STEM for Preschool

The merging of all my posts into one feed has uncovered some old drafts that never got published. Here's one from last year.

Kidzone Discovery School - a place that is and people who are very very dear to our family - invited me to serve as a speaker for one of their professional development days last spring. In response to the administrators' research in best practices for young children, they asked that the focus be on STEM for Preschool. STEM, as some of you may know, is the emphasis on and intersection of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. STEAM is the newest version of this, incorporating Art into the mix.

STEM/STEAM-focused learning activities are pretty on trend right now for K-12 education. At the onset of planning, my approach was taking something complex and simplifying it for preschool purposes and I anticipated some challenges in that area. Would I be able to find enough "lower-level" activities to pull this off?

As it turned out, STEM is so perfectly aligned to instructional strategies appropriate for preschool that there was no shortage but rather an abundance of options for this workshop. Polling together my own personal children's STEM-type tools as well as some materials provided by the preschool made for a powerful, hands-on workshop that the teachers seemed to truly enjoy.

I started off with an interactive quiz to determine that audience's level of familiarity with STEM. We had some basic understanding but for most participants, this concept was entirely new. Then I gave a quick talk on the origin of the STEM movement and how this method of instruction helps nurture curiosity, initiative, and critical thinking skills in our kids. The next chunk of time we spent rotating through stations so that everyone had an opportunity to try out (and evaluate) some activities for appropriateness in relation to their specific age groups. Each station had a challenge/task card with just enough instructions to enable self-sufficiency in exploring the activity.

1. In this challenge, teachers were given rolls of tin foil and were asked to design a boat that would float. They experimented with design of their vessels, and even took on the extra challenge of adding cargo (pennies) to see how that would alter their boat's function.

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2. The next station was simply a box of Magformers. These are magnetized geometric shapes that can be clipped together to build designs from the included idea book or users can branch off and design a structure according to their own specifications.

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3. The next station was creating chemical reactions with baking soda, food coloring, and vinegar. The teachers could use droppers to pull out colored vinegar and create artistic chemical reactions by adding it to the pans of baking soda. Younger kids love this activity, and as long as you prep ahead of time with disposable trays and garbage bags, clean-up can be kept to a minimum.

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4. This was the most advanced STEM activity of the session. The participants were challenged to use tin foil, pins/hot glue, and streamers/ribbon to create a comet. The emphasis on this station for actual use with preschoolers would be teacher assistance and instruction on the various terminology associated with the comet models. The fun part, of course, would be getting to throw their foil comets across the room afterward.

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5. The next station involved using Legos and the Lego Movie Maker app to create short, stop-action videos. I have recently been devastated to discover that Lego Movie Maker has been discontinued, but there are other stop motion video apps out there that would accomplish the same goal.

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6. This station was the simplest yet it yielded the most room for creativity. The challenge was to build Elsa's castle out of sugar cubes, and everyone had such a creatively different take on the best way to assemble a sturdy castle. One of the administrators suggested that we could also use a sugar water paste (similar to gingerbread house icing) to help the "bricks" stick together.

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7. This station was also pretty simple, including just pipe cleaners and beads. Using those two materials only (plus duct tape, of course), the teachers were challenged to see which team could build the tallest structure.

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We rotated everyone through the stations in five-minute increments. Some challenges required more time, others less, but this gave all the teachers a broad sweeping exposure to the STEM/maker concept. A follow up interactive quiz gave good feedback on the participants' understanding of the purpose and details of our STEM activities.

Whether you're a teacher or a parent looking for Spring Break/summer fun, you are welcome to check out the links below to set up your own kiddos' STEM challenges!

Link to STEM for Preschool presentation

Link to supplemental signs for STEM activities

2015 Junior United Nations Assembly

Everybody says middle schoolers are...a handful. And hey, I’ll be the first to tell you about how destructive and volatile they can be even with everyday simple machines.

But in my book, they are the most exciting, delightful little diamonds-in-the-rough on God’s green earth and the Junior United Nations Assembly of Alabama is just the place to see them shine.

January 29-30 I had the privilege of seeing their hard work and effort come to fruition. Held at Birmingham-Southern College, this year JUNA featured 49 nations, represented by approximately 250 6th-8th graders from schools all over Alabama.

19 of those sweet angel babies are mine, and my, oh, my, did they shine. Our three teams standing up for Australia, Liberia, and Morocco were especially noteworthy because they were the only teams from any of the 50+ schools in our district.

In their respective committees, our young ladies and gentlemen spoke out to plea for UN assistance for issues in their nations such as child enslavement, water pollution, and ebola relief. They demonstrated proficiency in student leadership, initiative, public speaking, courteous debate, understanding of world resources and issues, and creative problem-solving.

The first day of the two-part conference included students greeting one another in native tongues, (some incorporating sign language), taking on the language, dress, and culture of their nations. After all the pretty pleasantries, they broke out into pre-assigned committees involving UN topical issues such as education, the environment, health, poverty, disease outbreaks, trafficking, etc.

Within each committee, two to three students presented the resolution that was written by the entire team/delegation in the months prior to conference; this involved a series of three speeches. These students then fielded questions from other students...and here is where the rubber meets the road...they must be intimately familiar with their nation’s issues and even that of their geographical neighbors in order to adequately defend the resolution. Beyond that, they must have oratory skill and charisma to field questions and respond to them to adequately defends the resolution. 

Every delegate (soon will change to each nation) votes on each resolution in the small committee room, and the 2-3 nations receiving the most votes from each committee will then pass out of committee. Those nations will have the opportunity to repeat their same presentation in General assembly, taking questions now from a wider variety of nations.

There is a public “roll call” after each presentation, and the nations vote yes, no, or abstain. If they have more yes votes than no, they are passed by the general assembly. This is the hallmark of teams who are well prepared, have researched well, and have a well-honed ability to communicate articulately and with enthusiasm and to respond to questions courteously and effectively. 

Awards given at the conclusion of the conference include recognition of leadership, display board, costume, resolution, spirit, best nations, individual leadership as delegates, and preparedness. This fun, celebratory time isn't the goal of the JUNA experience, but it does put a nice little bow on things.

As for my sweet little team, we are gearing up for a fun field trip to deepen our study of global cultures, but we are already looking forward to next year's JUNA in Alabama! 

Technology: How has it changed us?

"Technology" can feel like a vague term these days, given our pervasive use of and dependence upon it. Check out the video below (may the mercies of your district's internet filtering allow it through), and consider discussing some of these questions with your kiddos:

  • Can you imagine your life without any technology at all?
  • How has technology changed us as a society?
  • 1657 was an especially relevant year in this clip; what OTHER years include the most defining moments of modern tech use? Why?
  • What is the most important tchnological advance or discovery in the 1950s? What about 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s?  

Thinking about how we serve

Still here, friends. Thanks for those of you still having in there with me. :) Don't let my lack of posts give the wrong impression that I don't have any posts swimming around in this here brain o' mine. What a fantastic year this has been, and I have some posts coming soon to fill you in. For now, there are a few special reads I wanted to share.  

 *Unsplash.com under CC0. 

*Unsplash.com under CC0. 

Doug Johnson posted recently about the $3400 piece of chalk. His point really hits home. Far too often I see and hear of well-meaning educators who are taking the same old concepts (worksheets, chalkboard lecture, etc.) and simply putting a techy twist on them. Lecture notes transferred to a powerpoint or Google Slides presentation are still...lecture notes. This does not change the nature of instruction. This does not make the experience deeper or any more meaningful for the students. It simply creates a $3400 piece of chalk. As librarians and teachers and instructional technology experts, we should push for better. More. Deeper. Higher. In ourselves and our colleagues.   

Great bulletin board idea for teens and social media: Teens and social media. Twitchy yet? There is so much shark-infested water out there for our teens in the social media world. I feel some days that we're all just standing on the slope in the pool between shallow and deep, and if we take just One. More. Step. We are going to be in over our heads. And with our kids? They don't even know they're in danger...that's the scariest part. This post gives some great suggestions for guiding teens to respecting dangers and putting the brakes on their own behaviors. Which, if I know one thing about teenagers, will be waaaay more effective than us trying to regulate for them. 

The Copyright Comic Book: I'm a librarian. Copyright is my thang, friends. And this is a supercool resource that even our teens will love. 

Tech Tip #4

Blogging Challenge for School Librarians, Day 16 

Share a tech tip for your fellow librarians or teachers. How do you use this resource? How does it simplify your life?

For my last Tech Tip, I wanted to share about a new software that I have just begun to learn about and use in my school library. Nearpod is an app-based software that educators can use to promote student engagement and collective valuable formative/summative assessment data from each lesson. 

Though there are free trials available, you don't have access to all Nearpod's bells and whistles unless you pay for a subscription to the service. In it, teachers can upload and integrate all kinds of content...pictures, PPT slides, surveys, quick polls, quizzes, videos, open-ended questioning, etc.  in order to involve students in the instruction. 

 iPhone screenshot of what students would see when launching the Nearpod device

iPhone screenshot of what students would see when launching the Nearpod device

Once they create the presentation (or upload something already created to their Nearpod library), teachers will get an ID number for that lesson. Students open the Nearpod app, type in the ID number, and suddenly the teacher can control their device. He or she can send out quiz questions, have students respond to a math problem or label parts of an animal cell and submit that back to the teacher. I am talking mind-blowingly cool stuff here. There is a teacher-directed option which is to be used when the teacher wants to control the student's pace as well as a homework-type option that teachers can send out for students to complete at their own pace...excellent for flipped instruction! 

The best part is that even though we aren't set for school-wide BYOD quite yet, Nearpod can be used on our library's set of 30 Nooks. 

We're flat broke, so I wrote a grant for 5 teachers accounts for my school. I recently demonstrated it during a PD session on another topic (VAL-Ed assessment for instructional leaders), and had-with one exception- really positive feedback from teachers on how much they liked being able to use the software. Implementing that first with teachers gave me some solid feedback on how to best use it with kids. My next goal, of course, beyond using this in my own lessons with students, is to see it used in classrooms throughout the building. 

So if you have money to burn (hysterical, I know) or if you're looking for an idea for a tech-based grant, give Nearpod a look! Contact me here if you'd like to hear more about using this with your students and teachers. 

*Not a sponsored post, by the way. I'm not into that sort of thing.