There’s a First Time for Everything

A few weeks ago I earned my (1st) Master’s Degree in Digital Learning and Leading.  It brought my blog some serious reflections.  That being said, there is never time to celebrate and feel like things will just fall into your lap.   A part of me is always on, always thinking.  It is a blessing and a curse being a workaholic, but I am thankful I have so much work to be done.  I have also written about the process of putting my house up for sale.  That came and went incredibly quick!  My family moved out of our (1st) home and are currently residing with my in-laws, yup, for the (1st) time.  The move went relatively smoothly, but I am a bit exhausted from the storage unit trips, late nights calming the kids down, and the early mornings with the dog in a new home. I guess I picked a great time to organize and run the (1st) STEM Camp for my school district last week!

With the assistance of two phenomenal 2nd grade teachers, we welcomed 27 rising 3rd and 4th graders.  Please note, they got me the shirt!  They were so excited about camp that it gave me some faith in my plan.  I am ambitious, maybe crazy, and I handed the kids a robotics kit with a few hundred parts that needed to be assembled from the ground up.   DISCLAIMER!  When I ordered the kits I deemed it age appropriate, but when the kits arrived the boxes said 13 & up!  Luckily for us, the kids embraced this.  My most recent teaching style was about student discovery with limited help from me.  I wanted to find their “breaking point”.  Both teachers thanked me for showing them this style, something they would have never done, but you’ll find out why it was worth it.

It took my 5 year old son and myself about 2 hours to complete the robot, so I thought we would certainly get it done over 4 days at camp.  Enter reality, at the end of the camp, one kit was fully assembled by a 4th grader, but she had not wired it to work properly and another student had his completely operational, but the controller was not finished entirely.  Let’s split the difference and call it 1 out of 27.  So, my camp was a failure….Right?   If these were PARCC scores or any state assessment that you may deal with, 1/27 would be grounds for removal from the classroom.  Some were incredibly close to finishing and refused to give up, some decided they would tackle it at home and went on to have tons of fun in our Design Studio using Bloxels and other materials.  Others, I could tell they gave up and maybe this just wasn’t their cup of tea. Sounds about right, school/camp was fun for most, not for all, but we still failed the TEST.  Still seems like we failed in our first camp, doesn’t it?

Or did we?  Here are a few words from kids.

“I am going home today and finishing this!”

“I am visiting family in Pittsburgh today, and I am going to show my grandfather this once I see him.”

“If it doesn’t work, I guess I will take it apart and start over.”

“I wish I paid more attention in the beginning, losing that one part is holding me back!”

“I don’t care if it works or not, I learned how not to quit.”

“This was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  Why didn’t you do more for us?”

The last quote hits you like a ton of breaks.  To give perspective, each one of the teachers was probably called by name a few hundred times at camp for help.  Half of those occurrences, the learners had not even tried to do what they were asking.  They wanted results over the experience, but they soon learned that we were not giving them what they wanted.  Kids say what is on their mind, especially during a camp in the summer.   Their unfiltered feedback left myself and my two colleagues (certainly friends now) smiling and realizing we did more than expose these learners to STEM.  We acted as CHANGE agents and I hope I influenced these teachers to break the molds come September.

“Why didn’t you do more for us?”

If a student or multiple students are saying this, don’t blame them.  Blame the sage on the stage spoon-feeding answers, but don’t blame that teacher like it is their fault.  They are doing what they were told to do.  They are probably working extremely hard to learn all those answers.  I was that guy spitting out knowledge once.  I increased my background knowledge as much as possible to always help my learners.  Yet, I wasn’t helping them. Today, I still answer questions, but only when they push kids beyond their personal boundaries.  I answered that student at camp about why I did not help them more.  I told them that I did a lot for them.  I gave them the feeling of failure.  I gave them a reason to figure something out on their own.  Together, we gave each other an experience that was amazing.

The 3rd grade student who had to disassemble his robot with 1.5 hours left in camp and managed to operate it sold one of the teachers to the method behind our madness.  I wish I had her enthusiasm on video, but I am glad she grabbed a picture of the finished robot!

 “This makes it all worth it!”

One student accomplished the ultimate goal.  1 out of 27, remember that?.  Failure for sure, right?  I felt that way to be honest. However, the high-fives, hugs, and cards from parents made me realize we made the impact we hoped for.  In the real world, if you threw 27 thinkers in a room, and one came out with a billion dollar idea, I bet the facilitator would be more than pleased. For us, our company is not netting billions of dollars, but these kids are priceless!


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