Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Google Expeditions at RES!

 On Thursday April 28th, RES students in grades 2-4, and CHMS students in grades 6-8 experienced virtual field trips through the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program.  Google Expeditions is a new product that allows teachers to take their classes on virtual field trips, immersing students in experiences that bring abstract concepts to life and giving students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom. These trips are collections of virtual reality panoramas — 360° photo spheres, 3D images and video, ambient sounds — annotated with details, points of interest, and questions.

Several months ago RES third grade teacher Tonya Darby applied for our students to get this opportunity to try a new and innovative technology!  Students in second grade traveled to China, and even got to see a national park with peacock blue/green water. This trip connected to their unit on cultural studies around the world and helped to further extend their learning about a country that they have been learning about over the last month.  Students in third grade traveled west to support their social studies learning about life on the Oregon Trail.  Fourth graders traveled to Mars, connecting to their solar system unit of study, and allowing them to see close up a planet beyond Earth!  In addition to these curricular connections we also explored Everest and the ocean.

We are thankful to the Pioneer program for their support as well as teachers and staff who gave time and classroom space to host this great experience.

Want to learn more about the Expeditions Program? Check out:
OR ask your student "Where did you go today?!"

Monday, April 4, 2016

Tomatoes in Space?!

This year students from Richmond Elementary School are participating in the TomatoSphere project in third grade to connect with their interdependence science unit.  This is an amazing opportunity to participate in a real citizen science project. Last Friday we planted our blind study seeds as well as made predictions as to which seeds would yield the best tomato plants.  Over the next few weeks we will watch and record our findings.

Here is information about this project as described on the TomatoSphere website :
What is Tomatosphere™?
Chris Hadfield
Tomatosphere™ uses the excitement of space exploration to teach the skills and processes of scientific experimentation and inquiry. Students investigate the effects of the space environment on the growth of food that will inevitably support long-term human space travel.
Pictured above is NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly with 600,000 Tomatosphere™ seeds. These space-faring seeds will be distributed to about 18,000 classes in Canada and the US during the 2015-16 school year. The seeds were launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on board SpaceX’s Dragon on April 14, 2015 and will return to Earth after spending 5 weeks in space.

What does the program involve?

Each classroom is sent two packages of tomato seeds. One package contains seeds that have been sent into space or treated in space-simulated conditions. The other package will contain "control" seeds, which have not been in space. Through the Tomatosphere™ project, students will learn how to conduct a scientific experiment and compare the germination rates of the two groups of seeds. Tomatosphere™ relies on a "blind test" in which educators and students will not know which of the two packages are the "space" seeds and which are control seeds until the germination process is complete and results have been submitted.Watching these seeds germinate and grow will encourage classroom dialogue about the elements of life that support the requirements for space missions:- food, water, oxygen and the need to consume carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts. Traveling to and from Mars could take more than two years, therefore it is vital to know how to grow food while astronauts make the journey to the Red Planet, spend time on Mars and make the return journey back to Earth.
The results from your Tomatosphere™ science experiments will help Canadian scientists understand some of the issues related to long-term space travel. It’s an out-of-this-world opportunity for your students!

Why grow tomatoes in space?

Tomatoes are practical and valuable plants for space applications. They provide wholesome nourishment, as well as purified water through evaporation from their leaves.

All the seeds are planted! One tray for each Grade 3 class

Tiny precious experimental seeds and careful scientists at work!

Students predicting which seeds will grow the most tomatoes

Thinking about ensuring this is a fair experiment

Learning with Choice

Several weeks ago we began a unit in second grade enrichment centered around student based inquiry.  Students had a chance to choose a question that they wanted to answer.  Some students have been working individually while others have been working in small groups.  We have faced several challenges during this study.  We have found that we need to be persistent (the questions are not always easy to answer!) , that sometimes our group has different ideas about how to work ( collaboration and teamwork is challenging),  and that we have to be self starting and independent ( I cannot meet with each group right away).

Over several years now I have been teaching snippets of student interest inquiry units to Grade 2.  We have done student driven inquiry projects as a whole class, and we have had exploratory centers around topics of student choice.  This is the first year I have tried inquiry projects in which students select topics, design questions to research, and then create and share their findings.  It has been great to see the growth in student independence and teamwork.

  This process has also taught me a lot about the need for structures within open ended exploration.  One important thing I have learned is that at this grade level the teacher must help to curate resources...AND that often student interests cannot be answered with a book from the library.  We truly do have information about everything at our fingertips.....but finding it, evaluating that information, and synthesizing it....these are skills that take time and practice!   Sometimes it seems we are just getting to the meat of a task and it is time to clean up for our transition.  I know that classroom teachers experience this churn of time as well.....but sometimes I just wish for that extra five minutes that would allow a student to complete a task!  I have been very impressed with students move towards independence in this process, and their hard work and effort despite some limited scaffolding in some areas.  I believe that this adventure has been a successful learning experience for us all. As a teacher I have many new ideas for how to support this type of learning better in the future,including:  a slower start in which students explore topics for short periods (quick finds) and report their findings with a quick share, a method for sharing curated online resources that students can quickly access at the beginning of each class, daily task checklists (individualized for students or groups, but starting with a form I can plug into), and models of successful shares ( we will have some of those soon!). I also plan to interview students at the end of this process and hope to incorporate their feedback into student driven projects moving forward.

With all of that reflective commentary, I saved the best for last!  Students are engaged. Students are producing some great answers and creating some awesome methods for sharing their work.  
Water:  How much water makes up the Earth?  How does the water cycle work?  What are the different states of water and why do they change?

What is an asteroid?

How does sand turn into glass?

What did dinosaur skin look like and how do we know?

What is lava made of?

What does the solar system look like? (Getting help from a friend to overcome frustration while the teacher is busy! AWESOME!)

Friday, April 1, 2016

Engineering Design

In third grade enrichment this year our classroom activities have been fairly well synched to the work students are doing in their regular classroom.  Our work has focused on enhancing and adding to the science and social studies curriculum.  However for the last four weeks, we left this lock step and students have been spending time in enrichment experiencing the engineering design cycle.  Time in the enrichment classroom is often spent making and creating, but for this challenge I wanted students to have a larger purpose.  Accordingly to the Engineering is Elementary website ( in order to experience an engineering design cycle, students must ask, imagine, plan, create, and improve.  

Ask--What is the problem?  
We began our engineering design cycle by asking the question: What bugs you?  After we clarified that siblings did not count (!) and that students had to think about things in their daily life, or community or world problems that bothered them..the ideas began to flow! Each student began with an Inventor's journal in which they wrote down their 'bugs'. This was an odd experience for us...spending a large chunk of time just documenting negative things.....but we discussed the idea that often great inventions are born from necessity or the desire to improve something.  Many students wanted to jump right into creating, but to honor the design cycle we spent one class period simply asking questions.  I encourage you to talk to students about what bugged them.  The lists were thoughtful and interesting. Some students focused on one particular issue and spent time thinking about the constraints and how others have approached fixing the problem, while others listed many ideas!  Since students had just completed a persuasive essay, I encouraged them to try to think of physical things that they could manipulate, design or change.  A very few students really struggled to think of any issue that they felt worth working on and so they brainstormed with myself or a partner. (Can you imagine if nothing bugged you?  I think that sounds nice, so could not find fault in that feeling if they truly meant it!) 

Imagine- What are some solutions?  Brainstorm and pick your best idea!
On the second day students read back through their problems.  Some added a new problem they had thought of since our last meeting too.  Then the creative process began.  Some drew pictures, others wrote down ideas, some talked to a classmate or me.  Students added an idea or ideas to their Inventor's Journal of how they would solve their problem.

Plan- Draw a diagram and make lists of materials you will need.
Before leaving our class on the second day, students had to create a materials list. They let me know what they might need to build a prototype.

Create-  Follow your plan and create a prototype.  Test it out.
Last week students began building their prototypes.  We had many successes and many failures.  We learned that sometimes  making something is harder than imagining how to make it! 

Improve- What works? What doesn't? What could you do better?
We are finding that improving and creating are happening all together as students iterate on ideas as they complete their prototypes.

By next week our goal is to have a working prototype that students can bring home to share with families.  I also challenged students to think of a name for their invention!

As we wrap up, stay tuned for a video of their awesome prototype inventions!