Sunday, September 11, 2016

Designers 4 Mobility: The Kickoff

This week, we kicked off our first PBL (problem-based learning) unit for the year, Designers 4 Mobility, with a visit from 2 wonderful people and a dog, all eager for our students to take on a problem they are currently facing.

Freedom Service Dogs is an organization that takes shelter dogs and trains them as service dogs for veterans and clients with mobility impairments.
Freedom Service Dogs guests Marie and service dog-in-training Yatzee

Elizabeth "EB" Forst is a client awaiting a service dog from Freedom Service Dog who was paralyzed from the chest down 2 years ago in a diving accident.

Elizabeth "EB" Forst talking with students

In speaking with Freedom Service Dogs' client relations manager, Marie, I learned of a problem they faced with clients who are quadriplegic: They cannot give their dogs treats as most people would- by using their hands.

Lo and behold the driving question for this PBL: 

How can students design a way for clients who are quadriplegic to give their service dogs treats?

Sounds simple, right? 

Students began with by hearing from our client, EB, as she told the students a story of her life both before and after a diving accident left her paralyzed from the chest down. Upon hearing her story, students began asking questions and brainstorming ideas to help EB when she receives a service dog of her own. They were in awe of her high-tech wheelchair, in which she controlled with various puffs of air into a straw-like device located near her mouth. Could they come up with a solution to her problem?

EB shows students the bells and whistles of her sip and puff chair
After chatting with EB, students got to visit with Marie and a service dog-in-training, Yatzee, to learn about all the things service dogs can do for their owners. Opening doors, pulling out the laundry, and opening the refrigerator were just a few of the things they learned about. They were also introduced to clicker training, and how trainers use treats to reinforce the behaviors they want the dogs to perform. Can they come up with a way for a dog like Yatzee to receive his treats?

Yatzee shows off some of his skills
Armed with their task, the support of EB, Marie and Yatzee, and their teacher, the students are ready to take on their challenge!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Marine Mission: Should people inland care about the ocean, and why?

This is the question students at Colorado STEM Academy in Westminster, Colorado have been trying to answer. Over the past several months, students, teachers and scientists have been working together to raise awareness about current marine issues plaguing the planet.

Giuliana Turi, modeler for NOAA
Students were introduced to the issue of ocean acidification through a Skype session with NOAA scientist Giuliana Turi. They learned about sustainable seafood, overfishing and aquaculture through Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeaFood Watch application. After reading an article about President Obama’s ban on microplastics, students learned about the effects marine debris is having on our planet. A visit from Diane Stanitski, a NOAA Teacher at Sea and founder of NOAA’a Adopt a Drifter program, taught students about the effects of climate change and El Nino. Each of these issues- marine debris, ocean acidification sustainable seafood, overfishing, aquaculture, and climate change- became central to the problem-based learning unit, Marine Mission.
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Students on presentation day
Problem-based learning is an instructional method which allows students to learn deeply through a current problem. In this case, that problem was convincing people inland that they, too, should care about the ocean, even if they do not live near it. After choosing a marine issue that they were passionate about, students formed groups to learn about their marine issue and share their knowledge with their community. Students enlisted help from NOAA, National Geographic, and several other organizations on the World Wide Web. They also contacted local scientists in the Denver/Boulder area. Armed with information and resources, the teams worked together to understand their issue and how it could impact the community where they live.
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Handouts created by students to teach people about making sustainable seafood choices

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Students presenting to ocean scientists
Throughout this learning process, the question arose: How could students share their project with their community? The Downtown Denver Aquarium provided the perfect opportunity and invited students to share their projects at a nighttime event. The students, on their “Marine Mission”, began to brainstorm how they could share their learning about the marine issues with the community. They took on roles as web developers, topic experts and graphic designers to create a website and product that would help raise awareness about their marine issue. With the help of a local printing company, students created professional bookmarks, business cards, pamphlets, postcards, hats and T-shirts to pass out to visitors, with links that directed them to their websites with more information about the marine issue.

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Students learning about sharks at the aquarium

On the presentation night at the Downtown Aquarium, students presented their projects to families and friends, scientists and educators, and other community members that stopped by the room. Visitors and scientists from the Colorado Ocean Coalition, Ocean First Education and Ocean First Institute also joined the students to share about sharks, marine debris, and making sustainable seafood choices. To say our visitors were “wowed” by these students would be an understatement. Everyone left with a smile on their face, enthusiasm in their voices, and a little ocean in their hearts.

Presentation night at the Downtown Aquarium 

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Our team of teachers and ocean scientists

Thank you Cathy Christopher, Mikki McComb-Kobza, Laurent Riegler, Diane Stanitski, Guiliana Turi, Ocean First Education, Ocean First Institute, Colorado Ocean Coalition and NOAA for helping to make this project a success for students and teachers at the Colorado STEM Academy!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Coordinate Mapping Our School

Today we were introduced to a great new math challenge: How can we create a coordinate map of our entire school?

We began our challenge with what we knew and what we needed to know about coordinate graphing. Then, we all worked hard to create a map of our classroom.

This proved to be quite a challenge with several odd angles and corners in our room, but everyone did a great job. We began by creating an appropriate scale, and then worked in groups to take measurements of the various furniture around the room. Students collaborated by sharing measurements with one another, and worked in groups to convert the measurements for their paper map.
Students measuring the doorway to our room

Teamwork! Students measure the whiteboards

A coordinate map of our classroom
After drawing the layout of our classroom, we drew a grid overlay on top of our maps, dividing the classroom into 4 quadrants. Finally, we found the coordinates of various items in the classroom and used this to create a directory. Now, students can trade coordinate maps to find locations of various items in our room.
A directory for the coordinate map

Now that we have created our classroom map, we are on to our real challenge: To create a coordinate map of our entire school! Stay tuned for our next post.

Questions to respond to:
How did you use math in creating your classroom map? Give a specific example and short explanation.
What questions or concerns do you have about creating your school map? Be specific and explain why you need to know this to complete your project.
How did the classroom map activity prepare you for creating the school map? Give a specific example and short explanation.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


Happy 2016! As we start off the new year, we decided to do things a little differently. I had been seeing the #oneword hashtag on several social media sites, where people were posting their #oneword for 2016.

What is #oneword, you ask? #Oneword takes New Year's resolutions to a whole new level. Instead of writing the typical New Year's resolutions, or setting goals for the year, the idea encourages people to choose #oneword to drive their goals and aspirations for the year.
Our class began by watching a short video representing the #oneword project.

We then brainstormed words that we wanted to live by. Courage, mercy, bravery, faith. Those were just a few words strewn across the pages of writing journals. After careful thought and selection, students picked #oneword that they would use to drive their goals for 2016. 
Here are just a few of the words we came up with:

Pier 112's #onewords

Pier 112's #onewords

Let's live up to these words in 2016!