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When I was in school, history always seemed boring to me; it was just dates and numbers and events that I could never remember, much less in the correct order.

But if I had had Pitsco’s April 2017 Teacher of the Month Robert Barbosa for my history teacher, I have a feeling I might’ve paid more attention – and retained quite a bit more.

Barbosa, who teaches World Geography, US History, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and Crime in America Studies at Sharyland High School in Mission, Texas, makes it his mission to find ways to bring history alive for his students.

“I enjoy teaching history because of the variety of approaches that can be taken to teach its concepts,” he said, “whether it’s making connections from the past to the world today, exploring cause-and-effect relationships and concepts through traditional history and that of pop culture, or by examining alternate history and what could have happened if an event had or had not occurred.”

“Instead of teaching history in a static form from a book or lecture, we are evolving our approach by using project-based and hands-on learning through the use of Pitsco products and more.”

Barbosa explores the various approaches through several hands-on activities. He lets students discover the Roman Empire’s military might and technology by building catapults and trebuchets. His students learn about earthquakes by building structures and testing them on Pitsco’s EQs Tremor Table.

“Using a hands-on approach allows students to experience it firsthand, even though it might be re-created,” he explained. “With this approach, students not only learn the historical concepts needed, but at the same time actively practice skills that historians would use in the field.”

Using hands-on projects also gets Barbosa out of the rut of teaching from a textbook and keeps his students interested in the subject. “The students are engaged throughout the class period,” he said, “whether it’s putting together sets like the catapults so they can see them in action or building their structure for the tremor table, with the use of Pitsco (hands-on) products, the students never want the lesson to end because of the various uses and ways they can implement what they are using. . . .”

A teacher for five years now, Barbosa counts his ability to provide hands-on activities as his greatest teaching accomplishment thus far. “My department and I have been able to increase engagement with our students and transform the way we teach history,” he said. “Instead of teaching history in a static form from a book or lecture, we are evolving our approach by using project-based and hands-on learning through the use of Pitsco products and more.”

Robert Barbosa, thank you for making history come alive for your students. Congratulations on being named Pitsco’s April 2017 Teacher of the Month.

Learn more about Robert Barbosa.

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

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Physics teacher uses a variety of means to engage students

 

To Eric Botello, physics is fun. “I love physics,” he admits. “I see it as the physical manifestation of mathematics.”

Botello realizes, however, that statement doesn’t apply to most people. High school students, in particular, might have a difficult time grasping the “fun” in physics. That challenge is why Botello loves his job as the honors and AP physics teacher at Judson Early College Academy in Live Oak, Texas.

“I love opening the students’ eyes to the physics all around them,” said Botello, Pitsco Education’s March 2017 Teacher of the Month.

To do that, he employs a variety of hands-on activities. “You can talk about topics until you’re blue in the face,” he said, “but nothing will teach a concept like getting your hands dirty. For instance, current, power, and resistance are just variables to manipulate in an equation until you watch lightbulbs brighten and fade depending on how you configure wires. . . . Engagement is the key in physics.”

One great source of engagement, according to Botello, is robotics. More specifically, the FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC®) teams he coaches using Pitsco’s TETRIX® MAX Robotics System. “I have been a part of FIRST FTC for the last two years and I have found that students have learned more about topics like forces, torque, and circuits building the robots than I could have ever shown them in class or out of a book. I love when a student says, ‘Hey, we learned this in class!’”

But getting students excited about learning is just one of Botello’s goals. “My overall goal every year,” he said, “is to help every student realize his or her full potential.” Some students, however, take a little more prodding than others. Botello recalled one student in particular who found school a bit too easy.

“I motivated this student to be amazing by challenging him more than he had ever been challenged in high school to that point,” said Botello. “This drive all started with him failing a test in my class. . . . I told him with the effort that he was putting into the class, he deserved to fail. He had never failed, let alone been told that he deserved to fail before. From that moment on, he tried on every assignment and examination. He is now two semesters from graduating with a degree in computer engineering, has a job lined up after graduation, and has already created an app. . . .”

Eric Botello, thank you for turning on the potential of every student you encounter. Congratulations on being named Pitsco’s March 2017 Teacher of the Month.

Learn more about Eric Botello.

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

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Online shopping is supposed to be convenient for YOU, the customer. But we’ve all been there: a cart full of cool stuff and there’s a shipping total that stops us in our tracks, or the ordering process is anything but quick and easy. We don’t want to be that company. We don’t want that experience for you.

New Shipping Fees

“We’ve received a lot of feedback from our customers that they’d like to see some changes to shipping,” said E-Commerce Manager Dan Eckelberry. “We really do listen and we appreciate customer feedback.” So, thanks in part to your responses, we’ve revamped our shipping prices and the checkout process.

Shipping_300px_0217For starters, any order of $500 or more from Pitsco, Pitsco Consumables, TETRIX® Robotics, Science of Speed, and Hearlihy receives FREE shipping in the continental US. But what if you don’t qualify for free? Don’t fret. All of our shipping rates have been revised. For the smallest orders – $49.99 or less – we reduced shipping by 40%. The rates are as follows:

  • $0 to $49.99 has $6 shipping.
  • $50 to $199.99 shipping is 10% of order total.
  • $200 to $324.99 shipping is 9% of order total.
  • $325 to $499.99 shipping is 8% of order total.
  • $500+ has free shipping.

“At the end of the day, we want to get our tools in the hands of students so they can have a positive impact on their learning,” said Pamela Scifers, senior digital marketing manager. “We don’t want shipping costs to be a hindrance in getting students and teachers the materials they need to be successful, whether that be a spare part needed for a competition robot or a kit of straw rockets. Having said this, there are some factors when talking about shipping costs that are completely unavoidable and out of our control.”

“We simply took a hard look at what we could manage and where savings could be passed on to our customers and tried to implement those changes,” Pam said.“In fact, now in some cases, it could be less expensive to add a little extra something to your cart to qualify for free shipping. You end up getting more for less.”

Faster, Friendlier Checkout

Aside from shipping changes, anyone purchasing for a school should find the new checkout process faster and smoother. First, the E-Commerce team made the checkout responsive to cell phones and tablets. At the same time, they addressed usability issues from the checkout version introduced in September, which caused some confusion.

“We looked at customer feedback and learned where the pain points were and then addressed those by changing the user interface,” Dan explained.

Now, customers can enter their zip code and a list of area schools will appear. If their school is on it, they can simply select it and much of the ordering information will autofill. This saves time and frustration for busy teachers.

The change also helps with some order fulfillment issues for Pitsco, such as tax exempt information and processing purchase orders. The changes went live on January 10.

“So far, the response has been very positive,” Pamela said. “We monitor customer feedback through our checkout survey and, thus far, positive comments are up and negative are down.”

However, we won’t rest on our laurels, so don’t be surprised to see other new or revamped features in the future.

“We hope it’s a big improvement for the teachers, but we’re going to continue to watch our feedback, and we plan to make more improvements,” Dan said. “We don’t consider it complete at this point. We’re always going to be tuned-in to customer feedback to make sure the changes we’ve made are beneficial and to keep our eye out for additional changes that might help them.”

So if you haven’t been through Pitsco’s checkout in a while, check it out for yourself. And know we welcome ALL your feedback.

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Ear protection is usually a must for most tractor pulls, but not long ago Pitsco changed that with the release of a classroom sized version, the Sled Pull Challenge Kit.

If you’ve ever been to a tractor pull, you know there’s an air of excitement and anticipation to see which equipment can pull the biggest load the furthest. Every pull is different as the class of vehicles and the track surface changes from repeated use. The weather can also change, and mechanical failures happen, adding to the unpredictability of the event.

Tractor_Pull3_300px_0217Your classroom can be a manageable environment to replicate this competition that can give you the opportunity to teach:

  • Torque.
  • Circuitry.
  • Gear ratios.
  • Friction.
  • Accuracy.
  • Graphing.
  • Independent and dependent variables.
  • Speed.

Curriculum Specialist Terry Carter likes this activity because “It enables students to explore many physical science principles and apply mathematic practice standards.”

Terry wrote our Tractor Pull Math Expedition, which implements many of the ideas mentioned by our Teacher Advisory Group members in the Sled Pull Challenge video.

I love to tinker, so I had to try this out myself. The laser cut pieces in the kit were easy to work with. I admit, there were a couple times I had to take a short break, and then go back to the project before I finished, but it was basically done in one sitting.

Overall, it came together quickly and was fun even for an adult. There’s a sense of pride when you connect the wires to the battery and it takes off! I started on carpet, which did OK, but the tractor showed its muscle better on the smooth surface in the kitchen. I started testing the load with washers, and then found other items to weigh down the sled to test distance. While I didn’t document my findings, it was obvious students could walk through the engineering design loop and collect tons of data to analyze and improve their tractor. I only wish I had my husband build one for a little competition.

A few tips to consider:

  • TractorPull2_300px_0217Building a kit yourself will give you insight into what your students might need help with.
  • Don’t use hot glue. The instructions note to use white glue, and now I understand why. While it didn’t seem to matter for some pieces, the sled didn’t pull as smoothly because of the hot glue’s rubbery texture.
  • Some of the pieces fit together tightly, which is needed for certain connections. If you’re having an issue getting them connected, twisting them while applying pressure helps.

As a twist on an activity, you can give your students a distance their tractors must travel and then stall. Or, you can work 3-D printing into the design. Terry also mentioned that students might be able to design some sort of gear box for the tractor that would enable them to shift gears as needed.

While I just skimmed the surface, I saw that the versatility of this kit enables teachers to use it in many ways, from direct activities to full-blown, all-out engineering competitions. Try out a kit and see how it can engage your students and gets them excited about STEM. Hopefully you won’t need ear protection when your students voice their excitement!

If you’ve used the Sled Pull Challenge Kit or have activities ideas, please comment below.

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Rechargeable battery packs for robotics are an investment and a good one. They provide a lot more power than traditional batteries plunked into a battery holder and can be recharged for hundreds of uses, which makes them more cost effective in the long run.

To get the full advantage of these batteries, however, you must properly care for them. Pitsco has created care instructions to help you understand how to properly care for your TETRIX® MAX rechargeable battery pack.

But first, what happens if you don’t care for them?

They can die an early death, that’s what. Robotics Application Specialist Tim Lankford says that the robotics classroom has drawbacks when it comes to battery maintenance.

“If it’s in the classroom, you think about it for the six months or so out of the year that you’re in school and you deal with it then. But you forget over the summer months, and the batteries have been in the closet all summer with extra humidity and no AC.”

Tim says the same problem occurs in competitive robotics.

Battery2_300px_1216“Teams have a season, and they use the batteries during the season and often let the batteries sit for the rest of the year. And in FTC®, that can be six months or maybe longer before they pick them up again, and they wonder why they were good one year and then not the next year.

“But that’s just typical battery use. If you take any kind of battery and store it and don’t regularly charge it and don’t regularly discharge it so it maintains that life cycle, it’s not going to have a life cycle long.”

As the care instructions point out, you must charge the batteries – and discharge them – several times before the battery pack will run at full capacity. And as Tim already noted, not storing them properly or not using them for months at a time could reduce their life span. So, it pays to take out all the battery packs at least once a month and charge and use them to keep them running their best.

To get more details about keeping your battery packs in tip-top shape, download the printable page on battery care.

Freebie alert!

All of us at Pitsco know how exciting it is for educators to come across a free activity or resource for the classroom, and we’re just as excited to share them with you!

Activity_Page_300px_0217To start, we have more than 100 activities at Pitsco.com/activities. Their instructions range from very basic to detailed and have levels from beginning to advanced. Topics include aerodynamics, robotics, structures, and more written by our curriculum specialists and educators that have participated in Pitsco TAG.

  • An example of a Physical Science activity is the Fuel-Efficient Sail Car, where students can build a sail car (Try This: Engineering Kit) or other car project to test how size, shape, and design affect the speed and performance of the vehicle. The open design challenge sparks creativity and encourages problem-solving.
  • The Pasta Tower activity in the Structures category takes two class periods, and students create a tower with a pasta of their choice. Then, using Pitsco’s Tower Crusher, they test their structure’s strength. The competitive atmosphere of seeing whose tower can withstand the most pressure is engaging and creates excitement.

Besides these written activities, we have videos! Select items on our site have Instructional Build videos, which are a series of three videos that visually direct you how to build a kit or robot, walk you through an activity after it’s built, and then tie the project to real-world connections. For example, take a look at our Air-Powered Glider. Under the Videos section, you’ll see links to the following videos: AP Rocket and Glider Build, AP Rocket and Glider Activity, and AP Rocket and Glider Real-World Connections.Videos_tab_679px_0217

Here are other kits that have build videos (this list isn’t all inclusive):

RoboBench_page_300px_0217If you work with either of our TETRIX robotics building systems (MAX or PRIME), we also have a series of RoboBench videos, which are tutorials with tips and tricks on how to assemble and use a variety of TETRIX parts. More than 60 RoboBench videos have been published at video.tetrixrobotics.com. And you can subscribe to our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/TETRIXbyPitsco, so you don’t miss out on future additions.

As an extra bonus, for anyone stocking up their classroom or makerspace, check out the free Elementary STEM Activity Guides when you purchase the corresponding Class Pack or Getting Started Package. Details on redeeming these promotions are listed below along with the promo codes that are effective until July 31, 2017.

  • Get the EZ Trebuchet Activity Guide for FREE when you purchase the EZ Trebuchet Class Pack with the promo code EZTREBAG.
  • Get the KaZoon Kite Activity Guide for FREE when you purchase the KaZoon Kites Getting Started Package with the promo code KAZOONAG.
  • Get the Maglev Activity Guide for FREE when you purchase the Maglev Vehicles Getting Started Package with the promo code MAGLEVAG.
  • Get the Straw Structures Activity Guide for FREE when you purchase the Straw Structures Getting Started Package with the promo code STRUCT3AG.
  • Get the Large Structures Activity Guide two pack for FREE when you purchase the Large Structures Started Package with the promo code STRUCT2AG.

So, if you need any supplies for all the these great free activities, download the latest Pitsco catalog PDFs or request a printed version at www.pitsco.com/CatalogRequest. And, if you have any activity ideas you’d like to share with other educators, comment below. We look forward to hearing how you keep students engaged and bring STEM to your classroom.

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“What about socialization?” How many times have you heard that question? There are many ways to answer it. Many times, the question comes from well-meaning family members, neighbors, coworkers, and so on, while other times from random strangers on the street who happen to notice that your kids aren’t in school during the normal hours.

Whatever the case, it’s sometimes a valid question to ask ourselves.

As homeschoolers, we don’t want to overload our kids with activities they aren’t interested in, but we also want to give them ample opportunity to interact with people while learning a new skill or hobby in the process. A lot of times these opportunities come through everyday activities such as going to the store or library, attending a local church, and participating in homeschool co-op activities.

If these don’t seem like enough, or your child is very interested in making new friends or doing something new, here are a few ideas to explore.

  • Socializing_400x_1216Scouting
  • Volunteering at a local soup kitchen
  • Sports teams
  • Chess clubs
  • 4-H
  • FIRST® robotics teams
  • Religious clubs such as Awana or Junior Bible Quiz
  • Community band
  • Running clubs such as Marathon Kids
  • Cooking clubs
  • Art clubs
  • Photography clubs
  • Science clubs
  • Drama clubs or trying out for a role in a community theater (There are other ways to participate besides being onstage if they don’t like to be in front of people.)

The list could go on and on. Depending on where you live, there is probably a club out there for just about any activity that you could imagine. Get creative with your research. Start online; there are websites like meetup.com that help you find groups that your child might be interested in, but don’t stop there. Contact your local city offices, YMCA, churches, chamber of commerce, or even your local public school to see what kinds of activities are available.

Remember, the goal of these clubs or other nonschool activities is to give your homeschoolers a chance to participate in something new or something they love and make friends while doing it, not to overload them with a bunch of stuff to fill up their day. Don’t do it just because your uncle’s second cousin’s neighbor’s hairdresser asks that dreaded socialization question. Do it because your kids want to and because you feel like it would be a good fit and a good opportunity for them.

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If I say “trapezoid,” what’s the first thing you think of? I bet a desk didn’t come to mind, though if you’re a math teacher, maybe you pictured yourself in the classroom. Pitsco rolled out new trapezoid-shaped flexible furniture this year, which might not seem like the most obvious option for a desk but works well for students, especially those who need to function in smaller classrooms.

FLEXfurniture2_300px_1216FLEX furniture was designed around the need for greater flexibility in the classroom, to allow for collaboration or for students to work alone. Students can move around and arrange their desks into nine different configurations, with a locking mechanism for stability if they choose to enable it. The trapezoid-shaped desks also come with an option for tablet storage, which could be used to store other light items.

For years, we’ve been seeing smaller classrooms struggling to accommodate a growing number of students. Our manufacturing team was asked to come up with a desk that would allow for greater mobility and leave a smaller footprint in space-challenged classrooms.

During the design process, we researched where education was going and began sketching ideas. In the end, we came up with a design that is more efficient for us to manufacture and for our customers to assemble. It packages well and is a simple, efficient design with fewer pieces. One criterion we kept in mind was that we wanted to be able to ship a single desk via UPS rather than send it on the truck line. This way, a school could receive and assemble the desk without our assistance if they had a need. We traditionally send a team to install furniture, but FLEX furniture is easy to ship and assemble.

Another benefit of FLEX furniture is the price in comparison to other furniture options. We wanted to meet the needs of all classrooms and felt this was a great addition. FLEX furniture enables students and teachers to break out of the rows and columns they’re used to and use their imagination. It has the capability of bringing students together in a team setting.

The manufacturing team will continue to keep an eye on the future, and we enjoy creating new designs to meet the changing needs of students. I think flexibility is one quality we will continue to see a greater need for. Download this PDF for more information.

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The Technology Student Association (TSA) engages middle and high school students nationwide in STEM subjects through leadership opportunities and competitive events. Career and Technology Education Instructor Amanda Allen knows exactly what those opportunities can mean to students.

“When I was in the sixth grade, I got involved with the Technology Student Association, and it taught me so many wonderful things. I grew up wanting to become an environmental engineer, and then an industrial engineer, and then finally I studied digital media in college and loved it.”

Eventually though, Allen, Pitsco Education’s February 2017 Teacher of the Month, decided she wanted to share her excitement for discovering new skills with a new generation of children. “I loved TSA for inspiring me to try all these areas of technology,” she said. “After graduating college, I decided I wanted to inspire students to become all those things and to help [them] have an exciting introduction to technology like I did.”

Allen now teaches career and technology courses to seventh and eighth graders at Southwest Middle School in Palm Bay, Florida. “I love giving students ‘impossible problems’, and seeing students figure out solutions with very little guidance,” she said. “I have a lot of students who come into my class thinking it’s going to be boring, and I love when they get so wrapped into a project they don’t want to leave.”

As a new teacher building a brand-new TSA chapter at Southwest, Allen has her work cut out for her, but she remains undaunted. “As a first-year teacher, so far I am so proud to have helped my students build so many successful dragsters and planes. In addition, I have a group of students almost ready to participate at the Florida Technology Student Association State Conference!”

Amanda Allen, thank you for sharing your enthusiasm and giving students concrete, real-world experiences through TSA. Congratulations on being named Pitsco’s February 2017 Teacher of the Month.

Learn more about Amanda Allen.

Learn more about TSA.

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

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Happy New Year! OK, it might be too late into 2017 by now to officially say that, but I’d like to sincerely wish all of you well in this coming year. We’re excited about all that 2017 has to offer and would like to share a few things we have in the pipeline.

      • New shipping rates – You’ve spoken and we’ve listened. One of the biggest requests we receive as an organization is free shipping. I am very happy to announce that as of January 2017, customers can enjoy free shipping on all orders over $500. Additionally, we’ve adjusted our rates on smaller orders, meaning you can get the same great Pitsco products delivered to your door at a lower cost.
      • Makerspace – In 2016, we released our first makerspace catalog featuring new Pitsco Maker Projects complete with storage. So many of our products fit perfectly into makerspaces, and this year, we will continue to expand in the makerspace area with more products and ideas about how to use our products in a makerspace. Look for another Pitsco Maker Space catalog in 2017!
      • Symposia – This year, we’re hitting the road to demo our cloud-based STREAM Missions and STEM Expeditions®. We realize that the format of Missions and Expeditions is very different from what teachers are used to seeing, whether they’ve had experience with our curriculum or not. The hands-on, team-based Missions curriculum for elementary integrates reading practice, math, and art into core science instruction in every Mission. Expeditions are a similar curriculum experience for middle-grade students. STEM Expeditions promote science inquiry, math practices, and the engineering design process by incorporating STEM concepts into real-world, collaborative activities. The symposia we have planned for this year will give educators a chance to log on, explore on their own, and talk through how this might work with Pitsco team members and with other teachers in attendance.
      • Website makeover – With the ever-changing digital world, we plan to focus heavily on bringing many of our digital platforms up to speed, and one of these includes updating our website. You can expect to start seeing these changes rolled out throughout the year, or if you have recently placed an order you might have already experienced our first improvement, which is a streamlined checkout process. We’ve been tracking customer feedback in regard to the website and taking notes as we work toward these updates, so we think you’ll appreciate the changes we make.
      • New furniture – We recently rolled out new FLEX furniture after realizing that teachers have an increasing need for flexibility and mobility in the classroom. In a continuation of this trend, we’re working on a stand-up desk with storage. We believe this will be a nice addition to our other offerings, giving teachers another choice for the classroom.
      • 10 new products – Every year, we strive to create at least 10 new proprietary products to add to our catalog. Our Research and Development Department has already hit the ground running with plans for the year. We hope you like what we come up with!
      • Hands-on products with career connections – As always, we will focus on providing students an engaging hands-on experience complete with career connections. This is something we consider with every product we create or sell.
      • Coding – In October of 2016, we released PRIZM™, a robotics controller (or brain) for programming the TETRIX® MAX robotics system. Throughout 2017, we will continue to focus on autonomous robotics with PRIZM, offering our customers new curriculum, tutorial videos, and lesson plans that help make coding come to life in your classrooms.

Follow us on social media or sign up for our monthly e-Newsletter to keep up with the latest Pitsco news. Let’s make it a great 2017!

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