Nepris – Connecting classrooms to real-world experts

Nepris - Connecting classrooms to real-world experts

I was on the #scitlap (Science Teach Like a Pirate) Twitter chat last night, and a comment came up about breaking down the four walls of the classroom to engage and connect students with the real world. People were sharing their ideas and experiences, and I thought back to a meeting I attended in the fall at our local high school. We observed a pre-calculus class as it participated in a video conference using a program called Nepris. The presenter was a young mechanical engineer who gave examples of how various pre-calculus and trigonometry principals were used to create and analyze blueprints. Using real plans on the screen, he walked the students through a set of actual calculations he had to complete. In addition to the technical lesson, he also talked about his high school and college experiences, his work history, and even the perks of working for his company. Student were able to text questions into the Nepris system, and the presenter was able to see and answer them in real-time.

Nepris is a non-profit organization local to me in North Texas, and their goal is engage students in STEM subjects at all levels. They have opened up their free dashboard to allow teachers to submit session requests based on their curricular needs. When an industry expert responds to a request, he/she is connected with the teacher so that they can communicate to plan and set goals for the session together.  If you are short on time and can’t wait for someone to sign up for a personalized live session, teachers can also browse recorded sessions to find something that matches your needs.

I really liked how the presentation had technical/instructional components, as well as opportunities for students to learn about the presenter as a person. These students were mostly 10th graders, so they were interested in hearing about how he chose the right college and major, and if he was able to get a job when he graduated. The program is fairly new, so I’m sure that things will be changing and growing in the near future. But Nepris is definitely something that I would love to include regularly in my Science classroom.

Genius Hour Update – The Good and Not-So-Good

I had been looking forward all week to Friday, as I told my kids that we would be able to start getting into the real meat of their Genius Hour projects. Since I teach a subject/grade that is state-tested this year, we have been averaging a Genius Hour day about once every two weeks. Today was our third opportunity to work, and my goal was to finish up the initial brainstorming-phase and move on to 1-on-1 conferences and research. As I posted on Twitter, there were definitely highs and lows to the day – but I know if got to stick with it. 

The Good: My 6th period class is a Pre-AP class, and they’ve gotten the most class time to wrap their heads around the idea of the project, and also the most computer lab access throughout the year. During our last session, most of them submitted a few topics or questions through a Google Form I created for them. My librarian came to observe and act as another resource, and the kids seemed pretty focused. I was able to have quick individual conferences with about half of the students in the class, helping them to decide between multiple topics they submitted or to tweak questions that seemed a little to narrow or too broad. I was super impressed by some of the topics they came up with! Here are a few that really stood out to me:

– How do we forget? How are memories made and why do we forget some things?

– I want to learn more about unusual animals and their adaptations. 

– What effect does war have on soldiers and their families?

– How were electric cars made and what is their history? What will their future be?

– What effect do video games have on kids?

 

The Not-So-Good (AKA What We Need to Work On): So due to computer lab scheduling issues, my 1st period class had only been to the computer lab once this semester so far. I had explained the whole Genius Hour concept to them, and helped them use their own devices to look for ideas or examples of projects. We went to the computer lab today to submit possible questions, and I had a hard time getting them to take the process seriously. Not that they didn’t like the idea of getting to design their own project, but they struggled to come up with ideas without acting silly or joking around. They probably weren’t used to having this type of freedom, so maybe they were feeling a little bit lost? This class also has quite a few beginner ESL students in it – but I didn’t want to let that keep me from trying out Genius Hour with them. I spoke with these students individually, and decided that it would be ok if they found some resources to support them in their own languages. I also allowed them to use Google Translate to help them submit their thoughts and wonderings on the Google Form in English. We ran out of time before I could get to any individual conferences, and there were a few students who got away without submitting any questions. 

So – what’s there to learn? I am still excited about Genius Hour – now I just know I will need to provide some additional support for some of my ESL students. I plan on providing students with more concrete examples of project ideas and setting up a few daily goals/tasks to be completed each day they work on their projects. I also want to continue to use Google Docs – hopefully by setting up shared “conference documents” with each student to help our conversations move more quickly when we meet. Any other ideas or feedback?