Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Bird Nest Challenge

Bird's Nest
"Bird's Nest" by Rugged Lens is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Nothing says "Spring" like birds making nexts, laying eggs, and hatching adorable babies. Birds gather pieces of grass, straw, possibly leaves, maybe string or fabric, and "glue" them together with mud, as seen in this video:

Your building challenge this week is to build a bird next that meets these rules:
1.  uses nothing outside of nature (no glue, no tape, no play-dough, no Model Magic) 
2. can stay together and hold its shape
3. can support 3 "eggs" (use marbles or dice for eggs).  

Can you do it?  Send me pictures or video of your creation!

Robotics for Social/Emotional Learning

Blog Post written for Wonder Workshop

Robotics for Social/Emotional Learning

When we talk about Robotics, we usually think about computer science, coding, and engineering.  But there are so many more skills that we can develop outside of those areas.  I have found that the greatest amount of growth in a robotics project is in the social emotional learning.  This is right in keeping with the focus of maker education and makerspaces in schools. 

My principal role is kindergarten through fourth grade, so that is where I my experience comes from. My most recent title is STEM Integration Specialist in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  I started as the technology integrator, which then changed to technology teacher (I was a drop off class instead of co-teaching with classroom teachers within the content).  Then about 6 years ago, we tore out our computer lab and built a gorgeous makerspace.  Now our kids have an hour a week in which they come to the library/makerspace for class.  Prior to last year we called this “class” library/tech, but we added in a heavier focus on science and engineering and we now call this Library/STEM class. We focus on the design process, engineering building challenges, computer science, robotics, technology basics, video making, and library/research skills.  We are in a fortunate situation in that we do have a lot of technology available, but we still view STEM as a “class, rather than STEM being integrated throughout the curriculum.

STEM and Maker Education are viewed and defined differently no matter where you go, but to me the focus of all the work my students do is on the process, not the product. Some of my favorite benefits of ALL the work we do in the makerspace and with tech, especially robots, are the social benefits.  For kids working in groups, they are learning so much about group work skills - negotiation, listening, clear communication, taking turns, compromising, being supportive.  And even working by themselves, they’re learning how to plan, how to use mistakes as learning opportunities, how to be ok facing a challenge, how to troubleshoot or debug, and the ever important skills of patience and perseverence.  These skills all transfer over outside the makerspace into all their work. 

 A few years after we began our makerspace at Summit one of the classroom teachers called me into her room to check out an activity she was doing with her students - it was a holiday themed STEM building challenge. She had done this activity a couple years in a row and had remarked how each year their level of creativity and attention to detail improved, how their attitude about facing challenges had changed, and how noticeably they worked well in groups to approach the challenge.  She attributed this to activities like group coding challenges and that focus on process not product.  This is why I’m such a strong believer in what we’re doing in STEM education and by creating such rich and engaging exploration opportunities.

Last year I had second grade students work in groups to compete in the Wonder Workshop Robotics Competition.  The extent of my teaching was to be sure they knew how to use the Blockly app, how to pair their iPad with their robot, how to understand the coordinate grid mat, and how to read the challenge cards.  Then within their groups, they established roles or jobs, a system for taking turns and rotating the jobs, and a way to take bits and pieces of each person’s ideas and combine them.  I LOVED seeing them bring each other up, help each other, and make sure every member of their group felt like a part of the process.  The results far exceeded my expectations - the kids who tend to stay out of conversations and activities were actively involved and contributing.  The students with special education needs had jobs that were appropriately challenging for them, but were also critical to the group.  The gifted students had a role in the group that allowed them to be challenged, but also kept them from taking over the activity. It was one of those teacher goosebump moments. 

Often the students motivation and willingness to take on a challenge is organic.  Some of the best learning comes from just handing kids the iPad and the robot and asking them to see what they can do.  I saw this earlier this year with a group of fourth grade girls.  They were completing a coding activity for me, in which they had to complete some of the Wonder Workshop challenge cards (that are regularly provided free for teachers to download), but after completing my challenge, they then went beyond it, trying to get Dash to do a variety of different things. Each time they were successful, they’d add on a little bit harder.  I was merely an observer as these two pushed each other and upped the level of complexity on their own.  That, to me, is meaningful learning for them and something that will benefit them throughout their lives. 

I will continue to use Dash and Dot as a fun, highly engaging, highly motivating tool in my library/STEM classes, because I love how much my students grow through using them.

Recording of Webinar for Wonder Workshop

Dash and Dot Robots have been a huge hit in our Library/STEM classes.  Kids have had so much fun playing with them, learning with them, and participating in coding challenges.

 I was given the opportunity of presenting a talk in early April about the many ways we can use our Dash and Dot robots outside of my Library/STEM classes: for math, science, reading, and more!  Please feel free to check out the talk at this link:

Presentation Slides

Video Replay

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Easter Weekend Challenge

Royalty-free easter egg painting photos free download | PxfuelCan't have Easter without eggs, and that, of course, means we need to do the Egg Drop Challenge. 

Problem: Build a contraption that will protect an egg when it is dropped from a height.
You can decide with your grown up whether your egg is hard boiled or not. 
5 Easter Eggs Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures
Brainstorm: What materials would be helpful? What shape should you try to create? 

Plan: Draw your design and list your materials.  Don't forget to plan how it will be held together!

Build it

Don't try to test indoors - way too much mess!!  Have an adult help you drop your egg (in its contraption) from a height greater than six feet (step ladder, top of a slide, deck, whatever).  After it drops, open the contraption to see if it cracked.  If not, congratulations!

Send me pictures of your contraptions or videos of your tests!

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Drip Drop Challenge

This activity comes from Carson Dellosa Education, STEM Challenges box

How many drops of water can you fit on a penny? 

Penny Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures

A quarter? 

Quarter,coin,dollar,market,closeup - free image from

Is there a way to fit more?

Raindrop On a Leaf | During my lunch break today it started … | Flickr
You need to add one drop at a time, either by using a dropper or by dripping them off the tip of your finger.  Add each one slowly.

Extension: What happens if you add dish soap to the water and repeat the activity?  If you cover the coin in sunscreen first? 

Key concepts: 
Surface tension: the molecules stick together and hold their shape.  You can see this when you look at raindrops on leaves or flower petals, for example.  Mixing other liquids into the water changes the surface tension.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Coding Instruction from Home

Coding is the common term for Programming, or writing the programs that run apps, websites, etc.  All of this falls under the general title of Computer Science.  When I was growing up, you took computer science classes if you planned to go into a computer science field, which I didn't.  So it was an uncomfortable thing for me to start learning coding, and then building it into my classes.  I started teaching coding about 6 years ago, and now it is an enormous part of what we do, from kindergarten on up.  The kids will tell you that it's my favorite thing to teach.  Part of the reason for that is because the reactions from them when they figure out how to program something.  It is very empowering and exciting for them!

While we're all virtual learning for the next few (weeks? months?) coding is a great way to keep their little brains growing while they are having fun doing it!  The availability of coding resources online has grown incredibly over the last few years.  Now there are free resources (both online and offline) everywhere!  I wanted to share some of my favorites so that you can hopefully share them with your children as well. was considered the first kid-accessible site for learning to code with no prior experience.  Over the past half a decade or so, they've expanded the offerings on their site to include extensive courses as well as shorter overviews, courses for non-readers, engaging games and activities, as well as more advanced text-based coding lessons.  If your child has a Google account, they can track their progress and save their projects along the way.

My favorite platform for beginning and intermediate coding lessons is Scratch .  All of my 3rd and 4th graders learn how to code in Scratch, while my k-2 students start out on the iPads on Scratch Jr. It is user friendly and adaptable to kids of all coding levels.  You do need to have an account in Scratch, so I have my students set them up using their regular school username and password, for continuity. (our keyboarding program) and Khan Academy (a home-learning favorite) have both developed coding curriculum along side their original curriculum.  If your child is looking for something new or different than what we do in school, this is possibly the way to go. 

Good luck and have fun!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Spring Break STEM Challenge

Next week is Spring Vacation, although for most of us, there will be no vacations taking place this year! And the snow falling outside today definitely makes it feel like winter still!  Now that you've had a couple days to get used to learning at home, I have a STEM design challenge for you!

Start with this video about engineers

Remember, engineers design things to solve problems.  So think about one of the problems or challenges you've noticed now that we're all learning from home.  Can you design something to solve that problem? 

Start by brainstorming:

  • something to organize your supplies
  • something to keep you comfortable while working at a table
  • a privacy blocker to separate you and your siblings
  • a system to deliver messages to your parents while you're working
  • an iPad stand
  • be creative! 
If you have the materials to create it at home, go for it!  If not, draw a diagram of your plan and label what materials you would use.  

Don't forget to send me a picture or a video!

Bird Nest Challenge

"Bird's Nest"   by  Rugged Lens  is licensed under  CC BY-SA 2.0  Nothing says "Spring" like birds making nex...