Full STEAM ahead for Students

Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math can easily be threaded into other subjects. Yes,I said STEAM. I included the A. For those of you who doubt the necessity of an A, when have you ever gravitated towards an ugly car when selecting a new vehicle? Or a house that looks bad from the outside when choosing a new home? If you can’t embrace art as the A, how about substituting the work aesthetics? Every design should at least be aesthetically pleasing. Whether designing a prototype, a new bridge, or a new building people inherently drawn to designs that are aesthetically pleasing to them. So ignoring the A is not a good idea. I would hope we can agree that teaching the principles of design might be of advantage to our students as they prepare presentations, and create products throughout all of their educational endeavors.

 “The United States has developed as a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers, and innovators. In a world that’s becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it’s more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information…” -PA Dept of Education

Emphasis has been placed on the need for more STEAM in schools due to a shortage of employees to fill the ever increasing science, technology, engineering and math career fields. How do we interest our learners in careers they have no existing knowledge of at this point in their school careers?

“Economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology.”

-President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

We need to begin integrating STEAM lessons into our existing curriculum. Are you teaching a lesson on the Industrial Revolution? Why not take that lesson a step further and allow the students to not only explore the products and people responsible for this time in history, but allow them to create their own products and services and market them. This extension will allow for math, art, engineering, and potentially science. Our 8th grade students created their own products and marketed them with videos. Here are some examples of their final projects:

Famous in a Flash

Expo Meter

Rent A Friend

What about ELA? It’s really hard to pull science and technology into reading, isn’t it? No. The answer is it’s not all that big of a stretch and it’s being done routinely in some schools. Have you just finished a great book? Why not design a structure, tool, or device that could have solved the character’s problem and changed the plot of the story?  Why not design a recycled material totem pole that shares the journey of your main character?  High School ELA teacher and blogger, Ashley Million Bible, offers a great blog on STEAM in the secondary ELA classroom which can easily be scaffolded for our youngest learners. Check it out here.

Caine’s Arcade is another awesome example of how allowing children access to materials, time to tinker, and encouraging thinking outside the box can lead to amazing creations engineered by learners young and old.  Recently a team of math teachers approached my about a probabilty project for collaboration. We discussed how we could use ideas from Caine’s arcade to encourage students to create their own probability based games and then allow visitors to the probability fair to analyze the probability of winning each game they visit and play.

How have you integrated STEAM concepts into your instruction this year? If you haven’t here is a great video that might help you to motivate yourself and your students to begin thinking outside of the box.




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Giving Soft Skills a Hard Focus

The days of teaching students in rows, lecturing at them, and giving a one-sized-fits-most lesson are gone. This model of education was fitting for a workforce that required mostly assembly line jobs in productivity. However, today’s careers, and those we haven’t even begun to fathom yet, require more than repetitive action. These jobs require creativity, out of the box thinking, and problem solving.

If you watched this video, what are your thoughts? It’s amazing to me how much the workforce has change in 20 short years, and I definitely have a job that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Think about how much your career as an educator has changed since you became a teacher. Isn’t it staggering at times how much ideologies, best practices, and instructional materials/tools change?

“What skills are most important for companies that are hiring? There are some skills and qualities that employers require of all applicants for employment, regardless of the position they are hiring for. These are called soft skills, and they include the interpersonal skills and attributes you need to succeed in the workplace.”

Alison Doyle

It is imperative that we provide our self-sufficient, screen motivated generation with opportunities to come up for air and interact with their peers. We need to model collaborative, productive discourse for our learners. In all facets of life, communication is essential. However to prepare our learners to tackle professions that have yet to exist, we need to encourage collaboration that is innovative and problem solving. Who knows? One of our students may be responsible for the next big tool, technology, or process that allows for some of these future positions to be developed.

communication pic

Doesn’t this graphic prove how essential it is to teach students to collaborate when they are in school and developing social skills that will impact and help them progress in their chosen professions?

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Differentiating Direct

As a building, we’ve gotten really good at running rotations. We’ve got students transitioning, 3 stations being offered most days, and we’ve begun to make this model our own. How do we tip from here? What are our next steps?

In order to really get the “bang for our buck” direct instruction needs to look unique at all three stations. The same lesson shouldn’t be taught three times in a row. Broken records repeat, they don’t produce hits. If educators are building 3 stations based on a common standard or skill, the students are arriving at direct with varied levels of readiness each rotation.

The first group has had no prior instruction on that skill. This lesson will be more involved and in depth. This rotation is probably a good match for the group of students who didn’t do spectacularly in the pretest and will need more support this unit.

The second group to receive direct instruction has had some introduction to the skill/content prior to arriving in your group. Maybe you begin by asking some informal questions to see where the group’s needs are, offer a shorter version of the prior lesson based on errors in their answers to beginning questions, and then move onto extension skills for this topic.

You final direct station has had collaborative and independent work prior to meeting with you. These students need very little of the first lesson and much more extension. Maybe you begin the rotation with them sharing their ticket out of independent and then dive into any needed remediation. Following that this group should be extending for the majority of this rotation. They’ve gotten a firm grasp of the skills in independent and collaboration. We don’t need to run the skipped record for them. Offer opportunities to apply, research, discuss, and further explore these skills.

Today I visited a 7th grade science classroom. In that classroom the essential question was, “How do seeds disperse themselves?”  This teacher had students watching videos and posting to a forum on dispersal methods in independent. In collaborative students were previewing seeds taken from nature and working collaboratively to inference what dispersal method was used by these specimens and write down proof statements.

In direct students never got the same lesson. The teacher asked questions to determine the groups prior knowledge for round one and dove into the discussion from there. In the second round the teacher asked similar questions and then asked students to reflect on the materials viewed during independent prior to teaching any material. After these initial probing interactions, the teacher then clarified any misconceptions and explained what was expected in collab and how it tied into the discussion in direct and the video viewed in independent. The final group didn’t even get asked the clarifying questions. The teacher lauched right into higher level thinking questions and the discussion was rich.

The wrap up for this lesson was a ticket out the door on the classroom learning management system (LMS). The students in this room were moving, discussing, exploring, and extending their learning. With all of the different modalities addressed in this lesson, I can honestly say that these students will master the dispersal methods of seeds and be eager for future plant lessons to come.


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Edcamps are Excellent PD

Today we held #edcampyork. I had so much fun planning this event w/ a group of York County educators that it seems odd to believe it’s over and done already.

I love attending Edcamps. They offer a unique, unplanned, informal structure that is conducive to educators sinking their teeth into a topic and really putting themselves out there. I love the ease with which sharing takes place in these settings. 

The rule of two feet ensures that all educators and admin in attendance get exactly what the need. If a session you selected isnt what you thought it was going to be, move on to another. I often do this simply to allow myself to experience more topics. 

A lot of first time Edcamp participants were at the first annual #edcampyork today. I hope each and every one of them found a new tip, trick, or tool to take back and plug into their classrooms this week! 

I wish more PD was available at the district level that was authentic, teacher needs driven, and allowed for free movement and attendance. I think teachers would really buy into this model of PD. 

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Lucky Finds

In the spirit of all things green and feeling lucky, I decided today was a day to celebrate those instructional media tools that are truly the pot of gold under my rainbow. These tools have transcended learning for my students and helped me become a better educator and relinquish control to my learners. In the words of Abigail Adams:

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.”

When we think back on our past learning experiences, what sticks with us? Do we remember fondly the bubbling in of multiple choice questions, the flashcards, the worksheets? NO!

When I reflect on my past learning experiences I remember my awesome teachers. The ones who made every lesson come to life, took us canoeing for reading 50 SRA books, had personalities larger than life. I remember dear, sweet Mrs. Figdore who taught reading, but knew I struggled in math and helped me with my multiplication tables during my reading block. She was differentiating before differentiating was a word. Then there was Mrs. Shaffer! That woman was full of spark and loved to challenge her students to go further and do more than they ever envisioned with her scrappy repartee she was quickly one of my favorites during high school.

Finally, there’s good ole Coach Stauffer! This man changed the course of my life and I wish he were still alive to know it. When I was told by my school counselor that my GPA wasn’t competitive enough and I should consider my alternatives, he laughed and said,”Redheads are scrappers and they don’t go down without a fight. You want to teach, teach. Start here. I removed your quiz paper from the stack, check these over for me please.” With those words I was back on track. An educator I admired believed in me, so I could make it happen. Eighteen years later, I thank Coach every day for changing my momentum and path.Which teachers do you remember and why do you remember them? These teachers were my 4-leafed clovers that helped me find my luck and sparked my path towards lifelong learning.

Students also remember the challenges we give them. The opportunity to conquer the impossible and overcome it is always valued and teaches our students lifelong skills that are invaluable. Here’s a funny for you! I was out late one evening with my husband enjoying a beverage and dinner. A former student sat down at a table nearby. I didn’t think she recognized me, but I was very wrong. A while later she proceeded to come over to our table and said to my husband, “This sassy redhead assigns some tough projects! I will never forget the salt dough map she made me build. It was messy, hard, and took forever but it was the best grade I ever got.” Lesson learned, the challenges stick. Our students may grumble and groan because the projects don’t come easily for them, however the lessons they learn and the perseverance they demonstrate will stick with them long after they have left your classroom. Projects with open opportunities and choice are definitely worth their weight in gold coins.

In addition to awesome teachers and challenging projects, there are some amazing instructional tools that can make life easier and spark creativity for our learners that always make this leprechaun feel lucky! In honor of the 4-leafed clover I will share my top 4 tools for increasing student creativity.

  1. Screencastify– an easy Google extension that allows our students to record not only themselves, but their screens as well. I love when students share their learning with others through screencasts. Instructional videos don’t have to be bland, or boring. They are even more engaging for students when they are created by their peers and posted on a Youtube channel for all to view. Everyone knows that once you teach a topic you’ve got it on lock too!
  2. Google Maps– explore unknown places near or far. Add videos, pictures, and take your students on a tour. Even better, allow them to create the tour for the students in their class. Field trips are expensive, but Google Maps is free!
  3. Touchcast– if you want to record your students making a newscast or report, Touchcast is the way to go! Sign out an iPad from my office and allow your students to make their reports and news come to life! With different vApps to apply to their broadcasts, students will love the options they have to be creative.
  4. Google Sites– allow your students to create their own ePortfolios, webpages about historical figures/events, or even create their own digital Breakout! Google Sites gives students the ability to create their own websites with ease.

I wish all of you educators are Happy St. Patrick’s Day and if you feel like allowing your students to chase some rainbows, you will reap many pots of gold in return.


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Coming off of the ultimate professional development of the year for myself, amidst the month of amore & all things love, I think it’s more important than ever before that we as educators pass the love around and share a positive, or a few, about those educators that lift us up in our careers. Whether it be an old mentor, a colleague who did you a favor, or someone whose practices make you want to grow yourself give them a shout out the rest of this month. If you are on Twitter use #liftupTchrs and tag a colleague to tweet how terrific they are for all teachers to see. Not only will they appreciate the lift, but their names will be shared with other educators lifting each other and we can grow our PLNs. The groundhog may have predicted six more weeks of winter, but let’s heat up Twitter with a storm of praise for professors, instructors, & educators all over the world! 

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Empowered Educators

I am enjoying a long winter break after a rigorous edtech conference. I haven’t seen a classroom in a week, and I feel off. I can’t explain enough how valuable my time at #PETE2017 was to me. I had 4 days, including the preconference, of PD that was on my level, offered me choice, and allowed me time to connect with other educators across the state of PA. These opportunities for personalized professional development are few and far between and well worth the price of admission.

While enjoying my time at PETE&C, I heard 3 very impressive keynotes. All of them were very different, but they had one thing in common. They offered educators ideas to empower them in their classrooms. The first keynote, Dr. Carl Hooker, gave a humor-laced presentation which valued not the tool, but the skills learner need to develop in order to be successful in the future. He shared his insights on how today’s student should be using tech tools to help them develop skills for tomorrow’s workforce. He said that learners should be, “Filling their minds, not filling in bubbles.” He went on to empower educators to take risks, try new things, and offer their students opportunities to connect, move, create, and fail without fear.

“Students don’t take risks, if teachers don’t take risks. Teachers don’t take risks, if leaders don’t take risks.”  -Carl Hooker

Every child. Every day. Dr. Mark Edwards was our second keynote of #pete2017. He was a great speaker and he threaded music into his presentation to engage his audience. His unique insights were very appreciated.  My favorite quote from Dr. Edwards was, “A classroom without digital resources today is a classroom of yesterday.” He challenges teachers to answer the question how are your learners taking charge of their learning. He admitted that collaborative classrooms have a healthy “hum” to them and that quiet classrooms are just compliant. He encouraged us to allow our students to know their data so they know that they can be successful in their learning.

Finally, #pete2017 was wrapped up Wednesday by an amazing keynote from Dr. Luis Cruz. He was entertaining, engaging, and he began by telling a room filled with educators and administrators that we should never accept, “You’re just a teacher.” Instead he revealed my new favorite job description.

“We are members of a elite team dedicated to the arduous task of saving student lives!” -Dr. Luis Cruz

He also shared that hope is not a strategy. He said to make change we must have action. He humbly shared his experiences and his district’s approach to bringing an impoverished school from failing to flying data. He shared that schools are suffering from the disease of low expectations because our students are not coming to school as “third base kids,” or kids who have parental support and have been learning at home, read to, and supported in their learning. However we are seeing more and more students entering schools who aren’t even dressed to play in the ballpark. He humorously told the audience on the final day of the conference, “Disneyland lied, our schools are where dreams come true.”

There were many great moments at this conference, but I have to say that all three of the keynotes hit the ball out of the park. Educators need to embrace their profession, advocate for their learners, and lead from within. When change comes we need to be willing to dive in and get our hands dirty when the changes coming will empower our learners to take the lead in their own learning. We need to give students our best, b/c we might be the one person who makes a difference for our learners and lifts them up when they need it the most. Most of all we need to lift one another. As educators we need to help each other. We need to support each other. We need to lift one another up. Educators must empower themselves  today, tomorrow, and always. We work in the profession that makes all other professions possible. We make a difference in the lives of the students we teach. Lifting them isn’t always an easy task, but it’s why we all got into this profession in the first place. We make a difference, so start lifting your colleagues as well as your learners.

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