Turning "special" into "capable"


Special education teachers often face challenges other teachers don’t. Their students not only struggle with learning and communication issues but also frequently battle low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.

But at Olson Middle School, Special Education Teacher Chantelle Kley is changing all that.

Kley, Pitsco Education’s second-quarter scholarship winner, has been at Olson Middle School for four years and has made it her mission to instill a strong sense of potential in each of her students.

“As a special education teacher,” she says, “I have the privilege and honor of helping students move from feeling like they are not good enough, not smart enough, not capable enough, to realizing that they are capable of greatness.”

When she was younger, Kley used to “teach” her little brother, putting grades on his coloring books and making him check out books from her room and complete reading logs. That early love of teaching never wore off, though now, she says, her inspiration comes from her students, most of whom, in addition to being special needs, also qualify for free/reduced lunches.
“In spite of the challenges they face outside of school,” says Kley, “they show up every single day, eager to learn and grow. I want to provide them with the highest quality education I can.”

And it seems her students are beginning to believe in their own potential. “I had a boy who started with me as a sixth grader,” Kley recalls. “He was unable to read beyond a kindergarten level and could only write his name and a handful of basic words. In June of that year when we were sharing what the best part of our year was, he raised his hand and said, ‘I used to think reading was too hard and that I was too stupid. Now I can read to my baby sister every night.’”

Chantelle Kley, thank you for making every student a winner. Congratulations on being named our second-quarter scholarship winner of 2015!

Pitsco is currently accepting nominations for the third-quarter 2015 Pitsco Scholarship at

Visit here to learn more about Chantelle Kley.

Classroom life with STEM technology


For the remainder of 2015, Pitsco Education will be running a series of blogs showcasing the Teacher Advisory Group (TAG). Four questions will be addressed for each TAG member in the blog series.

Eileen Malick is a public school computer science educator at Atlee High School in Hanover, Virginia. She teaches authentic examples of software applications, web, mobile phone apps, and robotics using easy-to-program interfaces and the newest STEM technologies to make learning computer science a feasible career choice for students. She teaches all levels of computer science, from introductory levels to AP and IB Computer Science.

In her class lessons, she teaches that the only consistent aspect of STEM is that it constantly changes. She believes teaching students of all ages how to master and control the changing technology around them is the greatest service she can provide. The incorporation of the newest lines of Pitsco and LEGO® robotics makes learning computer science easier for students to participate in innovation. Students develop analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making skills while creating interactive solutions using a variety of programming interfaces. During this process, they will collaborate and share creations with each other. Computer science cannot just be compartmentalized into a single category, as it has a necessary component in all applied math and science courses.

Eileen shared some great information for her peers to reference by answering the questions about her classroom below.

What is something unique about your classroom?

I have a very large classroom with computers along the walls and mobile comfy couches in the middle. There is a robotics center of LEGO products and robotic finches in the center, which students can use to build projects after they complete their programming assignments.

Please provide a best tip for classroom management.

I put everything on Blackboard (notes, assignments, objectives, videos, grades even though we have a separate grade system online) so students always know what is due and what they have to work on all the time. I also have a class set of headphones (on hooks above the computers), which I allow them to use to listen to music as they are working on their assignments.

What is your best piece of advice for a new teacher?

Beg for and borrow whatever class resources and curricular material you can. Also, many will tell you things like, “Don't smile until Christmas,” or to be something other than yourself, but my best advice is to give yourself time to get into your own groove, because today’s students are attuned to what is authentic and not contrived.

What do you hope to gain from being a member of TAG?

I hope to be able to collaborate with my peers and be on the cutting edge of STEM and be in the loop for new products and initiatives with Pitsco. The TAG members are all family, fun, and fuzzy, so I feel comfortable sharing ideas and inquiries.

Visit to learn more about TAG or to read the short bios of all the 2015 TAG members.



Clay car modeling – a STEAM activity!


By Bill Holden, Product Development Specialist

Some students don't easily connect to STEM activities. The idea of working with motion and forces, torque, engineering iterations, data acquisition and analysis, or quadratic equations or even competing head-to-head in a race is neither engaging nor motivating. However, activities that have an art component (the A in STEAM) can be a vehicle (pun intended) for some students to connect to STEM concepts.

The art component within the Clay Car Modeling activity focuses on the design of a car. It includes the shape, contour lines, relative sizes of various components, and how all of this fits together in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

While initial ideas for the car design can come from looking at actual cars, the activity allows students the freedom to go beyond known styles and create their own style.

Car designs typically begin in 2-D with sketches of the car, with views from the front, side, rear, and top. Students may make several sketches, but one design must eventually be chosen as the starting point. Using the sketches as a reference, students can produce more exact drawings by using drafting tools or software.

Clay cars can also model existing cars, so those students who resist coming up with their own design can model a Mustang, Beetle, or Silverado. In this instance, students can work from actual vehicle dimensions, drawings, or photos.
At this point, a scale needs to be determined for the model. Scaling is a mathematical process and is a necessary tool for most design work. It is good way to show the relevance of math even in artistic endeavors. Typically, a 1/20 scale will provide a model car that is about three inches wide and about a foot long.

The clay car model is built on a wood base that includes support framework (an armature). Students cut blocks of foam to create a form smaller than the final model by half an inch in each direction and then connect these blocks to the armature. After applying a coat of shellac, clay will be added to the foam block to form the actual car body. The grand details of this and other processes are included in the Dr. Zoon Clay Car Prototypes Video.

claymodeltoolkitFor modeling cars, hard styling clay is used. It should be heated in a small oven so it softens. Care must be taken to ensure the clay is the proper temperature for use by students. A half-inch layer of this soft clay pressed over the foam forms a thick skin. Using templates created from drawings or photos of the design, students use clay tools to remove excess clay and begin shaping the clay to fit their design.
A clay steel tool is used for much of the shaping process, removing and shaping the clay. Slicks are used to smooth the surface of the clay. Students use wire loops to add contour lines and cut away clay to form specific elements of the car, like doors and door handles. A sponge is used to further smooth the clay surface. Proper use of these tools can be seen in the video.

As students shape and mold the clay, they use templates to ensure the dimensions of the model correspond with the intended design. Occasionally, more warm clay will need to be added if too much clay has been removed. After the clay has been molded, shaped, and smoothed, students can add wheels and accessories to round out the appearance of the model.

Working with the clay can be a long process, but watching the model come to life is exhilarating. For some students, this may be the one STEM activity they can get STEAM’ed up about!

Related links:
Clay Modeling Tool Kit
Hard Styling Clay

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