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Nikki Nalley is passionate about helping her students connect what they’re learning to the world around them.

A technology education teacher at Pike Central Middle School in Petersburg, Indiana, Nalley believes the best way to do that is through hands-on education. “The curriculum I use in my classroom enables the students to learn valuable skills when they work with their hands on their projects as they learn new material,” she said. “These [projects] require students to use real-world skills that their future employers are seeking such as teamwork, communication, [and] problem solving . . . just to name a few.”

Nalley, Pitsco Education’s January 2017 Teacher of the Month, said that, although she originally planned on being a lawyer, after she had a job at Head Start, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. Since then, she has never looked back.

“I love helping students to learn new things about our changing world and themselves,” she said. “Seeing the students grow during these pivotal years of their lives while using my curriculum is such a blessing.”

And the use of hands-on projects has been a key part of that growth. Nalley uses various hands-on products in her Pitsco Modules lab and believes they are integral to keeping the students engaged and learning. “The students can actually recall and utilize these valuable skills later in life,” she explained. “Research has proven that integration of reading, hearing, seeing, and doing all at the same time while learning new material enables learners to remember a greater percentage of the new material. I have seen this firsthand in my classroom.”

And the engagement doesn’t stop when the students leave her classroom. “Our middle school and high school are all in one building, allowing me to see previous students on a daily basis,” said Nalley. “I see them in the hallways or they come back to see me. They tell me about how this class has influenced them. They tell me how they still have their rocket, their dragster, their blinky kit, or their 3-D printed project and what they are doing with them. I have also had students use their Module work as a starting point for other scientific experiments for other classes. . . . My class allows my students to have tangible evidence of their learning, which they can take home to keep for as long as they choose.”

Nikki Nalley, thank you for giving your students concrete learning experiences they can hold on to for a lifetime. Congratulations on being named Pitsco’s January 2017 Teacher of the Month.

Learn more about Nikki Nalley.

Read about our other Teacher of the Month recipients at pitsco.com/TeacheroftheMonth.

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Each November, Pitsco’s Tim Lankford and Mohit Abraham fly overseas to represent TETRIX® at the World Robot Olympiad, an international robotics event that’s held in a new country every year.

The 2016 WRO was held in New Delhi, India, November 25-27. There are categories for different age groups, but the TETRIX representatives are focused on the Advanced Robotics Challenge with its Robot Bowling challenge. For this, robotics teams – usually composed of high school and college-age students – must program a robot to pick up a snooker ball and throw it down a lane to knock down pins.

This year, the game was changed to add a new dimension to the challenge.

“They added complexity to how they pick up the balls,” Tim said. “They had to harvest the balls from an acrylic box, which made it a little more difficult to pick up. And there was random placement of the pins that they had to deal with as well.”

Tim said the difference in the game seemed to encouraged some more compelling robot constructions. “Overall, there was more variety in their builds with the mechanical approach in solving the problem. Last year in Qatar, you saw quite a few similar-looking bots, and this year there were only a couple that didn’t depart from that. We had some good, technically well-built robots.”

In the Advanced Robotics Challenge bowling game, first place went to the Chinese Taipei team I.T.C., second place was a tie between the Chinese Taipei teams NCTU Robotics and Dreamcatcher. To see the rest of the top eight finalists, visit the WRO website. To read more about the 2016 event, visit here.

If competitors thought there were a lot of changes this year, the 2017 event will really shake things up. First, the game will change entirely. A new game concept, TetraStack, was presented and approved. In this game, autonomous robots must pick up different pieces on the field and stack them into a framed-in wall.

“This game was originally presented in Sochi[, Russia] three years ago,” Tim said, referring to the beginning of the advanced category. “They adopted the bowling game instead because they felt that this one was going to be a little too difficult to start with.”

Now that teams have had a couple of years of experience, they should be able to tackle the new challenge, which should remind people of a classic video game.

“They’ll basically have to play Tetris,” Tim said. “It should be a creative game for them to have to solve.”

Another big change for the whole WRO event in 2017 is that it will held in Costa Rica. This is the first time the WRO has ever been held in the Western Hemisphere. Tim, who has visited Costa Rica in recent years to train TETRIX dealers there, said the country will be a great place for WRO competitors and will be worth the long flight.

“It’s a beautiful country. They are a very open, friendly people,” he said, adding that he saw many Costa Rica representatives getting feedback at this year’s event. “They are engaged in making this event a positive experience.”

As Costa Rica is a country very much focused on sustainable energy and preserving their natural resources and biodiversity, the organizers have already determined that next year’s event will have a sustainability theme. To learn more about the 2017 event, look for updates at the WRO website.

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Last month, we showed you some official resources for the TETRIX® PRIZM™ Robotics Controller, but there are some other resources out there for anyone who has a PRIZM or who is considering getting one.

First up, educator and author Aaron Maurer has created an unboxing video of PRIZM highlighting its key features and cool see-through cover. If you’ve never experienced Aaron’s work, you will find him to be an energetic and creative teacher who channels his enthusiasm in blog posts, videos, and other outlets to share with fellow educators.

TETRIX designer creates light patterns with TETRIX PRIZM.

TETRIX designer creates light patterns with TETRIX PRIZM.

After he got his hands on PRIZM, Aaron created tutorials for three activities. The first one covers connecting the battery to the PRIZM and installing the free Arduino software and library. In the second tutorial, he goes over the Hello World activity. The third one, DC Motors, is a more detailed look at how to program and control the TETRIX DC Motors with the PRIZM. Knowing how failure encourages learning and problem solving, he even shares his struggle with a part of the process.

Our own Paul Uttley, R&D manager and creator of the TETRIX system, had fun controlling lights with the PRIZM. In both the “PRIZM Light Show” and “Light Show 2” videos, he demonstrates the lighting effects he created using an LED NeoPixel strip and PRIZM. These must-see videos are inspiration for blinging out your robot.

Want the code? Email Paul at puttley@pitsco.comand he can provide you with the programming code so you can create your own light effects! Is there anything else about the TETRIX PRIZM you want to know? Let us know in the comments.

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When he was 17, Marko Johnson wanted to join the Navy. His mother, however, had other plans. “I was originally assigned a spot in the Naval Academy,” recalled Johnson, “but I . . . would not make my 18th birthday in time. My mom would not sign, so I started school for criminal justice.”

Thanks, again, to his mother, Johnson would change his career path one more time, eventually becoming a teacher. “I never thought I would teach until my mother, who was a teacher, asked me to come talk to the kids at her school one day,” said Johnson.

A teacher for 19 years now, Johnson, Pitsco Education’s fourth-quarter scholarship winner of 2016, currently teaches career technical education to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Beaumont, Texas.

Johnson learned the value of hands-on learning early on in his career and has shaped his teaching around this concept. “I started teaching Pre-K,” he said. “Watching those kids manipulate things and understand learning happens through all senses was awesome.”

His mother, once again, had a hand in shaping his thinking. “As I moved up within the different grade levels,” he explained, “it dawned on me that students are missing the understanding of things the way my mother taught us through helping her cook, take things apart, sort items, and build things ourselves. Through hands-on learning, you make all other subjects complete and show the importance of the other subjects because you must use that knowledge to create in my class.” And Johnson takes the hands-on learning a step further as the school’s Technology Student Association (TSA) sponsor. One of his teams won the Texas TSA State Middle School Championships after the previous class came in second the year before.

Perhaps Johnson’s biggest takeaway from teaching, though, is the ability to impact not just his students but the world at large. “I honestly love teaching because it gives me the opportunity to make life better for mankind one class at a time,” he said. “I take pride in understanding that to give a child an education is to give the world a chance to be greater and make life better for people I have never and will never meet. . . . I have seen many of my students do things they never thought possible because of something I have taught them. That lets me know I’m doing the job I was put here to do.”

Marko Johnson, thank you for impacting the world by impacting your students. Congratulations on being named our fourth-quarter scholarship winner of 2016!

Pitsco is currently accepting nominations for the first-quarter 2017 Pitsco Scholarship at www.pitsco.com/scholarship.

Learn more about Marko Johnson.

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Christmas is a busy time of year – for educators, for parents, for students, and for us as we all work to tie up loose ends and find time to celebrate the holidays at the same time. I hope you’re all weathering the end-of-year stress with the many hats you wear, keeping students engaged in the classroom when attention spans are low and balancing life away from the school hallways.

Here at Pitsco, I oversee our Operations, which involves wearing many hats as well. On an average day, I’m involved in inventory control, shipping, receiving, returns, purchasing, printed media, and our call center.

We’ve been working on our year-end inventory and getting ready for a new year, so I can relate to the chaos you might be feeling right about now.

However, earlier in the year, I was able to step back from the fray and see my industry from a different perspective when I attended Kansas International Trade Day, an event that brought several businesses together to collaborate and support export growth within the state. I had the chance to meet other leading suppliers and organizations who can help companies expand their trade outside of the United States.

The day included several speakers, starting out with the Secretary of Kansas Commerce, followed by speakers on legal consideration for trade and distribution in foreign entities, such as China. One highlight for me was a company who shared their process for getting set up for business in Central and South America.

The event also doubled as an awards ceremony, with four companies in the final running for this year’s Kansas Governor’s Exporter of the Year Award. I got a lot of great tips as these four companies shared their experiences in how they got started in international trade, what their hurdles were, and how they now maintain and expand their international footprint.

I know that many educators spend the summer soaking up professional development. This day was a similar experience for me. It was great to hear the many successes and challenges that other companies in Kansas are working through. I also had the opportunity to meet some key players in trade within the state and federal levels, and to bounce ideas off others who are managing international trade from both an import and an export perspective.

As another busy year winds down and I’m rushing to get it all done, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to slow down for a moment and focus on the bigger picture. If you haven’t scheduled professional development for 2017 yet, I encourage you to!

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Is desiring to make a positive difference in the lives of others a natural human instinct? Perhaps some people recognize and act on this urge while others suppress the desire, and still others never fully recognize it tugging at them.

If the instinct is real, there’s at least one way to learn where you reside on the “make a positive difference” spectrum – conduct a self-reflection similar to that done by middle school teacher Ben Lagueux.

After serving for 10 years in the military, including a stint in the first Gulf War and a position training high school graduates to be medics, Lagueux left the service and entered the business world, the systems engineering field to be exact.

There, he became an authority on people, processes, and technology, and he consulted with business leaders to refine their companies and make improvements over time. But still, a sense of personal satisfaction often found in service to others was missing. Lagueux’s next step was to conduct a five-year self-reflection. “What have I helped people accomplish in the last five years? Would I be satisfied if I did that again for the next five years?” he asked himself.

After careful contemplation of the second question yielded a convincing “no,” Lagueux looked around for his next career stop. That brief browse never extended beyond his home. He witnessed in his wife a high level of personal satisfaction as a difference-making third-grade teacher. From there, it didn’t take long to figure out that a middle-level position where he could teach about careers might be a perfect fit. That decision eventually led to a career-focused Pitsco Modules lab for eighth graders at McAuliffe Middle School in the Southwest Independent School District near San Antonio, Texas.

BenLagueux2_679px_1216“High school in Texas now has a much stronger emphasis on making early decisions that lead to a cluster of career choices. . . . So, as early as eighth grade, students really do need to have exposure to what a work life might be like or what it would entail in careers they’ve never heard of,” he said.

Being the person who opens students’ eyes to possible careers has been deeply satisfying for Lagueux. Now in his fifth year teaching and making a positive difference in the lives of up to 300 students each year, he has a new response to that second query in his five-year self-reflection.

Learn more about Lagueux’s career-focused class and Southwest ISD’s aim to involve every student in STEM.

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During this season of ho-ho-ho, Pitsco is enjoying the results stimulated by Pitsco Maker Space™ solutions and TETRIX® robotics curricula. Both create a psychomotor learning situation that fulfills an ideal STEM environment.

The creativity available in the Maker Space solutions and TETRIX curricula generate collaborative opportunities that will serve students well in future educational pursuits. Perhaps an elf or two might find their way into your stocking to secure these educational tools. If not, one of the following might gift you.

December 2016 “Grant Funding Leads” (PDF)

Additional Grant Resources

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By Katlie Brynds, Marketing Intern

Tower_ProtoType2_400px_1216I opened the Tower Prototyping Kit and, after seeing what the kit included, immediately became excited to start building. The kit includes floor plates, connectors, and balsa sticks for students to use to construct a structurally sound tower and then test its strength using the myQuake miniSystem, a system that replicates earthquake tremors. The process of making the tower is simple, yet it still requires critical thinking and experimentation. It’s a great way to incorporate STEM into lesson plans with the addition of a fun activity.

In the Tower Prototyping Activity, students will learn about resonant frequencies, sensor measurement, and data analysis through the step-by-step instructions and the application to real-world circumstances.

To construct the tower, I cut the balsa sticks to the desired length and placed them into the floor plates. The connectors were used to add stability and strength to the tower and to provide the proper angle between pieces. One thing that I loved about this activity is that there’s no need for glue. The floor plates and connectors act as a glue-free way to connect the balsa sticks. They also make the tower testable immediately after construction and eliminate the time it would normally take waiting for the glue to dry. And let’s not forget about avoiding the mess by eliminating glue.

Tower_ProtoType_350px_1216After the tower is constructed, the myQuake miniSystem can be used to measure the acceleration for the different axis of the tower. Clamp the tower to the miniSystem, which controls the motion and force applied. If the tower doesn’t collapse, rotate the tower and try again. Play around with the different settings and speeds and pay attention to the tower’s movements – is it bending, shaking, or vibrating? It’s easy to get an object to vibrate at its resonant frequencies but hard to get it to vibrate at other frequencies. If the tower is still standing after trying each axis and applying the maximum force, you’ve built a structurally sound tower.

This activity is quick and easy to teach while still covering a wide variety of information, and it provides for creativity, as each student will design his or her own unique tower. Building and testing towers is an exciting classroom activity. Personally, I learned a lot from building and testing my tower, and it was a fun way to learn about resonant frequencies, sensor measurement, and data analysis.

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By Michael Clark, TAG member, Southwestern Middle School, Deland, FL

I became a teacher because I like a challenge. I enjoy working in an environment that keeps me on my toes. I’m constantly searching for new approaches to deliver content that will prove more effective to and reach more students than ever before. I get excited learning about the latest and greatest educational technologies because it just keeps getting better. Technology is driving education in new directions, and I love being there for the ride!

Google SketchUp is a powerful tool resource that I use frequently in my classroom. I’ve used this program for a few years now with my sixth-grade STEM classes where students create 2-D and 3-D representations of their ideas. It’s been useful in providing a visual road map for students as they work toward a solution to a given problem. We’ve also used SketchUp to design 2-D house floor plans, 3-D house models, prototype models, and .STL files for 3-D printing. Did I mention that it’s free?

Issues tend to arise with 3-D Printing; therefore I’ve had to find some economical solutions. For example, printing student projects on paper is costly, antiquated, and doesn’t allow much room for collaboration. Padlet.com, a place to post projects in digital format, has become a staple in my classroom! What I like most is that it is free, is engaging, and promotes interaction among students. It’s become my “traveling bulletin board,” housing an array of student work in a portfolio style format that can be shared easily with a single link.

Being a TAG member has been great because I get to collaborate with like-minded individuals that have a passion and drive for “all things STEM” from all over the country.

I’ve provided some of the first input on new Pitsco products and have really felt like a part of a team. Being a part of the Pitsco team has been an extension of the core principles I teach in my very own classroom – collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

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By Jackie Derr, TAG member, Perrysburg Junior High School, Perrysburg, OH

I became a teacher because I want to make a positive impact on the lives of my students just like my dad did as a teacher, and like so many of my former teachers did for me. The school setting allows me to be a role model, share life lessons beyond the classroom, be someone’s cheerleader, make someone’s lightbulb shine, and help ideas become reality. I know kids come from so many different backgrounds and home environments, which makes it rewarding to be able to help every student achieve success and learn about respect, anti-bullying, teamwork, and communication skills.

As an Internet surfer, I’ve found quite a bit of useful information from Edutopia.org, Code.org, and of course Pitsco.com. I also follow EdTech K-12 Magazine, Teaching STEM, and Teacher2Teacher on Twitter – these are great resources for gathering extra support and ideas for your classroom lessons.

Two of my favorite real life specific resources on Twitter that I visit frequently are Kid President and Coaching Your Kids. They provide me with teachable moments and also remind me of our greatest gifts as teachers. For example: Kid President has a video called “How to Disagree without Making Everybody Feel Terrible.” What a great way to teach our students a lesson in a fun way – everybody loves Kid President! Coaching Your Kids recently tweeted “A team culture is not built from words on a single day. It’s built from actions over time. What does it mean to be a part of YOUR team?” This reminded me that I want my team (classroom) to be a warm, caring, a welcoming place, and I need my words to represent that so my kids know I care about them.

Over time, I’ve had to implement solutions to common issues in my classroom. One issue is we lose track of time when the kids and I get engrossed in Modules and class units because we’re having so much fun learning! My solution to this issue is I now set an alarm on my phone to keep us on track. Another issue I came across was my students would forget/refuse to review the Module sessions at home (for homework). I now have them complete the vocabulary sheet or have them create a Quizlet review so they are physically doing something besides reviewing on their own.

The additional resources available by becoming a part of Pitsco’s Teacher Advisory Group (TAG) have been great! This has been an amazing group of educators sharing ideas to not only help our students achieve success, but to be able to help us individually become better teachers, which is outstanding! I also think it’s pretty cool and admirable being able to help Pitsco with their products while gaining additional information from their talented team members and educators from across the country – it’s a win-win situation for all of us!

This also gives me an opportunity to present at a national conference with the help of Pitsco, which is going to make my presentation more professional and interesting!

Here’s the story as to why I like Pitsco products so much. I was an honor student in high school, but I had to work harder than most because I don’t learn well by reading from a book. Which means I really struggled in college and almost dropped out (in fact, I did give up for 1-1/2 years until a friend got me to go back)! I’m one that learns by listening, seeing, and doing hands-on activities – so when I met Harvey Dean, Pitsco’s CEO, at my training session and he explained how Pitsco was started, I knew I chose the right product!

My students are successful in my Pitsco STEM lab largely because of the differentiated instruction that happens with every Module and class unit that I teach. Not only do my students enjoy the class – they have fun, learn the material, learn life lessons, and enhance their skills across the curriculum without realizing it! My students are achieving success in areas they previously struggled in thanks to the way I’m able to present the material using the Pitsco products.

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