This week in Y5 and T1 we read the story, "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Leaves" and then got busy building! At the end of the story, the old lady sneezes up a scarecrow, so I thought it would be perfect to bring out the scarecrow rubber duckies. I asked students to build (in partners) the tallest freestanding tower possible with the wooden planks they had in their containers. Once they had built their tower, they had to see if they could balance a scarecrow rubber duck on top. This definitely tested their building skills - there was a lot of building, rebuilding, and then even some more rebuilding. Even before they began building, we discussed some of the different ways that you can build with the planks (standing up on the short side, standing up on the long side, laying down on the flat side). I told them it was important to build with their partner to come up with one idea (as they are getting good with sharing a container of materials, but we are still working on building together) and then build it together. They worked through it though and some groups had some successful builds!
As we brought our Toy Story STEAM Mania unit to a close in 4th grade, we ended by making a bridge for Slinky Dog and a ramp for Toy Story cars. As usual, I gave the students their jobs and then explained the task(s) for the day. I wrote all the table assignments on the board so that students could reference them as they were working, as they would switch tasks after one was completed. This was our first time trying this out, and I learned I definitely need to give a bit more clarification in the task transition. So it was definitely a learning experience for students and myself alike!
I try to vary the resources I use and the type of tasks I ask the students to complete. This was their first time using the planks as well as the Slinky Dogs and cars. This was the first time I witnessed a significant amount of frustration from multiple groups in working together and forming one cohesive idea. I think that is one of the great benefits of STEAM in how students can learn some of the super important skills of working with others and learning to compromise. I learned that next week, as a class, we need to step back and revisit how to appropriately agree and disagree with one another as well as share ideas politely. Anytime is a good time to revisit these things!
The first task was for groups to build a bridge for Slinky Dog. I gave them the oh-so-technical measurement of "across ONE table/desk." Due to the different sizes of tables and desks that make up the groups, I simplified that measurement and instead asked them to make sure that it was at least 5 centimeters high. This turned out to be a bit difficult for them in making sure that it was raised as well as reaching the desired length - mission accomplished! I always tell them that I give them difficult challenges because I want to give their brain a workout and really challenge them with something difficult. They wouldn't learn as much if I always gave them simple tasks and challenges after all!
For the second task, I gave the challenge to build a ramp that was at least 30 centimeters tall and a car could be launched from the top. If I were to do this challenge again, I would definitely reduce the height to 15 or 20 centimeters. They started running out of planks to reach the height for their design, and spent a lot of time in the redesign phase where frustrations started to boil over in some groups. It was a great lesson in how we need to stop and step back sometimes in order to move forward. And re-emphasize the ramp direction and not the launch part. ;)
For our last Toy Story STEAM Mania activity, in Y5 and T1 we started off with reading the book Toy Story 2. The students have really enjoyed the Toy Story stories we have started with before our activities. After reading the story, we built towers to keep the aliens safe, like how in the story Woody's friends tried to keep Woody safe so that he wouldn't be sent off to Japan. I kept this activity simple and had to review what a tower was so students knew to build their structure up, instead of wide across the floor (next time I think I would show them some pictures of different kinds of towers - this seemed a bit confusing for them). Students became quite creative and we had hot tubs at some towers (thank you blue planks!), full bedrooms, and even dining room tables. They really enjoyed building with a partner and coming up with a structure together. I bet they will be a bit disappointed that next week we are moving on to something new - which is a great sign of engagement!
Today I worked with one of our awesome 7th grade teachers, Alissa Huggins, to do an activity for her ELA students to get them communicating and collaborating together as they started off the school year. We both like to think outside the box with things, so our ideas often build off each other to come together in a grand plan. It usually results in a pretty awesome experience for students and leaves both of us wiped out by the end of the day. I don't think we would have it any other way though!
As students entered the Media Center, we gave each of them a golf back with a number on it - this told them which table to go sit at for their group. We conducted a little survey to build some empathy to find out how many students had played mini golf before (this also allowed us to collect their numbers to use with the next group). It was really interesting to see the final numbers when collected the numbers. It helped us target groups who might need a little further explanation of what mini golf is, how obstacles work, and how to bring their ideas to a tangible design.
For this Learning Landscape, we told students they would be creating a hole as part of a mini golf course. BUT...they would be using the picture book at their table as their inspiration for the design for their hole. We told them they could build whatever they wanted as far as how the hole was shaped, but the obstacles and other elements had to be themed around the book. Based on their reactions of the somewhat simple picture books at their table, I think they thought this was going to be easy-peasy. It definitely proved to be more difficult than they anticipated, and I think they were glad I chose easy picture books!
Before students began building anything, we had each student do some individual brainstorming. After this, we had them discuss their ideas as a group and either decide on one of the group members' designs or combine elements of different ones to come up with a new design. We wanted all students to be active and accountable during the ideation process.
I am including some of the student brainstorming sheets below because it was so interesting to see their conceptual drawings and then how they translated those ideas from paper to a tangible design. Some were able to put their thoughts into pictures and words, where others struggled with sketches but were able to verbally articulate their design ideas.
After students were done working as a group to come up with one cohesive design, they had to present it to their teacher or myself to receive approval to begin building. This ensured they were all on the same page as far as designing and everyone had a part of construct that they were responsible for once they had their materials. This really ensured that they were truly collaborating and communicating to come to one design for their hole. As they were constructing, one student even made a little "judge's stand" to reinforce the rules of mini-golf for the players. :)
The materials we used were:
When students had reached a point where they were done constructing and ready for testing, they were asked to test out their course designs. Some even constructed their own little golf clubs to use - how creative! After testing their designs, some groups had to go back and do some redesigning, as they found their courses may have looked pretty cool, but they were next to impossible to actually play. After some redesign and another round or two of testing, their courses were in a much better playable design.
There were so many interesting and fun designs, but I have to say I think this one might have been at the top of my list for how an idea came to life. The collaboration and communication between team members of this group was amazing too! If they had more time to build, I know they would have had some awesome obstacles.
(The hole spanned over the 2 large Lego baseplates and the cow head was a ramp. When you hit the ball, it would have to go up the cow head ramp and the end hole would be between the cow's horns.)
Other honorable mentions...
My church recently opened a new school (St. Robert Catholic School) that has a STEAM focus, so I was excited with new possibilities for ways I could give back to my church and new school! When I was speaking to the principal, Liz Peters, I was so energized by the learning potential for the students and teachers in the school. In speaking further with her, we were talking about some of the stakeholders of the group (Board of Education) and their understanding of what STEAM is and how it fits in with learning. As many of the Board of Ed members do not have a background in education, I offered up to come to one of their Board meetings and share a STEAM activity and how religion fits in with STEAM education.
I decided to do an activity that I had done with 6th graders last school year, Tower Building. I knew this could be done in a short period of time and would expose those who were unfamiliar with STEAM to a STEAM-based activity that stemmed from this weekend's gospel reading. Below is the handout that I created for each person to have with them as a guide for the activity, as well as something they can take home. Not so that it can be "filed" (or recycled!), but so that their STEAM story continues on beyond the night of their STEAM activity.
I love watching adults participate in STEAM activities. So many times I see totally different personalities come out and it is interesting how the competitiveness comes out despite the fact that the activity is not a competition. One thing that I noticed about this group that was a little different was that there was very little hesitation in starting the activity - they just jumped right in and started building.
It was fun sharing a STEAM activity with the Board and I can't wait to see what the teachers and students create this year!
Glow STEAM in Action
At the end of the hour, we asked students to clean up their stations and reset the classroom for the next class. Some classes were able to do this quickly and we invited them to use a highlighter to write what they loved about the day. You can tell some students were completely worn out from the fun (and heat!), but they had some great things to share.
I try my best to be as environmentally conscious as I can be on a daily basis (I am a big fan of recycling and reusing!), but sometimes we all could use the reminder to do a little bit more to protect our planet. I know I have been making an effort to no longer use plastic straws when dining out - it seemed weird and awkward at first, but the more I do it, it doesn't feel that way. I believe it has been said that it takes 21 days to form a habit...I don't eat out that often, but it is getting easier to simply move the straw to the end of the table and drink straight from the glass. Sometimes Earth Day is that gentle reminder each year that we can do better as long as we choose to do better about our environmental decisions.
As Earth Day fell on a weekend this year, I asked the teacher I usually work with on Fridays if an Earth Day STEM activity would fit in to anything they were doing. She told me they were actually studying animal adaptations, so it fit in well with what they were learning. I found this video that we watched about kids taking action against pollution found in the oceans. The video was very powerful and the students definitely had thoughts to share on the issue!
When the classroom teacher and I were planning this activity, we had originally wanted them to do some brainstorming before building. When I arrived for STEM time later in the day, the teacher informed me that they have spent over 3 hours that day doing state testing, so we decided to not do our brainstorming worksheet and let their brains just create. And to be completely honest, I think it was the perfect decision for the end of a Friday after a long week of state testing. They needed to explore (we hadn't used Brain Flakes, wooden planks, or Plus Plus yet in STEM activities) and have some confidence in doing what they do best - create!
I am so proud of what these kiddos came up with knowing how brain-drained they were at this time. They had so many great ideas! Some of the conversations I had with students included:
Recently, I was talking to one of our middle school science teachers and we had a great conversation about how middle schoolers work through problems that require deep critical thinking and problem solving. We decided to do an activity that would test their perseverance, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and problem solving skills. Sounds like fun, right?! :)
The Quickfire challenge that we posed to them required them to build a structure. Not just an ordinary structure though - it had some requirements and constraints.
This was my first time working with this group of kiddos this year and I was blow away at how well they worked together. EVERY single group for EVERY single hour - no joke! They worked cooperatively for the whole time and after completing the challenge(s), many groups deconstructed and build a different tower to complete the challenge. I head many times from students that, "This was so fun!" and "I can't wait to do this again!". It is during Quickfires that really challenge the students (and believe me, there were many planks that fell and MANY structures that had to be COMPLETELY rebuilt, multiple times), I wonder if the students even notice how they are being challenged or if they get caught up in the "fun." I know that they recognize that we present them with a difficult challenge, but there are so many other aspects that we as teachers are observing as they complete the task. The teacher had created the groups ahead of time and grouped students in a variety of ways (introverts/extroverts, students who normally don't work together, ability levels, etc.), and she observed students coming out of their shells and contributing to a group project. It was so interesting to hear her observations and reflect on our intended outcomes as well as hers.
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