Tag Archives: design

What Every School Needs

Our elementary school is currently raising money to add a track.   Since my 2nd graders are studying Structures, I invited one of the stakeholders to speak to the class about the process of coming up with an idea and following it through.

After our guest left and we debriefed, I asked the class to brainstorm some other structures they think would enhance our school.

“An ice cream shop.”

“A swimming pool!”

“A Large Hadron Collider!”

Confused faces turned to the last speaker.  And, yes, my face was included in that crowd.

Everything I know about the Hadron Collider, I learned from Big Bang Theory, and I was fairly certain that my 2nd grader didn’t want to add one to school property so Leonard Hofstadter could bring Penny to Texas for a romantic weekend.

“Maybe you should explain to the class (and me) what that is,” I said hesitantly.

“It throws beams of protons at each other.  I watched a special on it last night,” was the proud response.

This resulted in another student declaring that he would like to see a chemistry lab on campus – one that would allow him to “deconstruct dangerous acids.” (This was the same young man who asked our guest if he had considered the “ethics” of adding a track to our campus.)

May I remind you that these are second graders?

After watching a TEDEd video about an incredibly unique rooftop kindergarten in Japan (embedded below), the students drew their own ideas for school additions.

The Hadron Collider morphed into a “Black Hole Room” with the purpose of helping you to “see and feel what a black hole is like.”  My future self-proclaimed geneticist drew a “Biomimicry and Invention Test Center.” One young lady redesigned the room next door (our Maker Studio), specifying it as a Robot Lab instead.  She meticulously drew every robot we have and included a child and an iPad as well.

I think more school districts and architects should consult young students on their designs.  Maybe adding a Hadron Collider to the blueprint isn’t very practical – but neither is building a school where the only place our students can run is the parking lot.

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Extreme Creating with K’nex

Ferris Wheel at Night

Screen Shot 2014-01-09 at 3.36.06 PM

World's Largest K'nex Ferris Wheel - created by Austin Granger
World’s Largest K’nex Ferris Wheel – created by Austin Granger

I decided to make up a new phrase for today’s Phun Phriday post.  (At least I think I made it up.)  To me, “Extreme Creating” is when people take something that is usually used as a toy to pass the time, and devote days, weeks, and even months to making something remarkable with those toys.  The K’nex constructions made by Austin Granger fall into this category.

The ferris wheel pictured above took 12,000 K’nex to build.  You can see more stats when you watch the video on this post from Visual News.  Granger’s most recent project, which took over 100,000 pieces, is also featured on the post.  It’s a Goldberg-ish type machine that resides in The Works Museum in Minnesota.

You can visit Austin Granger’s blog for more pictures and information.  He also has a YouTube channel, Austron, with more videos of his creations. And, here is a great article about the creator, himself.

My 2nd grade GT students are about to embark on their own K’nex journeys using the Bridges kits for our Structures unit.  I think I’ll wait until we finish before I show them how Granger uses K’nex.  It would not surprise me, however, if some of them could take it to this level some day.

Rows of Desks are SO Yesterday

Remember the post I did on adding a Genius Bar to your classroom?  Well, I decided that I must do exactly that.  So, I have been working on re-purposing an old bookshelf to become the countertop of my Genius Bar.  Have I mentioned that I am not very good at DIY projects?  First of all, I often forget to do a “Before” picture, so I only have a “During” one.  Secondly, it’s possible I killed more than one brain cell while I spray-painted this monstrosity – and that’s slightly ironic considering the fact that I am calling it a “Genius Bar.”   However, I cannot wait until the students see the finished product.  Maybe they will be so excited that they won’t notice my diminished capacity…

My Genius Bar in progress!
My Genius Bar in progress!

I am doing my best to re-design my classroom this year to support the type of learning that I plan to facilitate during the next nine months – lots of collaboration and creation.  I just got some great news – I will be able to use the empty classroom next to me, as well!  I am brimming with ideas.  Unfortunately, I am not not brimming with finances for this endeavor.  I am going to see how much I can re-purpose to create my “Learning Studio,” and then work on getting financing for the rest – perhaps through Donors Choose.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

Speaking of Donors Choose, check out the #RemakeClass Photo Sweepstakes sponsored by Edutopia, in which you can possibly win a gift card from Donors Choose!  If you’re like me, and don’t think you can get it together by the August 25th deadline, you might still want to visit the site to take a look at all of the fabulous photos for some inspiration.  If you are interested in entering the contest, here is a link to the F.A.Q.’s. (Also, here is a link to Edutopia’s weekly giveaways, which also includes a Donors Choose gift card this week for $500!)

For more inspiration, here are a couple of other articles that have great ideas for classroom makeovers:  “How to Make Your Classroom a Thinking Space” by Suzie Boss, and “My Top 10 Learning Spaces – A Universal Design in a Gifted Classroom” by Zoe Branigan-Pipe.

How About Adding a Genius Bar to Your Classroom?

from:  http://www.edutopia.org/remake
from: http://www.edutopia.org/remake

Ever since my former principal, John Hinds, recommended a book to our staff, Spaces and Places, by Debbie Diller, I have looked at my classroom with a brand new set of eyes.  I’ve tried to break out of the traditional mold, and to create an environment that promotes engagement, collaboration, and curiosity.  I still haven’t attained the ideal classroom, but I like to think that I improve each year.

This isn’t about themes or decorating.  This is about placement of furniture and learning tools.  It’s about visualizing the kind of learning that you would like to see happening, and then designing a space that facilitates that.

My ideal classroom would have mobile furniture, like the one I described here.  But, in the absence of that, there are still things that I can do to project the aura of a synergetic learning enviroment.  For example, this recent series of videos posted by Edutopia showing the transformation of a middle school teacher’s classroom gave me the idea of adding a “Genius Bar” to my room.   (I suppose, if one is worried about the implications of the word, “bar”,  “Genius Counter” might be a good substitute.)  In the video, it is one wall with a long dry erase board over a counter and two computers at either end.  What a fabulous idea!  This would help me with my efforts to encourage the students to consult each other to help with problem solving, rather than to immediately refer to me.

Most of us do not have the resources to design a classroom from the ground up, but this is a great time of year to consider getting rid of, or re-purposing, what we don’t need and finding the best placement for what have.  I know many teachers who have surrendered their teacher desks and/or filing cabinets because these pieces of furniture no longer serve a helpful function in the learner-centered, 21st-century classroom.

Instead of walking into your classroom and mechanically dragging desks into rows this year, consider what physical changes you can make to galvanize your students to become the kind of learners you have always imagined.

Since most of us don’t have a design team to consult, I highly recommend Spaces and Places as a more economical alternative.  Also, Classroom Architect is an online tool that you may find useful as you plan the structure of your classroom.

Gamekit

About_Hero

I intended to spend this week posting about what I have learned at ISTE, but I came across this site last night, and could not wait to share it.  It combines quite a few of the educational topics that are near and dear to my heart: creativity, self-designed learning, gamifying the classroom, and even programming for kids.

What is Gamekit?  According to their site, “Each month, Gamekit will bring you a new game development challenge to stretch and build your creative muscles.”

The site has four warmups, currently, and I can’t wait to see what they add.  My favorite one, so far, is “Mod a Board Game.”  I’ve actually done an activity similar to this in my classroom, asking the kids to take an old board game they no longer play and to make it into a new game.  You can use a lot of the tools from S.C.A.M.P.E.R. to do this.

Each warmup describes the steps, gives suggestions for how to “dive deeper”, and gives tips for educators.  Under each warmup is an area for comments, where the community can give examples of how they completed the challenge.

In the “Design a Play Space” warmup, Gamekit has teamed up with Gamestar Mechanic to create a challenge – perfect for those aspiring video game designers.

I am really looking forward to seeing the evolution of Gamekit.  I love this idea, and will be sharing it with the parents of my students to encourage some creative thinking during the summer months!

DIY

Don’t worry; I promise this is not going to be an advertisement for a home improvement network…

DIY is one of the coolest new sites that I’ve chanced upon in a long, long time.  I haven’t even shown it to my students yet, and I am super excited about it.  This is going to be something awesome, I have a feeling.

DIY offers kids the chance to earn Skill Badges by doing challenges.  After browsing through the skills and challenges, I was ready to start earning my own badges.  The challenges look fun, and since I never got a chance to participate in Girl Scouts, the virtual badges seem like the next best thing to me.  For example, how would you like to earn your Papercrafter badge by doing 3 challenges (out of 13 choices) that include making a walkalong glider or building a paper vehicle?

Most of the challenges include instructions, either with video or pictures. There is a great parent info page, along with a Parent Dashboard once you sign up.  DIY kids get their own website to show off what they make, and there is a supporting iOS app to easily upload videos and pictures of their creations.  The site seems very user-friendly and, best of all, encourages kids to be creative and inventive.

Sketch Nation Studio

I should probably preface this post by admitting that I have absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever.  If I did, my creations on Sketch Nation Studio would be much more entertaining – and I might have included some screenshots on this post.  As it is, though, I am pretty certain you will be much more impressed by the actual iTunes photos.

Sketch Nation Studio is a free app for iDevices that allows the user to create a simple app out of his or her own sketches.  You do not have to know any programming mumbo jumbo or submit your game for approval.  You follow the extremely user-friendly steps and, voila!

Your drawings can be created in the app itself, or you can draw them on paper and upload them to the app.  This is where I think the creativity (and superior artistic talent) of my students will shine.  You can find ways, I’m sure, of integrating curriculum with this app.  But the true value is in the joy of creating and seeing a usable finished product.