Changing the future

As I reflect on a day spent reviewing and evaluating Educator Initiative Grants funded by the GAR Foundation, I realized that I wasn’t just reading, reviewing and evaluating grant proposals submitted by teachers and schools across the county, I was helping to decide how children are going to be impacted not just next year but many years to come.

We on the team take our role as evaluator very seriously. We work to recommend funding for the best and most impactful proposals. But with that realization on how children are impacted year after year, I couldn’t help but think about how the GAR Foundation has changed the face of my classroom.

A few years ago I had this crazy idea to offer robotics courses to eighth graders. It is hard to do this without a robot. Through a grant funded by GAR, I was able to get two sets of robots and some incredible professional development. This started my interest in teaching more computer science skills to my students. The confidence that being awarded the funds gave me was a springboard into a change in what and how I teach. Now I have two different courses spanning not just eighth graders, but encompassing students from eighth grade to seniors.

It didn’t stop there. Because my administrators have seen how teaching computer science principals through the use of robots is so impactful, they have supported other ideas and projects. Some of those have been supported through GAR in the way of other grants I have written and some funded by the district.

As I finished reflecting on that long day, I was thankful for the GAR Foundation. They are improving the lives of children in Summit County through education and opportunities. Without the GAR Foundation, the future in Summit County wouldn’t be so bright!



Making America Great Again!

This past Friday we inaugurated a new President. Whether you are happy or not with who the President of the United States is doesn’t matter. This isn’t a political post. What this post is about is how to REALLY make America Great Again!

As many Americans, I have thought a great deal about the slogans the Presidential candidates used over the past two years. I think we all have it wrong. We are looking to a person to make the United States of America the country we want it to be. We need to be looking in the mirror. We need to look inside and ask our selves, “How can I make America great again?”

This picture was posted on Facebook. I love how this teacher used this moment in history to work to bring out greatness in second graders. Read it all the way through. The teacher doesn’t add his/her opinion on who was elected. He/she talks about how we can make this country and this world a better place.

This image got me thinking about the recent First Lego League competition my team competed. FIRST has core values that the teams are expected to follow. They are:

  • We are a team.
  • We do the work to find solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.
  • We know our coaches and mentors don’t have all the answers; we learn together.
  • We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
  • What we discover is more important than what we win.
  • We share our experiences with others.
  • We display Gracious Professionalism® and Coopertition® in everything we do.
  • We have FUN!

Notice that all of the core values are working together and being kind. FIRST uses the terms Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition. (Click on the terms to see the meaning.) Both are all about being kind and working together. That is what I truly love about the FLL tournaments. (The bracelets shown above are handed out when a student or coach displays either Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition. I am honored to wear the one that I earned at the last tournament. One boy from my team also was given a bracelet. It reminds us that we need to work together and be kind.

FIRST is leading the way to show children and adults that there is a better way. And that way is learning and growing together through being kind and working together. What a wonderful world this would be if we all showed some Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition.

American can only be great if we make it that way! Thank you Kid President for this tweet, “We need everybody to be awesome to everybody. But… not everybody will do that. Thankfully there’s you. You can do that. Go be you.”

Go be you and let’s ALL make America Great Again!


FLL District Tournament

SMH_286Our FLL Animal Allies season is over. We gave it our best shot, but came up short at the University of Akron FLL District Tournament. I am so proud of the team. We managed to score our highest score in the Robot Games. It was our highest possible score with what we programmed our robot to complete. The team was so excited. We also scored much higher on our Core Values judging. Best of all we had a BLAST!

If you have been thinking of creating a team I have just one thing to say. DO IT. Create a team and sign up.

I enjoyed the entire season. I admit that I was a stressed out mess during the judging. These kids worked so hard and I wanted the best for them.

In the end it all payed off. We won a Judges Award. We got to go home with a trophy to display with many others trophies from various teams from the school over the years. For a rookie team, these kids exceeded my expectations.

I can’t wait until next season. I think I’m hooked.

FLL Regional Tournament

img_4354This past weekend my team, the RoboTigers, competed at the NEOFRA Warren Delphi First Lego League Regional Tournament. I must first say that the team of people who run this particular event hit a homerun! The event was incredible. Everyone was very professional and well prepared.

With that said, if you are thinking about starting a FLL team, here are some things that I learned after my first competition.

  1. Be prepared for a LONG day. (The day was great and busy, but long.)
  2. You get way more points for your presentations than you do for the robot games. (You do have to score high enough in the robot games to move on, but having the highest score doesn’t guarantee you move on to regionals.)
  3. You really need to do well on ALL of the presentations. We focused more on the research project. The other presentations (Core Values and Robot Design) are very important also.

Overall we did great. We didn’t have the highest score, but we were in the top 7 and advanced on to the regionals next month. For a first year team of 4-5 graders who have never programmed a robot before, we did incredible. I am so proud of them!

If you are thinking about starting a team, GO FOR IT! It was a BLAST!


robotigerSo a few months have gone by and we have been busy. So busy I haven’t posted about our process. Sorry! I am finding out there are lots to do before our competition on December 10.

If you are considering starting a team I HIGHLY suggest you find yourself a mentor or join an established team with an experienced coach.

Although I did have a coach from another team to ask questions of, I didn’t realize just how much you have to do. I knew about the robot competition and the project, but didn’t realize you have to know and demonstrate how you meet the FLL Core Values. I didn’t realize all the paperwork involved.

With that said, this wouldn’t stop me from continuing to coach a FLL team. I know now that much of the work needs to start day 1 instead of a month before competition.

Overall, the experience was good. One of the Core Values is “We know our coaches and mentors don’t have all the answers; we learn together.” That includes the FLL competition process. The students and I learned a great deal and had a lot of fun in the process.

Going further with Minecraft in the classroom

T2016-11-22_07-00-37his is the second year I am using Minecraft in my classroom. As I did last year, students are creating the community/civilization from the literature they have read in their ELA classes.

This year I wanted to take the Minecraft build a step further. Many of the students are already very proficient in Minecraft. I wanted them to think and problem solve while they built the Gibb Street Community from the book Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. The best way to do this is by allowing students to use ComputerCraft to program turtles to mine and build for them.

2016-11-18_11-10-43I’m no expert when it comes to programming turtles, but I found some great tutorials on YouTube and sent the students there. (I did watch each video to make sure it was appropriate before giving students the link.) Students watched and learned. I learned as well as we worked through the process together. (The picture on the left is a student standing behind his turtle while it mines.)

2016-11-23_11-29-53I also allowed students to automate parts of their build using redstone. (Redstone is a fictional mineral in Minecraft that acts as an electrical wire to build electronic circuits, circuitry gates, pistons, dispensers, and other machines.) Students built all kinds of cool things. My favorite are street lights that actually work when it gets dark.

To watch students engage in work so deeply is incredible. They demonstrated their understanding of the text by what they were building. It is a good day when you can have a blast and learn a great deal at the same time.
For more on what I have been doing with Minecraft in the Classroom, check out these past posts.


The diary of a FLL coach

animalalliesFor years I have been interested in coaching a First Lego League robotics team. This year I finally get a chance. Through this blog and twitter, I plan to document each step of the way. For those who want to create a team but don’t know where to start, I hope my ups and downs during the season will give you the courage to try coaching a team yourself.

I am lucky. My team was already set up before I decided to coach. My daughter’s school was looking for someone to coach a third team they were creating. All I had to do is say yes. I excited that my daughter will also have the opportunity to be on the team. We ordered the materials, so it’s official. I am coaching a FLL team.

For our first meeting, we spent time coming up with a team name. We didn’t actually agree on a name yet. I didn’t want to spend all of our time debating, so we will leave that until next week. None of the students have been on a FLL team before. I guess we all will be learning as we go.

We also spent time discussing the project and the robot game. This led us to discuss how we interact with animals.

Before we knew it, our time was over. Until next week…

Using Twitter in the Classroom Final Thoughts

Twitter_logo_blueI hope that the Twitter in the Classroom series has been helpful as you start to use Twitter to impact your teaching through the connecting with other teachers from around the world. If you are have stumbled upon this post, you can get to series through the links below. Please follow me at @techlane.


Using Twitter in the Classroom

Customizing Your Twitter Account

Tweeting and Following Others

Twitter Chats



Twitter Chats

Twitter (3)You have a customized Twitter account, posted tweets and you have started following others. Now it is time to start interacting with other teachers. You do this through something called a Twitter Chat. A Twitter Chat typically has a topic for discussion. There is a moderator that posts a series of questions. Those participating answer the questions. The crazy thing is lots of answers will filter in all at the same time. You stay connected with the chat through the use of a specific hashtag. Here is a great list of Twitter Chats on a variety of topics geared for teachers. When in a Twitter Chat I like to use a website called TweetDeck. This seems to allow me to follow along better than using the Twitter website. I also like to use my laptop. It can get overwhelming trying to use my iPad or iPhone. Watch the latest video as I participate in a Twitter Chat. You’ll see how you can learn a great deal and become inspired by those in the chat. These are teachers from around the world.

Tweeting and Following Others

Twitter (2)Now that you have a Twitter account and you have customized your page, it is time to start connecting with others through tweeting and following others. One way to connect with others is to search for topics you are interested in following. You can do this by searching topics or by searching a hashtag (#). You also need to start tweeting yourself. Being a teacher is all about sharing our ideas with each other. Watch the next video for a tutorial on posting tweets, searching for topics of interest, and using hashtags. I will further explain hashtags and how to use them also. Be ready to grow your PLN exponentially.