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.
Fifth grade used the Renewable Energy K'nex kit. The students LOVED it! They worked in pairs and I started them with the solar car project first. We were very fortunate to have mostly sunny weather. It was fun to see kids try out their model with the solar panel at the end of the building phase. If they made a mistake, they knew it because the model did not work/ move properly. Putting the motor together was the trickiest part and many did not get it right on the first try. It was a definitive answer that prompted one of two reactions, (1) a cheer and sense of accomplishment, or (2) confusion and the realization that they would have to go back and figure out where they messed up. It was neat to see K'nex models kicked up a notch; the fact that it was expected to do something using the motors was very exciting for the kids. Once they successfully completed the solar car, it was the students' natural instinct to try and race them. That led to some awesome re-engineering as students tweaked the design to try and make it better and win the race. Many students realized on their own, that if they could reduce the weight of the car, it went faster. Other groups wanted to make it fancier and added their own decorative designs to it. Students also had fun trying different size wheels, or instead of four wheels some groups tried variations like three or six. Once the students were ready to move on from the solar car, they were able to complete the next project of their choice- the manual had "crank man" and "shuttle ride" models. Other students wanted to create their own designs and make it move with the motor. And all of that was just the solar part! The kit also includes projects for wind energy and water energy. I would highly recommend this kit- it's worth every penny!
One downside to the K'nex kits is that the manuals get pretty beat up over time. Luckily they have electronic versions available in PDF. I created two pages on my website, one for each kit, that students could go to if their manual was not sufficient. For the Fourth grade, the kit makes 52 different models but not all are in the manual. To see all 52 models to choose from, I sent students to my website: http://steminspired.weebly.com/knex-models-red.html For the Firth grade, they could see the three manuals on my website: http://steminspired.weebly.com/knex-green-renewable-energy.html
The students really enjoy coming to STEM Lab as one of their specials. When I see them in the morning or in the hallways, students often ask me when they get to come back next or say they wish they had me that day. I am glad that they feel inspired! Please check out some of the pictures I've taken of the students in action, in the slideshow below.