I am a middle school educator at Gratton School in the heart of California’s Central Valley. Gratton is a rural K-8 school and the only school in Gratton School District. Our motto says that we are “a small school making a big difference,” and we are just that. One of the great parts of that is that our students even recognize it. When I asked my students what they wanted people to know about us, they quoted our motto and/or shared evidence of that. I am the eighth grade teacher (language arts, history, and science) and also teach seventh grade math.

This year was my second year submitting a proposal for the LeRoy’s Big Idea/LeRoy Finkel Fellowship offered by CUE. Last year, I spent time reflecting on my project after it wasn’t selected as a finalist and found ways to bring parts of it to my classroom. In doing that, I found that if I wanted to do become a LeRoy Finkel Fellow, I had to develop my ideas further and develop a more scalable budget. This year, I involved my students in the process sooner. In fact, they created our one-minute video that I submitted. It was quite exciting to receive word that our project had been selected as a finalist and I went right to work on preparing to present the big idea at CUE18.

My project was titled the “Up, up, up and Away Project” and I consider it the project that will launch our school “full STEAM ahead.” First, some background. This year, my eighth graders have already done some fabulous projects combining engineering and science. In the fall, they used Pinewood Derby kits to create cars, then working in teams, they designed and constructed ramps for our “Gravitational Raceway.” In January, they built model bridges. That is, all but one group did. One group decided they wanted to construct a life-size bridge that they could actually walk across. They created a 3D design of the bridge during class time, then used video to document the construction of the bridge and to show their classmates that they were, in fact, able to walk across it. We are a G-Suite school and other forms of technology have been integrated across the curriculum. I am a firm believer in using technology as a tool to advance learning, rather than using it simply for the sake of using it. (Side note: I am a huge fan of Google Classroom and any tools that “play” nicely with it. In fact, Google Classroom allowed me to communicate with my students and push out assignments while traveling for CUE.)

So, what’s the big idea anyway? (I’ve been looking forward to “saying” that.)

It begins with rockets and drones. I have previously used rockets in math. Last year, I picked up a few simple, inexpensive rockets from the dollar store and through Amazon. I used those to demonstrate rocket launches for my seventh-grade math students, then they built their own. When they were all set, they launched the rockets and collected data to then take back into the classroom and analyze. This year, I will purchase three model rockets that we will launch together. Students now have a tool available to them for measuring distance, so they will more accurately measure distances and collect data to then apply to the design and construction of their own rockets. They will gather more data, then analyze it. One of the final things they will do is apply what they’ve learned in geometry and create drawings and diagrams to show what they did and what the outcome was.

Drones will be used in eighth-grade science. Since I teach across the curriculum, there will be a tie-in to language arts as well. But first, science and engineering. We will conduct drone races during which students will collect and analyze data, but we will take things one step further. Students will design obstacle courses then take turns flying the drones through them. With these drones, I look forward to seeing how students can think creatively, outside the box and use them in different ways. We work with science fiction throughout the year and I see the potential for using a drone, gathering photographs, then writing their own “out of this world” science fiction story.

The project will expand over time and go beyond classroom lessons to create a multi-grade after-school STEAM Club open to students in at least fifth grade. The rockets and drones will combine with other tools such as tablets, and Spheros to build additional skills and foster multi-age interaction and learning. Seventh and eighth-grade students will develop into student leaders where they can use the skills they are building in their classes. The opportunities are truly endless and I see great potential for all that our Gratton students can and will do.

The “Up, up, up and Away Project” was not selected as the “big winner,” however as a finalist, we will receive $1,000 to get things started. I see this as an opportunity to grow the project and to find other ways to fund the future growth of it. I received fabulous feedback and a lot of support following my presentation of it at CUE18 and I know this project will move forward. I look forward to sharing it with you over time so you can see what great things can happen at this “small school making a big difference.”

You can watch the video of my presentation with this link, and check out my project posted on DonorsChoose!

Rebekah is a previous technology instructor and EdTech Coach who returned to the classroom. She is an EdTech enthusiast/adventure seeker/facilitator of learning/lifelong learner. Her goal is simple: guide students in their journey to awesomeness. She works to establish a classroom without walls. Google Educator (Level 2), CC-CUE board member, EdCamp veteran, on a journey to collaborate. STEAM, Social Science, Language Arts #EduAwesome #Adventure www.eduawesomeadventure.com


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