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Expert Mentors: A Professional Development Model for STEM and Maker Education Implementation

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Implementing Maker, STEM, STEAM Education

In order to prevent STEM and maker education from becoming a flavor of the month, there needs to be specific strategies provided to educators on how to embed STEM and maker activities into their curriculum. A good number of educators have not received training on how to integrate activities into their classroom practices which entail resource heavy, hands-on learning.

One of the elementary schools where I work is going to implement maker education this coming school year. In a discussion with the principal and a small number of teachers, we realized that some of the teachers will be resistant due to their lack of experience with the activities, resources, and tools related to maker education, and frankly, their fear of doing something as foreign as maker education.

A key to increase their comfort with and chances for implementing these activities is to provide them with professional development opportunities, but the PD needs to be designed based on research.

Professional Development

Teacher professional learning is of increasing interest as a critical way to support the increasingly complex skills students need to learn in order to succeed in the 21st century. Sophisticated forms of teaching are needed to develop student competencies such as deep mastery of challenging content, critical thinking, complex problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and self-direction. In turn, effective professional development (PD) is needed to help teachers learn and refine the instructional strategies required to teach these skills. (Effective Teacher Professional Development).

The Learning Policy institute examined rigorous studies that have demonstrated a positive link between teacher professional development, teaching practices, and student outcomes. They discovered that not all professional development experiences are equal and that effective PD has specific characteristics. Their findings included:

Active learning provides teachers with opportunities to get hands-on experience designing and practicing new teaching strategies. In PD models featuring active learning, teachers often participate in the same style of learning they are designing for their students, using real examples of curriculum, student work, and instruction. 

Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like. Teachers may view models that include lesson plans, unit plans, sample student work, observations of peer teachers, and video or written cases of accomplished teaching.

Effective professional development provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice. As a result, strong PD initiatives typically engage teachers in learning over weeks, months, or even academic years, rather than in short, one-off workshops (Effective Teacher Professional Development).

After attending the New Mexico Computer Science week whereby engineering college students acted as mentors for the participating teachers, I realized that having experts in the classroom working directly with educator can be a great form of professional development. In this case, it was the engineering college undergraduates but it could also be trainers from STEM-related organizations or other educators who have developed their STEM instructional practices. This model has the potential to discuss the properties of effective professional development discussed above. Mainly, educators would be able to see STEM and maker instructional practices being modeled.

Benefits

  • Directly observing how the expert interacts with their content and with the learners.
  • Experiencing the benefits of team teaching – pairing a content expert with an education.
  • Learning how to troubleshoot when the activities don’t work as planned.
  • Assisting both the educator and their learners to see failure as iteration and growth opportunities.
  • Getting to see how learners respond to the hands-on experiences . . . often with excitement and engagement.

Implementation Suggestions

Some suggestions for implementing this form of professional development follow. It obviously is just a beginning.

  • Train expert mentors in interacting with learners using hands-on activities.
  • Train and plan meetings between educators and mentor experts making sure that they include collaborative and active learning strategies.
  • Needs to occur over time through multiple sessions – not a single time experience.
  • Include educator reflection and follow-up as an integral component of the professional development.

An Example

An example of a mentoring program is my local area is the New Mexico STEM Mentor Collective.

The Northern New Mexico STEM Mentor Collective, funded by NSF INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) seeks to raise aspirations and expectations in Middle & High School STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) topics by training and planting (in local schools and libraries) a paid STEM Mentor Corps comprised of caring, exemplary NNMC (Northern New Mexico College) undergraduates

Even though it is designed to bring Engineering undergraduates into the classroom to provide young people with mentors, I contend it could also be used to help educators learn how to implement STEM and maker education activities. I am planning to work with my principal this coming school year to help develop this as a model of professional development.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 9, 2019 at 10:04 pm

Shoe Design Project

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As the final project of the school year, I asked a group of my gifted 4th through 6th graders to design and prototype a new type of shoe. In a recent post from Idea U, Why Everyone Should Prototype (Not Just Designers), Chris Nyffeler, IDEO Executive Design Director, discussed the purpose and value of prototyping:

When we say prototype, that’s anything that gets the idea in your head into an artifact people can experience and offer feedback on.

You use prototyping to process the ideas themselves and to help you think through the idea better.

It’s not that you process your idea and then communicate it through a prototype. You actually use prototyping to process the ideas themselves and to help you think through the idea better.

Keep early prototypes quick and scrappy. By starting with tools that are familiar to you and easy to use, you can quickly create something tangible that will allow you to gather feedback and learn what’s working and what’s not.

Videos for Inspiration

After being told about their task – to design a new type of shoe with new and unique features, learners were shown the following videos for inspiration:

Writing a Description of Shoe Characteristics

Learners were asked to begin their design process by writing about each of the following:

  • Age Group?
  • Gender?
  • Kind of Shoe (e.g., athletic, fashion)?
  • Special Features?

What follows are some examples of their descriptions:

Creating a Shoe Design Sketch

Learners were asked to begin prototyping their shoe designs by sketching them.

  • Front, Side, and Bottom Views in Color
  • Special Features
  • Materials Used (they were asked to do online research on the different types of materials that can be used for shoe construction.)

Creating a Logo

It was the learners’ idea to create a logo for their shoes. One of them knew about an online logo creator at https://www.freelogodesign.org/ which they all used. Here is one of them that impressed me. He worked a long time fine tuning it.

Shoe Logo Design Using https://www.freelogodesign.org/

Creating a 3D Model

Option 1 – A 3D Model Out of Cardstock

This part of the activity was taken from Summer Fun: How to Make a Paper Shoe https://kidzeramag.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/summer-fun-how-to-make-a-paper-shoe/ – the template and instructional video follow:

Learners began creating their design with the cardboard template adapted the template to better match their sketches. We ran out of time to complete this part due to the school year ending.

Option 2 – 3D Model Using Google Sketchup

Some learners attempted to create their 3D designs using Google Sketchup – https://app.sketchup.com/app?hl=en. This is the free version so there was limited functions but the learners enjoyed experimenting with it.

Reflecting with the Creative Product Assessment Rubric

As part of their gifted program, learners complete quarterly assessments. For the final quarter, they use the Creative Product Assessment Rubric.

Adapted from Creative Product Analysis Matrix, Besemer, 1984

An Example

Product Name: Ixploz, v.1
Product Description: Athletic Shoe
Problem or Need Statement: To make an athletic shoe that is comfortable and relaxing.

In grade 6, O. reviewed his product, Ixploz, an athletic shoe, using the Creative Product Assessment Rubric. The CPAR assesses novelty, resolution, and style as factors of creativity. This product scored 3/5 for novelty, 3.8/5 for resolution and 3.6/5 for style. Averaging the factors, it scored 3.5/5 overall, accumulating 52/75 possible points.

Strengths Noted: It looks nice and it is comfortable
Questions: If made in real life, would it be successful?

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 23, 2019 at 7:04 pm

Scratch and Makey Makey Across the Curriculum

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I love bringing physical computing into my classrooms:

Physical computing means building interactive physical systems by the use of software and hardware that can sense and respond to the analog world. Physical computing is a creative framework for understanding human beings’ relationship to the digital world. In practical use, the term most often describes handmade art, design or DIY hobby projects that use sensors and microcontrollers to translate analog input to a software system, and/or control electro-mechanical devices such as motors, servos, lighting or other hardware (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_computing).

. . . but as with all use of educational technologies, I believe that it should be used intentionally to assist learners in developing and expanding their content knowledge and life skills.

Best Practices for Physical Computing

benefits of physical computing

  • Hands-on/Minds-On: “When students are fully engaged in a task, they are actively doing and actively thinking. While hands are engaged, minds should be questioning, sorting through sensory input, and making connections” (Actively Engage Students Using Hands-on & Minds-on Instruction).
  • Development of Learning and Innovation as Well as Career and Life Skills: Physical computing activities should be designed to help learners develop skills as identified as by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.

Learning and innovation skills are what separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in today’s world and those who are not. These skills include: Creativity and Innovation; and Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.

Today’s students need to develop thinking skills, content knowledge, and social and emotional competencies to navigate complex life and work environments. P21’s essential Life and Career Skills include: Flexibility and Adaptability; and Initiative and Self-Direction (Partnership for 21st Century Learning Framework and Resources).

  • Cross Curricular Connections: Physical computing, at its best, enbraces content standards across the curriculum.

Multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary learning is a “whole” or “comprehensive” method that covers an idea, topic, or text by integrating multiple knowledge domains. It is a very powerful method of teaching that crosses the boundaries of a discipline or curriculum in order to enhance the scope and depth of learning. Each discipline sheds light on the topic like the facets of a gem.  (A Cornucopia of Multidisciplinary Teaching).

  • Relevant and Authentic Learning: Physical computing is often perceived by learners of all ages are relevant to their lives especially with the current push towards learning STEM and coding.

Authentic learning is learning designed to connect what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications; learning experiences should mirror the complexities and ambiguities of real life. Students work towards production of discourse, products, and performances that have value or meaning beyond success in school; this is learning by doing approach (Authentic learning: what, why and how?)

  • Learner-Centric – More of Them; Less of Us:At its heart, maker education and physical computing is about centering around the learner. Children and youth are natural learners—imaginative, curious, exploratory testers of theories and creators of solutions. When children and youth have educational experiences that allow them to fully occupy the educational space and are supported by adults who trust their innate abilities and contributions  and are given the guidance, they grow confident in their abilities (At its heart, maker education is always about centering the learner).

Direct instruction is provided through structured and prescribed activities with the goal of learners then being able to eventually go into self-determined directions.  My contention is that learners often don’t know what they don’t know; and that giving them the basic skills frees them to then use their creativity and innovation to take these tools into self-determined directions

  • Open-Ended Challenge: As stated above, learning is scaffolded but even with more structure projects as described in this post, they are still open-ended enough for learners to integrate their own talents, interests, and skills into the projects.

Note about using Makey Makey and Scratch 3.0

All of the following projects utilized new Scratch 3.0 along with their new extensions: Makey Makey and Text to Speech.

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Language Arts: Character Development

Standards Addressed:

Common Core State Standards – ELA

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

National Core Arts Standards

  • Students will generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.
  • Students develop, test and refine prototype  as part of a cyclical design process.
  • Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
  • Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

Directions:

Learners engaged in a maker-enhanced writers’ workshop. I like having my learners begin by developing their characters. They did so by:


Science: Brain Science

Standards Addressed:

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Develop a model to describe phenomena.
  • Use a model to test interactions concerning the functioning of a natural system.
  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.
  • Students develop, test and refine prototype  as part of a cyclical design process.
  • Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
  • Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

Directions:


Music: Piano

Standards Addressed:

Music Education

  • The creative ideas, concepts, and feelings that influence musicians’ work emerge from a variety of sources.
  • Musicians connect their personal interests, experiences, ideas, and knowledge to creating, performing, and responding.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
  • Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

Directions:

These project used the directions from Scratch Cards, Music Cards, for the Microbit found at https://microbit.org/scratch/.  Instead of a microbit, a Makey Makey was used. See the video below.


Engineering: Marble Mazes

Standards Addressed:

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.
  • Students develop, test and refine prototype  as part of a cyclical design process.
  • Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
  • Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

Directions:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 11, 2019 at 9:45 pm

Maker-Enhanced Writing Workshop: Character Development

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benefits-of-interdisciplinary-learning

Readers of my blog know my thoughts and feelings about effective student learning. I have written blogs on:

This month I started a maker-enhanced writing workshop with a group of gifted 3rd through 6th grade students. As with all of my lessons, I strive to practice what I preach in my blog posts – being interdisciplinary; using technology to enhance their work; and making, creating, innovating, and inventing.

Standards Addressed

21st Century Skills

  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts.
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts).
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts.
  • Develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively.
  • Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts.

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Common Core State Standards – ELA

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

National Core Arts Standards

  • Students will generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.

National Novel Writer’s Month Young Novelist’s Workbook

For this project, I use parts of the National Novel Writer’s Month Young Novelist’s Workbook found at https://ywp.nanowrimo.org/pages/educator-resources.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, empowering approach to creative writing. The Young Writers Program (YWP) allows 17-and-under participants to set reasonable-but-challenging individual word-count goals.

The YWP also helps K–12 educators facilitate NaNoWriMo in schools, libraries, and community centers around the world. We provide virtual classroom spaces on our site, as well as student workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and free motivational materials (https://ywp.nanowrimo.org/).

Since I work with 3rd through 6th graders, I use the one for elementary students. I also like the way it is formatted with lots of places to insert one’s own answers and ideas.  Here is the PDF – elementary_school_workbook_ed4_INTERIOR.

Character Development

After some introductory information, the workbook jumps into character develop. I like having my learners begin by developing their characters. They did so by:

  • Describing their character (pages 11 – 25 in the workbook).
  • Drawing a picture of their characters.
  • Creating a more artistic version of their character using additional art materials.
  • Posting a description and image of their character onto Kidblog.
  • Using Scratch and Makey Makey to describe the main characteristics of their characters.

Example Character Description and Artistic Creation

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Programming Character Details Using Scratch and Makey Makey

The idea for this part of the lesson came from the Makey Makey Biography Bottles https://labz.makeymakey.com/cwists/preview/1506-biography-bottlesx. In the case of their character development, students programmed Scratch to tell a fact about their character upon the touch of each button.

The first step is to create the physical element, the character is glued onto a piece of cardstock (file folders work well for this). Holes are punched along the bottom – five for five facts and one for the Makey Makey ground wire. Large brass fasteners are inserted so that one of the fastener legs is bent to hold it in place and the other hangs over the edge. This permits the connection between the object and the Makey Makey.

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Students then program Scratch so that when different fasteners are touched, a different fact about that character is verbalized. Scratch 3.0 now has extensions for Makey Makey and Text to Speech – both which are used for this project.

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They upload a picture of their character and choose five facts about their character – one fact for each of the Makey Makey keys – space, up arrow, down arrow, left arrow, and right arrow.  These facts are made via Text to Speech blocks. Students can even change accents and languages with these blocks.

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Now you are ready to connect the Makey Makey! Connect alligator clips to the legs of the brass fasteners that protrude from the conductive plate. It is a good idea to mark which button you want to trigger each key press. Connect the other end of each alligator clip to the matching input on the Makey Makey. Make sure you have a clip attached to the ground. Connect the Makey Makey to the computer. Run your Scratch program. Hold the ground clip (making sure you are touching the metal part) and lightly touch each button (https://labz.makeymakey.com/cwists/preview/1506-biography-bottlesx).

To see how it all works, watch the video below:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 17, 2019 at 2:40 pm

My List of Top Ten Videos of 2018

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I think we are living in amazing times whereby we can access and view high quality videos for free! I have selected some of my favorites from 2018. My criteria for their selection are that they made me laugh, cry, cheer, and/or made me feel inspired and hopeful. There are very few mentions of traditional schooling and education; yet, they all have connections to what school and education should aspire to be.



Educator and author Luis Perez gives a powerful TED Talk about how his experience with visual impairment forced him to live between and betwixt worlds. This inspiring talk covers his journey with disability, the importance of access and the role of technology for all learners.



11-year-old speaks out, at the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, for all the African-American girls who have been left out of the gun violence discussion. Wadler led a walkout at her elementary school to bring attention to the gun violence in schools across the country.



Michelle King discussed her current conundrums: How might we create empathetic institutions that remind us of our humanity?  How might we re-design for equity and social justice in and out of school learning? How might we design learning institutions to build connections? How might we allow those connections help us re-see the worlds we inhabit?  How might we embrace silence in our lives?



SOAR is an award-winning 3D animated movie about a young girl who must help a tiny boy pilot fly home before it’s too late. (Not from 2018, but that’s when I first viewed it, and it has such great connections to maker education.)



Adam Savage gives his annual “Sunday sermon” at the 2018 Bay Area Maker Faire. Adam talks about an essential aspect of making and maker culture: generosity and sharing. With examples from his own experiences and the world at large, Adam explains why the more we share, the more we have.



Emily Pilloton shares stories of community-focused creative projects and provide strategies and mindsets to bring purposeful making into any classroom. Furthermore, by connecting creativity to our communities, bringing real projects to life in the real world, students become young leaders with the soft and hard skills that will prepare them for the future. This talk shows an initiative that uses the power of creativity, design, and hands-on building to amplify the raw brilliance of youth, transform communities, and improve K-12 public education from within.



Watch Michelle Obama and Tracee Ellis Ross in conversation at the 2018 United State of Women Summit on May 5, 2018 Los Angeles. (I cannot overstate how much admiration I have for this woman.)



Maria Town’s keynote at the Maker of Nation’s conference where she talks about the rights of persons with disabilities especially from a maker’s perspective.



In this joyful, heartfelt talk featuring demos of her wonderfully wacky creations, Simone Giertz shares her craft: making useless robots. Her inventions — designed to chop vegetables, cut hair, apply lipstick and more — rarely (if ever) succeed, and that’s the point. “The true beauty of making useless things [is] this acknowledgment that you don’t always know what the best answer is,” Giertz says. “It turns off that voice in your head that tells you that you know exactly how the world works. Maybe a toothbrush helmet isn’t the answer, but at least you’re asking the question.”



. . . and my parting shot speaks for itself:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 22, 2018 at 9:32 pm

Gingerbread House Making: A Fun and Engaging Cross-Curricular Lesson

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I believe that educators can be intentional in setting up environments where learners’ propensity to create flourishes. Some elements that can assist with this kind of unbridled making and creating include:

  • Open ended projects that promote self-directed differentiation and personalization.
  • Choice of projects, methods, materials.
  • Some structure but lots of room for a personal touch; lots of room for creativity.
  • Educators letting go of expectations what the final project should look like.
  • Focus on the processes of learning.
  • Focus on the social emotional aspects of learning – collaboration, persistence, acceptance of failure.
  • Acceptance of a learner’s projects based on their own criteria of excellence rather than of the educator’s.
  • Reflection is built into the process so learners can revisit their projects with a critical eye.

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This past week I did a gingerbread house making activity (described below) that included math and language arts connections with my two groups of gifted 3rd through 6th graders. It met all of these criteria and resulted in 100% engagement – lots of fun for the students.

When I talk about making in the classroom with teachers, I often say it takes a lot of preparation time but then the students end up working harder than the teacher during class time – which I believe should always be the case. This activity took quite a bit of preparation plus I ended up spending about $50 out-of-pocket money for the supplies. For me, though, it was worth it as I got to see my students experience such joy and excitement creating their gingerbread houses along with joy in doing the math and language arts activities I built into the lesson.

The Gingerbread House Lesson

List of Activities

As a cross-curricular unit, this lesson addressed standards in language arts, math, science and the arts. The general lesson list of activities included:

  1. Showing students the story of The Gingerbread Man.
  2. Asking students to write a story that features a gingerbread house.
  3. Showing students a video about how to make a simple gingerbread house with graham crackers.
  4. Asking students to create a blueprint of their gingerbread house including estimates of their perimeters and area. This necessitated me reviewing how to calculate these.
  5. Having students create their own royal icing from powdered sugar and meringue power – doubling the recipe to include more math calculations.
  6. Giving students lots of time to make their gingerbread houses.

Standards Addressed

Language Arts Standards

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
  • Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, description, and pacing, to develop experiences and events or show the responses of characters to situations.

Math Standard

  • Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems.

Next Generation Science Standard

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.

Art Standards

  • Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Social Emotional Learning Standards

  • Student demonstrates ability to manage emotions constructively. “I can appropriately handle my feelings.”
  • Student demonstrates ability to set and achieve goals. “I can set and achieve goals that will make me more successful.”

Materials

  • computers access (to write their stories)
  • graph paper
  • tape measures
  • markers or colored pencils of different colors
  • graham crackers ( a lot – I ran short)
  • royal icing: confectionary sugar and meringue (see recipe at http://www.inkatrinaskitchen.com/small-batch-royal-icing/)
  • electric hand mixer
  • gum drops
  • pretzels
  • candy canes
  • skittles or m&m’s
  • mini-marshmallows

Activity Details

Write a Story About a Gingerbread House

This part of the lesson was introduced to students by showing them the story of The Gingerbread House to show them what was possible for a creative story.

They then wrote a story about a gingerbread house. I have an Orthodox Jew in one of my classes so I kept it general rather than emphasizing a Christmas theme. Here is an example story:


Creating Blueprints of the Gingerbread Houses with the Perimeter and Area

Students were shown the following video to help them learn techniques for building their gingerbread houses and to get inspired for the type of gingerbread houses they wanted to make.

We then reviewed the formulas for estimating perimeter and area. As part of their blueprints, they included these estimates using one color marker for the perimeter and one for the area. They were given the option to use the squares on the graph paper or to use the tape measures to figure out their perimeter and area.

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Making Their Gingerbread Houses

Then came the gingerbread house making time. Students were split into groups of three and provided with the recipe for royal icing which they had to double (more math!) to have enough for the three of them. Also on their respective tables were food items for their gingerbread houses: graham crackers, gum drops, candy canes, skittles, pretzels, mini-marshmallows.

As I mentioned above, there was 100% of engagement by the students as evidenced in these photos.

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The only change to this lesson that I would implement when I do it again (and I am definitely doing it again), would be more graham crackers and more time to make them.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 8, 2018 at 6:09 pm

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) Displays: A Maker Education Project

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I have lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a few decades. One of my favorite things about living here is that my town celebrates and embraces Hispanic and Mexican cultural traditions. I have the privilege of working with gifted kids at two elementary schools with over 80% Hispanic students. For the past two years, I did Halloween Wars – based off of the Food Channel show. See Halloween Wars: An Interdisciplinary Lesson with a STEM, STEAM, Maker Education Focus for more about this. Because of the cultural heritage of my students and because I find the Day of the Dead holiday so intriguing and beautiful (the movie, Coco, helped bring its beauty to the masses), I decided to focus on having the students create Dia de los Muertos displays this year.

Standards Addressed

21st Century Skills

  • Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues
  • Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts
  • Understanding  other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts

Next Generation Science Standards

  • Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.

Common Core State Standards – ELA

  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Getting Started – Gaining Attention

To introduce and show students the traditions related to Day of the Dead, they are shown the following videos:

. . . as well as given time to explore the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Theater of the Dead – http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/ which includes an interactive element to build their own alter or Ofrenda.

 

Writing a Story About Day of the Dead

Students write a story with a Day of the Dead theme. They are given the option to write it alone or with a partner. Here is an example from one of my 6th grade students:

 

Artifacts for the Day of the Dead Displays

Students make the following artifacts and then, in small groups of three students, decide if and how they want to use them in their Day of the Dead displays to reflect the stories they wrote.

Decorated Skulls with Paper Circuits for Eyes

Materials: skull outline and parallel circuit outline (one for each student), 5MM LED lights, copper tape, coin batteries, transparent tape, markers.

Students decorate their paper skulls and then make parallel paper circuits to light up the eyes of these skulls. I found a template of a skeleton skull online. I printed these out – one for each student. I then made an outline of a parallel circuit so that when connected and joined with the top part, the LEDs would show up as pupils of the decorated skull – see below.

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Students first cut out and decorate their skulls with markers. Images of decorated Day of the Dead skulls can be projected via a whiteboard so students can see examples. They then trace their cut out skulls onto the paper circuits template and cut that out. The bottom piece, containing the parallel circuit design, is then wired with the copper tape. The shorter copper tape is taped down from the battery placeholder to the end of its outline, so that the coin battery can be placed on top of that. For the longer piece of copper tape, about 1.5 inches is left at the end near the battery. This extra is folded onto itself so that after the battery is in place, this part of the copper tape can be taped on top of the battery. Having a folded over end piece makes it more manageable. Students should be reminded how to find the polarities of both the LEDs (the longer leg is positive) and the coin battery (it has a + on the top – that side with a little bit larger diameter). Students then tape their batteries and LEDs in place insuring that the positive legs of the LED lead to positive side of the battery and visa-versa. For more about paper circuits, see https://www.makerspaces.com/paper-circuits/. The LEDs are then poked through the eyes of the decorated skull. The top and bottom pieces are then stapled together.

Sugar Skulls

Materials: sugar, meringue powder, sugar skull molds

Sugar skull molds can be purchased from https://www.mexicansugarskull.com/sugar_skulls/sugar-skull-molds.html. Sugar skulls are incredibly easy to make – just combining the dry ingredients of sugar and meringue power and adding a little water so it becomes the consistency of dampened beach sand. More directions along with amounts can be found at https://www.mexicansugarskull.com/sugar_skulls/instructions.html. After waiting at least 24 hours for the skulls to harden, students can then decorate them using edible markers or royal icing.

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Skulls from Modeling Chocolate

Materials: white chocolate morsels, corn syrup.

This is another easy recipe to make (see http://artisancakecompany.com/recipe/how-to-make-perfect-modeling-chocolate/ for specific directions) although it is a bit tricky to get the modeling chocolate to the right consistency. Once the modeling chocolate is made, students sculpt it into 3D skulls.

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micro:bit Lit Skull

Materials: micro:bit (one for each team), heavy stock cardboard, (servos with jumper wires and alligator clips if movement is designed)

A micro:bit is mini-computer, half the size of a credit card equipped with 25 red LED lights that can flash messages. The micro:bit features an embedded compass, accelerometer, mobile, and web-based programming capabilities. It is compatible with a number of online code editors across a number of different languages (https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/getting-started-with-the-microbit). For this activity, students cut out a skull with a window in the middle for the micro:bit (see below). They then use https://makecode.microbit.org/ to (1) create a message on the LEDs about Day of the Dead, and (2) code the servo to rotate the skull in a small arc from side to side (see https://sites.google.com/view/microbitofthings/7-motor-control/11-servo-control?authuser=0 for how to do this).

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Tissue Paper Marigolds

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Materials: yellow tissue paper, pipe cleaners.

The directions for how to make these can be found at https://tinkerlab.com/simple-paper-marigolds-dia-de-los-muertos/,

Edible Slime

Materials: sugar free Jello, starch

This is an easy recipe with the slime made by combining sugar free Jello, food starch, and water. Colors are determined by the flavor of the Jello – I like using lime for green slime and strawberry for red slime. For more information, visit https://thesoccermomblog.com/edible-silly-putty/

Miscellaneous Materials

Students are provided with core board and also given candy bones, candy gravestones, and chocolate animal crackers (to be crushed into dirt) so that these items along with the projects described above can be used for their displays, again reminding students that the displays should directly reflect their stories about Dead of the Day – Dia de los Muertos.

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Student Reflection

Students were asked to randomly choose five cards from the deck of my Maker Reflection Cards to reflect on their experiences with this project. They were told that they could discard two of them but would need to answer three of them via a blog post, and I was totally elated when one asked if he could answer more – seven of them! Here are screenshots of his and another student’s reflections.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 6, 2018 at 1:55 am

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