After the story and improv, we asked the students to make "gifts" for Santa using certain STEM toys. We had three different kinds of toys, so we separated the students into three groups and gave them the choice to work independently or as a small group. As this was the first time using these toys, I expected most students to work independently (and they did). What I was blow away by was the creativity that they applied to come up for gifts for Santa. We had everything from a vacuum robot to clean up after the elves, a scooter for Santa, to a device that would help Santa cut wrapping paper. I was able to walk around the room and talk with kids, but one of the best moments was when I sat down and started building with a couple of students and having them help me find solutions to how I would put a star on my Christmas tree. They were so eager to jump in and help!
I love it when we get to visit our K-2 Special Education friends. They are some of the best listeners for stories, least inhibited with improv, and excellent thinker-builders. Today was no exception!
We started out with the amazing Kelly McGee reading the story, The Elves' Night Before Christmas. The kids love it when he reads to them because he reads with such emotion and uses different voices - the adults are always entertained too! After reading the story, he led through a short improv game, "Santa Says" (a spin on "Simon Says"). It provides them with great practice in listening and following directions - plus when it relates back to the story it is even more fun!
We let the kids rotate to different groups after a while of building if they wanted to explore some of the other toys. They did a great job of respecting what each other had built and did even a better job of sharing with the class what they created after time was up. There are some future engineers in that room!
Now that Thanksgiving has passed, my mind travels towards holiday themed activities. Christmas is my favorite time of year (and luckily I LOVE snow and live in a place where we get a decent amount!) so I was ready to jump into some fun learning activities.
For this Quickfire, I worked with high school seniors to make paper circuit Christmas cards which we would give to our local senior center. The students could decorate their card however they wanted, but they were to include at least 1 LED light that when pressure was applied to one point of the card, the light would light up. I had a DonorsChoose project funded in which I received lithium batteries, copper conductive tape, LED lights, and cardstock paper. The only other resources I needed were tape and coloring resources!
If you haven't heard or seen paper circuits before - they are so awesome! Below is a short video (or you can view it here) for how to make a paper circuit card.
It was amazing how quiet the room was as the students were working. Students who made cards in the morning came back at lunch to show their friends their cards. Students who weren't even in the classes I was working with today wanted to come and make a card because they heard what we were making. I think everyone had a blast working on these and the senior center was blown away by the cards and were so excited to decorate with them where people could interact with the cards. What a fun way to use learning about circuitry to give back to the community!
Some Student-Created Cards
A short week before the holidays will guarantee that kids will be wired...so why not capture their desire to communicate and channel it into a fun activity with Legos?! I had recently come across these Lego Challenge Cards from The Fickle Giraffe and thought it would be a great idea to modify for a Thanksgiving theme. The Pilgrims faced many challenges when they settled in Plymouth Colony after all!
I started off by showing them this video to give them a bit of background knowledge. If they paid attention enough, they could also use some of the ideas in the video for their challenge.
This was a fun challenge for me to watch, as working in pairs creating a solution to a problem was more difficult than I anticipated. I am not sure if it was due to the short week and upcoming break, or if they truly had a difficult time discussing their ideas, coming to a common solution, and then actually building a prototype. Either way, it was a good brain workout for them! They came up with some great visual solutions and were able to explain (either in written or verbal words) why they constructed what they did. If I were to take this idea a step further (time permitting), I would love to take the students outside and ask them to construct actual representations of their ideas using resources from nature. This would give some great hands-on experience (and a little more realism) for what the Pilgrims had to go through.
Student Challenge Solutions
Recently, I was talking to one of our middle school science teachers and we had a great conversation about how middle schoolers work through problems that require deep critical thinking and problem solving. We decided to do an activity that would test their perseverance, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and problem solving skills. Sounds like fun, right?! :)
The Quickfire challenge that we posed to them required them to build a structure. Not just an ordinary structure though - it had some requirements and constraints.
This was my first time working with this group of kiddos this year and I was blow away at how well they worked together. EVERY single group for EVERY single hour - no joke! They worked cooperatively for the whole time and after completing the challenge(s), many groups deconstructed and build a different tower to complete the challenge. I head many times from students that, "This was so fun!" and "I can't wait to do this again!". It is during Quickfires that really challenge the students (and believe me, there were many planks that fell and MANY structures that had to be COMPLETELY rebuilt, multiple times), I wonder if the students even notice how they are being challenged or if they get caught up in the "fun." I know that they recognize that we present them with a difficult challenge, but there are so many other aspects that we as teachers are observing as they complete the task. The teacher had created the groups ahead of time and grouped students in a variety of ways (introverts/extroverts, students who normally don't work together, ability levels, etc.), and she observed students coming out of their shells and contributing to a group project. It was so interesting to hear her observations and reflect on our intended outcomes as well as hers.
I can't remember where I read it, but I read once on someone's blog that every Makerspace should have Perler beads. So when I had to return a defective item from my Donorschoose project, I replaced it with various Perler bead items (peg boards, beads, iron, tweezers). My daughter has been OBSESSED with these since about the age of 3, so I have ironed my fair share (and then some!) of bead creations.
As my daughter is obsessed with these, she is usually scoping out the displays at craft stores and I help her look on Pinterest for seasonal designs. As fall and Thanksgiving were approaching, she wanted to look for some designs for Thanksgiving in particular. We were able to find some, but were surprised at how few user-created designs were shared on the popular social-sharing platform. The lack of shared inspiration sparked an idea with me and I decided to bring the problem to my trusty 4th grade problem solvers.
As any well prepared educator, I forgot something <insert face palm>. I had prepared some designs to share with them in case they had some designers block, but conveniently left them on my desk. As it turns out, they didn't need them, but I thought I would share them here anyways!
Below are some of my favorite Thanksgiving designs that students created. They had so much fun and couldn't wait to create another design after their first was ironed!
These were some of the other designs that students created. I told everyone that their designs were so amazing, that I had to get a picture of each so that I could share them with others!
What was surprising to me was how quiet the room was when they were working on their designs. Each of them had something to work on, but they were able to quietly chat with their neighbors and still keep on task. It was amazing how focused some of the students were while working! Some removed themselves from the larger tables and worked by themselves an others gathered at a table and shared their containers of beads. Either way, it was a win!
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