November 30, 2016

Christmas/Winter STEM Challenges: Reindeer Relay

Christmas STEM Challenge: Reindeer Relay, students design the reindeer antlers to transport and transfer Christmas decorations during a relay race. If you prefer a winter/non-Christmas version of the challenge, students can transport reindeer "food" instead. Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.



As the holiday break inches ever closer, keeping students engaged in academic work can be an uphill battle! Seasonal STEM challenges are the perfect way to get kids excited to work collaboratively in deep critical thinking and problem solving! This week's challenges is one of my very favorites because it incorporates not only STEM, but P.E. and strategy making the "fun" factor outrageously high!

Premise

In Reindeer Relay, students design the reindeer antlers to transport and transfer Christmas decorations during a relay race. If you prefer a winter/non-Christmas version of the challenge, students can transport reindeer "food" instead.


Where Can I Find Out More?

As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is a great way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Reindeer Relay. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.







Are There Other Challenges Like This?

Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 for Christmas/Winter. You can find the overview of each on this blog post. This is the second of the individual posts, and one will follow each week through Dec. 22, 2016. Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram if you want to give me a smile this holiday season!

You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!




Video Transcription

Hi there! Welcome to week two of the Christmas and Winter STEM Challenges. This is one of my very favorites, Reindeer Relay. The premise of this one is that students are going to design reindeer antlers that they can use to transport and transfer Christmas decorations during a relay race. If you're looking for a non-Christmas version of this challenge, you could just substitute grasses, mosses, lichen in place of the Christmas decorations, and then it's really just a winter polar animal activity. If you decide to use that version of Reindeer Relay, I would just get some green yarn, maybe some streamers, or even go to the floral section of a Dollar Tree and get mosses and things like that. Before I get ahead of myself, let's take a second to look at the materials and the STEM Challenge Cycle.

This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I've defined each step in another video. I've added a pop-in card to that video here, as well as a link in the description. Now, for the Christmas decorations, things like tinsel, ribbon, bows, candy canes and ornaments work very nicely. One note, if you do choose to use ornaments, try to get plastic ones and not that very thin metal that shatters into a million sharp pieces, because there's a very good chance during the relay race that the ornaments will fall off the antlers. Make sure that you use identical sets of decorations, or food if you're using that version, for each group so that it's a fair race.

Now, one way to do this is to actually put students in partners first, and each student makes their own antler, but just one. That way within their partnership, they have a set of antlers. Then when you're getting ready to run the relay race, take two or three of those partner groups and make a larger group to run that race, so you'll have four to six students in every relay race group. You do need to choose before the race, of course, if you're going to have students walk the race, run the race, or skip or some other version. Usually I do sort of a power walk, because with all the ornaments on the antlers, it is kind of tricky to go much faster than that.

If it's their turn to run the relay race, they are not allowed to touch the decorations. Now, you'll see the ornaments are resting on the backs of my hands right now. I would allow that, but they can't do something like this in order to steady it or keep it held on. I usually just set up a cone or mark off a line in the distance, and the students have to go around that cone and come back to the start. At the go signal, the first student in line will hold up antlers that are empty, and the team will decorate those antlers with the entire set of decorations, or the entire set of food if you're doing the non-Christmas version, and then once everything is on the antlers, he or she will walk the course or run the course and come back.

Now, one thing that you can do, because things are bound to fall, you can send one student along with the reindeer to be sort of the reindeer handler. In that case, if any of the decorations fall off during the running of the race, the reindeer must stop immediately and the handler must put the decorations back onto the antlers. If you don't do it that way, it can be really tricky because the person who's the reindeer doesn't even always know when they've dropped something, and then when he or she does realize it, it can be very hard to stop and pick something up without dropping more things, so I would send a handler.

When this student gets back to his or her group, there will be another student waiting with empty antlers. The team will then transfer all the decorations from student one's antlers to the next student's antlers, and then the relay race continues. Here's an example of a team formed from three partner groups, A, B, and C. The partners can continue to work together within the larger team by using the antlers they designed and serving as each other's handler during the race. Student A1 will run the course with A2 trailing slightly behind, directing him to stop if something falls from the antlers, in which case the handler will reapply the fallen object to the antlers, and the race will continue. When they return to the line behind group C, they'll prepare to trade roles for A2's turn as the racer. All students will have a turn as racer and handler.

When the last student running a race returns to his or her group, all of the decorations from his or her antlers must be removed and placed in whatever the starting container was in order to officially end the race. If you want to add in something for a little bit of fun, you could have a mini Christmas tree for each group, and instead of putting everything into a start container, you can decorate the Christmas tree with the ornaments and then have all the students sit down, and that's when their time is called.

If at all possible, you're going to want to run this relay race several times. This allows the students to improve upon their strategies and their approach, which is just about as important as the designs themselves in this one. As far as the timing goes, I do recommend allowing each group to have their own timer so that as they run the relay races, they can record their own time. If there's only one timer, it can be tricky for all the students to know their exact time. I do recommend not having the students score their improvements based on, "We came in first place," or "We came in third place," but rather, "In our first iteration, we completed the race in 45 seconds, and in the second we completed it in 42 seconds." Because they really need to compare themselves against themselves in order to know if they're improving.

I have two ideas for you to make this just a little bit more challenging for older students. The first is either to require or constrain certain angles. You could say within the design, you must have at least two 45 degree angles, or no greater than two 45 degree angles. If you really want to challenge your students, have them make hands-free antlers.

A couple of ideas to extend on this one. You could have students to identify angles in their designs. You can also have them conduct research on polar animals, so they could just choose either the Arctic or the Antarctic. If there's time, it could be really fun to see if the students can come up with their own STEM Challenge relay race idea based on the animal that they researched. All right, I've given you all the basics, but if you're looking for more, check out the resource.

Reindeer Relay combines all the fun of a STEM Challenge with that of a relay race, and this resource contains everything you need, including modifications for use with second through eight graders. You'll still need to gather the simple materials, of course, but the hard parts are done. You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards, links to my STEM Challenge How-to videos to help you get the most from each challenge, and the Reindeer Relay Materials list. In teacher tips, you'll find premise and setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, how to run the race, and measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You'll find an editable Criteria and Constraints list so you can tailor the challenge to your students.

For student handouts, there are two versions, four-page expanded room for response for younger students, and a two-page condensed space paper saver version. You'll also find a set of group discussion questions. In the Extension Handouts, you'll find a polar animals research activity, math extension, and process flow templates. This resource is available individually and as part of the discounted Winter/Christmas and Mega STEM Challenge bundles. Links can be found in the description below the video.

This is one of my very favorite challenges because it involves STEM Challenge, plus PE, plus strategy, it's definitely a student favorite. I hope your kids are going to really love it. Make sure you don't forget to like and subscribe. I will be back next week with challenge number three, Sleigh & Slope or Sled & Slope, depending if you're doing Christmas or Winter version. See you next time.

November 23, 2016

Christmas/Winter STEM Challenges: Candy Cane Calamity

Christmas STEM Challenge: In Candy Cane Calamity, students design the lightest-weight shipping container that will protect candy canes from damage. Comes with modifications for grades 2-8.


Congratulations, teachers! You are almost to a beautiful, well-deserved break, but getting to that finish line can be its own impossible challenge! The kids' brains are toast, and (likely) so is yours!  But because you are a responsible adult, you don't want to throw in the towel too early and risk wasting instructional time, am I right?! The good news is, you don't have to!  STEM challenges will get you to the finish line in style, and it's fun for your kids that you can feel really good about!

Premise

In Candy Cane Calamity, students design the lightest-weight container possible they can "ship" two candy canes in without damaging the candy canes.


Where Can I Find Out More?

As you may already be aware, I've found creating video walk-throughs of my STEM challenges is a great way to explain the important details: materials, set-up, tips, modifications, extensions, and more! Check out the video below to learn more about Candy Cane Calamity. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.





Are There Other Challenges Like This?

Of course! I can't help myself! I have created 5 for Christmas/Winter. You can find the overview of each on this blog post. This is the first of the individual posts, and one will follow each week through Dec. 22, 2016. Please reach out with any questions and tag me in photos of your students' work on Facebook & Instagram if you want to give me a smile this holiday season!

You can find even more STEM challenges in my Mega Bundle, on this blog, and on my YouTube channel!




Video Transcription

Hi there. Welcome to the first week of the Winter and Christmas STEM Challenges. Week one, Candy Cane Calamity. The purpose for this one is the students are going to design a package to ship candy canes and they're trying to get the lightest weight package that gets the candy canes there undamaged. Before I go any further, let’s take a quick look at the materials and the STEM Challenge Cycle.

This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I've defined each step in another video. I've added a pop-in card to that video here as well as a link in the description.

A quick note about materials, if you prefer to use cookies, you can substitute that and make a Cookie Calamity Challenge.

I usually two candy canes for group but you're gonna want to have some extra on hand in case some come to you damage or in case students accidentally damage them while they're testing out their designs. You're also going to want to remove those candy canes from whatever packaging they come in before the challenge so that students don't just copy whatever the packaging materials are that were used.

The students will be recording the total weight of the package and whether or not there was damage to the candy canes. And we're looking for the lightest weight package that results in absolutely no damage to those candy canes.

So students will create whatever design they like and they will put it inside a lunch bag and that is their shipping container. And they'll probably choose to add some other materials in there to keep the candy canes nice and safe. And then once they have the candy canes in the shipping container, they can either tie off the bag or just use a piece of tape. Then they're gonna weight the container. Mine is forty grams. This is where the fun part comes in. They need to then ship their containers. Now what you can do is either just do a desk drop so that this is the height of the desk and I just drop it on the floor from there. You could also do rolling it down the stairs or tape off a line in the distance and students have to toss it over that line.

Whatever process you choose for shipping, just make sure you share that with the students before they begin the design process so that they're aware exactly what their package is going to face so that they can design something that will keep the candy canes safe.

Once the packages have been through the shipping process, the students will then remove their candy canes from the package and exam them closely to determine if there's any damage or any breaks.

Looks like they made it. If you're looking for ways to make this a little bit more challenging for older students, you can increase the number of candy canes that the students need to ship. You can also choose a rougher shipping method like rolling it down the stairs or even sort of bowling it over a distance. And another thing you can do is have consecutive iterations where students have to reduce the weight of their package by a certain percentage. So whatever it is, mine was forty grams, in the first challenge. Maybe the second iteration I could only have 75% of that weight. So I would have to be able to make it thirty grams or less.

Since this is a challenge about not breaking the candy canes, it seems to be a natural extension here that you could talk about the difference in physical changes and chemical changes. Another great extension on this would be to research different shipping methods and maybe even hold a competition to see who can get the package guaranteed by Christmas in the cheapest way possible.

This was pretty straight forward you have all the basics already but as always, there is more. Check out the resource.

This resource contains everything you need to guide your students through the Candy Cane Calamity challenge including modifications for use for second to eighth graders. You'll still need to gather the simple materials of course but the hard parts are done. You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards, links to my STEM challenge professional development videos to help you get the most from each the challenge and the Candy Cane Calamity Materials list. In Teacher Tips you'll find setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, measuring results and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You'll find an editable Criteria and Constraints list so you can tailor the challenge to your students. For Student Handouts there are two versions. Four-page expanded room for response for younger students and a two-page condensed paper saver version. You'll also find a set of group discussion questions. In the Extension Handouts, you'll find a shipping research page exploring physical and chemical changes, notes and practice with answer key, as well as math extension and process flow templates. This resource is available individually and as part of the discounted Winter/Christmas and Mega STEM Challenge bundles. Links can be found in the description below the video.

Thanks so much for checking out this video. This is a really fund challenge and it's also really practical. Make sure that you like and subscribe. I will be back next week with reindeer relay. See you next time.

November 16, 2016

All Students Deserve to Fail

Use STEM challenges to teach growth mindset; they're natural allies!


We don't like to be the bearers of bad news. Some of us avoid conflict at all costs, but we do our students a gross disservice when we shield them from challenges in a bid to protect their self esteem. Perhaps they will avoid the temporary sting of defeat when we don't challenge them, but they will also miss out on the opportunity to develop skills like perseverance and resilience. Those character traits are earned no other way than through struggle. For some high-achievers, these lessons are delayed to when they go off to college for the first time. Spoiler-alert: Disastrous consequences ensue






I was inspired to write this and create the video above because I want teachers to understand that not all STEM challenges (or science experiments) will go according to plan, and that's not a bad thing. In fact, "failure" provides a powerful, teachable moment that has potential to be far more beneficial than a "successful" STEM challenge iteration. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm no sadist! It's a lot more fun when everything goes to plan. I certainly prefer it that way in my own life! But it's not realistic to expect smooth sailing all the time, and we have to teach students how to deal with this sometimes harsh reality -- so it won't feel so harsh!  


People with a crippling fear of failure are often too scared to take risks that could lead to great things in their lives and in the world. I know; I'm a recovering failure-averse worrier. I spent a lot of time hiding in my comfort zone! Nothing would please me more than to spare students the time and opportunities wasted in life when you are too scared to fail.  


If/when a STEM challenge doesn't turn out as you had hoped, model for students curiosity (rather than frustration, annoyance, or dismissiveness) about what went wrong. 
You know how when a toddler falls down, he looks to see if you look worried or scared as his cue to cry? And have you noticed when you shrug it off, he does too? This is just like that! Kids learn how to respond to failures from the adults in their lives. If you look upset for your students when a challenge goes badly, they'll be upset too. If you shrug it off, they will learn to do the same. Of all the things we could teach our kids, that might be the most life-altering.


But shrugging it off doesn't mean to forget about it and move on to the next thing! After a failed challenge, student teams should find, analyze, and fix failure points. You'll need to model scientific reasoning and logic as well as a growth mindset attitude. Help them generate ideas of topics to research and approaches to try next. Some of us have failure all tied up with shame in our minds, and that simply shouldn't be so. Failure is nothing more than data to be analyzed. Imagine if Edison's team gave up on the light bulb after 9,000 tries! 


So let's resolve not to bubble wrap our kids. We have to stop feeling like bad guys when we do an activity that induces frustration or challenge for our kids. Let's show them we believe in their ability to face adversity and develop resilience and problem-solving skills! 

And let's remind ourselves that all kids deserve to fail; for in doing so, they learn how to recover, learn not to be scared to take risks, learn growth mindset skills in practice rather than just theory, and they'll be better prepared for every other challenge they face in life.  Letting your kids fail might just be the most important thing you'll ever do!  

_______________________________________

Here are two fabulous videos to help students understand the value of failure and how they can find & fix failure points in their STEM challenge designs:







Title photo credit


Video Transcription

Today I want to have a little heart-to-heart with you. You saw the title of the video, "All Students Deserve to Fail." I have not lost my mind, I have just thinking a lot about growth mindset and STEM challenges and how they go hand in hand.

When I was growing up, fail was truly a four-letter word to me. The first time I ever really met struggle in school was tenth grade, Algebra 2 Honors. When I got my first C in that class, I sobbed like a baby. And when that C turned into an official C on my semester report card, I was inconsolable. In the second semester, I completely crumbled and officially failed, an F on my report card, when up until that point I had been a straight A student. It completely changed my viewpoint of who I was.

As an aside, I do want to say the teacher of that course, Mr. Bouch, was and is an awesome teacher, still one of my favorites to this day. I was just totally unprepared for that class and the high standard he held us to. While my situation was not as dire, this does remind me of "The Breakfast Club" and why Brian was in detention. I will link that above, just for kicks. I know I'm dating myself. I think most people would agree that a fear of failure holds you back in your life. And it keeps you from taking risks and doing great things that would ultimately lead to a happier existence. I wish I had come to understand that a little bit earlier and not lived so much of my life in fear of failure because in reality, a lot of the best things in my life have come from something that was initially a failure.
Now for some of us, we need to gain our wisdom with age. But for our students, if we can help them figure that out earlier, if we can help them develop a growth mindset, it's probably the most important things we'll ever teach them. And that's why I believe all students deserve to fail. And fail early and often. So they get that practice and they can develop resilience.

And that's why I love STEM challenges so much, because it's a little compact experience that is sure to give students experience with frustration, an initial failure that then the exultation of success.
By helping students develop a growth mindset doesn't happen by accident and it's not always easy to do, particularly if you haven't adopted one yourself. Because it's more than just telling students to try, try again.

You have to analyze the way your brain works and how you experience failure. Growth mindset starts with you as the teacher and if you're like me, that might mean doing a little bit extra homework to get yourself to a point where you really are a role model for growth mindset.
Occasionally I'll get feedback that expresses some frustration or disappointment that the challenge didn't go smoothly or that it was hard for students, and I don't want to be dismissive or sarcastic, but challenge is right in the title: "STEM Challenge." It's mean to be difficult.

I'm gonna use one or two examples of feedback I've received on a few of my STEM challenges in order to illustrate my point. Here's an example. "This was great except the arrows got to be too heavy with paint. We will have to change things a little for next year." Now, I might be reading some into this, thinking that I see some frustration from the teacher. I'm basing that on the scores. And here's my response to that feedback. "For sure. There are many variables that go into student designs. This is the one of the reasons multiple iterations are so important in the design process. Students need practice finding and fixing failure points, similarly to how they practice revising writing. In fact, there is a great video series I found on YouTube that goes through all the aspects of the engineering process for kids in short segments. I blogged about it here." And don't worry, I will link this for you before the end of the video.

I get it, we all enjoy when all the students’ assigns are successful and everybody's happy, that's much more fun than when students are struggling or upset. I get it.

Sometimes when a challenge does not go smoothly, people assume that the reason is that the challenge was too hard for that age group. But it's not always that simple. For example, recently I got an email from someone who said she had tried a challenge with her young nephew, in preparation for doing it with her class later in the week. Now there is an age difference between the nephew and the class. The nephew is younger; the class was older. It went very well with the nephew, and then the students in her class had a much harder time with it. After every challenge, whether it was successful or not, you should be analyzing right along with your students, what went well, what didn't go well, what are the problems that could be solved with tweaks of the criteria constraints list, with the materials used with the time allotted, versus what can students do with their own designs in order to improve them.

And then as often as you can, you need to actually give them that second iteration, in order to improve their designs. If you want them to develop a growth mindset, you have to give them an opportunity to grow. As you know, I am always extolling the virtue of multiple iterations. Now I know it's not practical to do it on every single challenge, but particularly on challenges where many students struggle, you'd want to try to make time for it. Okay, now I know I've said this before, but if you've never tried doing a second iteration to a challenge, just do it once. Just try it one time. And I'll never have to ask you again because you will be right behind me in the parade for multiple iterations.

I do want to share with you some fun feedback I got on another challenge. "Thank you. My middle school students have loved this. Well, most of them. Some of my higher students have struggled a little. A few of them ask, 'Can we please just write a paper over cellular respiration and photosynthesis?' Haha, no." I so loved this feedback. And here's my response, "That is so funny. I actually mention this in one of my YouTube videos. Some high achiever kids struggle without the roadmap to success. This is such an important experience for them to have early and often so they learn how to problem solve and build resilience. It sounds like you and I are totally in sync on that. Thanks for sharing." The reason that I wanted to share this feedback is that it takes me back to the story I started the video with when I was a tenth grade student failing Algebra 2 Honors and completely devastated by it. I'm really hoping that doing things like STEM challenges will help students develop a growth mindset at an earlier age, so that they aren't so impacted by what really should've been a small setback.

And I'm not a sadist. Of course failure is not as much fun as succeeding, but it's equally as valuable in terms of what you learn, if not more valuable. So remember, all students deserve to fail. And you are not a bad guy for giving them the opportunity to learn how to fail and learn how to bounce back. That's a big part of what teachers do. Don't teach your kids to fear failure either implicitly or explicitly. Teach them to attempt new things and if those new things fail, analyze it, try again. Their lives will be richer for it. Of course remember that STEM challenges are the perfect way to develop your growth mindset, especially when you use multiple iterations.

I have written a corresponding blog for this post. And I'm gonna link it in the description. Make sure you check it out. I'm going to link to the engineering process, finding and fixing failure points videos, that I referenced earlier, as well as some other goodies. So check it out. Make sure you don't forget to like and subscribe. Next week I'm gonna be back with the first of the Christmas and Winter STEM challenge walkthroughs, so you won't want to miss that. See you next time.

November 11, 2016

Thanksgiving STEM Challenge: Turkey Transporter

Thanksgiving STEM Challenge: In Turkey Transporter, students design a way to transport turkeys quickly and safely across a horizontal and/or vertical distance. Includes modifications grades 2 - 8.

Congratulations, teacher! You're almost there. You've almost made it to Thanksgiving break, but we all know those last few days can be difficult for you and your students. Everyone is more than ready for a rest, and focusing on school can be challenging for all. As tempting as it might be to phone it in with some videos and parties, you can't really afford to waste instructional time. What to do? STEM challenges, of course. They're fun, engaging and require students to problem-solve and think critically in collaboration with their peers.

In the last month, I've described five (5) Thanksgiving challenges that followed the journey of the Pilgrims as they set up their new settlement: 

- Mini Mayflower (Get to where you're going)

- Protect-a-Pilgrim (Build a shelter)

- Pumpkin Picker (Gather available food)

- Corn Cultivator (Set up sustainable food source)

- Turkey Transporter (Once all major needs are met, there's time for fun!)

As indicated above, the Pilgrims tended to their basic needs in challenges 1 - 4. In challenge 5, it's time for them let loose and have a little fun in Turkey Transporter!


Premise:

Students design a way to transport a turkey quickly and safely across a horizontal and/or vertical distance.


Where Can I Find Out More?


It's a lot easier to explain challenges visually! The video walk-through of Turkey Transporter is embedded below. In it, you'll find information about materials, modifying difficulty level, extensions and some tips & tricks to guide you, so you can better guide your students through the challenge. Check it out. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.




Where are the Others?


There are a few ways to find out more about the Thanksgiving resources. 
1) You can click on the covers pictured here to go straight to the resources. 
2) Each of these five Thanksgiving challenges has a corresponding blog post and video walk through just like this one. 
3)You can also find all the videos in my Thanksgiving playlist on YouTube.

For a summary of the Thanksgiving bundle with links to each challenge post, see this post. 



All challenges are available individually and in discounted bundles in my TpT store, as well.









I'm linking up with some fellow friends and bloggers this week. Check them out!




















Video Transcription

Welcome to the final week of the Thanksgiving STEM challenges. Our pilgrims have been through a lot in the last few weeks, getting to the new world, setting up their shelters and their food. Now that all their basic needs are met, it's time for a little bit of fun. That's where our next challenge comes in, Turkey Transporter.

The premise on this one is simply to get the turkey as quickly and safely as possible from point A to point B, but before I get ahead of myself, let's take a look at the materials and the STEM Challenge Cycle.

This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I've defined each step in another video, you can click on the title now to see the cycle explained.

Two basic things you need to decide before the challenge starts. Are you going to give students time to color the turkeys? If so, you should make a copy for every student, even though they won't all be transported. And the second thing you wanna decide is, will the turkey be traveling a horizontal distance, or will you be doing a vertical drop? Or you can always do both. Once you've made that decision, there are a couple of safety concerns that you might wanna consider.

Usually, if you are doing a horizontal transportation, students will usually create some sort of a zip-line. Not always, but they might. When students design zip-lines, frequently they will want to have one student standing in a chair, holding one end of the rope up high, while the other is at the finish line, holding the rope down low. If you don't want your students standing in chairs, you need to put that in the constraints lists.

If you're doing a vertical drop, it works best from a stairwell, but of course you're going to need to rope it off, and have students stationed to warn passersby so you don't drop things on their head. Even though it's light, nobody likes things dropping on their head.

So I'll do a quick demo of the two designs we have here. This one's pretty simple, it's just a clothes pin, it's part of a straw that's been cut, and we have rope through the sides. Now, part of the criteria and constraints list is that, the turkey must get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and as safe as possible. And in order for the turkey to have arrived safely, we need to not see any crumples, or bends, or folds. This design is simple and it's working pretty well, so as long as he arrives safely I think this is gonna be a big contender.

In this design we have the turkey clipped to a small paper plate to give it a little bit of extra heft and weight, and we would watch him travel. Now you wanna also encourage students to try different things, so perhaps he might move a little bit faster if instead of putting it through these metal rings, what if we put it through the actual black plastic clip part. And it actually feels like it's gliding better. The plate gives it a little bit of added heft, so it should keep him pretty safe.

There is one thing to think about. If your turkey becomes stuck on the rope, depending on the design, you need to decide if it's okay for students to shake the rope, which I usually allow them to do. But I won't allow them to come over and actually physically touch it, and move it in that way. Although it might be fairly obvious, given that the turkey has to arrive safely, that you shouldn't throw the turkey, or toss the turkey. I usually do put it in the criteria and constraints list as a constraint, that you can't throw the turkey to its destination.

So you might be looking at this and thinking, "This is entirely too simple, my kids would figure that out in a heartbeat. It would hardly be a design." So let's talk about some ways to make it a little bit more challenging if you have older kids. So first of all, do not show them this video, and do not show them pictures of designs that are already done. Second, replace your binder clips with zip ties instead, just a few. You can either eliminate clothes pins altogether, or maybe just give them one. For straws, that's up to you. I think giving them a straw is not 100% obvious, but it does depend on your group.

In addition of modifying materials, you can also increase the distance the turkey has to travel. If the turkey is traveling a horizontal distance, you can add a criterion that the feet must always be in contact with the ground, which will make things a lot more challenging. And of course, you can require students to do both the horizontal and the vertical drops. Now, I didn't really speak to the vertical drop, but a lot of times students will think to do a parachute for a vertical drop, and a zip-line for a horizontal. If you have students do both challenges, you can have the students create two different designs, or require them to reuse the same design for both the horizontal and the vertical drop.

To extend on this one, you can study turkeys. It's interesting to take a look at the difference between domestic turkeys and wild turkeys. If you have older students, you can calculate the official speed of the turkey in the Turkey Transporter by miles per hour or maybe, you know, meters per second. And this challenge has narrative writing written all over it. To me this is a natural fit for a comic strip, or a story or a play, in which the turkey is using your design in order to escape some situation.

You have all the basics, but I'd like to give you more. So, there is a resource, and it has more modifications, more extensions, student handouts. Check it out.

Time is precious, don't waste it recreating resources that already exist. Turkey Transporter contains everything you need, including modifications for use with second through eighth graders. You'll still need to gather the simple materials of course, but the rest is done. You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards, links to my STEM challenge How-to videos to help you get the most from each challenge, and the Turkey Transporter Materials list. In Teacher Tips you'll find premise and setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, measuring results, and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You'll find two versions of editable Criteria & Constraints List, so you can tailor the challenge to your students.

For Student Handouts there are two versions, four-page expanded room for response for younger students, and a two-page condensed space paper saver version. You'll also find a set of group discussion questions, and a turkey to transport. In the Extension Handouts you'll find calculating turkey speed handouts, as well as math extension and process flow templates. This resource is available individually, and as part of the discounted Thanksgiving and Mega STEM Challenge bundles. Links can be found in the description bellow the video.

I'll be back next week, with a video called All Students Deserve To Fail. You don't wanna miss it, I'll see you next time. Make sure you don't forget to like and subscribe.

November 9, 2016

Thanksgiving STEM Challenge: Corn Cultivator

Thanksgiving STEM Challenge: In Corn Cultivator, students build one or more farming tools. Includes modifications grades 2 - 8.You're so close to a well-earned Thanksgiving holiday break! But trying to keep kids engaged as they inch ever closer to the holidays can be a Herculean task! 


As you might already know, this is one more reason I love STEM challenges so much. They're naturally enjoyable and engaging activities for kids that are chock full of academic rigor (when done properly/with intent). 


With STEM challenges, you don't have to lose instructional minutes because your kids have holiday fever; you can channel their energy for good! Win/win!


For the past few weeks, I have been giving walk throughs of a set of five (5) Thanksgiving challenges that follow the needs encountered by our intrepid Pilgrims as they set up their new settlements: 

- Mini Mayflower (Get to where you're going)

- Protect-a-Pilgrim (Build a shelter)

- Pumpkin Picker (Gather available food)

- Corn Cultivator (Set up sustainable food source)

- Turkey Transporter (Once all major needs are met, there's time for fun!)

We're nearing the end of the Thanksgiving journey this week with Corn Cultivator.


Premise:

Students design one or more farming tools that will: till, dig holes, plant seeds, and lightly irrigate. Results can be measured in # of tools created and time it takes to fully prepare the farmland. Note of warning: this one can get a little messy, and you'll want to set aside more time than your average challenge.


Where Can I Find Out More?


The video walk-through of Corn Cultivator is embedded below. In it, you'll find all sorts of helpful information about materials, modifying difficulty level, extensions and some tips & tricks to guide you, so you can better guide your students through the challenge. Check it out. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.






Where are the Others?


Between Oct. 20 and Nov. 13, I'll be posting one Thanksgiving STEM challenge video every Thursday to my YouTube channel and here on my blog. (The final post will come on a Sunday to give you time to implement before Thanksgiving break!)

Until then, you'll find the Thanksgiving bundle briefly described in this post






All challenges are available individually and in discounted bundles in my TpT store, as well.



                                                


Video Transcription

Hello, welcome to week four of the Thanksgiving STEM challenges. So far we have gotten the Pilgrims to the new world in Mini Mayflower, they've gotten shelter in Protected Pilgrim, and they gathered available food in Pumpkin Picker. The next task ahead of the Pilgrims is to create a sustainable food source, so they need to learn how to farm. And that is where Corn Cultivator comes in.

In Corn Cultivator students are gonna create one or more tools that help them do a number of farming tasks. They need to till the soil, dig holes, plant seeds, and then irrigate lightly. Before I get too far ahead of myself, let's take a quick look at the materials and the STEM Challenge Cycle.

This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I've defined each step in another video, you can click on the title now to see the cycle explained.

Before to start the challenge with your students, you'll probably want to review a few things with them in terms of vocabulary, like till, cultivate, and irrigate. You'll probably also wanna go through how the Wampanoag Native Americans helped the Pilgrims learn how to farm. You're probably already aware that the soil in New England was not prime for farming, and so the Wampanoag showed the Pilgrims that if you added two to three herring fish, it really made the soil more fertile. And then they would also use between four and five seeds in each seed mound, so if want to stay true to the Pilgrims journey then you'll wanna do it that way. If you do decide that you wanna have fish in with your challenge, I would suggest to either use paper clips, or those little Swedish Fish candies.

So when you start the challenge, you can actually get the students started, and they can be working on their tools while you prep the farmland. For farmland you have a couple of choices. You can either do the challenge outdoors, and then just mark off a parcel of farmland for each group. That's always a little dangerous because you never know if the weather is going to agree to with you on the day you wanna do the challenge. So, I prefer to use little foil tins ... again, I get them from Dollar Tree. And inside you can either use flour, or soil, or sand if you want. If you do it this way, when you give it to the students make sure that you don't give it to them already evened out, so I like to give it to them in big clumps like this. You wanna make sure to tell the students that they're not allowed to shake it out to even, the tool has to do the tilling. 

Another thing you can do if you have older students and you wanna increase difficulty a little bit, is you can add, like, kitty litter, gravel, marbles, to make the soil more rocky. You can also compress the soil down, you can even add a little bit of water to make it a little bit more hard, and dry and cake-y. By compressing the soil and adding some rocks, it does make that a little bit closer to the actual soil, and it adds just a little tiny bit of difficulty.


Okay, so I'm gonna do a quick demo using this tool. The next step is to dig the holes for the seeds, and you do wanna have the students know ahead of time how many mounds of seeds they need. I usually choose between twelve and sixteen. If you are using the fish, then you need to place your fish in the mound. Followed by the seeds. Then they need to cover the seeds. Finally, you're gonna need to lightly irrigate, and so what I put in the criterion constraints lists is that it has to evenly and lightly irrigate the farmland, without exposing any of the seeds. If any of the seeds do become exposed, then you need to go back and use your tool to cover them back up again. Let's see how this one works. Well I found lots of places to improve on that irrigation system, it did not work well. You can see this side was flooded, this side didn't get any water. I used too much water in general, the seeds are exposed, many of the herring are exposed, and this has created quite a mess.


Sometimes that's going to happen in your challenges, and, you know, stay calm, be all right with it, because a big part of STEM challenges is identifying your failure points, fixing them, and doing a second iteration. And while it might not always be possible to do a second iteration, try where you can. Certainly I'd give students an opportunity to talk about what they would need to fix. So I would try to identify either ways to fix my designs, or even maybe just start from scratch. And you know, even when I'm thinking about my design for the irrigation, even if it had worked it would have blocked the sun, so it wouldn't have been a great choice all in all. You wanna give students an opportunity to really analyze their designs in this way, even if they're successful there might be ways to make them better.


And don't be nervous or scared if a challenge doesn't go well the first time, they're not always going to. You have to think of it like a process, very much like the writing process. The first draft is not always a fantastic read, and the first design is not always a smashing success.


If you wanna measure results for this challenge, I like to have students record the number of tools they designed, so in this case I would count this as one tool, and then the irrigation as a second tool. And also, they should keep track of the amount of time it takes them to completely prepare the farmland and irrigate it.

As I said before, if you wanna increase difficulty, make the soil more difficult to work with by compressing it and adding pebbles, gravel, kitty litter. You can also require that all the tools be in one. So, this almost fits the bill, but it doesn't irrigate. But perhaps when I redesign, since I didn't like my irrigation tool, I can find a way to maybe pour down off of the spoons perhaps.

For extensions on this one, of course you can continue studying the Pilgrims' journey. How did they farm, what kinds of tools did they have available to them. You can compare how the Pilgrims farmed to modern farming techniques now. Otherwise you can extend on the idea of parts of the plant, photosynthesis, how do plants grow, all of that.

So with all this you have the basics, but of course there's always more, so check out the resource.

I know I'm always thankful when I can get a little bit of time back in my day. This resource contains everything you need, including modifications for use with second through eighth graders. You'll still need to gather the simple materials of course, but the hard parts are done. You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards, links to my STEM challenge How-to videos to help you get the most from each challenge, and the Corn Cultivator Materials list. In Teacher Tips you'll find premise and setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, measuring results, and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You'll find an editable Criteria & Constraints List, so you can tailor the challenge to your students.

For Student Handouts there are two versions, four-page expanded room for response for younger students, and a two-page condensed space paper saver version. You'll also find a set of group discussion questions. In the Extension Handouts you'll find task card directions, examples, and templates, as well as process flow templates. This resource is available individually, and as part of the discounted Thanksgiving and Mega STEM Challenge bundles. Links can be found in the description bellow the video.

This one is not for the faint of heart. It is a little bit more challenging, it does take a little bit of extra time for you to set up, it's gonna be a little bit messier, but I think you'll find it's really worth it. Your kids are gonna really enjoy it, it's a fantastic thing to do right before the Thanksgiving break.

Make sure you like and subscribe. Next week I'll be back with the final Thanksgiving challenge, see you next time.

November 5, 2016

October Recap



Congratulations on surviving October, one of the most challenging feats in teaching prowess! 

Since you're so busy doing your thing, I know you are bound to miss some of the things going on in my blog, YouTube channel and TpT store. Hopefully, these monthly updates will help you catch all the updates and teaching tidbits to make your teaching life that much better! (Click: September Recap to see last month's updates.)


NEW RESOURCES

If you know my STEM challenges, you know I always include an extension option for students to create a process flow to show how to build their designs. Communicating clearly and succinctly is often a difficult task for students. I started the "Speak-Listen-Draw" task card product line you see here to help students develop these skills in small, manageable, fun tasks. There are options to practice oral and written communication contained within. These are just the beginning. Be sure to check it out and keep your eyes peeled; more are on the way soon!


PRODUCT UPDATES

In September, I updated all of the Thanksgiving challenges, so in October I aimed to update all of the Christmas & winter STEM challenges. I came so close! Everything below is updated and the final challenge (Sleigh & Slope) will be ready by Nov. 7. You are definitely going to want to re-download these if you own them, because  I added a lot of new goodies! You'll find new primary response pages with expanded room for response, new cross-curricular extension ideas and handouts, and more!









BLOG POSTS AND GUEST POSTS








YouTube

Videos are up for 3/5 of Thanksgiving STEM challenges to give you plenty of time to prepare! Mini Mayflower, Protect-a-Pilgrim, and Pumpkin Picker are live; Corn Cultivator posts Nov. 10 and Turkey Transporter posts Nov. 13.

**CLICK HERE FOR THE THANKSGIVING CHALLENGE-WALK-THROUGH PLAYLIST**


Life

Well, last month, I said I was going to work on work-life balance. I failed to make any significant changes in this area. I am embarrassed, but also glad to hold myself accountable on this blog. Back to the drawing board.  Oh jeez, even that sounds like work!  Maybe I should say, "Back to the beach" instead? 

COMING IN NOVEMBER

I'll be updating the Sleigh & Slope STEM challenge and posting video walk-throughs for the remaining Thanksgiving challenges on YouTube. I'll start posting the videos fro Christmas & winter toward the end of the month, and I'm working on adding a couple of new resources to the Speak, Listen, Draw series.


WHAT ELSE?

If you want to receive notifications of these monthly recaps, you can follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers. I send a monthly note linking back to this post so all the links are easy to find (see the image below)! You can also follow this blog.