As Valentine's Day was approaching, I was trying to select a fun STEAM activity that would really get students working together and communicating. We have had so many snow days recently and I know it takes a bit of time to get back into a regular routine. So, no time like the present to revisit how we work together to create! As I was looking for inspiration, I stumbled upon (through someone sharing on Instagram) of Brooke Brown's Maker Mats, so I knew that I had an activity - a Valentine STEAM/Maker challenge! I really liked her mats, but knew that it wasn't quite what I was looking for the activity. So, I took the concept and created my own mat. We had recently done something similar with our Winter Brick Building task cards, so I knew the students would be up for the challenge.
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!
Wow. That is all I have to say for this activity. When I was thinking of what to do with my 4th grade friends, somehow I came about the idea of using chopsticks for something. That sort of snowballed into having them use chopsticks to move something from one location to another and then building something with the items they collected. I put materials together (just chopsticks, pattern blocks, and task cards) and was ready to go. Then as I was about to meet with the class I had this sudden feeling of, oh no, what am I doing to these poor kiddos! I don't want to give them something totally frustrating and impossible for them to complete. I assumed many of them would not be able to use chopsticks the "proper" way (I am not even entirely sure I use them the proper way!), but was surprised that about half of the class had used chopsticks before - sweet! This might work after all!
The directions I gave the students were simple:
There were so many amazing things that came out of this activity that I did not anticipate - one of the many things that I love about working with students!
2. Some groups rocked out communicating and collaborating with one another. A group or two needed some adult guidance in how to work through working with a team, but everyone ended up working together!
3. As I walked around, I could hear group members yelling out what was needed and encouraging those who were moving the blocks.
4. It might have looked like total chaos from a distance, but there were so many great things going on at one time. I am so proud of each of these kiddos for their hard work with this activity!
What truly was amazing to see was how the students stepped up to help each other and encourage each other without being prompted. They noticed when their group members were struggling and they offered advice constructively and truly build a team that was working together!
I know I didn't get pictures of each creation every group created, but I tried to get as many as possible! The teacher and I asked that students show us their creation before they moved on to the next card. This gave us an opportunity to check in with them, see how they were working together, and encourage them as they moved forward to the next task card. Some of the creations the students came up with are shown below.
I would TOTALLY recommend this activity if you want to put your students in a situation where they must work together to succeed. Each group member plays a critical part in the success of building and creating and the sense of team adds another level of engagement. What I thought might be a total flop of an activity ended up being one of the best I have done in a while!
This week I was able to work with one of our awesome 1st grade teachers and her group of kiddos. The students had previously played with STEAM resources such as straw builders and Magna-Tiles, but had not done a structure STEAM activity. I love how she gave her students time to just play with STEAM resources and let their imaginations go before doing a more structured activity. Even if you do structured STEAM activities, I think having time to just play (at any age!) is super important and will help students grow creativity and build confidence.
For our first activity, we started out with a simple task and some simple materials (I used just pattern blocks - nothing super fancy!). I did not want to overwhelm them with many options as well as ask them to focus on a task. So, Function Robots it was for this group!
I remember seeing this from someone on Instagram and I cannot remember who, so I am sorry I don't know who to credit for the idea! The concept is simple though - build a robot that performs a task. Simple enough! One thing I did to help them was give them tasks that their robots would have to complete so they wouldn't have to spend time thinking, deciding, and then building together - all collaboratively. Starting small, I wanted them to focus on the building collaboratively as well as communicating so that they, as a group, could build ONE robot (not each group member building their own). I wanted to give them tasks that I thought they might already do at home, so they were familiar with them and could relate to the function that would need to take place.
I know it may be hard to tell from their creations what the function of their robot was supposed to be, but they had to explain how their robot worked before they could move on to a new card. The majority of the groups worked really well together to follow the directions (build ONE robot together that performs the task with only the blocks in their own tub), and had some pretty elaborate explanations for how their robot would work. I was so proud of their hard work together to build multiple robots and be INVENTORS of things that might not have been previously built before!
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