Inspiring Ideas at the STEAM Fair

by Mollie Morneau, Junior Kindergarten Teacher and Chair of the STEAM Fair

More than just an acronym, STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics) represents a way of thinking, growing, and learning through hands-on experimentation and critical-thinking challenges. STEAM projects are inherently interdisciplinary – they drive us to develop methods or propose solutions through actions like creating, designing, building, and testing.

This past weekend, The Langley School hosted hundreds of enthusiastic community members at our second annual STEAM Fair which offered families the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and dig into the integrated business of work and play.

Here are a few STEAM projects that you can do at home. Note that the instructions are deliberately vague:

  • If you were given 20 sticks of dry spaghetti, one yard of tape, and one yard of string, what kind of tower would you build that could suspend a marshmallow in the air? This type of activity is based in the reality of limited resources, but allows for children – and their parents – to approach it in a multitude of ways.
  • Offer your child a selection of materials such as popsicle sticks, plastic spoons, rubber bands, and binder clips. Challenge him or her to create a catapult that will fling a cotton ball or a marshmallow across the room! Can you create one that launches straight up in the air, or does the cotton ball go sideways? Is it possible to focus your aim in order to hit a specific target? You may be surprised at how creative your child can be when given raw materials and a goal grounded in his or her natural sense of experimentation and play.
  • Gather a handful of objects to build an “artbot” that moves across the table with marker “legs” that draw as it walks. The Digital Harbor Foundation has basic instructions for several different models; the version we made at the STEAM Fair requires a 4.5V round mini motor, a AA battery casing with wire leads, an eraser or cork to destabilize the movement, a cup, markers, and tape. Slight variations in the placement of materials had a great impact on the artwork created, and students at the STEAM Fair delighted in discovering how their robots could operate!

In addition to incorporating physics-based thinking like how shape and spatial relationship affect a structure’s design and a process of scientific experimentation, these types of challenges encourage social-emotional growth, an area we nurture in equal measure at Langley.

It can be frustrating when something breaks or when a carefully conceived design has the opposite of the intended effect. We build resilience and a growth mindset when we see these supposed “failures” as anything but – in fact, as children’s book character Rosie Revere realizes, these initial prototypes are often the “perfect first try.” Throughout our STEAM Fair, families could be found tackling the posed problems with a spirit of collaboration and innovation that only grew with each temporary roadblock they encountered.

Langley STEAM Fair 2017In addition to hands-on challenges, the STEAM Fair provided a venue for young scientists to present their work and for families to explore all that Langley has to offer. As the site of the science fair for grades 6 and 7, the auditorium was filled not only with the buzz of students eagerly explaining their findings to judges and parents, but also with the literal buzz of remote-controlled robots using claws to move objects across the stage.

Families were treated to technology demonstrations of our 3-D printer as well as a myriad of iPad-based educational games offered by Osmo. Our librarians staffed a carefully curated selection of STEAM-themed books geared for all ages in our book nook. Free LEGO play and magnetic tiles provided an outlet for creativity to visitors of all ages, and free tickets to the awe-inspiring planetarium show “sold out” as families jumped at the opportunity to take a detailed look at constellations and planets in our night sky.

154Truly, there was something for everyone at Langley’s second annual STEAM Fair. Ours is a community of students and parents whose spirit of imagination and ingenuity seems boundless and we are thankful for the chance to continue to explore and grow alongside them!

Preparing Our Students for Their Digital Futures

by Brad Lands, Director of Technology

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” -John Dewey

It’s not surprising that we currently live in a world that is highly unpredictable and constantly evolving. It’s not surprising that technology seems to be exponentially increasing and global issues seem to be getting more complicated. What is surprising, however, is the fact that we as educators have to prepare our students for a future in which they will become productive and contributing members in this world.

Our role

Gone are the days where educators stand and deliver information and have students memorize basic facts that they might need to use some day. Students can easily perform a quick Google search on a mobile device to find this information. In today’s world, our job is to help our students become creative, critical thinkers who can learn how to access and use the world’s information to help them solve complex problems.

Traditional models of education require students to solve problems for which we know the solutions. One example is providing students with multiple-choice assessments. Alternatively, we as educators need to engage students in curriculum via inquiry-based learning, where students are empowered to ask their own questions and tackle problems for which the solutions are unknown. More importantly, we need to allow our students to struggle with these learning tasks, encourage them to troubleshoot, and praise their efforts when they persevere.

Technology at Langley

How do we do this?

Below are just a few of the inquiry-based projects in which Langley students have taken part this year:

20time Project Elective: In this Middle School elective, students are empowered to choose what they want to learn about, and are strongly encouraged to select challenging topics that have a real purpose outside of the classroom. This course is modeled after Google’s 20% time. Embedded in Google’s corporate culture is the concept of allowing engineers to take on independent projects. This unofficial policy lets them invest 20 percent of their work time on self-led explorations to solve real problems. Throughout Langley’s course, our students simulate this workplace experience by using the power of technology to identify problems, ask meaningful questions, pitch project proposals, develop solutions, present their ideas, and iterate their solutions. In other words, this course is designed to encourage the kind of “moonshot” thinking required to create novel solutions to unsolved problems, thereby helping to prepare students for future-ready innovation.

STEAM Challenge: Earlier this month, Langley fourth-graders engaged in a week-long STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) workshop where they experimented with physical computing. They learned about electricity, circuits, and computer programming by creating their own interactive monster. Students were tasked with sewing a monster out of felt and using electronic components such as LED lights, mini-speakers, a circuit board, and conductive thread in order to program the monster to output light and sound. Moreover, students were able to make their monster unique by choosing different colors, sizes, shapes, and creative code patterns. As they problem-solved and worked together, students not only learned about computer programming, but also developed valuable life skills such as persistence, flexible thinking, and collaboration.

Hour of Code: In celebration of Computer Science Education week, Langley students from all three school divisions completed Hour of Code activities. For many of our Primary and Lower School students, this was their first exposure to computer programming and they really enjoyed it. These computer programming activities varied from basic directional coding, to block coding, to text-based coding in many different computer programming languages. Even though the activities were different for each school division, all students engaged in challenging, critical thinking in order to complete each activity. The best thing about these activities was that there were multiple ways to complete them. Students were able to be creative in their critical thinking in order to solve each of the challenges, demonstrating that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

STEAM Fair: Langley’s first STEAM Fair will be held on Saturday, February 6, 2016. This is a very exciting event for the Langley community because it not only raises awareness about the importance of STEAM education in our world today, but also highlights Langley’s effort and dedication to teach our students to become creative problem-solvers. This family event is open to all students in preschool through grade 8 and will showcase how students interact with STEAM education at Langley. The STEAM Fair will include a display area of student work, open Lego play, technology demonstrations, a STEAM Book Nook, and hands-on activities for families. This is the perfect opportunity for both parents and students to learn, play, think, and have fun while exploring STEAM education at Langley.

So what’s next?

If we want our students to become independent, lifelong learners, then we need to continue to implement these critical learning opportunities at Langley – opportunities that allow our students to be naturally curious and work together to solve complex problems, that allow them to use technology to access information and creatively communicate their understanding, and that value the process more than the product. If we can continue to provide our students with this type of innovative education, then we are on the right track to preparing them for their future in the digital age.

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The Hidden Power of Sixth-Grade STEM Week

By Kathleen Smith, Assistant Head of School

Thomas Edison famously said of creating the light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Experts in the field of education are currently researching and writing furiously about the “gift of failure” and the power it has to unlock creativity and innovation in our students. In his 2012 Harvard Business Review article entitled “The No. 1 Enemy of Creativity: Fear of Failure,” Peter Sims reminds us that “the odds are you were never, at any point in your educational or professional career, given permission to fail,” which puts us at risk of “disempowering yourself from exercising your inherent creativity.”

STEM WeekWe all agree that allowing for failure and growth and creating opportunities for students to be creative and innovative is essential to the development of their intellectual and moral character, of course. Now comes the hard part, if you’re a parent or an educator. At a primal level, we don’t really want our students to fail. Failure, despite all of its current good press, is often very painful. So how do we reconcile what’s in our heads and what’s in our hearts when we are dealing with young children and adolescents?

STEM WeekFirst, we reframe our definition of “failure” and internalize the idea that failure does not have to be a catastrophic endeavor. Second, we scaffold these opportunities so that students develop resilience over time and do not fall apart the moment they encounter a challenge. The sixth-graders’ recent STEM-immersion experience – a week during which they were encouraged to embrace failure and try, try again as they explored the world of bioplastics and polymers – provided exactly such an opportunity. The week-long chemical engineering workshop, developed by i2 Learning and researchers at Boston’s Museum of Science, challenged students to investigate, imagine, plan, create, test, improve, and communicate as they created bouncy balls, silly putty, and their own bioplastics. Reading the students’ reflections on their experiences was fascinating; they wrote not with frustration, but with joy about their failures and their perseverance when conducting attempt after attempt.
One sixth-grader wrote: “My best memory of STEM week was probably when I made the
car out of bioplastic. My group worked together really well, and we accomplished our goal. On the first try, we thought that we had made our mold perfectly. When we tried to put the pencils in, it just broke in half and we had to try again. On the second try, we made the base thicker and we made the wheels a lot bigger. It seemed like it would work, but the wheels wouldn’t harden and when we put the pencils in, it broke in half again. On the third try, we couldn’t make new bioplastic, so we used half of the second base and cut it into a circle. We had two wheels, so we melted our shavings down to more bioplastic. One of my group members had brought skewers instead of pencils, so we stuck those in and put the wheels on. It rolled!”

What a shame it would have been for one of my colleagues or me to step in with “TheSTEM Week
Answer” to these children’s questions as they puzzled through their initial “failures.” Encouraging students to ask their own questions – guided by faculty who embraced the open-ended, inquiry-based approach of the week – was essential to developing their intellectual toughness and grit. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer observed that questions “are the engines of intellect – cerebral machines that convert curiosity into controlled inquiry.” In keeping with our professional development focus on inquiry-based learning this year, faculty feedback about the program centered on the need to continue to provide opportunities for students to practice this “controlled inquiry” throughout their years at Langley, for them to formulate questions and tough it out with scaffolded teacher support. Such practice begins to impart to students that failure is not just okay, but necessary. The world will not end if something doesn’t go right the first time. When students push past that 10,000th try that “doesn’t work” and come up with their working light bulb, they will have achieved something personally and intellectually meaningful. And all of the failures will have been worth it.

We are thrilled to be offering another intensive STEM week this year! Our fourth-graders will investigate the world of programming during their workshop, “Building a Friendly, Interactive Monster,” coming in January!

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Building Digital Citizens at Langley

By Brad Lands, Director of Technology

It seems like every day there is a new app, device, or social media site. And somehow, our students always seem to know about it first. It can be extremely difficult and time consuming trying to keep up with all of the latest technology trends and tools that are out there. So, why do we do it? Maybe it’s because we want to stay hip. Or maybe it’s because we want to keep our students safe and protect them from all of the “bad” stuff on the Internet. The truth is, we will never be able to fully protect our students online. There will always be another site to be blocked, and another social media app to be banned. But what we can do is teach our students to become responsible digital citizens who will learn how to safely participate in the norms of appropriate and respectful technology use, regardless of the tool they are using.
The Langley School

So, how do we do this? I think it begins with focusing on the core values that make Langley such a safe and caring community. When we shift the focus from online tools to online behaviors, we can really tap into the foundational root of digital citizenship. However, it is important to remember that in order to build responsible digital citizens at Langley, we must also be digital citizens by modeling our expected behavior when we are online. This responsibility is critical to the growth and development of our students and is shared by our Langley community members and families.

Therefore, it is important to highlight the five core values that are vested in the Langley community and to use a common language that can be shared by both students and adults. Langley’s five core values are an integral part of our students’ success. They are: respect, honesty, kindness, citizenship, and trustworthiness. And they all play a critical role in digital citizenship.

Respect

Respect yourself and others online. Only post positive information about yourself and others. Also, show respect to other people online. This can include respecting other people’s personal information by not sharing anything about them without their permission. Finally, give respect to authors of copyrighted material by asking to use their work for projects and assignments and include attribution to the author or source when using their work.

Honesty

Be honest with yourself and other people online. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, tell a trusted adult. If someone hurts your feelings online, let them know that your feelings were hurt. If you make a mistake, be honest. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, but how we recover from those mistakes is what is most important. Finally, never lie about your age or other personal information online. Always tell the truth!

Kindness

Be kind to others online. Apply the “Golden Rule” by treating people the way that you would like to be treated. Write positive feedback when peer editing. Post friendly comments on social media. Compliment others when you want to share something nice, and give kudos for important accomplishments and celebrations.

Trustworthiness

Students have the ability to do incredible things online, but we have to trust them before we can empower them. Trust that our students will make good decisions online. Trust that they will do the right thing when faced with challenging situations. And trust that they will ask you for help when they don’t know what to do. The more our students feel trusted, the more they will become trustworthy.

Citizenship

Be a citizen both offline and online. This includes using your rights and responsibilities as digital citizens. You have the right to keep your information private, protected, and secured. Always check your privacy settings on social media and be sure to have a safe and secure password for your accounts. You also have the responsibility to report offensive or threatening content and behavior online. Look out for yourself, but also look out for each other. Not just because it is your right and responsibility, but because it is the right thing to do.

As you can see, by focusing on Langley’s five core values, we can reinforce the positive behaviors that we expect our students to use when they are online. And by using a common language, we can have meaningful conversations with our students to help them make informed decisions when using technology. So, the key to building digital citizens at Langley is not by trying to protect them; it’s by empowering them. We need to teach our students to become independent, critical thinkers who use their moral judgment and good character when they are faced with difficult situations on the Internet. Put simply, we need to trust them to use their online power for good. Once we start empowering our students with technology, there is no limit to what they can accomplish!

For more information, view Langley’s video on digital citizenship. Current Langley parents can also access additional resources on our Parent Education page.

How Our Family Handles Online Safety

By Karen Frana, Current Langley Parent

I was one of many parents who attended the PALS presentation on technology in April. It Karen Franawas an informative discussion of our children’s use of technology laid against the backdrop of child development. Thus, it helped me understand what online content my son was being exposed to and what content was appropriate for my child as he ages. Once I was armed with a sense of “age appropriateness” of content, I set out to learn about the various ways in which parents can help manage our children’s use of technology. As a result of what I learned, our household has implemented a multi-tiered approach to technology safety. I wanted to share what our family is doing as a way of starting the conversation at Langley and spreading knowledge.

Home PCs, Macs, iPads, or Tablets

The first level of security or “filtering” that our family implemented was on the device itself. We set up individual user IDs for our child on all devices that enter or remain in the house. Each user ID has its own password and user controls which can be set with the highest degree of filtering for young children and with more flexible filtering for older children. Parents can use user ID controls or settings to keep our children from accessing undesirable applications or websites, while still having access ourselves.

This was a bit cumbersome at first. We were all used to using our PCs seamlessly. However, I can see how the extra effort will help protect our son as his eagerness to explore grows.

YouTube

YouTube has its own privacy settings or filters which we set. I just logged in to our YouTube account and used the settings at the bottom of the first page to filter out some of the inappropriate content. This filter is not very sophisticated, so it doesn’t filter out everything we would want. It should be used in addition to what’s called an “advanced YouTube filter” which can be found in third-party software.

YouTube expands and changes daily. So while I know we are using filters, I am careful not to trust any video that I haven’t seen and heard myself. This gets harder, of course, as our children get older and more tech savvy. 

Third-Party Software

Free and fee third-party software applications add additional protection to our son’s exposure to content. We use K9 Web Protection software from a company based here in Vienna, VA, which actually monitors a device’s usage at what’s called the subdirectory level. This means that it will know the actual YouTube video that our child watches on that device. It also limits usage at the same level. I am told that this software can be implemented in such a way that it will e-mail the parent with historical data showing all of the websites and YouTube videos our children have visited.

Separately, if your children like to use an application called “Steam,” which is a company that sells many online games, there is software called Steam Nanny at www.steamnanny.com that helps monitor and filter usage of the Steam-based games.

Games

The games that our children play using Internet access and multiple players are referred to as MMOs, or Massive Multiplayer Online Games. Games like Minecraft and Roblox are MMOs. These MMOs are either something we have to buy (or pay a monthly subscription fee) or they are free.  The games that we have to pay for are potentially safer for our children for two reasons:

  1. There is a company behind them that is trying to make a profit, so appropriate business standards should apply.
  2. That company does not allow access to the game source code so the game’s original content cannot be changed.

Minecraft requires buying a subscription and setting up an account; Roblox does not. Roblox is free or “open,” meaning that the game’s source code (software) is available to anyone who wants it which means anyone who wants to can change the content. This doesn’t mean that all content in Roblox is bad. In fact, Roblox is like building with Legos, but online, so our kids are naturally drawn to it. Some of the Lego-like worlds that have been created in Roblox are fun and appropriate for our kids. But it requires supervision because if our children don’t understand the risks, they can end up playing in a stranger’s world with strangers interacting with them.

The safer option for playing Roblox is in a “hosted” environment where our child or a child we know has created the world. As parents, we can do a couple of things proactively. First, vet each game for its content. Then, determine whether or not the game’s content is customizable. Many of these games have “filters” or privacy conditions imbedded in the user account. I had to work hard to find it, but I actually set up a user ID of my own for Roblox and found a way to set the privacy settings to keep strangers out of my access. I’m just not sure how well it works.

With summer starting this week, I am fighting the fear of screen time becoming a threat and instead trying to think positively about the skills our child can be building while doing something he enjoys.

 Click here for more resources from Langley’s April PALS meeting about online safety.

Enhancing Learning Through Technology

By Emily O’Grady, Instructional Technologist

Walk into any classroom at Langley, and you’ll see students of all ages using technology to technology2014enhance learning. From laptops and iPads to Smartboards and videoconferencing, students and faculty have access to wonderful tools and resources. But it’s not about the technology – it’s about the learning.

Our goal is for students to see technology as another tool in their learning tool bag. When integrated seamlessly into all aspects of the curriculum, technology can provide opportunities for students that otherwise would be impossible. Using videos, pictures, and audio recordings, for example, students can express themselves in unique ways and communicate with people around the world…the possibilities are endless.

So what are some of the new technologies our teachers are incorporating into the classroom? Langley kindergartners recently started using “Draw and Tell,” a powerful, kid-friendly iPad app for storytelling that allows them to create a picture and record themselves telling a story. As kindergarteners love telling stories, but may have difficulty writing out long sentences, they have really enjoyed this app. The excitement on their faces when they create their very own story is priceless.

Do you remember studying explorers as a kid? I bet you didn’t learn about an explorer by making a voice recording talking about various facts and interesting details of the explorer’s life, like Langley’s third-graders did. These audio recordings were turned into QR codes which were placed on life-sized cutouts of each explorer, making it easy for others to scan and listen to these informative student recordings. It was amazing to see how engaged and eager to write scripts the students were. By using technology, they were able to present their learning to the community in a more personal (and fun!) way.

Students use technology not only as part of their daily life and lessons, but also as a way to connect to the world outside Langley. Through the use of a blog, our second-graders connected with their Massachusetts pen pals. Students “met” for the first time with a “Mystery Skype” session, where the two classes participated in a videoconference and had to guess where the other was located, using only yes or no questions. This Skype session allowed the students to get to know each other a little bit, and sparked their interest to continue the conversation on their blogs. Having an authentic audience has motivated the students to write with more detail and to utilize their writing skills, as well as practice how to be responsible digital citizens and communicate online.

Technology in the Primary and Lower Schools is woven through the curriculum, which is exactly what you will see in the Middle School. It would be hard to find a Middle School student walking around campus without his or her iPad in hand. The 1:1 iPad program for grades 6-8 has changed the way students and teachers communicate. Many classes use Web tools like Google Drive and Edu 2.0 to take quizzes, have discussions online, and submit assignments. These tools allow every student to have a voice and receive immediate feedback. Our Middle Schoolers are also frequently seen in hallways and scattered around classrooms, making videos, taking pictures, and recording audio. They are fully engaged and having…dare I say, fun? Plus, they are clearly learning critical life skills like problem solving and collaborating with their peers.

Technology is a central part of the learning experience here at Langley. By incorporating a wide variety of tools into each subject area, we are not only teaching our students valuable skills, but also making the learning process fun, dynamic, and interactive. I can’t wait to see how technology will continue to shape the way we interact with our students and impact our ability to teach lessons in new and exciting ways.