Creating the Future

As ESE Specialist, I am responsible for students in kindergarten through 8th grade who have a variety of special needs. I teach students with dyslexia, autism, attention deficit disorder, intellectual disabilities, among others. On a normal day, I look out at my students and see learning challenges in reading, writing, math, science and social studies. Traditional classrooms can pose a challenge to them, so I am always on the lookout for ways to help them learn more effectively.

In August 2015, I decided to start an engineering and robotics club. I had applied for a $1000 grant from Google (and won!) that was used to buy our first robotics kit and I don’t know who was more thrilled—me or the students! I learned how to program it and later taught the students and something amazing happened…. I started seeing them take more of an interest in reading, writing and particularly math. They started to be more interested in their classes and their grades began to improve. Some of the students were regular education students and some were my ESE students. For the students that were more interested in building and researching, I created projects for them to engage in and work on.

These projects led to creating lessons that would incorporate all of the different subjects and create the ultimate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) lessons. Student achievement and motivation soared as first of the lessons was implemented into my middle school classes. I have since expanded it to included 4th and 5th grade. Our system of education needs to continue to grow and change as our society becomes more technologically advanced. We need to keep pace with the other countries in science and math. I have included in this article exactly how I implemented this program and how it was expanded to include upper elementary grades. I have ideas for expanding it through Kindergarten, but due to the recent pandemic had been unable to fully implement it.

The first step is to explain the project to the students. I tend to use guided notetaking through a PowerPoint slide to explain the process, since the guided notes force them to stay focus and listen. Once I explain enough of it, it intrigues them and that keeps their motivation high. They are given some kind of general and broad problem or situation (for example: environmental issues or re-engineering a current invention).

The students will research their issue or invention or creation to see what is currently being used. They need to look at the advantages and disadvantages of the current process or invention and develop something that will work even better. The project challenges them to think outside the box and imagine what future technologies may be available. These students are the future generation and they are ones who will be creating new ways of doing things. Their ideas as middle and high school students may well be available as they grow up.

They needed to write a essay discussing the following aspects: problem statement, background and current process or invention information, advantages and disadvantages, description of the new invention or idea, and how it will be more effective and efficient. Students are required to have at least two sources and to use MLA citations. They are also required to present their material in front of the class and be prepared to answer questions from the audience.

In order to bring in math, science and engineering, students were required to design a prototype for their invention or issue and draw a blueprint or design. The prototype and design would need to include an accurate scale and measurements so that the real object or idea could be created and developed. This would all be included in their presentation.

One student group of two girls (both 8th graders) designed a city that used bioengineering to be modeled after a turtle. It had a clear outer dome that was as hard as a turtle shell and could move underwater, on water or on land. There were outer docks, farms and areas for the people to gather resources (the flippers) and the head was the main control center to move the city (the head). When threatened, the head and flippers could be retracted into the “shell” for protection until the threat ended. The girls created the model and even used a motor to demonstrate the retraction of the head and flippers.

This program was so successful with my middle school students that I decided to expand it to 4th and 5th grade. These students were given written assignments that had a lower word count requirement and they did not have to use MLA style (simply listing the source and the author were sufficient.

I have been thinking of expanding it further to Kindergarten through 3rd grade. Second and third grade students would work in groups of 3 or 4 to create one project. The writing requirement would be reduced to a paragraph or two with the creation of the model. They would not be required to create scale models, but would explain how it would be used. In Kindergarten and 1st grade, students would work in groups to draw a picture and/or build a model and discuss their invention with the class. The idea at this young age is to get the students to be imaginative and to think critically about problems and possible solutions.

In this age of technology, students rarely have the opportunity to be creative and imaginative. They are given toys as toddlers and kids that talk and move. Lego models come with instruction manuals. They need to have the chance to come up with their own ideas and creations. They also need to be aware of what is currently out in the world and make decisions about how to improve upon it.

At the end of this project, the children were extremely motivated to learn and apply themselves. The teachers were able to incorporate this hands-on activity into their instruction as well as their normal teaching activities. First, everyone had about 15 minutes of whole-group instruction. Any more than that and the teacher will rapidly start losing their students. They break off into different learning stations: independent work, small groups, and hands-on activities research. The higher students are given the independent work or hands-on activities right away. This allows the teacher to immediately pull their lower students to give them more individualized attention so that they can complete the independent activities. The hands-on activities and research are where the students will work on their project. Each group needs to have a cubby or box or area where they can neatly keep their project for the next day. It should not be brought to and from home.

We saw improvements in the achievement of all students with these teaching practices. Students gained self-esteem and confidence in their abilities. They performed better on tests and classroom assignments. The students were able to think more critically and creatively, applying it to afterschool clubs and activities both in school and in the community.

As teachers, we teach our students to master academic material…

we teach our students how to learn more effectively…

we teach our students how to work together in groups…

we teach our students to think and problem solve…

In order to develop the leaders and experts of the future!

Equality

               I look at society and see people wanting equality and for everything to be treated the same.  This is an awesome concept and one that is most definitely within our grasp. As a schoolteacher, I have taught classes from kindergarten through high school. Children interact with each in class and on the playground, laughing and playing together (particularly in the younger grades). They are not concerned about race or gender, but whether someone is nice to them or not. As we grow up, what happens to change that?  Is it just the innocence of childhood or something more?            

               We, adults and children, are surrounded in our daily lives by T.V. and social media and the internet. People are spewing their opinions and ideas and some people will take that as the truth, especially if they see it on T.V. or social media. We are exposed to movies and books that separate us into different “colors” like black, white, brown, etc. They separate us into different stereotypes and label us.  Why do we need to have special holidays or T.V. shows for different races and colors?  Why not have a “people appreciation day”?  Why do we look at people and say, “Look at the black man!” or “Look at that white lady!” Why not say something like “That looks like a nice man!” or “That lady is pretty!” Do we really need to add the adjective at the beginning that labels us? Can’t we all just look past the colors and see people for who they are?

               People are people. There are good people and there are bad people. The color of the skin doesn’t matter or make someone good or bad. There are a lot of other factors; mostly how they were raised and other experiences that they have had. As former foster parents, my wife and I have had many different children living in our home from babies to teenagers. There have been white kids, Hispanic kids, black kids, Asian kids and biracial kids. They have each had their “issues” but deep inside each kid was, for the most part, a good kid with a good heart who had the misfortune to have a pretty rotten start to their life. It didn’t matter what race they were; they were all removed from their birth parents. Some were returned and some were not. Race had nothing to do with it. It was experiences and how they were raised. I would like to think that for the brief time that they lived with us that we were able to give them a good life and steer them on the right path; we will never know but it is still something to hope for. We didn’t look at those kids any differently because of their race. They were just kids.

               As adults we could learn a lot from kids. For starters, stop making movies and T.V. shows like “Blackish” or “Mixedish” or any other show that specifically points out people by the races and colors. Is it really necessary?  Do we need to have academy awards and pagents just for people of specific color?  Do we need to have awards or scholarships for people of specific races or colors? What about companies that have to hire a specific number of people basic on color or race? Why not hire or give awards to people based on qualifications and merit instead?  Why not have academy awards and pagents that include everyone and doesn’t discriminate based on color or race?

               Let’s go into the schools and communities and fix them up. Teach the poorer people how to provide for themselves and have a good life; help them if they don’t have enough money or have trouble with drugs and alcohol. There are plenty of jobs that these can do to help fix up the communities and keep our kids out of trouble. 

               America is a brotherhood; a melting pot of different people and ideas. With this diversity we can do a lot of great things, but we have to work together and stop trying to sabotage each other.  Who cares what each other believes as far as politics?  When I grew up, political views were always kept secret.  No one knew who voted for who and that was how it was supposed to be. Politicians took care of their people instead of accepting bribes and letting lobbyists tell what to do and what not to do. Should a politician be making millions of dollars and living in mansions eating gourmet ice cream while their constituents live in tent cities and slums?  NO!!!

               They should be in their communities, working together to make them better!  Form community workforces to clean up areas and so that people can pay back what they receive in food and aid. These community workforces can be set up to include after school programs and clubs to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble. Communities have so many people who need jobs; they just need to create opportunities for them to work and contribute to society, even if it’s just picking up trash.

               As a people and a society, we need to take pride in where we live and that is AMERICA! We need to stop worrying about what color or race other people are and look at each other only as people. This is especially true for our politicians and athletes and celebrities. They spew their own opinions and people who “idolize” them see it as truth when it is not. Everyone needs to keep opinions to themselves and look at people as people only.

               In school,  teachers and administrators need to teach morals and how to be good people. Teachers also need to work together with parents to teach the same values. It doesn’t matter what race or color, but rather good choices -vs- bad choices. We have grown into separate little communities, trying to retain the cultures and traditions of other countries and civilizations, but that is not what America is all about.  It is about everyone melting together and becoming ONE PEOPLE – ONE HUMAN FAMILY!