I've been dreaming about writing a book for as long as I can remember.
When the opportunity to write a book presented itself to me last spring, I was thrilled, nervous, and so ready to cannonball in (as Tara Martin would say!). While writing, I envisioned my own children and my students reading through the book, and playing the games inside. In the back of my head, I was constantly thinking, "What type of game makes this exciting and challenging? Who are amazing STEAM leaders and role models that readers should know about? What topics will interest readers? What can they learn from this book?" It was so exhilarating to be writing a book that I know so many readers will learn from.
Fall and Winter 2019 has been a wild ride. My school year started with the implementation of a grant that I received from MassCUE, to use Nintendo Switch Labos, in the STEAM Lab (my classroom). If you are curious to learn more, please check out the post here. Then, in the midst of the grant implementation, October brought Massachusetts STEM Week and my first ever Family STEAM Night. I invited businesses from all over the local communities to set up booths and activities for students and families to participate in together. From sewing to chemical experiments to construction work and athletics, the night had it all. With over 400 people in attendance, I was thrilled to be able to help families and students learn about STEAM careers, and to "see themselves in STEAM." After Family STEAM Night came presenting at MassCUE's Annual Technology Conference and learning from incredible educators. Winter has brought new curriculum, after-school clubs, and the challenges and adventures of year two of the STEAM Lab.
I am so excited that my book Awesome Brain Games for Kids is coming out February 11, 2020. On today, the first day of 2020, a new year and new decade, I am so ready for the future. I cannot wait for readers to pick up a copy of Awesome Brain Games for Kids. I'm looking forward to sharing about the writing process and my favorite parts in the book. Thank you for being along with me every step of the way! Be on the lookout for a STEAM Up the Classroom podcast episode about it too!
Happy New Year!
Learning with the Labos
The 2019-2020 school year started off excitedly in the GWMS STEAM Lab. Earlier in the spring, I had received word that my MassCUE Classroom Grant was chosen and my dream of integrating Nintendo into the STEAM Lab began to come to life.
Nintendo first released the Labo program in the Spring of 2018. The games come with large sheets of cardboard that are built into “Toy-Cons.” Through movement and manipulation, they are able to control the video game on the Nintendo Switch. Since 2018, Nintendo has released the Variety Kit, Robot Kit, Vehicle Kit, and VR Kit. Each kit includes the cardboard sheets, game card, and unlimited hours of fun.
The gaming world continues to grow rapidly for children and adults. Esports gaming teams compete just like professional athletic teams and are therefore inspiring schools to add gaming programs. Many high schools are beginning to offer Esports classes and clubs. Colleges and universities around the world are offering scholarships to Esports players. In Massachusetts, the Esports community is quickly expanding and teams compete against each other in leagues. My dream was to integrate video gaming and making into my classroom, the STEAM Lab. Nintendo Labo is a perfect solution to provide younger students with an academic opportunity to explore gaming.
As an upper elementary/middle school teacher (grades 3-6), I have so many students who absolutely love to play video games. But I also have parents who worry about screen time, the negative effects of video games, and whether or not their children get anything out of gaming.
When starting the Nintendo Labo program at my school, one of my goals was to help change the dialogue to inform students and parents of the positives of gaming. In the STEAM Lab, students constantly are building, creating, problem-solving, collaborating and working in teams. This stayed true for the Nintendo Labo program as well. Students were expected to work in groups to build the Labos, problem-solve, and explore the game. Each grade level focused on a different topic and each grade used the engineering design process to help build.
This year the Nintendo Labo program had its ups and downs. I realized that 5 class periods of about 45 minutes of actual building time, wasn’t enough for some of the more intensive Labos to be completed. To help fix this, I began making sure some kits had some premade components. I also realized that some tiny pieces of cardboard can be lost in the shuffle. Luckily, the Labo pieces can easily be replaced using a new piece of cardboard and an X-Acto knife. I also realized that the Nintendo Labo programs have so much more to offer than just building and playing. There is a secret section called “Toy-Con Garage” in which players can create their own games and “Toy-Cons.” It’s basically like an open lab for students to program and code. In realizing this, my mind began to swim with ideas for next year’s Labo curriculum. Nintendo Labo also released an awesome teacher guide to help teachers implement Labo programming.
The STEAM Lab’s first year carrying out the Nintendo Labo program was incredible. Students enthusiastically ran to their stations to get to work. Students problem-solved together, decided on jobs that would enable their groups to successfully build the Toy-Con, and loved playing with the finished Toy-Cons. Did we have several kinks in the road? Absolutely. Did I expect to have them? Definitely. Is next year going to be even better? You bet. That’s one of the best parts of teaching in the STEAM Lab. Each year brings new excitement and challenges… and many ideas for the future.
I would like to give a special thank you to MassCUE for awarding my classroom with the MassCUE Classroom Grant. My students were so appreciative of the Labo Program and are actively looking forward to what’s next in the curriculum. There is no better feeling than having students run off the bus asking if it is their turn in the STEAM Lab. Most importantly, thank you for your support and for believing in my classroom.
This blog post was written for MassCUE's OnCUE blog found at masscue.org.
Piloting Literacy and STEAM
When integrating literacy and STEAM, students are given an opportunity to comprehend the text through exploration and hands-on learning. Often times, students struggle with comprehending and analyzing when reading. However, STEAM lessons are an impactful way for students to dive deep into the details of the text. Stories are transformed into magical learning experiences because STEAM helps bring the story alive. Using information from the text, students apply STEAM skills to create items, characters, places, and scenes.
The Chocolate Pilot Parachutes
In honor of Veteran’s Day, during the month of November, my classes read stories about a famous pilot named Gail Halvorsen. Gail was a pilot during the Berlin Airlift who became famous for dropping candy out of his plane to the children of West Berlin. This act of kindness earned him the nickname the Chocolate Pilot. After reading the stories, my class and I discuss how using parachutes made it possible for the Chocolate Pilot to drop the candy from so high. Students use details from the text to create their own parachutes that are sturdy enough to drop candy from the windows of our school.
If you have never tried integrating literacy and STEAM before, first try picking a text that you connect with and/or enjoy teaching. The text does not have to be about a STEAM related topic, but it should have enough descriptive details for students to work with. Read the text over a few times and decide what you would like your STEAM focus to be. Is there an action in a scene that stands out? Is there an object that can be built or a working-model created? Is there a well-described character that students can build a statue of? Once you have your lesson’s STEAM focus, decide what materials will be made available to students and how long they will have to work on their projects. Pre-planning materials and deadlines helps students to stay focused.
When planning the lesson make sure to leave time for a wrap-up reflection. The reflection is an integral aspect of the lesson because it circles students back to the reason for their creation and reconnects them to the story.
Describe. Ask students to describe and explain their creations.
Compare. Have students answer, “How did your creations compare to the details in the story?”
Recall. Tell students to recall details from the text that assisted them in building their creations.
Need text ideas? Read these for STEAM inspiration:
The Power of the Podcast
I spent the summer after my son Rayner was born, pushing his stroller around our neighborhood. I loved being able to get some fresh air and a little bit of exercise, about as much energy as I could muster with a newborn. While walking around, I found myself yearning for something to listen to that would engage my brain, so I decided to give podcasts a try. I immediately became hooked. There is basically a podcast for anything and everything.
PERSONAL GROWTH THROUGH PODCASTS
That summer I found 103.3 AMP Radio’s TJ Show Podcast, and my guiltiest of pleasures, Bachelor related podcasts. From there I started listening to teaching and education shows, such as the STEM Everyday Podcast and Fizzics Ed, and learning new ideas for my own classroom. Spending the summer listening to people talk about their interests and finding myself connecting with people I have never met, simply from listening to their voices, made me want to do the same. So on a whim, I decided to start my own podcast.
CONNECTING WITH OTHERS
One of my favorite parts of being a teacher is being able to connect with other educators and talking with people from all over the world whom I can bounce ideas off of, ask questions, and gain fresh perspectives from. I decided that’s what I wanted for my show; to be able to learn something new from my guests. As a result, I have bettered my own teaching practices, have met some incredible people (virtually and in real life), and have an awesome new hobby that I honestly never thought possible. Nowadays, I listen to countless podcasts a week. I find myself thinking of the people I listen to as friends and even mentors, and wishing I could meet them in real life. A few times, the opportunity to meet other podcasters has occurred, with one of my most memorable being when I met TJ, Loren and Producer Matt from Boston’s 103.3 AMP Radio’s The TJ Show. I would Tweet to them about their show and eventually those Tweets turned into them coming to visit my classroom last year. The power of Twitter is so incredible! They spoke to the students about working in radio, choices they have made in life, and what it’s like to follow your dreams even if the pathway there is not easy. Their visit to my classroom was one of the most impactful moments in my teaching career. The students gained so much, and I gained an even greater appreciation for radio broadcasting and following your dreams.
STUDENT VOICE WITH PODCASTS
Podcasting has increased my motivation both in the classroom and outside of it. It’s given me the confidence to not only try something new, but to reach out to people I admire and want to connect with. This thrill and excitement is something I also want to pass along to my students. So this year, in my new teaching role as a STEAM Lab teacher, I thought, what a perfect time to help the students create their own podcast episodes. Many of the students are mini experts; they love something so much that they try to learn all about it. Podcasts are a perfect way for students to show off their knowledge and excitement for a topic. In giving the students an outlet to express themselves, they not only are teaching and connecting with others, but they are learning more about themselves. It provides students an opportunity to have a say in their learning, and to try something new that might even be a little intimidating. In thinking about my own experience, and in encouraging the students who are unsure, I like to say, “Anyone can podcast!” because it’s so true. All you need is a way to record yourself and a platform to share it.
Never did I think my summer of walking around with the stroller and listening to podcasts would lead me to creating my own podcast, presenting at MassCue, or connecting with so many new people. But in taking a giant leap of faith with my first recording, I have positively changed the way I teach forever.
*Origially written for MassCUE's OnCUE blog*