Punkin’ Chunkin’: A Halloween Makerspace Event

Our makerspace sessions this year have been following a month-long theme, but for Halloween, we decided to have a one-time special makerspace.  In the past, we’ve done a “design something spooky” challenge where kids designed haunted houses, ghosts, etc and used littlebits to give them lights, sound, and movement.

This year, Gretchen Thomas from UGA suggested pumpkin catapults, and it was the perfect suggestion. Ahead of the session, students signed up on a Google doc with their teacher for a 30-minute slot.  As students arrived, they checked in with a UGA student and sat on the carpet in front of the projector.  While we waited on arrivals, they watched a video of the Punkin Chunkin event in Delaware.

We chatted about observations. Many students noticed the different styles of catapults that were made and we wondered about how many times they had to work on their inventions before they worked the way they wanted them to.

Next, I muted a video showing students working on a smaller scale pumpkin catapult.

While the video played, we talked about the day’s challenge. Students were challenged to design a catapult that could launch a candy pumpkin across the library. They used the video to name some of the materials they would need: plastic spoon, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, tape, and a pumpkin. Students also saw in the video that there were many designs of catapults and that adjustments were constantly being made to improve the catapults.

When they were ready to take on the challenge, students gathered their initial materials from a supply table and made their first attempt at a pumpkin catapult. Some jumped right in while others went back to watch the video again. Some chose to work together, while others chose to work alone.

As first attempts were finished, students picked up a candy pumpkin and moved to our launch zone. This was a crucial piece of the experience. I wanted a designated area for launching in order to contain the mess but also to keep students safe from flying projectiles. We launched pumpkins in the back of the library toward our green screen wall.

Most students had mediocre first launches, so we chatted with them about what they thought might improve their design.  Students went back and forth from the launch zone to the building areas.  UGA students spent most of their time at tables assisting students who were stuck or needed an extra hand. Some of them also helped with keeping students safe from flying pumpkins in the launch zone.

Even with pumpkins flying in the back of the library, this was a surprisingly peaceful makerspace. Students were very focused on their designs, especially as we moved higher in grades. Pairs of students worked well together and students were for the most part safe when launching pumpkins. I loved seeing the many different designs. Some were very simple and some attempted to make very elaborate catapults.

This experience could have many extensions if we had more time. I would love to add a measurement component to see which catapult threw pumpkins the farthest. We kept things very open-ended, but you could also establish some boundaries as to what elements of the catapult were required, how many materials could be used, etc.

With the time we had, this was the perfect setup. Students had plenty of time to make a catapult that had some type of success and they were able to take what they made with them to continue working on or exploring.

Barrow Oral History Project: An Update

Back in 2009, the 5th grade classes, teachers, and I worked on an oral history project to try to capture some of the stories of Barrow’s history.  Our school was originally built in 1923, so there are many stories through the decades that could be told.

That year, the teachers and I participated in virtual professional learning with the Library of Congress. We engaged students in centers to explore primary documents from Barrow’s past, how to use laptops and microphones to record, interview etiquette, and how to craft the best interview questions to spark conversation.

Each student worked with a partner to interview a guest from Barrow’s past.  Those histories were recorded in Audacity and uploaded to our school website.  Since then, I have transferred those files into Youtube.  They can all be heard at our Barrow Oral History page.

This year, our school celebrated its 95th anniversary and our PTA planned a big celebration.  Since hundreds of guests would be in our building, I thought it was the perfect time to capture a few more Barrow memories.  This time, I used Flipgrid to capture the memories since it automatically uploads the video.  Our past interviews lasted 20-30 minutes, but I knew people wouldn’t have that much time to give during the anniversary.  Flipgrid limited the responses to 5 minutes or less.  Rather than ask a series of questions, I simply asked people to share their name, when they attended Barrow, and a special Barrow memory.

Some of this year’s 5th graders served as hosts in the library.  Some stood in the hall to welcome people in to record. Others went with each storyteller into my office, the makerspace, or other quiet parts of the library to assist with recording.

Flipgrid has gone through several changes that have been frustrating to me when it comes to events like this one.  One of those changes is requiring people to login to their email in order to record.  To bypass this step, I had each storyteller “register” with me.  They simply filled out their first and last name.  I went into the administration side of Flipgrid and added their name to the Oral History grid. Then, I assigned them a unique password. When they went to the iPad, they simply typed in the password, and Flipgrid knew who they were. This allowed them to just focus on recording.  Since this event, Flipgrid has added a “guest mode” feature that allows you  to record without logging in.

The 95th anniversary was jam-packed with activities, so we didn’t record as many videos as I had hoped. However, I do want to try to continue this grid and add additional memories each time we have an opportunity to share some memories. It could even become something that 5th graders do before they leave our school so that we have an ongoing addition of current memories of our school.

In order to make the Flipgrid videos viewable, I added them to what Flipgrid now calls a “mixtape”. You can enjoy all of the 95th anniversary memories by viewing our mixtape of videos: https://flipgrid.com/+barroworalhistory 

If you are a former Barrow student or teacher who would like to record a memory, you can email me at plemmonsa@clarke.k12.ga.us and I can get you info for how to record on your own device.

 

Making Inferences Through Picture Books

Our 5th grade recently spent some time in the library exploring places in texts where the reader must make an inference in order to know the full story. This is a standard that our 5th graders work on in the first quarter.

ELAGSE5RL1: Quotes accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

To prepare for this lesson, I spent some time reading several picture books as well as exploring what other educators have done with inferences. This post by Pernille Ripp was especially helpful.  Anytime we work on language arts standards, I want a good portion of our time to be spent actually reading rather than just practicing a specific skill.  With picture book month approaching, I thought this experience would be a good time to reiterate with our older readers that picture books are for all readers and to give them time to read at least 2-3 books during our time together.

Here are the books I decided to pull for this experience:

  • The Skunk by Mac Barnett
  • We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen
  • Shhh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
  • Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna
  • The Rough Patch by Brian Lies
  • Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
  • Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
  • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
  • After the Fall by Dan Santat
  • Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza
  • Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
  • Unspoken by Henry Cole

For each book, I made a folder with instructions and a guiding question. Inside the folder, I placed some blank post-it notes.

As students entered the library, we began our time on the carpet. I launched right in to talking about a picture book author, Bethan Woollvin. I let students know about her subversive, fractured fairy tales and also that she leaves some of her story to the reader to figure out.  In each class, there was usually a handful of students who mentioned that this was an inference. If they didn’t then, we talked about how we would need to make inferences when we read her stories.

I read aloud Little Red.  We paused a few places to talk about inferences we must make as the reader:

  • When the wolf makes a plan
  • When the wolf climbs into Grandma’s bed looking completely ridiculous
  • When Little Red makes a plan
  • When Little Red is wearing a wolf costume at the end of the book

This whole read aloud experience was setting students up for their own task. With a partner, students chose one of the picture books I had pulled.  Their goal was to enjoy the book together. While they were reading, they were invited to think about places in the text and illustrations where the author/illustrator left the story up to the reader to figure out.  Any inferences could be written onto a post-it note to add to the folder for future readers to read and consider.  As more students read each book, more post-it notes appeared in the folders and readers could compare their own thoughts to those of others.

The teacher and I were able to sit with pairs of students and listen to their reading. Sometimes we read aloud with them as well and became a natural part of the conversation on inferences.  What I loved the most was looking around and seeing so many 5th grade readers engaged with a text and having a genuinely good time reading them.  The inference part was low key enough that the enjoyment of the book was the more central part of their time.

We closed our time by having any pairs of students who loved a book do a short book talk for others and highlight where that book could be found in the library.  My hope was that this would be a spark to our picture book month challenge where students are encouraged to read a picture book from each genre section of the library.

 

Using Two Truths and a Lie to Encourage Thorough Research

We’ve all been there. You’re in the midst of an informational writing project. You ask students to search for information. They do a quick Google search, choose the first thing they find, and say, “I’m done”. It’s frustrating, but in an age where information is so fast to find, it’s understandable that they would want an instant answer and be done.

This year, ahead of 5th grade’s informational writing unit, we decided to do an exercise in research by using the book series Two Truths and Lie by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson.  Each chapter in the book is made up of 3 stories.  Two are truths and one is a lie.  The books have a great opening that explains that all of the stories are pretty unbelievable and that it will be a challenge to figure out which is false. I chose a section out of each book to make a copy of.  I put them in groups of three so that every table would have two truths and a lie on the table.

For the opening of the lesson, I asked students if everything on the Internet was true.  They immediately said no, but I reminded them that even though we say that, so often, we fall victim to something that is actually false.  We looked at Jennifer LaGarde’s infographic about identifying fake news so that we could review the importance of knowing the author, domain, and especially triangulation.

I read the opening of Two Truths and a Lie and explained the task at hand.

  1. In pairs, students would choose one folder to sit at.
  2. Pairs would read the article in the folder.
  3. Pairs would use our trusted databases in Galileo as well as do an independent Google search to find evidence to prove that the article was a truth or a lie.
  4. When pairs felt like they had enough evidence, they could talk with me about what they found.

Things got off to a great start. Pairs opened up folders and read their article.  However, when computers opened, things went downhill (at first). Hands started going up immediately because students had found an image that matched an image in the book or they found a video that matched their article. Those pieces of evidence alone were enough to prove something true in several students’ eyes.

It was a great teaching moment because I was able to go back to our infographic and repeat the questions about domain, author, and triangulation.  Students often didn’t know who made the video or where the picture came from, so we could dig around and look for that info. It was easier to send students back into our databases or Google because they simply didn’t have enough evidence to prove.  Many of them got serious after the conversations and started matching text in the article to text they found in sources. They began showing me that they weren’t just looking at Wikipedia as their only source and were instead using trusted news sites and museum sites.

By the end of our time, most groups had found enough evidence to make their case, and I revealed the truths and lies, which are found at the back of the book.  This is definitely not a one time lesson that will solve all of our research problems, but I loved that so many students were receptive to the idea of digging through multiple sources to prove something right or wrong. Now, my hope is that the momentum we gained from this experience will lead us into our informational writing.

 

Celebrating Hansel & Gretel with Bethan Woollvin

I’ve loved Bethan Woollvin’s fractured, humorous, and subversive fairy tales for many years now. My own two kids have read Little Red until it’s falling apart. These books beg to be read aloud. Kids recite the repeating phrases, gasp at unexpected twists, and cheer for the heroines of the story.

Last year, our 2nd graders Skyped with Bethan to celebrate the release of Rapunzel. This year, we were over-the-moon excited that Peachtree Publishers brought her to our school as part of her US tour for her new book Hansel and Gretel.

In Hansel and Gretel, Willow the witch is a witch who only uses her magic for good. Hansel and Gretel are two mischievous and naughty kids who only think of themselves.  Willow tries her best to be nice to them along the way as they eat her house, gobble up all of her food, and wreak havoc with her magical things.  Can Willow continue to use her magic for good or is it time for Hansel and Gretel to be taught a lesson?  You’ll just have to read this fractured fairy tale to find out.

Ahead of Bethan’s visit, all classes in K-3 read all 3 of her books.  With each reading, students noticed similarities and differences between the tales.  They noticed the bravery of Rapunzel and Red.  They noticed the color scheme of black, white, and gray with a pop of a bright color. They noticed the hidden pictures underneath dust jackets and end papers.  In art, students worked on creating scenes of their own versions of fairy tales.  We hung this art in the hallways of the front of the school.

Our third graders all designed candy for a giant gingerbread house outside the library that I made out of some pumpkin spice tablecloth. My high school intern created Bethan Woollvin’s iconic eyes to go on the door of the library.

In classrooms, students also created their own Hansel & Gretel puppets, which were provided to us by Peachtree Publishers.  Many of them brought their puppets to the visit to hold up as Bethan shared the story.

Bethan presented 2 times: once for K-1 and once for 2-3.  She showed England on a map along with some childhood pictures.  We got a peek at her studio where she creates her illustrations.  One of my favorite parts was seeing how she creates the characters in her books.  She created some time lapse videos to show us how she begins with a pencil and then fills in the details one color at a time.

She also showed students how the illustrations changed over time.  They started as sketches but then went through several versions before reaching the final version found in the books. It was great to see how artists revise too and things aren’t perfect the first time.

Another great surprise was seeing how Bethan’s little sister created a drawing that inspired the ending of Hansel and Gretel.

Students loved watching Bethan draw many of her characters.  At one point, she sat in the middle of the floor amongst the students and drew. Students loved having her right in the middle of all of them, even if it did cause a stir of energy.

As always, students went back to class buzzing with excitement about the visit.  Our PTA bought a copy of Hansel & Gretel for all the class libraries and many students also purchased copies that Bethan autographed.  I can’t wait to see what projects, stories, and art spark from this visit.

Thank you, Bethan, for taking time to share your expertise with our school.  Thank you Peachtree Publishers and Avid Bookshop for bringing this opportunity to our students. It was truly a special day for all of us.