NGSS Workshop Day 2

The second day of the workshop focused mainly on what to expect from teachers and students along each step in the design process. This was extremely helpful to me because I now have a good idea of what assessments will look like as implement my curriculum. We actually got to perform a design challenge, making straw rockets, and practicing with what good redesign rationales look like. We received a google docs folder with about 40 resources that will definitely be used next year from rubrics, design challenges, design process templates, and NGSS unpacking tools.

My summer plans involve writing curriculum for next year’s iSTEM class, working at the town sponsored Science Camp July 27-Aug 7 teaching STEM activities to students in grades 3-7, attending the Maker Space workshop at Rutgers on Aug 13-14, and attending days 3 and 4 of the STEM Consortium workshop on Aug 17-18. In between it will be a relaxing time of recharging the batteries for next year.

iSTEM Workshop

I attended Day 1 of the consortium iSTEM workshop yesterday and the middle school. At the start the workshop was disappointing because we were told that the other districts that were supposed to be represented could not attend due to commitments regarding end of year activities in their own schools. A big reason why I was looking forward to participating was to hear from other colleagues about their iSTEM programs and to share and collaborate all of our ideas together. The facilitators did mention that Days 3 and 4 which will take place in mid-August will bring everyone together so I will remain hopeful.

With that said, the workshop was beneficial as they always are. I was able to get a much better understanding of what the “i” in iSTEM really means in terms of collaborating with other content area teachers and bringing science, technology, engineering, and math together in one course. There was a good discussion among Physics teachers and Life Science teachers regarding finding ways to develop good design challenges for life science. We also put together some great websites to help with the transition to NGSS in the near future:

NGSS Designing Curriculum Websites

This is the site with the model curriculum units from the state.  Although it is broken up into a 6th, 7th, and 8th grade integrated science approach, if you search through each grade for your content area units, they are helpful when developing our own units.

This site contains lessons sorted by content and the NGSS.

This site contains many nonfiction texts that can be changed into a variety of reading levels.

This site is published by the NSTA and again groups lessons based on the NGSS.

It is always great to come away from a workshop with as much ammunition as possible. We also worked on an activity that incorporates a design challenge and looked at it from both the perspective of the student and the teacher. It involved contracting straw rockets to be launched from a steel rod attached to a compressed air machine. The goal was to get the rocket to land within a certain distance of a target. The idea of design and modification was well represented and I can easily use that next year in the classroom.

Two of my own questions were answered as well – one being not to get rid of the typical unit test that I would use in a general 8th grade science curriculum. Much of what I have been reading about the iSTEM classroom involves performance assessments and little mention of the typical unit test. But those tests are a great way to assess the individual student rather than the student who will latch onto the brightest member of their team and not have to do much work on their own. I also received positive feedback about my hope of utilizing digital engineering notebooks. So now I must familiarize myself with how to do that in Google Docs.

Today will be more of the same but with an emphasis on how to actually come up with a good design challenge and how to actually “Define a Problem” that is authentic and meaningful.

The Waves and Electromagnetic Energy Unit

I found a great challenge on the NGSS website for the middle school waves unit. The site is updating periodically with great examples of design challenges that meet not only the new standards but also the Common Core standards. I have a good idea of how that unit will play out during the year and plan on introducing it in the fourth marking period. I will also incorporate Sea Perch equipment as part two of that unit. Sea Perch is an underwater remote control vehicle that I will have the students build and practice with at the local community center pool. We will then modify the construction of the vehicle and include a hydrophone which will relay underwater sounds back to a receiver. Students should be able to pick up all of the sounds of the filter system as well as some others that I might try to introduce.

The curriculum is starting to come together – although very slowly – but I have until September to get it right. I will be attending a workshop right after the present school year ends that should help me with this task. – this is a link to the NGSS site. Keep looking at it over the coming months for new ideas

It’s great to see how the other half lives!!

I went for my classroom visit to the neighboring stand-alone 6th grade middle school. I know the Technology teacher there and he uses engineering design in all of his lessons. It was an eye opening experience to say the least. His classroom is twice the size of mine and mine is a double and a half classroom as it is. The students have so much room to move about when obtaining supplies or working collaboratively; storage space is off the charts; there are a complete set of computers to outfit what most of us would call a computer lab; three woodworking machines with safety equipment; permanent projector with Smart Board technology; and lots of windows for natural light. We had a discussion about other teachers in the building feeling jealous or “left out” because it is obvious that the tech class gets a huge amount of funding. The teacher explained that his budget is not capped for the most part and he has the freedom to order whatever he may need whenever he needs it. He is able to justify all of those expenditures by marketing the performance of his students at robotics competitions, solar car challenges, and other engineering design competitions. I am aware of all that the students do because I happen to live in that town and read about all of the accomplishments of the middle and high school students in the town newspaper. I left with some questions answered and some good ideas on how to do certain things. I also recorded some conversations with several groups in the class and am looking forward to playing those back and getting a better understanding of the dynamic in the class.

With that said, I could not help but feel a bit overwhelmed and inferior as I drove back to my own school for my afternoon classes. But I have to realize that I (we) are just starting out on our iSTEM journey and next year will be our pilot year for the program and course. I am very confident in my ability to teach the material and I will be more confident on incorporating engineering design into my units the closer I get to September. I know that my students will love the class as do the students in my friends class seem to, and that will keep parents happy as well. Happy parents means happy administrators so it will all be good!

Choosing next year’s class

We have received 80 applicants for next year’s iSTEM pilot in the 8th grade. Candidates were asked to complete a brief on-line survey and to write a short essay reflecting on the following question: “If science were a sneaker, describe what the shoe might look like.” I spent time last evening looking over the responses and I realize the choices will be difficult. I was very pleased to notice a good mix of male and female applicants because it is hard to predict how many girls would show an interest in STEM. It says a lot for our current 7th grade STEM introduction program. However, many of the candidates seem to have confused the iSTEM course with the regular STEM cycle class they will all take as 8th graders. That class is a ten week robotics course utilizing the Lego EV3 line and is totally different from the iSTEM course which will replace the usual 8th grade physical science course. In their applications students expressed a desire to work with robots and have gotten excited about the opportunity because of what they have seen and heard from their siblings. It tells me that we need to do a better job next year in explaining the iSTEM course to the 7th grade. The task now is to cull the candidates down from 80 to 48 in order to fill the two sections. That will not be easy and I am sure those who do not “make the cut” will be disappointed and we will probably hear from upset parents as well. All part of the job!

I am excited for my visit to the neighboring town’s 6th grade STEM class tomorrow. I have been preparing questions for the teacher and I have a bucket list of things I will be looking for during my time  on site.

2015-2016: Never Too Early to Plan!

The new Lego Robotics Challenge is posted for next year and registration is now open. Check out the Lego Education website for details.

I had a walk-through of my new classroom space this week and saw sketches of what the contractor is proposing. AMAZING stuff!! The classroom will be completely “movable” – chairs and desks on casters to change the layout of the room; movable electrical plug-in stations; double sinks for water access and clean-up; loads of storage possibilities; the newest smart board technology; 24 tablets for student use; environmentally pleasing lighting throughout; carpeted lecture area and a separate concrete floor area for activities. I know that the space will have multi purpose use for meetings etc for the faculty and  parents in the district and I cannot wait to move in over the summer.

We held our first Science Expo in the 8th grade this year and I have found a great project option for next year that will incorporate Engineering Design practices. Pitsco has a Packaging Design Module that I plan on investigating for the iSTEM students – from my first-look, it appears very promising.

A new contact

I have made a connection to a consulting group from The College of New Jersey on iSTEM program initiation. I will be observing at a middle school in Livingston, NJ to see iSTEM in action. I have many questions and I know that some of those will be answered after my observation:

  1. Can an Engineering Journal be kept completely digital?
  2. Are there summative assessments such as typical unit tests?
  3. Is every unit done with design in mind?

I am including this link to a very interesting science teacher who shares great classroom practice

Jeff Bishop

I need a bigger plate!

It has been “strongly suggested” to me by our school administrator that we form a Lego Robotics Club starting in September. If any of you facilitate a similar type club, you are aware of the time commitment something like that requires. These clubs typically receive a robotics challenge that is put out by Lego for their Mindstorms program and usually involve participation in a late fall or late spring competition. Members get to construct a robot that will navigate through a maze while performing several tasks along the way. Great fun and lots of collaboration by all! BUT, the time involved can get consuming. Clubs meet at least once per week, sometimes more, early on in the school year, and then more frequently as the competition date closes in. There are then the clerical and logistical concerns of permission slips, bus transportation to the event, applications and the like that add to a facilitators schedule. For me personally, all of the responsibilities of launching the iSTEM course have filled my free time (what free time!) and now this club on top of that!

The benefits to the kids are far reaching as Lego does a great job with these competitions. Students learn so many life skills as well as 21st century learning skills while preparing and competing in these challenges. So, I have reached out to three of my STEM stars from last year (current freshman in the high school) who will assist me with running the club. They also have an agenda because they would like to compete in a higher level Lego competition next year and this club will give them access to work space and a teacher advisor (your truly) for their endeavors. I am excited for the formation of the club but can anyone tell me where I can buy a large serving platter to fit all of my responsibilities on?

Another Day, Another Challenge!

For those of you that have been following my efforts to this point, I’m trying to center my focus right now on how to start the class in September. Prospective 7th grade students who are applying for the coveted 48 spots in the two sections of iSTEM as 8th graders next year have already been asking many questions about what the course will be like. Without letting on that I still do not have a concrete understanding of the answer to that question, I am making sure that I show the excitement I feel for what they will experience in September. I have several design challenges planned that will involve:

  1. constructing calorimeters to meet MS-PS1
  2. building CO2 dragsters to meet MS-PS2
  3. building a solar cooker to meet MS-PS3
  4. (MS-PS4 – Waves and Electromagnetic Radiation is still a work in progress)

…as well as other activities to cover all four NGSS Core Ideas. But the question remains, how do I start? After discussing this issue with the district consultant, my gut tells me to begin right away with a short design challenge (Single Load Bridge Project) where I can:

  1. review the Engineering Design Process (students learned this in 7th grade STEM)
  2. model “how to keep an engineering portfolio”
  3. model “how to use a morphological chart”

Then introduce a second design challenge (Aluminum Foil Skyscrapers) and allow students to practice what was modeled for them previously. Just some preliminary thoughts – the saga continues!

Jeff Bishop

STEM Links

These are some links I have found useful in the past weeks that offer interesting possibilities for design challenges: