Archive | STEM RSS feed for this section

Monday Musings: Working together to make a difference in the world

27 Feb
Fish, plants, and test tubes are just some of the things you'll see when you visit The Greenhouse Effect at Western Hills Middle School.

Fish, plants, and test tubes are just some of the things you’ll see when you visit The Greenhouse Effect team at Western Hills Middle School.

I know I say it often, but I truly love my job as a newspaper reporter. I love what I do every day, even on the busiest, toughest days. One of the reasons I love it is that as a reporter who focuses on school news for the Cranston Herald, I get to see some really amazing things being done in the schools. Another reason I love it is that I often get a glimpse into the educational goings-on for my own three children as I get to cover many of the big things they are involved in at school. Today’s post shares the news about a story which combines both of those perks.

My second daughter Liz has been involved in the after school extra-curricular STEM program at her middle school for both of the years she has been enrolled at the school. My youngest daughter has also joined this school year as a new sixth-grader. The club usually meets a couple of times a week and over the past four years or so that it’s been in existence the group has worked with app development, coding, drones, 3D printing, and more. The club has had a team of their students win the Verizon App Challenge “Best in State” title for several years in a row and the “Best in Region” title once as well. They have had a great reputation for winning this challenge, which provided money for the program and prizes for the kids, and over the years the club has grown to 100 or more members, with a second faculty advisor, John Worthington, recently stepping in to help out the founder, Michael Blackburn, because the numbers were so big.

This past fall, the students finished up the annual Verizon App Challenge and went right into a new challenge, the Lexus Eco Challenge. Multiple teams ranging from approximately four to six students had just two weeks to complete the Lexus Eco Challenge. This was a brand new challenge that the STEM club had never tried before and they were under the gun with just two weeks to complete the challenge before the deadline. The challenge asked the students to choose from a variety of environmental issues, such as pollution and poor air quality. They then had to work together as a team to find a possible innovative solution for the chosen problem, create a PowerPoint presentation, a prototype, a video and a Public Service Announcement (PSA) if they had extra time. You can read about all of the teams and their innovative ideas for the Lexus Eco Challenge in this article.

Friday the 13th of January turned out to be a very lucky day for Liz and her Lexus Eco Challenge team, The Greenhouse Effect.

Friday the 13th of January turned out to be a very lucky day for Liz and her Lexus Eco Challenge team, The Greenhouse Effect. Here she is, stunned, shortly after receiving the news that their team had won.

On Friday, January 13th, Liz got an urgent request from a student at her school on behalf of Mr. Blackburn, to take a Facetime call at 3:15 pm, just minutes after she’d gotten off the school bus. It seemed odd, unusual, almost concerning, so she took the call and was given the news from Mr. Blackburn: her team, The Greenhouse Effect had won the Lexus Eco Challenge! She was stunned. We were thrilled for her. In winning, her team became one of just four middle schools and four high schools across the country to win. Each child was given a cash prize, splitting $7,000 between them. The school and the teachers were also given cash prizes. When the check arrived, along with it was a memo that said, “Thank you for making a difference in the world.” You can read about the winning team and their reactions to the news here. They are a special group of amazingly smart students.

More than two dozen plants are being grown as part of The Greenhouse Effect's final project. They are hoping to feed the world and save it, all at the same time.

More than two dozen plants are being grown as part of The Greenhouse Effect’s final project. They are hoping to feed the world and save it, all at the same time.

Now, the students are continuing their mission to make a difference in the world. The Greenhouse Effect team has taken on the next and final stage of the Lexus Eco Challenge. They are working to feed the world, and to save the world. Visiting their team recently, speaking to them, listening to them describing their project, their prototype and their end goal was humbling. I don’t think I was ever this smart as a child, this forward-thinking. I am proud to know these kids, and grateful for their teachers who go above and beyond, and then above and beyond that, every single day. You can read about their final challenge project here. I wish them all the best as a reporter, and I am proud to be able to help them spread the word about what they are doing and what they have already accomplished. I am also proud as a parent and thankful that I have the privilege to take an occasional peek into the world in which my kids spend much of their day.

Fish are an integral part of The Greenhouse Effect's final project.

Fish are an integral part of The Greenhouse Effect’s final project.

If you would, please also take a moment to check out The Greenhouse Effect on their blog and on a variety of social media platforms. Like them on Facebook. Read their blog. Part of their challenge involves spreading the word about their project and let everyone, everywhere know what they are doing. Please help them change the world, do your little part to help them out by visiting their sites:

Facebook

Blog

Twitter: @LexusEco,  Instagram: @The_Greenhouseeffect

Snapchat: Greenhouse_whms,  and on their YouTube channel.

Congratulations again, and best of luck to The Greenhouse Effect and to their amazing, wonderful teachers, Mr. Michael Blackburn and Mr. John Worthington.

The best Lexus Eco Challenge team around, The Greenhouse Effect!

The best Lexus Eco Challenge team around, The Greenhouse Effect!

 

*Thanks to The Greenhouse Effect for the use of their photos for this blog post!*

 

 

 

Advertisements

Monday Musings: What exactly did we create?

17 Oct
Did we dream it or did we do it?

Did we dream it or did we do it?

Recently we had a conversation in our family that has really stuck with me. At the time, it left me a tiny bit unsettled, sad yet happy, longing yet not, and questioning a few things. I had been thinking on it and thinking on it, mulling it over in my mind for quite some time, and hesitating whether or not to publish a blog post about it or not. Last week I watched a video which confirmed that yes, I did want to publish this post. I encourage you to watch this video from beginning to end. It is well worth your time. Thank you to the Attleboro High School students who spent many hours of time on such an important topic.

In the meantime, here is my post.

****

It was summertime.

We were all together and we had the occasion to find ourselves in a warehouse. There was an event there and we were attending, but the event only used a small part of the available space. It was a big, open warehouse, a different experience than warehouse shopping, like at BJ’s or Costco or Sam’s Club. The walls were black, the floors were black, it was an exciting open space, big and empty: seemingly like a giant blank canvas.

As we walked through the space, we marveled at the vast openness of it; it almost encouraged you to run wild, to yell out loud to hear your voice echo in the space, but we didn’t do that. We walked and we talked.

“What if?” Some one of us said it. I truly don’t remember who.

But I do remember what followed next.

“What if we lived here?! What if this was our house?!”

“I’d want a big space to dance!”

“A huge kitchen for cooking!”

“An art studio!”

“A stage!”

“A room filled with books on all the walls!”

“A sewing room with tons of space for fabrics!”

“A place for a 3D printer and doing science experiments!”

“A music room for playing piano and instruments!”

“A photography studio!”

And on, and on and on.

We laughed and talked and called out ideas to each other as we designed our new home. In real life, we live in a regular-sized house, like regular people do, and sometimes (okay, many times) it seems too small for all of us, but we always pride ourselves in being creative with our space, always finding ways to make it fit our needs at the time of our lives that we’re in. We’re comfortable with making changes as our needs change, and that’s just what we’ve always done. We make it work for us.

But this, this imaginary blank canvas of a home, it was exciting to think about for a few minutes as we walked through it and out, out into the bright sunshine of the outdoors and towards our car.

Once we got in the car, the conversation was over and we moved on to the next thing, back to real life and back to summer and then eventually back to school and work.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it though. As two educators, we’d always imagined starting our own school. Hands-on, experiential learning is our thing. As parents we have fostered that passion in our kids too.

In my mind I pondered the conversation. What did we really imagine? Was it our imaginary house in a huge open space, or had we created the school of our dreams?

And really, the school of our kids’ dreams?

It made me a little bit sad. Sad at first, because most likely we won’t ever get to open up our own school in that warehouse with all of the hands-on learning experiences. Sad second, because in reality, so much of what our kids called out as the things they’d love to be surrounded by on a daily basis, is so much of what’s been removed from traditional public schools as the years go by. I am very thankful that our school district offers a stellar option for high school students through a regional career and technical school which is located on one of our city’s high school campuses, but I know that not everyone has that option everywhere, and that the guaranteed hands-on, engaging education that’s found in a career and tech program is only for high school students, at least in our neck of the woods. I’m also happy to see instrumental music education returning to our elementary schools here, after having been gone for so long thanks to budget woes which are not unique to just our area.

That said, so much of what I used to see in schools as I covered story after story, is no longer done as teachers have said that they have run out of time to do the types of things they used to do. As more testing and seat-work move in, more hands-on experiences and creativity move out. Sometimes, if schools specialize in the arts, they leave out the sciences. As they specialize in science and technology, they lose focus on the arts-things like theater, music, visual and performing arts. That makes me sad. Home economics, cooking, sewing and fashion, wood and textile design…don’t even get me started. In so many places, although not everywhere, these areas of study, these life and career skills that students need the minute they are out in the world on their own, are gone. It is so much so that on a recent college tour, we were even told of basic cooking classes that are offered to college students getting ready to live on their own who don’t possess those types of basic independent living skills.

But yet despite my sadness, I soon had an awesome realization, and ultimately it made me happy and it made me proud.

No, we didn’t open our school (at least not yet), we don’t have a giant home and we definitely don’t have a school-sized budget. But that said, all of those things that our kids dreamed of having in their space, they dream of because they have experienced them. As they’ve grown we’ve designed our open spaces in our home to be spaces that foster creative play, learning and hands-on experiences. Whether it was dress-up and school, arts and crafts, or library and kitchen imaginary play spaces in our basement when they were little, or lessons in things like sewing, dance, music, theater and art as they got older, they’ve been able to be exposed to so many things and have had the time and the opportunity to explore and experience them all. Books have always lived on shelves in every bedroom, under pillows with flashlights and book lights. Play-doh, paint, glue and glitter have always been regular staples in our craft supplies. We have had a garden in our backyard almost every summer since our kids were young. As they grew, the books, spaces and activities grew and changed with them, and the play kitchen space became cooking with us in the real kitchen space, a passion of ours that they all share.

When learning experiences were offered in our city or nearby cities and towns for free, we exposed them to them, while enrolling them in regular lessons for some of the things they loved whenever we were able to. They’ve always been exposed to things that interest them and spark their creativity: free workshops on 3D printing or stop-motion animation at the library, free reading events and encounters with famous authors at the State House, science experiments in our kitchen, lots of opportunities for great experiences through the Girl Scouts like photography lessons and outdoor camping trips, for example.

As teens and tweens they now have a sewing machine in every bedroom. We have paint and canvases, fabric, easels and musical instruments in our home, and so many books. We cook together and they cook independently. As I look around in this instant, there are sketch books sitting out right now, out in the open here in our living room, awaiting the next burst of inspiration, and there’s a draft of someone’s book on my laptop, a dress form with an almost-finished dress on it in a bedroom down the hall.

So as sad as I was that I know we probably won’t ever have our school, and sad for what many students won’t ever have because it’s lost from so many schools and out of reach for many family budgets, after much thought, I was ultimately happy and proud. I felt that if these were the things our kids wanted in their imaginary home, or maybe in their vision of the ultimate perfect school, and if we’d somehow managed to dedicate ourselves to being able to provide them all for them over the years in our own home, in their own real lives, then we’d done a good job of teaching in a hands-on, experiential way. We have succeeded in fostering a love of hands-on learning, of reading and of writing, a passion for the arts and for the sciences, and we’ve given them life-long skills they need to be successful when they are living independently. As we now tour colleges and see the hands-on experiential learning that is taking place there, we see too, that it is the desired outcome for secondary education over any standardized test, and we know we have prepared our kids well for this type of learning which will later transcend into the jobs of the future. Colleges look for students who have experienced true learning, not the one-sided delivery of a curriculum or the passing of a test or of dozens of tests. Employers look for a well-rounded problem solver and critical thinker with a wide variety of skills in their repertoire, not just someone who can ace a test.

Although my mulling over of this conversation was initially one tinged with sadness for what wasn’t or what will never be, it is ultimately one that makes me smile. We had a dream, we had a goal, and in essence we did it and we did it for those students who matter to us most of all: our own. We did it in a small space and on a tiny budget and we continue to do it each and every day. We have always sacrificed a lot, often, and in so many other areas, but we are our children’s first teachers, they are our ultimate legacy, and hopefully when they leave our nest, they’ll be able to continue to live a life filled with a passion for hands-on learning and experiencing life to its fullest.

 

1

 

What we’re doing this summer: Oobleck

18 Jul
Not your typical summer recipe.

Not your typical summer recipe.

Hello summer, how are you?

I love summer. I love having everyone home, having no specific daily schedule most days, taking some time off, and having much less stress, overall.

It’s not that we’re not busy, it’s just a nicer pace. After the hectic school year, we enjoy the slower pace of the summer. It’s often a balancing act, balancing our work schedules over the summer with family and vacation time, but it works well for us. Since I am self-employed, I only get paid if I work, so I always make sure that I work much harder during the school year so that I can take some time off in the summertime and enjoy my kids while I have them home. I know that those days are fleeting, and the time is going fast.

Sometimes in the summer the kids, like lots of families we know, will make Bucket Lists: things they want to do over the summer. I always remind them that their lists are simply wish lists, things they hope to do, but won’t necessarily get to do. What I like about the lists is it gives us a starting point when we’re looking for fun things to do with them to make their time off more memorable. I have my own mental list of things I’d like to do with them, but I don’t tell them what they are. I like to keep some things unexpected and different.

Orange flavoring added a new element to the science experiment, something I had never thought of before.

Orange flavoring added a new element to the science experiment, something I had never thought of before.

My kids, like many other kids their age, follow a lot of YouTubers. They learn all kinds of life hacks, tricks, hairstyles, DIY projects, STEM ideas, crafts and more by watching these YouTubers. One thing they’d been asking me to do for weeks was to make Oobleck. I’d done Oobleck years ago when I hosted a Family Science Night as a teacher, but I had not done it in years. I remembered the basic premise of it and remembered how cool it was to make, but during the school year the thought of it was too much for me to handle. I told the kids to save it for summertime.

And so, it went onto the Bucket List.

Last week I got the question again, “Can we make Oobleck today?” I finally said yes. The thing about having older kids is that you don’t have to oversee every little project. This “recipe” had just two ingredients: cornstarch and water. As an added twist, the kids had seen that you could add food coloring to make it a unique color, which I’d done before, and flavoring such as mint, vanilla or orange extract for example, to add a scent, which I’d never heard of before. We had a few choices, and they went with orange extract and purple food coloring.

Within minutes we had a lot of cornstarch on the counter, but overall not that much of a mess, thankfully. The kids had done the whole thing themselves, and they were mesmerized looking at and playing with their Oobleck. It was neat to watch it liquify and solidify as they played with it. I managed to wrangle it into zippered closed bags for them so they could do some more observing for a couple more days before it eventually went into the trash. I noticed a purple tint to my wet paper towels and wipes as I wiped up my counter the next few times, but overall, we survived the science experiment unscathed.

It was a fun, easy, relatively quick activity and it was a little bit educational too, different than some of the typical summer activities we do. I liked that this item on their list was something they had found and wanted to learn about and create on their own, rather than something I thought of and carried out for them. And, I liked being able to check one thing off their list. They enjoy making the lists, but they enjoy crossing things off just as much.

For more information about Oobleck, you can do your own search and check out the many available instructions and options, or go here for starters.

Have fun!

Keeping your Oobleck contained and (out of the bedrooms) is key.

Keeping your Oobleck contained and (out of the bedrooms) is key.