How “Why’s” Can Make You Wise

Student Survey

When I introduced Genius Hour to my 3rd graders this year, they were really excited about creating “missions” about anything that interested them.  The week after they set their goals for their projects, they came into class and I announced that we were going to switch gears.  We have been working on a unit on Systems Thinking, and I had a new idea to actually apply that unit to a real life problem in a real-life system – our school.

“What do you think are some problems around our school?” I asked them.  They brainstormed a list.

(There are 4 students in my 3rd grade GT class, by the way.  I’m telling you this for a couple of reasons: so you won’t think that I’m an extremely brave teacher for trying this experiment and so you will realize that my “class” probably needed to get some more perspectives on this question.)

“Do you think we should get some other opinions?” I asked the students.  They agreed that might be a good idea.  So, I showed them how to make a Google Form to use to survey the school, and we sent it to the staff to share with the students.

This week, we took a look at the summary of results.  Almost half of the respondents had agreed that the biggest problem at our school is the noise in the cafeteria.  The two girls in my class decided to take that on for their Genius Hour project.  The two boys chose to work on the problem of garbage on the cafeteria floor.

One of the boys had either misunderstood our discussion before Spring break or was so enthusiastic about it that he decided to create a solution before we even chose our problems.  He came to class yesterday with a game he had designed in Gamestar Mechanic to teach kids why leaving food on the floor was not a good idea.

Cafeteria Problem

“So, do you think the reason they are doing that is because they just need to be educated about the consequences?” I asked him. He nodded.

We had just finished reading a chapter of Billibonk and the Big Itch,  where the main character learns the importance of getting to the root of a problem so you’re not just treating the symptom.  I asked the students to use the method that Frankl suggests to Billibonk in the story – to keep asking, “Why?”  Frankl recommends doing this 5 times, or until you just can’t do it anymore.

Through a series of “Why’s” the girls decided that the reason for the noise in the cafeteria is related to people talking loudly for attention.

The boys came to two different conclusions about why there is so much garbage on the cafeteria floor.  One of them ended up believing it is due to disrespect for the adults in the room, and one of them feels that it is actually due to a lack of self-confidence.  The boy who designed the Gamestar Mechanic solution realized that this was not going to solve the problem he had just identified.  Of course, he is still determined to use Gamestar Mechanic to fix it :)

I have absolutely no idea where this is going next.  Now that the students have done their best to identify the causes of the problems, they are going to use some other Systems Thinking concepts to try to develop solutions.  This is a grand experiment for all of us!

While I was writing this post, I was attempting to multi-task, and listening to one of the videos from yesterday’s Learning Creative Learning class.  During the video, Mitch Resnick stated how important he believes it is to “solve problems in context of a meaningful project that you’re working on.”   That is exactly what we are attempting to do, so I hope that it is a good learning experience, no matter the results.

Here is a great article by Mitch Ditkoff for the Huffington Post that reinforces this idea of continuing to ask, “Why?” with a real-life example. (Be sure to read it before you share with students, as it does mention insects mating – with other synonyms for the word, “mating.” :) )

Video Story Problems

Video Story Problems

This resource was shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher).  I am always looking for new ways to bring relevance to math, and I love this idea.  The Video Story Problem channel currently has 195 videos created by teachers and students.  If you go to this post on “The Tech Savvy Educator” you can get more information about the motivation for producing these videos, and how you can get involved.  There is even a form for students to plan their own Video Story Problems to submit.

Below is an example of one of the Video Story Problems that you can ask your students to view that proposes a challenge to figure out some awesome discounts at Kohl’s.  (If you are unable to view the video embedded below, try clicking here.)

Video Story Problem – Shopping at Kohl’s from Ben Rimes on Vimeo.

The Return of Robot Turtles

This is going to be the Phunnest Phriday ever because I get to share some awesome news with you!  If you recall (though I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you don’t recall), I posted about a game called “Robot Turtles” last December during my Gifts for the Gifted Series.  I debated whether or not to write that post because I had obtained my own “Robot Turtles” game through Kickstarter, and didn’t know when (or if ) it would ever become available to the general public.

I am happy to announce that “Robot Turtles” is now available for pre-order at the great price of $24.99, and it’s being produced by one of my favorite sources of learning toys, ThinkFun!

“Robot Turtles” is a game that was designed by Dan Shapiro to teach children the basics of programming skills.  I have used it with students as young as six years old, and they love it.  You can read my detailed description of the game here.

The new version has a few modifications that will make the product even better, including improved durability and instructions.  In addition, the first 5,000 pre-orders of the game (which will start shipping this June, 2014), will get a “Special Edition Expansion Pack.”  This pack will include: more focus on the “Function Frog”,  32 fancy Gemstones, and 10 Adventure Quests.  I am particularly excited about the Adventure Quests, as these will offer some new ideas for setting up the board, and are bound to motivate the players to think of even more quests to add to their collection!

If you are a teacher, you might want to consider purchasing this game for your classroom.  Once I taught my 1st graders how to play, they quickly took over, and it can be used as a center for hours of fun.  In addition, a group of my 4th graders picked it up on their own to play during indoor recess the other day, and were very disappointed when their time ended!

Families will enjoy this too, and it will make a great, unique birthday gift for children in elementary school.

Whether or not Computer Science, including Programming, should be a part of school curriculum is a hot topic of debate in the world of education these days.(Great Britain has already decided to include it.)  But one thing you can never debate is the value of children learning and problem solving while they are having fun.

It’s Not Just a Soccer Ball

Ever since the Doodle 4 Google theme for 2014 was announced (“If I could invent one thing to make the world a better place…”), I have been finding resources everywhere.  I’m pretty sure I could spend an entire year with a class on this theme.

For example, last week on Twitter, @theresamcgee shared a fabulous page of student projects done last year in which 4th graders dreamed up simple machine inventions to make the world a better place.

Then I went to TCEA, and Leslie Fisher (who is completely hilarious and awesome and probably my long, lost sister) shared some great inventions during her “Gadgets” presentation that make the world a better place:  Soccket – the energy harnessing soccer ball that gives hours of light after 30 minutes of play, Squito – the ball with 8 cameras that can stitch together the pictures for a panoramic view with potential to be used by first responders in dangerous situations to check out the surrounding area, and Gravity Light - lift a weight in 3 seconds that will give you 25 minutes of light as it descends.

Then, Kid President released his newest video, “How to be an Inventor.”

I mean, really, how can you not come up with an idea to make the world a more awesome place with all of these resources at your fingertips?  Practice a little S.C.A.M.P.E.R. with your students, and see what they can design!

Pzzlr

You can find the answer here.

From pzzler.com.  You can find the answer here.

Yes, I spelled it right.  At least, I spelled it the way the website, pzzlr.com, spells it. Considering this is a Phun Phriday post, I think it fits in quite nicely.

If you and your students enjoy brainteasers, then you might want to take a look at this site.  Of course, you might find it a bit frustrating.  I was kind of upset with myself when I finally gave up and looked at the answer to this one – especially since I realized I was so close to solving it right before I caved.

Roman Numerals

Trust me – you’re going to be upset with yourself if you don’t solve this.

I don’t know that I would necessarily direct my students to the site itself, as it contains ads.  Plus, they will probably cheat – like me.  But you could certainly find some puzzles to print off and give to students who have some “spare time” in your room, or present one a week.

Here’s one more.  I actually solved this one, so it might be too easy for your students ;)

Click here for the answer.

Click here for the answer.

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.