2016-2017 Year In Review

Well, here I am – the last day of the 2016-2017 school year. It’s been a great ride this year.

June 2016

I had the experience of attending my first Advanced Placement Summer Institute! This was to prepare us for AP Computer Science Principles (AP Computer Science I).

This particular APSI was different from others in that it was not run by College Board, but by the UTeach Institute at University of Texas through the National Science Foundation.

July 2016

After learning about Computer Science in June, I shifted gears to learn about FIRST Robotics. I got to attend a week-long hands-on workshop with Freid Elliott of Dallas ISD and Dr. Patrick Michaud of University of Texas: Dallas.

This training was invaluable in preparing me for the launch of our new robotics program at Ferris High School. Without this workshop, I couldn’t even guess as to how long it would have taken us to get our robot moving.

August 2016

For the first time since August 2012, I had the opportunity to start a school year in a high school! I was very happy to be returning to high school for a full-year.

In August of 2013 and August 2014, I was teaching at The Art Institute of Dallas and in August 2015, I was teaching 4th grade at Ferris Intermediate School.

This year, I taught 1 section of Computer Science, 1 section of Robotics & Automation, 1 section of Principles of Technology/Physics, and 4 sections of Business Information Management (BIM).

September 2016

Now that the school-year was fully underway, I got started on teaching material.

In Computer Science, we hit the ground running with programming in JAVA. In Principles of Technology, we built pressurized soda-bottle rockets and launched them!

In Robotics & Automation, we had the reveal of the game for the 2016/2017 season – Velocity Vortex! It was exciting to see the gears turning as my students started planning how to address the challenge of the game for this year. They were very excited to start designing and building the robot for the game!

My robotics class had the opportunity to work on the Finch robots that were loaned to us from Carnegie Mellon University.

October 2016

Now that we knew the game for robotics, we started having “Come As You Can” (CAYC) workdays on Saturdays for students to come up to the high school and work on the robot.

Here, students were encouraged to come up to the high school to work on the contest robot. I would have the lab open and it was a self-paced workday. Each CAYC workday was typically 8 to 12 hours.

In addition to the robotics CAYC workdays, I had fun with my Principles of Technology class with an egg drop experiment. Here, they had to create a rig that could cushion the fall of a raw egg dropped from a considerable height.

There were 3 rigs that no matter the height, the egg survived again and again. I was very pleased. In the follow-up, the groups had to calculate the force their rig struck the ground with.

November 2016

The robotics team did the majority of their hardware work during this month. This was the month that we got the robot moving!

This was also when we had our only season scrimmage for robotics.

This was our first experience with one of the guiding principles of FIRST Robotics – “Coopertition”. This is the idea of cooperative competition. While this was a scrimmage in that we were able to see what the robots of others teams were able to do, it was also a workshop for us to be able to refine our skills and the build of our robot.

During this month, Principles of Technology worked on creating mouse trap racers.

They had the chance to demonstrate their ability to mix-and-match parts to maximize their designs.

The parts for this project were donated from Donors Choose over the summer in preparation for the school year.

December 2016

As we began to wind-down the 2016 calendar year, the robotics team arrived at their first of 3 league meets which was hosted at Ferris High School.

The robotics team performed very well in their first outing and assumed 2nd place in the season standings. This was an outstanding way to start our inaugural season of FIRST Tech Challenge robotics!

UIL Computer Science also kicked off this month with its first virtual meet. Back in the 2015/2016 academic year, the UIL Computer Science team advanced on its own to UIL Regional competition as a student-run after-school club!

January 2017

This month saw two robotics league meets. Both of these meets were at Mansfield Ben Barber Innovation Academy.

In addition, between the two league meets, the robotics team presented at Ferris Intermediate School addressing the disproportionate representation of girls in STEM fields.

The various members of the robotics team had an enjoyable time working with the students at FIS!

February 2017

This month was really “hot” in multiple ways. The robotics team hosted the league tournament at Ferris High School.

ERROR 404, the FHS robotics team, entered the tournament in 4th place and by the end of the day was solidly in 3rd place.

The team performed very well and had a strong alliance partner as they advanced into the elimination round of the tournament. Unfortunately, we saw the season come to an end in the blink of an eye when a spectator turned on a WiFi hotspot on their phone, which caused our robot to stop.

The Tuesday following the league meet, the month got even hotter when an experiment in my Principles of Technology class went very wrong!

Just 4 days after that fire, the Computer Science team performed in its only face-to-face invitational meet in Mabank. The team from Ferris High School finished in 1st place at the invite!

March 2017

As robotics shifted into off-season mode, and I was looking to regain footing by retooling some experiments in Principles of Technology, March was all about Computer Science.

In late-March, the UIL Computer Science team competed in the UIL District Tournament where they finished in 1st place and advanced to the UIL Regional Tournament!

I was extremely proud of how our team captain performed at this tournament and his decision to hand over the reins to his successor so she could gain some experience in the role she has shadowed for the past two seasons.

April 2017

As we had “played with fire” in February in Principles of Technology, I elected that water would be much safer for us to play with.

So, in mid-April, Principles of Technology built water balloon launchers and launched to strike targets at 20, 40, and 50 yards. To make this more fun, the targets were Mr. Mack McClesky (FHS Assistant Principal), myself, and Dr. Kevin Dixon (FHS Principal) respectively.

Students had to calculate maximum range, height, and launch angles in this experiment!

In addition to getting soaked, this month was also the UIL Computer Science team appearance at the UIL Regional Tournament at Texas A&M University: Commerce.

The UIL Computer Science team had a bit of a rough performance at the UIL Regional Tournament. I believe this was in-part due to over-preparing.

I appreciated with enthusiasm of the team members, but I think they over-worked themselves and succumbed to “brain drain” and fatigue ultimately did them in and they were just overwhelmed with information as they went into the test.

While we did not perform as well on the written test, the team demonstrated outstanding growth on the hands-on test. In 2015/2016, the team solved no hands-on problems at the UIL Regional Tournament. In contrast, the team solved 3 hands-on problems at the UIL Regional Tournament in 2016/2017!

On a personal note, April was when I said “Goodbye” to my home of 9 years in Forney.

For two of my children, this is the only house they really remember. Over the past several years, we have seen Forney grow from a semi-rural community to a suburban community where possessions and materialism have taken over and you are solely based upon what you have and how much you have.

We elected to move to the community where I teach in and where my oldest daughter elected to attend junior high at – Ferris.

It was a bit of a shift to go from a home that we built and was only 10 years old to a home that is over 100 years old. Our new home was built in 1894 and is now 123 years old! The pace of life in this community is wonderful and I would not go back to the suburban rush ever again, if I can have any say in it!

May 2017

Now, we have come full-circle. It has been a year! Both Robotics and Computer Science are in off-season mode and preparing for next year.

Principles of Technology finished the year with a project similar to the one we started the year with, using the 2-liter soda bottles. Unlike the project at the start of the year, students had to create an air foil to achieve non-projectile motion flight with the thrust provided by the pressurized 2-liter soda bottle.

I am looking forward to seeing my graduates walk across that stage and close one chapter in their lives and open the next new chapter! I am excited to hear how they continue to mature, grow, and develop.

I am very excited to see the programs and teams that were launched this year continue to develop next year.

In 2017/2018, we will be launching 2 new engineering courses:

  • Principles of Applied Engineering
  • Engineering Design & Problem Solving

In addition to those two new courses, we will be streamlining the robotics courses:

  • Robotics I
  • Robotics II

We will also be expanding our Computer Science program:

  • Computer Science I (based on AP Computer Science Principles)
  • Computer Science II (based on AP Computer Science – A)

I am extremely blessed to work for a school district and on a campus that supports my out-of-the-box teaching style and methods. I look forward to continuing to work in Ferris and with the children of this community.

A Personal and Professional Challenge

Back in September 2015, I had the privilege of speaking with the mother of one my students who challenged me professionally and personally. Unknown to me at the time I dialed the phone, she had just returned minutes earlier from a visit with an oncologist who had told her that she would likely not survive to the summer.

She had asked me to call her about the performance of her son in my 4th grade math class for the first six-weeks. A minute or two into our phone call, she broke down and asked if she had raised a good boy. She then told me the life-changing news she had just received and that they were not telling their son at this time the severity of her illness.

While she was understandably upset at the news she had received, she just wanted reassurance that she had raised a good boy who had a good start to being a fine and upstanding man.

I told her the full truth about her son and assured her that he was a very caring and energetic 4th grader who looked for the interests of his classmates. I told her that she had done an outstanding job raising him and that I felt that he had a solid foundation to develop into the man she wanted him to become.

Since entering education in 2002 and after countless parent phone calls over those years, that call was the most challenging for me both personally and professionally.

Earlier today, I received word that Viki Sprabary lost her battle to cancer on December 31, 2016. She fought back against the disease that ultimately took her and was able to see her son finish 4th grade and the first-half of 5th grade.

I am extremely honored to have known this family.

Fall Semester Grades Almost Done!

Almost to the finish line! Only have 1 1/2 days of school left! The 2nd quarter of the year is done, the semester exams are done, and we’re ready to start closing out the books on the first half of the 2016/2017 school year.

Semester 1 Grade Progress
Semester 1 Grade Progress

All of my classes are closed for the semester with the exception of one (BIM 3B). One of my students was absent today and missed his exam. He will make it up next week and then I’ll be ready to close out this semester.

It’s been an interesting first half of the school year! Have learned that we need a structured curriculum for robotics and alignment of it with the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition program.

We also need to reduce the number of students in Principles of Technology to a number that does not exceed the number of computers/seats in the room.

Why Wait ‘Til the End?!?!?!?

As we rapidly approach the conclusion of the last day of our 9-weeks grading cycle, I have a plethora of students who are asking what they can do in order to bring their grades up.

While this in and of itself is not unusual (this is my 14th year working in education), what frustrates me is the number of them who are in what is arguably the easiest of my 4 classes (Business Information Management).

Everything in this class is handed to the students in step-by-step instructions with screen shots. All students must do is follow the instructions, whether they are reading on their own or following along with me, and then submit their work when done.

While I do not feel that I will ultimately have very many failures in this class, it frustrates me that many choose to wait until the end of the grading cycle to perform. Why just not perform the entire time and the stress level will be much lower?

It Is a Language Other Than English!

It has been a bit of a day, but we now have official word from Texas Education Agency that Computer Science I, Computer Science II, and Computer Science III are all considered as Languages Other Than English and therefore meet the LOTE requirement for students for high school graduation.

At the time of this writing, much of the information on the TEA website is out-of-date and refers to a September 1, 2016 deadline for when these courses no longer count as a LOTE credit. This was what generated much of the confusion.

For us, this means that this course must remain named Computer Science I and not Computer Programming. The difference is that Computer Science I is funded from the State of Texas Technology Applications / Computer Sciences budget while Computer Programming is funded from the Carl D. Perkins-backed Federal Career & Technical Education budget.

Regardless of funding source, we want to do what is in the best interest of our students and offering them an additional “foreign language” alternative is in their best interest. As such, it’s Computer Science I for this year.

Well That Stinks

Well, we were on our way to having both of our vehicles paid down when our 2012 Kia Sedona with 108,000 miles decided to bite the dust.

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The transmission completely failed, the diagnostic computer was hallucinating and many other issues have emerged on this 4-year-old wonder. The repairs were projected to run between $5,000 and $7,000! We’ve already spent nearly $3,000 in various repairs on this thing over the past two years and 50,000 miles (failed oil pump, leaking oil pan, failed oil pressure switch, etc…).

Unfortunately, we purchased it used from CarMax and as such, the factory warranty was void since the full-length only applies to the first owner (according to Kia). I’ve usually been happy with CarMax, but not with this purchase. We’ve done business with them on 8 other vehicles over the years.

As we were very upside-down on this vehicle, we knew our only option was to purchase a vehicle we could roll that substantial negative equity onto. Actually, you don’t roll the negative equity onto the loan, the dealership reduces the price of a vehicle but keep the finance amount at the full price of the vehicle. Unfortunately, this only works on vehicles that are either over-priced or that the dealership wants to get rid of.

In our case, we got a little bit of both. We got two new cars:

2016 Honda Civic

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2016 Honda CR-V

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While we were not exactly planning to go out today to purchase two new vehicles, we were relatively happy with the final outcome. I very impressed with the staff at Rusty Wallis Honda in Dallas.

I will miss my 2005 Honda Pilot, which was the other vehicle involved in the transaction which we had equity in to offset some of the losses from the Kia.