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Monthly Archives: July 2013

STEM Show: a great end to a great week in Bermuda

(If you’re looking for the Belco STEM camp lesson web site, click here)

I think the Ascendant Group / Belco STEM camp for kids was a smashing success and started some conversations that we’re very motivated to continue.  Today was the final day of STEM camp for the week 1 campers.  Anastasia, Jocene, and Diane put together a little showcase and invited parents, Belco executives, the Ministry of Education, and the community to come and talk to the kids about their learning.  We were very pleased with the turnout and the enthusiasm at the STEM show.

First, Anastasia grouped the kids and assigned the groups to a station.  One group got to demo the Green City challenge, two other groups demonstrated robots, one group had an Energy station, and another group had a Web Design station.  Parents and supporters circulated around the stations for 45 minutes or so and asked the kids questions, which they answered excitedly.  The kids could talk forever about their week at STEM camp.

What I found fascinating is how in tune the Bermudian kids are with their own geography. They had some misconceptions about the advantages and disadvantages of certain forms of power generation – but they understood well the limitations of where they live.  Bermuda is on a seamount such that the land is slightly above sea level, a reef area surrounds the islands, and then it drops steeply into the ocean for thousands of feet. There are two other seamounts a few dozen miles away but then nothing else for hundreds of miles, until you get to North Carolina.  They could converse easily about the challenges of living here – having to import almost everything they need, including all fossil fuels – the importance of the tourism industry – the fragility of their reef ecosystem – the calm weather with occasional storms – the historical disappearance of native flora and fauna – the smallness and isolation of it all.  I wondered if kids in Colorado could tell you as much detail about our own geography, and I doubted it.

Kids teach their parents about robot design

Logan, Cody, Cameron, and Darius teach their parents about robot design and programming

Derek and Andrew cover principles and tools of web design

Derek and Andrew cover principles and tools of web design

Abbie, Brian, and Gabriel completed 5 challenges in the Green City!

Abbie, Brian, and Gabriel completed 5 challenges in the Green City!

Nasir kept his parents captivated for quite a long time, going over everything we did at STEM camp.

Nasir kept his parents captivated for quite a long time, going over everything we did at STEM camp.

Next, we had a little graduation ceremony.  Anastasia and I each gave a speech about the creative problem-solving the students did over the week.  I talked about how real-world problem solving skills can’t be found in a textbook, and that students did important work when it came to teamwork, communication, analyzing tradeoffs, and doing research.  I complimented the students on a wonderful week.  We asked “wouldn’t it be great if school were like this all the time? This is what a STEM education is about. It is learning real-world problem solving by doing real-world problem solving.”  I also brought up FIRST Lego League, and I offered to collect contact information and help interested parents start a team or two.  I got some e-mail addresses and will follow up when I am home.

Anastasia showed a video about problem-based learning and explained her philosophy of teaching in an inquiry-based manner.  She summarized some research about creativity and its importance to learning, and how important creativity is for adolescent development especially.

Campers and their parents watch a video presentation.

Campers and their parents watch a video presentation.

We handed out awards – certificates of completion, and some awards of excellence for particular achievements in robotics, energy, and web design.  One of the Belco engineers, Don, had some “trophies” printed up on a 3D printer, and they were a big hit.

Team awards

Team awards

Trophies from the 3D printer, some with moving parts

Trophies from the 3D printer, some with moving parts

We mingled, cleaned up a bit, and then ended the camp.  I had a good conversation with Dr. Radell Tankard from the Bermuda Ministry of Education. STEM education is of high interest to the Ministry.  He asked in particular how becoming a STEM school had affected student behavior concerns. I told him that our data showed office referrals and discipline problems in general were way down, and we had data showing this was so. I cautioned that we had put a lot of other systems in place over the last few years, and that our discipline data couldn’t be isolated to STEM education.  However, I told him that anecdotally, the kids had fewer behavior problems when they were engaged and invested in learning during class time, and adopting the STEM philosophy really had improved student engagement.  We exchanged contact information – he wants more information!

Diane McCallum, who handled the STEM camp's logistics beautifully, Dr. Tankard, from the Ministry of Education, and the very talented Anastasia Smith, camp director.

Diane McCallum, who handled the STEM camp’s logistics beautifully, Dr. Tankard, from the Ministry of Education, and the very talented Anastasia Smith, camp director.

I loved working with Anastasia. She truly enjoys working with adolescents, and she’s very comfortable and at-home in the world of problem-based and project-based learning.  She came up with terrific lessons and learning experiences that fit the educational goals nicely. She trusted the students to be thinkers, and they were.  She works in North Carolina as a high school science teacher but is spending the summer in Bermuda.  It’s a shame she is normally so far away. I would enjoy working with her and hanging out with her.

A privilege to work with Anastasia this week!

A joy to work with Anastasia this week!

I feel really privileged to have been here for this experience. I’m excited to see where it leads and the conversations that are going to continue.  I know we’ll keep in touch with the community at Belco and the Bermudian Ministry of Education, and learn from each other the best way to engage students and invest in their future.

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Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Day 4 Report: STEM in Bermuda

The STEM camp is so exciting and is going really well.  Jocene Wade-Harmon, the VP of Human Resources at Belco, deserves credit for her vision and persistence in pulling this project together.  Anastasia Smith is the director of the camp and she was such a perfect choice. Her philosophy toward teaching is that of giving kids space to be inquisitive and creative – creating experiences that will cause them to discuss, ask questions, and invent. She has done just that with some great lessons, field trips, and challenges during this STEM camp focused on energy.  Diane McCallum has managed the paperwork, logistics, money, transportation, and food just beautifully.

The kids have accomplished a great deal this week. They have built robots using NXT Mindstorms and gone through a series of tutorials learning how to program them.  Some kids really went above and beyond, and challenged themselves to do some great stuff just by asking themselves if they could. Can I make the robot navigate around obstacles? Can I make it chomp like a Pac-Man?  Can I give my wheels more power or more speed?  What happens if I change the radius of the tires or move the light sensor to another location?  They followed these tangents happily and sometimes created fantastic results.

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Building, testing, and refining robots

Building, testing, and refining robots

The kids were introduced to the Green City challenge, in which the robots have to complete missions related to energy to gather energy bricks.  The challenges include spinning a wind turbine, fixing a dam, sorting the trash, replacing an old smokestack, and more.  Some kids have a couple of challenges complete and they are so excited.  They are learning about programming, algorithmic thinking, making trade-offs as far as speed/accuracy/point values, teamwork and organization.

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Some of the students had programmed robots before, but there was a wide range of background knowledge and experience.  Several kids did not even have e-mail addresses.  They enjoyed learning the new technology, and they grew in their ability to program very quickly.

Another thread in the camp has been energy.  Bermuda’s energy is produced by diesel engines mostly, with a little biomass from their trash incinerator and a small amount of solar on private homes.  All of the diesel fuel is imported and is very expensive.  The island is very aware of the energy challenges due to their location and geography… but it also gives them opportunities.  The kids have discussed, sorted, and analyzed various sources and forms of energy.  They took home a spreadsheet to analyze their energy use at home.  Anastasia, Jocene, and Diane planned field trip experiences for them.  The kids are very articulate about their geography and the challenges it poses.  Bermuda sits on an extinct volcano, far from the mid-Atlantic ridge where it formed. The seamount is small, and beyond it, the ocean floor drops off precipitously.  The kids realize this makes offshore sources of power very challenging… yet the small area of Bermuda makes onshore power sources difficult too, and some are impossible (such as geothermal and hydroelectric).

 

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A third thread in the camp was on sharing and communicating what they learned, and so we worked on some web design using HTML at first, and then Google Sites.  The students are working on a web site that explains to their parents, to Belco, and to the community what Bermuda’s energy future looks like.

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Tomorrow is the students’ STEM show, in which they’ll share what they learned by presenting to the attendees of the show, and then we’ll have some presentations and awards by the teachers and staff. The Minister of Education will be in attendance, along with the executive team at Belco and perhaps the Minister of the Environment.

It’s been a wonderful week, and I definitely hope the momentum continues.  Belco is considering hosting a STEM club for students ongoing if volunteers can be found to run it.  Anastasia and I will appeal to parents tomorrow to consider creating FIRST Lego League teams for their kids, with mentoring and support from us in Colorado and space and equipment offered by Belco.  I think we’ll get some parents that want to take us up on it, and it would be a great start.

Ultimately, there are two separate missions I’d like to see Bermuda tackle.  One is the continual development of their gifted and talented students, to push them to go into STEM careers and stay in Bermuda to help with the little territory’s challenges.  The other is an equity issue.  The divide between the public and private schools, between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy, is an unhealthy divide.  The kids in public schools with fewer resources deserve a great education that helps them develop their creativity and problem-solving too.  Both are workable with focus and vision from those involved – and it’s OK if it begins here!

 

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

STEM in Bermuda, Day 1

My family and I landed in Bermuda on Saturday night. We had a fascinating exchange with the women sitting in seats A and B in our row.  They seemed to be mother and daughter, and they were from Colombia.  They spoke not a word of English, not one bit.  And yet they were completely fearless in striking up conversations with me and my husband.  They asked for help filling out their customs and immigration forms, and we did the best we could, reaching far back into our memories for the Spanish words for “Date” and “Address” and “Business”.  And then we had to ask them whether they were carrying items for sale (“objetos… por (para?) vender?”), or “vegetales”, or “mucho dinero”?  I forgot the Spanish word for weapons, so we skipped that question and just told them to write “no”.

The two ladies kept asking us question after question, and I did the very best I could to answer even though I was only catching a word or two of every sentence.  They asked where we were from, and then where Denver was located, and they said they were going to Bermuda for something related to NuSkin.  They asked about the advertisements in the in-flight magazine.  They admired my daughter’s very blonde hair “Ella es gringa!” and asked to take a picture with our family.  It didn’t matter how uncomfortable I was with my Spanish, they talked and talked.  I walked off the airplane exhausted from trying to keep up with it, and a little in admiration of our Colombian friends who were so persistent in trying to get to know us.

My family spent Saturday night and Sunday sightseeing and going to the beach, and then on Monday the first Ascendant Group / Belco STEM Camp began.

I arrived at 7:30 and met up with Anastasia Smith, the camp director hired by Belco.  She had everything quite well organized and the camp was equipped with everything the students needed!  Each student had a labeled laptop and there were 10 NXT Mindstorms robots, enough for every pair of students to work with one.  She also had binders and gift bags for each student.  The schedule was a very busy one.  Monday we did:

a safety demonstration from the Belco safety department,

a paper tower “icebreaker” activity,

Paper Towers

Paper Towers

REM Bot Building using the NXT Mindstorms kits (this is the standard educational robot that comes with the kit),

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Lunch,

Lunch in the canteen

Lunch in the canteen

A tour of the Belco power plant,

Belco power plant tour. Bermuda gets most of its electricity from diesel generators.

Belco power plant tour. Bermuda gets most of its electricity from diesel generators.

and then about 45 minutes of web design.

Web design using HTML and Google Sites

Web design using HTML and Google Sites

 

We have hopes that the kids will work through many challenges in the Lego Mindstorms Green City challenge, discuss and understand Bermuda’s energy challenges, and create a web site describing what they learned during the week and proposed solutions to the energy challenges of Bermuda.  However, the goals are pretty lofty considering the timetable, so we need to keep in mind that the true goals are to:

* Allow kids to see STEM as an approach for solving the world’s problems

* Have the kids see themselves as engineers

* Steer the students on a path toward STEM hobbies and careers.

Bermuda’s educational system is at an interesting crossroads.  Of the students in the STEM camp, more than half are going to private schools.  Anastasia says there are more kids on the island that go to private school than public school now.  In a thriving educational ecosystem, private schools can prod the public schools to improve and bring the whole system up.  However, if the public school system is not healthy, the private schools further drain the public schools and the system becomes divided by class.  The island is very much aware of the need to revive its public schools.  The STEM camp is a first pass by Belco to bring some new energy into problem-based learning.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Sharing Ideas – in Bermuda!

Earlier in June, I had an interesting conversation with my assistant principal:

Me: Hi John, can I ask you a question about the computer lab?
John: I’m glad you’re here. I was just talking with our friends in Bermuda. They’re hosting a STEM camp this summer and they need a teacher with robotics experience to help them out with it.
Me: Wait. Help them out, as in?
John: In Bermuda.

I laughed, as I had just been talking with my husband and kids about reducing the complexity of our lives, slowing the pace and easing the pressure.  Saying no to more things, not over-committing.  But I told John I would think about it and discuss it with the family.  Although it doesn’t fit our new core values, we could not resist the opportunity.  I asked if I could bring the family.  We’re all going to Bermuda.  I will work, and the hubby and kids will sightsee during the day. We’ll have evenings and the weekend to have fun there as a family, and during the workday, I’m pretty excited about the opportunity for a little cultural exchange.

I am sensing an urgency from our contacts there to improve Bermudian education. The company that’s sponsoring the STEM camp is Belco – the Bermuda Electric Light Company.  What a terrific opportunity for the private sector to get involved.  They created an exciting summer enrichment for kids. It’s a deep honor that they selected Preston Middle School as a model for their camp, and we’ve been in touch with the territory’s Minister of Education to exchange ideas about STEM ongoing.

Preston is an exciting place to work. We believe kids should be engaged and inspired, that learning is an active, creative, rigorous, yet messy process.  STEM is one path to giving kids the tools to learn by solving problems.  The philosophy has really changed the culture at Preston. It’s energizing to be in a building where everyone buys into the idea that students learn by problem-solving together.  You walk down the halls and kids are huddled in groups, working on the challenges of transportation in sub-Saharan Africa, or building scale models of compost bins, or blogging about a peer pressure scenario.  

Belco has embraced this philosophy and has put together a great little program in which students will be tasked with solving Bermuda’s energy challenges.  The remote little island territory definitely has its work cut out for it, and the 12 – to – 15 – year – olds will be owning the challenge for the next generation.  The camp will involve Lego NXT Mindstorms challenges, energy activities, and web design. 

It’s going to be a great week and I can’t wait to see what I learn from it.  I also might get to check off a few items on my Bucket List – snorkeling at a coral reef has been on there forever!

 

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2013 in Uncategorized