Archive of ‘Makerspace’ category

A Work in Progress: Transforming a Computer Lab into a Maker/Design Space

A few years ago, while attending the Building Learning Communities Conference, I listened to Alan November describe the importance of integrating technology within the curriculum rather than teaching it as a stand-alone subject. A participant raised her hand and asked, “What does that do to the computer lab teacher?” Alan chuckled and replied, “They become consultants like me!”

Well, I wasn’t interested in becoming a consultant (working with children is my passion), but I did understand what Alan was saying. If we continue to teach technology as a separate subject, we are truly doing a disservice to our students. In this day and age, with information literally a click or tap away, we should be guiding children to learn how to:

  • research effectively.
  • find solutions to problems.
  • create content to share understanding.
  • communicate and collaborate effectively.
  • practice computational thinking.
  • take an active role in their learning. 


Bridge Building Continues . . .

After a successful bridge building experience with second graders, I decided to give it a try with the third graders. The idea (from Playground Park Bench blog) is based on the book, 21 Elephants and Still Standing, a true story about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Click here to read the last post for information on the process.

This time I added pool noodles to the supplies. By the second class, it was apparent that those made the building process too easy. As a result, the last class didn’t get that option!

Notice how close the supports are in this video. The students forgot they needed room for boats to go under the bridge!

What surprised me was that the second graders actually had more detailed drawings in their design process. But, the older students had the vocabulary with much talk about supports, beams, etc.

Here’s a look at the process. 

It’s interesting to see how each age approaches the challenge. Listening to their planning processes is amazing! I absolutely LOVED how respectful the students were to each other as they planned, built, and made changes. I’m eager to try this with first graders!

What Can You Create With . . .?

Any kind of activity that’s open-ended and encourages creativity/problem-solving is something I love to use to challenge students. I came across this video from John Spencer and decided to try it with our third graders. Click here to view more of John’s videos!

The Challenge:  Using the following supplies, create something that has a use.

  • 2 pieces of paper
  • 3 straws
  • 1 marble
  • a few paper clips
  • a few rubber bands
  • 8 or 9 inches of masking tape (Tape isn’t on the original supply list but, after watching the first class struggle, I decided to provide some tape.)

What I love about the video is how Spencer stresses that there is NO bad idea!

We began with asking students to brainstorm on their own. They could jot down ideas or draw them. I only gave them 60 seconds or so; usually students are so excited that they can’t keep quiet for too long! They’re very eager to get started!

The next step was for the group to discuss all ideas and then come up with a decision on what to create. Most groups did fine with this, although a very few struggled. It’s difficult to practice the give-and-take that is needed to collaborate but, it’s an extremely important skill to learn!

What was so interesting is that each class approached the challenge in different ways. With one class, every single group had the same idea – a slingshot! Granted, they were all different – but still, the same idea?!

The other classes provided more variety with their designs. One group designed a purse for their teacher. I wasn’t quite sure what role the marble played in the design, but was quickly told it went inside to check to see if the purse could actually hold things.

Here are a few other creations.

I wish the above group had explained more about their process. They built a bridge out of paper for the marble to roll on, but, what they discovered was that it rolled off the bridge every time. I overheard a member of the group exclaim, “We are ALL geniuses. We’re definitely NOT idiots!” That’s when the ideas really seemed to flow! The students came up with the idea of lining the bridge with paper clips. This provided a “railing” that kept the marble on the bridge.

This was hard for third graders! The type of supplies along with the limited number of items that could be used really was a stretch for the children. Even though some of the designs were similar and/or not too complicated, each group worked through the design process by planning, discussing, making changes, and sometimes, even starting over. The entire process was excellent practice and I have no doubt it will get easier as more challenges are presented!

Bridge Building with 2nd Grade

I love literature and am always looking for ways to incorporate it into my lessons. So, when I came across this bridge building activity, I couldn’t wait to give it a try!

Going through Pinterest, I discovered the activity, “Build a Bridge for 21 Elephants” and knew I HAD to try this! The book is a true story about the 14-year construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. When it was finally completed, the people of New York and Brooklyn were worried that this grand feat wouldn’t be strong enough to withstand people traveling across it. To convince the citizens, P.T. Barnum, (creator of “The Greatest Show on Earth), figured out a way to show everyone just how well-built this bridge was. He took his 21 circus elephants all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge and it was still standing when the last one crossed! Click here to see a reading of the book on YouTube.

I purchased the book and the jungle counters (a collection of various animals; couldn’t find just elephants) from Amazon and then used supplies I had on hand. The above post tells about doing the activity with a 4 year old. I decided to try it with 2nd graders even though I was concerned that it might be too easy. It turned out to be a fantastic activity!

Using a design thinking approach, we began with the story. Learning that it was true thrilled the students, especially due to the popularity of The Greatest Showman movie, released in 2017. I gave the task to the students:

Steps followed in the building process

The students returned to the tables where I had them think (no talking) about a bridge design for about 30 seconds. The next step was to sketch their idea. I was amazed at their drawings – lots of detail!

Working in groups, the hardest task was discussing all the designs and deciding on which to build. Of course, students were always free to reassess, alter, and completely change their design (and some did just that).

Materials provided for building:

  • craft sticks
  • about a yard of masking tape
  • plastic cups
  • Crystal Light containers
  • construction paper
  • small tubs (these used to have modeling dough in them)

Then the building began! Walking around to observe and question students provides tremendous insight into the thought processes that occur throughout the activity. Add in the use of Seesaw, where the children took a photo then reflected on the process and a teacher gains a tremendous amount of information of how the groups worked through the challenge.

Listen to this group calmly announce that “First we messed up.” They weren’t bothered one bit that the bridge didn’t work as expected after the first try. I LOVE this!

I am SO glad I came across this challenge! As mentioned at the beginning of the post, I was seriously concerned that this would be much too easy. After listening to the conversations and seeing the intricate designs the students drew, spending time on this was worth every minute!

Will this work with a younger grade? I can’t wait to give it a try!

Genius Hour Continues!

My previous post was about the start of Genius Hour.  The students are now beginning to complete their first projects so I’d like to share a bit about what they’ve been doing. From coding to collecting recipes to cooking to various kinds of slime to lava lamps, and much more, the fourth graders have been researching a wide variety of topics!

Our fourth graders are in a Music/Art/Technology rotations. Each class comes to me every third week for the entire week. My original thought had been to have Genius Hour just a couple of days a week. After we started, I quickly realized that was not enough time. Judging from the excitement, my initial thought was, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Below are a few anecdotes from the three classes:

  • One of the boys was walking out of the room with his paper on which he’d narrowed down his topic. I mentioned that he could leave the paper with me. His response, “I just might want to do some work at home!” This from a boy who has trouble staying focused!
  • A kindergarten assistant came to the room to bring some supplies while the 4th graders were there. I heard a “Oooh” and glanced up to see her do a little leap. She started laughing and  exclaimed, “Two little ball things just rolled out the door!” A few of the students were busy programming the Sphero SPRK+ robots. The door opened and out they went!
  • One girl started her research on guinea pigs three weeks ago. She took some things home to work on. The next time her class came for the rotation, she brought in her finished poster containing facts on guinea pigs; all done at home!
  • And, then there were the two boys who rushed in one morning with ingredients to make some type of candy. Apparently one had raided his pantry and collected items (I got the impression that his mom had no clue that items were going missing from her kitchen) although he didn’t bother to check the quantity needed for the recipe. That afternoon they appeared with a hot plate and very large beaker. My room is really not set up for cooking! Keeping a close eye on them and hoping nothing would spill or burn, I walked over as they were trying to figure out how to take the beaker off the hot plate (no pot holders). Fortunately, they had a towel so, to avoid spills, I took care of that. They kept looking at their mixture, saying, “Hmmm. It’s supposed to be thicker.” Well, turns out they hadn’t quite followed the recipe! Not enough sugar, cornstarch! They’re eager and don’t give up easily so I know they’ll try again.
  • From the mouths of babes . . . Two students were interested in Starbucks so they gathered some facts, made a sign, and fixed frappaccinos for the class. As they were sharing facts about Starbucks, the said that the company planned to hire several thousand “veterinarians” over the next few years. Well, veterans – veterinarians; the words are kind of close!

Then, I received this sweet note from a parent:

Hi Karen,

Olivia was inspired to make a movie related to her genius project. This is the trailer she made tonight. So impressed with how she jumps right into technology. No fear! Thank you for inspiring her! 

Her first trailer included her last name so I asked her to redo it so that I could post on this blog. Within minutes, her mom had emailed the new video.

I just love the following project about tying flies. Tappan is an avid fisherman and watching him tie the flies was amazing. Even more incredible, though, is how he overcame a problem with his presentation. He used the time-lapse feature in the iPad’s camera app then pulled the videos into Book Creator. More content was added, the project was saved as a video, and uploaded to Seesaw. That’s when he noticed a major problem – the time-lapse videos didn’t play properly, they were running just out of view of the main frame in Seesaw. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening and suggested transferring everything to iMovie. Here’s his finished project:

And, here is his reflection that he wrote in Seesaw.

He came to me to ask how to spell my name. “I don’t want to get it wrong,” he said. Needless to say, it’s little things like this that make a teacher’s day!

If I Only Had a Robot . . .

Wouldn’t it be fun to have a robot at your beck and call? What would you have it do? How would it help you?

This is what the second graders were asked to ponder! Then, to their delight, they were asked to build a robot prototype. After constructing the robot, they were to post a picture or video, along with narration describing their creation, to their journal in Seesaw (digital portfolios).

The idea started with a Christmas gift from by mom! My mother is a fantastic quilter, has an amazing ability to determine just the right fabrics that go together, and is one of the most creative people I know! Recently, she’s been designing small quilts for every month that I hang in the window next to the door to my classroom. This past Christmas she gave me a really cute robot mini quilt. I told her it was perfect; that I’d been thinking of ideas for a robot lesson. Within days, she had created more of these little robot quilts!

Add in two fun robot books, and we were ready to begin!

We started with the question, “Would you like to have a robot to do something for you?” We brainstormed ideas of all kinds of tasks that robots could accomplish to make our lives easier. Then, to lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” the quilts were shown one at a time. You could almost see the wheels turning as students began to get ideas on what they would build!

Each table had a collection of q-tips, fabric, wiggle eyes, reinforcements, muffin cup liners, ribbon, yarn, lids. There were also small containers, boxes, and empty toilet paper rolls available.

Oh, my! I had no idea how exciting this simple creation opportunity would be! I enjoyed watching the students try different materials to create the “perfect” robot. If one item didn’t work, they regrouped and tried something else. For several, the idea they had in their mind at the beginning of the class wasn’t like the final product. That is such a good lesson to learn – not everything works the first time!

The children had the option of taking a picture then recording about the robot, narrating a video of their design, or having someone else video while they explained their robot. Below are some examples:

We had robots that danced, some that tossed baseballs, others that were like pets to be a friend to the owner, and many others. The one common factor is that ALL students were extremely proud of their robots! One confident child stated, “I LOVE my mind!”