Author - Lisa DeLapo

Dancing With The Robots

Mr. Meneghetti's Lego Robots (photo by Danny Silva)

Mr. Meneghetti’s Lego Robots (photo by Danny Silva)

If you haven’t heard the name Mike Meneghetti, you probably don’t know that he’s truly a kid at heart. His curiosity, energy, and passion for learning new things are at the heart of his youthful demeanor. For the past 34 years, Mike has been teaching in the Lafayette School District. He taught sixth grade science for most of his career, but four years ago, he decided he wanted to develop a new, exciting engineering and robotics course for students at Stanley Middle School. He went to David Schrag, principal at Stanley Middle School, who easily saw the incredible future benefits of such a course offering for middle school students. Mike wrote and presented a detailed proposal to the generous community organization, Lafayette Partners in Education (LPIE), asking if he could obtain 30 Lego Mindstorms robots and some laptops for programming these complex gadgets. LPIE also saw the opportunity as a huge benefit for students, and the equipment was fully funded. Over the past four years, his engineering and robotics courses have evolved into a full-time endeavor as a year-long elective course for eighth graders and, for sixth and seventh graders, an eight-week “wheel” (students take part in other electives, six weeks at a time).

October 6th- Dance Day

October 6th- Dance Day

For eighth graders entering the year-long program, Mike has a mix of students who may or may not have taken the engineering and robotics wheel while in sixth or seventh grade. To get students on the same page when it comes to robotics and programming, he created the Dancing with the Robots challenge. Using three or four robots, the students choose music and choreograph “dance moves” for the robots to perform. In three short weeks, students not only learn block-type programming, but they dive into the four-Cs (collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity).Visiting Mike’s classroom during this three-week project, one would see students failing, discussing possible fixes with each other, revising, and trying again and again — and not one student off-task or bored. Principal David Schrag says about the program, “Mike’s courses give our students the skills they’ll need to be successful in the future in a fun and innovative way.” The students create props, costumes, and backgrounds for the final competition, and Mr. Meneghetti recruits teachers and administrators as judges, shaping the evaluation process to be much like the popular “Dancing with the Stars” television show. Grading for Mike’s course is based on different goals or phases of a project – done gaming-style. Students must get through phase one to move onto other projects, phases two and three raise the point value. Sometimes, students will exceed expectations, and he will give extra points for newly created phases added onto projects, challenging students to be more innovative and creative with their programming.

Eighth grade student, Ellie Olson, feels like the best part of the engineering and robotics course is seeing the

Ellie's group programmed robots to do a JURASSIC PARK dance

Ellie’s group programmed robots to do a JURASSIC PARK dance

success of the hard work of programming and design. She says, “I didn’t have feelings about programming in the past, but now I am really excited about it.” When asked about the failures that occurred during the three weeks of preparation for the robot dance competition, Ellie felt that there were times that the group disagreed and the frustration mounted, but she added, “We just kept trying and figuring things out together – it was definitely a collaborative effort where all of us in the group had to actively participate.”

Stanley Middle School assistant principal, Betsy Balmat, has been a judge for the competition for the past three years, and she has witnessed the students’ work getting better and more complex each year. Speaking highly of Mike’s abilities, Betsy said, “It’s great to go into Mike’s classroom any time during the week. His passion is what drives him and makes him successful.” She stopped to laugh and added, “Actually, Mike’s the most excited and creative student in the room.”

To see the videos of the Dancing with the Robots challenge, click here.

DeLapoLisa DeLapo is a Google Certified Teacher/Innovator, a CUE Lead Learner, a Microsoft Innovative Educator, East Bay CUE President, a MERIT13 fellow, and Assistant Director of the MERIT15 and MERIT16 programs. Lisa loves project-based and inquiry-based learning as well as STEM and computer science.

The Force Is Strong With CUE Rock Star Admin Camps

Rock Star AdminIn July, I became the Interim Assistant Director of Technology at Lafayette School District. As a new administrator, I had many aspirations and goals for my first year. It’s only November, and I am quickly realizing that I am no longer on the road map I drew for myself in July. It’s like thinking you’re going to Coruscant to see all the amazing sights and foods, but now the star cruiser is landing on Hoth instead. There are amazing things on Hoth, but if you were planning on Coruscant…

CUE Rock Star Admin was the professional development I needed to correct my course. The venue was Skywalker Ranch at Big Rock, and the forecast included a beautiful three days of mild fall weather. The theme of the camp was the Hero’s Journey, made famous by Joseph Campbell but perhaps perfected by George Lucas. Coincidence that this camp has that theme at The House That Darth Built (that didn’t get blown up by the rebels)? I think not.

We were attending as educational leaders, and I knew I would be learning a ton from the presenters and attendees. Once we arrived, I introduced Mary Maddux, the assistant superintendent where I work, to several people, including Andrew Schwab and Jon Corippo. Our first assignment of the morning was picking our Hero teams, and we went to Traci Bonde, an outgoing and incredible CTO from Dublin Unified. She was representing change, or in the Hero’s Journey, the Call to Adventure, wherein the hero must begin facing the beginnings of change.

The author with Brian Briggs

Post author with Brian Briggs

In between sessions, I introduced Mary to Brian Briggs from Plumas Lake Elementary School District. Brian has a brilliant mind, and he has a contagious enthusiasm for educational technology and STEM that I admire. Throughout the camp, we realized that we had mentors all around us like Brian who were giving us support and sharing great ideas.

At lunch, I sat with Mary at a large table full of administrators from different schools and districts. The conversations were full of energy and excitement from the morning sessions. We shared different ideas, ate delicious food (and ice cream sandwiches!), and networked. The highlight of lunch was a short keynote by Joe Sanfelippo.

At the end of the first day’s sessions, Mary and I drove to a restaurant where Amy Fadeji, the night-time social coordinator for the camp, reserved the entire patio area for CUE Rockstar Admin attendees. We sat with Robert Craven (former CUE Board President and current Tustin USD Director of Technology) and Mike Lawrence (CEO of CUE), and the learning and sharing continued. Margaret Fuller once said, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.” That is exactly what CUE Rockstar camps do – whether teacher or administrator, the learning happens the entire time you’re part of the camp, and that sharing is not only from the presenters.

Day two went by quickly. We attended sessions, and ended the day with dinner at TOAST restaurant near our hotel where we joined Brian Briggs, Jeff Roberts (superintendent), and Marci Nichols (principal). We talked about Spheros and coding, reading and writing, and mobile devices, all while enjoying great food and the common bond we shared at CUE Rockstar Admin camp.

It’s always hard for me to leave my ed tech family and friends, so Day Three of a CUE event is always bittersweet. Jennifer Kloczko started with a short opening keynote, and she had us all dancing in the aisles when she played Koo Koo Kangaroo Roo’s “Dinosaur Stomp.” We went back to Traci Bonde’s room where our Hero group originally met on day one. Mary and I shared a video about the Hero’s Journey, our ending assignment for the CUE Rock Star Admin camp, and we were lucky enough to get more valuable advice from Traci on network and budget planning. After that, Mary and I went to Joe Sanfelippo’s “Smart Start” session which included a lot of fun kinesthetic activities and ideas.

Master Yoda
After lunch, we all said our goodbyes
with hopes of seeing each other again at the April CUE Rock Star Admin event.  Mary is forever changed from attending her first CUE Rock Star event, as I was when I went to my first in 2012. I know that because she went to this camp she has a deeper appreciation for technology in education and a better grasp on my vision and what is now possible. I know I have a team of passionate educators that is willing to support us and answer our questions, either on Voxer, Twitter, or via email. As cool as the venue was, the powerful, emotional memories are more about the building of tight relationships from this experience, the hundreds of tips and sage advice given that will need to be reviewed often to get me through tough days ahead, and the friendships that will never be lost because we shared a life-changing, eye-opening adventure.


DeLapoLisa DeLapo is a Google Certified Teacher/Innovator, a CUE Lead Learner, a Microsoft Innovative Educator, East Bay CUE President, a MERIT13 fellow, and Assistant Director of the MERIT15 and MERIT16 programs. Lisa loves project-based and inquiry-based learning as well as STEM and computer science.