This year I began trying a series of mixed-media in my class, with Common Core in mind.
For instance, last week I began using Rube Goldberg as a point of interest through which to teach 4th, 5th and 6th graders both science and document creation. It’s impossible for young people to not be enthused by the simplicity and complexity of Rube Goldberg contraptions –a useful point to make, considering his belief that we humans tend to make simple tasks more complicated than they need to be.
What resonates with students seems to be the basic elements of one of these machines – ordinary objects lying around a home. I’ve even found it useful to get third graders to talk excitedly about forces and gravity, after demonstrating a crude ‘machine’ in my class. “Crude,” as in what appears to be a hastily put together contraption of a ball, some string, paperclips, and a ruler. Here’s what I did last week:
I tied a length of string to the door handle, and wrapped it around a computer terminal, then stretched it about 15 feet to a stool, tying that end to a ‘lever’ (made of Lego pieces).
When the lever is moved, it drops a ball onto a ruler balanced on a cardboard box. The ruler, when tipped (by the weight of the ball) sends another ball shooting into the air.
We tested it out; it was hit or miss. But when it worked, I picked a student to catch the flying ball.
What was fun, and unexpected, was when the teacher came to pick up the students, the contraption went to work, and the ball flew into the air. I don’t know what the teacher thought was going on in a ‘computer class’ but I think they have all come to expect that this is not just about hardware and software, but science and technology.
Rube Goldberg’s ‘machine’ also helps me draw out the larger lessons of STEM:
- Problem solving and experimentation go hand in hand
- It’s OK to fail -and learn something from your mistakes
- The ‘laws’ of science don’t need to be memorized to be applied
- Scientists are cool people. They don’t only work in murky labs with hazardous chemicals
- Big Ideas haven’t all been taken. The world is always anxious for the better mousetrap!
I just got back from a robotics practice tournament at Intel this morning, an event where schools and clubs participating in the FIRST Lego League, come to learn, and make the necessary mistakes before the real thing.
One thing that clearly stood out was the increasing number of girls in these clubs. I have been attending these events with my team for about three years now, and began to see the change last year, as robotics begins to go mainstream.
This is exciting for many reasons, as we educators try to break the stereotypes as to what kinds of engagement suit whom. This is not to discount the many teams with young men who are very passionate about robotics.
In a guest speaker slot a meteorologist (above: he was brought in because this year’s challenge is ‘Nature’s Fury‘) asked the kids questions about weather sensors and ‘data’, and a few kids knew what a ‘servo’ was. They instantly got the GIGO (garbage in, garbage out’) concept. I’ sure many other coaches and parents were pleasantly surprised at the questions they (girls and boys) peppered him with. And that was after the girls did swimmingly at the tables, changing attachments, modifying move blocks etc.
Intel must be excited about this girl momentum. I have heard from many tech folk there how they are trying to bring in more women into engineering, so in about 12 years, when these kids are about the graduate from collage, there’s going to be a rush to grab them into the workforce.
I have been taking an online class, titled ‘Digital Learning Transitions’ for K-12 educators by the Alliance for Excellent Education, and the Friday Institute, and it’s fascinating to see where the discussion of the participants is taking me.
There are different kinds of schools represented, and technology instructors facing different issues. Some of the key themes they have spelled out are:
- Leading with education initiatives –not technology initiatives;
- A student-centered focus in teaching methods
- The need for professional learning opportunities
- The need for leadership is this area
- Earning buy-in from teachers and admins in schools, PLUS buy-in from parents, community, school board members.
I was particularly excited when I was approached by a board member last week who had seen some of the initiatives in my class, and wanted to know how the board could help. If I make a wish list, it would be a very long one. Speaking of buy-in, I am fortunate to have major backing from my education IT department.
But in the discussions with fellow instructors online , I have realized that there’s no need to rush to incorporate every tool, every platform into the curriculum.
My goal is to make my computer and technology class, student-lead and support the work of class teachers. Yes I love to teach them how to create Wikis and e-books, podcasts and presentations, but these are just ‘media’ –the vessels for the content and the knowledge– that students can use to help them get more excited about the language arts, social studies or math classes.
In case you are interested, the MOOC class began on September 30, and ends November 24.
Students can’t get enough of science. I’ve been amazed at the interest from students as early as in Kindergarten. They already know the name and the spacecraft that put the first American into orbit. Some of them have even begun giving me artistic rendering of the spaceship that will one day take a human to Mars.
Back on planet earth, we are lucky this year to get Commander John Herrington, the first Native American in Space, to speak to my kids via video hook up. It’s a complex set up, making sure we have a stable connection into the library where students will talk to an astronaut, while the rest of the classes watch the event on their smart boards!
Plans are in place for the annual event we started last year – Mars Day.
This is one way to get students all fired up about astronomy, and the science of discovering what’s out there in space.
My students, which means from K through 6th grade (27 classes in all) have been showing tremendous interest in science. Since I started out by incorporating robotics and space into my computer class, the Mars connection seem to fit like a glove. After all, rocket launches, monitoring and navigating spacecraft, and even peering into space via satellites and the Hubble telescope, is nothing without a small army of computer-savvy people behind this.
Mars Day is sort of like peeling back the curtain of humankind’s fascination with the red planet, and helping students make the connection between why they have a computer lab. It is convenient, as I have said before, that the Curiosity Rover, which is one of the most complex robots ever built, is essentially a computer and a science lab on wheels.
Also appearing at this year’s Mars Day is Commander John Herrington. You may have heard of him in passing. He was the first Native American Astronaut in space!
For my kids on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation, this is a huge opportunity.
We just had a visit form a celebrated author, Joe Brown in our school.
He’s the author of the The Flights of Marceau, published by Scholastic.
What an amazing story, of an author who had been trapped in a body of a lawyer for some 50 years, and turned to writing at (get ready for this) 70!
I loved one of his quips, when asked if he always liked books. “Without books, we’d all be cavemen,” he said.
The book he read (and presented to each student) was ”Race To The Rescue,” about Marceau the cab driver’s adventure (um, imagination) of how he got involved in animal rescue during Hurricane Katrina.
Joe had one big message for students. “Your teachers,” he said, “will tell you to read, read, read. I would tell you that while reading is very important, you must also learn to write, write, write!”
he urged students to take notes of the little things they observe, and the ideas that pop into their heads. “You never know where those ideas, and your imagination will take you!”
Joe says he plans to write a book each year. Can’t wait to see what the next in the Marceau series will bring!
This story seems to be everywhere. from the Costco magazine to Sixty Minutes.
Lots of lessons worth learning from the Khan Academy. Not just the math, but the idea that teaching can be transformative if you strip away the technique, and get down to the passion of communicating. Communicating to people who are no longer ‘audience’ but active participants.
As Sal Khan says, the format is so simple.
For more background:
Watch Sal Khan in 2011, in a Ted Talks
Watch Sanjay Gupta try his hand at a Khan Academy lecture
Does it make you cringe when you came across folks saying “brung”? How about “drug” as the past tense of drag. My other pet peeve is the use of “bring” when someone means “take.” How hard s it to figure out that one “takes’ something away, and brings something toward?
How do these oddities creep in? If you are to tell me this is accepted speech, then we are surely being “drugged” to the edge of the very slippery slope. You may have heard that so-called “initialisms” such as OMG and LOL have entered the Oxford English Dictionary.
If there is one common core issue in language that needs to be addressed it’s how we start raising the bar when it comes to descriptive language. As I have noted here and elsewhere, I have outlawed two words in my class: “thing” and “stuff.” This is not just language arts concern. Even in my robotics program, I have to stress the use of a good vocabulary,
Yesterday I ran into a parent who was bristling that Common Core was ‘dumbing down’ standards. This kind of reaction to change is to be expected, though myopic; it does sound a lot like Fox News talking points. But where’s the rage against sloppy vocab?
But for now, having seen a grown-up use the word, I am waging a war on “drug.”
How do you make search engines more interesting to 5th and 6th graders?
The word ‘algorithm‘ doesn’t mean anything to them, let alone the average grown-up. To paraphrase Kevin Slavin, algorithms are the things nobody reads.
This is the time of the year –when students are just discovering new software and software upgrades on school computers — that’s perfect for discussing with students about search engines, where they are headed, and what exactly one is doing when one enters a string of keywords in a search box. The changes taking place in the engine behind that box seems to happen not every few quarters or months, but probably every few weeks. It’s “onslaught of algorithm updates” is impossible for anyone –let alone a kid– to keep up with,
What you don’t want is a 5th or 6th grader sailing into high school using the same search habits, thinking it amounts to “research.”
This week I began introducing them obliquely to Search through Venn Diagrams and their connection to Boolean logic. Even as I mentioned it, I was aware that the typical and, or, near, not triggers are becoming less and less important in Google, but they still get amazing results. Students get a kick out of seeing how a search term can be tweaked to reduce the number of results from millions to thousands to hundreds.