Category Archives: 6-12

New York Times STEM Writing Contest

I have posted before about The New York Times Learning Network, which offers wonderful free educational materials for students over the age of 13.  For the first time this year, the NYT is sponsoring a STEM Writing Contest for this age group.  Students are asked to submit a 500 word piece of informational writing about a STEM topic which interests them. Submissions are due on March 3, 2020 with the prize of contest winners being published in the New York Times.  To access the supporting materials, learn more about the contest, and get a link to their year-long writing curriculum, click here.

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Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Game of Phones

If you teach in a secondary classroom where phones are ubiquitous, this might be the resource for you.  Amanda Sandoval (@historysandoval) recently tweeted out “Game of Phones“, an assignment created in Google Slides that she designed to help her students demonstrate their understanding of the causes of The Great Depression.  You can see some of the submissions from her students on her Twitter feed under the tag #gameofphones.  Of course, your class may not be studying The Great Depression, or you may just want to tweak some of the slides.  In that case, you can always make a copy to suit your own classroom needs.

And here’s another amazing (and timely) resource from Amanda – a Hyperdoc on Impeachment.  Be sure to follow Amanda on Twitter and/or visit her website for more digital wizardry to use in your classroom.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my post on Goosechase Edu, another way to capitalize on the power of phones and/or tablets during your lesson.

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Punny Literary Pet Names

Coming back to posting on a regular basis means that I am restarting my “Phun Phriday” posts, which are silly-and-not-necessarily-educational-but-they-could-be things that I’ve found on the web.  I curate these in a private Flipboard magazine that I turn to whenever I need a laugh.  Today’s entry comes from McSweeney’s.  It’s an article called, “Literary Pet Names Using Puns Unworthy of Their Namesakes.”  Mary Laura Philpott and Kristen Arnett have created a short list of nicknames for animals that includes cute, simple illustrations.  The first one, for example, is a dog named, “Virginia Woof.”  You can find a second list by the duo, with Mary Shelley the snail as its introduction, here. (Just be wary if you show this to kids, as the final one uses a synonym for donkey that some may find inappropriate – though I find it wildly funny.)

Happy Friday!

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The One Word Project

One of the challenges I faced this year in the Makerspace was that our classroom got double-booked for the second nine weeks during 7th period.  This meant my Principles of Applied Engineering Class met in a Spanish classroom – and the students who were eager to use large tools like the saws were disappointed at the temporary change in venue.  (We ended up doing a 3D Design project that nine weeks.) I knew when we returned to the Makerspace at the beginning of January that the students would not want to be put off any longer, and racked my brains the entire Winter Break for a project with a purpose that would finally allow them to explore the tools.

Our Makerspace is relatively new, set up in the school’s old Cosmetology classrooms, and it’s definitely a work in progress.  With upcoming renovations we will be getting another space, but we’ve been trying to make this one functional and inspirational in the meantime.  Other than tool storage, our walls are somewhat blank.  With that in mind, and everyone’s New Year’s Resolution tweets about their “One Word” for their year flooding my Twitter feed, the idea came to me that the students could practice using most of our tools while creating signs to hang up on the walls.

The students brainstormed words that they felt represented the Makerspace, and each group of 2-3 students chose a word.  They made construction paper prototypes of their signs, planning out the measurements of the letters and the plaques.  In the meantime, they did some flipped learning with online videos and safety tests for each of the tools they would be using.

All of the students used the table saw and miter saw to make their plaques.  I have to say that this is one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job.  Like me, many of these students are fearful before they use these powerful tools.  After watching a few people do it without chopping off any fingers, they hesitantly try.  Their smiles afterward remind me of my daughter’s reaction the first time I convinced her to ride roller coaster.  “Let’s do it again!”  The female students, especially, seem the most empowered after they finish.  There is a noticeable difference in their self-confidence as they continue with their projects – some of them asking to cut other people’s projects so they can repeat their experience.

Once the plaques were made, the students were required to learn how to use at least 3 out of 4 other tools for the more precise designs of their letters.  Each tool requires  different software for design, so that was a bit challenging.  The students could use: 3d printer, laser cutter, Silhouette cutter, or CNC mill.  I encouraged them to use different fonts and types of “stock” for each letter.  They could use acrylic, plywood, vinyl, cardstock, copper, aluminum, and filament. (Students could “earn” access to more expensive materials by meeting certain benchmarks on time.)

One of the cons of this project was that many students needed my help or supervision for different things at the same time.  If I do the project again, I will plan more “mini workshops” about the software and schedule times to use certain tools.  Another con was that our brand new CNC mill has a huge learning curve, and we lost a lot of time and material to mistakes. I think I’m finally learning its idiosyncrasies, so that shouldn’t be a huge problem in future projects.

Despite those issues, I felt really good about this project when we finished.  I decided not to assess the actual signs, or to give any kind of team grade.  Instead, students were assessed individually on their safety tests and on their final reflections of the design process.  These reflections, which required pictures of different stages of the project, will be included in the online portfolios our school is required, and were very informative about how much the students understood about problem-solving and learning from mistakes during a project.

Here is what one student wrote, after describing some of the challenges encountered during the project, “That was all fine because that is how life is. You never truly know what is going to happen next and it allowed me to think on my feet a little better and reevaluate my plans; it was a reality check between what was possible and what I could accomplish if absolutely nothing went wrong, which isn’t life. Life is messy and that is beautiful.”

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Biodesign

In the past, I have taught students about biomimicry/biomimetics, in which designers use inspiration from nature to create new products.  (The Youth Design Challenge is a great place to find resources for this.)  Biodesign takes things one step further by actually incorporating nature, often still living, into innovative artifacts that can be purely for decoration or serve specific purposes.

I first became aware of biodesign when I ran across a website for The Nest Makespace.  The unusual images on the home page intrigued me.  (I admit that I thought the “bioyarn” designs were actually made out of worms, but it turns out that it’s probably more like this material.)

The Nest Makespace offers some fascinating project ideas here.  I am hoping that more lesson plans will be linked soon.  In the meantime, you can find more suggestions on the Resource page.

For a “Peek at the Possibilities of Biodesign,” click on this link, or watch the embedded video below.

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Picture from Fernan Federici on Flickr

Inventing 101

Alexis Lewis is a teenage inventor who is on a mission to inspire other teens to innovate.  You can read her story, and about the products she has invented so far in her young life, here.  Alexis specifically wants middle schools to guide students with inventing curriculum, and has launched a website to help in this endeavor.  Inventing 101 is a good start as a repository of resources with this end in mind.  You can also visit her personal website to learn more about other teen inventors on this page

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#TCEA2019 – Machine Learning for Kids

I learned quite a bit about Artificial Intelligence at a TCEA session this year presented by Anita Johnson of Austin ISD.  She explained the difference between Expert Systems (where explicit rules are programmed – think “If…Then” statements) and Machine Learning (where the computer identifies and learns from patterns).    Johnson teaches middle school, and introduced us to a site called, “Machine Learning for Kids,”  which she uses with her students. In the “Worksheets” section, you can find many lessons, categorized by difficulty level, that can be done using Scratch, such as creating a character that smiles if you say nice things and cries if you are mean.

I haven’t had a chance to try this with my students, yet.  It looks like you have an option to create a managed class account or “Try it Now”, but check out this page for details on the pros and cons of each choice.

You can also read this blog post to get more information on how to introduce Machine Learning to kids, and why we should even want to educate them about this technology.artificial-neural-network-3501528_1920.png