NSTA 2013






I’m in San Antonio, Texas, this week to attend  the National Science Teachers Association conference. I might help during a presentation or 2, but other than that I get to be a conference attendee without many commitments to be anywhere specific, so I’m planning right now which sessions to participate in.

I used to attend NSTA conferences regularly, and have presented at a few. But something happened 10 or so years ago that made attending science conferences, or even science trainings rather moot. The good news is that, at least right now, there appears to be a realization that narrowing the curriculum had some disadvantages. School districts I work with that block anything that is “social” – are now taking a second look in light of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards that were released the day before this conference began – and that is good as well. The collaboration and communication pieces that the CCSS and NGSS both tout are the main reasons behind this epiphany, so I’ve jumped on the bandwagon and am riding it as hard as I can before the powers-that-be change their minds.

Well I’d better get going or I’ll miss my next session.

Learning is messy!

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STEM in the Connected Classroom

I was gone to Boston last week to an “Engineering is Elementary” training so I was remiss in sharing my newest post at the “Voices from the Learning Revolution” blog. The post is entitled “Going Deep: STEM in the Connected Classroom.” It’s my brief attempt at discussing where we are with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and some of what needs to happen if the promise of STEM education is to be realized. Head over and leave a comment if it strikes a chord with you.

Learning is messy!

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Help make sense of this (Updated)

UPDATE 2/12/2013: I’ve had several responses to this post through Twitter and face to face that have used logic to make their point. I totally agree this is nonsense, but I’m looking for written or spoken authority that has clout … something I’ve missed so far in the CCSS or education policy or law or ??? that is unequivocal on this point. I’ve also gotten an earful from middle and high school teachers of content that point out that they then are responsible for their content area not just at their grade level, but in this case students that have almost NO background K-5 that show up in their classrooms … YEP, that’s a big point here, besides the engaging content and more that is missed. Original post below:

I hear occasionally that K – 5 teachers are told that they no longer teach content area standards in science and social studies because they “teach the Common Core”. They are to address the science and social studies only through the CCSS in English/Language Arts. This is proved, they are told, because the Introduction to the CCSS ELA specifically states in the fifth paragraph:

“Literacy standards for grade 6 and above are predicated on teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science, and technical subjects using their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields. It is important to note that the 6–12 literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are not meant to replace content standards in those areas but rather to supplement them.”

Note, it specifically states “…that the 6-12 literacy standards in history/social studies, science and technical subjects are not meant to replace content standards in those subjects…”. Therefore since K-5 is not mentioned in the same way, some are using that omission to mean that the CCSS can (and in the case of a school not making AYP – should) be used to narrow K-5 curriculum to only the literacy standards in social studies, science and even the arts – but not their content. I’ve even heard, “When a teacher walks through the door of a K-5  Title 1 school, they give up their right to teach content beyond ELA and Math.”

So, beyond common sense and logic unfortunately, how do we help teachers under these restrictions disprove this interpretation? What can we point to that has authority? Please share in the comments!

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Inclusion, Literacy, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access | 3 Comments

Trout In The Classroom

Trout in the Classroom from Nevada Department of Wildlife on Vimeo.



One of the more engaging aspects of my job is supporting teachers doing science in their classrooms. Today I helped deliver trout eggs to 2 fourth grade classrooms at Caughlin Ranch Elementary School – Ms. Miller’s and Ms. Fryer’s classes that are participating in the Trout In The Classroom program. We swung by the Nevada Department of Wildlife building in Reno and picked up fertilized Rainbow Trout eggs, packed them in ice, and quickly got them to the school.








The specially chilled tanks had been delivered and set up weeks before in the 2 classrooms so the water could filter and stabilize at the correct temperature. The eggs are very light sensitive so the classes had each designed a box that will fit over the tank to keep it dark until the eggs hatch … probably by this Monday.







Part of the program involves the students’ calculating the hatching date based on information they are given on dates, temperatures and more. Once the eggs hatch the fry are allowed to grow for about 5 weeks when the class will go on a field trip to the Truckee River, or a few other possible spots, to set the trout free.

We’ll go back after the eggs hatch to see how things are going. We might also set up a blog for the classes to share their experiences.

Learning is messy!

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

Hand Held Windmills – Messy Learning At Its Finest

A few weeks back I posted about a training we did with teachers using windmills and wind turbines. This past week Lou Loftin and I were the show at a local school’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Night designed to get families fired up about STEM education. Instead of the standing kits we used with the teachers that can be used as windmills and turbines, and because we only had 50 minutes for this activity, we utilized hand held wind mills we had constructed ourselves the day before … 50 of them … now we have them for future trainings as well.

Video  – Click here to see video of the windmills in action.

The hand held windmills are made from wood dowels, closet rod, PVC pipe, swimming “noodles” cut 3 inches wide, a washer, and hot glue. Using a power saw , drill press and a hot glue gun it took us about 4 hours to make 50 windmills.


Hand held windmills ready for use … note fans set up on tables in the background.

Lou introduced the activity … he pointed out the materials they could choose from to design the blades for the windmills – wooden skewers like you would use for shish-ka-bob, and various materials for blades (paper plates, cups, cardboard, plastic sheets and more). It was explained that once engineered and constructed the windmills would be tested to see how much work they could do. A cup would be attached with string and marbles would be lifted by the wind power. Data would be collected on how many marbles could be lifted and then redesign would be encouraged to lift more marbles.

NOTE: Click on the photos below to see them larger.














Once we gave the go ahead to start hands got busy. Materials were organized, discussions on design commenced, and within five minutes windmills began taking shape. Soon fans were being turned on to test early designs. Redesign and strengthening of or reattachment of the blades usually followed. Next strings tied to plastic cups were attached so it could be determined just how much work the design could really accomplish. After 10 or so marbles were lifted and it was determined that was the maximum the design could accomplish, many thought through changes that could be made to improve the design to lift more weight.
















When time was up we re-seated everyone for a quick debrief. It was noted how different many of the designs were. We also explained how in the classroom this activity could go on for days. This could be the introductory experience, but then only one material could be allowed so that the exact blade design could be tested to see what shape, angle (we actually have protractor-like measuring devices to adjust the angle), size and more. Then materials could be tried to find which material made the most efficient design. Lots of messy learning as well as writing and sharing opportunities here. Think of video-conferencing with other schools to share designs or talking with experts. Blogging to share experiences, photographs and more. Add your own experiences and ideas in the comments.

Learning is messy!


Posted in Blogging, Cooperative Learning, Education, Messy Learning, Project Based, STEM, TEDxNYED, Twitter, Video Skype | 4 Comments

6 Year Anniversary – If A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, What Is A Video Worth?

This snuck up on me this year.  THIS happened 6 years ago now when we Skyped a classmate into our class most days … a student that had leukemia and couldn’t attend school because of the chemo therapy. We still get contacted about it. 4th graders sharing their experience – they are 10th graders now. Whoa!

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STEM Education – What Could/Should That Look Like?

As I started my new job as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) facilitator for six counties in northern Nevada not long ago, one of my first self assigned tasks has been to clarify just what being a  STEM school (or its other itinerations STEAM and STREAM and there are others) means … or can mean or should mean. Partly because I’ve been asked that question, so obviously I better have a clear idea of what STEM is how STEM education is perceived by all concerned, but also so I have a feel for just how far I can push the edge and I can facilitate others in pushing the edges.

In discussions here and online I’ve heard some interesting interpretations. I was told by teachers at one school, for example, that considers itself a “STEM Academy” that they teach science at every grade for at least 15 minutes every day … so that makes them a STEM school. Hmmmm.

My favorite definition of STEM so far has actually come from the Nevada Department of Education and the Gathering Genius web site published by the Nevada STEM Coalition:

The Nevada Department of Education defines STEM:

“STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education focuses on active teaching and learning, centered on relevant experiences, problem-solving, and critical thinking processes.  STEM education emphasizes the natural interconnectedness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and their connection to other disciplines, to produce informed citizens that posses and apply the necessary understandings to expand Nevada’s STEM-capable workforce in order to compete in a global society.”

“… and their connection to other disciplines, …” to me is key. STEM is not just doing science, technology, engineering and math – it is reading, writing, sharing learning, collaborating, discussing and even arguing about outcomes and perceptions (and more). It’s making mistakes … being messy if you will … and then learning from the mistakes and making things work and refining whatever you are working on.

There’s so much more to what STEM is, but what is it to you? This whole STEM piece has been around for a long time … it’s been ignored for a long time as well during the not leaving anyone behind era …. and as we race to the top. But now it is coming back. How can that STEM piece look or what should that STEM piece look like in our schools? How would you answer the question, “What does a STEM school look like?” Are there additions or changes you would make to Nevada’s description of STEM above?

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Messy Learning, STEM | 1 Comment

Being Transparent When Things Get Messy

Last week while I was at our state science and math conference down in Las Vegas, I used Google Hangout and Todaysmeet to participate in a discussion about our book “Making Connections With Blogging” with a group of teachers in San Diego. Adina Sullivan led the video-conference and Lisa Parisi, my co-author,  joined in from New York. This is where the fun began.

Understand that Lisa, Adina and I are all veterans of video-conferencing and sharing in various ways over the net. I had informed Adina that I was having some issues getting online over the wireless connection I was using, and my computer was acting up as well. So as a back-up I planned to use my iPad that has an optional connection over cellular. I explained that if there were any issues to just be patient and I would probably eventually get there. Adina was un-deterred.

I got into my Google + account and it wouldn’t let me get into the Hangout until the exact time came. Note that when connecting over the net I find it is usually a good idea to get in early so there is time to deal with any issues that come up. I was reminded why this is good policy. I noted that there was a chat feature going on and that both Lisa and Adina had left comments … Lisa’s noted not being able to get in early … Adina’s noted some way she was going to have to moderate on her end and included a link to the Todaysmeet chat.

Finally a link to the Hangout appeared and I clicked to join … I was pleased because I was doubtful my laptop was going to cooperate … but it turned out I had doubts for good reason. After a few seconds a white screen appeared where the Hangout should have been and I could tell by the way it looked that it was done doing whatever it does to connect and it wasn’t changing from a white screen. No problem … I’ll just go to “Plan B”. I closed my laptop and started to log on using my iPad. I have only been in a Google Hangout one other time and things looked different on my iPad, so finding just where to go to click on something to join the group was alluding me.

I finally managed to get into the Hangout, but when the images and sounds began I could tell things were not going exactly smoothly. Lisa was apparently walking around her classroom with her laptop dangling and I could hear her commenting faintly … and Adina was there in another box wearing headphones. Once she noticed I was there she welcomed me and about that time Lisa landed and steadied her laptop and we got started … sort of. Adina explained that the teachers in her class were in another room watching on a screen on a computer with no camera … they would just listen and watch the Todaysmeet feed and ask questions that way as well. Adina was in another room to moderate.

Once we started however the other teachers reported that they could not hear me … Lisa and Adina could be heard fine … just not me. Adina is obviously one of those people that can type about 200 words per minute because what she did was transcribe everything I said into the Todaysmeet chat so the teachers in the other room could read it. We went on for over an hour that way. Lisa and I took turns answering questions and sharing our experiences using blogs and more … and it worked.

I’ve had other somewhat similar experiences in my classroom over the years connecting my students. The school’s network dying during a video-conference and me switching to a cell card I had to re-connect and finish the discussion … using a phone to include someone in a Skype call because whenever they joined in over Skype the 5 way conference would crash. And there are others.

I think when these issues arise it is valuable to share them with students. What is wrong … what you are trying … what you are thinking could be causing the problem … and usually stating that you are not really sure what is wrong. I think it is important that students see that when it eventually does or doesn’t work, you didn’t exactly know what to do … you thought and tried things. And also when things get going again … sometimes you aren’t sure what you did (or someone else did) that made it work.  Be transparent. Otherwise I think we risk students getting the message that we knew what to do and why to do it, and the steps to follow, and there was an obvious answer and we leave them thinking they just don’t get that and aren’t smart enough or whatever. Not what we want them believing. This stuff can be messy at times … it’s OK, even valuable for our students to learn that.

Learning is messy!



Posted in Blogging, Brian Crosby, Education, Messy Learning, Podcast, Project Based, Technology, Wikis | 2 Comments

Long Winded Morning

I got to spend the morning Monday in Gardnerville, Nevada, working with elementary and middle school teachers exploring wind energy.


The Carson Range in early morning light, Gardnerville, Nevada.




I was helping Lou Loftin, the Science Facilitator for the Northwest Nevada Regional Professional Development Program (where I’m the STEM facilitator) as he lead teachers through designing wind mill blades that would then be used to lift as many washers as possible a half meter off the ground. Actually leading them is a bit of a reach. It was true messy learning. Participants were given a minimum of direction other than what I mentioned in my last sentence.

There were choices of materials to make the blades – everything from balsa wood to plastic to cardboard and more. This was an example of the ABC’s of science education … “Activity Before Content” – and, just like your students do, the teachers jumped in. Lou did encourage them to plan first – “… draw your design first” – some did. It was all gold as designs were started, changed, augmented … the whole range. After most had made and tried a design we debriefed a bit and then let them get back to it … it was like trying to hold back a stampede … based on their early experience some started over, others trimmed or added to their blade design. The data on how many washers they could lift quadrupled.


Next the group was given a new challenge. Instead of lifting weight … now you have to spin a generator to produce the most electricity possible. I won’t give it away … but let’s just say the old blade designs somehow had to be modified to fit the new task – no one was told that … but it became quickly apparent. Exquisite messy learning.

We ended the morning doing a final debrief and brainstorming extensions to the activities … which became a semester’s worth of hands-on learning without breaking a sweat. A good time was had by all!

Learning is messy!






Posted in Cooperative Learning, Education, Messy Learning | 1 Comment

Writing Experience Made In The Heavens

NASA just announced that the Mars rover Curiosity has made an important discovery. “One for the history books” they say. So what is it? They’re not saying for a week or more. Why aren’t they saying? NBC News,  Space.com,  NPR

Think of the writing pieces your student could experience based on this real world opportunity. Oh, and the research possibilities too. They could write just total guesses based on having no background knowledge of space, the planets, Mars, – just fun (maybe they found Elvis? SpongeBob? Your sock that disappeared in the dryer?) – you get the idea. Students could also conjecture based on their own experience(s). OR they could do some, to a lot of research – what was the original mission of Curiosity? What are scientists looking for on Mars? Why? Why are we spending all this money to send spaceships and rovers to Mars? What other questions fit here?

So based on your research, what do you think the Mars rover Curiosity has found? What makes you think that? – share your sources.

If your students blog they could share their ideas or just plain creative pieces with others… this kind of writing is ripe for getting and leaving comments. But if your students don’t blog there are plenty of quality writing possibilities here. The kind that students might even talk about at home. The kind that get students asking questions or doing their own research just because they want to know more. You really can’t go wrong.

So what do you think Curiosity found? And PLEASE leave other lesson ideas in the comments. This is a great “messy learning” opportunity so go for it!

Learning is messy!

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