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Unlike the class in the video that spent weeks on this project as part of their Science unit, I see my kids between three and five days, depending on snow days, holidays, professional development, and parent conferences. Needless to say, we can not get as in depth as the other class. That doesn't mean, however, that we couldn't make it work!
I also designed this project with third grade in mind, not middle school. At the third grade level, students are not exposed to concepts like kinetic and potential energy so unlike the class in the video, the transfer of energy was not our focus. Instead, our focus was on the design process. [Update: I also tried this project with Fourth grade and think it is perfect for them.]
The Design Process
How I "Wilburized" it
As previously mentioned, I used the Teaching Channel video as inspiration for the project, but had to adjust it for my younger kids, our time frame of a week, and the materials I have readily available. Another colleague of mine and fourth grade teacher at this school, Le'Toya Chisholm, had submitted a form on the Hot Wheels website for a free classroom Speedometry kit. When she received the kit, she donated it to my class, thanks again Le'Toya!! :) The kit includes: 40 Hot Wheels cars, 16 orange loop bases, 16 red clamps, 64 blue track connectors, and 100+ feet of orange track.
Because I had these materials readily available, I opted to use them instead of marbles and tubing insulation... and the mention of Hot Wheels perked the kids right up! They couldn't wait to get their hands on those orange tracks when we began the project. In fact, the materials caught their eye as soon as they walked in the classroom and were immediately wondering what they were going to be doing.
Designing on a budget
Another thing I loved about the video was the idea of the kids buying the materials and working on a budget. I have seven groups of four. I figured out based on the number of materials that came in the kit, how I could evenly split them between the seven groups. For instance, there were 16 clamps in the kit, so I knew that each group could have two clamps total, to be fair. Then I made two the limit for the amount of clamps they could buy. I repeated this process for all the materials.
Next I decided that I was going to use the same denominations of money that United States uses so that the buying experience was more realistic. I made $1, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills in "STEM money". I decided to make actual paper money instead of having the kids work off a spreadsheet to make the project more fun and kinetically pleasing. I priced out the materials kind of randomly, mostly by size and by how many the students would need. In other words, tracks and connectors are smaller and I knew their roller coasters would need a lot of them, so I priced them cheaply at $3 and $5 respectively. The loop base is much larger and the students could only buy two of them, so I made it worth $20.
To determine the budget, I figured out how much it would cost the students if they bought the maximum number allowed for each item. Then I rounded down so that they would NOT have enough money to buy everything. I wanted the students to experience trade-off when deciding how to spend their money. The number I landed on was $200 per group. An awesome moment for me was when one group realized they didn't have enough money to get everything they wanted. They looked so shocked and disappointed. What a great life lesson they were experiencing! Then they started again by talking about what items they needed for their design. "We don't really need two cars..." I overheard one of them saying.
Since my reflection about the STEM Lab was so long, I figured I'd make the reflection about the Maker Space its own post.
Inspiration Station Logistics
Our school is all about Inspiring to Excellence so instead we called our Maker Space the "Inspiration Station". It has a nice ring to it and builds excitement! From what I hear from other staff members and from the kids, they really like it. Our Inspiration Station is a section of our Library that students can come and explore, tinker, build, take-apart, and more!
Kids are allowed to enter the building at 8:20 am. From 8:20 am until 8:35 am, students are in their homeroom unpacking, eating breakfast and getting ready for their day. Just like the students can get a pass to come to the library to check out books in the morning during homeroom, they can come to the Inspiration Station. It is my morning duty. I quickly realized, however, that by the time the students went to their classroom, got the pass, and came to the library, they did not have enough time to explore the Inspiration Station before being sent back to class at 8:35 am. What good is a Maker Space if there are no makers in it? Since my planning is first period from 8:35- 9:20am, I chose to split it. I send out a survey with possible 15 minute time slots and asked the homeroom teachers to select their preference. The teachers that responded to my survey were split, half wanted from 8:30-8:45 am and the other half wanted later 8:45-9:00 am. As a compromise, and because our librarian is not present on Thursdays and Fridays so I help with book check out during homeroom, I chose to have the following schedule:
Monday- Wednesday the Inspiration Station is available from 8:30-8:45 am
Thursday & Friday the Inspiration Station is available from 8:45-9:00 am
That means I take my planning starting at 8:20 am, and resume after duty until 9:20 am. At first, it was difficult for teachers to remember two different times but it was the best way to compromise. The Inspiration Station pass is a laminated 1/4 piece of paper that I have color coded by grade level. I have written in permanent marker on the back which homeroom it belongs to, in case it is lost. Next year, I plan on including the schedule on the back to help teachers and students remember. Currently only 3rd through 5th graders have passes. And because there are roughly 25 homerooms within those three grade levels alone, I only gave each class ONE pass. Therefore, there would not be more than 25 students at a time. It is up to the individual teacher to decide who gets to come each morning. Unfortunately, I think the teachers forget to assign the pass because on my busiest day I've only had about 15 kids. I have the students sign in when they come, on a clipboard, writing their first name, last name, and homeroom. Since I feel the Inspiration Station is not being fully utilized I plan on sending out a virtual flyer to remind the teachers to send kids down, including pictures to show what they've been missing out on. If that does not increase attendance, then I plan on awarding classrooms who do send kids down a second pass.
I also have no classes between 11:40am and 12:55 pm. Therefore, I have chosen to take my lunch from 12-12:30pm. Opening the Inspiration Station from 11:40 am- 12 pm would allow Fourth grade classes to send a student down during their lunch time. The idea would be for the chosen students to get their lunch first in line, eat, and then come down to the library to tinker. Open from 12:30- 12:50 pm would allow teachers to send Third and Fifth graders during their recess time. The ultimate goal is to allow as many students as possible an opportunity to come explore, as often as possible!
Maker Space Stations
Currently I have several stations set up in the Inspiration Station. They are flexible and can be swapped out at any time. One station that is a favorite and will be permanent is the "Take Apart Technology" station. There, students can use real tools to take apart used and/or broken electronics. Reverse engineering these electronics will allow them to see how the machines were put together and get a glimpse at what they look like on the inside. I have attached pegboard to the wall and hung the various tools. I went a step further and outlined the tools in permanent marker so that the students know where and how to put it back. It is a requirement at this station to wear safety glasses. I also have larger goggles for students who wear glasses. The electronics were donated by families, staff members, and our IT department. The key is to get the word out there! The Inspiration Station was open for parents and guardians to come check out during Open House and conferences. One thing I need to remind the students often is that they are to take apart the technology, not destroy it. I removed the hammer because many students' initial reaction is to just bang on the device until it breaks apart. The goal is to use tools in reverse; for example, use a screwdriver to unscrew the device. Once the screws are out, then they can gently remove the outer pieces and see what's inside. The kids reactions are always great when they get their first glimpse inside- very excited. I would definitely recommend having the following tools available: multiple screwdrivers- especially Phillips head type, at least one precision pack (mini screwdrivers), Allen wrench set, and pliers. I was able to get a complete tool box kit for a great price during Harbor Freight's sidewalk sale.
I appreciate your patience in waiting for my next entry! It's amazing how time has flown by. Since my last post, almost 1200 students have come through my STEM class. Below I will describe the type of projects we have worked on so far and reflections of what went well and thoughts for improvement. I will create a separate blog entry reflecting on the MakerSpace since this post is quite lengthy.
The STEM Lab is one of the related arts "specials" students go to along with gym, music, art, and library (computer skills and digital citizenship). I see each class for 50 minutes a day, for five days. The following week I see a new class. It works out so that I see each of our nine homerooms per grade level for one week each Marking Period. We also have an "Enrichment" week, where a class is repeated in the Marking Period.
I know that may sound confusing but what that means in terms of planning is that I need four projects (one for each MP), per grade level (six grades K-5). In addition, I need an extra project for Enrichment week, per grade level. Our school, Kathleen H. Wilbur Elementary, chose to have Specials in a week long block, rather than alternate throughout the week, so that specialists could implement project-based units. I find that having the same class for a straight week is great because it is easier to manage materials and I can develop a better rapport with the students. Furthermore, students are bummed when the class ends but it's comforting to know they can pick up where they left off the following day. The following day, they can get right back to work and not have to think back a whole week to what they were doing. Now, I don't have anything to compare it to because I wasn't around when they had the one-day-a-week schedule, but I imagine the quality of work is much better too.
Speaking of projects, I was fortunate enough to come into this position with some materials on hand. With collaboration between the teacher who was here last year, the principal, and the PTA, they were able to buy Lego and K'nex kits. I used these kits during MP1. While the Lego kits came with curriculum attached, I will admit that I did not follow it. Instead I used MP 1 to OBSERVE the students and make notes to myself. Particularly with Grades 1-2, it was an eye opening experience to give students Legos and expect them to share with their partner. First graders used Lego Education Early Structures Set (9660) and Second graders used Lego Education Early Simple Machines III Set (9656). I believe it was a valuable time for students to practice using verbal communication to express their wants/needs and learn the art of negotiation. It was also fascinating to watch their little minds at work as they created play characters and buildings with their Legos. "Play time" is a hot topic in education but its no mystery that there are social and emotional benefits. To read more, check out research from the National Association for Education of Young Children.
In Third Grade, we used Lego WeDo Construction Sets in pairs. The students followed step-by-step procedures to build the creation using the Lego software on laptops. Once built, the students coded using blocks to make the motors move on their actual creation. The Lego WeDo kits were definitely a favorite among the kids but there were a lot of little pieces that got lost easily. I created a PARTS LOST AND FOUND at the front of the room. When a student found a random piece on the floor, they dropped it in. Likewise, if a group was missing a piece, the first thing they were expected to do was look in the lost and found. Another thing that was a "double-edged sword" with this kit, is that students had to pay attention to detail. Some pieces in the kit were very similar to each other and students had to count the bumps to measure and verify that they were using the correct piece and pay attention to the location of the bumps (see image). While students may have found it tedious or frustrating, it taught students the valuable lesson that precision is important in an engineer's work. Another "double-edged sword" was that the procedures on the Lego software that showed the students how to build were angled from the corner. Some students were not as strong as others in spacial awareness and had trouble recognizing pieces at that angle, or where the pieces should go. One tip I kept telling the kids was to hold up their model like shown in the picture and them compare them to see where their mistakes are. I liked that the Lego WeDo software showed the kids how to build, one step at a time. It was very self-paced and had a variety of projects the kids could pick from.
I interviewed at Kathleen H. Wilbur Elementary School in Bear, DE and was accepted for the position. I am thrilled to be part of the #Wilburinspired family and start in my new position as the STEM specialist.
Wilbur Elementary is in Colonial School District, where I have been employed for the past five years. Prior to this position, I have taught sixth grade Science at Gunning Bedford Middle School. Throughout my time in Colonial, I have been heavily involved in all things related to Science and Technology, including Professional Development both as an observer and presenter and a multitude of committees and leadership opportunities. I believe all of my past experiences have prepared me for the STEM position that I face today.
I have taught a wide range of abilities at the sixth grade level but I will still be in for a rude awakening when I meet my new students... who start at five years old. That being said, my journey begins with PREPARATION. To prepare, I have been "pinning" anything and everything related to elementary STEM projects and Maker Spaces, looking for insight into what to expect and what I can expect the youngsters to be able to do at each grade level in the K-5 range, and looking for inspiration for STEM projects and Maker Space activities.
After researching the past couple days, I feel very strongly that there is a difference between Science experiments and STEM projects. And while any activity that incorporates two or more of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math could be considered STEM, I even find myself thinking about projects for my STEM class and activities for the Maker Space differently. Check out the differences in my mind in the chart below:
Preparing for STEM Class
To start prepping for my STEM course, I have started by looking up the Next Generation Science Standards for K-5, specifically related to the Engineering Process. It turns out there are actually explicit standards towards engineering! #winning I also bookmarked the Science and Engineering practices. Our district follows Learning Focused Solutions (LFS) curriculum design so next I will be creating a KUD (Know-Understand-Do) chart to establish objectives and then a Student Learning Map to show an overview of the Unit Essential Question, Concepts, Lesson Essential Questions, and Vocabulary for each grade level. Lastly, I will be looking for activities that allow students to meet the objectives for my unit, without overstepping into "regular classroom" teacher's science units.
Preparing for the Maker Space
My new principal is very excited about continuing her vision for the STEM Lab and has also entrusted with me the task of designing and creating a Maker Space. To prepare for that, I have researched ideas for Maker Spaces and started exploring in different stores. First I started by reading and checking out the resources curated by Ed Sheninger. According to Sheninger (2015), a High School Principal in New Jersey who is leading the Maker Movement, there are five essential questions you should ask yourself before you beginning:
Another great resource I've stumbled across was an article by David Rath (2015) titled, "8 Design Steps for an Academic MakerSpace". In the article, Rath recounts a presentation Russ Jarowski, a technology director, from ISTE 2015 Philadelphia. In the presentation, Jarowski lists "eight steps to work through in the creation of a successful child-centered academic makerspace" (2015). While explanations are given for each step in the article, they are as follows:
Lastly, I also came across "the Maker's Manual" that is embedded below. While the Manual is definitely higher level then what I plan for my elementary space, it does provide good insight into what we would eventually hope students would be able to do, which is to innovate their own creations and even go on to sell them.
Well ladies and gentleman, that's all I have for now! Stay tuned for pictures of both spaces and how I plan to organize them! ... Also which activities I choose to implement! In addition, I plan to use this blog to document both successes and reflections of obstacles that come from implementing both a STEM Lab and a Maker Space for the first time... after all, this will be quite a journey!
Want more? Check out what I've "Pinned" so far...
Your comments are welcome! I'd love to hear from you :)
Do you have a Maker Space or implement STEM activities? Are you thinking about it? I'd love to hear your ideas!
Ms. Sarah Cuje
Follow along on Ms. Cuje's journey towards creating and implementing a "STEM Lab" and "Maker Space" for grades K-5.