As this school year began, I had two goals to focus on. One was to be better at practicing sustainability in my work with students. The second was to empower girls to take more risks with their projects. More to come on this second goal later.
With the sustainability focus, I had to take a close look at the materials my students were using and how they were being used. Experimentation is always my goal for them but I saw that certain materials were being used but not in a way that was allowing for deeper critical thinking or making new connections to classroom content. Sadly these were the more decorative materials like pom poms and plastic gems. I decided to not order these items this year which came with fun surprises. Now yarn and pipe cleaners are being used in a more interesting manner. Also they’re using vinyl scraps to add extra design details.
The strongest aspect of my sustainability mission has been reaching out to the community to donate interesting packaging materials, toilet and paper towel innards, egg cartons, plastic containers and boxes. I’ve truly seen my students imaginations come to life with the addition of these materials in the space. It’s helping them truly engineer in new and interesting ways.
Another dilemma I faced was using straws. They are so wonderful as an engineering tool and I knew it was something I couldn’t take away from the space. Luckily Amazon sells biodegradable straws that are strong enough to put to the test in the space. The students could barely see the different between the two different kinds.
For the first time, the 6th graders entering my classes already have a foundation with using 3D design which is allowing my to start them off with projects involving higher levels of thinking. One of their projects this year is to design interactive robots using Hummingbird Kits. Unlike the project I did last year with 4th grade, the 6th graders will be required to use several types of sensors in their designs to allow for an interactive experience. I’m also giving them option of 3D designing aspects for their creations.
When designing my example for my students, I really wanted to make it able to move using a sound sensor. The tricky part was adjusting the code for the sound sensor so it wasn’t overly sensitive. I really wanted it to only respond to my voice or to the sound of clapping hands. The distance sensor was placed in lieu of eyes so that the mouth would open or shut if someone was close by.
One of the first Elementary Division projects I worked on was inspired by the moving video, Caine’s Arcade. I also wanted to utilize the Makedo Kits which is a wonderful way to learn to construct cardboard together using age appropriate screws, saws and screwdrivers. I did this project with 2nd graders and it engrossed them so much more than I ever expected.
We first watched Caine’s Arcade to get the 2nd graders inspired and I was blown away by how they already had ideas on what they wanted to make the moment the video was over. I wanted to show them how to use the tools before they started making but sometimes you need to go with the flow! The biggest challenge with this project was figuring out how to store the creations because they were bigger than I anticipated. Other than the Makedo Tools and cardboard, we did use masking and duct tapes for the more complicated connections that needed to be made. If students needed balls for their games, I had them ball up foil together. Going forward I do want to come up with a sustainable focus to this project.