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Category Archives: STEM

Inside the Classical Education model. Latin, robotics, and…podcasting

In our middle-school years at St. Peter’s College, Latin was a subject. We didn’t know why we had to study a ‘dead language’ or how it fit alongside biology and geometry. But it later transpired when the seeds of a classical language began to sprout. Our love for theater (whether it was Oliver Twist, or Hamlet), our appetite for reading, debating, linguistics, and history could be traced back to learning what seemed like tedious (read: boring) declensions and the likes.

This school year I joined a classical High School, and now see the internal architecture of a classical education. The three-part structure of ‘grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics’ is just the start. Music and the fine arts, science and athletics are key elements. And of course technology.

A few months ago in teaching communication to my college level students, we looked at how rhetoric mattered; the underpinning of public speaking, ‘Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.’ So I was delighted to see how my High School’s monthly themes are structured on classical Roman virtues such as Gravitas, Humanitas, and Comitas.

You’re probably wondering what does this do for learning, and students’ character? I can only say this. After a month of teaching with this model in place (teaching computers and tech, mind you!), students come to class eager and prepped to learn; respectful, inquisitive, thoughtful.  This week, looking at inventors and inventions we did thought experiments (a.k.a. Bell work) on social norms and expectations when Thomas Edison messed around with filaments and early audio. Next week they will see parallels with someone like Douglas Engelbart, the prolific Edison-like chap who gave us the mouse, among other things. They were philosophers in their own time, who embodied, and fit, the classical model.

At the end of the week two students approached me to sponsor clubs. One was a Robotics club, and the other was for Podcasting. I had to catch my breath – podcasting! What would 12-year olds want to do with podcasts? It comes down to the classical model which feeds the need for young people to engage in much, much more than Fortnite, or memes. If we only let them.

 

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Robotics Team to represent Sri Lanka in Mexico

If you’ve been following my robotics coverage here, I am happy to report on this year’s Team Sri Lanka, who will represent the country at the second Robotics Olympics. The event will be in August, in Mexico City.

I met with the team coaches in Colombo in mid June to find out how they have been progressing. They have been building the robot from the kit they received from First Global, under guidance of a engineer and IT teacher, Shankar. His expertise is in CAD design and he seems excited –though unfazed! — about his students who must build a robust competition-worthy robot.

At the time of writing they are working on a lift mechanism –a so-called ‘cantilever lift’ mechanism — that will allow the bot to move objects to the area that earns them maximum points.

In case you’re wondering, here’s what last years Robotics Team looked like.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2018 in Education, Robotics, STEM

 

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Thank you, Orbital!

Every time we have a STEM event, or SPACE Day, one group I always count on is Orbital ATK, a Chandler, Arizona-based company. Rockets and launches are in the news every month. Just this week, Orbital ATK launched the 139-foot rocket, Antares; the 200th mission to the International Space Station.

For STEM Night at Salt River Elementary, Orbital created an amazing demo using a ‘transformer rail gun‘ – basically accelerating magnets that transfer potential energy to kinetic energy. Plus canister ‘pop rockets’ that explained what Newton’s Third Law is all about. Thank you Javier Molina-Moughamian, Shannon Burke, Monique Dalton, Kelly Wallace, and Kimberly Barraza for being part of our team.

 
 

Colophon for Our 4th quarter newsletter

Our final newsletter for the school year. (Click image for PDF.) Contributors and partners in crime: Nancy Yurek, Buffy O’ONeill, Mary Doka, and Coach Bryan McCleney, 

An overflowing shared drive. My irreplaceable Snipping Tool. Agency font. Bit.ly. A color cartridge on life-support. An amazing front-office staff.

 

 
 

Evidence that student writing (about chapatis and chickens) isn’t going obsolete

One of my passions is to help students become better writers. Many teachers will tell you that students are not writing enough. Anecdotally we know that information consumption (coupled with information overload) compounds the problem. Research supports this. Forty percent of college students who took the ACT writing test, lacked college ready skills.

As a computer and tech teacher, I am pleasantly surprised when students ask for scratch paper before they login. It’s not ‘old school’ to jot down ideas; to organize information before it gets into a brochure or PowerPoint. One of my lessons for 5th grade at the end of the school year involves teaching them how to write a radio script, and record it! A script, of course, isn’t like an essay. It gives a student an opportunity to adopt tone of voice that comes naturally. To speak from the heart. To talk about odd, personal, funny things that connect with the listener. Like a letter, I suppose. “Who writes those?” You ask! You’d be surprised how many Thank You letters are queued up to print next week. That’s my evidence, and I’m sticking to it! 

On that note, here’s some inspiring  student writing. One of the college application essays featured in the New York Times last week. Eric Muthondu, who’s entering Harvard, talks about his Kenyan grandmother.

“When I return, the chapatis are neatly stacked on one another, golden-brown disks of sweet bread that are the completion of every Kenyan meal.”

Or this piece of writing by Jeffrey C. Yu, a second generation Chinese American.

“Not all sons of doctors raise baby ducks and chickens in their kitchen. But I do. My dad taught me.”

These essays are worth a read, if only to recognize that good student writing exists –in certain places one has to dig to find. Here’s another place: Write The World. A global community for student writers I have been in touch with, and have covered in a previous post. By some coincidence, this month, Write The World has a Food Writing contest for students. First prize for a 6,000-10,000-word essay is $100.

More chapatis and chicken, please!

 

 
 

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The day rockets flew!

Rockets soared at our school, on April 30th –the same day news broke of China’s plans to test a reusable launch vehicle, the ‘Long March 8.’ STEAM night was quite an experience, six years since we began on this journey.

Ours too were reusable, but they were built by students from Kindergarten upwards. Made of paper, drinking straws, Popsicle sticks, and rubber bands they traveled where no rocket had gone before on the basketball court. (One flew way out of our test range, covering 70 feet!) Most were powered by rubber bands. Some preferred to use wind power – blowing them out of the launch tube! The judges were quite impressed. Said Orbital ATK engineer, Monique Dalton of one model:

While most rockets flew pretty flat and straight, this one showed a curve visible to the naked eye of the sort of trajectory rockets take in space. It was as if this rocket really was on a mission delivering a payload.

This student’s rocket traveled 58 feet, 7 inches.

Meanwhile, SpaceX, is looking for ways to go beyond ‘reusable’ into mass production of rockets, just like GM does cars. Some day one of these kids will be in Mission Control –and I’m going to watch it from my rocking chair!

         

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Bring out the rockets – It’s S.T.E.A.M. Night!

This will be our 7th annual STEM (or S.T.E.A.M.) event, and it seems like a perfect year to focus on rockets.

Paper, air-propelled rockets, slingshot rockets, and even those that soar nearly 300 feet. Students have already begun designing and building their entries for the competition. Rubber bands create great kinetic energy!

We will have several related S.T.E.A.M. activities:

The Date:  30th April, 2018
Place:       Salt River Elementary
Time:         5 – 7 pm

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2018 in Education, STEM

 

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