Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lessons from hydroponics - pt. 1

     It's no secret to those who work with me, that I get bored and change gears pretty quickly, probably at the same speed as my students. It really works for me though, because I LOVE writing curriculum and developing new ways of teaching things.  Since the big ALS Bucket Challenge was a huge focus last year, I thought my students would want to work with wood and build something else this year.  I was PREPARED, I bought TOOLS,  I scavenged WOOD, and then I met my students and they were not really into it. (Side note - they are actually VERY INTO programming this year and making their own games) Thankfully I had another plan, but it wasn't one I was too confident about - HYDROPONICS.
     I began the year buy making sure my teaching partner was on board.  She was new to us, but a veteran teacher from out of state.  As much as I can tell someone that I think fast and move quickly, I'm also aware that not everyone else wants to work that way.  Thankfully she is game for about anything as long as it positively impacts kids. I attended a PBL workshop within our district through BIE.  It was great, because while I frequently rely on PBL, it was nice to have the time to develop something.  Unfortunately my partner was moving to SC at that point so she had to trust that I was going to get things organized in a way that worked for her too.
     My prior knowlege related to hydroponics was limited.  We had a store about 3 miles from the school that sold things (The store is called The Urban Garden).  I had wandered in out of curiosity and thought it might be cool to expand upon what our primary grades are doing with gardening.  I knew there was water involved, and lights, and I could purchase things because I had received a chunk of classroom money when we presented our Bucket Challenge at a STEM fair last year.  My plan was to talk to the man who owned the store, see what my students could build themselves, and what had to be purchased, present the whole thing like a giant experiment because I knew ZERO about feeding hydroponics and only slightly more about ph levels.
    The PBL plan came together pretty quickly. We were going to read The Lemonade War because the kids set up competing businesses and loads of economic words like profit and marketing are mentioned (ELA/SS component). Next we would begin our year (out of order from the rest of the district, but my kids to tend to leave the classroom so no problem) with Mixtures and Solultions (science component).  The thought was that mixing the solution of water and measuring in the nutrients (and the whole ph level testing) all connected in there.  For math we needed to get into metric conversion pretty quickly (we thought - turns out we're good without it, but it was a connection) for the math component.  The culminating activity was to set up and market a business, perhaps even a farmer's market at car riders, to sell our lettuce, basil, spinach, whatever we grew, and use the profits to purchase other items needed in our 5th grade STEM program.
     So we had a plan, but I really had no background in this topic.  It was intimidating, I'm not going to lie.  If my partner, Kristen Izzo, hadn't been 100% on board I could have easily backed out, but we would have really missed out.  I met with the store owner (we call him Hydroponic Dude) and he helped me design a sketch for the kids.  No measurements, just an idea about more of a homemade build instead of an "out of the box" one that requires plugging in.  I took the drawing above to my students, and Mrs. Izzo's, and we had a meeting about what we were going to do, the basic parts, and gave everyone a copy of the drawing.  We determined the dimensions of each PVC pipe and made a list of the materials we would need to build. We waited a couple days for the Hydroponic Dude to gather our box of required materials (light, nutrients, airpump, etc) and I went to the home building store and got materials from there as well.  FINALLY we started building the design.

We used the PVC pipe cutter Home Depot gave us last year for the Bucket Challenge, and we started measuring and cutting.

     This was October, and we had just had floods throughout our city.  Thankfully we were only affected by washed out roads, and modified school schedules.  We missed about a week of school, but used our odd schedule days to get this finished. We assigned groups to work, and rotated them out into the hallway to get things done.  We were VERY THANKFUL that our fourth grade classes were tolerant of the noise.

The base starting to take shape.  The black connectors and stands were purchased from The Urban Garden to help us develop the shape. After the cross beams were put on (two missing in this picture) we laid a sheet of plywood across those.  Each corner would eventually have PVC pipe going up to the light rig (see below).
     We had already started seeds in the hydroponic cubes so we were ready for build day.  The pink insulation board had holes cut into it to hold the little black baskets.  The baskets hold the cubes and dip into the water so the roots can grow. 


Once it was all set up we added water into brick mason tubs.  There is also an airpump that goes into each tube to add oxygen and move around the water.  We have to keep track of how much water we are using and add in nutrients for each gallon of water.  The pink insulation board floats in these with the plants.

     We have two setups (one for each class). Our total cost was about $850.00 for two.  Initially they were set up in a sunroom area we have in the building. The classes go by on their way to the cafeteria or out to recess. The thought was that students in all grade levels would be able to watch the lettuce grow.  The fire marshall, however, asked us to move it. Not because of electrical issues, or anything, but because even though that part of the hall is about 5 feet wider than the hall it feeds into, it could be an obstacle in case of a fire.  It was eventually moved to a classroom, and then moved a third time into our own classroom.

Part 2 will discuss what we did next.  Stay tuned.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Starting over in a new school year

I know.... I haven't posted ANYTHING so far this year.  It has definitely been a different start to the school year.  I have wonderful students, but they needed some time to acclimate to my way of teaching, and thinking outside of the box, and I had to respect their needs. We are about to start a big hydroponic unit but aren't quite ready to unveil THE PLAN yet.  I think we are also going to start in on catapults, but with the floods in Columbia, our school times are still trying to get back to  normal, so we may miss the Halloween deadline I thought we would have.  The floods in our city were awful, and we have so many closed roads.  We missed school for a week, then moved to a two hour delay for a week.  This week is a short week, and a one hour delay.  Closed roads lead to all cars using certain roads that lead to big backups.  Thankfully all of my students were fine, but a lot of people in our community are displaced and houses are destroyed.

In the meantime.....

I came across the videoes on YouTube from Maker Camp while looking for a video tutorial on lashing that I could send to students.  They had one from my hero, Gever Tulley, and then I started purusing the sidebar videos. This one got me excited because while we have soldered and made origami move (a little challenging), this one looked completely possible.

Which led me to her website:

Which led me to this supercool kickstarter that I hope starts production and selling VERY SOON!
Can't you just see that little USB buzzer being used with our kindergarten buddies and our bugs from last year?  AND THEN IT RECHARGES!  I really need to learn more about making my own circuits so I can make these sort of things myself.

I'm feeling the ideas percolating, and will share some more when I get a more normal routine back together.

End of last year projects

This is a place holder....

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Still Scratchin'

My students are still actively using scratch.  It is their "go to thing" when they finish early.  I'm about to turn a few of them loose on our Hummingbird boards and use Scratch to program little moving puppet type creations.  Enjoy "Z's" creation!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Roaring 20's

It has been forever since I posted.  I was thinking that since I was revisting past projects it probably wouldn't be something anyone might want to read about again.  For our project for Roaring 20's. students worked in teams to create a stop motion animation with a free app on an ipad.  We only have 1 ipad in our classroom, so I borrowed from other teachers on the hall to get through this project quickly.

Students chose a topic, and developed a storyboard to design how to get their stories across in the genre of a silent movie.  This group chose the assembly lines, and the fact that Model T's were becoming more accessible to the public. **spoiler alert **** I LOVE when the horse dies, and I thought it was very creative how they showed the car developing on their assembly line.  They wanted to make an actual Model T but we had to be content with a version of a car because of limited LEGO.  Other groups were equally successful.

The app we used was called LEGO movie, and it was incredibly simple.  Three years ago when I attempted stop motion animation it took incredibly long because we tried to use Windows Movie Maker.  This free app was definitely easy.  It's on my phone as well, and can go on an ipod touch too.
On rainy day recess, or afternoon school I have students who are interested in borrowing the ipad to make their movie.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Personification and Glue Gun Safety

   As we ease back in to school this first week, I am working to finish up my figurative language requirements for ELA.  This week's mini lesson was personification.  We watched a youtube video, sang a song, and then wrote our own..... not very STEMsy.  We are also finishing up our science unit, and moving on to the next, which is force and motion.  Traditionally my students have made rollercoasters out of craft sticks and hot glue.  While, I'm not sure I'm going to repeat that this year (I tend to get bored and change things up), my students did need to show me they can handle a hot glue gun safely just in case. We also are asked to help with a couple Kindergarten projects in the spring with the 5th graders manning the hot glue guns.

I had the students go home last night and write 8-10 sentences personifying winter, and share them with me this morning. The goal is to simply hot glue craft sticks together in the shape of a symmetrical snowflake, and then write their personification sentences/stanzas on the snowflake.  I cleared off a counter, set up two hot glue guns so I can monitor them well, My rules for hot glue guns are simple: 1) Use a low temp one because they are less likely to burn the skin. 2.) Don't touch the "metal/pointy/hot" end 3.)  If Mrs. Dawson hears the word "OW" consider yourself warned.  4.) If I hear you/see you a second time you are sitting down because clearly your maturity level is not able to handle heat.   I rarely have any problems, and don't even begin to judge the students before they begin.  One thing I've learned is that often the wiggliest of kids likes to stand up and build something with a tool of some sort, and they tend to change the behaviors you may see at a desk and pull it together nicely. 

     As always, I giggle at the joy these simple little project bring the students.  Many were begging to use indoor recess time (hello 20 degree weather in SC) to take their turn, or offered to stay after school to get it completed.

     YES, this is more CRAFTsy than STEMsy, but I think the snowflakes fit the maker feel in my classroom.  They are learning to use a tool for the first time, and creating something different than the snowflake ornament. Safely using all tools is an important emphasis in my room.  If I can't trust you to do the right thing every single time, we can't possibly do the cool things you see kids doing in my room.

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.