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!
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!
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. :)
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.
As part of my last DonorsChoose project, I was able to get some Magic Nuudles to use with students. I had not used them myself before, but had heard about so many great classroom applications for them, so I thought of my 4th grade friends and knew they would love to try them out! I received 2 different sizes and love that the students had options for building with them and the larger ones were great for them to cut and use for details on their creations.
As I am working with two 4th grade classes right now, I thought I would use what they are reading in their respective classrooms to drive the activity. In one class, they are reading Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner and in the other, they just finished reading Listen to the Wind by Greg Mortenson. For the activity, we placed students in groups and they had to decide a scene from their book to represent. The constraints I gave them were they could only use the Magic Nuudles, sponges (for water to stick them together), scissors, and their story scape had to fit in the tray they were given. Before they could start building, they had to come to a consensus as a group which scene they were representing and the job each person in the group was responsible for building before they could gather their materials. Once they had their plan, they were ready to build! We gave them the chance to do a gallery walk at the end and share what they had created with the whole class and see the different story interpretations and how the Magic Nuudles were used in different ways.
Stone Fox Interpretation
The class reading Stone Fox was just a little more than halfway through the book, so we spent time talking about what they had read and the details they shared were amazing! The kids were so into the book and were excited to share what they had learned so far. As they had not finished the book, we let them build either a scene they had read about already, or their predictions for what was going to happen next. Some of the things they built:
Lost in the Wind Interpretation
In the other classroom, the teacher reads her class a picture book every day and so they used the book they had read last. There were quite a few students missing today, we we had fewer groups in this class, but they were just as excited! They shared what they had read about, details of the story, and things that stood out to them in the book. Some of the things the students created from this book:
Towards the end of the summer, I received a promotional email from Wikki Stix about their National Unplugged Play Day on September 29. They were offering a kit of Wikki Stix and activities for only $5 with free shipping - I was sold! I have Wikki Stix as part of my STEAM resources collection, but I feel I can never have enough. Students use them in a variety of ways for creating where some can be reused and others, well, they end up as smooth balls of waxy yarn.
I decided to take advantage of the National Unplugged Day to work in a Learning Landscape. I knew this was going to be a bit of stretch in thinking for the students, but knew they were up for a good challenge! The teacher I was working with told me they were reviewing multiplication and factors, so I decided to work in my new Sum Blox with the Wikki Stix.
I started out by reading the story, Unplugged by Steve Anthony as a way to introduce National Unplugged Day. I love a good picture book and even though I was reading this to 4th graders, they still loved it! Our activity was going to be that the students had to select a number (between 4-20) and then determine all of the factors/fact families for that number. Once they determined the factors, they had to use those numbers to design a piece of playground equipment using the Sum Blox (of their determined factors) and the Wikki Stix. I feel like I had a lot of blank eyes staring at me when I explained this (to be expected!), but then I showed them how the Sum Blox "worked" and I think the pieces started fitting together.
I intentionally did not want to show them what I had created, as then I knew I would see every group using the number 10 and building slides. I did this activity with 2 classes on the same day, and I only felt that I had to show one group my example (as they were struggling a bit more with the concept).
My focus for this activity (other than the content aspect of multiplication factors) was for students to be placed into a situation where they had to really collaborate to make one piece of playground equipment. Working together in groups can be difficult at any age, but I feel it is especially important for younger students to learn how to share their ideas, listen, and create with others. I felt that this would be a good activity for them to really dig deep into not only what they know, but how they can work with one another to produce something greater than what they could on their own.
Student Playground Equipment Creations
I saw so many great creations from this mini Learning Landscape EDU project! There were swings, monkey bars, gaga ball pits, slides, zip lines, and so many other creations that I didn't get a chance to get pictures of because I was caught up in building and sharing! Some groups put some great details into their creations beyond the basic playground equipment - people, balls, and other action pieces.
The final part of this activity was a gallery walk where each group had the opportunity to share what they created. I received a microphone as part of a Donors Choose project, and it was amazing how one of the classes had such confidence in sharing what they created with the microphone. The gallery walk also gave students the chance to be proud of what they created and show off their hard work.
For Next Time
I knew this was going to be a hard activity for students to grasp. Taking something they are familiar with (multiplication factors) and then putting a completely different spin on it and turning it into playground equipment was a tall order. Some things I would do differently next time:
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