Year3-Week12: The Value of Pressure in Learning

2018-11-05 STEAMLab_wk12 pressure_12_steam-lab

Year3-Week12: The Value of Pressure in Learning

The original idea was to post at the end of every week something with much more reflection and thoughtfulness than my previous daily social media posts that I had done over the past two-years. I was able to keep to that schedule for the first eight-weeks or so, but have faltered and failed since then. I got very “Ranty” with the last post and really didn’t want these posts to turn into just another online bitch session. That said, the pressure of just doing the job with the additional pressure of writing up a plan that would account for 40% of my assessment as an educator pretty much blanked out any other creative endeavor. Being able to pull the efforts of the past week into a publishable overview/summary really got crushed in the pressure of trying to create a year-long plan that would impact my teacher-quotient, when truthfully, especially over the past two weeks, I’ve been pulling my curriculum out-of-nowhere on the day, and that doesn’t lend itself toward being particularly aligned to some grand design or curriculum alignment.

Given my dependence on technology, which never works the first time out, I never thought that I would literally come up with my lesson within minutes of students arriving in my lab. But I have to say, that I’m relatively happy with my ability to adjust and come up with something creative in the moment. That’s not a skill I wanted to engender, but I guess it’s better than crumbling under the pressure and crying because it didn’t go “as planned.” Speaking of which, yesterday I finished my second run-through of classes using the WeDo robots and while we did a little better than the first group, there’s still a lot that needs to be “adjusted.”

The original plan was to have the students work on the robots for four sessions (four weeks), beginning with a lesson on organizing the parts, then build and program a robot for each session beginning with a “snail” that changed colors, then Milo the Science rover that could be programmed to move forward and backward, then adding a sensor to Milo so that it would stop when encountering an obstacle and finishing with a large rover that could be programmed to scoop up a target object and turn (to the left). Yeah, only a couple of teams bothered to organize their robot kits and almost none built, much less programmed all of the target robots. Admin noted in my last assessment a lack of bringing lessons/units to a conclusion. The original plan was to include a robot-olympics day, like what we did at Full Sail Labs, but four sessions (50 minutes x 4) does not quick measure up to the amount of robot programming time we had when we spent 4 eight-hour days building and program our m-bot robots and then creating presentations to share with parent of the fifth day.

So the adjustment is to have the kits pre-organized, get everyone to build/program and play with Milo the Science rover right away, then build/program the larger moon-base robot for session two and have a robot competition/customizing session(s) for weeks three and four. We don’t have the hours to play that I had at Full Sail Labs, but then at Full Sail Labs we built one robot to run through a series of challenges/exercises, ending with a robot olympics and that is something that we can do with the limited time we have. Also, I’m not going to let them pick their partners and will assign them to work with the seat partners because too much choice is screwing with their ability to get the basic tasks done (something else noted in my last teacher observation!). So, the pressure has been nuts, but I’ve also learned a lot and need to see that these hard fought lessons gets translated into my daily classroom practice(s).

And the one thing that really keeps me going is my students’ creativity and efforts, as demonstrated in the following images:

Year3-Week8: “Classroom Management”

Year3-Week8: “Classroom Management”

The key to school/student/learning success is student engagement
by 24-years experience in the classroom

I should have known that “classroom management” could be a problem for me going all the way back to when I was doing observations/volunteer work as part of my teacher training program back in the early 1990s. I remember it differently, having just looked at the short note my supervisor wrote about my time in his third grade class:

1992-05-15 CSUF Teacher Observation-blurb

1992-05-15 CSUF Teacher Observation-blurb

Maybe it was in some other note that’s gotten lost over the years, but I felt more reprimanded for being “too friendly” and not maintaining enough discipline.

Next time I remember this being an issue was 13-years later, in 2005, during my miserable three-years teaching technology, media and math at a Long Beach Middle School. Whatever strategies I previously used teaching sixth grade, video journalism and technology were undermined because there was no way to balance the table groups with only two female students and a good chunk of the students were returning eighth-graders who had failed the class the year before. That first year the principal stepped in around March when my substitute couldn’t handle the group’s unruliness and it was later determined that five- or six- students shouldn’t have been retained and another 10 (of the 29 students) couldn’t do basic arithmetic, much less the Algebra class’s curriculum. Being the newest staff-member, I had agreed at the beginning of the year to help the principal out and cover this math class (outside my comfort zone) and they turned around and gave me the shit class. That was definitely not a good fit. I seem to remember that I didn’t have this “classroom management” problem with my computer and media courses but this math course was going to be the death of me. The pressure was bad enough that I paused my doctorate program and got sick a lot more frequently than the previous ten-years.

I was never one of those “never smile at them before November” teachers. I tried to be more adversarial when I first started teaching at the middle school and we see how well that went. I also learned much earlier in my career how quickly students tune teachers out who are always yelling. Who wants that? And, contrary to my mother’s opinion, I wasn’t trying to be my students’ friend, as much as I recognized how much more productive positive environments were for learning. I didn’t have the desire or energy to ride my students all the time. During an interview this past year for a coworker working on her doctorate, she noted my “let them explore” passive teaching style. I’m pretty sure that was meant as a compliment.

So, this whole current reflection stems from a comment in a pre-assessment meeting this past week noting the chaos in my classroom that the reviewer felt was unacceptable. Yeah. The comment came after rejecting the “drawing shapes” unit I was doing with my Kindergarten/First grade classes because it’s something they can do in their normal class. Wow. That was awkward and incredibly deflating. But, hurt feelings aside, my professionalism compels me to determine what strategies I can employ to better the experience of my students without resorting to disingenuous attempts to be the behavior police that I am not.

I have been putting so much energy trying to get the curriculum to work that I haven’t put as much energy on some basic items like learning everyone’s name, putting together the seating chart with their images, etc. One positive note, on the curriculum front, I got the name of a district science coordinator, access to some resources and the names of other schools who run STEM programs. So, I’m holding off on resigning… for now.

It’s not like I haven’t questioned what the hell I was doing in the classroom… Hell, even though I was the only licensed educator working in the summer camp/after-school Full Sail Labs programs, there were a few times when I wondered what I was doing with these really talented facilitators. Part of the problem of being the “veteran” is speaking up when stupid shit is proposed and coming off as the negative one. It’s just that they may come up with the ideas, but it’s up to us grunts to make it happen.

Apologies to whomever have read my posts to learn about the cool stuff my students and robotics club is doing. This isn’t one of those kinds of posts (obviously). My journey isn’t any harder or more special than anyone else’s. I just happen to use my writing to try to work through these troubling problems. Had I stayed with the phone company I would be 39-years into the job and probably two or three years from full sit-on-my-ass retirement. Had I gone into journalism full-time, god knows how many publications I would have been fired from and what alley I’d call home. I can’t even begin to entertain a theology-based career.

So, here I am, in my 24th year (eighth week) teaching, still wrestling with student computer logins, trying to create a three-theme curriculum that recognizes the special challenges working with the very different learning needs going from Kindergarten to 5th grade and also Special Needs students, and running the robotics team. I wish I could translate all the cool stuff we did at Full Sail Labs with programming and robotics (and video-making). But even at Full Sail Labs we learned that something got lost when working 1-hour-per-week over 10-weeks versus the concentrated 5-days/40-hours that had been such an incredible experience. This is much more complicated than copying someone else’s curriculum off the Internet. No one knows these kids like I do, no one knows the technology we are working with like I do, and no one can tell me that it’s not working because I’m not doing something right. I’m just not done working on this particular problem.

Thinking about the first 13-years teaching, I generally cranked away on the problems and set-ups, not leaving school until 8 or 9 O’clock. Full Sail, because we taught online, tended to be 24/7/365 and I didn’t take any real vacation time until I had already been there 4-years. So, even though I’m a lot older than when I began this thing, I have to find a way to just get it done, and not get all twisted up because someone else doesn’t understand (or appreciate) what I do. I’m not so important that I cannot be replaced. But it’s been my experience that every time they do, they have to replace me with more than one person. Now to get ready for week nine.


Year3-Week7: Course Adjustments

2018-09-24 STEAMLab_wk07 teacher-training

Year3-Week7: Course Adjustments

2018-09-24 STEAMLab_wk07 teacher-training

2018-09-24 STEAMLab_wk07 teacher-training

I’ve gone on record saying that you make (teaching) plans so that you can pivot and change them based on the circumstances. This was that kind of week. For the past couple weeks I had been running the ragged edge trying to roll out the three thematic curriculum programs for my six grade levels and getting this year’s robotics team up and running. For the robot students, I was getting to school an hour early Monday through Thursday so that they could do their robot builds and begin programming (which they have excelled in!), then staying late to manage the 28 WeDo robot kits and then continuing to work at home on over-due paperwork, calendars and things still needing to get done following my recent move, usually past midnight.

Monday evening my body decided that it had had enough with this schedule and pace and made it impossible for me to be away from the bathroom (to put it delicately). I don’t know if it was bug I caught from one of my sniffling students or something I ate but I was out of commission for two days, deadlines be damned. So, whatever it was that I was going to do this week… I was going to say, “went right in the toilet,” but that’s not a visual I want to think about right now. So, just like that, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s classes are given “Math apps/games” to play in my absence and whatever I had hope to do “evaporated.” Damn. Luckily I was back together enough on Thursday to keep the WeDo robots program on track and begin the four-week cycle with new fifth and fourth grade classes. Small victories.

So, here we are only seven weeks into the new school year and the pressure (mostly self-inflicted) has been enough that my own body betrayed me. Course correction time… or something. As much as I hate the paperwork, the objective-alignments, etc., these required steps push me to be a better educator. I was in an after-school meeting a couple weeks ago where every licensed educator was present learning and role-playing how to better assess the reading levels of our students. I looked around the room at all of these highly educated, mostly veteran educators, breaking things down to the most basic elements of the learning process. I was impressed at the expense being spent by administration to fund this meeting/training and how the general public has no idea of the extent of the effort these professionals are putting into bettering their practice teaching this community of mostly disadvantaged learners. That moment encapsulated the effort being spent to address the learning needs of this community.

Things are nowhere close to where i want them to be as far as my plans for the year, and I’m definitely not physically running on all cylinders, but I love these kids and that’s enough to spend another weekend writing lesson plans and alignment-schemes.

Year3-Week5 & 6: There’s No Place Like Home

2018-09-10_STEAMLab wk05 google-earth_02

Year3-Week5 & 6: There’s No Place Like Home

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I came up with this idea that I wanted to work with Kindergarten & first grade using the theme of “my community,” building on what it’s like to live in North Las Vegas and a child’s almost infinite capacity to create based on the tiniest bits of lived experiences. Week 4 we used Google Earth to virtually visit their homes and I had them tell me one thing that they liked about their homes. They listed everything from dogs to their bed or having their own bedroom, to playing in their backyard. This week I showed them the home I grew up in in Southern California, then we visited some of the homes we didn’t get to visit last week and I had them tell me the one thing they’d like to have in their neighborhood. They listed everything from LEGO-land, to parks and petting zoos, to movie theaters, Olympic pool swim centers and “princess” club houses.

I was hoping that “driving around the neighborhood” virtually, and given all of the undeveloped property around the school, that we could map out the things that we would like to have in our neighborhood, things like big grocery stores or more recreation areas. But that seemed just a bit too advanced for my kindergarteners and first graders. So, for Week 6 I decided to give them the option to build their parks/theaters/rec centers using LEGO or draw something on good ol’ paper and crayons.

I looked for “coloring book” images that I might print-out as a starting point for those who chose the “drawing” option. But I didn’t find anything that I felt would work. I’m pretty sure that I’ll need something more than blank paper to help the Kindergarteners with their illustrations. Several first graders got the idea about what they were supposed to draw, but several were more “general.”

I still hope to figure out a way to “map out” North Las Vegas with some kind of simplified “map” and have my students do some “civic planning” and come up with ideas about what to do with all of the undeveloped lots in the neighborhood. I think that this is going to require many feet of white butcher paper and lots of crayons.

Year3-Week4 – It’s not like it’s rocket science, kind’a

2018-09-04 STEAMLab_wk04 WeDo-kits

Year3-Week4 – It’s not like it’s rocket science, kind’a

2018-19 school year week 4. How do you turn left or right with robots that only have one motor connected to a single axle? Hmmm… I hadn’t thought that about that. I was just so happy that students were completing their builds and the little guys were rolling across the floor to think about programming the little beasties to maneuver across an obstacle course.

Actually, toward the end of their four sessions working with the robots, I wanted to have them do the twister challenge, like what we did at Full Sail Labs. The end of the Robots sessions featured a Robot Olympics with several competitions including a “Twister” game where we would have two opposing robots begin at opposite ends of a twister “field,” spin the color chooser and then program their robot to drive to the color selected. They would win one point for having one-wheel in the colored circle, three-points for two-wheels and five-points for all three wheels. Each team would have three or four turns to hit their targets. But with no way to actually turn the robot, this could be a matter of pointing the robot in the right direction at the beginning of each stage. In the original game you cannot touch the robot during the game, part of the challenge, so programming turns were required to go from colored circle to colored circle. Damn. It turns out that “simplicity” is hard.

Let’s see, I could have two teams work together and combine their robot parts so that they would have two separate motors to program for turns and other maneuvers (at the moment I don’t know if the programming brick would allow for two motors). Or, I could have several pre-built EV3s (that use two motors to facilitate turns) available on the last day for interested students… but that might be too much of a jump from from the WeDo programming system to EV3. Damn.

There really is a huge difference what one can accomplish when you have students working for five to eight hours for five straight days (the summer camp model) versus once a week for only fifty-minutes (the traditional school model). Turns out that a school year of 50-minute sessions is about 31-hours, versus the 40-hours one has to work with for most summer camp programs. Oops. I can’t imagine how irritating it would be to have to start up and then shut down and put everything away every 50-minutes, especially when students get into a building or programming or playing groove. Not cool. But that’s “the best” we can do with the traditional school structure. Ugh. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not something you can be successful at without a lot of planning, with endless unknown variables (like not being able to turn your robot!).

I created the following video back in the robotics summer camp days as part of their end-of-the-week presentation/celebration event. I learned a lot and these kids were great to work with.

In the meantime the K/1st graders are continuing to virtually “drive” around North Las Vegas via Google Earth. A few have figured out that it’s important to know one’s actual address to better get around the simulation. Fourth and one fifth grade class, continue to noisily learn to program in Scratch block programming. Second and Third-graders continue one- and two-finger typing, a few have broken the 11-wpm rating. I’ve been using the Typing bolt website, but I’m not really happy with the “random word” set up that works against building any typing skill in conjunction with English language construction. I’m looking for something to use that can also connect with real word usage and sentence construction. I know my students aren’t anywhere close to this level, but typing speed comes from muscle memory connected with word usage/sentence construction anticipation and you can’t build the anticipation part with random, meaningless strings of words. Again, it’s really not rocket science, but it’s also not random gobbledygook. Year three – week three: robots rolling.




If you are an adult and experience loneliness, society seems to be saying that you’re doing it wrong. Yeah. I have known no greater depth of loneliness than at one point in my marriage when my wife & I just weren’t communicating and much later when I was desperately in love and my lover had retreated to another bedroom in her huge house. And I have felt the greatest love of my life at my going away party at the Eden Bar when I moved away from Orlando surrounded by many of my friends from work, from my skeptics groups and my music buddies who came out my last night in Florida. Managing friendships over the long haul isn’t a simple matter of saying “hi” to those around you when you’re alone. But it probably doesn’t hurt to try.


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We happen to be living at a time when we have almost complete control over what form our social commitments take, with no one in any position to tell us that we’re doing it wrong. It’s a blessing and a curse.

I work with little kids and I love how the video communicates their willingness to just say, “hi” (though I’m certain that there was a level of “coercion” in the part of the video-maker). But I also witness regularly all the drama and hurt feelings because these little one aren’t able to understand the difference between “I can’t talk to you because I need to get this thing done” and “I can’t talk to you because you’re annoying.” So, sometimes it isn’t a matter of just saying “hi” to those who seem to be alone. Of course I’m writing these words at a bar in Downtown Las Vegas surrounded by strangers because I decided that going out on a Sunday night was better than continuing to work on the condo (clearing out all the now empty boxes and setting up the home office… mañana).

When I was online setting up renting a truck for my move, the application asked for the phone number of a local friend that they could use to verify that I was who I said I was. I had to scramble to find anyone who was available at the moment for the verification. In the end the app crashed and I had to work with the truck rental people face-to-face (how primitive & efficient!). It was a painful revelation that after two-years of living in Las Vegas there really wasn’t anyone I could identify as a “best friend” or friend enough to be available at the drop of a hat.

At the same time, after having been in Las Vegas for two-years, this was the first time where this was a problem. Problem or just where I’m at this moment in time.

I really didn’t know anyone in Florida when I moved there in 2008, except Holly, who was my friend and my boss (which presented it’s own set of problems). But, with the 24/7 work-style at Full Sail, I found myself socializing with coworkers and developing friendships much quicker than my previous experiences with public school teachers or my phone company friends. So, I have tried to have more happy hour times with the current crew here in Las Vegas. Alas three friends from the core I met in 2016 have moved away and I found myself dependent on a new friend and her family (whom I hadn’t met) to help me with my move from my apartment to my new condo.

I do have to own-up to being responsible for much of this when I get into this “all work focus because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done” and only break away briefly for a movie night or Monday night football beer night… I did this in Long Beach and I did this at first in Orlando. It really isn’t a matter of just saying “hi” to those around you (I happen to be pretty good about striking up conversations with strangers when alone…), but acknowledging and managing all the different levels of connection and deciding which connections deserve more complete access and which ones are peripheral can be a full-time job all on its own. As always, I can do better at this.



Year3-Week3 – Welcoming Our Robot Overlords

2018-08-27 STEAMLab_wk03 WeDo-kits

Year3-Week3 – Welcoming Our Robot Overlords

2018-08-27 STEAMLab_wk03 WeDo-kits

2018-08-27 STEAMLab_wk03 WeDo-kits

I’ve been wrestling with this problem since coming here in 2016: how to get robots into the hands of all of my students in the best way possible… And I was so excited that I didn’t take any photos/videos of the first class that began working on their LEGO WeDo robots (you know that’s excited!). Last year’s EV3 experiment was not that great because there’s not much you can get done when you only get 100-minutes with a complicated robot. Very few teams got even close to finishing their first and only robot build.

This year we’re working with a less complicated robot with better tutorials, we have 28 LEGO WeDo robots (instead of eight) to share in two classes at a time in groups of two for four 50-minute sessions. So far I’d guess that half got through the knolling (organize your parts) stage and a third finished the first build (the glowing snail) and a few built the second robot, Milo, the rover. Several teams jumped into the build before finishing the knolling process. We will see how they do as the robots get more complicated. It does take some time to organize the bag of parts. I’ll definitely have the kits pre-organized for the third and second graders and maybe for the fourth graders.

Remember when I thought that I might delay the roll-out of the other curriculum or doing a rolling launch across the grade levels? Yeah, not so much. I had kindergarten and first graders using Google Earth to “drive” around the streets of North Las Vegas, began having second and third graders test their computer keyboarding skills with Typing Bolt, and had fourth and the one non-robot fifth grade begin working with Scratch. It was a good week. It was a very good week.

I wonder what Week Four will bring?

Year Three Week Two – The Plan’s First Trial

Year Three Week Two – The Plan’s First Trial

“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, German Field Marshal

I think I scared myself last week when posited the difficulty of teaching a single subject across six grade levels much less five subject areas across said six grade levels. Oops. I feel like Year One had been somewhat torpedoed because I got on campus days before my students and had to learn the new 3D-Virtual Reality computer system and my new school/school district as I was going along. Year Two, I still didn’t give myself enough time to get systems up and running before the school year began, and ran into unexpected problems getting students onto the district’s chosen LMS (learning management system), Canvas. I didn’t travel this past summer, so I was hoping to not repeat last year’s errors.

The beginning of this school year, I was much more aggressive getting student LMS accounts going, but wasn’t given access to my classes (to build the content) until two days ago. That’s a bit of a problem. No worries, week one was about classroom rules and getting students used to logging into the LMS (even if there wasn’t any content for them to use… yet). Week two I decided to have them play a quiz-game based on the rules we’d talked about last week, then practice their LMS login again. Kindergarten and first grade we did the quiz presentation-style with questions on the projector and everyone answering as a group. Then I’d have them play math games on their computers/iPads while I called them up one at a time to practice the LMS login. Second through fifth grades did the quiz as individuals at their computers/iPads. I required that third through fifth grades had to get at least eight out of ten correct or they’d have to repeat the quiz. After the quiz they ran through another LMS login practice then they’d get “free time” to play games on the computers/iPads, LEGOs or Jenga.

I was surprised that I had a lot of second graders complain that they couldn’t read, so they couldn’t do the quiz as individuals. One reason the zSpace 3D-VR curriculum didn’t really work in prior years was because the lessons were dependent on students reading prompts and pretty much all of my students were low in their reading proficiency. I assumed low reading with K & first grade, that’s why we did this activity as a whole class, but somehow that escaped me when I assumed the second graders would be able to do it individually. So, after the first second grade class complained, I made it clear that it was okay for them to work with their neighbors with difficult words and after the quiz we talked about reading strategies.

Here’s a link to the game… see how many of the answers you can guess:

Besides reading levels, there are some fundamental learning differences between early learners and later elementary learners that I wanted to explore. At the end of week one, when I was talking to one of my first grade colleagues and discovered that all science curriculum had been given to the librarian to do, we talked about social studies and the plan for primary grades and all the grade levels jumped out at me:

  • K-1: My Community – maps – community development
  • 2-3: My Business/Career – communication/storytelling
  • 4-5: My World – Programming/Robotics

One of my professors this past summer said that primary students benefit more with exploration driven learning, whereas later elementary learners (third grade and beyond) work better with more guided apprentice-type learning. This week I learned that, even if thematically second is working on the same material as third grade, I should accommodate for lower literacy levels at least for the first couple of months of second grade. I can make that adjustment. Also, I do not have to launch all of these themes across all of the grade levels on the same week, but I can stagger their roll-out so that bugs can be worked out with the more capable students first.

Week two is done. Thirty-five more to go.


Helmuth von Moltke the Elder,, retrieved 2018-08-25

The False Equivalencies Continues… Begins… Whatever…

The False Equivalencies Continues… Begins… Whatever…

So, this showed up in my feed (“Obama Broke the Law First!)…

My response:

Yeah, the 2008 Obama campaign was late filing it’s paperwork, there were some donations over the legal $1,000 limit for individuals and they raised a huge amount, the largest amount of individual donations at the time, and so they were fined over $300,000. It was a civil fine because the FEC, who runs these investigations, determined that the errors were not deliberate and not an effort to hide money. Cohen’s guilty plea was BECAUSE their intention was to hide this illegal campaign contribution… slight difference. You’d think this Jack fellow would know the difference between a Civil action and a Criminal one… or the difference between turning paperwork in late and lying. Maybe not…