Thursday, February 25, 2016

Talking Robots Share our Learning

At the beginning of the electricity unit, third grade students spent time in enrichment building 2D or 3D robots with a variety of recycled materials.  The only guideline was that students be creative, and think about where they might want to later light up the robot!  Creativity and imagination was evident as students built robots that had specific jobs (a refrigerator, a generator, and more!), robots that focused on design elements (fabric skirts, hats and hair), robots that resembled something in real life (hamburgers, vacuum cleaners, well known robots), robots that were 3D (some even had wheels that moved!).... just name a few!

Once the robots were created, we put them on a shelf for a while as we deepened our understanding of what electricity is and how it works. Students had opportunities to explore a variety of materials--including squishy circuits, Little Bits and Snap Circuits (exploration started in the enrichment classroom and then extended to maker spaces in each classroom). This exploration was coupled with classroom instruction and electricity labs.

With all of this great learning under their belts, students were ready to go back to their robots and build a circuit that would light them up!  Students had to use their learning about electricity to do this task...but at the same time it was fun and creative! I was so happy to see the joy students had in working on an assessment of their knowledge.  The assessment was meaningful and important to them, and it also allowed teachers to do a check in on student understanding and clear up any misconceptions or confusions!

For the last two classes, students in third grade enrichment have spent time designing circuits and lighting up robots! Once students had a lighted robot, they created a short video clip using an iPad application called Chatterpix.  This is a fun app that can make any picture you take (in this case of their robot) talk with your own voice.  Here is a video compilation of the robots sharing their electricity learning and favorite moments from our unit. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Science Fair Resources

The science fair is coming! On Thursday March 10th RES students in grades K-4 are invited to come and share their great science fair projects with our community.  The science fair is a great way for students and families to work together to explore and learn about topics that interest them.

Not sure where to get started?  I highly recommend starting with your interests! Is there a topic you studied in school that you would like to learn more about? Is there something you have always wondered about--maybe how it works?  Do you have a special collection you would like to share?

The RES science fair is a non judged family event...which means adult help is welcome and appreciated..AND kids can work together to create projects too!

Not sure where to get started? Here are a few resources!

I love this website. It has tons of great project ideas and even lets you answer a survey to narrow down the choices to your interests!

This site also has great examples, and includes some great videos which will support visual learners too! Although they are also a business trying to sell science materials, it includes many great free resources in the 'Experiments' section:

And one more of my favorites!

In addition, the RES school  library is full of science project ideas and resources.  Did you know you can check out additional books with a family account?  See Mrs. Redford to set this up.

And lastly, I have several science project idea books, and am happy to discuss and brainstorm ideas with kids or families....just stop by and see me, OR email me to set up some time!

The science fair is always a highlight of my teaching year, and I look forward to seeing the projects that you all create.   Happy Experimenting, Discovering and Learning!
Have FUN!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Coding in After School Enrichment

Coding. An instructional language for your computer. Coming to elementary schools and learners at RES and beyond!!!

Until recently the language of computer coding and it's use has been limited to experts in the field (some trained and some self trained).  I definitely age myself when I share with students how my first learned computer language was Fortran, followed by programming in C where my college final project was a computer coded, animated, snow scene!!!(And this was no simple task at the time!) Now students can build scenes and animation in minutes as they learn the building blocks of code and command sequencing from awesome programs such as Hour of Code, Scratch, Tickle, Minecraft and more.

For the last few weeks I have been working with a group of students in kindergarten through fourth grade on Thursdays after school. When I first designed this course, I knew from the beginning that we would be learning from each other.....and it has been AWESOME! The great thing about coding is from the beginning you understand that your work will grow and change as you understand more, explore, and take risks.  Students have been involved in critical and logical thinking, creativity and problem solving.  They have shown a great deal of collaboration as they hep each other (sometimes older helping younger students and sometimes vice versa!)

The first day of class students were challenged to drive me through a maze using only single commands.  They had fun making me bump into things and declare "Command Failed. Please Try Again."  For the next two classes students had the opportunity to code in a variety of ways.  Students used Scratch Jr on the iPads, and explored a number of code-able robots including: Dash from WonderWorks, Sphero, BeeBot, Cubelets and Ozobot.  Students got to witness the direct response of their inputs and commands as the robots physically reacted to their code. 

Next we moved into the computer lab where students had the option to continue coding robots or to explore Hour of Code, Scratch or Minecraft. Students moved between options as they explored, collaborated and learned.  It has been a great six week class! 

I am thankful for the support of Part 2 for organizing this class, students and families for choosing this option for an after school activity, the Vermont Robot Rodeo for including RES in their robot borrowing program, and Mrs. Redford for her support.

Please let me know if you are interested in any of the tools I have mentioned....I am happy to encourage and support continued learning!

Student Driven Inquiry

What do you wonder?  Is there something you really want to learn about?  Be curious, be is a place to find answers to your questions!  
School is a place to learn about things you care about and new things you are just hearing about for the first time!

The above is the message that I want enrichment students to receive. One of my professional goals this year is to increase student inquiry and exploration of their curiosity in the enrichment classroom. In an effort to support this goal I will be working with second graders to support student driven inquiry projects.

We began these projects with a quick survey.  I asked students to think about whether they felt choice was important in their learning.  I asked them to think generally about the idea and then also to come up with some examples of times they have received full choice in their learning or no choice in their learning.  This survey gave us a starting point for our inquiry work together.  In general, students felt choice was important and had many reasons for enjoying choice in learning.  A few students mentioned that they preferred when the teacher selected their subjects, because sometimes they had a hard time choosing themselves and that they liked what teachers selected!  Students were very reflective in this process and it helped me to make sure that as we move forward we consider those students that desire additional structure as well as those that are ready to jump in!  This survey also supported my original thinking that students could benefit from inquiry projects and that many students are frustrated with learning things they already know, or that are in their words 'boring'.

Next I shared my process of wondering about a topic I am curious about (using robots in an educational setting).  I also shared a website called Wonderopolis ( many have used this in my classroom before) so students could see a variety of 'I wonder' questions. After we discussed the importance of our ideas and curiosity, students were asked to come up with at least three 'I wonder' statements.  Initially I was worried that students would struggle to come up with topics and ideas.....but I should not have been.  Their ideas were amazing!  

Before our next class I was able to group the wonders into bigger topics.  Many student questions had themes that I could pull together.  I had resources available for all of these topics.  In each class we ended up with about eight to ten major topics.  I challenged students to select a topic that they really wondered about and then to spend time with resources about this topic.  Students were told that they could work in groups or individually to develop a question based on their topic.  Some students stuck with the question they had written originally (even if it was not one of the more common themes, they could elect to continue following their own path), while others worked with the resources and a group to develop a new question that they all agreed would be worth investigating. Sometimes the resources drove their question formation, and sometimes the group discussion led to an idea.  Several students changed their topic selection after the initial selection, and after seeing what some groups were learning.  Students expressed some sadness in missing what others were learning about...until we had a discussion about the idea that we would all be learning from each other and sharing in the end! I took it as a great sign when students wanted assurance that they could learn something else next!!  

As we close out February, we have begun using our resources to find answers to our questions. Students are reading, listening, watching and then taking notes.  When we return to school in March we will begin thinking about how to share our new knowledge!

Notes for educators:
This process requires quite a bit of management and I have found several things to be helpful so far:
-A folder for each inquiry group to keep all of their information together
-Resources that can be listened to ( in particular when topics are not typical second grade reading material).  My current online resources include: Pebble Go ( funded by our school library), World Book Online, Wonderopolis (free website), You tube videos (curated and reviewed by me first), online articles from Scholastic and Highlights that include a text read aloud feature.
-Lots of books from the school library to spark questions and ideas AND to help find answers.
-Writing notes from the teacher to each group about what they should consider doing for their next task. This allows me to meet with small groups, and limits the number of students who have trouble self starting at the beginning of each class.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Scavenger Hunt!

During enrichment first graders have begun to explore the idea of mapping.  Mapping skills connect to our study of community.  Before we can become expert map makers, we need to practice reading maps.  This week students were given a map of the enrichment classroom and asked to search for clues around the classroom, when students found a clue they had to mark its location on their map. I was impressed with student's ability to read a map, and we had a lot of fun!