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!
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!
This week when I picked my own kiddos up from school, one of their teachers shared with me some Halloween-themed paper quilling projects they were working on and I thought it was so cool! The detail that the kids were putting in to their creations were awesome and despite the general design of them (pumpkins, witch hats, spiders, ghosts), they were all very different. I knew this was a project I was going to have to share with my 4th grade friends!
The great thing about this project is that it takes minimal resources - just paper and glue! The not-so-desirable part (for me at least), was cutting out 1/4 inch strips of different colored paper for at least 2 classes. Talk about tedious - but totally worth it.
I created a little background sheet so that if they were only able to complete a smaller object, they wouldn't feel as though their paper was missing something with a bunch of whitespace. Plus, it is Halloween, so why not be a little extra, right? :)
The activity was pretty straight forward, which gave students the majority of the time to actually work on their quilling. I asked them to make the outline of their objects first so that it would keep their wound up quills together and not unravel all over the place. The kids really enjoyed this new way to use paper to create art and really allowed me to walk around and sit at tables and have conversations with students. It is all about relationships and that is something I felt I needed to revisit and build upon a bit more.
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
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!
I am not sure if this would technically be a Quickfire or more of a STEAM/Maker activity, but I am going to call it a Quickfire (we gave students a task, limited time frame, and limited resources, so I that is why I am calling it that!).
This week is Homecoming Week in my district as well as having 90*(+) and humid days (in schools without air conditioning in classrooms), which can make everything a bit challenging. But that doesn't mean the fun (I mean learning!) stops! In my weekly adventure with a 4th grade classroom, we decided to have a more laid back day and gave the students the opportunity to create a shrinky dink of their choice. We did not give them a theme other that it could be whatever they want as long as it was meaningful to them. This was a great activity because it allowed individuals to express themselves however they want and turn their creation into whatever they wanted. It also provided a product that they could take home and be proud of with a story to share as to why they created what they did.
The materials needed for this Quickfire are pretty simple - Sharpie markers, shrink film, and a toaster oven. I pre-cut the 8.5x11 film sheets into quarters so that the students would know that their design couldn't be any larger than that size (if they wanted it shrunk, that is!).
As I was gathering materials at the beginning of the day, I decided to grab some yarn, beads, and hole punchers as well. Who knows what they might decide to make after all, right?
The students were so excited to do something they have never done before, but they also had a lot of questions! We tried to keep our answers simple so they would not only have as much time as possible to create, but that we would not come across as limiting or leading in our answers. They were eager to get to work and after about a minute of quiet, personal think time, they were off and creating!
I was busy running the toast oven and showing the kids how their film creations transformed due to the heat of the toaster oven, so I didn't get that many pictures of their final creations. As soon as I let them take them from the cooling station, they were off and building upon the shrinky dink base. I saw many necklaces, bracelets, keychains, and designs such as cats and sporting equipment that could be used for general play. At the end, they did exactly as I asked - created something that was meaningful to them. Each student had a story to tell as to why they created what they did and they were also incredibly proud!
As I am working with teachers and implementing Quickfires, it has got me thinking more and more about how many teachers have been doing Quickfires without really thinking about it. Often times we provide learning opportunities for students that incorporates a set of materials as well as constraints. I think the biggest constraint with the Quickfires is time. I am pretty sure if we gave students all day to work on building or designing something with the expected outcome that they would have a product to share, they would do it. I think the time aspect might be one of the things that I love about Quickfires - the time puts pressure on to create an outcome, and the outcomes get better with practice.
I think this would definitely be true of the activity I did with 4th graders today - building catapults. I found the activity through the Strawbees app (and also online), and thought that it would be perfect for the 4th grade class that I will be working with throughout the year. A couple of weeks ago, they did a spaghetti challenge where they were given 20 spaghetti noodles, 1 yard of tape, and 1 marshmallow. They had to build the tallest free-standing structure that had a marshmallow at the top. The teacher and her student teacher said the kids had a blast with it, so I was even more excited for the catapult challenge.
Ready, Set, Catapult!
For this activity, they used the materials below (screenshot from the Strawbees app!). The only changes that we made were that I prepared the bags of materials for groups ahead of time with the materials pre-cut (to save time) and we allowed them to use masking tape (not realizing when I purchased the straws that they were a little larger than a standard straw, so tape was needed to hold the Strawbees connectors inside the straws). I love hoarding materials that can be used for making things, so I have been collecting plastic milk gallon containers for several months and then used the Strawbees die cuts from my local ISD to make the connectors - a pretty cost-effective activity to do with students! I created the catapult from the Strawbees app to see how the process would go and then created the targets that students could use to test their catapults.
HOW MIGHT WE engineer functional catapults to complete tasks?
When introducing the activity, I intentionally did not show them the one I built or even a picture of a catapult. As a class, we talked about what a catapult was and what it could do, but let the imaginations go from there. About halfway through, the teacher stopped to show a short clarifying video of a catapult as there were several conversations that were overheard about catapults and slingshots. The students stopped, watched, and then went back to modifying their catapults without missing a beat!
It was so fascinating to watch the students build their catapults, but was even more fascinating was the conversations that could be overheard as they were working. One group had 1 girl and 2 boys, and at one point, the girl in the group commented to the teacher that this was the first time she had worked in a group with boys where they actually listened to her thoughts and let her show ideas she had. <Insert teacher heart melting here!> The teacher also noticed for the second week in a row (during our activity) that a student who has had some difficulties connecting with other students was able to work successfully with the others in the group and the group respected him as a part of the team. <Again, insert teacher heart melting here!>
At the end of the activity, we had the students gather together on the floor and we gave them the opportunity to launch their (eye)balls at the Mountain Climber target. We gave each group 2 attempts and marked each one with masking tape to show their accomplishments. Well, except for 1 group whose ball launched further than the target - HUGE congrats to them because I personally shot mine backwards more often than forwards!
Although we gave them a bag of resources to use, it was so fascinating to see that every catapult/slingshot was different. Those kiddos worked hard and you could tell from their involvement and conversation that they enjoyed it!
Last year I was introduced to the concept of Quickfires by Mary Wever and the MAET program at Michigan State University. It seemed like a great way to engage students with new tools, ideas, and concepts - I was hooked!
A Quickfire is a challenge that is presented to an students that has constraints and a time frame (think about the TV show Top Chef!). These activities are meant to be a time to learn new tools and push student thinking. Therefore, students should feel comfortable trying out a new tool rather than going with the same old tool they may be really good at already. As part of the Quickfire process, teachers should NOT take a grade on these activities - they should encourage students to think outside the box and be quick about their thinking. The Quickfire activities that I created to do with teachers are rooted in the design thinking process and were intended to be completed within 45-60 minutes (roughly 1 class period). Each time, students will produce a product (although some may not consider their products as “complete” and that is completely acceptable - the purpose is to begin designing a solution to something that you had not previously conceived of before).
As part of my approach to implementing Quickfires, I created a leveled chart that show how the students are connecting to the project. This helps me to see where we are in our scaffolding process and ways we can push our students to think outside of themselves.
For the first Quickfire of the school year, I worked with a 12th grade ELA teacher. She and I started planning last year focusing in on skills that would benefit students for their culminating Senior Capstone project. Our goal was to scaffold the Quickfire projects throughout the year and make the activities fun, while the students are learning through collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and building confidence (as this aligns to our district's 6C Learner Profile).
HOW MIGHT WE promote school spirit among the student population?
So, for our first Quickfire, we started simple and fun with a Quickfire I designed called, "Sidewalk Selfie" (a level 2 Quickfire). We started the lesson out by giving the students a brief overview what what a Quickfire was and how we were going to be using them throughout the year. We asked them what it meant to be a student at our high school or what were things that represent our high school. After some individual brainstorming, we then shared what we were going to be creating and then separated them into small groups. Together, they shared their individual ideas and then came to a collective idea for what their selfie station was going to look like. After heading outside and letting them create for a while, we asked them to do a gallery walk of the other stations and fill out the "Design Thinking Prototype Feedback Form", providing other groups with feedback before completing their designs. Groups then had a chance to refine their designs before students were able to walk around taking selfies at the stations. We had students email their pictures to a Lensmob email address so that we could easily collect pictures and be able to view and share them. The pictures were shared with our new superintendent as welcome and sharing a student-view of what it means to be a student at our high school.
(Side Note: When I set this up, Lensmob was working properly. Today when we went to send the pictures, it appears that Lensmob might be having a glitch or no longer supported. Next time I think I will use the 'File Upload' feature of Google Forms for submitting pictures.)
In the end, what did we accomplish?
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