Ms. Kelly’s Kindergarten class has turned a curiosity into a year-long project. They became interested in space, and it has turned into a research project about planets, creating planet ebooks, writing original songs about the planets using ukuleles, and having a Fat Tuesday parade dressed as the planets.
Now, these students are on a mission to figure out how to support human travel to Mars. They don’t actually want to go to Mars themselves, but they want to think about what might need to be invented in order to support human travel to Mars in the future. Wow! Some might look at a Kindergarten class and think this is silly. How could students as young as Kindergarten come up with ideas for traveling to Mars? I think Ms. Kelly’s class proves that even our youngest voices should not only be listened to but empowered as well.
These students have spent extensive time researching Mars. They know about the land, the weather, the atmosphere, and ways that Mars has already been explored. They have brainstormed things that they might need to think about when traveling to Mars such as water, food, oxygen, and how to survive the dust storms.
They recently came to the library to read the book You Are the First Kid on Mars by Patrick O’Brien.
She and I brainstorm a lot over email. When working with her, nothing is impossible and our biggest limit is time. She wanted a way to capture all of her students’ brainstorming, so I suggested a Padlet since they could post ideas, websites, pictures, and files. I set one up for her and they got to work adding to it.
Within their brainstorming, they talked about creating robots that could help them explore Mars as well as several other technology-heavy ideas. This brainstorm naturally brought us to our library makerspace. We wanted students to have a time to explore some facts about robots, technology, electricity, circuitry, energy, and space exploration. Ms. Kelly books an hour of time for student to explore, and I created some experiences for them to move through.
I pulled as many books as I could find on all of our major maker concepts from 3d printing to robotics to circuitry. I also pulled books about space. This experience was a time for them to look at lots of pictures, read captions, and skim text with one another and an adult to get ideas that they hadn’t even thought of in their brainstorm.
We have several robotics options in our makerspace. Since robotics was part of their brainstorm, I wanted them to tinker with a robot that was manageable by a Kindergarten student. I chose Sphero. Since Sphero alone couldn’t do some of the things they were thinking of robots doing, I showed them a Youtube video of how Sphero can be combined with other things like a chariot to pull a camera or add an attachment.
Then, students used the Drive app to practice driving Sphero and brainstorming how this might help them explore Mars.
Students have talked a lot about wiring and circuits during their brainstorming. They really want to wire something that could actually work. I have 2 littleBits space kits which have instructions for creating things like Mars Rovers, Grapplers, and Data Collection Tools. The age range is high for these kits, but age range never stops us from trying something. We just look at what barriers are in place and then figure out how to build a bridge. For this experience, I started students with the instruction booklets. They got into 2 smaller groups and looked at the diagrams, instructions, and functions. They started to think about their brainstorm and how these littleBits inventions might work with their ideas. Then, they moved to a table of littleBits. In pairs, they used a battery, power cord, and blue power switch to connect to one input (pink) and one output (green). The idea was just to start tinkering a bit with littleBits to see how they work. They weren’t necessarily making a space invention yet.
Here’s a quick look at what it all looked and sounded like:
Next, our students will go back into their classroom and continue working on their padlet using the ideas from the makerspace exploration and the books. They also checked out some of the books to take back. Then, students will begin constructing prototypes of tools that they might actually invent for space.