PLTW Lead Teachers Angie Harris, Kim Jared, and I will be presenting at the PLTW Summit from 7:45 to 8:45 on Wednesday, March 23rd. We will share details of our Seed to STEM Journey with those schools interested in getting their own STEM program off the ground and looking for some "getting started" tips and pitfalls. We hope to see you there!
Teachers are good at what they do. BB teachers formed a leadership team and planned a Family STEAM Night to give parents an idea of the kinds of things their children were doing at school. Now the activities did not rise to the level of PLTW STEM learning, but they did focus on the design process.
Sample stations included: Designing from a pattern with LEGO, the art in math with Spirograph, stringing bracelets with initials made from beads representing binary code, constructing a straw tower that could support an orange, creating 3D Play Doh images from 2D pictures much the way a 3D printer works, building paper towers, and more. Some stations were more PK, K, and 1st "friendlier" than were others. This was noted on the flyer for the event.
There was even a selfie station with some Mad Scientist props which resulted in some fun family moments. Though we are usually a Tweet-happy staff at events such as this one, we were a bit overwhelmed with the turnout and had to keep all hands on deck in order to meet the needs of our families. When the event ended its planners immediately regrouped to brainstorm some revisions for next year.
In fact, we have convinced our PTO to change their Winter Carnival next year to include family STEAM activities and not just carnival-type games.
A successful first attempt!
It can! Check out this Valentine's Day box created by a second grader. It comes with four "handboilers." The students placing Valentine cards within this box can take a moment to hold on to a handboiler. If the liquid rises to the top and begins to boil, the cardgiver knows he or she is HOT!
Cute AND Clever!
3rd graders' manipulation of the vex robots in their module sparked some interest in inventors and inventions. Teachers seized that moment and added an informal display of "The Coolest Inventions of 2015" from a classroom magazine. While getting a drink of water or walking down the hallway students could vote. Simple but powerful.
I watched our second-graders this morning in their yearly production of Tacky the Penguin. It was darling, and the message is sound: Appreciate the differences in others. You may need those "others" one day.
As I stood and watched I thought about those students in the production and some of their experiences with Project Lead the Way. There are students who can shine with PLTW who do not shine so brightly in more typical classroom activities.
And then I thought about OLSAT tests. In the Hartselle City system, the OLSAT is one of our first Child Find steps toward determining those students who qualify for Gifted education. For over ten years I have been annually surprised by at least one or two students whose non-verbal IQ scores were exceptional. This year I was not so surprised, because PLTW modules have allowed me to see talent in students who do not fit a traditional school model.
And like Tacky's fellow penguins, I appreciate those differences in those non-verbal "others." I know I am going to need them running my planet one day.
5. Google Classroom has something to offer every grade level. 4th grade students can work on assignments with a far greater independence than can K students, but a centrally located "holder of info" that can ding a parent's cell phone when the teacher posts something new is a great thing. And it's free.
4. When shopping for supplies for the students to use when constructing their STEM projects, think crazy out of the box. One of the best snowball launchers we had was constructed using a hunk of ratty styrofoam, a large serving spoon, and rubberbands!
3. Families are hungry for challenging and constructive time together. They don't know this about themselves, but if they work together on something that can result in a "not counted absence," they will be motivated in the beginning and happy in the end.
2. Nothing will prompt teachers to learn something new and somewhat complicated that does not have a solid reward at the end. No teacher here hated Google Classroom and student Gmail accounts, but STEM Day gave everyone a rewarding reason to get on board.
1. Watching students across grade levels design, construct, and reflect on an identical task revealed MUCH about where they are developmentally and how we can grow each child. Nothing informs learning like other learning. In our de-briefing of the STEM Day events, teachers had the most to share about this.
We are trying something new! We are hosting a Virtual STEM Day on the half-day before we dismiss for Christmas. It will involve students/families choosing from among 3 STEM Challenges, completing the challenges and reflecting on their design and construction, submitting their findings via Gmail and Google Classroom, and then asking parents to respond to a Google Forms survey regarding their children's ability to work independently, their tech-readiness, and more.
We have worked to think through pitfalls and ready ourselves.
One piece-- What will it look like to submit the product on the student side of things? These fourth graders are stepping through the process with third grade teachers.
Teachers are no longer the holders-of-all-knowledge. Students and teachers can collaborate and learn from one another!
Barkley Bridge Elementary School is celebrating its 20th year as a school this year. Though I was not the principal at the time, I can distinctly remember when the school opened because my oldest son began kindergarten here at BB in that very first year. As I began to reminisce about those early days I thought, "Am I still wearing any of the clothes that were hanging in my closet twenty years ago? I'm not! So why would I continue to teach and lead exactly the way I did twenty years ago?" I don't. And for good reason.
I am not one who advocates throwing out every lesson from the past, but there are very few that could not use some tweaking.
Most particularly, think about the use of tech. "Substitution" is not the level for which we all strive on the SAMR model, but it's a start. There are VERY FEW projects that could not be replaced with tech presentations. Students can even record their own voices and allow avatars to be the visual!
Tech is the tool of the future. It's THEIR tool. I am not going to submit my reports using a feather and an inkwell. The same courtesy should be extended to the children I am growing!
Elementary teachers love activities and products that are cute. And laminated. So there has to be a "let it go" moment when working with Project Lead the Way. The picture below says it all.
Not exactly what you want adorning the walls at Open House, huh? But look again...
This is design in action. Cute? No. It's a beautiful thing!
Author: Susan Hayes
Principal, Barkley Bridge Elementary School