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.
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!
I feel like I can't say it enough. I love Maker Mats! They are easy to create, allow for student voice and choice, provide direction to students to create under a theme, and allow for students to have room for creativity. To fit this Maker Mat with our Toy Story STEAM Mania theme, I picked just a couple of items from Toy Story and then let then the students start creating!
When using Maker Mats, I have students work in pairs or as a group of four and then they have to select one item on the mat to build together. After they are done building, they have to show me what they made, and then I check it off on their mat before they can move on. This adds a bit of accountability with what they are building and sometimes I have to send them back with direction to add a little more (because I know they can!). They usually respond really well and come back with something even better. I have to say that I was really impressed with the claw machines that the students built - many of them built some functional claw machines and spent a lot of time adding little details to their machines. I know pictures don't do it justice, but they were pretty awesome!
Summer is almost here! With that often comes the dread whining of "I'm bored!" from kiddos all over. Are you looking for ways to help the parents of your students beat the summer boredom? No fear, a summer STEAM calendar of activities is here!
Each day for the months of June, July, and August, I have put together some simple activities that can be done at home. In efforts of making these activities accessible, I tried to keep any additional materials that might be needed to a minimum, but hopefully most can be found at home, outside, or through a family member or neighbor. A few simple items from the dollar store could spark some imagination, but is not necessary. Also, as I do have children of my own and encourage as much outside time as possible during the summer with minimal screen time, the "T" of the STEAM is not emphasized. Technology can be used at any time to enhance any of the activities or be used for research, inspiration, or documentation, but will not be a significant focus. You might also notice that there isn't any slime challenges. That was intentional because I am out-slimed and I know I am not the only one!
Click on the green button below to download the calendars.
I would love to see what you have created this summer! Use the button below to share images of your creations or links to any videos. I often learn so much from students when doing activities and am constantly in awe of their creativity. Feel free to share what you have created and be inspired by others!
Feel free to use the hashtag #SummerSTEAM19 too when sharing on social media!
Images will appear below after the form is submitted. Please fill out the form for each individual day so that it can be shared in the gallery. If you don't see the pictures, please wait a few seconds and refresh the page.
I originally had planned this activity to be a basic pixel art activity as I thought it would be a high engagement activity (as this group loves Minecraft). As I was driving to the school (a whopping 2 minute maximum drive), I had a thought that made me change my mind about my plan. I usually give the students task cards or Maker Mats with this type of activity, but my plan was to give them the challenge of creating pixel art with free choice on creativity. My thought that made me change my mind about the structure of the activity was to have each class design their own Maker Mat to use for the activity.
Using some basic design thinking, I led each class through how we were going to create our own Maker Mat to create our pixel art. I didn't follow a specific process, but this is how I led the design part of the activity. Our theme for our Maker Mat was "Summer."
Students could complete any of the items on the Maker Mat on the board in any order they chose. As usual with task cards or when using a Maker Mat, the groups had to show the classroom teacher or I their creation before moving on to the next item.
I love how the classes came up with different interpretations for each of their items. There were so many creative ideas! This was actually a quick process in designing the Maker Mat, so students had plenty of time in our hour-long activity to simply build. It was a great way to give the students ownership in the activity. When I came in and they asked me what we were going to be building, I could honestly say, "I don't know!".
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!
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