Welcome to the new look!

I explained a few weeks ago that “Learning Is Messy” was getting a new look and address, and here it is. There still might be a few updates and changes to come as I learn more about what has been wrought here. The old site was getting a bit clunky and unwieldy – blog theme updates would often lead to unwanted changes in appearance and function, and I was not happy with how my hosting company handled things at times.

So change is good, now I just have to deal with the changes, which shouldn’t be too hard. I have to give credit to Jim Beeghley who orchestrated the move to a new host and implementing the new blog theme. He got everything up and running before “turning the keys” over to me. He’ll probably get a few more help requests from me … I kind of feel like I’ve gone from driving a pick-up truck with an automatic transmission to a race car with a manual 6 speed … so I’ll probably strip the gears a few times … but I’ll get there. That’s part of “messy learning” after all!

Lots going on as one of the 6 school districts I serve has already gotten back from summer, and others will be back in a few weeks. Again, welcome to the new look!

Learning is messy!


This Blog Is Getting a Facelift and URL Change

Because Learning is Messy...

I’m not a PHP or WordPress expert in any way … like the old saying goes, “I know just enough to get me in trouble.” That coupled with having less and less time to deal with the messiness of trying to get things “fixed” when an update doesn’t play nice, or some other issue crops up, which seems to happen too often of late at just the wrong time, has prompted the change (yes, sometimes messiness is just an unwanted, unproductive time suck).

With that in mind I’m changing my theme, my URL, which will only change slightly –learningismessy.com will be the new URL – right now that gets you to a very old page that houses videos my students produced … and no those won’t go away, just will be available in a different place. The new theme (still WordPress) is a complete redesign, but will incorporate some recognizable aspects from the current blog … at least for now. I’ll share more after the new theme appears about the mastermind behind the new look and feel (remember, I said I’m not an expert in this stuff, so I got help).

Not sure yet the exact date the change will happen, the old URL will redirect as well. Change happens!

Learning is messy!

Edutopia Post About the High Hopes Project!

A few weeks ago I was asked to submit a post for Edutopia (Supported by the George Lucas Educational Foundation) about our “High Hopes Project.” It was a challenge based on my schedule right now, but on the other hand it forced me to be more thoughtful in explaining what is a multi-layered project. I was restricted, thank goodness, to 800 words or I might still be writing. You can check out the post here. It does the best job so far (according to my biased opinion) of explaining the project.



Learning is messy!!!

Pathways To Space 1st Launch Day

Recently we obtained a Space Grant that has enabled us to offer a class we are calling “Pathways To Space.” It is a 32 hour/2 credit class for middle school science teachers.

During our 1st class teachers constructed their own tissue paper hot air balloons. By taking the class they qualify for free supplies to have their students build their own tissue balloons that will be launched at the Reno Balloon Races next September. IMG_3375 IMG_3369 IMG_3368










The second night of class this past Thursday they constructed solid rockets from kits, and water rockets constructed from 2 liter soda bottles, cardboard for fins, and clay for weight in the nose cone to keep them going straight. IMG_3414 IMG_3423







In later classes teachers will learn about high altitude ballooning and planes. Today we had our third class, which was an all day Saturday extravaganza. We met out at White Lake north of Reno, Nevada, to launch our balloons and rockets. Below I’m posting photos and  slow motion video of both a water rocket launch and a solid rocket launch. In addition here is a link to many photos and videos from our day.















Water Rocket launch

Solid rocket launch

After our launches we headed to the campus at the University of Nevada, Reno, and visited the Planetarium and several museums. Next we headed over to the Reno offices of the National Weather Service where Chris Smallcombe gave us a tour of the facilities.








Next we observed the launch of a weather balloon. They launch 2 balloons every day – at 4:00 AM and 4:00 PM. The balloons climb to above 100,000 feet along with an instrument package that records temperature, humidity, air pressure and more. The instruments send their data back to the weather service in real time.













After watching the balloon rise out of sight we were done for the day. This Thursday we will learn about electromagnetic radiation and high altitude ballooning. We might even start to design and build the payloads we will launch to near space later in the month.






Learning is messy!



Online Presentation: STEM – What Does That Really Look Like In The Classroom

On Saturday, April 25, 2015, I’ll be delivering an online version of one of my most requested presentations: “STEM – What Does That Really Look Like In The Classroom.” I’ll share real STEM projects right from my classroom. The projects will showcase  integrated examples that demonstrate how hands-on STEM provides engaging and motivating opportunities for collaboration and problem solving that when coupled with students communicating and presenting their process and results leads to powerful language arts and math learning. This work isn’t shoehorned into your day, it becomes your day, at least for periods of time.

NSTA Virtual Conference STEM Today For a Better Tomorrow

My presentation is just one of many. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) is producing an entire day virtual conference on STEM they are calling, “STEM Today For A Better Tomorrow.” 

From their web page:

“The future is bright for careers in STEM. However, too many students do not have a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to pursue careers in these fields. In the STEM Today For a Better Tomorrow virtual conference we make the case for the role that STEM education plays for students interested in following a STEM career.”

The conference begins at 10 am Eastern Time and offers a wide range of speakers and presentations. The agenda for the day with descriptions of the sessions is posted on the site as well. One I am looking forward to is offered by Captain Barrington Irving. I recently  co-taught a model hands-on STEM inquiry lesson to teachers demonstrating the power of integrating language arts, math and art. As part of that lesson teachers in the class read an article about the exploits of Captain Irving:

Barrington Irving“In 2007, Captain Barrington Irving became the youngest person to fly solo around the globe. On his 97-day journey, he flew 30,000 miles in a single-engine plane called Inspiration. “


“Barrington Irving Will set the stage for the conference making the case for STEM education as a path for students’ pursuit of STEM careers.” 

Note that attendance to the all day virtual conference costs $99 to non-NSTA members and $79 dollars for members. You can read a description of the conference and see the agenda for the day that begins at 10 am Eastern Time and continues until 6 pm Eastern Time.

Learning is messy!




Two New Updates on the “High Hopes Project”

I got to spend some time today at Cottonwood Elementary School. Students and teachers there are tackling a few of our engineering challenges. I took some photos and wrote a post about the bio-engineering inquiry they are performing over at the High Hopes Project Blog. It’s called “Decomposing Third Graders” or “I saw Third Graders Decomposing At A School Today” – check it out.

Also we shared a post about how just one of the collaborative aspects of this model STEM learning project works – it’s titled: “Just One Collaborative Aspect Of The High Hopes Project” – check it out as well!

Learning is messy!!

Learning Arduinos to Use Arduinos

Just posted about the work going on with the middle school students that are designing the “High Hopes” release mechanism, a  solar panel monitoring system and possibly other systems that will utilize Arduinos. But first they have to learn how … and they’re learning to utilize them with model rockets first! Go check it out. Great messy learning!

Learning is messy!

The “High Hopes Project” Explained

This is cross posted at the “High Hopes Project” blog
Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake from about 29,000 meters (95,000 feet)

The “High Hopes Project” is designed to be a model global STEM learning project. But what is it really and how does it work? Who is involved? How can my students and I be involved?

Last year we dropped GoPro cameras 45 feet deep in Lake Tahoe and pulled them up to almost 30,500 meters (100,000 feet) attached to a high altitude weather balloon to investigate how that would work. No students were involved in that trial.

Well that has changed. We (see below) are planning launches from several Reno and Fernley, Nevada, area schools this spring. Tentative dates are the last week in April, and from crystal clear Lake Tahoe in June. These launches will include payloads designed by local students. At least 2 of the payloads will carry the “High Hopes” of the world to near space and release them. Teachers and their students (that’s you!) can participate by writing and submitting your “High Hopes via a Google Spreadsheet or via Twitter.

We are collecting “High Hopes” for your school, community and the world, from students and others around the globe – we’ve already received hundreds from local students, but also students from as far away as Norway and France.

Here are more specifics about the project including ways for you or anyone to join in:

Sparks High School students are designing and building a water pressure gauge to track water pressure from 45 meters (150 feet) deep in Lake Tahoe to the surface. An air pressure gauge will monitor air pressure to 30,500 meters (100,000 feet) or higher. Students from around the world will be invited to research to determine what will happen to the water and air pressure during flight, and we will share the data we bring back so they can assess their understanding.

Sparks High Students are also challenged to engineer a way to reel in the 45 meters (150 feet) of line with the cameras and water pressure gauge up to the bottom payload. Leaving the cameras dangling far below could cause instability during the flight, so this is an important engineering problem to solve. The students also designed the actual payloads to carry the “High Hopes” of the world up to 30,500 meters (100,000 feet), and then release the tiny strips of paper they will be printed on to spread in the atmosphere – Now they’ve turned those payloads over to Sparks Middle School students to install the release mechanism they are designing.

Sparks Middle School students will be learning about writing computer code and designing a system utilizing Ardunio micro-computers.  They will conduct low altitude tests using model rocketry to determine an effective way of accurately measuring altitude using the Arduino system and then use the knowledge gained from these tests to design a system to release the high hopes of the world at at least two different altitudes as the balloon is in flight.

Students at Cottonwood Elementary in Fernley (a K-4 school) are designing special high hopes to glide or helicopter to the ground – these high hopes will be launched at a lower altitude, around 6100 meters (20,000 feet) so the atmosphere is thick enough for them to take flight. They will also perform experiments utilizing bio-engineering to find a substance to treat the paper with so it decomposes as fast as possible once the “Hopes” hit the ground. The elementary students will utilize their new blogging skills and other means to encourage everyone to submit their “High Hopes.”

One payload will include colorful party balloons inflated to different sizes. We challenge students everywhere to research to determine what will happen to them as they rise through atmospheric layers to 30,500 meters (100,000 feet). Onboard cameras will record what occurs and we will share the photos/video obtained so students globally can see what transpired. In addition, we will monitor temperature and other data during the flights and share that data as well.

The High Hopes Project is planned as a model global STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) project so teachers, students and the community are better educated in the powerful learning a quality integrated STEM approach provides. There will be creative writing ideas, math and more offered along the way. These lesson ideas and challenges will be linked on our project Wiki page. Check back often to see new information and challenges.

You Can Participate too! Teachers and students (really anyone!) can participate by: 1) Brainstorming, writing and submitting their “High Hopes” for their school, community and the world. 2) Participating in the science, engineering and math challenges we offer. 3) Follow our progress via the various social networks we are utilizing to inform and include the world (see links below).

There are other aspects of this project that are developing and we will share later as well.

Additionally, we have partnered with the University of Nevada, Reno, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science Departments. They are experts in launching high altitude balloons, but are also encouraging undergraduate and graduate level engineering students to work with and mentor students at Sparks High School, Sparks Middle School and Cottonwood Elementary School.

This is a collaborative project between Nevada’s Northwest Regional Professional Development Program, the 21st Century Division of WCSD, the Lyon County School District, the Washoe County School District, the University of Nevada, Reno,   and students from around the world.

Here are links to our online resources – this is how we are modelling the “T” part of STEM – these links will also provide you much more specific information about the project:

Our blog: http://highhopesproject.edublogs.org

Our Web Site: http://highhopesproject.net

Our Twitter page: https://twitter.com

Our Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/127331960@N04/sets/

Our YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCM6JGyKhW2OXYiY9gh3J-Lg/videos

Learning is messy!!!

Balloon Inquiry: What Will Happen And Why?

This was originally posted at the High Hopes Project web site.

Note the 4 party balloons that all started out the same size before they were inflated, on their way to 30,500 meters (100,000 feet ) from a balloon flight last year. On our upcoming flight we will inflate 4 of the same size balloons – the first balloon will be inflated to about 1/4 of its capacity (like the yellow balloon in the photo), the second balloon to about 1/2 of its capacity (see the green balloon above), the third to about 3/4 its capacity (Note the orange balloon), and the fourth balloon will be inflated close to full (Note the red balloon above). What will happen to them during the flight? What are the characteristics of the atmosphere that may effect them and what, if any, will that effect be? Explain your conclusion.

When we launch the “High Hopes” high altitude weather balloon we will include this experiment. We will have a camera recording what happens to the balloons and share those images with you after the flight in late April or early May 2015. So do your research about our atmosphere, discuss with your collaborators, do some heavy thinking, then write what you think will happen. You could even leave your written thoughts here as a comment if you’d like.

Learning is messy!