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.
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.
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?”
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.