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“The only constant is change.” Nothing could be more true in the world of an educator! As we say goodbye to 2016, we’re also preparing to say goodbye to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and hello to its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), in 2017. Overall, ESSA will give states greater control over their education policy, which most see as a positive move. No matter the state, the impact of ESSA will create a stronger focus on well-rounded learning for every child, college and career readiness, and high-quality education.

At Pitsco, we’re ready to welcome 2017 and ESSA. We’ve always developed curriculum with every child in mind, so we have a great deal of confidence ESSA supports the types of solutions Pitsco has historically provided.

One area this is evident in is our new elementary Missions, a student-centered, hands-on STREAM (science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and math) program that meets every student at his or her reading level. The interdisciplinary nature of Missions allows for literacy to come into play within a science curriculum.

Career readiness is a focus even at the elementary level, with our Missions placing students in real-world scenarios and applying STREAM concepts in a meaningful way. Students are exposed to a unique set of four careers in every Mission, delivered in the Career Connections, which also include additional activities that the teacher can choose to have students complete. For example, in the Space Exploration Career Connection, students explore the careers of astronaut, military serviceperson, airport personnel, and travel agent. They are asked to complete several activities, including defining the qualities that they would need to be successful in that job, what they would or would not like about the job, training requirements, similar jobs, and naming someone they know or a famous person with this job.

At the middle grades, our recent development has focused on our STEM Expeditions®, which also embrace the new ESSA guidelines. Like Missions, STEM Expeditions provide high quality, well-rounded education in a collaborative hands-on, student-centered format. In STEM Expeditions, students use the engineering design process and develop deep critical-thinking skills in an integrated science and technology context. The real-world challenges engage students and align with ESSA college- and career-readiness guidelines.

Story media elements put students in the career roles they study in Expeditions as they navigate design problems that we know actually arise on job sites. We include career connections in every STEM Expedition, building on the strong career and technology education (CTE) focus Pitsco has always offered. Students are given a list of jobs related to the Expedition they are experiencing to get an idea of the fields they could enter. To add more regional flexibility, students are also asked to research jobs and salaries in their area. This practical application gives the students a better idea of certain fields in their region before graduation so they can begin to plan the type of schooling they’ll need and where they might attend school.

As a STEM teacher in a changing political climate, you might be concerned about how this will play out in the classroom, and from the conversations I’ve had with educators, you’re not alone.

One of the initial bright spots with the ESSA legislation is that it allocates funds for STEM programs under Title IV, Part A. According to the fact sheet, ESSA will include a flexible block grant program known as Student Support and Enrichment Grants (SSAEG), which is authorized at $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2017. The first area of focus is “providing students with a well-rounded education, including programs such as college and career counseling, STEM, arts, civics and International Baccalaureate/Advanced Placement.” Each state will receive an allocation from the flexible block grant based on the Title 1 funding formula. Using the same Title I formula, states will then allocate funds to school districts.

So, whether or not you feel ready for this next period of change, we can see the benefits and we’re ready for it. Every product we create can be successfully implemented for every child in your room. Programs such as our Missions and Expeditions enable students to be creators of their own work as they fulfill their role as designers. For example, in the Electric Tech Expedition, students answer the Essential Question, “What is the best way to wire a circuit?” To develop their answers, students engineer a stage lighting circuit for a stage performance. This type of open-ended inquiry creates real-world opportunities for students to learn from failure and improve upon their designs.

We realize that “one size fits all” doesn’t make sense when it comes to students. Your classrooms are filled with diverse students of varying needs. Some might be considering college, while others are looking at CTE programs. We’ve always designed our curriculum to meet the needs of students on any path, so we’re excited to see that the guidelines and funding behind ESSA support STEM educators and programs such as ours. Be sure to check out our grants page and keep an eye on our website and social media for more ESSA updates.

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It sounds so easy, homeschooling for elementary students. Then you dive in and realize there’s a lot more to it. So, here are a few tips to get you off on the right foot.

Start your year off with a plan. Don’t expect to be able to throw together lessons and scheduling in a few days or even in a few weeks. It can be done in a few weeks, but if this is your first foray into homeschooling, you might want to leave yourself a little bit of a cushion on the time.

Attending a regional homeschool conference to talk to curriculum vendors and other homeschoolers can be a great source of information while you’re doing your research and preparation.

Choosing a curriculum or curricula will probably be the hardest thing in the beginning. The great thing about homeschooling, though, is that you’re not stuck with the curriculum you choose. If you don’t like it, change it up for the next year or even modify it during the year. Curricula range from piecemeal, where you choose and purchase every part, to all-in-one curriculum that covers a variety of core subjects and the main thing you have to do is enter your credit card number, push the Buy Now button, and wait for the box to show up.

Something to remember is to be flexible. If you want to add another subject during the school year, do it. If your student is having trouble understanding something, slow the pace down.

You can always catch up later. Unless your state mandates it, you don’t have to keep up with the public school pace of instruction. You’ll find that you might be ahead in some subjects and slightly behind in others. The important thing is to keep teaching and keep learning.

At the elementary age level, classroom management is a big thing. Most kids at that age do better and keep on task better with a structured day. Eventually, they will learn how to manage their time throughout the day, but that is a process that will develop as they become more mature, and it can’t be expected right away.

Another consideration at the elementary level is to have plenty of breaks and opportunities for your child to get up and move around. Recess, structured and unstructured play, and times for breaks and refocusing (for you and for them) are extremely important. The average attention span of an eight-year-old for one subject is only between 18 and 40 minutes; this is a very good thing to remember when you’re planning your day.

If your student is old enough to help, he or she can participate in the planning process by suggesting subjects to study as well as rewards and disciplines for behaviors and for on time schoolwork completion. This gives the student some ownership of the day and hopefully helps with full and willing participation in the homeschool learning process.

Unless by some miracle you have the best model student in the world, there will be conflicts and days where they just don’t want to do anything. Make sure you have a system of rewards and disciplines in place for good student behaviors and for poor student behaviors. It helps tremendously to have these set in advance so that your student knows exactly what is going to happen when they do the right thing or do the wrong thing during their school day.

Lastly, have fun. Take an unexpected afternoon off to go play in the fall leaves or take a hike in the woods. A surprise trip to the local ice cream shop will go far in motivating students and help them look forward to homeschool every day. If you have experience homeschooling elementary students, please share other tips and ideas by commenting.

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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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