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 Code.org. 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 xtramath.org (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!
Code.org 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 Will.I.am 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 Amazon.com 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....