A New Adventure

I set out on a new adventure, professionally, almost two-and-one-half years ago.  In August 2017, After thirteen years teaching either 4th, 5th, or 6th grade, I made the move to the middle school and took on the new role of STEM teacher.

I was two years into a Masters program in STEM Education, and working on my thesis on the use of 3D design and printing to teach the cross-cutting concepts of scale, proportion, and quantity.

Our school was part of a consortium of schools from nearby districts working toward building an Ag Prep STEM program.  The purpose was to develop a feeder program as part of a career pathway leading to dual certification for high school graduates who would also complete the requirements for an AA degree in Ag Science.

The past five semesters have been a time of inventing and reinventing as our program shifted from semi-mandatory enrollment to elective to mandatory enrollment.  We need to find a consistent balance between exposure for all students and meaningful engagement for the 25-30% who are interested in STEM.

We return to school on January 6, 2020.  I will have 12 sections, each meeting two days per week.  Each class will have 20-24 students.  These will be all new classes, as this year for the first time the classes are semester rather than year-long.

I am excited for the opportunities before us as we continue to make a place for STEM topics and project-based learning.  I would like to see us integrate STEM learning into more of our core courses.

All in good time…


Learning by doing

The acquisition of a 3D printer for my classroom last year has provided an opportunity to model the “try, fail, try again” approach to learning.  Two groups of students have watched and worked with me as we have learned together what works and what doesn’t.  I didn’t fully realize the extent of the “trial and error” that went into additive manufacturing.  A recent switch in software to “talk” to the printer looks like it will allow us to print objects that previously would not print successfully.  The attached video shows the printer laying down support material underneath an extended “rod” on a model of one of the Mars rovers.


The finished product: Curiosity rover’s ‘chemcam,’ shown with the support structure in the foreground.  The support material broke away fairly easily after the print. For more about Curiosity’s ChemCam, check here.


Rebooting the Reboot

At least it has only been about 7 months this time. It has been a busy year, personally and professionally speaking. I am currently about halfway through a “STEM in Education” Masters Program at Fresno Pacific University. I am very excited about the program. I wish I had the opportunity to pursue a program like this earlier in my career. Science has been my weakest subject, largely because I avoided it in my own education. I didn’t gain an appreciation for scientific study until i was in my 30s.  Math and technology are my strengths, so this gives me an opportunity to round things out.

It’s a little like rebooting my career as a teacher. As technology has been brought/pushed into our schools, I have sought to embrace and utilize it in meaningful ways. With it come challenges, problems, and frustrations, but also opportunity for growth and expanding horizons.


Wow! – Part 2 +

Day two of the Project Ignite Teacher Advisory Council gathering did not disappoint. I thought the tour of Autodesk’s Pier 9 workshops was going to be the highlight, and it was truly impressive. People strolling, sitting, standing, conferencing-I even saw one in a hammock, his colleague standing next to him, quietly discussing their project. Printed, milled and cut fabrications lined shelves, desks, floor space, and hung from the ceiling. We got a preview of things to come in Project Ignite (sorry, can’t tell you about that; smiley face here) except to say it is just going to get better!

The creative staff at Autodesk (and by that, I mean everyone) is dedicated to providing resources for use by learners in the classroom (and by “learners,” I mean teacher-learners and student-learners). We heard about STEM and PBL efforts from the other side of the globe, and together we laid out an action plan for the next few months.

As more developments come online, I’ll be updating on my blog. In the meantime, check out Project Ignite and introduce your students to skills they can take with them into the workplace.


Here’s the plus: after getting home at nearly 11 PM Tuesday, I got to join my Kings County CaMSP (California Math and Science Partnership) colleagues for day 3 of our first summer intensive. Feeling a little behind with some catching up to do, it was great to reconnect and meet new friends and we begin a 3 year journey of STEM studies together. Looking forward to Thursday and Friday, with lots of energy, ideas, and resources to come!


Wow! – Part 1

So here I am in San Francisco, having spent the last 12-13 hours with a fantastic group of innovative advocates for learning and education, and that’s what I have-WOW!

I’m not new to technology by any means, but the faster things change the more I feel like I’m not keeping pace. I am rather new to the idea of makerspaces and project-based learning (PBL). Having acquired a (yes, one) 3D printer for our elementary school, I’ve been catapulted, for better or worse, into an exciting (scary) place: a world of seemingly endless possibilities where I am being asked to (gulp) relinquish control. Of course, as Dr. Claire Lewicki (Nicole Kidman) noted in Days of Thunder, “Control is an illusion…” Get over it, and move on.

Seriously, control isn’t at the top of my list of “things I strive to accomplish” where my students are concerned. But like many of you, it takes a constant effort to make my their classroom into a more student-centric place, and less like the classrooms in which I spent my formative years.

So, as I prepare for day 2 of incisive insights and superb synergy, I must say I feel both exhausted and energized, and thankful to be part of a great team!


2015 Reboot

As you can tell if you have perused past posts, my brief bid to become a blogger fizzled unceremoniously almost a year ago. As the challenge (and inspiration) to blog was born out of a previous California Math and Science Partnership (CaMSP) Math cohort, and I am in a CaMSP STEM cohort beginning this month and running for the next 3 years, I have decided to make an effort once again to integrate blogging into my daily (or at least weekly?) practice.

It is my purpose to use this space to reflect on my practice as an educator, and dialogue with others about your practice. What are the challenges? What have I learned from my failures? What can I celebrate in the midst of the “managed chaos” that is the life of a professional educator?

I look forward to the journey.


First Days

I had planned to begin blogging again prior to the start of the school year. Enter the tyranny of the urgent, and I find myself looking at the 4th Friday of the year. Like many of you, I am overwhelmed by new initiatives, agonizing over the absence of promised resources, and plagued by a time shortage. I’m missing my students from last year. They weren’t perfect, but they were a group of kind, responsible, respectful students like I had never seen before, and may never see again. For the first time in ten years of teaching, I didn’t write 1 discipline referral. Students returned to school this fall for their 6th grade year proclaiming how they wished they could be in my class again. I see potential for this new group to grow in similar ways. Patience, for the shaping of young lives is a process, and these are the first days.


Is Online Reading Rewiring Our Brains?

This Washington Post article was highlighted by the California Reading Association (The California Reader) on their Facebook page. I have always been a reader, picking up a wide range of texts on any subject that captures my attention. When I moved from Michigan to California several years ago, I cut my library by more than half, visiting used book stores, holding yard sales, and giving books away. In our home we have more than fifty linear feet of shelving; most of the books on those shelves are mine. I have boxes of books in our garage that I have no room for, and I have assembled a classroom library consisting of over 300 titles, most of which I also don’t have shelf space for in my classroom. Additionally, I have a Kindle library of more than 50 titles, as well as a dozen or so titles in other digital formats.

I spend a chunk of time everyday perusing diverse websites for news, social media, educational resources, professional development and so on. My experience is described in this article, as I jump from site to site, from post to post, from paragraph to paragraph, reading in whole or reading a little here and a bit there.

As an educator in a district that has committed to 1:1 technology in the classroom, and who will be introducing his own 5th grade class to 1:1 (Chromebook) in the fall, this article caught my eye and raised the question for me, “How do I help my students read differently 1) in different media? and 2) for different purposes?

My grade level team will need to explore with our students the similarities and the differences between printed and digital text. Many of them are very familiar with social media, including “IM” and “text.” Much has been written already about how social media writing “shortcuts” are affecting academic writing. Students, and their teachers, will need to continually monitor and align their styles of writing and reading with the function and purpose of the text before them.

I’d be interested in hearing from others who have wrestled or are wrestling with this issue in their classrooms.


Digital Tools and Achievement Gaps

My district has committed itself to 1:1 technology in the classroom. For novices, this means a device for every student; tablet, laptop, etc. During the current school year, 6th grade staff and students have been working through the ups and downs that come with a new implementation. In August the 5th grade staff and students, including yours truly, will be discovering the joys and pains of tech at our fingertips.

The author of the linked article from the current Reading Today journal raises a set of provocative questions and offers four preliminary suggestions for educational professionals to consider as they move forward in the digital age, and especially as teachers begin equipping students with new technology tools. I am especially intrigued by the idea of grouping students into “tech-mentor” groups, with responsibility for developing mastery with one app or practice that they will teach to the rest of the class.

I am simultaneously excited and trepidatious as I prepare to make this step myself. We are already receiving training, and I am the “jump in and try it” type, so I’m in with both feet. I’m also well aware that as “tech savvy” as I’ve considered myself over the years, there are whole regions of the digital world that I’ve not explored. Almost every day I’m learning something new, and I’m supposed to lead a score and more 10/11 year olds down this road?! I see the learning gap every day when I take my current class to the computer lab. I also understand Mr. Morsink’s concern that students with advanced skills will learn at an advanced rate, while those lacking both experience and confidence will learn, but not as quickly: thus, they will be on the wrong side of an ever-widening achievement gap. 

I’d be most interested in the thoughts and experiences of you who have gone before; meanwhile, I’ll tackle this problem like that of eating the elephant…one byte at a time.


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Duane Graber presents an interesting solution in his post on the PLC Blog. I can see this working if two things are true: 1) the teacher has solid time management routines in place to protect those last 30 minutes each day, and 2) the school day is relatively free from interruption by unscheduled “surprises.”

Let’s face it, as teachers we all have our strengths and weaknesses. The ability to establish and maintain routines down to the minute is a learned skill that is developed with varying degrees of success after varying lengths of service in the classroom. Some first year teachers bring it with them and seem to be naturals. Some teachers struggle with it for several years, improving each year but always feeling like they are just one step ahead of the students. Some classes present more management challenges than others-which translate into lost time, which often leave teachers scratching their head at the end of the day, wondering where the time went, why we didn’t accomplish everything we set out to accomplish, and painfully aware that our students didn’t have enough time for independent practice following any of the lessons, let alone an extra 30 minutes at the end of the day.  Still, I like the idea of preserving this 30 minutes, if you can pull it off and, if it is the best solution for your classroom/school culture. It certainly is better than assigning work that the student can’t do independently, the parent can’t help with, and won’t ever make it back to your hands.

As to the matter of unscheduled “surprises,” you teachers already have your own list in your head. Our previous school administration didn’t apprise staff of emergency drills (fire, lockdown, intruder, etc.). Our current administration includes it in the daily staff memo, allowing us to plan in a way that minimizes the disruption. Still, we get the occasional unexpected alarm, most recently triggered by a 1st grader who I guess wondered, “what happens if…” A more difficult problem is presented by too large a number of students who are pulled from class early. If one or two students are leaving early 2-4 times a week, that will impact their extra homework/independent work time. Those are just a couple of examples; add to those the special events such as picture day, assemblies, fun days, and so forth, that carve out a chunk of time here and another one there…you get the idea.

All of this to say that I do think the nature of homework is changing, and so is the nature of how we are working in the classroom. I teach 5th grade at a K-6 school. This year, our sixth grade went to 1:1 using laptops. In spite of numerous headaches and glitches, they’ve had some great successes. The 5th grade staff has started receiving “blended learning” training, and the district is moving forward with 1:1 at our level for 2014-15. In a community where technology has been sparse outside of the school walls, we are seeing a change. Teachers have more flexibility in what they can assign for homework, even if it is just viewing a video lesson and commenting on the class blog. That will free up time for more independent work in the classroom, and it allows for collaboration where student groups can be formed either within a classroom, or crossing between classrooms, schools, or even grade level groups. I’m not sure what homework will look like in another 10 years, but it’s safe to say it will continue to transform into something new and fresh, if we are willing.