Today in 4th grade it was Thanksgiving Maker Mat day! I think the kids know when one is coming now (before holidays or breaks), but they are great for keeping students on task during days that are filled with this, that, and the other thing. I focused on Creativity with their building, and even let them build alone to see what they could do by themselves. It always amazes me that how many groups ask if they could build together instead of working by themselves. There are also students who thrive when they work by themselves, so I try to change up the structure of how we work together.
Before they began working today, I went through their exit slip that I had posted on the board. Each student had a small post-it note with their name on it and they had to place their sticky note in the appropriate column for how they feel they exercised their creativity today. As this was a Thanksgiving Maker Mat, I also worked in thanking those who served as inspiration as part of their self-reflection. I told them that no level was a "bad" level and it only shows them areas that they might need to work on to grow as a learner.
In Y5, we read the story, "The Night Before Thanksgiving." I had pre-select six different items from the book and put them on a Maker Mat. This was their first experience with me and using a Maker Mat, so I wasn't sure how it was going to go. Usually I have students work on building collaboratively, but for introducing Maker Mats, I wanted to see what they could create individually. I gave each student their own Maker Mat and they showed me their item they created before moving on to the next one.
This week in Y5 and T1 we read the story, "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves" and then got busy building! At the end of the story, the old lady sneezes up a scarecrow, so I thought it would be perfect to bring out the scarecrow rubber duckies. I asked students to build (in partners) the tallest freestanding tower possible with the wooden planks they had in their containers. Once they had built their tower, they had to see if they could balance a scarecrow rubber duck on top. This definitely tested their building skills - there was a lot of building, rebuilding, and then even some more rebuilding. Even before they began building, we discussed some of the different ways that you can build with the planks (standing up on the short side, standing up on the long side, laying down on the flat side). I told them it was important to build with their partner to come up with one idea (as they are getting good with sharing a container of materials, but we are still working on building together) and then build it together. They worked through it though and some groups had some successful builds!
Coding is one of those things about technology that I just love. I think it is for the same reason I love math - it challenges me and is different every time you try a problem. The process may be the same or similar, but the outcome will be different. Even though the Hour of Code is not until the week of December 9-15 this year, I thought I would get a head start on introducing it to my 4th grade STEAM students. You can never have enough exposure to coding if you ask me!
As I was gathering websites for the kids to work through today, I came across the image shown here. It shares some great points for why kids should have opportunities to code. I love that coding promotes computational thinking (decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, algorithms). Computational thinking is not something that just lives in the coding or even math worlds, but we use aspects of it daily, whether we recognize it or not. A kid-friendly graphic I found that explains computational thinking is below. These are things we do everyday, even as adults!
As students were working through the Symbaloo linked below, I was honestly astounded at the academic vocabulary I heard that originated naturally through exploration. I heard students talking to their table partners using directional words, "if then, then that", "it is only doing what you are telling it to do", and many others. As I was observing from the front of the class, often times I would see a student use their hands or even stand up and walk through the directional code to double check their work on the computer. For most students, this was their first introduction to coding, so I intentionally did not go too deep with instruction, but just enough to hook them. Based on their responses on their exit slip, they definitely were hooked!
We have been working really hard the past couple of weeks in Y5 and T1 building, engineering, and using some serious critical thinking skills. This week I wanted to focus on the "A" of STEAM (I use "aesthetics" instead of "art"), and see what they would come up with for the story, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey. This activity allowed them to focus on some fine motor skills such as coloring, cutting, and gluing. We read the story, they colored one of the circles, and then they cut out the circle. We hot glued it on a popsicle stick (for the instant hold and dry), and ta-da! They had a craftivity that they could take home and share about the story we read in class.
After building our Story Sticks, we then used Creation Cubes to build stands to display our new works of art. This was definitely challenging for them and I am so glad that I decided to add this at the last minute. They struggled with how do they build something to hold up their stick and make it look different from everyone else's. There was such great conversation and kids naturally gravitated towards helping each other.
I have been wanting to do a Breakout EDU game with my 4th grade STEAM class, but was nervous about introducing the box and locks as I know the class time would not be productive as it could be if the locks were not involved. I tried a "Crack the Code" game a couple of weeks ago for International Sloth Day, and let's just say, I did not blog about it, so you can probably piece together how it went. It was a good learning experience for me though, as I learned a lot about my students, how they learn with minimal direction, their problem solving skills, and their need to scaffold their confidence level with each clue. Sooo, attempt number two for Thanksgiving!
As I was not implementing this game with a physical Breakout EDU box and locks, I used a recording sheet for groups to record their answers as they worked through clues. My intention was to provide them with guidance in what type of answer they will be looking for in their solution. I learned from Crack the Code attempt number one that this was a whole new type of learning, problem solving, and collaboration, so I wanted to provide some indirect guidance in getting them going in clue solving. That way the next time we do a Crack the Code (or a Breakout EDU game), they will have a better understanding of expectations and how it is necessary to solve the clues to be successful.
For this game, I intentionally started with Clue 1 being an easy clue and each clue getting progressively more difficult. My goal with this clue was really to get them warmed up, talking with each other, and working together to solve a problem.
For this clue, I was really looking for students to use their reasoning skills to find the answer. The text excerpt is not really of importance in solving the puzzle, other than the words in bold. I wanted them to learn how to connect different kinds of information to solve a problem.
When designing clues, I like to work in some clue types that incorporate some different content areas other than the theme of the game. In this case, it was binary language as a bit of an introduction to coding. I knew this would be a bit more challenging than the other clues, but hey, it is a good brain workout. So, why not a few "dad jokes" to make it a bit fun?
This was the only clue that I designed that incorporated another element other than a pencil or dry erase marker. As it used the blacklight flashlight, I intentionally placed this clue last (as it can often be a distraction). In my experience, as students realize they have almost solved all of the clues, they tend to really focus and work hard on the last one so that they can say they completed all of the clues. The Magic Square type of puzzle is often challenging for students as well, so I wanted them to have a sense of accomplishment prior to reaching this puzzle.
I always try and include a math puzzle in my games as it helps them see that math can be used in a variety of ways. As some of the clues in this game were easier, I included a "Loose Feathers" bonus clue in case groups finished the four clues of the game early and needed an early finisher activity.
This week in Y5 and T1 we moved forward into our fall/Thanksgiving theme. We read How to Catch a Monster for Thanksgiving, so why not How to Catch a Turkey for Thanksgiving? The kids really enjoy these books so far and I enjoy their rhyming.
After reading our story, we dove in to building some turkey traps of our own with Brain Flakes. I have found the kids have a hard time working with these as it does work their fine motor skills, but am finding the more we use them, the less frustrated they feel. I had little plastic turkeys in which they had to build a trap to capture the turkey. There were quite a variety of traps, and some even held their turkey in so I could not pull it out! The kids had a great time building and it was great how their traps led to some imaginative stories and how they would bait their traps. The number of "gobble gobble gobble"s that I heard was too many to count!
As the district I work in has a high Hispanic population, I wanted to make sure that I was working to work cultural responsiveness into my teaching, especially with the time of the year. For our STEAM activity this week, I made a Maker Mat for Dia de los Muertos. I personally do not speak Spanish, but many of my students speak it in addition to English. I worked with the high school Spanish teacher to develop a list of items to be represented on the Maker Mat and then she translated it so that I could have it represented in English and Spanish.
I was honestly blown away by how this was received by students. Not all of my students are Hispanic or celebrate Dia de los Muertos, but most are familiar with the celebration (maybe because of the movie Coco?). In one of the classes, there were literally cheers of excitement as I shared the topic of our Maker Mat. They were so excited and started asking about some of the items they could build. Many of them were already included in the Maker Mat, but I told them that selecting the Free Choice square was also an option to build something that was not included, but may be meaningful to them. This was the first time I heard a lot of Spanish speaking as the students were working, but I could tell they were talking about Dia de los Muertos and related things (from the translations on the mat). Several students commented on how they liked that this one had the Spanish translations and asked if I had that on other Maker Mats. So, I am definitely reworking my Maker Mats to include the Spanish translations from this point forward!
At the end of the activity, I asked students to complete an exit slip telling me how they worked together, what building material they would like to use for their next Maker Mat and to do a short checklist of the items from the Maker Mat that they see in their homes or community. It was great to see their responses! I also learned they are desperately wanting to build with Legos again (we had used Pix Brix for this Maker Mat as well as our Halloween Maker Mat).
If I haven't said it in about every other post I have made about Maker Mats, I would just like to mention that I love Maker Mats. :) I think I would say that when I use them in class, students love them just as much! They know they can pick anything on the mat to begin creating and that I am okay with that (there is no specific order in which items should be created). When I hand out the Maker Mats, I always hear great conversations among work partners about what they should start to begin building. This also works in opportunities for them to respectfully disagree and share their opinions. Usually with a brief conversation, they can decide on their first two designs they want to build and then get started with the first.
As it was the week of Halloween and one of my classes falling on Halloween itself, I knew this would be a great activity as the energy in the room was, let's say, palpable.
For the Maker Mats this time, I introduced Pix Brix. I love how they are a combined take on Legos and Plus Plus. One shape that fits in multiple ways. I feel with that with Pix Brix, there is a bit of a learning curve, despite its simple shape. Learning how to stack, slide, and take apart takes a bit getting used to, as it is different from familiar building tools. At one point when he was taking apart one of his creations (my rule before moving on to the next design) stated that, "These make my fingers depressed". After having a good inward laugh to myself, we talked about how his fingers could be made happier by breaking his design into smaller pieces instead of trying to break the whole thing apart like you can with Legos. Once they started feeling more comfortable with the Pix Brix, their designs really took off!
As it was the week of Halloween, I wanted to do a fun activity with my Y5 and T1 kiddos. Insert Glowie Mats here! We started off by reading the book "What Was I Scared Of?" under black lights (as it has glow in the dark elements of the story). I had found some free Halloween printables for the Glowie Mats, and they were a perfect companion for the story! We practiced tracing different Halloween objects, writing our names, and doing some free drawing. This was great for fine motor practice and perseverance - and the kids loved it! When we were done with the Glowie Mats, we explored neon Plus Plus bricks and glow in the dark Magnet Tiles. It was a perfect activity for on Halloween especially, as costumes were lit up in a fun way and gave a whole new appearance to their Halloween look.
In continuing the STEAM component as part of our 3-5 elementary building's school-wide PBIS celebration, I have more activities to share! One of the teacher leaders requested to have a Breakout game, but as the celebrations only last 20 minutes, I knew I would have to do some modifying to make it work.
Listed below are the activities that were an option for each grade level.
Activity: Thanksgiving Crack the Code (A simplified version of the game I did with 4th graders.)
Students will complete one task at a time and turning in their completed clue before moving on to the next one.
Activity: Trap that Turkey!
Students will use Brain Flakes and a string of yarn to build a pulley system to trap a turkey.
Activity: Fall Maker Mat
Students will use Plus Plus blocks to build objects of their choice on the Maker Mat.
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