PDF version of poster: STEM speaker series_4-28
PDF version of poster: STEM speaker series_4-28
Dartmouth Middle School (DMS) in San Jose has slowly but steadily been building up their STEM portfolio of classes and clubs. Now with two full-time STEM teachers who offer nine different quarter-long classes along with seven before/after school clubs and classes, the school is a bona-fide STEM powerhouse. Most of DMS’s classes are based on the nationwide program, Project Lead The Way (PLTW).
The goal of the DMS STEM program is to expose all students to the creative and social impactfulness of science and engineering as well as provide more depth and fluency in these fields. “We’ve noticed that students, especially the girls, really gravitate towards the projects that have a creative and local impact”, explains Tracy Brown who teaches the green architecture and flight/space classes. Most of the courses have a capstone project where the students use their new skills to develop a solution for a client, and the results have been quite impressive. Last year a female student who took the design/modeling class developed a dry-erase holder that is currently patent-pending.
One of the most exciting characteristics of the program is that the classes are on the exploratory wheel so the classes usually have as many girls enrolled in them as boys. DMS has the philosophy that middle school is the perfect time for children to be open to all kinds of skills to see what resonates and what doesn’t. Then they can elect their classes in high school with more background knowledge. In addition to the STEM classes, DMS also has an award-winning band program and a selection of drama and cultural literacy classes on the exploratory wheel.
A team of fifteen girls, called the STEM Girls, have put together a presentation where they enthusiastically demonstrate the breadth of the DMS program. They also gush about their new STEM building that just opened in January. It has a very open and green design, complete with solar tubes, nanawalls, and all natural wall coverings. “The building looks like a Google or Facebook office. The kids are just so excited to work and create in the space. They’ve joked that they never want to leave it.”, says Pam Rissmann who teaches the design/modeling, robotics, and computer science courses.
Currently there is a shortage of women in STEM fields. This is particularly true for physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and computer science. The nerdy, Big Bang Theory stereotypes don’t help the cause. However, these girls have discovered the fun and coolness of designing and discovering, and they are now working to dispel this long worn, overused image of the scientist and engineer.
The STEM Girls next speaking gig will be on April 23 at the Santa Clara County STEAM Symposium. Please contact Pam Rissmann at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more about the STEM Girls.
Dartmouth Middle School in San Jose is hosting a STEM Faire on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 from 5:30pm to 8:30pm. We’ll spend the evening showcasing the middle and high school STEM programs (3d printing, robotics, computer science, flight and space, green architecture, etc) as well as providing hands-on activities. Last year we had over 400 attendees from the community and had several leading hi-tech companies. This year we’ll have Google, Lockheed Martin, Xilinx, BioCurious, The Computer Museum, and many more. This year will be even bigger and better as we unveil our new state of the art and very green STEM building.
Here’s some photos and press we got last year:
In my PLTW Design and Modeling class, I have an assignment called the “Client Design Project.” The assignment is introduced after the students have mastered sketching techniques like isometric and orthogonal drawings, and after the students have created several dimensioned models in Autodesk Inventor (a trophy, a foam block tower, a pegboard toy, a bracket, etc.).
The assignment begins with this worksheet: ClientDesignProject, which is a graphic organizer that helps the student step through the engineering design cycle.
Note: Next time I do this project with the kids, I think I will have them start their presentation document right after step 2. And then I will have them share the problem description and brainstormed ideas with the entire class to get feedback which may help them improve the solution.
This class project has brought a lot of success. Last year, an 8th grade student, Alexis Janosik, designed a white board marker holder for her math teacher after she noticed that when lecturing he’s always wasting time by searching around the white board tray and his desk for a particular color pen in order to better describe a math problem. The product is currently patent pending: see Mercury News Article.
Other client design projects have included Apple Watch stands, replacement parts for broken household appliances, and many others creative ideas. See photos below.
Students in my Introduction to Computer Science I class used the Your Turn assignment to get creative and build substantial applications. The project was introduced by showing the students last year’s winning apps from the Verizon Innovative App Challenge. It demonstrated how apps can help solve and bring awareness to important problems and social causes. Afterwards, I asked my students to build an application that has academic or social value to their peers.
Students rose to the challenge, and planned and created all kinds of interesting and useful applications; everything from an app to track charity donations to a mood lifting app to an app that helps girls get out of uncomfortable situations. The students followed the engineering design cycle by brainstorming ideas and sketching out GUIs before beginning to code.
When students finished their projects, they created a slideshow of their development process and got constructive feedback from their peers. I used the following protocol: students present without interruption, then students provide feedback using particular sentence starters, and then presenters respond to feedback. The sentence starters included “I like how…” and “I wonder if …”. These starters helped keep all input positive and constructive. Below is an excerpt from the student presentation of the Getaway app which allows girls to fake a phone call from someone in order to escape an uncomfortable or risky situation.
I’ve been teaching programming to 7th and 8th graders for 3 years now, and I’ve been refining my approach each year. The first two years it was just part of my math class or technology class while this year I have a class dedicated to programming. Students love it; it’s creative, challenging, frustrating, rewarding, and as Steve Jobs said: it really teaches you how to think.
This year I focused on three tools to deliver my content.
http://www.playcodemonkey.com: I started the school year only teaching with CodeHS, but later quarters I augmented the experience with Code Monkey, especially when I started teaching 7th graders. Code Monkey is easier than CodeHS, and more game-like. Students transition nicely from Code Monkey to CodeHS.
http://www.CS-First.com: This is a Google site that is promoting programming for younger students. It’s run like a club, and Google has been generous about providing materials to make the experience more fun (passports, stickers, etc). CS-First uses Scratch but in a project-oriented way. You can sign up for different themes: Art, Game Design, Fashion, etc and the students are led via videos on the themed projects. I like this approach because by itself Scratch is too open-ended to serve as a good code learning platform. CS-First does a good job of parceling out useful coding concepts as the projects get more and more interesting. I use CS-First once a week with my students.
Next year? This summer I am attending PLTW’s Introduction to Computer Science training, and will be offering it to my students next year.
I was recently given the honor of California League of Middle School (CLMS) Educator of the Year for my school. I was asked to give a speech that responds to the following prompt. Transitioning to Common Core State Standards: How do you engage your students and colleagues in changes to the classroom? I was initially underwhelmed with the prompt, but in the end I was pleased with my speech. I hope you enjoy it. Here it is (of course, left off my preamble of thank you’s).
It’s a great time to be a teacher. Why? We are having a Renaissance in education. I started teaching about 10 years ago. I had my overhead projector, my colorful Vis a Vis markers, and, of course, I spent many an hour cleaning those darn transparencies. Over the years, tools entered my classroom to make my life easier: the document camera, the LCD projector, the iPad, and even the Smart Board. But the tools, in themselves, didn’t improve my teaching or the students’ learning. Things don’t do that, ideas do. The common core practices inspired me to question and reflect on how to best help kids discover, think, collaborate, model, and explain their thought process. Coincidently or perhaps not so coincidently, there are additional factors currently impacting my perspective and teaching style: the growth mindset (that mistakes are a necessary part of growing the math brain), the maker movement, STEM initiatives, expanding my expertise through MOOCs, and sharing best practices with the larger teacher community through blogging. It sure is an interesting time.
I’m a math and STEM teacher. As a math teacher, common core gave me some room to go deeper into topics, letting the students learn more authentically, investigating certain ideas, working on projects, sharing out their observations. A popular new practice in many math classrooms, including mine, is number talks. It’s where kids mentally strategize how to work out particular puzzles, patterns, or numeric expressions, such as 21 x 19. It’s amazing the learning that happens during these sessions. Kids are decomposing numbers, rearranging them, putting back together. You hear kids say, “What, you can do that?” Talk about AHAs, they’re rolling in. So how do I engage students in changes to the classroom? I ask them questions that make them think, and then I listen.
As a STEM teacher, it’s fascinating to watch my students connect what they learn in their core classes with hands-on engineering projects. My 8th graders are designing 3d models, printing them out on our 3d printer, building robots to accomplish particular tasks, learning how to code, getting first hand experience with the design cycle, and presenting their creations to their peers and others. They are little engineers! It’s funny, about 10 years ago I left my engineering career to go into teaching, and now my teaching career is going into engineering.
By the way, it’s not just a great learning time for our students, but us teachers are really walking the talk of being lifetime learners. Out of all the confusion and initial frustration with common core, came the best collaboration I’ve experienced as a teacher. Now, practically everyday my cohort of math teachers talk about: what, when, why and how we’re teaching what we’re teaching. It’s so motivating to be surrounded by forward-thinking colleagues who get excited when we discover more effective ways to teach and reach our students.
So yes, I think education is experiencing a Renaissance; a rebirth of ideas, and it’s exciting to be part of the community, shaping it and breathing new life into it. It is a great time to be a teacher!