During the week leading up to Spring Break, one of the 4th grade classes I regularly work with was doing a "Camp Read-A-Lot" learning experience for students. She had lots of fun activities to celebrate Reading Month in an engaging way that centered around camping and being outdoors. She previously had worked as a camp counselor and so at the end of her Camp Read-A-Lot she likes to incorporate some fun camp-type activities to give students depth to their camp learning experience. She had previously created God's Eye weaving craft with her students, but wanted to incorporate some some options this year and asked if I wanted to help and share any camp-type craft. You bet!
Recently a donation had been made to one of our schools and someone passed along some yarn to me as I do a lot of STEAM activities with students. I hadn't found a use for it yet, but knew it would just be a matter of time - and this was the time! The teacher mentioned something about friendship bracelets and knitting, but we knew we wouldn't have a ton of time for them to work on them. I thought finger knitting would be a fun and easy for the students to be successful and learn some basic knitting skills. I found the video below with an easy to follow tutorial for finger knitting snakes and thought it was the perfect knitting project to appeal to all students. The only thing I did differently was I had them do 2-finger knitting for the length of the snake. If we had more time to practice, I would have had them try increasing the stitches for the head, but it worked great even with the 2-finger knit. And they were able to successfully complete their snakes (with tongues and eyes!) in the short time we had for camp crafts.
While I was working on the finger knitting on one side of the room, the classroom teacher was on the other side with a different group creating the God's eyes. I have seen these before and wish I had been able to see the students working on them. To make things go a little smoother for our allotted time frame, the teacher hot-glued the popsicle sticks in a cross shape and then took a piece of yarn and hot glued one end to the back of the cross. This way students could easily (and safely) get started with weaving their projects. They had a blast and created so many neat ones!
I wish I had a chance to take more pictures as the students were working on their crafts, but I was pretty busy with the groups doing the finger knitting. It was great though because once one student got the hang of it, they started helping one another. It was so awesome to watch them learn something new and challenging in a short period of time and then be able to help others problem solve. Our students are the best!
The fourth grade classes that I have been working with this year recently were wrapping up their unit on angles. They worked on defining and drawing acute, obtuse, right, and straight angles as well as using a protractor to measure angles. I thought this would be a great topic to work in a review activity with STEAM, but wasn't sure how I wanted to approach it...until I went to the Dollar Tree and saw the cutest little bunny mini erasers.
I can't remember who shared it on Instagram, but I remember seeing a STEAM activity using clothespins and popsicle sticks to build a tower. I knew the bunnies would be a great addition to the resources they could use! I know these fourth graders are always up for a challenge, so I knew I could switch up the activity by telling them what I would like them to do (build the tallest tower possible that holds the most bunnies) with the provided materials (popsicle sticks, clothespins, bunnies), but then not give them any materials to complete the task. The looks on their face were priceless! Hello confusion, please meet irritation. I then told them they would have to "buy" their supplies from me by completing some task cards that are worth "Bunny Bucks." The looks on their faces began to soften a little. :)
I told the students that they would each need to complete the task cards/Bunny Bucks individually, but the materials that they earned belonged to the group. Once they had earned their supplies, as a group they could then begin building their tower. I wanted to make sure that the students understood the content first, but also that their individual work contributed to the success of the whole group.
We started with the clothespin Bunny Bucks (I did each set of cards on a different color paper to help the students quickly know which material cards they still needed to complete) and then the popsicle stick Bunny Bucks, and finally the bunny Bunny Bucks. The students did AMAZING with managing their time and resources. I asked them to turn in each set of cards and collect their resources before moving on to the next set of cards. It worked out really well and the students did a great job of coaching one another when they were having some struggles instead of just sharing the answer with their neighbor (we reviewed this first!).
The creations that the students came up were awesome! It seemed that the groups all took a different approach and some were very secretive about their builds. I stressed with them that there is no "right" way to complete this task and they just needed to use their collective creative brains to find a solution. The bunny sandwich approach was highly entertaining, but obviously not the tallest tower!
For this activity, I gave each group a bin containing one type of resource. They had to use only that resource to create their objects - they could not mix with the resources from other groups. I had two bins of Plus Plus blocks, two of Brain Flakes, and two of pattern blocks. Some groups appreciate having a bin of one resource to use, while others share that they feel the challenge would be much easier of they had one of the other resources. With both groups that I did this activity with, I made a point to share that it might seem easier with one of the other resources, but each resource has it's highs and lows for the challenge - some of the tasks are easier and some are harder and it is not the same for each resource.
For this challenge, I told the students they could work as a group at their table (no more than 4), or they could choose to work in two groups at their table. The students have done really well when given this option because they know that they cannot work by themselves, but they have choice in how they work. Most times they actually choose to work as a whole table! After they had selected how they would work, the students could choose any square on the mat to begin their work. I told them it didn't matter to me which one they chose or which order they went in, but they had to decide as a group and they had to have a teacher sign off before they moved on to the next square. I was a little nervous with how they would work together after several weeks of snow days here and there, but they did really well and created some great things!
I love when students share their stories behind their creations. When I do activities like this with a class, I tell the students that they need to check in with a teacher before they can move on to the next building task. This has really helped them with thinking through their designs and not just throwing something together to move on to something else. Sometimes it is so hard to capture the thinking and demonstration that goes in their designs with just a picture. They each bring their talents and ideas to the table to work with their peers to create something new and there is such a special dynamic when you watch it all play out and see an object that has a fantastic story behind it. These STEAM and Maker opportunities may not always be tied directly to the curriculum content, but the creativity opportunity it provides opens news ways of thinking and working with others when the content comes in to play. I have to say, I am very lucky to work with amazing teachers who provide students with these learning opportunities!
So far this winter has been a bit disappointing for us in terms of snow accumulation. We have had a little snow, but not enough to truly get outside and have fun sledding and playing outside. Just cold enough (and some days icy), to be better off inside where it is warm. As the forecast for this weekend and next week includes the potential for some significant snowfall in our area, I thought it would be fun to do a snowflake activity with my 4th grade friends.
We started off by watching a read aloud of the book Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Kids loved hearing the story of how he began working with snowflakes and how it took him pretty much a lifetime to accomplish the work that he completed. We talked about how snowflakes are each unique, but all have 6 branches.
After watching the video and having a brief discussion about snowflakes, I told the students they would be working with a partner to create an unique snowflake using a 3D printing pen. Before I even showed the students how to use the pens, I asked them to work with their partner to create a snowflake design on a scrap piece of paper. Some things that worked really well for us in this activity:
Since we were creating snowflakes today, I decided to wear my fun snowflake leggings (with my simple example to show them before beginning the project). The kids loved them and thought it was cool to see different patterns...what I did not expect was to constantly be turning around and having a student staring at my calves...I mean snowflakes. I guess I walked right into that one! :)
This week was our first week back after our holiday break, so I thought it might be a good idea to ease back into our STEAM activities. I created some winter-themed task cards that could be used with any kind of STEAM resource, but I chose to use LEGOs as I recently received a DonorsChoose project for them so I had enough for the whole class to build at the same time. I like having a variety of resources, but having enough is a game changer in teaching students that it everyone can be successful in different ways with the same resources.
With this activity, I gave the students the choice to work in pairs of in a group of 3-4 (based on the number of people in their table group). Students did a great job of choosing their groups and working together. I thought being off for a bit on break would be a little rough on getting back into the routine of communicating and collaborating, but the students did an awesome job! I asked them to use the task cards to build the given structures however they wanted to (it did not have to look just like the picture), but they had to show a teacher before they could move on to the next card. Some groups had to do some revising on their creations as we could not really tell what they were, significant details were missing, or was sloppy work. Those groups really only had to be send back once as they spent more time on their future designs, making sure they were meeting expectations.
Some of the awesome things I saw while students were building:
I had recently been talking with one of the 4th grade teachers I work with regularly about how sometimes her kiddos really struggle with activities that are rooted in content, but have a "fun" (STEAM, Maker, or other) component as part of them as well. They want to skip the content to get to the fun, but they really can't do the fun without the content, so the kids end up frustrated and confused. So, I have been trying to think of more ideas where the content is the central focus, with the STEAM part supporting the learning. By the time they are done with the activity, they will have had multiple ways to practice the content, with the STEAM component pushing the learning and thinking even deeper.
For our weekly activity, we took the content they were doing in class (working on number pairs for numbers up to 100), and used a STEAM activity to help drive their progress forward. Students were assigned a number by their teacher and they had to come up with all of the factor pairs for that number. They had tiles to use to help visualize the factor pairs and had to write down all the factor pairs for the number.
Once they had their factors pairs written out and checked by the teacher, they could move on to the STEAM component of the lesson - creating a skating rink with their factor pairs. Students had to write their number on a paper plate and then write one of the number pairs on one side of the plate and the other on the opposite (in the same color). They could choose how they connected their numbers - straight lines, curvy lines, or loopy lines. After they had their plates set up, they could color an ice skater and attach a magnet to the bottom. We used magnet wands on the bottom of the paper plate to make the skaters "skate" from one factor pair to the other.
The students really enjoyed this and understood that they could not do the skating rink until they had all of their number pairs written down and checked. They worked hard to make sure they were getting all their facts set so they could spend time on their skating rinks. It worked out really well for us as well as the students - a win-win!
This past October, I attended and did graphic recording for the ISTE No Fear Coding Lab. It was an amazing experience doing graphic recording, but was also re-energizing for ways that Computer Science and Coding can be integrated into content to help students be critical thinkers and problem solvers. It got me thinking about how I can refocus some of the activities I do with teachers and students to focus on the elements of computational thinking - decomposition (breaking down a problem into smaller parts), pattern recognition (identifying similarities, differences, and patterns), abstraction (identify important information and filtering out unnecessary information), and algorithm design (identify and organize steps to solve a problem) (Source: Exploring Computational Thinking via the Backpack Redesign Challenge). So, why not code? There are so many great reasons to teach students coding!
Set the Stage to Engage
One of the teachers I work with on a weekly basis for STEAM activities had shared that her students had found code.org on her website and she was teaching them how to access and use resources on her site and they loved it. I think I had this in the back of my mind after I returned from the ISTE conference and knew that I had to do something - the stars were aligned too perfectly!
As I had determined Wall-E would be the theme for the day (other than the big word of ALGORITHM, which we said computers understand algorithms, not directions), why not have fun with a little room transformation? Some black lights, laser lights, rope lights, and other decor can quickly and easily change the look of the classroom for a dramatic effect. Plus, I found a cute little stuffed Wall-E and Eve on Amazon that I just couldn't resist! I always second guess myself if a classroom transformation is worth the time, energy, and potential distractions from students. This was simple with pretty much just additional lights (2 black lights, a small laser light, and 1 rope light string), but it is amazing the effect that it has on students. Don't get me wrong, there definitely is a few minutes of the wow-factor and exploration (even with just lights!), but it definitely sets the mood for the day, activities, and learning.
Computers Need Directions
To start off the day, I wanted the students to really understand that computers NEED directions to do anything. Even though it might seem like we are typing letters and numbers on the keyboard, we are actually giving a computer directions to make a letter or number display on the screen. Each click and button pressed corresponds to a set of directions that tell the computer what to do. To really drive this point home on following directions, I asked the students to write directions about how to brush their teeth. At first they were a little confused because they thought we were doing a hands-on activity and not doing writing. They played along with me and then the teacher selected a student to read his directions to the district nurse who came by to see what they were doing (she helped me get toothbrushes and toothpaste for the activity) and she did an AWESOME job acting like a robot and carrying out his directions in front of the whole class. The students quickly realized that they needed detailed instructions and started adding more steps to their own directions even before the demonstration was done. Then we had the students read their directions to their partner and carry out the directions. This was pretty entertaining to watch! Students had a blast and I heard from several students that they never thought they would be brushing their teeth at school that day and how funny that was to them. Talk about an activity that will tell a story when they leave the building!
Enough can't be said for the amazing people who made this activity happen!
Once we had established that computers need directions and only follow the ones they are given, we talked about the language that computers understand and read when they are given those directions. <sarcasm> I know that the world of binary is very riveting, so talking about ones and zeros would get students super excited. </sarcasm> I thought that if I was able to help teach them that each character is read as a binary number, they would understand that even small words end up having long code behind them (once the computer interprets the code).
To help them understand how a code for a word might appear to a computer, we coded our names. Students had to identify the letters of their name, find the corresponding binary code, and then determine how many ones and zeros were in each binary letter string. Once they figured how many ones and zeros were needed for their name, they could begin assembling their binary name necklace. At first I think they seemed a little overwhelmed by the worksheet, but quickly realized that they could quickly build their code and do the necessary math to find out how many beads they would need. They were so proud of their necklaces and were excited to share what they did with their families.
Prior to our day of code, I put my feelers out there for anyone who works with coding and would be interested in sharing what they do with 4th graders. Marc Petz was highly-recommended from other EdTechs in my county (as he teaches 3D Animation and Game Design at our county Tech Center). The kids were totally captivated by what he had to share (he hooked them with Epic Games and Fortnite - what 4th grader wouldn't be hooked?!) about how he uses coding as well as projects he is doing with his own students (their autism app looks amazing!). Marc was awesome in how he shared and engaged with the kids and was even so kind to share some 3D printed sharks and coins that he and his students had printed. Students had never thought that there was coding that was necessary to 3D print something! I am so grateful for my PLN and their suggestions! Having Marc as a guest speaker was an AMAZING part of our day and gave students a fresh face with fresh ideas for how coding is embedded in the world around them. Thank you, Marc!
Code a Path
Out of all the activities for the day, this one was probably the most challenging and tested their grit level to the extreme. The teacher shared some of the math concepts they were reviewing, so I created task cards with a variety of those types of problems. Students had to first solve the problem and then find the corresponding correct answer from a multiple choice list on their task card. Then (based on their answer), they placed a green start circle and a red end circle on their coordinate graphing grid. This set up where they would have to begin their coding. At the top of each coordinate graphing grid, there were instructions to place other pieces on the grid. These represented the roadblocks that coders encounter as they are working on a problem. They then had to code their way from the start circle to the end circle using 3D printed coding pieces. I knew that this activity had a lot of steps and would challenge them, but I wanted to incorporate their math content into an activity to show them that coding is not always separate from everything else that they do. The struggle was definitely real, but once some groups (of two) picked up on how this activity worked, they started making some progress forward. The part about being able to code around the pieces was the incentive to help them persevere through the math problems.
Run the Red Carpet
After a couple of activities, I knew we would be ready for a little break. I found a perfect video on GoNoodle that would fit perfectly with our coding theme - Run the Red Carpet! The kids loved it, loved getting up and moving around, and as teachers, I think we needed the brain break as much as the students!
Code the Red Carpet with Ozobots
Our Day of Code ended up being many unplgugged activities due to testing that was going on in the building. I am so glad so many unplugged coding activities in my back pocket that would really help students understand the basics of computational thinking and coding. Our semi-plugged activity that we did was using Ozobots to "Code the Red Carpet." The last activity we had completed was our "Run the Red Carpet" brain break, so now it was time to introduce the robots and let them "Code the Red Carpet!" The kiddos were SO EXCITED about this! We gave them some scrap paper to play around with the different Ozobot codes before moving their big code to a long piece of paper. They worked really well as a group to come up with a code and were so excited to see what other groups had created. At one point, a student placed their groups' Ozobot on another groups' red carpet while they were demonstrating and their minds were blown that multiple Ozobots could work on the same line of code at the same time. It was a great moment as a teacher to see when their ideas come together into something even bigger and better than their individual thoughts and ideas.
Code a Dance Party
This was the final activity that I planned for the day, but time got away from us and we never actually were able to code a dance party. I thought I would still share the resources I had prepped in case anyone else would find them useful! For this activity, I was simply going to have them create a "code" for a partner that started with "START" and "ended" with "LOOP." The teacher would play a song and the students would have to dance out the code. Then the students would switch positions and the coder would dance and the dancer would code. This activity was going to be the final activity that really demonstrated the executing of an ALGORITHM and how computers do what they are told, which is where coding comes into play!
The students noticed right away that I was wearing a coding shirt and thought it was so cool because it looked like the coding that they had done on code.org. They loved the hand stamp even more because it looked just like my shirt and I used my grape smelling stamp pad. I would consider our Day of Code/Hour of Code to be a success!
As part of our monthly Quickfires last year, our English 12 students made Christmas/holiday paper circuit cards for our local Senior Center. The students really enjoyed creating them and it was a great creative outlet. Due to the rigor of their classes as students get older, sometimes the content is deep and there isn't always a chance for the creative outlet, so I love working on creative projects for our older students.
We liked the idea and outcome so much from last year, that we decided to do it again this year with the English 12 classes. We have had so many things that have hit our staff unexpectedly this year, that we decided to focus on staff as our recipients. We wanted to have a little pick-me-up for our staff when they came back from Thanksgiving break. We had students draw names of staff members (the red and green slips of paper in the black bin above), and then they created Christmas/holiday cards that were personal to that staff member. Some of their awesome work is below!
I made sure to get to work early on the first day back from break (plus a snow day added at the end!) so I could stick the cards in the staff mailboxes. We included a little note explaining how the cards work (so they can test student work), who made them, and a little holiday note. The students were so curious to hear about what teachers thought! It made the whole experience personal for them knowing the card was going to someone they knew.
As the end of the first trimester came to a close, I had a chance to work with my 6th grade buddies in doing a Thanksgiving-themed STEAM activity. This is a little twist on the Pumpkin Elevators activity - with a little Thanksgiving flair. Students were asked to design the tallest tower possible that could lift a turkey in a little pot using a pulley system. The materials they could use are straw builders, connectors, 2 pieces of string, and 2 pipe cleaners. One thing I told the students though was although they had 2 pieces of string, they could only pull on 1 piece of string to move their pulley. Also, once they were able to work their pulley system, we started adding marbles (5 at a time) to add additional weight. I think the most we were able to add was 35 - pretty impressive!
What I really enjoyed about doing this activity with 6th graders (compared to the 4th graders with Pumpkin Elevators), was that the Science concepts were understood on a deeper level. The students made connections quicker was that the tallest tower isn't necessarily the most structurally sound. Their designs at first greatly different from their end designs!
Just to point out how much I love students who not only think like me, but take it one step further. Below, the picture on the left with the blue bin shows how I gave the materials to students. The picture on the left shows 2 bins after they had been reset for the next hour. Clearly, the purple bin makes me swoon! The red on the other hand...well..at least they got everything back in the bin. :)
One of the 4th grade classes that I work with has been talking a lot about pollution and how recycling is important to keeping the Earth clean and sustainable. As we are nearing Thanksgiving, I was looking for a Thanksgiving activity and ended up stumbling upon this Chihuly Glass Art for Kids post and thought it was a perfect tie-in for both Thanksgiving and recycling!
For this activity, the directions were pretty straight forward - color a plastic water bottle with Sharpie markers, cut the water bottle into a spiral, and then add to a wire hanger. Before the students began coloring their water bottles, they shared some of the recycling facts they had learned with me and then we talked about using 4th grade coloring and design skills to fill in the space of their water bottle. There was to be no scribbling and it should take longer than 60 seconds to color! They did an awesome job of thinking about the colors they were selecting, adding special designs or notes, and overall caring about the aesthetics of how their water bottle was decorated (I always tell students that the "A" in STEAM is not just for ART, but also AESTHETICS).
The fun tie-in that we had for this activity is that the class will have it as decorations for their Thanksgiving celebration next week and then they will be giving it as a gratitude gift to the local Senior Center so they can enjoy the students hard work (and recycling facts!).
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