Making It

Could the fact that I just noticed the title of this NBC show is a double entendre be in any way related to the fact that I now spend my days teaching teenagers?


It could just be that Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler hosting a show about amazing makers distracted me from any other interpretation of the title other than crafting incredible stuff.

If you are a STEMer, STEAMer, or STREAMer, you should definitely take a peek at this weekly show to get some inspiration.  Though it is not directly related to education, you will get some ideas of what is possible with a little bit of imagination and a lot of glitter and balsa wood.

You can stream the episodes here if you don’t have NBC or Hulu.  So far, my favorite has been Episode 2, in which the makers were challenged to design forts and corresponding toys for children.  The versatility and creativity of each entry blew me away.  I am really glad I’m not one of the judges.

If you love watching people rip each other apart or run naked through the woods, then this show might not be your cup of tea.  But if you enjoy seeing people who appear to be genuinely nice and sometimes a little bit goofy produce amazing works of art with unusual tools and supplies, “Making It” should be your goal for tonight.

Okay, that didn’t quite come out the way I meant it.  But you can take it any way you want.  I’m not in charge of your personal life.  Most of the time I’m not even in charge of mine.

This image isn’t from the show, but I’m dedicated to using copyright free images. (Thanks, Pixabay!)

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.


Stratasys 3D Printing Lessons

If you are looking for 3d printing project ideas and curriculum, Stratasys has many free educational resources – you just have to know where to look for them and be willing to give Stratasys your contact info to download the lesson plans and project ideas.

From what I can tell, Stratasys is a company that focuses on providing 3d printing solutions for industrial use.  If you download any curriculum from them, you will probably receive an e-mail or two within a few days asking how they can help you with your 3d printing needs. The inquiries are worth it, however, in order to have access to the activities and lessons you can use with your students.

I have downloaded the Lessons and Project Ideas, Semester Curriculum, and 3d Printing Modules.  Depending on the experience of your students, most of the resources are good for middle and high school students.  You can integrate them into a STEAM curriculum, use them as stand-alone lessons, or make them accessible to students in your Maker Space to jump start some ideas.


Global Student Voice Film Festival

The Global Student Voice Film Festival is a competition for students ages 5-18. Hosted by the Student Voice Organization, of which Jennie Magiera is president, this contest is in its second year.  Last year’s theme was, “In Another’s Shoes,” and I highly encourage you to view the winners.  For the 2018-2019 contest, students will create 60 second films with the theme of, “Activating Change.” You can access the rules here.  Of particular note is the optional Dec. 17th deadline.  Entries received by that date will receive feedback from the judges, and be given the opportunity to revise their films to be turned by April 9th.  Participants who don’t meet the December deadline have a hard deadline of February 18th.

The goal of this contest is to amplify student voices, but it is also to reinforce respect for intellectual properties, so any use of images, video, or music in the film that are not created by the contestants are subject to strict copyright guidelines.

If you have students who are passionate about film production and/or making a difference, the Global Student Voice Film Festival would be a great project for them.


Officially Out of My Comfort Zone

Pretend you have worked for the same company for 27 years.  You know the company’s procedures and idiosyncracies, the people to contact when you need something done or have a question, and many of the employees.

Then you get a job with a new company.

You miss half the training because you already scheduled two weeks of vacation that worked with your old job calendar but completely interfere with the new one.  You go from serving clients ages 5-11 to ones who are 9-18.  You have to learn new passwords for ten different systems, the majority of which you don’t even know their use. You just doubled your number of co-workers, which means you doubled the number of people you don’t know.  The acronyms are different (some are the same so you get excited that you actually know something – but they mean different things), you can’t find the parking lot, you don’t have a place for any of the supplies you spent years accumulating, and within a week of starting you are supposed to take a test that will basically determine whether or not you get to keep your job.  And now you are not just serving people but you are also scoring them – and those scores might make a difference in the rest of their life.  And the picture you took for your new badge really sucks.

Fun, right?

On one of the few days I managed to attend training for my new job at the Advanced Learning Academy, we were asked to share something we accomplished this summer. I said, “I got my dream job.”  I know it doesn’t sound like it after looking at all of the challenges I just described, but I’m going to stick to that statement.  It has been an anxiety-ridden and humbling journey so far, but I still get up excited to go to work each day.

What exactly is my job?  Good question, glad you asked.  Officially, my title is STEAM Master Teacher.  I work with another teacher in our school Makerspace, collaborate with other teachers, and teach courses that range from Game Design (with 4th and 5th graders) to Principles of Engineering (8th-11th grades).  Our school, Advanced Learning Academy, is an “in-district charter”, which basically means that I still work for a public school district, but we do lots of innovative things.  The campus I am on is a high school campus (where we serve 4th-12th; PK-3rd are in another building) that also houses two other magnet schools.

My biggest challenge right now (besides learning carpentry and trying not to get lost) is classroom management.  My style has always depended on relationships, and many of my students had me several years in a row in my previous job as a GT teacher.  Forging relationships with K-5th grade students is a lot different than trying to develop them with teenagers.  Last week I went from laughing and adoring my first period of teenagers to wanting to come home and hide under a rock after my second period.  It’s amazing how quickly everything you’ve learned in 27 years goes right out the window when a student talks back to you before he has even gotten the chance to learn how invested you are in his success.  Not that it never happened with my elementary kids – but I’m pretty sure it never happened within the first 15 minutes I met them.

I have had to ask more questions and request more advice in the last two weeks than I probably have in the last 10 years of my career combined.  Like most people, I am very uncomfortable in situations where I feel ignorant. That’s basically been my feeling since I agreed to take this job.  Extended periods of ignorance are even more stressful.

Now I get to test out what I’ve been telling my students for so long – with experience and practice we improve.  Learn from failure and make the appropriate adjustments.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Don’t get into power struggles with teenagers in a room full of saws and hammers.

Okay, I don’t think I ever explicitly mentioned the last one, but you must admit that it’s good advice.



Oh, the Places I’ll Go – After I Finish Filling out All of the Paperwork

“Ha!” I thought as I surveyed the eight other people in the room seated around me.  “They have no idea what they’re in for.”

I remember the first time I did this, twenty-seven years ago.  Newly hired by the school district, I was told to show up at the Central Office on a specified date and time “to sign the paperwork.”

I envisioned signing a contract and moving on.  No one told me that “sign the paperwork” meant that I needed to make twenty-thousand decisions about my benefits during the course of three hours.

Now I’m starting over in a new school district.  I know better.  “Sign the paperwork” is code for “choose how much money we are going to take from your paycheck each month.”

“Here we go.”  Thick packets get passed to each of the new hires, almost all of them thirty years younger than me.  I watch them frown as they start leafing through all of the pamphlets, brochures, and multi-page documents.

I start tuning out the person guiding us through each page.  Health insurance is first, and with a quick glance I can see that the plan that costs the least is about as worthwhile as burying my paycheck in a deep hole in the backyard once a month.  The new hires start asking questions as I start shuffling through the rest of the papers.  I’ve been through this before, albeit 27 years ago.  I got this.

“Wait.  What did you just say?” I suddenly blurt out.  My brain screams, “You just missed something important!”

“You can get this accident insurance, which will give you money if you have an unexpected accident and get hurt.”

“Isn’t that what health insurance is for?” I ask.

“Well this might cover what the health insurance doesn’t.”

“Insurance for the insurance.” I thought.  “This is new.”

And there is critical illness insurance.  Also to cover what the health insurance does not.

Whole Life Insurance, Term Life Insurance, Workman’s Comp, Disability, Sick Leave Bank.

I look around the room.  Everyone’s eyes are glazed over.  The woman who is starting her first job, getting married in December, and possibly having a baby in the next year or so, seems ready to bolt.  The one man in the room looks relieved that he has no dependents, and I’m close to hyperventilating because I’m pretty sure my paycheck will be about $10 each month – but that’s okay, right, because one of these things I just signed up for surely insures people who have a tendency to overindulge on their benefits.

“There is no way I am ever going through this process again,” I think to myself.

“No worries if you’re having a tough time making decisions, everyone,” says our guide.  “This is only for the next three months, and then we have Open Enrollment so you can change whatever you want.”

I’ve signed so many papers that I half expect someone to hand me the keys to a new house.

The guide tears off my copies from the paperwork, and hands them to me.  “Great!  You’re free to go.”

I numbly head back out into the bright sunlight.  Halfway to my car, I think, “Did I just put my dog’s name down as my Primary Beneficiary?”  I turn around to go back.  I stop.

“Eh, it’s only for three months.”  I shrug.  “I just wish I signed him up for the Dental Insurance instead.”





Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

First of all, this is the best book title I’ve ever seen.  It is intriguing when you see the cover, and totally makes sense on a variety of levels once you read the book.  Even the author’s name, Dusti Bowling, seems perfect for a story set in a theme park in Arizona.

I think I first learned that Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus existed from @TechNinjaTodd on Twitter months ago.  Before I even had a chance to read the book, I followed @Dusti_Bowling on Twitter and she almost immediately followed me – which I took as a sign that I am a Very Important Person.  After reading her tweets for a few month, I realized that Dusti Bowling is just a down-to-earth author who responds quickly to her readers.  She also supports her fellow authors by recommending other great books, and Skypes with students on a regular basis.  So, it turns out that, to Dusti Bowling, everyone is an important person – a theme she models in this book.

I finally got some time to read Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus a few days ago, and I was not disappointed.  The main character, Aven, is a young girl who was born without arms.  Her adopted parents have raised her to be a confident problem-solver instead of a helpless complainer.  She can do pretty much anything with her feet, and the friends she has grown up with don’t even notice her unconventional methods anymore.  However, Aven becomes much more self-conscious about her uniqueness when the family moves from Kansas to Arizona.  Starting a new school with students who have never seen a person eat with her feet, Aven realizes the one problem she can’t solve is that some people fear those who are different.  Just when she seems to have reached her lowest point, Aven meets a few friends who have also been mistreated due to their differences.  Throw in some tarantulas, a tantalizing mystery, and the declining Wild West theme park her parents manage, and Aven must summon up all of her will-power to ensure the family’s move to Arizona doesn’t end up as a disaster.

This is a great book to use for teaching empathy, perseverance, and the power of a growth mindset. (For another great story that has those themes, I also recommend Fish in a Tree.) I could see using it as a class read-aloud in grades 3 and up.  To learn more about the inside story of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you can visit the StoryMamas website for an interview with the author.  If your class wants to ask the author more questions, be sure to fill out the form on Dusti Bowling’s home page to request a Skype with her.

Find out where you can buy this book!
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