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

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.  



Hummingbird


     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.