Wednesday, April 2, 2014

One foot 14 inches project - or pallet chairs

     Awhile ago we took apart a bunch of pallets, anticipating the day we could build with them.  Students drew plans for their chairs, and measured actual chairs to determine their dimensions.  They had to be able to describe to me what steps they thought they would need to follow, and then several went back to the drawing board. We also built models from popicle sticks.  Then we called in the Watch Dogs (a volunteer Dad program in our school)
Mr. Seeger started the process with the kids, but we quickly realized that he needed back up.  Mr. Miliken joined him and 6 of the kids were off and building. 
Even I learned to use the saw (I count my fingers every time I step up to cut something) and LOVE to jump in and cut something. 

Students measured and cut.  I knew we  had some conceptual understanding issues when I asked one boy how wide the seat of his chair needed to be and he responded "1 foot and 14 inches."  I asked him to show me and I realized that if I gave him any random line to measure with a ruler he could tell me exactly how long that line would be, but in measuring a longer line on his measuring tape he saw the 1 foot line, and wanted two inches longer for his chair seat.  In his head this translated to 1 foot 14 inches instead of just 14 inches, or 1 foot 2 inches.  It was a great moment for me to realize that my students can use math in a workbook, but applying it REALLY IS a whole different ball game. 

We noticed pretty quickly that the chairs were designed fairly similarly and the Dads were great at asking kids questions and pointing out potential design flaws.  They really let the kids drive the project.  

The only things we did for them 100% was the cutting. Students measured, drilled and drove in screws with hands-off  (eyeballs on) supervision from us.  

We are quite far in  the process, but with my missing days last week for NAPDS conference, and this week for NSTA (come see my presentation on Saturday) we may not finish completely until next week. 

J. did finish his chair (but he didn't want a back on his). We also have to determine if we are sanding and painting these (maybe just attempt to sand). Last week the kids were quite excited to see that new pallets were behind the dumpster at our school so we checked with the custodian and delivered those to our building area.  Students will start pulling those apart at recess.  I will post kids and finished chairs next week

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Great Depression Photos

     I use a LOT of photos from the different eras to teach about the people who lived during that time.  As we began our Great Depression unit, I of course started with the great photos of Dorothea Lange, and others who documented that decade.

     My students were already working on a cartoon (programmed in scratch) reflecting a topic they were assigned for the 30's (I'll try to link to those soon).  It occurred to me though that it might be fun for them to recreate, or design new pictures to reflect their topic as well.

     Our topics were divided up as Farm Workers, Hard Times, Dust Bowl, Stock Market, FDR, New Deal, Entertainment, and Unemployment.  They had already made a lot of connection from that time period to our current politics, and knew them well. I asked them to research actual photos from their topic, and then sketch what we would do to represent them.  They were INTO IT.  Comments like, "Best project ever!" and "AWESOME" were flying around the room.  Students sketched out their photo layout, came up with costumes, where on campus their photo should be shot, and a list of props and then  we compiled them in case someone else could bring in something we might need.  Then I called in my mom, who is a photographer, and she did the best she could in honoring their wishes. Some of the resulting photos were absolutely gorgeous, others were more typical.

Here are my farm workers.  These students wrote essays about losing farms due to financial reasons, government programs and the dust bowl. 

These two boys were depicting children in the dust bowl.  They wrote essays about how the dust bowl occurred and it's impact on families, and migrant workers. 

The girls were working on the topic of "Hard Times."  They used a tool shed on the back playground as their backdrop and then (below) recreated one of Dorothea Lange's famous photos. 

The girls above had the topic of "Unemployment."  They were sitting on a bench with signs trying to get employment for themselves or family members. 

The boys in this picture were using what they had to play baseball.  Kids still had to have a little fun, right?

These two photos are about "The Stock Market Crash" and runs on banks.  The girls who created it, put signs up on outside doors which said bank, and then recruited other "suit wearers" to help them out.  Can't you just FEEL the anguish at losing all your money? There were issues during this photo shoot since other classes were trying to get out to recess..... and a teacher trying to photobomb! ;-)

The girls above chose "FDR" and were not very happy with their topic once they realized one of them would probably need to dress up as him.  This picture shows how he gave speeches around the country to raise the hopes of others. 

The last group of boys wanted to show the Civilian Conservation Corp and the workers who were paid through that program.  

Is it STEM? Probably not, but could be counted as STEAM, right?  The students had to design their own photos, and scenarios, and used art to convey them so I figured I would share.  I'm also super proud of their work.  The final display of these is still a work in progress. I have enlarged them on the poster machine, and lined them gallery style down our hall.  We'll add in a few more photos from the time period as evidence of what we were trying to convey, and then of course include our final essays on the topic.  


     We have an organization in our city that holds classes for teachers, among other groups, called IT-ology.  On Feb. 18th I had the opportunity to take a class for something called a Hummingbird created by Bird Brain Technologies.  It resembles an arduino, but is geared for maybe 4th - 8th grade. I've been trying to figure out how to incorporate ideas, AND I wanted to do something "arduino-ie" but I don't program with python, or anything at that level.  I'm also finding it a bit IMPOSSIBLE to find a "programming for teachers" class that is actually a class that holds me accountable for completing tutorials.  I need that..... I get distracted by other things.  This Hummingbird class was geared toward making puppet type robots that I thought would be a good place for me to start. 

When we got there we listened to a presentation of how this product came to fruition, which was rather interesting because it really is just getting on its feet. It began as a PhD thesis and then was piloted in the Pittsburgh area.  We were one of their first classes to an audience outside of the pilot area. 

     The Hummingbird looks like a little mother-board, but is labeled quite well so I knew exactly what needed to be plugged in everywhere.  It used the scratch program, which is free and online, and a program that we've been playing around with sense our Hour of Code week in December. 

     We ran through how to plug things in, and then opened the connection to scratch.  It was pretty easy to see what ports we were using, as well as how to program to turn lights on, or make a servo move.  In the morning time we spent working the program, and doing the basics. Once we got the hang of everything we were shown moving robot type puppets made from craft supplies that could move. Then we got the chance to make our own. 

I'll update soon with my finished puppet.  The card with those pictures is not at school.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Manatee Trip Day 2

Day 2 begins with s 6:30 wake up call and a carb-heavy breakfast.  I push a lot of food on the kids so they don't run out of fuel with all of the swimming they will do that day.  After breakfast we try to get in our wetsuits and pack our dry bags for our first experience with the manatee.  

We meet out on the deck, add defogger to our masks, check our gear, and head out on boats. 

Students are always super excited at this point.   Experience tells me that a few won't be comfortable and will spend a majority of the time on the boat, but I also know that many of them have never done what we are about to do.

As soon as we get to the sanctuary area, I quickly go to the front and put on my fins and mask to show students what to do.  I was only in the water about a minute, when two young manatee immediately swam up and wanted attention.  Both were moving me backwards and wanting to be rubbed.  While one was trying to keep my arm on him by grabbing my arm with his flippers, the other found the lanyard on the back of my wetsuit and was pulling and unzipping at the same time.

Some of the students were excited, and worked to get in the water as soon as possible, while others watched from the boat deck.

Here is the mom and baby above.  We swam with these two for a bit until they moved on to the sanctuary area. 

The mom showed us how to take a manatee breath.

The kids and I swam into the keyhole area where swimmers are allowed, but found that no manatee were in there.  Since we had great luck by the boats when we first got in we checked around the boats and found the most active young one I've ever experienced. 

This baby was ALL OVER some of the adults.  Ms. Ray (Mrs. Davis' mom) became fast friends with this little one.  He wanted to climb into her lap and stay there.  He would not let her swim away.  

Eventually I got a turn, and at the risk of looking ridiculous..... 

Many of the students played with him, and one student (K.G.) had a super experience with him.

Mrs. Davis got her turn as well.  All too soon, the crew was ushering us back to the boat (alright, they actually were forcing the three adults back to the boat).  

Then we took the super cold trip back to the hotel.  

Day 2 Part 2 coming soon. 

Manatee trip Day 1

Our school has been offering a trip to Florida to swim with the manatee for about 14 years.  This year marked my 7th trip, and we are having a great time!

Our first day is a super long bus ride with a lunch stop at the Florida border.  We eventually get to our destination of Crystal River, Florida, drop off some of our crew members, and then head for Homosassa Wildlife Refuge.  

This is a place that takes in animals native to Florida who are needing to rehab an injury.  Some are there permanently and others are able to eventually be released. 

Our students walk around and see the various animals, but a favorite is all of the birds.  We learned from the lady feeding the birds, that most of these are actually wild birds that have learned when feeding time for the injured birds are and drop in to try to catch an easy fish.

These two girls went up and talked to the volunteer feeding the pelicans their fish, and trying to NOT throw to the herons, ibis, egrets and wood storks stalking her as well. 

We also saw a lot of reptiles...... of course.....

and a favorite, the otters.  They were running everywhere and playing.

We get to see a few captured manatee, and this is the first look at what we'll be swimming with the next day.  

We go to the  underwater viewing area and look at the snook, and other fish that are hanging out to take advantage of the warm spring water flowing in that area.

We finish up our visit with a presentation about manatees and learned a lot. Of course, we also knew a lot, and were pleased that we could answer all of her questions.  One of my students even recognized that this was a tracking device used to follow manatees released from their facility.

After our visit we headed to the hotel, tried on our wetsuits for the next few days, and had a hot dog supper.

Notice the weather?  It was pouring rain.  We walked around the wildlife center in the rain, and we ate in the rain.  After dinner we visited a souvenir shop and an ice cream parlor..... in the rain.... and you know what?  I never heard one complaint..... such wonderful kids and parents. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Integrating Lego Robotics

     Since Hour of Code I  have been thinking about how to REALLY integrate robotics into my curriculum because that is programming I know, and have on hand.  I'm a STEM teacher so I really SHOULD give my students that opportunity, but it isn't something tested or in my subject topics so it gets pushed to a lower priority.  I am, however, trying to find ways to put it in front of students.
     Last weekend my starting point/ big idea finally showed up.  My science topic is Ecosystems, my ELA curric. is to read non-fiction, research and write, and of course my STEM focus is to integrate programming with Lego and NXT. Our fifth graders are given the opportunity to go to Florida and swim with the manatee in their natural environment.  It is a LOT of work to plan but once on the trip I feel the students get a lot of information and experiences.  Gearing up for the trip we of course talk about ecosystems, people's impact on the manatee, we look at current population numbers, etc. I am hoping to skype with scientists next week, and get more current population numbers. This year I found a book in our library called, The Manatee Scientists by Peter Lourie.  I had students read the section on Florida and the Gulf (non-fiction reading) and find evidence as to how scientists are working to conserve and protect manatees and hopefully increase their numbers.  We researched the impact of boats on the manatee and laws that Florida has in place for interactions with manatees. We are working on essays and informational brochures for others.  AND THEN IT HIT ME. I made my own manatee Lego challenge.
     I created a list of "issues" for manatee: boat injuries, medical specialists, and loss of habitat. I then created scenarios for each task related to those issues and created three Task Cards.  Task 1 was based on the idea that many manatees are injured every year simply by people in boats not seeing them and running them over with the propeller.  Florida laws have No Wake signs all over rivers and areas where manatees are located. For Task 1 students had to start from the Rescue Base and put the No Wake sign in the river channel. We built 4 signs from Lego for this and put a sticky note on them to represent the sign.

     Task 2 was about finding an injured manatee and calling on wildlife authorities to take it to a medical facility to rehabilitate the animal.  One of my students likes to mold clay, so I asked her to build 4 models of manatee for me.  I love how she added algae to back of this one. With Task 2 the robot has to go out to the manatee, pick it up and return to the Rescue Base so the animal can receive medical attention.  The student added scratch marks to the clay model to represent the boat injury. 

     The third challenge was to create a water sanctuary so that the manatee will have a place to rest away from people and boats. Since our students will be swimming with the manatee in early February this is definitely a rule they need to know.  We created the sanctuaries with toothpicks and clay.  Five of the "buoys and rope" are located on a water spot on the right of the map, with the sixth one located on the title of the mat a few inches away (see below).  Students have to pick up the missing piece and drop it off inline with the other pieces to finish off a secure sanctuary. 

     After I figured out the challenges and created pieces with a few students, I got on Publisher (what I have on my computer) and created a mat.  Lego makes these mats that you generally have to buy, but what I made worked just fine.  I used the shapes and colors to create a circle for the sign, diagonal lines to represent the river, and filled in rectangles for the water areas for task 2 and 3.  The Rescue Base is where robots need to start out and return.  In the picture below you can see the 6th toothpick waiting to be placed.  I printed the 8.5 x 11 piece of paper out in color and then made four copies in our poster maker in the front office.  If you don't have a poster machine you may need to run out and get poster board and draw them by hand (thank you technology). You can see my complete set up below.
     My students were super excited to spend some time on these challenges.  We used robots from the NXT sets we have that were already built.  They did spend some time building arms to scoop things up, and kids who knew how to program well were quickly put in charge of the programming.  In the future I think I'll have this set up on the side of the room on a table, so students who have finished work or if we have indoor recess, can go and play around with it.  At the end of our work time students were super excited.  I'm sorry I don't have video of their successes and attempts, but we had a tour group come through and my attention turned toward them an answering questions.  The students were thoroughly engaged though in their programming. 

     One of the things I learned from this is that I can write scenarios for any topic.  As long as I can come up with a story line, and find ways to represent them I'm able to present these to the students.  I think in the future one of these will be permanently out for kids to work through and encourage more of them to program.  The logic and organization of programming is a very valuable skill for my students, and I think it is worth the time.