A Year-Long Kindergarten Interdisciplinary Space Project

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I have to take a moment to brag on another teacher and group of students in our school.  Kelly Hocking is an amazing Kindergarten teacher, and she has a talented group of Kindergarten students who are some of the biggest researchers and creators in our school.  I love how each year she finds something that her class takes an interest in and somehow weaves into every subject area and standard that they study in Kindergarten.  One year it was art.  Another year it was a study of maps and stretching the imagination.  This year it was space.

Kelly never knows at what point in the year something will pop up as an interest in her class, but this year it happened when they were doing a GoNoodle.  It happened to feature space, and it took the class into a series of questions and wonderings about space.

They started reading lots of books about space as well as studying the science standards about the day and night sky.

The more they read, the more they started to notice about space popping up in so many areas of their curriculum and life.

They launched into research mode and asked lots of questions.  In the library and classroom they used print and digital resources to learn about the planets and collect facts about each one.

In February, the class celebrated Fat Tuesday by dressing as planets and parading around the school.  Each costume was space-inspired and they handed out coins and beads to lots of classes.

Research continued in the classroom and the media center.  Students used all of their facts to write a series of notes.  In groups, the students put those notes in an order that made sense and prepared to make their own ebooks about space using the Storykit app.

At this point, we were approaching poetry month, so I suggested that the students think about space poetry.  I connected the class with several poetry books about space, and they started crafting some poems in class.  Ms. Kelly also has ukuleles in her classrooms, so the poems eventually were turned into songs with music composed by the students.

At our annual Poem In Your Pocket day, the groups of students performed their poetry songs for a live audience.  We even had poet, Laura Purdie Salas, listen in to the poetry since students were inspired by her space poems and songs.

At this point in the year, lots of attention turned to Mars and space exploration.  Students really didn’t want to travel to Mars themselves, but they did want to think about helping other people get there some day.  We created a Padlet to collect all of our research in the library and the classroom.

Eventually, the students wanted to start making some inventions to help Mars explorers, so we did a lot of tinkering in our Makerspace.  In class, students constructed elaborate prototypes of their inventions and did informational writing to accompany their creations.

If we had more time in our year, I’m sure Ms. Kelly and her students would have come up with even more miraculous things, but it truly was an amazing year of exploration and I’m glad that our library was a part of it.

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You can read more about the library parts of this project in these posts:

Why Do We Explore Space: A Virtual Field Trip Opportunity

Can a Foodini 3D Printer Go to Space?

Kindergarten Mission to Mars: A Makerspace Exploration

Kindergarten Researchers in Action

Also, you can view Ms. Kelly’s full deck of slides which includes lyrics to a cumulative song that explores all of the planets and the facts the students learned.  They performed this song at our end of the year assembly.

View the full slidedeck here.

Kindergarten Mission to Mars: A Makerspace Tinkering Lesson

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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.

Mars Makers

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.

Experience 1:

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.

Experience 2:

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.

Experience 3:

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.


Setting Up a New Elementary School Library (Part 1)

I had the honor of putting the very first books on the shelves

I had the honor of putting the very first books on the shelves

After my last post (New Beginnings), I’ve received several requests to document the process of setting up our new library space.  It is an exciting and exhausting process to walk into a big open room with endless possibilities.  As I’ve said before (and keep repeating to myself), the space can and will change once students begin using it.  I can only guess what might work best for students, but the beauty of the furniture and shelving that we have is that it can fairly easily change into something new if it doesn’t work the way I’ve set it up.

Over this past weekend, our SPLOST director, David Stubbs, spent many hours with a few helpers moving all of the boxes out of the library and organizing them by category.  This was supposed to be done by the movers, but it wasn’t.  He also made sure that all furniture that didn’t belong to the library was delivered to its proper place.  This morning, I walked in to see several possible configurations of the shelves, soft seating, tables, stools, and chairs.  David walked me around and talked about what he knew about each set of furniture.

Next, my first volunteers arrived.  The wonderful Camilla Bracewell, Barrow grandparent, and Carole Langley, spouse of an early Barrow alum, began working on shelves.  All of the carts have 3 shelves, but many of our library books are tall, so each cart needed to be switched to 2 shelves.  They adjusted the “Everybody” shelves and began bringing in the “Everybody” boxes and sequencing them.  I had numbered the boxes 1 of 37, 2 of 37, etc. so that we could easily put them in order.  Once in order, they began packing the shelves with books until they had to leave.

While all of this was going on, Julie Moon, Barrow parent and professional organizer, helped me think through all of the spaces in the library.  She took the lead on rolling around the remaining shelves to see all of the possibilities we could create for the various sections of the library.  Each time furniture was moved, we thought about why it was being moved.  For example, some oval rolling tables were moved away from the main instructional area because we decided that they would be great areas for students to collaborate or for teachers, mentors, or volunteers to work with students.  The spaces wouldn’t really work well if they were right next to each other, so we changed it.  We worked on this from about 10AM-2PM, and I think when we left at the end of the day, we felt pretty good about the placement of all of the furniture.  There is a bit more furniture to come, so the arrival of those pieces might change some things.  We did our best to think about these pieces as we were laying things out.

Julie continued working on the Everybody section and realized that we had packed the shelves a bit too full.  She went back through the entire section and shuffled the books on the shelves so there was a bit of space on each shelf for some expansion.

Jaison Jacob, a Barrow parent, and his daughter came at the end of the day and helped switch a few more of the shelves from 3 shelves to 2 shelves.  To end their time, they rolled all of the fiction boxes into the library to get ready for our next wave of unpacking on Wednesday.

Before I left, I went around and labeled each section of shelves with post-its so that volunteers can easily see where sections are.

I can’t say enough about the amazing volunteers that came today.  They took over some of the strenuous work so that I could step back and think through the space and layout.  I look forward to the coming days and several more wonderful volunteers popping in to support this space.  I love the ownership of the space already by parents, grandparents, alumni, and friends.

Exploring the Solar System

Right now our 4th grade is working on the Georgia Performance Standards dealing with the solar system and stars.  They kicked off their unit of study in class with a KWL chart.  With that knowledge named and questions formed, they came to the library for an exploratory lesson to further expand their knowledge and spark additional questions before they continue their unit of study in the classroom.

We began our time together as a whole group.  I sparked their interest with my own research of the end of the shuttle program, the price tag for a seat on a Russian shuttle, and updates on the Mars Rover.  Next, students got to choose from two books to read aloud:  You Are the First Kid On Mars by Patrick O’Brien and The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto by Elizabeth Rusch.  I was actually surprised that they picked The Planet Hunter because we had talked so much about the Mars rover and they were excited about it.  Nevertheless, we read the story and they were amazed to learn that scientists could change the definition of what a planet is and things we once called planets are now called something different. They wondered if there would ever be a day that Earth would not be a planet anymore.

After our book exploration, students split into 2 groups.  One group went to the desktop computers and used a pathfinder created with Sqworl to explore YouTube videos and interactive sites.  The other group used our 10 iPads to explore a variety of free solar system and constellation apps such as Distant Suns, Moon, Solar System, NASA Viz, Stellarium, GoSkyWatch, and Planets.  Groups switched halfway through our time so that they went to both centers.

The students left with excitement about the solar system.  They left with questions and a desire to continue learning.  When one student discovered something in an app, video, or interactive site, they immediately wanted to share it with other students in the class.  Without any prompting, they were teaching one another how to use the tools.  The teacher and I served as facilitators in both groups.  One student even said he wanted to go build a model rocket after watching one of the YouTube videos.  They will carry this new knowledge and energy back into their classroom to continue their unit of study on the solar system.

In total, this took about 45-60 minutes, but I feel like the energy that was created in the students at the front end of their unit will be well worth the time and exploration.


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