Seriously Silly: A Visit to the High Museum to See the Mo Willems Exhibit

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Third grade has been hard at work on a Mo Willems art and writing project.  Since there is a Mo Willems exhibit at the High Museum of Art, we decided to use Mo Willems as an author/illustrator study to take a close look at how illustrators show emotion through their characters as well as how authors many times have a moral or lesson that we learn from their stories.

In the library in collaboration with Rita Foretich (art teacher), we took a close look at the whole Mo Willems collection of books.  We wanted students to spend time looking at the illustration and noticing similarities and differences across series as well as how he creates simple illustrations that show a range of emotions.  I pulled all of our library books for this as well as brought my whole collection from home.

In art, students have been working on characters and settings for their own stories which will include a moral of some kind.  In writing workshop, students are working on the text of their stories.  They will eventually come back to the library to use all of these pieces with the Puppet Pals app on the iPad to tell their stories.

Our art teacher wrote a grant to fund a field trip for the entire 3rd grade to visit the High Museum in Atlanta.  Across 2 days, every student had a chance to visit the museum, tour the Mo Willems exhibit, see some additional pieces of art, and participate in an art workshop.  The grant funded tickets for all students as well as transportation.  We are so fortunate to have an art teacher who works tirelessly to increase access to art for our students.  For several students, it was their first time visiting Atlanta and seeing the massive skyscrapers.

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At the museum, we split up into two groups.  One group went to an art workshop and the other group split in half for a tour with a docent.  Our docent tour took us into the main exhibits to stop at key art pieces and consider materials the artist used, the story the piece was trying to tell, and to learn more about how to examine a piece of art in a safe and meaningful way.

We eventually made our way into the Mo Willems exhibit, and the docent took us to each collection of art and had students sit on the floor.  At the pigeon illustrations, we looked at the many expressions of the pigeon and how Mo Willems shows emotion through eye position, movement, and facial expressions.

Students took turns standing and acting out the emotions of the pigeon to see if they agreed with the choices that Mo Willems made.  She also pointed out how Mo Willems draws an illustration multiple times before doing the final illustration.  Some of the pieces on exhibit showed blue, red, and black lines to show he changes Mo Willems had made along the way.  Students loved looking at the final piece and seeing what changed from the original sketch.

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We continued to each collection of art doing similar activities to consider emotion and movement.  Students had a chance to share their favorite Mo Willems book or tell about the book that various pieces of art came from.  Along the way, we learned a bit more about Mo Willems and his work with Sesame Street.  Students also loved looking for the pigeons hidden throughout the museum.

In the workshop, students listened to the story Leonardo the Terrible Monster.  As they listened, the museum reader pointed out the expressions of the various monsters in the story and continued the theme of having students think about movement and emotion in illustration.

Following the story, students made their own monster out of construct paper, textured rubbings, and various craft supplies.  They were once again asked to think about emotion and how they were showing that through their monster.  I liked walking around and seeing students and teachers positioning their eyes, mouths, and other body parts to see how it changed the look and feel of the monster.  Students continued to add to their monsters right up until we packed up to leave.

It was a fabulous day at the museum and I can’t wait to see how this experience translates into the stories, characters, and settings that they are continuing to work on.

Polar Express 2015

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Our school is filled with tradition, and one of the favorite ones every single year is Polar Express Day.  It takes a huge team of volunteers to pull off this schoolwide event, but it is always a magical day for our students.  Every student hears The Polar Express read aloud while sipping hot chocolate in their pajamas.  Every child receives a bell with the message of “always believe” whispered in their ears.  Each child also receives a candy cane on the way back to class.

#alwaysbelieve

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Ahead of the event, volunteers purchase supplies to make bells for 600 students.  They spend a morning stringing the bells and prepping them for quick delivery to students on event day.  Another volunteer list is created to help on the day of the event as we have every class in the school come through the library.  A schedule is created and approved by the teachers.  This year, that schedule was very tight due to our increasing size.  Some sessions had 3 classes in them.

The day before the event, the lunchroom gets the hot chocolate so that it is prepped and ready to go.  A special spirit committee meets late at night and transforms the school into the north pole with train tracks, crackling fires, ornaments, and lights.  It is a magical arrival to school.

The first team of volunteers pick up the hot chocolate and start getting it ready for the first group.  At that point, things repeat every 30 minutes.  Music is played as students enter. Hot chocolate is passed out during the hot chocolate song by a team of 3-6 volunteers.

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We listen to the story while a teacher holds the book.  Then, the same team of volunteers put the bells around all the students’ necks.  Immediately, there is a chorus of bells ringing around the room as students check to see if their bells actually ring.  As always, there were special moments such as a former Barrow buddy returning to hold the book for a grade level.

Abney Marie's brother shares in the Polar Express experience! Awwww!

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This year, we even had a spontaneous sing along of Jingle Bells.

Thank you to each and every person who made the 2015 Polar Express day another great success.

 

 

 

Winter Design Challenge Using Blokify and 3D Printing

Blokify Design Challenge (5)Our open makerspace on Tuesdays and Thursdays is taking a break while UGA is having finals and winter break.  However, the demand to use the makerspace doesn’t disappear just because UGA is on break.  I decided to have a design challenge makerspace on two days and feature the Blokify app and our 3D printers. Since 3D printing takes a long time to complete, I decided to create some rules to help us out with the number of pieces we would need to print in a short amount of time.

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Rules:

  1. Design a winter symbol.  Any winter holidays or winter objects could serve as inspiration
  2. Design in 1 layer.  The more layers we have, the longer it takes, so we want our designs to be 1 layer only.
  3. Use Blokify to design and don’t worry about the colors of the blocks since your print will be whatever filament color we use.
  4. All blocks need to be connected so that your design prints in 1 piece.

Since Blokify uses blocks to design in 3D, I found some 8-bit winter designs to serve as inspiration for student winter designs.  I blocked off six 30-minute time slots on the library calendar and made a Google doc for teachers to sign students up.  I shared it with all teachers and encourage them to let any interested students come.  There were 8 slots in each time block.  It didn’t take long for the slots to fill with Kindergarten, 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.

During each session, I gave a very quick intro to Blokify and shared the 8-bit winter designs to consider.  I went over the rules as well, and students jumped onto the iPads to work.  It was a short amount of time to design something, so I told students not to panic if they didn’t finish a design.  As usual, students began looking at one another’s work for inspiration and helped one another with Blokify tips such as how to zoom in, delete blocks, or change the view.

It was fun to see what some of the students came up with and which students naturally gravitated toward this type of design because of their previous experience with block tools such as Minecraft.  We had Santas, a menorah, Christmas trees, snowflakes, reindeer, presents, crosses, and a few randomly shaped symbols too.

A few students did get frustrated, but most of them persevered through their frustration to complete a design.

Once designs were done, we had a process for getting them to me for 3D printing.  I created a separate email account just for 3D files.  Students went to “3D print” on Blokify and selected “Email to me”.  They emailed the .stl file to the 3D printing email account.  In the subject of the email, they changed the “untitled” file to their first name and teacher’s name.  This would help me in getting the printed file back to students.

At the end of the day, I sat down, logged into the email account, and started putting the .stl files into Makerware and Cubify.  Makerware works with our Makerbot and Cubify works with our Cube 3D printer.  For Makerware, I put up to 3 student files in a row on the build plate.  On a separate piece of paper, I wrote down the main file name and then wrote the student/teacher name in the correct sequence that the files would print on the plate.  For Cubify, I could only put on design on the build plate at a time, so I named each of those files with the student/teacher name.

cubify

Once all of the files were complete, I loaded them on a USB stick for the Cube and an SD card for the Makerbot.  Each day, I come in and crank up both printers right away and start printing the files.

I write the student/teacher name on a Ziploc bag and lay them out in the right order of the floor to await the finished print.  When a print finishes, I remove and bag them.  Then, I immediately start a new print.  I’m making good progress and hope to have all of the designs printed by Friday.  It takes a lot of organization to get this moving efficiently, but I finally have a process that is working faster than how I originally started.

Even with the speed I’m working at, the kids are still dropping by to ask if their design is done.

I loved the experience of having a design challenge and hope that the students did too.  I think if I offer these types of experiences more often, the students will start to develop their own ideas for 3D designs.  They will also get more comfortable with the 3D design tools.  We will try others in future design challenges along with Blokify.

Student Book Budgets 2015-16: The Final Lists

 

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Since early November, a group of 30 students has been hard at work spending a student book budget.  This year’s budget was funded through a generous grant from James Patterson.  Students created a survey in Google forms, surveyed the school, analyzed the results, set goals, met with vendors, and created consideration lists.

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You can read more about their work in these posts:

Getting started

Meeting with Capstone

Meeting with Gumdrop

Meeting with Avid

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Over the past week, students have worked to narrow those consideration lists down until they had books that met our goals and were within our budget.  There were many tough decisions as usual.  Students had to consider how many of each kind of book to order.  Should we order more superhero books than anything else?  Should we order copies of books that we already have in the collection?  Should we include books that we knew students would like but didn’t actually meet one of the goals we set in the beginning?  Should we spend more money with a certain vendor in order to earn additional free books?  As usual, I saw students go to bat for a book because of something they heard other students ask for.  For example, there was a Frozen drawing book with Gumdrop Books.  One of the 5th grade boys said, “I don’t personally like Frozen, but I know a lot of students who do.  I think we should order another copy of this book so that more students can enjoy it.”  I’m always amazed by the conversations that surface during this project.

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After cutting books from the list, I sent the student choices to Avid Bookshop, Capstone, and Gumdrop books to give us final quotes.  They each emailed me a final list for students to see.  Students met for one final time before the holidays to give a stamp of approval to the final lists.  There were a few minor changes to the lists in the end.  We added an additional Wimpy Kid book and some additional books in series.

Now, all of the lists have been sent to the vendors.  We met our goal of finishing before the holidays and students spent the entire $5,000 James Patterson Grant and managed to stretch that budget to an additional $750 thanks to Capstone Rewards.  Now we wait.  The books should arrive in January.  At that time, we’ll meet again to unpack the books, market them to the school, and enjoy a first look and checkout before the rest of the school.

Capstone List

Gumdrop List

Avid List

Great work student book budget team!

Coding Partners for Hour of Code

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Each year our 2nd-5th graders in all Clarke County Schools attend a UGA basketball game.  The game is within walking distance to our school so it doesn’t take us long to venture that way.  I’m usually a chaperone on this trip. This year, the game fell during the week of Hour of Code. Our departure time kept moving up on the calendar and it started to interfere with some classes who signed up to code. With each conflict comes an opportunity.  One of the classes affected was a fourth grade class and another was a first grade class, so we just decided to combine them together.  This allowed both classes to have a full hour of coding, and it allowed the 1st graders to try some coding that they might not be able to attempt on their own.  Many thanks to these 2 teachers who worked together along with me to come up with a solution that worked for everyone!

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We started on the carpet to lay the foundation for coding and Hour of Code.  We also talked about working with a partner.  Many of the 1st grade students don’t quite have the fine motor skills to navigate the mouse and keyboard, so the 4th graders were ready to help with this barrier.  We also talked about how we are all in this together.  One person shouldn’t just sit and watch.  Instead, both partners should talk out loud about what each coding puzzle offered and share ideas for what to do.  We took a look at Made with Code as well as Code.org as possibilities for what to work on, and each buddy group had to decide which coding puzzle interested them the most.

I sent the 4th graders off into the library to find a spot, and then the 1st graders walked to find a buddy.  The teachers and I helped students who couldn’t find a buddy on their own.  Students immediately got to work, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well they worked together.  I saw numerous 4th graders encouraging 1st graders to take a turn in dragging over blocks of code.  I heard them ask the 1st graders what they thought they should do in the puzzle.  I also saw 1st graders taking the lead and telling the 4th graders exactly what they thought should be in the coding sequence.

Many of the students chose Star Wars, Minecraft, or Frozen, but a few ventured out to parts of Code.org that I didn’t show such as Flappy Bird.  I was surprised by how complex some of the coding puzzle were this year, and students loved that when they reached the final level of a puzzle, they could create their own game.

As I walked around, I listed to a lot of conversation.  I was very proud to see students not giving up and really working to find solutions to their problems.  I heard things like:  “where is our problem?” and “I think we have something wrong in the bottom part of this code” and “Let’s put this in and see what happens.”  I wanted to bottle up all of these quotes to remind students that this type of language and perseverance should spill over into all other areas of our lives.  I pondered why students were so comfortable with starting over and looking for solutions to problems in coding, even though they might get extremely frustrated with other things.  I’m not sure I have an answer, but it’s something I’ll continue to think about.

I really like the potential of partnering different grades together for projects.  I really think it could be done more often if we take a close look at the curriculum and how topics overlap or support one another.  When students work with different age groups, their leadership skills naturally start to come out and their confidence in themselves grows as well.  I’ll continue to think on this.  It’s yet another great thing that the Hour of Code surfaces in education.

 

Hour of Code 2015 is Here!

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We have been participating in Hour of Code since it started 3 years ago, and it is an event that inspires so many things within our school.  This week-long event coincides with Computer Science in Education week each December.  Code.org partner with numerous organizations to offer one-hour tutorials that are appropriate for multiple age groups.  When we first started Hour of Code, I tried to get students to all try specific tutorials, but many of our students have gained some confidence with coding and problem solving over the years.  I wanted to offer more choice this year and continue to focus on perseverance, problem solving, and collaboration in addition to learning some pieces of what it means to code.

On day 1 of Hour of Code, our 3rd grade came 2 classes at a time.  This meant 45-50 students in the library with their computers.  It’s a big group with lots of energy, but it amazes me how they settle in, don’t give up, and support one another.  I also had a 5th grade group and a second grade group during the day.

We started by sharing some things we know about coding.  We also talked about how many of us love video games or apps.  Pretty much all hands went up, and we pondered the questions: “What if the people who invented Minecraft (or insert any app or game here) gave up before they finished the game?”  We also pondered how many games are currently being invented out there that we don’t even know about and how many of the developers will persevere or give up.  It was an interesting way to set the stage for our work for the day.

We watched the official Hour of Code video.

Then, I showed students the Hour of Code website and the 4 main tutorials that were featured: Star Wars, Minecraft, Frozen, and Angry Birds.

I offered these as a starting place, but students were allowed to go to any tutorial they wanted to attempt.  My main rule was that I wanted them to really stick with whatever they picked and give their best try.

Students spread out around the library and got to work.  It took a few minutes to settle in, but all students stayed focused on the Code.org site.  I loved how they very naturally got up and helped one another when they got stuck.  A few students reached a point of frustration where they needed a break, so I pulled all of our coding books from the library as a place to go and take a break to just read about coding until they were ready to go back to work.  At some point, they all went back to their computer.

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I also loved that some students who speak other languages saw that they could switch the language on the Code.org tutorials.  Rather than flipping back and forth to Google Translate, they could read the site right on their screen, and these students were over the moon with excitement and were extremely successful in their coding.

The Code.org site was very reliable on our first day.  In the previous 2 years, we’ve had problems with the site crashing or being slow, but day one went really well.  I had some backup plans though.  One of the other activities that students were able to do in small groups was visit our Finch robots, which are on loan from Birdbrain Technologies.  Students worked alone to use Snap to program the robot to maneuver around the floor.  There wasn’t a specific task other than to explore what the robots could do and what each block of code meant.  Some students had the robots congregating together on the floor or even doing a dance together.  It was fun to see what they came up with in such a short amount of time.

As usual, teachers observed students who struggled in academic areas suddenly find a spark with coding.  I hope that seeing some of these students’ excitement will spark ideas for all of us in how we might use this momentum to connect to curriculum content.  We can’t dismiss the tools that get students excited about learning.  We need to embrace tools like Minecraft and the expertise that our students hold in these tools and consider how these might enrich the work we are doing together in school.

I can’t wait to see what else the Hour of Code week holds for us.

Students and Vendors: Meeting with Avid Bookshop

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Our book budget students have continued to meet with vendors to spend our $5,000 James Patterson Partnership grant.  They have gone through a long process to create a survey, survey students, analyze data, set goals, and meet with vendors to create consideration lists.  They met with Jim Boon of Capstone Press and Gret Hechenbleikner of Gumdrop books.  Students have just finished meeting with their final vendor, Avid Bookshop.

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We love working with our local independent bookshop.  They are always willing to come into the school or Skype in to share books with us for projects.  Will Walton, author and bookseller, came in to do book talks with our 3 small groups of book budget students.  Each grade comes in separately for 30 minutes, and each group picks up where the previous group left off.

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We pulled up our goals on the screen so that Will could use them as a talking point with students.  He brought some Advance Reader Copies of books that might meet our goals but also offered his own knowledge of books that matched many of our goals such as graphic novels, scary, and humorous stories.  As Will talked, I was in charge of creating a Google doc of the books so that students could look back at them later.

One of the things that I absolutely loved as Will was talking was how our students were getting hooked on the books he was talking about.  There was an immediate trust of Will, and several students found a book that they personally wanted to read.  He graciously handed out some the ARCs and told students to read them and pass them on to someone else.  He also encouraged students to come in and visit Avid Bookshop.  Several requested that he write down the address of the shop since they had never actually been inside.

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Will also started thinking of certain authors and series and going onto the shelves of our library to find them.  He handed out several of our own books and students checked them out to read.  He really reminded me of the importance of book talks and how I really need to be doing this more than I am!

After Will left, we continued to work on our Avid list.  I email it to Janet Geddis and the Avid team.  They will now check the list to make sure all of the titles are available, and they will send us a quote to help us narrow down our list to what we will actually purchase.  Students have two more meetings before the holidays, so we  hope we can fine tune all 3 of our lists to match our $5,000 budget.