#choosekind

School is finally in session here in the Capital City and our students are busy settling in to new routines, earlier mornings, and getting to know their friends and teachers. When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite things was to spend the first week getting to know my students, learning about their interests, getting their feedback on what they wanted their classrooms to look and feel like, and having them create digital collages and word clouds representing themselves.

Just as we can work hard to make our classrooms warm and welcoming, it’s incredibly powerful when an entire school gets involved and sets a theme for the year. One of the schools in our district – Sheridan Road STEM – embraced the theme of kindness this year, inspired by the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In fact, the entire school is reading the book and doing a book study around it, the themes it represents, and embracing the idea of being open to others, being kind to all people, regardless of their appearance, circumstance, or background. What a powerful message for our young people to hear, especially in our current political environment.

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This is a powerful message that schools across the country are embracing and using to connect with others. Some of the things being shared on Twitter with #choosekind are incredibly inspiring. I personally haven’t read this book yet, but I am very excited to participate in the book study along with the teachers and students at Sheridan Road STEM. 

How will you #choosekind this year?

 

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Family STEAM Night

Students and teachers at Mt. Hope STEAM had an awesome and successful family STEAM night last week! Our Magnet schools throughout the district hold theme nights several times a year to open their buildings up to parents and the community at large to show off all the great learning that’s happening in our buildings. It’s also important for parents to see just how much education and schooling has shifted since they were in school.

Throughout the building, it’s clear that Mt. Hope STEAM is a different kind of school. The walls are painted bright colors, a beautiful mural dons the walls on the front entrance showing the cityscape of Lansing and elements of the STEAM theme – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.

It was easy to see the STEAM theme throughout the building. In the Technology Lab, students and parents used VEX Robots to race each other and complete challenges.

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VEX Robotics

A fifth grade teacher used latex to create rubber bands. Parents and students got to participate and use scientific principles to make their rubber bands.

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Making rubber bands.

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Finished products!

In another classroom, students showed their parents what they have been learning about computer programming using puzzles on Code.org.

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She completed all 10 puzzles! 

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Even parents like Code.org! 

Another teacher set up the Lego robotics kits and parents and students worked on programming their Lego builds. Parents commented on how different these Legos were from the ones they used growing up!

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Lego Robotics

One of the tastiest activities was in a 6th grade classroom. Using Nerds and Starbursts, students created different types of rocks to explain the rock cycle. At the end, they got to eat their creations – like lava melting rocks!

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Creating sedimentary rocks with Starbursts and Nerds

The fourth grade showcased their 3D printed houses, buildings, and cars on their moon colonies. This was such a fun project and the kids loved seeing their designs printed in tangible objects.

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Moon Colony

Of course, we had some time for fun, too!

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Some dedicated teachers! Thank you for all you do!

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Pizza! Yum!

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Our fabulous MSU Interns making sure everyone gets fed.

We even had our local school district press present. Teachers and students explained what learning is like at Mt. Hope STEAM and shared what they love most about their school. It’s always so powerful to hear students share what they are learning and how they are engaging with new content and ideas.

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Students sharing why Mt. Hope STEAM is a great place to learn.

Too many times we hear about all the problems and issues with public schools. I love sharing events like this that help to showcase all the efforts teachers and staff go to in order to create positive experiences for our students and community.

The Hour of Code

Last month, students across the Lansing School District participated in The Hour of Code. Put on annually by the amazing people at Code.org, the goal of this international movement is to get students around the world writing computer code for at least an hour during that week. This year, Hour of Code was scheduled December 7-13th. Ideally, this sparks interest in computer science, spurring more students to demand access to computer science courses. In addition, it’s important for students to be exposed to computer programming at a young age since so much of their lives center around technology. Students also learn valuable collaboration and problem-solving skills as they go through the puzzles.

Throughout the district, various schools participated at different levels. In some schools, a couple of classrooms participated. In other schools, the entire building took part in various events. Regardless, all students had a blast and teachers loved seeing their students so engaged.

At Sheridan Road STEM, the 6th grade students did the Star Wars Hour of Code puzzles.

Ms. Rubio also brought in a guest speaker from Leigh Kunz & Associates (a software development firm) who spoke to students about how learning computer science has impacted his career. Students were super impressed with the thought of making close to $70,000 right out of college. Gary explained to students that they were uniquely situated in Michigan, because there is a huge need for computer science experts and not enough people to fill those jobs. He talked to students about how having those skills makes them more valuable and able to ask for more things to get employed. They loved the idea of folks competing for their skills! Gary commented to me that if he had learned coding this way, he would have found it MUCH more enjoyable and engaging. He talked to students about how he learned – big, thick books, and pages of notes to memorize the various codes to make “things happen.” Students also prefer learning computer science this way!

At Cavanaugh STEAM, our 3rd grade students spent a few minutes talking about how computers communicate. I started out by asking students what language we speak. Then, we talked about what language computer speak. That was a bit trickier. Students learned how computers talk by “programming” me to get from one area of the classroom to another. I then made the connection to students that what they were doing when they dragged blocks over to the work space was “talking” to the computer and when the computer followed the commands, it was “listening” to what the student had told them.

Kids had a blast and were SOOO excited when they finished. Prior to our lesson that day, we printed Hour of Code certificates for each student. They loved getting a certificate that showed they had completed their Hour of Code.

Our second grade students at Fairview STEM were super geeked to participate in the Hour of Code using Minecraft. Mrs. Norris had been talking it up to her students and boy were they excited to start! We have been doing pieces of coding using some other resources from Code.org, but when Minecraft was announced, students were so excited. It was a challenging puzzle in some ways – mostly for me! – but kids persevered through it.

That was one of the highlights of the entire week for me – seeing the kids working through challenges and problem solving with one another. Students don’t always love having to solve a problem on their own, so seeing them WANT to try to figure it out and then show others how they did it was awesome.

At Mt. Hope STEAM, the entire school participated! They took one afternoon and created two hour-long sessions. Teachers led a combination of plugged (computer-based) and unplugged activities. Students then rotated to another activity after the hour was up. It was a great way to mix students from various grade levels up, and to allow the teachers some creativity in teaching different groups of students than the ones they see on a day-to-day basis. We often have wifi issues, so collaborating with only a couple of plugged activities helped alleviate any issues we might have had. One of the computer-based lessons was housed in the computer lab (with wired internet connection!) and the other was on iPads on the other end of the building. Overall, teachers and students praised the activities and the planning. We provided a variety of unplugged lessons including Binary Bracelets, Building a Foundation, and Graph Paper Programming. It was a fun and successful day!

Your Turn: Did you participate in the Hour of Code this year? What activities did you do? 

Building Relationships

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately on how technology can create and enhance relationships. Technology changed the ways I communicate with my students. When I first started teaching, Facebook was the main mode of communication that all my students used. They went to great efforts to try to find me and “friend” me. As technologies and preferences changed, students used Google to read a lot of my blog posts, my teaching portfolio, find me on Twitter, etc. They used the technologies available to them to learn more about me. In turn, I used technology in my classroom to learn more about my students:

Relationships are crucial. I’ve always considered myself very social and outgoing; friendships and connecting have been central to my well-being. I discovered building and maintaining relationships with my students was something that came easily to me, but also were often the difference maker between students coming to my classroom excited to learn – even if the content didn’t always thrill them – and coming to my classroom because they couldn’t skip school without their parents finding out. It seems so simple and yet it is often so difficult for people to get. There’s “never enough time”, there’s “too much content to cover”, whatever. If a student doesn’t know you care about him or her, there is no way he or she is ever going to do what you ask them to do at the level you’d like.

For example, you might ask your student to write a personal memoir. While he or she may complete the assignment satisfactorily, maybe even get an A as all her subjects and verbs agree, she’s chosen “juicy” words, and met the length requirement (that’s another pet peeve…I digress). But if she doesn’t TRUST you, she’s not going to share anything beyond the surface level with you. And that’s a lost opportunity to get to know a student as more than just a repository for your knowledge. It’s crucial to see our students as people with amazing ideas, complicated pasts, massive dreams, fears, and desires.

Technology can make it easier for us to connect. Technology helps students who often feel voiceless have a voice. It can make communicating much easier and faster than speaking face to face or hand writing a letter. But technology doesn’t have to be the only way we build relationships, connect, and grow with our students. The important piece for me is that we do SOMETHING to show our students why we went into teaching in the first place. I became a teacher because I wanted to share my passion and love for learning with others. I became a teacher because I love kids and learning from them. I became a teacher because to see them change, struggle, learn, adapt, create, and grow is the best feeling in the world.

Let’s hear it – how do you build relationships with your students? Does technology play a role? 

Technology Integration

I’m so incredibly excited to be working with teachers and students again! I am a former classroom teacher and now I will be working as an Instructional Technology Integration Specialist. More specifically, I will be focusing on STEM & STEAM magnet schools. I am hopeful that this blog will serve as both a space for me to record projects, thoughts, reflections, and documentation of work processes. Additionally, I would like this to be a resource for the schools and teachers I work directly with and other educators around the world.

 

Questions:

What are some critical issues an Instructional Technology Specialist should focus on in the first weeks of school?

What resources do you use?