Three years ago, my principal asked our staff to think of something BIG that our PTO can fund.Since I already acquired flexible seating and 1:1 iPads for 5th grade through the PTO, I needed to find something else that I was passionate about and that I knew the PTO could help me bring to life.Over the next two years I slowly integrated using STEAM materials (purchased by the PTO) into my classroom and during an after school club for all 1st – 5th grade students at our school.Finally this year, our school opened the first STEAM Lab in the District.This video is a snapshot of what it looks like.
The popularity of the lab is growing and now the District is working on a plan to guide in the opening of STEAM Labs in all of the other 6 elementary schools. We host tours for not only our fellow district members, but other districts have come for visits to see how they can implement a STEAM Lab in their buildings as well.
The true success of this story is not the fact that this is the first in our district or that others want to follow suit.The real success is seeing the growth of my students from the first day they stepped foot into the lab to now. It is amazing how quickly the students are changing right before my eyes.I can’t even imagine how much influence this lab will have on the students who are in kindergarten and will have the opportunity to participate in the lab until they “graduate” from 5th grade.Will they be better prepared for what future jobs hold for them?Will they be better problem solvers and critical thinkers?Will they be more flexible and self directed? Will they be more willing to take risks and fail? Will more girls become interested in a STEM career path?
One can only guess what the the future holds. Our job as educators is to prepare students for that unknown.We can never lose sight that the reason we do what we do, is for the students.We need to keep dreaming BIG and find ways to make those dreams happen.If we don’t do it, who will?
The countdown of days is on the board, students are more chatty than usual, and the scent of a sweaty, almost sixth grader hits you when you walk in the room…
It’s coming quickly to an end. A school year with my little family of fifth graders. I have spent more waking hours with these kiddos than my own children and I love them all dearly. I have learned all about their lives, I know their mannerisms, their little quirks, their strengths and their weaknesses. I look forward to seeing them each and every day. It is amazing how much a child grows and changes in ten months. It’s amazing how educators grow and change in a school year…
The end of the school year means a time to reflect, a time to think about the next little family of students that will be coming my way in the fall. What worked, what didn’t, what I can do better, what I will try new next year? The questions, thoughts, and ideas keep swirling in my head. As much as I don’t want this year to end, I can’t help but think about how I can be a better teacher, learner, facilitator, and leader next year.
The biggest change for me this school year was turning my classroom into a flexible learning space. It by far was THE BEST idea I had all year! The positive response from the parents, students, and other staff members was overwhelming. The students tell me how much easier it is for them to learn in my classroom because “they don’t feel confined”, “they are comfortable”, “they can focus on their learning and not on the fact that they are sitting where they don’t want to sit”. The thing about my classroom is it’s not only about the furniture. “Flexible” was more of our motto all year. WE were flexible. Students had the choice of where to sit any time of day. They had to make the right choice everyday to ensure they got their work done. To my amazement, the majority of the time, they made perfect choices for themselves! I gave them the power to take some control of their learning and they used their power wisely. Next year, I already have plans to make a few changes and add a few fun pieces of furniture (and hopefully ditch my desk – if I can find it a new home).
I was able to teach all the fifth graders during a designated “tech time”. I worked with students on projects dedicated to Social Studies, Science, and Language Arts as well as a few techie lessons to build their technology tool kit. We had Mystery Skypes, wrote blogs, and worked on many projects including a few of my favorites the “Shark Tank” project, a Mother’s Day video, and a digital memory book. Our local Apple Store in Oak Brook, IL. sent out two members of their Creative Team to lead workshops to teach the students about the Apple apps on their iPads. The team came out several times throughout the school year and helped the students create a digital memory book. This “book” is a memoir of their life from birth through fifth grade. It includes photos, video, student created background music, and a voice over of the students telling their stories and memories for each year of their life. These are truly going to be memorable keepsakes for years to come!
Mother’s Day Project
Towards the end of the year I started an Innovation Club and began the creation of the weCreate Lab at our school. I met with K-2 graders and 3-4 graders to introduce them to technology tools that will be available to them next year in the weCreate Lab. My favorite item is theozobot robots. I LOVE how ANYONE who can draw a line can make the robot move from one place to another. I am also loving the fact that students build on their expertise and eventually code on the computer to lead their robot from one place to the next. I spent a few sessions with Snap Circuits andlittleBits. The students easily caught on and understood how everyday items get their power through circuits. I gave students challenges to make the light dim, make the fan turn on, and turn a light different colors. It was rewarding to see how the students, even Kindergartners, kept trying and didn’t give up until they figured it out. The excitement and joy they showed when they finally met the challenge was awesome! The last couple of sessions we will be exploring the Makey Makey Kits. Students this year got a taste of the new technology tools available to them, but next year, we will really be able to dig in and go through the whole design thinking process.
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I want my students to be risk takers, therefore I hold myself to that same standard. Each year I try new things. Either I expand on what I’m already doing or I try something completely new. A couple of new ideas didn’t work out quite as I planned. This year I tried The Global Read Aloud for the first time. The Global Read Aloud is a global phenomenon created by the amazing Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp. Books are chosen each year and classrooms around the globe read the same book and connect to discuss the book through Edmodo, blogging, Skype, etc. I set up 2 classes for my class to connect with and we actually did connect with one class. It was not easy to get all of the assigned chapters read each week and the class that we actually did connect with didn’t participate much. I love the idea behind The Global Read Aloud, but I also feel that in order for it to work both classes need to really commit to participating fully.
Next year I want to improve on so many things. I want to schedule more Mystery Skypes. After the first Mystery Skype I ever did, I never wanted to give another map worksheet. The amount of authentic geography learning that happens during a Mystery Skype is astounding! Everything I know and have used on Mystery Skype I got from another amazing educator Paul Solarz @PaulSolarz. I planned on participating in blogging challenges with my students, but I didn’t. That will definitely be on my goal sheet for next year. I also want to learn and use Google Classroom to it’s fullest potential. It was a helpful tool to send out and collect assignments however I know it could be used for so much more! I follow Alice Keeler on Twitter @alicekeeler. She is THE ONE to turn to if you want to know anything Google. I will be researching all things Google as well as work on getting my Google Certified Educator Levels 1 and 2 this summer.
Of course I have some new things up my sleeve that I can’t wait to try next year. I am super excited for Breakout EDU to arrive. This is a game that promotes collaboration, teamwork, problem solving, the list goes on. The goal is to unlock the box in a specific amount of time. There are several different scenarios with clues to a mystery that needs to be solved. You work together to solve the mysteries and unlock the box. I want to start the year off with a Breakout EDU game at one of our Institute Days. This way, the staff can see first hand how students can build bonds through the collaboration and teamwork involved in opening the box. A PERFECT back to school activity!!
I am looking forward to connecting Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards to activities in the weCreate Lab and designing some novel engineeringactivities. I also signed up to receive the Idea Box from the James Dyson Foundation. I am excited to learn more about Hyperdocs and create some for the upcoming school year. I want to tip my toe into gamification and figure out what it is all about. I am sure there are things I don’t even know I want to learn about. The summer days are a great time to learn more about amazing ways to integrate technology into the classroom. How are YOU growing as an educator this summer? Is there something you want to learn more about?
I am looking forward to spending time with my “real” family, sleeping a little bit later in the morning, lounging by the pool, and going for long, quiet walks. But I will also be thinking, designing, creating, learning, and doing everything I can to be…well – better.
The “Shark Tank” project went exceptionally well. I am so impressed with my student’s creativity and their ability to work so well with each other. You can read about their inventions on their blogs at 5G Brainy Bloggers, 5Ma Brainy Bloggers, and 5L Brainy Bloggers. My students would LOVE if you would make a few comments on their blog :))
Thinking up a solution to solve an everyday problem and presenting that idea to”sharks” was just the beginning. Each fifth grade class chose what they wanted to do next with the top 3 inventions. Classes voted using a Google Form on the following options:
1. Mass produce one of the inventions
2. Make prototypes of all three inventions
3. Market all three inventions (create a website, infomercial, etc.)
Two classes chose to mass produce and sell their product, one class chose to market all three products. The students spent the next few weeks working in groups making the product, packaging the product, creating commercials, jingles, and websites. The inventor was the “boss” and was in charge of their “employees”. The “boss” had to make a lot of decisions and answer many, many questions. It was interesting to see how each student fell into their role and took their job seriously. I can honestly say I am super proud of my fifth graders! Once all products were made and packaged, we sold the items during lunch to raise money for our weCreate Lab at our school. We made A LOT of money and now the fifth graders get to decide what materials to buy for our weCreate Lab. We will be making that decision next week.
I am always trying to get my student’s voices heard. It is important to help our children navigate a positive way to use the social media and the internet. I will be sending the links to the student’s website to companies to get their feedback on the inventions and have been promoting on Twitter some of the items our students made. One surprising email did come in because of this article written for the local paper. A marketing firm emailed me wanting to see the video and presentation of one of my student’s inventions! She was hoping the brand she works for could “help out with this product”. A video is in production at this time, but I don’t know how the company is going to use it. I will definitely be sharing it when it goes public 🙂
My students now believe that their ideas matter, that they DO have a voice that can be heard. My students now believe in themselves and have a sense of pride for their hard work. They also have a feeling of accomplishment and ownership for real life solutions. That is all I could ever want as a teacher.
Our students have so much creativity built up in them and often, we get too caught up in teaching from the book, getting ready for the test, worried about the scores and data. The things my student’s took away from this project could NEVER be taught from a book, or be assessed for a grade on a report card. Here are several reflections my students wrote in response to the question: What did you learn form this project?
“I learned that it’s possible to make tons of things you imagine and being creative is super fun and exciting.”
“I learned about sales and how to make a sales pitch.”
“I learned that if you think of an invention or idea you can really make it happen if you believe and try hard enough. It was fun and amazing!!!”
“That you can apply anything you dream of.”
“I learned a lot about how people market products and the process of how a company gets to success, and I also learned that even kids can do this and it’s not impossible but it takes a lot of work.”
“I learned the process every inventor had to go through to get their product invented. I also learned the stress some bosses have to go through to get their workers to do what they want to do.”
“I learned, that there are many new ways I can think about solving everyday problems.”
“I learned a lot about working in groups, and leadership. It was kind of hard telling everyone what to do for the website, and getting things done, but after a few days of getting used to it, I got better at it.”
“I learned that you don’t always get picked in the real world, and you have to deal with it and be happy for the person who did get it.”
“That I could be a inventor when I grow up.”
“I learned that to really get the most out of the project, you really had to think out of the box and be creative with your invention to get the most out of it.”
“I learned that you should take risks. I think that I could of made a better product, but I didn’t take a risk, I just thought of something and didn’t really think about anything else.”
“I learned that it is a complicated and frustrating process to go through to make an invention. You need to think through so many things to be successful with your invention.”
“I learned that you have to keep on trying.If you did not get you product pick then still should not stop, and don’t give up. Keep on trying and reach your goal.”
“I learned that there’s a lot of steps to making products and working together makes it go way faster.”
My goal is to continue working towards giving my students opportunities to be risk takers, use their creativity, follow their curiosities, and share their voices to the world. The weCreate Lab at my school is the perfect place where students can use a variety of materials to do just that!