Monday, October 13, 2014

Beautiful Success.

     Our ongoing Rube Goldberg machine met GREAT SUCCESS today.

AND WE CAN REPLICATE IT.  So here's the plan..... next week we will be working on collecting money for ALS and our Principal Dr. H. will stand under the bucket.  We promise to pour ice water out of it and NOT the wood blocks we used today for weight.  Tomorrow we practice with water.

It has been so gratifying to watch my students persevere with the problems and find solutions for each and every one of them.  The pure joy at the end of the video really says it all. I'm so proud of them.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

R2 Innovates

     Did you ever have something you really wanted to see happen in your building or district but didn't know if it was feasible, and you didn't know how to overcome the financial or space or staffing issues?  My district has a way of addressing it through a program called R2 Innovates.  If you follow me on twitter ( @Mrs_K_Dawson) you may have seen my tweets last week while I was in our training sessions.  Our district has partnered with a group called NoTosh that walks us through this process.

     My idea, of course, revolved around an elementary maker space.  After speaking to my Principal and Lead Teacher I was allowed to apply for the innovates group, and was accepted last Spring. I created a team with my now teaching partner Mrs. Parker, and a third grade STEM teacher Mrs. Fink. Last week Mrs. Fink and I went to a training that lasted 2 days for her, and 3 for me.

     I wasn't sure what was going to happen over those 3 days except I was supposed to walk out with a plan.  From my perspective my largest obstacles are needing a space that doesn't get taken away for a classroom next year, it has to be managed by classroom teachers having each class maintain the space, and it has to encourage others to use the PBL/STEM model that many of us early adopters use.  We want to make it a place that afterschool groups use as well.

     On the first day we had to begin with the dreaded Mission Statement. Each team is wanting to achieve a different goal, so Mrs. Fink and I were working together.  It took us AT LEAST 10 drafts to get a "sort of" approved Mission Statement.  We were getting frustrated, because describing our end goal involved a lot of buzz words, and I don't want this to be something trendy but something that really impacts our students both in and out of our STEM magnet. I will need to revisit this with our expanded team next week.

     Next up we had to think about the student that we were targeting.  In all fairness. I won't be targeting just boys, but we had to choose.  I think boys wiggle the most in a traditional classroom, and PBL and STEM work well to meet their more kinesthetic needs. Now having said that, our girls are just as curious as our boys and we need to find the ways to keep them engaged with investigating ideas.

     Our space also should meet the needs of teachers who aren't using PBL or STEM in their classroom.  Our hope is to give teachers not trying these strategies more opportunities to see how a challenge might be incorporated into existing curriculum.  We don't want to take time away from curriculum preparation, but problem solving IS part of what we are doing.

     We went and toured a nearby elementary school that was not one in which I teach.  Our purpose was to sort of ask questions and gather data about what sort of need in our community there might be for this sort of space.  Mrs. Fink and I asked students in 4th and 5th grade, if they could do any sorts of projects or study anything what would it be.  At first the students were very typical in their responses - "I like foldables, I like studying Native Americans, " etc.  When we pressed them to let go and really tell us what they thought, not what they thought we wanted to hear we got an earful.  The students were asking for programming and robotics and individual experiments. Some wanted to sew, and others really liked electricity last year, and a few still wanted to research their own topic (think Genius Hour).  This reinforced what we believe going into this.  Our children are growing up in a high tech world and learning in a paper and pencil school. We believe that we need to put these projects in front of the students so they can be prepared to see things differently and come up with new ideas.

     When we returned to our training we looked at assets in the building, and how we could begin to consolidate and move things together.  We categorized ideas into high and low impact on one axis and high and low do-ability on the other.  Our goal now is to expand our team next week on our inservice day, present to them, and begin to tackle some of the doable things on our list.  We will also prepare our pitches for December to try to get a separate space and find community partners to help us accomplish this goal.

     I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to do this sort of planning because in the end it benefits our students.

    I'm looking forward to watching our space grow over the next few weeks.

Friday, September 12, 2014

EV Nautilus.

Last year, through the NSTA listserve, an email came across my desk for Juniors in high school to apply to work with the scientists with Dr. Robert Ballard's group.  This opportunity was through the Ocean Exploration Trust.  I don't teach high school, but my own personal daughter has been a long time fan of Dr. Ballard.  She has read most of his books, and usually watches everything he is doing.  We thought it was a long shot, but we had her apply.

The process was easy.  They fill out a form, get a physical, write some essays and wait.  Alex was selected for a SKYPE interview, and eventually was awarded one of 8 slots.  We were beyond excited.  She spent 3.5 weeks this summer at the University of Rhode Island, participating in a class, and learning about the jobs of the scientists who work for OET.  She helped to create this video:

The last part of her journey happened the first week of school.  She flew to Montego Bay with another Honors Research Student, as well as a chaperon and spent a week on the EV Nautilus, Dr. Ballard's research boat.  She was so excited.  Once on board, she worked as a data logger, watching footage from the submersibles and documenting plant and animal life to view later.  She learned a lot about the various roles of everyone on the boat, and really is focusing on studying oceanograph/marine biology and communications in her future.

One of the requirements was to do a SKYPE type session with students at home.  We were able to secure a spot for my elementary school, her high school, and a middle school STEM magnet in our district.
Allison (on the left) and Alex on the right are speaking to our students from the Nautilus. 

Showing footage of their drifter project. 

Our students were so focused on what they were hearing.  

Even though Alex is no longer on the boat, our class continues to check into www.nautiluslive.org and leave it up as background when we're working to see what they are up to.  This week we've watched them explore underwater sea mounts which coincides with our Landforms and Oceans unit. I highly recommend checking out the link, and if you're in my district, Alex is available to come to your class and talk to your students about her experience.  

Secret Challenge - hint hint

I was a little worried coming into this year, because I didn't have my big "thing" that I try to use early to hook my kids.  I worked a lot last year on integrating programming, robotics, searching for novels that fit STEM themes, etc, but I didn't feel that I had something new for this year.  I'm not one to repeat the same projects year after year, especially if they are noticeable and public like the chairs last year.  I knew I didn't want to do pallet chairs this year...... so what could I do?????????


Then THIS came across my feed the NIGHT BEFORE SCHOOL STARTED.



As soon as it ended I thought, "Cute, Bill Gates! I'm pretty sure my students can do it without touching the bucket..... " which led me to a Rube Goldberg type project.

The problem was that I wanted to take advantage of the ALS momentum.... but I have students who haven't built on the scale I was thinking.  They've done Legos and K'Nex, etc, but they haven't BUILT WITH TOOLS, and usually the beginning of the year is all about procedures and establishing routines.  How was I going to jump in and get these kids designing and building? So, we made a secret pact.  We would try, but we would not tell anyone outside of our classroom in case it was an epic fail. We could fail together, but we didn't want to fail publicly.

The first week of school the kids were designing by themselves.  We started with the end result, and then worked backwards thinking what would make that move.  Then we came together in our groups and created a team suggestion.
Here is L. on the second day of school working on her example. 

S. needed two pages and a hill. 

Each group then presented and we had two good ideas for the ending.  Most of the kids stuck with the Bill Gates idea of a structure holding a bucket, but one group had the idea of a bowling ball falling into a bucket which falls to the ground and then pulls a string and tips the bucket.  Another group had a similar idea, so we started at that point.  Then we backed up to the previous step to get that to happen.  After GREAT discussion (they very politely critiqued each other) they decided they wanted a bowling ball coming down a ramp,  Eventually we created this drawing:  

Over the next few days we gathered supplies.  I bought PVC pipe, and Home Depot was so excited about my idea they gave me a PVC pipe cutter (YAY, a sponsor).  I also brought in lots of scrap wood (we had taken down stairs from our back porch so I brought in the runners, and my husband hasn't missed the wood I removed from the back porch or garage yet). 

(The view from my classroom widow)

We roped in a Watch Dog volunteer (our dad volunteer group) who is really good at letting the kids take the lead, and really helps facilitate discussions about how to build something, and we got started. 


A., the girl with the PVC pipe cutter, has BEASTIE skills at using that thing.  She has out cut every boy who has tried! 


Here are the kids trying to figure out the best materials for what they want to build.  We've had some interesting applications of math in this project.  For instance, we have 8 PVC pipes which are 10 feet in length each.  How do we optimize our cuts to avoid waste?

P. learning to use a level. 


We initially changed the picture at the top (drawn on the board), but the change didn't work, so we've gone back to the original plan..... We are learning that testing is a HUGE part of science/engineering and learning. Below is a video of yesterday's test:




In the classroom, we've researched ALS and are working on an informative commercial.  We hope to fundraise next week, and possibly end the week with a finished build, and our Principal getting very wet- although I have a lot of students who volunteer for this as well. We are long past folks posting ALS challenges, but I'll be sure to post ours as soon as we finish. Constructive feedback and questions are welcomed in our comment link.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Last post on the chairs

     I'm so proud of the process my students used with these chairs.  We drew our designs, measured a LOT of surfaces, built models, and then started building.  We did run into a few design issues, but the students were very adept at "fixing on the fly."  Which quite honestly, I believe is a real life skill.  Flexibility is key to problem solving.  No one stuck with a plan that ultimately didn't work.  HUGE THANKS to Mr. Seeger, a parent at our school, for teaching me to use the skilsaw and helping the students.  The best thing he did was to let the students work through, and followed my example of just asking them questions to help them work through problems.  He let the design be THEIRS and just helped them with the tools, which is another key part of this - adults shouldn't take over. 
The chair crew.  I do have other students, but this was the group that worked on our chair design. 

M. made a two person bench. 

J. and her single seat. 

L., with her design. 

J. was proud of her chair. 

J, strikes a pose on his stool/end table.

D., always the THINKER. 

I don't know that I will take on chairs specifically next year, but I might need to since these were so successful.  Any ideas on switching things up would be appreciated, since I like to rotate ideas, or offer choices. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pitching a Maker Space

I know I've been quiet since my presentation at NSTA (which, can I say, was a MOST SPECTACULAR experience).  Thank you so much for the encouragement and the emails supporting what we are doing in my classroom and our magnet program.  Some of the connections we've made will really impact our program.

     Our district started an "R2 innovates" application group, and today I'm going to pitch our version of the Maker Space.  I have a team consisting of myself, Mrs. Parker (4th grade STEMs) and Mrs. Fink (3rd grade STEMs).  We are invited to bring our passion and explain why we need to begin whatever program we want to try to implement.  Our team wants to create a district Maker Faire (the local Maker Faire is happening after school gets out) and we see an opportunity to bring in more community folks to get to know what we're doing.  Our second proposal is to figure out where we can house a Maker Space on our campus.  We have tools sitting in places I can't access, we have purchased multiples of things, but our biggest issue is space..... and it isn't just my classroom.

     ***Please ignore the quality of these pictures.  My lifeproof case was on and everything is weirdly lit and slightly blurry. ****
Kindergarten has their town stacked up on top of cubbies. I should have thought to grab a picture of them hammering the nails in their cars yesterday, but I couldn't handle the echo in the cafeteria..... of course I could hear it from my room...... 

Ms. A. in 2nd grade had her students build AMAZING bridges as part of their HUGE unit (on the floor under the window)

Mrs. Falco has all sorts of projects stacked up on the back table. 

Mrs. Lever's third graders are building Automotons based on the novel Hugo Cabret.  They had to engineer moving parts and then decorate.  

 J. and his Automoton.   

4th grade's solar cottages.  They designed a learning space that was "off the grid" with solar panels to light them.  They were thinking about the space needed to create amazing work. 
The workroom is housing my class' rollercoasters sitting on top of the manatee mural (which is more complete, but will probably be worked on more next year.  Grey "stuff" is hard to find). The manatee mural is below. 



And of course pictures of us working on our chairs..... of course you don't see the pile of wood outside my window, but those chairs are awesome.  I'll post more tomorrow so you can see how they turned out!

 Bottom line, we have the creative kids, and teachers, we NEED the space to do even cooler things and a place to store our really cool supplies.  We want to store old equipment to take apart and make faux bots, cardboard collection for building (with nuts and bolts, not necessarily makedo), we need a place for the drill press, and other tools, we need a place for kids to design and free up classroom corners. If we can lead by example, more will follow, and then we can find like minded teachers across the district (because I KNOW they are out there) and have one heck of a district Maker Faire.

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