Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Meek Moose Wants to be an Engineer

I think engineering in the classroom, as well as many other of my addictions passions, began on Pinterest. I hoard all the engineering/STEM/STEAM pins I find on my Engineering Board.  Last summer I had the great opportunity to go to a STEAM in Education mini-conference, and attend a workshop on computer programming at a Gifted Education Seminar.  I enjoyed both experiences, and hope to go to more in the future.  

In an effort to overcome what I continue to feel is an oppressive situation in education today- I started by adding in time for my kids to work on completing a computer programming course on  My math block is sectioned into five 20 minute rotations.  I have four student computers- so each student gets one once a day during math block.  Now, I have them complete a basic math facts practice using (an excellent program- but more on that another time) before they sign in to learn to program code- so they generally end up only working on the course for ten to fifteen minutes in a day- but the time adds up.  All twenty of my kids have since finished An Hour of Code and gotten a certificate of completion from the website. I printed out two copies for each kid on cardstock- one to take home and one to hang in our hallway.  My kids are super proud, seeing as we're the only class that we know of to have completed the hour.

What I like about their time learning to code is that they are becoming better at breaking down problems into small steps, and also learning from their mistakes. The first course is meant for beginner readers, and yet they are learning cardinal directions, counting, and visual/spatial skills.  They work at their own pace.  I have five kids already done with the first course and now working on the second, which is for strong readers- and they are learning all about angles just by writing code to draw snowflakes.  And out of those five students- only two of them are reading on grade level.  But all of them are still being successful in the program! grabs their attention by using common characters that they enjoy.  Angry Birds, Plants Vs. Zombies, even an entire course dedicated to the movie Frozen.  Buy in was easy though just by showing them this short video:

First off, they thought the scenes of the programmers at work was a fantasy of something that would take place "in the future".  When I told them, No!  This is right now- those jobs exist now!  They became very excited.  Do all of my kids want to be programmers when they grow up?  No.  But three of them do now.  And that was more than before.  It also helped that my class already has a love for who has a bit in the video.  We sing along to this every morning when we get ready for our day:

And to continue this parade of videos, I have two for you of two of my guys working on the site.

I would like to get one of those LEGO robots where you create the code on the computer and then download it into the robot and then watch it do what you told it to do.  Giving my kids an outlet for their creation would be fantastic.

Which, sort of brings us to my next addition to my math rotations- an Engineering Station.

I was cleaning out my kids' bedrooms when I found a box of Marble Run Pieces.  And I don't think it was a complete set.  It was even, very possibly, a mix of two different sets.  Parts of it look very much like this set by MarbleWorks:

I've linked this pic to for you.

Anyhow- I set out the pieces, told them very briefly that the point was to create a structure to that when the marble was dropped from the top, it came out at the bottom.

Our structures got very "Seussy" in the beginning as we tried to build the highest tower.

I said there was just one rule:  If after you drop the marble, it doesn't do what you wanted it to do- you have to stop and problem solve to figure out how to get it to do what you wanted.

And this very simple activity launched an obsession in my room. I have to limit the area to only four kids at a time or our general level of peace and prosperity to all breaks down.  Engineers are tetchy.  Verrrrry tetchy.  That might be why they often get their own cubicle to work in.  However- I have seen great growth in my kids when it comes to their oral language skills.  They are really talking with each other - trying to help each other out.  Suggesting ideas.  Asking "How did you do that?!"  I am also very proud to see one of my quietest little mice get bold and brassy and speak up for herself during the building process.

This was all fine and dandy, until one of my boys saw a film clip about dominoes.  He came in and asked if I had any.  Sha!  Of course I do!

Did you hear the WOOOOOW! in the background?  That's all it took.  My kids are now lining up dominos all over the place.  Wanting to watch clips of Domino Rallies- wondering what else they can do with them.  They're even starting to try to combine the marble run with the dominos and get the marble to start the chain reaction.  But even with this- they are problem solving, talking with each other, taking risks.

One approach is to see how long we can make our Domino Rally. Could we make it all the way around the table?

I'm really proud of my guy here.  He watched one domino rally clip and loved how they had made "buildings" out of the dominoes.  He quickly figured out how to make those structures, and has gotten a group of boys equally interested.  But they have yet to figure out how to insure that the building will fall every time with just the initial push.  I anticipate the day will arrive in the next couple of weeks.

Another recent discussion the kids have been having has been the issue with getting the dominoes to fall around a corner or curved edge. They've been having to start the fall again with their finger at different breaks.  This Friday, my little top engineer here was the first to make a successful snake construction and have it fall on one push.  And note how one of my lovelies is filming the success on her own!

I love the engagement level during this time.  I love how proud they are of their creations and how they beg for me to take pictures and film what they've created.  I realized the other day that it was time to step the station up a notch and show them Rube Goldberg machines.  I showed them a five minute video.  I've never heard them so quiet.  Some of them watched with their mouths open.

We are now collecting paper towel and toilet paper tubes.  Engineering on the next level- to be continued....


  1. Veeerrrry tetchy lol :-) There always seems to way more children than materials available, but I guess that becomes part of the problem solving process! Our school has a 'robotics' club with the lego sets, and we actually have a national robotics champ where all the kids battle their robots and compete against each other - so much fun!

    1. When I went to the STEAM conference this last summer, I did attend the session on the LEGO robotics club. The presenters began the talk with "You will have to turn children away. You can only take the best." And I decided I did not want any part of that. I'd love to do it with my whole class though...but I've looked at our LEGO competitions here and they do look super fun.

  2. Very interesting post. Curious, what grade are your students? It looks like they are so engaged and learning so much!
    Burke's Special Kids

    1. I teach second grade, Sebrina. Seven to Eight year olds that are ready to be very independent but aren't jaded or too cool for school yet. It's a great grade to teach.

  3. Awesome post, I'm trying to learn these techy stuff too - they can be very tricky. I find that students pick up on them a lot quicker than we do! They are looking very engaged - so many ideas here. Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Yara! is all drag and drop. I've had great success with it myself.

  4. I love all the videos you do! Your kiddos look like they are very involved with these fun activities!

    1. Thanks, Pam! I decided this year that a video could do so much more than I could say. And the kids actually really want me to take them now. #divas

  5. Awesome stuff! I bet your students LOVE your class. Rube Goldbergs are so fun and such a great way to gets people of all ages excited!

  6. Love the post Heather you Meek one! I am not sure what grade level you all are talking about for the Robots, but our jr high has a robotics class, actually now there are 2 of them. They have been making and competing for several years and have determined that the best way to get students to really enjoy it and stick with it is to drag it out a bit. Kids were in line to try and get into that club as it originally started out as. But as they went on, many stopped attending realizing they really had to work, problem solve and learn skills, not just play with Legos. They now have 6th graders take the course in the spring with the 7th graders competing in the fall in the next course. 6th graders get a chance to get their feet wet, learn how to play and work the robotics, and in the fall they are jazzed because they attended the competition the year before and got to see how it all fell together.
    My 5th graders loveeeeeeeeeee!!! Such fun and they truly enjoyed earning the completion certificates!!! Great photos and post...can't wait to read more!!


    1. I like that idea that the club is a class first. Then they can see if that's something they'd really like to do for a competition. Because you're right- it is tons of work and not just playing with Legos.

      I know I've looked at the the little robot for Junior League. It's like a plug and play sort of model. They build the code on the computer and then plug the robot in and download.

  7. Great article. (I got here from the SWE page on linkedin.) I'm really impressed with your kids and the great job you and they are doing with this stuff! Keep up the great work!

  8. Thank you so much! It's great to see that LinkedIn is working out for me making new connections.