I have been so busy being amazed by the incredible work the students are doing this round, I just realized that I had yet to write the blog post about it!
Kindergarten & First Grade
This round is one of my personal favorites, Math Stories. In this unit, each day starts with a picture book that centers on some kind of math concept. Some of the books tell stories, while others are more like counting books or math puzzles. Each grade level's books feature a variety of math topics including number sense, geometry, measurement, multiplication, and general problem solving. After the day's reading, students complete a hands-on activity related to the math concept covered in the book. Sometimes the activity is a bit like an art project, other times it is practice employing a particular tools or strategy. What I love about this unit is the chance to pair two subjects (math and literature) that students too often think of as related.
This past summer I was fortunate to be able to travel with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow to the high arctic archipelago of Svalbard. (You can read more about the particulars of that experience here and here.) This is the first project inspired and informed by my fellowship experience. I have done other iterations of this project before, but this time it was fully centered on the arctic. We started with a photo highlights tour of my time in the arctic. Then students chose one of the arctic animals from a list and researched it using the National Geographic Kids website. Part of the note taking process included drawing the animal and its habitat. Those drawings served as practice for the elements that were included in a Scratch Jr project about the selected animal. Students drew their animal's habitat and several versions of the animal. These drawings were photographed into a Scratch Jr project and coded to share information that students gathered from their research. This is one of the first projects students in the STEM lab complete that combines physical and digital elements and the results were amazing.
A perennial favorite in the lab is cardboard arcade, and this round saw 3rd grade get their chance with this project. Many of the current 3rd graders remember getting to visit the lab in 1st or 2nd grade to play cardboard arcade games and there were cheers from several students in each class when I announced the project for the week. We start by watching the short film Caine's Arcade for inspiration and discussion. Then students begin brainstorming and planning their games in their STEM lab journals. The middle of the week is spent building, testing, and making necessary adjustments to the design. At the end of the week finished products are presented to a visiting group of students from 1st grade along with administrators. These presentations are an important part of the design process in the lab. Sharing their work with an authentic audience gives the students a chance to practice talking about what they have created and what they have learned from the building process. The presentations also serve to inspire the younger students when they see the kinds of projects they will get to do as they progress through the STEM lab curriculum.
For the 4th graders, this round was the first half of a 2 part project. The end result will be an interactive biography programmed in Scratch and controlled with a physical display. Part 1 involves researching the life and important contributions of a well known artist or scientist. They had their choice of 11 different people as well as the choice of whether to work alone or with a partner. Once they had completed their research, students moved on to the Scratch project. The programs are run with key press events which will allow them to be controlled in part 2 with the Makey Makey and the physical display. Students had to find 3 relevant images and at least one map to include with their program. We had some great discussions about using images to illustrate the information being shared in the program. In round 2 the students will share their completed projects with a visiting class and administrators.
The Scratch biographies can be found in this studio. (Some are still works in progress.)
Like 4th grade, the 5th graders started work on a two part project. This one is called Tiny Museum. The students conduct research on a chosen topic and use Scratch to create a virtual museum room with artifacts and images that share what they have learned. The project includes a narrator that serves as a digital tour guide to the exhibit they have put together. The topic choices I gave them were inspired by my aforementioned National Geographic fellowship. I wanted them to focus not just on the basic information about the topic, but also the impacts human activities are having on the arctic ecosystem. The second part of their project will have them building a physical model of their museum room and wiring a switch to the door that triggers the tour guide to start start speaking upon the door opening.
Here is the studio of virtual museum rooms. (The projects at the top of the studio are very much works in progress because our 5th graders went to camp the last week of the round, so they only had 2 days to work on their programs.)