Reflection on My One Word from 2105

Last year I got caught up in the #oneword movement for 2015.  During that time I set a goal to help empower others. In truth, I am not really sure what was my end goal.  What does it really even mean to empower others, and even more so, how would I know if I was being successful?

I can point to several places where I felt successful in empowering others, but how do I personally judge if others have felt empowered by the messages I share, or the support I am giving?  Looking back on 2015 I can reflect in knowing I have reached out to people in my district and many more beyond in an effort to help them take on new challenges.  I helped a colleague advance his career, a friend take a new step in her teaching journey, and I am trying to be the best support possible for an amazing new teacher with whom I work.

I have also shared lots of ideas, pushed a friend to step into presenting (two of them actually) and given my own students more opportunities to experience the world than ever before.

So, I could look back on this and happily say, yes, I have done my part.  But, I leave 2015 feeling unfulfilled.  I feel like I have so much more to give to my friends, colleagues, and most importantly my students.  There are so many people educators and so many kids that I see, I want to help empower them all.  Instead I can take solace in a few success stories, though  I am not sure my influence really was what made the difference for any of those individuals.

I leave 2015 not certain the impact I have had on others, but positive of the impact I have had on myself.  This year has been filled with highs and lows (as usual) but also filled with exciting new learning opportunities for myself and all of the students I see each day.  I published a children’s book, opened a Makerspace, wrote my first blog to be published by someone else (and second-see the “world” link above). My students have successfully engaged in engineering, steam projects, and coding.  I have presented in several places, helped organize a new EdCamp, and I had a proposal excepted by ISTE2016! Yet, through all of those great accomplishments I still am left wondering, have I had the impact on others I hope to have achieved?  I truly hope the answer is yes, but either way, I aspire to continue this mission in 2016.  I will choose a new “one word” for 2016, but I will not cease in my effort to empower others around me to achieve their own greatness.




Teaching Tiny Engineers

IMG_8645I have said many times, young kids can understand nearly any concept if you present it in the right way.  Over the past month, rather than finding ways to put math problems into Christmas trees, I have been teaching the engineering design process to 1st and 2nd graders.

With the Next Generation Science standards looking to develop problem solving scientific thinkers that can create their own ways to test their own theories, our youngest students need to begin developing critical, scientific thought processes.  In teaching the Engineering Design Process (granted a simplified version) my students are getting exposed to the same challenges that are now plaguing middle school science students in our school: this process is challenging!

Over the past month I have seen tremendous growth in several important areas for my class.  The first is in resiliency.  With their first challenge of building a home for pilgrim settlers out of paper, almost all of them failed several times.  There were some tears, some quitters, and significant frustrations from most of the my class.  A month later, my class is building airplanes as we study forces and motion.  Not only are they using the scientific terms (thrust, drag, lift, and gravity) they have repeatedly made efforts despite overwhelming failures to push toward a successful trial.

The second major area is in problem solving.  They are vastly improving in troubleshooting their prototypes, thinking through problems, and identifying solutions each time they start a challenge.  It has only been a month- three full projects and a few minor projects to gain background knowledge.

While it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, they are improving at working together, at seeing a project from beginning to end, and in recording their observations.  Those areas are still far from the same exciting progress that I have seen in other areas.

I firmly believe kids can learn just about anything.  Engineering and design is no exception.  While I have appreciated the difficulty that Middle School teachers are now facing in pushing kids to adopt a design and experiment thought process after being told everything to do for so many years, seeing the incredible progress with our Tiniest Engineers has reminded me yet again, that if we present the information correctly, kids identify complicated concepts like buoyancy, lift, friction, solubility, and many others.  Their output has been incredible, and their development has been even more remarkable.

If you are thinking about engineering challenges, stop.  There is no question it will be great for your kids!  The only thing to determine is, what type of design challenge will your students be tackling first.

#Hour of Code -Without Computers

This week I am finding my entire school is taking part in the Hour of Code.  It was exciting to know that other grade levels would be working on computer science and learning computer language.  This year however, I decided that before my 1st and 2nd graders even touched block coding materials like the ones available on (Star Wars and Minecraft), we needed to create a real understanding of how we speak to computers.

Far too often I hear from my kids, “the computer messed up.” All too many times, the issues is user error.  Computers, when working properly, do exactly what you tell them to do, EXACTLY what you tell them to do.

Before we started working on computers, we needed to learn to program without the computer (thanks to Manan @shahlock Shah).  We started by having kids write out directions to have me complete simple tasks.  They tried to get me to sit in a chair, turn off the lights, fill a cup of water, and draw a picture.  What they soon realized was that the challenge was much harder than they thought.  Each direction needed a clarifier, a distance, direction, or stop point.

It took working together and several unsuccessful attempts before any of the tasks were completed correctly.  Then, after setting the example for them, I unleashed my human robots on our school’s 8th graders.  The 8th grade class were also creating commands to direct human robots for simple tasks.  They had also been given advice to use precise language and exact steps.

Both my 2nd Grade Human Robots, and their 8th Grade programers were fantastic.  My kids followed directions as they were given and continued to follow them, challenging the 8th graders at every turn.  Some of the best parts of the experience included 2nd Graders helping 8th Graders develop more precise language by changing “move hand to the right, to move hand to the right and stop at the edge of the book”, an 8th Grade group deciding their initial challenge was too easy and they had to create a more complicated set of commands, and a group realizing the complexity of their text to speech software when they tried to get me to read a book.

Ultimately all of the kids developed a greater understanding of the balance of simplicity and complexity that goes into creating some of their favorite things.  They learned a lot about the clarity of language and sequential steps.  Later, when we started using block code to create our games, the kids excelled.  Given a simple language they created precise, sequential commands and many of them were inspired to keep working on building computer based platforms.

This year, the Hour of Code is not going to stop at an hour, but really carry throughout the year.