Category Archives: Critical Thinking

How about a Game of Foolsball?

The following pics are of creations that students made using our new Makerbot 3D printer.  Mrs. Lackey, our librarian, guided a small “pilot” group of 5th graders through the City X curriculum.  In this curriculum, a story is weaved about a fictional city on another planet that has problems that need to be solved.  The students go through the design process to generate ideas, making prototypes, and printing their creations on the 3D printer.

The first student chose to help develop a new sport that could be played.  He designed, printed, and painted a stadium where “Foolsball” could be played.

PicCollage (2)

In the second example, the student was tasked with developing a way for the city’s animals to stay healthy and receive medical attention if needed. He created a collar that dogs could wear that would monitor the dogs vitals and dispense medicine when needed.

PicCollage (1)

PicCollageThe third student genetically engineered a new animal that has the characteristics of several Earth species. The animal will help to protect the city with its many combined strengths.

Mrs. Lackey and I have been so impressed with the quality of this free curriculum that we plan to expand the program to many more students next school year.

To learn more about 3D Printing in Elementary School, check out this post I recently wrote for Free Tech for Teachers.

Week of Inspirational Math

Stanford University’s Jo Boaler over at YouCubed.org has just released a set of free lesson plans that can be used for 5 days with any grade level from 3rd through 12th.  This “Week of Inspirational Math” includes videos, handouts, and Powerpoints.  As they progress through the activities, students develop a Growth Mindset when thinking about math, and are encouraged to think in multiple ways about problems. The first lesson even includes an activity that fosters collaboration amongst their peers.

Week of Inspirational Math” would be great to use at the beginning of the year, as it will set a tone for learning in class that can be applied to all subjects.  To access the plans, you will need to register for free with YouCubed.  However, it’s a small price to pay for an excellent set of activities that will start your year right.

Week of Inspirational Math at YouCubed.org
Week of Inspirational Math at YouCubed.org

Maker Space Essentials – Squishy Circuits

The next adventure for our after-school Maker Club will be circuits. I’ve already mentioned Little Bits, a great product for creating all kinds of circuits using interchangeable magnetic parts.  Those will be at one of our stations.  Another station will include “Squishy Circuits.”

Squishy Circuits image courtesy of Lenore Edman
Squishy Circuits image courtesy of Lenore Edman

Squishy Circuits are made using conductive dough.  You can find the recipe for the dough, as well as for insulating dough here. A Squishy Circuits kit, which includes the recipes and “hardware” is available for $25 here. You can probably find the items somewhere else, but I felt like this was a pretty good price that saved me the time of hunting for individual parts.

If you scroll to the bottom of the Squishy Circuits purchasing page, you can see two videos that show this product in action. As you will learn, this is a great way to introduce electrical circuits to young students.

I did a practice run this weekend with my daughter and some family friends.  One of the things that is really fun to watch is the natural curiosity that arises once you show them an LED lighting up. Suddenly, “What if” questions begin to flow, and “I wonder what would happen” becomes the beginning of every other sentence.

I did learn a few things from this Squishy Circuits rehearsal:

  • If you don’t have food coloring in the house, egg dye can work in a pinch – but it’s going to make your dough smell like vinegar.
  • There is a reason the recipe calls for distilled or deionized water for the insulating dough.  We didn’t have either, so we used spring water.  Our sugar dough – though less conductive – still had some power.  This turned into a great lesson, though.  (“Why” became the next favorite sentence starter.)
  • The buzzer sounds are extremely irritating to adult ears, but highly giggle-provoking to youth.

I found a few other resources for those of you interested in using Squishy Circuits.

As you can see, there are lots of ways to use Squishy Circuits.  If you have any other suggestions, please fill free to add a comment to this post. And, if you want to see some other Maker Space  Essentials, check out my “Make” Pinterest Board.

Maker Space Essentials (6)

Painting with Sphero

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled on a #makered Twitter chat and somehow the conversation turned to using the Sphero robots to paint.  I was hoping to do this with my 4th graders because we are studying mathematical art and I thought it would be a good way to tie it in with the programming they have learned – but I had no idea how to go about it.

My colleagues on Twitter immediately offered fabulous suggestions: use tempera paint, try it with the “nubby” to give it texture, and buy a cheap plastic swimming pool to contain the mess.  One teacher offered to try it the next day with her students and, as promised, sent me pictures of the results.  Claire (@pritchclaire) also gave me the suggestion to stay away from red paint as it kind of stains the Sphero.

pritchclaire
image courtesy of @pritchclaire

After receiving all of this great advice, I introduced the topic to my 4th graders.  Then we set about coming up with a plan.  First, they learned how to program the Sphero to make polygons using the Macrolab app.  (We used the free 2D Geometry lesson from Sphero offered on this page.)  There is an app that allows you to drive the Sphero free-hand, but it’s difficult to make exact shapes that way.  Macrolab gave us the tools to be more precise.

The students needed a good 90 minutes to practice making different polygons.  The next step was to sketch a design. I absolutely loved listening to the conversations about the math involved as they tried to figure out the angle degrees for each command.  Despite their experience with the complexities of Sphero programming, the students started out with grand, complicated sketches.  After doing dry runs, however, they realized they needed to scale things down a bit.  Sketching and practicing took about another 90 minutes.

After many practices, each group came to our improvised drawing board.  Although I loved the plastic pool idea, I realized that the bottom wouldn’t be flat enough to keep the Sphero in control.  I brought a piece of drywall to school that had been sitting in our garage.  We used some extra cardboard to add some sides to it.

With disposable gloves on, the students manually rolled the Sphero around in a puddle of paint, then set it up on the “canvas” and started their program.  I should mention here that I was describing my day to my husband and he said, “You should have just put the paint in a plastic baggie and rolled the Sphero in that.”  Hopefully I will remember that idea next year…

Photo Apr 01, 12 58 59 PM
Preparing a nubby-covered Sphero for making art

As you can see, the results of using a programmed Sphero were a bit different than the above photo.  Personally, either method looks fabulous to me.  The students agreed.  As soon as they were done, one of them immediately said, “We should find out if we can hang these in the front foyer!”

Can you identify when they used the nubby for their lines?

You can see some video of our “technique” below.

After the experience we got into some good discussions about what art is and why the Sphero might not have always acted according to their expectations.  Although this probably isn’t a lesson that could happen in the regular classroom due to time and equipment constraints, I think it worked well for my little group of 6 students!

Robot Olympics

Calling this activity “Robot Olympics” might have been a bit ambitious.  After all, there was really just one event and the only (and extremely tenuous) connection to the real-life Olympics was the fact that chariots were involved.

Nevertheless, “Robot Olympics” was the title of our program last Thursday.  Our after-school Maker Club had been exploring the world of robots for a couple of months – which mostly involved playing, not making.  So, we threw out the challenge for each group to build a chariot for their robot that would carry Dot, the tiny Wonder Workshop sidekick for Dash.

We have 4 different kinds of robots in B.O.S.S. HQ right now, and each one had its advantages and disadvantages for this challenge. To keep the playing field even, every robot was scored with the following criteria:

  • Ability to carry Dash to the Finish Line
  • Chariot Design
  • Making it from the Start to the Finish Line
  • Speed

Penalties were given for running into the bricks on the side and each time the “Robot Wrangler” had to put his or her hands on the robot to redirect it during the course.

The students working with Sphero built extremely elaborate chariots – only to find that Sphero would not budge with all of the extra weight.  The Cubelets teams were so excited about getting as many Cubelets together as possible that they barely had time to build their chariots.  Edison refused to behave predictably when detecting a black line, and Dash’s chariots kept falling off every time they were tested.

“This is good,” I told the students.  “You’re learning how to problem solve.  Remember, “Think, Make, Improve.”

In the end, every robot crossed the Finish Line.  Every student received a robot Spirit Stick.  Dash Team #1 walked away with “gold” medals.

What would I do differently?

Allot more time for the event, make sure the students test their robots on the course numerous times before the event, have 2 courses and 2 sets of judges so there isn’t so much wait time, ask more students to help run the event, and make the course out of something more durable than poster board so it can be reused.

Will we do it again next year?  Definitely – but it will be even better. Maybe we can add a discus throw or something so the “Robot Olympics” will seem less ostentatious…

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Rush Hour Shift

As regular readers may know, my students and I are big fans of ThinkFun games in our classroom.  The logic and problem-solving skills embedded into each one equal the entertainment value, which makes teachers and learners happy.

ThinkFun recently sent us one of their new games to review – Rush Hour Shift.  This name may sound familiar to you.  Rush Hour has been one of the most popular games in my classroom for years.  It’s meant to be a single-player game, though my students usually work in pairs or small groups to solve the increasingly difficult challenges of sliding a car through lanes of traffic to the exit.  The new version, Rush Hour Shift, is a 2-player game – and I predict it will be the new favorite in my classes.

Rush Hour Shift from ThinkFun
Rush Hour Shift from ThinkFun

In Rush Hour Shift, there are 3 interlocking plates that make up the traffic grid.  Each player is trying to slide their car to the opposite end.  Different challenges direct you on how to set up the “traffic” on the grid before starting.  Each player is dealt a set of cards, and can only make the moves that are on the cards.  These moves include sliding the other cars around or shifting one of the interlocking plates.

My daughter (12) and I tried the game first.  She beat me two out of three times.  (Spatial reasoning has always been one of my weaknesses.)  I was addicted – but I think my daughter was getting frustrated with playing against someone so obviously beneath her level.

Yesterday, three of my 5th grade girls tried the game out.  They had earned the privilege of  “testing” a game and went into the empty classroom next door to play.   The rest of us were trying to solve some wicked sudoku-like math puzzles, and were soon finding ourselves distracted by the uproarious laughter coming from the game-testers.

I peeked in on the girls, and they were having a great time.  They had easily figured out the instructions, and were taking turns playing each other.  When I asked them if they would recommend the game to others, they vigorously agreed.  Jokingly, one of them commented,  “But not if you want to keep your friends!”  Apparently Rush Hour Shift has the ability to spark some friendly competition.

One thing that we all agreed on was the potential for many hours of fun with this game.  For each of the 10 game set-ups given, there are endless ways the game can be played based on the cards that are dealt and the choices each player makes for using them.

We did receive Rush Hour Shift free to review, but I would definitely choose to purchase one for a birthday gift in the future.

If you find this game interesting and would like to see some other products that I have recommended in the past, check out this Pinterest Board.

Makerspace Essentials – Legos

I am frequently asked for advice on what materials to purchase for school maker spaces.  I am definitely not an expert on this topic, but I have gotten a couple of grants for B.O.S.S. HQ (Building of Super Stuff Headquarters) that have allowed me to try out different products.  I thought I would devote this week to sharing about a few items that I have judged to be well worth the money.

(If you intend to apply for a grant for a school maker space, be sure to research your district’s policies on spending grant money.  If you need to use approved vendors, then you should verify that you will be able to purchase the items you propose and that the vendor will accept your district’s preferred method of payment.)

Maker Space Essentials Legos

Legos may seem like a no-brainer when it comes to maker space essentials, but it actually took me awhile to realize that we needed to add them to our inventory.  There were a couple of reasons I resisted their inclusion:

  • Many of my students have Legos at home, so there seemed to be no point in offering them at school as well,
  • I’m an idiot.

My students have been working with Lego robots for a few years, so I didn’t see the need for any additional tiny pieces ending up on the floor waiting to ambush me.  And, to be honest, I kind of got stuck on the kit part of Legos, which didn’t seem like the best outlet for creativity.

We added a few last year because some of my students wanted to do a Lego stop-motion film for Genius Hour.  The small box of Legos a parent donated seemed like plenty to me.

But then we kept getting robots that included Lego adapters and students kept asking, “Where are the Legos?” and our pitiful supply did not impress them, and I finally gave in and sent out an all-call to parents and staff for more Lego donations.

Legos, like cardboard boxes, are ubiquitous, it seems.  Before I knew it, we had several bins of Legos, donated by parents and teachers who were grateful to re-home them, and my students were happily digging through the pieces to find the perfect accessories for their robots. (I’ll be talking more about the robots in tomorrow’s post.)

Some of the robots, like Sphero, don’t even come with Lego adapters.  Yet my students managed to find a way to create a Sphero chariot with the donated Legos.  The slideshow below shows Legos with Cubelets and Edison also.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you don’t have robots or the materials to do stop-motion, here are some other ideas for using Legos in a maker space:

The Lego Education page has more information on their robotics kits and other products designed specifically for schools.

Click here for a list of Lego-related posts I have done in the past.

For more maker space ideas, here is my Pinterest Board.