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! 

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:

En Mi Mochila Tengo . . .

I am SO excited about our Kinder-First grade Spanish teacher’s project! Sra. Ross has done this activity with her first graders for a few years and, wanting to use Seesaw to share this with parents, asked me to be the “tech” help.

Sra. Ross’ students have been learning the Spanish names for school items. To help practice what they had learned, they wrote and illustrated various items (pencils, crayons, etc) that they would find in their backpacks. They practiced how to say, “En mi mochila tengo . . .” (In my backpack, I have . . .)

She brought each class to the lab where I offered tips on taking good photos of their work. (I certainly was no help with the Spanish!)

Then, they recorded what they’d written.

Before posting, the children checked in with Sra. Ross so she could help with pronunciation.

Sra. Ross’ bulletin board will feature the students’ work along with QR codes to scan so others can hear their voices. What better way for parents to listen to their children speaking another language! Thankful that Seesaw makes this such an easy process.

Below are some samples of how they did.

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!”

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