Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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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

Engineering Design Process Lessons from Design Squad

I’ve been combing the internet for projects to do with my engineering students (grades 8-10), and ran across these lessons from Design Squad.  They don’t quite fit my curriculum, but I thought I would share them since I know a lot of my colleagues are working on incorporating STEAM into the curriculum.  If you look on the left side of the page, you will see other lessons and activities that you may be able to use in areas that range from electricity to structures.

I have included Design Squad in posts since 2013, but I don’t think I have mentioned this particular page before.  Even if I have, it bears repeating!  This site offers a lot of creative challenges and videos that are great for any STEAM classroom.  And it’s not just for elementary students.  I used one of their videos today with my secondary students on isometric drawing, and it was the perfect introduction to a brand new topic for them.  After you browse the site, click here to visit their YouTube channel, chock full of videos on all sorts of design topics.

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Heads or Tails – I Win!

I like to make a lot of life decisions by flipping a coin.

Before you dismiss me as a crackpot, hear me out.

There is a moment when the reveal happens, when you uncover the coin to see heads or tails, during which you must access the deepest part of yourself.  Because, no matter how ambivalent you were about your decision before you tossed that coin in the air, that inner part of you knows what you really want.  There will be a tenth of a second that you will feel either relief or disappointment at the outcome, and that’s important information for your ultimate decision.

Of course, not everything we want is good for us.  I don’t use the coin technique for deciding whether or not to eat a tub full of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby ice cream.  It’s reserved for those important times where the pros seem to equal the cons, like my recent job dilemma.

Except it didn’t work this time.  “Heads” told me I should apply for the new job.  But relief and disappointment both exploded in my soul.  I didn’t want to leave my students, my colleagues, my district I had worked in for 27 years.  I had a great job that I knew how to do.

But.

I was intrigued by the idea of a new adventure, taking a job that practically described word for word, my dream career (which I had pitched to several people over the years) that seemed impossible to do in a public school.

And, I had a child’s voice in my head that urged me on.  “Mrs. Eichholz always encourages us to take risks,” she answered, when someone asked her what she had learned in GT.  “Responsible ones!” another student shouted – just to clarify.

This is true. I tell them to go outside their comfort zone, do things they have never done so they can learn what they’ve never learned.  “Don’t stick to what’s easy for you or your brain won’t get enough exercise!” We try things together that I’ve never even done, and they watch me make mistakes on a daily basis – and learn from them.

I never say, “Okay, everyone, when you are middle-aged and two years from being eligible from retirement and you live 5 minutes away from work and you know everyone in the community and you have good friends who support you and make you laugh every day, and you’ve taught K-5 for nearly three decades, throw it all away for a job that might require you to 3d print a parachute while you’re jumping out of the plane.”

But here I am.  And it feels exhilarating and completely intimidating at the same time.

I guess the coin toss kind of did work.  I think my soul was telling me that either decision would be fine.  I had a choice between two different journeys, and I picked the really scary one – mostly so I can tell my students, “Don’t tell me you can’t do that just because you’ve never done it before! Challenges make your brain even stronger!”  And mean it.

I have accepted a position in SAISD as a S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher at their Advanced Learning Academy, which serves grades 4-12.  They have a Maker Space (with power tools!), and I will be teaching some classes, helping other teachers to integrate S.T.E.A.M. projects, and working with Trinity University students studying Education.  

 

Are Leprechauns Real?

My Kinder students have made leprechaun traps for the last few years, and it always amuses me as they get older and sadly reminisce that they didn’t catch any leprechauns.  I’m never quite sure who is fooling who – are they just trying to make me believe that they believe, or are we all just making believe?

Just in case your students have some residual doubt, you can assign them this Wonderopolis article.

Students in upper elementary might scoff at leprechauns, but may be interested in doing some St. Patrick’s Day magnetic poetry.  You can also try this free “Irish” creative writing kit.

With this search I did on Teachers Pay Teachers, I found several free St. Patrick’s Day logic puzzles for various ages.

For those kinesthetic/spatial students, here is a lesson on shamrock origami.

I always feel a bit cheated because Pi Day and St. Patrick’s Day fall during our Spring Break – but I’m sure I’ll find a way to sneak some of these activities in anyway!

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Lesson Learned from a Dog

Yesterday’s post from Joelle Trayers inspired me to tell you a little about the best professional development I ever received – from a dog nicknamed Wonderbutt.

By the time my husband and I got married, I had owned three dogs, and hadn’t done a very good job with any of them.  We decided to get a golden retriever puppy together, and I resolved to do everything I could to raise this one as a properly socialized, well-behaved citizen of society.  I took her to Dog Obedience and Canine Good Citizen classes, read books, and studied every episode of The Dog Whisperer.

Mia, the golden retriever, turned into a model pet.  Because I had obviously become a pro at dog training, I thought we were ready to introduce another dog into the household.  I had wanted a bulldog since I was a child.  During an innocent trip to the pet store with our daughter to get a fish, we walked out with the fish – and a bulldog puppy.

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Clancy (named after the bulldog that lived in my grandmother’s apartment building growing up) quickly made it clear that I knew absolutely nothing about raising dogs.  While many dogs can be house-trained using a crate because dogs tend not to mess up their beds, Clancy apparently had no inhibition about this tiny detail.  After the umpteenth time that I had to give the dog and the crate a shower, I came to the conclusion that this was not going to work.  (My husband gave him the nickname of Wonderbutt for more than one reason: first because he had no tail, so his entire butt would wag when happy, and second because of the amazing amount of displeasure the dog could express with that end of his body.)  Despite being given plenty of toys that were appropriate for chewing, he seemed to delight in finding anything and everything that he wasn’t supposed to chew, with the end result that we had to replace the furniture and the flooring in our house.

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It took me way too long to realize that the one thing that Clancy wanted more than anything else was my attention, and the more positive attention and quality time he received the better behaved he became.  He wasn’t a bad dog; he had different needs and different ways of communicating them.  Once I threw out all of my ideas of what was “supposed to work,” and realized what he was trying to tell me, I was able to re-train myself.

Clancy became my constant companion.  He loved going for rides in the car, sitting regally by my side.  If I got in the swimming pool, he would wait patiently for someone to put on his life jacket so he could get in, too.  Each evening, he would jump in my lap and snore contentedly as I watched t.v., and every morning we would snuggle together on the couch for a little while before I got ready for work.

Last month, when Clancy was a little over 7 years old, we found out that he had an inoperable tumor on his heart that had already closed his right ventricle.  He had probably been suffering for awhile but I hadn’t known until he stopped eating.  After consulting three different doctors, I had to make the hardest decision of my life.

I look back at all of the Wonderbutt pictures and stories on my personal blog, and marvel at all of the destruction he wreaked in our lives, yet all of the joy and love he gave us as well.  I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure out that imposing my own expectations on a dog with a completely different personality was the problem.  But I’ve learned that lesson – and I apply it to people and dogs equally.

After watching Clancy take his final breath, my husband, who suffered in silence as we paid the bills for home renovations and thousands of ruined books and shoes and never once complained that Clancy took over his favorite chair or his favorite wife and even forgave the dog for scratching his face with his snaggle tooth when startled awake one time said, “That was the best dog I’ve ever known.”

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Rube Cereal Machines

Thanks to Carrie Sledge on Twitter (@GreenGTAIM), I learned that General Mills has joined with RubeGoldberg.com to encourage creativity by inviting people to design Rube Goldberg machines that will pour cereal.  The General Mills contest is only open to people who are 18 years and up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the tutorials they created for using 6 of their cereal boxes to make simple machines.  The Rube Goldberg site hosts its own contest for participants who are 8 and up, but you should definitely check the rule book, as there are detailed instructions and a registration fee.  Whether you are competing in an official contest or not, creating a Rube Goldberg machine can be a great way to incorporate many curriculum-related skills, as well as the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity).

Larry Ferlazzo has a page dedicated to Rube Goldberg resources that you should definitely take a look at if you decide to embark on this adventure!

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Screenshot from Rube Goldberg Contest Task Announcement 2018