Category Archives: Art

How about a Game of Foolsball?

The following pics are of creations that students made using our new Makerbot 3D printer.  Mrs. Lackey, our librarian, guided a small “pilot” group of 5th graders through the City X curriculum.  In this curriculum, a story is weaved about a fictional city on another planet that has problems that need to be solved.  The students go through the design process to generate ideas, making prototypes, and printing their creations on the 3D printer.

The first student chose to help develop a new sport that could be played.  He designed, printed, and painted a stadium where “Foolsball” could be played.

PicCollage (2)

In the second example, the student was tasked with developing a way for the city’s animals to stay healthy and receive medical attention if needed. He created a collar that dogs could wear that would monitor the dogs vitals and dispense medicine when needed.

PicCollage (1)

PicCollageThe third student genetically engineered a new animal that has the characteristics of several Earth species. The animal will help to protect the city with its many combined strengths.

Mrs. Lackey and I have been so impressed with the quality of this free curriculum that we plan to expand the program to many more students next school year.

To learn more about 3D Printing in Elementary School, check out this post I recently wrote for Free Tech for Teachers.

Or You Could Organize a Flash Mob

“I don’t know why they even make the kids go to school during the last 2 weeks.  The textbooks have been picked up, grades turned in, and all the teachers do is show movies.” Okay, first of all – NOT TRUE! Okay, maybe some of it is sometimes true.  Possibly.

But think about it. Let’s say school ended in March instead of June. Wouldn’t we still have the same problems? As far as I can see, the only solutions are:

A.) Make the end date of school a surprise every year by having a groundhog predict it with his shadow:

“Hooray! He saw his shadow.  That means six more weeks until we can ask him to come out again and repeat this process.”

“Oh darn! He didn’t see his shadow! That means today is your last day of school!”

OR

2.) Schedule all standardized for the last 2 days of school.  Because, let’s face it, that’s the only thing that gives school meaning. Otherwise, it’s just about learning for the sake of learning.

Granted, neither of those solutions would be very popular.  So, I think we have to go with Door #3 and make the last two weeks as meaningful as possible – maybe even more meaningful. What can we do to make ourselves, as teachers, feel less like babysitters?

Give our students some physical activity by teaching them how to pack up a classroom. Give our students some physical activity with GoNoodle or Deskercises.

Stretch their brains by showing them Monsters Inc for the 70th time. Stretch their brains by showing them Word Picture Brainteasers or stumping them with 50 Riddles.

Let them play Heads Up Seven Up. Let them play Creativity Games or one of the bazillion quizzes on Kahoot.

Reminisce by showing them a slide show of pictures from the year. Reminisce by creating a Thinglink of a class picture with links to a video from each student or allowing them to each make their own Pic Collage that represents their year. (Check out the new Pic Collage for Kids app here!)

Assign them to draw whatever they want, which usually results in Minecraft, Pokemon, or My Little Pony posters they all want to gift you with. Assign them to draw something that challenges them to think, like a S.C.A.M.P.E.R. picture or a Sketch Note that summarizes their year.

Have your students start moving your supplies to your new classroom for next year. Have your students design a Rube Goldberg Machine to move your supplies or try out one of the many engineering challenges supplied by the F.L.I. girls in their Challenge Boxes.

Speaking of boxes, you probably need to pack some – so get those young, energetic kids to load them up for you. Speaking of boxes, you can always have the students bring in their own, and design games to play the last day of school (on which they will be sure to bring those games home).  Even better, put all the stuff you don’t need anymore into a pile and challenge them to make something new using only those supplies (with the understanding that their new invention will definitely go home with them on the last day).

I think I’ve suggested enough ideas to last one or two days.  How about we crowdsource activities for the other 7 or 8 days?  Put your favorite end-of-year lessons in the comments below!

image from:
image from: Irvine Unified School District

Paper Circuit Greeting Cards

Our school Maker Club has been working with electric circuits: Squishy Circuits, Makey Makey, Circuit Scribe, and Little Bits.  Since it seems important that a Maker Club actually make something, paper circuit greeting cards became a goal.

As usual, the project was harder than I anticipated.  For some reason, I thought that there would be lots of simple instructions on the web; I knew I hadn’t just dreamed up the idea.  But when it came down to it, most of the instructions looked a bit too complicated for our group of 24 second through fourth graders.  You can judge for yourself:

We don’t have a soldering iron, and I didn’t like the look of binder clips on a greeting card, so I pulled together what I’d learned from the above resources, and came up with a variation that would work for us.  First we made Mother’s Day cards.  Next I came up with a prototype for Father’s Day cards that they can make at home using the supplies we have provided in a baggie.

The main items you need to make this work are:

  • Copper Tape (available on Amazon.com) – about 6-8 inches for each card
  • LED Stickers (available at Maker Shed or Chibitronics) NOTE: You can also use LED’s with resistors instead of the stickers. – 1 for each card
  • Coin Cell 3V batteries (available on Amazon.com) – 1 for each card

Chibitronics has a good Starter Kit that is available at several online stores.  It includes a “Sketchbook” which you can also download for free here.  We introduced the students to what we were going to be doing by having them do the simple circuit on page 20.

The hardest thing for the young ones is keeping the copper tape in one piece around the corners.  Instead of cutting it for your corners, you need to fold it over itself to ensure conductivity continues.

Noticing their difficulty, and worried about time constraints for the Mother’s Day cards, I went ahead and applied the copper tape to the die-cut hearts ahead of time.  The students added the rest.  You can see some of the results below.

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Each student had 2 die-cut hearts – the bottom one with the circuit and a top one that they wrote on and I punched a hole in. To affix the battery to the bottom, they used glue dots (be careful that the dot is not too high or it will keep the battery from connecting with the tape).  To affix the top heart to the bottom we used foam mounting squares similar to these.

I didn’t want to leave fathers out, but we only have one more Maker Club meeting.  So, I made a new prototype and we will be giving the students these instructions along with the pieces for assembly.  The basic circuit construction is the same as the Mother’s Day card.  I plan to encourage the students to make their own design, but I know that many of the younger ones, in particular, will prefer having some guidelines.

If you are interested in the “Everything is Awesome” portion of the card, here is a free printable.

everythingisawesomeYou can find more “Make” ideas on this Pinterest Board.

 

Is String Art Making a Comeback?

String art fascinated me as a child.  Creating circles out of straight lines of thread seemed so delightfully oxymoronic that I would mesmerize myself for hours doing it over and over again.  Since the only string art projects I did came from kits bought at the local hobby store, there wasn’t a lot of creativity embedded into my “art.” Like most people, I confined myself to following instructions, and never considered constructing my own designs.

I'm pretty sure this exact masterpiece used to hang in our living room.
I’m pretty sure this exact masterpiece used to hang in our living room. Image from: Darwin Bell on Flickr

In the last week, however, I’ve found articles about three different artists who would scoff at my string art portfolio.

Julian Saluud makes "cave paintings" using fluorescent string.
Julian Saluud makes “cave paintings” using fluorescent string.
Zenyk Palagniuk used 13,000 nails to make a portrait of a famous entertainer
Zenyk Palagniuk used 13,000 nails to make a portrait of a famous entertainer.
Son Lux animated the video for "Change is Everything" using pins and thread.
Son Lux animated the video for “Change is Everything” using pins and thread.

Now I realize just how unimaginative I’ve been all of these years.

If I was really creative, I  would have made a wall-sized owl with big lips using fluorescent string.

Another missed opportunity for fame and fortune.

Oopsigami

Do you notice anything significantly different in the picture below?

origami

My 1st graders are studying different countries.  After talking about Japan, we did an origami lesson.  Last year, I discovered that origami is a great vehicle for teaching about Growth Mindset.  I decided to do the same this year.  I talked to the students about things that are hard and easy for them, and how practice can help.  I also gave them examples of “scaffolding” – not jumping right to the most difficult challenges right away, but working your way up to them.  “It’s important to know when something is too easy for you, but also to know when it’s too hard and that you need more practice.”

After doing a sample origami activity together, I set them loose on some origami websites to try some on their own.  They self-differentiated by choosing the activities that suited their experience levels.  I told them that I would help them with reading directions, but that I wouldn’t do anything for them.

One of my 1st graders kept trying to coax me into helping her.  She grew more and more frantic, and finally dissolved into tears.

I was at a crossroads.  I certainly don’t like to see my students hurting, but I also don’t want them to get in the habit of giving up. This student said she had already tried every “easy” origami lesson, and she just couldn’t do them.

This student also happens to be an excellent artist, and I suddenly realized this was an opportunity for another lesson that I want all of my students to learn.

“Just make up your own,” I said.

She looked at me doubtfully.

“Origami is art.  Art is about being creative – not following directions. If you want to make butterfly, make up your own butterfly.  Who cares if it’s not the same as the one in the picture?”

Everyone in the class was looking at me then.  I had just spent 10 minutes telling them to not give up in the face of a challenge, and here I was announcing that this student could give up and do what she wanted.  Even I was confused by my own mixed messages.

A little later, the little girl proudly presented her creation to me.

“It’s an origami blanket,” she declared.

The rest of the class watched me carefully for my reaction.

“I love that you came up with your own idea.  All origami art had to be thought up by someone originally.  Maybe someday people will try to make your origami blanket.”

She smiled.

Earlier this year, I read a book to my class called, Beautiful Oops.  This was my student’s version.

I still don’t know if I handled this the right way.  But I do know one thing.  We spend far too much time teaching our students to follow directions, and then we are flummoxed when they seem to be at a loss when asked to do something creative.

I refuse to be the person who stifles a young artist just because she would rather draw on a piece of paper than fold it.

Hill Country Science Mill

Across from the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas, a mill that was built in 1880 closed its doors after one hundred years.  It was briefly revived as entertainment complex, but then fell into disuse again for another 20 years.

Once again, however, the mill has been reincarnated.  With the vision and determination of a unique team of scientist/educators, the mill has gained a new life as a venue for students to learn about and participate in science.  While maintaining the integrity of the old building, including outfitting the original silos as exhibit spaces, the mill has now become a different kind of food provider.  Instead of the flour and grain it once produced for the local community, the mill is now a source of food for curious and eager young minds.

Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)
Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)

The Hill Country Science Mill opened its doors in February of 2015. My 3rd-5th  GT classes were fortunate to visit the complex in April. After spending a school day at the Mill, they were all eager for even more time to explore its many interactive exhibits and amazing BioLab.

A couple of weeks after our trip, the 5th graders got the chance to Skype with one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill, Dr. Bonnie Baskin.  She graciously answered their questions, and gave them insight into the design and carefully-selected exhibits.

Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill
Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill

One student asked Dr. Baskin about the motivation behind the digital avatars each visitor can personalize when he or she arrives. (Using a “Passport” with a QR code, patrons can scan the code and create their own avatar at the entrance on one of the many iPad mini’s.  Once the avatar is created, there are many opportunities throughout the Mill to scan your passport, and you can learn from your avatar the science behind particular exhibits.  You can also “favorite” exhibits and follow up on your visit using the QR code once you get home.)

When asked why the staff chose to include the avatars in the experience, Dr. Baskin replied that they really wanted to appeal to an older group of students.  Many interactive museums are aimed at the toddler/pre-school set, but the Mill targets middle and high-school students.  This is not to say younger ones won’t appreciate the experience, but that there is a great interest on the part of the staff to keep the attention of older students.

Hill Country Science Mill Avatar
A guest creates an avatar (image courtesy of Hill Country Science Mill)

My students were fascinated with one of the silo exhibits – the Fractalarium (designed by two San Antonio artists), and asked Dr. Baskin about this inclusion of an artistic work.  She confirmed what my 4th and 5th graders had already observed, that math, art, and science often converge in amazing ways.  This piece of scientific art, based on the design of the broccoli, is a perfect example.

Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)
Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)

Many of the students told Dr. Baskin that the BioLab was their favorite room.  Dr. Baskin agreed that this exhibit has a special place in heart due to a background in biology, and told the students they specifically designed this room with its zebrafish, mud battery, and microscopes, to resemble a real research lab.

BioLab picture taken by one of my students
BioLab picture taken by one of my students

Another field trip favorite was the Augmented Reality Sandbox. The sandbox has a projector above it that shows the contour lines of the “mountains” and “valleys” in the box.  It also simulates rain when you hold your hands over the sand.  Dr. Baskin shared that this is one of the harder exhibits to keep in working order because so many students enjoy it that the calibration gets off on the projector. However, she said that, like all of the exhibits, the staff finds that the maintenance is well worth it to provide so many interactive experiences for visitors.

Augmented Reality Sandbox
Augmented Reality Sandbox (image courtesy of the Hill Country Science Mill)

The only complaint that I heard from my students about this trip was that there wasn’t enough time to do everything.  That’s a good problem!

Many of my students said that the field trip to the Hill Country Science Mill inspired them to seriously consider a career in one of the STEM fields, and most of them definitely intend to return to the Mill for a visit.

You can see a gallery of some of the other pictures my students took below.  Of course, if you are planning a visit to the Hill Country Science Mill, you should definitely get more information from their website.

Congrats to Tom Kilgore, winner of the Family 4-Pack to the Hill Country Science Mill!  He and his family headed for an awesome experience!

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Disney’s Create Tomorrowland XPrize Challenge

Okay. Full Disclosure – George Clooney is one of my favorite actors. But I promise that is not the reason I chose to mention the “Create Tomorrowland XPrize Challenge” on this blog even though George Clooney happens to be the star of the movie this contest is promoting.

I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t know a lot about the contest, other than what can be read on the website.  However, if you know a child between 8 and 17 years of age who has an inventive imagination, you may want to investigate this opportunity.  The contest asks for videos, images, or stories that envision a beneficial invention that might exist in our future.

You can see specific entry guidelines here.  Don’t forget to visit the “Idea Portal” for some real-world examples of people who are working to shape a better future for all of us.

Submissions are due by 5/17/15 – so don’t procrastinate!  Who knows what life-saving ideas might be hibernating in the mind of a student, just waiting for the right circumstances to be revealed?

excellence