Thursday, December 1, 2016

Be a DOer, Not a Dreamer... Or Be Both

As award-winning writer and tv producer Shonda Rimes said to the 2014 graduating class of Dartmouth College, “Be a doer, not a dreamer,” I’m a doer.  I like solutions.  I like decisions.  I like to make decisions and try solutions and if they don’t work, I like to try a new solution.  I like to help other people make decisions and find solutions, and when I found myself “taking a break” from the only career I had ever known (teaching students with mild, moderate, and intensive disabilities), I had to DO something.  I found myself in a job that I found lackluster; something about doing the same reading interventions over and over with little technology integration didn’t thrill me.  While I have found ways to make it more entertaining for students, I still find the process a little dry.  I needed to DO something else.  I needed to DO something else that could integrate all students, all types of learners and DOers into the school community.
What I started DOING with my professional (and personal) learning network blossomed into a movement at Highland Drive Elementary School (grades K-3) in Brecksville, Ohio that I had never planned for or imagined.  Six to ten educators hanging out on the weekend at a community woodworking shop in the city moved to a “club” during lunch and recess time which then transformed into the Highland Drive makerspace (aka “the STEAM room”); an entire classroom space complete with a mini library of “makers” books like Ish by Peter H. Reynolds, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Gary Rubinstein, Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, and the Smithsonian Maker Lab by Jack Challoner.  
Thanks to donations from parents and staff, a grant from the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools Foundation, and an additional grant from a group called the GPD Employee’s Foundation (an organization that provides grant money to Northeast and Central Ohio as well as Atlanta, Indianapolis, Louisville, Phoenix, and Seattle), our makerspace boasts three desktop computers, access to 14 iPads (shared with the Reading Intervention program), 15 LEGO Education WeDo Kits and accompanying software, scrapbook paper, pipe cleaners, scissors, glue, googly eyes, a LEGO wall, and more!  
The makerspace is used for every Thursday and Friday at lunch and recess for “Makers’ Club.”  With help from my reading co-teacher Sharon Wiesler, second and third grade students are invited to the makerspace to work on a “challenge” or “project” each week during their lunch and recess times. They follow the design process and start by identifying a problem.  They then take time to brainstorm and plan, create, and then evaluate what they’ve created.  The room is also open for teachers to sign up to bring their Kindergarten, first, second, or third grade classes in to complete science experiments or complete the “Project of the Week” on a daily basis.  With every project, we try to make sure that students are engaging in the design process while also learning how to share, collaborate, and solve problems with other students.
Projects have varied so far, in length and intensity, but have been largely successful. Problems we have worked to solve and projects we’ve done this year have included:
  • Using marshmallows and toothpicks, design and build a phone stand for the teacher’s cell phone that is at least 6 inches tall and will hold it up off the table for at least 10 seconds.
  • The weather is changing (discussion on seasons).  What happens to the animals when the weather gets colder in Northeast Ohio?  What can we do to help? (Bird feeders and houses were created and placed in our “Highland Island,” an animal and plant sanctuary at our school.)
  • Plan for and create LEGO “robots” using the WeDo kits and software
  • Using the available materials (cups, cotton balls, straws, pipe cleaners, string, tape, glue, and a few other items), create a carrier for a ping pong ball that will carry it down the zip line (fishing line) in 4 seconds or less.
  • Learn to use hammers and screwdrivers along with other basic tools.
  • Create “Sticky Slime” that hardens quickly, but softens again based on heat from your hands.
  • Using ten straws and ten inches of plastic wrap, can you build a boat that can hold 25 pennies without sinking for X number of seconds?

In the fall, the makerspace teamed with the Kindergarten teachers at our school to plan “pumpkin investigations” that were then modified for each grade level to complete during the week before Halloween.  Students were able to describe the pumpkins, use synonyms, measure the pumpkins using standard and nonstandard measures, determine if the pumpkins would sink or float, estimate the weight and then weigh the pumpkins, touch the insides of the pumpkins and count seeds, sketch different kinds of pumpkins, smell the pumpkins AND even taste the roasted seeds of the pumpkins.  There were lots of sensory opportunities built in and even the students with moderate-intensive special needs took a trip to the makerspace for this adventure; exactly the purpose of this “multi-purpose” space.  Just as Lisha Kraft states in her article “The Way We Talk About Education Today Reflects Growth of the Maker Mindset” in Make Magazine on Oct. 17th, 2016, “As more and more educators see the limitations often set by a typical worksheet, and they utilize such strategies as, project-based learning, differentiated instruction, inquiry-based instruction, collaborative learning, and student-centered instruction, educational barriers will continue to crumble and disappear.”
While I continue to take a break from teaching students with mild, moderate, and intensive special needs, Mrs. Wiesler and I encourage ALL students to both read and DO something every day.  Using the mindset “Create more than you consume,” we encourage students to use simple and recyclable materials to create while finding their own passions for learning.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I failed.

So, failure is supposed to be an okay thing, right? Well, I failed.

And it's taken me months to actually sit down and type this blog post that I've been ruminating on since November of 2015.

I'm embarrassed. I failed.

And in my childhood AND my adult life, I don't typically do activities or engage in subjects in which I'll fail.

Again, embarrassment.  Horror.  Oh, the horror!


In the last two years, I've tried to immerse myself in things in which I'm not going to be the best.  I have tried to remind myself that the process of learning is about the PROCESS not the DESTINATION.  I've been trying to practice throwing myself into learning whether I am going to rock it or not.

And so I took up woodworking.  I was NOT good, but I learned. (I wrote lots of posts about this experience at the Soulcraft Woodshop previously.)  This has permeated into the rest of my life as I am less afraid to take apart machines at our house, more willing to use tools and fix things, and even more willing to talk to the people at Home Depot and Lowe's when I need something.

Another thing I decided to do was exercise more.  In the past, this was a major priority in my life, but in the last five years, I gave up.

So, off I went to a spinning class.

Not JUST a spinning class, but a spinning class IN THE DARK.

At the first class, my only goal was "do not throw up."

At my second class, I expanded my goals to include "do not throw up" and "do not stop pedaling."

Over a year and 30 pounds have gone by, and now I am able to get through an entire class following all of the directions.  Sure, I can't typically walk very well the next day, but I can do it.  I learned.

With these two experiences, I started slowly.  I muddled through the skills.  But, I made it out on the other side.

With this other thing... I failed...

Look, I'm even stalling here by NOT getting to the point, right?

Okay, here's the story.

I started a Makers' Club at my school which has been (dare I say) WILDLY successful.  And I wanted to tell other people about it.  So, I applied to present about it in several places.  Sure, some places turned me down, but I don't consider that a failure. I just wasn't what they were looking for.

But then, I applied to give an "IDEA Talk" at the WVIZ Ideastream Technology and Learning Conference.  Educators from all over North East Ohio often flock to this conference and network with each other and I had yet to attend.

But, in previous years, I had given several of my male teacher friends a hard time about this conference.  Where are the women presenters?  What's the deal with the all male panel discussions?  Why aren't the ladies ever included in these events?

After saying all that, I HAD to apply, right?

So, I did.  And I was accepted.  Three people were chosen to give these "IDEA Talks" at the conference and they would be posted online afterwards.

I waited a ridiculously lengthy amount of time to write down what I was planning to say, even though I had been chewing on it for quite some time.  I knew I wanted to talk about the Makers' Club and I wanted to discuss how to include and attract both girls and those with disabilities.  I wanted to integrate my passion for working with those with special needs with the technology and "making" that we were experiencing every week in our Makers' Club.  I wanted to convey the passion I felt about integrating and including ALL kids while still being relevant to my topic.

And I failed.

Well wait.  First, I wrote a great blog post.  I call it a "blog post" and NOT a speech because, as it turns out, it was a WAY better piece of writing than a speech.

Maybe I didn't understand the time constraints.

Maybe I thought they would let me keep talking until I was done.

Maybe I didn't understand that I was modeling this after the "TED Talks" that I love and admire so much.

Maybe I'm just NOT a great speaker.

Anyways, once it was over, I was reflecting.  I didn't get to finish because I was getting the "wrap it up" signal for at least 5 minutes and I still had at least 6 more minutes worth of things to say.

I also felt like I was trying to have a discussion with people who were there to hear a lecture.

Did I convey my passion?  I had no idea.

Did I inspire ANYone?  I had no idea.

But then, when colleagues from my own school did not stop to talk to me after the conference was over, I thought, "I must've really stunk. Really, really stunk."

I reflected on it more and decided that I am just a better writer than a speaker.

I'm sure no one would be surprised by this.

But here's how I really knew I failed.

I had been waiting for the "talks" to be posted online on the WVIZ Ideastream page.  I checked it often.

Then, as I saw the other talks were posted, I scrolled down the page.

"Where's mine?" I thought to myself.

And then I remembered.

Before the "talks" started, I had said to the person in charge, "If mine is really bad, can you NOT post it online?"

And mine was not (and is not) posted online.

I failed.

I've been embarrassed about it since November....

But here's the good news.

Since then, I've given the same presentation again, ONLY it was a one HOUR time slot AND it was a discussion, a conversation, NOT a lecture.  (It was better.)

Then I gave it again, in a 90 minute window.  And embedded some of the "makers" activities.  (And it was even better.)

And so I failed.

But I also learned.

And I'm done being embarrassed.

So now, go to the WVIZ Ideastream page.  And see how my talk is not posted.  And don't wonder about it.  Know that I failed.

And then, know that I learned.