This week with my littles, we read the book Snoozefest and then built beds for our own little Snuggleford Cuddlebuns! This was the first time we used the Construction Engineering Building Blocks and the kids were so intrigued! They found different ways to attach the pieces, use the screwdriver, and had creative solutions to the challenge of building a bed. Many of them wanted to build the bed with wheels so that he could move around Snoozefest quicker (because sloths are so slow!). They had a blast working with these tools and were asking if we could use them again next week (usually they want to build with something different from week to week) - a sure sign that they were into engineering this week!
This week in 4th grade, we explored coding with Dash robots. Students have previously done block coding online through code.org and other coding sites, so they were aware of how they needed to connect the function pieces together to form a "puzzle." I scaffolded the task cards for this activity, as we were using a new program and a new device (Dash). Some of the cards started out with me giving them the code, and them sharing with me the outcome of the code. Then the task cards progressed to written, color-coded directions and they had to figure out which function pieces to add to their code block. Then I gave them directions in black print and they had to figure out the rest!
What Worked Well:
It worked really well to have the class working at this pace. Some groups had no problem working through the problems and had a good productive struggle as they increased in difficulty. Other groups had a difficult time making the connection between the colors, functions, and execution. This really allowed me to float through the room and help those groups who needed to talk through their code a little more, and also encourage the groups who had a good understanding to be leaders and help neighboring groups if they needed it.
What I Would Change for Next Time:
Space! I had 8 groups coding at the same time, with most on different task cards. I have huge classes and this became frustrating for students as they couldn't complete the code on the task cards without running into a Dash robot from another group. This inevitably led to groups wanting to "race" each other or go out of their way to try and have their Dash robot run into the Dash robot of another group. Redirection was the name of the game for several groups all hour long!
This week in Y5/T1, we read the story, Mervin the Sloth is About to do the Best Thing in the World. My students know I love sloths and always comment on my phone case as it has a sloth on it - so why not bring them into my sloth world?! After reading the story, I introduced them to augmented reality. I used one of the downloadable sheets from Quiver Vision and put an image of a sloth and "The Best Thing in the World" on it. On the back side, I had the same Quiver Vision sheet and just had "The Best Thing in the World" on it. I had them color the sloth side first and then we learned how to scan our papers. They were so amazed at the husky that appeared with their picture on a frame! I knew this would blow their minds, so then I told them I wanted to see one of their original pieces of artwork on the back - I wanted them to draw what the best thing in the world was for them. They worked hard on their drawings and then working with one another showing how to scan their pictures and how to move around to change the perspective of their creation. Some kiddos even figured out how to use the camera to take a picture to change what was displayed on the easel. So glad I had Guided Access turned on so I knew they figured out something new within the app!
After they were done with their drawings, I had some Creation Cubes set up at the carpet area and asked them to create whatever they wanted, but it had to be the best thing in the world. This really let me have a peek into their world and see them build things that were interesting to them. We had Power Rangers, Transformers, giraffes, puppet shows, and so much more!
After my 4th grade students got so excited about the paper brain games, it got me even more excited to share some of the other brain games I had with them. For our activity this week, we explored a variety of brain games. I love that brain games totally engage the students in deep critical thinking and problem solving, but they simply think they are playing games. It helps them to work through difficult tasks, experience trial and error, and work with others to solve complex problems. The looks on their faces when they complete a challenge or puzzle is priceless - you can see their proud smilies and they just radiate confidence in doing something difficult.
To begin, I shared a presentation of the different games they could choose from to play by themselves or with a table partner. I had a list sheet for them in which they recorded a simple check mark next to each game with their interest level (yes or no). I then used the Random Name Picker on Classtools, I called up tables to select their game(s). When they came up to pick their game (regardless of when their table was called), they had an idea of games they were interested and could make a quick choice. Surprisingly, I did not hear any complaining from the tables that were picked towards the end - they knew it was all random and that there were plenty of options to choose from.
I wasn't planning on doing anything with their Interest Sheets, but when I started looking at what they marked, I became interested in seeing a bigger picture of their interests. I threw their responses in a quick spreadsheet and was so happy I took the time to do so! I knew the Roller Coaster Challenge was going to be a high-interest game, but I did not expect the Geoboards to even be in the top 10, let alone the top 3! The tables that selected these would spend so much time designing with the task cards that came with the game or creating their own design. I am so glad I was able to get a wide variety of brain games that let students challenge themselves in different ways!
As this Friday was Valentine's Day, I wanted to do something with my Y5/T1 friends that would tie in with Valentine's Day, but not be overly lovey-dovey. I thought it was a perfect opportunity for Stick and Stone - a great story about friendship and sticking together. To be honest, I struggled with trying to come up with a good STEAM activity that really hit on friendship. I really wanted them to walk away with being able to communicate some ways to be a good friend and notice the great qualities in others.
I ended up designing a little board game for them to play that would start conversation about friendship. For this game, I had students spin the spinner (I used the one with the words and pictures, but also included a blank version), and they had to share something with those they were playing the game with. They had to share about what makes them a good friend, what they would say to a bully, what do they do that makes someone smile, and give a complement to one of the people they were playing the game with. After they shared whatever was listed for the color, they were able to move their game piece (mini eraser) to the next color square of what they spun (Candyland-style). Once they played a few turns, they got the hang of it and I heard some great things being shared.
After playing the game, we busted out the play dough and made our own Stick and Stone and created activities for them to do together. We had Stick and Stone making snowmen, baking cakes, going to McDonalds and many other creating things. They students had a blast and love it when I bring play dough for activities. I also heard quite a bit of role playing with the Stick and Stone characters they made using some of the things they shared during the game. "Please be good friend to Stone. He is very nice!" It was a great way to tie everything together and bring the friendship idea full circle for them.
This week in my 4th grade STEAM classes, we recapped our STEAM Glow Games and wrote some thank you notes to the organization where I received a gift card earlier in the year for classroom use. I am big on sharing with my students that it is important to show gratitude for things big and small (even if you do not know the person) and one of the ways we can do that is with cards or notes.
I knew this would not take them the whole class period, so I printed off some paper puzzle/games I found online. I had previously played Triangles to Squares at my local library and then found the Hexi Cards as I was looking for the other online. I figured them would like them and think they were okay, but I would not have predicted how in to them they really were! They found putting all of the pieces together to be a bit challenging, so they quickly adapted and created new ways to use them. Some of the things I saw:
Before Jumping In...
Note: Before we jumped into our STEAM Glow Games, we spent time learning how to play all the games and learning how to reflect and self-assess. To see how we practiced this, click on the "Intro to Games" button. On this link I also included links to all the games that were used in our STEAM Glow Games.
STEAM Glow Games in Action
Over the winter break, I was trying to think ahead for some of the content to cover for my STEAM classes. As I was reflecting on what I have already covered, I began to feel as though I might not have hit on some of the deeper meanings of STEAM. We have done a lot of building, creating, engineering, and designing, but I didn't feel like I had really hit on what each letter of STEAM means in the bigger picture of things beyond our classroom and school.
Why do we have STEAM class? Who are people in STEAM careers? What are some possible STEAM careers? How do we take what we know about STEAM and apply it to our life outside of school? What are the 6Cs and how does that fit with STEAM? How does our mindset affect our attitude and our work in STEAM? These were some of my driving questions I wanted students to think more about and have a deeper understanding about as it relates to themselves and the world.
Why the Glow Games?
I knew this was going to be a challenge for students to tackle and I also knew that there would be students who would not find this "fun" compared to other activities we have done in class. I am not one to let fun guide my instruction, but rather help students find joy and fun in whatever they are doing. I figured that this would be an opportunity to insert one of my favorite classroom transformations - a glow room! And why not teach them something other than just the content along the way? Hello games!
One thing I have noticed this year is that my students have a difficult time working in groups collaboratively, so we have done a lot of collaborative work and learning how to talk to talk to one another constructively. I also learned through talking with my students, that many of them did not know how to play many games or spend time playing games at home. I feel that games are a great way for students to communicate with one another while working towards a common goal. So if students are working towards a common goal of learning, playing games as part of the learning process. According to Hope King, using games appropriately in the classroom is a great way to engage students in powerful learning and applications. On her blog she has stated two rules to keep in mind when using games for student engagement and learning:
1) No turns/no outs: When preparing a game, make sure that every single student is accountable to answer every single question independently. This ensures that each student is not having the fun until they put in the work.
Using these two items as guides for incorporating my games in with the content, I decided to use task cards to guide the table conversation. Students would take turns reading a task card to the group, all group members would write their answers in their answer books, then share their answers with the group before taking a turn playing a game (or part of a game). Some of the questions I put together in the book were questions they should know from our previous classwork, but most were application or opinion questions. I wanted them to think about what they already know and use information I provided to do some problem solving and analysis. I know that is a hefty task to ask of fourth graders, but I know they could do it with perseverance, grit, and teamwork. I always tell my students that we do hard things, and by doing hard things our brain grows. If we always do easy things, we are not challenging ourselves to do difficult things and grow as a learner.
Below I have links to two different resources - the Student Booklet and the Teacher Resources. The Student Booklet is what I copied and stapled together for students. This not only had their answer recording sheets and reflection page, but also a page of information that they might find helpful in answering some of the task card questions. The Teacher Resources has all of the task card questions, game direction sheets, and additional information I used to set up and run the STEAM Glow Games.
We truly had a blast while working through our STEAM Glow Games. I tried to capture some video while students were working through stations because I wanted to be able to show them later the amazing things they accomplished through these games.
At the end of each learning station, I asked students to reflect on their experience at the station and how it fit in with the 6C Learner Profile that our district has adopted (based off the book, Becoming Brilliant by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff PhD and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek PhD). I selected a "C" for each game and used that as the focus for my question in addition to a content question. I also included a question at the end (as my district is focusing on cultural responsive teaching) to learn more about my students as individuals and how their unique identity contributes to our class culture. These questions have led students to not only answer them on their recording sheet, but come up and verbally share their responses with me because they feel valued and excited about what they are doing.
Below is the 6C Learner Profile Matrix we use to measure growth. I have highlighted the levels for each "C" that I feel students should reach if they are an active learning participant in the STEAM Glow Games. For the Glow Games, I asked students to self assess as part of their reflection page in their booklet and then I put their information into a spreadsheet for my own data tracking. Instead of me assessing them (our STEAM class is not graded, but rather as participation), I was curious what the students would "grade" themselves as if given the opportunity.
Classroom Set Up
I set the room up similarly to that of when we were just practicing how to play the games. I felt that the consistency would help keep order in how games were set up, how they reset the stations, and how to rotate from one station to another. Each station had a container that had pencils, game directions, the game (if it fit), and the task cards. Students carried their booklets with them from station to station.
So, here is the breakdown of the stations I created and how they were implemented. I created a presentation that I used to guide students through our class time during the STEAM Glow Games. I wanted to make sure everyone knew why we were learning more about STEAM, my expectations, and how the class time was going to be used. I embedded the timers into the presentation and projected them so students could always see how much time had elapsed.
I only see my students for one hour a week, so I spread our STEAM Glow Games out over the course of four weeks. Each week students rotated through two stations. I included brain breaks right before our rotation to a new station so they would have time to get up, get some wiggles out, and potentially dance out any frustrations they might have encountered.
Station #1 -
For this station, the focus was on Science and collaboration. I wanted students to understand that much of science is rooted in the natural world and that it can be used to help solve problems in our everyday lives.
Station #2 -
For this station, the focus was on Technology and critical thinking. I wanted students to understand that technology does not always require something to be digital. In its simplest form, technology is something that makes a task or process easier. I think this was absolutely mind-blowing for some students when I explained even a pencil was considered a new technology at some point.
Station #3 -
For this station, the focus was on Engineering and confidence. I wanted students to understand that there are different kinds of engineering, but for each kind they are all trying to solve problems. Most of the engineering we have done to this point has involved brainstorming, designing, and creating. I wanted them to see that those skills they are acquiring and refining through our activities are transferrable to many different aspects of their life outside of school.
Station #4 -
For this station, the focus was on "The Why" of STEAM and creative innovation. I wanted them to have a deeper understanding of why we now have a STEAM class as a Special class at school. The skill that they learn and practice in this class can be transferred to many areas and can enhance their problem solving skills and confidence in other content areas. This station turned out to be very difficult for students. I am not sure if it was that many of the questions were opinion-based questions and it made them think deeper about "the why" or if the questions were a little too difficult. When we talked through some of the difficult questions they had, they seemed to have an understanding of what was being asked.
Station #5 -
For this station, the focus was on Art and communication. What I was really hoping they would understand when they walked away from this station was that art can take place in many different forms. Art is not just drawing, coloring, or painting, but can be music, performances, language expression, and visual arts (among others). When I teach the "A" to students, I teach them that it is not just ART, but also the AESTHETIC of their work. It is about caring about what they created and taking pride in their work when sharing it with others.
Station #6 -
For this station, the focus was on mindset and critical thinking. My students often struggle when they are presented with a difficult task in which they cannot solve or complete right away. I wanted them to think more about their mindset towards challenges and how their mindset towards difficult things can actually help them solve problems. When talking to groups, I shared with them that if they recognize they have a fixed mindset towards something, it is not a bad thing as long as they work towards growing and learning from the experience.
Station #7 -
For this station, the focus was on the 6Cs and critical thinking. We have been incorporating the 6Cs into our self evaluations and reflections in activities, but I feel as though I had not really explicitly addressed what the 6Cs are and why they are important in the learning process. It was interesting that students did not really connect all of our reflections with the giant 6C chart that is in all classrooms. When I pointed out the pictures and told them my written explanations helped them understand what the levels meant, it was like an ah-ha moment when the realized the connection.
Station #8 -
For this station, the focus was on Math and confidence. I know math is something that many students struggle with and I wanted them to understand that they really do use math in their everyday lives, whether they realize it or not. I have a Computer Science major and a Math minor, so I always share this with students. I share this with them because math was always something that challenged me. I could memorize all sorts of vocabulary, dates, and other facts, but math presented a challenge to me as it was always changing. I tell them that the challenge was what drove me to develop a love for the subject, regardless of how many hours I spent in the Math Department getting help in tutoring in college!
Also, as I have mentioned several times on my blog, I choose to freely share my resources and materials instead of selling them. I choose to do this because I feel that as educators, we can show our support for each other in many ways. I do ask though, that if you really like what you see and end up using in your classroom, to consider contributing to my DonorsChoose projects or something off my Amazon wishlist. This is something I have started doing myself as a way of paying it forward and putting learning materials back into the classroom. This ensures that everything goes back into the hands of my students for continued STEAM learning. :)
As I sit here and wish for winter to actually hit Michigan with some snow, I figure I am better off settling for a good winter book instead. What better book to share with my littles than one from the Skippyjon Jones series! Skippyjon has been a favorite at my house for years and I love how Judy Schachner weaves Spanish words into the story.
So, this week we read Skippyjon Jones SNOW WHAT. After we read the story, I introduced students to a Maker Mat. With the Maker Mats, I let students choose an item from the mat to create. As this was the first time using the Maker Mat with this age level, I had students work by themselves so they could get used to self-selecting and independent building based on their choice. The items that I selected for this Maker Mat were based off of Spanish words that were in the story. I put the English words under the Spanish words so students could make connections between the images, the Spanish words, and the English words. Students loved the story and used Plus Plus blocks to build creations from the Maker Mat. After we were done with our Maker Mat activity, we had some free build time and they wanted to see what I could make from the Maker Mat. I tried my best at Skippyjon Jones!
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