Category Archives: Teaching Tools

Hill Country Science Mill

Do you plan to take your family to the Mill?  Register here for our drawing for a 4-pack of tickets to the Hill Country Science Mill, courtesy of the HCSM staff!

Across from the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas, a mill that was built in 1880 closed its doors after one hundred years.  It was briefly revived as entertainment complex, but then fell into disuse again for another 20 years.

Once again, however, the mill has been reincarnated.  With the vision and determination of a unique team of scientist/educators, the mill has gained a new life as a venue for students to learn about and participate in science.  While maintaining the integrity of the old building, including outfitting the original silos as exhibit spaces, the mill has now become a different kind of food provider.  Instead of the flour and grain it once produced for the local community, the mill is now a source of food for curious and eager young minds.

Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)
Hill Country Science Mill, Johnson City, Texas (image courtesy of HCSM)

The Hill Country Science Mill opened its doors in February of 2015. My 3rd-5th  GT classes were fortunate to visit the complex in April. After spending a school day at the Mill, they were all eager for even more time to explore its many interactive exhibits and amazing BioLab.

A couple of weeks after our trip, the 5th graders got the chance to Skype with one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill, Dr. Bonnie Baskin.  She graciously answered their questions, and gave them insight into the design and carefully-selected exhibits.

Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill
Dr. Bonnie Baskin, one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill

One student asked Dr. Baskin about the motivation behind the digital avatars each visitor can personalize when he or she arrives. (Using a “Passport” with a QR code, patrons can scan the code and create their own avatar at the entrance on one of the many iPad mini’s.  Once the avatar is created, there are many opportunities throughout the Mill to scan your passport, and you can learn from your avatar the science behind particular exhibits.  You can also “favorite” exhibits and follow up on your visit using the QR code once you get home.)

When asked why the staff chose to include the avatars in the experience, Dr. Baskin replied that they really wanted to appeal to an older group of students.  Many interactive museums are aimed at the toddler/pre-school set, but the Mill targets middle and high-school students.  This is not to say younger ones won’t appreciate the experience, but that there is a great interest on the part of the staff to keep the attention of older students.

Hill Country Science Mill Avatar
A guest creates an avatar (image courtesy of Hill Country Science Mill)

My students were fascinated with one of the silo exhibits – the Fractalarium (designed by two San Antonio artists), and asked Dr. Baskin about this inclusion of an artistic work.  She confirmed what my 4th and 5th graders had already observed, that math, art, and science often converge in amazing ways.  This piece of scientific art, based on the design of the broccoli, is a perfect example.

Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)
Fractalarium (image taken by one of my students)

Many of the students told Dr. Baskin that the BioLab was their favorite room.  Dr. Baskin agreed that this exhibit has a special place in heart due to a background in biology, and told the students they specifically designed this room with its zebrafish, mud battery, and microscopes, to resemble a real research lab.

BioLab picture taken by one of my students
BioLab picture taken by one of my students

Another field trip favorite was the Augmented Reality Sandbox. The sandbox has a projector above it that shows the contour lines of the “mountains” and “valleys” in the box.  It also simulates rain when you hold your hands over the sand.  Dr. Baskin shared that this is one of the harder exhibits to keep in working order because so many students enjoy it that the calibration gets off on the projector. However, she said that, like all of the exhibits, the staff finds that the maintenance is well worth it to provide so many interactive experiences for visitors.

Augmented Reality Sandbox
Augmented Reality Sandbox (image courtesy of the Hill Country Science Mill)

The only complaint that I heard from my students about this trip was that there wasn’t enough time to do everything.  That’s a good problem!

Many of my students said that the field trip to the Hill Country Science Mill inspired them to seriously consider a career in one of the STEM fields, and most of them definitely intend to return to the Mill for a visit.

You can see a gallery of some of the other pictures my students took below.  Of course, if you are planning a visit to the Hill Country Science Mill, you should definitely get more information from their website.

Do you plan to take your family to the Mill?  Register here for our drawing for a 4-pack of tickets to the Hill Country Science Mill, courtesy of the HCSM staff!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Using Canva for Reflections

My students went on a great field trip two weeks ago, and lots of photos were taken.  We have a class blog but I thought it would be nice to use the pictures for more than that.  I decided to try out Canva for a reflection tool.  I have exactly 18 students in my 5th grade GT class.  With 10 iPads and 8 laptops, Canva was the perfect choice because you can use either the app or the website to create. There are lots of free templates and text options to choose from, and the students also enjoy trying to different filters on the photos.

I have one class account for Canva that all of the students use.  This makes using the app easy because they can stay logged in.  Another bonus is that I could upload all of the field trip pictures taken by the group to that account from Dropbox, and the students could choose any pictures from the uploads to create their photo collages.

The students were assigned to find pictures that completed any two of the following:

  • One way the field trip connected to something I learned in GT was…
  • The field trip inspired me to…
  • My favorite exhibit was…

They could use any combination of pictures, and they needed to use some sort of captions to relate the photos to the above statements.

Here are some of their final products:

Every photo collage was different, and I really learned what was important to the students from doing this activity.

If you are interested in using Canva, you can sign up for free!

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

Zen Pencils – the Book

Gavin Aung Than, the super-talented artist behind Zen Pencils, published a collection of some of his comics last November. Needing a bit of inspiration this week, I read it again from cover to cover. When I finished, I felt like I was almost as powerful as Rising Phoenix, one of his recurring characters.

Rising Phoenix from Zen Pencils "Marie Curie" cartoon by Gavin Than
Rising Phoenix from Zen Pencils “Marie Curie” cartoon by Gavin Than

Gavin takes famous quotes and creates amazing cartoons around them.  Some of the 36 cartoons included in the book are based on selected words from: Theodore Roosevelt, Marianne Williamson, Marie Curie, and Vincent Van Gogh.  Gavin’s artistic interpretation of each passage is incredibly insightful and extremely creative.

Zen Pencils Book

Of course, one of my favorite gems in the book is Gavin’s cartoon based on Taylor Mali’s poem, “What Teachers Make.” (Not one to show to your students, though!)

To see one of Gavin’s recent masterpieces, take a look at “All the World’s a Stage,” a beautiful adaptation of the Shakespearean quote from As You Like It.  This is the closest I’ve ever come to crying over a cartoon – or Shakespeare.

Though I wouldn’t recommend this book for younger children (a tiny bit of questionable language and gestures and a large portion of higher level vocabulary), you can see in this “Reader of the Month” feature that Gavin’s readers are as young as 10 years old.  You can see Zen Pencils inspired artwork by the two girls here.

The book includes a wonderful pull-out poster featuring many of Gavin’s cartoon characters and the motto, “Imagination Unlocks the Universe.”

Zen Pencils would make a wonderful graduation gift for a high school or college student or for any teenager or adult who appreciates a healthy dose of creativity and inspiration.  I will be adding this to my “Books for Gifted Students – Or Any Child Who Loves to Learn” Pinterest Board as a recommendation for older students.  If you have an interest in Zen Pencils, but you aren’t sure you want to commit to a book of 36 cartoons, take a look at the Zen Pencils store, where I guarantee you will find a poster that is perfect for any setting.

Education Memes

Our #neisdpln chat last night used internet memes to introduce each question.  The clever participants cracked me up with their hilarious replies – many of them using their own memes.  I seriously had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard by the end of the chat. Here was one of the questions:

Q41stworld

And one of the responses (from @jodiharris16):

1stworldproblems

 

It was lots of fun, and you can see some of the other memes here.  For the complete Storify of our chat, here is the link.

If you are considering using memes as a teaching tool, here is a link to some ideas.  One of my favorite sites for adults to use as a meme generator (which also generate gifs) is this one: https://imgflip.com/memegenerator, but beware that there is a lot of content that is not appropriate for children.

Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome

My students and I are huge fans of Kid President.  They love his videos and beg to watch them repeatedly.  I’m okay with that.  Kid President is a great role model, and his giggle makes it absolutely impossible to be grumpy.

You can buy Kid President's book here.
You can buy Kid President’s book here.

KP (Robby Novak) recently published a book with his videographer/brother-in-law, Brad Montague, Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome.  My students insisted that this was a necessary classroom resource, so I ordered it.  It arrived just in time for a field trip for my 3rd-5th graders that involved an hour-long bus ride.  The book was happily passed around during the entire trip.

The book is colorful and full of pictures. It includes monologues from some of KP’s videos and interviews he has done with celebrities.  Many awesome people, including a large number of youths, are featured in the book.  The book is not dry and preachy, though.  Every page is motivational and includes typical KP humor.  Kid President’s advice to make the world more awesome ranges from, “Give the world a reason to dance,” (#62) to “Put tape on your nose,” (#63).  Other great words of wisdom are #70, “Gather your friends, dress up like superheroes, and do someone’s yard work,” and #82, “Give out handmade awards.”

Of course my favorite Kid President advice is #87:

recite-1uuwsp7

Kid President goes on to say, “We are convinced that if you want to change a community, it starts in a classroom.”

To stay organized, there is a handy checklist in the back of the book to help you keep track of your awesomeness.  Also included is a “A New Pep Talk.” Kid President recently uploaded a video inviting fans to make their own videos of the “New Pep Talk,” and send them in for possible inclusion on an upcoming special.  (Submissions are due April 23, 2015.)

I would recommend this book for any classroom.  Kids and adults of all ages seem to love Kid President.  I also think it would be a great book to consider as a graduation gift.  Parents might purchase one for home and discuss with their children which section to read each night.

I’m definitely adding this book to my “Books for Gifted Students – Or any Child Who Loves to Learn” Pinterest Board.  You might also want to check out my “Inspirational Videos for Students” board, which includes many Kid President videos as well as other great resources.

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