Kindergarten Class

For Phun Phriday this week I want to share with you an artist who is, quite simply, incredible. I love the work she does on both of her blogs – Nicole Smeltzer and The Middlest Sister. She meticulously cuts paper to make amazing scenes and tell stories.

One of her latest projects is to make a book for her daughter’s kindergarten teacher.  The picture below is the “setting.”

Setting: Kindergarten Class, by Nicole Smeltzer
Setting: Kindergarten Class, by Nicole Smeltzer

When I saw the above picture, I couldn’t wait to see how it would look once she added the students. It already looks perfect. Can’t you just smell the crayons and Elmer’s Glue?

However, she blew me away when she posted the completed image. I won’t give it away – you will have to visit her blog to see for yourself. And this is only the first page!  What an incredible gift this will be for her daughter’s teacher.

If you need to brighten your day, I strongly urge you to check out the amazing art of Nicole Smeltzer on both of her blogs.  You will simultaneously laugh at her family and marvel at her talent.

Why Our Family Eats Out 6 Times a Week

According to some probably-not-very-reliable-websites, yesterday , April 15th, was “Steal Something from Work Day.”  If you are a teacher, this probably amuses you – because educators are far too clever and ethical to steal from work.

Typical conversation in the Eichholz household:

Husband – What happened to the aluminum foil?

Me (innocently) – What do you mean?  There’s some in the pantry.

Husband – That’s the wrong kind.  We had some non-stick foil.  Now it’s gone.

Me – Oh.  Oops.  I brought it to school so the kids could see if they could play the Makey Makey piano on it.

Husband sighs deeply at the suffering he endures being married to a teacher who views all kitchen supplies as potential science experiments instead of cooking necessities.

Other items that have gone mysteriously missing from our home in the past year:

  • a hacksaw (to make a foosball table for Global Cardboard Challenge)
  • our tripod (desks are far too unsteady for stop-motion iPad videos)
  • various fruits and vegetables (again – for the Makey Makey)
  • a piece of drywall (great canvas for Sphero painting)
  • 5 lbs. of flour (key ingredient for Squishy Circuit Conductive dough)
  • electrical tape (vital for robots who need to detect dark lines)
  • 6 rolls of paper towels and 2,000,000 boxes of tissues
  • half my salary (to buy supplies from non-district-approved vendors and/or cool stuff for my classroom from Kickstarter)

To be fair, I do sometimes enhance our home with items from school such as:

  • the class tarantula who needed a home over Winter Break
  • the class snake who needed a home over Spring Break
  • strep, flu, and cold germs

Things that Completely Disappeared Between Home and School and I am Pretty Sure Will Never Be Found Again:

  • A flat head screwdriver
  • 9 umbrellas
  • my sanity

Mathematically, it appears that my workplace has come out ahead so far.  I don’t really want a Steal Something from Work Day.  What I need is a Find Something at Work that You Stole from Home and Return It So Your Family Can Repair Their Broken Appliances and Eat a Home-cooked Meal Day.

Actually, that might take a bit longer than a day…

stealfromhome

Don’t Raise a Hoop Jumper

I am fortunate to have a great network of parents who forward me articles and other links that they know will interest me.  Yesterday, a dad forwarded this fabulous post from the TED blog.  It includes the video of Jane Andraka’s TEDx talk.  If that name sounds a bit familiar, but you can’t quite place it, Mrs. Andraka is the mother of two successful young men.  One of them is Jack Andraka, a teenager who developed an early-detection test for pancreatic cancer.  The other son, Luke, won an international science fair and the MIT Think Award.

Mrs. Andraka speaks about how she helped her sons find their passions, and the responsibility that all parents have to do so.  In the Q&A included in the blog post, she says the following,

Jane Andraka, parent of Jack and Luke Andraka, speaking on the TED blog.
Jane Andraka, parent of Jack and Luke Andraka, speaking on the TED blog.

Ultimately, Mrs. Andraka’s message is to help your children develop a growth mindset and to learn how to make themselves truly happy. The only point that I somewhat disagree with her on is that this job falls squarely on the shoulder of the parents.  Of course, I believe that parents must work hard to advocate for their children and guide them.  But I also think that schools need to be partners in this process.  That may seem contradictory since schools seem to encourage the “hoop-jumper” mentality.  But I am hoping that future education reforms will change that. It should really be our goal to teach every child to “make your own self remarkable.”

Sphero Bridge Building

Every year, my 2nd grade GT students build bridges as part of a unit on Structures.  We have K’nex kits, and they enjoy learning about the different types of bridges as well as making their own versions.

This year I really wanted to have them do more than follow the instructions in a kit. When I saw the Sphero Bridge Building Challenge, I knew immediately what we were going to do.  I modified the lesson plans a bit, borrowing from some other bridge-building lessons I’ve seen, and created yesterday’s challenge.

I gave teams the task of building a bridge that would span a 14-inch gap between two table edges.  It would need to be strong enough to drive a Sphero across, and cost the least amount of “money” possible.

Of course, they didn’t have to spend real money.  I put a bunch of materials on one of my tables and gave them a chart listing the costs:

  • Popsicle Sticks – $100 ea.
  • Straws – $50 ea.
  • String – $20 per foot
  • Paper – $10 per sheet
  • Tape – $5 per 6 in. (the 1st 6 in. are free)

The students had to plan the materials they would use and then figure out the projected cost.  They had to sketch their bridges. Once I approved their plans, they could build.

I was so impressed with their planning!  They weighed the Sphero, used string to measure its circumference, did complicated calculations of the costs of materials, and measured straws and popsicle sticks with great care.  Great discussions ensued about the best designs for their bridges.  A lot of math was done – most of it correctly.

In the end, two groups succeeded in completing and testing their Sphero bridges.  Two did not.  Their reflections afterward were fun to read.  One student wrote, “We got our bridge done in time but we could have gotten it done earlyer if we had not been arguing.”   All of the students thought planning was essential to a successful project – except one, who stated, “planing wast of time.”  Another commented that the time it takes to complete building something can be delayed by things like, “how prodoctove your workers are.”  His teammate was more blunt, “Our bridge did not get finish because some people don’t work.”  They learned another reason for building delays can be when you don’t plan for enough materials and you have to wait for more to be delivered ( i.e. when there is a line of students waiting for Mrs. Eichholz to dole out more pieces of tape).

I will definitely add this to my lesson plans again next year.  It was one of those experiences where you find yourself slightly overwhelmed by the utter chaos but completely awed by the creativity and engagement of your students.  At the end of the activity you feel the contradictory, but welcome, combination of being both drained and energized.

spherobridge2

Step Away from the Slide Show

In my experience, there are two kinds of slide shows: the TED Talk kind and the Oh-My-Gosh-How-Much-Longer-Can-This-Go-On-And-Why-Are-They-Reading-Every-Single-Word-To-Me kind.

Elementary students tend to do the latter.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are situations when slide shows are appropriate – but Genius Hour presentations generally don’t fall into that category.  In a matter of 20 minutes, a presenter can easily take a topic that he or she was insanely passionate about and reduce it to the least interesting subject ever in the history of time.

So, a couple of years ago, I started to really encourage my students to make their presentations more interactive and to branch out from slide shows.  By displaying the “101 Ways to Show What You Know” options and brainstorming other possibilities, we have ended up with a much more diverse program of final projects.   You can see some examples from last year’s batch here. (Two more sites you can use to generate presentation ideas are 200 Ways to Show What You Know and The Differentiator.)

It’s that time of year again, and my students are once again finishing up their research and beginning to present each week.  Last week, one of my students presented about breast cancer.  He barely spoke to the class at all – except to give them instructions for accessing a game he had programmed using the Hopscotch app.  Through the game, the students learned about the symptoms of breast cancer and side effects of treatments.  Then they were able to try to apply their learning by answering questions. (If you want to check out the game in the Hopscotch public project gallery, it is called, “Breast Cancer,” by Understanding Taffy. You may be surprised to see that there are several Hopscotch games about breast cancer.)

There was a bit of confusion about some of the directions, but his classmates were much more engaged than if the student had tried to approach this subject with a slide show of somber facts.

The presentation wasn’t perfect.  It could have used more “earth-shaking” revelations that were new to the students, and the presenter forgot to cite his sources.  But there is no doubt in my mind that this student spent his Genius Hour time productively and the class will remember more from his project than if he had chosen a less interactive way to present it.

If you are going to require your class to endure a number of student monologues, I recommend you give them some alternatives that will be less snore-inducing than the typical slide show.  It’s a win-win for you and the students.  And the rest of the school benefits, too. The custodians will discover that rarely-used bathrooms stay cleaner and have less toilet clogs.  The admin will marvel at all of the extra time they have gained to do their jobs instead of dealing with a revolving door of discipline referrals. Even the nurse will thank you for the reduction in headaches and other mysterious illnesses that seem to materialize during boring classroom lectures.

For more Genius Hour resources, check out this page.

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Kid President and Steve Martin

In case you haven’t heard the news, Kid President is now an uncle! He’s a bit concerned about this new responsibility, so he consulted Steve Martin for advice.  This week’s Phun Phriday offering is the link to the video of this interview – and don’t miss the “Butter me up, and call me a biscuit!” secret link at the end of the video :)

from: Kid President and Steve Martin: Together at Last!
from: Kid President and Steve Martin: Together at Last!

Jane Goodall on Instinct

I found out about a 3-part series of animated videos called, “The Experimenters,” from Joe Hanson of “It’s Okay to Be Smart.”  I haven’t watched them all, but I really like the one for Jane Goodall. It’s short – about six and a half minutes – but it encapsulates all that is delightful about this primatology pioneer.  For example, her dreams of working in Africa began when she read Tarzan.  She does not discount the possibility that a Yeti may exist.  And she managed to go straight from having no degree to getting a Ph.D. from Cambridge.  What’s not to love?

Inspire a future scientist by showing him or her this video about a woman who has always followed her instinct, despite those who disapproved.

from "Jane Goodall on Instinct"
from “Jane Goodall on Instinct”

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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