Friday, August 19, 2016

5 Things I Learned about STEM from First Graders!

After a few years with upper elementary grades, I am in the midst of a new adventure! I will now have first and second graders! Oh my! Let's just say this is a tad scary.....
But, a few surprises came my way during the first days with the very smallest engineers.
We built bridges!

First Grade STEM: Each child had ten counting cubes and four craft sticks. All I told them was, "Build a bridge." Check this blog post for more!
I really wanted to dive right in with a STEM building event because I knew these little engineers would not sit still and listen for as long as my big kids. So, we watched a "Crash Course" video about Engineers which included a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. This gave us a good way to talk about bridges and then kids went to their tables. Each child had ten counting cubes and four craft sticks. All I told them was, "Build a bridge." I did not tell them each one of them should build the bridge, but that is what they did (and it's what I expected.)

Here are the things I didn't expect!



First Grade STEM: After each student built their individual bridges and we shared them, I then asked them to put all their materials together and build one big bridge. Cceck this blog post for more!
After each student built their individual bridges and we shared them, I then asked them to put all their materials together and build one big bridge. Some groups actually cheered when they discovered they would be able to join the materials! Look at the photo above. That group actually talked about what jobs each would have, "You be the snapper and I will be road layer, and then Carlie can straighten it when it gets crooked." It was fairly amazing to see the kids work together and talk about what they were doing!



First Grade STEM: You would think that all their bridges would look alike since the materials are so limited. But, they built amazing little bridges with ramps and turns and extras- extras like a team that built a boat to go with their bridge! Check this blog post for more!
Another unexpected thing! I had no idea if they could build a bridge with those wonky materials, but just look at that photo. Another thing, you would think that all their bridges would look alike since the materials are so limited. But, they built amazing little bridges with ramps and turns and extras- extras like a team that built a boat to go with their bridge!



First Grade STEM: Some groups that made ramps because, "You have to drive up on the bridge!" There were some kids that used extra cubes to hold the ramps in place since they did tend to slide. Check this blog post for more!
Speaking of ramps! Yes, there were some groups that made ramps because, "You have to drive up on the bridge!" There were some kids that used extra cubes to hold the ramps in place since they did tend to slide.
Some even had ramps right in the middle of their bridges and when students pointed out that the ramps in the middle would lead straight into the water I heard this, "Well, you know, bridges don't have to be over water!"



First Grade STEM: Some kids wanted a double-decker bridge with stacking roadways. The bridge in the top photo shows what kids did often. They pulled apart the cubes and slid the craft stick between cubes to hold it in place. Check this blog post for more!
Some kids wanted a double-decker bridge with stacking roadways. The bridge in the top photo shows what kids did often. They pulled apart the cubes and slid the craft stick between cubes to hold it in place. Y'all these are first graders! I thought that was pretty genius!



First Grade STEM: They talked about the task, they solved problems when things would not stay in place, and they rebuilt when they got knocked down. They were fabulous! Read more on this blog post!
Total engagement! I knew this! I have STEM with upper grades and they are always almost 100% engaged with tasks. The little engineers were, too! They talked about the task, they solved problems when things would not stay in place, and they rebuilt when they got knocked down. They were fabulous!

This was the easiest little opening challenge and the first graders taught me a lot! I taught them what the word precarious means! (As in Don't Bump the Table!)

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Come back soon for more of:


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What's Going on in the Lab? Gliding Bridges!

Hello STEM Friends!
Are you ready for a  little bit about bridges?
STEM Challenge: In Nepal, people in remote villages build a bridge that crosses rivers by installing a rope across the river. Dangling from the rope is a passenger carrier and once you are seated in the carrier the passengers pull on the rope to glide the carrier across the river. We decided to try to build a model of this gliding bridge! Check this blog post for more!
We have built a lot of bridges in STEM Class!
In fact, you can read more about bridges right here:

I knew students loved bridges and I was looking for a different  kind of bridge when I happened upon an article about a gliding bridge. In Nepal, people in remote villages build a bridge that crosses rivers by installing a rope across the river. Dangling from the rope is a passenger carrier and once you are seated in the carrier the passengers pull on the rope to glide the carrier across the river. What they really need is a bridge like the one in the above photo but these are quite costly. Instead they often have rigged up their own version of a foot bridge or a gliding bridge- and in many cases these have been disastrous.
We watched videos about the bridges in STEM class and then decided to try to build a model.
First, we had to decide what a gliding bridge is!

STEM Challenge: After a little research we determined that a gliding bridge is a rope pulley system that carries passengers across a river or canyon by means of the passengers themselves. Once seated in the carrier the passengers reach to the overhead ropes and pull until they have crossed over to the other side. Check this blog post for more!
After a little research we determined that a gliding bridge is a rope pulley system that carries passengers across a river or canyon by means of the passengers themselves. Once seated in the carrier the passengers reach to the overhead ropes and pull until they have crossed over to the other side. What makes this work is two things: great supports on each side of the river and pulleys or some kind of ability for the rope to be easily pulled.


STEM Challenge: Build a bridge. Knowing that the supports on each side of the river were very important led to the first decision each team had to make. They were given a choice of what material to use for their anchors on each side. Check this blog post for more!
Knowing that the supports on each side of the river were very important led to the first decision each team had to make. They were given a choice of what material to use for their anchors on each side. We used two lab tables that were about 2 feet apart for our river banks. The kids could choose from three types of foundations- rocky soil, sandy soil, or clay.

STEM Challenge: Build a passenger car for a bridge system. The next decision was the passenger carrier. What should it look like? Wow! We had so many different ways to cross that river! Our passengers were ping pong balls! Check this post for more!
The next decision was the passenger carrier. What should it look like? Wow! We had so many different ways to cross that river! Our passengers were ping pong balls! Again, the kids had to choose from available materials and decide how to build the carrier. Some of them chose craft sticks! What do you think happened when these carriers were tested? (Hint: They might have been heavy!)

STEM Challenge: This challenge presented so many dilemmas! One of the biggest problems to solve had to do with connecting the "rope" for the pulley system. Kids learned very quickly that the rope had to be securely attached to the support on each side. Check this post for ore!
This challenge presented so many dilemmas! One of the biggest problems to solve had to do with connecting the "rope" for the pulley system. Kids learned very quickly that the rope had to be securely attached to the support on each side. Look at the clever ways they found to attach the rope! The photo on the bottom right is a pulley the team designed!

STEM Challenge: To test the final bridge system kids had to demonstrate a crossing. We all cheered if their passenger car made it across without a mishap! Check this blog post for more!
To test the final bridge system kids had to demonstrate a crossing. We all cheered if their passenger car made it across without a mishap! What a fabulous real life model we built and the learning was just amazing!

So, there you have it- that's what we have been doing in the lab! How about you?

Coming soon:
Popcorn Challenge
Potatoes
First Graders!

Friday, August 12, 2016

5 Routines for Specialists!

It's August and it's time to go back to school!
Are you ready?

I have some new parts (like more classes) to my job this year and it is making me even more aware of the need for teaching routines and procedures in the first weeks of school.
I know you are like me in expecting things to run smoothly and like clock-work as students come in that door every morning. I learned a long time ago that this is not the way it happens! The procedures and routines of any classroom have to be explicitly taught and practiced- just as much as math skills or swinging a golf club.

So, if you are a specialist, this will be a fun read and may give you some ideas. 
If you are a NEW specialist, you need this post and dozens more like it, to get you ready to start with multiple classes!
Let's get going with the top routines I am planning to work on!

Specialists need to really work on those classroom routines and procedures because of the limited time students are in their classrooms. Check this blog post or a few ideas!
Just a tiny bit of background! After teaching a regular classroom for a really long time I switched to the specialist world. The very first year was quite interesting as I took on seventeen classes. Those first few weeks were a lot of fun, but I quickly learned that I made a big mistake. I expected kids to listen to me one time and then do all the things I wanted. Now, three years later I have a list of things we are going to tackle from the very first day. And by tackling I mean explicit lessons and practice. The ones I have listed in this post are the ones that drive me the craziest. I know you can relate to that.


Teaching procedures is a big deal! Think about how often you line up. Decide how you want this to be handled. And then practice it everyday for the first few days or even weeks of school!
Now, you would think kids know how to do this, but you probably know they don't or they have forgotten what is expected. Or it is also possible that your expectations as those kids arrive at your special are different than their regular classroom teacher.
So, what can a specialist do?

Before my classes ever set foot in the door we stand in the hallway and go through procedures for my line up, traveling down the hall approaching my classroom, and waiting (if I happen not to be ready as they arrive). After talking through this procedure a couple of times we walk all the way to the end of the hall and approach the classroom again. And again. And maybe one more time!
At the end of this practice we will talk about how this is what is expected each and every time they start down the lab hallway. With or without their classroom teacher. Even if it's the day before Christmas. Same procedure every time.
Think about how often you line up. Decide how you want this to be handled. And then practice. Daily! It seems silly, especially if you have never done this. But, think about it- we practice spelling words, we practice our times table facts, and we can also practice routines and procedures. 


Okay, teachers of multiple classes- how do you assign seats? Or do you? Here's a fabulous hint: Don;t try to teach all your routines on the first day! Check this blog post for more!
This is a fairly easy aspect of the regular class. The kids sit in the same seats everyday. You change them monthly or bi-weekly. With flexible seating the kids can change up all day long.

Okay, teachers of multiple classes- how do you assign seats? Or do you?
Here's a story about my all-time favorite way to get kids to come in and get seated. This was the routine of our music teacher long ago. She had a large rug area right beside her piano. She taught the kids to come in and make a line of five in a row at the front of the rug. The 6th student started a new row and so on. When they were all seated they were in rows of five, one behind another. Then she did a call-back singing routine and it was fabulous! I always stood in her door and watched this because I loved it!
Now, I don't teach music, but I do have a seating routine. My class works in groups and each group has its own table. When the class comes in, their lab folders are at their tables, they walk counter clockwise around the lab tables and find their folders, and sit down. It's very simple, but we practice it anyway. I place name cards randomly around the room and on the very first day (after practicing the line up routine) we talk about sitting and then practice it a few times.
There is more to this we learn later- which includes getting out materials and filling out the daily table report sheet. But it's too much for the very first day!
That's another hint for you- Don't try to teach all your routines on the first day.
Pick the top 3-4 and work on those!


Clean up Routine: Every table has its own garage can, broom, and dustpan. At the end of class we have a clean up time. This is one of the routines we learn on the first day of class. Get the garbage can out and start picking up things from the table top that be e thrown away. Another student walks around the table doing a floor-check. Another looks under the table and the fourth get that broom and gets busy sweeping.
One of the classroom routines we use to teach about community and responsibility is the clean up crew. At the beginning of the year you train some kids to be sweepers and plant waterers and garbage patrol and then they teach others and after about two months this this works perfectly. You watch over the little sweeties until they are cleaning up the way you taught them and then you release them to those jobs! Excellent.
What about specials? Is there a need for a clean up crew?
Big surprise! When I started as a specialist I had no idea that clean up was going to be such a big deal. But it is.
HUGE!
Here's what I do for this procedure and how we manage it at the end of class:
Every table has its own garage can, broom, and dustpan. At the end of class we have a clean up time. We learn this procedure on the first day of class. Get the garbage can out and start picking up things from the table top that need to be thrown away. One student walks around the table doing a floor-check. Another looks under the table and the fourth gets that broom and gets busy sweeping. The stools are moved back out of the way and for a few intense minutes we are all cleaning. Each group dumps its small garbage can in the big can and then all the cleaning tools are placed back on their shelves. The room is ready for the next class.

Do we practice this? You better believe we do! 
On the first day we walk through all the steps- Move the stools, walk around the table, floor check, sweep, dump, put it all back. I am thinking this year I may even walk around and throw some junk on the floor to help with the practice! Ha! Won't that be fun!?
Here's one more hint: When I know the tabletops are going to need to be wiped off I place some wet wash cloths in a dish pan and kids use those to wipe off their tables. Wash cloths work much better than paper towels!


Wow, do we all have different routines for this one! It does depend on your age group, but with my third graders we learned on day one what this procedure/routine would be. Check this blog post for more procedures to tackle in the first week of school!
Wow, do we all have different routines for this one! It does depend on your age group, but with my third graders we learned on day one what this procedure/routine would be. I had a magnet board by the door and each student had a magnet. When one needed to go to the bathroom the magnet was moved into the bathroom space and off that student would go. One at a time, hurry, flush, wash your hands, get a drink, and come right back.

So, what on earth do specialists do? This has turned out not to be a huge issue for me. A lot of teachers have students stop in the restroom on the way to a special so they usually arrive ready to work. However, I do have a very simple plan. A boy and girl pass is hanging by the door. During work time if you must go, get the right pass, place it on the counter by the door, go to the bathroom, hurry, flush, wash, and get back! 

It has occurred to me that I will have to re-think my plan for my new first and second graders so if you have any magic tips for me with those ages, please leave me a comment!




How do you store classroom materials? Do you have community bins or do kids keep their own things? Check this post for some hints about teaching procedures for materials!
Big. Huge. Deal.
How do you store classroom materials?
Do you have community bins or do kids keep their own things?
In my former third grade class each student had a school box in which we kept glue sticks, pencils, scissors, and erasers. All the fun supplies were stored in cubbies so kids would not play with them all day.

But, specials are sooooooo different! A lot of specials only use pencils and paper so I am thinking it might be easier than a regular classroom. 
Here's my procedure:
Each table has a main supply caddy with scissors and pencils and sharpies.
Each table has two supply drawers with markers, colored pencils, rulers, clip boards, and paper. 
Need a new pencil? Turn in the old one and get a freshly sharpened one. That's about as hard as it gets with my materials. The very first time we use any of the materials I have kids open the drawers and see what is in them. We practice taking things out and placing them back. I have kids pretend they need a new pencil and go to the pencil cups to trade in a bad one for a sharpened one. 

Here's a couple of hints for specialists:
We never use crayons. They break off and get ground into the floor. We use markers and colored pencils.
Speaking of pencils... are you ready for this?
This year I am going to try ink pens for lab work with my big kids. Bic pens. They won't need to be sharpened, they can't be taken apart, they don't break, and they last a long time. I will let you know how this goes!
And, yes, I am going to have to invent a procedure for using those pens..........*sigh*


One last hint for specialists: If you want to cement these procedures you have to practice them for the first whole month of school. The ones in this post are the first five we tackle. On the second day kids come to me we repeat and practice these and then learn a couple of new things. The next week we practice everything and learn a couple more..... you get it, I know!

Alright, maybe you learned a few little hints to head into the school year.
Go check out more Five for Friday posts with Doodlebugs Teaching!