A team of Cleburne ISD educators was among the presenters at the 2019 International Society for Technology Education Conference and Expo taking place in Philadelphia. From left, Tim Grijalva, director of instructional technology; Jane Flynn, elementary digital learning coordinator; Bill Allen, social studies coordinator; and Wheat Middle School robotics teacher Gwenda Davis led an interactive lecture on the District’s STEAM Fridays initiative and the robotics program at Smith and Wheat middle schools.

Cleburne ISD students weren’t the only ones to represent the district at the national level over the summer.

A team of CISD educators was among the presenters at the International Society for Technology Education 2019 Conference and Expo taking place in Philadelphia. Tim Grijalva, director of instructional technology; Jane Flynn, elementary digital learning coordinator; Bill Allen, social studies coordinator; and Wheat Middle School robotics teacher Gwenda Davis led an interactive lecture on Cleburne’s STEAM Fridays and middle school robotics programs.

“We provided information on STEAM Fridays, which involves the fourth and fifth grades on all our elementary campuses,” Grijalva said. “We discussed the materials we use in involving students in science, technology, engineering, art and math activities, the rotations students go through on STEAM Fridays and how the program is organized.”

The four Cleburne educators then engaged those attending their presentation in a series of activities which they could implement in their own classrooms and schools.

“Bill had them creating hoop gliders and Gwenda brought pre-built robots to show how our elementary students utilize coding, which has served as an initial pathway for our robotics courses in middle school and, ultimately, high school.”

“We had a very engaged group of participants,” Grijalva said. “They were competing to see whose hoop glider could go the farthest — and the engineering teachers proved to be the best. In our hands-on activity involving robotics, we brought teachers up to modify codes to let them see the difference in their robot’s performance, based on their programming. It was a fun exercise, with the robots giving off a lot of lights and sounds.”

The Cleburne team saw the same response from their audience of educators that they receive from students excited about what they were learning.

“Just like students, the teachers went above and beyond what we planned they would do,” Grijalva said. “As soon as they learned what to do with the robots, they wanted to go bigger and faster — just like our middle school kids. The ones that were interested, were extremely interested. They stayed after our presentation to ask more questions.”

The opportunity to present at the ISTE national conference was the second for the CISD team this year. A delegation from the district also shared information on the STEAM Fridays program at the Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference. Teachers and administrators from several north Texas districts have now traveled to Cleburne to view a STEAM Friday session for implementation at their own campuses.

“I think Cleburne’s STEAM Fridays is unique in that most school programs developed don’t offer as many options for kids — all kids — during the school day,” Gijalva said. “We also utilize a non-traditional format. Our kids are involved in self-discovery in which the teacher is the facilitator, giving students goals and options. The students choose the path to meet the goal. Kids learn in different ways and STEAM Fridays allows for just that, in addition to providing for genuine collaboration between students.”

“We have found our kids are going home and doing coding on their own, keyboarding on their own and using 3D modeling with the online Tinkercad program we make available to them. It’s pretty exciting to see all they are doing on their own.”

The impact of STEAM Fridays as scholars move on to middle school and high school is being monitored, as the third year of implementation gets underway in 2019-20.

“I think we will see more students in STEM pathways in middle school because they have had more structure and a basic background in robotics programming due to STEAM Fridays,” Grijalva said. “Their older peers didn’t have this, but have done a great job, nonetheless. With the head start our elementary students now in middle school have received, I know we will see some exciting things from them as they head to high school.”

Both Smith and Wheat Middle Schools had teams competing in Texas Computer Educators Association district robotics competition last year. A team from Wheat also participated in the FIRST Lego League contest held in Fort Worth. 

“We were so excited to attend the ISTE national conference and share information on the success we have seen in students through STEAM Fridays and our robotics programs,” Davis said. “It was also great for me, as a teacher, to have the opportunity to meet with fellow educators from around the country who are teaching robotics and learn about strategies and programs they are utilizing.”

Grijalva said it was a positive experience for the whole CISD team, as presenters and educators.

“What this did was allow us to refine our presentations skills, while training fellow teachers from all over, who are just beginning the process of developing a STEAM program for their schools,” he said. “This was a big endeavor, but it was awesome and definitely worth it, with all we gained from the experience.”



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