Tag Archives: STEM

Project-Based Learning :: Presentation on Bridges

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Lessons Learned and Bridges.

C's hand drawn pictures of the four types of bridges that he made: beam, arch, cable-stayed and suspension.

C’s hand drawn pictures of the four types of bridges that he made: beam, arch, cable-stayed and suspension.

My little guy surprised me last week with this little declaration: “I think I’m ready to present my project tomorrow.

I was in the middle of making dinner and we were cleaning up from the day’s activities, so I was a wee bit taken back. Um, sure, if you feel that the night before co-op is a good time to make these decisions, then what can I do to help you get ready?

He gathered all of his materials and decided that he needed a way to display his pictures, so we matted them with construction paper – after dinner. Then, he went and found display materials and all of his wooden popsicle models. Everything seemed set and ready to go. Off to bed we went.

Apparently, he had an epiphany sometime during the night – he needed to have a written speech. My six-year-old is slowly reading, but we’re still on beginner books. While he doesn’t mind writing (unlike his older brother at age six), it’s not something he chooses to do often. So, of course I encouraged it as much as I could. And, with only an hour before we had to leave – it kept the expectations to a minimum.

C presenting his bridge materials.

C presenting his bridge materials.

Regardless, he got as much done as he wanted to and with minimal frustrations. He was so excited to present to his friends that we let him go before our first class. Thankfully, his friends (many of whom are older) were quite supportive of all of his hard work and impressed with his K’nex suspension bridge.

IMG_1485So…did I think his interest in bridges was complete? Yes.

Would I like to have seen a deeper understanding of the topic? Yes…but, if he was happy with his project, then it’s complete.  At least, that’s what I thought until this morning – at which point he realized he still had some other bridges to build.

K'nex double-bascule bridge

K’nex double-bascule bridge – one of our favorite bridges is the London Tower Bridge. Their web site has a tour!

The project continues…but in a more relaxed way. I can’t wait to see how it develops.

 

PBL :: Bridges

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 Week 5, Week 6 and Lessons Learned.

My six-year-old's first time with a hot glue gun.

My six-year-old’s first time with a hot glue gun. He loves this method of tinkering.

Our project-based “class” continues to meet each week and the kids have finished up their initial projects, so they are in need of a new one. The class has evolved from a ‘group project class’ to one that allows the students to follow their own interests.  It was left to each parent to decide whether or not their children needed to stick with the original topic of physics. My own kids went in opposite directions, but my youngest chose to study bridges. I thought it was quite sporting of him to choose a topic that still relates to physics!

In fact, this is a topic that has resurfaced in the last four or five months, so I knew it was something that truly interested him. Often, my children will mention something and in the past, I would jump on the topic – only to find that it was a shallow learning request. The interest wasn’t there for an in-depth study. I’ve since learned to be patient and see if the topic is brought up again – in a different situation – to determine if my children are truly interested.

C, age 6, begins his self-directed project on bridges. His only "requirement" is that he teaches what he has learned to the other kids at co-op.

C, age 6, begins his self-directed project on bridges. His only “requirement” is that he teaches what he has learned to the other kids at co-op.

Thankfully, we had a friend who did an in-depth study of bridges last year, so I had some ideas of how to help my six-year-old. Perhaps because of my Montessori training – or the fact that I am a kinesthetic learner – I always try to find a concrete, hands-on way to introduce a topic. And, since this is supposed to be a self-directed project, I showed him this K’nex set and asked if he would like to begin his bridge study with that. I received a resounding “yes!”

One of the projects we found suggests learning about the strength of an arch.

One of the projects we found suggested learning about the strength of an arch. We used his brothers library books to weight the sides of the paper.

In addition to the borrowed K’nex set, we also went to the library where he found all sorts of books on bridges to check out. Unfortunately, many of them were meant for parents, but we did find a story or two.

Pop's Bridge - be Eve Bunting - is a multicultural story about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pop’s Bridge – by Eve Bunting – is a multicultural story about building the Golden Gate Bridge.

After doing some reading and playing with the K’nex set, he built a cable-stayed bridge. Would I have chosen to build one of the more advanced bridges first?  No!

I think that project-based learning provides many opportunities to observe your children – as their own people. It’s quite humbling to realize that neither one of my children wants to build the items in the order they are suggested. Instead, they decide which one looks the most interesting and they build that. At least I think that’s how their brains work.

Thankfully, he was able to build it entirely on his own and then decided that he needed to draw it and create another one – out of popsicle sticks.

C chose the first bridge he wanted to build - a cable-stayed bridge.

C chose the first bridge he wanted to build – a cable-stayed bridge.

He decided he needed to draw a picture to be able to make his popsicle bridge. Hot glue is amazing.

He decided he needed to draw a picture to be able to make his popsicle bridge. Hot glue is amazing.

He then chose to repeat this formula with the beam bridge and the suspension bridge. All of the work was done on his own. He asked for help with the initial pillars , so I held those in place while he glued them down.

In the background - a cable-stayed bridge. Foreground- a suspension bridge and on the far right - a beam bridge.

In the background – a cable-stayed bridge. Foreground- a suspension bridge and on the far right – a beam bridge.

At this point, he is a bit stuck. He wants to bring the K’nex suspension bridge as part of his presentation, but he still wants to build an arch bridge and a double-bascule bridge. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to take the suspension bridge apart and rebuild it. So, I think it might be time for me to step in and suggest some of the projects from this book. We’ll see how it goes.

To read the next post on self-directed learning, continue to the presentation on bridges.

The Brick Chronicles :: Lego EV3 and WeDo Robots

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

The first EV3 robot build - from instructions. Made by R, age 9.

The first EV3 robot build – from instructions. Made by R, age 9.

This past week I finally had a chance to sit down and actually work with our new EV3 robots. After cracking open the educational version of the EV3 software, I could see how this could be overwhelming to a typical ten-year-old (and their parents). Since I teach kids how to use the Lego@ WeDo software and Scratch, the programming was less intimating, but there was a general question of “where do I start?” Once my eldest son and I started tinkering with the programming, we encountered some very different and much more advanced features. We’ve only played with it for a couple of hours and there are still some basic things we need to work out. For example, how do you make the blasted thing do a consistent 90-degree turn?

I’ve since learned that for each robot that you make, the turning “number” will be different. This makes sense and shows the depth of the software and robotic features of the Mindstorms. Yet, that can be pretty overwhelming to a new robotic user.

The first thing I did was to print out the “user guide.” Yes, I printed it out! I like the idea of referring to something physical (and making notes) while I work with the software. It will also be available to the students to use (if they so choose).  While many of my students would rather try, try and try again, I do have the occasional student who finds reference materials helpful. In addition, I’ve digitally “checked out” this book from my local library and it’s proving to be more helpful than the “guide” in the software.

While my oldest son and I delve into Mindstorms, my youngest is ready to progress beyond just tinkering with the WeDo set and is focusing more on the different aspects of programming. A couple more months of working and he’ll be ready to tackle some of the fun challenges at Dr. E’s.

In fact, this child is less of a builder and more interested in telling the computer what to do. Just like his mother!

In fact, this child is less of a builder and is more interested in telling the computer what to do. Just like his mother!

 

 

Lessons Learned

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 Week 5 and Week 6.

R is hard at work on his ever-expanding city map for an Ozobot robot.

R is hard at work on his next project — an ever-expanding city map for an Ozobot robot.

We finished all of the project presentations last week and so this past meeting we had kids wondering what to do next. To be perfectly honest, I thought they would just be done with this class for the Fall, but one our parents had a great suggestion. She told her kids that they needed to pick a new idea to research – and to create a new project and presentation. They were all for it. And, yes, in retrospect, that does seem like a pretty obvious next step.

The students are now familiar with the relaxed format of the class and many of the them began new projects this past week. I think I’ll be continuing the project documentation, but I have to limit it to my own children’s projects. There are just too many to keep track of otherwise.

In the interest of learning from our mistakes, miscues and general experiences, I compiled this “lessons learned” post about our first-ever once-a-week, homeschool co-op, project-based learning class.

1. Self-directed project-based learning is good. But, facilitators are important too.
Each child (or group of children) completed a project and were happy with their final results. The design, research and presentation skills that they practiced were well worth any perceived shortcomings. Since there were so many different projects, I don’t think the students reached the depth that is typical of many self-directed projects. In the experiences with my own children, I will often do some side research to find hands-on materials that might help them deepen their understanding. Until we tried self-directed project-learning as a class, I didn’t realize how much “behind the scenes” work I do to help move my children into deeper learning. Quite often, it is still their choice to choose which materials to use, but it helps to have an adult finding those hard-to-reach materials and activities…and leaving them out to be discovered by the kids. This didn’t happen for every group at our co-op. So, to fix that problem, I might suggest…

2. When working with a group, choose ONE topic or project.
This can still be chosen by the students, but I think it would make for a better understood topic. For instance, the kids could have chosen to focus on gravity and then figured out a way to create a project or presentation as a group. I think the learning would be deeper as they discuss ideas with one another and create a unified project. As the designated facilitator for this course, I had too many different projects to keep track of, to document and/or to help gently push along.

3. Space and supply access really do matter.
While we are quite happy with our borrowed space (it’s free, after all), we definitely lacked materials and the right supplies. Many of our projects were wood-working and that doesn’t exactly lend itself to portability. It was much easier to help my own kids at home when I knew where to find the hammer, safety glasses and wood glue. Being in a well-designed space was also much better for the last minute changes that often occur with a self-directed project.

4. Tinkering is great, but…
For the catapult projects, the tinkering that the boys did was great, but it seemed to limit the depth of their projects. Only at the end did they haphazardly throw together some written research and while I know that they learned a lot – I don’t think it was as much as they could have (but maybe that’s the parent in me talking). With their new projects, I have been encouraging my kids to do some reading and research before working on their “final” project. Sketches and designs are okay, but no full-scale models until we’ve done the research.

5. Different ages have different expectations.
This isn’t really something that we learned, but rather I think it’s important to point out. The group of two young boys (ages 5 and 6) had a completed catapult, but no “official” presentation materials, whereas the group of three nine-year-olds had a wooden catapult and a tiny presentation. They also did a lot of their own research and it shows. It wasn’t nearly as thorough as the 11-year-old’s presentation on gravity. Help your students…not too much…but more if they are younger.

6. Group learning is part of the project.
Sometimes I was part mediator, part teacher, part parent for a couple of the groups. With a clash of different personalities, learning to work together is just as important as learning about  the topic. But, they need help. It’s important that the louder, more organized group member doesn’t railroad the quieter or less-prepared group members. Each member is equal and it’s important for everyone to figure out how to work that out.  That doesn’t mean assigning jobs, but it might mean that there is more mediation, discussion and written goals to be sure that everyone is happy with the direction of the group. I can’t say that I did this perfectly, but I recognize that this is an area where I can improve.

Overall, the project-based class was a big success and the kids have already chosen their next projects. Some will choose science topics, whereas one of my children is studying cities and the other has decided to explore bridges. But, more on that next week…

Kid's drawing of a cable-stayed bridge

C’s next project is learning all about bridges…using popsicle sticks and a glue gun. Fun!

To read about the next self-directed project, continue to the post about bridges.

 

Physics – Catapults – Week 6

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 and Week 5.

Made by C and G - ages 6 and 5. Just from looking at the cover of this book.

Made by C and G – ages 6 and 5 – just from looking at the cover of this book.

This past week, three of our groups displayed their ‘completed’ projects. Considering that this was the first self-directed project for many of our students, I think they did a pretty fabulous job of following through with their ideas. As a parent-facilitator, I feel the need to say that toward the end, my own kids were ready to be done with their projects. It’s not that they didn’t enjoy the process of sawing and hammering, rather I think they had learned what they needed and didn’t feel the need to do more research (especially since the building was all done)!  Afterward, they did feel quite satisfied to complete the projects, even if there were a few extra nudges from Mom.

The Gravity Girls, (ages eleven and barely eight)
These two had a completed poster last week, but needed a few more tweaks with a couple of experiments before they felt ready to present. The youngest member also took the week to really know the material that she was reading from the poster – a very mature choice on her part! She wasn’t forced to learn any of the material, she chose to do it so that she wouldn’t let her partner down. I was quite inspired by her enthusiasm.

J and M (ages 8 and 11) present their findings on gravity.

J and M (ages 8 and 11) present their findings on gravity.

They began by reading off of their poster, which told a lot about how gravity works and about the scientist, Isaac Newton, who formed the first theory on gravity.

The girls hoped to drop two balls (one heavy, one light) to show that they dropped at the same rate. Surprisingly, they had a hard time! But, they talked about their discovering anyway.

The girls hoped to drop two balls (one heavy, one light) to show that they dropped at the same rate. Surprisingly, they had a hard time! But, they talked about their discoveries anyway.

Catapult Building – group of three 9-year-old boys
At the last meeting, the boys had decided to finish up their catapult (a joint effort, I assure you). I also ‘helped’ them to be ready to present their project the following week.*

The boys talked about what they wanted to put on their poster and RG sketched out how the poster might look. I stepped in a little bit to make sure that all of the voices in the group were heard and appreciated, and then the boys divvied up their respectful research assignments for the week. Since they didn’t have a chance to get together during the week, they added their research and pictures to the poster before presenting them to the class.

Creating something to display for their project-based homeschooling project.

Creating something to display for their project-based homeschooling project.

They included research on the history of catapults, the type of lever that a catapult is considered (third class), and the process of choosing and making the final wood design.

A and RC present their research to the class while their handmade wooden catapult waits patiently to be tested by everyone else!

A and RC present their research to the class while their handmade wooden catapult waits patiently to be tested by everyone else!

*In true ‘project-based homeschooling’ I think there are not meant to be time limits. However, I have noticed that kids will often drift from a topic when they’ve gotten the information that they needed – or sometimes when the work becomes tedious. At this point in my parenting (and teaching), I think it’s important for nine-year-olds to understand that follow-through is valuable. If you say you are going to do a project on catapults, then you need finish it up and stop dawdling! I reminded the boys to keep working a bit more this week than in previous weeks, but otherwise they did everything else themselves.

Catapult Building – group of two boys (ages 5 and 6)
After a little bit of encouragement, these two shy and quiet boys happily presented their catapult to the class. Much of this presentation looked liked some classic male one upmanship, but I think that was how these boys worked. They were excited to tell what parts they added and created, and I was quick to point out how they worked together. Either way, everyone had a chance to try out all of the catapults and everyone seemed to have garnered at least some new information.

Everyone had a chance to see how the modifications made the catapult work.

Everyone had a chance to see how the modifications made the catapult work.

In the end, there was a bit of a castle siege with some available castle blocks and the catapults were put to good use. Unfortunately, the castle fell – not from the catapults – but rather from the large number of children playing inside the temporary castle.

I wasn't quite quick enough to catch the original castle...just the remains.

I wasn’t quite quick enough to catch the original castle…just the remains.

A second attempt at a castle siege - this time with the catapult shooting poms poms to the outside.

A second attempt at a castle siege – this time with the catapult shooting poms-poms to the outside.

Read more about our ‘lessons learned’ from doing a project-based learning class through co-op.

 

Ozobot :: Lesson Extensions :: Maps

This past summer, I introduced these Ozobots to my young campers (ages 7 – 10). They were excited at the idea that this little robot would follow a hand-drawn line. There’s something about combining “high tech” and “low tech” that they find baffling – and that instantly draws them in. They know markers. They’ve been working with them for years, so the barrier to entry is very low. It’s the perfect way to introduce them to these tiny bots and to enforce (or introduce) the idea of computer languages.

A student is testing out the programming codes for an Ozobot.

A student is testing out the programming codes for an Ozobot.

While I think computer programming is a great skill to have (or at least be aware) for this next generation of children, I place a greater value on being creative and persistent. These little bots can encompass both of these skills. As I’ve said before, the paper and marker language is not always consistent and thus, children (and adults) need to have some grit to be able to solve their problems. Sometimes the bots need to be re-calibrated, sometimes the marker line is too thin, etc.

So, how to help them move forward after the initial play period has worn off? Maps.

Making a map of places for an Ozobot to visit.

Making a map of places for an Ozobot to visit.

Once they understand how the Ozobots work and how they read their color-coded computer language, I asked my students to create a map of places for their little bot to visit. The instructions were open-ended, but I ended up asking lots of questions about their favorite places to visit. The task seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but after asking them to draw one place that they would love to visit, they took off.

There was a lot of giggling and hastily-drawn buildings as the Ozobot would randomly choose paths to take. Some of the students had deliberately added lots of fast food restaurants to their map and they were delighted when the Ozobot would “eat out” way too much. It prompted an additional doctor’s office and hospital on the hand-drawn maps. What a fun way to teach the concept of moderation.

Each student’s map was different and they varied based on age, ability and interest level. For some of the younger, “less-art” kids, I sat with them and helped them to stay on task – asking questions and wondering where their Ozobot might want to go next. Did they like to visit the beach? Would they like to find work as a tractor on the farm? Maybe they wanted to visit a friend’s house?

In addition to helping them develop their creative muscles, this activity also helped students to see various paths to creating. Would they choose to create the Ozobot’s path first…with various color codes? Or, would they want to create places to visit first…and then add a path later? The decision-making was sometimes intense and there were lots of opportunities to think about how to plan out (or not) their Ozo-village. None of the children I worked with suggested using a pencil first, but this might be a great concept to introduce to an older crowd. Either way, they had fun, they learned something and hopefully, they feel confident knowing how a line-following robot works.

Hand-drawn maps hit all sorts of skills - planning, handwriting, spelling.

Hand-drawn maps hit all sorts of skills – planning, handwriting, spelling.

 

 

Book Review :: Tinkering – Kids Learn by Making Stuff

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

Tinkering by Curt Gabrielson“It is sad to think that perhaps it is not the norm but rather something rare and special to see joyful kids learning.” -Curt Gabrielson

I am fresh off of the completion of my Coursera course on tinkering and feeling rather fired about this topic. Recently, a friend gave me Curt Gabrielson’s book, Tinkering: Kids Learn by Making Stuff. It’s part of the Make Magazine series of books and I happily dived in to see what he had to say.

As with many of the books on tinkering that I have come across, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that making, tinkering and building provides educational value. I don’t doubt it and I think observation is an important scientific tool. But, if you are looking for research studies that equate tinkering with learning, check out a different book. This book is FULL of projects. Stuff you can build and then lay out the supplies for the kids to build too. Pages after pages of projects that Gabrielson and others have done with the Community Science Workshop network (out in California).

Picture from Tinkering by Curt GabrielsonYou won’t find any step by step instructions here, but there are a lot of pictures and some great advice about what you, as a facilitator, will need to help kids begin tinkering. They even offer some really great ideas on how to store and organize all of those things that crop up for a productive afternoon of tinkering. Although the pictures are grainy and only in black and white, the ideas are enough to get you started. With chapters on sound, magnetism, mechanics, electric circuits, chemistry, biology, and engineering (with a special emphasis on motors), the children in your life will be bugging you to try out some of these projects.

Parents – hand the book to your kids and let them choose a project each month or do some focused project-based tinkering. This is problem-solving at it’s core and they aren’t getting a lot of that in school.  Although, the environmental-minimalist in me is cringing at the thought of what to do with those finished projects, I know they are important. So we do them anyway. And, take many of them apart when we are finished.

boys tinkering in the workshop

 

Project-Based Learning :: Physics :: Week 3

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1 and Week 2.

Catapult prototype, made by A.

Catapult prototype, made by A. One of the three nine-year-old boys…

I needed to wait awhile before writing this post because my initial reaction to last week’s class was a feeling of frustration. It seemed as if there wasn’t much learning going on, but I knew that I needed to step back from my current feelings and let them digest so that I could see what really was happening.

There was learning. Lots of learning. It just didn’t look like you would expect on week three. It looked a lot like week two, but with a little less enthusiasm. They were still experimenting – often with some of the same things that they made last week. I think that many of the parents (myself included) expected there to be a clear path of progress, rather than the messy trial and error that is reflected in the construction of knowledge.

Why do we adults expect learning to progress so quickly and thoroughly? Is it because we have less time? Is it because we feel the pressure to “get things done?” I know I do. A lot. I have to constantly remind myself that the learning my kids will do (on their own) will far outpace the direct instruction I give them…if only I can be very, very patient and wait for the breakthrough. Sometimes I can’t give them the time needed to do that, but for a class like this, that’s the whole point. We need to give them the time to goof around, play and think about their ideas – while still helping them to stay on track.

I think that’s the key – making sure they stay on track. And, if we’re being completely honest here – I think I failed a bit as a facilitating mentor this past week. I fell into the “parent” role and was chatting with my other parents. Oh, it is so nice to chat with other homeschooling parents from time to time. But, not during class. So, next week, we’ll move into a more secluded area where we can focus and not be so distracted by other things. Well…I think that wraps up my personal “lessons learned” from this week, so it’s onto the projects!

Catapult Building – group of three 9-year-old boys
Last week, these boys were building prototypes and despite a Google Hangout meeting later in the week, they were still undecided as to what path they wanted to take next. They decided to keep making prototypes and then to choose one to focus on and build out of wood. Yep. Wood.

Catapult prototypes made earlier in the week out of popsicle sticks.

Catapult prototypes made earlier in the week out of popsicle sticks.

A trial catapult (and ultimate design dismissal).

A trial catapult (and ultimate design dismissal) that used air pressure to launch the “weapon”

These boys were enjoying playing with their catapult designs but were less likely to build new ones and seemed a bit lost with what their next step should be. They definitely wanted to try out some different designs, but none of them had done any research or found any other books or web sites. It was if they thought the ideas would just come to them via tinkering. It’s not a bad way to construct knowledge, but it does take a lot longer and it is very easy to fall off the path of progress. I think this would have been less of an issue if we were in a dedicated space – full of books, computers and supplies.

That being said, I re-read their words to them about making a decision and they all decided to go with a design that RC had found online and made earlier in the week. Although his prototype didn’t last the week (oh, 9-year-old boys), they had all seen it during the online chat and all agreed to move forward with that design.

Their decision for the following week is to each build the catapult using the instructions and figure out how to “scale” it up next week. Research required…which means I’m bringing my computer so they can figure it out in class.

The Gravity Girls, (ages eleven and barely eight)
These girls followed up with some more experiments on gravity and had some “failures” as well. I’ve been noticing that many of the problems we encounter comes from not having the proper materials on hand. Despite our best efforts to bring what they need, sometimes the materials don’t work out and you need something similar, but not quite the same. This post on space makes a lot more sense now.

Gravity experiments

Gravity experiments

Regardless, the girls were reading, tinkering and taking good notes. They decided that next week they needed heavier weights and taller container for their experiments to work properly. They also need to remake the paper clown out of an index card because he was too big.

Taking notes -- handwriting and spelling practice without having to make them do it!

Taking notes — handwriting and spelling practice without having to make them do it!

Catapult Building – group of two boys (ages 5 and 6)
These two continued to make a catapult out of tongue depressors, based on the picture on the front of this book. It was interesting to see them work out ways to adapt the design – what to use for the wood cylinders – dowels or pencils? They also realized that they needed the hand drill to drill holes to connect their non-sharpened pencils to the catapult. I asked how they were going to connect it to the sides and this was their answer, so we’re going to let them have a go at it next week. This is all part of the process of learning – especially for five and six.

The frame is almost ready.

The frame is almost ready.

Windmills and Another Catapult
We have two other projects going on in class, but I didn’t get great pictures of them, nor did I have a good chance to interact and help guide these two boys. N was steadily working on his windmill design and would have kept working if he hadn’t run out of glue sticks.

E was not around last week, but had chosen to do catapults as well and had a blast making one and shooting off pom poms. As a 7-year-old, he is on the cusp of being perceived as “too old to just tinker,” but still a little too young to be expected to create an elaborate presentation on his own. It might be a challenge in the coming weeks to help him go further with his project, but hopefully seeing the older boys will inspire him.

With so many kids doing different projects, I’m finding it difficult to effectively facilitate and be “the record-keeper” for each group. I really want to help the kids to follow their own path, but they are still kids and need guidance, reminders and written documentation to demonstrate their thought processes. We will be treading this line in the next few weeks as we try and help them to dig deeper with their learning and push themselves to discover new ideas.

E's rapid-fire catapult

E’s rapid-fire catapult

To keep reading about self-directed physics, check out PBL – Windmill Presentation – Week 4.

 

 

 

Learning about Physics – PBL – Week 2

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1.

Ronan tests out a spoon catapult that he made.

RG tests out a spoon catapult that he made.

I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am about the projects, tinkering and knowledge construction that has been happening since last week. I feel that it’s too early for me to make bold declarations, but I will say that I think project-based learning works better in a group setting than at home. At least for the elementary-aged child. That’s all I have experience with and it might change as the kids get older, but right now the energy level and excitement that all of the kids bring to class fuels everyone else…even though their projects might be different. It’s a fabulous sight to behold.

In order to keep this post from becoming a veritable novel, I am trying to limit the discussion and reflections to just a few parts of each project. Even with another mom helping, I definitely think there were things that I “missed.” And perhaps that’s okay. Only time will tell.

Catapult Building – group of three 9-year-old boys
These boys decided early on that they wanted to build a catapult (it was one of the suggested projects, after all and what boy can resist that)? After some research last week and some playful discoveries on their own, they came together this week and decided to each make a few prototypes.

Three boys...three different designs.

Three boys…three different designs.

Catapult protoype made by Andrew.

Catapult protoype made by A.

Ryan tinkered with this design and added some force.

RC tinkered with this design and added some rubberband force.

Catapult Building – group of two boys (ages 5 and 6)
This is by far the sweetest group of kids – ever! And, I only say that because my 6-year-old is one of them. No, seriously, it is really cute, and yet amazing, to watch these two as they struggle to construct knowledge about simple machines in a unique way. After reading about pulleys and checking out this book from the library, the boys decided to reconstruct the picture on the front – using popsicle sticks, masking tape, plastic spoons and rubber bands.

A catapult prototype built by Greyson.

A catapult prototype built by G.

Testing out a theory - a self-made rubberband catapult/slingshot...every boy's dream. Made by Calum.

Testing out a theory – a self-made rubberband catapult/slingshot…every boy’s dream. Made by C.

Experiments on Gravity – two girls (one 11-year-old and one almost 8-year-old)
As often happens with a homeschool group – there seems to be a large number of boys and not so many girls. There’s a judgmental statement in there somewhere about the state of education, but I’ll let it pass for now. These girls had a plan, which I think was devised in week one, and they were doing a fabulous job of carrying it out. They each had checked out books from the library on gravity and were conducting various experiments to learn more about it. Although we did our best to bring supplies to play with in our borrowed space, there were still a number of materials that they needed. However, they made some concrete plans to conduct experiments on their own and to continue the trial and error at the next class meeting.

Gravity experiments are a great way to test out the concept of gravity.

Gravity experiments are a great way to test out the concept of gravity.

Building a Windmill – one ten-year-old boy
After speaking to this child’s mom, I confirmed that N did all of the research, sketching and designing on his own. (His mother did give him some reminders – he is still ten)! I am beyond impressed with the path that he is on to create a windmill out of sticks. He was so focused that I didn’t spend much time observing him and I wished I had. He didn’t need any help, but I definitely missed an opportunity to watch the process of “flow” in action.

Hand sketches made by Nick.

Hand sketches made by N.

Hand-drawn and labelled by Nick.

Hand-drawn and labelled by N.

Starting to build a windmill with sticks.

Starting to build a windmill with sticks.

At the end of our time – and when you could tell some of the kids were getting hungry – I made a point to visit all of the groups and asked them to tell me their plans for next week. I wrote these plans down on a clipboard that I had left at each group table. While some of the groups were keeping their own notes, I knew that some were not. By leaving out a notebook and writing down their observations and plans, we can ensure that the adults have the supplies that the kids need – and if they get stuck at the next meeting we can read their words back to them.

To keep reading about their progress, click on Physics & Projects – Week 3.

 

 

 

Book Review :: Batteries and Bulbs II

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published every Friday. These reviews will cover computer programming books aimed at children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

From Batteries and Bulbs II - make a street light

From Batteries and Bulbs II – make a model street light

Ages 7 and up
Education Development Center. Batteries and Bulbs II: An Electrical Gadget Suggestion Book. Elementary Science Study. McGraw Hill: New York, 1969.
This very old, musty-smelling book has been loads of fun for me these past few weeks. In fact, as I picked it up from the library (on Interlibrary Loan – which means they had to borrow it from another library), the librarians were chuckling at my gleeful gasp as I grabbed it and started looking it over.

From the late 1960s

From the late 1960s

During the first week of my Tinkering class, my kids wanted to know more about electricity and batteries and how to make more things work. And I will admit, I am not a good “discover it by accident” kind of person. I like to have some resources and I like to try it the “safe” way and then I want to get at it and tinker. I am impatient. I’m trying to fix that. Truly.

This book and its predecessor, Batteries and Bulbs, were recommended by the Exploratorium as a resource for kids who were interested in learning more about circuits. Although I didn’t get to look at Batteries and Bulbs, this second book offers some extensions to our homemade circuit blocks. And, it has some really basic designs with items that would have been found in the 1960s – like creating a connection with a cut away piece from a tin can. (Oh, the Tetanus horrors)!

Love that there is NO mention of going to RadioShack for parts!

Love that there is NO mention of going to RadioShack for parts!

Since I wasn’t able to get Batteries and Bulbs I or II at my local library, I did pick out a few juvenile books on electricity. I found this book quite helpful. It was simple, but not boring, and nicely illustrated.

How to make a homemade bulb holder.

How to make a homemade bulb holder.