May 31

Book of The Month

At Heathcote School we have a special way of connecting through literature. Every month a chosen picture book is distributed to each classroom complete with a special message from the staff member who chose it. Books vary in theme, readability, genre, however they have one thing in common. A message that speaks to the reader that is worthy of sharing. This month’s book is Come With Me by Holly A McGhee and it was chosen by Mrs. Grossbach. Below is our response on a padlet.

Made with Padlet
April 12

Blogging & Social Media in the Elementary Classroom

My teaching philosophy has always involved a making component long before Makerspaces were mainstream. I believe in hands-on learning. Embodied cognition means to learn by doing; and similar to playing with fraction pieces to gain an understanding of fractions, children need to play with language in order to gain an understanding of what it means to be a better writer. Blogging allows for that type of tinkering with text while helping students to grow their writing muscles because blogs allow for editing, revising and multiple iterations over time.

Blogging & Social Media in The Elementary Classroom from ChristineBoyer10
April 12

Making With Less

I recently had the opportunity to present at a conference in Puerto Rico. The conference was focused on restructuring education in Puerto Rico to have a focus on Design Thinking and Project Based Learning. I was the elementary contingent of our team and I presented on MakerSpaces. This should have been very easy for me, having started the makerspace in my school and having presented on MakerSpaces at regional and national conferences.  Upon scrolling through some of my previous presentations, it became apparent that I’d have to make some changes. While I often talk a lot about the students projects ranging from hi-tech to lo-tech, I knew this presentation would have a singular focus on lo-tech to make the transition easier.

From my experience working with elementary students, I’ve learned that it’s not about the hi-tech gadgets at all. Large sums of money were spent on a 3D printer in the early days of our Makerspace. It was a shiny new toy, but didn’t have the lasting effect I had hoped for. The greatest creativity and innovation grows from working with familiar materials and having opportunities to work with readily accessible materials. Little kids can do great things with less.

In reviewing the top projects and interests in our makerspace over the past 5 years, my list of materials to start a Makerspace now looks like this:

  • Safety is first so kid sized goggles and work gloves. Our goggles were donated from Google Science.
  • Real tools: can be used and obtained through donations from parents & community-Hammers, screwdrivers of all sizes, pliers, wire cutters, nails, screws, hinges,  hand saws, and a drill.
  • Fabric and sewing needles
  • Wood: all kinds and all sizes  – think “Block of Wood Challenge: When Is a Block of Wood No Longer a Block of Wood?”
  • Sandpaper
  • Cardboard: lots of odd shapes, sturdy flat, cereal boxes, tubes of all sizes
  • Paint and brushes
  • Coin batteries and LED lights of all colors.
  • Copper tape for paper circuits
  • Chibitronics sticker LED lights
  • PVC pipe cut into various lengths with elbows, t-connectors and end caps for marshmallow shooters and building large structures
  • Duct tape of every color and pattern you can find
  • Batteries of all sizes 
  • Small motors
  • Insulated wire and wire strippers
  • Electrical Tape
  • A plethora of art supplies: paper, scissors, markers, felt, pipe cleaners, glue,
  • Rummage through old science supplies for magnets, magnifying glasses, beakers, interesting loose parts for game making, etc.

Things we’ve collected over time have also been popular for game making. Old board games, discarded electronic toys, random game pieces, cards, marbles, plastic bottle tops, etc. Electronics that are no longer being used are often donated and they are the best for UNMAKING. We use the Thinking Routine from Harvard’s Project Zero titled Parts, Purposes and Complexities.

Lego Robotics was worth the investment (and a few kits go a long way as kids can share them). The Robotics are great because once kids master the instruction booklet, they can hack the projects and start to create from their imaginations.

Edison Robots  are good for teaching our youngest students coding and are fairly inexpensive. Scratch is another way to teach coding and is web based and free.

Countless resources will also help your students find ways to make more with less: Design Squad Nation , The Exploratorium, Rube Goldberg Machines and Caine’s Arcade are our favorites.

It’s easy to get caught up with stocking the MakerSpace, but it’s important to always come back to the “why.” Why are we doing this? It’s for the children, so spend some time with them and ask them what they want to make. Provide inspiration and then be prepared to get out of their way.

February 16

Convergence of Character

This week we experienced a convergence of curriculum that was somewhat magical in my world. We’ve been reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park and throughout the book the class has been taking notes; either short reflections of their own or more recently sketchnoting (where they combine drawings/doodles with text to convey meaning). The main character’s name is Salva and our conversations often connected him to another character we read about earlier in the year, Kek from Home of The Brave by Katherine Applegate. From that the children were able to understand how HOPE kept Salva going; how family is a powerful force in one’s life and how gratitude might be something we don’t express enough.

We are also studying/designing water filters in our latest science unit so there’s a deeper understanding of the dangers of contaminated water among my 5th graders. This, I believe helped them develop empathy for the people we were reading about. Following Salva’s journey and having conversations around his transformation from a scared child to a strong leader had us concentrating on the character strength of perseverance. How did Salva’s uncle teach this to him? How did his uncle’s mantra (One step at a time) help him to survive? I asked my students to write a blog post on the following questions:

  • How might Salva’s philosophy help you in your life?
  • Why is perseverance so important?
  • How can you better develop the ability to persevere?

The posts are due today. I can’t wait to share them in class.

Another unexpected beautiful moment occurred when Dr. Qadir came in this week for his Expert Lecture. He didn’t know about the work we were doing in class, but his talk fit in perfectly. He talked to the children about his love of mountain climbing. He brought in some of his gear and showed breath taking photos of the places he’s travelled to and the mountains he’s climbed.  At the start of his talk he said, “The mountain taught me how to take one step at a time.” So many little heads turned and looked at me with surprise and recognition as if to say, “Him too?”

Sometimes it happens intentionally, when books we choose to read aloud have great connections to curriculum, and sometimes the planets align just right. Of course I knew there would be connections, I just never expected them to be so powerful. I was sad that the book ended, however the conversations have not. We are watching Salva Dut’s TEDx Talk today in class and my students are talking about their end of year capstone projects. Yesterday’s conversation started with, “do we have to just research something, or can we actually DO something?” Mic drop, screen fades to black…I’ll keep you posted.

March 16

March Maker Madness

A visit to the Westport Public Library’s Makerspace inspired Heathcote Elementary School’s current hit playlist of maker activities collectively called, March Maker Madness. While in the Westport Makerspace, the facilitator Margaret, showed off a magnificent hand sculpted beast that stands center stage in the spacious library atrium. This fierce dragon could easily pose for the front cover of a best selling fantasy novel with its fiery colors, dangerously sharp tail, and 3D printed pointy teeth. The twenty foot dragon goes by the name Bradbury and he was created by master sculptor and “maker-in-residence” Chris Crowe, along with dozens of local children as a part of an overnight Maker Madness event last year (that just happened to be in March).

Margaret recounted the event with great pride and while the idea of an all-nighter in Heathcote School may not have been the spark that lit the fire, the idea of making on a larger scale certainly struck a creative chord. The initial vision was to invite all teachers to take part in something hands-on along with their students; to connect students from all of our schools for a vertical making experience; to allow time for students to be the experts and finally, to start a faculty study group around design thinking. The timing was actually perfect upon looking at the calendar as March was bursting with related activities; Bash The Trash Assembly Program, NY Hall of Science Trip, The Cook Prize book evaluations, and of course our-soon-to-be-famous school wide event, HExpo 2017.

Several iterations later, March Maker Madness materialized to be something fantastic in it’s own right. Two organizations with close ties to Heathcote School, donated their time and conducted several high-energy, thought provoking workshops for our students. The Digital Arts Experience led design thinking challenges asking students to re-imagine their classrooms and let their imaginations run wild with ideating and prototyping, Curious-on-Hudson led vehicle inspired workshops that explored the power of wind and utilized found materials to design and build the ultimate derby car.  Our Middle School Robotics Club rotated students through stations to teach about building, sensors and coding. A most professional trio that left the groups wanting more!

This event may have been one teacher’s vision, however the success of it speaks volumes about the Heathcote Faculty. Signing up for a workshop was completely voluntary, yet all slots filled quickly. Twitter lit up with photos of students engaged and excited to learn. Teacher’s enjoyed the various presenters and encouraged additional conversations around designing and making. March Maker Madness has solidified Heathcote School’s place in the Maker Movement as an innovation leader.

January 24

Expert Lecture Series

Last year I was inspired by an article I read about a school connecting with their community to essentially create a database of experts, which is so simplistic yet so brilliant because as we all know, education should not exist in silos. I never professed to have all the answers and often look to experts when planning units of study: authors for my students to model their writing after, NASA for their latest endeavors in space for our rocketry unit, and other teachers who are finding unique ways to challenge/support students in math. So it only made sense to grow this network to include those who live closest to us, the parent body. With a calendar in hand, and a clever title (or so I thought) our Expert Lecture Series was born.

Part of my planning for the 2016-2017 school year also involved hacking open house. I decided to send the parents my keynote presentation ahead of time and asked them to do a little homework in preparation for open house. A few of their tasks involved signing up for twitter and following me, making a family tinkercad account and bringing their calendars to open house with the intent of signing up for one hour in which they, the parent, would be the Expert Guest in our room.

Expert Guest Lecturers were asked to come in talk with the class about something, anything, that they considered themselves to be experts on. Something related to work was fine, but not required. The key was that it had to be something born of passion. It was essential that each parent discussed how they encountered difficulty and how they overcame that difficulty – in class we spend a lot of time talking about FAILING FORWARD and kids need to see that everyone struggles with failing but it’s how we handle it that leads to success.

Last year I had about a dozen parents come in and lead amazing discussions with my students. Parents planned slide shows, brought props, made charts and really demonstrated how passion plays a role in the decisions we make in life. The general message was that passion leads to success and happiness. The kids got it! They loved the lectures, asked insightful questions and wrote thoughtful questions reflecting on their learnings. It was impressive!

We are now in the second year and Expert Lecture #7 will be in two weeks. The kids are going home talking about what they are learning and more parents have emailed requesting a date for their turn on the expert stage. Our series has grown to include former students (now an engineer at Google) and a new friend (a mechanical engineer passionate about getting more girls into science). It will be exciting to see where and how the connections grow with each new lecture.

 

 

January 16

Blogging 2.0

Next week I will be attending a workshop on using student blogs in the elementary classroom. I am exceptionally proud of the work my students have been doing and look forward to sharing it with my fellow elementary teachers.  Inspired by conversations with my colleague and building tech guru, Chris Casal, I encourage my students to write often. We talk in class about studying other students’ blogs, we actively search for blogs that are interesting and serve as solid mentors. We talk about the importance of them reading each other’s blogs and learning from one another. The conversations are rich and meaningful. My students’ blogs are populated with stories of their own choosing (Chris is writing a mini-series and has multiple installments; Nate posts weekly math challenges) as well as posts that were assigned. They have learned to add images and embed videos in their blogs to make them more interesting to the readers (we’ve also discussed the importance of knowing your audience).

Chris has taught these promising young writers about the importance of blogs and identity.   Blogs exist in many forms, cooking blogs, travel blogs, etc.  and they have one focus. You, as a 5th grader, have many topics to write about, however the focus can be around learning. Take that angle every time and even your story about visiting grandma can be about what you’ve learned during that visit.

My students took their blogs seriously and really worked together to create unique, cool names (Live, Love, Lola; Nate Knows; Just Drew It), they added attractive color schemes and images,  and this in turn helped them to polish their voice in writing over time (and for some they found their voice for the first time).

In reflecting on how much they have grown, and how much we have taught them, it came to my attention that one thing was missing…my writing. I had started a blog, I have talked about my blog, but sadly I’ve abandoned my blog. True story. We taught the kids that the blog is a place to tinker with writing, revising a published piece was encouraged and every post needn’t be epic in length. It is only now that it’s loud and clear that I haven’t been following my own advice as I thought that was fine for them, but my posts should be Edutopia worthy every time. I held myself to a higher standard that led to many ideas (I have a long list) and zero writing. I’ll admit I was wrong and have vowed to try and write more often – short posts that serve as updates, documentation for my own learning if you will. Now I will be able to join the class conversations with a new lens, as a writer who shares in the creation process, learning with and from my students.

March 14

Four Reasons I Use Twitter in My Classroom

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Using Twitter in my classroom has certainly elevated my tech savvy status with parents as well as my instagramming 5th graders who have never known a world without digital devices. We live in a very social world, so why not use social media in the classroom? Social media is a part of daily life for millions of people on our planet and it’s not going away any time soon. Using it in my classroom allows me to model appropriate use and teaches my students necessary skills they will need for their lives beyond our classroom.
While there may be many extraneous reasons to use social media in my classroom (it makes my life easier because it’s organized as well as time and space efficient), it really comes down to four main reasons:

TWITTER CONNECTS ME WITH PARENTS

Using social media in a classroom gives parents a window into their child’s day. The learning becomes transparent as I tweet all content area charts (see below) made in class so they are available to all students at home, to be used as teaching tools/support for their homework and review. Homework assignments are also Tweeted after reviewing them in the classroom. We all benefit when there is ample time to discuss the assignments and less time spent copying the assignment.
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Tweeting charts lets the parents know what their children are doing in school and in addition, students often use them as reference tool for future assignments and homework as they are archived in our class Twitter account.

TWITTER EXPANDS THE WALLS OF MY CLASSROOM

Our class Twitter handle is @5Boyer and while I start the year orchestrating our tweets, my savvy students quickly start to ask, “Do we have to copy that or will you tweet it?” or “Can you take a picture and tweet it, I want everyone to see what we’ve done?” My students have many questions and it would ultimately be a shame if I was the only voice that answered them. We tweet to others to ask questions, why not go straight to the experts? Once my class Tweeted to the International Space Station asking, “How many sunsets do you see in a day?” AND The ISS Tweeted back! Imagine how exciting that was for 23 fifth graders (not to mention their teacher). Tweeting student work now becomes an instant celebration as it is shared with a much wider audience. As a teacher, I retweet relevant information and LOVE how that sparks a conversation in the classroom. Note in the tweet below, I was at home reaching out to my class as the spacewalk was starting before school hours. I added others to the tweet by inserting their twitter handles, check out their response.

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In most of my tweets I add the hashtag #heathcotepride as our amazing tech guru has created a living bulletin board for all school related tweets and to his credit almost all of our staff is tweeting!

TWITTER CONNECTS ME WITH OTHERS 

WHO SHARE THE SAME PASSIONS

Professionally, I have built a network of teachers, learners, and experts whom I can learn from every day. There are incredible things happening in the world of education and I have a front row seat with an international view. Only social media can deliver that. I can connect with others who will be attending the same conference, see what’s going on in classrooms around the world or simply be inspired by other amazing teachers. Additionally, Twitter chats make it possible for me to participate in professional conversations in my pajamas. Twitter chats are when a group of twitter users come together at a predetermined time to discuss a certain topic using a specific hashtag with each tweet. Chats serve as a networking opportunity in addition to an awesome learning environment!  #edtechchat is one favorite and @iChrisLehman hosts many thought provoking chats focused on reading and writing.

TWITTER HELPS ME CONDUCT RESEARCH

Twitter offers direct access to the experts and the information is current. Many museums are on social media and post highlights on museum exhibits, special events and relevant articles. Scientists, journalists, athletes, engineers, bankers…millions of professionals are on social media. When my students are given a choice within their research projects, they often choose topics/people that are trendy and not easily researchable in books, (and if there is a book, it’s not in language a fifth grader can easily understand). Recent research topics have included: How Has Social Media Impacted Our Daily Lives? What are Football Combines?, When Will Time Travel Be Possible? and Astronaut Scott Kelly and Life in Space. Students learn how to use social media as a primary source when making connections with the experts in the field that they are studying. Available literature may not be accessible, but people rarely deny a student the opportunity to conduct an interview once the initial contact has been made.
In the process of writing this post I became curious as to what my students might say so I asked them, “What do you all think of social media in the classroom?”, here’s what they said;
  • “My grandma lives in Florida and Twitter helps her see what I’m doing in school, she likes that”
  • “Twitter can help others learn from what we’re doing”
  • “It saves on paper – we have all the charts without making 24 copies of it”
  • “It helps us to document our work”
  • “Tweets of pictures, charts and homework help us to review our work from home easily”
  • “We can share work with our parents”
  • “It takes too long to get to School Wires, Twitter is really fast and easy”
  • “If I’m sick or on vacation early, I can keep up on the work on Twitter”
  • “Twitter is a good thing – when my mom asks what I did in school, I usually say I don’t know, but now we can check on Twitter”
  • “Twitter is a good way to communicate with people who we can’t interact with directly. Like astronaut Scott Kelly who tweeted to us”
  • “I use Twitter to see what’s going on in school. I use Instagram to follow friends who have moved and see what’s going on.”
  • “Vine and Twitter are good for following my interests, like a sports team, a car company. I can see how they’re doing.”
Time is precious and twitter lets me complete a multitude of tasks in a short amount of time. It’s a tool that I have come to depend on for communicating daily with parents, colleagues, and astronauts. Wall Street and CNN have their tickers that deliver up-to-the-minute relevant information – that is what twitter has become for me and my students.
 Originally published February 1, 2016  Daily Genius
March 14

How MakerSpace and MakerFaire Can Unlock a Student’s Love of Creating

The saying, “If you build it, they will come” may have been referring to baseball stadiums, but it may also be the favorite mantra of makerspaces across the country. Since creating our school’s makerspace in November 2013, I’ve seen a small revolution start to grow within our elementary school and also across our district. A makerspace is a learning environment where children can tinker, design and create collaboratively using a variety of materials.
However, a makerspace is so much more than a physical space, it’s a mindset that embraces making as a necessary component of learning. In the past two years, I’ve worked with colleagues to incorporate changes within our curriculum that tap into a child’s natural love of creating.

GETTING STARTED WITH A MAKERSPACE

Our makerspace is a small room off of our library that was once an office and storage space. It is now a vibrant hub of activity, stocked with a variety of high-tech and low-tech supplies that challenge and inspire our little makers. I was fortunate to have been given an old storage room to convert into the physical makerspace; however another challenge persisted and that was, what to put into the space. The ultimate goal for me was to help teachers create new learning experiences that empower the students and incorporate next generation skills.
Having the learning extend beyond the classroom walls and creating vertical curriculum where students teach students is magical when it happens and something I thought could grow out of our makerspace. So it was critical that the items that filled the shelves in our makerspace inspire and facilitate this growth. Staying focused on the idea that, while the 3D printer and coding programs are very cool, it’s truly not about the technology but about transforming teaching and learning experiences for our students.
My love of building and creating actually comes from my own two boys. Watching them create trains, castles, superhero costumes and monster webs out of cardboard and duct tape made me realize that not only were they enjoying a childhood rite of passage when they commandeered the large boxes, but they were applying the 21st Century skills that all educators talk about. They were planning, designing, iterating, collaborating and writing a fantastic story that grew with each step of the process. I needed to bring this love of learning into my classroom and into my school!
Having like minded grade level colleagues and the flexibility to enhance curriculum made it easier to incorporate more hands on project based learning into the 5th grade science units. Rocketry was our first and biggest change as we went from a cookie cutter prescribed way of creating soda bottle rockets to an inquiry based open ended, steeped in design thinking challenge – this documentary says it all. We also were able to make over our unit on models & designs to incorporate our makerspace and the 3D printer. This also “upped the ante” on our students Rube Goldberg projects as well as their own models designed and printed in school.

MAKING MEANING

Most recently, I revisited the idea of homework and asked my students, “What do you want to learn? How will you learn it? and How will you show what you know?” They are researching, documenting (through writing, sketches, photos and videos), interviewing experts in their field of interest and creating something so meaningful that no testing agency in the world could measure.
Initially, I thought parents might be upset by the absence of traditional homework, however their reaction was the polar opposite. Parents were emailing me stating how proud they were of their child’s efforts and creativity. Many parents even took an active role in this month-long homework assignment that came to be known as The Passion Project.
Ethan taught himself how to use Sketch Up to make a 3D rendering of a fort he wants to build in his backyard. Using foam core he made a model to scale as well as drawings on graph paper. Construction on his 46 sq ft fort begins next week.
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Ethan and the scale model of his future fort.
Juliette designed and made her own garden (including the fence). She plans to use the vegetables for cooking and healthy salads. Allie is learning the art of graffiti and even found a local expert to interview and take a lesson with. The list goes on…
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Allie’s graffiti inspiration board.
When it comes to change, I have to jump into the deep end or I will end up overthinking it. Alan Watts said, The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.While I know that is how I feel, I do respect that others often wade into change. Building the makerspace didn’t automatically bring classroom teachers in droves, but rather in a trickling stream, and by working with several colleagues and our PTA president.
This past year has helped to give our maker movement stronger momentum with the addition of school sponsored clubs (multi-grade makers club and Lego Robotics). These clubs have introduced more students to the space, and encouraged cross grade/school collaborations to incorporate making into the curriculum. And perhaps one of the most ambitious projects of all is our inaugural HExpo(Heathcote Elementary Expo) – our version of a makerfaire.

MAKERFAIRE

The upcoming HExpo is truly going to be a celebration of the positive changes that are happening around our school and district. It’s a celebration of the planning, designing, iterating and collaborating that has grown out of our makerspace and it’s our contribution to the growing maker movement. We have partnered with community members, parents, former students and local businesses and museums to design a series of hands on workshops for students to participate in.
Our impressive line up includes furniture design, architecture, bridge building, 3D design, coding, a mobile planetarium, 3D animation, collage, and several tinker tables for open exploration. Our school’s green club is busy making their version of Cain’s Arcade for the HExpo.
While the makerspace may be one room in our building, it encompasses a mindset that encourages exploration, imagination and prototyping. This room symbolizes a change where problem solving and creativity are at the core of learning. It’s only one room but the impact is slowly reaching far beyond it’s four walls. HExpo ‘15 will be the first of many to come.
Originally published on April 29, 2015 daily genius