A Quick Point About STEM

I’ll be heading out this Tuesday to New Orleans for the NSTA STEM Forum. On Thursday I’ll be presenting: “STEM What Does That Really Look Like In A Classroom.” It’s a presentation I’ve done a number of times in various versions.

Basically I share examples right out of my classroom (and other teacher’s classrooms my students and I have collaborated with over the years). A major point I make is that STEM is language intense and a very powerful language arts intervention (You’ll have to see my presentation to learn how). A truly integrated STEM approach should make connections in every subject, and that is why I promote STEM as a broad, rich, inclusive curriculum. Note that I also mention that I don’t care if we call it STEM … to me anything that brings back a broad, rich, inclusive curriculum after so many years of a narrowed to very narrowed curriculum is OK with me.

Many of the schools I serve, especially the schools that have recently become STEM schools or academies , have also been schools that have experienced the most narrowing of their curriculum. STEM gives them “permission” to bring those subjects back, a big part of my job is facilitating them in doing so.

However, I’ve had conversations with teachers and parents that have had negative experiences with STEM. They explain that when STEM learning was introduced at their site that the arts and other subjects were virtually removed from the curriculum and the STEM subjects were given all the focus (science, technology, engineering and math).  In general this approach misses the point of STEM learning. I point to Leonardo da Vinci as one example of a STEM scholar. He integrated the STEM subjects with the arts, including music. A truly integrated approach that emphasizes the connections between subjects and fields of study should be the goal of a STEM program.

Any thoughts?

Learning is messy!


Posted in Education, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 1 Comment

Even Saturday Afternoon We Are 3D Printer Building

Yes, we we’re back at it today. Not everyone could make it, but there we’re 14 –  3D printers under construction today. A few folks even finished and got theirs printing. Some of us have missed possible work days so we are a bit behind, and next week I’m off to New Orleans for the NSTA STEM Forum and then my daughter’s graduation from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, so I’ll miss the next 2 work days.











Today featured lots of soldering:











And attaching pieces with allen wrenches and lock nuts:












Ironically, some of the parts we installed today we’re printed on a 3D printer – I placed the pliers in the shot for scale:














Which when assembled and attached to a motor became a new part:













Our progress today:








































Lots of messy learning today … had to drill out a piece made from aluminum that was not quite big enough to accept a heater core … I can’t show pictures of how we did it … not a good example for safety, holding a piece in my hand while using a high speed hand drill to bore it out – took a half hour at least. A few parts that had to be uninstalled and then reinstalled to get everything to fit just right slowed things down as well.

More in a week or so.

Learning is messy!

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

What Better Way to Spend A Friday Evening? – 3D Printer Building

Last week I missed the Saturday class and 4 hours of time to work on my 3D printer. Fortunately they offered some extra time Friday night to work. So about 6 of us showed up and spent 3 to 4 hours.




This all takes place in the University of Nevada, Reno, Engineering Design Lab.





Doug Taylor and I spread out all the parts from our 2 printers – still lots to assemble.













Slowly but surely the printers take shape.

As usual the laser cut wood that makes up the bulk of the pieces reeks of burned wood.










I add 2 more motors, (out of 5 total)  several belts and rollers that snap into their tracks and then make sure each part moves smoothly and easily. And when they don’t, adjustments are made and parts are taken apart and put back together correctly a few times (messy learning for sure).












The screen is attached and it starts to look more like a 3D printer.


















This is where I ran out of time today, but back at it tomorrow. Lots of parts left to go, and based on others that are farther along … “lots of soldering … lots and lots of soldering.”





The prototype was running again today … mocking us it seemed. We’ll get there. :)

The prototype of our printer showing off.

The view from the back:

Learning is messy!

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Parent Won’t Allow 10 year old to Blog – Wants to Protect Their Child’s Intellectual Property Rights

A teacher that recently started a class blog in 4th grade (9 – 10 year olds) informed me that a parent had declined to sign the “permission slip” allowing their child to blog because, “They want to protect their child’s intellectual property rights.”

My first reaction was “… uh, OK … uh wait …  what!?”

As I thought about it I realized that perhaps I had missed being aware of  this issue and so I decided I should look into it further. (1) I wanted to know if it is a legitimate concern, and (2) if there was information I could find that would mitigate the parent’s apprehensiveness and allow the student to participate in a valuable learning experience – blogging (and other social networks). I also knew this could be an excuse the parent was using from fear of having their child’s work online – which is not uncommon. I should also mention that the student will blog and post work using a pseudonym, not their real name. I have had parents occasionally refuse initially to allow their child to blog or post anything online, but after meeting with them and explaining what we were up to and showing examples they’ve always given permission.

Before I go on please, please share any insights to this you may have in the comments. If this is a non-issue, I’d like to give the teacher involved either a heads-up or points to make to the parent.

I’m not privy to any specifics the parent had in mind here, but I’m guessing they are concerned that if their child grew up to be someone famous, or the writing or media pieces they post now might have value in the future (example what if Steven King or Steven Spielberg had had blogs when they were 10 (or younger) and their work (writings, videos, etc.) as a child were accessible through postings on the web? Is there some way that work would diminish the value of other work they produced now or in the future? Could someone market writings, videos, other media they produced and posted online somehow (legally) and make money? Are there other implications / rights that I’m not thinking of that could be an issue?

Of course I went right to my PLN in Twitter and asked for help thinking that I might find out that of course this is an issue …  you didn’t know!? Which was a real possibility.

  • Had a parent today not allow 10 yr. old to blog, wants to protect her child’s intellectual property rights. ? ?


  • And I soon received feedback:


  •  There are lots of misconceptions out there about IP rights. Was once told by a tchr the reason she never posted anything online >






  • I responded with:


  • Good point. Maybe we have to put copyright / creative commons language on student blogs? (or is it already there?)



I received many other great responses, mostly about setting the student’s privacy settings certain ways and other “work arounds” which were insightful in their own right, but I’m not looking for work arounds at this point. I just want to know if this is even a real issue. It would be best if this student could participate fully.

Again if you have any knowledge of the implications / law / or something I’m addressing here of on this topic, please leave a comment.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Blogging, Education, Student Access, Teacher Access, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

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.

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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!



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