Tag Archives: STEAM

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Flyer for Student Art Exhibition at 1906 Studio

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.

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Student artwork, created in the MakerSpace for the Some Are More Equal exhibit. (Lasercut, woodwork, robotic movement – all created by students)

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.

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ALA students choose the 5 supplies they would take when fleeing their homes.  This was a Doctors Without Borders event hosted at Main Plaza (to which our students walked) from school.

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.

Math Craft

As seasoned readers may know, I have always been intrigued by the beauty of math.  (See here, here, or here for some examples.)  Now that my job title is S.T.E.A.M. Master Teacher, I have been looking even more for ideas on how to integrate math and art.

Math Craft is a great place to start.  From mathematical knitting to Sierpinski Christmas trees, there is no shortage of inspiration on this site (though it is a bit heavy on polyhedrons).  Not every post gives you instructions, as some of them feature work by professional artists – but you could always pose the question to your students, “How do you think they made this?”  They may end up making something completely different, but equally as beautiful, along the way.

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CC image from Pixabay

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

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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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!