Category Archives: K-12

Building the Seed Cathedral

Thomas Heatherwick demonstrates amazing feats of design, architecture, and engineering in this TED video that I showed my 2nd graders (studying structures) this week.  After the revelation I had a few weeks ago that my students aren’t entirely sure of the importance of creativity, I wanted to be certain that they saw these examples of unique designs that defy all norms.  The favorite, which literally has gotten “oohs and ahs” from every audience I’ve shown it to so far, is the bridge.  (Go to about 3:33 on the video to see that directly.)  Almost as popular with my students are the apartment buildings near the end of the video that demonstrate that not all tall buildings are wider at the bottom than the top!

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Meet Your Cubelets Units

My students are fascinated with Cubelets.  It would be easy to just dump the box of Cubelets on the floor and walk away for 45 minutes because they would use all of that time to explore.  Exploration time is great, and I definitely recommend it (maybe not for 45 minutes), but you won’t maximize the learning potential of these modular robots without offering the students some guidance and some carefully worded challenges.

Modular Robotics recently unveiled an updated version of its Cubelets lesson plans that can help teachers from PreK-12 find ways to make the most of Cubelets.  The lessons are not detailed, but they are perfect for any educator who is new to using Cubelets in the classroom and looking for how to introduce them to the students, and there are tons of ideas for taking it further.

If you are not familiar with Cubelets, here is a post I did that I included in my Makerspace Essentials list.  I don’t think that you should spend a lot of money on “things” for a Makerspace or a classroom, but if you can get a grant or have the budget Cubelets are one of the few products that I recommend purchasing.  They provide an endless supply of entertainment and education.

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image from GCPL on Flickr

Customizing Words by Osmo

Even though the Osmo Words game has been around for a few years, many people probably do not take advantage of its full potential.  The Words app is engaging and fun, but can be even more powerful educationally by customizing it.

If adults sign up for a free account at myOsmo, they can add their own albums of pictures and words that can be downloaded to the library on the mobile device being used to play Words.  For example, my first graders choose their own countries to study.  As we learn about different features of the countries, I add photos to an album in myWords that they can then use to review.

You can find instructions for customizing the Words game here.  Using your own albums not only allows you to make the game relevant to current learning topics in your classroom, but also to differentiate.  You could use the same pictures in different albums with different vocabulary.  Or, you can associate a picture with several words of varying difficulty.  For example, a picture of the Taj Mahal may prompt the students to guess Taj Mahal, India, or even tomb.

The online album customization is made even easier with links to UnSplash, an awesome resource of Creative Commons photos.  Or, if you don’t want to make your own album, there are many that other teachers have made and shared publicly that you can also download to your device.

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Some examples of the public albums in Osmo Words

Google Expeditions AR

I was a bit disappointed and, yes, a lot jealous, when our school wasn’t chosen to try out the Google Expeditions VR program as it traveled to different cities around the U.S.  I had tried Expeditions at some technology conferences and thought our students would enjoy the unique experience.

With virtual reality, students wear “Google Cardboard” goggles, which have phones inserted in the front.  Once an Expedition is begun by the teacher, the students are basically immersed in the environment as the teacher leads them through a field trip of a place like a coral reef.

The VR experience is great, but most elementary classrooms do not have the equipment to make it a reality.  Since only one student can use a pair of goggles at a time, and the goggles require a phone, the logistics are a bit tricky for the standard K-5 classroom.

Google has recently begun to beta test a new version of Expeditions, which is augmented reality instead of virtual reality.   No VR goggles are required, and tablets can be used.  The AR version is not available to the public, yet, but our school was fortunate this time to be chosen to try this version out. (If you are interested in seeing if your school can beta test Expeditions AR, go to this sign-up form.)

On the day of the beta test, all of the teachers who had signed up at our school attended a 30 minute training with the Google representative to learn how to use the equipment.  (Google provides everything for the sessions that day, including routers so they don’t have to use the school wi-fi.)  During each 30 minute session, groups of 3 students use Android phones that are on sticks (see the pics below) to scan QR codes that are on papers on the ground.  The teacher, who has already chosen from a list of possible Expeditions, leads the students through different images, controlling it all on his/her device.  All students see the same image at the same time.

When the first image appears, there are usually squeals of delight as the students realize that they are viewing a 3 dimensional version of a bee, or a dinosaur, or a volcano.  They can walk around all sides of the image, and even, for some, go inside.  A few students had some difficulty understanding the spatial dimensions, but most quickly caught on.  The enthusiasm of the teachers (many who had never used augmented reality) and the students mounted throughout the 30 minutes as they investigated planets, tornadoes, and some human anatomy.  Throughout the day, students in K-4 had a chance to try out the technology, and all seemed engaged.

Overall, this technology seems like it has potential for wide-spread use in elementary, since it will be available on tablets (iOS and Google Play) for free.  The trick will be to make sure that teachers design pedagogically sound lessons to utilize it rather than depend on the novelty to lead learning.  As augmented reality become more ubiquitous, the oohs and ahs will quickly subside if there is no other substance to the lesson.  As someone who has been using AR in my classroom for years, I am well aware that it is more important to include technology when it supports the lesson than to depend on the technology to be the lesson.

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#TeachersWithCameras

Nick Davis (@Slapshot99) has started a weekly Twitter challenge for teachers to post pics along a certain theme.  You can see pics that have been submitted by searching for #teacherswithcameras on Twitter.  Last week (the first  in the series) had the theme of “Play.”  For this week, Nick is looking for Black and White pictures.  Don’t forget to include the hashtag of #teacherswithcameras when you tweet your pic so we can all see your creative ideas!

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Tweet from @HSwartz25

Are Leprechauns Real?

My Kinder students have made leprechaun traps for the last few years, and it always amuses me as they get older and sadly reminisce that they didn’t catch any leprechauns.  I’m never quite sure who is fooling who – are they just trying to make me believe that they believe, or are we all just making believe?

Just in case your students have some residual doubt, you can assign them this Wonderopolis article.

Students in upper elementary might scoff at leprechauns, but may be interested in doing some St. Patrick’s Day magnetic poetry.  You can also try this free “Irish” creative writing kit.

With this search I did on Teachers Pay Teachers, I found several free St. Patrick’s Day logic puzzles for various ages.

For those kinesthetic/spatial students, here is a lesson on shamrock origami.

I always feel a bit cheated because Pi Day and St. Patrick’s Day fall during our Spring Break – but I’m sure I’ll find a way to sneak some of these activities in anyway!

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National Engineers Week

February 18-24th is National Engineers Week here in the States.  Since my 2nd graders have been studying bridges, we did an activity from the Building Big website, which is still one of my favorite resources when we talk basics about man-made structures.  Yesterday’s activity was one I had never tried with a class before, the Suspension Bridge activity.  Despite prepping everything ahead of time, I went through my normal roller coaster of emotions during the lesson.

Fortunately, all groups eventually got their bridges built, and they were fascinated with the weight the suspension bridges could carry compared to the beam bridges.  I would definitely do this activity again for the wow factor!

For more resources to teach your students about engineering, you can head on over to Discovere.org.  I’ve also embedded an awesome video from the National Science Foundation called, “What is Engineering?”

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