Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lunchtime is Not Only for Eating!

The bell rings!  Hooray!, it is lunch time.  Students are excited because it is their day to go to tinker club where there is always a challenge to meet.  After students get filled up from eating their lunch they walk into the STEM lab to find straws, newspaper and tape.  They are asked to build a bridge with these materials that will span across a specific distance between two tables.  That’s challenge one... the second challenge is making the bridge strong enough to hold a book.  Students get busy building by rolling up paper, using tape and affixing straws.  They start to line up to test their prototype and if they don’t succeed then they get the opportunity to ideate their prototype and try again.  This is all part of the engineering process.  Although students are learning this process through their STEM classes it is reinforced through the lunch club challenges.  

The lunch clubs are a big part of the LASD STEM program. Students have an opportunity to attend lunch club at least once a week.  Some of the challenges have consisted of creating musical instruments, zip lines, catapults, oobleck, Rube Goldberg, reverse engineering, egg drop and the list goes on and on…

Students at Loyola put a creative spin on their egg drop challenge this year by hurling them through the air using a sling shot.  The students were so excited to see their egg drop vehicles sail through the air in hopes that the egg would land safely.  

Fun?  Yes!  Are the students learning how to persevere through the challenge, collaborate with their peers, build and create? Yes, it is all part of the STEM learning experience.   

Here are some responses from students about Lunch Club:
“I get to work with my friends!”  
“It's ok if it doesn't work, Mrs. Rafferty even likes it when we fail!”
“Cool stuff happens that we don't get to do in the classroom.”

Kelly Rafferty, the STEM teacher at Santa Rita, said “I like lunch club because it lets me connect with all grade levels every week, even when I am working with their class. I think they feel connected to me and the space as a place where they can try anything, it doesn't have to be perfect and we all love when something doesn't work as planned, because then we get to try again and make things better.”

Lunch clubs are happening at all 7 elementary schools in the STEM labs, 2 to 3 times a week.  Many of the schools are doing themes for the month, for example Gardner Bullis’s November theme is “Come Fly Away with Me.”  The students will be challenged with rocket building and launching, creating and analyzing Balsa Wood Gliders, and a zip line challenge.  

Lunch clubs are not only fun and social, but a learning time for all!  

Contributed by Karen Wilson, STEM Coach

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Choose Guideposts over Pavement

My son sent me a preview video of the new Assassin’s Creed Unity game because he knows I’m a huge fan, have played most of the series, and pre-ordered both of the coming editions. It was exciting to see that in this new world, they have provided the player with a large array of options for achieving a goal. Previously, the game play was somewhat laid out before you and if you followed the road and did some serious button mashing in spots you found success. Engaging and fun, but didn’t require a lot of finesse or deep problem solving. This new landscape appears to require some further contemplation, planning, and decision making as you take into consideration strategy, skills, historical context, and reputation.

How does this relate to education? In the classroom, we’re trying to achieve the same goal. Provide our “players” with an engaging and fun learning experience but one that provides depth and many different avenues to the learning objective. That idea of personalization which keeps cropping up but is difficult to achieve on a large scale. In the traditional classroom, standardized curriculum guides carefully lay out a paved road to learning outcomes, with little room for deviation. There is differentiation, but not personalized learning. It gets a bit confusing as we start tossing around terms such as differentiation, individualization, and personalization, because on some level, they address the same idea, but they are very different. I love this Personalized Learning Chart by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey and shared through Sue Strautz’s blog, as it clearly states that the main key to personalization is that it’s learner centered instead of teacher centered, a key difference. This can be difficult to accomplish in a large classroom with various student needs, testing pressure, and technology access that can vary. The good news? It’s not an all or nothing.

In this Stages of Personalized Learning chart from Bray and McClaskey, there is a progression through three defined stages. The first is more teacher centered with a gradual move to giving students more choice and control of their learning. I think of this as teachers starting personalization with a dirt trail. Students need a path to follow as they learn to navigate a new learning trail with a few forks in the road that allow for choice but that ultimately lead them to their destination. As they become more comfortable, teachers can slowly remove the path and replace it with guideposts, suggestions that point them in the right direction but allow them many different routes to the end. When they fully understand how to map their own trail, that’s when we turn them loose. At that point, we’ve given them something that is far richer than anything that comes from a textbook; skills, tools, and grit that will get them through the rough patches and lead them to the finish. It becomes more than just personalized learning, it becomes a way to navigate the world.

Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach