I was really impressed with our fifth graders last week when each class completed the last challenge that aligns with our submersibles unit.  Before entering into this challenge, they had to investigate and grapple with the idea of mass and volume in relation to sinking and floating. Some students even began to understand the concept of density.

Every team was able to complete the first challenge of creating a floating submersible with different density vials that served as the submersibles “instruments”.   Almost every team after that, was able to complete the challenge of retrieving three different packages from our “sea floor”.   In the end, I was impressed that most students were able to understand mass and volume in relation to sinking or floating.  These concepts can prove confusing for students.  Our fifth grade proved that when engaged and challenged they persevere and can learn complicated scientific understanding.





Up, Up and Away!!


Here are some photos from our final parachute design challenge.  It culminated with a drop off the roof with the help of our custodian Mustafa.  It was a breezy day and one of our lucky groups had the benefit of a gust sending their well designed parachute over the playground staying in the air for 13 seconds.  Longest time yet!  Over the next few weeks we will study air resistance and how it played a role in our design’s success.

Photos from the winning parachute.  It got lifted off across the schoolyard.  Can you find it??

Designing Walls

It’s amazing the way of the minds of children work.  A few weeks ago we started a STEM project about designing walls.  I began by showing them the pictures of walls from around the world and asking about how they were made and why people use walls.   The conversations we ended up engaging in were so rich, question provoking and personal.  Two students, who had never shared about their homeland before, elaborated on how the walls in Nepal were built and what is was like to live in a refugee camp.  One described the rain and how they bathed and rejoiced in it when it came.  It was such a treasure for our students to engage in real conversations and first hand accounts about other countries and hear about experiences they may never had even imagined were possible before.  I was so proud that these two students shared and the others listened.

The photos below are of students engaging in the science of the lesson.  Earlier in the year, these second graders engaged in a matter unit that focused on properties of different types of matter in their homerooms.  We built on this knowledge, making observations of three different earth materials and recording their properties.  They then made claims based on the evidence of their observations as to which earth materials would be most suitable for a strong and durable wall.   The investigation culminates with students creating their own 3 inch tall walls that we test for strength with a “wrecking ball”.




Video Presentations of Robots

A few months ago, fourth graders were given a challenge to create robots with Lego WeDo Robotic sets.  These sets are a user friendly and simplistic way to enter into the world of designing and building robots as well as coding them to do simple tasks.

The following videos were created by our Lego Robotic teams and shared at an all school assembly.  The challenge they were given was to create a robot that used either the motor or the sensor and solved a problem.  The ideas students came up with were varied and creative, many hoping to help humanity tackle problems.

Below are some of the videos they created.  Enjoy!

The Allure of Flying

In the last few weeks third graders have been studying the intrinsic allure of flying to humans throughout history.  It began by studying Leonardo DaVinci’s dreamt up flying machines drawn in 1500 and ended with observing the flying machines engineered by today’s dreamers.

etinfluence2.jpg (308×237)     davwng2.jpg (306×234)

As students observed, discussed and began to consider design elements to add to their own flying machines, we talked about the role nature plays in the designs we studied.  Students noticed that many of the designs replicated the body’s of flying squirrels, birds and bats.   Together they made the connection between nature and many technologies that nature inspires.

article-2167362-13E078B4000005DC-259_634x462.jpg (634×462)

This week students drafted plans for their own flying machines that are symmetrical and 3 dimensional and began building.  Groups are collaborating, using their creativity and communicating with partners.  One student told me that his job was to move about the room to see what ideas he could bring back to his group that others are finding successful.

In the coming weeks, students will be testing their designs by videotaping them to see how long they stay in the air.  This data will be compiled and analyzed to use for improvements.   The culminating event will be a group send off of the flying machines in a competition-like atmosphere.


Sailing Center Partnership

Were you aware the Sailing Center located on Penny Street on beautiful Lake Champlain is moving to a new building?  Yes!  It’s true and exciting to residents such as I who have shuttled our kids to the Sailing Center for years now.  In addition to having a lovely new center, (if you’ve ever been to the current space you’ll know what I mean) the Center is building a large educational space for teaching lessons connected to sailing or lake stewardship in mind.

Last year, the Sailing Center became JJ Flynn’s official partner.  In doing so, I have been piloting and co-teaching their STEM connected lesson plans, intended to reach all BSD elementary schools in the future, to our fourth and fifth graders.  Over the past two weeks, one of the Sailing Center’s educators, Dayna McRoberts, has been visiting and working with our students on the tenants of the basics of wind, how and why we need to measure wind’s speed and direction.

Students are excited when they see Dayna, because some have been lucky to take classes at the Sailing Center and remember her from there.  Others, enjoy the excitement in change and are very happy to hear that soon, in fifth grade, they too, will be able to take a ride on one of the sailboats at the Center with their class.

Tomorrow students will be trying out their newly engineered wind vanes and anemometers to decide where the most wind is on our school property and why.  This lesson goes hand in hand with VEEP’s presentation today on renewable energy resources that the fourth grade was a part of.  I hope students can decide where, if we were to add one, the best place would be to erect a wind turbine on our school property after measuring and analyzing data.  Hope it’s as windy as it was today!


Education is Messy

A few weeks ago, I joined four of my Flynn colleagues to view The Partnership for Change’s movie screening of “Most Likely to Succeed.”  The movie, in a nutshell, is a father’s lament about his decision as a parent in regards to the school he chose for his daughter and it’s pedagogy after his daughter becomes sullen and withdrawn from her current content driven school program.  It provides a side by side comparison of two pedagogical approaches to education; content based and project based.

While contemplating the movie’s overall theme and comparisons, I must say I felt pretty satisfied with the  STEAM program I am building at Flynn.  The soft skills described in the Tech High School (project based school) aligned with the skills we are using in STEAM everyday;  team work and collaboration, problem solving, critical observations, communication, taking risks, and learning to fail.  Many of these skills are often used daily in our classrooms as well.  These are the necessary skills students need to cultivate to have a seamless assimilation in our communities and workforce as adults.

A few ideas of this movie really spoke to me.  One was that the idea of education is messy.  It’s not always linear and neat, it throws you off your feet once in awhile and you have to take the risks associated with it .  I can surely attest to this, as probably most teachers in our community.  There is no one size fits all approach to education, but being brave enough to try new approaches is how we are going to make success attainable to all of our students.  On the flip side, learning is messy too.  My fifth grade STEAM students have been engaging in modeling and building understanding of concepts over the last few weeks and boy is it messy!  They share initial ideas, then discuss, critique each other, then revise their ideas and hopefully engage in some respectful arguing along the way.


Making meaning together is messy!

The second idea that spoke to me and is always a healthy reminder to adults is to allow kids to create on their own – don’t put your own ideas into their ideas and projects.   This initially brings me back to my days in college when I worked for a preschool and children created art projects.  I always remembered to allow their work to reflect their creativity, not the teacher’s interpretations of what finished artwork SHOULD look like.  This certainly applies to my current teaching as well when my students are creating projects and developing ideas.  The teacher or facilitator must go into the project with no preconceived ideas of the end result.  Teachers must  ignore their own ideas, so it’s truly the student’s own interpretation.  Isn’t this really what we want for kids though?  To be confident in their own ideas and not be afraid to create?  I think so.


“Most Likely to Succeed” is playing again in Winooski on November 12th.