5 fun learning experiences with Legos

Lego racing

Last Saturday, my four year old son Peter and I got lost in Lego Land for three hours. What were we doing? While the Lego Land experience has tons of activities for parents and their kids, my Peter and I were literally glued to the experience of building Lego race cars together. The experience is kind of like mashing up a “pine wood derby” contest with all you can eat Lego parts and wheels.

This experience was very social. It attracted boys, girls, dads, moms, and young adults. I was proud that Peter and I held our own against the Georga tech college students.

Why do I believe that Lego learning is cool?

Peter and his car

Peter and his car

It sparks creativity: As a creative and a Dad, I love getting to build stuff with my son. I have no idea how Peter will use his creative skills in the future. No matter what he decides to do, I know that his creative thinking will serve him well. Without poking or prodding, Peter would iteratively add new stuff to his car. In his case, I believe that he just wanted to get the car to the finish line. It was a pleasure to see the engineering design of my four year old son.

Learning from trial and error: The process during the Lego racing game was very simple for Peter: add cool stuff to my car, race the car against other kids, cheer, clean up the pieces that fell off the car, and do the process over again while fixing stuff. With the environment and game elements of the Lego racing track, Peter was teaching himself iterative development.

Learning on accident: Peter and I really enjoyed our afternoon of racing. The whole experience appealed to my adult desire to build cool stuff. At the same time, Peter totally enjoyed the experience. Whether his car fell apart or crossed the finish line, he was having a blast with his Dad. (epic win for me!)

4 Lego Learning Experiences:
After sharing this story with friends at work, I got inspired to look around for other ways Lego can be used to teach and learn. What else can we learn through Lego?

Lego FIRST: Through my Twitter community, I met James Chalmers, a 5th grade science and robotics teacher. You should follow him on Twitter @InquiryLearner. He introduced me to a movement of teachers and technology professionals who are promoting science, technology, engineering, and math through Lego FIRST, Lego’s mashed up with robotics.  To learn more, visit http://www.firstlegoleague.org/ .

Lego story: Can you imagine growing up without Lego’s? The story of Lego getting started is pretty moving. It’s a story of a humble carpenter doing what he can to support his family. He had lots of bumps on the road. It’s a story we can all relate to. We, however, currently enjoy the fruits of of Ole Kirk Christiansen’s life story.

Lego games: As I was researching this blog post, I discovered web games on the main Lego site. If you’re looking for ways to play with your kids, these games might be cool. They have sections that focus on strategy, creativity, and preschool:  http://www.lego.com/en-us/games/default.aspx

Lego digital designer: What if you had an infinite number of Lego’s to work with? What would you build with your son or daughter? Check out Lego digital designer at http://ldd.lego.com/ . Peter loves to blow stuff up in this tool. 🙂

Learning experiences can show up in pretty crazy places. I believe my Lego racing experience was an example of effective game based learning. What other games and toys can create accidental teachable moments?




Redefining Success

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.”

– Abraham Lincoln

A few years ago I was a miserable post-doc in a microbiology research lab. I was working long hours away from my family with very little pay and my research seemed to be going nowhere. Fortunately, my position came to an abrupt and unexpected end. I was left reeling and feeling like a complete failure. Traditionally, success as a research scientist means working 3-5 years in a post-doc position, publishing several papers, then obtaining a tenure track position at a major university where you continue to work long hours setting up a research lab, obtaining grants, and, oh yeah, maybe teach a couple of classes. After 5 years or so you go up for tenure. If you are deemed worthy you are essentially guaranteed a job for life. In this paradigm of success I had failed.

After some serious soul searching I realized that my definition of success did not fit the expectations laid out by my predecessors in the scientific community. I didn’t want that life. Success has both personal and professional components. In my personal life success is defined by raising well adjusted children and maintaining a healthy relationship with my husband. As a scientist, success is to learn as much as I can about the biological world and to share that knowledge with others. For me that means teaching. If, at the end of the day, I have opened the eyes of my students to the wonders of the world around them, armed with knowledge so that they can make informed decisions in the future and gotten them excited about biology then I consider myself to be successful.

As teachers we have two major tools for assessing success- student outcomes and student evaluations. I take both very seriously. We can determine how well students are understanding the material by writing good exams and other assignments. I am constantly working to redesign my courses so that I get an adequate assessment of student success and there is always room for improvement. On the flip side, I just got back my student evaluations from the Spring term. In general they were very positive, but there were a few that really stood out. They were the ones that said things like “best teacher ever” and “I used to hate biology but Dr. Rosario made it really interesting”. On the days when I feel discouraged and it seems like I don’t make an impact at all I will pull those out and re-read them to remind myself that I am on the right track to success.

How do you define success? How do you measure that success? We each must come up with our own definitions and use them as goal to focus on.

Why is perspective critical to leading and teaching?

Sun glasses

In our quest to create positive change in the world, I have been inspired to reflect upon the idea that people see the world in different ways. We all wear metaphorical “sun glasses.” These glasses color the way we see and act in the world. The book “Seven habits of highly effective people” by Stephen Covey argues that our “sun glasses” are colored by experience and nature. In a teaching or leadership situation, I would encourage us to consider trying to look at the world through the “sun glasses” of our students or team members.

Teachers and leaders need to pay attention to perspective

Sarah and I are big Dave Ramsey fans. We were first introduced to Dave’s organization through “Financial Peace University.”   As my professional life in software development has turned toward leadership, Sarah bought me the book “Entreleadership.”   In this course, Dave Ramsey reveals how he and his team lead and inspire their company. This book and related social media content have been life changing. Even though it’s a book targeted at business, I feel all professional educators, non-profit leaders, and influencers should consider reading this very practical book.   I also recommend that you check out their podcast.   The information will change you.

I had the great pleasure to attend a one day conference on Entreleadership yesterday. ( see Twitter activity)  Chris LoCurto, a VP with Dave’s company,  shared that a basic understanding of personality styles can help us communicate better with our team.  The team can be a group of students, a team of engineers, or people who might purchase a product from us.   From a student perspective, teacher’s seek to sell their students the product called the “love of life-long learning.”

 How do I learn about the world view of others?

Chris LoCurto reviewed the “DISC Assessment” tool used at Dave Ramsey’s organization.   I think it’s really cool that all team members at Dave’s company have their personality style posted publically.   This helps the organization communicate more effectively since information creators become aware of the world view of their target audience.

I would encourage you to visit the following resources to learn more:

Details on DISC Assessment Dimensions

  • 40% of us are Steady(S)
  • 25% of us are Compliant(C)
  • 25% of us are Influencing(I)
  • 10% of us are Dominant(D)

DISC assessment

Summary of personality dimensions from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DISC_assessment

  • Drive (D): People who score high in the intensity of the “D” styles factor are very active in dealing with problems and challenges, while low “D” scores are people who want to do more research before committing to a decision. High “D” people are described as demanding, forceful, egocentric, strong willed, driving, determined, ambitious, aggressive, and pioneering. Low D scores describe those who are conservative, low keyed, cooperative, calculating, undemanding, cautious, mild, agreeable, modest and peaceful.
  • Influence (I): People with high “I” scores influence others through talking and activity and tend to be emotional. They are described as convincing, magnetic, political, enthusiastic, persuasive, warm, demonstrative, trusting, and optimistic. Those with low “I” scores influence more by data and facts, and not with feelings. They are described as reflective, factual, calculating, skeptical, logical, suspicious, matter of fact, pessimistic, and critical.
  • Steadiness(S): People with high “S” styles scores want a steady pace, security, and do not like sudden change. High “S” individuals are calm, relaxed, patient, possessive, predictable, deliberate, stable, consistent, and tend to be unemotional and poker faced. Low “S” intensity scores are those who like change and variety. People with low “S” scores are described as restless, demonstrative, impatient, eager, or even impulsive.
  • Compliance(C): People with high “C” styles adhere to rules, regulations, and structure. They like to do quality work and do it right the first time. High “C” people are careful, cautious, exacting, neat, systematic, diplomatic, accurate, and tactful. Those with low “C” scores challenge the rules and want independence and are described as self-willed, stubborn, opinionated, unsystematic, arbitrary, and unconcerned with details. How can this information help in your family relationships?  How can this information help you in a teaching context?

If you knew the “sun glasses” that existed in your family, workplace or class room, how would you use this information?   How can our students and team members use this information?


Photo taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/floringorgan/4964488979/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Feedback is the breakfast of champions

Feedback is the breakfast of champions

I am constantly working to improve my course design and my teaching methods. I do my best to keep up with the current trends in education and I hold myself to high standards. I work hard to provide the best learning experience that I can. Given that I am early in my teaching career, I know there is a lot of room for improvement. My classroom experience to this point is limited and I rely heavily on feedback from others. This feedback takes many forms.
Classroom visits. Every semester my supervisor visits my classroom. Unlike some people, I look forward to these evaluations. I truly value the opinion of someone with MUCH more experience than me.

Show me yours, I’ll show you mine. I also seek out feedback from my peers by comparing notes with other professors that teach the same courses that I do. This is particularly useful when trying to work out the logistics of a new technique or lesson plan. It also allows me to get an accurate assessment of the rigor of my courses.

Student outcomes.  My primary goal is to guide each of my students to an acceptible level of mastery of the subject matter. I can use my exam grades, homework assignments, etc to assess how well my students understand the material. In an ideal world all of them would receive A’s because I’m just that good of a teacher. It doesn’t quite work out
that way. I truly want my students to learn. I’ve come to accept that not all of them have that same goal. I’ve stopped getting upset and emotional when the class doesn’t perform where I want them to.

Student evaluations. Every semester my students fill out the standardized course evaluations provided by the college. I don’t receive the results until well into the next semester. For the most part, these have been overwhelmingly positive and there is very little constructive feedback. In an attempt to gather more useful input in a
more timely fashion I put together my own anonomous online surveys with two simple questions:

“What are three things that you like about the class?”

“What aspects of the class would you like to see improved? (2 or 3 things)”


I use GoogleDrive to put together the surveys, I email a link to all of my students and the results are collected in a spreadsheet. Although not all of my students participate, the responses I do receive are incredibly useful. The criticism is more constructive and thorough than what I receive on the end of semester evaluations. This form of immediate, midstream feedback allows me to make minor adjustments in my courses that make a big difference in terms of student satisfaction. I think my students appreciate that I make an effort to listen to their needs.

What other forms of feedback do you rely on?





Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jackpix/107626591/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Simon Sinek: How great leaders and teachers inspire action?

Image from https://twitter.com/AngelaMaiers/status/230334473017884673/photo/1

Why should we communicate starting with “WHY?”

  1. In the context of leading, the average presentation can spend a lot of time down in the details.   The inspired teachers and leaders talk about why they believe a particular lesson is important.   This can also help leaders to discover common ground with the audience.
  2. By encouraging yourself to start with “WHY”, you can start to find wasteful activity.   If a task or lesson does not create value, why should I do it?
  3. The question of “WHY” is often related to the question of personal mission.   How does this lesson or task fit into my personal mission of life?   If my daily activities do not line up with my life mission, what can i do to change it?
  4. I love Simon Sinek’s comment on Martin Luther King Jr.    Martin Luther King gave the “I have a dream” speech.   He did not give the “I have a plan” speech.
  5. The world needs your inspiration.
The following talk by Simon Sinek has been a great inspiration to me.   I hope it serves you in your work as a teacher, education leader, or business innovator.

Abstract: Simon Sinek presents a simple but powerful model for how leaders inspire action, starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers — and as a counterpoint Tivo, which (until a recent court victory that tripled its stock price) appeared to be struggling.


What lessons will you be teaching today?    Why is your lesson important?  How does your lesson relate to your personal mission?



5 inspirational educators discovered through #EdCampAtl conference

EdCamp Atlanta
Click here to visit the conference website

Unfortunately,  Sarah and I did not get the opportunity to check out the awesome education “un-conference” in Atlanta, GA, EdCampAtl.   In an effort to connect with the energy, inspiration, and ideas from the #EdCampAtl conference, I kicked off my Monday searching for interesting people and blogs in the Twitter stream.   To be honest, this event gathered an amazing number of passionate and innovative Georgia educators.   My list is a humble sample.   For my readers, I want to introduce five people who inspired me.

5 inspirational educators discovered through #EdCampAtl

President and Co-founder of EdCamp ATL, social media maven, owner of cape and tiara. I tweet about education, innovation, and leadership. Atlanta, Georgia · http://www.thinkinnovateeducate.com

Wanda.   Thank you for organizing this amazing event with your team.   I also appreciate your hospitality to me on Twitter.

@Principal_EL – Salome Thomas-EL
Award-Winning Principal and author of The Immortality of Influence and I Choose to Stay. International Speaker who appears on Dr. Oz, CNN, NPR and Oprah Radio. Philadelphia, PA http://www.PrincipalEL.com

@2footgiraffe – Adam Taylor
Husband, Father, Overton high school Science & Chinese Teacher. Started #scistuchat www.sg.sg/scistuchat1 TeachMeet Nashville cordinator. NSF GK12 teacher Nashville http://2footgiraffe.wordpress.com

@ShellTerrell – Shelly S Terrell
Education thought-provoker, The 30 Goals Challenge author, International Speaker, #Edchat founder, Host for AM TESOL Free Fri Webinars, SC Mgr @theconsultantse Worldwide http://bit.ly/ShellTerrell

@cybraryman1 – Jerry Blumengarten
Educator & Writer trying to catalog the internet for students, educators and parents.  http://cybraryman.com


5 Cool Tweets from #EdCampAtl

I believe that this conference demonstrates the incredible power of communities to teach massive amounts of information and influence positive change.   I hope to join the party next time.


So… what is inspiring you in education this week?





How can a free massively collaborative game potentially help save lives?

Fold IT

As a game developer, I have become convinced that games can have a profound impact in teaching and changing the world.    Why? Games encourage us to take on epic challenges and objectives.    In the act of making a game, designers and developers have the opportunity to craft the rules of the game to encourage collaboration and teach complex problems.    The world has lots of big problems to solve.   A well crafted game encourages the community of players to take up grand quests because the game is challenging and fun.    I believe that games that involve human collaboration can be especially potent since the player does not feel alone in their quest.   Finally, games give us feedback on our progress on the quest.  In some games like Angry Birds, I can celebrate when I get “three stars” on a level.   I can enjoy the epic cheers from my fans as I rock the house in games like Rock Band.   Feedback may appear in the form of a score, badges, celebrations, cheers or coaching from fellow players.   These aspects of games help keep us stay engaged in learning and solving complex problems.

I have been greatly influenced by my reading of Dr. Jane Mcgonigal, writer of “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.”    I really enjoyed the chapters devoted to using the power of community to explore and solve real world problems.    FoldIt  is a powerful example of the community empowered to perform research about protein folding.  And it’s fun too!  The act of collaborating with a massive number of online players is very engaging.

YouTube Abstract:  Guessing how a protein will fold up based on its DNA sequence is often too difficult for even the most advanced computer programs. Now scientists have created Foldit, an online game that lets human players do the work. Read the original research at: http://go.nature.com/zsfaKP and read more about ‘citizen science’ in this Nature News feature:http://go.nature.com/sfBFPM

5 reasons why FoldIt is awesome!

  • It teaches a complex subject in a simple way.
  • It allows hands on interaction with the subject of protein folding.
  • It connects “text book” theory of protein folding to research in the real world.
  • The game shows the power of massively collaborative online games.
  • The game supports research for curing HIV/AIDS, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
So… if you were to ask the community to solve an epic world problem, what would you challenge them to do?  How can a game designer help you?





5 Ways to get More Results In Life Using Agile

KanBan board

Photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/blambar/5392387797/sizes/m/in/photostream/

When I am not organized with planning my commitments to my faith life, family, and work, it can be stressful. We all experience this mental stress at some level. In previous posts regarding “Getting things done”, we introduced ways for collecting and organizing our life commitments.   In this post, I would like to challenge you to consider the following question:

How do you improve yourself and your team every week?

As teachers, how do we inspire our students to engage and learn more? How do we keep ourselves inspired? As professional leaders, how do we serve our teams better by having the heart of a teacher?In answering this question, we will be building upon the principles of doing “more with less.”  (i.e. Lean)

I would like to introduce you to Michael Kropp writer of “Getting Results the Agile Way”.  While you can purchase this book through Amazon, you can read the whole book online for free.  You may enjoy browsing around the book now.

What’s this agile stuff?

The word agile refers to a style of project management that focuses on creating value. As a software team, we work in two week execution cycles. Our process involves planning, building stuff, doing a small “show and tell” session, and retrospection.

Michael Kropp has adapted this software centric way of managing projects to personal productivity. This pattern of personal project management can be used in your personal life, family and classroom.

5 ways to get more results

1) Consider your hot spots: As you plan, Michael encourages you to consider all areas of your life: mind, body, emotions, career, finance, relationships, and fun. He calls these areas “hot spots.” I believe that this thinking is very similar to Zig Ziglar’s Wheel of Life teaching.

2) Have a Monday vision: What three big results do you want to accomplish? You should think of these items as outcomes. For details on this planning activity, please visit this link.

3) Focus on daily outcomes: As you plan your week, you should break down your “Monday vision” into parts. Each day, you are encouraged to create three “sub-goals” that support your “Monday vision.”

4) Do a Friday reflection: On Friday, consider scheduling 30 minutes for yourself. Ask yourself, what went well, what could I improve, and what can I stop doing. You may consider doing this activity with your students if they are learning in a project based style.

5) Planning for the month: Just as you have a “Monday vision” activity, consider setting three major goals or result areas for the month. These monthly result goals will help you focus on the “dream / big picture” stuff.
In personal management systems, it’s very easy to “over plan” and make a HUGE list of stuff to accomplish. By promoting the number three in his system, he’s encouraging the reader to consider a focus on results and creating plans which are simpler, but focused.  Make sure to check out the book and his free planning templates:

Agile way templates

I hope this post helps you get more results in your personal life, class room or place of work.. I would love to learn how “Getting things done the Agile way” has helped you. What are your three dream goals for the week?


Abstract: Bruce Feiler has a radical idea: To deal with the stress of modern family life, go agile. Inspired by agile software programming, Feiler introduces family practices which encourage flexibility, bottom-up idea flow, constant feedback and accountability. One surprising feature: Kids pick their own punishments.

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When Technology Fails

When technology fails

Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ethanhein/3008074991/

What do we do when the technology, that is supposed to make our lives easier, fails? If we are not adequately prepared it can make us feel incredible vulnerable. Last year the computer in one of my classrooms would not turn on and I was left to lecture on the board. While I had read through the material ahead of time and spent several hours preparing my PowerPoint slides, I was not mentally prepared to lecture in that format. It was my first time teaching an intro biology course and of course the technical glitch occurred when I was teaching the unit on evolution. I’m a microbiologist/molecular biologist and had not touched the subject of evolution since undergraduate school. I had not yet reached my stride with the material. I completely floundered. My poor students. We made it through, but it wasn’t pretty.

Lesson #1- Don’t use technology as a crutch or to make up for your shortfalls. Be as familiar as you can with the material before lecturing. No you do not need to know everything, but you do need to know the material that you are covering in class like the back of your hand. Now that I’ve taught this course three times I am very comfortable with the material and with the way one idea flows into the next. The PowerPoint slides augment my lecture instead of guiding it.

This week I had another issue with technology. We are three weeks into the fall semester and my microbiology class is using a new edition of the textbook. I have discovered that the website provided by the textbook publisher for electronic homework assignments is full of flaws and errors. There are mislabeled figures, unclear exercises and answers that are outright wrong. I used this same site last year with no problems, but I think the change to the new edition has not gone smoothly for them. Needless to say, this has given me more than one headache and I’ve had to be careful about managing my temper.

Lesson #2- Turn failure into a teachable moment. This statement has broad applications throughout many avenues of life. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade right? Instead of completely pulling the current assignment, I’ve challenged my students to find the questions that are marked incorrectly. The first ones to find them will be rewarded with a little bit of extra credit. This has been useful for two reasons. One is that my students seem to be more engaged in the material as they race to find the errors. The other is that many have identified the same few questions that they think are wrong, but are really correct. It is showing me that they don’t truly understand this particular concept and I need to revisit it at my next lecture.

Technology provides us many useful tools in the classroom, but do you do when technology fails? What are some other ways that it makes us vulnerable? I would love to hear your ideas or experiences!