Thursday, October 30, 2014

SC Science Council Presentation

If you were interested in the links in my Presentation  today in Myrtle Beach, this is one way to find them.  I'll leave this up for the next couple weeks.  I hope you got some new ideas on how to integrate ideas together. Leave a comment, my students LOVE seeing where people are checking the blog.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Moment of Truth



     We spent this week working out little bugs here and there, but today was the moment of truth.  With classmates watching, and the district news, we crossed our fingers and dropped the ball......


     The first time needed a little push, but the second was AWESOME!  I'm so proud of my students and all of their hard work.  Big thanks to Dr. H for standing underneath and Dr. Catoe for helping to organize.  WAY TO GO KIDS!  Next stop...... USC Stem Fair

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.