Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Destination Imagination: Where #GF17 & #MakerEd Unite

Expect the Unexpected. That was the theme of 2017's Destination Imagination Global Finals. As I mentioned a week ago, when we started on this Destination Imagination [aka: DI] adventure, DI is the epitome of the maker movement. After living knee-deep at Globals for 5 days or so, it bears being repeated as I reflect in awe on our entire experience.

1470 teams went to Destination Imagination. 8000+ students made up those teams... teams which were from 48 states and 17 countries. It's 8 hours from Maryland to Knoxville, Tennessee I can only imagine how far Maine is (as we saw a DI painted van at our first pit stop, 2 hours into driving home Sunday).

Of course California, China, Poland, South Korea and Australia are a bit farther. (We didn't see their vans....for obvious reasons!)

We had 4 full-on days between Opening Ceremonies and Closing Ceremonies, plus driving days as bookends on each side. We clocked 12,000 to 16,000 steps per day on my pedometer, traipsing around University of Tennessee's campus from lunch to performances (ours and others) to pin trading to the expo to the Duct Tape Costume Ball, to the Recreation Center for outdoor adventures and swimming to more. It was incredible, intense, awe/inspiring.

They certainly know how to rock a party, sync a #STEM activity, and keep the creativity coming! 

We "Safety Scrambled" a raw-egg-riding-vehicle, using only limited materials (unfortunately, with no success--twice!). We virtually visited the International Space Center. We attempted to synchronize-build Lego structures via cooperation & communication, behind the walls of shoe boxes, based on words alone, sight unseen. And did I mention the pin-trading! A culture in and of itself!  

Amongst our antics, our team "Double-O-Severn" embarked on their own Central Challenge: Show & Tech. Pearls of wisdom came from every direction. Even at the pool or at breakfast (both of which served as good pin-trading venues) with the Guatamalan DI team members we met who were also staying at our hotel.

Then of course too, there were the Instant Challenges that each team performed. We couldn't have been more delighted or proud when our "Double O Severn" boys came in 2nd place of 81 teams in this category for their Show & Tech division! This was a major triumph as that didn't always come easy in practice... which perhaps made that victory feel even sweeter.

It was a fascinating all along the way, but certainly eye-opening at Closing Ceremonies. China did remarkably well across the board, but especially in the Engineering, Technical, & Scientific Central Challenges. Kudos to China, and all of the high scoring teams! Watching theses results illustrated just how many teams China had brought to Knoxville! Yet, as an American, I saw the future reflected & projected in those fields ...and it was not necessarily in my country. As Americans have been past leaders in the scientific arena, I was startled by these 4th grade through college-leveled kids and their scores. Future indeed. This could be a place to "insert political discussion here" given our country's current leadership & some of the recent, prevailing stances regarding science, innovation, and progress; however, I'm just going to let that statement lie here for contemplation.

* * * * *

The Opening Ceremonies (which darn-near felt like we were at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies--parade, pomp, circumstance, and all) were incredibly moving. These words in particular were quite memorable:
  • "Everyday is an instant challenge."
  • "What motivates me to be creative is purpose and passion."
  • "Teamwork can change the world."
The experience of each team at every step along the way built individual and team creativity, collaboration, problem solving & communication skills, confidence, poise, and courage. Through both the course of the year and the week at Globals, we saw with our boys a strengthening of character, and a full circle transformation as they worked through the rough spots, coalescing into a team.

It reminded me of those credit card commercials, listing out exact costs of pins, lunch tickets, hotels prices, and more,....yet DI Globals: priceless! The memories & skills gained were certainly worth it, and will last a lifetime!!

DI Video from; pictures from my camera.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

As teachers, we delightfully grasp the gift of a 3-day weekend, seeing it as a time to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.

Our students aren't much different!

Memorial Day is no different, especially as it is the unspoken introduction and invitation to summer.

Yet, "Happy Memorial Day," perhaps isn't the right sentiment given the purpose of the holiday: to given thanks and pay tribute to the men and women who have given their life to serve our country, and who then periled in their devoted service for all of us.

I hope everyone takes time this weekend to honor those who have sacrificed to give us our freedom.

To fully get yourself in the spirit of gratitude, has a phenomenal video to help put you in a mindful and grateful mood.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Growing, Glowing, & Going to Destination Imagination’s Globals #GF17

Destination Imagination [DI] is the epitome of the Maker Movement marrying STEM skills. I’ve gotten a chance to see that first-hand, up-close-and-personal,  this year with my son and his first adventure at DI.

We nervously nibbled our fingernails at the end of February at Regionals, where we placed 2nd place in "Show & Tech," the DI 2017 technical category. 

The angst grew in March as we made our way to State. Our school (who has a couple DI teams each year) has been fortunate enough to have had at least one team per year head to Globals the last 3 years. We always had hope with my son's team this year, but no expectations. We were dazed, amazed, & thrilled to earn a stunning 2nd place success once again at State.

From here, all roads led next to Globals, May 23--27th. This week! In honor of that, here’s my acrostic ode to honor our 7 boys and our Knoxville adventure we are living, here at Globals.

Delving into a year of teamwork at school,

Engineering, building, computing, concocting, and planning.

Seven of our boys became the “Double-O-Severn” crew.

Twenty-first century skills in action: creativity, collaboration,

Inventing to problem solve, innovating, & inquiring along the way.

Not always smooth-sailing, because collaboration isn’t

Always pretty. It can be messy, loud, distracting, frustrating.

Teamwork at its finest, trying to come together for a common goal

In their Central Challenge; improv-ing through Instant Challenges.

Over time, growing, sharpening skills, and finding their voices,

Never giving up, building persistence and grit as they go.

I’ve seen these boys grow indeed, sharpening their skit & their skills,

Making improvements and capitalizing on their talents.

As the year went on, these 7 boys, just like other boys and

Girls globally, gave of themselves, to each other and to their coaches,

Integrating their ideas, taking initiation, & getting involved.

Never stopping. Working hard & taking pride in their performances

At tournaments; regardless of ranking & place, keeping pace, &

Triumphing along the way. Kudos to all who made

It every step along the way. Regionals. State. All is great.

Onward we go to Globals, slightly stunned, yet ever-excited.

Never have we been more proud—parenthood is chock-filled with these moments.

What an opportunity of a lifetime 
& priceless memories in the making.

More in a future post on our antics 
while in Knoxville, 
soaking up all that makes up 
Destination Imagination Globals.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

From Williams to William: The Maker Movement in Malawi

With the planned visit from author Karen L Williams, I was inspired to do a little reading over my spring break, now a surprisingly 2+ months ago.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by Daniel Kamkwamba seemed like a logical choice for a multitude of reasons: I could learn a little about Malawi—one of the central locations in Mrs. Williams’ books; I could see the innovation of the maker movement in action. I could see the integration of innovation and environmentalism through the wind power; and lastly, my daughter had read it last year, so it was safely nestled in my Kindle.

So it was here I met 14 year old William Kamkwamba. I got to step foot in Malawi and see the sense of community, as well as the the plight of poverty. Life was not always easy. Water was not always clean nor easy to find. Diarrhea and cholera were sometimes the aftermath due to polluted water and poorly-constructed latrines. Money and food could be thin at times. Deforestation was at play, intertwining with the other issues. But despite the environmental issues, spirit was strong. William led a life of curiosity, stamina, perseverance, and strength.

There were a lot of parallels between William and Karen Williams’ Kondi from Galimoto. Some of our modern day 5-11 year old students found it difficult to make a seemingly-simple galimoto out of pipe cleaner, pencils, & wire (link). Karen Williams’ Kondi’s galimoto was far more complicated than our humble vehicular creations. Some of our cherubs needed nudging and encouragement to keep going, keep trying, and keep being creative risk takers. Not to mention, our students didn’t even have to go a-hunting for the scrap materials to make these toys. All materials were provided.

Yet, then there was William, whose was determined to discover how things worked. He went much further than making toys. Tearing apart radios (much to his father’s chagrin) helped him discover how they worked. This, in turn, led to a greater investigation and an inevitable pursuit for power—legitimate “energy power,” since only about 8% of those living in Malawi have electricity. He also was on a dogged quest for knowledge, since secondary school was too expensive during difficult times. He learned physics and engineering through reading books as well as trial and error. He ultimately invented a windmill out of scraps to produce “electric wind,” making the energy to generate electricity and running water. All without the Internet (or even knowing of its existence).

And, as often happens with inventors & innovators, William's neighbors thought he was a little nuts… until he made the seemingly impossible possible!

My spring was sponsored by the inspiration of one William to another Williams—capturing the mindset of the maker movement in Malawi!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Watch Out for "Wishcycling"

 Wishcycling... This isn't "when you wish upon a star" tied up with a bike trip.

(Actually, I'm getting an image of ET from the 1982 movie air-bike through my mind... Yikes!!! That just dated me at 35 years ago!!!)

Are you a hopeful recycler?
Do you think, given what your eco-side knows, that things should be recycled... even if the reality of your community's recycling facilities might not truly have that capability?

If so, you might be a wishcycler.

In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where I live, they often announce that when in doubt, throw it out... IN the recycle bin, and they will figure it out. So tend I "err on the side of heavy."
[For awhile we were composting a most of our food waste... until we had a short-lived, backyard episode of "Ratatoille" & critters using our french drain like the Parisian sewers. So, we are sadly only composting yard waste these days...but, I digress!]

But maybe I've really been lulled into the seduction of being a wishcycler. Paper towels gunk up the gears of recycle center machinery?! Oh man! Have I created that? Have I been an over-hopeful recycler, inadvertently loading up the landfill by "my fault" vs "default" recycling? And I'm the one who knows a lot about the environmental lot! My short term fix... to make this infographic:

So the bottom line and the best line of defense is: get specific to your municipality. Investigate and act accordingly. A classic example is pizza boxes. Many places won't recycle greasy cardboard boxes. But my Arundel County will (see their flyer below). Different communities have different parameters. Therefore, study up, plan with your purchasing dollar, be both well-intentioned and well-informed. And when in doubt, go "real" when choosing items in order to "reduce" and "reuse" (and eliminate the need to "recycle" due to those other two R's)... even during BBQ/picnic season ahead with all those seemingly-recyclable-but-not-always-recyclable-Red-Solo-cups!

Images from: ET movie poster from; definition from; infographic created using (

Saturday, May 13, 2017

On the Go with Karen Williams, Galimotos, & More

A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of having author Karen L. Williams visit our school. I’m always a little in awe when sharing space with real, published authors.
In preparation for that, our team of elementary Special Subject teachers created a bevy of activities to coordinate with eight of Karen's picture books. These picture books focus on the life and culture of Haiti and Malawi, two places in which she lived and found inspiration. The activities below took place both before, after, and even during her all-day visit to school.
While Karen Williams was on campus, she presented two assemblies (one geared for the younger students, the other for 3rd—5th graders). There on stage, she showed us pictures, art, & artifacts; and she told stories of her adventures and how they inspired her writing. We got to see authentic galimotos (GAL-lee-moe-toes), which are toy push-cars made by children out of found wire and natural items. We also got to see both pictures and toy tap taps (colorful trucks, much like buses that people used to get from place to place, and you “tap tapped” on the side to let the driver know where you wanted to get off). No surprise both of these inspired books by the names of these items.

As we created school-wide activities, these were some of our curricular goals to make her visit truly meaningful on multiple levels:
  • Students discover the natural connections between literature and other subjects (art, music, science, technology, social studies, physical education, research, etc.);
  • Students meet literary children/characters from different geographic regions, socioeconomic levels, and cultures;
  • Students receive writing feedback from a successful children’s author;
  • Students connect and interview both a published author and well-traveled humanitarian.
Below are some of the ways we integrated Karen Williams’ books with our studies across the grade-level spectrum. With all of these activities, students got a chance to embrace the maker movement, creativity, problem solving, perseverance & grit, innovation, sustainability, and cultural awareness.

To learn a little about our experience, you can click these links to read both Karen Williams’ blog & the Capital Gazette article by Sharon Lee Tegler.  Additionally, here are some ways to connect with both Karen and her books:

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Diet Coke Days Be Gone

Diet Coke and I go back... way back. My family knows that. My colleagues know that. The students I've taught through the years know that. (Yes, I've gotten Diet Coke for Teacher Appreciation Day before--more than once!)

Apparently too, my daughter heard from a buddy of hers that her high school Health class also knows that--not from her, but from a former student of mine from 6-7 years ago. My diet soda saturation apparently made an impact on him, all these years later, and he mentioned my name in class when the health benefits of diet soda was the topic of conversation.

My Diet Coke consumption clearly infamous.

Maybe it was that health class episode (my husbands supposition), or perhaps it was one too many "Model Health Show" podcasts (my theory) that finally did the trick to move me beyond my diet soda bandwagon, jumping instead to the green tea brigade. (Which, I just realized, sounds a lot like "Green Team"... as in "Gazette!" Hmm... maybe that's the true reason I've made the switch!)

People who know me and my 2-3 can a day habit know how big of a deal this is!I feel like I'm at an AA podium, making the announcement to the crowd: "Hi, my name's Vicki. I'm a diet soda junkie, and today I've been Diet Coke-Free for exactly 2 months." Insert a round of "Hi Vicki" here.

As I was finding all the merits of green tea back around St. Patty's Day, I was also paying attention to the infographics detailing the perils of diet soda. All the ones I had conveniently been ignoring all these years. As my mom said, if it can clean a penny, that corrosion might not be good for my interior. Good point.
Like the "tangy zip of Miracle Whip," the carbonated zing of a Diet Coke was a welcome midday friend. But I startled myself these past 2 months--I have never really missed it.

I'm still wrestling with getting used to the actual-drinking-of-hot-beverages. It's so hot! And some places, tea (& likely coffee) only come in evil Styrofoam, so I'm certainly environmentally-conflicted there. But it's still... 2 months later... green tea for the win!

Infographic from; no soda pic from; green tea image

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Linda Richards: A Musical Magician

The strains of the 1970s song "Reunited" are going through my head.

 An old friend is back in town.

These are the things that make your heart sing... especially when songs are involved.

Songs are always involved when it comes to Linda Richards, the mastermind behind S.L.Y.M.I: Sing Like You Mean It. Linda's music education program strives to connect kids (young and old) in music with a meaning and meant to share a message. Linda's mantra: "Songs can change the world!"

Linda, an avid environmental educator, has a rich history, in both environmentalism & music. Working with Pete Seeger on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, she developed a music program called the Power of Song. Linda uses music to enrich content, tying it to emotions while connecting kids to the outdoors, social awareness, & the importance of empathy, respect, & caring for our world.

It's through environmental education that I first met Linda Richards, 10 years ago, at a li'l river-side eco school that sadly no longer is there.
A friend of our science teacher, Linda came to enjoy our Earth Day assembly. There, the 2 of them decided that the following year they could orchestrate a far better assembly... especially if Linda came for two days--writing eco parodies with our elementary students on Day 1 so that they could then BE the assembly the following day. For 6 years, it was an annual Earth Week assembly... which truly made our hearts sing.

Fast forward. My eco school, Eagle Cove, closed in 2014, & all of my colleagues (& students) had to flee the nest. We did, we scattered, we landed, we compared notes, & I found myself thanking my lucky stars where I landed. Some of us did better than others. I was one of the lucky ones! Life moved on, & then with my help (& others), my new school became a green school last spring. Along the way, I shared my ECS eco-experience. In our new green scene, we were looking for an Earth Day Assembly 2017. Enter Linda Richards, & the circle of life. Hakuna Matata.

Linda spent a day at my school, entertaining the younger students in a lively assembly. She & each of our 3rd grade classes wrote eco-parodies.
Our day wrapped up with another assembly for grades 3-5 where the 3rd graders were part of the featured entertainment.

Ahh! To old times, familiar memories, & another crop of kids who get to experience the importance of environmentalism & social awareness through song.
It's a beautiful, wonderful thing.

Here are the 2 songs that Linda Richards wrote with our 3rd graders:

Take Me Out to the Ocean
sung to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"

Take me out to the ocean,
Take me out to the beach,
Help me to pick up the bottle caps,
And find ways to recycle the trash.
And there's oil from boats in the Chesapeake,
The rockfish and oysters are mad!
Stop! Help the Chesapeake and
Save the Day... Hooray!

This Bay Is Your Bay
sung to the tune of "This Land is Your Land"

This bay is your bay,
This bay is my bay,
From our own school,
All the way to Baltimore.
From the longest rivers,
To the deepest oceans,
This bay was made for you and me.

As I was fishing, I saw a rockfish.
It was so slimy, and trapped in plastic.
I helped the rockfish,
And recycled the plastic
What can we do to save our world?

To relive some of my favorite memories with Linda Rivers making magic and music with my former students, check out the links below:
For other ways to visit Linda Richards (because you know you want to)...
Check out her music album that she released earlier this year. (An easy place to get it is iTunes.)
To see the types of music programs she could bring to your school, center, or event go to her Programs page.

Images from our school's photographer; SLYMI logo from

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Marching Toward Actvism

I've said it before: I'm not sure when I became an activist. But given it's my second political march of 2017 and I've become vocal on Twitter, clearly I have become one.

As with the Women's March in January, I was inspired by the solidarity of the assembled masses and the humor, wisdom, & sentiment of the signs. The community of people with common vision and values, coming together, and inspiring hope for our future... this weekend that lent me a grand reassurance that I'm not alone in my priorities.

Along with that, I feel everyone should take part in a mission-centric march that speaks to your passions at least once in their life. Regardless of whether or not your passions match mine. No matter what they are, take part. Do your part. Be a part.

As I was making my way through DC to get to the march, I saw "my peeps" with their signs at the metro. Eye-glances were changed and smiles were shared. Conversations were sometimes had. I happened upon like-minded individuals in their groups, listening to their speakers, yet inviting all passers-by to take part and take a listen. I took time to do just that, smelling the proverbial roses along the way. I enjoyed hearing their songs which was music to my ears and to my heart. I prayed their prayers with them.

Everyone on the planet should get the opportunity to have that experience to find their tribe.

In thinking specifically about the People's Climate March and my experience... As I was going through my pictures afterwards, at home on my couch, reflecting over my day and the discovery that there were over 200,000 people assembling together in DC and approximately 375 sister marches world wide tied with President Trump's 100th Day in office, I was also pondering the political implications. Simultaneously, beyond my window, I had a dozen high school freshmen sitting on my patio. Laughing, carrying on, having their "Friends" episode in my backyard.
This is why I marched. For them. For my preteen and his buddies & pals. For the students I teach and their friends. For my nieces and nephews. for my future grandkids one day. 

They deserve clean air and water. Healthy organic food choices (not necessarily the pizza and chips I served that night). Regulations that serve both our environment and our economy. A plastic-free ocean and a pollution-free landscape. National parks and forests and conservation, preserved land. Animals, like the eagle, that were endangered when I was a child but now have experienced a healthy resurgence. Clean energy like solar or wind. A government that believes in science. A collective agreement that climate change is real. They deserve a habitable planet.

That's my wish in the message of the People's Climate March and the 370+ sister marches of this past Saturday, April 29th. We all deserve this. 

And... if it makes activists out of us all, so be it. An activist, I shall be.

United we stand, divided we fall.