Dare To Be… Different.

February 7, 2016

I have this memory of my early days in teaching.  My student teaching supervisor said my lesson was “All wrong.”  She felt there was far too much talking and movement in the room.  I went home crushed.  I had failed.  The room wasn’t silent like my Harry Wong book suggested.  She suggested I “stick to the textbook a bit more.”

There was no encouragement to follow my intuition, to be myself, or to find my own “flow” as a teacher. Instead, I was presented with an array of tools, like the Madeline Hunter lesson plan and forms that reminded me to tell kids what to learn then test them to see if they remembered it.   Ironically, the same “game” of school I had to learned to play as a kid was presenting itself to me as a teacher, and I was the one being encouraged to run it.

There was no room for creativity.

I wish someone, somewhere along the way had stopped me and said, “What do you think?” I wish someone in my student teaching had tossed a textbook in the trash can and gone all Dead Poet’s Society on me.  I wish someone had said that doing things differently would cause waves, even cause people to dislike you for a variety of reasons.  And most of all, I wish someone had said, “Be yourself anyway, because THAT is what kids and your colleagues need.”

Education doesn’t need billions of identical teachers doing identical things in identical ways. Education needs YOU. It needs ME.  It needs the crazy mismatched unique patchwork of people that make up a school.  It needs people who speak quietly and people who shout.  It needs people who love to learn in a hands on way and people who love to take notes.  It needs them all.  Because it’s only in that fiber of differences that we are able to reach each and every single kid who passes through our doors.

Most of all? It needs people who have the courage to follow their hearts, dreams, goals, and desires to be exactly who they are, no matter what.  And that would have been a great tip in my early days of teaching.  But nevertheless, a great tip that’s never too late to learn.

grateful

Squish the Boredom and Power Up Play with Squishy Circuits

February 6, 2016

squish1Full disclosure: I’m embarrassed of the way I taught circuits in my classroom many years ago.  I was bored with the topic.  I mainly lectured to my 10 year old students and asked them to draw a circuit. Then we moved on faster than I could grade the tests and check their regurgitation. I’m sharing this because I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.  We weren’t taught how much fun circuitry can really be, nor were we encouraged in our teacher training to veer off the path of the textbook and engage kids with Playdoh.  But everything has changed in my mind.

Squishy Circuits are featured in this amazing TED Talk by AnnMarie Thomas.    It takes the intimidation of wires out of learning about circuitry, conduction, and electricity, and puts the focus on clay, colorful lights, and your imagination.   While this activity primarily makes it way through younger maker crowds, it’s great for makers of all ages.

What do you need to get started?

You can get the entire Squishy Circuits Kit based on University of St. Thomas’s work.  The kit is honestly well worth the initial cost. It’s reusable and you won’t have to hunt around for the parts to get started.  But if you are looking to start smaller, you can purchase the materials yourself.  Here’s what you need:

squish2The minimum? A 4 AA battery pack. LED lights. Playdoh, or make your own homemade dough that contains salt.  The salt is key for conducting.

TIP: LED lights come in a variety of sizes. I love the 10mm size, especially for tiny hands, but the 3mm and 5mm size are more widely available and less expensive.  Their lights are equally impressive.

Taking it to the next level?  The minimum, plus modeling clay, an electric buzzer.   The modeling clay, a non-conductor, allows kids to build clay figures using the clay as a barrier in the Playdoh.  squish3

After the art of positive and negative creations are mastered, add in Copper tape to lengthen the leads and raise the bar.  Toss in a motor to add spin to designs. Cardboard to build bigger and better.  Cardboard, just like the modeling clay, is a great barrier between the positive and negative dough. Kids can experiment with what conducts or doesn’t conduct. Paper? Cardboard? Model Magic?  Plastic? Small wood scraps?

What do Squishy Circuits Offer Students Across the Curriculum?

Reading:  What book character can I build?  How might I light up words I’ve built with dough?  Where can I read about circuits in the library?

Writing: How do circuits work? What kind of story can I create about the creature I built with light up hair?   What will happen if I try…?

Math: How many volts are the batteries?  How many lights will this set of batteries power?   How long does my wire need to be to reach the playdough?

Science:  What is a conductor?  What materials conduct electricity?  How do I build a circuit?  How do LED’s work?  How can I use copper tape instead of Playdoh in a similar way?  Do humans conduct electricity?

Social Studies:  How might I use LED’s to light up a topographical map?  How was electricity developed and by who?  What careers are available in the field of electricity?

But these questions will be even more powerful if you start with one thing….

Play.  Explore.  Let them try things.  Try things yourself. See what happens.

And Playdoh becomes the foundation for playing, learning, and reimagining science in the classroom.  Design, dreaming, and doing.  The way it was meant to be.

 

 

 

Teaching

January 31, 2016

I wrote this quote several years ago and realized how it still rings true.  Teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.  Although my role has changed and I’m lucky enough to teach teachers, teach students, and teach myself on a daily basis, I’m still a learner first.  I updated this one with some fun colors and a mosaic background, because our teaching life is made of millions of tiny learning moments, melded together into one unique experience that makes us who we are as a teacher.  And that? It’s something pretty special.

teaching

Robotics Across the Curriculum For Your Youngest Learners

January 30, 2016

12568128_1761732980714566_943945061_nBee-Bot-1lmwotyWhy is robotics awesome?  Because it can fit ANYWHERE in the curriculum.  It’s problem solving, critical thinking, cooperative learning, collaboration, play, exploration, creativity, and grit… all in one.    It’s often thought of as an afterschool program or an enrichment.  But robotics should be part of the everyday classroom.  Why? Because it has so much to offer.

Please don’t think of it as “one more thing to add in.” It’s not another “subject.”

Some of my favorite robots for the youngest learners are definitely the BeeBot and Dot & Dash.   They provide entry-level fun, but can be made more challenging instantly, with a few tweaks to your course, objective, or mat.

Incorporate Literacy:  Kids are enjoying great books all the time, right?  Then use those stories to incorporate robotics.  Dash can be driven via the app Go, and once students have the hang of driving him, they can use additional apps to code his route.  Print pictures from the book, spread them out by attaching them to plastic cups and ask students to retell the story by driving Dash through the book.    I’ve also used Rosie’s Walk with BeeBots, and the Hungry Caterpillar.  We won’t stop there – books make the perfect subject for robotics and young children.  BeeBotCommands

Make it Mathematical:  Measure how far Dash can travel in 10 seconds. Measure how far he can go in 20.  Estimate how long it will take him to travel from your classroom door to the water fountain.  Have kids design a course for Dash – and they’ll have to use some measurement if they plan to use coding.  BeeBots are based on 15 cm squares, like the Hungry Caterpillar mat above that I created.  Older kids could do multiplication and advanced math by creating a mat like this.  How many trips around the board is a mile?  That would be fun to figure out.

Other possibilities, toss play money around on the floor.  Drive Dash to the coins or bills.  If he circles the money, students get to add the total to their “bank.” They could see how much money they can collect in five minutes.  For added practice, create a graph of money collected by Dash each day.

Diary of a Robot: Students will love writing stories about Dash. Dress him up in costumes and make him a center.  Take some fun photos of him around town.  Students can select a photo and write or tell a story about Dash.

dash_and_dot-9f97ec434039a9f6271b0ef2379f1e2fSocial Studies: Whether kids are learning about community workers or careers, ask them to create a course for Dash as a “doctor” or a “police man.”  They could draw pictures to place around the floor that show Dash working as that career.  Then, they can share their course with each other and drive Dash on his journey “working” through a day in the life of that career.

Additionally, North, South, East, and West are easily taught using code.  Place the compass rose on your mat and students can get more specific.  Have kids write directions for Dash to drive to the playground.  That’s a challenge!

Don’t have robots in your classroom yet?  Make some arrow cards for students to line up to tell another person how to move.  The cards could also be drawn on wooden blocks.  Students line up the code, then have a partner follow it.  Boards similar to the BeeBot mat above would be perfect for kids to practice on.  You can even download this book from Code.org and find arrow cards and cut and paste sheets inside.   Have students act out each other’s code will help them practice reading the code and writing it.  Plus, it’s fun to pretend to be a robot, right?  Of course it is, whether you’re five or thirty five.  Or maybe that’s just me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Wait To Make

January 29, 2016

make1Just about every day I get an email from someone asking, “How do I start making in my classroom?” And you know what the next statement often is?  “Since I don’t have a maker space in my school.”   The good news? You don’t need a makerspace to make.  Classroom desks. The floor. The hallway. A table by the windows. Your big ol’ teacher desk. A rug and beanbags on the floor.  Provide the space in the curriculum and the time, and it doesn’t matter where the physical location is.

What if you look at one simple assignment in next week’s lessons?  A reading activity? A math assignment?  And what if you just open it up… make it more creative.  Give the kids more freedom.  Start small with one exploration.  One pile of cardboard.  One block of time for kids to create, collaborate, and design a solution to a problem.

You just don’t need the space to get started.  You just need a little courage to let go and try it.