trying to capture the moment. This was a great reminded that not everything needs to be digital. Perhaps there is beauty in the simplicity of enjoying the Science and nature at hand. I am grateful to be enjoying the moment at home, with my husband today. But as an educator part of me is wishing that I had students with me to explore the STEAM involved. Why did the infrared thermometer's display drop so very drastically? Would a pinhole box provided a better view? Would there have been something I could have done better to keep my glasses more flush with my phone's camera lens? I would have loved to listen to student questions and suggestions. But there will be another chance in April 2024.

Monday, June 19, 2017

National Week of Making

June 16 through the 22nd was designated as The National Week of Making. To support our teachers, I created a Google Slideshow with suggestions for various types of inexpensive making. Loved the emails that I received in return thanking me for sharing these simple ideas. Two classes invited me to come view projects (that they already had been working on) their students created. I appreciate seeing how the teachers and students creative was set free even before my resources. And hopefully this helped a few others join us in the makermovement. Here is the slideshow presentation with some starter ideas for making.

In #OurSTEAMCafe, I also put out a few project bins with extra supplies. These offered teachers a free way to dip their toes into the water of classroom making. I search around for extra glitter, glue, cardboard, stickers, straws (200 for $1), coffee filters (500 for $1), muffin liners (25 for $1), clay (5 for $5 if you shop well), and more. I noticed the bins were not emptied by teachers. But they did decrease a little showing that some had taken a few items to work with. I hoped more would share their results and perhaps pictures. But we will work on documentation more this coming school year. Strengthening our digital documentation is one of my professional goals for the coming school year.  Below is a photo of the bins I setup for National Week of Making.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Moving Beyond Our Current Century

There is a part of our educational lingo that makes me cringe. Yet I can't seem to find a better replacement to use instead. 
This is the year 2017. We are already 17 years into the 21st Century. I agree these skill areas are essential:
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking

But saying if we frame things as "aiming for", "focusing on", "improving" etc our students' readiness and preparation for "21st Century Skills", aren't we already setting them up to be behind the times? And yet, I seem to be unable to find a term that I like better. Perhaps we should focus on:
  • Future Learning Skills (not right)
  • Essential Skills (not quite right)
  • 22nd Century Skills (hmmm)
  • Skills Necessary for Success

Has anyone's district adopted a terminology that expresses aiming for the future but with these important skills in mind? I'd love to find something that I can use without cringing every time someone says "21st Century Skills". Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Diving Deeper

Recently some of our 5th grade students had the opportunity to participate in a live stream from Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary and the Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thank you to both organizations for making it possible! What a wonderful experience!

The terrific teachers that I collaborated with showed some photos and videos of the area to their students. They offered the students to pose questions to the scientists at the sanctuary. Our students asked some very thorough and thought provoking questions. Using Google Docs, they shared those inquiries with me. I formulated the questions into a single representative doc for the class. That was then shared with the Gray's Reef Live organizers.

The event was simply beautiful. Students learned about careers in marine biology. We discussed the technology involved with combining various cameras, recorded video footage, and creating a live feed. Students gathered new knowledge in such a simple way from many topics. Here is the archive of the live experience:

Thankfully the teachers that were collaborating with me, were flexible enough to continue watching after the official Live Stream event concluded. After the official broadcast two individuals from the sanctuary continued to answer student questions live on camera. How exciting that one of our students was recognized. Her question was answered during the stream. (Click on the Q&A thumbnail at How nice to receive feedback, "What an interesting question?" along with the informational response. I think this truly made our students day.

Much gratitude to the Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary and Georgia Public Broadcasting for bringing our students on this amazing Virtual Field Trip.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Pushing Through the Pause

Recent days, I have been away from my daily routines. I am too "type-A" for this. My brain needs professional stimulation (any stimulation really... but it craves new ideas for school). This evening I decided to put a little thought to creating a presentation that can be used with students that our new to #OurSTEAMCafe. Those that have not experienced our school makerspace before may need a little guidance. I enjoy moments when students can conduct self-guided explorations. But sometimes, in the beginning, they might need a little guidance. I thought I would also share this here for anyone else that needs a starting point for working with their students. I hope you find it useful.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tech Valley Center of Gravity

Today, I had the opportunity to visit The Tech Valley Center of Gravity, Their website does not do this spot justice. What a beautiful open space for creativity to flow! It is impressive to learn that many of the shared resources at the space are available thanks to donations. This just reinforces that you never know until you ask. Ask away! Light refreshments were served as tours of the space were guided.

One of the items that truly caught my eye was two types of electronic signage. One was similar to a rectangular monitor but instead of being used in the usual landscape mode. This sign was hung on the wall in portrait mode (aka longways along the wall). Way to "think outside the box". Another was a display sign that changed its content to explain what the THINQubator was (children's area to share skills with the younger set). This was a great kick-off to the NYS Makers Summit. I look forward to tomorrow.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Think Beyond the Popular

Recently also, I was visiting a local pharmacy chain. Naturally anything left over with a Valentine's Day them is surprisingly well marked-down. We have a new energy efficient system where if people are not active enough in #OurSTEAMCafe, the lights go out. I do appreciate that so that we can strive to be more green. But when I am there working on my laptop, yes, a small grown may escape me while I perform a jumping jack to reactivate the room lights. And if students are down in the space but remarkably focused on their work, the lights may go out. To avoid the shrieks of scared children left in a dark space, I have purchased a few sets of battery operated candles. My last few for some reason were deemed Valentine's Day gifts. Okay sure. But that means they were available instead of with a retail price of $39.99 at $10.00. Yes, please. And today (because it is even further past February 14 - $7). The battery operated candles supply nice ambient lighting when the lights go out. Offer a way to talk about circuits with multiple students in the future. And just look rather fancy when the room lights are actually lit.

But my favorite piece of thinking beyond the popular was an adorable little stuffed bear. Technically his packaging was all about Valentine's Day. Red hearts and I love messages everywhere. But when you take him out of the box, the only hearts to be seen are small ones on each little paw. But the one on the paw on the right says, "Press to Record" and the paw on the left says, "Press to Play". So for $5 I managed to find a bear that has a small microphone box built in.

You can record and re-record any message for students. Right now naturally he proudly states, "Welcome to #OurSTEAMCafe" in my voice. A few people have commented, "What a cute bear!" No one realizes he was once meant for a Valentine's Day gift. Once I show them the arm that plays the recorded message, they are all left in awe. When I tell them I scooped him up for $5 they are amazed.

Please remember to think out side the box. Literally, think beyond the packaging. Just because a popular, current use has one thing in mind, does not mean that an item cannot be tweaked to create something wonderful in your #makerspace.

Women's History Month

Love when your eye sees something in a new way that you have passed by many times unnoticed. And that new insight leads to another new idea. This past week was very hectic. But I had the opportunity to spend some time in our school's Waterford Early Learning Program ( Computer Lab. While waiting for the next class to arrive, I perused the books on the shelf. I found one from the Math and Science Program about "Joanne Simpson". I was not familiar with the name. Apparently she was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in the field of meteorology.
As I kept looking through the boxes of books (print resources to supplement the computer based curriculum), there were quite a few books about females in Science and Math. Just in time for March to celebrate Women's History Month. So I brought one or two of each down to #OurSTEAMCafe to share with students and teachers in coming days. So happy that my eye wandered in just the right direction this week. Love when our various disciplines combine for a more transdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Searching for Answers

This week in #OurSTEAMCafe, we offered some fifth grade students to pilot their own Discovery Education accounts. Nothing like personalized, customized learning experiences. Previously their teacher had begun brainstorming ideas for future research projects. Their topic suggestions to their teacher are most impressive. As their teacher stated nothing is set in stone yet regarding their topics. But how nice that they are thinking about following their educational passions. They spent some time searching for information regarding their various topics. It was a great learning experience that not all topics will be easily searchable. Perhaps you need to get creative with your search terms to facilitate learning. I look forward to assisting the students with their future research projects.