Category Archives: Research

White House Science Fair

On Monday, March 23, 2015, the White House hosted it’s fifth annual Science Fair.  You can see some of the participants in the video on this site.  I haven’t been able to watch the whole video, but I enjoyed the segment that starts about 57 minutes in (I just chose a random place to start) where some students describe their experiences with their FIRST Lego League robots to Bill Nye.

White House Science Fair 2015
White House Science Fair 2015

If you visit the site, you can learn all about this year’s exhibitors – which include the 6-year-old darling “Supergirls” FIRST Lego League Team below.  Talk about STEM Inspiration!

The Supergirls from Tulsa, OK
The Supergirls from Tulsa, OK

You can find more coverage of the event here. And if you want some STEM resources, check out this Pinterest Board.

Engineering – Go For It!

When I realized that last week was National Engineering Week, the week was practically already over.  I tried to salvage things by doing some engineering with my 5th grade last Thursday – Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.  Ironically, there are only 5 girls in my 5th grade class of 18.  But that’s still a higher percentage of females represented in my class than in the engineering workforce according to this article.

During my attempt to find an informational engineering website that would appeal to my students, I stumbled on eGFI (Engineering – Go For It!).  This site shows the many different professions that fall under the umbrella of “engineering.”  You can read about all of them, find out how to make a difference in each career, and “meet” engineering students as well as current engineers by reading their bios and major accomplishments.

eGFI

My students enjoyed just browsing the site and writing down 6 facts that they didn’t know about engineering that they learned from the site.  I wrote down 6 myself, and could have continued for another 50, I have a feeling!

The eGFI Magazine was a huge hit (but it seemed to work better on the tablets than on the PC), with articles about everything from movie-making to fast cars.

Of course, I didn’t have my students just read about engineering. We attempted to do our own engineering by designing the best ways to make straws fly through the air.  I gave them this activity from Zoom after they had tested out other options – some of which worked better.  (They are still reporting back to me on iterations they continued to create at home.)

On the way to lunch on Thursday, I overheard one student say, as if in complete surprise, “Engineering is really fun!”

I guess I need to do a better job at communicating that!

Twister

Just to be clear from the outset, this post is not about the game that prepares you for a career in Cirque de Soleil – or, in my case, a long stay in the hospital.

Twister, basically a fake Tweet generator, is one of the many fun tools available from ClassTools.net.  (Check out this post from Richard Byrne about Connect Fours, another really cool ClassTools resource.)

ClassTools is the site that also brings you Fakebook. (You can probably easily deduce the purpose of that tool!)  I’ve used Fakebook, and included it as one of the challenges on Brad Gustafson’s ConnectED Bingo Board.  Joelle Trayers has a great post about using Fakebook with Junie B. Jones, and reading her post reminded me that I had been wanting to explore some of the other Classtools resources.

Twister is very simple to use.  You can see the required fields in the picture below.

from ClassTools.net

 

The tool actually pulls images from the internet to use for a background, so I tried a fictional character, Harry Potter, to see what would happen.  Here is what I got when I submitted:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 8.09.29 PM

Then I thought I should try something more historical.

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 8.18.09 PM

This tool is easy to use and probably works for any famous person, fictional or historical, on the internet.

If you want something a bit more complex, you can try out this downloadable fake Twitter template.  Or, for a simulated Twitter experience, try Tammy Tang’s awesome Google Class Tweeter Template.

Genius Hour Interviews

Last year, one of my fabulous Twitter connections, Andi McNair (@mcnairan3, http://ameaningfulmess.blogspot.com/), mentioned that she required all of her students to interview an expert for their Genius Hour projects.  Previously, this was one of the mystery challenges on my Genius Hour Challenge Cards, but not a requirement.  The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of building this into all of their projects.

My biggest class is my 5th grade GT class – 18 students.  They rocked Genius Hour in 4th grade last year, so I thought they would be the best class to “pilot” this idea.  Since many of the students are working in pairs, this meant we would need at least 9 experts.

We discovered that finding an expert to interview isn’t easy.  We learned pretty quickly that calling the names on websites wasn’t going to work very well.  As soon as the person on the other end heard a child’s voice, my students weren’t taken very seriously.  So, we decided to try e-mailing people to ask if they would Skype with us.  That has elicited a better response, but still requires persistence. (The students typed e-mails from my account requesting help with their projects and for the expert to please contact their teacher if interested.)

Our first expert helped a group of students with a project they were doing on wild animals in captivity.  We found them through a contact I had made when we did our Cardboard Box Arcade earlier this year.

Then, through a comment made by a teacher in a Twitter chat about her students’ Genius Hour projects, I was able to connect another group who is studying the impact of divorce with two students who have experienced it first-hand.

Last week was one of my favorite Skypes.  Some students who are studying global warming talked with an expert who was not only very knowledgeable but also extremely good at explaining his topic to young people.  The students were glued to the screen for almost 45 minutes, covering pages of paper with notes.  However, I couldn’t tell if the students were just being polite or really engrossed in the conversation.

Afterward, I tentatively asked them their impressions of the interview.

“It was great!” “We learned so much!”  “He really explained well!”

Whew.

They had graciously thanked him at the end of the interview, but I ended up sending my own e-mail of profuse gratitude for him taking the time to explain such a complicated issue to my students.

Not all “experts” are great at speaking to students.  However, the process of taking their research out of the classroom and getting a professional perspective gives the students an idea of the relevance of their work, making it much more meaningful to them.

You can learn more about using outside experts in the classroom from Andi’s post – which gives great, specific advice and links to other posts on this topic.

To find out more about Genius Hour, check out my page of resources here.

My students Skype with an expert on global warming.
My students Skype with an expert on global warming.

 

Google Recipe Filters

This week (except for Wednesday) I am dedicating my posts to sharing resources I learned about at TCEA in Austin last week.  I think packing too much info into a blog post is overwhelming, so if you are craving more, feel free to check out my notes (which are not finished yet!) here.

So it turns out that finding a Phun Phriday post based on your notes from a conference about technology in education is a little bit harder than I anticipated.  Because…  education.  And Phun Phriday posts are supposed to be (according to the rules I established for such posts) decidedly not educational.

I did find a note from the very first TCEA session I attended this year that could qualify as not really educational – unless you happen to teach at Le Cordon Bleu.  Unfortunately, since I don’t really like to cook, it doesn’t quite qualify as Phun, either.  But maybe you would disagree.

I learned from Richard Lombardo (@Rich_Lombardo) and Jerrad Barczyszyn (@rpdpjerrad) that the Google Search Tools aren’t always the same.  I usually use them when I’m looking for an image to determine copyright.  But I had no idea they would be helpful on the nights my husband works late and I’m stuck cooking dinner.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 7.53.45 PM

For example, go to Google and do a search for fried chicken.  Then click on the Search Tools underneath.  Now, you can filter the recipe results by anything from calories to cook time!  By choosing “under 15 minutes” and “under 100 calories” I changed the number of results from over 50 million to just 1 recipe.

I’ll be only slightly more impressed when I can type in, “Make me some fried chicken,” and Google completes the task for me.  But then I’ll probably just complain about how Google always leaves the kitchen so messy…

Google Slides Templates

Now that our campus has a set of Chromebooks, my students have been delighting in exploring Google Drive.  One tool that has been an asset is the Presentation tool also known as Slides.  Similar to Powerpoint, the Google version has a few advantages in our environment: automatic saving (extremely helpful when the network isn’t always reliable), the rockin’ Research Tool, and the ability to use Google image search within the presentation. Even more importantly, a shared presentation invites collaboration.  I’ve enjoyed having the students work on slides in the same show simultaneously, such as the metaphor presentation I’ve embedded below.

There aren’t a whole lot of themes available in Slides.  But a growing number of templates are popping up online.  You can start with Google, itself, for public presentation templates that are free to download. Another fun resource, though somewhat limited right now, is Slides Carnival.

One of my favorite templates that I’ve run across recently comes from the DavidLeeEdTech blog.  This virtual museum template is so cool!  Scroll down to the comments section on his blog to get the direct link for downloading the template.

from David Lee's Virtual Museum Slides Template
from David Lee’s Virtual Museum Slides Template

Another option is to download a Powerpoint template that you like, and then to import the slides into your Google Drive presentation.

To download most templates, you will need to be signed in to your Google Drive. If the link provided for a template does not give you a direct copy, then you may have a “View Only” version, and will need to make a copy yourself. When applicable, always leave the proper source citations for the template on the slide show, but do whatever other editing you would like once you make a copy.

Tired of the limited fonts available for your Slides Presentation? Check out these instructions for adding more.

And, if you are feeling very enterprising and graphic-designy and would like to make your own template, Alice Keeler has step-by-step instructions for doing just that.

Periodic Videos from TED-Ed

Last week I did a post on the fabulous Elements 4D resource from Daqri.  Students can learn about the elements and compounds that can be made from some of them by using the free lesson plans now offered on their site.  Combine these plans with the free downloadable elements cubes and the free augmented reality app and you have a formula for success!

To add even more impact to your chemistry lessons, check out this great site that TED-Ed now offers.  In a collaborative project with film-maker Brady Haran, TED-Ed has produced videos to explain every single element of the Periodic Table.  Just click anywhere on the TED-Ed interactive Periodic Table, and take a look at the magical properties of any element!

You not only get to see each element, but demonstrations of them in action, such as the video of a hydrogen balloon exploding when exposed to heat.

Hydrogen Balloon Exploding
Hydrogen Balloon Exploding from TED-Ed Periodic Videos

Many of these are not demonstrations that could easily be done in a typical school science lab, so the videos are a good supplement to a hands-on curriculum.

Even if you do not have the elements in your scope and sequence, you may want to keep this site in mind for students who show an affinity or curiosity for science.  It would be a great resource for independent research or Genius Hour projects.