Category Archives: K-5

More Bridges

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.

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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.

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The Bear and the Hare are Quite a Pair

One of my suggestions listed in “Telegenic Ways to Survive the Weeks Before Winter Break” is a lovely short video called, “The Bear and the Hare.”  It is actually a John Lewis advertisement, but these annual holiday commercials have become traditional favorites due to their outstanding artwork and storytelling.  I have a link in my original post to an activity that Joelle Trayers did with her students, asking them to use empathy to imagine what the bear might give the hare in return for its thoughtful gift.  I thought I would try it with my 2nd graders this year, and here are some of their responses:

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(a GPS collar)

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The Wish Writer

While trying to find some inspiring holiday videos this year, I came across this Macy’s commercial from 2015.  Even though it’s ironic for an advertisement to be about selflessness, I like the simple message of kindness.  For other videos you might want to consider for this time of year, you can check out this post.  Also, I keep a Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Students here.

Make it Snow in the Classroom with Scratch Jr.

I was invited to help a couple of first grade classes with Hour of Code activities last week, and thought that we would try using Scratch Jr.  I had a different lesson planned for our Friday morning (“Can I Make the Sun Set?”) – but then it snowed in San Antonio Thursday night.

For those of you in northern climes, snow may be somewhat unexceptional, but in San Antonio snow is pretty close to miraculous.  Many of my younger students had never seen snow in their entire lives, so it seemed only fair to change our Scratch Jr. lesson the morning following our unusual weather phenomena.

Most of the students in the class were as new to Scratch Jr. and programming as they were to snow.  I started the class with the BrainPop Jr. video I mentioned in last week’s post.  Then I used Reflector to demonstrate the Scratch Jr. interface on the classroom screen.  I talked about the meaning of “character” in Scratch Jr., and how it could be any object that you want to program to move in some way.  I showed them how to add a background.  I also demonstrated that they would need a “trigger” for their character such as the green flag, and how to program characters to move.  Then I gave them some time to explore.

After they played around a bit in pairs on the iPads, I asked for their attention so I could show them how to add a camera shot as a background.  This was something new I had learned last week, and it takes a bit of practice.  This video explains it well. (She is using the tool to make a character, but you can use it for a background as well.)

The students worked on taking pictures for the background.  Some chose the classroom for photos, and some chose themselves.  Their homeroom teachers and I definitely needed to give support to many students – especially when we realized the camera tool wasn’t enabled for Scratch Jr. on all of the iPads.

Once most of the students had backgrounds, I showed them how to add snow as a character.  They clicked on the + sign to add a character, and then the paintbrush icon to make their own.  After choosing the color white, I told them to make white dots all over with the tip of their finger.  It’s difficult to see the white dots on the white canvas, but after they click the checkmark at the top, the dots should show up on their background.

Students can move the white dots to the top of the background, and then program their snow “character” to move down when the green flag is triggered.  I showed them how to add higher numbers under the down arrow so the snow would reappear at the top and come down again if they wanted.

To make it look a bit more realistic, the students can add snow as characters several times, positioning them at different spots on the top to fill the screen with snow falling once the flag is tapped.

Another extension would be to teach the students the “bump” trigger so that when the snow hits another character, such as the Scratch cat, the character can say something, such as, “It’s snowing!”  You could also ask them if they can figure out a way to make the snow accumulate at the bottom of the screen.

There were various rates of success in the classroom for this project.  Some students got confused and added snow to the background instead of making it a character, and the camera tool required patience and practice.  However, there was a lot of learning going on, and great engagement.

This lesson could be another way to connect to the Snow Globe lesson that I have posted about in the past. . Hopefully, the students will now think of other ways to use Scratch Jr. for storytelling and creating in their classrooms and at home.

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Scratch Jr., BrainPop, and PBS

When participating in Hour of Code in our GT classroom this week, the 2nd graders were introduced to the free Scratch Jr. app on our iPads (also available on Android and on the Chrome Web Store ).  Before we started exploring the app, I thought it would be good for them to learn a little bit about computer programming.  BrainPop Jr.  has a great free video that explains computer programming and some of the terminology.  As an added bonus, the sample screen in the video looks very similar to the Scratch Jr. interface, so this particular video was an excellent introduction to our lesson.

You can find Hour of Code lessons for Scratch Jr. here.  Additional lesson ideas can be found on the “Teach” tab of the Scratch Jr. site.  As I was looking up resources to use with my students, I also found this PBS site that includes lessons integrated with some of the popular PBS kid shows, as well as printable task cards.

Scratch Jr. works very well as a starting point for block coding for primary students.  My 2nd graders quickly found many “cool” things that they could do after about 10 minutes of exploration on their own.  Familiarizing themselves with this app will make the transition to Scratch (a web based program for computers that does not currently work on mobile) almost seamless.

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image from Wes Fryer on Flickr

Adapt Your Classroom for a New “Pet”

My 2nd graders have been learning about physical and structural adaptations in nature.  To exercise their creativity, I asked them to brainstorm wild animals that would make unusual class pets.  Then they were asked to draw our classroom with adaptations for the pet.  The twist was that they could not actually draw the animal in the classroom.  The rest of us tried to guess the “pets” by using clues in their pictures and the descriptions that they wrote.  I was proud of their varied ideas and some of the incredible details they added to the drawings.  I’ve included some examples below.  (I love how the first student decided the most unusual animal he could think of would be an alien from outer space!) . Usually, my students have a difficult time with the “Adapt” part of S.C.A.M.P.E.R., but this activity proved to be really fun and they couldn’t wait to share their work.  I’m definitely putting this in the file, “Do Again Next Year!”

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#redrawthebalance

In light of recent news events, it seems that sexist stereotypes and misogynistic behaviors continue to be supported and trivialized in our society.  The “boys will be boys” attitude persists in all age groups, socioeconomic classes, and cultures despite attempts that have been made in the last few decades to eradicate it.  What can we, as parents and teachers, do to combat the many chauvinistic messages that bombard our children every day?

Inspiring Girls, an international organization based in the UK, has an idea.  Noting that many of our children are exposed at an early age to a multitude of animated characters, the organization also found that only 29% of these potential role models are female.  In a revealing video included on the resources page, a classroom teachers asks her students to draw people in several different professions such as a firefighter and a surgeon.  61 pictures were drawn as men.  5 were women.

The #redrawthebalance campaign from Inspiring Girls wants us to bring awareness to this disturbing example of gender stereotypes, and to help our students see that women can be strong, intelligent, and hard-working as well.  You can find a workbook on the resources page that can be printed with pages that prompt students to draw their own characters, who will hopefully be more representative of themselves.  There are also downloadable posters of characters such as “Carla the Coder,” who are female.

We’ve come a long way since we had to fight for the right for women to vote.  But all we have to do is take a look at the headlines to see that it hasn’t been far enough.

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from Inspiring Girls