Tag: STEAM (page 1 of 2)

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge — Supply List

In response to the overwhelming demand (Okay, 3 comments–w00t!), here are the supplies I included in each of the Mystery Maker Bags.

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
World’s Slowest Marble Coaster
Using the materials in the bag, create a marble roller coaster that takes as long as possible to get from the top of a table to the floor. If yours takes longer than 15 seconds, you are an engineering genius!

Materials: paper of different sizes; paper towel or toilet tissue tubes; marble; tape; scissors

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Never Underestimate the Power of the Gumdrop
Using only gumdrops and toothpicks, create a structure that can hold a textbook at least 6 inches off the ground for at least 1 minute. Feeling confident? How about 12 inches? How about 2 textbooks?

Materials: bag of gumdrops; at least 100 toothpicks; standard-sized textbook

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Foiled Again!
Using only the piece of foil included, create a boat that will stay afloat with as many pennies as possible. How much treasure will your boat float? 10¢? 25¢? A dollar?

Materials: 10″ x 10″ square piece of aluminum foil; couple of dollars worth of pennies, kiddie pool or sink filled w/water

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
One Small Step for Man…
Using the materials in the bag, paper rocket that will go as far on a breath as you possibly can. Feel free to customize the design. Does the shape affect the distance? Would adding extra features, like fins help?

Materials: paper; cardboard index cards; tape; soda straw; scissors

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Beware the Bridge to Nowhere!
Using the materials in the bag, create a platform that extends out as far as possible from the edge of a table or chair. The catch? There can be no supports or other parts of the platform touching the ground. If you’ve ever seen the Grand Canyon skywalk, you will get the basic idea!

Materials: newspaper; miscellaneous types/sizes paper; tape; cotton or nylon twine

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
A Bridge over Troubled Waters
Using only straws and pins, build a bridge that can hold as much weight as possible without collapsing. To test the bridge, use the cup and add a few pennies at a time. Don’t look down!

Materials: standard soda straws; box or pincushion and straightpins

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Ping Pong Zip Along
Using the materials in your bag, create a way to transport a ping-pong ball safely to the end of a zip line. If the ping pong ball falls or gets stuck, it’s game, set, and match!

Materials: cotton/nylon string or dental floss; ping pong ball; tape; paper clips; index cards

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
The Paper Elevator
Using nothing but paper and tape, create a structure that will hold a textbook at least 12 inches off the ground. Can you achieve this using the fewest pieces of paper necessary? How about TWO textbooks, smarty?

Materials: standard copier paper; clear tape; textbook

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Paper Helicopter
Using the materials inside your bag, create a helicopter that will fall to the ground as sloooooowly as possible. Make that landing as soft as possible!

Materials: copier paper; 2 index cards; scissors; tape; paperclip

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Launch Catapults!
Using the materials in the bag, create a catapult that can launch a pom-pom as far as you possibly can. Want an extra challenge? Try making the pom-pom hit a target or land in a specific place!

Materials: plastic cup, plastic spoons (2), rubber bands, pom-poms, craft sticks, index cards, scissors

Added this year:

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Don’t Break the Chain

Use the materials in your bag to create the longest chain you can that can support the weight of the included “cargo bag.”

Materials: construction paper, scissors, tape, cargo bags (zippered freezer bag with golf balls, coins, or other similar objects for mass, paperclip opened up and pushed through thick part of zipper for hanging onto chain)

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Tower of Power

Using only what is in the bag, create the tallest free-standing tower you can.

Materials: 20-25 sheets paper, tape

TIP: Schools throw out a LOT of printed-on paper. Instead of using blank paper in some of these projects, hit up the recycling bins and put the used to good re-use!

5 Classroom Strategies to Build STEM/STEAM Skills

One reason I and others promote STEM or STEAM education so passionately goes far beyond the outstanding job opportunities the field affords. Beyond this is the abundance and importance in STEAM of so-called “soft skills”such as problem identification, creativity, innovative thinking, collaboration, critical thinking, etc. Creating a generation of students who are thusly skilled is not just vital to ensuring competitiveness in the current and future global economy, it equips them for life. This is particularly true when paired with other traits/skills, such as adaptability, organization, empathy, initiative, and grit.  As I am preparing for a talk at the STEAM Academy at TCEA next week, the following are some ideas and classroom strategies to promote STEAM-related skills, including critical thinking and problem solving in any subject area:

  1. Stimulate wonder. In any subject area, teachers should work to create situations that will make students scratch their heads and experience a certain level of confusion leading to curiosity. I don’t want to confuse this idea with what I was taught as a young teacher was the “anticipatory set”, which was basically review at worst and far from engaging or stimulating on a good day. Think of a provocative statement, an argument, a perplexing question, a quick but powerful video, or a dramatic demonstration. Our kids need more opportunities to get really engaged in a topic and experience fascination and wonder.
  2. Solicit questions. Once students have been hooked, get them asking good, probing, open-ended questions.

    Image Source: Right Question Institute

    As discussed here before, this is no given, since students all but forget how to ask such questions by middle school.  Re-teach them using a process such as the Question Formulation Technique and give them daily opportunities to practice.

  3. Be less direct. Let your students sort through processes without so much guidance from you. I know I was very guilty of step-by-stepping most of the labs in my science classroom to death when I was still teaching middle school. The best ones, though, were ones where I followed my own advice above and set the stage with a statement or demonstration, then let the kids figure out how to explain, prove, disprove, etc. on their own or collaboratively.
  4. Forsake the multiple choice. I have heard “assessment experts” defend the venerable A, B, C, or D (all of the above) test format for years, claiming it is poor question design that has weakened the art. I believe anything worth learning cannot be sufficiently expressed and assessed with such a format and with no opportunity to see into the student’s thinking. The product of such assessments has no relevance or meaning in the real world, and is I believe multiple choice assessments are a reflection of teacher laziness or inexperience (Before anyone gets your feathers too ruffled, I was as guilty as anyone. Remember those clickers? Ugh.). Leave the format to the people who are paid big bucks to construct shallow assessments and disengage our kids–the testing companies. Instead, utilize performance and alternative assessments, such as rubrics, face-to-face conferencing, self-assessment, demonstrations/presentations, physical products, etc.
  5. Failure doesn’t end with an “F”. There are times in life when you get one shot to get something right, like choosing when to cross the street in heavy traffic. Most of life outside of school, however, is based on a series of trial-and-error events and choices. Whether designing a science project, solving a math problem,  writing a narrative essay, or learning to shoot a basketball, students need to tackle tasks that require evaluation and improvement. Our obsession with grades (in the face of much research demonstrating their failures) means that we too often give students failing marks for a failed attempt, usually the first attempt, when we should be offering meaningful feedback into the process the student is going through. If your school/district requires grades, use them in conjunction with actual feedback that makes the numbers have actual meaning. But, as I advised a robotics instructor in my own district, be careful not to view a step in the process as the end, and be careful not to see a project that has not met hoped for goals as a failure. I watched a robotics team build no fewer than 20 prototypes of 1 model without achieving their very lofty desired outcome, but the group made strides and learned everything I could have hoped. An “F” would have been both crushing and inappropriate.

This is a work in progress, so please give me any ideas or feedback you might have. If I use your comments/ideas, I will even give you a shoutout in my presentation. Thanks!

STEM students image source: http://www.dfrobot.com.cn/images/upload/Image/20140306141707uca3mg.jpg

A 3D Design and Printing High 5 Moment

This is why you write the grant, buy the equipment, train the teachers, and plan the curriculum. 4th  and 5th graders on an after-school robotics team at Rodriguez Elementary had recently learned the basics of 3D design using the Tinkercad platform during their weekly technology applications class. When faced with a robotics challenge of rounding up some objects and holding them in their robot, one team came up with a brilliant idea: design a containment system using Tinkercad and print it with the school’s Dremel Idea Builder 3D printer. A couple of prototypes are seen below.

A final, top-secret version is coming before this weekend’s TCEA Area 13 competition. The team’s coach, an outstanding teacher at the campus, keeps telling me, “They have not spent much time on the programming, so I don’t think they’ll do very well.” Do very well? I’d say they have nailed the innovative spirit of the event perfectly. This is amazing on so many levels:

  • Based upon a real, relevant problem, kids came up with a completely original solution.
  • Students did 100% of the design work, including carefully measuring the dimensions of the robot and the mount where the scoop will be placed.
  • The 4 students worked together as a team and truly collaborated.
  • They made numerous mistakes in their design but pressed on, improving their product each time.

This collectively is what problem solving looks like, and it results in real, enduring learning. The teacher’s role, by the way, was primarily to answer questions and manage the printer–she let the kids develop the expertise here. I’m super proud of this team and look forward to many more moments of this sort in coming days around the district!

UPDATE: The final design, with some significant modifications is seen below. Students will get to put it to the test on Saturday.

Computer Science Education Week Resources

National Computer Science Education Week is fast approaching–December 5-11. I have copied the text of an email I sent to our campus technology teachers to help them plan for the week. I thought there might be some usefulness to others out there wanting some options in terms of ways kids might participate in the week or in Hour of Code. If you have other resources or classroom activities that you have come to find particularly successful, please share them in the comments.

Good afternoon to all,

This one is a bit of a long-winded email, but I ask that you take the time to read it all. I wanted to clarify a few things for our new folks in the Tech Apps family regarding National Computer Science Education Week, December 4-8.

  • That is one of several weeks in the elementary and, I believe, middle school curricula in which we emphasize computer coding. You should already be planning to have kids coding.
  • Starting last year, I invited special area guests to attend a campus and participate in a lesson with kids that week. No big deal–they just come in, see how cute your kids are, and enjoy learning the tool they are using. Oh, and I’m sure a picture or two will be taken. If your campus would like me to try and arrange a guest, I would be happy to. I just need to know some good days and times. Feel free to invite whomever you like, just please keep me in the loop.
  • Speaking of the tool you will be using, here are some options for you to brush up on before then. Choose what fits each group of kids best. I have put an asterisk by the ones most often used in our district.
    • Daisy the Dinosaur — fun, free iPad app teaches basics of computational thinking. Emphasis here is on getting the right steps in the right order to complete challenges. There is also a free-programming mode for kids to experiment.
    • ScratchJr — free companion iPad app to the Scratch website focuses on primary kids. Commands are simplified and fewer in number, icons and sprites (characters) are bigger and more colorful to make it more engaging and user-friendly for younger students.
    • *Code.org — great site has self-guided lessons for absolutely any age group, from the kindergartener still trying to master the mouse and keyboard to the high school kid ready to tackle javascript. It is free, and you can set up your classes with an easy upload. The site gives you usernames and passwords–bonus!
    • *Scratch — if your kids are ready for more open-ended learning, maybe upper elementary and middle school, Scratch is a great tool to use. There are tons of how-to vids and lessons out there to help them (and you) get started. Accounts are necessary and free, but there is no bulk upload. You’ll need to do them 1 at a time. Most work is done by arranging blocks for specific tasks, but students can get pretty advanced–things like variables and functions.
    • Code Combat — see the statement above regarding accounts. This fun site does actually require students to type lines of code as they navigate medieval-themed challenges. Students can earn armor and weapons upgrades (Don’t worry–it is comical, not violent.).
    • Swift Playgrounds — fun iPad app that teaches basics of the Swift programming language. Students type code to complete increasingly challenging tasks, all the while learning important coding concepts. Also includes downloadable content to learn to program games, such as Rock, Paper, Scissors or a Running Maze. This is a great step up for middle school kids, and 5th graders would probably also successfully enjoy it. Swift is a great language to learn, because it can be used on any platform, including mobile, desktop, or even the Apple Watch. (Note to middle school peeps–I REALLY like the possibilities for this with middle school kids, and there is a ton of curricula on iTunesU. It might be enough to persuade someone to buy a complete set of iPads for your classes. I plan to lobby for that.)
    • Code Monkey — now included in our Learning.com curriculum, this game-based tutorial teaches kids the basics of coding and the CoffeeScript language and how to create HTML5 games. Probably a bit challenging for the K-4 crowd, but worth a look for older kids already using the Learning.com curriculum.

I hope this helps clear up any confusion. If you feel worried about this unit of study, Code.org is where I would start. It has great classroom curriculum management resources and is super easy to learn. Please do not hesitate to email me if you need help getting set up or just learning the tool you want to use.

3D in Elementary: Our First Steps

dremel-3d

Img Source: http://tinyurl.com/hybzpt6

This fall, we are undertaking several improvements to our technology offerings. Elementary schools are all getting Dremel Idea Builder 3D printers. Middle Schools are getting courses in robotics. All K-8 tech apps courses are being updated to include a greater emphasis on coding, multimedia production, and 3D design. The aim is to make our offerings more current and engaging to our kids by taking them out of the keyboarding-and-Powerpoint routine.

The 3D design and printing aspects of the program are a work in progress, and we will be practicing what we preach by taking some risks, making mistakes, and learning from those mistakes. For the present time, we are only planning on piloting 3rd thru 5th grades. Here are the basic goals:

  • Foster creativity and innovation.
  • Develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Develop visual/spatial reasoning.
  • Apply geometry and math concepts to authentic tasks.
  • Support core subject area curriculum whenever possible

Campus technology staff received their first round of training in September. I chose to train them on Autodesk’s Tinkercad for the design tool and Project Ignite  for the curriculum and introductory activities. Both are free and share 1 account per student. Accounts can easily be created by the teacher through the Project Ignite dashboard and require no student emails.  Project Ignite allows teachers to assign projects and enables them to monitor student progress. Students learn to use Tinkercad as they are taken step by step through the

Dremel's snowflake design tool.

Dremel’s snowflake design tool.

assigned projects within Tinkercad’s actual work interface. Dremel also has a few very easy, browser-based projects students can personalize and complete in just a few minutes, albeit without a lot of the real design benefits of the Tinkercad projects. Once a student has finished a project that will be printed, they simply save the .stl file to their Google Drive and share it with their teacher or save on a USB drive to move to the printing computer.

Here are a few of the starter projects our students may be taking on this semester to get their feet wet:

  • Fall symbols (leaves, pumpkins, ghosts, etc.)
  • Things for which they are thankful. These might be made into charms for rubberband bracelets or necklaces.
  • Personalized dog tags
  • Holiday ornaments
  • Election badges/get out the vote buttons
  • Pencil toppers
14481994_1045178792269119_4610051724678090713_o

5th grade 3D projects at RodrigueZ ES

For the time being, our elementary schools are focusing on 3rd through 5th grades. Primarily, this is to work out the kinks and give teachers time to develop greater mastery. We’ll eventually move to the primary grades, though (In fact, a first grade teacher approached me after school just yesterday with a specific project in mind for her kids.).

Because of the sheer number of student projects involved and the serious time required for printing on a single campus printer, we are implementing a staggered schedule for learning, designing, and printing. It works basically like this:

3d-printing-schedule

I am very interested in having classes create their own projects and purposes for 3D design and printing, and the details of that still must be sorted out. Will we require some sort of reservation? Will the printers travel (Most are on rolling carts), or will student projects have to come to them? Will the campus technology teacher print everything, or will the librarian or the classroom teacher be equipped to do so?

Down the line, our goals will evolve, as will our standard for these types of projects. Among the improvements  I will expect to see by the end of the year or beginning of next year:

  • Students in all elementary grades creating original 3D designs and projects.
  • Students create advanced, collaborative 3D projects (Think of different assembly lines creating one automobile.).
  • Student projects integrate other components, such as electronic lights, motors, sounds, Arduino computers, etc.
  • Create a 3D design competition fo elementary students.

I’rodriguez-3d-printing-studentll continue to periodically post updates as we move forward. If you have questions, please add them to the comments or shoot me an email. I’d appreciate the opportunity to connect!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenges

The following are prompts for a set of engineering challenge bags I am putting together for our district STEAM fair tomorrow. They are variations on project ideas I have found in a variety of sites and resources. I thought they might be useful to someone looking for makerspace prompts or some quick, open-ended science projects.

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
World’s Slowest Marble Coaster

Using the materials in the bag, create a marble roller coaster that takes as long as possible to get from the top of a table to the floor. If yours takes longer than 15 seconds, you are an engineering genius!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Never Underestimate the Power of the Gumdrop

 Using only gumdrops and toothpicks, create a structure that can hold a textbook at least 6 inches off the ground for at least 1 minute. Feeling confident? How about 12 inches? How about 2 textbooks?

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Foiled Again!

Using only the piece of foil included, create a boat that will stay afloat with as many pennies as possible. How much treasure will your boat float? 10¢? 25¢? A dollar?

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
One Small Step for Man…

Using the materials in the bag, paper rocket that will go as far on a breath as you possibly can. Feel free to customize the design. Does the shape affect the distance? Would adding extra features, like fins help?

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Beware the Bridge to Nowhere!

Using the materials in the bag, create a platform that extends out as far as possible from the edge of a table or chair. The catch? There can be no supports or other parts of the platform touching the ground. If you’ve ever seen the Grand Canyon skywalk, you will get the basic idea!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
A Bridge over Troubled Waters

Using only straws and pins, build a bridge that can hold as much weight as possible without collapsing. To test the bridge, use the cup and add a few pennies at a time. Don’t look down!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Ping Pong Zip Along

Using the materials in your bag, create a way to transport a ping-pong ball safely to the end of a zip line. If the ping pong ball falls or gets stuck, it’s game, set, and match!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
The Paper Elevator

Using nothing but paper and tape, create a structure that will hold a textbook at least 12 inches off the ground. Can you achieve this using the fewest pieces of paper necessary? How about TWO textbooks, smarty?

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Paper Helicopter

Using the materials inside your bag, create a helicopter that will fall to the ground as sloooooowly as possible. Make that landing as soft as possible!

Mystery Maker Bag Challenge
Launch Catapults!

Using the materials in the bag, create a catapult that can launch a pom-pom as far as you possibly can. Want an extra challenge? Try making the pom-pom hit a target or land in a specific place!

 

Matador Innovators Camp Reflections

19868261593_ecd0711fe4_zThis summer marked the 3rd year of our summer technology and innovation camps. We conducted two Minecraft camps, two robotics camps, and two technology/innovation camps, called Matador Innovators. All of the camps were 4 days long and lasted 4 hours per day for older students (generally grades 4 and up) and 3 hours for younger students. Camps were staffed by district teachers, librarians, and students.

Last year, I supervised and facilitated the camps, but left it to my extremely capable teachers to run the day-to-day events. I missed the face-to-face interaction with the kids, so I decided to lead the Matador Innovators camps again this year, and I am so glad I did.

20495460031_ec74edc42e_zMatador Innovators camps are fairly informal. We spend the week trying out a variety of creative technology tools, with the students given lots of leeway to determine just how they should be used. The activities and technology tools used this year included:

  • MakeyMakeys — electronic project boards that let conductive objects become computer input devices.
  • Paper and tape — students challenge to construct free-standing tower using only masking tape and 20 sheets of paper.
  • Circuit Stickers — surface-mount LED lights that were crafted into a variety of paper/electronic creations.
  • Lego Movie Maker — wonderful, free app for creating stop-motion movies.
  • Scratch — free, online tool for learning programming concepts and creating movies, simulations, games, etc.20462960086_9ae970febc_z
  • Squishy Circuits — homemade conductive and insulating dough that was used with batteries and 9v batteries to create and explore electrical circuitry.
  • Brushbots — simple robots created from toothbrushes, coin batteries, and vibrating cellphone motors. Guaranteed giggles.

These were active, noisy, engaged20301155578_dbce834fff_z camps. Students shared ideas, offered suggestions, asked questions. For the most part, we tried to make the outcomes purposely vague, offering specific instructions or guidelines when students expressed a need for them or just to introduce a tool. For example, I walked the kids through the creation of electronic versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which allowed campers to get familiar with Circuit Stickers. From there, they were limited only by their imaginations, and the results were quite varied: a mask; a car; lighthouses; a model video game controller.

20302528339_9c51b0b8c9_zStudents also had a great deal of autonomy when making stop-motion movies or learning to program with Scratch, leading to a diverse set of products. When we built the brushbots, students were given the challenge of creating a bot that could be steered in a particular direction. The brushbots were set loose on a makeshift racetrack to test students’ engineering ideas.

Here are four observations for the 2 weeks:

  1. Many kids actually need practice dealing with failure. They struggle with adapting their plans, testing new ideas. They are used to getting one shot to get it right, usually do, and consequently can get very frustrated when they are expected to overcome failures. I had to tell one student he could no longer say, “It doesn’t work” unless he immediately followed that with the word “yet.”
  2. 20489198965_077bb404d7_zStudents engaged in imaginative, hands-on experimentation are generally highly motivated, have few behavior issues, and actually have to be told to stop working.
  3. Kids’ imaginations are bigger than ours. A few might need us to provide specific rules or expectations for their products, but many more will exceed our own ideas when given the resources and the freedom to experiment.
  4. Maker classrooms must be flexible. Learning by making requires teachers to adapt to students’ needs and schedules on the fly. The open ended nature of the tasks lends to unpredictable timetables. Embrace the chaos.

All in all, it was an exhausting, extremely rewarding experience. It was amazing to get to spend so much time interacting with the students, the one thing I miss from my classroom days. I am already plotting next summer’s fun!

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