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2 Posts authored by: Brian Rueckert

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We started revamping our science curriculum a couple years back as a part of a big STEM push as an institution (complete with a new building). Lovingly called STEM 1 initially, now Science 9: Chemical and Physical Systems, the course Freshman take comes in two flavors: standard, and accelerated/math intensive. Both include a healthy dose of instruction and projects involving programming, with a Springtime focus on programmable circuit boards in conjunction with a unit on electricity. Enter the tiny little circuit board that could: the Arduino.

 

I love Arduinos. If you’ve never witnessed what one of these can do, you need to get yourself on the InterGoogles and search for Arduino project examples and prepared to be wowed by the internet of things. Obviously, we weren’t expecting the students to create some of the complex examples you might find online; we were simply going for exposure initially, with a little application of their electric knowledge gained from the accompanying unit thrown in for good measure.

 

Canvas turned out to be an excellent platform to present the instructional content for the Arduinos. We introduced students to a series of Modules, the first being an overview of the circuit board as well the the development environment. We had them blink an LED (of course!), control an LED with a potentiometer, then had them modify the code to cause some type of change in the system. The second Module was a series of separate tutorials centered around a particular sensor or programming concept. For example, the RGB LED had an in-depth look at “for” loops, while the bank of LEDs looked at arrays. Each of the mini activities in the second Module contained Canvas Pages with an instructional video discussing the program sketch, an overview of how to construct the actual circuit on the breadboard, an Assignment that challenged them to expand on the example circuit, and a badge.

 

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CanvaBadges was an interesting experimental piece to the project. I created a badge for the intro Module, and separate badges for completion of each of the mini activities in the second Module. Success and student interest in badges was directly related to how they were presented by the separate instructors. In one class, the teacher almost cheesily over emphasized them and the students followed suit; they had a fierce competition for who could collect them the fastest. Yet in another class, badges were more of an afterthought, so students really didn’t care. In hindsight, I should have prepared faculty better with strategies to get students excited about badges. It was mostly a bust that year, but showed potential.

 

The final piece of the project involved a student-designed Arduino circuit. Groups were challenged to build a circuit that collected some kind of data that would cause another component to respond in some way. They were given a small budget and were pointed to an online tech store to order parts. The default sketch that many of the less adventurous groups defaulted to was a temperature sensor that caused an LED to light up at a certain threshold. We had some absolutely awesome projects though. One group created a series of LEDs that flashed based on the beat of an audio track, while another created a laser-based attendance tracker that counted up whenever the beam was interrupted by someone walking by!

 

Canvas was an excellent tool to use for our STEM 1 Arduino Project. All of the instructional content rolled up into Modules provided a “home base” so to speak for students to get everything they needed to succeed - from remedial programming help, to inspiration for project design!

 

Has anyone else done engineering or tech project Modules in Canvas? Please share!

Now that the opening act of the 2015-2016 school year is past and parent-teacher-(student) conferences are among us, I thought I’d share some thoughts stemming from August and September. I, like many guys out there, think in compartmentalized boxes; so here are (almost) five boxes of reflection - vocations if you will.

 

Professional Box - As a tech coordinator and coach, I don’t have to do parent-teacher conferences anymore (woot); that being said, now might not be the best time to lay out a new tech initiative or schedule a slew of training days for my faculty. This is a hectic and exhausting time as the first round of major assessments are finishing, substantive comments are due, and teachers are knee deep in departmental and home communication. Recognizing this and putting my own goals aside for a week isn’t going to move the needle of tech integration at our school in any meaningful way; we aren’t going to lose ground on competing schools. In fact, this is a great time to reflect and set focuses and goals for October and November!



Family Box - I am a Father of two boys - a three year old and a one year old. The Summer is great because hours a little more relaxed and I get to see them every morning. When school is in session, I need to be out of the house by 6:45 if I’m going to make it on time (dang traffic) and may not see my wife and my boys before I leave. Insert parent night or another evening commitment and I may not see my boys at all. This is a reality of working in a school as you all know.

 

This isn’t the norm however, and every other night family needs to come before work. When I get home, I put the phone in the other room so I can’t see my inbox filling up in real time. If it’s vitally important and time sensitive, they would call. Make a point to sit down together at supper time, and keep the TV off. Grading and feedback communication is a necessary part of a teacher’s home life; save it for after the kids are in bed, and work with your spouse in the same room if possible (especially if your better half is also a teacher!).



Outwardly Focused Box - By “outward focus” I mean “How am I nurturing relationships and helping others in my work place beyond our normal professional interactions.” The beginning of the school year is a great time to improve workplace camaraderie. It drives me nuts when all people want to talk about at lunch is business. Isn’t lunch supposed to be a break? Make a point to learn more about your co-workers at lunch. What important life events are they going through? What did they do this past weekend? Just like our students, every adult comes to school with their own backstories. Knowing them helps make the workplace better.

 

Our German teacher organizes “professional development sessions” at local pubs periodically throughout the school year. I love this. It offers a chance to create bonds and friendships with people you don’t always see outside of the office. While I’m a pretty extreme introvert, It’s hard for me to resist a little liquid conversation starter. Prost!



Inwardly Focused Box - How am I improving? Am I actively learning something new? What book am I reading? My Dad used to say that a person should always be reading one nonfiction book, one fiction book, and learning one new piece of music. Time constraints on the day make this difficult to do of course, but I’ve found it to be a good philosophy of personal improvement. It can be adjusted to one’s personality and hobbies of course. Instead of a nonfiction book, you could enroll in a MOOC; instead of a fiction book, you could write and lead a tabletop gaming adventure with a group of friends (Pathfinder anyone?); instead of a piece of music, you could draw or paint.

 

Exercise is another important piece of your inwardly focused box. I find running to be an escape like none other. Some like to listen to music or podcasts when they exercise; I am not one of those people. I “run to seek the void” (Haruki Murakami and The Oatmeal) and need this brain-off time to fully function in my other boxes. I encourage you to find your own brain-off physical activity; it can truly change how you approach your week. Make an exercise goal for the Fall semester and stick to it!



There you go. Nothing profound or that hasn’t been said before. I hope you all have a great rest of the school year!

 

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