Making Friends and Breaking Pringles

This past summer, I had the unique and fantastic opportunity to participate in the Siemen’s STEM Academy, held at Discovery HQ in Silver Spring, MD.  It was an exhilarating, whirlwind week, featuring guests speakers like Dan Meyer, Danny Forster and Carl Wieman, and trips to a number a Washington DC STEM-related locations.  Having Newt Gingrich pass in front of me to enter an elevator at C-SPAN HQ seems more significant now…maybe something other than the “what’s up” head-bob was appropriate.  The STEM academy website is filled with great resources for the classroom teacher: links, lessons, podcasts, videos.  Info to apply for the 2012 program is there as well:

Despite the high-profile speakers and great surroundings, the highlight of the week was the opportunity to talk with creative, enthusiastic colleagues from around the country and share experiences.  Sometimes I get a bit jealous of my science colleagues.  They get to do all the neat stuff like blood splatter labs and building rockets and blowing things up.  Us math folk, despite our best intentions, often relax back to our comfortable habits.  “Sure, I’d like to build a slingshot and explore parabolic motion….but there’s just no time….”, my math brethren often say.  In other words, while we understand that inquiry-based learning, that which connects to students, gives them a reason to WANT to learn, and also makes math fun and memorable is necessarily and lacking in our curriculum….I still have to get through section 5.2 of the book by Friday, or risk the life failure of our students.  Yes, how will they get by in life without point-slope form…..OK, so maybe things aren’t that bad, but old habits die hard.

At Discovery, I teamed with a group of teachers interested in exposing students to the many, rich resources out there which encourage students to pursue careers in math and science.  We called it the STEM-awareness wiki, and had the ambition to populate it with great ideas, and communicate during the year with our classes to share stories.  Like many great ideas, ours ended up on the back burner.  On my end, my new job of math coach was presented to me just as I came back from Maryland.  All the great ideas developed during that week, doing podcasts with Stat experts, flipping my classroom, plugging my classes into Edmodo, all ended up on the shelf as I adjusted to my new job.

But Donna kept pushing….

Donna is an 8th-grade teacher in New Jersey, who teaches neat stuff like forensic science to middle school students.  We had planned to Skype with our classes, and hoped to find a fun, worthwhile activity to do together…but since I no longer had students of my own, we had a bit of a problem.  But Donna kept pushing, and I promised to find a group of kids we could work with.  I was starting to lose faith that we would ever be able to work together again, until Donna e-mailed me with a simple concept:

The Pringles Challenge.

The Pringles Challenge is a national competition with a simple premise: design a package to mail a single Pringle (cheap rhyme un-intentional) from one school to another.  This piqued my interest for a number of reasons.  I like salty snacks, I like to win, and kids like salty snacks.  The project started slowly, as we had trouble getting finding a convenient time to “meet” on skype.  An Edmodo group was formed to allow for an appropriate amount of introduction / trash-talking.  But after weeks of back and forth, the challenge was on, and boxes designed.  The kids on my team asked for floral foam and cotton, which was eventually shaped into their entry:

box 1

In initial testing of this design, the chip did not survive.  Hopefully the kids made some adjustments.

Donna’s class had 3 entries, which have all been received at my school.  The first is a nice-looking design, though the NY sports trash-talking was not appreciated by the secretaries in the main office:

box 2

The other two boxes received could have some issues:

box 3

On Thursday, the groups will meet on Skype for the openings, and the winner will be crowned!  A fun project, and the start of a number of nice collaborations.

Thanks for pushing, Donna!


By Bob Lochel

HS Math Teacher. Hatboro-Horsham School District, Horsham, PA.

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