Category Archives: Education

Year of Engineering

Whether you call it STEM, STEAM, or STREAM, engineering is part of each of those acronyms.  In an incredible leap that still surprises me, I found myself teaching Principle of Engineering to students in 8th-10th grades this year.  (I taught elementary school for 27 years before this, for those of you new to the blog.)

After nearly falling asleep reading the course curriculum, I started to hunt for ideas.  There is no textbook; this is all project-based learning.  And just because the subject was new to me didn’t mean that I had to read from boring PowerPoints all year.

During my quest for ideas I discovered a UK site for STEM Learning.  Even more helpful for my specific interests, is the “Year of Engineering” portion of the site, which offers an incredible number of free resources for all grade levels.

Of course, I immediately dove into the secondary resources.  From the initial page, you can narrow down your engineering interest to a particular subject by clicking on a “Choose Your Inspiration” button – which perfectly describes the effect the enormous number of ideas had on me.  My favorite rabbit hole to leap into is the “Engineering in Design and Technology” one, which offers subcategories like “Sports Engineering” and “Humanitarian Engineering.”

You will need to register for a free account if you are interested in downloading any of the lesson plans or activities on the site.  Just give yourself plenty of time to explore each time you visit…

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CC image from Pixabay
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Peer Feedback

I have students in various grade levels working on design projects this year, and it only seemed right that they would give each other feedback.  The 4th and 5th graders were working on designing video games, and the 8th-12th grade engineering students were more than happy to play the games and critique them.  My two periods of engineering students are designing a playground for the 4/5 students, so it seemed only fair that the younger students give the older ones input on something that would ultimately impact them.  Finally, I had the engineering students give feedback to their contemporaries (in opposite classes).

In the past I’ve used graphic organizers like, “Two Stars and a Wish,”  or Glows and Grows, or deBono’s Thinking Hats.  The most success I’ve had is using Thinking Hats, but even then the feedback is often vague.

Sonya Terborg recently did a post on a tool called, “The Ladder of Feedback,”  and I decided to try it with my older students.  It has been, by far, the most successful peer feedback tool that I have seen in the classroom.  The steps on the ladder help students to consider a project more deeply, and the sentence stems were perfect prompts for the students to consider at each stage.

Sonya also mentions some other resources in her post, including a Mind/Shift post that has practical suggestions on how to guide your students through the process of crafting meaningful feedback.

If you ever wondered the age that students need to be in order to give constructive feedback to each other, Austin’s Butterfly will show you how even young children, once they have had some practice, can positively influence the outcome of a peer’s project.

One piece of advice from this article on TeachThought  that I intend to use the next time we do peer reviews is to give feedback on the feedback.  This may also encourage the students to be thoughtful on future critiques – a valuable skill in a school that focuses on Project Based Learning.

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CC image from Pixabay

Instructables Classes

One of my colleagues pointed out a couple of weeks ago that Instructables offers free classes on many “makerspace” related topics, such as laser cutting, mold making, and 3d design.  I’ve used the site for a few DIY projects, but never knew I could dig deeper with these lessons.  I plan to investigate several of these for my own studies, and now I know that I can also refer some of my students to the site, especially if they want to learn more about something I may not have tried yet.  It’s a good resource for DIY’ers, educators, and students.

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IDEO Lifeline Cards

If you really want to take your feedback, reflections, critiques, etc… to a whole new level, you should consider using these IDEO Lifeline Cards.  I haven’t used them with my students yet, but just asking myself the questions made me think about my own work differently.  The cards are free (and quite beautiful), so download them while you can.  Even if the questions are a bit too high level for your particular student age group, applying them to your own life is an intriguing exercise and may give you some insight you have never considered.

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Speaking Goal Cards

Although I believe they were originally designed to help English Language Learners increase their participation, the simplicity of each slide in The Speaking Goal Cards from @TanELLClassroom would be a great way to begin any class period or discussion in which you want to encourage participation.  They can prompt students to focus on certain speaking skills, or even help reluctant speakers to create a scaffolded action plan for a semester.  Thanks to @TanELL for sharing this on Twitter!

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Spatial Puzzles

While searching for ways to help my engineering students develop some desperately needed problem-solving stamina and spatial reasoning, I came across these wonderful puzzles that are in color – and provide solutions. (Did I mention I need to practice my spatial reasoning, too?)  I gave them the TED Ed River Crossing Riddle last week, and I thought I was about to have a full-on mutiny on my hands when I wouldn’t reveal the answer right away, so I thought I would try some less complex challenges for the next few weeks 🙂

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image from Gerwin Sturm on Flickr

Question Sorts

My engineering classes have been working on helping to design the new playground at Advanced Learning Academy.  On Thursday, the architect, landscape architect, and district Director of Constructor visited the students to explain the process and answer questions.

I wanted to make sure there were some high level questions in there, so I decided to use the “Question Sorts” Visible Thinking Routine from Harvard’s Project Zero. (You can see another post I’ve done about Visible Thinking Routines here.)

Sonya Terborg has a great blog post about questioning here, and I love the quadrant example she gives.

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from Sonya Terborg

My original plan was to use the image in a Padlet.  However, as seems to be the case too often recently, our internet has been wonky.  So, I went somewhat “old school” and had the students use Post-Its on our whiteboard.

I changed the wording a bit, and flipped the labels on the y axis so that the more they cared about the answer to the question, the higher up it would be on the axis.

Although the concept appeared to be difficult for the class at first, they soon got the idea.  As always, some questions were “deeper” than others.  “What is the budget?” was asked more than once, but, “What is your idea of a playground of the future?” got high marks from the students.

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(Some of the PostIts fell off before I took the picture.)

The guests wanted to project a presentation, so they were able to pull PostIts off the board as they answered each question while their slides were on the screen.  It turned out that our primitive method of using the whiteboard was a good call after all!