PBLs: Engineering Experiences

As we head in to Joshua's last 9 week of high school, I find myself reflecting on the projects that he really connected with and enjoyed during his days, months and years at Friendswood High School. 

Hands down our favorite from junior year is when he built this boat. 
With these two teammates. 
From cardboard. 
And clear packing tape.

Photo courtesy of FISD
I know it made a splash with Joshua because he chose to write about it for his college and scholarship essays.

After seeing this picture on Twitter and curious about this project-based learning experience, high school teacher & blogger Brian Sztabnik asked to interview Joshua. Here's what our son had to say.

1. What was the assignment? In a team of three or four students, build a boat (designed to withstand the weight of two high school students crossing the school's pool) out of only cardboard and clear packing tape.

2. What unit was the assignment situated in? AP Physics - the Archimedes Principle.

3. What permissions, clearance, scheduling, etc was needed to complete this activity? The teachers had to schedule time in the natatorium for the boating race. We students had to schedule weekend meetings to build our boats from cardboard boxes.
4. What instructions were provided to the students? Click {here}.

5. What content-area learning occurred during this activity? Testing the Archimedes Principle (buoyancy). 

From Mr. McGowan, the Physics teacher: Boats come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. And, some have trouble going the same direction as others. Have you ever wondered how a large supertanker filled with oil can float? Objects submerged in a fluid such as water appear to weigh less than they do when they are not in the water. The liquid exerts a buoyant force on the object. Archimedes is credited with discovering that the buoyant force on an object is equal to the weight of the displaced fluid. He is said to have discovered this principle in his bath while trying to think of a way to determine whether the king's new crown was gold or a fake. Legend says that he ran naked through the streets shouting, "Eureka." Archimedes Principle also applies to floating objects. An object floats on a liquid if its density is less than that of the fluid. For our supertanker to float it must displace a volume of water equal to its weight.

6. What soft skills did students demonstrate during this activity? We had to work together to make calculations, design and draw their boats. After we submitted the initial report and boat design, we had to talk to each other to plan and then schedule work dates. We had to cooperate and be flexible, working around other school projects, activities like band and cross country, and work schedules. The process of building the boat took negotiation and teamwork, for sure. When one of the four members failed to show up, the three of us who did all of the work had to discuss what, if anything, we needed to do about that. 

From Barbara: When I, as the mom of the student who hosted the boat-building sessions, asked the senior in the group how this project has been for him, he answered, "It's been fun; it helps that I have some nice guys to work with." The other teammate, a junior, responded, "Joshua's sometimes in a big hurry and we have to slow him down, but other than that, it's been good."    

7. What does project-based learning mean to you? It's kind of fun to do the projects, but it's the reflection piece that really stretches us to extend our learning, to think more deeply about it, to grow from it. There's also an assessment piece that forces us to take a critical look at our work.

For example, we had four boys, but only 3 showed up. Ever. Except for to the actual race. In the report, we had to grade ourselves. We gave ourselves each a 10 but when we gave the teammate who never showed up a 2, it dropped our scores to an 8 each, even though we showed up every time and did all of the work. (If we would have given him a 1, our scores would have dropped to a 7.5) So we really learned the importance of showing up and being a responsible team member. 

8. Could this learning have occurred in other ways? What was gained in the process? What was lost? We really didn't think our boat would make it across the natatorium pool. At all. We worked really hard to give it a good try, but we remained skeptical. Then on Sunday when we checked our boats in and saw ours compared to others, we thought we'd done a pretty decent job building it anyway. We were pleasantly surprised that our boat made it across in 38 seconds and could have gone back and forth a few more times. We ended up in 7th place out of 50 boats. I was disappointed we didn't land in the top five, because then we'd have gotten extra credit, but being in the first heat, we just didn't know how fast we'd have to paddle to get a competitive time.

9. How time consuming is it to do activities like this in class? We spent about 21 hours of out-of-class time on this project, which counted as a major test grade.

10. What other project-based learning do you do? We haven't really had a lot of these in school; I'd say Science Fair is another significant project-based learning I've done. Senior year we did a Poetry Museum in AP English IV. We had to research a poet, study one of his poems, find complementary artwork and music, analyze the poem, make a brochure and a visual presentation, recite the poem, and present our research in class and at Poetry Museum Night to an audience.

We are so grateful to the passionate educators who engineer experiences for our kids to encourage them to think and grow outside of the {cardboard} box.

What project-based learning experiences do you offer at your school?


Imprinting Velcro Moments

Today I'm excited because spring is in the air. I took a long walk after church, I got some weeds pulled, and I laid poolside for a bit, just to soak in some coveted Vitamin D. That whole time, I kept thinking about a conversation I had with Natalie on Thursday. I was telling her about my upcoming workshop with the counselors in Pasadena, how I'm going to start with Biblio-Counseling and then segue into Wellness: What's your plan BE? She asked what we were going to do for the self-care piece, then wanted to know about my plans for the book piece. 

I told her I was going to make a few collages by topic, to suggest some books for certain themes, read a story or two, then encourage the counselors in the workshop to design a lesson. That's when she asked me about the velcro. 
The what? 
You know, the velcro. 
What will make it more than just another read-aloud? 
What will make it stick? 
What will bring them back to it? 

And I couldn't get her question off of my mind. So I searched the term Velcro Moments and found a great explanation by Mark Weston, a cyberspace colleague of mine on my Twitter PLN:

Click the explanation to read Mark's post.

So let's take a look at Flight School by Lita Judge
and see how we can epitomize connectivity.

It's one of my favorite growth-mindset titles;
I read it to plant dream big because anything's possible seeds.
But besides the obvious pause to discuss defining moments in the text, how could we velcro this tale so that it takes wing and imprints on their hearts and minds?

Here's my favorite page. 

 How about writing about a time when you "needed a little help with the technical parts." No wait, better yet, how about creating a Help Wanted Public Service Announcement (PSA) to share it in class, during Open House, or online. 

Follow that up by integrating an Art project, say, a Dream Catcher perhaps.

Circle up and talk about what the adage, "Birds of a feather flock together." means. Is that true in Penguin's case?

Want to really imprint those velcro moments? Reflecting on the emotions will help seal the deal. Ask your Flight School learners questions like these:

 How did Penguin feel when he first arrived?
How did Penguin feel when his first flight attempt failed?
How did Penguin feel when put his goggles on the sign?
How did Penguin feel when he boarded his boat to head home? 
How did Penguin feel when his friends called him back?
How did Penguin feel when his friends each gave him one of their feathers? 
How did Penguin feel when he experienced flight for the first time?
How did Penguin feel when he fell back to earth after experiencing flight?
How did Penguin feel when he headed home to get Ostrich?

Use a penguin (or other bird) figurine on a Feelings Parking Spot board to align the feelings Penguin experienced to a time when your learner felt that very same way. Let your student move the figurine to the strategy that helped him/her process and manage that feeling as s/he describes what that experience was like. This will stretch emotional literacy and elevate empathy to seal the deal. 

Click the image for idea source.

Compare and contrast Flight School with one of the other growth-mindset titles above. Use a graphic organizer, like the H-Map, the Venn Diagram, or the Double Bubble to organize ideas and fill in details.

Finally, sing about it.

Teach your students My Mindset; encourage them to work together to add some meaningful movements to complement the lyrics as they sing. 

Want the ukulele chords? G, C, A7, D7.

What's your best strategy for inspiring those velcro moments?


Write On!

Today I was exhausted, perhaps because we had last week off, and we'd gotten used to sleeping in. Or maybe because we were so busy at Camp Write-Along.

Our fourth graders were treated to a writing experience this week,

tents, flashlights, sleeping bags, campfires, s'mores and all!

We welcomed guest Camp Counselors to the mess hall during lunch, and we sang and danced to camp songs, like I Will Revise by Danielle Lacy-Jackson.

I was honored to be invited as a guest Camp Director
and talk with our Campers about writing intriguing leads to hook the reader and strong conclusions to seal the deal.
One camper even went to the local library after my talk,
to check out my book and work on strengthening her hooks. 
Write on!

This week I was interviewed about my thoughts about character education; check out this post from ProSignDesign to weigh in on the debate over whether it works.

One way to make your core values visible is to wear them. We don our character Ts on Wednesday and we're super excited about our new true colors T-shirt designed by our friend Jamaica at Inked Designs

Character education is a hot topic this week in Texas courtesy of HB 729, which proposes mandating character education in the state. What do you think about that? It would mean taking the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and infusing your school's core values. It could then be tied to accountability.
 Consider this screen shot from the Kindergarten TEKS.

Besides explaining it, how would you teach the difference between wants and needs? What could you do to engage your learners in an experience to enrich their understanding and elevate their empathy?

How about starting with an engaging story about shoes?
For K students, I recommend Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts. 
Did Jeremy just want new shoes, or were they a need?
Are there places where children don't have the footwear they might need?

I had the pleasure of sitting in on an Eleven Principles training facilitated by retired Principal Pam Mitchell yesterday, and she told about how her K classes researched and found a place where the children only have one pair of shoes. So her students suggested collecting their gently-used shoes and donating them to them, turning that wants v. needs standard into a real-life service-learning project. To inject some writing, encourage the students to write a note to the child who will get their pair and tuck it inside the shoes. 

Want a few bonus shoe-themed titles?

Does character education work? 
Let's just say it's not likely that those little learners will forget 
that wants and needs lesson any time soon.

With that, I'll sign off to watch some March Madness.
 Will Wisconsin survive in the swamp against those Florida Gators?
So far we're ahead by a basket. 
Right on!


PPBF: Happy Dreamer

Happy St. Patrick's Day. First, I'm thankful for my Grandma Natzke, whose birthday we celebrate today even though she is no longer with us on earth. I miss her so much. She was such a kind, generous, gentle soul, a beautiful role model for me. I loved going to her house and being with her. She was a dreamer, she was always humming, and I wanted to grow up to be just like her.

Next, I'm excited because my Inspiring Integrity guest post is now live at Free Spirit Press blog; clicking on the image below will take you there. I continue to enjoy and be challenged by assignment writing.

Finally, today marks my return to PPBF and I've got the 
picture-perfect book pick for you, my dear reader.

Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Publisher: Orchard Books
Date: March 28, 2017
Suitable for grades: preK - 3rd (and beyond!)
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Themes: Dream big. Be true to yourself. Live happily.
Brief synopsis: This Peter H. Reynolds newcomer bids us dance with this adorable, free-spirited, energetic daydreaming child as he shares his Dream big and be happy mindset, mess and all, with the world.  
Opening thoughts: I am a HAPPY DREAMER. I'm really good at dreaming. Daydreams. BIG DREAMS. Little dreams. Creative Dreams. 

*A Comprehensive Happy Dreamer Teachers Toolkit {here}
*Author's Notes About The Book {here}
*A Kirkus Review {here}
*A podcast with the author about the book {here}
*A Publisher's Weekly Review {here}

Why I like this book: Beside the fact that I'm a huge Peter H. Reynolds fan, the fact that I, like Reynolds himself, might have some undiagnosed ADHD going on, and the fact that I received this beautiful book as a gift from a very special student, I really connect with the passionate dreamer in this child. Our minds often wander off the beaten path, our ideas are ignited by our imaginations, and our dreams make us feel like dancing, even when the world tells us to keep quiet, sit still and pay attention. We hear things differently, sometimes more loudly. We know that being a dreamer is messy (he calls it creative chaos) but we crave doing it anyway. (My favorite line: If you make me, I will put my things away. But then there is less ME to show.) We don't want to just show up, we want to sparkle and create. We embrace who we are because it feeds our emotions and makes us happy. 

This colorful masterpiece left me wanting more, especially after I opened up the double-paged, poster-sized spread in the back which invites its readers to figure out (and name) what kind of dreamers we are, the perfect springboard for a writing or drawing activity. Anyone feel like creating a Vision Board?

Grandma Natzke would have loved Happy Dreamer
Check it out; I think you'll be joyful that you did!

Then visit Susanna Hill's blog for today's other PPBF selections.  


The Essence of Amy

Our world lost author Amy Krouse Rosenthal on Monday, which has left me feeling pensive, reflective and sad for her passing yet grateful for her positivity, inspiration, creativity, vulnerability, passion and joy.

This kindness clip, made years before she became ill, captures 
the essence of Amy.

I never met Amy, though when I read her books, it leaves me with the feeling that I'm pretty sure I know her, like she's a friend. That's because she builds such strong connections through her magical ability to brilliantly wordsmith. 

I did have a small interaction with her this past summer, one that now carries an even deeper meaning for me, when I saw this posted on her Facebook page:

I wasn't sure I even had a chance to win the tote, but, being a HUGE fan of her beautiful treasure I Wish You More, I was baited hook, line, and sinker by Amy's creative challenge. Days later, I found out a number generator chose my comment.

So I sent Amy my address ...

and, as promised, she sent me this tote and a note.

 It reads: hi Barbara! bye Barbara!
and it's signed Amy KR
and sealed with the cutest little self-portrait.
The essence of Amy.
Short, sweet, and sincere.
A sticky note from one of my heroes,
a stranger who felt like a friend,
who lived life huge
because she knew a secret ... 

... one that she shared with anyone who would listen.

Fly, Amy, fly; you will be dearly missed.

Thank you for leaving the world better than you found it, 
and for encouraging us through your many mediums to be kind.
To love big.
To be sweet.
To be OK.
To be ourselves.
To be OK with being ourselves.
To notice, really notice, things.
To create stuff.
To spread joy.
To play fair.
To appreciate music.
To beckon the lovely.
To look for miracles.
To find them in the ordinary.
To be filled with wonder.
To value independence.
To look for humor and be 'punny' whenever possible.
To laugh at ourselves and with others.
To embrace what makes us special.
To celebrate our differences.
To make good character choices.
To accept change as a part of life.
To appreciate that friends come in all shapes & sizes.
To enjoy it when money really does grow on trees.
To pay it forward.
To give back.
To unwrap the gift of life.

And to live a life worthy of being remembered.

Rest in peace knowing you have done all of that, Amy KR ... 
and MORE.

Thank you, thank you.


Loving What Is

Today I am excited and a little edgy because it's Day 2 of our new window installation. Turns out, out with the old, in with the new can come with a price. No, I'm not talking about how expensive it is to purchase storm windows that will withstand hurricane-strength winds coming at us with speeds of up to 110 mph. I'm actually referring to being displaced and moving everything around that's got me slightly off keel. That, and guess what we totally forgot about when we ordered new windows? Yep, blinds. The original Levelors that we've been using since we moved in twenty years ago just aren't going to cut it anymore, so out goes the old.
{Didn't I hear somewhere that old is the new new?}

Today I'm choosing to focus, with intention, on loving what is.
Loving what is working.
Loving what is positive.
Loving what is joyful.

I'll start with this Sweeter Than Sweet exhibit.

Joshua worked on this at the Houston Museum of Natural Science when he interned there two summers ago. He researched how much artificial sweetener it would take to equal 10 four-pound bags of sugar. See the beakers in back? There's your answer! He also put together the chemical compound models and it is now an actual exhibit in our Museum. Super cool, right?

I'm also loving this darling new book,
about love 
and the circle of life
and letting go
and loving what is
and then rediscovering love all over again.

It's one of those books that you might give
to a new mom at a baby shower.
Or maybe to the mother of the bride (or groom?)
on her wedding day.
One of those classic gift books.

Not only is the story super sweet, but I love the way it came to me.
As a gift, from one of my fourth grade leaders.
Who used her own money.
Who put a pick for herself on hold because 
she didn't have enough to buy both.
Love is ...  
I love that she would do that for me.
And I love that Emily Arrow made a song out of the book!

I may have to learn this one on my ukulele.

I love this Kindness Tree ...

and this box of crayons, both on display at Ward Elementary.

And I love the TeRRiFiCC entrance markers that welcome people to
Clear Lake City Elementary. 

Wouldn't you love to be a part of these State Schools of Character families?

I love that I have a friend who would craft six year's worth
of my special one little word choices on these crosses at Camp.

Thank you, Annie, for your thoughtfulness.

And though I'm home and locked in a bedroom with my cat,
trying to escape the noise and the dust
and needing to shop for blinds online,
I'm loving that our youngest is in Hawaii with his band
and sending an occasional picture our way.

They're going to be playing patriotic music in their concert
on the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor later this week.
I especially love that they'll be uniting with a neighboring band from Dickinson High School to play a few of the songs together.

I'm also loving that Kaitlyn is hiking in Colorado with friends
and Jacob is in the Hill Country camping with friends.
I love that they have good friends
 to travel with,
to hang out with,
to do fun stuff with.

And I love that I get to work with this passionate leadership team.
Here's what we give to our staff on their special celebration day,
along with a birthday pencil and a chocolate bar.

Oh, and I love my husband, 
who just popped his head in the bedroom,
to see if he could bring me a diet Dr. Pepper.

He also offered a pedicure, but he left to get the soda before I could answer yes!

And so, dear reader, the point of today's post is this:
When things feel a little askew,
and it seems like life might go awry, 
{like, say, blindly ordering windows
without even thinking about window dressing},
try loving what is
instead of what isn't.
Make a list.
Say a prayer of thanks.
And move onward.

Here's to loving what is.
 And on that note, I must move on for my dentist appointment;
gotta love that annual spring break check up!