In honor of Wonder Con starting tomorrow at the Anaheim Convention Center, I wanted to highlight Star Wars in the Classroom, “a website for educators and fans alike that provides resources for transdisciplinary teaching and learning with the Star Wars saga. For nearly thirty years, our team has been integrating the Star Wars saga into history, English/Language Arts, and science classes at the middle school and high school levels. From studies in mythology, history, philosophy and the arts, to hands-on experiments in physics and engineering, we spark learning and the imagination by providing engaging and relevant experiences for students of all ages inspired by the captivating characters and stories from the Star Wars universe.”

Star Wars is near and dear to my heart. I have watched Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi countless times as a child and as an adult and now with my own kids. I love the idea of educational resources integrated with the Star Wars saga and wonder if kids enjoy learning more. Do teachers enjoy teaching more?

I’m curious if any teachers out there have used these resources. Please share stories of your experiences or your students’ reactions to materials from Star Wars in the Classroom. Look forward to your comments. Thanks so much!

And if you haven’t seen the movies, I highly recommend them, especially Star Wars (episode IV), Empire Strikes Back (episode V) and Return of the Jedi (episode VI).

VIP guest invitation

VIP guest invitation

1989: I applied for a full-time summer job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) because my uncle was a computer scientist at JPL and encouraged me to apply. Thanks to Jan Ritchie, four of us were hired that summer to hand address VIP guest invitations and prepare packets and other materials for the big two-day Voyager/Neptune Encounter event. This was a historic encounter with the planet Neptune and its satellites by the Voyager 2 Spacecraft on August 25 and 26, 1989. It was also the BEST summer job ever.

Inside the invitation along with the commemorative sticker

Inside the invitation along with the commemorative sticker

Even though I was still in high school, my colleagues at JPL treated me as a member of the team. In reflection, I learned a lot that summer. One, I was proud to earn my own paycheck. Two, I learned the importance of showing up to work on time, how to act and dress like a professional. Three, JPL is a special place with a culture that always made me feel like I mattered to the organization (which I later learned is not true for other workplaces). Plus, it was fun and people liked working there. And I made new friends, like Jill who is still a dear friend today (see photo below) and I keep in touch with Jan and a few others from that summer. Read the rest of this entry »

“Our goal is to show kids that being a professional nerd can be cool and exciting.” – Brent Bushnell, CEO and Roustabout of Two Bit Circus

I went to a meeting last month to help dream up ways to make Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math (aka STEAM) engaging, FUN, and even COOL for kids and that’s where I met Brent Bushnell. I am fired up about what he and his team at Two Bit Circus are doing with the STEAM Carnival, “circus of the future” filled with lasers, fire and robots.

“We have an opportunity to rebrand what it means to be an engineer. We can show kids that it can be awesome,”  Bushnell shared with WIRED.

I am sad I missed the inaugural STEAM Carnival that happened last October 25 and 26 at CRAFTED at the Port of Los Angeles. From what I’ve read and heard from Brent, it was an unforgettable experience. I’ll keep you posted on when the next STEAM Carnival is happening and where. I’m definitely bringing my kids (11 and 9 years old) and my proud-to-be-a-nerd husband.

If you are interested in reading more about Brent, Two Bit Circus and even his dad Nolan (founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese), check out articles: “Two Bit Circus: The Science of Fun” by Whitney Vendt in C-Suite Quarterly and “Ring Master of the Nerd Circus” by Michelle Woo in Narratively.

I’m reading Anya Kamenetz’s new book The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing – But You Don’t Have to Be. IMG_9297For one, I’m interested in Anya’s perspective on the topic of testing in public schools because I have my opinions due to my work with schools, teachers, etc. Two, she’s written this book with parents as her intended audience. As a parent, I say, “Finally! We need more resources to help navigate what all the test scores actually mean for our children and the schools they attend.” Third, I’ve read, enjoyed and learned from Anya’s other two books: DIY U and Generation Debt.

Here is short description about The Test from the inside cover. When I read this, I found myself nodding in agreement and giddy to read the book. I am so excited I had to share:

Your child is more than a score. But in the last twenty years, schools have dramatically increased standardized testing, sacrificing hours of classroom time. What is the cost to students, teachers, and families? How do we preserve space for self-directed learning and development–especially when we still want all children to hit the mark?

The Test explores all sides of this problem–where these tests came from, their limitations and flaws, and ultimately what parents, teachers, and concerned citizens can do. It recounts the shocking history and tempestuous politics of testing and borrows strategies from fields as diverse as games, neuroscience, and ancient philosophy to help children cope. It presents the stories of families, teachers, and schools maneuvering within and beyond the existing educational system, playing and winning the testing game. And it offers a glimpse into a future of better tests. With an expert’s depth, a writer’s flair, and a hacker’s creativity, Anya Kamenetz has written an essential book for any parent who has wondered: what do I do with all these tests?

I am going to end tonight’s post so I can read The Test before bed. If you are also reading The Test, please let me know. I welcome your thoughts about testing in schools. Thanks!

I was lost when I got to Crescenta Valley High School as a 9th grader. My friends from junior high wanted to be popular. They soon realized hanging out with me was not going to get them there. I didn’t have any real friends, only girls I stood next to during snack and ate with during lunch so I would not feel like a loner. My grades suffered. I got my first and only D in typing (yes, typing was a class in the late 1980s) because I was chronically tardy. I was not connected to anyone at school and drifting into invisibility.

Then journalism happened my junior year. Because I thought I needed an extracurricular activity for college applications, I applied and was accepted to be part of the journalism staff. It was a yearlong class and every two weeks, we wrote all the articles and literally cut and pasted together the school newspaper. My life changed after joining journalism.

Yam (short for Ms. Yamaguchi) set high standards for good writing and she treated us like people…not teenagers. She told us stories about her life and she knew each of our stories as individuals. If there was a love crisis or family drama, we told Yam. I ate lunch in the journalism room, I stayed hours and hours after school in that room especially if we were under deadline. I was part of a team. Many classmates became good friends, and together we produced a real product every two weeks. I learned to appreciate working hard and feeling proud of what we accomplished. Read the rest of this entry »

I was so happy to see Dan Thoene as the Judo Math Dude featured in this week’s San Diego Reader cover story. My daughter, in 6th grade, is learning math at her own pace thanks to Judo Math. She’s currently a yellow belt, but instead of actual belts – she has a rubber bracelet. When asked what she thought of Judo Math, she shared, “It is a fun way to learn math and build teamwork skills because we learn in groups. It also makes me feel accomplished when I pass a level in Judo Math.” Read the rest of this entry »

It is almost midnight on January 1, 2015. For fun and to challenge myself, I set the intention for 2015 to write a new post as often as my schedule allows about individuals, schools, groups, communities, companies who contribute to transforming public education. These are the REAL edtransformers and I want to share them with you.

The goal is to change the conversation about public education and focus on what is making a difference for students both young and adults so they are excited to learn and gain the skills to pursue and achieve their life goals and aspirations.

As an education researcher for a nonprofit the past 20 years, I have also been a grant writer, standardized test developer, and author of reports to state policymakers along the way. My favorite part of my day job is visiting schools and listening to students, educators and others about what is working or needs improvement from their perspective in public education. And I’m mom to a 6th and 4th grader attending public charter schools.

I hope you will join me as I publicly commit to daily musings about what is transforming public education in positive ways.

Happy New Year! I’ll be back tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

My last post was about getting others to pay for what you want to do and the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. is a genius example. Think fun, theme-based storefront with secret room dedicated to supporting young people to become stronger writers. If you buy a cape, secret identity, or other vital superhero supplies, you help pay for students to receive free drop-in tutoring, field trips, after-school workshops, and assistance with student publications. The nonprofit 826NYC is the brains behind this idea with the mission “to support students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to help teachers inspire their students to write.”

Awesome! During our last trip to New York City, my husband and I had to make a special trip to Brooklyn just to see this place for ourselves. We both are fans of superhero films, TV shows, and comic books (husband, not me) so we were giddy to go on this field trip. Plus, I am a sucker for innovative ways to inspire students to learn.

Yes, that’s me wearing my blue cape in the Capery so I could test impact of wind on my new accessory. Before purchasing my superhero supplies, I had to take the Vow of Heroism. For superhero fans, this store is so worth a visit just for the fun, clever stuff.

Read the rest of this entry »

Someone recently told me that I’m good at getting others to pay for what I want to do. It was an Aha! moment for me. Suddenly it all clicked. I write grant proposal on behalf of school districts or community colleges or other entities wanting funding to do what they wanted to do. I’m currently in the middle of a grant proposal so my love is tempered by the reality of deadlines and sleep deprivation. Usually after a grant proposal is submitted, I feel euphoria and a big sense of accomplishment and the love for grant writing returns in full force.

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I spent Sunday morning watching TEDxRedmond [], an event organized and attended by youth. I was blown away by what these young people have already accomplished. Listening to each speaker inspired me to want to do more to get youth voices heard.

One particular talk made me think about a topic in a new light. Brigitte Berman spoke passionately about ending bullying in schools. Adults and students hold equal responsibility in making this happen. I totally agree and like the language of ending bullying.

Read the rest of this entry »