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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cardboard Creations Challenge

Each year the Imagination Foundation presents a Global Cardboard Challenge. This annual challenge was inspired by the short film, Caine's Arcade.
Caine's Arcade

Cannon Elementary has participated in this challenge in the past with great success. The Cardboard Challenge is a natural extension of our STEM culture and it gives students an opportunity to use the engineering design process along with creative thinking to plan and create!  This year we decided to participate once again but added an 'Earth Day' theme to the challenge. The added challenge of the Earth Day theme was, at first, a little intimidating for these first graders but we researched environmental issues, shared ideas about how to solve problems, checked in daily on progress and offered feedback. Ultimately, our class was well represented and these creations did not disappoint!

Aidan's prototype of a Compost Tumbler takes
leaves and food scraps, rotates them in the tumbler
and in time, produces useful compost for gardens.

Eleanor's prototype of a Windmill Farm
uses wind energy as a non polluting,
clean source of renewable energy.

Ariana's Recycling Robot is
 a clever and creative reminder
to sort and recycle cans, plastic and paper.

Callan designed a Hovercraft using recycled materials.
He explained that the Hovercraft runs on oatmeal so any
 waste can be consumed by animals. He also
explained that if everyone used hovercrafts for transportation
then there would not be a need for roads or the vehicles and
equipment necessary for building roads.

Ipsita's Compost Bin contains leaves, grass,
lettuce, carrots and actual worms, reminding
us that items we might throw away can be combined,
broken down and reused as
nutrient rich compost in gardens.

Tate designed a model for a trash collector/compactor.
The front part of the vehicle sucks the trash in where
it is transported to the compacting machine in the back.
Our world produces a LOT of trash and the space to
house all the trash is a true environmental issue.

This may look like a cute cardboard bunny
but Kailah shared her idea of a Robotic Rabbit that eats litter,
then 'digests it' creating 'waste' that is good for gardens,
grass and plants. Now, that's creative!

Aariz is very interested in the Tesla so it is
no surprise that his cardboard creation
is an electric car with a battery complete with cable.

Ava and Grant created a Compost Bin complete with humus and
worms.  The explanation on the worm shows a clear understanding
of how worms help to transform food scraps into nutrient rich soil.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

First Grade Life Science: Animal Life Cycles

As part of the first grade life science curriculum on life cycles, students are expected to compare ways young animals resemble their parents. At first glance, this standard appears somewhat simple. First graders can surely match baby animals and adult animals, right? In most cases, yes, they can. The challenge, though, is in explaining thinking. This part of the lesson opens opportunities for students to practice making a claim, giving evidence and sharing reasoning. There is also a huge opportunity to teach and build academic vocabulary.

On day 1, a set of familiar baby/parent animal picture cards were used as part of a Mix and Mingle. Mix and Mingle allows students to actively engage in new content by moving around the room and interacting with multiple members of the class. In this case, students holding animal baby picture cards needed to find their partner, a student holding an animal parent picture card. As expected, this activity was fun and fairly simple for students and they were able to easily make matches. The next step in the activity was a bit more challenging. Students were asked to share how they knew that their animals were a match... to give evidence and share reasoning (CER: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning). They began with very nonspecific, general explanations..."They look the same." or "Because the go together.". At this point a sentence stem was introduced and modeled to scaffold responses.

The baby ___ resembles the parent ____ because they both ______. 

The sentence stem served to deepen thinking and promoted more specific vocabulary. 


The baby flamingo resembles the parent flamingo because they both have rounded beaks and long skinny legs.

A class 'Animal Traits Word Wall' was started and additions were made throughout the week making academic vocabulary visible and readily available.

On day 2, students were grouped in 3s and 4s and given a larger group of animal baby/parent picture cards to observe, compare, discuss and pair. This activity allowed for lots of oral practice in using CER statements and academic vocabulary. Ultimately, students were asked to choose one set and use the sentence stem to record their thinking.

On day 3, I read the book, Are you My Mother, by P. D. Eastman. This is the story of a young bird in search of its mother. The bird encounters many different animals (and other things), none of which can be its mother because there are no shared characteristics. 

Using a similar story structure, students then created a plan for a video presentation (using the Draw and Tell app) that would tell the story of a baby animal searching for its mother and encountering other animals that could not be its mother because the animal did not share common characteristics. Students used the sentence stems, 'Are you my mother?' and 'I can not be your mother because...'. 
A story outline template was provided.
  • Page 1: beginning
  • Page 2: encountering the 1st animal (dialog)
  • Page 3: encountering the 2nd animal (dialog)
  • Page 4: encountering the 3rd animal (dialog)
  • Page 5: Ending
I modeled my plan along with my finished product. I think it really helps kids to see an example of an end product expectation.

On day 4, students shared their plans, got feedback, made improvements and prepared their videos. Completed videos were shared via the Seesaw app.

Below are a few examples of their work.






As an unplanned benefit, these videos served as a great formative assessment for the next science standard, investigating how the external characteristics of an animal are related to where it lives, how it moves, and what it eats.

While reviewing the videos, I noticed some misconceptions and/or possible specific vocabulary confusions.

  • All penguins live where it's cold ie in the arctic. 
  • Walruses can be found in Florida. 
  • Tusks and trunks are the same. 
  • Flippers,wings and arms are the same.
Armed with this knowledge, I can plan lessons, resources and my own specific language to clear up these misconceptions next week.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

1st Grade Interactive Word Walls, Academic Vocabulary and Writing in the Content Areas

I have been making a concerted effort over the past few years to more intentionally integrate writing into content areas. I have observed that given a supportive structure, even the most struggling writers are successful in writing about their learning. It has also been interesting to observe students' desire to use academic language. One tool that I have found to be unparalleled in its effectiveness in achieving this goal is the use of content specific interactive word walls. (Shout out to Professor Julie Jackson for sharing her enthusiasm and expertise in this area! If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, she will change how you teach science.)

When I begin a new Science unit, I carefully examine the TEKS to clarify EXACTLY what students need to know and be able to do. In years past, I was guilty of 'scanning' the TEKS, or 'remembering from last year' and often making up my own verbs. I've learned that it is critical for me to be diligent here - the vertical alignment between grade levels depends on it and it is essential for student success. Next, I check the academic vocabulary required for the unit.

I then use the 5E model for planning out the unit. There are always a number of Engage and Explore investigations for any given unit. It is during these lesson pieces that students make connections, draw on experiences, manipulate materials and focus attention on the concept or process being learned. Academic vocabulary is used by the teacher and encouraged in students.

It is during the Explain part of the unit of study that the interactive word wall becomes an essential tool. This is where the rubber meets the road if your goal is teaching academic vocabulary and you wish to facilitate writing in this content area. It is during this time that students have opportunities to first verbalize then read and write using academic vocabulary, giving examples and definitions for more formal terms.

The Elaborate stage of the unit allows students to dig a little deeper, refine skills and perhaps pursue and area of interest. This is where higher levels of Blooms can come into play...with the task, not necessarily the TEKS. As a STEM teacher, this is often where I am able to integrate design challenges that are tied to the content and follow the Engineering Design Process.

The Evaluate stage of the unit is pretty self explanatory...students demonstrate mastery of key concepts and skills.

For the purpose of this blog post, I would like to focus on the Explain phase of the the 5E lesson model with examples of how an interactive word wall supports the use of academic vocabulary and enables students to explain their thinking.

We are closing in on completion of a 1st grade unit on Forms of Energy (1.6).  Following engaging investigations and explorations in each of the areas: heat energy, light energy and sound energy, I presented a circle map where students brainstormed examples of that energy (heat, light or sound). I acted as scribe and wrote their examples on Post-It notes. Each student then chose an example. They were directed to  label, illustrate and write about the form of energy, specifically how the energy is helpful in everyday life. The academic vocabulary for this unit included heat, light, sound and energy. The specific TEKS required students to "Identify and discuss how different forms of energy such as light, heat, and sound are important to everyday life".
I presented a sentence stem to support successful use of vocabulary and an explanation tied to the TEK.
I claim that _____ is a source of _____ energy.
_______ energy helps _________________. 

Below are several examples of student work. Notice how each of these examples - in fact all of my students' work - illustrated understanding of the vocabulary and the TEKS. (This is not an evaluation ...that comes later... this is part of the development of conceptual understanding.) The conventions of writing - for 1st graders - are largely in place. Through the use of the sentence stem, all students were successful. Additionally, I believe that because the writing was scaffolded, it freed up student imagination and allowed them to think deeply and use interesting examples of each of the forms of energy.

 Often, interactive word walls come in the form of a Thinking Map. In this case, a Tree Map was used allowing students to categorize the examples of energy sources while still seeing that they come under the umbrella of 'Forms of Energy'.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Raft Regatta: Following the Engineering Design Process

Our most recent engineering design challenge was to design a model raft that would float and hold weight. The raft would also need to support a sail for part two of this challenge, the raft regatta.  With each design challenge, we try to be very intentional about following the engineering design process so that that cycle becomes a natural way of solving a problem.

Part 1: The Raft

We often integrate literature selections into our design challenges and this particular challenge uses one of my favorite books, The Raft, by Jim LaMarche. The book tells the story of a little boy who is less that pleased to be spending the summer with his grandmother -a river-rat - in her cabin in the Wisconsin woods. With NO electronics, the boy is sure he will be bored beyond measure and his summer will be wasted. As it turns out, his summer is filled with adventure, exploration and independence,  as well as a new found love for nature and his river-rat grandmother.

The Challenge

We often spend time in the imagine stage building background knowledge around the design topic. We learned early on in our STEM journey that the youngest children often lack the experiences and imagery that would allow them to be successful. Nearpod is one of my favorite interactive apps to use for this purpose. For this particular challenge, I created a Nearpod presentation that showed a variety of pictures of different kinds of rafts. Students were asked to make observations about the materials that were used, how the materials were used (platform, floatation) and how the materials were held together. Students were asked to list materials that they thought would make good model rafts and these were then shared with the group in real time. Students also drew a diagram of a model raft that they might build. This step forced them to apply some of what they had just learned about rafts and begin imagining how their raft might look. Their ideas were shared with me and I was able to push out their designs to the class, in real time, sharing the thinking. The last slide was actually a survey asking if students thought traveling the ocean by raft would be exciting, challenging or scary. This information was put into a graph and pushed out for the class to see.

Materials Investigation
Investigating possible materials is also an important part of the Imagine stage in the engineering design process. We investigated materials that could be used for the platform, some that might make good floatation devices and finally adhesives...what would work to hold the raft together. The data gathered during this time would be critical in making material selection decisions in the planning stage.  You will notice that the craft stick was the only platform choice that was both waterproof and not flexible. Most students chose this for their platform which told me that they were attending to the data gathered during the investigation. Floatation materials were tested for waterproofness and whether or not they would take on water (which would lead to sinking).  Finally, adhesives were tested for waterproofness, whether or not they would hold things together and how they might be used in designing a model raft.

Students drew a labeled diagram of their model raft and listed materials and amounts they needed. This stage is particularly important because it forces students to commit to a design,apply what they learned about the properties of the different materials to consider amounts of materials (leading to less waste).

The building stage is a BUSY time! I did not get any photos of the kids building...but I did cut a lot of duct tape!!


Testing and Improving
Each student had an opportunity to put their raft into t tub of water and add the 10 weights (10 people). During this time, we discussed what was working, what was not working and shared ideas for improvement. There was a table set up with extra supplies so students were able to improve and retest.

This guy tested and improved five times! That's five iterations of this ultimately successful raft!
The sharing for this design challenge was rolled over into the next challenge as students planned and and designed sails that would catch the wing and move the raft.

Part 2: The Sail

I chose, I Face the Wind, by Vicki Cobb to kick off discussion of wind. We went to the garden, to observe the wind and even though wind can not be seen, students observed evidence in tree branches, plant leaves, clouds and the anemometer.
We discussed different ways to 'catch the wind' bags, wind socks, kites and sails.

The Challenge

Once again, I used a Nearpod presentation to help students think about the possibilities. They were introduced to the challenge, viewed pictures of many different kinds of sails, considered possible materials, shapes and sizes. They imagined/drew what they thought would make a good sail for their raft.

Materials Investigation
We investigated the materials at school. We used a zip line, a fan and paper sails to draw conclusions about size and shape.

We tested different types of materials using a tub of water and students completed this chart.

Armed with information learned during the materials investigation, students went home to plan with their families using this planning sheet. 

On Thursday evening, students and families arrived at school for Family Engineering Night where they built, tested, improved, retested and shared their sails.

The Raft Regatta
These videos show the 'Raft Regatta'. The kids were so excited and so proud to share their rafts with their families, their friends and their teachers. It was suggested to me, by a student, to take a 'slow-mo' video...good call! Check out the level of engagement on the faces of our youngest engineers in the last video!