Five for Friday - May 15: All About failures in STEM Class

Happy Friday everyone!

Five more school days for me!
How about you?

So what am I up to with today's post?
STEM Challenges: Hands-on learning is the best way, but sometimes things don't go as planned. Read more on this blog post all about those times when things went awry!

The month of May has been quite a circus at my school- as I am sure has been the case with you guys, too!
So, let's make this post a celebration of all the ways my classroom has turned into a zoo....or circus...

Linking with Doodlebugs again for a fabulous Friday discussion.

If you read my blog, and I hope you do, then you know that I only teach STEM/Science and I frequently use this space to talk about the great things we accomplish in our lab.
Lest you think I am a superwoman and all things are always terrific, let's take a look at some not-so-great moments, my failure moments! Call it a circus... or a zoo.... or a normal classroom!

Fail #1:
STEM Challenge: The idea was to pull back on the meter stick and allow it to project the little cars. We would measure the distances and determine how much force was needed to go the greatest distance! Sounds great, right? Read this post to find out how this worked!

STEM: It seemed like such a great idea to have the kids test Newton's Laws of Motion buusing these meter sticks as the thrust on the little cars! Read this blog post to find out what happened!
Okay, well the idea here was to have the kids test Newton's Laws of Motion- one of which says (paraphrasing here) that the more force applied the more distance an object will travel. 
So, how to apply a force to a little red car?  Hmmm, just having the kids push lightly, medium, and hard seemed out of the question as I could just imagine them throwing cars across the room.
So, the car whackers were born. 
It only took me about a minute and a half to know this was a bad idea. The kids were supposed to pull back the rather flimsy yard stick to a certain distance and let go. The stick should  fly forward and strike the car. The more you pull it back the farther the car should go. Right?
Too many uncontrollable variables. It depends on the person pulling back and how the stick slides on the floor and so many other things. We tried it for two classes and then I ditched this idea.
Besides by then I had two broken sticks and at least three kids that got popped in the head by a swinging stick.
Apparently they also make great twirling batons.

The take-away: we had great discussions about variables- which makes me think the kids understand that concept!

Fail #2
STEM Challenge: My idea was to have kids test different ingredients in pancake batter and determine the right amount of some ingredients to make the best pancake. So, why didn't this work? Read the blog post to find out!

Okay, well who doesn't love cooking with kids?
Hmmmmm.....loaded question, right?
My idea was to have kids test different ingredients in pancake batter and determine the right amount of some ingredients to make the best pancake. It is a FABULOUS STEM challenge.
And I mean that.
So, why is it a failure?
MEASURING, that's why. Now, mind you, I am not saying nobody cooks anymore, but really nobody cooks. I mean we open boxes and frozen things and throw dinner together. I am guilty of that, too. So, it is no wonder that kids can't use measuring cups and spoon up some flour. Lots of adults can't do that either! So, first I had to show them how to level flour on a measuring spoon and in a measuring cup! And, you know what? They actually did quite well with it! It just took five hundred years! So, I gave up on having the kids do the measuring and did it myself. I used about ten thousand little cups and all they had to do was pour in a cup! The experiment was truly amazing and we also got to eat pancakes!

The take-away: they definitely know that a chemical reaction is happening with pancake batter and they know it needs to be perfect if you want the pancake to taste good!

Fail #3
STEM: I discovered the lab kids already knew so much about circuits! They were hooking up parallel and series circuits like nobody's business. WHich led them to being rather creative! Do you know what happens when you hook up 5 batteries to one tiny light bulb? Read this blog post to find out!

Doesn't that look interesting?
Let me explain.
My state has this wonderful science and math program that includes four hands-on science kits for each grade level for each school year. The kits arrive in 1-2 big boxes with everything you need. It's really cool! So, a couple of years ago my school system purchased engineering kits for each grade level to extend one of those kits. For fourth grade the engineering kit is about electric circuits.
The teachers at my school gave me all their circuit kits.
Heaven, right?
I spent hours, hours, making lab sheets for circuits to have them build. I bought circuit clipart so the sheets would look great. I was really pleased.
When I handed these out in the lab, it took the kids about 4 minutes to be finished. They already knew so much about circuits that these follow up lessons were not needed. They were hooking up parallel and series circuits like nobody's business.
And there were 45 minutes of class left.
So, I told them to just explore.
945 batteries later we wrote about what we had learned that day.
1. If you hook 5 batteries to one bulb the bulb will explode. (I blogged about this a long time ago.)
2. Batteries don't last long when you open and close the switches a lot! (That's why we needed 945 batteries. And I'm talking about D cell batteries, the ones that cost 8 million dollars.)
3. Buzzers are super easy to hook up and they are also very, like extremely annoying. (This was one of the tasks- hook up a buzzer that will alarm when you open a box.)
4. Exploring with circuits is so much more fun than doing lab sheets.
Oh well.

Fail #4
STEM Challenge: The story behind testing different materials to use in a water filter was very promising. However, we quickly discovered the materials ALL let tremendous amounts of water through, which led to spills and puddles! Great lessons learned anyway! Read this blog post to find out more!
So, this challenge was from an engineering kit that was given to me from an engineering company (and I will not tell you which one because they will not like all the stuff I am about to say.)
Basically, the kids experimented with about ten different materials to discover which would allow the best water flow to come through the material in a specific amount of time. The materials were things like netting, waxed paper, foil, and cheesecloth.The story from the engineering kit was about frog skin, but I didn't use that story because I thought it was silly and I really didn't think my kids would buy into it. So, I made up my own story. My story was about designing a filter system rather than a membrane.
Anyway, testing the materials was interesting, but it used 80 gallons of water which was spilled rather regularly. After I swiped the second giant roll of paper towels from the custodian closet I was pretty much done with this one.
In the end we knew to never make a filter out of aluminum foil or netting.
Pretty sure I would just use a coffee filter....just sayin'

Fail #5
Lab Fail: This seemed like such a great experiment to learn about friction? Did it work?? Read this post to find out!
Who doesn't love a good friction experiment?
I mean this looks pretty basic, right?
So, I spent, like 17 hours cutting those cute little boxes and reinforcing them so they would not fall apart. Then I made the zip lock bag things by attaching string to them and to get the string in the boxes I had to use a giant needle so that took another 16 hours. We were ready to prove that friction creates an imbalance in forces and will slow down an object. Once we proved this we would make roller coasters!
Yeah, right.
So, here's what really happened.
First, we spilled pennies about every seven minutes.
Then, we had extraordinary amounts of pennies filling up the box, but the table next to us had movement after three pennies so why were we getting such different results?
Then, we had about 14 strings that got in knots because the box would slide off the table.
Then we had some kids measuring in centimeters and some in inches so that skewed our data.
Finally I had enough of this insanity and I said, "HOLD IT! STOP EVERYTHING! I will be right back!"
I went to my storage closet and got out the giant box of foam tubes, which luckily were already cut and ready to go. I threw those down and said, "Friction slows things down, build some roller coasters!" Then I made myself a cup of coffee and watched the kids have a blast.
STEM Challenge: Foam tube roller coasters- the perfect STEM challenge. Super easy, kids love it, they will beg to do it over and over, and it's fun!

So, there you have it,
I have tons of failures in my STEM Lab.
But it is so fun. I love it when things don't work because it gives us a chance to discover why and talk about the science behind it. That's real learning, people! That is why failure is so important!

Just so you will know, this post had a little hyperbole thrown in.
Have a great weekend!

Not everything we do fails! Sometimes we are great problem solvers:


Five for Friday! May 8

Today is Field Day at my school!
I do not have a regular classroom.
Therefore I have not much to do on Field Day.
So I took the day off!

This week's Five for Friday theme: Reading Aloud

So, let's get serious about reading aloud to kids.
When I had a regular classroom it was my absolute favorite thing to do.
I made time for it every single day!
We read a lot of picture books for language related lessons, but we also read aloud from a chapter book daily.

So, when I moved to a lab for my classroom I set up this:

Those are my favorite read aloud books and I put them behind my desk. It was a little bit of comfort at making such a big change. The books and photos of my children made my little corner of the lab feel comfy, cozy, peaceful, like a security blanket.
This week I started taking all those books home- cause I don't read aloud any more.

So, just to cheer me up a little I thought I would devote this post to my favorite read aloud chapter books. (I have so many that this is likely to be Part 1 of a series of posts!)

My number one favorite book to read aloud is this one:
This is the story of Mr. Fabiano and his class. One day he is absent and the substitute is also absent. Due to a mix-up in the office no one shows up to teach the class. And the kids don't tell anyone.
The kids run the classroom all day- based on routines and procedures that Mr. Fab always used. They follow the lesson plan from the board and several students take on leadership roles. Do they have problems? Of course!
The beauty of this book lies in the writing the students do during the day. It is through each student's journaling that you learn about them as individuals and that insight makes the book special. There is a part near the end in which something happens that ALWAYS made my students gasp and then cheer.
I always began the year reading this book. My routines and procedures mirrored this class so perfectly that my students thought I wrote this book.
I didn't! The fabulous Ralph Fletcher did!

Another book I adore for reading aloud:
My boys always loved this book because the main character is a football playing boy! His nickname is Crash. Early in the book he meets a new kid named Penn Webb. Penn becomes the butt of jokes between Crash and his friends and is often picked on and bullied. Eventually Crash and Penn are both trying out for the track team. It comes down to a race off between the two to decide who gets the last available spot. Penn wants the spot because in Pennsylvania (where they live) the track team will go to a competition called the Penn Relays. Penn's great grandfather was in this special race and it means a lot to him to be in it, too.
At the finish line of the race-off Penn and Crash are running dead even. At the last second Crash realizes what an amazing gift it will be for Penn to win this race and he shouts, "Lean." (He knows that sometimes the runner that leans into the finish line has enough of an edge to win.)
I promise, cross my heart, this is such an emotional point of this book. Every single time I read this part my students were on their knees mesmerized by the story. When I got to the sentence where Crash says "Lean!" I shouted it because that is what Crash would have done. And the next two sentences have a profound impact. NEVER did I make it through those two sentences without crying. I love this book.
You are going to have to read it to find out who won that race.....

The funniest book ever and one I LOVED reading just because of the voices:
Oh, my, reader, if you haven't tried this book, you simply must. It begins with a very tiny mouse named Despereaux, whose very French mother says to the mouse dad, "There will be no more mice babeeeeez." I absolutely love to say that in a french accent! This book will make your kids laugh so much. In the end it's all about friendship and keeping your promise. And it constantly reminds you to be a reader. (Don't watch the movie. It is very different and very disappointing.)

A classic that I always read just because boys loved it. But so did I:
You may know this story. The boy, Travis, is about 12 and in the 1860's (I think) his dad goes off on a cattle drive and leaves him to care for his mom and little brother Arliss. Soon after that a big yeller dog appears and they keep him. My kids always loved this book, I mean LOVED it. Old Yeller saves Little Arliss from a charging momma bear, Travis keeps a major promise to Old Yeller when the dog is seriously wounded, and in the end you learn just how tragic it is to lose a beloved pet. When I would get to the sentence that says this, "But I knew then that I had to shoot my big yeller dog," I would always just sit for a minute to compose myself and with tears streaming down their faces the kids would listen to the last paragraph of that chapter.
So, why did I read it every year?
Because in the last chapter of the book Travis' dad comes home and finds the family distraught over the death of Old Yeller. This is what dad says to Travis, "Things like this happen. They may seem mighty cruel and unfair, but that's how life is a part of the time. But that isn't the only way life is. A part of the time, it's mighty good. A man can't afford to waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad."
Such incredible wisdom.

A newer book that we discovered was a goldmine for learning to be writers:
This is the story of Miss Cash who invites Ms. Mirabel into the classroom to help the children with their writing. Ms. Mirabel tells the students that they all have a story inside themselves. "When you find it, you will write it. Word after word after word."
And they do. This is a beautifully written book by Patricia MacLachlan.
Each of the children in the book reveals something unique through their writing. Even the teacher, Miss Cash, writes something at the end.
My favorite part is when Ms. Mirabel brings in a bag of dirt to show the students. They wonder what it is for and she explains that the dirt represents her heart, her home, her place of belonging. Miss Cash then tells the kids that she keeps a jar of ocean water in her home because that is her place, her comfort.
On the last day of school with my last third grade class I asked them, "What would be in your jar?"

What would be in your jar, friends?
Mine would be full of books....


Currently ~ May

It is May.
Thank you May for showing up!
Only a teacher understands this.
I love my job, but boy is it nice to see May get here.
It's also nice to visit Farley for the monthly Currently! Sure hope that cast comes off your arm soon, Farley!

So what is going on with me lately?
Take a look:

to my large cat snoring.
This is Luigi- my oldest and largest cat. I hardly ever mention him.
It's because he is just a bland cat.
I mean last night I heard my  husband say, "Hey did you hear that?"
It was Luigi meowing. Once. That's it. He meows about once a year. He eats, walks really slowly, and sleeps. That's all. He will chase a lazer pointer for about 4 seconds and then he remembers he is too dignified for that. He weighs 18 pounds! And he snores!

Have you been watching Outlander?

If you have not read the book series go right now and buy the first book. Then you need to watch this series on Starz. Mind you, it's graphic, but you will get over that pretty quickly when you see Jamie Fraser......just sayin'

about our latest adventures in the STEM Lab!
Y'all we are having the best time. I almost (but not quite) think it's not the last 15 days of school when kids have lost their minds.
First up, my third graders are designing boats. This is one of the first STEM challenges I ever tried (in October 2013) and it is my best selling package at Teachers Pay Teachers.
This week I gave it an overhaul and added some new features to the experience. We loved it! I am working hard on getting the challenge updated and will upload it soon! If you already own it, check in a few days and snag the updated version. Here's some photos of the thirdies boats!

My fourth graders are creating the most amazing device that I call Cargo Drops. More about this one later when we have finished the whole challenge. Here's a sneak peek:

In this one I gave the kids some supplies which included THREE index cards. One student said, "Hey, Mrs. Davis, if you had given us 4 cards I could make a box." My reply, "Yep, but that would make it too easy, right?"

UGH! a new handbag! I complain about this all the time. I have a beautiful bag I ordered about a year ago and I did like it, but, you know we have to trade out to a new one occasionally, right?
I need a shoulder bag- with two sections.ONE handle. Not shoulder handles and carry handles.
An outside pocket for my phone and car keys. Most importantly it needs to look modern, not like an organizer bag that my mother would carry.....
Maybe like this....
Isn't that gorgeous? Except, why does it have two sets of handles? It does have two zipper compartments you cannot see and then a middle section, so that's good.
Sadly, it is $328.....
I need the Target version of this...

Book recommendations!
I am almost finished with this one:

It's a heartbreaking story of Willow, a 12 year old genius. She is totally misunderstood because of her proclivity for use of advanced vocabulary (notice that big word I threw in there)! She is even accused of cheating on a standardized test on which she scored a perfect mark. Sadly, her parents are both killed in a car accident and she is taken in by Mai and her family. Mai, her mother Pattie, her brother Quang-Ha, Willow's counselor Dell, and a taxi driver are all part of Willow's story. It's a beautifully written book!
So, what should I read next??


My summer Vegas. The TpT Conference is going to be awesome. We are going to be there for extra days and a drive to the Grand Canyon is planned!

My summer HOPE.... Exercise. I need to get back to working out more consistently! Walking every morning is also excellent for me- I listen to books on tape while I walk!

My summer DREAM... an Alaskan Cruise. We are going to do this in the next year! Maybe not this summer, but maybe in the fall. If you have been on this cruise what time of year is best?

Have an ah-MAY-zing month!

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