Art Together Now

I’ve written about the OK Go Sandbox before on this blog. For STEM and STEAM teachers, this is a fabulous website provided by the incredibly creative and gifted band, OK Go, to suggest lessons inspired by their music videos. Those videos – masterpieces of science, music, and cinematography – are fascinating to listen to and watch in and of themselves. But combine them with hands-on activities designed to explore topics such as physics and color theory, and you have lessons that are sure to engage your students.

Somehow I missed the band’s release, last year, of their “All Together Now” video, produced near the beginning of the pandemic as each of the members remained isolated in their own homes. They dedicated it to the healthcare workers on the frontlines, and paired it with a challenge to create collaborative art to express gratitude for someone. Curated under the hashtag, #ArtTogetherNow, the art would be posted to this website gallery.

The lyrics of the song mourn the loss of what we had come to expect in our world, but offer hope in the chorus that we will eventually emerge from this crisis transformed – perhaps for the better.

Skype a Scientist

With Earth Day just around the corner (April 22, 2021), one idea you may want to consider is to “Skype a Scientist.” Using this website, you can browse through a list of hundreds of scientists, or search for them based on keywords such as their specialties. Once you find one you would like your class to converse with, follow the instructions for getting in touch with the scientist through the organization so you can arrange your meeting. (Though I haven’t used the site, I am guessing you can use the video conference tool of your choice, and are not limited to Skype.) Another way to use this resource is to take a look at scheduled events hosted by scientists, and register for free through EventBrite.

person holding container with seaweed
Photo by Chokniti Khongchum on Pexels.com

To connect with more scientists for Earth Day, register for NASA’s free virtual Earth Day Event. (Of course, NASA is on my mind after yesterday’s review of Astronauts Zoom!) For even more ideas on how to spend Earth Day – and the days leading up to it – be sure to check out my brand new Wakelet of resources curated just for the occasion.

Astronauts Zoom!

I’m excited to announce a new nonfiction book by Deborah Lee Rose, author of Scientists Get Dressed and co-author of Beauty and the Beak. The latter will always be near and dear to my heart because Rose first contacted me when she saw the connection between the story of Beauty, an eagle who received a 3d-printed prosthetic beak, and articles I had posted about my students’ adventures with 3d printing back in 2016. With her new book, Astronauts Zoom!, Deborah Lee Rose continues along her path of providing first class STEM materials for young children.

Persnickety Press/WunderMill Books is publishing ASTRONAUTS ZOOM! in celebration of 20 years of astronauts living and working on the International Space Station (ISS). This “Astronaut Alphabet” features high-quality photographs of male and female astronauts from several countries so that children of any gender and race can see someone reflective of them representing this incredible career. One unique aspect of these pictures, as Rose pointed out to me, is that “you can rotate the book fully, and the photos taken in space will still be correct because there is no true “upside down.”

public domain photo from NASA

With age-appropriate – yet challenging – vocabulary as well as inclusion of both the technical and entertaining aspects of spending time in microgravity, Astronauts Zoom! will be an excellent addition to any classroom library or child’s reading collection. Though it is a picture book, there are many levels to approach it from, so re-reading it is definitely a pleasure.

There are informational pages in the book that expand on the simple sentences used for each letter, list the vocabulary, give additional facts, and name the astronauts who are pictured along with their countries of origin. In addition, you can download this free Educational Guide to accompany the book:

In the past couple of years, we have watched the first all-female spacewalk and the first African American astronaut to spend an extended period (longer than a few weeks) in space. On April 9, 2021, the station is scheduled to have 10 people aboard as crews rotate in and out. With all of these historical events, as well as excitement over Perseverance and its implications for humans to make trips to Mars in the future, Astronauts Zoom! is the perfect book to share with students to garner enthusiasm for STEM and reaching for the stars.

Click here for more information!

Your True Colors

You may have noticed that I’ve been playing around with re-designing this website, which has included trying different color schemes. I keep getting sidetracked as I teach myself different tools, and though I’m fairly proficient when it comes to technology, I have a lot more to learn about design. I think my attempts at creativity hurt my husband’s eyes whenever I ask for his opinion so my drafts range from rebelling against his traditional perspective with crazy rule-breaking combinations to realizing that it’s not really my goal to blind my readers.

I’ve done different units on color with various age groups, from investigating the science behind it and writing poetry with my 5th graders as we read The Giver, to teaching about Color Theory in my Principles of Arts high school class. Along the way, I learned about Canva’s free Color Wheel tool, how to assess my color IQ, and Color Theory for Noobs. We examined websites like this one to see how different colors can evoke different emotions.

Since then, I’ve learned about Adobe’s Color tool, which can extract color themes from a photo you upload, or allow you to choose colors and find pleasing additions to create your own theme. If you subscribe to the Creative Cloud, you can even save those palettes in your libraries to access from your Adobe products.

I also learned about Coolors, where you can explore palettes that are trending, or generate your own. On any of these sites – Canva, Coolors, Adobe – you can copy the hex code of any color and paste it as a custom color in presentations you are making.

So, teachers and students can use these tools to improve their designs. But you can also use them for introspection. @WickedDecent shares a Slides activity to use with students where they identify their own Personal Color Palettes. This would go well with another activity my students used to do where they designed their own “Character Strength Floorplans.” Or, you could extend the idea by having students design color palettes for historical figures or book characters, justifying their answers with researched evidence.

Another way to go (especially if you are using yesterday’s post about dining traditions) is to explore what colors mean in different cultures. The Kid Should See This has a great collections of videos on this topic. And if you really want to delve deep into all things colorful, this 5-Minute Film Festival includes videos and multiple resources.

orange yellow green and blue abstract painting
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

Storytime + Tinkering

Visit this collaboration between the Exploratorium and Mr. Limata’s Storytime to access a wealth of ideas joining literature with making. Mr. Limata is an elementary school teacher who shares read-alouds which have been paired with creative activities he has used with his second grade class. From balancing sculptures to imaginative ideas for creating with shadows, this page offers concrete activities that teachers, librarians, and parents can use to involve their students in S.T.R.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Math)

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Gifts for the Gifted – Bare Conductive Touch Board

 A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season.  I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December.  These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child.  For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. I also have a Pinterest Board of Games and Toys for Gifted Students. You may notice that I missed 2019, but I’m making up for it this year with a post every Thursday in November and December up until Christmas Eve.

Last year, we were able to get a grant in our Maker Space for some Bare Conductive Touch Boards and paint (there are smaller tubes of paint if you prefer). One of the choices for students’ final engineering projects in my class was to create a work of art that integrated the touch board and paint. I just scoured my Google Photos archive and, for some reason, have no video of the final projects in action 🙁 Here are pics of the artwork and the back of their canvases, though.

The black paint that you see in the mariachi and country pictures is conductive. The concept was to attach the sound board to the back and connect the black paint with copper tape to the sound board. But, as you can see in the bottom picture, the copper tape was not being cooperatively sticky enough so one of the students ended up soldering wires to it instead. (Soldering is not mandatory; we just wanted to make it more durable.) We made hinged frames for the canvases to enclose the speakers and touch board but allow us to turn them on/off and change batteries if needed. The mariachi instruments played music based on which instrument you touched, and the countries played their anthems. (That group was fascinated with countries of the Cold War.)

Don’t let the over-complexity of the project scare you off. I tend to imagine projects that leave out a few minor details in in my initial drafts. What’s cool about the Bare Conductive Touch Board is that it is actually easy to use. There is a little Micro SD card for you to add your sounds, and you probably want to attach a cheap speaker (I got these at Target for $3) that has a microphone jack so you can hear it. As you can see, we also gave it a battery, but you can alternatively just attach it to your laptop, depending on your project. Here is a step-by-step intro to the board that shows you how easy it is to get it working. There are also instructions for making a midi piano.

I was first inspired to look into doing a project like this when I saw this video. For those of you who have used or seen the Makey Makey (a past Gifts for the Gifted recommendation), you can see that this takes the potential just a bit further.

If you have a child/student who loves to create art and would be interested in attaching sound to it, this is a unique gift that they would definitely enjoy.