My Trip to Maker Faire Bay Area: Friday at Lick Wilmerding

This is part 1 in a three-part series about my trip to San Francisco to visit Maker Faire Bay Area. I also write about our trip to the Exploratorium and Maker Faire Bay Area in separate posts.

Introduction

Last week, as we wrapped up classes on the 2014-15 year, my school sent me with two other teachers to Maker Faire Bay Area. The three of us are part of our school’s STEAM professional learning community. Our visit was meant to further our cross-curricular work with this great group of teachers. I liked how the three of us available for the trip were from different departments — it helped me experience all this great stuff through their eyes.

The three of us had tickets to the Faire, plans to visit a high school, and time carved out to see the Exploratorium science museum.

My colleagues are Robin-Lynn Clemmons (math) and Kristin Brown (photography). Here we are on the walk to the Exploratorium on Friday afternoon:

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My colleague liked to introduce us as “a mathematician, artist, and a physicist” while we traveled around San Francisco.

Lick Wilmerding High School Visit

When this trip came up as a possibility, I knew I wanted to visit Lick. This school is amazing! It’s over 100 years old and was originally founded as a school of the mechanical arts, meaning it has a strong vocational history. Today, Lick is an independent college prep high school in the heart of San Francisco.

Our host at Lick Wilmerding was Colleen Nyeggen. She teaches physics and engineering classes.

Picture of Colleen and Megan

Another Tweep met in real life!

The first thing you notice when you walk down to Colleen’s classroom is the huge wall of windows she has — looking out over a courtyard of similarly-appointed classrooms. When this part of the school was built, the developers dug out space so that every room would have tons of natural light. Here’s a photo from the upper level. Those double doors in the lower middle of the picture are Colleen’s classroom.

The developers dug down to create what folks call the pit area. The result? Lots of light AND greenspace at an urban school.

We toured the “shop pit” area where all the tech arts classes and her physics classroom are housed. The entire area feels industrial and productive. We observed students working on projects ranging from jewelry, electronics, and woodworking.

shop storage in the table

This is the kind of workspace I envied while visiting Lick — the spaces are airy and incredibly neat. This table holds stock for projects.

Every freshman at Lick takes a course in the tech arts (what you might call shop) called Design & Technology, culminating in a project to build a lamp. Check out the Tech Arts Department page for samples of student work.

Colleen told us that the kids learn to operate all the tools on campus during that D&T course as freshmen. When they come to her engineering class and she wants them to design bridges, they already understand how to both operate the design tools and also how to join wooden parts without glue (see below).

bridges

To make space in their curriculum for these wonderful courses, Lick doesn’t offer AP or IB courses. The teachers we spoke with said their students still get into “top” colleges and they don’t see a downside to the decision.

I’d love to build new buildings and design new curriculum based on what we saw at Lick Wilmerding. Of course that isn’t happening, so I tried to distill what I learned at Lick into actionable items for my own practice. Here are those three main ideas:

  1. If you’re gonna do projects, you need storage space for works in progress. The tech arts rooms had plenty of storage space for unfinished work. They used broad shelves and all the vertical space available. Work was kept out of the way and appeared to be un-bothered by students.
  2. A reminder to myself that I shouldn’t simultaneously teach how to fabricate a thing while trying to teach about the physics of that thing (for example, the bridge builders in Colleen’s engineering class already understood designing in wood and cut on a laser cutter before she started with them on bridge engineering).
  3. Service learning offers a purpose to a student’s practice. For instance, the kids built seating and shelving around campus.

I wonder if there’s a way to facilitate school visits — either in person or virtually. Would you like help finding a school you can visit?

Course Feedback with a Twist

Are you happy with the course feedback process in your classes? I wasn’t and set out to improve it this year.

By way of background, here are screenshots of two old feedback forms:

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Fall 2013, I wanted to speak the kids’ language. Yeah, that didn’t go over so well. Also, the feedback was mostly useless, too.

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Fall 2014, I tweaked the questions but kept the same general feedback (except for the questionable slang usage).

Unsatisfied by the prior depth of feedback I grabbed a stack of sticky notes and asked each class to respond to only one question. The question answered below is “How did the homework and quiz retake policy work out for you this year?”

We shuffled the sticky notes around the room and I asked for a volunteer to start us talking by reading the comment in her hand. We talked, for example, about the problem of off days. Kids added their own thoughts to the original note. I think we discussed my one prompt and their thoughts for about 20 minutes. Every class got a different prompt.

Keeping all the kids engaged in the discussion was tough. I’d guess that about 75% of each class wanted to join the conversation. The rest played on their computers or phones, which didn’t bother me too much.

I’m definitely doing this again. One thing I’d do different is implement this at midterm so that the kids giving the feedback might benefit from it.

Why Am I So Gay?

In this wonderful TEDx talk titled “Why am I so gay?”, Thomas Lloyd presents three reasons (no, obligations) he has to be out:

In case you missed them, there were three:

1. Obligations to history.
2. The realities of his own identity.
3. Obligations to those yet to come.

The third one hit me hardest. This kid on the TED stage was telling me that I owe it to the next generation to be out so they might find their ways more easily.

The last few years, I found myself settling into a notion of the world as post-gay. Whatever, I thought, being queer is so mainstream now. I even suggested as much to my wife, Liz, at dinner tonight. I told her that kids these days aren’t interested in seeking out LGBT representation in popular media because they can find examples so easily. Her response? “No way. Look at how often one of your kids sends you a song or a video with a queer character. They’re excited to see themselves represented.” [Edit: I realize now that the number of fan-made videos on YouTube featuring LGBT couples is also a huge indicator of teen interest.]

Thomas went on to speak about the exhaustion we feel and loss that society suffers when we try to hide our identities. I agree that our creative energies should NOT go to hiding an affect that’s been ridiculed, to worrying over the sound of our voices, or to watching the pronouns we use to describe our crush.

Ever since seeing Thomas’ talk, I wondered what my creative energies were (because I never thought of myself as creative). Then it came to me: I’m choosing to put my creative energies to helping my students find media resources that reflect their identities. With that, I introduce Teen-Friendly Queer Media, a page of movies, TV shows, and books that are appropriate for the younger LGBTQA peeps.

My School Went Gmail and I’m So Happy

[I wrote this post for faculty in my department at school then figured my friends online could use the info. Definitely check out Boomerang — it just saved my butt by reminding me of an important followup I needed to make. –Meg HG]

Here are five different tools for Gmail that might make your email life a bit easier.

Want to yank back a message you regret sending? Enable Undo Send. I enabled it with the default delay of 10 s, which I found too short — I’d never realize my mistake that quickly. User-configurable cancellation period goes up to 30 s. There is no way to pull back an email once it’s delivered to an inbox.
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Looking for something? That search bar at the top can also search your files under Google Drive. Enable Apps Search, also under Google Labs.
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Did you like seeing unread message counts? Enable the icon, under Google Labs.
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Get an email to pop up again later with Snooze. I haven’t tried this but plan to because I used to use the “Follow Up” feature in Outlook all the time to pop up later with a “hey, doofus, don’t forget this thing you said you’d do later.”
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Delay sending an email so no one knows you’re up at 3am working. Or, so that folks think you’re at school at 3pm when you’re not. Install Boomerang. I’m not using this one yet but absolutely want to delay sending emails to parents for boundary-setting reasons.
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Not a Gmail thing but may help if you have trouble staying focused. Stayfocusd is a browser plugin that blocks websites you choose at times you choose. I have a 30 minute timer set on weekdays that blocks after I use up my Facebook time.
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What do you want to do in email?

Global Math Dept 17 March: Mathy Internet Stuff

Tonight’s Global Math topic has a totally un-catchy name but I assure you, the content promises to be excellent. We’re going to hear from Bob Lochel, Justin Aion, Mattie Baker, and Lisa Bejarano.

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Join us at Global Math Department tonight at 9pm Eastern Daylight Time to hear “Interesting Things Found by the MTBoS”. Each presenter has about 10 minutes to share a favorite resource or technique they’ve shared or found on Twitter, their blogs, or the internet-at-large.

Never heard of Global Math Department? We offer the best professional development math teachers can attend in their pajamas. Our free meetings are held every Tuesday at 9pm Eastern (2am Wednesday GMT) and are recorded for later viewing. We also have a weekly newsletter that’s absolutely worth your time.

We’re Hiring an Upper School Math Teacher!

My school is looking to hire an upper school math teacher starting next year. We’re located in Atlanta. I can say many great things about this school but will simplify it to just one personal anecdote: Liz and I were ready to move to Cincinnati when I heard they were hiring. We postponed our plans for a year. And now maybe forever. I mean, c’mon folks, I gave up ready access to Jungle Jim’s and Dewey’s Pizza for The Westminster Schools.

Message me privately if you plan to apply so I can tell the Dean of Faculty I sent you.

The Westminster Schools announces a search for an Upper School Math Teacher beginning in the 2015-16 academic year.

Applicant must have the ability to teach any course in the high school from Geometry through Multi Variable Calculus. This includes AP Statistics, AP Calculus AB, and AP Calculus BC. Experience with classroom technology and its appropriate use in teaching, enhancing, exploring, and supporting mathematics teaching is required, including:

  • TI Nspire TI- CAS graphing calculators and Computer software to enhance the teaching and learning of algebraic & graphical concepts
  • Dynamic geometry software (Cabri Geometry or The Geometer’s Sketchpad) to enhance the teaching and learning of geometric concepts
  • Use of iPads in the classroom
  • Use of laptops in a one-to-one classroom environment

In addition to experience and a strong educational background, successful candidates demonstrate a love of working with children, an engaging teaching style, the ability to interact well with parents and colleagues, and a willingness to create and promote an inclusive learning environment. Duties may include participating in professional and curricular development and serving as an advisor to students. Candidates should be able to contribute to the larger school community through coaching or sponsoring other extracurricular programs. The Westminster Schools is committed to the principle of equal opportunity in employment. It is Westminster’s policy to provide equal employment opportunities and administer terms and conditions of employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, marital status, amnesty or status as a covered veteran in accordance with applicable federal, state and local laws.

Interested candidates, please Apply Online.

Hey, would you look at that, we don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation (which isn’t even a protected status in this state). I didn’t realize that at the time I interviewed here.

An Easier Way to Read Papers

In my last post, I proposed that technical writing should be taught in science class. Then I received 75 separate papers from students. Papers I had to read, give feedback on, and grade. I take it back! Please! Don’t make me grade all these things!

Then I turned on dictation.

I like to have Alex read me about half a page at a time. Sometimes I read along with Alex and other times I bring my grading rubric to the foreground.

Why does this work for me? I think because it fixes my #1 problem with reading: I get a page into a paper and wonder what the heck I just read (and not just because the kid’s work is that bad). Looking back, when I was a kid, my reading comprehension scores were always relatively low, which might explain things. Anyhow, maybe dictation will help you or a student. Let me know if it does?