Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Introducing stations in my classroom

     I begin the year with introducing parts of my classroom to the students.  These may be baskets of items they may have never seen before, a STEM type/maker type skill they may need, or a building kit of some sort.  Right now, I have my math science kids rotating through three stations since a good many go to another classroom for math/science.

One group is building with marble runs (I didn't get a picture of them).

Another group is working on knot tying because I will be introducing lashing and other knots for our second novel set and I want some of the kids already familiar with the idea.

      I took a pack of paracord from W*lmart and cut it into 1 yard sections.  I burned the ends so they would melt and not fray and put them in a basket with a deck of knot tying cards I bought at a boat/marine store years ago.  You could also pair it with a knot tying book, but the cards are good so multiple students can mess around with them when needed.  If you have a lot of computers I would also recommend animatedknots.com as a good resource. The boy above, D.,  has never really tied knots before but was very excited to be able to spend time waiting for the bus and tying knots. 


     The last group is working with a Discovery Toys set that I bought last year before the holidays.  I didn't have many students who used them last year so I pulled them out to see what this year's kiddos would do. Two girls decided to make a model of a course from the tv show "Wipeout." Below is J. explaining their course.  


They were quite proud of themselves, and brought me to the idea that I could use this as a tool for building models.

     Last week's stations were a 500 piece puzzle on the back counter, an Electronic Snap Circuits kit (thank you PTO) which is so popular I may need more of this sort of thing, and another Discovery toys set with sticks and connectors to make 3-D forts.  Soon these stations will be on a 5-day rotation and also include math/science review.  Right now though, I'm noticing that as I monitor bus duty in my classroom there are a lot of activities being shared with other students (including those that come in from another class).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What do engineers do?


     As an introduction to my STEM fifth graders I created this board as a way to assess what they already know, AND give them a chance to tell me what they want to do "maker-wise."




     I started with a video clip called, " A day of Glass (pt. 1)."  We use it to talk about the design process and how Corning is thinking about their current products and where they might innovate in the future.  We also watch A Day of Glass (pt 2) because that one has a futuristic classroom.  As they watch the movie they write down the cool engineering examples they see and we discuss what engineers actually do. 

     When we finish discussion they use their groups to brainstorm all of the jobs an engineer would do.  Some examples include:
  • Wire ipads (and ipods)
  • Test their creations
  • Make underground houses
  • Create better guns, planes, and tanks for military
  • Create new things by using their imagination
  • Game designing
  • Program electronics
  • Better light sources
  • Improve products to make them better
  • Solar powered cars
  • Construct buildings
  • Program technology
  • Construct bridges
  • Make internet websites
  • Build smartboards
  • Imagine
  • Ask questions
  • Research
  • Try, try again
  • Design
  •  Sketch
  • Innovate
  • Test their  hypothesis.
I found it interesting that the actual job descriptions were vague, and the design process was very evident. That tells me I need to really connect their learning to actual engineering professions - at least in passing so they know these things exist. 


     After working through those as far as we could, we watched Gever Tulley's TED talk.  I pointed out to the kids how our classroom is different from a typical classroom and we talked about the tinker school (camp).  I then asked if we are supposed to be learning about engineering topics, what things are they interested in doing.  Keep in mind, this is the first year that these students have heard about the maker movement (introduced earlier in the day).  I'm going to revisit this with them because I think they aren't completely open to more than typical ideas.  Some of their ideas are:
  • Cardboard animals
  • Build chairs
  • Make a birdhouse 
  • Build and program robots
  • Wooden Cars
  • Take apart a computer and put it back
  • Explore with bugs and insects
  • Sketch an idea and make it
  • Build a parachute
  • Build a kaleidoscope
  • Towers
  • Use electricity
  • Build bridges
  • Build homes
  • Help the community make a playground
  • Plant our own plants like trees and fruit
  • Experiment with tools
  • Make your own tools

I know there are several of these I have already planned so I was glad to see them.  There was also a LOT of discussion about ideas that some thought shouldn't be shared because they are too crazy.  I need them to think crazy.  I need them to be imaginative. I know that crazy and imaginative is where I'm going to start.

The day before.....

      I am NOT the polka dot and zebra stripes teacher.  I am all about practical, useful, available spaces, and kid driven.  I suppose you could polka dot up a STEM classroom and still have student driven, but I honestly don't take the time.


This is my corner of SS non-fiction and the beginnings of the engineering miscellaneous supplies. To the right of this is my science, non-fiction shelf as well as the shelf that holds a bunch of tools. 


This bulletin board will be used on the first day (more to come) with free time building underneath it, and our one-to-one computing cart on the left.  I do not have a desk (last year's kids said it took up too much needed space, so I moved it out, and moved into craft drawers), we'll see if I miss it or not. 


This is the view from my door. The books on the back counter are gone or handed out. I need to add a picture from the back of the room to the front.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Testing a project idea.

     I love natural materials for children, and I also love an authentic audience for something we create. If you're on pinterest you may have seen this project:

which leads to this link http://trashn2tees.blogspot.com/2011/11/au-natrual-wooden-block-tutorial-diy.html , which got me thinking.......

Can I use this project to teach my new 5th graders about tool safety and make something our preschool class might like?

      So I needed some rising fifth graders to try this out......... hmmmmmmm. I only needed to look as far as my living room because my youngest daughter M. will be in my teaching partner's class, and her friend C. was spending the night. We had recently pulled down an apple tree in our yard that was half dead thanks to a lightning strike and a persistent yellow-bellied sapsucker, and I had my husband save a bunch of the branches. I practiced first, and then called out the girls so I could see what problems we might have in teaching the kids.
Here is C. measuring a small branch to 2 inches


and then cutting it off.

     M. tackled a thicker branch.  So far the pitfalls seem to be NOT bending the saw as you are sliding it back and forth, as well as lengthening the cut and using the whole blade, not just short strokes. The other issue is holding the branch steady - which isn't hard when its long, but a pain when it gets shorter.  The vice grips I had at home wouldn't hold the round branch. The girls let go of the idea of parallel top and bottom because they realized that little kids would learn about balance too. 


     Here are our cut, but un-sanded pieces. I contacted my "engineering buddy" teacher in Kindergarten and she thought these might be useful skills for the kids when it comes to her ecosystem unit on habitats - I'll have to see what her ultimate plans are for her project.  I was thinking the fifth graders AND the Kindergartners might be able to sand them together as well and then either keep them in 5K or send them over to the preschoolers. 

     I'm sure another question some of you might have is, "but what standard does this teach?" Um...... none really, but it does meet engineering guidelines, so this is probably something I would pull out at recess for kids to choose to do (like I did the pallets last year), or during my engineering time which I try to build in (about 30 minutes a day for my math/science kiddos).  This would also allow me to stand RIGHT THERE with them while they are using the tools and discuss safety ad nauseum.  This project also wouldn't take too long and I think it would also be an easy one to begin to introduce different sorts of tool skills.  From here I would probably add in the mallets, crowbars and hammers with the pallets, and then teach them the lashing technique I taught last year. From there we could move on to more substantial building projects I hope to mention later. Please keep in mind.... I am not a woodworking sort of person, so really anyone could take this on. I do find that it motivates kids quite a bit, and they springboard with their own ideas. It also builds a confidence and an independence in the students and lets those kiddos not so fond of traditional school projects shine