Update: Rethinking School District Social Media Policies for Teachers / Students

One of the challenges of my job as STEM Learning facilitator for 6 counties, has been that some of those counties (school districts here are by county, so every county is it’s own school district) have very restrictive online access policies … meaning they block almost anything even remotely social – blogs, wikis, photo archiving sites like Flickr and more. In one school district I was working with a group of teachers and pointed out that I’d found one of the above “not-blocked” – my mere mention of the fact was met with “SHHHH!” and,  “Don’t tell anyone! If they know its open they’ll block it!” But when I asked if that meant someone was using it they admitted that no they weren’t – for various reasons … none of them about educating children.


I just want to point out that the “T” in STEM stands for technology, and the real power of that technology is learning to learn, sharing learning, collaboration and more. The standards even demand that students collaborate globally, and as I point out often, I don’t think they mean by sending letters back and forth.

Back in November I wrote a post about this issue and asked for feedback on:  “What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students?” I received some great feedback in the comments section from some really smart people – check them out in the comments on that post. During a Twitter chat I even got a response from Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education asking for the names of the districts that blocked these sites. Although I did collaborate with folks from the USDOE after that, it was agreed that having Secretary Duncan contact these school districts directly was probably not the best course of action.

Instead we ramped up our campaign of information – both gathering information about what led the opposition to access, and disseminating information about safety and the reality of the various laws on internet and information use and access that many were misinterpreting to mean if they gave access to anything social on the internet they’d lose their e-rate funding.

In December I was invited to present to one district’s EdTech committee. I used a 2-pronged approach. I showed them numerous examples of the powerful use of these technologies and applications as learning places. Collaborative projects, how blogging can be used to motivate writing, editing, communicating, collaborating and more – wikis, video-conferencing, Google Docs and more – I have many examples right from my own classroom, but also with the many teachers and students my classes collaborated with over the years.

Next I pointed out the realities from laws designed to keep students safe online (the ones that lead folks to believe they’ll lose their e-rate funding and be sued). I was able to use numerous sources to point out that the law, in a nutshell, states that you must basically show that you are trying hard to keep students safe, if something then goes wrong you are OK (slightly more complicated than that).

The good news is, that that school district has “green lighted” a pilot program of blogging in one of their elementary schools with 4th graders. Tomorrow I meet with the teachers at the school to get their blogs set up and a bit of training … then Tuesday I’m back all day to get each class started to blog and post a few times to get the process down as a first step. I noted last week while visiting the school that wikis are now unblocked and even Flickr (but almost no one uses them yet or even realizes that they are unblocked), so we have a foot in the door!

I’m not nervous at all to work with the teachers tomorrow, but I don’t get to work with students more than a handful of times a year anymore, and so I can tell I have that combination of being both excited and nervous about being in a classroom … like the first day of school feeling. I’ll keep you updated.

Learning is messy!





Posted in Blogging, Change, Cooperative Learning, Education, Making Connections With Blogging, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology, Video Skype, Web 2.0, Wikis | Leave a comment

I’m Building a 3D Printer – Day 2

A few days ago I posted about being part of a class for teachers and educators where we build a 3D printer and learn to use it and the keep it to use with our students and teachers.

Today we were given the entire 3-4 hours to just get back to work assembling our printers. The group all retrieved their boxed printers and got to it.










BELOW: What I got done the 1st week:









BELOW: Most of what still needs to be assembled.









This printer is mostly made from wood. Wood that has been laser cut into parts … VERY precisely. The burning involved in laser cutting is betrayed by the black edges of the parts as you break them apart during assembly, as well as a hint of burning wood in the room and our somewhat blackened fingertips. Lots of screws and nuts, washers, gears and more are involved.









We got to a certain point today and the next step meant we had to get the 5 electric motors required:






As we assembled the frame, which involved installing the first motor, the shape of the printer emerged.












When we ran out of time today we had a few more parts assembled and ready to add.










By that point we had also installed the second motor.






As pieces are snapped out of the laser cut wood lots of these little pieces fall out … are they all unnecessary? Or ??? Deciding keeps you on your toes.


That’s as far as we got today and it might be 2 weeks before I get a chance to work on it some more. We’re told it could be 20 hours of work when tweaking all the settings and getting software setup and all … after today we were about 7 hours in.

BELOW: The printer they assembled to check out the assembly process was busy today printing out gears for a transmission (note the image on the computer):













Here’s a short video of the printer in action – click the link.

Link to 3D printer video

Learning is messy!

Posted in 3D Printing, Brian Crosby, Change, Education, Messy Learning, Project Based, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | Leave a comment

On The Road – Project Wet Training


One of the valuable STEM learning opportunities I’m part of right now is training teachers across our state in Project Wet. Think of it as Project Wet with a STEM focus.

We wrote and received a rather large grant sponsored by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP). Its enough money that we will be conducting these trainings for about 2 years with the goal of training hundreds of educators statewide in water and other science content.

Myself (I’m the STEM Learning Facilitator for northwest Nevada), Lou Loftin who is the Science Learning Facilitator, and Mary Kay Wagner an Environmental Scientist in the Bureau of Water Quality Planning with NDEP, are a team that travels around providing 16 hour trainings statewide. Nevada is a huge state (from here in Reno to Las Vegas is over 400 miles one way) so we put many miles on Lou’s truck which we cram full of equipment and supplies when we go on the road.





Currently we are in the middle of a 4 session class that convenes just south of here at River Fork Ranch in Genoa, Nevada.















We combine lessons right out of the Project Wet Guide 2.0 (which you cannot buy – you must participate in a least 6 hours of training in Project Wet to receive a guide) with hikes through the parks where our classes usually take place, some training in online photo archiving (Flickr), wikis and the online Project Wet Educator’s Portal.















Besides receiving a copy of the Project Wet guide, participants in our trainings also take supplies and resources provided by the grant back to their classrooms – beakers, pipettes, graduated cylinders, measuring tapes, Earth globes, maps and more. They also take back the links and online resources we help them register for (see above) and the network of teachers they meet and link to as part of the class. Several participating teachers have already brought their own students to the sites on field trips.

If you follow me on Twitter I often Tweet out photos and reports of where we are and what we’re up to. We have several more “Wet” classes coming up before June in eastern Nevada, and come fall we’ll continue our treks around the state. One of the “perks” of a project like this is getting to visit the beautiful places that abound in Nevada.

BELOW: Photos from our training in Las Vegas at the Clark County Wetlands where they pump 3 million gallons of water from the water treatment facility through the park daily to help provide habitat for a surprising amount of flora and fauna in the desert.
















































Learning is messy!

Posted in Education, Field Trips, Messy Learning, Project Based, Project Wet, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology, Wikis | Leave a comment

Building My Own 3D Printer

A few weeks back I was invited to participate in a class at the University of Nevada, Reno, where participants would build a 3D printer from a kit and learn how to use it. I jumped at the chance since you get to keep the printer, and I saw the possibilities to take it with me on the road as I travel throughout the rather large region I cover as STEM Learning Facilitator in northwest Nevada.








The class is being taught by the same mechanical engineering folks that facilitate our high altitude balloon launches (see the TEDxDenverEd video in the right margin of this blog). My colleague Doug Taylor who taught with me for years when we collaborated on those launches and much more is taking the class with me and is building his own 3D printer.

I do not have much of a background in programming unless you count a bit of BASIC I learned 30 years ago or the LOGO I dabbled in with students, so I see this as stretching me a bit as well as providing another resource for the school districts I serve.










After presenting us with some background on advanced manufacturing we were put into pairs since 2 printers came in each box, and put to work putting them together. The directions are YouTube videos and PDF files you are linked to –  which is a nice combination.









You can see they crammed 2 printers in each box and there are numerous parts and many are very small. The tools are Allen wrenches, screwdrivers and pliers.



ABOVE: Everything required to build 2 printers.

BELOW: A finished printer printing gears. This is the instructors’ practice printer – they figured they better go through the process of building one themselves. The printing material is blue plastic – reminds me of the line you use in a yard trimmer, but a bit thicker. You can see the blue spool of material in the upper left of the photo.

These are MakerFarm Prusa 8″ i3 3D Printers – about $600










BELOW: Some of the parts I assembled our first day.












BELOW: And here is what I got done the first day after about 2-3 hours. Finished pieces are on top. Lots left to do. Next class is this Saturday. I’ll try to post our progress.












Learning Is Messy!


Posted in 3D Printing, Education, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 1 Comment

With all the talk about how much we value teachers, and especially great teachers …

In the past few weeks we have witnessed Winter Olympic medal winners and participants receiving their medals and much deserved national media coverage, parades, expanded media interviews, front page articles and lengthy news reports. When they arrive home they are met at the airport by more media coverage of all kinds. The Academy Awards or Oscars were recently held and the media was more than obsessed with all the award winners and attendees and what they wore and didn’t wear and on and on. I could note other award broadcasts for music and other entertainment and sports stars of just the past few months.  Of course we should be honoring these people, they have worked hard and practiced hard and have been singled out as the best in their profession.

Many of these award winners not only win their specific awards or medals, they are often  invited to meet the President of the United States, other high ranking politicians, receive lucrative endorsement contracts and are generally venerated by the general public and ad nauseum by the press. Again, they have earned these accolades.

These award winners are plied with questions so we learn about their hard work, what great things they have done and obstacles they have overcome. What makes what they do rewarding, difficult … do they ever think of giving up? They are presented as examples we should all follow … of what is great about being human, going the extra mile.

On the other hand, we hear from media, politicians and others about how vital and important education is. How teachers, especially great teachers, are vital to society and that we should honor and celebrate them and support them whenever possible. Additionally, we hear now about how vital STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teachers are. The perception, at the very least, is that we are behind in producing teachers that are well versed in STEM and STEM fields, so much so that there are editorials, speeches, rants, and more about how we need to do all we can to attract teachers that have these backgrounds to teach. It has even been stated that this could be a national security issue!

Were you aware that a bit more than a week ago 101 of the best teachers in America were flown out to Washington D.C. because they are the Presidential Award Winners in Math and Science from the past 2 years? They have been singled out as the best in their profession. They are so honored that they met with the President of the United States! Yes! The President, Barack Obama, as did teachers when George Bush was President and before that. Wow! So I don’t know what happened where you live … but did you see front page or any newspaper coverage? National and local TV interviews? Did the press meet them at the airport? Probably not (but please share in comments if that happened where you live).

Where I live education is SO important they even have reporters for the local newspapers and TV news that specialize in education. Their whole job as reporter in some cases is just covering, or includes reporting news about education. So of course we’re sick of reading about and seeing TV interviews about these great teachers … STEM teachers … that are so honored they were flown out to the White House to meet the president! And of course we should be understanding of that coverage … we need more great teachers and so honoring them and giving them this attention is part of attracting more talented folks to teaching … Right?  … Um … NO …. I’m sad to say that at least where I live barely a mention besides a few weeks ago along with school fundraisers and the like in a “What’s Going On In Our Schools” kind of column.

And understand, The White House, the US Department of Education, the governor, the state superintendent of schools, the school district where BOTH winners locally teach, all issued, or were quoted in press releases about the awards where they expressed their support for these great teachers. The response from local and national media? A collective YAAAAWN! … not worth covering, much less making a big deal about apparently … even though education, and specifically STEM education, as I mentioned above, is SO important and vital to our nation and community’s future and our economic development.

Education is SO important that one of the national networks even devotes reporters to an ongoing focus on education. So of course their reporter devoted time to cover the awards and interviewed these incredible educators. They had stories on their national news broadcasts singing the praises of these honored and valued teachers  … right?

No .. as far as I saw, not a mention on any of the networks, including the one that prides itself on education reporting.

As a nation we are just short of obsessed with the value of education and great teachers because education and teachers are so essential that we would not let this opportunity to celebrate them slip away …. right?

Learning is messy.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Interview on Wes Fryer’s “STEM seeds”

Today I connected with my friend Wes Fryer, a fellow STEM teacher, to have a conversation about STEM learning and to share some of the projects my students have participated in in the past. We also touched on the definition of STEM and what it is NOT. Wes has started up what he calls “STEM seeds” – he describes it as, “A Community of STEM teachers sharing lesson ideas.”

Wes is definitely more well known for his blog “Moving At The Speed of Creativity” and his numerous writings, books and speaking engagements.

Here is a link to STEM seeds and another to the YouTube channel Wes uses.

Learning is messy!



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

STEM: Cantilever Spans









Background on Cantilever Spans

(click on any photos in post to see enlarged)

We participated in a school’s Family STEM/Science Night recently, which always ends up being a kick. Having families participate together and watching what happens is a blast. My cohort in science, Lou Loftin, who is the Science Learning Facilitator (I’m the STEM Learning Facilitator) where we work, took an idea he stole borrowed from a colleague last year, shared it with me, and we ran with it. Lou was running a, “How Many Drops Of Water Fit On A Penny” station, and I ran the, “Cantilever Span” station – it worked out even better than we imagined when we planned it. This would be an incredible classroom lesson that could stretch over several days to several weeks depending on just how deep you wanted to go.

So, how does it work you ask?


Paint stirring sticks – in this case probably 200+ – we procured these from a big box hardware store … for free when we explained we were using them for science and gave them the obligatory sad, begging face.

Washers – (other weights could be substituted) – these are about “half-dollar size” – we had several hundred.

Thats’s it!


Since this is an inquiry experience, I gave as little input as possible. When getting a participant started (and usually parents stepped back and let their children take it on themselves) I would take one stirrer and place 2 or 3 washers on the end, stick it out from the table (see photo below) and then explain that they were to make as long a span as possible out from the edge of the table. “You can use as many washers and stirrers as you want …. Go!”









No other directions – and questions like, “But what do I do?” were answered by me with shoulder shrugs.

Some students worked by themselves and others grabbed friends and siblings (sometimes parents) and worked in groups. Preschoolers through middle schoolers stopped by, often confused about what the heck was happening here, but we could have charged a fee …  if I’d really wanted to be evil (and rich) I would have mentioned that the first ten minutes are free but after that it’s $0.25 per 5 minutes. This event was only an hour long and there was plenty else to see and do … and parents were having to beg their children to leave … “Honey we only have 20 minutes left and this was only the third station we stopped at.” – “Ah Mom.”

As things proceeded there are failures … which are punctuated by the sound of 20 – 100+ washers crashing to the tiled floor, followed by the realization that the scattered washers and stirrers would have to be picked up. That deterred a few, but generally as fast as they could recover their materials they were back at it.


















And when I say they were back at it … check out this video clip of one more intense participant:

We put out measuring tapes – a few measured (and if this had been a classroom learning experience we would have done that for sure), many took photos of their span.









In the classroom I would do just about this same experience as a first step, but:

– Next have students design as long a span as possible with as few washers / stirrers as possible.

– Give materials a cost and have students build the longest most cost effective structure.

– Perhaps have them build a structure that is not necessarily the longest, but with the most stirrers as possible sticking out beyond the edge of the table?

– Can structures be started out on facing tables and meet in the middle to form a bridge between tables? Lots of possibilities.

Two groups that built next to each other decided to connect their structures:









WARNING – OK warning is a bit strong. But keep in mind that these structures are easy to bump into with disastrous results. So think about that when planning where to have students build. Move all the desks to the 4 walls of your room and build out from there? Perhaps the cafeteria? Library? other large room where separation between structures is possible? Also have that discussion with students about looking out for each other.

In the classroom I would also spend some time talking about reacting to disappointment when for any reason their span collapses. Really disappointing for sure, but in the real world this happens (maybe show the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse video after your first experience – adults have things end in disaster unexpectedly too) – just know that and carry on.

Writing pieces on what, how and why in a journal would be great. As would thoughts on what will/would we do differently? I haven’t had a chance to develop creative writing ideas yet, but descriptive words about what it looks like, feels like, … colors, etc. can always be turned into poetry and stories.

More photos from the experience:

































Here’s a link to a Flickr set of photos.

UPDATE: If you played the video above note how tenuous the balance is. Note that the weight on the table has to be more than the weight hanging off the table. How much weight on the table is necessary to offset the weight off the table? Going deep might include pre- weighing the stirrers and washers and then getting as close to equal weight on both sides of the edge of the table. Think of the edge of the table as the equal sign in an equation, but this is going to be an inequality because there has to be more weight on than off the table. How close can you get to equal? Is there an inequality that shows that correlation?

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Cooperative Learning, Education, Inclusion, Messy Learning, Project Based | 6 Comments

Rethinking School District Social Media Policies for Teachers / Students

I’ve been fortunate enough to teach in a school district that blocks very little – blogs, Twitter, Flickr, wiki’s, YouTube, Cover-It-Live, and more are all open. FaceBook and the obvious porn and other sites are blocked. However in my job as STEM Facilitator I hear from teachers locally and nationally in school districts that block most to all the above and more. If there are any social possibilities, whether it is moderated or not … it’s BLOCKED, no questions or comments allowed.

I’ve also been asked to share with local, state and even the US Department of Education, “What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students?”

So for everyones benefit it would be more than helpful to get feedback about that here. Especially if you are an administrator or government representative that has successfully dealt with this issue. The Common Core State Standards require students to collaborate globally, and certainly many of us can sing the praises as to why and how that is a valuable learning experience. So again – What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students? PLEASE share in comments and I will pass on.

Thanks in advance!

Learning is messy!





Posted in Change, Education, Inclusion, Messy Learning, Project Based, Reform, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 19 Comments

Unleash the Learning Power of Blogs By Actually Using Them Consistently!

Blogs are an incredible learning tool. But like an exercise bike, having one does not lead to self improvement unless you use it. And using it sporadically is only barely helpful. You have to invest time to get the great results … imagine now the sculpted/toned bodies of the models they use in ads for any exercise equipment … then imagine the sculpted/toned brains of your students using blogs. That doesn’t happen without consistent use.

Now that I think of it though, blogs are not like an exercise bike, blogs are like one of those pieces of fitness equipment that include multiple exercises – weight lifting, sit-ups, pull-ups, leg lifts and so on. Blogs are certainly writing spaces, but they lend themselves to not just publishing writing, but also response and discussion which is that higher level thinking we are vying for. But wait! There’s still more. Blogs also include, publishing photos, videos, podcasts, spreadsheets, slide shows, art work, and much more. AND all of those pieces can be written about and discussed. AND note its not even all writing, notice in my partial list it can be oral language and media … and of course it involves reading. So multiple exercises for the brain! AND all of that is archived and it is then easy to see improvement over time – you can see it, your students can see it and their parents can see it.

Did I mention the family connection? Not only is the blog available for student collaborators to see and interact with, the students’ families can as well. Students can go home and show parents what they did today, family members can comment … see what I mean? Oooh, and I’ve had experts like scientists and athletes and the like leave comments and interact as well.

Here’s the thing though, getting back to my initial point, that doesn’t happen if we don’t use them consistently. Blogs are powerful, engaging, motivating, learning tools. So use them consistently, and use all their possibilities. Otherwise it is like doing one or two writing projects a year that you turn into published books … “My Poetry Book” and/or “The Day I Was My Dog” – great stuff, but imagine doing that all the time and you (the teacher) doesn’t have to find the special paper and laminate and so forth.

Oh, and couple your class blog with a wiki and a photo sharing service like Flickr … it only gets better.

So if you have your students blogging because you want them to learn. Then really have them blogging all the time!!!! The initial time it takes to get them up and going will pay big dividends!

Learning is messy!

Posted in Blogging, Change, Education, Literacy, Making Connections With Blogging, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology, Wikis | 9 Comments

Sharing Real-World Projects Sharpens the Literacy Skills of Connected Students

I have a new post up over at the Powerful Learning Practice Blog entitled: Sharing Real-World Projects Sharpens the Literacy Skills of Connected Students. Head over and give it a read … and comment as well. :)

I’ve been making the point in my STEM trainings that part of the appeal, to me at least, of STEM and Maker learning, is how language intense it should be. Teachers react well when I point that out and make the case for not leaving the language experiences “on the cutting room floor,” so to speak. There are so many deep, thoughtful, and especially, creative language possibilities that are too often not realized or wasted in the rush to do an interesting, engaging activity and then move on.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Literacy, Messy Learning, STEM | 2 Comments