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!

Decorating Eggs

Carrie Kunert, Beaverton School District Innovation Strategist, has compiled a huge selection of Seesaw Activity Links that she has graciously made available to anyone who would like to use them. In looking through the holiday section, I found one by Beth Saunders called Egg Decorating that I thought would be enjoyed by our younger students.

The directions are a bit small to read but the students were to roll a pair of dice that determined how they would decorate the egg.

In searching through my dice collection, I discovered traditional dice with the dots as well as dice with numerals. The students were placed in groups of two and they shared the dice. Then I added some instructions that differed slightly for each grade level.

Kindergarten:

Students took turns rolling. The idea was to have one child roll and both would draw what each person rolled. They started out doing that but ended up having the person who rolled the dice as the one who drew on their own egg. The hardest task was drawing stars – that’s difficult for this age. What was funny is that if stars were rolled, some students would roll again to get something easier to draw!

I had told the students that if they finished early, they could talk about their eggs. Below are a couple:

As one class left the lab, a little boy came to me to say, “I just loved decorating the egg. I LOVE coming to the lab almost more than ANYTHING!” That certainly made my day!

First Grade:

The directions I gave this grade were that they had to roll the dice for their partner; the partner would then draw what the dice indicated. They did a fantastic job working together, taking turns, and even agreeing on rule changes so that they ended up rolling favorite colors and decorating with what they wanted to draw.

It’s funny how something so simple can turn out to be so engaging! Don’t tell the students, but there was also quite a bit of learning going on:

  • listening to and following multi-step directions.
  • working with a partner and working out differences.
  • sharing and taking turns.
  • fine motor skills (drawing in small spaces).
  • communication and collaboration.
  • verbal expression for those that recorded.
  • even working through frustrations if they didn’t get the color they wanted!

 

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!

Sphero SPRK+ Arrives!

We have a fantastic Parents’ Club at our school. Each year we are given the opportunity to apply for Grants for Greatness. My request this year was a class set of the Sphero SPRK+ robots.

Our third graders were the first to experience the Spheros using the Sphero EDU app. The app is block-based programming with all kinds of blocks available to challenge students. There were a few students who had their own Spheros at home so they were eager to provide help to those trying them out for the first time.

To begin, I introduced the app to the students and told them some helpful tips. For example, it’s really important to aim the Sphero. If you don’t, Sphero won’t do what you expect! We went over the tabs at the bottom of the screen. For the first session, I suggested that they focus on movement, lights & sounds, and controls only.

Then, I gave them the challenges:

  • Make Sphero roll in a straight line away from you.
  • Have Sphero roll back to you.
  • Add lights as Sphero rolls.
  • Add sound.
  • Program Sphero to roll around the perimeter of a carpet square. (We had a great discussion about right angles for this one!)

Spreading out, the challenges began. Students experimented with speed and timing as the little balls went speeding past legs. Every once in a while, we’d hear, “Watch out for my Sphero!” Getting the robots to roll back was often figured out as they rolled behind desks and the printer!

 

There were questions such as, “Why didn’t the lights show up as it rolled?” That led to discussions on order of blocks – it does make a difference!

 

 

No one accomplished the last challenge of driving around the carpet square but some came really close!

As we wrapped up the lesson, several of the Sphero owners said they didn’t know about the app we used; there’s another app that just drives the robot – no programming involved. They were eager to go home to download Sphero EDU.

What did we learn?

  • computational thinking
  • debugging (what didn’t work as expected and why)
  • problem solving
  • Math!
  • collaboration

Next time, we may just set up an obstacle course!

2nd Graders Create Homophone Books

To go along with the homophone spelling unit, a second grade teacher asked if there was a digital way that we could make a homophone book. My go-to app is Book Creator and I felt like this would be perfect for the activity.

Prior to class, the students were given a set of homonyms. They were to create one sentence using all of the homonyms. On my part, I made a template in Book Creator and air dropped that to our lab iPads. When the students came in all they had to do was type in their sentence, illustrate the it, and record.

They had so much fun creating fabulous sentences.

And, their illustrations were amazing! This one was funny because her sentence originally had been written as, The four brown horses got some yolk on their yoke. After drawing two and realizing how much room that took, Annie came over to ask, “May I change this to two horses!”

After recording, the students came to me to air drop their book to my iPad so that I could create the class books. I absolutely LOVE working with Book Creator – easy to use and the students can do just about anything they want with all of its features. There are many others apps that we could use but Book Creator worked out perfectly for this project.

The teachers and I were very proud of how the books turned out. The students did such a great job with their illustrations and sentences.

Below are links to the books. These were saved in two formats – as an ePub book to be read in iBooks and as a video. We had so many students absent with the flu that not all children were able to make a page.

Directions to Download to iBooks:

  1. Click on the book link while on an iOS device (iPhone or iPad). It will not work on a Mac or PC.
  2. Choose Download.
  3. Choose Open in iBooks.

Mrs. Garcia’s Book and Video

Mrs. Shapard’s Book and Video

 

Cubetto – the Perfect Robot for Young Learners!

Cubetto, a robot created by Primo Toys, is a cube-shaped robot that is programmed by adding shapes to a control board. This description is from their web site: Meet Cubetto: the friendly wooden robot toy for kids aged 3-7, chosen by 20000 parents & teachers to guide kids on coding adventures without screens.

Having discovered Cubetto from another educator on Twitter, I started researching it and decided this would be an excellent tool for teaching the basics of coding to our younger students. I shared the information with our Chief Technology Officer and our Middle and Upper School programming instructors who were equally excited. Our CTO even found some extra funds to purchase one!

A couple days later, Cubetto was introduced to our Kinder students. As you can see, the mats are small. There is no way you can fit an entire class around one so I asked the teachers to split their class into two groups each. One group worked on the Lego Wall while the other explored Cubetto. We switched after about 15 minutes.

We started by discussing the mat – geographical features, compass rose. It turned out that the students had spent the week learning about maps so this fit perfectly into their curriculum. The blocks were introduced by letting the students try them one a time to see how the robot responded. The function block brought puzzled expressions! By itself, of course, it does nothing. To a young child, the first reaction is that it doesn’t work! Later, they were able to see its benefits.

Then I gave a challenge – “Cubetto wants to travel to the mountains. How do we program it to get there?” As the control board was passed around to each child, we talked through blocks to choose. Then, we pointed to each block as Cubetto followed the commands. Of course, there were some “bugs” to work out which produces great problem-solving. Using the function blocks is necessary because there aren’t enough “go straight” blocks. That’s a hard concept for little ones but it will come with practice. You can see in the picture below that we were using the function blocks to represent 4 go straight blocks.

Everyone worked together quite well. A couple of the students really caught on quickly; you could practically see their analytical minds working! Some children were hesitant to make a decision about the type of block to insert but classmates were eager to offer advice and encouragement.

During the last group, it seemed to be taking longer than any other group to go around the circle so that everyone had a turn to add a block. Turned out, this group was actually larger than the first – one little boy apparently enjoyed Cubetto so much that, instead of going to the Lego wall, he just joined the new group to work with the robot again!

Judging from the reactions of the students, the Cubetto robot was a HUGE hit!

What I Like about Cubetto:

  • A lot of thought went into the making of Cubetto which means all types of learning is going on – directions, map skills, basic coding skills including function, geography, math.
  • Easy to use and perfect for small hands.
  • The hands-on nature of Cubetto provides excellent visual learning for students as they explore computational thinking.

What I Wish:

  • The basic kit comes with only one map and limited coding blocks (directions and 2 function). It would have been nice to have more blocks, including the logic ones.
  • The kits are expensive! You can buy extra mats and blocks, but at $29 each, that adds up.
  • For a classroom you will need at least 2 kits because only 6 or 7 students can comfortably around the mats. Three or four is even better but that gets expensive!
  • Cubetto is a very slow-moving robot compared to others I have. A bit faster would have been nice but we can certainly handle the slowness!

Would I Buy it Again?

YES!! This is an excellent tool for helping young children understand the concepts of coding!

¿Qué animal es?

Our first grade children have created the cutest project in Spanish class with Sra. Ross. Here’s what she said about the animal project:

As part of our farm animal unit, we discussed using tiene, it has, to describe the different body parts each animal has.  We talked about what color the animal is using es, it is, learned the vocabulary for each part, discussed how many parts each animal has, and also what actions the animals do.

In Spanish, the students had written a description on the first page and written and illustrated the answer on the second.

Sra. Ross asked what we could do to record the students and get their work uploaded to Seesaw digital portfolios. Since there were two pages to this, I thought Book Creator would be perfect. The children could make their book and then air drop that to be combined for a class book. The class books could be placed on the class iPads so that students could practice listening and practicing their understanding of Spanish.

For my part, I created a template in Book Creator and air dropped that to each iPad. I then went into each iPad to personalize each book with student and teacher’s names. The children can set this up but I find it saves a LOT of time, especially for the younger students, to prepare as much as possible ahead of time!

In the first class, we had the students take a photo of  each paper using the camera that’s built in to Book Creator. In that class, only 6 students completed their book (steps to completion:  take photos, insert into Book Creator, record the  Spanish, let Sra. Ross listen to it, and air drop the book to me. For a 30 minute class, that was TOO MUCH to do! We only had about 6 people complete their book.

After that class, I suggested that we take the photos and insert them into the books before students arrived. That was SO much better!

Once Sra. Ross checked the work, the students came to me where they added  page colors to their books then they air dropped them to me.

Two of the three classes completed their books. The books were saved in the ePub book format as well as a video. Here’s one of the videos (the title slide was created with the Assembly app).

Instructions for Downloading Books:

  • In order to read the books, you will need to have the iBooks app installed.
  • Tap on the link while on an iOS device (iPad or iPhone).
  • Choose download.
  • Choose open in iBooks.

Mrs. Kee’s Class book

Mrs. Crumley’s Class book

 

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! 
Best,
Danielle

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!

A New Twist on Biography Projects

Mrs. Garcia, one of our second grade teachers, has her students learn about biographies. The type of project the children create varies each year. With the implementation of Seesaw (digital portfolios) in our Lower School, a new avenue of presentation has opened.

This year, she asked the students to read a biography and then write a bio-poem about that person. The children used Seesaw to take a photo of their subject and then record themselves reading the bio-poem.

 

Here is one of the powerful things about Seesaw – a QR code can be created for any post. Mrs. Garcia printed these out and added them to her bulletin board. What a fantastic way to create an interactive board!

 

Genius Hour Begins!

A few years ago, after reading a bit about genius hour, I decided to give it a try. Well, it didn’t go as expected – it was noisy and chaotic and I really struggled with, “Are the students really learning anything??” What that taught me was I needed to make sure expectations were clear to the students while still allowing freedom of choice.

Fast forward a few years . . . last July I attended Alan November’s Building Learning Communities conference and was able to take a workshop presented by Joy Kirr, the guru with Genius Hour. Joy has collected a vast number of resources over the years (visit her Genius Hour Livebinder). Between this fantastic information and her encouragement, I began to believe that Genius Hour was something that I needed to try again. Am I glad I did!

What is Genius Hour? We started with this excellent video by John Spencer. 

Genius Hour is a time where students are allowed to learn about something in which they are passionately interested.

The students were amazed that they were being given time to learn something of their choice! But, trying to zero in on a topic proved to be a bit more difficult than expected. Some had so many choices that they weren’t sure what to choose, while others couldn’t seem to think of anything.

First, I had the children define genius.

Next, we brainstormed things we wonder about. These thoughts were written on post-it notes and added to a chart.

The hardest step was to narrow down exactly what their interests were. Students were asked to jot down three topics that they were most interested in researching. To the best of their knowledge, they had to let me know about materials and costs. We had a serious talk about NOT going home and telling parents that they needed all kinds of supplies!

The guidelines were simple:

  • You must research something.
  • You must create something.
  • You must present something.
  • You must reflect on your learning.

Oh, my! I have NEVER seen so much excitement! In several cases, students stopped by in the mornings, arms filled with supplies as they chattered away describing their plans.

One afternoon, I glanced across the room to see a boy who usually had a difficult time staying on task, sewing away. He’d found the plastic needles and yarn and was stitching a word into a scrap of acoustic foam! I’d never considered that to be a tool for sewing and I certainly was proud of his ingenuity!

The joy experienced when what you’re working on actually does what you want it to do!


Student Reflections:

I’m having a difficult time getting the reflection time in because the students only have 40 minutes with me. Add in short group meetings and clean-up time, we’re lucky to get 30 minutes of work time. My plan of reflecting every day has had to be adjusted. I’m thinking a quick blog reflection at the beginning of the week and then another at the end of the week might be better. It’s a critical part of the process, though, so it’s very important to include this step!

Here’s one post that I absolutely LOVE! This girl had an idea in her mind but when she attempted to build it, nothing went right. She realized that failure was absolutely OK!

Here’s another post about building a gumball machine. She’s not sure if it will work but she’s eager to try out her ideas.

So far, not many students have reached the presentation stage. Most are still hard at work. Does everything always run smoothly? No! Are there students who are often off-task? Are there students and/or topics that need a lot of guidance and direction? Yes! But, that’s okay – we are ALL learning!

What are they learning? It’s not necessarily the content or even the topic. Instead, it’s the research skills, the ability to compile information and find the best way to present, the figuring out what to do if something doesn’t work the way you expect, the confidence that comes from speaking with assurance in front of others or on camera – these are what will help students succeed in life!

Resources to Help Implement Genius Hour: