When I was asked to write a post for Jeffco Ed Tech blog, I was stymied. Education technology is a huge topic. It’s complicated, demonized, canonized, hotly debated, and full of strife & potential. Finally, after six or seven digital wads of paper, I’ve settled on discussing how I rolled out 1:web Chromebooks for my freshman classes this year. It’s timely, and I hope it proves helpful.
First of all, mad props to Pomona’s administration and our campus IT staff. It all starts there. Without a clear and shared vision of what technology will look like and a commitment to goals we set out to achieve by using it, the results would be confusing to everyone involved. Our tech gurus, Matt Daniels and Judy Sims, have been great at keeping our campus focused and practical about everything from how to track each device to which apps make the most sense for teachers to use. They are absolutely central to the success of the roll-out of over 700 (!) Chromebooks (and chargers and cords and screen protectors and id tags and Velcro strips and screen cleaner cloths and styluses and...et al) for our 9th & 10th grade Panthers. I shudder to think how absolutely chaotic this initiative could have turned out, and I’m so appreciative of their strong leadership from the beginning.
So that’s the Big Picture. As for incorporating this technology into our daily classroom environment, I am still a novice. I still ask the Annoying Question of the Day to Matt and Judy and have impractical requests that are met with “You really don’t want to do that, Clint”. “Why not?” And then he patiently explains the Why Not. I’m moving in the right direction, though, and zealously embracing the feel-good-It’s-OK cliche of our times: failing forward. A LOT. My students laugh at me when my “app-tempts” explode. We all laugh together, though, because I’ve found that true humility and vulnerability sometimes creates powerful community. It’s better than the option of playing the immutable sage on the stage, a role that would last, at most, a few measly seconds, and quickly scuttle any vestige of ethos I do have. They teach me more than I could ever figure out myself, and at 1/10 of the time, and they feel powerful when they teach the teacher. I like that. Empowering kids is fun. It’s a rush. Often, when you give That One Troublemaker a Chromebook and a purpose, they are transformed...just like the task they’re working on.
One last thing. At the end of the year, Nick Steinmetz, who I’m sure you know or, if you don’t, you should, challenged us to write a letter about how it went--the inaugural mass Chromebooking. I did that, then ended up writing an alternate version addressed to this year’s students. The letter is friendly yet informative, and includes memes, hyperlinks, footnotes, and other elements that they will run into on digital platforms. Joining our Google Classroom and reading and responding to that letter was their first assignment of the year. Once they join the Classroom, they also have access to the GDoc that I use everyday in class. Even if they’re absent, they get a good idea of what went on during their absence. Here’s a screenshot of (a portion of) that document:
Regarding technology, it’s going well. The kids are excited and potentially a bit intimidated. They see the potential inherent in the system. Even if they are not used to seeing it that way, they recognize their tech as a catalyst to learning and maybe even prosperity. The responsibility they have with that makes them feel like an adult.
Twenty-six years ago, when I first started teaching, “technology” meant the new-fangled electric pencil sharpener that was bolted to a desk. It’s safe to say a few things have changed since then. Heck, we don’t even really need pencil sharpeners. But I still have one. My students still use it. If you need it, it’s right over there by the door, next to the Chromebook cart and the Cell Hotel phone holder.
Happy teaching, everyone!
Teacher, Pomona High School
This post is brought to us by Abby Smith, a Math teacher at Pomona High School. Abby has been working with her students and technology integration this year to Transform Student Tasks. Abby shares here an incredible example of how she is working to make learning relevant for students as she seeks to provide them expanded opportunities to develop the Jeffco Generations skills through math and technology. We are grateful to Abby for sharing her expertise and learning as she seeks to make learning with digital tools purposeful for her students.
“When are we ever going to use this?” As a high school math teacher, I despise this question. Let me rephrase, I used to despise this question. Now I see it as a challenge. Students are living in a different world than most of us in the education profession experienced as high school students. These kiddos have a powerful device within reach most moments of the day that can answer questions with a quick Google search. Today's students do not see the value in having information readily stored in the back of their brain because it is stored in their phone. As an educator, I have seen it as my role to help students realize how the information we cover in the classroom can help them make decisions instead of answer questions. This is how my accommodated algebra classroom transformed into a medieval war zone during our unit on graphing parabolas.
Let’s rewind to my first few years in the classroom. My students completed worksheets, occasionally used tools like Plickers or Desmos, and then completed a test. We did fine on standardized assessments, yet every year, students are retaught some of the same material from years before and the lower students act like they’ve never seen the stuff before. I began asking a similar question as my kids were asking: Why am I teaching this material? I became unmotivated to continue the fight to convince struggling kids that the material was important when I didn’t believe in it’s value for my students who struggled the most.
To aid in the transition with 1:1 devices as a new pilot program at Pomona High School, I was apart of a cohort lead by EdTech Specialist Nick Steinmetz. Nick challenged the members of the group to take risks and learn with their students. We were charged with Transforming the Task in our classroom in new ways that were not available before the chromebooks were assigned to our students. I decided to transform the unit on graphing parabolas. My goal was to leave the unit with students being able to answer the question: “How can graphing parabolas help me make decisions?”
The idea of recreating medieval warfare came to me while researching parabola PBL’s. The path of an object catapulted follows a parabola. We started to build catapults out of popsicle sticks, rubber bands, clothes pins and more. Once we learned the basics of graphing parabolas in various forms, we started our project of bombing enemy ships just as Hannibal did with snake bombs during the Punic War. (Pause now and research it!)
Students filmed the flight of their catapult with their phones (here is a video example), used Webpaint to find exact points the object flew and imported a screenshot of the flight of the object into Desmos. For the majority of my students who didn’t know how to take a screenshot, this was challenging but they began to see how valuable their new devices could be. At this point, they utilized their knowledge of the equations of quadratics and how the parabola is graphed to create the equation that best represents the flight of their catapult.
Now we were ready to put their project to the test. Students were tasked with bombing an enemy ship that was approaching a cliff. The cliff (desk) was a given height (27 inches). The students had to decide how far away the ship (saucepan) needed to be in order to bomb it within 3 attempts by using the graph of their parabola. Once finished, students reflected on the main question: How can graphing parabolas help me make decisions? Best of all, this project was a quiz score which assessed if the students understood how to write the equation of parabolas and determined if students could use the graph to decide the distance a ship needed to be off shore before bombing the ship.
There were parts of this project that made us want to scream. To my one group who had to re-film the flight of their catapult 5 times, I think you can agree with this last statement! There were parts of this project that made us laugh and cheer. My students were flabbergasted when their prediction was accurate when attempting the final bombing. Students who were unsuccessful asked to try again in order to be more accurate. Most importantly, this project sparked energetic mathematical conversations with my students. I have found that students are more likely to give an honest effort if they can see the curriculum come to life beyond a worksheet. While there are aspects of the project that I will change for next year, I can safely say that taking the risk with a group of tough students was a challenge that I will try more often! Here is a link for the student directions to the project.
A journey Begins
The 2018-2019 school year began a little differently for some teachers in the Pomona Articulation area. Elementary teachers in first and fifth grade partnered with the district to implement a 1:1 Chromebook program in their classrooms. Preparing for a new school year comes with some butterflies and many to-do lists. Additionally, our partner teachers embraced a growth mindset to use technology to transform the task with their students in their very own 1:1 classrooms. Teachers from Little, Parr, Warder and Weber Elementary are on a journey to provide learning experiences that prepare students to thrive in a digitally connected world. We are excited to capture their story and share it with others.
Starting with the "Why", not the device
Our beliefs drive our practice. Before unpacking devices, we need to unpack our school's underlying beliefs about teaching and learning with technology. Writing a school belief statement can help staff articulate the impact of going 1:1.
A common element of writing a belief statement is collaboration. Having multiple voices in the process can help build efficacy and ownership.
Resources which helped the Pomona area schools develop their "why" included:
Building a Roadmap
Communication & Partnerships
In order to open communication channels with families, each school sent home an informational letter and invitation to a family night. The open house was created in collaboration by the Digital Teacher Librarians at the four schools to be proactive to community needs. The event was held before devices were handed-out to students. A common Google Form was created to capture questions and concerns. The feedback helped create Frequently Asked Questions which was posted for families after the event. A goal of the evening was to strengthen the partnerships between families and schools.
Expectations and Digital citizenship
Preparing students to make smart choices online is a priority when going 1:1. Direct instruction and on-going conversations about these 6 topics are available for K-12 students in the Common Sense Media curriculum.
Pedagogy: Professional Learning Plan
"The Learning Labs effectively introduce new tools for teaching. [The facilitator] is intentional about supporting us in this learning by modeling how technology can be intentionally integrated to transform our classrooms rather than just as a shiny, new gadget. I always come away from our Learning Labs with tons of new ideas - maybe not things I will implement the next day just for the sake of it, but ideas that have changed entire units of instruction to be more meaningful and that ask students to think and work in new ways." 5th grade teacher
Transforming the Task
The Journey Continues...
Each school continues to engage in continuous learning and reflections about their 1:1 implementation and growth. We are thankful for the school partnerships and for their willingness to share their story with others!
Innovation ACCELERATION Funds in Action: Evergreen High School is Transforming the Task with 3D Printers
Brent Olyowski had a vision for Transforming the Task in Physics. So he submitted his idea for an Innovation Fund and was awarded funds to purchase 2D and 3D printers. Brent's idea is the epitome of Transforming the Task. In Brent's own words, "In an effort to make physics fun and engaging, we want our students to design, build, then use those creations to perform physics experiments using 2D laser cutters and 3D printers."
Matt Cormier, Evergreen area principal, notes, "This will help prepare students for emerging careers that are going to be part of their future. The possibilities that are created seem limitless. Evergreen's teachers are so strong and Mr. O does amazing work and he is also planning to partner with some superstars in his building. He will have the support of an excellent digital teacher librarian and tech staff. This is a great team to make the investment powerful, however, everyone will be in awe of what the students create."
Making the innovation Come to Life in the Classroom
Brent was happy to share his plans to implement his 3D printers in the classroom. Here are some highlights from his Innovation Acceleration Fund application:
"First semester is about Newtonian Physics and we try to relate it to driving since almost all of our physics students are beginning drivers. The vision is the students design cars to perform simple experiments with. We would start with basics like velocity, acceleration, stopping distance, and inertia; and then get more complex with momentum, impulse, friction, collisions, energy transfer, and circuits. We can even convert the cars to solar cars near the end of the school year. The idea would be to modify their creations to make it more complex as we get into the more complex ideas. The evolution would go from cars they send down a ramp all the way to cars with solar powered with sensors on them. "
Stephanie is a first grade teacher at Foster Elementary, a Title I school in the Arvada Area. She has graciously penned this blog as a way to share her learning around how she has integrated STEM to transform the learning experience for primary students.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter @STEMphanieTime for more inspiring ideas!
Empathy Inspires Change
My love of STEM came about a couple of years ago. I was in my 11th year teaching, and it was the first time in my career that I was actually considering leaving the profession. I was unhappy, and my passion was gone; how could my students learn if I wasn’t passionate?
Everything changed during a school technology committee meeting when I was tasked with figuring out why teachers were not using our 3D printer. There was just one problem…I had no idea how to use a 3D printer. My school was, and is, a STEM school, but we were still in the very beginning stages of trying to figure out what that meant.
Ideas Create a Path Forward
I started little by little. First, I taught myself how to use the printer; then how to print something. Finally, I tried creating my own model to print. Everyday I was a little bit happier. It was fun, and I started including students in my learning process. We learned how to fail together and succeed together. It was a long and slow process, and I had a lot of help from Jacquie Adkins, a Jeffco TOSA who specializes in science. We found a program called Maker’s Empire that made creating and printing 3D models easy for first graders to use! Students’ behavior improved because they were engaged and motivated to design and print their own models.
Prototyping the Student Experience
I figured if changing the student task through 3D printing was working so well, maybe I should try adding other STEM-related tasks to my students’ learning experience. Through code.org, I learned coding and then taught my students how to code. The more I learned, the more I integrated it into my classroom. As a result, my students’ were more engaged and their behavior continued to improve. Students learned that failure is a part of the learning process and started using it to fix their mistakes. I also noticed that they were much more willing to take risks because they knew that our classroom was a safe place, whether their answers were right or wrong.
Flash forward to my class today; it looks a lot different than it did a few years ago, and my passion for teaching is back! At the beginning of this journey, I would use technology just because I wanted to see how it works. Now I choose digital tools that match my lessons' learning objectives. Students are held accountable with apps like Showbie and Pear Deck. They use the 3D printer for creating beginning of the year nametags, bringing characters to life, and designing products to sell for our economics unit. Our bulletin boards come to life with Augmented Reality, which shows our work and enhances our goals. Even when we aren’t using our iPads, our STEM philosophy always remains: we strive for learning from our failures, adjusting our thinking when something isn’t working, and using collaboration to help us see tasks from a different angle.
Testing our TEaching
STEM is changing the landscape of our teaching in a good way. It allows us to are create an environment where students can learn and fail forward without fear of receiving bad grades. It gives choice to students and encourages them to learn real-world skills that they will be able to transfer to jobs they will have in the future. Teachers can weave STEM into every content area and grade level. It's is not just a subject, it is how I teach and how my students learn. As educators, we need to take a risk to transform the task and continue to better adapt our teaching. STEM changed how I taught and I became a better teacher because of that.
We are familiar with the buzzwords about transforming the task, and there are real merits to those. However, if every task in every class was transformed, students would be too exhausted to learn anything. Sometimes there is a real benefit to something that is worked for years: a true formative quiz that leads to differentiated instruction. This is not a pursuit of the new and shiny. I’m not advocating silver bullets. We’re educating children, not killing werewolves. I want to introduce one Google Forms add-on that does the heavy lifting of differentiating instruction for teachers.
Just to establish some credentials, I learned more last year than I ever have about transforming the task through technology. I read Bold School, 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom, 50 Ways to Go Further With Google Classroom, The Google Infused Classroom, The Hyperdoc Handbook, listened to The Google Teacher Tribe, attended last year’s Google Summit, went to every (paid) professional development the Jeffco EdTech team offered last year and had 4 classes of willing sophomores each semester to experiment with. Inspired by a fellow teacher, I wrote a few grants, got my own cart, and I’ve tried a lot of the things. I’ve learned with mostly 10th-grade students, who ranged in abilities from Pre-AP classes to a higher-needs special education co-taught class. I’m not going to pretend they’re all successful. And my students were pretty familiar with telling me something was broken and having to fix it with a roomful of 15-year-olds staring at me. I’m not trying to brag, but I’ve learned to find what’s useful instead of what’s shiny.
BY GUEST BLOGGER Christopher Brannon Church
Brannon Church is a technology teacher at Carmody Middle School. He has been a teacher in Jeffco for 19 Years. For the first 18 years, Mr. Church taught 6th Grade and this year has joined the Carmody team as their Robotics Teacher. Here he shares how he is making impacts in student lives through the development of Jeffco Generations. Mr. Church provides some great examples of how students learn with technology and ways teachers can access resources to begin integrating technology that engages students in creative learning opportunities.
I have always felt the need to incorporate technology into my day. I realized early in my career that very few things can improve student engagement like introducing a new tool or program. However, this usually only works if the teacher is as excited to explore new opportunities with their students. Fortunately, opportunities are much easier to come by nowadays because of the availability of chromebooks and free software. 95% of the curriculum we are exploring at our middle school comes from free programs that coexist with student Google logins. The Jeffco Ed Tech team is extremely supportive, and has equipment/resources for teachers to borrow to show their administration how important purposeful play can be in learning.
With all the free resources out there that appeal to the STEAM driven teacher, there is no excuse for not trying to implement computer science into some aspect of their day. Most educational apps use the Google Identity Platform which eliminates the burden of student login problems. I feel that Jeffco is headed in the right direction when it comes to preparing students for a successful future.
Demonstrating how to use Makey Makey & Scratch:
An Exit Ticket Using Makey Makey. Students were given the opportunity to create a project using Makey Makey and Scratch. I wanted them to see that they are limited only by their imagination. One on my administrators came to me looking for ways to make exit tickets more engaging and relevant. With student input, we created our interactive exit ticket using Makey Makey and Scratch. It was a huge success, and students immediately tried to jump on the “aluminum foil switch” idea for their own projects.
Jeffco Generations Skills:
These are examples of using technology as a tool to develop Self Direction and Personal Responsibility as well as Communication skills from Jeffco Generations. As an initial activity with Makey Makey, students were to research their favorite childhood song, find the sheet music, create a piano in Scratch, and use the controller from Makey Makey to recreate their song. The most amazing part of this activity is that students completed this project with very little guidance. Students relied on each other to figure out how to fix bugs in their program to make their music selection work.
How do I get access? - I am extremely fortunate to have 1:1 chromebooks in all of my Robotics classes, and nowadays there are hundreds of reputable websites that are available at no cost. Many of the hands on materials that I rely on have come from my own pocket, or were funded through the Donors Choose website. Any student can learn to code!
Funding is out there - After borrowing Makey Makey kits from Jeffco Ed Tech I decided that I had to have a set for my class to take our scratch lessons to the next level. Believe it or not, it was fairly simple to acquire the funds needed for a Makey Makey kit. Donors Choose and Google’s CS First are practically giving away money to teachers that complete a few simple activities with their class.
Skill Application Across Content Areas:
One of the favorite parts of my job is giving students an opportunity to show off what they have learned in Robotics/Coding and using those skills in other content areas. An example this year is a 6th grader who decided to retell the entire story of Maniac Magee using Scratch by taking her character on a journey through the story. It was amazing! This clearly demonstrates proficiency in computer science as well as a deep meaningful comprehension of a novel in literacy.
Below are just a few activities where application of the following Jeffco Generations Skills were imperative to complete the activity. As students completed these activities, they developed these Jeffco Generations Skills:
Sphero Bridge Build: Students were to demonstrate Critical and Creative Thinking along with Communication skills as they used the Engineer Design Process to research, design and build a bridge with drinking straws. Bridges needed to support the weight of a Sphero and span over 50 centimeters.
Friday Fly Day: During this activity, students were to research ramp design and create their own ramp to support the weight and acceleration of Sphero. This activity supports Collaboration and Leading by Influence.
Sphero Battle Tanks (captured with a 360 Camera): Students demonstrate Agility and Adaptability during their Sphero Battle Bots competition. Students used the Engineer Design Process to create “tanks” for their Spheros.
Merge Opportunities: During our introduction to 3D design, students were able to use Merge Cubes and AR/VR Goggles to check their 3D Prints. Instead of wasting printer filament, we are able to upload our designs to Object Loader and see if there are any flaws to our design. Students demonstrate Self Direction and Personal Responsibility as they create their own designs using Tinkercad, view their design in Augmented Reality, and print a clean final project.
In conclusion, I would urge all educators who are interested in integrating tech into the classroom to join Twitter. I have found so many creative educators on Twitter that share an endless number of incredible projects or ideas. Feel free to follow me @MrChurch (shameless plug) and make some connections with teachers all over the world that are passionate about integrating technology into their classrooms.
The Global Read Aloud: One Book to Connect the World
Read their blog: theglobalreadaloud.com/blog/
It all started with Facebook. The Global Read Aloud Facebook group is where teachers find a classroom, other than one in their school, to connect and collaborate with each other. The premise is simple; groups pick a book to read aloud to students during a 6-week set period. During that period, classes try to make as many global connections as possible. The Facebook group helps to bring understanding about what The Global Read Aloud entails. Students don't actually access Facebook. They engage in collaborations using a variety of digital tools. The website (linked in the title) matches up classrooms where students from different schools engage in digital activities together.
The Facebook group does host educator book studies. There is one starting in January called, "The Passionate Readers Winter Book Study" The book study discusses teacher reading identity, student reading identity, classroom libraries, and of course, share must-read, must-add titles for you to consider adding to your classroom. The book club is free, all you need is your own copy of Passionate Readers and to join the Facebook group where the questions and discussion will happen.
Teachers across the groups will plan purposeful instructions with tech infusion. One goal is to match a digital tool with the task, in order for students to collaborate. The K-1 class at Peiffer is partnered with another school in Virginia, a kindergarten class. Algonkian Elementary, which is named after a Native American tribe that is widespread and in Virginia. We have done a Mystery Google Hangout to launch our connection (both classes got to ask questions to guess where the class was located), a Flipgrid coming up soon, a Padlet this week, and Seesaw Blog. We have shared the various activities we have done in Seesaw through our blog. We have answered prompts like "What fills your heart with happiness?" "How do you hold someone up?"-
Digital Tools used in the Peiffer Global Read Alouds
The teachers at Peiffer are using Seesaw Blog to communicate among students from the two schools. The picture above was taken from the blog. You can learn more about this free tool by watching this video.
I was lucky enough to witness a FLIPGRID that the K-1 class at Peiffer used to draw pictures from a main idea in the the book and the explain their thinking. Flipgrid is a website that allows teachers to create "grids" of short discussion-style questions that students respond to through recorded videos. Each grid is effectively a message board where teachers can pose a question and their students can post 90-second video responses that appear in a tiled "grid" display. Click here to try FLIPGRID out!
Transforming the Task in the Global Read-Alouds
Peiffer teachers have been Transforming the Task using the SAMR Model, as well. They are creating, transforming, and evaluating student tasks that register M/R on the SAMR Model. For more information on the SAMR model and how strong learning happens when tasks register on the M/R, check out this Multi-media Text Set.
Move over HGTV, the fifth graders at Maple Grove Elementary are the stars of their very own school library redesign! Budgets, research, surveys, and floor plans are being drafted in
Ms. Ligrani’s and Ms. McCormick’s 5th grade classes as students create their proposals in hopes to be selected for the final design.
This unique PBL (project based learning) asks the students to apply math, economics, technology and reading skills in an authentic way in order to create a flexible learning space for their school.
The innovative idea began last spring, as the teachers recognized a need to replace the old and uncomfortable library furniture. The library is a shared learning space for everyone at Maple Grove, and Principal Chris Neville began to ponder how students could be involved in the improvements. He was inspired by Jeffco’s vision to transform the task for student learning.
When asked how they felt about being entrusted with the library redesign, 5th graders Lilly and Cameron smiled. “I think it was pretty cool! Since this is our last year at the school, we would like to use some of the furniture that we’ve wanted and to help everyone else get a new library.”
Handing over the reigns to the students has been an exciting adventure for Digital Teacher Librarian, Amy Stahura. “I’m totally game! The whole school is really excited about changing the look of the space. Hopefully it will look a lot different in here! I told the kids you can even my office space. The office would be a great green screen room.”
The Design Process
Students have been learning about design thinking (with resources from the Stanford d.school and ISTE Standard "Innovative Designer").
Research began in the field as students explored three sites in the community with flexible learning spaces. Their inquisitive minds visited "The LINK" at the Jeffco Education Center, fellow Jeffco school, Three Creeks K-8, and mindSpark Learning.
Ben and Jack were amazed by one site on their visit. "It was hard to believe that mindSpark was an old library and had no windows!" In their own design, the boys are interested in understanding how the wall colors might help learners in the library.
Empathizing with multiple stakeholders is important to the fifth graders, so the students have been collecting input from students, staff, and the community.
Surveys created in Google Forms allow students to collect and analyze data and share the results across groups. "We're working on a survey to the teachers right now. The teachers still use [the library], so they still have a voice in it," commented Austin and Ben H.
The student's creative juices are flowing as they ideate multiple scenarios for their new space. Tristan shares a draft design with considerations for height of the learners. iPads in the library will have the AutoCAD app available for groups as well.
The budget is on the mind of Bren and Stephanie. "Our budget is really really tight. We may have to reuse some of our stuff. We could reuse the bookshelf and make it a reading space to look outside." A generous donation from the PTA is funding the redesign and community partnerships are at the heart of the project. Parents with backgrounds in architecture, design, and furniture sales have become local experts from which to learn.
Instructional Coach, Amy Ellerman, a collaborator in the PBL remarked, "This project has provided such an authentic opportunity for collaboration between students, Maple Grove staff members, and our community. It is expanding our understanding of where and how learning happens."
We will have to wait until the end of the trimester when students share their proposals with school leadership and the PTA to find out the final design.
Ms. Stahura plans to reveal the renovation and invite all the partners who have supported the project. The celebration will not only be of the new space, but of the contribution of the fifth grade students to this authentic need in their school.
Want to learn more about designing learning spaces?
Read the review for The Space: A guide for educators
By Guest Blogger Felicia Frantz
Felicia Frantz is a computer science and business teacher at Alameda International Jr/Sr. High School. She is one of 300 teachers certified by Rasberry Pi in the United States and has been teaching at Alameda International for 4 years. Here she shares how she and her colleagues started a successful STEM program that has caught the attention of many, including 9News. Big thanks to Felicia for sharing her amazing expertise and experience!
About ten months ago my principal, Susie Van Scoyk, had submitted for a Title IV grant being offered offered through the district. Me and four of my coworkers were designated as the design team (think The Breakfast Club but much cooler). We were tasked with creating a STEM program, initially for 7th and 8th grade, but our hope was to be able to quickly expand it in to 9th - 12th grade as well.
We were nervous but excited over the opportunities and possibilities this grant afforded our students, and, although each of us had experience with one or multiple STEM focus subjects, we were not sure what exactly a “STEM” program would look like at Alameda International. There were so many options and we felt truly overwhelmed.
The grant consisted of $8,000 to spend on resources and $1,500 for professional development. In order to receive our grant we had to complete a training through the Choice Programming Department which would guide us in designing our program and spending our grant money. After a day of studying the concepts of project based learning and attempting to align it with the International Baccalaureate MYP Design Cycle, we had an idea that we wanted a lab or something that would give as many students and teachers access to the resources as possible, but we still could not visualize what exactly “STEM” was as a program or what this would look like at Alameda.
One of the members of our team, our DTL Dorina Miller, suggested we check out the ideaLab at the Denver Central Library. She had modeled several elements in her redesigned library makerspace after their area. We decided to check it out and were instantly enamoured. We decided we wanted to completely mirror the ideaLab in one of our classrooms. We also decided we would have the lab open before and after school so students could have access to come in and create and design at will. One other thing we decided to do, in order to help encourage the use of STEM in non-STEM classrooms was to offer the space to teachers to use for their classes.
Despite our decision on how to spend the grant, we felt like we were still missing some key elements to drive the idea of STEM at Alameda. As a team and as individuals we tried attending trainings and workshops over the summer, but could not find what we were looking for. We brought back great ideas that would definitely contribute to the enhancement of our program, such as industry contacts, ideas for authentic assessment panels, and the desire to build our own R.A.F.T., but we still felt like something was missing.
When we returned to school we were excited about the new journey we were about to embark upon. We were a newly minted department, in IB language we became the Design Department. Our course offerings had tripled and we had numerous sections being offered from 7-12 grade, including computer science, pre-engineering, imagination by design, to 9-12th grade robotics, computer graphics, and audio/visual production. Despite these wonderful offerings, we were still unsure how to bring STEM and the IB Design cycle into non-STEM classes. This concern plagued me more as I had been the author of our proposal and the IDEA Lab was under my care.
However, as people wandered by my room and as I shared out the resources we were collecting in my room a wonderful thing happened. The teachers started identifying ways in which they could use the resources with their students. An English teacher started talking about how she could have the students actually weave one of the textiles talked about in a book they read. The drama teacher started talking about his students using the sewing machines to create costumes or the resources to create props. The science teachers started talking about using augmented reality to allow the students to bring certain concepts to life, such as the muscular, vascular, and skeletal systems. And a geography teacher wanted to use virtual reality to take her students on field trips of geographical features.
On the outside these probably look just like forms of substitution and adaptation from the SAMR model, but in all honesty these are the examples of STEM we had been looking for all along. By merely sharing the potential resources with our peers, on their own they were able to identify a problem or challenge they had been facing in their classes, in many cases how to make something like literature or reading hands on, tangible, and engaging. From there, they were able to brainstorm ideas on how they could use the resources they now had access to to help solve that problem, as a result, they began to make a plan on how they could incorporate that experience into their lessons. Eventually they will get the chance to reflect on the experience and modify it where necessary.
In time, they will feel comfortable enough with the design cycle to begin letting the students identify their own problems or challenges and developing their own solutions. Because this is really what STEM is. It is not a set curriculum. It is not technology or special set of manipulatives. What STEM is, is teachers digging through recycling boxes looking for resources which students could upcycle into something else. It is providing students and teachers access to resources, skills, and a safe environment where they are free to identify potential problems based on their experiences, where they feel safe and empowered to brainstorm ideas and create solutions to those problems, to design them with guidance when they need it, to fail when things do not go just right (or celebrate the successes when things do go right), and are given the freedom and opportunity to reflect on the experience and what they learned, so that they feel empowered to go out and try again.
Postscript: As I was in the process of writing this post, our school had learned it had been selected by 9News at their first “CoolSchool” of the year because of the cool things we have going on here at Alameda, in particular the addition of our STEM program and that two of our middle school Society for Hispanic Engineer Jr. teams qualified to compete at the Technology Student Associations’ TEAMS competition in Atlanta this past June. 9News came an interviewed some of our STEM teachers and then also held a pep rally to help us celebrate. You can check out the story and the video segments at 9News Cool Schools: Alameda International
If you're interested in developing STEM programs or pathways at your school, contact Heather.Waldron.jeffco.k12.co.us, STEM Pathway Designer for Jeffco Public Schools.