What is the Problem?

Andy Pronto and I were working on a project the other day and he mentioned an article he had read while getting his oil changed. He said it was about how hard it is for us to change how we teach, integrate technology, or try other type methodologies into what we do. The article resonated with me as I have done professional development in many different settings for many years and often feel discouraged at the pace of change that comes from the work. It is not because attendees do not value what they learned. There must be something else especially when we all have seen the world change around us in so many ways.

The author; Zachary Herrmann  points out some really great insights in his answers to this question:

So what does a teacher stand to lose by changing her/his practice?
1. A traditional sense of one’s own competence​
2. The comfort of predictability​
3. Familiar successes

“Every time we find a gap between our values and our practice we have an opportunity to reflect and ask, Why? What is really getting in the way?”

“Teachers must embrace the same message we give to students: Learning is about taking risks, trying, failing, and improving.”

The Challenge of Change


Getting Ready for State FLL x3



Robo Dragons

Robo Dragons

Cav Squad

Cav Squad

August 25th feels like along time ago when 19 students, 6 coaches. and 2 coordinators met to form teams and begin the process of developing First Lego League teams. We met each Thursday and most Saturdays since then and have achieved great success as all 3 teams have qualified for state! In fact each team won awards; Robosharks won the Research Award, Cav Squad won the Presentation Award while the Robo Dragons won the Innovative Solution Award.

The State Championships are on January 14th and 15th in Greensboro  http://www.ncfllandftc.com/2016—2017-state-championship.html

The NC First Lego League Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/northcarolinafirstlegoleague#

The Reluctant Learner Uncovered


The USS Benham DD-397

On the first day of the STEAM by Design Seminar, I asked all of the students why they signed up. It sounded cool or my parents signed me up were the most common answers. One student who was signed up by his mother was reluctant to stay and said so. Since the seminar is done through study hall, he could easily just not come. I did suggest that he give it a day or two before he decided. Those days were filled with struggles and a desire to stop. He persevered and worked on the lessons until his skills and confidence grew. Then one day he asked if he could make his own creation and I said yes as long as it was his creation and not a copy of someone else’s work. That was the day the once reluctant learner became uncovered as he has become a very engaged and creative STEAMer. I found out that one of his passions is WWII aircraft and ships. He is using Wikipedia as a source for his images for inspiration while he creates the 3d object. I asked him why he likes to do these planes and ships and he responded that he just enjoys researching and reading about them. He proceeded to tell me all about a ship (not this one) that was a fuel tanker during the attack on Pearl Harbor that was destroyed. He knew the backstory of the ship and what happened to the crew after being bombed. He also knew how it was scuttled and other details. Is he a reluctant learner or just a uncovered learner that has found his agency in learning. I am very proud of him for the growth he is making.

STEAM Surprise


I came back to my office today after helping some folks with their use of Evernote, and on my desk was this surprise. It is the creation of Emma R. in my STEAM by Design Seminar. We are working on the City of Lights project with our Arduino Basic Kits and CircuitScribe Maker Kits.  I purchased the CircuitScribe Maker kits at https://www.circuitscribe.com/product/maker-kit/. She and the most of the group have been working on putting it together. She worked extra hard as we found out our jumper wires were not male/female so we had to improvise. I am loving how these seminars are going as it is clear to me that with guidance our students are capable of striving and learning with less help and direction from the oldest life form in the room.

Finding Time for STEAM – NCAIS Conference


This Friday, 10/21/16, I will be presenting in room 6 from 10:15 – 10:45 at the Annual NCAIS Conference. I proposed this session last year as I think other schools could benefit on how I have approached developing the STEAM by Design Seminar.

Proposal Summary
Making, Makerspaces, and Design Thinking are powerful new instructional methods and concepts that many schools are adopting or trying to adopt. This session will focus on how a Middle School teacher started a STEAM by Design class in a schedule that did not have any room. Come to this session to find a place to add a STEAM by Design seminar in your school.

Proposal Description
Schools are faced with a dilemma when trying to institute new programs or classes. Most schedules in schools are already full leaving little or no room for creating new models of learning and teaching. Our Middle School wanted to have a STEAM class with Coding, Design Thinking, Electronics, 3D Design, 3D Printing, and Making. How do we add something to an already full schedule for students in a way that will not overload the students while also exposing them to these skills and concepts. The answer was to look at the area where students are provided time to study even on days when perhaps they do not need the time to study, or that they would like to learn something about STEAM and still have the time to study when needed. Therefore we are offering a STEAM by Design Seminar as a year-long class open to any seventh or eighth grade student who wants to take the seminar (provided they are also not a double foreign language student). The seminar will meet three out of the six days that their study hall meets. The STEAM by Design Seminar will explore these concepts and skills using the online resources (Project Ignite by Autodesk and CodeMonkey). With this approach, our school plans to infuse the STEAM concepts and skills related to STEAM and Making without wide institutional change that would require committees and time. If we fail, we iterate and adjust to the next design.

This is the presentation I will be using so please feel free to make a copy of

Portfolios, Reflections, and Change

Goals, Reflect, Artifacts

For 7 years now we have been working on creating student portfolios in the Middle School. We are now on our 3rd iteration from what we started with in 2010. I think this iteration is more efficient and will take the least amount of time to fulfill the potential portfolios offer. To quote a fellow teacher when I asked him if his graphic novel unit was proceeding how he hoped. “It is too soon to tell if the juice is worth the squeeze.” This is sort of how I feel as while some of my colleagues think they are a great idea and support them with time and energy, many have no interaction at all. In fact, I would say most of our school has no interaction with the portfolios. Once students leave the Middle School, the portfolio process ends. I spend a lot time “squeezing” the portfolio process and while I believe firmly that students and teachers should have a place to share and reflect on their learning process, I am willing to stop drinking the juice. There are so many other places I can put my time and energy to develop more student agency that I think this is the last year for my championing the use of portfolios. I still think it is a good idea, but I have failed to inject it into the learning culture of our school. I learned that I needed to get more people on board before starting the portfolio process since I believe that would have helped to institutionalize the process.

This is the message I sent to the MS Faculty yesterday

I just finished setting up all of the portfolios for all new students and each 5th grader. You can view all of the past and current portfolios at this address: https://sites.google.com/a/students.da.org/studentportfolios/  (Private Google Apps so only DA students and teachers can view)

I changed the layout a bit and reworked the reflection prompts as follows:

Setting Learning Goals: Each year you should write some learning goals that will guide your learning for the year. What do you hope to learn at school or outside of school? In order to be successful, you need to write these goals down along with ideas on how you will accomplish your goals.

Prompts for writing learning goals:
I am excited to learn about …
To accomplish my goals I will …
Why does your learning matter?

Writing Reflections: Reflecting is the most important part of the portfolio process, for without it, the portfolio becomes simply a collection of work without purpose. By reflecting on your work, you will engage in meta-cognitive thinking and begin to develop a working knowledge of who you are as learners.

Questions to ask yourself when reflecting:
What is the story of your learning as told by the artifacts you chose to add?
What did you learn about yourself as a learner?
What did you learn on your own?
What did you learn from other members of your community?
What are your feelings about your learning?
What was hard or difficult and how will you overcome similar obstacles in the future?
What advice might you have for other students on how to be as successful in the grade you are completing. Examples: How to use the iPad to be successful, how to study, etc..

Some information is from http://tworeflectiveteachers.blogspot.com/2015/03/slow-down-and-reflect-idea-worth.html with a Tip of the Hat to Ms. Goldstein.

Over the weekend I read this article by Mike Crowley and thought there was some nice alignment with what we hope our portfolios showcase. Of special note was this paragraph about Yale adding 3 questions to the selection process for admitting students.

Perhaps, finally, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon with the recent news that Yale University is adding three critical, new questions to its selection process:

What is a community to which you belong? Reflect on the footprint that you have left.
Reflect on a time in the last few years when you felt genuine excitement learning about something.
Write about something that you love to do.

The old system is finally starting to break. Who you are is more important than your grades. Your development as a person is of greater value than your ability to play the game of school. It is important to have a passion, to make a meaningful contribution.

STEAMing Along


The STEAM by Design Seminar has met only a few times since the start of school. The image above shows a group of STEAMERS working with Arduino Basic Kit and Project Ignite. I actually purchased the kits from Project Ignite as the kits have all of the parts needed to do most of the lessons in the Project Ignite Classrooms. I am very pleased with how our group has embraced the concept of the seminar as on the first day I asked why they wanted to be a part of the seminar. There were quite a few “I thought it would be cool” and a few “My parents thought I should do it” with the usual enthusiasm of a middle school student when they had no choice in the matter.

Since the first day most of the “My parents” contingent have stuck around and are now saying things like; “Yes, I did it” or other exclamations of delight. The ability to work together is a process and shows signs of life that will help us down the road. Today, one student got her Arduino to do the Blink Sketch and was so proud she wanted to take a video to show her mom and dad. Pinch me now. Of course this seminar is very different and has taken some adjustment as I do not tell them what to do, am less helpful when I want them to find the answer themselves, or create conditions where failure is a real possibility. Today, after a failed print we tried to figure out what caused it. I pointed them to the great Simply3D resource for how to figure this out. After we determined with thought it was Layer Shifting, I asked them what tool could we use to find how to fix it? Some said a book or do you not know? I said I know of a tool but could not remember the name of it although I did know the name of a co-founder. I said if we can figure out who Sergey Brin was perhaps we would find the tool I was thinking about. Yep, a student Googled it and found he was internet entrepreneur that founded Google with Larry Page. We therefore have tried to slow down the speed of the printer to see if that helps.

3D Printers

I have not felt as excited to be teaching a class in years. I feel like the old Science teacher I was before I got into technology.  I also read today this post on Computational Thinking which affirmed my concepts for this class even more.

Creativity, Storytelling, and Graphic Novel Creation


This post has been a long time coming as something always seemed to get in the way. This past year, I had the pleasure to work with our grade 8 language arts teachers on a graphic novel project. Students investigated graphic novels in class in preparation for writing their own. Using the awesome Book Creator App on our student iPads they were charged with creating their own graphic novel. We used the comic book template and this Google Slide Presentation to get started. Using Sketchbook Express (iTunes link) or other drawing apps on the iPad, students created images to go with their story. Many students combined their 8 years of art to create amazing images to support the story. Esme (Havoc) created her novel with images she drew in a style that creates a darkness. Esme told Mr. Michelman that she worked the hardest she has ever worked on any project on her novel. She told him that it was not ready as she wanted a little more time to perfect some element. As the school year came to a close we got this message from Esme:

From: Esme
Sent: Monday, May 30, 2016 2:55 PM
To: Ben Michelman
Subject: What Will Become of Havoc?
Hello Mr. Michelman,
Sorry for interrupting Memorial Day, and I know this is terrible timing, but I was wondering what will happen to the graphic novel I made. What should I do with it? Because I want to be able to still edit over the summer, but I don’t know how I’ll be able to do that.

How many times as that happened in your teaching? The assignment is over, student has graduated, and they want to still work on a project you assigned? This is the definition of engaged and highlights what can happen with student agency.

Emma took a different approach and used models for her drawings. Using her sister and family dog, she posed them and took images. Using the same Sketchbook Express app, she brought the image in on a layer and then used more layers to trace her characters. Once done, she removed the first layer. Her story and images are also well developed and support the happy ending in her story. I submitted her book to the Book Creator contest where she was one of the top ten finalists. She also started creating another book on Romeo and Juliet in order to help students understand it better.

I think both of these students have a future in book writing or whatever they choose to do. The only aspect I would hope they would include next time in their books, is a Creative Commons license so their work can be tied to them as a creator.

A challenge for their future teachers would be to connect to this passion and continue to bring it out. If you would like to read the ePubs you can access them in the shared Evernote note.

STEAM by Design Seminar

Version 3 504 Lab Reconfigured

I am very excited to be offering this seminar next year. The image above is version 3 of how I imagine one of the computer labs being reconfigured. This is a low level reconfiguration as we are not adapting it to a true maker lab as we are not at that point so everything is on wheels and portable. As I write this post, my new 3D printer was delivered. We have 2 Polar 3D printers which are great for prototyping and have served me well with learning about 3D printing, but I wanted the next step as well. I was about to purchase a Makerbot but read about the Sindoh 3DWox. After checking it out online and figuring if the MIT Fab Lab listed it as the printer to get I was not being sold a bill of goods, I ordered it. As fate would have it Zack B. was in the lab next door so was able to see it delivered and we opened it together. He has been coming by lately saying that he has been seeing many cardboard boxes being delivered!

Below is the proposal as presented.

The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) by Design Seminar will integrate the elements of STEAM using Design Thinking (Define, Understand, Imagine, Prototype, Try, and Repeat) during explorations in Coding, Electronics, and 3D Design and Printing. Coding, Electronics, 3D Design and 3D Printing are concepts and industries that continue to shape our present and will greatly influence our future. The STEAM by Design Seminar will explore these concepts and skills using the online resources (Project Ignite by Autodesk and CodeMonkey)

The seminar will be project-driven and feature design challenges.

Computer Science Coding:  Computer code underpins almost everything we use today. Having an understanding of coding language is essential to understanding the many devices and services used in our world. A lack of understanding of computer code leads to what Douglas Rushkoff wrote about in his book; Program or Be Programmed. Students will use CodeMonkey tutorials to learn to write code in a real-world programming language called CoffeeScript. CoffeeScript is a modern open-source programming language that compiles to JavaScript.

Engineering and Electronics: Students will learn to design electronic circuits with 123D Circuits and Arduino kits.  Once designed, students will construct the actual designed circuits.

3D Design and Printing: Students will learn 3D design skills using Tinkercad and other apps as needed.

After learning the basics of 3D design and 3D printing, students will work on a design challenge related to a problem they would like to solve. Students will learn to work independently and in groups as they design, create and make their challenge prototypes. Once designed, students will have the option of printing their prototypes on our school’s 3D printers.

NCTIES Reflections

I was lucky enough to attend NCTIES conference last week in Raleigh. I have not been to this conference for a long time so it was nice to be there again. I attended mostly maker space sessions as I am working on devising how to bring one to our school. There is no magical answer other then to just start and allow agency for the students.

As a Google for Education Certified Trainer, I was asked to help in the Google booth on the vendor floor and had the opportunity to demonstrate Google Expeditions. The technology behind this is pretty cool but I like how the teaching and learning was front and center. The tablet had all of the expeditions loaded on it and the phones inside of the cardboard were delivered the expedition via a closed wifi network. This meant that there was no need for internet access. The phones could be anything 6 inch or smaller. We were using Nexus phones with no data plan. While still in beta through the pioneer program, Google plans to have kits available next year that will feature the tablet, router, speaker, cardboard, and phones for purchase. Pricing is still being determined and currently the free apps are only available on Android. While no guaranty Google has clearly been able to create awesome iOS apps so I suspect much like the Cardboard app, there will be iOS versions of the Expeditions and Viewer apps. Learn more about the hardware needs at this Google Expedition support page.