Sunday, April 21, 2013

Top 10 Ideas

My top 10 ideas:

10:  Technology is just another tool:  Technology is not the be all and end all of education or teaching.  It is just a tool like the pencil, blackboard and overhead projector.  Technology must be used and implemented with a purpose.  Technology can increase our productivity, expand our reach, open up new worlds and even entertain us.  But, technology in and of itself does not make a compelling learning experience all by itself for very long.

9:  The physical school building and class room are not necessarily the best places to learn:  Tear the roof off and kick down the walls.  Most schools resemble prisons in more than just appearances.  Open up the world for your students.  Let them explore outside the classroom.  Bring the outside world into the classroom.  Build bridges to the world outside your classroom, the world in which our students will live the rest of their lives.  Students can learn a lot from interacting with people outside of school.  Teachers are not the only ones who can teach.

8:  Step back and take a look around.  Lift your head and look around you!  Most teachers have tunnel vision focused on our jobs and our students.  We need to force ourselves to step back reflect and observe the world outside our schools if we truly want to make our schools a better place to learn and work.  The industrial revolution is over.  The factory model has to change.

7: We can't teach in isolation: But most of us do!  Teaching is a lonely profession.  Most of us are isolated in our own little classroom usually a 30' X 30' space with 20 to 30 students and very little interaction with other adults.  We may eat lunch with other teachers but it's a 20 minute choke it down lunch.  When do we get to talk with other professionals in our own profession let alone talk to people in jobs outside of education or experts/specialists in the fields we teach.  Never, hardly ever?  We need to find time to get out and learn from others and recharge our own batteries.  

6: Make it real:  Relate it to the real world.  Kids can see through the act.  They need to know why they are being asked to learn something and the value it holds to them. Have your students focus on real problems/questions and new designs.  Let them own the process.

5:  The Hook:  You get about 10 to 15 seconds to get their attention.  If you don't it is going to be a long semester.  You have to have something the is going to grab their attention and give them some kind of a real interest in what you are teaching.  A problem or a task that grabs their attention and is repeated periodically through out the class to keep them focused on the outcome.

4:  Creativity; The key to keeping their attention:  Creating and designing a solution to the problem. (or related to the hook) is the way to keep their attention.  When students are allowed to design and create their own solutions to the problem they become captivated by the process.  They do the reading, they do the research, they do the writing and they create and design their own solutions to the problem.  The problem/product or question needs to be real. Not something made up for the class without a real application or demonstration.

3:  Public performance as the test:  Students need to be able to present their work in a public forum.  The teachers in box provides anonymity.  It's to easy to hide the garbage.  Provide students with a public forum to present their work.  Either a digital portfolio or a live audience.  My students work has improved dramatically since the whole world is watching.  

2: Take a chance / Opportunity:   To often we let opportunities pass us by.  Take a chance.  Try something new.  I'm so glad I did.  Know one in their right mind would agree to take 10 students have way around the world to search for missing airplanes from WWII, would they?

1: Passion:  Follow your passion.  The kids can see through people going through the motion pretty darn fast as can everyone else.  If your not loving it maybe you should find something else to do.  You'll never become financially rich teaching but I am happy sharing my passion for underwater robotics, World War II history and searching for missing aircraft.  Just think all this because of one phone call from someone else thinking outside the box.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

2 Minute Moment 3

2 Minute Moment #3

The BentProp Project

Two minutes really isn't enough time to explain why this is a compelling experience for me.  As I stated in the video, before becoming a teacher I sent 20 years in the Army.  As a sergeant in the Army I was responsible for taking care of soldiers.  I feel that the U.S. has an obligation to take care of its military men and women.

All of us who enter the military know that we may be called upon to risk our lives.  That comes with the territory.  But, we also expect not to be left behind on the battlefield.  We expect that our buddy's will continue to fight for us and look for us if we become separated from our unit.  We hope that our country will honor its commitment to us and if we are lost or captured fight for our return.

I've been a member of the American Legion since Desert Storm and while the Legion is a veterans organization.  I feel that they spend the vast majority of their time lobbying congress and are not completely focused on the plight of POWs and MIA's.  What the Legion does is important but I wanted to do more so I joined the BentProp Project.

I feel that the mission is compelling.  To search for missing airmen in the Palau Islands.  While it is demanding and challenging work it is also rewarding.  I'm able to use my former military skills and training in a positive manner.  The work is ever changing and rarely boring.  Plus I get to scuba dive and work in some potentially dangerous and exciting situations.  Something I miss in my new career as a teacher.  The chance to travel and work with like minded individuals is also part of this experience being compelling.

The chance to spend time with WWII veterans and their families is also compelling and touching.  Just last week a 90 year old WWII veteran contacted me at school.  He was a B-24 pilot during the war and flew off of Anguar Island in Palau.  He heard about our work in Palau and he asked about a former pilot and friend of his who he watched get shot down over Koror, Palau in 1944.    The question he asked were the greatest questions all week in school.  The pilot he mentioned is in our records and I've actually seen part of his wrecked B-24.  We are still searching for members of that crew.

Being in BentProp is sometimes explained as kinda like being in an Indiana Jones movie.  

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Imaginative Bridges 12 - "Fashion"

Imaginative Bridges 12 - "Fashion"

Fashion creates a sense of belonging and of fitting in.  Most people and especially students want to fit in and be part of the group.  Dressing like others in the group makes you look like you fit in and helps to make you feel like part of the team.  You need to look the part to fit in and every team has a common uniform of sorts.

You see this in schools all the time.  Hell I think some kids join certain teams just so they can wear a jersey on game day.  High School Football is a prime example and certain classes within the school have adopted this same idea with varying degrees of success.   I've coached high school sports since I started teaching and most years the biggest decision the team makes it the design of the team Tee-shirt.  More kids are concerned about that than the sport itself.  They want and need to belong to something and the team Tee-shirt gives them that feeling of belonging, even if they never get to play meaningful minutes in the game.

You also see this with certain classes.  Yearbook, journalism, choir and others.  These classes become a team of like minded individuals and the shirt is their uniform and it gives them a sense of belonging.  You usually don't see this with the core classes though. Although before AP classes became a common occurrence/commodity in our curriculum I saw an AP calculus teacher try it.  Of course back then only about 8 or 10 kids a year would be in the class and it really meant something to be in the class.  Now most of our AP classes are dumping grounds for the above "c" students because our curriculum and class offerings have been gutted do to budget cuts.  Enough of the rant.

Kids want to belong to something that means something and gives them a sense of belonging and fitting in.  This is hard to create in core curriculum.  But, as I mentioned above certain elective classes do offer that feeling and sense of belonging.  I've tried to create that with my classes as well.  We do have a team shirt.  We wear it for pictures and use it as a marketing/give away item to thank people who have helped us out.

Team photo post card sent as a thank you note to our supporters

It doesn't even have to be a common Tee-Shirt as shown above it can be a way of dress.  Our class is often called on to give public presentations.  So dressing up to present as a group can also give a sense of belonging.  Getting kids to dress up is a little easier for girls I've found then for the guys.  But, eventually they begin to get with the program and dress up to be part of the team.  

Robotics class dressed up for an evening presentation at Sam's Tours
Creating a compelling educational experience with the help of fashion is possible.  In many ways.  First is creating the common team feel.  But it can also be in the design of the team shirt or uniform.  The main thing is that the students want to feel as if they belong and fashion can be away to make that happen.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Imaginative Bridges 11 - "Holding and Keeping Their Attention"

Imaginative Bridges 11 - "Holding and Keeping Their Attention"

When designing a compelling educational experience or class the "hook" is not enough.  Your "hook" will draw them in and give the students something to focus on but it is probably not enough to keep them focused for a week let alone a whole semester.

Students need to know where you and they are going.  They need to see the big picture and how it relates to them and their future.  How do we do that?  I start with the goal in mind and I show that to them early and often.  For my advanced underwater robotics class the goal is to design, build, test and then deploy and ROV 8,000 miles to the other side of the Pacific Ocean and then use it to search for missing aircraft from World War II.  A complex task for most adults.  I know.  I've done the same thing in the military and it's not easy, nor is it impossible.  The kids start from scratch.  A pile of parts and no funding.  They then come up with a plan to build the ROV and raise the funds to complete the project.

The target - Sonar image of our target
The "hook" or ROV is brought into the conversation everyday.  But, by the end of the class that is the smallest part of the whole class project.  It then becomes about raising money.  Then it is about testing their design in the pool.  Then it is about getting the word about their project out to the public and potential funders, then it becomes about the airplanes we are looking for.  And, then it becomes about the missing men and their families.  
Karly showing U.S. Ambassador to Palau Helen Reed-Rowe the view captured by the ROV.

In the end it is a huge accomplishment for these students to run this entire project with "NO" funding from our school district.  They get much more out of it than how to build a robot.  Hell we do that the first day of class as the initial "hook" to get them interested.  

Imaginative Bridges - 10 "The Hook"

Imaginative Bridges - 10 "The Hook"

The "Hook" is just as important to teaching as it is to music.  The teacher must develop a "Hook" to quickly grab the students attention.  We need something to draw the students into our lessons and our classes.  My hook is the robot.  I use it to draw students in and to keep their attention.  As you can see by my Venn-Diagram below it is the center of everything I teach and everything is related to the robots.

When presenting my projects, even before this class I have described the robots as the "hook" that draws the students in.  The class becomes about much more.  But, you've only got about 10 minutes at the beginning of the semester to grab their attention or you're going to be fighting to get it for the next eighteen weeks.

So, I grab their attention with the robot.  Then it becomes about the projects, and then finally it becomes about the outside world.  Whether that be the missing airmen we are looking for, meeting the president of a foreign country or a U.S. Ambassador.  The robot is the hook which allows me to teach even more than the STEM topics.  They learn about the politics or the Pacific Rim, World War II history, marine biology, oceanography and last week one of my students earned a paid internship at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and another earned a $10,000 competitive scholarship to study marketing at
Northwood University.

It all starts with the "Hook."  But, then the real work begins.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

2 Minute Moment Project -School Fundraising

2 Minute Moment - School Fundraising

In this 2 Minute Moment video Jenny talks about what it is like to participate in school fundraising activities.  Jenny has been responsible for leading our marketing and fundraising team that has raised in excess of $60,000 over the last two years for her high school robotics team.

When talking about the less compelling activities she talks about the typical bake sale type fundraiser which is typical in our school district and many others.  In our school a lot of classes try to raise funds for classroom materials or field trips.  The photos used in this section are from our government class.  They are trying to raise funds to visit the local jail.  It will cost the class $30 per student for this field trip or about $900 for the entire class of 30 to go.  During the day we photographed them selling puppy chow snack mix in the cafeteria they made $30.

Jenny explains that these fundraising activities are looked on by the students as a chance to get out of class first and a fundraising activity second.  They have become so common place that a different group is trying to sell something almost every day.  The students end up sitting at the front of the cafeteria waiting for other students to purchase what every they are selling and very little effort is put into the activity by the sellers or the purchasers.

Jenny describes her movie night activity as a compelling fundraising activity.  She says that all of the students are involved and engaged in the activity.  They spend more time planning the activity and the activity is conducted after school and involves the whole community.  The movie night she is describing is a screening of the documentary "Last Flight Home."  It is about the BentProp Project and the search for and recovery of American MIAs in the Palau Islands.  Jenny and her marketing team obtained the rights to show this documentary from the films producer Dan O'Brien.  The screenings are heavily promoted by Jenny and her team of student marketers.  They ask for a donation of $5 at the door and offer snacks for sale during the event.  At the last movie night they also held a silent auction.  Planned and conducted by the students.  On this evening they spent the same amount of time (90 minutes) as the above mentioned government class did.  The results however, were much different.  Jenny and her team raised over $3,000 in the same 90 minutes.  Not only was the activity much more engaging for the students participating in the fundraising.  It was also much more enjoyable for their customers/donors. And much more profitable too.  

The key to making it a compelling experience is getting everyone to buy in.  The students, the teacher and the community.  Too often we as teachers fall back on the old staple the "bake sale."  I'n not sure if it is worth the time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Immaginative Bridges - 9

Immaginative Bridges - 9
Using video in the high school robotics class

I've always wanted to make videos with my students and I've tried several times prior to this semester but the results were usually poor.  It was not the students fault.  It was do mainly to poor quality equipment and my lack of ability to make the old out dated equipment work properly.  I know I needed to fix this so this fall I wrote a grant to obtain a Macbook Pro to use in editing video and I set aside some of my robotics budget to buy newer video cameras for use on land in addition to the ones we use underwater on our robots.

I've learned quite a bit while making these short videos for CEP 882 and I wanted to get my students into the act as soon as possible and before we left for Palau.  One of my goals for this year was to create a short documentary about our project.  I think that may now be possible.

We purchased the new Macbook Pro three weeks ago and my students have used it just about every day to edit videos shot in class and to make videos introducing the class to all their followers on Facebook before our Expedition to Palau.  I would like to share some of these with you here:

We have also been fortunate enough to receive two brand new "Hero3, Black Edition, Cameras" from GoPro.  GoPro donated these for our upcoming trip.  

This video was prepared by one of the members of our engineering team using a GoPro camera and the new MacBook.

This video was posted to our team's Facebook page and ended up being liked by almost 2,000 people and being shared 50 times.  

We also created team introduction videos.  We created one for the engineering team and one for the marketing team.  These videos both ended up helping us quite a bit.  We learned last week the "The Discovery Channel" would be creating a short feature presentation about our project for one of their shows called "Daily Planet."  We used these videos to introduce the producer to our students and based on these videos she was able to set up interviews for tomorrow with my students.  "The Discovery Channel" will have a film crew in Palau to video tape my students on March 26-27, 2013.  Based upon last years trip we all ready know the film company "Roll'em Productions.  Roll'em is owned by an American expatriate formerly from East Lansing, Michigan.  He spent time setting up interviews with the local media in Palau last year.

Here are the introduction videos created by my students in class:

I think that the use of video has enriched my class and helped to create are more compelling educational experience.  Through the process of creating videos my students have been given another way to express themselves and to show others what they have leaned in this class.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Tale of Two Spaces
Two Retail Hardware Stores

For this module I visited two hardware stores.  The funny thing is that at one time both of these stores were owned by the same family and had the same name, yet the experience of visiting both stores was dramatically different.  

The first hardware store is in an older store front in a small village.  From the outside it appears to be a quaint little store, freshly painted in bright, victorian colors.  The store front has large windows in the front which allows for plenty of natural lighting.  The doorway to enter the building has a freshly hand painted sign.  The side walk is wooden and worn.  It looks well used.  Upon entering the store the appearance is much different.  It is not neat and clean as the outside suggests.  It is however vary interesting.  Antiques and memorabilia from days gone by is hung high on the wall.  It makes me think that I may be able to find anything in here even repair parts for my older home.  

Next I notice the floors which are wooden and squeak with each step.  They are worn, wooden and probably original, yet dirty.  Dirt tracked in by do-it-yourselfers, carpenters, electricians and all sorts of hands on workers who could careless as long as they find that need piece of hardware.  The lighting is patched together and old.  The store was built before electricity was available in this farm town.  The large store front windows provide lots of natural lighting which is supplemented by crudely hung electric lights which seem to be an after thought.  This leaves the back areas of the store darker than the front.  What could possibly be hidden in the back?

The store is stocked with all of the fasteners, and pluming and electrical supplies that any do-it- your-selfer or farmer may need.  The isles are close together and it makes me feel as if the owners have tried to use every bit of space possible for merchandise.  

In the front of the store, on that old wood floor is a wooded table and four wooden chairs,  this is a meeting place for some of the locals and place to work.  

The second hardware store I visited was a much different experience.  Modern, and recently built, located on the edge of town on a busier road.   The entryway was different, it was not only more modern but it was steel and glass and the glass on these double doors was the only natural light in the building.

Upon entering the store I first noticed the bright fluorescent lights.  The store was clean and recently rearranged.  In front of the door was a common area for the display of seasonal items, gardening equipment, picnic tables and garden/flower seeds were the first thing I saw and it made me wish it was spring.  The new set up of the store forces customers to walk past the seasonal items, tools and nice to have items before getting to the real hardware at the back of the store.  The isles are wide and the displays are brimming with products.  This store is built for quick shopping and an easy in easy out experience.

The design of these two spaces creates two different shopping experiences.  The first is an old time hardware store that encourages the shopper to slow down, ask questions, have a seat and talk about what is going on in town. The second is built for through put.  Quick in and out shopping with easy to find products and convenient shopping. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Immaginative Bridges - 8 "Space"

How do we create a compelling space for learning and teaching?

After completing the readings I doubt that much thought went into the design of my school or classroom by the folks who designed the school and made the budgetary decisions when the school was built.  And, I now not that much thought has gone into the upgrades and upkeep since then.  The number one concern then and now is money.  Our school was built on the factory model of education.

Not much different than a prison.  And, yes I actually worked in an office that was in located in the former state prison in Jackson, Michigan before it was turned into a National Guard Armory.  Although, the Army National Guard gave me more leeway in choosing how I painted the walls in my office than my current school district allows me.

The school has exposed building material too.  Bricks, that is.  Standard 8"X6"X4" cement blocks painted either white or blue.  A 30' X 30' square room with a chalkboard at the front flanked on each side by a 4' X 4' bulletin board and don't forget the 1' X 1' tile blocks on the classroom floor and the 5' X 5' blocks in the hallways.  Each classroom was designed to hold 30 students and 1 teacher.  All student desk are facing forward towards the chalkboard and the teachers desk.  Regardless of how you rearrange your room during the year after the custodians and maintenance crew finish their summer cleaning it will magically reappear this way in the fall before the start of the school year.

So how do we create a compelling space for leaning and teaching?

It's left up to the individual teacher to best make this bad design fit into his or her teaching style.  Some still look like they did when the school first opened in December of 1976.  Others have changed to meet the needs of technology.  Our former typing room is now a computer lab.  Set up basically the way it was when I went to school their in the 1970's.

Others have be reconfigured to break the standard mold but most have not.

In a perfect world those building the school would listen to the teachers and students and create a space designed for learning.  Not for production.  Although my fear is that  the common core and more standardized testing are leading us to use this factory model school to create TEST TAKING FACTORIES.  Yes it's that time of year again.  ACT/MME Testing at my school next week.

The "STAR" Effect

Just to wrap up our look at the bridges between Television and Film and education I would like to mention how the stars of theses shows and sporting events compel people to watch, participate or emulate their behavior.

This is something I feel we may be able to replicate in while trying to create compelling educational experiences as well.  Our younger students tend to look up to our older students and they some day want to be like the older students.

We have tried to leverage that in our robotics program  in Stockbridge.  My high school students routinely work with elementary and middle school students and classes.  The younger kids love to work with the older students and believe it or not the high school students enjoy sharing their knowledge with the younger students and it's not just the girls.  The guys in my robotics class get a lot out of working with the younger students as well.  Both groups of students are able to learn quite a bit through this.

This week our Elementary teachers asked if we could help their students build a claw for their competition underwater robot.  So we decided to teach a group of their students to build the claw and have them return to the elementary school and teach or show their peers how to build their own.

High school robotics students demonstrating robotic gripper(claw) with wrist joint

High school students working with elementary students to build gripper

Elementary students building gripper with wrist joint

Hard at work.  This went on for 3 hours during my high school robotics class and then carried over into my accounting class.

The elementary students took pictures on their IPad and made videos of this process on their Ipad so they could relay the information back to their classmates.

Heritage Exploratory Academy video of gripper demonstration

By having high school, middle school, and elementary school students work together on similar, complimentary projects we can leverage this "Star" effect to the benefit of all students.

The younger students love learning from the older students and the older students can demonstrate their knowledge my teaching someone else.  In this case my high students learned how to build a gripper and improve the grippers performance by adding a wrist joint.  They built their own and installed it on their ROV.  Then they taught the elementary students how to build the same gripper and wrist joint.  The four elementary students went back to their classroom and taught their teacher and classmates how to build a gripper and wrist joint.  That is project based learning and cooperative learning at its best.  Not to mention a multiage classroom.

The elementary students showing off their completed gripper with wrist joint before heading back to Heritage Elementary school.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Imaginative Bridges - 7

Film and Television.

The pacing of the images used in my video helped to create interest and suspense.  I teach in a 90 minute block.  Much to long to lecture.  Plenty of time for large projects.  The key to using and managing in the block is to chunk it up into smaller bite size pieces.  Then push the pace to keep the kids interested and wanting the next piece of the puzzle.

On another note.  Today is Presidents day.  Yesterday one of my students messaged me and asked if I could let him and 3 other students into the school to work on their robot.  He said that this week was spirit week and he new they wouldn't get a lot done with all the distractions and they wanted to have the frame rebuilt before our next pool test.  He reminded me that we only have 31 days left before we leave for Palau.

How many teachers get calls like this?  Not many.  Kind of cool.  So what compelled these students to want to come in on their day off?  I would like to think it is our project.  More than likely it is a combination of the the project and a great work ethic.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Compelling Video

PATH TO PALAU (My Compelling Video)

I was trying to create the sense of adventure.  The hardest part was making it fit into a 30 second package.  I thought I had a great one but it was a minute and nine seconds long so I ended up redoing the video several times to shorten it up.  The first seen is almost in black and white.  The dive boat heading out of Malakal harbor in Koror, Palau as the adventure begins.  Then I move to scenes on the boat with my students and their guides.  Once again each one of these clips were cut down.  I tried to keep it moving along without losing to much of the sense of adventure as I edited.

The titles that I used to transition are not up long enough.  I almost wonder if I should have removed them rather than shorten them?

I added some stock sound from "IMOVIE"  it seems to go with the plot of the video.  I feel like I created the sense of adventure.  My hope is that this can be used to get my students motivated to edit and display more of the video we have taken in class.  Just this week we shot over 3 hours of video.  How do we edit it to share project????

I actually loved this project.  This is what I've been after my students to do for the last six months.  In all fairness to them our school computers are garbage.  But, they will not have that excuse much longer.  We received a $2,500 grant from Touchstone Energy this week to buy a new laptop and that is what I used to create this video.  I've used PC's since the early 1980's and this is really my first experience with  a MAC.  I should have made this switch years ago.  I was able to create this "IMOVIE" and learn the software and computer in about three days.  My students are going to love it.  My tech director will pitch a fit though because I bought it outside her system and I'm not letting her touch it to install all the crap they have on the school computers.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Revised 2 Minute Moment Project #1

Revised 2 Minute Moment Project #1
Public Speaking

The Nature of the Experience. 

I feel public speaking can be a very compelling experience for myself and my students.  I also hope to make it compelling to the audience.  I feel the beginning of this video/presentation is not compelling because it sounds like it is going to be just list of facts and events without much feeling behind them.  The first part was even hard for me to deliver because it was the same old information about the project we have told for the past year and a half.  We had to use it to set the scene or give the background necessary for people to understand the second half in context. 

In the second part of the video/presentation I try to make it more compelling by interjecting more feeling and more personal details about the Expedition to Palau and what my students accomplished.   The second or more compelling part of the presentation made me feel proud of our accomplishments and I could see and feel the audience being drawn into the story.  

The Design of the Experience.

Some background first, this was an ignite presentation.  The format required us to give a five minute presentation with 20 slides and the slides were set to transition automatically without any control by the speakers.  If you haven't given this type of presentation before you should give it a try.  It was fun.  

I narrowed this 5 minute presentation down to 2 minutes for this project.  I kept the beginning of the presentation which is basically and introduction to who we are and how we got started.  Just the facts so to say.  We have said those words over 20 times in public and we are beginning to say them with little feeling and it is starting to show. Thus the first half is less compelling to me as a speaker and to the audience.  For this project that is what I wanted for the first half.  

For the middle I placed a slide from the presentation that explains our mission in text format.  Not very compelling either. 

The second half of the presentation is the part that is more compelling to me as a speaker.  I tried to show this by emphasizing the personal side of the story.  The photos in the background are also more interesting to look at but it is the heartfelt story that makes this part compelling.  I feel proud to tell this part of the story and how this experience changed me and my students.  

I used the same camera and setting because I feel that we have to be able to tell a good story.  Sometimes we have very little control of our speaking venue and our audience.  We present where we are asked to present and we make do with the equipment and the room.  But, the story has to come from the heart and draw people in both visually and as a personal heartfelt story.

I feel the key to transforming a presentation into a compelling presentation is being able to tell a personal, heartfelt story and relating this to the audience in a way that they to can feel a connection to the story and the speaker.  It was my intent to show this with this video project.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Imaginative Bridges - 6

I still keep coming back to the idea of having a real demonstration of proficiency in front of a real audience.

Thursday my students took their ROV to the Chelsea pool and were testing it's performance and conducting drivers training in preparation for our up coming Expedition to Palau in March.

This was supposed to be a routine day of practice at the pool and it turned into much more.  The pool was busy and their were alot of younger children at the pool for swimming lessons and some home school students were their for the open swim.  Our practice session turned into a chance to tell our story.

One thing we have tried to do through out this project is to get my students out in public and have them tell their story this was an impromptu opportunity to do just that.  I have also tried to have them teach younger students in our district about ROVs and include them in this project and this was just another opportunity to do that. I guess they still call them teachable moments but they are compelling watching the students interact with adults and then younger students.  Being able to teach others about the project really shows how much they have learned over the past year.  More then any standardized test could hope to accomplish.

Imaginative Bridges - 5 (Film and Television)

Film and Television.

Can we use the same methods that film and television directors use to hook our students?
Can we use these methods to create a compelling experience for our students and our classrooms?

Hopefully yes.

How do we set the scene for our classrooms and our students?  The typical first day of high school class is usually filled with administrative dribble and classroom rules.  NOT COMPELLING, for me as a teacher or for my students.

Can I get them focused on something compelling in the class right at the start of class and forego the administrative trivia, that's my hope for this semester.  This semester I sent my students all of the administrative forms, syllabus, assignments, projects and directions before the class started and asked them to read them ahead of time and to drop the class if they were unwilling or unable to participate fully in the class and the underwater robotics competition.  This includes missing several days of school and their other classes.  An overnight trip to Alpena on a Friday and a Saturday for the Great Lakes Regional ROV Competition and possibly a trip to Seattle in June after school is out should they be successful in the Regional Competition.

I also set the grading standards for an "A" specifically high.  In order to get an "A" in the class they must qualify for the International ROV competition by placing 1st or 2nd at the Great Lakes Regional Competition and they must attend the Great Lakes competition in order to receive a "C" or high in the class.  This tends to weed out those who are not serious about being in the class.  The Great Lakes Regional Competition includes teams from Michigan and Ohio.

I started this class by showing the following video talking about the competition.

This video shows the 2012 MATE International ROV Competition and shows the students what to expect in the coming months.

I did this to focus the students on the COMPETITION.  Not on the school work.  I want them to focus on the mission and how they will show that they have met the expectation of the class.  They will do this by demonstrating their proficiency at the Great Lakes Regional ROV Competition and the MATE 2013 International ROV Competition.  I want the students to form an emotional attachment to the competition.  To their ROV and their TEAM.

Once I had them hooked I talked about the school work.  The project and class has four major assignments.
1.  Design, Build and Operate and ROV.  Then use it to complete the 2013 ROV Competition.

2.  Prepare a poster presentation.

3.  Prepare and deliver an oral engineering presentation to a group of engineers.

4.  Complete and submit a twenty page technical paper explaining your design.

The 2013 Great Lakes Regional ROV Competition will be held on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Alpena, Michigan.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Imaginative Bridges - 4

What makes high school sports teams a compelling experience?

In addition to teaching, I am also a high school coach. I coach wrestling and soccer.  Sometimes I wonder why can't we get the same kind of enjoyment out of classroom experience as we do out of our athletic events?  I think we can.  It just takes a change in teaching methods and strategies.

So, what is different?

1.  Time.  The kids who are on my athletic teams spend much more time working together than they do with their classmates in their academic classes.  We practice 2 to 3 hours a day after school and then we have game days either after school or on Saturday which gives us more time together.

2.  Team Work.  Real team work.  Not working in partners in class on book work or some made up simulations.  Real teams of interdependent personnel working together for a common goal.  We are all in it together win or lose, Athlete and Coach.  Not so much for student and teacher in most situations I'm sad to say.

3. An Audience to perform for and a real mission.  On the athletic practice field we know we will eventually be competing in public and our success and/or failure will be out their for everyone to see.  Not so with most academic work in the high school.  It all happens behind the closed doors of our classroom and most of our students work is never seen by anyone.  Failures and successes remain hidden and the consequences and/or victories remain hidden behind closed doors.

4.  Parent Involvement.  Parents talk to me more about their children's participation in athletics than their participation in school.  I have more parents show up for athletic events then school events and parent teacher conferences.  I have had more parents ask me why their child is not starting in a game then I have had ask me why their child is struggling in class.  May be it's just me but most of my teacher/coach colleagues have expressed the same sentiments.

5.  Resources.  We have athletic booster who help to raise funds for sports teams.  At the high school level fund raising for academics is left up to the teachers.  It appears that in the elementary schools the PTA/PTO or Parent Teachers Association or Organization's attempt to raise funds to help get resources into the classroom.  Not so at the high school level, at least where I work.  We replace athletic uniforms and equipment more frequently than we replace obsolete classroom equipment and resources.

As I put together my Advanced Underwater Robotics Classes I have kept this in mind and I look for every opportunity to make it as public as possible.  The class functions more as a team than a traditional class and our successes are shared with everyone.

The things I think about to and from wrestling meets........

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Imaginative Bridges - 3

While working on the 2 Minute Moment Project I began to think about several bridges.  I think most of us teachers hope to create a compelling educational experience for our students and most students would like to spend their day engaged in something truly compelling or worth while.  We work in a less than perfect environment to make that happen though.  We really have very little control over who are students are and in most cases the students have very little control over which classes and teachers they are paired with (or stuck with depending upon how you look at it).  We work in schools with sparse resources and some work in communities that are economically disadvantaged.  Yet some teachers are able to make it happen.  Most of us have those ah ha moments from time to time that keep us going, hoping that they happen more frequently,  and closer together.  That is one reason I took this class.

How do I make all of my classes compelling and more engaging.  How do I make them more like the experiences I've been having with my Advanced Underwater Robotics Class, my Underwater Robotics Class and my Robotics class.  I have had compelling moments in other classes but they are usually few and far between.  So, how do I know it's compelling?  Both the students and I care about the topic.  We want to keep pursuing it even when the class is over.  Students want to come in during their lunch period and continue working on it while eating their lunch.  Students want to come in before and after school to work on the project or class and not just for a grade.  Actually grades are the least of anybodies concerns on these types of compelling experiences.  It's about the project or mission that the class is working on and "WE" become totally immersed in it.

What keeps you awake at night?  When I'm involved in a compelling experience it does.  Not bills, not lesson plans or grades, not taking the garbage out.  The experience does.  I'll wake up thinking what it we change this? or why don't we try that?  How do I get the kids to do this?  Can I get them there?  It becomes a totally engaging experience.

For me this sweet spot in education or the "compelling experience" is more about the experience than the individual subject.  It is the center of the storm or activity.  It's hard to get excited about preparing a budget and a price list or talking about buoyancy with out context.  Most of my less compelling experiences are taught in isolation.

This is one way that I like to explain it:
We have traditionally taught high school and college like this:

Each individual subject all by itself with very little interaction with the other subjects.  Much the same way we have since the 1800's.

It's my belief that the compelling educational experiences' I've had have happened in a classroom or situation that more resembles the Venn-diagram below:

In my classes the sweet spot at the center of everything is the STEM Project.  I base everything around one big project and try to tie it together through out the class.   So, while public speaking may not be what the students want to do they do it as part of the overall project and they have a stake in it.  They live the project and in order to keep living the project they learn to speak in public and the better they get the easier it becomes and they see this a may to share their work and raise money to continue their project.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

2 Minute Moment Project #1

This is my first attempt at creating a video.  I used a video of an ignite presentation my students and I gave in August and re-edited it to describe a compelling experience.

How do you make public speaking compelling and interesting?

The video starts out like just another talk at any professional development type conference.  You start out by thinking O.K. here is just another story.  I hope that in the second part of video it becomes more compelling as I talk from the heart about my students experience in Palau last spring.

Once again the subject is public speaking.  I feel that my students should be able to present their ideas in public.  Giving a presentation in class is one thing.  But to have to speak in front of a group of adults and make them listen is something completely different.

Having a real audience and talking about something that you have experienced and care deeply about helps to make the experience more compelling for both the audience and the speakers.

Over the last year my students have given over 25 presentations outside of our classroom and school.  The video here is an example of how we start out early in the school year.  I usually present with them to help them get started and to give them a crutch to lean on.  They know if they struggle I will bail them out, so to speak and help smooth it out.

As the school year progresses the students take over more and more of the presentation.  Eventually all I do is introduce them and wait for the end of the presentation to help them answer questions (those specific to the teaching of the class).  The students answer the questions about the project.

As I stated at the beginning this is the first time I've ever edited video.  My students normally do it.  But, this time I did it all on my own using windows movie maker.  I'm looking forward to our future 2 Minute Moment Projects.  I have some great video that I would like to edit going forward and I feel I can eventually make a compelling video of our project.

Imaginative Bridges - 2

The graphics and photography module has a direct bridge towards creating a Compelling Educational Experience in the classroom.  In today's mass produced education we are forced to do more with less and to cover a curriculum that is sometimes a "Mile Wide and an Inch Deep."  In such an environment it is hard to do much more than gloss over or introduce a topic.  In this module we looked at focusing on one object, simplifying and/or getting rid of the clutter.

In the photography module we also changed the photographs perspective to create interest.  Changing the camera angle or the photographers position often created a better photograph.  The same can hold true in the classroom.  Rather than directing from the front of the classroom to a row of desks we can change the arrangement of the room to get different interactions from our students.  We can move our selves into the class and work with teams of students to discover new things rather than lecture from the front filling our students with lots of testable facts.

Working together and creating new knowledge, a knowledge that comes from discovery as opposed to lecture can help to create a lasting knowledge and understanding that students may never forget.

Narrowing down our curriculum to one deeply involved topic that students are allowed to explore, feel, experience and then learn may create the life long learners we are all hoping to develop.  Rather than talk about history and historians let the students become historians and explore a topic in depth.  Rather than lecture about biology let the students become the biologist and study a life form that interests them in depth.

It soon becomes more than the topic itself.  It becomes a journey of learning and exploration.  My class started out wanting to build an underwater robot or ROV.  That has expanded into buiding an ROV to compete against others.   It then evolved into building and operating an ROV to look for airplanes underwater and then it evolved into using the ROV to not only find the missing airplanes, but to find the missing aircrews.  And, along with that they learn history, geopolitics of the Pacific and about oceanography and geography. Not to mention fundraising, marketing and budgeting.

Above are my new students and Rev. Lew Towler a US Navy veteran of WWII and Peleliu.  He will be traveling with my students and I this spring to the Republic of Palau as we search for another missing aircraft.  Lew wants to go with the students as we tour the Battlefield on Peleliu.  Lew landed there with the SEABEES on D+3, or September 18, 1944 and spent the next year there as part of a SEABEE Battalion working on the airfield and port facilities to support the Marines ashore.

Photography Module Project

This is a digital photo of my students ROV underneath our dive boat.  This photo involves a change in camera position and perspective.  None of my students are divers so their view of the ROV is on the surface, on the surface while putting it in the water or while snorkeling above it.  I took this picture from underneath the ROV about 20' down using a GoPro camera.


This view is from the surface as my students are lowering the ROV into the water.

Below is the last surface view my students have of their ROV as it begins its underwater mission.  Students use the view from the ROV's video cameras to explore the ocean below them.

Once again I feel the first picture is more compelling do to a change in camera position.  The view from under the surface of the ocean.  A view that most people are unable to obtain.  The biggest problem I have with this project is getting people to believe that high school students have built an ROV, traveled 8,000 miles to the other side of the world, deployed the ROV in the Ocean and actually found a missing Marine Corps F4U Corsair fighter that went down in 1944.

The underwater views are an important part of the story because they show that the ROV actually worked.
I have two better photos to illustrate this.   While I took the three photos above I did not take the next two.

Both pictures are of the same Corsair we found and take on the same day and about at the same time.  The top one we call the money shot.  The bottom photo is from a GoPro camera mounted on the students ROV in place of an underwater video camera that was damaged on the previous dive.  Once again these two photos involve a change in position and perspective.  The thing that makes the first photo more compelling is that the photo includes the ROV, the corsair and the diver. The top photo was taken at a shallower depth and we pulled the photo back into Photoshop and added some color to the ROV and took out a little bit of the blue green from the water.  The change of perspective allowed us to highlight our ROV above the crash and to prove that we were there.

Both photos were taken with GoPro Cameras underwater. The top photo was taken by another team member Derek Abbey.(Corsair and ROV).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Imaginative Bridges - 1


The aesthetic form that most closely fits what I do in the classroom is a product.  Something "made,"  I can think of no better way to show that you truly understand robotics, then to make a robot.  But, I have found that it is more than the robot itself.  It is the total experience.  At first my advanced underwater robotics class was all about making an underwater robot or ROV capable of diving to 125' in saltwater and video taping airplanes that crashed during WWII.  Now it is much more.  It is a year long experience where students raise funds, promote the project. Speak to audiences outside the school and communicate directly with professionals outside of school.  People from the government, academia, industry and the military.  Students spend a lot of time outside of scheduled class time working on this project and look for ways to get out of other classes in school to work on the project.