Challenge-Based Learning: Redefining School with Glarea Elevated Learning

In this edition of the Roundtable, host Tim Cavey connects with Rita Rai, Nadia Irshad, and Peter Anderson from Glarea Elevated Learning, a school that is charting a unique path to learning and instruction.

What is challenge-based learning, how does it help students, and how does it fit with inquiry and other approaches to instruction? You’re about to find out.

Select any of the timestamps listed below to jump to specific portions of the discussion. ⬇️

Questions and Timestamps from This Conversation

  • 0:29 – Who is Rita Rai?
  • 3:12 – Who is Nadia Irshad?
  • 5:15 – Who is Peter Anderson?
  • 9:22 – What is Glarea Elevated Learning? How is this school different?
  • 11:38 – What is the history of Glarea Elevated Learning? How, when, and why was it founded?
  • 17:28 – What is challenge-based learning? Why is an emphasis on challenge so important in education today?
  • 21:49 – What do you see as the current and future roles of technology in education?
  • 29:15 – Why is it so important to put BIPOC women in places of institutional leadership? What work remains to be done in this space?
  • 33:43 – How are children learning differently than they were 10-20 years ago? How can teachers and schools responsively to those needs?
  • 36:29 – What is the meaning of Glarea?
  • 41:29 – How can we connect with you and join your learning journeys?

Connect with Glarea Elevated Learning

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Roundtable: STEAM Learning in the COVID Era

In this edition of the Teachers on Fire Roundtable, I chatted with three STEAM educators based in the great state of California: Renee Wells, Jesus Huerta, and Paul Gordon.

Questions That Guided Our Discussion

  • 0:54 – Who are you and what is your current educational context?
  • 2:55 – What are your thoughts on F2F, hybrid, and distance learning?
  • 12:13 – Which learning management system or online platforms are you relying on to serve your learners?
  • 27:04 – What’s been a big win of STEAM learning in the distance (or remote) environment?
  • 51:03 – What are your go-to sources for STEAM teaching inspiration?
  • 57:49 – How can viewers connect with you?

Guests Featured in the Roundtable

Catch the Next Teachers on Fire Roundtable LIVE.

As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!

Episode 134 – Jesus Huerta

Meet Jesus Huerta

JESUS HUERTA is an elementary school teacher at Kennedy Gardens Elementary School in El Centro, California. He’s also an instructor for the Krause Center for Innovation, a 3D print enthusiast, a futurist, and a believer that technology is for everyone.

Competing During Uncertainty

About a year before our interview, Jesus was a finalist for the Leroy Finkel Fellowship, an award given annually to a teacher who presents “an innovative technology-enhanced curriculum project that is standards-aligned, replicable, relevant … and fun.”

Jesus had entered the contest and had made it to the short list, but he was laid off by his school just days before he was expected to present. Despite the professional uncertainty, Jesus gave everything he had to the presentation and won the award based on the 3D printing work his students were doing to create prosthetics (see a full description of the project with videos). As gratifying as it was to be recognized in the contest, it was equally satisfying to be given another teaching position shortly afterward.

The Evolution of 3D Printing and Learning

Jesus has been teaching for six years, and he’s been 3D printing the entire time. From classrooms to conferences, he carried his printer around with him wherever he went in his first years.

One way that 3D printing has really changed in the period since, Jesus says, is that the financial barriers to entry have come way down: printers and filament have both fallen a lot in price. Software has also improved and diversified and the 3D printing community has grown over these years as well.

It’s an exciting space, because 3D printing just keeps moving forward. Jesus shares a number of ways (other than prosthetics) that 3D printing technology is being used to provide medical solutions and improve quality of life around the world. On top of all the other competencies and skills that students build as they learn to design and print in 3D, the list of real-world applications only seems to grow.

Board Games, the Design Process, and Entrepreneurship

Another project that has really energized Jesus and his 5th graders is a board game project. The project combines the best of entrepreneurship, the design process, collaboration, and presentation skills. Working in partners or small groups, students begin by drawing a board game design, followed by a cardboard prototype. Further iterations follow.

Jesus describes a very authentic learning experience that occurred when one 5th grader forgot to bring her group’s prototype into class for her group’s pitch. Yes, there was some distress and some tears in that instance, but after thoughtful debriefing and reflection, he knows the real life lessons learned will last a lifetime. By project end, Jesus is always impressed by what his students manage to come up with, saying he would likely purchase them for his own family if they were commercially available.

Increased Access to the Joys of STEAM Learning

Something that Jesus has wanted to do outside of his classroom for some time is offer evening classes that align with his core passions: 3D printing, robotics, the design process, engineering, game design, coding, drones, and anything else related to STEAM.

In particular, he wants to create opportunities for kids who can’t access this kind of learning in their schools, districts, or towns. He’s built a partnership with an LGBTQ center to share space, and he’s proud to support diversity and equity for all learners by doing so.

Learning is for everyone,” Jesus says. A kid’s gender, culture, language, religion, or orientation shouldn’t be limiting factors – and that’s something that Jesus has always been passionate about. Historically speaking, STEAM learning has tended to include more boys than girls, and evening that playing field is another part of his mission. He’s also looking at ways to include adults and mature learners, too.

Personal Passions: Creating with Wood and Playing the Violin

One of the areas of learning that Jesus recalls fondly from his childhood is drawing. In recent years, he’s revisited this passion through woodburning and carving. He’s also passionate about the sounds of the violin, and it’s been a joy to practice an instrument he’s always appreciated but never played. Jesus brings these passions into his classroom, too, using applications like Google Quick Draw, Google Music, and SoundTrap to helps students create a wide variety of digital art and media pieces.

A Productivity Tool: Wunderlist

Jesus loves using the Wunderlist app to track to-do items and track his progress, and the gamer in him enjoys the satisfying ding the app makes every time he checks off another task.

Voices and Resources That Spark His Thinking and Ignite His Practice

When it comes to a Twitter follow recommendation, Jesus doesn’t waste any time. “Paul Gordon does even more than I do,” Jesus says. One of Paul’s core passions is esports, but he also does 3D printing, laser cutting, design thinking, and more. He’s an advocate of risk-taking and a culture of yes, and he’s been a great education partner. Follow Paul @TeachTheTech.

One edtech tool that has really captured his imagination is the Oculus Quest, an all-in-one VR set. Users no longer need controllers – the set will now recognize user hands. His kids have played around with an Oculus app called Virtuoso that allows them to play piano in VR, and it’s blowing their minds. Other apps, like TiltBrush or Sculptor VR, allow users to paint and sculpt in VR as well.

For a book pick, Jesus points to Designed to Learn: Using Design Thinking to Bring Purpose and Passion to the Classroom by Lindsay Portnoy, a PhD and master of design thinking. Her book confirms a lot of what Jesus believes about STEAM education, and it’s opening his eyes to more possibilities. Lindsay also hosts the weekly #DesignedToLearn Twitter that Jesus says is well worth the time. Follow Lindsay @LPortnoy.

Because his wife works in the criminal justice system, Jesus says they’re both enjoying a podcast called Crime Junkie. The series is so good that occasionally Jesus gets a few episodes ahead of her, and then he’s got some explaining to do! Follow this podcast on Twitter @CrimeJunkiePod.

Over on YouTube, Jesus points to the Uncle Jessy channel as a great source for 3D printers, techniques, and projects. Jesus appreciates how he follows up review videos with subsequent videos that clarify and update previous evaluations. Follow the creator on Twitter @UncleJessy4Real.

On Netflix, Jesus and his family are enjoying NCIS. They’ve been enjoying it so much that he’s actually a little sad that he’s been missing it for the last 15 years.

Follow Jesus

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Song Track Credits

  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*
  • Coupe by The Grand Affair
  • Species by Diamond Ortiz
  • *tracks courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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Episode 98 – Chris Woods

98 - Chris Woods.png

Meet Chris Woods

CHRIS WOODS is a high school math teacher, STEM presenter, and host of the STEM Everyday podcast. Chris likes to remind his students and followers that STEM is everywhere around us … we just have to learn to recognize it. 

Chris is also a high school math teacher at Calumet High School, Calumet, MI. It’s a relatively small school, located two hours from the closest freeway and situated in the northern part of Michigan.

Challenging Connections

This past year for Chris was a challenging one. He found it difficult to connect with some of his students, and although there were some days when he felt like he made some progress, other days felt like setbacks. Sometimes, relationships just don’t get to the place that we want them to get to, and we can’t fault ourselves after doing our best.

Thankfully, Chris sees his ninth graders in the halls for years after they go through his classroom, and for those few that he finds it challenging to reach, he enjoys the subsequent opportunities he gets to connect when he’s no longer relating to them as their teacher.

On 🔥 for STEM Education

When asked what fuels his passion for STEM education, Chris points to the curiosity that underlines his work. We know that students begin their school careers with excitement and curiosity, but sadly the years that follow often drive that curiosity out of them. Chris lives to help students see that learning is relevant and connected to the world around them, not the static body of knowledge that is sometimes reduced to endless worksheets.

STEM and the Creative Arts: Complementary Partners

To educators who want to see more A in STEM, Chris welcomes STEAM wholeheartedly. Although he happens to adopt STEM in a lot of his work, he sees great compatibility between STEM education and the arts. For Chris, it shouldn’t be a case of STEM vs the creative arts, right brain vs left brain; it should be about cultivating the whole brain and recognizing the multidimensional person in every learner.

Meeting Students Where They Are

Besides STEM education, Chris is on fire for a program called ‘Capturing Kids’ Hearts.’ Again, it’s about seeing the whole individual, incorporating SEL and trauma-informed teaching strategies to meet students and serve them where they are.

A Professional Goal

This year, Chris is looking for more ways to connect the math that his students are learning with applications in the world around them. Students will need STEM skills and habitudes in any career or field after high school, and he wants them to see that this learning has never been more relevant.

Chris is looking forward to bringing the STEM mindset to a couple of conferences this fall and is always happy to share his learning with other teachers across the United States. Visit his website for more details!

Personal Passions Away From School

When he’s not at school or working on things related to his work, Chris enjoys fixing and building. He subscribes to a mindset of days gone by: make do with what you’ve got. Nothing gives him more satisfaction than to take apart broken things, identify the problem, find a solution on YouTube, and then reassemble whatever it happens to be.

His Productivity Hack

When it comes to productivity, Chris believes in the power of lists. Whether it’s a list in his pocket or sticky notes around his desk, lists keep him on his game.

Voices & Resources That Inspire His Thinking & Practice

On Twitter, Chris recommends following @JsnHubbard, another #TeacherOnFire.

When it comes to an edtech tool that accelerates learning in his classroom, Chris is all about his interactive whiteboards. There may be nothing better in terms of learning together, out loud and in sight of everyone.

Mister RogersFor his book pick, Chris turns to The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor by Amy Hollingsworth.

Chris’s favorite podcast is the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast with Vicki Davis. True to her title, Vicki’s daily pod is daily, quick, and packed with value.

On YouTube, a channel that may be underrated for STEM thinking and creative approaches is Joseph’s Machines. Check it out and subscribe!

We sign off on this conversation, and Chris gives the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details!

Connect with Chris:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.

Episode 93 – Jorge Valenzuela

93 - Jorge Valenzuela

Meet Jorge Valenzuela

JORGE VALENZUELA is a graduate teaching assistant and doctoral student at Old Dominion University and the lead coach at Lifelong Learning Defined. He is a national faculty member of PBL Works and a national teacher effectiveness coach for the Engineering by Design curriculum. His work is aimed at helping educators understand and implement computational thinking, computer science, STEM/STEAM, and project-based learning.

Jorge is also a national presenter, ISTE author, and frequent contributor to books, academic journals, how-to blogs, and webinars. He is the 2018 awardee of ISTE’s Computer Science Excellence Award and recipient of the Lynn Barrier Engineering Leadership Award for his contributions to STEM education in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

These days, Jorge balances a number of active roles in education. Besides teaching at Old Dominion University, he also teaches a computer science course for middle school students in Richmond, VA on the weekends. He’s working on his doctorate, he’s a coach, he speaks at institutions across the country, and he’s an author. Jorge is an active blogger and is currently working on his first book.

Learning to Let Educators Know, Like, and Trust His Work

Jorge recalls a period about eight or nine years ago when he worked as a curriculum specialist for a school division. At the time, he oversaw the area of STEM education, but although he had a lot of passions and ideas, he felt tentative about sharing those ideas with other professionals.

It was then that Chad Ratliff passed on a very important piece of advice: “No one cares how smart you are or if you have smart ideas. What they want to see is results. You should go on Twitter and social media and showcase what your students are actually doing.”

Jorge was slow to get started, but since receiving that advice he’s become adept at sharing the learning from his professional practice. As he’s shared bits of learning from his own practice, it’s made it easier for him to build credibility and help other educators understand what he’s all about.

PBL Advice

When it comes to project-based learning, Jorge calls us to remember first and foremost that PBL is simply an instructional approach. It’s another way to teach.

To get started, he advises looking at learning activities that are already happening in our classrooms – particularly experiential, hands-on, minds-on learning. By starting with the  knowledge and experience in a familiar content area, we’ll feel better positioned to gradually move towards a multi-disciplinary, PBL approach.

From there, look at resources like PBL Works or other stories that are being shared by successful PBL educators by way of blogs, articles, and videos to gain some tried and true inspiration. The resources at PBL Works are based on two frameworks: the project design elements and the project-based teaching practices (the what and the how). Both are helpful.

He quotes Tony Robbins as saying that “repetition is the mother of skill.” We have to get started to get better. 

What’s Setting Jorge on 🔥 in Education Today

Fred Rogers said that “The most important people in the lives of students are parents and teachers. Therefore, the most important people in the world are parents and teachers.”

Today, with modern families looking different and certainly busier than they were twenty years ago, the role of the teacher is more critical than ever. That being the case, let’s strive to make our classrooms as enjoyable, meaningful, and relevant as possible. 

The Place of Computer Science in Education

Jorge’s undergraduate education focused on computer studies, and in the decades since that schooling, he says that the core principles haven’t changed much. What has changed, however, is where computer science lives in the curriculum.

Today, CS can be integrated into Math, English, Social Studies, and other subjects. It’s more than coding – it’s a way of thinking and solving problems.

A Professional Goal

Jorge is currently working on a book called Rev Up Robotics with Computational Thinking and Programming. “I’ve found a lot of strength in numbers, and ISTE has helped me find my professional network, my tribe, and my home in a STEM PLN,” Jorge says.

Every educator should find a professional learning network that he or she can subscribe to and learn from – both in and out of the classroom, because working with others is key.

Productivity Habits

Jorge is motivated by self-growth of all kinds, and right now he’s especially fascinated by learning about relationships. He recently discovered Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, and it’s been incredibly insightful. Emotional awareness and social skills are helpful in every context, professional and personal. They’re especially useful when it comes to dealing with two teenagers!

Jorge also spends 10-20 hours a week honing his craft and developing his skills as an educator – not just for his students but also for the teachers he coaches. That amount of time isn’t for everyone, he admits, but for him it’s grown from a place of passion to one of intense purpose and fulfillment.

Jorge recommends waking up early each morning. He likes to start his day at 5:00, start with some meditation, and spend time reflecting on failures. In the past, he was embarrassed by mistakes, but now he welcomes them.

In the big picture, we actually experience more failures than we do successes. By having the courage and humility to reflect on and learn from each failure, we only accelerate our own growth and position ourselves better for our next successful moment.

Voices That Shape Jorge’s Thinking & Inspire His Practice

Over on Twitter, Jorge recommends following @ElonMusk, the ultimate STEM student, and @AyahBdeir, founder of LittleBits.

The edtech tool that is getting Jorge most excited for learners right now is the Code Kit by LittleBits

Relentless by Tim GroverJorge’s book pick is Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim Grover. Grover has an incredible story of coaching some of the NBA’s all-time greats, and he has a lot of insights to share that can be applied off the hard court as well.

As far as podcasts go, Jorge is tuning into a couple: Your EdTech Questions by ISTE and Coach Corey Wayne, a life and peak performance coach.

Though he doesn’t really get much time to watch Netflix, Jorge enjoyed When They See Us, the story of five African-American boys who were wrongfully convicted of a serious crime in the late 80s. It’s a tear-jerker, Jorge warns.

We sign off on this conversation, and Jorge gives us the best ways to connect with him online. See below for details.

Connect with Jorge:

Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel.