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?


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? 

The Scientific Method – Robotics and Cars

I remember being in science class and having to come up with a problem to solve using the scientific method. I remember trying to come up with something (science-related) that I cared enough about to create a project that would solve that problem. My partner and I came up with a silly question about whether a seed would grow better with plain water or with carbonated water. Yawn.

Fast forward about 15 years, and students in “science” class are coming up with far more complex problems. I use quotes because in this particular STEM school, the science curriculum is integrated into all the learning as a whole. Students are using an app on their iPad called Canvas as part of Project Lead the Way curriculum to build and test robots. In this particular challenge, students were given tools and had to watch videos which gave them the steps they needed to build a car.

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Students then built a ramp and had to come up with predictions on how far they thought their car would go based on the angle of the ramp. Then, students tested their hypotheses and recorded their results.



Students then recorded their results using the Showbie app on the iPads. Their teacher had created this chart and shared the document with all the students. This school isn’t a Google Apps school, so Showbie has been an excellent alternative for creating a paperless classroom. Students are able to record their results instantly in Showbie and share them with their teacher. IMG_2729

One of the coolest things was that students completed all of these tasks in groups and without using paper! As someone who knows the power of technology, it KILLS me when I see teachers still creating projects that center around printing reams and reams of paper. For this task, students watched a video and worked together to try to troubleshoot. They didn’t have a set of printed directions. It was actually really neat to have the step by step directions on an iPad, because students could “rewind” the directions, zoom in, look at it from a particular angle, etc. They also didn’t have to worry about losing their results as they were all stored on the iPad and in the cloud via the Showbie app.

This was a really excellent example of integrating technology and collaboration skills. Throughout the process, I noticed all students in all groups were engaged. Those who were building the robots would watch the video and tinker, explain and talk to one another and try something else. The groups that were already testing their cars had assigned roles for each group member. One person was responsible for measuring the different angles of the ramp, another student measured how far their car went, and another group member’s job was to record the results. It was great to see the scientific method being taught and tried in a meaningful and fun way – a far cry from my 7th grade science project!

We’re Being Invaded!!

Last week, one of the schools I work with put on an Invasive Species Conference. The conference was the culmination of a 6 week long PBL the 4th grade students were working on. Fourth graders have been studying about ecosystems and focused on invasive species in Michigan and their impact on Michigan’s ecosystem. Students were tasked with presenting at a conference whose attendees were 3rd grade students from the feeder school for Sheridan Road. The fourth grade students spent many weeks and countless hours working on their conference. They researched, created informational brochures, made presentation boards, found links to videos and and pictures, made giveaways for the 3rd graders, and practiced their presentations.

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All of this hard work culminated in an awesome event that had everyone excited and engaged!

The event started just like a real conference, with the attendees checking in, getting a name badge, and a tote bag.

photo 2 (1)The event kicked off with a welcome video and introduction of the principal. Then, the students were off to explore. Several 6th grade students were docents, leading the groups of 3rd graders to various presentation boards. To make sure no group was without someone to present to, we created a schedule that all the docents and groups had, so everyone knew when it was time to move to the next group. It went really smoothly, the 4th graders did a great job, and the 3rd grade students were really engaged – taking notes, asking questions, and actively listening. It was a HUGE success!

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The conference ended with a Kahoot game as a fun way to wrap up and check how much the 3rd graders learned. Everyone involved had a spectacular time! Later, parents were invited to come see what the students had done, which was a great way to increase our community involvement. What a fantastic way to wrap up before winter break!

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Sooo…What is it you DO, exactly?

I get this question a lot when I first tell people that I’m a Technology Integration Specialist. While those relatively new to the education world are more familiar with this idea, others have never heard of it. I kind of liken it to all the various acronyms we give to jobs nowadays. Secretaries are “Administrative Assistants”, we have “Customer Care Relations Specialist” for Help Desk employees. So, usually once I explain to people my role, they are excited and interested to hear how I help teachers and students.

Working with 6 different buildings is a bit challenging, and the logistics of simply making it to all the schools and doing meaningful work is often difficult. Teachers have so much on their plates, technology is AWESOME when it works, random visitors, opportunities, assemblies, emergencies, etc. all pop up, and a myriad of other “crises” can derail even the best laid plans. With all of those (potential) obstacles, working with teachers and students is still incredibly rewarding – even if fleeting and short-lived at times.

My job has been made possible through funding by a Federal Grant to support STEM and STEAM education in our  nation’s schools. What an awesome and exciting time to be a support person! The incredible things students do, the intense level of engagement and connection to their learning…it’s awe-inspiring. I decided to create a short video of what types of work I’ve been doing in the month since I began working with teachers. You can view the video here.


There are so many creative ways students are using technology to improve the world they live in and to enhance their understanding of complex issues. I cannot wait to see the fruition of some of the projects I have been supporting students on.

Your Turn:

What do you do that inspires others? 

What do others do that inspires you?