20 December 2014

And the Winner of the Picture Book Bracket Is...

Five weeks ago, I first posted about our Picture Book Bracket. We started with sixteen contenders, books I knew were some of our students' favorites. But there could be only one champion. So, our students cast their votes, another appropriate activity during the month of November. There were some close votes and some surprising blowouts. In the end, it was down to two books: The Book That Eats People by John Perry and The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak. 

Never has a display got as much attention in our library as our Picture Book Bracket. Every time a class came in for a lesson, the first thing they'd look for was updates to the bracket. It sparked several debates about books. And I think it ended up in more picture books circulating for the past few weeks. Even when those sixteen books from our bracket weren't available, it provided opportunities to suggest other similarly awesome books.

The first eight books that survived the bracket were (final four in bold):
  • The Book That Eats People by John Perry
  • The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice Harrington
  • Jitterbug Jam by Barbara Jean Hicks
  • The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak
  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
  • Probuditi by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin
In the end, there was one clear favorite: The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak. It had universal appeal, from preK through fifth grade. And I think every grownup in our building liked it too. It's awesome when a school community can come together around a book and share a common interest. 

I'm really happy with how we participated in Picture Book Month this year. The bar has been set pretty high, so I can't wait to see what we come up with for next year. Maybe we'll do the bracket again or maybe we'll make it something we do every few years. Or maybe I'll just wait for someone to make a picture book awesome enough to knock The Book With No Pictures off its throne. 

29 November 2014

Book Review: How to Be by Lisa Brown

I found this book at Blue Bicycle Books in Charleston, South Carolina, which is a lovely little book shop. If you're ever in Charleston, you should definitely pay it a visit. The beautiful cover caught my attention and after reading it, I knew I had to buy it. The illustrations were awesome, the message was positive, the text was great for beginning readers, and it featured a big sister and a little brother (my daughter is four and my son is three). Yeah, I had to buy it. 

How to Be by Lisa Brown is an adorable book about positive character traits. Readers will love reading about how to be a monkey (you have to eat with your toes) and all the other animals. The writing is simple and repetitive, which my kids loved. On the second reading, they enjoyed reading along with me. But there's plenty of opportunities to talk about vocabulary. What does it mean to be curious? What does it mean to be creative? We had a good discussion about each trait and how they show them all the time.

The book closes with a short lesson on how to be a person. Borrowing traits from the animals in the book, the author lists six important character traits the reader should build, but the best advice comes on the final page. After reading the book, you might have a discussion with your students about other positive character traits. Can students think of an animal that illustrates that behavior? Break out the crayons and add your own section to the book.

If your school has a character education program, this book should definitely be part of it. Kindergarten and first grade students are sure to love it. My three-year-old had it partly memorized after two nights of hearing it as a bedtime story. I caught him the next day sitting in his bed reading it to himself. 

☆ (Money Back Guarantee)

27 November 2014

A History Project in Development

There's been something bouncing around in my brain for the past several weeks and I want to get it out. I'm hoping that I can get some help developing this little seed of a thought. So, be prepared: I have my fingers crossed that you'll post a comment at the end of this post. 

There's a closet in our library that's full of boxes. Not boxes full of books or papers, as you might expect. Nothing exotic in the boxes like discarded film projectors or antique floppy disks. Each and every box is chock full of photographs, lots and lots of photographs. And some negatives (kids ask your parents what negatives are). And even a few VHS tapes. What I have in the closet is years full of photographic history of our school. I'm not sure what time period is covered, but I'd guess several years in the 90s. 

Our school opened for the 1990-1991 school year, so next year will be its 25th birthday. Back then it was called Fourth Street Elementary School. A lot has happened in 25 years, including a name change. To celebrate, I'd like to do a history project about Stroud Elementary School. The photographs are a start; I definitely want to digitize those, but I don't want to stop there. I'd love to interview Stroud alumni, former teachers, and people in the community. But here's my question for you: what else? How else can I make this an awesome project? 

Ok, go!

10 November 2014

Postcard Project: Connecting 39 Schools in the U.S., Canada, Indonesia, and Australia

Last year, we participated in the Postcard Exchange Program, a pen pal network created by Melissa Schur. We connected with 20 schools in 15 states across the country. In the process, we learned a lot about the other states, practiced some letter writing skills, and even participated in our first Mystery Skype. This year, it looks to be bigger and better.

There are 39 schools from the U.S., Canada, Indonesia, and Australia participating in this year's postcard exchange. And we've already received postcards from seven schools! We're just getting started and we need to hurry for our friends in Indonesia and Australia; they'll soon be getting out for their summer break! Fourteen classes at Stroud, from kindergarten to fifth grade, are taking part in the program. I created a lesson menu from which teachers can choose from a variety of lessons. I'll use this document to track the classes and keep up with who is doing what.

Some classes started brainstorming about their letters during their last visit to the library. Some students used books about Georgia to help decide what we wanted to share with our pen pals; other students thought of questions we wanted to ask. We'll work on composing the letter on our next visit. My goal is to get all of our letters sent out before the end of November. But that won't be the end of the postcard project, not by a long shot. Classes at Stroud have the option of connecting with multiple schools, either in exchanging postcards or through Mystery Skype sessions. We'll be learning map skills by plotting all the schools on a map. We'll use online tools to do research on our pen pals. For some classes, I'm sure this will be a project we're involved in until the end of the school year. 

08 November 2014

Picture Book Bracket

It's November and that means two things: there are a lot more hairy-faced men out there and it's time for us to celebrate our love of picture books! It's hard for me to participate in No-Shave November since I don't shave pretty much all year, but I'm happy that others are joining me in giving their razors a rest. But participating in Picture Book Month is so much easier. It can be as simple as recommending a particularly awesome picture book to a particularly awesome friend. Or it can be something a little more ... interesting.

This year, we're celebrating Picture Book Month by having a Picture Book Bracket. I chose 16 of our favorite picture books and paired them in 8 initial match-ups. They're all awesome, but only one can win. Which one will it be? 

Voting starts this week. Each match-up will be decided by two or three classes. In the final match-up, every student in the building will cast a vote. 

The contenders are:
  • Pete the Cat: Rocking In My School Shoes by Eric Litwin
  • The Book That Eats People by John Perry
  • The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice Harrington
  • The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Jitterbug Jam by Barbara Jean Hicks
  • Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
  • The Hello-Goodbye Window by Norton Juster
  • The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg
  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
  • That Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers
  • Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin
  • The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak
  • Probuditi by Chris Van Allsburg
  • When a Monster is Born by Sean Taylor
  • Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin
  • The Big Elephant in the Room by Lane Smith

Axing the Biography Section

Two years ago, I took the first steps in ditching the Dewey Decimal System. The first step was splitting chapter books into genres. Then, I reorganized nonfiction. And this weekend, I started the next step in our library's shift toward genrefication by axing our biography section and moving those books into other nonfiction sections. It's something I've been considering since I heard Sherry Gick, Tiffany Whitehead, Kathy Burnette, Megan Scott, and Shannon MIller talk about it at their AASL '13 session on Ditching Dewey

I'm confident that the change will result in an increase in circulation for many of our biography titles. I don't think I've ever had a student come in just to browse the biography section with no specific subject in mind. Instead, students ask where the sports stars are or where they can find famous musicians. Sometimes students are looking for a president. By grouping famous athletes with the sports nonfiction books, famous artists with the drawing books, and books about inventors with books about inventions, students will be able to quickly (and independently) find they books they're looking for. 

The freed up space from the biography section will allow me to create a spot to highlight new arrivals. Before now, I'd show all the new books on the morning show, create a list in Destiny, but then just put the books in their spots. I knew it wasn't the best way, but I didn't have a good spot until now. I know the students will be excited to see all the new books in one spot for a few weeks. Then, I can just cover the "new" sticker with a genre sticker and put them in their spots.

The only section still alphabetized is picture books. I'd love to make that section more user-friendly, but I haven't come up with a solution yet. It won't be nearly as easy to split the picture books into genres as it was with our chapter books. For now, they'll stay in ABC order by author, but I'll keep thinking. 

21 October 2014

Tinkercad Accounts for Students Under 13

[UPDATE: 12 January 2015]

I emailed the folks at Tinkercad a few times in November and December to check on the progress. Never heard a thing... until last week when I got an email. It asked if everything was "sorted out." I explained that was the first contact I'd received in weeks. Turns out three of about a dozen accounts were approved; I need to resend the remaining usernames to find out their status.

[UPDATE: 1 December 2014] 

I don't think many people saw that last sentence, because there hasn't been much luck. 

I submitted my students' forms in late October and no accounts have been approved yet. From what I've been told, I'm the first educator to go through the process and they're learning as they go. I'll add an update when/if the student accounts are approved.

[Original Post Below]

Until today, students under the age of 13 couldn't have their own Tinkercad account to design 3D models. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not sure what the worry was; I've never seen anything inappropriate on the site. A few months ago, after a series of frustrated tweets, I heard from Sarah King, who works at Tinkercad. She said that changes were on the way. And today, the changes arrived.

Up until this point, I've created generic accounts that my students have used in the library to create 3D models. It wasn't ideal, but it worked. I had students sharing accounts, which became cluttered. And when someone signed out of an account, it signed out all active users on that account. I was so happy when I noticed the changes this morning. 

For students under 13 years old to have an account on Tinkercad, they need to enter a parent's email address. Some of my parents don't have email addresses, so I had the students enter my email address for this part. When the students create the account, it send an email to the parent to approve. Then, you have to print out a parental consent form. There are some obvious access barriers here, but we're rolling with the punches. I printed out the forms for each student, filled in their username and my email address. I've typed up a letter for parents to send home with the consent form. Once the forms are returned, I'll scan them and email them back to Tinkercad. It says it could take 3-5 days for approval. I'm hoping my students can use their own accounts next Monday. 

Wish me luck.

11 October 2014

Reflections on the Global Cardboard Challenge

Well, we did it! Yesterday afternoon, our S.T.E.M. students had an exhibition of their cardboard creations. We had several parents visit, in addition to about twenty students from grades K-5. All together, there were about 85 people in the library, gathered together to celebrate our students' creativity. 

I think I can speak for the students when I say that we're already looking forward to next year! We had a blast and I know next year will be even better because we've all learned so much during the past three weeks. Next year, I'll put much more effort into planning our event. I'd like to think of more organized way to showcase the students' work; yesterday was fun, but a bit chaotic. I'm also considering setting some size limitations. I hate to stifle creativity, but storing projects from forty-five students for a span of three weeks was ... challenging. I'd also start way earlier when it comes to securing donations. We ended up with a lot of cardboard, more than we needed really. But we could have used way more tape. In fact, I'll probably start working on gathering supplies for next year right now. Next year, the students will have the advantage of experience; I can't wait to see what they come up with!

Some of the highlights from this year's creations were a hockey table, a pinball machine, an ATM, two robot costumes, and a red carpet. There were lots of games, moving parts, ticket dispensers, and even prizes. 

23 September 2014

On the Ethics of Lost Book Fines in a Self-Checkout, Volunteer Check-in Library

"I turned that book in." 

I'm sure we've all heard it a million times. 

Just about all of my students have said this regarding books listed as overdue on their accounts. But the thing that bugs is me is that I'm certain some (or perhaps, many) of them did return those missing books. Any degree of certainty about account accuracy was lost when library assistants were cut three years ago. Even then, things might not have been 100% accurate. I've caught two students returning checked-out books to shelves this year. How many have I missed? As a result, I've been conflicted about charging students for lost books for the past several years. 

I have several volunteers who help in the library; I honestly don't know how the library could run without them. They check-in and shelf books, help with processing, change bulletin boards, and perform a million other tasks every week. I also have three fifth grade student volunteers who are part of our Star Power group. These students come in first thing in the morning (and sometimes during their recess) to help check-in books, shelf books, or put out iPads. I can't imagine even a day without all of this extra help. 

Three years ago, there was a library assistant in our library. She checked-in all of our books, shelved all of our books, did just about all of our processing, managed our leveled readers room, ran the laminator, and wore a dozen other hats too. With one person responsible for managing most of our circulating materials, especially a person with years of experience, I had a high degree of confidence in our records. It's impossible to have that same degree of confidence now. 

Starting in second grade, students check-out their own books. This allows me to assist other students in browsing, but it also opens the door for mistakes. It's a balance I accept, because I think it's more important for me to help students than to hover over our check-out stations. For the most part, this system works well, but there are sometimes mistakes. Occasionally, a student mistypes her id#, or scans the publisher's barcode instead of ours, or forgets to hit the "reset" button when she's done. Sometimes I catch these mistakes before the student leaves the check-out station; I'm sure I sometimes don't.

Lately, when a student looks at me worriedly and says, "But I turned that book in," I tell her not to worry about it. Students know that there are fines associated with books and other consequences if books aren't returned or paid for. The thought of a student paying for a book she returned bothers me, so I tell them we'll take a look on the shelves or wait a week or two and see if someone else turns it in. 

So now, the question is what should I do at the end of year? I'm thinking about some sort of incentive for classrooms with all materials returned. This will allow me to encourage students to return books without an axe hanging over their heads. I'm interesting in hearing from other librarians in similar situations. What do you do about missing books at the end of the year? 

20 September 2014

3D Printing Shapes

Last week, students in kindergarten, first, and second grades did lessons on two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes. We made a list of 2D and 3D shapes that we knew, then used Cubify Draw and Blokify to draw as many of them as we could. Each of these apps allow users to design a 3D model and export it to a 3D printer. 

It was awesome to watch how quickly the students learned how to use the apps and started discovering tricks and pushing the boundaries of what these apps are designed to do. Many students chose to draw more complicated shapes after finishing the shapes we were learning about. 

This was the first exposure to our 3D printer for the younger grades. The students were fascinated as they watched shapes slowly materialize before their eyes. Many students took to combining printed shapes to create new shapes (another standard we weren't even technically addressing last week). We're looking forward to utilizing our 3D printer for more lessons throughout the year. 

11 September 2014

Questions from a Cardboard Challenge Newbie

It's been several years since I first heard about Caine's Arcade and the Global Cardboard Challenge from my good friend and coworker, Andy Plemmons. But this is my first year actually participating, in part because a truckload of cardboard fell into my lap and also because I have sort of a perfect scenario in terms of students and time. 

This is our first full year of having a S.T.E.M. class during our ELT time. I'll be seeing a group of about sixty 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students several times a week. We kick off our S.T.E.M. class this coming week and we're going to start by taking part in the Global Cardboard Challenge. This is also our first year of students taking their laptops home, so we've just acquired hundreds of cases, and therefore hundreds of cardboard boxes. How could I not join in the fun? 

But now that the first day is quickly approaching, I'm suddenly full of questions. 
  1. What sort of supplies do I need to have for my students other than a mountain of cardboard?
  2. Should I have them submit ideas before they start working? 
  3. How much cardboard should I give each student? 
  4. Should I provide them with guidance (beyond watching Caine's Arcade)? OR Should I just let them run free?
  5. What other questions should I be worried about?

17 August 2014

Book Review: The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

I'm a big fan of Oliver Jeffers. This week I came across one of his books that was new to me. It's called The Heart and the Bottle and, of course, it's awesome. The illustrations, like always, are just amazing. I didn't know anything about the book before I started reading it to my kids at bedtime (not a good idea, in general). And so I didn't know there was a going to be a sucker punch to the feels. 

The Heart and the Bottle is a tale of love and loss and grief. It tells a common and heartbreaking story in a beautiful and easily understandable way. My kids didn't ask any questions about it, but even with a literal interpretation of the book, they enjoyed it. They didn't even ask how the girl lived with her heart inside a bottle. I guess they were pretty sleepy.

If you're a fan of Jeffers, you'll definitely like this one. And if you're looking for a way to introduce the topic of death to young children, this book would be a great way to do so. 

My rating: ☆ (Money Back Guarantee)

25 March 2014

Second Grade Poetry Unit

Second grade students have been learning about poetry for the past few weeks. We explored haikus and acrostic poems in particular, but we also read and tried writing other types of poetry as well, including shape poems and poems in which there are two voices.

Some of the books we read from are:

If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries by Judith Viorst
Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme by Jack Prelutsky
Weird Pet Poems by Dilys Evans
Honey I Love by Eloise Greenfield
Once I Ate a Pie by Patricia MacLachlan
Toasting Marshmallows by Kristine O'Connell George
Dogku by Andrew Clements

After reading and writing poetry, all the students chose one of the poems they'd written to share. We published using Flipgrid on the iPads. Flipgrid allows students to record 90 second videos. You can see some of the students' videos below. It was hard to select just a few, so if you have time, click the link at the bottom of this post to see all the videos. Most of them are only about 30 seconds long.

You can view all the published videos at http://flipgrid.com/#fd50db4c.

11 March 2014

Do It Yourself Pete the Cat Costume

I recently made a Pete the Cat costume for a storybook character parade. It was a big hit with the students and it was a lot of fun to make. It was my first time making a mask like this and I learned a lot. Whether you're looking for a Halloween costume or making a costume for a storybook character parade like me, I hope I can save you some heartache by sharing the process I went through in creating this costume.

The instructions for making the mask can really be used for other characters other than Pete the Cat. As long as the character has a roundish head, the steps for making the mask will be the same. Charlie Brown comes to mind as another possibility for a mask like this. David from No David would work, too.

I had lots of ideas for how to get started, some that I found online and others I came up with. I read about someone who made a mask using a big bouncy ball and a lot of paper mache. That particular mask looked pretty cool, but I decided it'd take too much time. Little did I know that our reading celebration day would get delayed by a week due to wintry weather. In addition to a bouncy ball, I thought about using a helmet of some sort and even a paper lantern as the starting point. I wasn't really thrilled with any of those ideas, so I headed out to a few stores to just walk around and see if anything jumped out at me.  

At the craft store I bought three styrofoam wreaths, a styrofoam square, long toothpicks, duct tape, and wire.

At the party supply store I bought a plastic helmet, a pair of blue gloves, and two huge white shoes.

At the fabric store I bought blue fleece, yellow tulle, and squares of felt (black, white, and yellow).

You'll also need blue sweat pants and a blue sweat shirt.

Step 1. 

I bent the wire over the helmet and wrapped it around one of the wreaths, creating a halo around the helmet. 

I used duct tape to connect the wire to the helmet and to wrap around the areas where the wire was connected to the wreath.

I used a second piece of wire to connect the wreath to the helmet, perpendicular to the first wire (not shown in this picture). My biggest recommendation in making the helmet is to be generous with the duct tape.

Step 2. 

I cut the other wreath in half. I connected one of the halves to the first wreath using long toothpicks (and lots of duct tape). 

I cut a chunk out of the middle of the remaining half (the chunk I cut out was the width of the wreath).

Then, I connected these two pieces to the first wreath (the halo) and the half going over the helmet (the mohawk).

The result was the beginning of a half sphere shape.

Step 3. 

I had the forehead constructed. Now I needed the face. 

I attached a third wreath, a bit smaller than the first two wreaths. This wreath rested against the original wreath in the back of the mask, but hung down in the front. I used duct tape to connect the wreaths in the back and two long toothpicks for support on the sides.

I also cut ears out of the styrofoam square and connected them to the wreaths using duct tape. It looks a little like the green wreath is the bottom of the mouth, but that's not the case. All of Pete's face is between the two wreaths. It'll make more sense once the fabric covers the mask.

Step 4. 

The shell was nearly complete at this point. I cut out two triangles from the styrofoam square to use as support between the original wreath and the bottom wreath. I used a lot of duct tape to secure them.

In the image, these triangles look like jaw pieces. Everyone thought there was a big mouth there when I was making the shell and I see what they mean. But that's actually where the face goes. 

Finally, I added lots and lots more duct tape. Seriously. Lots.

Step 5. 

You'll need some sewing skills for the next few steps. This is where my mom was a huge help. 

She created the fleece mask that fit over the shell, leaving a lot of fabric left to hang from the bottom of the mask. We made sure it fit fairly snug over the shell. 

Then, she folded the remaining fabric around the bottom wreath and sewed it to itself. This connected the fabric to the mask and helped it stay taut. There was still about 10 inches of fabric hanging down. We made a loop at the bottom of the fabric and put an elastic band through the loop. This helped make sure no one could see up into the mask from below. You can see what I mean in the photo of the finished product.

Step 6.

I cut out the pieces for the eyes and used rubber cement to attach them to the mask. 

The final step in creating the mask was to find a way for me to see out of it. Originally, I thought I might look through the eyes. I bought yellow tulle first, but realized I wouldn't be able to look through the eyes based on where they needed to go on the mask. 

The only option left was his nose. So, I used some white paper to cut out the right shape and position it on the mask. Then, I cut a hole in the fleece matching the paper nose. I had to go back to the fabric store to buy white tulle. Next, I cut a piece of white tulle and attached it from the inside of the mask. 

Finally, I cut a triangle border out of the white felt and attached it to the outside of the mask around the nose hole.

Step 7. 

I used blue felt and stuffing to create Pete's tail. I just pinned it to my blue sweat pants.

And that's it! If you have tons of free time, you can make your own Pete the Cat costume. Groovy, right?

All done! This was taken the day of the parade. I was already learning how hot it was inside the mask.

22 February 2014

Stroud Loves Reading Day 2014

Today was an awesome day! We spent it celebrating our love of reading and despite its stormy start, our fun-filled day went just as planned. It was my first time planning an activity like this and I learned a lot today. I'm already thinking about ways we can improve things for next year.

Back in August, Dr. Gilbert suggested we do a storybook character parade this year. But after talking with some friends and colleagues, I decided we should do a lot more than just have a parade. We ended up planning a whole day of literacy activities and we called it Stroud Loves Reading Day. Our plan was to have it on Valentine's Day (hence the title), but wintry weather derailed that plan. And today, when I arrived at school, we were in the midst of a pretty ugly thunderstorm. But there was no way we were going to let the weather dampen our spirits! 

Storybook Character Parade

Our day started with a storybook character parade. Each class picked a theme a few weeks ago and started planning their costumes. In addition to making their own costumes, students had props made out of cardboard and big banners to share their themes; some
even had little chants and songs to sing during the parade. We had all sorts of themes represented in our parade, from Dr. Seuss to The Watsons Go to Birmingham. Some classes chose a particular author or book, but others were a little more broad in their scope. One class did pirates, with students choosing their chacacter from several different pirate themed books. Another did mice; some students were the mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and others decided to dress up as Desperaux. Third, fourth, and fifth graders went first, with our little ones in the audience. The students didn't get to have all the fun though; we had plenty of adults who got in on the fun and dressed up too! After a short transition, we swapped places and preK, kindergarten, first grade, and second grade got to parade through our halls. You can visit our Facebook page to see more photographs from the parade.

One of the other big successes of the day was the pairing up of classes for book buddies. We haven't done book buddies in recent years, but it's something I did as a classroom teacher and my students always loved it. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to include book buddies in today's activities. Today, I heard from students and teachers that they wish we could continue doing book buddies for the rest of the year. And maybe there's a way. We'll see. I definitely see book buddies as a valuable experience for our students. Our older students are given a chance to practice their reading and empowered by being given the responsibility to teach our younger students. Our little ones get to practice their reading skills to, but they are also able to see their older role models showing the importance of reading. I see book buddies as a way to strengthen our school family and develop the confidence of all of our students. It's hard to pass up a chance to capitalize on an activity that seems to be universally enjoyed.

One of the big drawbacks to rescheduling due to the snow last week was that we lost some of our scheduled guest readers due to conflicts with our new date. But despite having to reschedule, we were still able to get nearly twenty guest readers to come read to our classes. Our students loved having people from our community come read to them and our readers all expressed how awesome our students are. We do amazing things here at Stroud and it's always nice to share our superstars with others. A big thank you to our guest readers for taking time out of their day to come share their love of reading with us.

I wish I'd been able to visit more classrooms today, but Mr. Winter and I were busy, busy, busy in the library. We did technology sessions with every classroom in grades K-5, using the iPad app Flipgrid. Our younger students listened to a story from StorylineOnline and then chose one of three response options. They used Flipgrid to record and share short videos talking about their favorite part of the story, a question they had about the story, or a connection they made. The nice thing about Flipgrid is that it allowed all of our students to be heard, both by their teachers and their peers. After creating their video response, students were eager to watch their friends' videos too. It was a great way for them to share and to be exposed to so many different viewpoints. Our older students created raps, skits, and stories based off a random prompt from the Scholastic Story Starters website, then used Flipgrid to share their work. It was loud and busy and even a little messy at times. But most of all, it was awesome. 

I'm already looking forward to next year's celebration. 

11 February 2014

Designing 3D Models on iPads

We still haven't found a web based 3D design software we like a lot, but there are two great iPad apps that are pretty easy to use - Cubify Draw and Blokify

Cubify Draw is free. There aren't any add-ons to be purchased from within the app. The thing I like about it is its simplicity. This app allows the user to use her finger (or a stylus) to draw, then create a 3D rendering of the drawing. The drawing must be a continuous line; if you lift your finger to draw another line, your first line disappears. You can pull your drawing to make it taller and choose to fill in your shape or leave it as a shell. If left as a shell, you can choose between three levels of thickness. If your line doesn't connect, you can choose to automatically connect using a straight line between the two ends. 

Another nice feature of Cubify Draw is that it allows you to open an image in the background. You can then trace over something in the image to create your drawing. This might be something you'd do with a cityscape, for example. 

Unfortunately, there's no way to edit a drawing. I do wonder if there might be a way to edit the drawing using other software. The file it emails to you is an .STL file. I'm sure it's possible, we just haven't made it that far yet. 

CubifyDraw is great for making simple shapes, but it can definitely be used for more complicated designs. One of our students recently designed a bee by retracing lines she'd previously drawn. I believe she was inspired by our recent Skype chat with Dr. Towell. The mascot at Howard Payne University is the yellow jacket, which is something we're not too fond of in Athens, Georgia. 

I was a little worried pulling it off the platform since some of the lines were pretty thin. I'd like to have this student recreate the bee and see if there's a way to go over some of the lines in order to make them thicker.

Bee designed by Yami (5th Grade)

The other app we've been using is Blokify. Blokify is another free app, but there are additional features that do require payment. I'll get to that in a moment.  

We introduced Blokify by having students create something with a certain perimeter. After spending just 15 minutes or so working on the challenge, students had figured out how to add a row of blocks, delete a row of blocks, and undo/redo moves. 

Like Cubify Draw, this is a pretty simple app. It's definitely more complicated than Cubify Draw, but it's a great app for younger students and those who are new to 3D printing. My four year old even had fun making a little castle.

In Blokify, the user chooses from a selection of free block designs to build their 3D model. A block is placed with a simple touch of the finger. Much like deleting apps from an iPhone or iPad, the user holds down her finger to get rid of a block. 

A neat feature of Blokify is to order your design. A simple print might cost about $5. Users can choose the colors used to print their design and then have their print mailed to them. 

Unlike Cubify Draw, Blokify does have in-app purchases. In addition to ordering prints, users can buy more blocks, more kits, and more building environments. The other kits are Space Platform and Pirate Sea. The colors of the blocks don't really matter since that depends on the color of the filament you're using, but the design of the block does show. 

Our students started out making castles and other types of buildings, but we did have a few students who explored other ideas. One student wrote out his name in block letters. Another designed a face that looks like it could have come straight out of an old Atari video game. 

Castle by Malaysia (5th Grade)

Face by Dre (5th Grade)

The one downside to both of these apps is that you can only email your designs. CubifyDraw has an option to upload your creation, but several attempts resulted in failure and so far, their customer support hasn't been able to help. It would be nice to have DropBox or Google Drive as an option.

We've had a lot of fun exploring these two apps. Our next goal is to find a web based software that we like. I'll leave you with our first three student designed prints in the hands of their makers:

17 January 2014

Can You Print an iPhone?

Today, our S.T.E.M. students had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Lester Towell, who is the Department Chair of Computer Information Systems at Howard Payne University. Mr. Winter made the connection using Skype in the Classroom. After a few emails back and forth, we found a convenient time for us to connect. Our students came up with question for Dr. Towell earlier this week and that's where we began. 

Here are the questions they came up with:

  1. How do you make a 3D printer?
  2. What’s the coolest thing you ever printed?
  3. When was the first 3D printer made?
  4. How did you learn about 3D printing?
  5. What is your favorite software to use for creating 3D models?
  6. Can you create a 3D printer that creates a 3D printer?
  7. Can someone build a 3D printer themselves?
  8. Did you ever print something to eat?
  9. What is the cheapest 3D printer?
  10. Can you print anything electrical?
  11. When was the first 3D printer made?
  12. Can you print an iPhone?

We learned so much! For example, it's possible to build your own 3D printer. The technology used in 3D printing is older than I thought it would be. Engineers are working on creating self-replicating 3D printers (how cool!). And while it's not possible right now, it's definitely plausible that within 5 years, we might be able to print an iPhone.

I'm so thankful to have technology that allows us to connect with experts outside of our school. We chatted with Dr. Towell for about forty minutes and I think the students could have kept asking him questions for another hour! He very graciously offered to chat with us again in a few months.

Our next goal is to find someone we can talk with about LEGO robotics. Have any suggestions?

10 January 2014

S.T.E.M. Class Off to a Great Start

Today was the first day of our S.T.E.M. class. I don't know who was more excited, the students or me. We were scheduled to have our first class on Tuesday, but the polar vortex interfered with our plans. It was difficult to wait until this afternoon, but we managed. Just barely though.

What we're doing in our S.T.E.M. class is all new to me, so I'm lucky to have lots of help; Mrs. Franks helps lead our Tuesday classes and Mr. Winter is with us on Fridays. Today, he helped us get off to a great start with some short videos highlighting the infinite possibilities of 3D printing. Our students were able to see a 3D printed hand, a car, and a hamburger. And if that doesn't cover the spectrum, what does? After the videos, it was clear the students were both amazed and chomping at the bit to get started. But we made them wait just for a few more minutes. They knew I was printing a heart shaped box and they were all dying to get their first look at our 3D printer in action. Still, we wanted to really get them thinking about the implications of this new technology. So, we had a short discussion about what 3D printing might mean for the future, as it becomes more and more commonplace. The students had lots of ideas and even more questions. 

We spent the rest of our time looking at the handful of completed prints, sorting six boxes of LEGO robotics pieces, and daydreaming about what projects were soon to be born. As we passed the prints around the group, the students started listing off ideas for what they could create and print. Like me, the found the linked chain and the box the most fascinating of what we've printed so far. The only preloaded object we haven't yet printed is the octopus. We'll print that one Tuesday. 

Next Friday, Mr. Winter has arranged for us to Skype with a professor who knows all about 3D printing. I can't wait to hear the questions our students have and to learn from someone who is an expert in the field. Our S.T.E.M. class is off to a great start! To say the students are motivated is an understatement. They are over the top excited about what we're going to be learning over the next four and a half months. And so am I!