Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Shapes Abound!

We are getting started in our unit on Construction/Structures and are taking a look at the basics of all structures - the shapes. Kindergarten students have explored 2 dimensional shapes, and then will be going into the 3 dimensional shapes, discussing the differences between them, before going on to building some structures.

This week Kindergarten students have been taking pipe cleaners twisting them into circles for a closed shape and then bending and molding them into different 2D shapes that they will end up growing crystals on. I found the idea on Pinterest and thought I would try it with the Kindergarten students. The students LOVE seeing the water go from cloudy (right after the Borax is added) to clear. And then, coming in the next class to see their shapes have crystals on them!

First and Second Grade students have been exploring 3 dimensional shapes and polyhedrons. I found a silly video from Teacher Tipster on YouTube that the kids love (He makes them laugh!) about some 3D shapes using common items. We have also been exploring the 3D shapes using tooth picks and clay while working in pairs. (It helps to have an extra set of hands!) I was able to get a few shots of some of the students with their 3D shapes for my board, will post some of them below as well. Second grade will be moving on in 3D shapes and creating 3D skeleton shapes from rolled up newspaper.

Third Grade has been exploring shapes and using them to introduce fractions. This is a lesson that I have done before with fourth graders to help them see parts and wholes in fractions. We also had Mr. Joe McNaughton come in and do the same lesson with the teachers during a PLC recently. I thought it might be a nice way to introduce the concept of fractions to third graders as well. The students have been using the triangles, parallelograms, trapezoids, and hexagons from the pattern blocks and trying to find the parts if one of the shapes represents a whole. Fox example, if a hexagon is the whole, then a triangle is one-sixth. However, if the triangle is the whole, then the hexagon is six. And so on. Fractions are still very, very new to them right now. So will probably save this lesson for later on in the year and review it with them to see the difference after they have gone through the fractions unit in their homeroom classes.

Next up for the third graders will be straw towers - learning about the shapes, loads and forces on a structure, and then constructing a straw tower that is able to withstand wind forces (or fan forces :)

The fourth and fifth graders have already begun their Famous Florida Structures projects. This is appropriate with the fourth graders taking their class trip to St. Augustine. The students are working in pairs (or three-somes in some cases) to research a famous Florida structure, find out about its construction, the materials that were used in the structure, its history, the architect or engineers in charge of the construction, and its importance to Florida. They will be taking this information and writing some of the facts on the faces of 3D nets and then forming 3D shapes out of them. They will also be giving oral presentations and sharing with the rest of the class the information they have found on these structures. (This will help them get ready for their speeches they will be writing later in the year.)

Student showing a pentagonal prism made from toothpicks
Student holding up an octahedron he made from toothpicks and clay Student showing a cube she made with toothpicks

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fun with Robots

The students have been enjoying exploring the world of robotics with the Roamers. Kindergarten through Second Grade students have been using the number line mats on the floors to solve some word problems. While the Third through Fifth Grade students have designed mazes for the Roamers to go through and used LEGO blocks as visual guides on the floor for the path the Roamer must follow in their mazes.

Each of the students have had to write their own programs for the robots before they can actually program the robots. The younger students have gotten so used to writing across a page that they are having to rethink their writing when they write their programs and are having to work more linear -vertically down the page, in a list.

Fifth Grade students have had an added challenge of having to program their Roamers to go in a figure-8 on the floor using plastic bins for the Roamers to move around. This is proving to be a bit of a challenge for them. I've suggested that they walk the figure-8 while saying the directions they are moving in out loud. Sometimes it helps our thinking when we are saying our directions verbally.

programming LEGO roboticsSome of the Fifth Grade students have also been enjoying the world of LEGO robotics with the We Do's. They love playing with the sounds while they are animating their robots. The bobbing duck twins and the alligator seems to be among the favorite designs for the students to build. The program on the computer that the students are using to actually program the robots seems to be easy enough for the students to use. Its similar to the LEGO Mind Storms application, but not as many loops and rotations they have to put in there.

Students programming a robot to move in a figure 8 Students testing out their robot program in the maze

animated twin ducks made from LEGO blocks and programmed for animation and sound
I wish we were able to have a few sets to keep here at the school so that we were able to explore with them more. But just like I keep trying to teach my students how to share, so I must also learn to share with others. We will have to pack up these Roamers, and the We Do's (Legos) and send them to another school for them to use and enjoy in a few weeks.

Monday, September 10, 2012

We are surrounded by letters everywhere we look - Can you see them?

The third through fifth graders are beginning on a project that will take them through the next several week exploring urban environments for alphabetic letters through the eyes of photographer Abba Richman. I found a poster earlier in the summer with a composite of Richman's Alphabet photography in black and white and thought it would be a great start into our year with one of our main focuses being Structures. (You can see the poster that inspired this lesson and get a closer look at each of the letters of the alphabet, plus view a set of letters in color by going to, a photo sharing site on the Net. If you click on the PBase link above, it will take you directly to Abba Richman's poster. Click on The Alphabet in the bread crumbs at the top of his page to go back and view the rest of the alphabet photos.)

As an amateur/hobbyist photographer, I'm fascinated by the abstract, especially in black and white. I love looking at through the view finder at a 'big picture' in the world around me and seeing what sort of a snapshot of that bigger picture I can capture, bringing the details into closer view. This is what the students will be creating, only without an actual camera.

We will be taking a look at Mr. Richman's photos and discussing all of the different materials that are in the photos, then mentally exploring our school to find alphabet pictures of our own. Then, while working in teams, we will be using different materials, like aluminum foil, wood pieces, felt, sand paper, craft foam, and plastic, to create a letter of the alphabet that mimics Richman's Alphabet photography. While we are exploring the different materials through team work, each student in the team will be responsible for their own material. The students will have to work together and communicate (just like engineers do) on how and where the materials are going to be in their picture.

Meanwhile, the Kindergarten through Second Grade students will be using the Engineering Design Process to create a cleaning machine like Dr. Seuss's 'The Cat in the Hat' had.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A new look for a new year

I'm very excited about the coming 2012-2013 school year! This is Braden River Elementary's second year of having Engineering as a Fine Arts class. We had an awesome first year learning about engineering, simple machines, and transportation. This next year is going to be even more exciting - this year we have R-O-B-O-T-S!!! (I can't wait to share them with you!)

You may have noticed I changed the skin on the blog to include more colors. I think this is a more kid friendly theme and goes well with the Inspiring Elementary Engineering logo that our school district had done for us last year.

Well, I've already told you about one of the cool units we are going to be doing in my class this year, Robots, or Robotics - more correctly, where we will be taking a look at some of NASA's robots and Mars Rovers, along with trying our hand at making some robotic hands, making robots out of recycled materials, building robots from LEGO bricks, and, oh yeah, having some fun on the floor with some robots called "Roamers".

We will also be spending some time in water transportation, building some boats and having some water fun with them as well. (What would an "Under the Sea" theme be like without some water fun in class?!) And then spending the second half of the year on Construction and Structures. There is so much in this unit, I could spend a whole year on it, but then, that might be a bit much. However, we will be taking a look at 3D shapes, bridges, dams, towers, skyscrapers, walls, tunnels, and more stationary creations. Last year, our 5th grade TSA students had the opportunity to work with an engineer and build some balsa wood truss bridges. I hope to be able to do that again this year, and actually go to the Balsa Wood Bridge contest at USF in Tampa during Engineers Week in February!

This is going to be an exciting! I can't wait to get started! Looking forward to seeing all of you on Monday, August 20th, where we will be "Learning Under The Sea!"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

When objects collide kinetic energy perpetuates

We are putting our knowledge of simple machines, force, motion, and kinetic energy to the test as we wrap up our Simple Machines unit through the designing of Rube Goldberg machines. The students are working in small groups brainstorming and blueprinting machines that do not run off of electricity but rather simple machines that perform a simple task like turning on a light switch, making a blended smoothie, or getting a glass of ice water.

Inspired by a few Rube Goldberg machine videos (like the Honda Accord Rube Goldberg Machine commercial), some curious students have been researching other Rube Goldberg videos on their own time and then excitedly sharing what they have found during their next visit to STEM class. For other students, who seemed to have been quiet all year, the Rube Goldberg machine challenge has sparked their creative design interests. These students are suddenly eager to jot down ideas into their STEM journals and share them with others. Quiet students are engaging in lengthy conversations about how the marble rolls down inclined planes, dropping into baskets in pulleys, sending the other baskets on the pulleys up, to knock down dominoes that fall up winding staircases, hitting wedges, and so on.

As a teacher, it is inspiring to watch such quiet students come alive with the "magic" of science, and the possibilities of future machine creations. Every student that comes into the lab has been captivated by this project, from the littlest Kindergarten student to the tallest fifth grader. Everything they have been learning so far about force and motion is suddenly making sense to them. This is "Inspiring Elementary Engineering" at its finest! (As well as "Inspiring Curiosity", one of my favorite mottoes.)

For more information about building Rube Goldberg Machines, check out some of these videos:
Or click on the video below to view a classroom favorite with the students:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pulleys transfer the direction of force

This week we are taking a look at another one of the six simple machines, the pulley. This will be a two week investigation on pulleys. Pulleys are useful simple machines because they transfer the direction of force needed to lift an object and can give us a mechanical advantage (depending on the type of pulley that is used). There are different types of pulleys: fixed, moveable, and compound, such as the block and tackle pulley. Fixed pulleys are just that - they are fixed in position and do not move except to have their wheel spin. These are usually found on blinds, curtains, flag poles, wells, and on cranes. Moveable pulleys move with the objects they are lifting or moving, such as zip lines, hoists, elevators, cable cars, and sky rides. Moveable pulleys can give a mechanical advantage because it requires less effort to lift or move an object than with fixed pulleys. Like compound words and machines, compound pulleys are made up of two or more pulleys, or pulleys that use two or more wheels. Compound pulleys like a block and tackle pulley can be found on sailing boats, shipping vessels (like fishing boats), tow trucks, and engine hoists.

The students have been exploring some of the different types of pulleys using wooden models. We have also explored the school and found some pulleys that help us with tasks like pulling the American flag up and down the pole each day, opening and closing the curtains on the stage, and opening and closing the blinds (or drawing the blinds across the window). We watched a video clip from PBS's "Sid the Science Kid"series as Sid learns about a simple machine that can help him move some of his toys up to his newly built tree house. (Next week we will watch the conclusion of the video and see some other ideas and examples of pulleys that Sid and his friends and family come up with.) In our journals, we have been drawing some examples of pulley systems and blueprinting the direction of effort used, and how it is being used to make our lives easier.

The fourth and fifth graders started exploring pulley systems using single, double, and triple pulleys, spring scales, and washers. They have been constructing pulley systems to move large washers and investigating the mechanical advantage they get with each system.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Inclined Planes Help us Move

This week we are taking a closer look at inclined planes and how they help us move. An inclined plane is a flat surface that has been raised at one end, such as a ramp, slope, or slide. Stairs can be considered an inclined plane because they help to move loads gradually rather than straight up or down. There is a trade off, though, in using an inclined plane to help move a load, you are trading force for distance. It will take less force to move an item up a ramp into the back of a truck, for example; however, it will require more distance to go up the ramp rather than a straight upward lift, like from the side walk directly below into the tailgate of a truck.

The primary students have been exploring inclined planes through Legos and building water slides for the balls or Lego people to go down. The students enjoyed working in small groups to design their slides with little direction from me, except what an inclined plane is, and what their slide had to do. (Although, for some, I did have to provide a little additional guidance about connecting the tubes together so they fit in the doorways.)

The intermediate students have been conducting experiments in distance and force using cars and car launchers they made from the Legos. We have been able to tie this lesson in with math, and for some, this is an introduction to the metric system, in using meter sticks to measure the distance the cars are launched. The students also had to construct a data table in their journals to record the varying distances with the launchers, then analyze the data, and discuss their results - both verbally and in writing.

For more information about inclined planes as part of simple machines, check out these sites: