Thursday, July 31, 2014

S.T.E.A.M Mini-Conference - The Meek Moose Gets an Education(and a giveaway!)

Yesterday I went to a S.T.E.A.M Mini-conference hosted by the Virginia Association of Science Teachers. Over the course of the day, I listened to a panel discussion on the importance of S.T.E.A.M and attended three break-out sessions.
And what is STEAM anyway?  To put it plainly, take STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and add in the ARTS. So how is that not going to be a thousand times more engaging right off the bat?  I find this appealing personally because I love the arts, and I was really digging on the STEM idea- so now I've got both.
The opening panel discussion featured Rick Davis, the Executive Director of the Hylton Performing Arts Center; Kathi Levin from the National Art Education Association; and Dr. Matthew Cronin from George Mason University. Dr. Cronin's research is about collaboration and how it helps produce creative ideas- his book comes out next year.
Admittedly, at the beginning of the panel discussion I thought I'd be bored.  I can remember these sorts of things from college when we were forced to attend five a year to keep our honors student scholarships.  And out of four years of attending, I only remember the guy from National Geographic who made a mummy out of a body donated to science.  I suppose that really says a lot about me... oh well.  However- I ended up pleasantly surprised by this panel- and came away with some nuggets of inspiration/revelation.
Rick Davis reminded me about a YouTube interview where George Lucas talks about how Language Arts should really be Communication- and all aspects of art techniques should be incorporated in teaching children how to express themselves.  Mr. Davis was talking about how in theater, they have to think about changing typical staging to engage the brain in a new and exciting way- for example, seeing the action at front stage center is "boring".  But when you place things on a diagonal, or in a new pattern- the brain becomes enraptured with the action.
So that really got me thinking about lesson planning and delivery in general.  How do I deliver my lessons?  Am I always in the same space in the same lighting, in the same movement pattern?  Am I putting my students to sleep just by being the way I am used to being- regardless on content?
Kathy Levin brought up a great point about "integrated lessons".  We say integrated- but are they really?  Aren't we still compartmentalizing our teaching to a great degree?  Yes, we did an art project in math class- but did we do it in every area with all subjects and collaborate with other teachers to bring the content to a powerful conclusion?  
If I am working on my Weather Unit, and I teaching weather all day long?  Were all of my language arts (soon to be "Communication" ala George Lucas) lessons about weather of some sort?  Did I do math within those reading and writing moments?  Did the art, or music, or other endeavor utilize all facets of instruction?  Did I go meet with the encore teachers to get their help so that in Art, they were making something related to weather; or in music they were singing weather songs; or in PE they played some sort of weather like game?  No- I don't do that sort of integration.  So I'm thinking, shouldn't I?
Dr. Cronin had an amazing amount to share, and at a certain point I had to give up taking notes because I was missing half of what he was saying.  He said some powerful things about creativity and how collaboration in fact produces a more creative work.  He used the example of bands - we love the band when they are together, and we might even like the music of an artist when he/she decides to begin a solo career- but often we refer to the band when we talk about the impression they made on us as an individual, rather than the solo artist. He gave The Police and Sting as an example.  Both produce(d) great music, but we more often refer to the impact of the band more so than the influence of just the artist by himself.  
And I would agree.  I can name all of the songs by The Police, but I'm struggling to come up with a Sting title, even though I owned many of his solo albums at one time and enjoyed them.  I mean, come on, eveybody- you know that when I said The Police you were all:
And no worries- I linked the picture to the video so you could get your groove on.
And since it just needs to be done- let's not forget - Don't Stand So Close to Me. What? You wanted "Hot for Teacher"? I have standards...sheesh. 
So then the breakout sessions came.  And I had a hard time deciding...
I lucked out in a way that all of these were repeated in the second session, so I only had to give up one of them.  Still though- I need a doppleganger.  Or, it would have been nice if I had other teacher pals with me, as other teams just split up and were able to share with each other after.  But I was flying solo- so be it.
I decided to go to Number Links first.  It seemed the most grade level appropriate for me. Plus- "sensory relevance" caught my eye, since I'm into that sort of thing.  And I walked in to a jam-packed room to see this:
Picture links to her website
I get a bit nervous around costumed people.  Which is awkward at the best of times.  And also weird since my sister is a costume designer.  So I felt realllllllllly anxious when I sat down for this.  Petrified that I was going to be called on for audience participation to juggle coconuts or something. Yes, I realize I'm completely irrational- this is the magic of me.  Ironically, her presentation was on how to eliminate the anxiety in math class that prevents learning by making lessons fun, relevant, and linked to sensory.
I got over my minor disturbance once she started showing slides of how she teaches numbers to kids.  It really got me thinking about how I do Number of the Day.  Traditionally, we just cover all the different ways to make a number in mathematical representations, whether it be by number or picture- but this added a whole new element.
Animals for example for each number.  A Narwhal for the number one.  Insects for six, arachnids for eight, etc.  She also used pictures of architecture to bring in numbers and shapes- the pyramids for the number three, the Pentagon for number 5.  There was also some links to cultural folklore, as the number four was revered by Native American groups in the 4 seasons, or the Nine Dragons of China.  She regularly tweets out pictures she encounters about numbers, so she's worth following if you have a Twitter Account.
I found this to be a powerful way to ingrain numbers in the brain, and a way to also integrate it more all lessons- I just need to be able to remember to make it a habit to stop and note when we cross number patterns when we are reading or investigating though out the day.
 A couple of years ago, one of my bestest buds found me a giant box of Legos at a yard sale for $5.  I had grand ideas at the time of having wonderful Lego lessons.  They sat under a table for a year.  Last year they made it out as a permanent indoor recess tool, and came out maybe twice for a lesson. *sigh* But it doesn't mean I still don't think I should use the Legos more regularly.  So that's why I decided to go to the LEGO League session on the second round.
Now, this is a HUGE DEAL.  And of course, I had no idea about any of it.  I think, at it's core, its a robotics club.  But they have some great real-world problems that they submit to kids to find a solution for- and therefore it's worth looking a tthe archives at the past challenges just to get some inspiration for the classroom.
The first activity we did was to partner up, choose twenty random LEGO pieces and make something together that we thought meant teamwork.  My partner and I made this:
We sort of forgot about the representing teamwork bit when we got excited about created a "hydro-electric powered chair".  So when the presentations rolled around we made up this thing about when you work as a team you have to care about others and create ways to help everyone be successful in a task. See- a B.A. in Creative Writing has not gone to waste.  I know how to BS almost anything.
The rest of the session was about running an after school club.  They totally frightened me from wanting to do it. I think I will stick to my idea of having an after school gardening club instead. However- the idea is not without its merits- I just don't like the idea of having to choose kids and tell other kids they can't participate because there isn't room on the team. #pickedlastingym syndrome haunts me to this day.
I am thinking of looking into investing in this LEGO kit that the ladies suggested for a Junior LEGO League:
picture links to site
This is a WeDo kit meant for lower elementary.  What makes it cool is a software program that you buy to go with it that teaches kids to code using the drag and drop method.  I am taking a coding class on the 19th of August to investigate that Hour of Code deal going on right now.  The kids use the drag and drop software to program their robot, download the instructions into the "brain" and then watch the robot follow their instructions.  This is waaaaaay cool in my opinion.  yes, you can do drag and drop coding in other programs on the computer and tablet- but this makes an actual toy move, which I think would make my seven yearolds go nuts for coding.
If I do this in my classroom as an experiment of sorts- then I can still use the resources on the Lego League site to plan lessons.
This is the challenge group for grades 1 - 3, click to link
My last session was EcoScience + Art with Dr. Changwoo Ahn from George Mason University.
picture links to his site
Dr. Ahn has created a wetlands project on the Fairfax GMU campus, and will be beginning a design project in the fall semester where art students and ecological science students team together to build a floating wetland for the campus pond. This is a collaboration across disciplines that hasn't yet been done on the campus.
I was excited since I took that Wetlands bootcamp earlier this summer and understood what he was talking about.  He had a great sense of humor and was a pleasure to listen to.  He even invites classrooms to come visit his wetland in the Spring so that his students can deliver their presentations to an audience.  I believe he does some work at schools as well to help them develop wetlands.
I had loved wetlands bootcamp, but lost some of my oomph for wanting to start one at my school.  Listening to Dr. Ahn rekindled my interest a bit.
All in all- I feel like I had a great experience at my first S.T.E.A.M event, and am looking forward to learning more and connecting with more teachers interested in the same topics.  I have a lot to think about when I start framing lessons for this year.
And this year is zooming up on me.  I go back on the 18th to get my room ready, teacher days start the 25th, and then the kids walk in on the 2nd of September.  Yikes!  I thought I'd have more time.
What has also zoomed up on me is the TpT Back-to-School Sale - this Monday and Tuesday August 4th and 5th! 
250 × 120
 I'm having a Giveaway for a TpT $5 Gift Certificate for anywhere on the site and a $10 TpT Certificate for my store, so you can load up your cart!  The Sister and I are designing away this weekend like the Eleves and the Shoemaker to create some new packs for everybody. I'm linking up my Sale with JD's Rockin' Readers and Looney's Literacy Blog who are hosting a linky for other folks giving away gift certificates before the big sale.  Be sure to head there too and check out the other sale giveaways!
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  1. Including Arts in STEM is a really great move. I don't believe in a world without the Arts.

    As for The Police, what started playing in my mind was "Every Breath You Take". Either way, we're old ;)

    Thanks for sharing what happened at the Mini-Conference!

    - Lucy

  2. I have dreams of true integration. I fear I was once far closer than I am today and I'm making it a goal this year to get back to it. When kids see the connection between all subjects at once, learning is so much more meaningful and engaging!

    I used to listen to Sting all the time, yet when reading your post I could name exactly zero songs, but had no problem naming songs by The Police even before I saw your videos! Poor Sting!

    Loved your post!

    Mrs O Knows