Weaving Together Social Studies and Makerspace

inventors-24Our 5th grade is currently studying the impact on American life that several famous inventors had. When I was brainstorming with Shelley Olin, 5th grade social studies teacher, we began to wonder about connections these standards had to makerspace.  It started as an idea seed and grew into a set of experiences for all 5th graders to engage in.

I wanted students to put themselves into the shoes of an inventor so that they could begin to understand the perseverance and curiosity that inventors have. We focused on 3 of the inventors: Thomas Edison (electricity), Alexander Graham Bell (communication), and the Wright Brothers (flight).

I prepared 3 centers on electricity, communication, and flight.  Each center included a biography about the inventors, instructions for an activity, and a clipboard to leave wisdom for the next group to learn from.

Invention centers are being prepped for our 5th graders. #librariesofinstagram #makerspace #invention #bitmoji

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For flight, I selected some paper airplanes that could be made from a full sheet of paper.  I also included books about other paper airplanes.

For communication, I created 2 choices.  One was to use littlebits to create a tool for communicating using Morse code. I included a buzzer and LED bit as well as button, pulse sensor, and slide dimmer bits.  The other experience was to create a tin can phone.  I provided coffee cans and cups and various kinds of string.

Invention centers are finally ready for 5th grade #librariesofinstagram #invention #makerspace #steam #socialstudies

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For electricity, I copied instructions for making a simple paper circuit using a coin battery, led light, and copper tape.  I put materials in Ziploc bags so each group would have what they needed to create a circuit.  I added extra led lights for tinkering beyond an simple circuit.

It took a long time to prepare all of the materials for 3 back-to-back 5th grade classes.  I had to have everything ready for an immediate turn round between classes.

Before coming to the library to engage in some makerspace activities related to these themes, students read about each inventor in textbooks and on PebbleGo.  They gave Ms. Olin their top 2 interests out of the 3 themes so that she could put them in groups.

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In the library, we started by looking at the littlebits invention cycle.  There’s not just one place to start in the cycle and it doesn’t necessarily follow a linear sequence.  We talked about how students could start with “create” by following the directions that I had given. Then they could play with their creation and begin to remix ideas to create an improved version or an alternative invention.  By the end, I hoped that they would have something to share with the rest of their class or group.  It really seemed like it could be linear in talking about it, but I quickly saw that it is very fluid.

After our quick intro, students sorted into their chosen task and got to work. Luckily, Ms. Olin and other collaborative teachers joined the class during this session. At times, we had me and 3 teachers supporting students around the library.  It was 3 very different activities, so having the extra support was beneficial.

Inventions in action #5thgrade #invention #librariesofinstagram #makerspace #steam

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What I quickly saw was how much students wanted to just jump in and put things together without reading directions.  At paper airplanes, students started folding paper in all sorts of folds and testing them out.

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At paper circuits, students were sticking down tape and connecting the led to the battery without reading  the instructions or even formulating a plan.

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At tin can phones, students immediately started connecting cans.

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But…as I stepped back and thought about it, isn’t that really what inventors do?  They don’t necessarily have a set of instructions to follow. They just try things out to see what happens.

After some initial tinkering, several students did in fact try to read the instructions and many said that they wished they had read them at the beginning. It was an important lesson that we talked about and learned from. It’s hard to read all the instructions before putting something together when all you want is to see the finished product.  I do that myself as an adult.

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One thing that was really interesting was when students finished their first prototype and they started remixing. One example at the tin can phone center was when 2 groups decided to combine their two phones and see if they could make a four-way call.

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At the paper airplane center, students started combining their planes together to see if a combination would create a better flying plane.  They were truly embracing the idea of remixing.

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When we came back together at the end, I asked students to think about what it was like to be an inventor.  We had some great conversation about perseverance, staying calm through frustration, trying again, problem solving, and taking plenty of time to invent. We circled back to our inventors and considered how much time, frustration, and perseverance they each put into their inventions.  I think the experience gave the students a greater appreciation for the inventors they were learning about rather than just passively reading about them.

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We even had a moment to talk about continuing inventions in our makerspace or at home and entering them into our school maker faire coming soon.  I loved how a simple idea from a social studies standard was able to weave together growth mindset, literature, social studies, and makerspace all into one experience.

 

Polar Express 2016

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Every year that we have our Polar Express Day, I’m reminded of the power of community. School-wide events are so rewarding, but they take a lot of work to pull off.  The library hosts multiple school-wide events every year.  A team of special elves come together to make Polar Express Day a special event for every child in our school.  It is often one of the big memories that students have about their year and their experience at Barrow.

Scenes from Polar Express Day #polarexpress #librariesofinstagram #alwaysbelieve

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Many schools ask us what goes into our Polar Express Day, so here’s a little peek:

  • Our principal creates a schedule so that every class in the school gets a time to come to the library to hear the Polar Express. Most 30-minute sessions 2-3 classes at a time
  • Janice Flory, our library volunteer coordinator (a PTA role) buys bells, string, hot chocolate, cups, and candy canes through PTA.  She also organizes volunteers to help each Polar Express session during the day
  • A group of volunteers works on stringing 600 bells so that every student in the school gets a bell.  This year it was a wonderful troop of Girl Scouts
  • I work on setting up the library with special decorations, chairs, and banners.  I make sure the technical side of Polar Express is working such as the train sounds, read aloud, and special music.  I also work with our volunteer coordinator to make sure all of the pieces are running smoothly.
  • A team of teachers come overnight the night before Polar Express Day and create special hallway decorations such as a train track, ticket booth, and ornaments
  • Our lunchroom makes huge batches of hot chocolate
  • On the day of the event, teams of volunteers help pour and serve hot chocolate as well as hang bells around each student and whisper “Always Believe”.  Kim Ness, parent volunteer extraordinaire & Janice Flory, library volunteer coordinator, help keep the volunteers organized all day.
  • Teachers do special activities in their classrooms such as making Polar Express tickets. They also hold the book as we listen to the story over the library speakers
  • Our family engagement specialist organizes a nighttime Polar Express for Barrow alumni
  • On the day of the event, there’s always lots of odd and ends that have to be done and we all work together to get it done. It is a tight schedule and takes quick moving in between sessions to reset everything for the next group
  • This year we added a green screen photo booth to take a picture with the book as the background. Teachers helped a lot with this as well as our principal.  Next year, we’ll need to have someone stationed here to help it run smoothly

Yummy hot chocolate #polarexpress #librariesofinstagram #alwaysbelieve

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Hot chocolate #polarexpress #librariesofinstagram #alwaysbelieve

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Bells #alwaysbelieve #polarexpress #librariesofinstagram

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The journey continues #librariesofinstagram #alwaysbelieve #polarexpress

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Prek enthusiasm #polarexpress #alwaysbelieve #bells

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Our green screen was a favorite activity this year.  Many teachers jumped in to help with this one because it was a little bit tricky if the app stopped working.  We’ll keep thinking how to make this station a little bit better next year.  Even with some glitches, we got some fun pictures of classes.

Each year holds special memories for Polar Express.  There are special little moments from students all throughout the day. I’m so thankful to have  community who comes together to create this magical event of always believing.

 

 

Holiday Makerspace

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Our regular makerspace time is on break since UGA is out until spring semester.  However, our students are still eager to come. This week I hosted a special holiday makerspace at a different time than our typical makerspace time.  I created a Google doc and offered two 30-minute sessions for students in any grade to sign up to make holiday-inspired crafts using books weeded from our library collection.

Ready to make ornaments and paper chains out of old books in makerspace tomorrow #librariesofinstagram #makered #reuse #ornaments

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Prior to the makerspace, I took several weeded books and ripped out pages.  Volunteers and people walking into the library thought I had gone crazy, but I loved finding a new use for books that would likely go to recycling or sit unused in a box.  Some pages I put in stacks and other pages I cut into strips.

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The two crafts offered were paper chains and snowflake ornaments. The paper chains were pretty self explanatory.  I just cut pages into strips so that students could create chains to use for Christmas trees or countdowns to whatever they hoped to countdown toward like Christmas, Hanukkah, a birthday, or something else.

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The snowflake ornaments took a bit more instruction.

  1.  Students took two pages from books that were close to the same size.
  2. They folded them like you would fold a paper fan.
  3. They tied the middle of the fan fold with string so that it would unfold.
  4. They glued the ends of the folded fan so that it could unfold into the shape of a snowflake half.
  5. They took the two fanned out halves and glued them together
  6. They added a string for hanging on a tree or other special place

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During the two sessions, I had a mix of 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th graders.  The all arrived at different times, so we found ourselves constantly restarting instructions.  The great thing was that in typical makerspace form, the students started to help one another.  I gave instructions as I could, but then the students passed on knowledge to one another.  The 1st graders needed the most support in tying string and folding paper, but other grades were very independent.

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I was really glad that paper chains was a choice because it was easy for students to take on with little explanation.  It was surprising to see how many students had never made a paper chain.  The pages from books made some of the most beautiful chains I’ve seen.  The ones I’ve made have always been from solid construction paper, and these had a bit of fashion and artistic vibes.

Ornament making #ornaments #makerspace #librariesofinstagram

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Our time was of course noisy, messy, and fun.  We could have done this project for much longer than 30 minutes.  If we hadn’t run out of time, we could have started exploring variations of the designs. Some students naturally started doing this but they just ran out of time.  We also could have individualized the chains and ornaments even more with craft scissors, possibly glitter (if we were that adventurous, or combined some other materials from our maker cart.

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I’m going to hold onto this idea and see where it takes us in the second half of the year or even next school year.

 

Let’s All Connect for World Read Aloud Day 2017

It’s time for us all to start making plans and building excitement for World Read Aloud Day 2017 with Litworld.  This year, World Read Aloud Day takes place on February 16, 2017, but many of us will celebrate the entire week of February 13-17, 2017.

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World Read Aloud Day “calls global attention to the importance of reading aloud and sharing stories.”  When we connect our students through Skype, Google Hangouts, or other web tools, they experience the power of the read aloud and realize that they are connected with a bigger world that is both the same and different from them.  By connecting our voices through reading aloud, we are reading on behalf of the 758 million people who cannot read.

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Shannon McClintock Miller and I invite you to start posting your schedules on our shared Google Doc.

 

http://tinyurl.com/wrad17

 

When you share your schedule, be sure to include:

  • Your name
  • Your contact info such as social media, Skype, and/or email
  • Your role
  • Your school and grade levels
  • Your location
  • List your time zone when posting your available dates and times

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After you post your own schedule, take a look at the other schedules and sign up on someone’s schedule to connect your students.  We’ve found that it doesn’t matter if same grade levels connect with one another. Often times, an older grade can read aloud to a younger grade or younger grades can find parts of a books that they can read aloud to an older grade.  There’s not just one way to connect.  Part of the fun is meeting new friends, planning your read alouds, and seeing what magical things happen during your connection that you weren’t even expecting.

We have many ideas from previous years on our blogs.  You can read more about previous World Read Aloud Day connections on Expect the Miraculous and The Library Voice.  Litworld also has several resources for you to use in your planning and connections including:

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Please let us know if you have any questions.  Happy connecting!

Shannon McClintock Miller @shannonmmiller & Andy Plemmons @plemmonsa

Hour of Code in the Library

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For the past 3 years, our library has participated in Hour of Code during Computer Science in Education Week.  This movement of setting aside an hour to tinker with coding was started by Hadi Partovi.  When we started back in 2014, there was only a handful of options of coding resources for students to try on code.org and many of them crashed due to the number of students using the site around the world. Fast forward to 2016 and students now have 172 reliable options in the Hour of Code portion of code.org and numerous other lessons that take them beyond the hour of code.

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When we first started participating, classes came to the library to try out an hour of code. This year, many classes still came, but some classrooms also tried out the hour in their own rooms.  It was fun to see something that started in the library spread into general classrooms.

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This year we had classes from every grade participate in Hour of Code in the library (including PreK next week).  We started each session by exploring the word “code” and connecting it to our own experiences. Many students talked about passcodes on phones or tablets.    We then related this to the language that a computer speaks.

Lots of choice, perseverance, and collaboration during hour of code. #kidscancode #hourofcode #librariesofinstagram

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I had students think about their favorite video game or app and explained that every tap or press of a button was coded with instructions for the computer to know what to do. I also had students imagine if their favorite game or app never existed.  What if the coders gave up while developing the game?  This question brought the most gasps.  We talked about the importance of mindset and not giving up. I loved that code.org had this great video that setup the idea of a growth mindset.

This year, I let students have a lot of choice in grades 3-5 because many of them had experienced hour of code or a coding project before.  Some needed to try something more advanced while others needed to start with the basics.  My big rule was that once they chose a coding activity, they were supposed to stick with it.  With 172 options, it would be really easy to jump from one thing to another without really pushing yourself through the hard parts. I loved that code.org had a filter to filter by grade level or coding experience.

For grades K-2, we used an app on the iPad called Box Island, but we also had the flexibility to move to code.org if students were ready to move on to something else.  I thought it was easier to stick with one tool for these grade levels since coding was so new to most of the students.

2nd grade coders using Box Island #kidscancode #hourofcode

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Students worked on coding all over the library. Some grouped themselves on cushions or tables. Others worked alone.  Collaboration between students started to happen whether they were using the same app or something different.  It’s something I see in makerspace as well.  There’s something about this kind of experience that facilitates natural collaboration. Students want to help one another. It isn’t forced or required. It just happens.

1st grade coders loved using Box Island. #hourofcode #kidscancode #librariesofinstagram

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Students persevere. They celebrate their success enthusiastically, and sometimes yell when something doesn’t work right.

Team coding with Osmo #hourofcode #kidscancode

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It isn’t always perfect, though. Sometimes students give up.  They say it’s too hard.  Those moments are frustrating for me, but I like to talk with students about why they gave up.  I can’t pretend that I don’t ever give up either…because I do.  However, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge the importance of persevering even when things are hard because it’s a goal we should strive for.

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At the end of each session, I brought students back together to talk about the experience. They started to crowdsource a list of tips to pass on to the class that came after them. Looking at their list you will see so many tips that could be applied to multiple situations, not just coding.

We also looked at subject areas like reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  I asked students to consider whether or not they used any of these subjects or skills while coding. They of course gave brilliant responses.

  • Reading code is like reading another language
  • We read instructions to know what to do
  • I revised my code just like I revise my writing
  • I had to use strategy just like solving a math problem

I invited them to think about how we might continue to explore coding as we create projects in class.  Many of the students went home excited about coding and shared with families. I got messages from family members about their child’s eagerness to code.  I even got a few pictures of coders in action while at home.

I love doing hour of code in the library because it’s a source of professional learning for teachers and a chance for students to try something they enjoy.  We can take a risk together trying something new and then explore how to connect this with what we are already doing. Teachers see how engaged the students are and ponder how to continue that engagement.  It’s also a very public space, so anyone who walks into our library during hour of code also starts to consider the power of coding in school. I’m still figuring out how we can weave this into more of our year. The students love it. They are engaged. How can we use this excitement to connect to what we are learning together each day?

 

2016 Picture Book Smackdown

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Picture Book Month came to a close and we once again hosted a Picture Book Smackdown with schools around the country.  All month long, students have been celebrating Picture Book Month by reading picture books from every genre section of our library. As they read a book from a section, they earned a stamp on a challenge sheet. Once students collected all 12 stamps, they turned their sheet in for a bookmark, certificate, and to be entered into a drawing to win a new picture book.

Another piece of Picture Book Month was preparing for the Picture Book Smackdown.  Since 2013, I’ve been hosting and organizing a Google Hangout to bring together students from multiple states along with authors & illustrators to celebrate the power of the picture book.  For one hour, students and authors take turns stepping up to the microphone, book talking a favorite picture book, and saying why picture books matter in the world.

We advertised our event using Smore.

This year, we were joined by author Dianne de Las Casas, the founder of Picture Book Month.  We had students from 4 states: Maine, Vermont, Texas, and Georgia.

 

We broadcasted through Youtube Live and had a full hour of sharing favorite picture books.  Dianne de Las Casas opened and closed our event.

 

I loved that at the end she reflected on what had been shared.  There was such a mix of classic picture books with current picture books.  There were books about Star Wars and books about difficult topics like hurricanes.  There were new twists on fairy tales like Little Red and books in made up languages like Du Iz Tak?

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As students shared, I had a wonderful parent volunteer who kept a list of the books that were shared during the hangout. We need to go back now and clean up the doc, but you can view its progress here.  I also had a volunteer who helped get students up to the microphone while I made sure our technology was all running smoothly.

We had multiple viewers from around the country during the event and it was fun to see tweets from different perspectives.

 

It was also fun to look at the Smore analytics to see where people were from who at least visited our page about the event.

I think one of the things I enjoy most is seeing students and authors share with the world with one voice.  They come together around a love of picture books and each take time to speak about why picture books matter to them.  Each student had a different take on the importance of picture books and they all brought something for us to consider.

You can view our entire Picture Book Smackdown here:

As you view, I hope you’ll consider tweeting about your own favorite picture books using the hashtag #pbsmkdwn

Another incredible thing that happened this year is that I heard from a group of librarians in Alabama led by Bonnie Howard who wanted to host their own picture book smackdown gaining inspiration from the smackdown we started in 2013.  I of course encouraged them to go for it.  Their smackdown gained a lot of community attention and because of that, we get a chance to see the smackdown in action as well as hear some students talk about what they loved about the event.  One of the things I love about the video is how a principal and librarians got excited about the future of connections beyond their state and even country.  When you start connecting with other schools, you see the miraculous things that happen as students and adults collaborate with one another. I can’t wait to see how the work of Bonnie Howard, Kris Gray, Lisa D, and Dixie Paschal continues to grow.

If you are interested in starting your own picture book smackdown, I encourage you to go for it too.  Whether it’s within your own school, with other schools in your district, or reaching beyond state boundaries, you and your students will be rewarded by sharing your work with one another.

Closing Out Fall with a Makerspace Recess

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The fall semester is coming to a close at UGA, which means our open makerspace times on Tuesdays and Thursdays is about to take a small break until January.  To close out the semester, the entire Maker Dawgs class returned to Barrow to host a makerspace recess.

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Setting this time up take a little more work than having makerspace in the library, but each time we take our makerspace beyond the library, I’m reminded about how it makes the opportunity visible to students.

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Gretchen Thomas arrived early and started setting up tables under our pavilion on the playground. Each table featured something we’ve done in makerspace across the semester.

  1.  Duct tape bows and bow ties
  2. Kindness pins and necklaces
  3. Buttons
  4. Popsicle kazoos
  5. Strawbee architecture
  6. Cubelets

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Since we were outside, we could also have stations that are more difficult to do inside like sidewalk chalk art.  As UGA students arrived, they each took a station to facilitate any students who wanted to try that activity.  When students arrived at recess, they immediately gravitated toward the makerspace to see what was going on. One of the most common things I heard was: “I didn’t sign up”.  It was so fun to say that the makerspace was open to all.  Since we had numerous helpers and could spread out, it didn’t matter how many students wanted to participate or how loud they were.  Because of this, we saw students who had never been to makerspace suddenly get to experience what we do.

I know that I can’t do the scale of makerspace that we did today by myself, but I do want to think about how I can offer small opportunities to tinker with our makerspace tools in spaces where students are already gathered.  The tricky piece comes with managing the library while I’m in another space. Without a helper, I have to think about the best times I can do this while I have a volunteer or our computer technician in the library.

A great day for making at recess. #worldkindnessday #choosekind #makerspace

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As typically happens in makerspace, we saw big groups of students who might not play together on the playground suddenly crowded around the same table sharing materials, collaborating, chatting, and sharing their creations. There’s something magical about the atmosphere of a makerspace and the community it builds among makers.

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I need to keep this thought at the front of my mind as I move into the 2nd half of the year. How can I maintain the makerspace opportunities we have as well as expand the opportunities to students who haven’t had a chance to participate?

As always, thank you to Gretchen Thomas, her Maker Dawgs students, and UGA for exploring this complex topic with me each semester. We’re doing great work together.