Last Week in Lab: Week Ending 02/07/14

This post is part of my continuing series of weekly lesson summaries. My goal is to give parents & caregivers in our school community the resources needed to extend student learning at home, and to share my professional practice with teacher colleagues around the world in the hopes of improving my craft.

Week ending 02/07/14

Kindergarten

What we learned / did / explored together:

  • Kindergarteners are currently working on their sentence writing skills, so I took this opportunity to introduce them to the concept of doing so on a computer. Last week we laid the groundwork with an EasyTech lesson on words, spaces and the enter key. This week we put it to use. We began by reviewing sentence writing technique by hand while identifying the key components: start with a capital/uppercase letter, one space between words, finish with a punctuation/ending mark. We then discussed how this process is similar (and different) on a keyboard before sending them to their Chromebooks to get to work.
  • I set up a unique Google Presentation for each student with a picture and a starter sentence. They were given the option to recopy the sentence as-is, copy one of several we posted on the board, or come up with their own by looking at the picture. They also had to put their name on the top using a capital/uppercase letter. “Kidspell” was allowed. I was mainly interested in their ability to capitalize, space, and keyboard correctly.

What I observed / inferred / connected:

  • This worked really, really well. Much better than I expected, across the range of abilities in class. Kids that were comfortable on the keyboard went bananas writing sentences, they just kept going and going (I provided several pages for them to use if desired.) Those who struggled were able to copy directly from the screen or whiteboard, with help from a teacher. Those in the middle just powered through. Everyone was productive, no one got frustrated. This was one of our most challenging lessons to date.
  • A Google Presentation was the ideal container for this work. The standard slide layout was perfect; it had a space for their name at the top, a spot for the photo prompt, and a text box just big enough for simple sentence writing. The font was large and easy to see. It was everything we needed and worked wonderfully.

What students can do at home:

  • Practice writing simple sentences by hand first. If you have a computer, any word processor or text editor will do. Heck, even your email program will work – have your kids type sentences into an email and send them to friends and family. :) What I am looking for: capitalization of their names and first letters in the sentence; a single space between words; and some kind of ending mark.
  • The Kindergarten  Symbaloo is always worth checking out, too!

First Grade

What we learned / did / explored together:

  • For this part of our Engineering is Elementary unit involving materials engineering, students built rock walls using two different types of mortar – clay flour mixed with either sand or soil, just like the character did in the storybook. Students worked in teams mixing the mortar and placing the rocks in designated sections for later testing (demolition!)

What I observed / inferred / connected:

  • This was, as expected, a highlight for the students – we all know they LOVE hands-on learning. It was messy, but we anticipated that, thanks to the smocks provided by Mrs. Lisa Pilli last year. (I can now add “doing a load of laundry every night” to my lesson plans.) Kids did a much better job this year designing the walls themselves because I took the time to explain how to stagger-stack the rocks and how to place the mortar. We created a total of 10 sections of rock wall, five each using the sand+clay and soil+clay mixtures. They are now fully dried and ready for testing in our next lesson.

What students can do at home:

  • I actually had a student come up and tell me they made mortar and a rock wall themselves at home. How cool is THAT! It’s the kind of inspiration I would love to see more of. The key concepts in this lesson involve understanding how different materials can be combined to create new materials, and, how water can make mortar soft and sticky and usable to create a structure.
  • Check out the First Grade Symbaloo for fun digital activities!

Second Grade

What we learned / did / explored together:

  • Second Graders are taking part in this year’s Doodle for Google competition, which will provide me with content to do a unit on presentations. We started by discussing the need for and process surrounding inventions, emphasizing the fact that everyone is an inventor (especially kids) and that inventions serve people / solve problems. We followed the Doodle for Google prompt and divided into groups to brainstorm ideas that could be the basis for doodles – specifically, what could they invent to help either: Animals, Friends/Family, the World, our local Community, or the Environment. We used the Great White Wall (above) to brainstorm ideas, which I dutifully transcribe every day onto this blog post for kids to refer to. At the end of class, we passed out copies of the official entry form and asked everyone to do a ROUGH FIRST DRAFT by the next class meeting. Students will then either re-do the draft in final form or choose another concept for their official entry. These creations will be photographed and inserted into Google Presentations which is the curricular link I was after from the start.

What I observed / inferred / connected:

  • The brainstorming worked amazingly well. Students had to work together for a limited time on a particular subject area and write down whatever they could – all ideas were welcomed. Conversations were great, kids supported each other and generally had a blast writing their ideas all over the whiteboard wall.

What students can do at home:

  • Keep brainstorming! Check the blog post for ideas and start doodling! We will be finishing up this coming week!
  • Check out the Second Grade Symbaloo for other fun activities!

Third Grade

What we learned / did / explored together:

  • We had another session dedicated to building, testing and and improving our windmill designs. It’s very important to me that everyone have a chance to be successful with this activity.

What I learned / observed / inferred:

  • Everyone was able to get their windmills to work – to varying degrees. A pair of students in Mrs. Hinman’s class set a new record – their windmill lifted 92 (!) washers, the entire contents of the box we purchased for testing. It was quite an accomplishment!
  • Despite our many successes, some students still did not grasp the key concepts of proper blade design and orientation, and as a result, their windmills were among those who struggled the most.
  • We need different styrofoam balls for next year; the ones we used were too easily deformed by multiple blade insertions. Several failed completely.

What students can do at home:

  • I am hearing reports that students are creating these windmills at home – that is terrific – they are easy to make, just look at the photos. As students explore the connection between wind and rotational energy, ask them to improve their designs until it can lift greater and greater amounts.
  • Check out the Third Grade Symbaloo for additional learning activities!

Remembering Kindergarten LESSON

Remembering Kindergarten LESSON (1)

Remembering Kindergarten LESSON (2)

Remembering Kindergarten LESSON (3)

Fourth Grade

What we covered / did / explored:

  • Needing a container / context for a unit on presentations, I came across “Back to KG???!!!,” a terrific activity on the Stanford d.School’s K12 wiki focused on design thinking. I was immediately enamored with the theme / concept and its value as an introduction to the design thinking mindset. We started the lesson with a wide-ranging conversation about memories from kindergarten and what it is like today – setting up some very profound exchanges between kids, especially those who have younger siblings in Kindergarten. We then sent the kids into a Google Document (presentation) I’d created in advance where they had to respond to prompts (writing like this, on a keyboard, off the top of their heads, is a critical skill and one that is tested under the new PARCC assessments.) My goal with the prompts was to dredge up enough memories so that they would be able to come up with five excellent questions for next week – when we will be travelling to Kindergarten classrooms and interviewing students (individually and in groups.)

What I observed / inferred / connected:

  • This went really, really well. Even as fourth graders, these students experienced POWERFUL nostalgia for their first year of schooling. It is clear that many, many great memories are formed in those years, and a great deal of learning occurs. The interviews next week are going to be fantastic.

What students can do at home:

  • This is one of those rare times I have assigned homework in my class. For the students who have had this lesson, the homework is for them to come up with five questions to ask a kindergartner by our next class. Many finished in class; many others wanted to be able to access the Google Doc from home and work on it. I provided instructions for anyone that needs them on my classroom website: http://eslab.northfield.groupfusion.net/.
  • Check out the Fourth Grade Symbaloo for even more learning activities!