Tuesday, November 27, 2018

What's In Your Elementary STEM Lab?

Often when people come to visit our lower school STEM lab they ask "how did you know what to put it in?" The truth is, we didn't, but we learned along the way. The first thing I would suggest to a school system wanting to create a STEM lab is not to try to buy everything in the beginning. Don't let the tools dictate the learning. Buy as you see needs and desires. I wish we had done this a bit more in the beginning.

This is what we currently have in our lab now that we are 3 years into the program:

  • Wonder Workshop Dash and Dot Robots. These are our "go to" robotics for elementary students. They work with 4 different apps- Wonder, Blockly, Go, Path...the various apps meet different levels of coding ability. Their durability is amazing.
  • Wonder Workshop Cue Robots. These robots even allow students to toggle between block coding a javascript.
  • Sphero Robots. Sturdy for use by young children and can even get them wet. 
  • Ozobots Evo and Bit. Start with color coding and move to block-based coding. 
  • Makey Makey. Inventor kit that allows students to turn everyday objects into keyboards using the concept of electric circuitry.  
  • Cube-lets. Small cubes that connect magnetically to create a larger simple robot. 
  • Merge Cubes. Hologram enabled Augmented/Virtual reality ability.
  • Legos. Great for engineering lessons. 
  • Magnetic building sets. Great for engineering lessons for younger children. 
  • Little Bits STEAM Student Sets. Tools needed for invention ideas in the student inventor book.  Each set can engage 3-4 students at one time. 
  • Little Bits. Circuits that snap together. 
  • LEGO Mindstorm EV3Robotics. Allows students to build, program and command these LEGO based robots.
  • LEGO Education WeDo kits. Curriculum, software and STEM, discovery-based project kits.
  • Makerbot 3D Printer. Ways to make 3D designs. 
  • 5 Lenovo Laptops. 
  • 5 iPads.
  • Class Set of Chromebooks.
  • Microscopes
  • Safety Goggles
  • Beakers
  • Extra large "LEGO" like building blocks. Large enough to set up different areas in the room by creating walls for separation
  • Markers
  • Glue Sticks
  • Glue
  • Glue guns
  • Tubs
  • Scissors
  • Aluminum Pans
  • Containers
  • Duct Tape
  • Construction Paper
  • Yarn
  • String
  • Paint
  • Other craft type supplies

At the beginning of the year we added one item on each grade level supply list for the lab:

Pre-K -1 pack of popsicle sticks
Kindergarten -1 package of sticky notes
First- 1 pack sandwich baggies
Second- 1 package drinking straws
Third- 1 package toothpicks
Fourth- 1 roll masking tape
Fifth- 1 roll scotch tape

Some of our tools are "go to" items. The robotics and coding platforms are used across the curriculum to teach in classroom concepts regardless of the subject matter. Our students code robots to show learning in everything from language arts, bible, science, math, and geography. The time our students spend in the STEM lab directly supports the integrated units in our lower school. It is taking science, technology, engineering and math and making it actionable.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Holding the Tensions of Opposites

A few weeks ago I sat in a meeting discussing funding of our STEM program and the discussions got more personal. Sharing of beliefs and conflicting beliefs that one person described as “holding the tension of opposites.” As I sat and listened to these two men talk I realized fully that this idea is something I strive for all the time. I had just never been aware of the phrase.

After leaving the meeting I couldn’t get the concept to leave me, and after a very hard week the thought hit me again. Holding the tension of opposites isn’t easy. In fact, it often creates a tension inside me that seems like tipping scales. My recent tensions include:

Believing that technology can have a great positive impact on education 
and also
Believing that technology can have a negative impact on education when people lose their balance and perspective

Believing that preparing students for a world of technology usage is an important part of every educator’s job
and also
Believing that technology doesn’t inherently equate to good teaching 

Believing that my views of innovative practices could enhance creativity and a culture of open mindsets 
and also
Believing that agendas or forcing innovative ideas on others to carry out will not have a positive impact on culture

Believing that integrating technology in the classroom through balancing student’s use between creation, consumption, curation and connection is imperative for the innovation era which is their future
and also
Believing that the age old concepts of Socratic dialogue and other non-tech teaching is just as effective for learning 

Believing that innovation is the intersection  where need and passion meet. And that it doesn’t have to be technology to be innovative
and also
Believing that technology has a way to tear down the walls of the classroom and allow teachers and students to know more than ever before

The problem with living with these tensions is that it is intellectually draining at times. The word “tension” itself shows the demand that is being placed on oneself by choosing to grab hold of opposite ends and allowing the shock waves of conflict to battle within us.

The positives of choosing this way of thinking is that it creates a space inside us that critically considers both sides of a tension. By accepting them to coexist inside us we are more open to being flexible in our thought patterns. It is easier for us to see the benefits of both sides. We become less dogmatic about the things we truly lean towards and willing to be flexible when we grab those tensions.

It is when we give over to one idea completely, whether it be because of conflict, bullying or realizations that our rigidness makes us less approachable. It is when we feel in conflict with someone that doesn’t appear to be holding the tensions themselves that we become more lopsided in our discussions.

The holding of the tension is necessary for critical thinking. Yes, it’s hard but all good things usually are. Recently I feel this ongoing tension about our school’s choice to do all objective assessment through the LMS Canvas. I see the work and the “learning things the hard way” that our teachers are pushing through. I appreciate the ones that accept the challenge placed before them. There are days I look at the tensions regarding this decision and think “is it worth it?”

Today, due to a question a teacher had about regrading a quiz question I saw once again the analytics that teachers have the ability to see regarding each question they create. It was in that moment that I was reminded again of the why of this tension. If a teacher chooses to use that feedback to grow their curriculum, the opportunities for school, teacher and student growth could be exponential.

Hard things take time. Research shows that 3 months into any implementation is the hardest because of the outlying pressures and learning curves associated with the change. We are there at that 3 month mark. I pray I can ever be mindful to hold these tensions dutifully so that I can best serve in the role before me. Some days I cry from the tension. Some days I rejoice in the feedback. Everyday is hard but good things are hard. We don’t let our students give up when it gets hard. I won’t either.