Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fire it up!

My house was built in 1886; that either sounds incredibly old or sort of old, depending on when your last shingle was tapped into place. I bought it 10 years ago as a fixer upper with my younger brother. He moved out when my fiancé, now husband, moved in about four years ago and ever since then, it has been a trial by fire version of that great 80s movie The Money Pit.

Most of the things we want to do to the house can wait. Some repairs and renovations are cosmetic and some are just too darned expensive, so we plug holes (literally and figuratively!) until we have the wherewithal or abject necessity to take care of them more formally. I'll give you a for-instance: About a week ago, a corroded copper pipe in the basement sprung a leak. Compared to some of the floods we have encountered before, this was minor and, when my husband realized he didn't have the proper tool for the job, we let it go until we had the time to schedule things with our plumber (#2 on speed dial). The plumber came yesterday after dinner to fix the pipe and we went along our merry way. The timing was fine and there was no harm letting a little leak go a few days before fixing it.

Now last night, we had a rip snorter of a thunderstorm in Vermont that initially knocked out power to something on the order of 20,000 customers. We were of course among them, so at about 11pm last night, the lights went out and the fans shut off and we sat in the dark sweating with nothing to do but wait. This morning my husband and I both went to work (I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that, in addition to dreaming, planning, and ordering, I'm teaching all summer long!) after a 10-second, quasi-chilly shower. Afterwards, I stopped at a student's house so that she and I, and her mom, could do some planning for a conference we are presenting at on Monday.

The conference is at the Generator space in Burlington, Vt., a brand new makerspace and incubator. We were asked to be a part of this, the Create Make Learn conference's keynote presentation, because my student Sierra, a then fifth grader, spent the better part of last Spring designing and carrying out an extensive personalized learning project about 3D printing. The project was formally under the auspices of our annual Science Fair, but it became much more than that. Through her self-directed research at school and home, Sierra came across an organization called 3D Universe and its founder Jeremy Simon. 3D Universe is part of the eNable network, founded by John Schull, and is a 3D printing house that prints prosthetic hands for children who were born without or lost any combination of their fingers or whole hand. Custom hands are 3D printed for these kids for pennies on the dollar and can be purchased by anyone, regardless of health insurance status, for about $50.

Sierra, my intrepid student, immersed herself in the world of 3D printing and subsequently brought our entire classroom community down the rabbit hole with her. Soon, she had arranged a Skype so that our class could talk to Jeremy and learn more about 3D printing and not much longer after that, she caught the eye of the Create Make Learn organizer, Lucie de la Bruiere (@techsavvygirl),mwho attended our Science Fair and brought me into the fold for the keynote happening on Monday. My meeting this afternoon in Sierra's kitchen, sitting at the table with her mom Lianne and younger sister Sage, turned into a wonderful "what if..." jam session as we revisited ideas about customizable 3D printed hands for certain tasks (think: athlete, artist, chef...), bionic appendages for injured animals, and even setting up an indiegogo campaign (web address coming soon!) to help our school become an eNable location. This would allow Monkton Central to print hands for kids in need, but also provide resources for our small, rural community to 3D print anything from tractor parts to iPhone cases.

Back to my house, which is still without power by the way, and me sitting on my front porch blogging. You might be wondering how I'm on the web without our whole-home wifi router working, and the answer is the key to this whole post. When I got home from work and saw that we were still without power, I started to panic at the prospect of an entire 'fridge of food spoiling on this hot summer day. My husband, at work about two hours away, was not scheduled to be home for at least that long and all I could think about was emptying a skunked refrigerator of its contents and having to spend too much time and money at the grocery store restocking it.

I got motivated really fast and, when you're motivated, nothing can stop you. Into the garage I went, hauled out the generator, plugged in the key items (refrigerator, router, and iPhone charger), ran all the right extension cords, and fired it up.

I was feeling pretty pleased when the house partially whirred back to life, but my joy was short lived when the generator, humming along in the driveway, a pincushion of orange extension cords, sputtered and called it quits. I won't lie and say that I wasn't momentarily defeated. I called my husband and left a surly voicemail about the generator having bitten the dust and went to sit and wait for the electric company to rescue me.

Then I remembered the food.

Out to the driveway I went. I carefully read the multistep, wordless diagram showing how to start the unit and realized that I had missed the critical step of disengaging the choke after the machine ran for 30 seconds. I tried it again and everything came back to life... And I was pretty darn proud. Empowered? Yeah, you could say that. Twice.

I tell you all of this to make the case for personalized learning plans and allowing our students to make choices about how they engage with their education. Was Sierra's Science Fair project planned to be 100% NGSS-aligned? Not by design, no. Did it sustain a pretty typically quiet but infinitely creative kid and help her find a voice amongst her peers, even rising to the level of resident expert? Absolutely. Would it have worked out the same way if I had assigned my students their projects and had cookie-cutter expectations? I think you get my point.

We thrive most, are our most creative selves, and take the most calculated risks when we are motivated. Motivation creates empowerment and buy-in, and those two things make drive. On any given Sunday, you would not have found me in the garage tinkering with the generator, and if you had asked or made me do it, I would have been pretty torqued. But today when the stakes were high and I was the person at the crossroads of an issue that was important to me, I jumped in and figured it out. Like Sierra, I was highly motivated and driven to find a solution to a problem and answer a question because of something that interested me, not because someone else said I needed to do it.

Was it in my plans for my student Sierra to interface with the founder of a cutting edge tech start-up, create a crowd-sourced fundraising opportunity for our school and community, and bring her family and me to the keynote stage of an ed tech conference?

No more than it was ever in my plans to learn how to use the choke on a 3,250 watt generator.

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