Started Dissertation Research

I have started filming for my dissertation research.  It feels like a big step forward with so much leading up to this:  13 courses, pilot study, comps, dissertation proposal, and so much reading!  I will be filming 6 second grade and 6 sixth grade students (6 of them female and 6 of them male).  So far, I have taped the 3 second grade boys.

Each student first performs a LEGO based warm-up task to add a roof to house without one.  The walls are too far to have the available pieces span it directly.


They next build an open-ended engineering challenge, which is a safe and interesting amusement park ride, with age appropriate LEGO robotics materials.


I will then do a cross-case analysis of the engineering design process by age and gender with focus on causal reasoning.


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Creativity and Elementary Engineering

In the theoretical framework of a new book called Engaging Young Engineers:  Teaching Problem Solving Skills Through STEM (Stone-Macdonald, Wendell, Douglass, Love, & Hyson, 2015), the authors posit that there are 5 kinds of thinking developed by teaching problem solving via STEM for early learners.

  1. Curious thinking
  2. Persistent thinking
  3. Flexible thinking
  4. Reflective thinking
  5. Collaborative thinking

In the chapter on flexible thinking, they cited an interesting article on creativity in the classroom context by Sternberg (2003).  In it, Sternberg claims that: 1) intelligence consists of  three forms:  analytic, practical, and creative and 2) that schools typically overvalue analytic intelligence (which also involves memory).

Sternberg lays out 12 types of creative decisions people make.

  1. Redefine problems
  2. Analyze your ideas
  3. Sell your ideas
  4. Knowledge is a double edged sword
  5. Surmount obstacles
  6. Take sensible risks
  7. Willingness to grow
  8. Believe in yourself
  9. Tolerance of ambiguity
  10. Find what you love and do it
  11. Allowing time
  12. Allowing mistakes

I thought that many, if not all of these,  are an integral part of the engineering process.

Sternberg’s overall conclusion is worth quoting at length.

“Our main conclusions are as follows. First, creative thinking is relatively distinct from analytical and practical thinking. Knowing someone’s skills in analytical or practical thinking will not say much about the person’s skills in creative thinking. Second, teaching for creative thinking in schools can improve children’s academic performance. It helps the more creative children to capitalise on a strength at the same time that it helps the less creative children to compensate for or correct a weakness. Third, creativity is in large part an attitude toward life. Specific decisions can be made that enhance creativity. ”  (p. 335-336)

Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Creative thinking in the classroom. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 47(3), 325–338.
Stone-Macdonald, A. K., Wendell, K. B., Douglass, A., Love, M. L., & Hyson, M. L. (2015). Engaging Young Engineers:  Teaching Problem Solving Skills Through STEM. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.
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Guest Blogger Marissa Zych on CS Non-Profits

Nonprofits have the opportunity to see a problem and analyze it, come up with a creative solution, and expand upon what educators are teaching. Utilizing the base that the education system constructs, nonprofits allow for continued education and provide advancements within specific fields. It certainly isn’t easy to create a successful nonprofit. It takes heart, great support, and engaged stakeholders, but there are some non-profits out there that are doing a great job. 

Girls Do Hack

It’s important to make sure young people are getting proper education, even extending outside of the classroom. With the help from sponsors like Misha Malyshev, a program called Girls Do Hack became possible. This program has mentors that work in science, technology engineering, and math fields. These mentors are there to inspire young women to potentially follow in their footsteps. This is an extremely important program that may help bridge the ratio gap of men and women in these fields.

For more information: is a relatively new nonprofit that is dedicated to explanding participation in computer sciences. Founded in 2013 by brothers Ali and Hadi Partovi, this initiative targets women and underrepresented students of color to learn software development. This nonprofit designs it’s own courses, trains teachers, partners with large school districts, helps change government policies to expand the reach and education of computer sciences.
For more information:

Synapse Project

The Synapse Project, founded in 2011 by a then-15 year old Grace Greenwald, holds the goal to make everything related to neuroscience available to girls of all ages. This initiative’s goal is to get young women talking about the brain in the sense of medicine, psychology, technology, education, and child development. This nonprofit also connects these young women with professors, doctors, and scientists to further the conversation and ignite interest in these fields.

For more information:

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PHD – Bit of a Break

I passed my dissertation proposal defense in June.  The proposal consisted of the first 4 chapters of my dissertation.  These are Problem Statement, Literature Review, Theoretical Frameworks, and Methodology.  These chapters may have to change a bit depending of what I find in the actual research but will very likely be mostly done.

I was hoping to start filming at the end of the school year but the IRB approval (which was quick) only left me a week at the very busy end of school year.  So I taped 4 kids doing the warm-up task but am going to defer the main filming until next year.  Because my sixth graders graduated, I will do my normal robotics units with my sixth and second grade classes first thing next school year and film 6 of each grade in the October/November timeframe.

That gives me a bit of a break until then, which is nice.  I am have been pushing myself very hard the last 3 years and moving very fast so a little rest was needed.  I have a few books to read and I will analyze my warm-up tasks after I finish  robotics curriculum consulting job this summer but the change of pace is very much appreciated.  I won’t have a strict deadline either to finish the disseration but I am shooting for fall 2016.  That will give me 3 semesters to film, analyze, and write.

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IRB Approval

“You have approval from the College of Education Human Subjects Review Board and may begin your research.”

I successfully defended my dissertation proposal last week and received Institutional Review Board approval yesterday.

I will be starting videotaping of students doing an open ended engineering task next week, comparing second and sixth graders.  It will be very tight but I hope to get my sixth graders before they graduate because otherwise, I will have to wait until the current fifth graders get their robotics units next year.

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Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching

From the MA State House yesterday. Here I am standing next to Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester receiving a plaque for being one of three elementary science teacher finalists in the state for a Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. No idea when the finalist will be chosen, NSF is at least a year behind but, if chosen, you get to meet the President in Washington and a $10,000 award. PAEMSTMA

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Introduction to JavaScript Lesson

 What is JavaScript and why is it useful?
  • Static versus dynamic HTML
  • Static – always the same
  • Dynamic – can change depending on user actions and input, create games
  • JS runs in the browser – is interpreted
  • Full programming language but not Java
  • Learning goal – learn programming to add dynamic content to web sites
42 full examples at
Here’s one as a demo.
3 simple examples to get started
Example 1 – Alerts and event handlers
<script type=”text/javascript”>
function functionOne() { alert(‘You clicked the top text’); }
function functionTwo() { alert(‘You clicked the bottom text’); }
<p><a href=”#” onClick=”functionOne();”>Top Text</a></p>
<p><a href=”javascript:functionTwo();”>Bottom Text</a></p>
The next 2 examples are from
Example 2 – Pop Up Window
<title>Pop up example </title>
<script type=”text/javascript”>
// Popup window code
function newPopup(url) {
    popupWindow =
<p>Popup Window:</p>
<p><a href=”JavaScript:newPopup(‘’);”>Get your HTML codes in a popup!</a></p>
<div class=”more-info”>
<p>More info: <a href=””>Popup Windows</a></p>
Example 3 – Jump Menu
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″>
<title>Jump Menu</title>
<script language=”javascript” type=”text/javascript” >
<!– hide
function jumpto(x){ if (document.form1.jumpmenu.value != “null”) {  document.location.href = x  } }
// end hide –>
<p>Jump Menu:</p>
<form name=”form1″> <select name=”jumpmenu”
<option>Jump to…</option>
<option value=>Quackit Homepage</option>
<option value=>JavaScript</option>
<option value=>HTML</option>
<option value=>CSS</option>
<option value=>SQL</option>
<option value=>Database Tutorial</option>
<option value=>Web Hosting Tutorial</option>
<div class=”more-info”>
<p>More info:
<a href=””>Jump Menu</a>
Choose at least one and incorporate into your web site
If finished, choose and modify other examples below.
Example 4 – Description
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″>
<SCRIPT type=”text/JavaScript”>
document.write(“<h2>Factorials</h2>”) ;
for (i=1, fact=1;  i!=11;  i++, fact *= i)  {
   document.write ( i + “! =” + fact  ) ;
   document.write(“<br/>”); }
Example 5 – Description
<title>Color Changer</title>
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=iso-8859-1″>



<SCRIPT LANGUAGE= “javascript”>

setTimeout(“document.bgColor=’white'”, 1000)

setTimeout(“document.bgColor=’lightpink'”, 1500)
setTimeout(“document.bgColor = ‘pink'”, 2000)
setTimeout(“document.bgColor =  ‘deeppink'”, 2500)
setTimeout(“document.bgColor = ‘red'”, 3000)
setTimeout(“document.bgColor = ‘tomato'”, 3500)
setTimeout(“document.bgColor = ‘darkred'”, 4000)

JavaScript color names
  • take the factorial example, instead of doing the first 10 factorial
  • prompt the user to the number to calculate
  • validate the user input for an additional challenge
  • program other functions such as the square numbers, cubic numbers, Fibonacci numbers
For more examples:
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WeDo Getting Started for First Grade

I have been using the LEGO Education supplied getting started activities for many years with my first grade students.  We do them together usually in circle.  Week one is the motor, week 2 most of the gears, and week 3 the pulleys.  We culminate with Dancing Birds.  After we go through each Getting Started and talk about motors, gears, or pulleys and what each does, I let them add on to their model.  This latter part is very exciting for first graders and builds on what they just learned.  They will also add all kinds of programming.  Here’s a few photos from yesterday.

IMG_2553 IMG_2554 IMG_2555 IMG_2559 IMG_2562

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EV3 iPad App

LEGO Education has released a free iPad app for EV3. I was fortunate to be able to do some curriculum consulting work on this project.



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Review of Elementary Robotics

My book got a nice review on

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