At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about my school's plan to implement Bootstrap, a curriculum that integrates computer science and mathematics. We just finished our first attempt at Bootstrap at Sullins Academy and we’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are some of our observations:

- We saw “aha” moments when students related what they were learning in Bootstrap to concepts they were learning in math class. When we started, I was worried that the differences between mathematical functions and programming functions would confuse students. The opposite turned out to be true! Unprompted, students compared and contrasted the two definitions to form a more precise understanding of both. Function notation can be fairly abstract for middle school algebra students. Using programming functions in Bootstrap helped my students concretely see that a function simply takes inputs and performs a set of tasks to produce outputs. Seeing how Bootstrap functions manipulated shapes made it easier for them to understand how algebra functions manipulate numbers. Score one for integrated learning!

- Students collaborated on figuring out things like syntax. We noticed beginning signs of productive teamwork and perseverance in problem-solving through that! For example, Unit 3 introduces students to definitions. Their first task was to figure out how to define and produce a solid blue circle with radius 20--most students didn’t accomplish this on the first try. Some were able to do so after additional attempts. When students figured it out, they would discuss how they did it with the class and help other students debug their code. For example, one student had the right arguments but in the wrong order; another student defined shape2 but then evaluated Shape2 and did not understand why her error message said that the variable was not defined. Classmates were able to help each other see the errors.

- If you implement the program, make sure you give it the time it deserves. We decided to implement the program predominantly through the technology class in the Spring. (See our last post on Bootstrap for more details.) However, our eighth grade students only had technology once per week and it just happened to be on Monday afternoons. Our school is out several Mondays during the Spring because of holidays. Unfortunately, that afternoon time block also seems to align with special programs and service opportunities that often take the place of class. Those interruptions may not sound like a big deal, but it really hindered an effective and timely flow of the curriculum, and there was a good bit of reviewing to catch students up after one to several weeks off in between classes. As a result, we weren’t able to finish the entire curriculum. It would have been much more helpful to implement Bootstrap in its entirety in a shorter time frame.

- Because there was a good bit of reviewing before students could move on each time, we didn’t see the students direct their own learning instead of the teacher as much as we had hoped. However, we are optimistic that this could happen with a better implementation model.

Overall, we continue to be encouraged about the potential of Bootstrap and are working to give it the time it deserves next year. Have any of you done Bootstrap as part of your algebra curriculum? If so, how are you implementing it? If you’re running it exclusively through your algebra classroom, do you find that you have time to do it and meet your required standards? I would love to learn what’s working so we can productively continue our adventure!

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A few months ago, my students (Sarah Hampton here) were able to design and build a parking lot for our school. In their own words, here’s how it happened. This blog post was written by them.

We have a huge real world problem that our geometry class can solve! Our school’s upper field parking area is somewhat of a mess. There are no instructions as to where parking is permitted, so, as a result, many drivers claim more parking space than needed and don’t leave any space for other drivers. This leads to a traffic jam, causing a slower and confusing flow of traffic. In addition, because of this catastrophe, many drivers are forced to drive on the running track in order to exit the area, thus damaging the surface and placing pedestrians at risk for being injured.

In order to address these problems, Mr. Mark Hill, the Head of the Building and Grounds Committee, tasked our Geometry class to design a parking lot. We had to fulfill the needs of a counterclockwise flow of traffic, follow local regulations, and maximize the number of parking spaces, all while making safety our number one priority. This fell into a two part project, first, we designed a blueprint for the parking lot, and secondly, we laid out the actual parking lot.

In order to address these problems, Mr. Mark Hill, the Head of the Building and Grounds Committee, tasked our Geometry class to design a parking lot. We had to fulfill the needs of a counterclockwise flow of traffic, follow local regulations, and maximize the number of parking spaces, all while making safety our number one priority. This fell into a two part project, first, we designed a blueprint for the parking lot, and secondly, we laid out the actual parking lot.

Our small class was divided into two teams: a team of the three girls and one of the four boys. To get to the best solution, the teams competed on making the best and most effective design possible. After working hard, both teams presented a pitch to three judges, Mrs. Hampton, our geometry teacher, Mr. Hill, the Head of Building and Grounds and a civil engineer, and Mr. Vermillion, our Head of School. As the pitch started, Mr. Hill set the tone for the students saying “Let me tell you this; this project is as real-world as it gets. If you were an engineering consulting firm, you would be doing the same thing right now. You would prepare a preliminary solution to the problem and “pitch” that to the project owners. In this case, that’s Sullins Academy. If we liked your design, we’d hire you to do the work. As students, you may get to see your design actually implemented, which will be a tangible reminder of your time here whenever you go up to the field.”

The three judges came to a conclusion that there were positive elements in both teams’ designs. As a result, there was a draw and Mr. Hill made a new blueprint combining ideas of both teams. On a cool day, the class went up to the track to start marking the parking lot. We built a curb stop template and an angled line template and took all of our other supplies: string, stakes, measuring tapes, a speed square, and a few sharpies. Then we measured out the correct angle and distances for each parking spot, which used our knowledge in geometry and basic math to figure out where to put everything.

Throughout this project, we learned how to use an engineer scale, create a blueprint, and include trigonometry in real life situations. Most importantly, we learned the significance of proportionality in similar figures. In the end, we realized how much work and math really go into constructing a parking lot!

]]>The three judges came to a conclusion that there were positive elements in both teams’ designs. As a result, there was a draw and Mr. Hill made a new blueprint combining ideas of both teams. On a cool day, the class went up to the track to start marking the parking lot. We built a curb stop template and an angled line template and took all of our other supplies: string, stakes, measuring tapes, a speed square, and a few sharpies. Then we measured out the correct angle and distances for each parking spot, which used our knowledge in geometry and basic math to figure out where to put everything.

Throughout this project, we learned how to use an engineer scale, create a blueprint, and include trigonometry in real life situations. Most importantly, we learned the significance of proportionality in similar figures. In the end, we realized how much work and math really go into constructing a parking lot!

Over here at CIRCLEducators, we’re excited for the 2018 STEM for All NSF Video showcase http://stemforall2018.videohall.com. The showcase is May 14-21 and there will be over 200 very short (3-minute) videos.

Last year, we had one CIRCLEducator as a facilitator. This year, we’re thrilled that 3 CIRCLEducators will be facilitators at the event. If you can, come join us and give your thoughts on the NSF projects. We need educators in the conversations about the projects. The showcase is a great way to get new ideas, learn about new projects, and meet others who are passionate about STEM education and learning. If you want to know more, read a post from last year when Sarah Hampton wrote about it and called it an “education wonderland!”

So what do you have to do? Just head over to the site and watch some videos.

You can also sign up to leave comments and vote so you can add your voice and thoughts.

You can see our other posts about the video showcase from previous years here. Stay tuned for our thoughts about exciting projects after the showcase.