Tag Archives: professional devleopment

Summer Plans

Yesterday was our last day of school. Woohoo!

However, I can’t just sit back and relax – I have many different things to do this summer. After my first summer teaching, when I took an engineering course and also taught Summer Bridge math, I told myself that I should leave the majority of my summertime uncommitted, for me to travel, have fun, learn new things, and relax. For the past several summers, I’ve managed to keep it down to two weeks during the summer of formal workshops/conferences/trainings. Yet, somehow this summer is shaping up to be one of my busiest yet!

Next week, I plan to travel to Kansas City with two of my students, to compete in the National Leadership and Skills Conference. A month and a half ago, after putting in many long hours of practice, they earned first place in the state-level Robotics and Automation Technology competition for Skills USA. Which garnered them the chance to compete at the national level. I have had one pair of students make it to the national level before (three years ago), but this will be my first time going with them. Wish us luck!

A bit later in the summer is the annual NAF Next Conference, which I’ve been to thrice before. This year it’s in Orlando, Florida. I plan to make a nice drive out of it, a smaller version of my trip from two years ago. I’m thinking of taking the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way there, driving down Florida’s coast on Highway A1A, heading down to Key West and the southernmost point in the continental United States, then taking US Route 1 on the way back to Baltimore.

After a three-year hiatus from taking new Project Lead the Way courses at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (I’ve been trained in Computer Integrated Manufacturing, Principles of Engineering, and Digital Electronics), I’ll be back there later this summer for another one. This year I’m taking Introduction to Engineering Design, where I’ll learn about the design process, engineering sketching, and more advanced skills in the 3D modeling software Autodesk Inventor.

And, finally, throughout all of that, I’ll also be working with several other teachers for the Baltimore City School District, to develop a remediation plan for students who fail their engineering classes.

So, I anticipate that it will be a fun but busy summer for me. Hope all the rest of you teachers are having a wonderful start to your summer breaks! And, to everyone else in other jobs that don’t supply a summer break, hope you’re at least enjoying the beautiful weather!

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Machine Learning is Cool!

I’m continuing to really dig Coursera. After completing an Algorithms course there this summer (discussed in my post here), I am now in the midst of a course on Machine Learning. Go check out the course description & video now; I’ll wait.

As you saw by following that link, machine learning is a way that computers and robots can learn to predict or distinguish different things. It is used lots of places, including your email spam filter (which learns every time you flag a message as spam). It is a form of artificial intelligence that mimics our own intelligence–we don’t get born already knowing how to do everything, but instead learn various tasks from others.

Anyway, I’m writing today because I just wrote a series of programs that enabled my computer to decode handwritten numbers and figure out which digit(s) are represented. I’m proud of myself 🙂 — that’s a pretty cool thing to program, and a pretty cool thing for my computer to learn how to do!

The program, after having gone through training, correctly reading the number 2.

(PS – I promise more soon on my day at Morgan last week.)

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Summer of Learning

(This post was mostly written last Tuesday, so dates referenced will be from then.)

So, last summer for me was a summer of travel. Over 10,000 miles round trip, from sea to shining sea, along roads new and old, long and short.

This year will be a summer of travel for my mind, instead. I have a number of different learning projects I am planning/attempting, from workshops to conferences, from in-person classes to online classes.  Nearly all of which is free!

Here are a few of my plans:

Fab Lab

Yesterday, I attended  a class which introduced me to our local Fab Lab at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). A Fab Lab  (Fabrication Lab) is a community-driven and community-accessible location with computers, machines, and other tools needed for making things. A global network of more than 90 Fab Labs worldwide is run out of MIT. Artists, designers, engineers, inventors, as well as ordinary people with an idea they’d like to make  a physical reality, all use Fab Labs.

The Fab Lab at CCBC is a little over a year old. It has a 3D printer, a CNC router, a CNC mill, a laser cutter/engraver, and a vinyl printer. I made the following key chain using the laser engraver, with the help of the lab’s manager who was teaching me how to use the various machines and associated softwares & tools.

Laser Engraved Key Chain

And a sign for my Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) class, done using the CNC router and featuring a picture of a robotic arm:

CIM Sign, milled from medium density fiberboard using the ShopBot at CCBC’s Fab Lab

Very cool.

VEX Robotics & Automation

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, I’m in a training at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC, just around the corner from CCBC and its Fab Lab above), where I’m learning more about VEX robotics and their role in the Project Lead the Way engineering curriculum. Including learning how the pieces fit together, the functionality of the various sensors & other pieces, and how to program the VEX kits in RobotC, a variant on the widely-used C computer programming language.

I had two groups of students (6 students total) who began using and programming with VEX/RobotC this year. I learned some of it with them, but really appreciate this chance to work with the automation kits myself and really learn it much more deeply.

It’s been fun so far! Here’s the testbed full of motors, lights, and sensors where we are learning how everything works and how to program:

VEX Test Bed

Tomorrow we’ll be unleashed onto some actual functioning projects!

Online Class(es)

I’ve begun an online computer science course, Algorithms: Design and Analysis I, via Coursera.

I’m planning this summer to learn a lot more about computer science / programming. I only took one CS course in college (CS101). Yet I’ve been somewhat into programming ever since programming the quadratic formula (and many other math-related programs, plus a few fun/game programs) into my graphing calculator in tenth grade. In college, I also used some simple computer programs to design some original fractals (Java) and search for patterns in continued fractions (PARI/GP). And I had many friends in both high school and college who majored in CS or related fields. Since I’ve been teaching engineering, several of the courses I teach have involved programming components (see, e.g., the VEX Robotics and Automation section immediately above).

So I figured I’d like to learn more about CS & programming. I signed up this spring for Coursera’s CS101 class, which (though I can’t find a source for this statistic) I think more than 100,000 people worldwide also took along with me. It included video lecture segments, mini-quizzes embedded into the videos, automatically-graded programming assignments, and discussion fora where students could help one another (since the professor could not interact with so many of us individually). It was a decent review for me, since it’s been years since I took CS101; I learned a few new things including some specifics of the JavaScript language as well as some things about how computer hardware works. Though it was very easy overall.

Coursera, along with a few other recent innovative websites like it, is being referred to as a MOOC: massive online open classroom (or course). Because its classes are free and accessible worldwide (“open”) and are enrolled in by tens or hundreds of thousands of students at a time (“massive”). Some people are talking about MOOCs as the next big step in the educational revolution; I can attest that the experience is much more like an actual class than just viewing lecture videos. I have yet to really engage the discussion fora for help, but I see study groups forming there, both in-person meetings based on geography, and Skype study groups being set up  based on time zone or language spoken. Many other people ask questions in the fora which are quickly answered by fellow students or volunteer teaching assistants.

If this topic intrigues you, check out the two articles linked above (the words ‘some’ and ‘people’). They are quite interesting and thought-provoking about the future of education!

This summer, I signed up for the Algorithms course, which looks like it will be much more challenging, though also like I will learn a lot from it. First I had to pick a programming language. I feel like a lightweight in several languages, from my experience in Java years ago, to knowing a little C based on my robotics teaching experience, to knowing a little Python based on using it to control a virtual robot and help it navigate a maze in an after-school club I advise. I spent this weekend taking a crash course in Python to catch myself up to speed. After that, so far in the Algorithms course, one week in, I’ve programmed a multiplication algorithm and programmed/analyzed the running time of a merge sort algorithm. I’ve spent dozens of hours on it so far, but am really enjoying it!

Both CS101 and Algorithms are taught by Stanford professors; Coursera partners with faculty from several universities.

On a lighter note, I’ve also signed up for this Udacity course that says it will be looking at/analyzing/explaining some cool physics problems, while also visiting actual historical locations in Europe of the scientists who studied them. I’m thinking it will give me some nice perspective and/or new ideas for teaching the physics-related sections of Principles of Engineering (POE).

Materials Science

Speaking of new ideas for teaching POE, I’ve also signed on to take a week-long materials science course at Howard University in Washington, DC. It is being sponsored by ASM International, a materials science/engineering professional society formerly known as the American Society of Metals. They provide free materials camps for teachers across the country at many different sites (see their website for more info).

I signed up for this because a) it’s free; b) it’s local – I can just catch the MARC train from Baltimore into DC; but mostly c) to learn more about and be able to teach the materials unit of POE better. I feel that the materials engineering unit/lessons in POE are often the dullest sections for my students. All of POE is quite difficult/challenging, with a lot of advanced mathematics and high-level physics concepts. But the other units I am able to better balance out between the difficulty of the concepts and the exciting projects we do. In this unit, students analyze properties of various materials, discuss what causes those properties, discuss how materials are used in manufacturing processes, do various materials-related math word problems, and use a stress analyzer machine to pull apart (stretch it until it breaks, called a tensile test) a piece of metal and then analyze its graph. While students love seeing the metal piece snap in two, I am not able to sustain that interest through the rest of the unit, which I take as a failing on my part. So, I hope to learn more during my week of Materials Mania, as well as to find ways of engaging students better in the topic.

Fullerene Nano Gears, image from Wikipedia

Hooray for the start to my summer of learning!

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Good PD

Like many teachers, I have suffered through some pretty awful professional development (PD) days. Some where we are read to off a PowerPoint slideshow, one of the techniques we are told is not good teaching practice. Others are more interactive (e.g. think-pair-share) but still boring and/or not relevant to actual teachers.

I am a firm believer that PD needs to be much more self-directed to be effective. We, as teachers, are professionals. As such, we can be trusted to work toward our own professional growth.

I get so much out of reading blogs by and tweeting with other math teachers–including lesson ideas, projects, worksheets, innovative techniques, clear explanations, and feedback on my ideas. Mythagon does a great job explaining the value of the math blogging/tweeting community here. The engineering education community is smaller, but I’ve worked to create and find spaces for that collaboration to occur as well, including by creating an online course to share resources with other engineering teachers in Baltimore City, and by starting this very blog.

In an official PD Day setting, where teachers have school but kids don’t, what could a more self-directed PD look like? It could include time to develop and grow a virtual professional learning community (blogs, twitter, as described above). It could include time to collaborate with other teachers in the building or district, self-selecting colleagues in your subject area or outside it, and deciding as a group what topics need to be discussed. It could include a variety of seminars/presentations, each led by teachers, of which you can pick which ones to attend that you need the most development in.

The best PD is that which I can use in the classroom the next day or week or month. Some of the best days of PD for me personally have come from a series of workshops organized specifically for PLTW engineering teachers, through the Community College of Baltimore County and the Time Center. They’ve been offering these trainings for the past several years, and recently received an NSF grant to expand their ongoing-PD model to other schools and states across the country.

Crane, built from FischerTechnik parts and programmed via RoboPro

I attended one of these PD’s a few weeks ago about using and programming with FischerTechniks and RoboPro. We learned advanced programming techniques (variables, subroutines, displays, inputs/outputs, commands & operators, branches and wait fors). We applied some of these techniques to arithmetic operations, and some to operating the crane you see above.

For the second half of the day, we had time to complete a project of our own choosing. I needed some help and practice time with pneumatics, as they were not part of my original training in the Principles of Engineering and Computer Integrated Manufacturing courses but have since been added to the curriculum in both. To use the new curricula, we had to purchase supplemental kits, since our FischerTechnik kits did not come with pneumatic components. So this was still pretty new to me, and I really valued the time I had to explore, learn, and get help from both the professor and a teacher-classmate. We built the simple pneumatic system you see below, which will store compressed air in the tank using a motor and cylinder pump system, then convert the pressurized air to vertical or lateral motion. This has been especially useful, since I’ve been using the instructional resources provided that day, plus my greater understanding of this topic, to teach pneumatics and fluid power to my CIM students this week!

Our pneumatic system

I shall be attending another PD this Friday at CCBC to improve my skills in using Autodesk Inventor, a 3D modeling software.

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It’s down to the home stretch for both Mustaches For Kids and #NaBloPoMo!

Please support my moustache & Baltimore students by donating at DonorsChoose via my page. Plus, if you give now, you can use the codeword JOLLY and have your donation matched!

Also please support my partners in Baltimore’s NaBloPoMo by visiting and commenting at their blogs:

Only one day left in November – we’re almost through!

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NAF PLC Seminar

Today I was away from my school and my students, attending a conference. It was held by the National Academy Foundation (NAF) at Baltimore’s NAF High School. So, pretty close as conferences go!

It was a first-time gathering attempting to create a sustainable professional learning community of educators from schools with NAF academies from the southern Northeastern United States. That is, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, DC. I met people from Philadelphia, PA, Elizabeth, NJ, and various counties across Maryland. Some were teachers, some were principals, some were academy directors, some were work-based learning coordinators, some were industry partners. The focus today was on work-based learning and internships.

Unlike some PD’s and conferences, I did take away a lot from today. I’m outlining it here, both to share with y’all and also to commit myself to following through on these items. Before Thanksgiving, I will:

  • Look into ACE
  • Look into Baltimore’s YouthWorks
  • Reach out to find an organizer and presenters for a January “Professional Development Day for Students” around soft skills (including interviewing, public speaking, time and project management, self-presentation)
  • Discuss with school leaders re-instituting “Wonderful Wednesdays” where students “Dress for Success” in professional business attire; look for donations of professional clothing to have some extras
  • Check out Lockheed Martin’s IT Apprentice program

Within the year, I will:

  • Create a student checklist of our tiered work-based learning program
  • Hold AOE Awards Ceremony, with partners invited
  • Look into starting a NSBE Junior chapter
  • Look into joining or starting a monthly webinar by industry partner(s) for students
  • Business cards for our academy’s teachers
  • Consider hosting a gathering of PLTW/AOE alumni and current students
  • Invite industry partner(s) for January or April PD Day for other academy teachers
  • Create a newsletter or news email that can be used for our academy, sent out to our school, to our industry partners, to the media, and to our community

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Breakfast

A few weeks ago we held our first Industry Partners Breakfast. We invited some engineers from industry and higher education whom we had worked closely with in the past. We also extended the invitation to acquaintances that we thought might be interested in becoming more involved. And we asked each partner to bring a “friend/colleague (from a different company) who might have an interest in working with students in a high school engineering program.”

The goal of the breakfast was to accomplish three things: recognize our partners for their prior support, increase the level of involvement of our current partners, and increase the numbers of new partners.

We had breakfast of bagels & cream cheese, fresh fruit, pastries, coffee, and juice. We showed a presentation about our program and our goals for this year that our partners could help with. We had a general discussion time where everyone introduced themselves and talked about their interests related to educational support. We gave everyone a Patterson High School mug, a PHS Project Lead the Way pencil, and a copy of our updated brochure (pdf) for our Academy of Engineering. And then we recognized, with a plaque and thanks, some of our strongest partners who have been part of our advisory board.

We put a ton of work into organizing the breakfast. It led to a couple of those twelve-hour days I’ve been mentioning. But it was a great success!

As I talked about here, I’ve been working this year more than ever on marketing the program, our academy, and our school. One of our mentor teachers, who helped with the breakfast, wrote up this press release (pdf) about the breakfast.

From here, we plan to reach out to our partners based on where they said they might be able to help us (we had a list of possible areas of support). Some will be coming to the school in less than two weeks to help us judge the annual STEM Competition. Some volunteered to sit on our advisory board and attend monthly meetings guiding the progress of Baltimore City Schools’ PLTW engineering programs. Others expressed a strong interest in mentoring our students; and we hope to set up a mentoring program with multiple levels (industry partners mentoring students, our seniors mentoring our incoming 9th and 10th graders).

A great breakfast, kicking off what we hope will shape up to be a great year!

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Oh, and once again please check out my compatriots in Baltimore education blogging who are also participating in NaBloPoMo:

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Project Based Learning in Math

Next to the catapult-building session, the best session at the National Academy Foundation’s July conference was Leslie Texas’s “Project-Based Learning For Math.”

The Presentation

We began the session by listing together some of the challenges or barriers to using project-based learning in math. The main two challenges seemed to be time (how to fit such projects into an already-overcrowded curriculum) and the test (mathematical discovery and real-world applications will not be tested, so they get bumped in favor of tested material). To address these, Ms. Texas advised viewing a project in a different way: not as something to be added in at the end where students apply a mathematical tool after it has been taught, but instead as an overarching framework that bridges many standards/concepts and drives students to learn those concepts. Students can be introduced to the project idea at the start of a unit, then work on it in pieces over the length of the unit, and the project will create the need (or at least motivation) for the relevant mathematics to be learned/taught.

The most inspiring part of the presentation was when Ms. Texas described a project she did with her students in a combined math & science class. She had students design and build a model of a bridge, which incorporates the physics of forces, and the math of similar triangles, trigonometry, and vectors. But most important was her idea by which she created an audience and a purpose for the project. She had read an article in her newspaper about plans to build a new bridge across the Ohio River near her town. And the local Department of Transportation was soliciting proposals from engineering firms in the area. So she called up the DOT and asked them if her students could be part of the proposal process. After some discussion and convincing, they agreed, and she asked if they could send an official request for proposals to her class. So then, at the start of the unit, she was able to show that letter to the class, and pass it around to convince the students it was real and they were really being asked to submit designs! Students created designs to the specifications of the real project, as well as slightly-less-accurate balsa-wood or spaghetti bridge models. They were asking Ms. Texas to teach them about the math and science of forces, so they could have a better design. In the middle of the project, Ms. Texas brought in engineer volunteers to look at the progress and give real critique/feedback. At the end, the students had a final product (report/design brief) of high quality and had learned lots of math and science.

In closing, she provided us with a list of resources that can be used for math projects, of which the following were interesting enough for me to write down:

My Reflection

Over the past four years of teaching math courses, I have moved to include more (and hopefully better) projects each year. This is partly influenced by my transition to teaching half-engineering, where the curriculum is almost entirely projects (with direct instruction as needed to aid the projects). But it is also due to my philosophy of teaching: I believe students learn better when they discover the ideas for themselves and when they engage hands-on in doing of mathematics. I have posted most of my Geometry and Algebra 2 with Trigonometry projects online.

What I would like to do this year is move away from including lots of projects interspersed within my math classes, to having the projects drive the math. I need to sit down and pick out maybe four-six major projects (either extensions of mine or from other sources) that have enough heft, and bring together enough concepts,  to drive the curriculum. In addition to choosing them, I need to think about how I can work to make them have a real purpose for the students and a real audience beyond the teacher, whenever possible.

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