Educator Currents: Rewards of robots and chess


Tulsa teacher engineers success

Lane Matheson


Lane Matheson, a teacher at Memorial High School and Engineering Academy in Tulsa Public Schools, recently received a special award for her excellence in teaching at an international robotics competition in St. Louis.

Matheson earned the Woodie Flowers Award at the FIRST World Championship, the crowning event for an organization that hosts thousands of robotics and engineering competitions all over the globe. The honor is presented annually to one mentor of a team in the competition who uses excellent communications skills to “inspire and empower” about engineering and design.

“Lane brings a fresh, future-focused drive to her job, and I know her students can’t help but be inspired,” State Superintendent Janet Barresi said. “This award shows how lucky we are to have her in Oklahoma and how positive it is to have robotics programs in our schools.”

For Matheson — who teaches Engineering Robotics, AP Calculus, AP Physics and Electronic Robots in addition to mentoring the FIRST team — the award had been a long-term goal. Still, she was surprised when she won it.

“I thought it was going to take me quite a bit longer to do more for FIRST,” she said.

When she stepped away from a decade-long career in the space industry, Matheson thought she would just try teaching for five years. In 1995 she accepted a job at Memorial, started teaching engineering in 1997 and by 2000 was introducing kids to robotics. She even met her husband, who was then chairing the science department, at Memorial.

Robotics has provided a gateway to get students interested in STEM fields, Matheson said. Although the most well-known aspects of the FIRST program are its competitions, the students who participate gain an array of unexpected skills.

“Robotics is a real-world application of everything they’re learning,” she said. “They’re learning how to interact with each other. They’re learning a lot of professional skills.”

Before any robots are built, Matheson’s students produce videos and practice animation and 3D modeling. They learn to speak and write professionally. Often she has them work on handwritten letters, a skill that’s becoming less and less instinctual. Those skills came in handy when the kids submitted essays nominating Matheson for the Woodie Flowers Award.

The award attests not only to the quality of the mentor, but also to her advocacy of STEM education. Matheson said she does a lot of outreach in TPS to get younger kids excited about STEM and Memorial’s engineering program. In 2010, she helped host an inaugural FIRST Lego League Tournament at her school, a contest aimed at drawing kids between 9- and 14-years-old; the competition recently had its biggest attendance ever. Memorial also hosts two summer camps every year — one just for girls entering sixth through eighth grade, and another for all kids interested in engineering.

More than 12,000 students competed in the FIRST Championship, where Matheson won the award. She was selected for the honor by her own students, other teachers and FIRST mentors.

Keeping with her mission of spreading a love for engineering, Matheson is especially enthusiastic about the future.

“What I am most excited about is that now I get invited to the summer retreat,” she said. “We go off and talk about how we are going to make more of an impact to the community in STEM education.”

Watch an interview with Lane Matheson as Tulsa's 2012 Teacher of the Year:

Learn more about an OSDE grant for FIRST programs:


Elementary chess team earns title

Chess winners

Seven chess matches for each student, limited to two hours apiece, over a three-day period. That’s what stood between 25 kids from Edmond’s Ida Freeman Elementary and a championship trophy that was taller than some of the competitors at the U.S. Chess Federation National Elementary Championship in Dallas last weekend.

In the end, the 25-member Edmond team was named the national champion in its division. After 17 years of competing — and three second-place finishes along the way — the Ida Freeman Elementary chess team had finally claimed the top spot.

“I broke down completely when the numbers came in. It’s a big deal,” said chess coach David Nichols.

It was an eventful trip in other ways too. Dallas emergency management officials issued a tornado warning while the kids were checking into their hotel. On another night, someone from another school pulled the hotel fire alarm and guests had to evacuate. And the chess team’s bus broke down after dinner Saturday, nearly forcing some of the kids to miss their matches.

It was in the seventh and final round when the Edmond team, comprised of fourth- and fifth-grade students, earned their highest cumulative score and clinched the title in what had been a close race. Ida Freeman’s team won by 3.5 points, or a couple touchdowns in football terms, Nichols said.

“There were three schools, in particular, from the New York City area that we could not shake all tournament long,” he said.

Nichols, who also teaches fifth grade, said this year there are about 85 regular members of the Ida Freeman chess club who stay a few hours late every Thursday. They play eight state tournaments throughout the year.

Chess teaches students to visualize, plan and focus. Chess matches are sometimes the only time that children who have trouble focusing in class will sit still for three and a half hours, never breaking from the game. It also teaches civility and sportsmanship, Nichols pointed out.

“That’s the first lesson on the first day of chess camp,” he said.

Chess camp meets on Saturdays in August. All third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at the school are welcome, and some second-graders also attend by invitation.

“After 17 years it’s become part of the culture of our school. It’s kind of our football,” Nichols said.

There weren’t any elementary schools in the area with a chess program when he decided to start one at Ida Freeman. But chess has steadily grown in popularity and is now in several Oklahoma schools.

Now with a championship trophy in their case, the Ida Freeman team shows no sign of slowing down. They’re already setting their sights on next year’s national championship, and Nichols is confident they can pull off another win.

The biggest lesson for the kids, according to Nichols, is that hard work leads to rewards.

“They’ll never know how proud I am of them,” he said.

For more info on chess in school and a list of local teams:

See more photos on Ida Freeman Chess' Facebook:

Watch Nichols and teammates interviewed on KFOR-TV:



New REAC3H Regionals added

C3 Logo

REAC3H Regionals are day-long conferences that offer professional development and give educators access to resources and information to help them continue improving student academic achievement.

Save these dates for upcoming REAC3H Regionals:

  • Aug. 8 – Lawton, Cameron University
  • Aug. 12 – Idabel, Idabel High School
  • Sept. 12 – Pryor, Pryor High School
  • Sept. 15 – Woodward, Woodward High School
  • Sept. 19 – Ponca City, Ponca City High School
  • Oct. 16 – Tulsa Public Schools (only for TPS staff)

More dates and locations will be announced as they become available. Look for more detailed descriptions and a registration link soon!


PD survey still seeks input

The Oklahoma State Department of Education, in partnership with the University of Central Oklahoma, is still seeking input from educators on professional development content and formats that support teachers in their work with students.

We invite you to take a 10-minute survey that will help OSDE develop and refine professional development opportunities available to all educators.

Every educator has valuable input to professional development, and we want to hear from as many as possible. Many of you have already participated in the survey, but to get as much input as possible it will remain active for a few more days. Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts.

Click here to access the survey.


Applications due for Convening teacher event

Applications are now being accepted through May 21 for the second annual “Convening: By Teachers, For Teachers!”

Teachers from across the state will convene to create tools and resources for all of Oklahoma’s educators. Last year's efforts resulted in the creation of multiple aligned resources and accompanying websites: 

When: June 9 – 11 and July 28 – 30 for OKMath and ELAOK; June 9 – 11 for Elementary OKSci and July 28 – 30 for Secondary OKSci.

Where: Oklahoma City area hotel to be determined

How: Click here to apply.

Deadline: 5 p.m., May 21

Reimbursement: Teachers living more than 65 miles from the event will be reimbursed for their travel and the Oklahoma State Department of Education will pay for hotel rooms. Lunch will be provided for all attendees.


Apply for 21st Century Community Learning Centers

The competitive grant process for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program is now open for the 2014-2015 school year.

21st CCLC programs provide safe and engaging learning opportunities for students during out-of-school hours. The programs offer academic enrichment through hands-on, project-based learning in subjects like STEM education, tutoring, health and fitness, mentoring, character education and service learning.

Eligible grant applicants must propose to serve students who attend a school that is eligible for designation as a Title I school-wide program. Either Local Education Agencies or non-district organizations may apply, although the process is slightly different for each group. In both instances, the applicant must demonstrate a partnership between an organization and a district.

Letters of intent to apply are due at 3 p.m., Thurs., May 29. Completed applications are due June 24.

The entire process can be completed online.

Click here for more information (pdf).

Main site:


Data reporting webinars open

Stay informed on data reporting windows, due dates, training opportunities and district completion records. Information on data correction and certification reports is updated weekly on this recently launched webpage for the Office of Student Information:

If you have data questions, please join us in an OSDE webinar! Upcoming webinars in May, June and July include the following topics:

Cohort Graduation Rate

  • May 19, 2 – 3 p.m.

A-F Advanced Coursework

  • May 28, 2 – 3 p.m.
  • June 4, 2 – 3 p.m.
  • June 11, 2 – 3 p.m.
  • June 18, 2 – 3 p.m.
  • June 25, 2 – 3 p.m.
  • July 1, 10 – 11 a.m.

Battelle Roster Verification

  • May 20, 10 – 11 a.m.
  • May 27, 2 – 3 p.m.
  • June 3, 2 – 3 p.m.

SMART Report

  • May 19, 10 – 11 a.m.
  • June 2, 2 – 3 p.m.
  • June 9, 2 – 3 p.m.

OCCT/EOI Test Data Correction

  • June 5, 3 – 4 p.m.
  • June 12 3 – 4 p.m.
  • June 19, 2 – 3 p.m.
  • June 26, 3 – 4 p.m.
  • July 1, 2 – 3 p.m.

OAAP Test Data Correction

  • June 19, 3 – 4 p.m.
  • June 26, 2 – 3 p.m.
  • July 1, 3 – 4 p.m.
  • July 10, 2 – 3 p.m..


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