Friday, March 22, 2013

We're making minecraft sculptures

      Ok, we aren't COMPLETELY making minecraft sculptures ..... but the thought is there..... and M. has started one.....
(This is B. He built a creature he called a pegacorn or unises)

     A couple weeks ago, waiting for the last bus to come, I was surfing through and came across a website called  As I browsed this site I saw that they were building a menger sponge out of business cards. I was intrigued, and apparently so was a student standing over my shoulder - it looked creative and was definitely about design and engineering.  Interestingly enough the student and I had the exact same thought - Minecraft!  He got very excited and then we had to think about HOW to do this.
     We searched for how to make these menger sponges out of business cards and found this site   - The Institute of Figuring.  We grabbed a few index cards and tried it out to see how it worked.  Once the student left I knew he (and those around him) were going to be hooked. I couldn't wait for school the next day, so my daughter and I tried them at home and figured out how to connect them, and then I was pumped to bring my model into class.  The students were so excited to see 4 packs of index cards the next day, and their morning work was spent showing each other how to do the basic cube and connect two of them.  The kids immediately, and without any prompting, began working together to create new statues.  One of our students (M.) also figured out how to make cubes with the flaps on the inside and connect them which she thought made it look neater. "M" is pictured below working on her minecraft type person.
     Thankfully none of them are worried about keeping their structures so after buying several packs of the colorful index cards and combining them with the plain white ones from the previous day I was good, and their craving was satisfied.   We keep a basket of already folded cards (from the initial day) and they have  lovingly used them repeatedly.  I keep the camera handy and take a lot of pictures of kids next to their statues.  We've also shared our skills with a third grade STEMS class and they enjoyed it as well.
     The site mentioned using business cards, (the second site had something like 66,000 of them).  I put it out to my facebook friends that I would gladly accept their old ones, and I actually had a friend step up with another idea.  Someone had donated a big (and by big I mean OVERSTUFFED AND GIGANTIC) bag of greeting cards that were the same index type weight.  I spent last week cutting them into 2 inch strips, and then rotated them for a 3.5 inch cut to make cards.  We hope to be able to share this idea at our local maker faire, but are waiting to hear if we are accepted to present. Meanwhile the kids are looking at the shoebox of cut cards and wishing out loud that they could use them.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Marble Roller Coasters pt. 2

     It has been rather interesting watching the kids begin to create their roller coasters.  Some just start gluing a long trough of craft sticks.  Fairly quickly they learn to watch how they join them because sometimes marbles get stuck. They also watch their glue usage because that slows down the track as well. I am allowing them to use low temp glue guns because they used them earlier in the year on pasta cars. We haven't had any problems with my students being irresponsible with them, but I stay nearby.

      The groups that use the long trough method tend to run into "real estate" issues - as in, their track won't fit on their poster board. I do allow them to have some parts hanging off, but I have to be able to pick them up and move them. 

     The other quick bit of problem solving they have to do is figure out how to support their track. Some opt for the "tube method" while others build support structures out of craft sticks. Notice in the above picture the spiral loop on the far right.  I'm debating how much to hold them to their original design because they are avoiding the big loop they put in their design plan, because they cut the tube on the diagonal and found the marble stays in.  Any suggestions?  I think it's creative, but in the real world a builder just can't change the plans to suit themselves.

     T. and his partner figured out how to break the craft sticks in half and then glue them together in a traditional loop.  By "break them in half" I mean use scissors to cut the sort of thick wood in half which then leads to broken scissors. All of my scissors in quarantine so they don't get destroyed, but I may have to bring in a little hand saw and cut for them.  I was pretty impressed they figured that out right away.  They are still a little worried about testing it and having it work.

     Overall I'm fairly impressed.
**Updated ---- Yay- the art teacher told me to score the craft sticks several times with an exacto knife and then have the kids snap them.  Works well, but I'M definitely doing the scoring.

Marble Roller coasters pt. 1 design

     I just finished taking a Project Based Learning class through my school and the local university.  It was a refresher course but was nice to go back through and see what new ideas there are now. Several of us were in a group together to create a project (the Art teacher, an ELA teacher, myself and an administrator).  Since I was prepping for Force and Motion (my next science topic) I jumped on the opportunity to incorporate engineering into it. I'm very excited about the overall project because we integrated art, science, engineering and writing/advertising into it.  I don't know that I'll be able to focus on the writing as much as I would like, but I'll require a good bit of it.

     My students started the engineering project yesterday -- the building of marble roller coasters. Last week we looked at a lot of youtube videos that were similar to what I had in mind, and we used our blutrack to discuss places where speed is increasing and others where friction and gravity are acting very strongly.  We continued the lesson yesterday by getting into our groups and thinking of a theme, and then using the lessons on one-point perspective taught in art, the students created 3-D designs of what they hope to build.
     It was tough going for some students. They would bring up a design they were excited about, and then I'd have to point out places where their science may not meet up with their art.  They would head back and re-design (something they aren't always fond of doing).  Many times my fifth graders think that they have finished something simply because their first attempt is completed. As a school we read one of Ron Berger's books and it really emphasized pushing for quality, so I am frequently hearing grumbles about how first drafts aren't just in English any more. Grumbles are fine though, I figure they are learning that we aren't always successful on our first attempt.
      As we begin our building with craft sticks and toilet paper tubes I'm anticipating the "fun" factor wearing off. I think juggling the size of their "real estate" (poster board) with their designs is going to be challenging.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Who are we?

     A few years ago, our district expanded our magnet choice program to include STEMS at our school. We began fairly simply.... we started with Kindergarten through 2nd grade.  Each year since we've added another grade as the students move up. This year, my teaching partner and I were selected to teach the fifth graders. 
     It is a very daunting task to take a set curriculum and expand it to meet the needs of an acronym (STEMS). I teach math and science, and we have one to one computing in my classroom through chromebooks - so I really have 3 of the 4 covered (science, technology and math). Once in the program though, I felt the need to really focus on the engineering, as well as link what we're learning to fields within engineering and project-based learning.
     This blog is my attempt to synthesize my inspirations, my planning, and most importantly..... what the students are learning from our experiences.  So far I've found that there are many organizations out there, but it's a lot to pull together.  My current passion, at the moment, is the maker movement.  Websites such as ,  and are really front and center for me.  These websites have me in evaluating my projects for the engineering aspect, looking for community helpers, and for venues to share what my students are doing.