18 December 2013

Postcard Project: Connecting 20 Schools in 15 States

A few weeks ago, I saw a tweet from @uwlalum about a postcard exchange program. After clicking through, I decided it would be a good project for us to do, so I signed us up. There ended up being a total of 20 schools in 15 states across the country. 

Third, fourth, and fifth grade students are participating in the project. We started with a design contest. All students in grades 3-5 were allowed to submit an entry and each class narrowed down their entries to their two favorites. Here's a link to all the finalists: http://stroudpostcards.blogspot.com

I sent out a form to our teachers and had each class K-5 vote for their favorite design. We ended up with one winner from 3rd grade, one from 4th grade, and one from 5th grade. Here are the winners:

3rd Grade - Shakayla 
4th Grade - Hannah
5th Grade - Brianna & Miracle
We'll print these out and use them as the postcards we send to our pen pals. The next step is to start writing our messages to include on the postcard; we'll do that in January. Each classroom drew school names out of a cup. We have ten classes participating in the project, so each classroom will exchange postcards with two schools. Every class was really excited about getting the Hawaiian school, but it was actually the very last class that finally pulled them out of the cup. 

Here's a map showing all the schools participating in our project:

16 December 2013

LEGO Mindstorms: First Impressions

Mrs. Franks and I met last week to prepare for the new STEM class that will start in January. A friend suggested calling the class Supertechs since our nickname is the Superstars. Not a bad idea. Part of that class will have students working with LEGO robotics. We have both Mindstorms and WeDo kits, but  we've only explored the Mindstorms at this point. We began by sorting our pieces and installing the software. 

It's nice to have everything so organized. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
The software looks a little intimidating at first. It seemed like there was a lot on the screen. But it does do a good job of walking you through some practice exercises step-by-step. There were two instances when we felt they left out an illustration in an instruction, but both times we figured out what we needed to do. 

The first two training exercises are pretty simple, having the robot make a sound and display an icon. The third exercise is where things become interesting. Whereas the first two exercises have three or four steps at the most, the third exercise has twenty-three steps! You end up with a really cool looking robot that moves forward and then turns to the right and moves a bit more. That's all the exercise requires, but we spent the rest of our time adding steps to the programming and having our robot try more maneuvers. 

The first build.
It took longer than I expected to create our robot. But in building it, I learned some valuable lessons that I can share with the students. One tip is to get all the pieces required in a step before you start assembling that part of the robot. This allows you to be certain you have all the necessary parts, nothing missing and nothing extra. Second, be sure you have the correct pieces. There are some very minor differences between the pieces and sometimes you won't realize you have the wrong piece until several steps later. 

And I also learned that I'm definitely going to be searching for more times to get students using the robots. I predict that students will want to come work on their projects whenever they can, probably even during recess. It's hard for kickball to compete with robotics.

13 December 2013

Using Educreations for Responses to a Book

This week, students in kindergarten and first grade have been using Educreations to respond to the Olive, the Other Reindeer. I actually had three books from which the students chose one: December by Eve Bunting, The Fright Before Christmas by James Howe, and Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh. All eight classes chose Olive, the Other Reindeer. It's a good book, but I was hoping to read the other two at least once. Didn't happen. I'm guessing most of the students have seen the movie, so their familiarity with it probably helped it win. There were students in each class that voted for both of the other two titles, but they never had the masses behind them. My efforts at selling the other two titles increased throughout the week, but despite pulling out my best salesperson skills, it never worked.

Before reading the story, I told the students they would be asked to talk about their favorite part of the book or their favorite character. They also needed to use parts of the book to explain why a character or part of the story appealed to them. They used Educreations to draw a character and/or scene from the story. After practicing what they planned to say, we hit the record button and tried to talk as close as possible to the iPad to not get drowned out by all the other noise. There were a series of five buttons the students had to hit after recording their voice, but they picked up on it so quickly! Some students even made more than one response. Their favorite part of the exercise was showing off their finished product. Students were not only excited to share their video, but they were also interested in hearing their peers' work too!

Students need to be 13 years old to sign into Educreations, but fortunately you don't have to login in order to use the app. You do need to login to share your videos though. I signed in as me to get the examples below. 

Here are a few examples of their work:

08 December 2013

A Class Without a Name

I'm really excited about a new class that will start in January. I've been debating what to call it, but so far nothing has seemed just right. I thought about calling it STEM class, but I'm not quite sold on that. Students will be building and programming LEGO robots and building and printing 3D models, so maybe some sort of construction themed name would be appropriate. Ideas?

There's no set curriculum yet, so a lot of what we will be doing is exploring. We'll be trying out lots of new software and using tools that are new to all of us, students and teachers alike. I'm fortunate enough to have our gifted teacher available to co-teach the class, so there will be plenty of one-on-one guidance available to students. We'll start with 8 fourth grade students and 8 fifth grade students. This semester will help us determine ways that all our students can use these resources. The goal, of course, is to have as many teachers and students as possible using the robots and the 3D printer, but we want to do it right. 

One part of the class will have students build and program LEGO robots. We'll have 3 LEGO WeDo kits, 3 LEGO Mindstorms Kits, and a really awesome LEGO table and storage unit to play and learn with. The other part of the class will be designing 3D models and printing them on our Makerbot Replicator2 3D printer. We'll start by exploring several different designing tools: 3dtin.com, Tinkercad.com, Sketchup, OpenSCAD, Wings3D, Scupltris, Autodesk 123D, and the open source Blender project. 

Have any suggestions for us as we start exploring?

07 December 2013

3D Printing: First Impressions

Our Makerbot Replicator2 3D printer arrived this week. Fortunately, I had a lot of open time on Friday to start playing with it. Our Assistant Principal is as excited about it as I am, so he and I spent a lot of time reading the manual, printing, exploring Thingiverse, and becoming evangelists for the awesome that is 3D printing. I've got a long way to go, but I definitely learned a lot yesterday.

We were like kids on Christmas morning as we opened the boxes yesterday. There's no real assembly required, just connecting a tube, attaching the plate, and loading the thread. We had it powered on within a minute of getting it out of the box. The user's manual is very reader friendly. It walked us through the steps of preparing your printer in just a few minutes.

There are five pre-loaded files you can print: a nut & bolt, a shark figurine, a set of four connected chain links, a comb, and a stretchy bracelet. Over the course of the day, we printed them all. My favorite is the chain links; what really amazes me about them is how the links didn't get stuck together as they printed.

We had two little mistakes to learn from early on. After printing our first file, the shark, we stopped for a few minutes. We came back and preheated the printer. I think we were maybe supposed to unload the thread in between. We noticed there was a problem when nothing came out of the extruder as the printer started trying to print. The fix was easy. We called customer support and had an operator within 30 seconds. He was very helpful and sent us an email with some links to help videos on YouTube. We had the blockage cleared in a matter of minutes. Then, it was back to printing! Our second mistake was in between making the bracelet and the comb. There was a little bit of thread still connected to the extruder as it started to print the comb. I should have wiped it off, but didn't get to it in time. By the time I noticed it, I tried to pull the string off, but it made a slight defect in one of the teeth of the comb. I will have to pay more attention to that next time.

Students are going to start using the printer in January. I can't wait to share what they create! I'd love to connect with other elementary schools that have a 3D printer, especially if it's a Makerbot Replicator2. You can tweet me at @stroudlibrary.

02 December 2013

Book Review: Big Plans by Bob Shea

After committing a long list of shenanigans, the main character in Bob Shea's Big Plans has some time on his hands. Instead of sulking, sleeping, or doing the work he was no doubt asked to complete while sitting in time out, the student spends his time coming up with some plans, some BIG plans. Students will love the silly plot, the awesome illustrations by Lane Smith, and the repetitive nature of the text. If they're like my students, they'll love jumping in with all the "...BIG plans I say!" parts.

This is a great book to introduce a lesson on observing what surrounds us in our everyday lives. After reading about the main character's big plans, ask students to look at their surroundings and find inspiration for a character, a setting, or a problem. Challenge students to incorporate their observations into a story.

Another way to use this fun-to-read book about outlandish plans is to talk to students about their own plans for the week, for the year, or for anything really. Talk about setting goals. And like the character in the book, encourage students to aim for the moon!

No matter how you use it, you'll love reading this delightfully fun book about a young boy, a mynah bird, the president of the United States, and a mission to the moon. 

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