Saturday, August 22, 2015

Great Questions from Summer STEM Academy Participants


This has been my fourth summer facilitating technology-focused summer programs in our district. Sessions have included Photojournalism, Movie-Making, a Technology Academy, and, for the last two years, our STEM Academy. As technology and interests have changed, we have adjusted our program, and this summer we doubled the number of kids, grads 3-8, who participated. With each program, I've noticed that the children have great questions that help guide the program. Aside from questions about how to use materials and resources, here are some other questions that show kids are thinking...

1.  So now that I know what this does, what else can I do with this? This question is a great conversation starter. I usually give some examples, but I also ask lots of questions. I might ask, "What do you want to do with it?"  or "Is there something that you have in mind?" or I might say, "Tell me some of your interests and let's see if we can connect to ... ."

2.  How much does this cost? Kids, as it turns out, are not willing to spend a lot of money on gadgets, tools, etc. They might want to purchase an item they are using in our program, but they will not consider spending a lot of money if they don't think the item is worth it, even if they really like the item. They think about cost, asking parents, splitting the cost with a sibling, what else they are saving for, and upcoming holidays and birthday. These are not kids who just "want everything."

3.  What can I keep?  While the kids don't want everything, they do want something. We work on projects involving such materials as K'Nex and electronics. Some projects the children can take home, but others they have to disassemble and return to me. The children are obviously proud of their work and are slightly disappointed when they can't take home a project that they've spent several days working on. This is once again a great opportunity to have conversations that help these young children understand the materials they are using and the system within which they are working. It has allowed us to come up with solutions, such as taking photographs and video they CAN take with them. They've learned about how our district or an individual acquires materials and works within a budget. They've learned to document their work and how to post to a web site, and they've learned how to share materials and to care for materials that are used by others. When they work in pairs or groups, they don't need adult intervention to figure out what to do with finished projects. From youngest to oldest, the children learn to compromise in a most impressive manner. Their methods of deciding who gets what are very creative!

Understanding HOW to use STEM materials and resources and developing related skills is obviously a key component of our program. We do, however, want to help the children grow as leaders, which means encouraging discussions related to the above questions and others like them. We want the children to understand WHAT the materials are and to be able to make wise choices as consumers. We want them to think beyond our introductory lessons and to be able to test new ideas. We want them to ask us questions and to consider ideas that we might not have considered before and to be partners in this fantastic learning environment. Let's keep the questions coming!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer STEM Academy

It seems so long ago, but at the beginning of the summer I was part of our school district's two-week Summer STEM Academy. I facilitated the program and worked with 11 children entering grades 4-8 and also worked with the program's assistant, my daughter, who will be a senior in high school this year. My daughter and I have been running this program for three summers now, but this summer the focus changed from "technology" to STEM. In the past, there was a bit more of a focus on learning components of Microsoft Office and movie development, although there was the option for participants to choose their own areas of interest, which participants took full advantage of. This summer, however, with a bit of a change in the program, we added more hands-on electronic and engineering and connected some of the other science, math and technology pieces as they naturally occur in the projects that the children were doing, such as computer programming.

As in past summers, each child, my high school daughter, and I all took on the role of teacher and learner at different points. We didn't shy away from a task because it was hard or because we didn't understand the next step. In fact, at one point, as the children were working on their "K'nex bridge challenge," I overheard one child say, "This is really hard but really fun."  Each day I had to insist that the children take their break (recess) and also had to insist that they leave at the end of our day. And, each new day, at least one child would return excited to explain what he or she had worked on at home - not because it was required, but because the child wanted to.  

In this environment, age didn't matter. It didn't matter if you were a boy or girl. It didn't matter if you attending the same school. What did matter is whether you had something to offer - could you help one another, discuss the projects, work together? Could you share your trouble or what you learned? That was what mattered.  

It's a great experience to be in such a different learning environment, even for such a short time. While the traditional school year can't be the same, there are definitely moments that we can capture, such as in choice days or science workshops. And when children are given challenges and support, from the teacher and each other, they might find interests they didn't know they had, they might develop friendships they might not otherwise exist, and they might decide that learning is not something that is limited to school hours and a defined, teacher directed in-school task.

You can find out more about our Summer STEM Academy on our school website. There are some great resources and photos. Check it out here.

And here are quick some highlights from our STEM Academy:

1.  Using index cards to make a tower that would hold a hippo (to keep him safe from a crocodile) as a way to understand an engineering design process - resources from Engineering is Elementary.
2. Making paper circuits with copper tape, LEDs, and batteries.
3. Traditional and programmable K'nex engineering projects including a motorized elevator and a computer controlled bascule bridge - our hardest project!
4. Stop motion animation
5. A Rube Goldberg contraption that ended with an interaction with a computer where a motion in front of the computer's camera caused a program to initiate in Scratch (computer programming designed for children)
6. Several children began using Scratch for the first time.
7. Several children created their own web sites using Weebly; some took photos and included them on their sites, using photography techniques learned by our high school assistant, Angela Molishus; some developed blogs and started discussions; others embedded their Scratch projects onto their sites as another way to share their work.
8. Squishy circuits

Sunday, August 10, 2014

International Dot Day - Celebrate!

"International Dot Day, a global celebration of creativity, courage and collaboration, began when teacher Terry Shay introduced his classroom to Peter H. Reynolds’ book The Dot on September 15, 2009."

On September 15, we will once again celebrate International Dot Day. There are many ways to enjoy this great day: reading The Dot, dot art that celebrates creativity, connecting with others around the world, and reflecting on how we can make our mark.  

This year, we will continue with one of our newer traditions of having the students nominate a person or group they think should receive a Make Your Make Award. While we are encouraging our students, and adults, to think of ways they can make their mark, the Make Your Mark Award is given to those who are already making a difference in the lives of their families, in their communities, and around the world. Children take great pride in recognizing those they know are outstanding role models. Last year, our students nominated a parent who is a police officer/EMT and also the Hepatitis B Foundation, for which another parent works. Both nominees received a Make Your Mark Award for the great work they are doing, and they were thrilled! See more about the Make Your Mark Award on our classroom International Dot Day web site here.

Whenever we can recognize the good that is being done near or far, it gives us yet another reason to celebrate! 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I took this photo while practicing some techniques with my camera. It immediately reminded me of this story from my kindergarten days.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Children in Charge

This year my fifth graders took charge of their learning.  This is nothing new for my learners. Even when I was in second grade, I designed projects based on individual interests, abilities, and the required curriculum.  Once you know your students, you have a starting point for lesson and project development.  At least, that's the way I do it.

This year, the difference is that the class was able to plan their own Valentine Day's party, and they far exceeded my expectations! Our "We Love the Classics" party was based on their reading of classic works of literature.  The party became what the children made of it, including food and activities related to the books and decorations to match as well.  The children spent their own time (their choice) typing directions for their activities.  They worked on decorations and created extensive menus (also not required) that matched the books they read.  Parents were sent on searches for special food items that were a must for each of five stations we would have at the party.  The activities were also crafted during free time and at home, including a giant "door" that students could walk through to get to one station, "Fantasy Island."  Incredible!  I received several messages from parents about how excited their children were about this projects - that they could not stop talking about it.  Remember, this was THEIR project:  no grade, rubric, test.  And yet, so much effort was put into this "assignment" you would have thought it was a final exam.

In the end, the academic value took care of itself.  There was much discussion about the classic books within small groups of children.  There were "how-to" pieces of writing developed and shared to help party-goers complete the activities.  Students learned about all the classic books as they traveled from one station to the next, and they practiced their presentation skills as they took turns running their own stations (room parents and teachers simply became observers and paper plate distributors). 

Find out what excites your students and then find out how to use it in your classroom. You might even get a cupcake out of it!

See our We Love the Classics web site here.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Exciting Book Launch

Exciting! Friday will be my class's amazing book launch 

Daisy Gets a Home:  One Librarian + One Teacher + One Dog  = 2 Best Friends Forever (BFF)

Each child wrote a picture book based on this very heartwarming and true story! For some, this is their first published picture book - they are so excited. Daisy the Dog will even be making an appearance. 

If you love young authors and want to send words of congratulations, click here:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Sacred 25

For many students, there is a requirement to read 25 books in a school year.  This requirement might be based on state or district standards, grade requirements, or teacher plans.  Whatever the reason, it's often human nature that when you HAVE to do something, the task is less desirable.

For example, I really enjoyed reading when I was a child.  But, boy, did I (and my sisters) dread those weekly trips to the library during the summer for the Vacation Reading Club.  Any book that I had to read for the reading club became a chore.  I became quite skilled at retelling the story by reading the first few pages, a few in the middle, and the ending.  Oh, and usually the morning before book club.  Admit it, you've probably done the same with a book or some other reading material that you were required to read.

I taught second grade for 11 years, and it was never a challenge for the children to read 25 "just right" books.  This year is my first year in fifth grade, and it is definitely a different scenario when helping the children to read those 25 "just right" books.  I want the children to challenge themselves, enjoy what they are reading, talk about the books, and grow as readers.  I don't, however, want to develop a group of book counters. When you begin to count the books you are reading, that's when you are reading as a chore and that's when you begin to scam the system to get your log completed.

I know from past experience with my own children, who are great readers, that when you choose "big books," that can really mess up the tally unless they can "count" for more than one book.  So naturally some children will opt out of a book they really want to read for fear of not meeting the requirement. And what about that "too small book" that you heard was really good?  Does that count?  And, if not, do you miss out on reading a good book anyway because you will lose time needed to read the books that do count?

I've built some flexibility into our reading plan for the year.  At the same time, I wondered how difficult, or easy, it is to read 25 book in a busy school year.  So, I decided that if my students were going to read 25 books, I would too.  I also allowed for some of the same flexibility that I was giving them - some easier books mixed in with some challenges.  A few rereads are perfectly acceptable.  A written project does not have to accompany every book, but I have tried to generate at least a casual discussion with other readers about many of the books I've read.  I've recommending some of the books to children or adults.  I've shared in some books discussions both in person and virtually.

I wonder how many adults read 25 books a year.  I'm almost there, but I will say that I'm a little nervous about getting to 25.  It's a busy spring.  I'm definitely resorting to some reader "tricks."  Books on tape for the car are great.  And I found a fantastic scrapbook book (it really was a good book - see #22) that I was able to read in a couple of hours today.  And, I also checked out from the library a photography book (lots of pictures) that I am totally counting when I'm finished with it! Hmm, I just might make it.

Here's my list so far...

1.  The Art and Science of Teaching (reread - required district reading)
2.  Curriculum Materials (counts as a book)
3.  Hunger Games
4.  Catching Fire
5.  Mocking Jay
6.  The One and Only Ivan
7. Night Circus (on CD)
8. Boomerang (on CD)
9. Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking
10.  Republic of Noise
11.  The Dreamer
12. Tales from Outer Suburbia
13.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret (reread)
14. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane (reread)
15. Fables, Volume 1
16. Milkweed
17. Amulet 1
18. Amulet 2
19. Inside Out and Back Again
20. Wonderstruck
21. Lawnboy and Mudshark - counting as one combined
22. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt
23. TBD
24. TBD
25 TBD

Ditched Books:  Hitty Her First Hundred Years; Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire; Anne of Green Gables (maybe will finish)

Plan to Finish:  The Other Wes Moore; Rules of Civility

I might have read other books, but I didn't log them and can't remember them - so, technically, they don't count.