Sunday, October 27, 2013

Family S.T.E.M. Night - Year 2

Last year I was given the task to plan a family STEM night for my school. I received lots of helpful feedback from students, parents, and teachers that helped me plan for this year's event. Planning started about a month prior to the event and stations were once again chosen for their level of engagement, simplicity, and variety. We had an amazing turn out for a busy Thursday night and the gym was packed the entire event! Here's what STEM Night Year 2 looked like:

The Activities


Students watched a chemical reaction between an acid (vinegar) and a base (baking soda) blow up a balloon! While this station was "hands off" (due to the potential messiness of this demonstration) students were still able to practice making verbal predictions, observations, and drawing conclusions. 

Tie-Dye Sharpie Art

Students created a small abstract art piece using Sharpie markers on a scrap of natural fabric. Teachers put a few drops of rubbing alcohol onto the fabric and students watched as the ink began to run together to create "tie-dye."

Magic Ketchup
Students discovered the secret of "Magic Ketchup" while exploring concepts of density and buoyancy. While this station was fairly simple and straightforward (only a bottle of water, kosher salt, and a ketchup packet were needed), students were fascinated that they could control the motion of their ketchup packet with just a simple squeeze of the water bottle. Note: this experiment is also called a Cartesian Diver.

ColAR App

Have you seen this app yet?! This was one of our most popular stations! I think parents were more impressed than the kids!

Marshmallow & Toothpick Towers

Families were challenged with the task of building a sturdy tower using only 30 marshmallows and 30 toothpicks in only 3 minutes.

Make a Parachute
Students learned how parachutes work and then were given materials to construct their own mini-version. Students had to make tough design choices (such as which type of material to use for the parachute) and experimented with adding weight to their pipe-cleaner person.

Angry Birds Farm Animals
Students begged for this station to return this year, so I had to oblige. I somehow managed to lose my two Angry Birds, though, so we used bean bag farm animals as a replacement (which proved to be just as effective in the sling-shots).

Guess My Number
Families used their keen questioning skills and knowledge of place value to guess their opponents mystery number. K-2 used a simple hundreds chart, while 3-5 worked up into the millions.

Walk the Line

Students completed a series of activities using self-created number lines (K-2's went to 100, and 3-5 went to 1,000). The best part? Students were able to take number lines home to use for homework and math games!

Coin Toss

Students practiced making tally marks and explored the concept of probability.

Fruit Snack Math
Who knew a single bag of fruit snacks could have so many math connections? Students completed at least three math activities ranging from simple addition and subtraction to graphing and fractions using their pack.

PK/Kinder Area

Our Pre-K and Kinder teachers wanted an area just for the little ones this year. These students made orange pumpkins by combining red and yellow paints, used straws and pipe cleaners to create sculptures, and used mini-pumpkins to measure basic objects.

Estimation Jars
We had two water bottles for each grade band (K-1, 2-3, 4-5) filled with yummy Halloween candies.

Family Resources 
We partnered this station up with our Watch D.O.G.S table. Teachers passed out free packs of playing cards and parents signed up for a print out of this math packet. My students love playing these games in class to build their math skills.

Lessons learned this year...

Ask for help - often. STEM night fell on another busy week this year. With so many obligations, I knew help from my colleagues was a must. I held a work party after school a few days before the event to tackle all the little things like making signs and cutting/counting out materials. I was also very thankful for the ten extra AmeriCorps volunteers that helped run stations during the event.

It still pays to be extra prepared. Having a one-sheet for each station that lists materials and talking points for facilitators was incredibly helpful. Not only did it help as I did my final checks the day before, these sheets allowed each station to essentially run themselves the night of our event without any confusion.

Variety is good, but kids like the hands-on messy stuff. I tried my best to have a variety of messy, clean, quiet, and loud stations. However, families seemed to overall gravitate to the more "exciting" stations - Magic Ketchup, Marshmallow Towers, Angry Birds, Make a Parachute, and the ColAR app. My goal for next year is to make the math stations more enticing.

Buckets and towels need to be written into the supply lists. I found myself running to fetch these items too many times throughout the night, reminding me that ease of clean-up is just as important as set-up.

Planning STEM Night has been such a fun opportunity for me these past two years. Thanks for letting me share the adventure with you. Year Three is already in the works and is looking to be even bigger and better. Get ready for more STEMmy fun!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Using Skype to Connect Close to Home

I've long touted the merits of using Skype in the classroom. It's an easy and cost-effective way for me to provide a variety of meaningful experiences for kids while having a lot of fun. Last year we were fortunate enough to connect with nearly 20 schools across the United States. However, it wasn't until a Mystery Skype call with a school only a mile away that I realized how powerful this tool could be for connecting teachers within my district.

Since then, I've been working with several colleagues from various elementary schools on projects that relate to our curriculum. It's been a wonderful experience to work with teachers from nearby schools and I feel that my students are more connected to their community.

I was recently interviewed by Skype's Social Good Blog on this project. You can read more about it here.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

21 Days

There's an old theory that if you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit. While I'm sure this is up for debate, I've been holding fast to this idea in the hopes of working on some professional goals and (in all honesty) breaking some bad habits.

At the beginning of the school year, I sat down and created a list of three wants for my classroom:

  1. An inviting space for students and teachers to learn and collaborate.
  2. Be more organized throughout my day.
  3. Maintain my online grade book so that it allows me to effectively plan instruction for my students and serves as a clear communication tool for parents.
My next step was the identify how I was going to get what I wanted in my classroom. For each want, I determined one or two little changes to implement throughout my day. Here's the breakdown: 

An inviting space for students and teachers to learn and collaborate.
I am the first to admit that learning can be messy, but I've really tried hard to enforce cleaning up as we go. Encouraging students to take one minute to put away materials and tidy up their spaces during transitions has saved us quite a bit of time at the end of the day. I even think that less clutter on the floors and tables throughout the day has helped students be more productive in their school work.

Be more organized throughout my day.
Whenever I have a lot going on it seems like my organizational skills are always the first to get pushed aside. I've developed several bad habits over the years, such as making piles of papers all over my room and not putting away materials at the end of the day because I'm tired. This year, I'm working to clean up my work spaces and leave lesson plans and materials for the next day near my computer. I've also experimented with ending my day by making a reasonable list of things to do in the morning. Not only do I feel better when I walk into my classroom in the morning, I know exactly what needs to get done. I'm almost embarrassed at how easy a change this is, and that I should have been doing this years ago. 

Maintain my online grade book so that it allows me to effectively plan instruction for my students and serves as a clear communication tool for parents.
While I've always maintained a grade book, paper or electronic, this year I'm really trying to be more intentional about what goes in and how often I update my grades. My district's new online grade book has all sorts of fancy bells and whistles that will allow me to deeply analyze my students' progress throughout the school year, but only if I put in quality assessments and information. Taking time during my prep period twice a week or so to enter grades and comments for parents (rather than the previous traditional "weekend grade-dump") has been extremely helpful in planning my small group instruction throughout the week and targeting kids for 1:1 conferencing on Fridays. 

Today marks the 21st day of school. While I can't confidently say that any of these are habits yet, I know I am making strides to be more effective in my instruction and efficient throughout my day. Baby steps.

Is there anything you're trying to change this school year?