Over the last summer, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Scratch Conference at MIT. It was absolutely amazing to see all these educators coming together from literally all around the world for one thing: coding with Scratch. Before I attended the conference, I was a complete novice to the coding system. I coded before using similar tools, by arranging blocks to achieve a simple end goal, but this was a whole other world for me. At first I was overwhelmed, because Scratch forces its users to think a different way, and it challenges the user to be more thoughtful and creative during their coding project at hand.
Throughout the conference, there were various sessions to choose from and join, depending on your interests. The first session I joined was one dedicated to learning how to animate your name with scratch. This is presumably one of the easiest projects you can work on with Scratch, and I felt comfortable enough to tackle it. The presenter was fantastic, and within a few minutes asked us to break into small groups and code a name, word, or short phrase. Coincidentally, the two women I joined were also new to Scratch, so we had some work ahead of us. But the next hour or so was fun! We ended up animating “#ScratchMIT2018” and it was interesting to learn the ins and outs through our trial and error technique. We then did a gallery walk around the room to see what the other groups coded. At the end of the session, I felt empowered and energized to learn and explore more, and already had ideas to take back home to my own students in the fall!
I used this session to guide my own students. I introduced Scratch to them, I had them create their own accounts, and then introduced their first coding project on this platform. They dove right into coding their own names, and I was so pleased with their creativity and eagerness. Once they got their feet wet, and grew comfortable with this new coding tool, I had the students push themselves further and create something of their own imagination. I told them they could code ANYTHING as long as they pushed themselves and put forth their best efforts. And, I was pleasantly surprised by just how far they were able to go with Scratch in such a short time. On just their second projects ever, students were able to code simple games and interactive messages. It was fun to see what they came up with on an individual basis, and they seemed to really enjoy it as well.
I took this entire experience as a life lesson, both as an educator and in my personal life; don’t ever be afraid to dive into something new. I remind my students of this every day. Especially when they’re coding with Scratch!
Back in the summer, when I was mapping out my curriculum for my library media center classes this school year, I really wanted STEAM to be the foundation of everything we do. For those of you not in the know with this trending educational acronym, STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (and was formerly known as STEM). The first big project that I did with my fourth, fifth, and sixth graders was Designing Your Own Dream Playground. Students had to first sketch out a blueprint for their designs and placement of their playgrounds. Then, they needed to build a small model of their designs using recyclable materials (see left photo above). The entire process was fun and I was rather impressed with the finished products. The sky was the limit in terms of their imaginations, and many of my students pushed themselves to create amazing playgrounds.
I also implemented Free Time Activities this year. Because most of my curriculum relies heavily on project-based learning, my students work at their own pace. And, as anyone who’s ever worked with children knows, kids work at various speeds and abilities. I wanted my students to be productive from the minute they walk into the library media center, to the minute they walk out. So, Free Time Activities seemed like the perfect solution! I created a chart in the corner of my room that colorfully displayed the various tasks that a student could choose from once they’ve completed their required assignments and/or work for that day. These activities range from blogging and reading to building with Legos and K’nex. Additionally, I implemented a makerspace area to help make many of these tasks available. It is simply a shelving unit filled with any item that could possibly help create, such as yarn, pipe cleaners, tape, markers, and paper tubes. Certain Free Time Activities are also supported by “challenge cards.” For example, the Lego station and K’nex kit come with baskets filled with cards with a number of challenges written on them; and the makerspace area has a basket of STEAM challenges. The students have really enjoyed having the right to choose and navigate how they want to explore and learn (see right photos above).
So far I’ve loved the changes I’ve implemented this year, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves with time. I recommend giving it a try in your own classrooms and seeing how you can make room for activities like these. Take that risk! I’m sure you’ll be amazed with the wonderful results!
Some may have some doubts or concerns when they see a set of ‘bouncy balls’ in a classroom, which is quite understandable. However, I saw it as a chance to enhance not only the furniture and overall look of the space, but also to further student engagement in all aspects of study during my lessons.
This week, provided my first chance to test this all out. Along with the colorful, bouncy balls, I also provided area mats, floor pillows, and a small ‘cafe’ table. Upon entering the library media center, the students’ enthusiasm and excitement were visible instantly. There was a lot of celebration and questions, and they were all very eager to try out all these new things. But, there was a catch…
They had to earn it.
I took the opportunity of it being the first days of school to test the waters with all of my classes. I had them sit on their ‘old,’ regular tables and chairs for the majority of the class. I explained to them that if their behavior was great during the first half of class, I would allow some free reading time in a seat of their choice. Most of my classes took the challenge head-on. They wanted to get to move around and try out new things. Their maturity and dedication was rewarded, and they were able to choose their seats at the end of class.
As seen in the photo above, the end result was amazing. It took them a couple minutes to get settled and find balance, but after a quick ‘tutorial’ on how to sit on them without slipping or falling, the students were loving it! They found the happy medium of light bouncing or rolling while reading their books. It made my heart smile watching the risk pay off. Instead of trying to talk, making noise, and interrupting their peers, my students focused their energy into their new seats.
Flexible seating will work. It just takes some patience.
For the four grade levels I teach, my current unit for all students is a research project. I selected four different topics and grouped my students into pairs or threes; they are to conduct proper research and create a Google Slides presentation. The topics are as follows:
- Grade 3–origin of a holiday
- Grade 4–significant person or group in Black History
- Grade 5–exploration of a specific science topic
- Grade 6–background and historical information about a state
In a previous lesson based around plagiarism and bibliographies, I reviewed with all of my students what exactly constitutes plagiarism and how to conduct responsible research. They also learned how to give credit to their sources through a bibliography. We are now bringing these learned ideas into practice through this project. I am allowing my students to explore (with certain guidelines) and create a slideshow presentation reviewing their findings.
For the third and fourth grades, they are asked to use Kidtopia and Infotopia–simply to ensure their search results are safe and appropriate. For the fifth and sixth grade, they are asked to utilize PebbleGo Next, which our district had purchased in the summer. This basic database designed for children has ‘science’ and ‘states’ sections, so it works wonderfully with their respective projects.
Of course they are learning about their topics through their research and work, but the skills I want them to truly perfect are responsible research and proper citation. These are educational building blocks that will stay with them through high school and higher education. And, within the first day of creating their Google Slideshows, most of my students already have a bibliography slide on which they are posting their resources. I am happy to see them become responsible students and researchers.