Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April's Maker Club Projects

The members of Maker Club have been busy during the month of April!  I noticed that it has been a long time since I posted about Maker Club, so this is a long overdue update.

When students attend Maker Club, one of the only expectations is that they are working on their own creative projects.  Here are some examples of April's current projects:
Decorated boxes to hold art supplies
Lego robotics are always popular during Maker Club!
Computer coding with Scratch
Creating props for the middle school musical
Maker Club members made a sign to advertise the library's new magazine selection.
Probably the biggest project that Maker Club members have been working on is our project with the Robot Finches.  Pioneer Middle is participating in a Robot Finch Loan Program from BirdBrain Technologies.  Maker Club students have been learning how to program the finches and are working on a special project to showcase what they have learned.  I don't want to spoil the final surprise, but here are some pictures of the students at work:
Learning how to program the Robot Finches.
Brainstorming for the Robot Finch project.
The planning sheet for the Robot Finch project.
Check back soon to see what Maker Club is creating with the Robot Finches!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Family Reading Night is Almost Here!

On Friday, May 1st, 2015, the librarians, teachers, and staff of the Pioneer Central School District will be presenting the fourth annual district-wide Family Reading Night.  This year’s event will be structured upon the theme “Get Drawn into Reading” and will feature activities related to literacy and art.  
The evening’s special guest is Mr. Scribbles, a local artist and entertainer.  Mr. Scribbles will be turning scribbles into beautiful works of art.  The evening will also include musical performances from student and community groups of all ages.  Featured presentations include musical numbers from the Middle School jazz band and Arcade Elementary chorus.  All music presentations and Mr. Scribbles’ demonstrations will take place in the cafeteria.  

Other activities throughout the evening feature reading and art.  Students can try their luck at the Harry Potter Trivia station.  Pioneer high school students are organizing an activity station centered upon the books The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where the Wild Things Are. Craft activities include origami (featuring the characters from The Strange Case of Origami Yoda series), coloring, kaleidoscope making, bookmark making, May Day flowers, duct tape crafts, and rainstick making.  A dance demonstration from Ms. Tanya Siddle of Soul 2 Sole Dance Studio, Dr. Seuss bingo, a recording studio, and computer coding activities round out the evening’s offerings.  

The Pioneer Faculty Association is sponsoring a book swap during the evening.  If your family would like to participate in the book swap, please bring in gently used books to swap with other families.

Although the Family Reading Night event is free, books and other resources will be available for purchase through the evening’s Scholastic book fair.  The book fair will include books for a variety of ages and interests.  All funds received through the book fair will be used to finance future Family Reading Night events. 

The first 150 families in attendance will receive free gifts, including a tote bag, literacy materials, and a new book.  Local businesses have donated many prizes and gift certificates that will be raffled off during the course of the evening.  Light refreshments will also be provided.

The event will be held at Pioneer Middle School from 6:00 – 8:30 PM on Friday, May 1st, 2015. Family Reading Night is open to all families of the Pioneer Central School District. For more information, please contact any of Pioneer’s school librarians.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Coding with Bee Bots in Spanish 7

Right before spring break, the library experienced the most adorable insect infestation ever - Bee Bots!  If you are unfamiliar with Bee Bots, they are a tool designed to familiarize people with the basic concepts of computer coding.  The Bee Bot is placed on top of a mat.  From there, users can select the forward, backward, turn left, turn right, and pause options to program the Bee Bot to reach a desired destination.  With each programmed move, the Bee Bot can move one space along the mat.
A picture of the Bee Bots in action.
Ms. McKenzie, Pioneer's seventh grade Spanish teacher, has always had an interest in computer coding.  In fact, she will be an adviser for Maker Club next year!  After having success during the Hour of Code with Spanish students, Ms. McKenzie was looking for other ways to incorporate coding principles into Spanish class.

The community and neighborhood unit was a perfect time to incorporate coding.  Using the Bee Bots as a tool, students learned community vocabulary, a new Spanish verb, and how to create directional questions.

The unit was divided into three days.  A rubric was provided so students were aware of the activities and requirements associated for each class period.
The rubric for the community/coding unit.
At the end of each day, Ms. McKenzie asked classes the following questions in order to guide the learning objectives for the unit:

1. What is coding?
2. What is the relationship between languages and coding?
3. How can coding and languages be helpful to you in your future?

As students progressed through the three days of coding, the answers to the above questions became more profound and meaningful.  It was awesome to see the students develop into blossoming coders!

Prior to the library visit, Ms. McKenzie provided students with a packet of vocabulary necessary for the unit.  On day one of the project, students came to the library prepared to use their community/neighborhood vocabulary. Students were familiarized with the principles of coding and how to operate the Bee Bots.  An important aspect of day one was the concept of Bee Bot care - they needed to be treated with extreme care, since they were on loan from CA BOCES Learning Resources.

Students would be practicing their vocabulary and getting acclimated to the Bee Bots by using the Bee Bots to land at a specific destination on the Bee Bot mat.  A picture of a community destination was placed on each square.  Ms. McKenzie then put questions (in Spanish) up on the projector.  The questions challenged students to program the Bee Bots to land at a specific location.
Each square on the mat represented a vocabulary term in the community/neighborhood unit.

Every group member needed to take a turn coding the Bee Bots.
As the class period progressed, students were given more complex sentences in Spanish.  This tested their knowledge of Spanish vocabulary and made it a bit more difficult to decide which location on the mat the Bee Bot should move towards.  During this stage of the activity, groups were assessed on their ability to program, care of the Bee Bots, and teamwork.

The second day of the unit required students to utilize their Spanish vocabulary in a more challenging way.  Instead of using the Bee Bots to get to a specific destination, the Bee Bots would now be used to code questions and answers produced by the student groups.

In order for students to have all of the vocabulary necessary for writing directionality questions in Spanish, the students were first introduced to the Spanish verb "ir" which means to go.  Once students conjugated this verb, they were now prepared with all of the words needed to navigate the Bee Bots.

Instead of pictures on the Bee Bot mats, the squares now contained Spanish words that the groups would use in order to create sets of questions and answers.  There were blank squares on the mat which the groups could use to insert their own Spanish words that were not already found on the board.
An example of a Bee Bot mat prepared for the question and answer activity.
A group scopes out the words available on the Bee Bot mat.

Coding question and answers in Spanish.

All questions and answers were written in Spanish in each group member's packet.
During day two, an additional coding challenge was presented when students were introduced to the "pause" button.  While coding the sentences, the students needed to include a "pause" so that the Bee Bot rested on each word in the sentence before moving on to the next word.  This made coding a little more difficult.  Other challenges on day two included trying to code the longest Spanish sentence possible, given the words that were on the mats.  There were groups that were very successful with creating long sentences.  In fact, some of the groups even coded more commands than the Bee Bots could hold!

Here is an example of a Bee Bot in action!  The group coded sentences in Spanish, with the Bee Bot pausing on each Spanish word utilized.

More time than one class period was needed for the day two activities, so the first few minutes of day three were devoted to finishing the questions and answers from the previous day.  Once that work was completed, the teams were then able to test their knowledge of the unit's activities through participating in a Kahoot! contest.

Students were already familiar with Kahoot because it was used during a prior visit to the library.  Kahoot is a great tool to assess learning in a fun, interactive, and competitive way.  Each team was given an iPad with which to answer the Kahoot questions.  Teams received points for answering the questions quickly and correctly.  The Kahoot questions centered around community vocabulary and coding.
The Kahoot questions were displayed using the projector.

The competition was intense!
After the Kahoot competition, Ms. Muhlbauer discussed the different opportunities right at Pioneer Middle School that students can use to hone their coding skills even further. 

First, students are always welcome to visit the Pioneer Middle School Library website in order to work on coding activities during school, at home, or at a public library.  Popular coding sites are organized on the library page via a Symbaloo organizer.  Click here to see the coding Symbaloo: Library Website
Coding Symbaloo accessible from the library homepage.
Other opportunities to learn more about coding within the school setting include First Lego League and Maker Club.  Ms. Muhlbauer shared the dates and times these after school activities take place.  We are hopeful that exposure to coding will lead to lots of new members for Lego League and Maker Club!

The last piece of the unit was for students to complete a thoughtful reflection about what they had learned.  Students were asked the following questions:
1. What is coding?
2. What is the relationship between languages and coding?
3. How can coding and languages be helpful to you in your future?
4. What part of the three day unit was most challenging for you?  Why?
5. Read through an article outlining "The Habits of Mind."  Circle two habits your group used during this project.  How did you display these habits during the unit?

Students constructed excellent responses to the questions.  Here are some examples of student responses for the first four questions:

Students had the following responses about Habits of Mind skills:

Overall, this was a very successful unit.  Students enjoyed learning more about coding and also appreciated the opportunity to learn vocabulary in a creative way. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Sixth Grade Science Inquiry

During winter, the students in Mrs. B. Smith's sixth grade science classes embarked on an exciting project about planets.  Since this project was inquiry-based, the project required students to take responsibility for the direction of their own learning and work effectively in teams.  This unit culminated in students preparing and executing a lesson to teach their peers about their chosen planet.

It took me a long time to write about this project because I wanted to make sure that this blog post did justice to the excellent work produced by students.  Mrs. Smith and I were proud - VERY proud of the effort displayed during the course of this inquiry project.  We decided to share this project at the NYSCATE Digital Wave Conference.  If you are a teacher looking for project documents or more of the technical aspects of this unit, click here: Inquiry Project Information Page.  Continue reading to see the steps the students followed.

On the first day of the project, students were divided into groups by Mrs. Smith and assigned a planet to be the focus of the inquiry project.  The groups were then introduced to the specifics of the project.
This slide outlined all of the important details students needed to know about the project.
Once students were introduced to the project, the inquiry steps could now begin.  In the past, students have been accustomed to researching questions or topics predetermined by their teachers.  This would not be the case with the planet project.

To begin inquiry, we asked the students to brainstorm questions that they would like to answer about their planet.  During this phase of the project, it was important that students worked independently and without judgement.  We weren't looking for perfection - instead, this was just a brainstorm designed to generate questions that may possibly turn into a research focus.
Step 1 of the inquiry process required creating research questions.
Each question was written separately on a small square of paper.

Group members worked individually to generate questions.
The students did an excellent job creating a ton of questions!  Now that there were lots of possible research questions available to all of the groups, it was necessary to begin sorting and eliminating some questions.  For each of these steps, Mrs. Smith and I modeled ways to work through this part of the process.
Students learned that they must eliminate duplicate questions and questions that cannot be answered through research.
Using the sun as an example, we modeled the process of removing questions that were more opinion rather than fact based.  For this project, groups would only be researching questions that were fact-based.
This list served as a model for sample questions.

Students successfully picked out the questions that contained opinion language.
Groups sorted through their questions, eliminating duplicates and opinion questions.
After the questions suitable for research were selected, the groups then organized the questions into groups.  These groups would later serve as the basis for their research topics.
The directions for Step 3 of the process.

The example showed students possible ways to group their questions.

Teams used different strategies to organize their questions.

Students needed to work together to agree on grouping ideas for questions.
 Next, groups looked through their topics.  In order to make sure that the research stayed manageable, groups decided on 3-6 different groups of questions that they were interested in researching.
Directions for topic selection.

Students grouped similar questions then labeled each group with a Post It.

An example of a finished student topic list.
Groups were ready to prepare for their research.  By this point of the project, many of the students were very excited to begin researching.  Since the students would be answering their own questions that were of personal interest, there was a high level of engagement and investment evident.
This step outlined how to transfer the research questions into packets.

This is an example of a outline.
On each outline, groups wrote down their topic.  Each individual question within the topic was written onto the question block.  There was space on the organizer to record the answer to the question and write down the sources used.

The sixth grade teams were already familiar with the different sources available for research, but they received refreshers about how to use books, approved websites, and library databases.  Students also used SNAP, a resource provided by CA BOCES, to compile video clips and other multimedia resources.  In order to avoid plagiarism and stay organized, groups filled out a MLA-style note sheet for each source used.  By accessing these resources, groups were able to find the answers to their questions about planets!
Student groups working on research.

The books were great resources!

An example of a note sheet.  Students filled these out for every book, website, and database article used during the research process.
 Now that all of the questions were answered, the student groups were definitely experts on their given planet - it was time to share that expertise with others.  Each student group was responsible for teaching a lesson about their planet.  This was much more involved than simply giving a presentation.  The groups needed to cover learning objectives, how the material would be presented, and even assign assessments.  As you can imagine, the students really enjoyed assigning homework to their classmates!  Mrs. Smith modeled lesson planning for the science groups.
This is an example of a lesson plan template completed by a student group.

Some groups used PowerPoint to organize their lessons.

Brain Pop was a popular way to assess student learning.
At the end of this project, many students commented on how this was a project like no other.  Students were able to work effectively with other peers that they might not previously had known very well.  Due to the demands of the project, it was a true team effort.  Perhaps one student said it best - this project allowed each group the "freedom to teach instead of being taught."

Due to the positive response from students, we will be looking for more ways to incorporate inquiry across subjects and grade levels.