Tuesday, September 27, 2016

STEM Lab: part 3

After finishing my introduction to STEM during the first rotation (first two weeks of school) I began having my students build towers. This is when I began to teach the Engineering Design Process. While there are different versions of the process, I use these simple five steps:
  1. ASK: Define the problem
  2. IMAGINE: Brainstorm possible solutions
  3. PLAN: Think, Sketch, Label
  4. CREATE: Make a prototype and test it
  5. IMPROVE: How can you modify your design and make it better
Building towers is a very simple way to begin understanding the process, is done with simple materials, and can be done by grades K - 5. Here are some pictures of our towers:

Grades 2-5 build with 24 plastic shot glass cups from the Dollar Tree. Their challenge was to build the tallest tower. What I did not tell them was that once it was built I would blow on it. All the towers from their first attempt crashed and then they redesigned to build stronger. We talked about the importance of the foundation of a building.

The kindergarten and first-grade classes had 12 cups. They used these larger cups which were much easier for them. They got very creative in finding ways to build high. They also used paper cups and we compared the different materials. The plastic cups were stronger, the paper cups were taller. Each pair of students had a chance to build with both and were very excited to be able to try different designs.

This "foundation" lesson is one that we refer to throughout the year. In the upper grades, we have a STEM notebook where we record what each class discovers in their hands-on work. This is an adjustment for me from teaching STEM in my own third-grade class. I am not able to have everyone keep a notebook when I teach 6 different classes daily :) So far this seems to be working for us.

Another "management" technique I have fallen into is to designate each two-week rotation as a unit. We are now in unit four (the towers was unit 2) and I have one more unit before the first quarter ends in October. I am going to try to keep sharing our work on the blog, including writing about the three ASD units (autism spectrum) who come to me and my search for engaging projects with accomodations for special needs students.

Happy teaching, and remember: every teacher should be a STEM teacher!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Making the Move to STEM part two

After cleaning up all those boxes I showed you in my last post, I have a very nice STEM lab.



I see six classes daily in this room. My morning is filled with intermediate grades and I have primary students during the afternoon. The school year started on a Wednesday and the rotations go through two weeks to see all the students. Along with the rules and routines that are part of the first days I planned to jump right into an introduction to STEM.

One thing I want to do this year is to highlight various STEM careers. I purchased a set of posters from Lakeshore Learning and you can see the first two on my Careers board in one of the pictures. I look for short youtube videos to help explain the careers as well as using the printed information on the back of each poster.

For my first challenges, the fourth and fifth-grade students built perches for Harry so he could see the classroom.

Second and third-graders tried to save Sam by getting his life jacket on.

The kindergarten and first-grade classes built with the Duplo block kits. 

It was a successful first two weeks. Students were engaged and were having fun. Their teachers kept telling me that they talked about STEM constantly and wanted to know when they could go back. I'll be sharing in future posts about our beginning lessons on the Engineering Design Process as well as incorporating our three ASD (autism spectrum) units into the classes. Until them, happy teaching!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Making The Move to STEM: part 1

I haven't written a blog post since the end of July. Like many of you, I've been busy with back to school! For me, August has been a month of learning a new job - which I am loving. School started here on August 10th, so we have 18 days under our belts and I'm ready to share a little bit from my new classroom.
I am still at the same school but have moved from teaching 3rd-grade math and science to two classrooms. Now I teach STEM as a special area class to the entire school. With over 950 students that takes a full two weeks. Some grade levels have to split one or two classes to get them all in. We also have three ASD units that come with their grade level, so some of my classes are pretty full.
I am loving my new classroom - I had to move from an upstairs room where I had taught for the last six years to a downstairs room. My favorite thing is that there is a parking spot right outside my back door - since I need to make a quick getaway at the end of the day it is perfect.
I will share a few pictures of my room before pre-planning:



As you can see, I have some great cupboard space. Since STEM is very "materials intensive," this is a huge blessing. I am able to keep a lot of the supplies behind closed doors.

I have a few posts planned to show you my classroom and tell you about the STEM challenges we have been doing at the start of the year. I'll leave you today with the one thing I forgot: teaching Kindergarten is like herding cats. I was quickly reminded of that on day one! Before my 7 years in 3rd grade, I had taught kinder for the previous 6 years. I remembered a lot of things, but had to quickly make some changes before my second day of K. More about that later :)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Fiction Friday: July 29th

Today is the last Friday of summer vacation for my district! We report back on Wednesday. I'm going to miss sitting on my couch in the middle of the day with a book.

The Worm Whisperer
Betty Hicks

This was the last of the Sunshine State books that I read this spring. It is a very sweet story about a young man named Ellis who loves animals. He spends a lot of time out in nature and thinks he can communicate with many of the animals. When he finds a caterpillar that seems to respond to his directions he believes he might be a "worm whisperer." This is important because his community has a "Woolly Worm Race" event every year. The grand prize is $1,000. That just happens to be the amount of the deductible for the surgery his Dad needs but can't afford. The story is set in a town in North Carolina that really does have a Woolly Worm Festival every year.

I loved the family relationships in this story. Dad can't work because of his back injury and Mom is working three jobs to make ends meet. There just doesn't seem to be any way to get the money so he can have the surgery. There are some twists and turns in the story - it doesn't exactly turn out the way Ellis plans, which makes it much more fun. This one is another great read-aloud and is under 200 pages.

The Terrible Two
Jory John and Mac Barnett

Miles has just moved to a new town and school. And he's not happy about it! He had to leave all his friends, but worst of all he left behind his reputation as a master prankster. He assumes he will be able to pull off great pranks here, but discovers there is already a prankster at work - and he is awesome. Miles sees this as a competition with the mysterious prankster; when he finds out who it is he is extremely surprised. I'm not going to give it away here, but this is another fun read, and already has a second book in the series.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

STEM on a Shoestring: Part III

This is my third post about STEM resources from the Dollar Tree. Of course, if you don't have a Dollar Tree in your area you may find many of the same things at any dollar store.

We will be using cars for some of our force and motion activities. I like being able to pick up 3-packs for just $1.00!


I use these little cups for building towers. I was excited to go in and see the colored ones - not that they will work differently but it will be fun to give a different color to my groups!

I always end up raiding my kitchen drawers to scrounge up measuring cups. These will be great!

We are going to be learning about wind energy this year so I want to have different types of pinwheels. I love the flower ones!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Made It: July 25

I have just one more Monday before reporting back to work on August 3rd. It has been a short summer but a good one. I'm looking forward to the new challenge of teaching in the STEM lab and negotiating all the other changes at school!

In the STEM lab many lessons take more than one class period. Because it will often be two weeks before I see the same class again I need a system to organize their written work. My plan is a crate for each grade level with a hanging file for each class. That way if they have been working on sketching their designs they can just file them in the appropriate folder and pull them out when they come back to me. Of course, each crate needs a label! I'll be attaching these with zip ties and will be ready to go.

This week I have enlisted my granddaughter's help to start putting things away in my classroom. I've been making labels (and btw, it is hard to think of all the labels I may need from home!) and laminating them to put on storage boxes as we organize. I'm sure I'll come home with a list of labels to include!

Last but not least - I put together this quilt top for my older son. He lives in Philadelphia so I decided to go with patriotic fabric. Once I choose border fabric I will be ready to get both the quilts I finished this summer quilted and ready for Christmas gifts.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fiction Friday: July 22nd

Happy Friday everyone! Today I have two books for you from the Sunshine State list.

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables

Elise Allen and Daryle Connors

Middle schooler Gabby Duran is a babysitter who can tame the most difficult children. We first meet her on a movie set to watch over a star's triplets. No one else can handle these three, but she has them eating out of her hand. Because of her mad skills, she gets top dollar for her babysitting jobs and is much in demand. So much that she has come to the attention of Agent Associate 4118-23432B who recruits Gabby into a top-secret organization dealing with aliens! Alien children need babysitters too and Abby is just the girl for the job. 

Gabby accepts the (lucrative) job - she is helping her single mom support the family - and a wild adventure begins. The authors have a second book out in this series for those who get hooked by the fun. The book is recommended for 8 - 12 year olds.

Serafina's Promise


Ann E. Burg

Novels in verse are a somewhat new experience for me (Kwame Alexander and Jacqueline Woodson were the first author's to catch my fancy). This one tells the story of a young Haitian girl who dreams of becoming a doctor to help people. You will love Serafina, I believe. She is inspiring in her steadfast goal of going to school. Of course, I read the book with some dread. At one point I may have said out loud, "Please don't let the earthquake happen." 

Of course, the earthquake does happen. Before that, though, there is a devastating flood. How do you recover from the tragedies when you are already struggling to survive? I think this book is a great potential read-aloud with lots of discussion about poverty, culture, and resilience. Sad things happen in this book but there is an indomitable spirit also.

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