April 30, 2013
Second graders at UTES have just finished their unit on Agricultural Engineering. This curriculum was available to us through a grant from State Farm. The students learned about the parts of a plant and the system for pollinating them. They got into teams and studied one particular type of plant — either Bucket Orchid, Poppy, Dutchman’s Pipe, or Jack in the Pulpit. They then began designing their hand pollinators based on the details of that particular flower. They tested each material to see which ones were good at picking up “pollen” (baking soda) and which ones were good at dropping off the pollen.
Then it was time to test on our models of each flower (test tubes and pvc pipe). This was a very exciting day! Our chance to see if all we had planned would actually work! Thankfully, most of our pollinators worked. Those that didn’t perform as planned were easy to adjust and recreate to overcome their issues. The students did a great job working together to come up with solutions to each problem. I was so proud of all of their hard work on this unit.
April 29, 2013
Pre-K was on the hunt for various items around the classroom and they used the iPads to document their findings! Their hunt included things like finding something that begins with the letter P; finding something that is a triangle; finding the word robot; finding something that is liquid; finding something that can melt; finding something that is blue; finding something that is burnt orange (easiest one!); and others. Once they found all of the items we shared with a slide show app all that they found. Some of the students then put their pictures into BookCreator to document their findings. We had a blast using technology to reinforce their learning!
April 25, 2013
Our 1st graders learned what it takes to be a Materials Engineer thanks to our Engineering is Elementary kit we were able to purchase from a grant from State Farm. In this unit, they learned about the properties of the earth materials soil, sand, and clay. We experimented with how the properties change as the materials go from dry to wet. Then we began testing them with our ultimate goal of building a sturdy wall. We experimented with different amounts of water mixed with each material and how that changes the stickiness of the material.
We tested for stickiness using a drop test and we tested for sturdiness using an “earthquake” test. At each point, the students recorded their results.
Once we felt we had the perfect formula for the mortar for our walls, we began building the rock walls.
After the mortar dried, we tested our walls against the demolition ball (golf ball tied to a string) to see if they would hold up.
All of the walls were able to hold up to some level of angle of the demolition ball, but most fell when the ball was at the top speeds. The students learned that the farther back you pulled the ball, the faster it would be when it hit the wall. We then brainstormed ways to improve our walls. Some teams decided that they should have stacked their walls up differently; others thought they should have used more mortar; and others thought their mortar should have been made differently. The remaining rocks will be used for another art project in their classrooms. Way to go 1st grade!
April 24, 2013
This year we were able to bring Math Pentathlon games into our STEM class thanks to our grant from State Farm. Our students in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades learned all of these games and competed within each class. These interactive problem solving games teach basic math concepts and skills while stimulating creative thinking. They help students develop their logical reasoning and strategic skills as well while making math fun! Next year we hope to have a school wide challenge and even have some of our students participate in the city-wide tournament! More information on that will be coming in the Fall. If you think you might be interested in leading a small group of students next year as they further their skills and begin to compete, please send me an email to let me know. I will be putting together groups and interested parent volunteers soon after school starts back up in the Fall.
This year, I was so proud of our Little Longhorns as they learned how to play the games; exemplified their SEL skills by supporting each other along the way; and further enhanced their math skills.
April 11, 2013
Always nice when one best practice lends itself to supporting another. This week we are studying habitats and as a part of the design thinking process our second grade problem finders have decided to tackle a local problem: Austin doesn’t have a zoo?!
Ok, ok. So technically we do in fact have a zoo but it’s not very well-known. It is a rescue zoo/ animal sanctuary and the kids have decided to both re-model the exhibits and re-design the learning experience in hopes of helping it to attract more attention and monetary support. They have compiled and recorded their zoo experiences (collectively we have visited zoos in 17 states and 3 countries) and have concluded that zoos can be relatively “googleable” experiences. Their idea: to go beyond facts, tell both habitat and species’ stories and share (and ask for) ideas for how to help their plight. They plan on sharing and/or pitching their idea to any city or zoo officials that are willing to listen.
Students divided into habitat teams (based on interest) and we spent some time last week drawing/designing both ground (bird’s eye view) and elevation (binocular view) plans after extensive research. This week we put our prototypes of each exhibit together. All the while, we have teamed up with CenterStage Texas (a local children’s theatre program) who have taught us how to draw up these plans and have also enhanced this experience by helping us to harness our musical talents to compose soundtracks (soundscapes) of our habitats. While going around the room today I couldn’t help but notice how all the drawing, building, and composing involved in our design thinking project went hand in hand with another initiative I am fond of STEM—>STEAM.
Happy sigh, all in a day’s work.
Special thanks to CenterStage, we look forward to continuing the partnership.
developing ground plans
April 9, 2013
Students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade have been taking their written stories that they created in Language Arts and converting them into Digital Stories in STEM. For this project we have been using the software at LittleBirdTales.com. The students have learned many skills as they work towards a completed project. They have learned how to do a safe search on Google for images relating to their story; how to download images from the internet; how to upload images from their desktop to LittleBirdTales; how to edit these images in the paint editor; how to create interesting title pages with the paint editor; how to record their voice reading these stories; and how to bring all of these skills together to tell an effective, complete story! Whew! We will then use these stories with the younger students to help enrich their reading skills. We are so fortunate to have the funding and equipment to complete these projects from the Powering the Possible grant from Dell. Thank you, Dell!
Here are the students’ stories so far. Please check back often to see more!
March 11, 2013
I had my initial reservations before booking my registration to SXSWedu. I was not sure that my students could afford 4 days without me. Still, a recent award of $15,000 from Google and my eagerness to get ideas/assistance/advice about how to use it led me to take the dive and commit to four days away from the classroom. I left my usual assortment of worksheets and left instructions for them to begin units on telling time and living/non-living.
Turns out I was wrong.
While I was gone my students continued their rich dialogue, conjured up plenty of non-googleable questions, and even renamed the unit to once living/never lived. I knew they had a lasting impression on our substitute when I read the wonderful note regarding their thinking abilities and that it was covered in post-its. The best part: I was left with stacks of not needed worksheets that I can now recycle for paper-protyping use!
I guess when you hand over learning to students and include them as every part of the process the learning continues whether you are there or not.
In the end, the educator storytelling throughout my days at SXSWedu was extremely valuable and I have a better developed game plan as to how we will support content and design thinking with technology in the months to come. More on how we will regroup/refocus after the long break and finish this school year out strong later this week. Stay tuned, y’all.
Many thanks to our incredible substitute for her willingness to engage in our design thinking adventures!
March 1, 2013
5th graders helped us test parachutes
After 3rd grade successfully built the most aerodynamic rockets and launched them, they continued their learning with designing parachutes. They set up an experiment with 3 variables to test for the perfect parachute. They looked at canopy material, canopy size, and suspension line length. They determined that you could only test one variable at a time and set a plan to make it work. They got into testing teams and created parachutes to test each variable. Then the testing began! All the parachutes were dropped from the same height and timed as they floated down to the ground. The students realized that their goal was a long drop time so that the landing was soft. As the teams gathered their results they also spent time sharing what they learned with each other. They were intrigued that not all teams got the same results. Many new hypotheses were formed for an answer as to why that could be. Could it be inaccurate timers? Different drop techniques? Some other slight variation that they didn’t realize? It was awesome to see their scientific minds working to discover an answer. Our Little Longhorns are natural scientists!
Testing canopy size
Recording our results
The final project was to determine the very best of each variable and build the parachute that would have the most drag. They are proud of all that they learned and happy to answer anyone’s questions about the process they took to get there.
Special thanks to State Farm who provided the grant that paid for this incredible learning experience.
This one was our very best parachute – it actually floated up!
February 28, 2013
Thank you, Dell!
Our after school Robotics class is solving mysteries as they build, adapt, and program their Lego Mindstorm robots. We are able to offer this program at our school in partnership with the Austin Children’s Museum’s Tech Reach program. Thanks to a generous grant from Dell’s Powering the Possible initiative that covers the cost so we are able to offer it to our students at no cost.
The students start off learning the basics of programming in Mindstorm as they discover a mystery that they must solve with their robots. Since this group of students have all had some exposure to robotics in STEM class, the teachers of the after school class are able to move on to a more advanced level of programming and curriculum.
The students were thrilled to receive the backpacks from Dell filled with all kinds of useful goodies. Many of them proudly carry their new water bottles around the school every day. We are so thankful to Dell and the Austin Children’s Museum for bringing such quality programs to our Little Longhorns. You are really making a difference!