Saturday, September 28, 2019

Digging Into the Design Process

Several articles I've recently read discussed how the design process was often a staple in the high schools, but not always in the elementary schools. That's almost downright silly, as PK-5th grade is the perfect age for making and inventing. The illustration here highlights the design process we use with our elementary students, one we've been using for over 6 years. It's a key part of our MakerLab activities and something I've written about before.

Teaching about the Innovation Mindset, you come to see the importance of problem solving, brainstorming, planning, testing, creating prototypes, retesting, redesigning & iterating, then finally sharing. We discuss the key feature of "failing forward" (and I often refer to "fail" as "First Attempt In Learning.") It governed us as we learned to walk, ride a bike, and do many new things in our lives. We can only get better by trying and retrying something, modifying as we go. As Lily Barnett wrote in Peninsula Press' "Design-Thinking Trickling Into Elementary School Classrooms," it's a key feature in Carol Dweck's growth mindset. It builds confidence through the creation and ability to tackle challenges.

Empathy too is an important part, because it helps with the tie-in of real world problems. By trying to take on the vantage point of another, students can see the importance of trying to solve a problem that serves the needs of others. Empathy is a piece that is significantly missing in today's world. Just check out social media or today's partisan politics!

As Rikke Dam & Teo Siang wrote in Interaction Design Foundation's "Design Thinking: New Innovative Thinking for New Problems," it is through new ways of thinking that problems are solved. We need to be able to think outside the box. As educators, we need to help shape our students to be the next generation of people to bring about better solutions to our global problems. It becomes the merging of both logic and imagination, science and creativity, empathy and analysis. Usually collaboration and critical thinking are also woven in there as well. All the essential skills future employers will want from our current students--even those that are still very young. The power of play in the elementary school environment is not all that different from what innovative companies like Google or Apple are doing to craft a creative workspace.

But as Megan Collins points out in her Edsurge article "Design Thinking Is a Challenge to Teach — and That’s a Good Thing," the design process is not set in stone. It's a framework that works for big and small classroom projects. Reflection after the fact to discuss how the process progressed is also key. Being able to see where you could or would do things differently next time is a valuable skill. This might mean teachers need to shift their own thinking and teaching along the way to also "include growth, reflection and failure. They [too] become designers” of both their curriculum and a classroom of creativity.

So for my teacher friends out there who are designing both lessons and students: here's a list of engineering challenges & resources for grades K-12. I made sure to curate this list with both general engineering challenges and also design challenges with a "green lean!"

Video from, design process diagram from and, Think Outside the Box image from

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

1000 Hours Outside & #BlueMind, 2019 Edition

Last summer I decided to do a little outdoor accounting of the number of hours I spent outside after learning about the blog 1000 Hours Outside. You can read more about that personal challenge here and then read about my results (here). I was delighted to surpass my goal of 200 hours outdoors and get 269 hours...which also was more than the seasonal math (given 100 hours) of 250 hours for the summer.

Well as we all know, summer 2019 has come, the days are starting to cool, and fall is officially here (at least by the calendar date).

Traveling back to the end of May 2019, I was once again inspired to carve a corner of my monthly calendar into a tally section, trying to see if I could do it again. Having read Nature Fix and being reminded of the neurological and emotional effects of nature on people, I was certainly up for it. Additionally, having read Blue Mind, I decided to add an extra layer, counting my #BlueMind Days to see how many days I could be in water (usually my pool) or near water like a stream, fountain, river, lake, or the Chesapeake Bay (which is in our neck of the woods).

My results:
Over the 94 days of summer (which was the 3 summer months plus September 1 & 2 due to it being Labor Day weekend--you can see the separation line in my August calendar), I totaled 326 hours outside and 61 days (2/3 of my summer) with some time in or near major water. I'm rather proud of those numbers and the benefits I gleaned from them.

My takeaways: 
  • I am a girl who craves and thrives when I have bulk time in the outdoors. Reading out there, or writing, basking, sitting, being in the pool, hiking, biking, or more. I had a hard time getting back into the "back to school" routine of being back indoors. (I'm reminded I had that bit of culture shock last year as well.) The first week of school meetings and then starting back with students had me going through a little Vitamin N & solar withdrawal. There just weren't enough hours in the day for me once school started back in session to get in my full daily desire!
  • The pool is my meditation and exercise space. I read in the pool, exercise our crazy canine there, and it's one of my favorite places to watch the wildlife that visit the backyard or the bird feeder.
  • A tropical family vacation in Punta Cana definitely was significant to my July numbers!
  • As much as I like my backyard critters, mosquitoes got in my way! I'm one of those people they love to chow on. Bug spray alone wasn't always enough, and after awhile, around dusk or so, I'd be forced indoors after feeling like I was their "feast de la resistance!" If the world had no mosquitoes, I'd have been outside even more!!
  • "BlueMind days" could have been "my everyday" if I went to stand next to my backyard pool. However, I didn't feel that alone counted. It had to be meaningful water--either me in it, on it, or going out of my way to be near it. It did get tricky when visiting my mom in the Midwest--but I found the lake, a fountain, or a duckpond to help me satisfy my quest. It got doubly tricky when I had a minor dermatology procedure that left me with stitches on my ankle for two weeks right before school started. Stitches should NOT be allowed in the summer time!
  • The difference (both in my ability to notate the numbers AND get outside) does shift dramatically when I'm working versus when I'm not. I kind of hate that. It has made me make sure to approach my evening and weekends more consciously, using the gifts of the beautiful outdoors in every way I can.
  • It's an experiment everyone should embark upon!!
Photos from my phone!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Outdoor Adventures: Punta Cana's Scape Park

 This summer we went to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for a family vacation. In addition to it being a fabulous way to spend every day outdoors, we went on a breathtaking excursion that was adventures and memories packed all in one! It was also a great way to get both my Vitamin N & my #BlueMind satisfied, all in one!
Scape Park at Cap Cana is an outdoor playground of ziplines and waterholes (and sometimes the two were combined) in the Dominican Republic rain forest. We had an 8 hour packed day, but we certainly couldn't do everything! Here's a sneak peak at all of their offerings:

Their attractions that we did take advantage of (as there just wasn't time for the beach, horseback riding, and all that we did):

  • Visiting Monkey Island, Parrot Island, and Iguanaland to see all of these amazing creatures
  • Doing 8-10 ziplines along their ecotour--the last of which landed in water! 
  • Trekking the Cultural Route--a rebuilt village of the Tainos Indians with historical boards detailing Christopher Columbus' invasion.
  • Splashing about under a waterfall.
  • Swimming in a crysaline underground cave, a treat all to ourselves.
  • Jumping into Hoya Azul, a ceynote (which is a sink hole that filled with water).
  • Visiting the True Bat Cave: Iguabonita Cave--with helmets on to protect us from the bat droppings!
It was a remarkable way to spend 8 hours outdoors.  Here's a peek at some of our favorite memories of the day.

When it comes to traveling and/or outdoor adventure, do it. Just the mere fact of encountering something different is what life is all about. It widens your perspective and gives you new experiences. Some of those may include a glimpse at other cultures. When. you can see the wider world outside of yourself, it it builds perspective, empathy, and even more when some of those experiences are outside!

Video from; My pics & videos compiled in Adobe Spark

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Climate Change Solutions Quiz

A good online quiz is quite satisfying. Here's one that won't name your Hogwarts house or which Friends character you're most like, but it will teach you a thing or two about how to be the best planetary protector you can be!

CNN's Climate Change Solutions Quiz was created by Drew Kann, Will Houp, Judson Jones, and Sean O'Key (April 19, 2019). Created in coordination with the group Project Drawdown and their rankings of effective climate change solutions, it has 8 questions based on the following categories:
  • Our food
  • How we move goods & people
  • Our homes & cities
  • How we use our land
  • Electricity use
  • Materials & waste management
  • Empowering women
  • Can you rank the top 5
For each category, the quiz challenges you rearrange the 3-5 options in the order of greatest to least impact to cut down on climate change. Once you answer each question, it rearranges your choices (if necessary), shows you your choice order versus the real order, and it gives answers in the following format: "This would be similar to taking ___ million cars off the road." Then it provides vital information explaining the data, and it labels the actions by whether they are ones that can be tackled by individuals, companies, or policy makers.

Having read the book Drawdown (edited by Paul Hawken) last year, I thought for sure I'd ace this quiz. Let's just say, this served as an excellent (and necessary) refresher course.

Go forth, check out CNN's Climate Change Solution quiz, learn along the way, and then see what you can do to start making a difference.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Thinkport's "Bait to Plate"

As a Maryland girl (by relocation versus birth), this gem from Thinkport was worth a visit. In "Bait To Plate: An Inside Look At Maryland's Crab Industry."

The Teacher Resources indicate that this online module was created for 4th-8th graders, and two 45-minute sessions should be enough to work your way through all 11 sections. It's a wonderful way (for students and adults alike) to learn more about the importance of Maryland crabs--both to the local industry and to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Remembering 9/11

Today is September 11. Of course your calendar tells you that, but so too does your heart for anyone who was around on September 11, 2001. It's one of those dates you remember where you were and what you were doing. Life changed to where it's remembered "before 9/11" and "after 9/11."

Today, let us all pause to remember that day in American history. In world history.

This picture is from my hometown this summer. It was a monument I had never seen. I was moved at the memorial. Even more so when I later learned that the steel beams were from the World Trade Center site. 

Yes, let us never forget.

Image from my camera.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

TED-ED's Series & Collections

I recently got reintroduced to TED-Ed at a one-day summer "Tech Tools" workshop I attended. In addition to being able to build lessons around a TED talk or animation, you can also use ones that others have created or customize it yourself. I like how the depth of investigation and questioning you can build in is structured around their "Watch - Think - Dig Deeper - Discuss" format.

Upon all my investigations of all TED-ED has to offer, I ran across their series, and the following are just some of their offerings--all of these have some great environmental education connections that are perfect for back to school season. I've included the number of videos in that series at the time of writing in parentheses following the series names. There are some overlaps between series.

And a fun last one--Periodic Videos, which has the periodic table as a graphic, with each element being a link to a TED-ED video.

Of course this is just a fraction of what's available over at TED-ED. For a wealth of more on a many more subjects, be sure to click their "Discover" button for both series and lessons!

Images from: "Watch - Think - Dig Deeper - Discuss" Screenshot from one of TED-ED's lessons and

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Handling the Emotions of a Rough August

August has been a hard environmental month. The start of September hasn't been any better with Hurricane Dorian rearing its ugly this past weekend, dumping copious amounts of water and destruction over the Bahamas, and now moving along the East Coast with its ultimate landing yet to be determined.

What makes it both maddening, saddening, and worse: all of the events of the last month have essentially come at human hands, emphasizing the perils we pose to the planet. A brief synopsis:

1. Iceland's Glacial Funeral
Funerals are always hard. No one likes seeing the passing of someone (or something) important. The same holds true when glaciers cease to exist, all because of a warming that should not be.

2.  The Wildfires of the Amazon
My son was highly perturbed by the lack of news about the fires in the Amazon rainforest. In fact, he brought it to my attention days before it came on the national news front (having seen it along social media). Sadly, the news cycles in a way to show our priorities, and sadly climate change and planetary problems often fall lower on the news hierarchy than a lot of other published pieces.

3. But wait, there's more!
These are the other climate events that have occurred this past summer. Ones that didn't get quite as much news coverage. I ran across them in the August 28th WGBH article "Flooding, Melting And On Fire: 6 Stories That Show The Dramatic Impact Of Climate Change Now" by Emily Judem. In it, along with mentioning the Amazon fires, Judem details 5 other news-worthy climate events this past August. Everyone of them ultimately came about at the hands of humans, over time. Listed here are the main stories Judem shared (but you should read her whole article linked above):
Judem also mentioned some other "minor," even less-publicized incidences such as home-destroying rains and floods in Freetown, Sierra Leone and destructive wildfires in Indonesia, the Canary Island, Greece, Turkey, and France.

All of this follows NOAA's announcement that July 2019 was the hottest month on record. Hottest. Month. Ever. It's still early in September, so time will tell where August 2019 falls in the record books. And just like the August events listed above, July also had its own climate anomalies.

*Sigh*  It's heavy. And disheartening. And a whole lot of bad news.

* * *

As I was pondering all of this, I was sharing my concerns with a very dear and equally die-hard environmental friend. While we were commiserating via email this past weekend about the weight of it all, I shared with her a text from my middle-school son. Last week he texted me at work asking me if it was true that we only have around 17 months to fix our planet before it's past fixable. That's a lot of weight for someone so young. I answered him as best as I could, but it left me wondering what to do with all of this weight, other than bury my head in the sand or curl up in the fetal position due to the fatigue of such fatalistic news.

Ironically, in the exchange with my friend, we both landed upon the same conclusion--simultaneously, while separate. When we continued our conversation, we discovered that we were (again) of like minds. She stated it so much more succinctly than I did:
"I saw a scientist on NPR last week who was giving all kinds of climate change information, but he was so optimistic. He didn't talk about 'we missed our chance' or 'if we don't do it by this amount of time...' or anything like that. So I got to thinking: why not be optimistic? Anything we do will help to make it less worse. What's the alternative? Why not be optimistic? Not ostrich optimistic. We have to travel through this life until we die. I don't want to spend my time being fearful, regretful, and defeated. We have to keep caring and pushing and doing. And voting."
Yes. I came to that same place of optimism as I was staring at my trees from the happy place of my pool this Labor Day, and again later as I was biking through a local park. We can't get consumed by the doom and gloom--as easy as it feels to land there. We have to embrace the hopeful variety of optimism, because truly, what other choice is there. We have to fight for it by doing everything we can. We need to get outdoors and encourage our loved ones (both our young ones and our older ones) to get outside, to appreciate the beauty and magnitude of our planet. By loving it, we will protect it. By becoming stewards and by building young stewards, we can make a positive benefit. We can create the next generation that may actually be able to show us all how change happens. Perhaps it's in feeling the potential loss that we can all actually reach out, grab it, and protect it like never before!

We owe it to ourselves, our future generations, and our planet itself!

Emily Judem's article which was heavily referenced here:;  Video from
Images from and and and