Monday, February 27, 2017

Rigor, Relevance and Robotics

Back Row L to R: Craig HS Principal Alison Bjoin, Computer Science Teacher Janice Bain, Malcolm Eady, Andy Hermanson, Frank Breu, Ben Glowacki, Alexei Sapozhnikov
Front Row L to R: Harry Kubiak, Grace Clasen, Sophia Werner, Travis Duffy
There is a lot of talk about rigor and relevance in education. Sometimes the lessons come outside of regular classroom instruction.  A great example would be the Rock ‘n’ Robotics and the LEGO Robotics clubs hosted at our schools after school regular hours. Over the years, many students have participated in the clubs, achieving a level of success that other clubs envy. The clubs have been so influential that a class was developed to extend Robotics to all high school students as a course option for credit.  Classes are now being developed at the middle and elementary levels as a part of the expansion of the School District of Janesville’s STEM initiative.

Recently, the Craig High School “Rock ‘n’ Robot” programming team placed among the top 10 teams in the world in Zero Robotics. Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition for high school students sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT), NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
Astronaut aboard the International Space Station working with the 2017 Zero Robotics Robots
Zero Robotics teams create code for small robots to fly aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The robots, called SPHERES— roughly the size and shape of a basketball — run on compressed gas, and can be programmed to spin, revolve, hover, and navigate through the air. Researchers use SPHERES to test maneuvers for spacecraft by performing autonomous rendezvous and docking. They fly inside the ISS cabin autonomously  under the supervision of an astronaut. Each is self-contained with power, propulsion, computing, and navigation equipment.

The games are played with units called SPACE SPHERES. Students were tasked to build surveying satellites that would orbit Mars. In the game, the satellite pieces were launched into orbit and teams programmed their spheres to collect these pieces into “assembly zones” to earn points. During the game, students had to be alert to rival teams intent on stealing the satellite pieces their team had already collected.

This year’s competition began in September 2016 with several phases. Both the Craig and Parker High School teams made it past the top 100 round, with the Craig team reaching the Alliance portion of the contest.  In this stage, they had to create an alliance with two other teams of high school students from at least one other continent. Craig’s Rock 'n' Robot team joined with the FermiFloating team from Italy and the ASIJAsteroids team from Japan.  The new team name became the Fermi-Astroid-Craig alliance.

The alliance submitted their final code to MIT on January 6, 2017. The Fermi-Astroid-Craig alliance reached the top 10, and were invited to the finals hosted at MIT on Friday, January 27, 2017. While there, they watched (via live transmission) their programming code utilized to fly the spheres and were judged by astronauts aboard the ISS.  Their competitors hailed from around the world, including teams from the USA, Europe, Romania, and Australia.

The students did amazing work, and put in a tremendous amount of effort in the competition. Their collaboration with peers from other countries, problem solving skills, and positive attitudes were essential in helping them reach the finals in this prestigious event.

The event was hosted by MIT faculty members and students learned from special guest speakers like 2010-2011 Astronaut Cady Colman as well as the engineering crew responsible for the Mars Rover.

The Craig High School “Rock ‘n’ Robot” team members for the Zero Robotics competition were: 

  • Lucas Dahlberg (12th grade)
  • Travis Duffy (12th grade)
  • Alexei Sapozhnikov (12th grade)
  • Sophia Werner (12th grade)
  • Frank Breu (11th grade)
  • Ben Glowacki (11th grade)
  • Andy Hermanson (11th grade)
  • Grace Clasen (10th grade)
  • Malcolm Eady (10th grade)
  • Harry Kubiak (9th grade)

The Robotics club and participating in the Zero Robotics competition are great opportunities for our students. They allow our students to showcase their knowledge while solving real-world problems through global collaboration with their peers from around the world.

At the final event at MIT, the Fermi-Astroid-Craig team first battled two other teams in a round-robin contest.  Each team had representatives that spoke to the audience and astronauts to explain their strategy during the competition. The world could watch the robots compete via live feed.

Craig lost the first match to Keppler-Hubble by 0.64 of a point which rounded to 17-16. Craig won the second match 13-10. At the end of their 3 team round-robin, Craig placed second to the Flying Falcons alliance. The three teams in the Craig pool scored:  32, 29.1 and 20.8 points respectively. Flying Falcons went on to take second place in the entire competition.  Although the team didn’t quite make the final two – Craig’s efforts , dedication and collaborations should be exemplified as a model for excellence to be imitated across all areas of education. The exposure to experts at MIT, NASA, ESA, and CASIS will help them as they pursue their interests and dreams long into the future.

Visit for details about the Zero Robotics contest. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Story of Two Minds

Guest Blogger: Dr. Kim Ehrhardt, Director of
Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment

Currently the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment (CIA) Team is conducting visits to each school in the district to conduct an on-site review of the implementation of School Improvement Plans. A topic that is getting a lot of attention is growth mindset.  So I thought I would blog about what we are learning.  

We know that too many of our students don't believe they can learn or grow.  During our school visits to date, we are finding many teachers in our district that actively embrace the challenge to help our students change this belief by teaching students in a way that helps them grow their minds. 

Central to the topic is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. As Carol Dweck explains, a fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static and cannot be changed. A growth mindset, on the other hand, adopts the perspective that our intelligence, creativity, and character can change and grow over time. 

These two views have a tremendous impact on teaching and learning. If a teacher believes in a fixed mindset, then he or she is saying there is no potential for growth.  If a child is intelligent, they will continue to be so. If a child is struggling, it's because he or she just isn't "smart enough". On the other hand, if you believe in a growth mindset, you believe that students may start with a certain amount of ability, but that can change over time with effort and persistence. This powerful disposition by many of our teachers is showing up over and over again in a number of our schools. 

For students, which of these mindsets they believe also matters. Students with a fixed mindset typically avoid challenges, feel threatened by others' successes, and give up easily. They want to look smart, and believe that working hard at a task means they are not smart. Students with a growth mindset believe they can learn and become better. They embrace challenge, view effort as a positive part of learning, and persist through difficulties. How can we develop a growth mindset in our students? Here are six strategies that are commonly recommended in the literature: 

Six Strategies to Develop a Growth Mindset in Your Classroom

  • Build a learning-oriented mindset.
  • Focus on process as well as product.
  • Emphasize mastery and learning.
  • Reinforce effort.
  • Decrease learned helplessness.
  • Provide multiple opportunities for success.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Student Safety Our Top Priority

Superintendent Dr. Karen Z. Schulte

The School District of Janesville (SDJ) is the tenth largest district in Wisconsin (by enrollment) and one of the largest employers in Janesville and Rock County. Every day, thousands of people enter our buildings, either to attend school, to work, or to pick up their children. Without question, we have an obligation to make sure all of our students, employees, and visitors are safe when they come to our facilities. Due to a recent “Our Views” in the Gazette concerning the district’s response to a bomb threat, there may be some questions about our process and our commitment to safety. It is important to know that the school district is a partner and integral member of the greater Janesville community, and we take very seriously our role in keeping our students, schools, and community safe.

With any safety threat that presents to our schools, the school or district administrators immediately contact the Janesville Police Department. Each safety threat is unique, and must be evaluated and assessed. If that safety concern is a bomb threat, the law enforcement and safety hazard preparedness protocols (including those from the Department of Homeland Security) state that they should be treated as genuine and investigated. To be very clear, a safety threat assessment is not done by school district officials alone, but conducted with the full collaboration of local law enforcement. The district appreciates the dedication and cooperation the Janesville Police Department provides us in these matters.

Despite what may be portrayed in national media, violent acts such as bombings or shootings remain relatively rare, but sadly, they do occur. That is why all schools in Wisconsin have response plans and practice their drills. Even if violent events are not common, they have happened in our state. We only need to look at Weston High School in Cazenovia, Wisconsin where, on September 29, 2006, a student shot and killed the school principal. We cannot afford to be complacent on any threat to students and schools.

We also know that our district and community are not alone in ensuring the safety of our students. We must rely on parents and their vital role in the education and safety of their children. We do our best to provide parents with the information necessary for them to make informed decisions for their family, and that is why we use various tools to communicate with parents. In our communication to parents on January 24, it was reported that the SDJ’s message indicated it was OK for students to miss class if they didn’t feel safe. We want to be very clear—there was no “OK to miss class” message. Parents were notified of the situation and the procedures that would be in place the following morning. Ultimately, it is the parents’ decision to keep a child home or to send them to school.

The business of conducting school is complicated, and we rely heavily on parents, and our community partners including the Janesville Police, Janesville Firefighters, Emergency Responders, and many more. Parents are the first and most important teachers of their children and play an essential role in educating and keeping their children safe. The SDJ remains a dedicated partner in this effort, and we remind everyone of the P3 mobile phone app students, parents, or others may use to submit anonymous tips or report safety concerns. Student and school safety is no laughing matter, and I want you to know that the School District of Janesville will continue to work with everyone in the community to make it a safer place to live, work, and play.