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Day 2: The Feeling of Greatness Has Returned

Hey guys (and gals!) As the day began, we did A LOT of exciting things. But…before we begin, lets talk about the bad things that happened first:

1. We lost two of our matches today due to physical problems/changes on the robot and just because we were against a better alliance team. That’s okay though, because we have plenty of matches to go tomorrow to make up for it!

2. We didn’t stay for opening ceremonies tonight…just due to fatigue after a 12 hour day the majority of the team wanted to come back to the hotel and get some sleep. We will for sure be going to closing ceremonies so I will take pictures there!

3. The fatigue is setting in. I think everyone is tired because we aren’t used to sleeping somewhere new for this long, but that’s okay! After about an hour after waking up we are all awake!

NOW FOR THE GOOD:
1. Our gracious professionalism today was on point! We were more talkative and willing to say “Hey” to the community and the people working/competing there! The whole team was pretty awake and alert today, so it was nice to teach them our motivational songs and how to get the public pumped up! We got a lot of “You guys just made my day betters” or “This made my day” from people!

2. We had two groups of judges come and talk to us today! The first group were only two and one of them was our actually judge yesterday in judging. They had questions about our robot during the game and the second set was a larger number..if I recall correctly it was 4-6. They were interested in our autonomous and how it worked.

3. We got to go to the dome today to see FRC and FLL! Their games this year are amazing! The pits were in a giant warehouse-essue area, with both FRC and FLL practice fields. Seeing the FRC teams’ robots made ours seem really small, and the FLL practice fields could be taken up by two of our robots. Going to see the other leagues let us see the other sides of FIRST. But going into the main hall where the FRC had their matches… It was intense. And extremely fast; they had the teams in and out really quickly getting the arena setup with amazing speed! There we a lot of volunteer’s everywhere all of the time more than welcome to help you. The FRC game this year seems to really intense and the FLL kids as always: are super cute and really amazing for being so young and making it into the top 3% of teams around the world.

4. We get to go to the City Museum tomorrow evening! I am really excited for that because I have been there before…a couple of times. Basically what it is, is a giant warehouse FULL of toys. You can touch anything and there are walls, literal walls, made out of bread pans or stamps or old glass soda bottles. There is a 7 story slide, a giant organ, the worlds largest pencil and a food shop! I am SOOOO excited to take the team there and get our heads out of the game for awhile.

The FRC game for this season can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAN1B7oKDXE

The FLL game for this season can be found at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=po9j6vpuW7A

5. I got to meet an inventor today and talk to a lot of colleges who are interested in engineers, and people wanting to go into business.

6. My face was drawn today by an NXT powered lego robot. The inventor who designed these things was: Danny. He is Italian, married, and internet famous! Google him you guys. “Danny from Lego”

7. I got my makeup done by: Jane! Google “Jane Makeup” The woman is amazing!

8. I got to eat liquid nitrogen cookies ‘n cream ice cream and graham crackers dipped in liquid nitrogen! It was awesome. :D

On another side note: I forget to mention that Gillian and I went to a team social for a little bit yesterday. The founding fathers of the FTC were there and the actual game designers of this years FTC Cascade Effect were there answering any questions that we had. I was the first person to go up and I asked them: “What was that “ah-ha” moment when you both equally said: We HAVE to make this our game?” They both looked at each other for about 30 seconds and then sighed. They looked old in that moment, but it was okay because I would have let them take all the time they needed. Then they answered: “Long nights.” It was a joke but they continued with: “Last year when we announced Block Party we had two games developing at once. We chose to present Block Party to you last year because it seemed like a lot of fun. So when this year rolled around, we wanted to give all of you something harder because of how smart you are. We were visiting a company this year and learning how they manufacture their product and for some reason, that is when we said yes. After a lot of game rules a set up and a show off, it went through successfully and now all of you FTC teams are in the top 3% of all of the FTC….which is saying a lot because the FTC is the largest growing program at FIRST.” I was completely amazed. Just two guys created this idea…it was a spark, which turned to a flame, and ignited the fire.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.08.28 PM

Team 4443 Sock Monkeys Once Again!

Hey guys, it’s Molly again! And for those of you who don’t know who I am…well, I am Molly. I am a senior in high school this year (12th grade.) I am a part of Team 4443: Sock Monkeys and we are a robotics team through the FTC.

What does FTC stand for/mean? The acronym FTC stands for First Tech Challenge, which is part of the FIRST program. FTC consists of students grades 8-12 and allows students to experience parts – small or large – of the engineering world. Robotics teams start the competition season by learning what that year’s challenge is; they then immediately get to work on designing and building a robot that is best suited to that year’s challenge. The robot also has certain limitations, in parameters such as size, materials, and shape. There are also other regulations that must be followed, like certain restrictions on modifications to parts and rules in the competition. Teams have a lot of freedom with their designs, and many teams use 3D printed parts designed using programs like Creo or AutoCad. In addition to the physical aspect of building the robot, participants also sharpen their minds by solving the problems presented to them (both in robot design and during competition matches) and by building relations with other teams and their community. The core principle of FTC is “Gracious Professionalism” – giving respect and help in order to make the FTC program fair and fun, while bettering all those involved. FTC and FIRST provide participants with the tools they need to build useful skills that will help them succeed, whether they pursue engineering or any other path in life.

Why are we blogging? We are blogging because we sent an email to Scott McLeod (who talked to us last year when we went to Worlds the first time) and he asked us to post updates on how we’re doing. We also update our adventures on our website and other social media:

Website: oskyrobotics.weebly.com

Facebook: search “Sock Monkeys”

Twitter: @4443SockMonkeys

If you have any personal questions, email us at

How did we get here? We got here (to the World Championship) because we qualified at the FTC North Super Regional competition, but our story stretches back further than that. We hosted a competition at our high school on November 15th, where I was volunteer coordinator. We qualified for the State competition at our league championship on January 10th, and this meant that we were moving on to the big leagues. From there we competed at State (March 6-7) and moved on to the North Super Regional (March 26-28). There, we qualified and moved on to the World Championship!

Where are we right now? Right now, we are at the FTC World Championship in St. Louis, Missouri getting ready to compete with 128 teams from countries around the world. Between April 22nd and 25th, we’ll compete like we have all year, but we’ll be with (and against) the best FTC teams across the globe.

What is the game this year? The 2014-2015 season FTC game is called “Cascade Effect.” Robots drop different sized whiffle balls into tubes of varying heights to score points. Two alliances of two teams each have 2 1/2 minutes to score the balls, move the goals, and overall try to outperform the other team. Here’s a link to the full explanation of the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABmBxCwHV94

What are some accomplishments we have made this season other than in competitions? FIRST is much more than just building a robot and competing in matches. Teams also build lasting friendships with other teams and help out their community. The Sock Monkeys have an address book containing many of the teams that we’ve met, which allows us to keep in contact with them throughout the season and help them with any problems they may have. We have also featured as stories on several different news outlets, one being CRI (here’s a link to the video! ) and the other being the Oskaloosa Herald, our town newspaper (here’s an article they wrote about us ) We have also done a lot of outreach!

Relay For LifeCAZJuhMUcAAdAHZ  Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 10.02.08 PM11083591_816486815053778_9205499458231613218_nPlease watch the posts and stay updated!

 

The Sock Monkeys are returning!

Sock monkeys

Just a heads-up that Team 4443, The Sock Monkeys (@4443sockmonkeys), from Oskaloosa, Iowa will be returning to this blog to share its experiences at the First Robotics Championships in St. Louis, Missouri. Molly Bleything will be sharing out this year’s challenge, photos and videos of the team in action, and other items of note. Hope you’ll leave her and the team some positive encouragement!

Image credit: Sock Monkeys

Some students need our help

Bradleytech

An inner city high school. 95% of the student population receives free or reduced lunch. A dozen amazing students and an inspiring teacher. And a donor that promises to help them achieve a trip of a lifetime. But with just weeks to go (and after months of fundraising), the donor backs out…

Read their story, see their travel itinerary and learning objectives, and contribute anything you can. And please spread the word through all of your social media channels. Can we help this English teacher in Milwaukee and her incredible students achieve their dream? 

Inbox Zero

Sanebox folders

Over a 3-day span in late January I worked diligently to whittle the 1,014 emails in my Gmail inbox down to zero. I also cleaned out another 2,300+ listserv emails that were in a second folder. Whew! Since then I have managed to stay on top of my email and the reduction in psychic weight from feeling behind has been glorious. I’m now whittling down my 121 to-do items that still linger from all of those messages. Luckily not too many of them are huge items and I should halve that number in the next week or so. Sorry if you’re still waiting to hear from me!

Sanebox has been a lifesaver for me and well worth every penny. I forward emails to addresses like or or feb.9+4pm@sanebox.com and they disappear, reappearing later in my inbox only when I need them. In addition to using these addresses to schedule work tasks, I also use them in the BCC field of email messages to remind me to follow up with someone.

I also have Sanebox folders set up for each day of the week. I can just drag emails into them and they will reappear at 7am on the morning of that day. My SaneLater folder contains all of my listserv emails and messages from folks who are new contacts. I try to check this folder only once per day.

I am starting to use Trello again for my to-do items, keeping in mind that my emails should be separate from my to-do lists. I’m not there yet but I’m working on it. I also am putting to-do items directly onto Google Calendar and then doing my best to actually work on those things during the reserved times. And, finally, I’m trying to use Google Chat, Twitter, text messaging, and online communities to reduce the number of emails that I’m sending.

Wishing you productivity and serenity with your own email…

Friday fun: Ed reform caption contest

So I thought it might be fun to do a caption contest!

I loved this image from my previous post so much I cleaned it up and made it editable. So let’s have some fun with new captions. The theme is educational policy and reform. What caption might go under each image?

Submit your ideas using this online form. Be as creative / snarky as you wish. Winners will be announced next Friday morning. Have fun!

Ed Reform Caption Contest 00

An #itec14 apology

Sometimes when you think as publicly as I do, you make a mistake publicly and have to apologize publicly. My post earlier this week about ed tech conferences is one of those times…

I stand behind what I said in my post. Most of our ed tech conferences could use a lot of rethinking and many folks agree with me (96 comments and counting…). That said, I wasn’t thinking about ITEC, Iowa’s ed tech conference, in particular but rather about ed tech conferences more generally based on a bunch of experiences that I’ve had over the past year or so. However, because 1) some of the things I mentioned that occur at conferences elsewhere also were occurring at ITEC, and 2) I blogged halfway through the ITEC conference because that’s when my back brain bubbled up my post, and 3) I used the ITEC hashtag several times to share my post (along with other hashtags too), many of the hardworking educators and volunteers here in Iowa thought I was slamming our conference specifically. They’re absolutely correct. At the very least, I should have waited a few weeks to gain some distance.

I am deeply regretful. I hurt some folks’ feelings and angered others, people that I care about greatly and who have been tremendous allies in our state’s journey toward meaningful technology empowerment of students and educators. I’ve apologized in several other less-public places but am also doing so here for anyone in our state that I haven’t reached yet. It was never my intent to single out ITEC or any other conference. But my timing was abysmal and then I compounded the error with my tweets.

I have a tendency to blog what’s in my head and in my heart… Most of the time it’s fine. Sometimes it’s even great. But sometimes it isn’t. This time I didn’t do it in a way that worked, not here with my friends and colleagues in Iowa.

I’m sorry.

Living outside the echo chamber

Fortune cookie: The purpose of argument should not be victory, but progress.

This past weekend I engaged in a really long discussion thread about charter schools in which I was definitely a minority voice. Was it maddening and frustrating? Yep. Was I personally insulted on numerous occasions? Yep. Is it highly possible that I made no dent whatsoever on anyone’s thinking? Yep. Was I sometimes glad that those people weren’t in charge of my children’s education and sad that they were in charge of others’? Yep. Was it good for me? Yep.

In his book, The Big Sort, Bill Bishop notes that we are geographically clustering into like-minded groups. The same is true online, leading to narrowcasting and increased likelihood of calcified thinking within echo chambers. When’s the last time we stepped outside our bubbles? How often do we voluntarily expose ourselves to alternative worldviews? (who’s in our Twitter stream? our RSS reader? our Facebook news feed?) And how are we going to come together to compromise and make necessary policy and other educational changes if we don’t even understand each other?

Image credit: The purpose of argument, jon collier

No one can credibly argue that teachers are trained well enough to be effective and efficient in today’s classrooms

Apparently there’s yet another fear-mongering publicist named Alyssa (yes, a different one!). So once more into the breach…

Here’s the email I received:

On the heels of the recent Vergara ruling in California, which eliminates teacher tenure, the outcome has peeled back the Band-Aid on the appalling lack of adequate teacher training.

Whether the judge was right or wrong on tenure, no one can credibly argue that teachers are trained well enough to be effective and efficient in today’s classrooms. The challenges are too great and the support is so weak, it’s a miracle any teachers are succeeding at all.

And while the California challenges may be acute and the consequences deep, deficient teacher training is a problem from coast to coast.

EXPERT SOURCE: To speak with one of the industry’s top PD expert’s on what’s next to come – Alvin Crawford, CEO of Knowledge Delivery Systems (KDS) – the leading provider of professional development solutions K-12 – is available via phone or will also be at ISTE in Atlanta from June 29 – July 1 and available for in-person interviews.

Crawford comments, “Before we can debate whether teachers should have legal protections to stay in classrooms, we should create effective and meaningful support systems for ongoing growth and development of certified teachers so that they are adequately prepared to support all students.”

He believes that only then can we perhaps all agree that we want them to keep teaching as long as possible.

Crawford, formerly of SchoolNet and responsible for its explosive growth and purchase by Pearsons for $230 million in 2011, is an industry leader in the K-12 educational system and available to discuss PD trends, transformational classroom practices, and how to solve the lagging student achievement gap.

For more information or interviews, please contact me at and thanks!

And here’s my reply:

Alyssa, with due respect to you and Alvin, this PR pitch that you just sent me is a crock. Other than a few anecdotes, made-up education ‘reformer’ sound bites, and, apparently, messages from corporations and publicists who are willing to ignore the truth and use scare tactics in order to make a buck (‘here’s a fake problem and, oh look!, we just happen to have a paid service that can help you solve it!’), there is no real evidence that we have a large, systemic problem with inadequate teacher training. In fact, peer-reviewed research studies from the highly-respected Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond and many others show that graduates of traditional teachers colleges outperform alternative teacher preparation programs.

I’m sure that Alvin probably has some value to lend to the conversation about teacher quality and professional development, but your willingness to exploit the myth of ‘bad teachers’ and/or colleges of education is overhyped, irresponsible fear-mongering. Your overeager use of phrases like no one can credibly argue that teachers are trained well enough to be effective and efficient in today’s classrooms and it’s a miracle any teachers are succeeding at all and deficient teacher training is a problem from coast to coast contributes to an escalating climate of disrespect and disenfranchisement of educators and also distracts from some of the very real factors that significantly impact student learning outcomes.

What would the numerous wonderful teachers that you and Alvin had as P-12 students think of this PR pitch? Do you think that they’d agree with you and be proud of your messaging that their training was deficient?

Why are we hiring grossly ineffective teachers?

Here’s an email I just received. Think about the messages contained in this PR pitch…

Hi Scott,

As the Vergara case continues to steal headlines and spark debate, I wanted to offer up an alternative angle. Although it’s a complicated issue, the tenure controversy seems to boil down to one real problem: that “grossly ineffective teachers” are entrenched and protected. But that raises the question: Why are we hiring grossly ineffective teachers in the first place – and how do we change that?

If you’d like to dive into this overlooked aspect of the issue for a blog post, I’d be happy to set up a call with Joel Sackett of Paragon K12. Paragon is a teacher selection tool that uses decades of research and large quantities of historical data to actually correlate individual teacher attributes (both quantitative and qualitative ones) to student achievement. Joel would be happy to engage in a high-level discussion about the hiring process, including current challenges many districts face – whether a lack of funding, efficiency or effectiveness – and also explain some skepticism and strategies surrounding next-gen hiring technology.

To round out the story, you could also talk to Katie Shortsleeve for an actual use case. She works in Human Resources at Douglas County School District – a district that actually using Paragon K12.

Would you be interested in chatting with Joel and/or Katie sometime next week? Let me know. Happy to set something up and I look forward to hearing from you! Have a nice weekend, Scott!

Best,

Alyssa

Here’s my response:

Alyssa, with due respect to you, Joel, and Katie, this PR pitch that you just sent me is a crock. Numerous peer-reviewed research studies and our best statisticians tell us that teachers only account for about 1% to 14% of the overall variability in student test scores. Nor is there any real evidence – other than a few anecdotes, made-up education ‘reformer’ sound bites, and, apparently, messages from corporations and publicists who are willing to ignore the truth and use scare tactics in order to make a buck – that we have a large, systemic problem with ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers.

I’m sure that Paragon K12 probably has some value it can lend to the educator hiring process. But I believe that this marketing message is overhyped, irresponsible fear-mongering that not only contributes to an escalating climate of disrespect and disenfranchisement of educators but also distracts from some of the very real factors that significantly impact student learning outcomes. What would the numerous wonderful teachers that you, Joel, and Katie had as P-12 students think of this PR pitch? Or the hardworking educators in Douglas County, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, Chula Vista, and other districts that are Paragon K12 clients? Do you think that they’d agree with and be proud of you?

UPDATE 1

Here’s Alyssa’s response:

Hi Scott,

My point was simply that everyone seems to be focusing on the protection of the “ineffective teachers” being cited in the Vergara case, but not asking about how they may have gotten hired in the first place. And while no one factor obviously determines learnings outcomes, similarly respected research has shown time and time again that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor when it comes to improving student achievement – so it is far from insignificant.

Anyways, thank you for the feedback.

Best,
Alyssa

And here’s mine:

Actually, it might be better to say school-controlled. And, at 1% to 14%, it’s less significant than many other, more important factors such as peer-to-peer effects (which could be considered ‘school-based’) or non-school factors…

The subject of your message was ‘Why are we hiring grossly ineffective teachers?’ My point is simply that your messaging is untrue. With very rare exceptions, schools are NOT hiring ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers. Should school districts care about and try to improve whom they hire? Absolutely. Can companies try to create systems that will help schools with this task? Sure. Should companies and their publicists engage in fear-mongering scare tactics and grossly inaccurate overgeneralizations in order to try and capitalize (literally) on the latest education story du jour? I don’t think so, but apparently that’s ‘marketing’ in the eyes of your firm and your client, regardless of the harm and disrespect to our school systems and the dedicated people who work in them.

UPDATE 2

Another message from Alyssa:

I am sorry you found the subject line so offensive. I agree – it is over-the-top, but that is unfortunately par for the course. The double-edged sword of a “clicky” subject line that may be fear-mongering but will result in getting someone to open an email and then consider a nuanced conversation on said topic vs. a muted one that no one reads. Again, appreciate the feedback.

And my response:

You admit to over-the-top fear-mongering, yet somehow are so easily able to disclaim culpability… As an educator, why wouldn’t I be offended by intentional, inaccurate insults to and acts against the profession?

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