Thursday, October 30, 2014

3rd grade and Lego WeDo Robotics!

3rd grade has started their unit on Robotics.  It has been very exciting to watch them grow from what they were able to do last year.  They built the tougher robots this year and were faced with more difficult programming challenges.  I was amazed with what they remembered from last year's introduction to programming!  A great help is that this year we have new laptops that make the whole process more fun and less frustrating.  I am extremely thankful for the gift of those computers.  Thank you so much to Lynn Stahl and our matching donors.  Our Little Longhorns are growing in their technology skills because of you.  What a difference you are making in their lives.  Look at what they were able to do already on day 3 of this project!  I will post more later on some of their other collaborative projects with Robotics.  Spoiler alert:  think World Cup!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kinder and 1st turn trash into homes

We have been collecting recyclable materials for the past several weeks.  I use these in many of the projects in my room from the egg drop to Rube Goldberg machines to this house project!  We begin by studying different types of homes and what makes homes sturdy in the context of the environment they are in.  I use BrainPopJr for most of this and we watch that as a whole group.  We talk briefly about why homes are taller in the city and longer in the country and why it is important to take the environment into consideration when building a home.  They decide on the type of home that they are going to build; they draw up plans for this home in their STEAM journal; they are put into teams to make the final plans; and then they start the Big Build.  Their challenge is to build a home that will stand up to tornado and earthquake.  My class periods are 45 minutes long and I usually allow 2 class periods to plan, 3 to build, and one for the big test.  Sometimes the big test ends up taking two days if several need to be rebuilt.  We use a large fan to test against tornado and a pan of jello (with plastic wrap on top - this is a lesson I learned the first time I did it without... what a mess!) :)  Testing day is always very exciting so I recommend you find someone to help out with it if possible.  Plus, it's cute as can be so it's fun to watch.  This project is a basis for many projects in the future years that these students will do as they expand into real architecture and Google SketchUp later in 4th and 5th grade.
The first stages of building

This is what your room looks like with 22 six year olds building houses!

Some of the projects in progress

Ours can sail on the water and dock on land!
We are creating as a team!  Everyone has a part!
Testing day!
Passed the earthquake test on the first try!
Another earthquake success story!
Look how our sail caught the wind in the tornado test!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

5th grade and the great Egg Drop!

5th grade is building off of a project they completed in when they were in 3rd grade on parachutes, drag, and resistance; off a project that they did in 4th grade on insulators to the grande finale--- The Great Egg Drop!  As usual they worked in teams and followed the Engineering Design Process to build their contraptions.  We always have a stash of recyclable things in my class so they used what they could find there as their materials.  Once they thought they were done, they did a pre-test without an egg to make sure their design performed as they thought it would.  Most teams made adjustments and changes after the pre-test.  Special thanks to the Thinkery for their help with this project.  It was enormously helpful to have another adult there for testing and engaging students in thoughtful problem solving techniques.  Please let me know in comments below if you have any questions about the details of how this was done or any tips that you have if you do this in your class.  Here are some photos of the building process, the pre-test, and Drop Day!
The building process:

Pre Testing:

The Big Drop!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Bringing the community into the classroom

I have not always been a teacher.  I came to teaching from a round about life.  I taught Kindergarten forever ago when I was in graduate school getting my Master's in Counseling.  I didn't think of it as something I was really doing for my career, I was just enjoying working with children while I went to school at night.  I didn't have a teaching certificate and you didn't need one back then to teach Kindergarten.  After I finished my Master's Degree I worked in the counseling field and eventually moved into the business world.  Mixed in there I also had four daughters and stayed home with them for several years.  The business world had its benefits for sure, but I sure did miss feeling like I was doing something that was helping my community in some way.  I learned a lot about networking, partnerships, and the importance of knowing what the "real world" is like.  I believe that all of these things help me to be a better teacher today.  Working at UT Elementary, we have a natural partnership with what we call "Big UT" (and most of the world just calls the University of Texas).  This is extremely helpful in many ways, but the one I want to talk about today is how it can help with actual teaching in the school day.

Being a STEAM teacher, I need to have skills in many different areas.  It would be best if I were an expert in all of these areas, but that's not possible.  I do, however, know people who are experts in these areas.  I like to say I know a little about a lot of things and I know people who can fill in the gaps.  I call my personal network my real life Google.  I know who I can call to teach me or directly teach the class about just about any subject.  My best resource for this other than the University is the Thinkery.  They are project experts and ready to help anytime.  We have developed a STEAM curriculum together (more on that later); designed both after school and in-school Robotics programs; they taught me Scratch and how to use it in the classroom; given me supplies... the list is endless.  I also work with Architects in Schools, city planners, local web designers, local programmers, local scientists, and engineers.  I think that these community members add so much value to our class.  They can teach much more in depth than I can and they bring authentic learning into the class as well.  Students can see how the concepts they learn in my class are actually done in the real world.  It's fun to watch them light up with possibilities.  It takes time to cultivate these relationships with partners outside of the school, but it is well worth it.  I highly encourage you to think about your network and how those people might fit into your classroom.

Those of you who also do this, please share with me what tips you have to pass along.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

4th grade catapult challenge

In 4th grade we studied the mechanics of catapults.  This is building off of a project they completed last year where they made much simpler versions of the catapult using paint stir sticks, a cylinder, and a rubber band.  It was encouraging to me how much they remembered from last year's project!  This time they were given popsicle sticks, a spoon, rubber bands, and glue.  They had time to research and plan individually before they were put into teams to make the final plans and build.  I was really impressed with how they challenged themselves to build something complex instead of the "basic" models they found in their research.  After they were all built, we went out into the green space at school for the big shoot off!  

I like how this team even took notes on how many they needed of each material.

This team ended up making a very complex machine.
Get ready, set...

Such focus and concentration!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

2nd Grade learns buoyancy with their boat challenge!

In second grade, we studied buoyancy and what makes things float or sink.  The students followed the Engineering Design Process to complete this task like always.  They each drew out their own plans and then got together as a team to decide on the final plan.  Once they all agreed and signed the plan to show their consent, they were given their supplies.  For this challenge, they got 10 inches of plastic cling wrap, 10 straws, and tape.  Their goal was to build a boat that floated and held 10 pennies without sinking.  Once they were done building, they set out for the testing station.  Some passed the float test, but sank during the penny test.  If they failed either part of the test, they went back into their teams to discuss what went wrong and what to do to solve the issue.  They made adjustments to their boat and tried again.  They had such an incredible showing of tenacity!  They might have gotten frustrated, but they never let it interfere with their progress.  They did not give up! I'm so proud of these engineers!
The process of building:

The big test!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

3rd grade and the spaghetti masterpiece challenge!

This challenge was to build the tallest tower they could with dry spaghetti, yarn, and tape.  I let them build them in these bins because I needed to be able to move the projects around the room more easily.  The students were split up into teams (I always draw popsicle sticks that have their names written on them to make it random) and they followed the Engineering Design Process to come up with their creation.  Some groups decided that the spaghetti was going to break anyway, so they might as well break it themselves and put it together into clumps to make it more sturdy.  That was a cool idea I had never thought to try.  Other groups tried to work with the spaghetti to get it to arch.  Others just ended up with a tape-y creation as they try to mend broken spaghetti.  Lots of teams had conflicts arise that needed to be addressed.  I was impressed with how well they used their SEL (Social Emotional Learning) skills when they did this.  They used statements like "I feel ___________ when you _____________."  It is exciting to see these skills work in real time with real conflicts.  I'm so proud of our 3rd graders!!!

Here is a picture of one of their presentations:

Here are some of their finished projects:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

#EdExchange at the Thinkery

I was selected to attend EdExchange at the Thinkery.  This is a semester long series of workshops where teachers and other educators gather to learn new hands-on activities to bring back to his or her own school and an opportunity to collaborate with each other.  So far we have had our first meeting and it was incredible.  I'm excited to work with the talent at the Thinkery and the other educators who are participating!  We learned how to use stop motion animation to bring students' stories to life with HUE cameras; about the Children's Innovation Project; and best of all we got to play and learn!  I will later post when I use these things I learned in my classroom.  Our swag bag for the event included a HUE camera to use for stop motion animation projects, beautifully made circuit boards from Children's Innovation Project, and Invent to Learn: Making Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom.  Wow.  So far, I am playing around with the HUE camera so that I can make a demo animation for my students.  Here are some photos from our first meeting: