Category Archives: Critical Thinking

The Serious Business of Play

At the intersection of art and science, you will find 3M’s recent Rube Goldberg Machine video.

It is a masterpiece that proves that logic and creativity are not mutually exclusive.

Play-is-serious-business

 

Parable of the Polygons

My students adore Vi Hart videos.  I think the kids understand maybe 1/2 of what she is saying, but she makes math fun and stimulates their curiosity.

Parable of the Polygons” is an interactive website that was created by Vi Hart and Nicky Case.  Having watched several Vi Hart videos, I expected the site to do one of the things Vi does best – teach me math.  But I was mistaken.  “Parable of the Polygonsuses math to teach about racism, sexism, (and all of the other negative”isms”) and what we can do to help eradicate them.

from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case
from Parable of the Polygons by Vi Hart and Nicky Case

I innocently played each activity trying to make happy polygons until I realized that I, a self-proclaimed non-racist, have had probably zero effect in persuading others to be less biased.  Using math, I learned that, unless more of us make an effort to seek out more diverse colleagues and friends, there is little chance things will change.

This is definitely an activity that I will be doing with my students and I hope to make some changes in my life based on what I learned. From now on, this little square is going to be on the lookout for opportunities to meet more triangles :)

What Should We Be Teaching?

The other day I ran across an article authored by Mark Manson for the Business Insider called, “5 things we should teach in school but don’t.” (You’re probably thinking someone should have taught me to capitalize important words in a title, but that is actually way the title appears, not my lack of capitalization education.)

Before I read the article, I jotted down a few of my own ideas so I could compare them to Manson’s.  This is what I came up with:

  • Career Counseling
  • Innovation and the Design Process (including reflection and revision)
  • How to Handle Money
  • Metacognition
  • How to Protect our Brains in the Case of a Zombie Apocalypse

Okay, so maybe the last one is somewhat extreme – but a little survival training could do us all a bit of good.

Manson’s ideas don’t quite match mine – but first on the list is Finance.  I completely agree with his assessment that our nation’s lack of education in this area is behind a lot of the economic difficulties we are experiencing today.

Logic and reasoning are also recommended requirements according to Manson – something I do not dispute.  I think these skills are implicitly taught in many subjects (including computer programming), but an actual class or two on this topic would benefit many students.

I urge you to make your own list (feel free to add suggestions to the comments below) and to read Manson’s article to find out what else he finds critically lacking in today’s high school curriculum.  He has a good point that we shouldn’t rely on our grandparents’  course of study to prepare today’s generation for the future.

Public domain image by Russell Lee on Wikipedia.
Public domain image by Russell Lee on Wikipedia.

Zombie-Based Learning

Yep.  You read that correctly.

How have I not heard of this before?!!!  Problem-based, standards-based, project-based…. All familiar to me.  Zombie-based?  Not so much.

image from Pixabay.com

The only reason I know about it now is because of another of Edutopia’s fabulous 5-Minute Film Festivals.  This one, posted on 7/17/15, is about inspirational teachers.  I scanned the list and, well, the word, “zombie” kind of jumps out at you.

David Hunter invented Zombie-based learning as a way to engage students as they learn about geography.  It’s aimed at 4th-8th graders, and he created his own graphic novel to supplement the lessons.  Curriculum standards are covered; you just happen to be evading zombies as you learn them.

I don’t know about you, but geography was such a yawn subject when I was in school back in the day.  With Zombie-based learning, I might have actually been interested in the location of Siberia and whether or not its climate was conducive to zombies.

I have not tried the curriculum,  You can check it out over here, and look at examples.  To use the curriculum you will need to fork over some cash.  You might find it worth it.  After all, you’re really getting two things for the price of one – an engaging curriculum for your students and a survival guide for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Let’s face it.  It’s coming.  It’s only a matter of time…

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)