# Operation Valentine

Operation Valentine is an adorable project on Instructables that can be used for grades 3 and up to teach the basics of electrical circuits just in time for Valentine’s Day.  You may recall the post that I did that included some of the Operation projects my co-worker, Kat Sauter, did with the 8th grade science teacher.  The Instructables project from mathiemom is definitely more manageable with younger students.  Maybe your students can make these for their Virtual Valentines projects, or in addition to some of these other STEM projects for the young at heart 🙂

# Stoke Deck

Stanford’s d.school is one of my go-to resources for anything creative, so I was a bit surprised when I found this particular one completely by accident.  I was looking for unique team-building tools, and “Stoke Deck” popped up.  This free printable has 28 different activities that will help students to “Boost Energy, Create Focus, Get Personal, Nurture Camaraderie, and Communicate Mindsets.”  They are each short exercises that can be used before starting a lesson – or even as a quick break during instruction.  Some of them, like “Blind Disco,”  may require some an established history of trust before you try them.  Others, like “Long Lost Friends,” might be good for introductions.  Almost all of them were new to me, so I can’t wait to try them!

# The Pencil Problem

In my recent post, “Confessions of a Schadenfraud,” I promised to tell you some stories of my epic failures so far in my new job.  A recent Twitter thread reminded me of a struggle that many teachers have – and I admit that I’ve been kind of “judgey” about it in the past.

Now the first thing, I should say is that, if you have a self-contained class, you probably have a great method that works for you to make sure that students always have the supplies they need.  I’m pretty sure that there is a mathematical formula that shows that the number of disappearing pencils in any given classroom is proportional to the number of students who move in and out of your classroom each day.

In my previous role as a pull-out teacher for gifted and talented students, the solution was simple.  No one brought anything to my class, and no one left with anything.  I provided the supplies, and they stayed there.  There were still a few that got sucked up by a Black Hole, but a few packs of pencils would usually last a month or two.

When I saw the frequent Twitter debates admonishing teachers for being frugal with pencils, I would usually shrug.  “What’s the big deal?  Just give the kid a pencil.  We all forget sometimes.”

No one told me that secondary students eat pencils.

At my new school, the students carry their backpacks everywhere (not my decision).  It does not seem unreasonable to expect that there might be a pencil or two included in the depths of these bags that often include contents like hand sanitizer, multiple earbuds, phones, smelly shoes, Takis, and slime.

Pencils, however, appear to be of low priority in the life of a teenager.

We keep a 3d printed pencil holder in the maker space next to the pencil sharpener.  I think it might hold maybe 24 pencils.  If we fill it at the beginning of the day, they are gone by the last period.

When I say, “gone,” I am including the ones that have been snapped in half and left carelessly on the floor.

Realizing that this was not a sustainable solution, but determined to have pencils available for those who needed them, I searched the web for ideas.  This particular one seemed viable.  I felt like a lot of students were forgetting they had borrowed pencils, and were leaving the room with them accidentally; this could solve that problem.

I  wrote, “Makerspace” on  8 bright orange cards, numbered them, duct taped them to popsicle sticks that I then duct taped to the pencils.

My co-teacher, who has been at the school for a few years, watched this process with amusement.

“You don’t think this is going to work, do you?” I asked.

“It could,” she said, without any conviction whatsoever in her voice.

Whether or not it “worked” depends on your definition of success in this area…

I explained to the students that I was not trying to embarrass them or make them stand out when they borrowed a pencil.  I also said that I knew they weren’t deliberately stealing them when they took them out of the room.  I just wanted the tags to remind them to put them back in the holder before they left.

During the first couple of days, only one pencil completely disappeared.  Though I was somewhat disturbed by the probable deliberate theft of a pencil, I considered this to be an overall victory.

My sense of accomplishment did not last long, however.

My big mistake, apparently, was to render the erasers of these pencils unusable.  Past experience had shown me that pencil erasers lasted even less time than pencils (the students like to pop them off just for fun, among other things) so I didn’t think it would be a big deal to cover them up.  Since most of our writing in the class wasn’t formal, I figured crossing things out would be fine.

Silly me.

“I can’t erase with this pencil,” one student complained.

“That’s okay.  Just cross out your mistake with a line.  No big deal.”

“But I don’t want to cross it out.  I want to erase it.”

“But, as you just pointed out, you can’t use the eraser on that pencil, so crossing it out is the next best thing,” I said.

“I don’t want to just cross it out,” was the stubborn answer.

“I guess you could ask a friend to borrow their eraser,” I suggested.

“That’s too much trouble,” she responded.

“Okay, I’m not sure what you want me to do.  If erasers are that important to you, maybe you could bring one tomorrow.” (As soon as I said that last sentence, I felt guilty.  Stupid Terri, maybe she can’t afford supplies!)

“Oh, I have one.  It’s in my backpack.”

“You. Have. An. Eraser. In. Your. Backpack?” I asked, allowing myself to be swept even further into this no-win conversation.  Her backpack was about 6 feet away from her.

“Yes, I have a pencil with an eraser in my backpack,” she said with obvious frustration at my slowness.  “But I’m not going to go get it.  That’s too much work.”

At this point, I decided this conversation was too much work and that I better go help another student before I lost my mind.

Of course, after the students switched classes that day, I found one of our labeled pencils snapped in half.  Which still didn’t make the eraser accessible, but I guess seemed easier than expressing her righteous anger in a more productive way.

After that, it took about two weeks for the rest of the pencils to disappear or spontaneously fracture into multiple pieces.  Certainly an improvement on our previous record, but disheartening anyway.  To give her credit, my co-worker, said, “They lasted longer than usual, at least,” instead of, “I told you so.”

Now I feel like a true idiot for criticizing teachers who made such a big deal about giving students pencils.  So many of us want to give the students the benefit of the doubt (they just forgot, some of them can’t afford them, etc…) – but we forget to give the teachers the benefit of the doubt.  Most of us aren’t crabby Mrs. Umbridges who expect our students to be perfect.  We walk the line between accommodating them and helping them to become more responsible every day.

By the way, as I explained in my Schadenfraud post, these stories are not meant to elicit sympathy or advice (trust me – I have thoroughly researched ways to solve the case of the evaporating pencils and there is no perfect solution).  My goal is for you to take pleasure in my mistakes, so you can be less judgmental of your own 🙂

You know you’ve felt it.  I feel it all of the time.  I felt it a few hours ago when I read about how Chrissy Tiegen publicly enlightened Kim Kardashian that she’s a bit late in hitching a ride on the Bird Box bus.  But I don’t know either one of them, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t hurt Kardashian’s feelings that I’m laughing at her.  So, I have no problems admitting that, yes, I am delighted to learn that one of our pop culture icons isn’t completely caught up on pop culture.

But when I feel schadenfreude about friends or co-workers, I feel evil and guilty.  And, because my new job has been particularly challenging these last 6 months, I have been having those feelings a lot.  Probably not as much as I’d like to, if I’m being honest.  Because when I’m not deriving pleasure from the problems of other teachers, I am berating myself for all of my own failures.  And that doesn’t feel too great either.

I try to be honest on the blog for precisely those reasons.  I want to share good ideas so other people can try them, but social media tends to paint an unrealistic picture.  I’ve had people tell me that they admire me or wish they could be even half as good as I am at teaching, and that worries me.  Because I’m really not that great.  The only teachers I’m better than are the ones who don’t care about their students – and that’s a really low percentage despite public perception.

But, like most people, I do have a hard time publicly acknowledging my mistakes.  First, because – IDIOT!  And second, because I am not trying to garner sympathy or advice.  Most of the time, I know exactly what I did wrong and I’m already on a potential road to recovery.

I work with a lot of amazing teachers.  It’s pretty intimidating, to be honest.  But when one of them says, “Oh yeah, I went home crying the other night because of how bad my 3rd period class was,” I don’t just feel schadenfreude.  I feel relief.  And I am not reveling in that person’s pain.  I feel terrible for her.  But I also feel a little less terrible – about my teaching.

But more terrible about myself as a person.

Such is the complicated emotion of schadenfreude.

So, I just want to let you know that I am going to give you the gift of schadenfreude a little bit more often this year. Not because I feel the need to whine or vent.  But because I want to give you the guilt-free opportunity to laugh at my misfortunes and tell yourself, “Hah!  At least I didn’t do that today!”

# BreakoutEdu for the Win

My usual bag of tricks has not been extremely successful at my new school, especially in my engineering classes.  I didn’t bank on the fact that middle/high schoolers don’t want to appear interested even if they are – and most things that I have to share with them are apparently not even worth sitting around and appearing disinterested, judging by the steady stream of students asking to go to the bathroom.

I even tried the Hour of Code with a group.  But nothing I said could convince them that making games might be just as, if not more, fun than playing them.

It has definitely been a bit humbling.  Sometimes depressing.  Often humiliating.  I’m still trying to convince a lot of these students they can trust me, and they become immediately suspicious whenever I introduce something new into the mix.

Our high school students went on a trip last week, so the 8th graders were stuck with me.  I assumed (correctly) that they were not going to want to “work” (their current tortuous project is to design something in Tinkercad) while their classmates were kayaking.  So, I decided to try a BreakoutEdu with them.

I chose a fairly simple challenge since I knew most of the students had never done one before.  And I dangled the idea of a reward at the end. (A couple of chocolate candy Kisses)

I had two goals for them: collaboration and perseverance.

As I set them free to look for clues, I waited with bated breath for the inevitable, “This is too hard,” or, “This is boring.”

It didn’t happen.

The challenge took them about 30 minutes.  Nobody fought.  Nobody gave up.  Nobody surreptitiously kept taking out a phone to check Snapchat.

And no one asked to go to the bathroom.

After they finished, and we were reflecting as a class, one student said, “This is a great way to learn.  Every teacher should do this!”

But the kicker came from one of my other students, someone who always tries to figure out what’s in it for her before she applies any effort.

“Can we do this again?” she asked.  “And you don’t even have to give us a reward,” she promised me. As she popped a candy Kiss into her mouth.

Now. That. Is. Huge.

# Trying to Pick Up S.T.E.A.M.

My new job title at Advanced Learning Academy is “S.T.E.A.M.  Master Teacher.”  Thank goodness I didn’t know my co-teacher when I applied for the job – or I would have talked myself out of it.

My co-teacher, Kat Sauter, is A.MAZE.ING when it comes to everything from Robotics to Carpentry.  We both share the school’s Maker Space as a classroom, and I have learned so much from her since I began this job 4 months ago.

Our Maker Space has about a bazillion tools and I knew how to use approximately 1.5 of them when I started in August (if you don’t count the computers).  We have 3d printers, multiple saws, a laser cutter, and electronics I never knew existed.  I learn about 20 things from Kat per day, and I believe she has learned 1 from me.  Since September.

It isn’t only Kat’s vast knowledge of every piece of equipment that makes her incredible, though.  It is also the way she is able to weave the idea of “making” into so many parts of the curriculum, can manage several groups at a time working on completely different things, and has complete confidence that students can work a table saw just as well as any adult (with proper training and safety equipment, of course).

And her ideas!  I mentioned some of them in yesterday’s post, but I’ll recap and add more.

Kat collaborated with the 8th grade Humanities teachers to create an art exhibit at a local studio called, “Some are More Equal Than Others.”  Each of Kat’s 8th grade Robotics students were partnered with other students in their classes to design the interactive masterpieces displayed for parents and the public to see.

With the Biology teacher, Kat helped her middle school students design working “Operation” games that demonstrate their knowledge of different body systems.  These made an appearance at one of our community gatherings in October.

One of our math teachers happens to love carpentry, so he teamed up with Kat to teach an Engineering class.  So far, the class has designed and built a chicken coop for our primary campus.  In addition, with Mr. Woodman (yes, I know – PERFECT name), some of the students are currently making incredible cutting boards that they will be selling at our next community event in order to earn money for our space.

Not all of the students in the Engineering class wanted to work on cutting boards, though.  So, some groups are learning how to make laser-cut jewelry, and others are developing a “Fix-It” workshop, where people will be invited to bring broken items for them to repair.

I feel very lucky to be able to see how a true S.T.E.A.M. program becomes an organic part of a campus, rather than a stand-alone course.  The students are learning the Design Process, collaborating with others, and creating across the curriculum.

Technically, I am a “S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher’s Apprentice” as I observe Kat in action.  I feel like I should be paying her tuition.

The good news is that we just got a new CNC, and she tells me that she doesn’t know how to use it yet – so we can learn together.  I might know how to use 2.5 tools by the end of the school year…

# An Invitation

As some of you may know, I made a giant leap outside of my comfort zone this year – leaving a job I had done for 19 years in a district where I had worked for 27.  All 27 of those years were spent teaching elementary school, and now I teach students in 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, and 10th.

I haven’t said a lot about the school where I now work, so here is a brief summary:

Advanced Learning Academy is an in-district charter school in San Antonio Independent School District.  The school serves PK-12, but only grades 4-12 are housed on the campus where I work, Fox Tech High School.  The Fox Tech campus also hosts a Health and Law magnet school and CAST Tech High School.

ALA opened its doors 3 years ago, a combined endeavor between SAISD and Trinity University.  It is a school “for students who seek academic challenge with greater depth and complexity and opportunities for acceleration.”  Trinity interns work along with the faculty to provide Project Based Learning activities, Design Thinking, and a variety of enrichment activities.

ALA is diverse, with students who live a few blocks away to students who live outside of the city.  No area is “zoned” for our campus, so the only students who attend are those who have applied.

The first, and best thing (in my opinion), that I noticed when I joined the staff here at ALA was the extreme dedication of each and every teacher.  No one is here for “a job.”  They are here because they want to do what is best for children and they want to improve their craft.  The quality of teaching on this campus has completely humbled me.  Know this: if your child attends ALA, his or her teacher will do everything possible to help that student reach his or her potential.

Project-Based Learning means that our Robotics students collaborate with their Humanities peers to create interactive works of art, our Engineering students work with architects to design the new playground and build a chicken coop for the lower campus, and Biology students work with another Robotics class to produce “Operation” games to represent the body systems they have researched.

Design Thinking means that our students know what it means to make a prototype, test it, fail, and revise.  They have time to “go deep” into curriculum, and they often present to their peers, their parents, and outside experts.  We are working on craftsmanship to develop products that will enhance our campus, and will be lasting legacies.

Enrichment Activities include field trips – lots of them.  Our campus is located downtown, a block from the Central Library, and within walking distance to the Riverwalk, the Tobin Center, and Hemisfair Plaza.  Our students go on at least one field trip a month, often more.  In addition, the grade levels have built in time for students to take “Wonder Courses,” which they can select based on interest.

Because of our unique structure, high school students can visit the 4th/5th grade wing to give students feedback on their video game designs, 5th graders can join 6th and 7th graders in programs like Speak Up, Speak Out, and students in grade 4-12 could work together to produce the musical, Shrek.

So, what’s the downside, you ask?

Transportation may be an issue, depending on your location.  There are in-district transfers on buses, but this may mean a long-ish ride for the student.

Because we are small, we cannot offer the number and variety of electives that larger high schools provide.  We do have athletics, a mariachi band, and a theater program.  The only foreign language we offer is Spanish.

Every child is different.  I would have thrived at ALA as a teenager, but my daughter, who wants to be in 10 million clubs and take Latin, would not choose to be here (especially with her mom as a teacher).

This is an invitation to consider our school if you live in the San Antonio area.  You do not have to be an SAISD student to apply.  The application window for our campus is November 26, 2018 – February 8, 2019.  To learn more about the application process, including opportunities to tour (which I highly encourage), click here.