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.

Storybook Celebration 2014


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Our annual storybook celebration was another huge success.  I often get questions about how our storybook celebration is organized and what we do throughout the day.

Planning for this day begins in early October.  It takes multiple steps and multiple people for this day to be successful.

Storybook celebration begins with guest readers in every classroom.  To organize readers, we create a Signup Genius to easily share the signup as well as send out updates and reminders to those who have signed up.  My volunteer coordinator, Courtney Tobin, from PTA helped with this.  She created the signup and she and I began sharing it.  She contacted parent representatives at each grade level to also send out the link to families.

Barrow Media Center  Storybook Celebration Guest Readers

On the morning of storybook celebration, guest readers arrive in the library between 7:30-7:50.  They sign in at the counter and select a book from 2 tables that are organized by books for PreK-2 and 3-5.  All of these books are pulled by me ahead of time.  Some readers bring their own book.

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While readers wait to go to classes, they mingle, pre-read their books, and find a place to sit in the chairs that are ready for a group photo.

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At 7:55, we all gather and I give a quick welcome.

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Then we take a group photo.

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My morning BTV crew escorts readers to classrooms by grade level, so I have a sheet with all of the readers and their assigned classes that I give to each crew member.

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Once all readers make it to their rooms, I race around the school to take pictures of as many readers as I can.  There are about 2 readers for every classroom.  They read and talk with the kids about their book.  Some even leave the book in the room so that kids can keep enjoying it during the day, but most bring the book back to the library.

At 9:00, we gather in the cafeteria for the assembly.  This year, we tried some new things in the assembly, which required some organization in advance.  We had an assembly guest reader.  Our family engagement specialist helped a lot with the assembly.  She contacted and organized Dan Coenen, a UGA professor and community member.  He read The Book with No Pictures and had the kids laughing and engaged.

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We also had a skit performed by teachers.  It was written by the teachers and reviewed many of the Daily 5 strategies that kids use in class.  One again, Mimi Elliott-Gower, our family engagement specialist, got this organized along with Carrie Yawn, 2nd grade teacher.

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In the past, all students have walked across the stage to show off their costume.  This has been very time consuming, so this year we tried something new.  Each row of students stood, twirled, and sat down facing the back of the cafeteria.  We did this until every student was facing the back.

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Then we were ready for a parade!  The parade is outside on the sidewalks of our community.  I send out the parade route to families in my newsletter and via facebook.  Our principal emails UGA and lets them know so that they can come out of their buildngs and wave.

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Taking almost 600 kids on a walk is a big task, and safety is one our biggest concerns.  I drive around to make sure that the route we plan to take is all clear before we decide the way to go.  Our family engagement specialist contacts the police and they help us cross streets and watch for unsafe drivers to pull over.  We talk to the kids about staying away from the road while they are on the sidewalk and we want them to walk in a single line.

I lead the parade so that we make the right turns, but I communicate the route to all of the teachers as well so that they know where we are going.

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The kids chant “Read more books!” as we go down the sidewalks and we usually get lots of waves and honks as we walk.

Our 5th graders break off of the parade route and stop at the GA Center for hot chocolate while the rest of the parade returns to Barrow.  Once again, several people help with buying, prepping, and pouring the hot chocolate.  This is a special treat for our 5th graders’ final storybook parade.

Once we are all back at school, classes carry on with their normal lunch schedule and literature activities in their classrooms.  We also have a specials schedule that teachers sign up for.  Because teachers miss their planning period, we create some 30-minute segments that they sign up for.  Art, music, PE, resource teachers, and I all offer literature-based activities.  I create a Google spreadsheet with times and each teacher posts what he/she will be offering.  This is done a few weeks before storybook celebration.  The week before, I send out the schedule for people to signup.

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This year I read the book Ol’ Clip Clop to some classes and Precious and the Boo Hag to other classes.  Then, we used the Puppet Pals app on the iPad to create our own stories.

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Days like these are filled with learning opportunities, collaboration, tinkering, dreaming, and community.  It is a difficult kind of event to pull off by yourself.  It can be done, but I’m very thankful to have the support that I do to create days like these for our students.