Thursday, October 19, 2017

Join the MCS Robotics Wave at our Regional Competition

    The robotics initiative in Moore County has exploded and developed into something truly fantastic for students. In just four years, we have grown to having a robotics team in every single school in Moore County; yes,! Every year our county holds two robotics competitions, one for elementary and one for middle school. Schools from around the county come to participate and it is a great day of learning, engineering, and fun! 

Last year was our first attempt at holding a regional competition and inviting other school districts to participate. Schools from Scotland County were in attendance and it proved to be an exciting competition among the students. Due to the fact that we had a significant amount of interest last year, we are hoping other districts will join in on the robotics adventure this year. 

    Every year, MCS has a theme that surrounds the robotics competitions and all events are based off of it. This year the theme will be, "Oh, the Places You'll Lego", and elementary students will design robotics boards based off of a book and middle school will compete in book inspired events. We are very excited about this years' theme and tying literacy into the mix. On October 20, at the regional technology meeting in Raeford, we will be sharing information about our upcoming competitions and inviting all districts to attend. We would love to see all new and familiar faces this year!! Come join the fun and be a part of something great!

Check our website for updates and information:

Regional Elementary Robotics Competition          
May 5, 2018 from 8am-12pm
Pinecrest High School Gymnasium
250 Voit Gilmore Lane
Southern Pines, NC 28387

Regional Middle School Robotics Competition
May 19, 2018 from 8am-12pm
Pinecrest High School Gymnasium
250 Voit Gilmore Lane
Southern Pines, NC 28387

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

First Bits and Bytes - Coding Adventures in Elementary School

All of the third grade teachers at Southern Pines Elementary School are excited that their students are learning how to code!

Mrs. Sheats, Mrs. Shoemaker, Mrs. Croft-Lashley, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Kohut, and Mrs. Pairmore have been participating in a rotation station where their students learn basic pseudocode and then apply that knowledge to actual computer programming languages!

It all started with CodeMonkey - A video-game activity where students learn pseudocode, a type of slang coding language, which allows a cartoon monkey to catch a banana.

Pseudocode Example:

Real computer programmers use pseudocode all the time when they are planning out their programs.

We decided to act this out using real rulers and multiplication to write some of our own pseudocode.


Then, students enjoyed the CodeMonkey Program!


This was only the beginning...

Students moved on to creating rectangles with turtle in Python!


Students automatically made a connection between the angles from CodeMonkey and the angles in their Python Code!

Students became problem solvers by learning about bugs!  Ava, a third grader, said, "There are so many bugs in my code I need to call an exterminator!"

They even helped their peers think things through!

The adventure continued with coding shapes on an imaginary number line using the Racket Programming Language and the platform!

All video games have an imaginary coordinate plane behind them.  Third graders are beginning to understand the concept of a number line.  How would a rectangle look on a number line?

While coding with Racket, students learned that the order of their numbers represented the position of the shape on a number line.

The computer science endeavor continues with learning about binary numbers, algorithms, loops, the parts of a computer, and the basics of computer science using the children's book: 

... and on to 4th grade too!

Happy Coding!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Smart Mirrors at North Moore High School

Earlier this semester, an excited student at North Moore named Thomas came to me with an idea.  He wanted to take equipment that was not being used in the district and re-purpose it somewhere on campus.  With students in grades 6-12 issued a Chromebook, the computer lab equipment has not been utilized for a few years at North Moore.  Thomas shared an article with me about uses for LCD monitors which led to the discovery of a blog entry that documented step-by-step instructions for creating a decorative mirror with a heads-up display (HUD).  The Smart Mirrors use double-sided acrylic mirrors placed over LCD monitors to display information programmed into Raspberry Pi computers. 

After discussing with Thomas, we reached out to another North Moore student, Josue, for help further developing the idea.  We assessed our material needs and found out we were going to need some things we did not have at our disposal.  Looking for a way to fund this idea, I talked with North Moore Media Specialist, Johnna Davis and we found a Bright Ideas Grant Opportunity through Randolph Electric Membership Corporation.  After discussing with Josue and Thomas, we decided that this was the way to go.  The grant proposal was written almost entirely by the students and was submitted before the September 22 deadline. 

This endeavor will impact lots of students at North Moore.  The Smart Mirrors themselves will be constructed and programmed by Thomas and Josue.  The wooden framed case for the Smart Mirrors will be built by Career Technical Education students at North Moore.  These student-designed and student-assembled Smart Mirrors will be on display throughout he North Moore campus as decor but also serve a dual purpose of providing a place for information that high school students need to know.  Besides, it is rare people walk by a mirror and don't at least glance to check how they are looking.  If we can capitalize on that quick glance in the mirror with a short announcement/important information blast, students will be more informed. 

We are waiting patiently to hear back if we received the $2000.00 we requested for materials. 

Tyler Callahan
Digital Integration Facilitator
Moore County Schools

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Cardboard Challenge Comes to APS!

Friday was quite a day at Aberdeen Primary School. We featured our very first Cardboard Challenge, and it was so exciting!!!! High hopes were in the air, and it was every bit of what we anticipated and more!

    The Cardboard Challenge is a global movement that started a few years ago all because of a little boy named Caine. During the summer, Caine had to come to work with his dad at the auto shop everyday. To save Caine from boredom, he started to take boxes from the back, and began building games,  eventually turning them into an arcade. Caine finally had his first customer after months of waiting. This customer could not believe he was the only one to play Caine’s arcade, and this customer decided to make a video about Caine and his arcade, advertising it all over social media. Caine came back to the shop one day to find hundreds of customers, and they continue to come on a daily basis to play Caine’s arcade. Caine now has his very own scholarship fund, and it all started because one ten year old boy decided to get creative with a box!

    Now all across the world, schools, children, and communities come together to be part the the Global Cardboard Challenge. This year it took place on October 7th. Since that is a Saturday, APS decided to try this new adventure on Friday, October 6th in the afternoon. For the younger grades, an hour and a half is about all they could handle, but I can see higher grades being able to do this all day! Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade students blew it out of the water! We saw ships, houses, cars, hug machines, rockets, basketball hoops, forts, cakes, and so much more! The amount of parent involvement was astonishing! There is nothing better than seeing a student-filled event bring communities together!

    So how do you set up a Cardboard Challenge? It is not that hard! Since this was our first time, we learned what worked well, and what we can do next time to make it even better! I am the STEM teacher at APS so I get to meet with every class each week. This worked well for us since I was able to use a class period to tell the students about the challenge. I read them the book, The Most Magnificent Thing, and we discussed struggles when trying to build, and how to persevere when things do not go the way we want it to. Then I showed them the video about Caine’s Arcade. They were completely hooked after this!!! Next I modeled a few pictures and examples of things they could build, and then they set to work on their blueprint! If a STEM teacher is not at your school, teachers can take 30-45 minutes to explain the challenge to students and let make their blueprint.

    The next step was to get all staff, parents, and the rest of the community involved. Letters went home to parents, explaining about the events, supplies we needed (cardboard, tape, and markers), and asking for volunteers! If a school does not have a lot of volunteers, it would be best to ask a High School ( We reached out to Pinehurst). Next year, we plan to ask one or two companies to just drop off loads of cardboard a week or two in advance instead of tons of cardboard coming in everyday. We discovered that painter’s tape and masking tape were the easiest to tear and worked best for the little ones. Posters were placed everywhere to continue to get the students excited!                        

    A couple days before the event started, I made a list of where all the teachers would be to give to the office so they could direct volunteers. I passed out the children's blueprints, markers, tape, and box-cutters to every teacher. We purchased these ahead of time and only gave to adults! I emailed all special teachers and any extra teachers that could help to ask for help in passing out cardboard to each grade or classroom before the event started.

    On the day of the event, we started to pass out cardboard to each grade about an hour before the event started.. Teachers chose where they wanted to hold the challenge. Students filled classrooms, hallways, and outside. Each grade was called down to their area. Then students began to grab cardboard and get to work! Ideas and little minds were fast at work, letting their creativity run loose! Volunteers were very helpful in making these wonderful creations a success!

    When the challenge was over, we had the hardest job: Clean-Up! We decided to tear down our inventions and recycle the cardboard. Students took the cardboard down and then placed it in a designated area. It would be a good idea to call the town or public works ahead of time to see if they can pick up the cardboard the day of or after!

    There was a little bit of work involved with the Cardboard Challenge, but it was well worth it! Students loved it, and are still talking about it! I hear comments like, “Cardboard Challenge was the best day ever!!!” “When are we doing the Cardboard Challenge again?” The Cardboard Challenge contains so many wonderful benefits to children. It builds creativity. It goes over the engineering process of ask, imagine, design, build, and create. This process can also be applied to many other academic processes, such as the writing process. Students also learn that things may not always work the first time they try, and they will have to go back and try again. Students learn to persevere even when they are becoming frustrating or something is hard. Most importantly students learn how work together in a fun and enjoyable way and become part of a team.

     A box can be many things if we just let students’ imaginations run wild! The Cardboard Challenge is a must at any school!

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Monday, October 2, 2017

STEM Fever Spreads into the Specials Rotation

During the school year last year, Moore County Schools’ DIF team helped implement the Engineering Thread that used the engineering and design process throughout many of our curricular areas and aligned to standards in grades K-5. This was well received at the elementary level that we launched the Engineering Thread in middle grades as well.  

Another spin off from the success of our engineering lessons, has been the addition of a new class at Aberdeen Primary and Robbins Elementary.  Dr. Molly Capps and Mrs. Kim Bullard have added a STEM Class to their specials rotation. Students and parents are THRILLED that students get exposure to this type of learning on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  In class, students are learning to work collaboratively in teams to problem solve by asking questions, planning, creating, and redesigning.  So far this year student have participated in projects like figuring out how to construct a better basket for “Little Red Riding Hood”, designing a robotic predator and competing with other predators for resources, or building a boat that will float and save their animals in a flood.  Students are conceptualizing, building, and testing their solutions to these problems.  

The idea is that students exposed to STEM and the engineering process on a regular basis will learn to be problem solvers and think through this process in other aspects of learning. Think about when you explain steps in a process or write a paper, this thinking is very similar to the engineering process these students are learning to work through.

Public schools are tasked with building up 21st Century learners and preparing them for jobs that do not exist yet.  At Aberdeen Primary and Robbins Elementary, the STEM coaches, Ashley Luersman (@Miss_Luersman) and Kim Collazo (@kcollazo) are getting kids accustomed to solving real world problems and teaching them to think like engineers.  Through this process students are learning to think like an engineer and are applying their background knowledge in science, technology, and math to do so.  

What a wonderful opportunity for these Moore County students!
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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Every school needs a Lori Paulus

There are lots of people who make a school a special place. From board members to bus drivers, many people influence the lives of our Moore County Schools students. But there are few who have the positive impact that Lori Paulus has at Cameron Elementary School. At first glance, she may appear to be a typical media center specialist with books in hand and a list of Reading Counts stats closeby but there is so much more to Mrs. Paulus than what meets the eye. You will be hard pressed to find a more caring, supportive, dedicated, hard-working and passionate employee in our district who only has the absolute best in mind for our students. She pushes our students to achieve more than they could ever imagine. I love coming to work at Cameron and meeting with Lori because she always has these amazing ideas that she gets so excited about and you can tell that she can’t wait to roll them out to the students. Another thing that I love about Lori is her eagerness to incorporate technology into her lessons. Her relentless drive to find ways to use iPads, Chromebooks, and even robots with her classes motivates me to be a better DIF. Don’t get me wrong, Lori knows the importance of having her students complete assignments by getting out a dictionary or using a non-fiction book to research a topic. But she is constantly looking for ways to enhance instruction through the use of digital learning.

One project that I am really anxious to help her with is a lesson where we are going to incorporate our new Spheros! Since we are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month we are going to take a look at three folk tales. Two are Mexican and the other is Cuban. We will use the Spheros to work on our sequencing skills while we retell the stories. The students will recreate the different scenes from the story then they will code the Spheros to retell the important details as it goes through the sequence of events. Follow us on Twitter for pictures from our lesson!

I always enjoy picking the brain of teachers who I look up to, so that I can hopefully take something back from them and add it to my toolbox. Take a look at what Mrs. Paulus shared with me when I sat down to interview her and hopefully you’ll be able to take something from this phenomenal librarian:

Question: How long have you worked at Cameron/Moore County?
Answer: This my 15th year. Before that I was not in school system. I ran a used book store, worked with the Peace Corps in Thailand, but I spent most of my time teaching environmental education classes in New York. Almost 50 different types of classes.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?
A: I think because there are so many awesome books I very rarely teach the same lesson every year. I’m always trying something different. I try to use fresh material for the kids, and for me as well. I don’t like to repeat things.

Q: What motivates you to use technology in your lessons?
A: We really had a mandate in our curriculum to integrate technology. It really has eved and flowed with different teachers. I think for kids technology is so motivating. The engagement and differentiation is crucial for our students. But technology could also engage them in a topic that they may not be interested in before. I think if you show a variety of things to kids it expands their repertoire and hopefully it will set them up for classes in the future. I like it for organization too. Things like Google Drive are so great for students to organize and keep their materials from year to year. Finding different ways for students to express themselves. It’s also good for independence.

Q: What is one of your most memorable lessons that included some kind of digital learning?
A: The thing that I really enjoy is our One Book One School program. We’ve done a blog in years past for students to have an ongoing discussion on the books. I loved that the parents were involved in it also. Parents who had trouble reading had access to the videos we made. And kids who didn’t have a parent reading with them could watch the videos at home. We would have the traditional reading experience for students but technology allowed us to expand on reaching more of our population by giving them an alternative way to interact with the book. It could also be extended by responding to the blog. It was a great encouragement for those kids.

Q: You’re an inspiration to many people, including myself, what inspires you?
A: I listen to National Public Radio a lot. They have new ideas in art and music. They will highlight authors as well as technology. They have a lot of ideas that we could use in our classroom.  I also check social media daily, like Twitter. Authors tweet a lot. Facebook and Pinterest also give me lots of ideas.

Q: What is your favorite part about being a teacher?
A: The special part for me and my job is that everybody is my patron. It’s not just students, it’s staff. I get to work with every student. I love to work with staff as they come in. I love to work with big groups or small groups. I like working with people. I like connecting people with resources that connect with them.

Mrs. Paulus is, without a doubt, the heart and soul of Cameron Elementary School. She is an absolute pleasure to work with and the students at Cameron are very lucky to have her as their media center specialist.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Growing Engineers in MCS - Starting Year Two!

New school year = new engineering challenges in Moore County!

After a short summer break, we welcomed our students back into our buildings this month to start the new school year.  As kids have come back, it's been exciting to see that their knowledge and motivation around engineering and problem solving have not been sapped in any way over the break- in fact, we're starting to see some momentum from last year carry into this year!

Ms. Robledo (DIF extraordinaire at HFE, CES, and RES) reported that while doing the 1st engineering project of the year with a group of 1st graders at Highfalls Elementary, she asked "What is an engineer?" to which students replied enthusiastically with "someone who solves problems!"  When asking what they needed to do before they created their first prototype, cries of "make a blueprint" and "make your plan!" ringed out.....  Just think of where these little engineers can go from here!

On the older spectrum, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting a 6th grade class already this year, as the DIF team is now taking our engineering thread into the middle grades this school year.  The first class I was able to visit was Ms. Willis's class at Southern Middle School.  She worked with DIF Beth Alderson on the "Whatever floats your boat" engineering project that focuses on the core concepts of density (always a tricky one for 6th graders).

Students were given free roam to plan around and choose various materials to create a boat that would hold as much mass as possible.  Each material (such as styrofoam, cork, cardboard, aluminum foil, etc.) was given a pricetag and students had $1,000 to spend.  After planning and building their first prototypes, they placed them into a container filled with water.  They measured displacement of water as well as the amount of mass their boat held before sinking.  Next, they tried their boat in a container of saltwater to record this same data.

From there, they were able to go back and re-engineer/improve their boat designs in order to hold more mass.

Students did a GREAT job in thinking through this task.  A really cool part of the lesson, though, was when Ms. Alderson asked the students how many of them did engineering last year as 5th graders- almost every hand went up!  It was clear that the students were comfortable with the engineering process and taking some risks of failure along the way.  Very cool!

As a DIF team, we are excited to be a part of this revolution of critical thinking and problem across Moore County Schools.  We look forward to sharing more stories through this blog and also don't forget to follow us on Twitter at @MCSDigital.

-Steve J