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Teaching Perseverance = Teaching Success

If you’ve been around education for any amount of time, or if you work in any field that rewards hard work, you’ve probably noticed that there is one character trait that seems to separate those who rise to the top from those who blend in. It’s not intelligence, it’s not natural born talent for a particular skill, it’s not your education level. It’s perseverance.

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Perseverance is often bundled together with “grit”, which can is described as “persistence + resilience”. It is also often associated with “firmness of character” or an “indomitable spirit”. It is also the subject of many a study linking particular character traits to long term success. In short, perseverance is most simply described as “not giving up”. Without a doubt, we can each point to an important point in our lives when perseverance saved us. And probably a few where it could have if we only had a bit more.

When it comes to perseverance and kids, it’s like almost any other skill. It comes naturally to some, and not so naturally to most. I’ve had kindergarteners tell me, “I knew it was going to be really hard, but I just kept working at it and I got it right!” I’ve had more than a few middle-schoolers and high-schoolers throw their hands up and give up at the first hint of a challenge. And I’ve seen just about everything in between. Like any skill, however, perseverance is something that can be learned, practiced, and cultivated. While we all may have our breaking point at which enough is enough, raising that threshold is a must for the success of any student.

So how do we teach kids perseverance? And where are they learning it now? In my time teaching in the classroom, I’d like to think I always did a pretty good job teaching persistence. I gave kids plenty of additional opportunities to work towards challenging problems (I literally had a wall of challenging problems), and rewarded their efforts for sticking with something long enough to solve a difficult problem. There are quite a few teachers who do similar things, especially in “gifted” classrooms, but there are even more that do not. Even at that, what I was teaching and having my kids practice wasn’t perseverance, it was persistence. The difference between the two is that one requires resilience, and one does not. Persistence is sticking with something long enough even though it’s hard. Perseverance is sticking with something even though you’ve already failed. And there’s quite a big difference between the two.

Our schools are set up to reach mastery of certain goals, called standards. While there is a sort of system in place to accommodate what kids should do when kids surpass that goal, it almost never happens that way. Time is the number one limiting factor of all teachers everywhere, and there simply isn’t enough time to plan for all such scenarios with the hundreds of different standards across all subject areas. In addition, if a student does not meet a particular standard, there is almost never an opportunity to go back and revisit that. Fail, and that’s it. Kids are indirectly taught to put their failures in the rearview mirror and hope it doesn’t come back around. In a perfect world, we’d revise our approach, reteach, reassess, and then move on from there, but with 20+ students all rising and falling in different places, this a completely unrealistic ideal.

Our schools generally do a good job raising most kids to a minimum bar, but not so much raising those that can surpass it above that bar. For most students, the qualities of perseverance and grit lie above that bar. In fact, students who routinely struggle in school often have a lot more practice and therefore a lot more perseverance than gifted students who have had most things come easily in their academic career. Our gifted students are often most at risk for going through their academic career without developing any real sort of perseverance.

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So if our schools aren’t able to give our kids the time to practice perseverance, when are they getting it? Before school? After school? Hopefully!

At Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead we have put teaching perseverance at the core of our mission, and here’s how:
In addition to our enrichment classes which give kids extended amounts of time to work on projects they love, we have also developed what we’re calling our Renaissance System (™). This system is a series of challenges and badges that kids can earn in various skills ranging from Minecraft, 3D Printing, Piano, Jump Rope, and even Juggling. Each skill has 3 badges, a silver, a gold, and a legendary badge. These badges are structured so that the silver is a challenge, but attainable to just about everyone. The gold challenges require some more advanced knowledge and definitely some practice or perseverance. Kids who consider themselves “really good” at something will often still have to work to accomplish these tasks. Our legendary challenges are what separates the dedicated from the experienced. These challenges are designed to push our students’ perseverance to the limit. They require advanced knowledge, practice, patience, and persistence.

All of these challenges are designed to give the experience of failing, rebounding, and then overcoming. This is core to the experience of perseverance. And before you ask, “aren’t we just setting students up to fail?” No way! Well sort of no way. Ok, we are, but it’s in a controlled, pressure-free environment designed to teach them to overcome failure. First of all, none of these challenges are mandatory–every one of them is a student’s choice any day they attend. Also, by attempting these high interest challenges in areas they are already comfortable with, they are setting themselves up for future success. There is nothing attached to these challenges except positive reinforcement through “STEAM Cents” and a whole bunch of excitement from teachers and peers. Having the practice of failing, rebounding, and overcoming in a low pressure situation will prepare them for when it counts, and they eventually do stumble on something more important (though what could be more important than designing a Minecraft server with command blocks?).

The beauty of the Renaissance System doesn’t stop there. Once kids have felt the success of accomplishing challenging tasks in skills they were already comfortable with, that feeling becomes contagious. It gives them the confidence and the motivation to try out some new skills. Knowing that the silver badge is always within reach, it gives kids an excuse to try something new. Our daily enrichment classes support the badges and teach kids how to accomplish these goals, but it’s critical that students can earn the badges on their own.

It has often been said that success begets success. However, without the opportunity to feel success in areas that the kids are passionate about, and without the guidelines to determine what success might look like, and without the support from knowledgeable teachers who believe in them, too many kids either never start to feel that success or become complacent in their perception that success is equivalent to easy.

From day 1 at Full STEAM Ahead, we let the kids know that while they are going to have fun, we are also going to be presenting them with some big time challenges! We let them know that we will support them, teach them, believe in them, but ultimately we want them to accomplish these things on their own. We emphasize that our challenges are not meant to be easy. They are challenges! They will require hard work, and they probably won’t succeed your first few tries. These expectations help kids deal with potential failures and prepare for real perseverance.

The highlight of my day comes around 6:00pm each day once the parents start to pick up their students. One could be forgiven for thinking that’s because I soon get to go home, eat dinner, and be with my family. However, what happens at 6:00pm is magical for a different reason. When the parents arrive, almost every one of our students does everything they can to beg, implore, bargain, and plead for more time. They want to keep working. They aren’t ready to throw in the towel for the day. All while I sit back and watch with a big smile on my face. Once the gears are in motion, nothing can slow them down. That, to me, is the personification of perseverance.

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DIY Battle of the Bands – WOW! What An Event

First, a quick recap of our winners:

Elementary –
1st place- Smarty Stars from Full STEAM Ahead (you go girls!!!)
2nd place – Science Stars from Heights Elementary
3rd place – STEM Cats 1 from Six Mile Charter Academy
Middle –
1st place – M.A.S.T. from Murdock Middle
2nd place – Nerd Squad from Oasis Middle
3rd place – Nerd Herd from Oasis Middle
High –
1st place – BV Gold from Bishop Verot
2nd place – BV Vikings from Bishop Verot
3rd place – The Conductors from Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead

If the title didn’t emphasize it adequately, allow me to reiterate: WOW! What an event! The level of ingenuity, creativity, and craftsmanship on display from the group of young musicians and engineers from across SWFL was truly spectacular. The varied solutions we saw to the millenium-old problem of how to design a great musical instrument were a perfect mix of ingenious, beautifully simple, and hysterical. All in attendance were clearly impressed by the instruments and performances crafted by the students, and for good reason!

There were the obvious crowd favorites like the BV Gold team that not only dressed the part for their rendition of “In the Jungle”, but also had a homemade steel drum fashioned from an old propane tank that sounded like it was professionally made. There was the PVC flute from that got the crowd up our of their seats and closer to the stage to see what was making such a beautiful sound. And then there was the instrument too big for even a single adult to move, requiring an entire team to move the 7ft tall pine teepees that held the hanging glass bottles in place. These were just a few of the inspired and uniquely designed instruments on display at the first ever BIY Battle of the Bands, and that’s not even addressing the performances.

While there was always something to see at the BotB, the main stage was the focal point of most people’s attention, and the performances stole the show. BV Vikings regaled us with a stellar rendition of “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid down to the costumes and even a fishbowl. We have had an entire dance crew Whip and Nae Nae their way into the crowds hearts. A light saber battle, a boot stompin’ good time, and some Harry Potter sorcery all broke out on stage, keeping the crowd engaged and in awe. We can’t wait to see what happens next year!

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STEAM Opportunities For All

Any time a new session starts, we welcome a mix of friendly and familiar faces alongside new and enthusiastic faces into our classrooms. In our first week back in the new year, we were absolutely blessed to welcome a bunch of new students, a significant number of which came from very diverse backgrounds.

First was Matvey, a bright and curious 7 year old boy whose family recently moved to the states from Russia. While students that speak primary languages other than English is far from rare in Southwest Florida, having a student that speaks Russian–and only Russian, can present certain challenges. However, armed with Google Translate, the universal language of curiosity, and a healthy dose of enthusiasm, Matvey didn’t just participate, he excelled in our robotics challenges and 3D modeling challenges. In spite of having just moved to a new country, not knowing the language, not knowing anybody in the class, the teacher, or having ever used LEGO Mindstorms before, there was Matvey beaming with excitement as he worked with his English-speaking partner, building, testing, and programming his robot to complete an obstacle course. As I watched the boys learn how to communicate with each other and their newly built robot, I couldn’t help but be filled with pride.

If Matvey was the only confirmation that Full STEAM Ahead was doing great things, that would have been enough. But then, there were 46 more. They filed off the school bus a touch confused, and glared strangely at Hilary and me as we introduced ourselves, which is fair enough–we’re a bit strange. The kids, ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade, are part of a phenomenal outreach program put together by Sports Club to give a group underprivileged students from Poinciana Elementary extra opportunities for high-quality after school care and enrichment. When Sports Club mentioned to us that we could be a part of this amazing opportunity to give these kids much needed STEAM opportunities, we didn’t even stop to think about it. We were in.

So here they were. 46 of them in total from varied backgrounds, but sharing one thing in common: after school enrichment had never really been an option for them before. Most were bilingual in Spanish and English, and all had some idea, but not a complete idea, about what they were here to do. We split the groups up into younger kids and older kids, and half went to play sports while the other half came with us. After the first half, we welcomed the second half who were no less enthusiastic and we got to do it all again. We brought them up the stairs to our makerspace and music classroom, and for the first time as a direct result of something we did, we saw smiles creep across their faces. The pianos, the guitars, the drums came into view first, and we started hearing some whispers and “woahs”. Half the group continued into the makerspace to see robots, computers, wires everywhere, and strange machines printing what looked like toys. The smiles spread wider, and I knew that this was going to be an incredible experience for all of us.

Our first lesson was short because of some first day procedural business. We taught them some piano and programmed Ozobots to play a simple game. But by the end of it, the smiles had erupted into laughter, curiosity, fun, and a million questions. They already couldn’t wait to come back next week, and we can’t wait to have them back.

Early on, we made it our mission to reach all populations of students with Full STEAM Ahead–not just those that could regularly afford after school enrichment. It isn’t always easy. As small business owners and teachers, we have to balance our need for capital to keep ourselves and our business afloat with our goals of making a profound difference in the lives of as many students as we can reach. However, when opportunities arrive to help those that need it most, we will always jump on them. Hilary and I are immensely grateful for the opportunity provided through the work of Sports Club and the kids, families, teachers, and counselors from Poinciana Elementary, and can’t wait to continue the program!

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Fall Session is over — What Now?!

The imminent end of our first ever “semester” at Full STEAM Ahead is met with mixed emotions for us here at Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead. For one, we can finally take a breath! However, after getting those pesky live-giving necessities out of the way, we’re quick to admit that we have the best jobs in the world, and we can’t wait to see what the future brings. The last months have been hands down the craziest of our lives, but who else can say that on a daily basis they get to play instruments, build robots, 3D print crazy stuff, play Minecraft, sing, dance, and generally make fools of ourselves for a living? While we definitely have fun with our work, the reason we do what we do is not because we get to play all day (well, mostly). It’s because our kids need opportunities like these, and quality opportunities like these are tragically few and far between. And when we see the look of accomplishment on the faces of the kids we teach, there’s no better feeling.

So now that this session is over, we can go back to our original question: What now?!

Well, in case you are lying awake at night wondering what to do next, worry not! There are many upcoming opportunities to keep your kids engaged and learning through the winter break and beyond.

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Winter Break Camp @ C’MON
Time: 9AM – 5PM
Dates: Dec. 21, 22, 23, and 28, 29, 30, and 31.
Cost: $60 day
Location: Children’s Museum of Naples (15080 Livingston Rd, Naples, FL 34109)

Spring Session
Start Date: Jan 4th
Cost: $75/mo ($60/mo for Sports Club members)
Classes: Click here
Schedule: Click here
Do I Need to re-enroll? Yes! If you are planning on staying in the same class for the spring session, let us know!

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My Musical Journey: Part 1

My Story: Being “Great-But-Not-Woah”

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Comparison of musical ability. It has its benefits and pitfalls. In a competition driven society where we are trained to evaluate, we’re so quick to label ourselves and others just like the judges on American Idol. Or The Voice. Or X-Factor. It’s such a part of our society that it’s become second nature. Who’s got that special something that will get them to Hollywood. Who’s gotta be sent home because they’re just not good enough. So definitive. So conclusive.

In light of all this comparison and labeling, I decided to do something difficult, as passionate musician and teacher who has put all her eggs in the music education basket – take a good look at my own musical journey, label myself, evaluate where my label has gotten me, and reflect a bit. So here we go.

As I rewind my musical journey far back to my piano lesson days, my place on the musical-ability spectrum in comparison to my piano teacher’s group of students is very clear in my memory- around the top 90%. Great, but not “woah”. I was really good, but there was always someone better.

What you do with this realization is what matters. Do you give up, wondering what good it does to be great if you really need to be remarkable to “make it big”? Or do you think that being great means becoming remarkable is within your reach? Do you hold your head high or do you get discouraged? Do you accept the distinction? Or do you reject it, demand the next level, and put in the work to get there? Does your label even matter at all? It’s awesome if music comes easy to you. But it’s also awesome if it doesn’t or if you’re somewhere in the middle.

So there it is – I’m “great-but-not-woah”. Let’s keep a running tally. What has my particular self-assigned label done for me so far? I acknowledge that with a great deal of time and practice, I could change it. I still can. But as a new business owner and new mom, I don’t have the time. Maybe later in life I’ll get there. For now, I’m proud of where I am. I’ve really made my spot on the musical spectrum work for me. I perform, I teach, I try my hardest to make a difference. One point for being “great-but-not-woah”.

My vocal journey wasn’t easy. I worked hard to figure out my voice (more on that later) and I take pride in how far I’ve come. I think that makes me a better teacher. The knowledge, experience, and understanding I gained from the difficulties I faced and vocal obstacles I overcame have really proven useful in helping my students work through their vocal issues. Another point for being “great-but-not-woah”.

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I thought my piano journey was easy when I was young. I loved playing. I loved harmony. I loved expression. But as I grew, I realized how much better I could have been if I had only practiced more (more on that later). You live you learn and it’s never too late. Kids need to know that. Point for “great-but-not-woah”. For a long time, I only played by reading notes, not by listening. One big humbling experience (more on that later) taught me to start using my ear and not be so tied down to sheet music. Another point for “great-but-not-woah”.

Since college, I’ve been plagued by performance anxiety (more on that later) – but I push through it and have many strategies to combat it. Kids get nervous. They need someone who gets it and can help them. Point again for being “great-but-not-woah”!

I love writing music. I always have. I figured out myself how to use recording technology and made connections with people that could help me because I’m one really determined chick. Didn’t have the stuff or the knowledge, but I figured it out. Point for “great-but-not-woah”. I performed my songs all around high school and college, but also knew that I wouldn’t make it big. Does that mean that all is lost? No way. Why do music? For the glory? No. Because it feels good? Yes, for me. Shoot for your dreams. Work your tail off to get here. But remember that the most important piece is enjoying what you do. Kids need to know that. Point for “great-but-not-woah”.

There always is someone better. And you have no idea what they’re dealing with or what they’re thinking. Who defines “better” anyway? And who cares? You just need to do the best you can do and have fun. Kids need to know that. Point for “great-but-not-woah”. It’s important to note here that being “woah” is awesome, too. So is being just “so-so”. Always aim high, but remember that the most important part is your passion, your enjoyment, and your love of music.

…Maybe all my points actually make me “woah”? Maybe I don’t want to be “woah”. Maybe it just doesn’t matter. 🙂

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For the loveDemoOf learning