2017 Math & Science Institute – for teachers

In New Orleans ... and it's FREE!

Earlier this year I agreed to lead two grant funded STEM professional development courses for teachers sponsored by Metairie Park Country Day School, June 7th, 8th and 9th, 2017. The courses will be held at Tulane University in New Orleans as part of the 2017 Math & Science Institute. AND NOTE THIS – You just have to get there – tuition is FREE! (note the flyer to the right for more information). Note: private school teachers have to pay $149 per course.

Each course is about 6 hours long spread over the 3 days (2 hours per day, per course). Here’s a page with all the course descriptions.

I’ll be teaching 2 courses: “Powerful, Connected, Collaborative and Global STEM Learning” and “STEM: Hands-on, Minds-on, Creativity-on”

From the online course description:

STEM: Hands-On, Minds-On, Creativity-On is a six-hour course designed to help teachers integrate powerful STEM learning with a focus on engaging, hands-on engineering lessons. Participants will not only experience the lessons firsthand, but also how to collect and analyze the rich data the lessons produce. Strong connections to science, language arts, technology, art, the Next Generation Science Standards and three dimensional learning will be included. Most lesson activities utilize easily obtained materials.

Powerful, Connected, Collaborative, Global, STEM Learning is a six-hour course designed to allow you to see how the power of STEM inquiry projects are leveraged when students are connected and collaborate globally.

There are several Common Core State Standards that require students to utilize technology to collaborate starting in elementary school. This course will provide hands-on engineering lessons and phenomena – coupled with free or cheap collaborative online tools that promote sharing and analyzing data, explanations, global awareness and much more. Participants and their students will learn to collaborate and share through powerful writing, oral language, photography, math, art and other media. Online safety and ethics will be featured.

Check out the 2017 Math & Science Institute home page to see all the courses being offered.

Hope to see you there!

Learning is messy!

The “Teacher in Space” – Still Touching the Future

Christa McAuliffe and The Space Shuttle Challenger

I’ve seen numerous “tweets” today, on the 30th anniversary of the event, from people sharing where they were when they witnessed or heard about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. I was teaching 7th grade in Oakland, California, and our principal called my classroom to make me aware of what had happened since we weren’t watching live. We tuned in and watched the coverage for awhile and then discussed what had happened. The fact that Christa McAuliffe, the “Teacher in Space,” was a crew member added layers and significance to the discussion.

Twenty some years later my class had the privilege of having Grace Corrigan, Christa’s mom, visit our classroom. (the link takes you to a post about that day)grace4.jpg

We only had one day to prepare for her visit so we learned a bit about Christa and the history of the Challenger, including watching video of the tragic liftoff, but then spent the rest of our limited time writing questions to ask her. We were told Grace would love to answer questions so that’s what we focused on. What to ask and what not to ask  … what is appropriate and not. It was a more powerful learning experience than I expected and the students (4th graders) did a great job. Earlier in the year we had worked hard on speaking up and not showing nervousness, as much as possible anyhow, and that really paid off. You can read about the day we had – here and here

One of our major takeaway’s however was realizing how much we learned about incorporating technology just as part of how we learn and work. When my class first went 1:1 with laptops … it was all about the laptops and what they could do … they were a shiny, bright object students couldn’t stop staring at. But now, however, because they had easy access and used them routinely, the technology had become more like a pencil … just things we use when needed without thinking about them much. And that was true of the other technologies and applications we commonly used – video-conferencing, cameras, blogs, wikis. The shiny-ness and bright-ness hadn’t totally worn off, but now more often than not, partly because of ubiquitous use, they are just powerful tools we utilize in our learning.

As part of Grace’s visit students researched the questions they were writing and wrote them out on their laptops and our printer. We shared her visit live on Skype (audio only) with collaborators in Virginia and New York. We recorded and posted her visit as a podcast and video-cast (I recently changed internet providers and will have to re-post those at some point). Students took the photos that illustrate this post and the other posts I’ve linked to. And, as we often did, we blogged about the experience as part of a process of debriefing and archiving learning we were finding valuable. GraceCorBlogPost


We did all those things not so we could use the technologies, but because using the technologies helped us learn and made it possible to share and collaborate on our learning globally.

An incredible learning experience meant for 28 students broke through the walls of the classroom that day.

A great day and way to learn and share about history and science! (and so much more) Christa’s legacy and message continue to “touch the future.”

Learning is messy!

Use Powerful Tools Powerfully

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work, via various social networking sites, with Kathy Cassidy, a teacher “of six year olds,” in Saskatchewan, Canada, according to her class blog. We’ve even met face to face at conferences. My class (4th – 6th graders) shared blog posts and comments with her students a few times, and we Skyped at least once. Kathy recently shared a post on the Powerful Learning Practice blog about “Five Ways To Use Skype.” Some of the aspects of the post I want to highlight are that yes, ‘even’ 6 year olds can connect online in ways that provide powerful learning opportunities for them, and Kathy makes the point that, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.” Check out her post, she shares some great ideas on connecting your students.

Reading Kathy’s post had me re-visiting a point that has been made by others (and me) over the years, but a point that needs repeating … repeatedly, because it is such a vital point to make.

There are very powerful learning tools available on the “inter webs,” and many are free to use … video conferencing tools like Skype, Google Hangouts … blogs, wikis, online photo and video archive sites (like Flickr), and many more. As Kathy and others point out there are powerful ways to use these tools that connect students, experts, facilitate collaboration globally, provide the ability to design, produce, edit and share content in any subject, and so much more (and yes, occasionally just to do something fun or cool!).

There are many of us that have been working very hard to spread the word about how these tools facilitate new, innovative and engaging approaches to learning. How they require teaching our students to be active learners instead of teaching them to be taught … sit quietly but attentively, raise your hand if you have a question, then wait for me (as the teacher) to decide this is an OK or appropriate time in my lesson to break from my cadence, my lesson, and answer your question or listen to your comment … now … or not.

So what’s my point already? It’s the point Kathy made: “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Ever since personal computers and other technologies were introduced, their praises as learning tools have been sung from the highest rafters. Unfortunately, much more often than not, when technology has been purchased with improving education, improving student learning, improving student achievement or (yuck) improving student test scores as the goal … the technology or tool has been the focus with too little thought or professional development or teacher autonomy considered to actually use the technology in ways that empower students and/or their learning. The results therefore have been ugly and have lead to a backlash about the actual value of technology and connectedness as pathways to learning.

In addition, the tunnel-vision of test scores in language arts and math have turned too many computer labs and other technologies into drill and practice, test prep and “what apps can we get that will engage the students” dead ends. That use of technology as learning tool is like buying a Ferrari just to listen to the great stereo while its parked in the garage.

There is nothing wrong, especially as a way to gain experience with the technology, to do a video-conference or two that is mostly about saying hi to a class in another state or country and share some basic information. But if that’s all you do … then that’s probably not “using it well.” Collaboration, sharing and analyzing data, simultaneously performing an experiment or activity to see if location changes the results, read alouds between students, an international poetry festival between classes … that’s more like it. Students tend to be more engaged, spend more time editing, ask more clarifying questions … because these students from somewhere else, and maybe others, are going to see it … I want it to be good.

Blogging is awesome! Blogging is writing for sure. But its also posting photos, videos, podcasts, vid-casts … and because blogging is a two way street (because others can leave comments) its a conversation. Students can post any kind of writing you do in class, and yes, I’ve even had them post a written response about their reading. But also creative writing, science experiments, reports on any subject, short stories, long stories, explanations, diagrams and representations of math problems and concepts (that other students from around the world can see, discuss and argue about). But also photo essays, video clips of anything, pieces they write just because they want to (my new puppy, my birthday party, what happened when we got a flat tire, I was so scared when …) … and again, these pieces are published to the world … and the world responds, and that leads to more writing and thinking deeply about the response, and sharing ideas and realizing what is different about living in different parts of our city, state, country, world.

I could go on explaining the power of wikis, photo and video sharing sites and more. But that will just belabor things.

Too often we utilize technology and the web because they seem to be automatically engaging for students .. at least for awhile. If we aren’t learning as educators how and why to use these powerful learning tools and opportunities to enable our students to do important, meaningful work. If we allow ourselves to feel unprepared or stupid or phobic about using technology and perceive that our students know more about it, or worse, see it as a way to keep students busy in the computer lab while we grade papers or do other “teacher stuff.” (yeah I know that you probably don’t get enough prep time). Then we are leaving its promise and capacity as a learning facilitator, connector and collaboration tool on the cutting room floor. We might as well not bother with it.

So as Kathy said, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Learning is messy!

Classroom Blogging Options Post by Wes Fryer

Get blogging with your students this year!

When I’m asked what is the “biggest-bang-for-the-buck” technology learning tool for classroom use I still say blogging (so much so I co-wrote a book on blogging – see sidebar). Blogs can be writing and conversation, which by itself is awesome, but blogs are also places to post and share photos, video clips, podcasts, collaborate globally and so much more. They are also a powerful home/school connection which seems to be on everyone’s radar these days. I strongly advise anyone that wants to provide their students with a powerful learning tool, that you consider setting up a class blog this school year.

Having said that, I wanted to share a post I only wish I had the time to research and write. Fortunately my friend Wes Fryer took the time to do just that … and he did an awesome job of it. He shares about the blog platforms available and their strengths and weaknesses based on his own experience blogging, but also his students’ blogging experiences.

Wes titled his post, “Classroom Blogging Options (August 2015)” – check it out yourself and share it with others to help promote classroom blogging!

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!


Next Design Challenges for Students in Our High Hopes Project

I’ll probably repost this here in full later, but we just posted an update over on our High Hopes Project blog. Exciting stuff going on, read about it here: Next Design Challenges For Students.



Update: Rethinking School District Social Media Policies for Teachers / Students

One of the challenges of my job as STEM Learning facilitator for 6 counties, has been that some of those counties (school districts here are by county, so every county is it’s own school district) have very restrictive online access policies … meaning they block almost anything even remotely social – blogs, wikis, photo archiving sites like Flickr and more. In one school district I was working with a group of teachers and pointed out that I’d found one of the above “not-blocked” – my mere mention of the fact was met with “SHHHH!” and,  “Don’t tell anyone! If they know its open they’ll block it!” But when I asked if that meant someone was using it they admitted that no they weren’t – for various reasons … none of them about educating children.


I just want to point out that the “T” in STEM stands for technology, and the real power of that technology is learning to learn, sharing learning, collaboration and more. The standards even demand that students collaborate globally, and as I point out often, I don’t think they mean by sending letters back and forth.

Back in November I wrote a post about this issue and asked for feedback on:  “What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students?” I received some great feedback in the comments section from some really smart people – check them out in the comments on that post. During a Twitter chat I even got a response from Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education asking for the names of the districts that blocked these sites. Although I did collaborate with folks from the USDOE after that, it was agreed that having Secretary Duncan contact these school districts directly was probably not the best course of action.

Instead we ramped up our campaign of information – both gathering information about what led the opposition to access, and disseminating information about safety and the reality of the various laws on internet and information use and access that many were misinterpreting to mean if they gave access to anything social on the internet they’d lose their e-rate funding.

In December I was invited to present to one district’s EdTech committee. I used a 2-pronged approach. I showed them numerous examples of the powerful use of these technologies and applications as learning places. Collaborative projects, how blogging can be used to motivate writing, editing, communicating, collaborating and more – wikis, video-conferencing, Google Docs and more – I have many examples right from my own classroom, but also with the many teachers and students my classes collaborated with over the years.

Next I pointed out the realities from laws designed to keep students safe online (the ones that lead folks to believe they’ll lose their e-rate funding and be sued). I was able to use numerous sources to point out that the law, in a nutshell, states that you must basically show that you are trying hard to keep students safe, if something then goes wrong you are OK (slightly more complicated than that).

The good news is, that that school district has “green lighted” a pilot program of blogging in one of their elementary schools with 4th graders. Tomorrow I meet with the teachers at the school to get their blogs set up and a bit of training … then Tuesday I’m back all day to get each class started to blog and post a few times to get the process down as a first step. I noted last week while visiting the school that wikis are now unblocked and even Flickr (but almost no one uses them yet or even realizes that they are unblocked), so we have a foot in the door!

I’m not nervous at all to work with the teachers tomorrow, but I don’t get to work with students more than a handful of times a year anymore, and so I can tell I have that combination of being both excited and nervous about being in a classroom … like the first day of school feeling. I’ll keep you updated.

Learning is messy!





Unleash the Learning Power of Blogs By Actually Using Them Consistently!

Blogs are an incredible learning tool. But like an exercise bike, having one does not lead to self improvement unless you use it. And using it sporadically is only barely helpful. You have to invest time to get the great results … imagine now the sculpted/toned bodies of the models they use in ads for any exercise equipment … then imagine the sculpted/toned brains of your students using blogs. That doesn’t happen without consistent use.

Now that I think of it though, blogs are not like an exercise bike, blogs are like one of those pieces of fitness equipment that include multiple exercises – weight lifting, sit-ups, pull-ups, leg lifts and so on. Blogs are certainly writing spaces, but they lend themselves to not just publishing writing, but also response and discussion which is that higher level thinking we are vying for. But wait! There’s still more. Blogs also include, publishing photos, videos, podcasts, spreadsheets, slide shows, art work, and much more. AND all of those pieces can be written about and discussed. AND note its not even all writing, notice in my partial list it can be oral language and media … and of course it involves reading. So multiple exercises for the brain! AND all of that is archived and it is then easy to see improvement over time – you can see it, your students can see it and their parents can see it.

Did I mention the family connection? Not only is the blog available for student collaborators to see and interact with, the students’ families can as well. Students can go home and show parents what they did today, family members can comment … see what I mean? Oooh, and I’ve had experts like scientists and athletes and the like leave comments and interact as well.

Here’s the thing though, getting back to my initial point, that doesn’t happen if we don’t use them consistently. Blogs are powerful, engaging, motivating, learning tools. So use them consistently, and use all their possibilities. Otherwise it is like doing one or two writing projects a year that you turn into published books … “My Poetry Book” and/or “The Day I Was My Dog” – great stuff, but imagine doing that all the time and you (the teacher) doesn’t have to find the special paper and laminate and so forth.

Oh, and couple your class blog with a wiki and a photo sharing service like Flickr … it only gets better.

So if you have your students blogging because you want them to learn. Then really have them blogging all the time!!!! The initial time it takes to get them up and going will pay big dividends!

Learning is messy!

Beginning of the Year Classroom Learning Ideas

Over the years I’ve posted about lessons and activities I’ve used successfully to start off the year. Here are some of them in case they help:

1) “Getting To Know You” is how I started my year with my students that not only was successful and getting them to know each other better, but was a great way to end up with my first seating arrangement for the year, and starting to teach them how to support and include each other.

2) Write It! is a writing game that I originally learned in a writing inservice class. Not only is it great at getting students to write, it also familiarizes them with each other’s names AND THEN becomes a great way to scaffold them writing quality blog comments. I did not share the blog comments piece in the original post, so I’ll do so here. Go read the original post first.

After your students are very comfortable playing the game and writing blog posts, use the format of the game to have your students write quality comments on blogs. When my students first blogged many would leave comments like, “Nice post.” OR “I liked it.” OR WORSE: “nice poste” OR “i lickd it” with no punctuation – that would be the entire comment. Then one day I thought to use the game as a scaffold. I’d explain that when they left blog comments they had to start (just like the game) with a “nice comment” like, “Your post was interesting to read.” OR “I like how you describe things.” OR just whatever. Next they could write anything else – perhaps sharing a connection to the post or a general comment, BUT they had to leave a question at the end (just like the game).

Why? Because it made them think about what they read, it required them to analyze something about the post to praise, and by asking a question at the end (along with a link back to their own blog!) it encouraged a conversation. I especially encouraged students to find posts that connected to something they had posted themselves – “Nice post about your new kitten. I don’t have a cat, but I wrote a post about my Grandma’s dog you might like. Here’s a link to it. Do you have any other pets?”  – Have your students comment on your own class blog at first so you see how they are doing, then let them loose on other class blogs.

3) Baseline – is a post for those of you that get started blogging fairly early OR take some kind of a baseline writing assessment at the beginning of the year. For years we were required to get a baseline example of writing to chart growth during the year’s benchmark writing assessments. I would have the students type up that assessment without correcting any mistakes they noted – then we had an archive of a baseline piece right on their blog. Sometimes we would come back to that piece, cut and paste it into a word processor and re-write. Students would chuckle at the mistakes and lack of grammar, or perhaps realize they were much better now at word choice and describing than they were. Great way for them (and everyone else) to see growth.

Well, that’s all for now.

Learning is messy!