My 2nd graders study structures, and our 2nd semester is spent on man-made structures. We start with bridges, and I usually challenge the students to make bridges out of different types of materials. Even though the activities always seem to engage them, I felt like I wasn’t quite making the lessons meaningful.
This year, I started simple by showing the students a BrainPop video about bridges and using our Depth and Complexity mats to discuss the video. This week, we reviewed a lot of the Language of the Discipline (they particularly like the word, “abutment,” – for obvious reasons), and they remembered quite a few from the video. Then I challenged them to do this activity. The students were good at connecting that their attempts at paper bridges were beam bridges, but they were definitely getting frustrated after about 10 minutes of trying and failing.
At this point, I would usually have shown them the solution on the teacher notes. But this time I asked them to pause while we looked at the shapes interactive on the Building Big site. After the students realized that triangles are the strongest shape, I asked them to apply that knowledge to some new attempts at the paper bridge challenge. I was surprised to see some of the creative options they developed.
I finally did show them the solution on the teacher guide, and they were quick to understand and explain why the change in the paper’s shape made it suddenly stronger, Then they came up with variations and improvements.
This was the first time I really felt like the students weren’t just having fun building bridges, but were actually stepping through learning while developing innovative ideas at the same time. They were explaining how the shapes they tried changed the force on the bridge, as well as how placing the load could affect the outcome.
As I watch many people on Twitter share “STEM” building challenges, I wonder how many, like my first attempts at bridge building lessons, might be more fun than educational. Though fun is great, I feel better now that the students have found a way to make a “bridge” between their enjoyment and their learning.
Thanks to Carrie Sledge on Twitter (@GreenGTAIM), I learned that General Mills has joined with RubeGoldberg.com to encourage creativity by inviting people to design Rube Goldberg machines that will pour cereal. The General Mills contest is only open to people who are 18 years and up, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the tutorials they created for using 6 of their cereal boxes to make simple machines. The Rube Goldberg site hosts its own contest for participants who are 8 and up, but you should definitely check the rule book, as there are detailed instructions and a registration fee. Whether you are competing in an official contest or not, creating a Rube Goldberg machine can be a great way to incorporate many curriculum-related skills, as well as the 4 C’s (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity).
thinkLaw is a curriculum that aims to teach critical thinking skills through the use of real legal cases. The program’s founder, Colin Seale, won the “Shark Tank One Day Challenge” in 2016. thinkLaw is aligned with US standards for grades 5-12, but some of the lessons can be used with younger students. To purchase the full curriculum, you will need to contact the company. However, you can download a free sample and purchase other segments on the Teachers Pay Teachers website.
When looking at the free sample that is offered, “The Chair,” I realized that it fit in beautifully with an ethics discussion my students and I conducted last week about Tuck Everlasting. In the story, one of the main characters (spoiler alert!) hits another character over the head with a shotgun. At the time, we talked about whether it was ever okay to hit someone and, if so, under what circumstances is it acceptable? “The Chair” walks students through a real legal case from the 1950’s, in which the aunt sued her 5-year-old nephew for pulling a chair out from underneath her. Students learn legal terms such as: plaintiff, defendant, liable, and battery. They find out the four criteria for the legal definition of battery, and weigh the evidence to determine if the nephew should be held liable.
When it comes to Depth and Complexity, this thinkLaw lesson incorporates many of the icons: Multiple Perspectives, Big Idea, Details, Ethics, and Trends, to name a few. Students are polled a few times throughout the lesson to see how their thinking changes as they get more information. After learning the outcome of the case, they are given a similar case to analyze using their new skills.
At first, I couldn’t quite gauge the interest of the students. The conversation was hesitant, but everyone seemed to be absorbed in learning more. (There are 7 students in this class.) It wasn’t until recess time that I learned the impact of the lesson…
Me: “Okay everyone. It’s recess time. We are going to have indoor recess because of the weather. You can play foosball, Osmo, or one of the other games.”
They moved toward foosball, and then one student said, “Let’s have court!”
Suddenly, furniture was being moved, parts were being assigned (judge, attorneys, plaintiff, defendant, witness), and a new scenario was proposed. For the entire recess time, with no input from me, the students applied everything they had just learned to their imagined court case.
Instead of playing foosball.
Kind of funny when you think about it. Holding court during a recess. (very bad legal pun – sorry)
Experienced teachers know that we often don’t know what has made a real impression on our students. If we do find out, it may be years later when a student visits and says, “Remember when…?” This time, however, I received immediate proof that this lesson is likely to stick.
Want to find out who won the real legal case? Download the free sample for yourself here! Also, check out some of their other lessons (not free, and I haven’t reviewed them) that could be great for this time of year, including an MLK Jr. one, Valentine’s lessons, Superbowl, and Winter Olympics. (I’ll be doing, “Always Watching” with my 5th graders next week because it ties in so well with The Giver.)
In my post about C.S.I. last November, I talked about the Visible Thinking routines that are outlined in Harvard’s Project Zero. Another one of these routines is called, “3-2-1 Bridge.” This is kind of a deeper version of a KWL chart. For “3-2-1” Bridge, students write their initial ideas about a topic, then learn more, write their new ideas about the topic, and then find a connection (the bridge) between the initial and new ideas.
I’ve used this routine a couple of times with different grade levels. Today, my 5th graders used it to discuss the topic of “Choices” in The Giver. I was fortunate to find this Google Doc created by Heather Marshall that enriched the discussion by linking to various other resources addressing the topic. The activity launched an incredible conversation in my class regarding choices. We went from, “It’s terrible that they don’t have any choices in The Giver community,” to deep and thoughtful considerations about why people might prefer to not have choices, who should determine choices, how pressure can instigate poor choices, and whether or not safety is more important than choice.
Here is a link to a simple 3-2-1 Bridge Template that you can use. This can be done together as a class, on Post-It notes on large chart paper, or individually. Younger students may have difficulty with the concept of using analogies, but they can still compare the topic to something else. This is one of those activities that I like to call, “self-differentiated,” because all students can participate while taking it to different levels of understanding.
I should probably add Breakout Edu’s Seasonal Games to my “Teachers’ December Survival Kit.” What better way is there to keep your students engaged, learning, and problem-solving than sending them on a holiday quest? You can find Breakout Edu games related to December holidays at the above link.
In case you haven’t hear about Breakout Edu yet, here is my first post about the site. Digital Breakout Edu games don’t require the physical equipment (boxes, locks, etc…) that are suggested for the regular games. Don’t despair if you want to try a Breakout Edu game and don’t have the supplies. I’ve seen teachers use many creative ways to simulate the boxes and locks with found materials. The students will enjoy working out the puzzles no matter what you use!
I don’t know how Richard Byrne does it, but he has this ability to suggest technology tools on his blog that fit in perfectly with lessons I am planning for the week. In this case, I had known about the tool, Loopy, but forgotten about it. Richard recently included it in this post, “Three Good Ways to Create Instructional Animations.”
My 3rd graders are learning about Systems Thinking, which is a pretty hard concept to get across to anyone, much less children who are 8 and 9 years old. We just completed the book, Billibonk and the Thorn Patch, about an elephantwholearns his actions can have far-reaching consequences. The book portrays some simple feedback loops, so I showed the students the basic ecology loop on Loopy. Then I let the students try to create their own to represent a portion of the story that we read.
A few caveats before you look at their examples:
Loopy was blocked in our district for students, so I needed to log in for them to use it.
The Billibonk projects are works in progress at the moment. Time ran out before they finished, and the text and loops definitely need some revision.
I only have 3 students in that particular gifted and talented class, and this is not an activity I would recommend students in large classes do without a lot of scaffolding.
These probably won’t make a whole lot of sense to you if you haven’t read the Billibonk book mentioned above.
The site does give you an embed code to use on a website, but it unfortunately does not work on this blog. Therefore, you will have to click on the links below to see the “Loopy” from each student.
The interesting part of this process was listening to my students explain what they were creating, and how eager they were to make complicated loops with many factors. I felt like they understood systems thinking in a way I’ve never had students “get it” before. One of my students was so excited about it that he said he was going to show it to his dad at home and create feedback loops to represent other things. Since my goal is for them to apply this to real life situations, I was happy to hear that.