Stem Educator Symposium ’15 #preses15

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It is like coming home!! It is nice to have many homes.

Of all the conferences that I get to attend, this is the one that is most meaningful. Here inspiration turns to action. Here, you get to talk the talk, then visit a classroom and see it in action. They do not show pics or graphs, they show you students in action. Then they show graphs. I am not sure it is fair that so many great people are in one place at a time. I have spoke about Tracey, Scott, John, Ryan, and Amy in the past. This time I would like to focus on Kathy and Sue.

There were many things that amazed me, but the thing that got me the most was the MATH Collaborative Classroom of Kathy Sampson and Sue Martino. This class is composed of grade 6, 7 and 8 students. They were talking about math. They were debating different ways to solve quadratics and what forms were most appropriate. The transition from group work (productive noise) to whole class instruction (silence) to many different hands being raised to group work (productive noise) was amazing. Just for kicks, I asked students to solve a Chem 12 Calorimetry question that uses the distributive property. Although they did not understand the chemistry, they were able to solve it without the use of a calculator until the very last bit. This was the same question that some of my grade 12’s complained was too difficult.

I loved the way that they used language, that students use jargon correctly in a professional way. I love the discussion that was happening between students and between students and teachers. It was similar to the things that I try to do in my classes, but it was at a whole new level and with less mature students about a topic that I previously thought pretty dry.

I have so much more to learn form them. I hope they will contribute 2 chapters to the Collaborative Class Book.

RHS and #OML on EarthDay by students for students

RHS Science 12 students decided to run a TED Talk-like fundraiser for the automated Greenhouse and One Million Lights. Earth Day made sense. But I was at SES in Colorado. So students ran this fundraiser with minimal adult involvement. I skyped in from Colorado to kick things off, but it was by students for students.

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OML Greenhouse Brochure

They organized the theatre, the sound system, lights, program, pamphlets, snacks (provided by IEEE), greeters, MC’s etc… They were PRO !! They are like the childhood toys,… my job is to wind them up, point them in the general direction, and let them go.

They contacted the media re their event. This was the result. Scan_20150428 (2)

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My Science 12 students win Pitch at Sustainapalooza

RHS Students Micro GrantRHS students win $1500 micro-grant for aquaponics system at Sustaina-palooza

Riverview, NB – A $1500 micro-grant was awarded to Riverview High School students at Sustaina-palooza, last weekend at the Chocolate River Station.

RHS Science 12 students Caitlyn Downes, Cole Hayden and Dakota Steeves pitched their project, a sustainable Hydro-Aquaponic greenhouse, to a judging panel on Saturday, April 18. They were one of 11 groups to vying for the Palooza Pitch prize. The micro-grant will assist the students in creating an aquaculture greenhouse wall inside Riverview High School that will provide experiential learning opportunities in sustainable food systems for students and citizens alike.

“These project pitches from our community were each inspiring in their own way,” said Shane Thomson, Riverview’s director of economic development. “In fact the judges were so enthused by another RHS project that they contributed $500 of their own money, above and beyond the $1500 prize.”

That project developed by students Sydney Irvine, Ashley Meehan and Grace Park is a public art piece which also functions as a sundial. They will use the funds to build a prototype and costing for the finished piece.

Sustaina-palooza participants enjoyed three days of films, tours, discussions and workshops as well as a keynote presentation by Jason Roberts, founder of The Better Block.

The Town’s sustainability committee Envision Riverview took the opportunity to launch its vision statement for the town’s sustainability plan which is still in development. The vision is the culmination of three months of engagement activity, which included over 400 survey responses and three Envision Cafés. The vision statement will guide the committee as it completes an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan for the Town of Riverview.

Named to MindShare Learning Advisory Board

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Please join me in welcoming Award Winning teacher, Ian Fogarty to the MindShare Learning Advisory Board team. Ian is a master high school science teacher in N.B., who recently won an international science teaching award in the U.S. He is a highly sought after presenter and a past MindShare Learning Video Challenge Winner. 

Break Thru’15 in Freddy

A Breakthru @ #Breakthru’15

Thank you to Brilliant Labs and the Department of Education for inviting my students and I to the NBIF Breakthru Event Last night. My students were excited and empowered by the recognition and learned some of the nuances of networking.

Our Premier, the Minister of Education, The Deputy Minister of Education Francophone and the Leader of the Opposition were all able to catch glimpses of what Education could be and the wonderful work that today’s students and teachers are doing.


My students have been working on three main projects this semester, all of which require taking school outside of school and solving real problems for real people and where the lines of courses and content are blurred.

  • The One Million Lights is trying to provide 3D printed personal sources of light to students who cannot study after sunset.
  • The Automated Aquaponics Greenhouse is trying to create a low maintenance, smart greenhouse that will provide seedlings for the short growing season in the community garden.
  • Cyborg Arm is taking the popular 3D printed passive prosthetic a major step forward by automating it with EKG sensors attached to muscles, Arduinos and servos.

Brilliant Labs has supported each of these projects and helped give recognition to the innovation that can happen in a school. As a result, we were invited to the BreakThru event, which was the culmination of a contest that encouraged start ups and helped them along the way. It was a high profile event with all the major business players in the province from the Premier, to Ministers, to banks, accountants, Planet Hatch, Mr. Pond and Mr Deshpande, and the president of Shad.

I gave my students an assignment, “To learn how to network at a reception”. Natural human tendency is to find a group of familiar people and spend all your time with them, which will only slightly strengthen your already well established relationship. The purpose of this is to go meet strangers, give them a short sentence on what you do and ask them about what they do. I pointed out people I knew from Planet Hatch, NBIF, Shad, the UNB TME Center, Anywhere Group, Wicked Ideas etc… I left them in a room of 400 high profile business people. They decided to go talk to Mr. Pond and Mr Deshpande.

After the awards banquet, Mr Pond bypassed a number of important people to tell me how well my students did speaking with him and his business partner. Clearly they were smart, but perhaps more importantly, they were confident. His comment was that average but confident people can do amazing things. As Mr Pond was speaking, I was thinking that Scott Nielsen (Preston Middle School) would be proud, “Students moving with competence and confidence”.

When they got to the table, I told them to sit with at least 2 chairs between them so that a single or a couple could sit between them. I think that they had fun being intermixed with other students. They were close enough to have cross table conversations, but spent most of their time talking to previous strangers. Well done.

I wonder what Staff morale at my school would be if teachers cognisantly and deliberately did something similar?

The Premier and Minister of Ed had their pictures taken with students. The students giggled with joy when the Premier retested a few minutes later. Little did they know that the Premier was about to single them out. See the video. The students were empowered and excited. What a great experience.

One Million Lights at NSTA and Around the World

One Million Lights and is getting lots of attention. BETT’15, INTED’15, CIO Congress’15, Education Congress’15 and now NSTA’15.

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There are three things in this blog. #1. The idea of One Million Lights and Philanthropic-engineering seems to be getting international traction. #2. Collaboration is much harder than Cooperation, but gives such a better final product AND is a great growing experience. #3. Maybe 1 Million Lights will be distributed, changing both the students who receive them, and the students who make them. #4. People want cookie cutter.

#1. “What School could be” gaining International Traction:

Educators around the world know that school seems to be broken. There is lots of theory and vision of what they would like school to be, but have few clear practical examples. One Million Lights seems to be one emerging example. International students from Y4 UK, to US Middle School to Canadian High School, working truly collaboratively, where there are multiple iterations and minds are changed in the process. STEM topics are blended with CAD, world issues, geography, and literacy. Perhaps this could hint towards what school should and could be?

#2.Challenging but better, Collaboration vs Cooperation:

My Colorado friends, Tracey and John, spoke about One Million Lights at INTED’15 in Madrid while simultaneously, I spoke about the same thing at CIO Congress and Education Congress in Palm Springs.

Now we need to present the same work together. It would have been much easier just to say that one group does their part while the other group does the other part and paste them together. It started out a synchronously with Tracey doing the lion’s share. I was able to add some slides and change some content. This was great COOPERATION. However, to work collaboratively, we needed to work on the same slides.

So, the day before, we spent all afternoon with the three of us going over slide by slide. Matching three different styles together with a deadline was fun, but could have been frustrating had we not gelled so well. There was moving, moving back, trying this and trying that. In the end we had something that worked well.

On the day of the presentation, we still had not practiced it the whole way though. We assigned various slides to various speakers, discussed the content, but did not actually practice.

There we were on stage. We had 1hr. We took 54 min. There were a couple of times that I did not quite finish correctly, and the other would step in, say what I missed and use it as a transition to the next slide. It worked so well, it was like it was practiced, but it was not.

Not only did we have more perspectives represented in the talk, but we would never had been able to cover for each other and move fluidly had we only cooperated. Thank goodness we collaborated.

One Million Lights’ goal of One Million Lights distributed around the world may be possible.

During the previous day, in the same room at a similar time, there was 1-4 people in the audience. For us, we had 38 people, a virtual crowd given the location and timing.

The audience was engaged, nodding in agreement, positive body language and lots of questions afterwards. We had 6 people come up afterwards and have some deeper conversations. The invitation was well received. I think we will get some people on board.

We better be ready for it.

#4 Cookie Cutter Programs

We are surrounded by 1001 programs, curriculums and guides that offer step by step instructions. It was ironic how one of the teacher questions compared to one of Tracey’s stories during the presentation.

We created this with the idea that students should be involved with thinking and doing and creating. Tracey gave the example of how grit, perseverance and thinking were products of PRODUCTIVE FRUSTRATION. When a student did not know where to solder the next LED, the student wanted the teacher to say, “good job, now do the next one there”. This is how the student had been trained over 7 years of school. The teacher had to resist celebrating and then telling. Had the teacher told them what to do, the product (the light) would have been done faster and more efficient, but the student would not have learned to think, to try, to demonstrate grit. There was an audible sigh of agreement from the crowd when this was discussed.

At the end of the talk, one of the questions asked if there were published lesson plans, curriculum guides and rubrics. The irony between what we were trying to teach the students and what the teacher was asking made me feel like re-writing a verse to an Alanis Morisette song. We want teachers and students to have a personal connection to the work. We want teachers to model the same creativity, diversity and grit that we expect from our students. Even the teachers have been programmed to be little robots.

Ideally, all teachers would pick this program up and run with it, like Preston, RHS and Pheasey. However, the reality is that not all are risk takers. In fact, I suspect the risk takers are already doing their own cool thing. In order to move teachers and students towards a favorable side of the spectrum, we may need to provide help. How much is the right amount of help so that people will be encouraged to participate, but maintain the critical thinking, creativity and ownership?