Category Archives: Student Products

Disney’s Create Tomorrowland XPrize Challenge

Okay. Full Disclosure – George Clooney is one of my favorite actors. But I promise that is not the reason I chose to mention the “Create Tomorrowland XPrize Challenge” on this blog even though George Clooney happens to be the star of the movie this contest is promoting.

I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t know a lot about the contest, other than what can be read on the website.  However, if you know a child between 8 and 17 years of age who has an inventive imagination, you may want to investigate this opportunity.  The contest asks for videos, images, or stories that envision a beneficial invention that might exist in our future.

You can see specific entry guidelines here.  Don’t forget to visit the “Idea Portal” for some real-world examples of people who are working to shape a better future for all of us.

Submissions are due by 5/17/15 – so don’t procrastinate!  Who knows what life-saving ideas might be hibernating in the mind of a student, just waiting for the right circumstances to be revealed?

excellence

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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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…

 

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Canva for Education

I first posted about Canva about 18 months ago when it was in its beta stage.  Since then, this amazing graphic design service has: become a full-fledged website, launched a mobile app, and unveiled its education services (which include sign-in with Google Apps for Education).

I was one of the educators approached by Canva to write some lesson plans utilizing their resources.  (Full disclosure: I was paid for this service.)  You can also find plans from Vicki Davis, Paul Hamilton, Steven Anderson, and William Ferriter.  These plans include many different disciplines and grade levels. In addition, you can access excellent specific graphic design tutorials provided by Canva.

If you are looking for app-smashing ideas for Canva and ThingLink, try these from Lisa Johnson (TechChef4U).  Lisa also explains how to use Canva’s public profile feature in this guest post on Free Technology for Teachers.

One of my favorite things about Canva is how the company has really reached out to educators for suggestions and ideas.  As you will see on their Canva for Education splash page, they have a board of Education Advisors, and I can personally attest that Canva keeps in regular contact with us to find ways they can improve their product.

Canva is free, but it also offers graphics for a fee.  It’s easy to train your students to identify the free images, backgrounds, etc… so their projects don’t end up costing money.  In addition, they can upload their own images, and take advantage of Canva’s free templates to design eye-popping presentations, posters, and collages.

If you have students in elementary school, I recommend that you create one account that your students will all access.  This will allow you to keep track of their projects and, if you are in a school where students share iPads, then this account can stay logged in.

The best way to get started with Canva as a teacher is to open a free account and start using it yourself.  Make blog graphics, picture collages, quote posters for your classroom.  Once you see how easy it is to create something that looks professional, you will come up with your own ideas for ways to integrate it into your classroom.

A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva
A six word memoir of The Giver created by one of my 5th graders in Canva

 

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.