Halloween Wars: An Interdisciplinary Lesson with a STEM, STEAM, Maker Education Focus

For Halloween 2016 and 2017, I did a version of Halloween Wars (a Food Network show) with my two classes of gifted elementary learners. I am sharing this lesson through my blog post as it reinforces how I approach lesson planning and teaching.

Background Information

Principles that drive my instructional approach. regardless of theme, include:

  • Instructional challenges are hands-on and naturally engaging for learners.
  • There is a game-like atmosphere. There are elements of play, leveling up, and a sense of mastery or achievement during the instructional activities.
  • The challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for learners.
  • There is a healthy competition where the kids have to compete against one another.
  • Learners don’t need to be graded about their performances as built-in consequences are natural.
  • There is a natural building of social emotional skills – tolerance for frustration, expression of needs, working as a team.
  • Lessons are interdisciplinary (like life) where multiple, cross-curricular content areas are integrated into the instructional activities.

These have been further discussed in A Model of Good Teaching?

goodteaching

Halloween Wars Lesson

For this Halloween Wars lesson, the goals included the following:

  • To work in a small group to create a Halloween scene using food items, cooked goods, LED lights, and miscellaneous materials.
  • To work as a small group to craft a story about their scene.
  • To introduce and reinforce ideas, concepts, and skills associated with maker education, STEM, and STEM.

Standards addressed during this lesson included:

  • Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work. (National Core Arts Standards)
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal; and assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)
  • Solve problems involving measurement and conversion of measurements. (CCSS.Math)
  • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.3)
  • Publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences. (ISTE NETS for Students)

Time Frame: 3 to 4 hours

IMG_2412

Procedures:

  • Learners were introduced to the lesson through the following presentation –
  • Learners were split into groups of 3 or 4 members. In their small groups, they worked together on a shared Google doc to compose their story. The story was displayed on the Smartboard and read aloud. One member made editing changes to grammar and spelling based on suggestions by their classmates. (This strategy is further discussed in Teaching Grammar in Context.)   Here is one student group’s example:
  • They were then shown their materials and asked to sketch their designs.

img_6414img_6473

  • In their small groups, learners needed to work together cooperatively to make their display scenes using the materials provided.

img_6485img_6483

  • Learners made sugar cookies using a recipe projected on the Smartboard. They were asked to cut the recipe in half reinforcing math skills.

img_6437img_6443

  • LED lights, which learners connected to coin batteries, were placed in decorated ping-pong balls and their carved pumpkin.

img_6453img_6501

  • Microbits were programming to add a title to their scenes.

imagesIMG_2483

. . . and some final displays:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Their final task for Halloween Wars was to write a blog post on their Kidblogs that reflect on their processes. I worked with individual students to help them edit their work.

2017-10-31_1403

A Fuller Framework for Making in Maker Education

Background Information

I recently learned, for the first time, about Aristotle’s belief that there were three basic activities of humans: theoria (thinking), poiesis (making), and praxis (doing). Corresponding to these activities were three types of knowledge: theoretical, the end goal being truth; poietical, the end goal being production; and practical, the end goal being action (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process)).

The Greek theoria, from which the English word “theory” is derived, meant “contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at”.  The word theoria is derived from a verb meaning to look, or to see: for the Greeks, knowing was a kind of seeing, a sort of intellectual seeing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theoria).

Poïesis is etymologically derived from the ancient Greek term ποιέω, which means “to make” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poiesis).

Praxis (From ancient Greek: πρᾶξις) is the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, embodied, or realized (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process)). “Praxis” may also refer to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing, or practicing ideas. Praxis may be described as a form of critical thinking and comprises the combination of reflection and action. Paulo Freire defines praxis “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_(process))

Implementing a Broader Framework of Making in Maker Education

All of this led me to think about how this would translate into a full spectrum of making in the context of maker educator. Having such a framework would help insure that learning from the making experience is more robust, not left up to chance. I believe a fuller spectrum or framework would including the following elements:

  • Play, Tinkering, Experimentation – This is uncensored, boundaryless, whimsical making. It can be considered free play.  This, in my mind, is the first part of of Poïesis which translated from Greek “to make”.  How this translates into practice is by providing learners with lots of making materials; and telling them to just dive in and play hard with those materials.
  • Framing or Frontloading the Making Experience – This is the introducing the making experience for more mindful and intentional making. It helps both the educators and learners to set purpose and intention for the making activity prior to actually doing it. This is discussed in Framing and Frontloading Maker Activities where I go in more detail how to frontload or frame the maker activities:
    • Using and Reviewing Essential Questions
    • Using Scenarios
    • Specifying Standards
    • Asking Questions Related To Personal Skills
    • Asking Questions to Help with Scaffolding and Sequencing the Activities
    • Asking Questions Related To Using Peer Support-Working Collaboratively
  • Mindful and Intentional Making – Once there is a familiarity with the making materials and processes,  making can become more mindful and intentional.This is the second part of poisis or the making process. Making becomes more goal-oriented, focused, and more results or product oriented (although process is still important).
  • Observing and Reflecting Upon Results – This is the theoria or thinking part of the process. After making, it is when makers step back away from their making to observe and reflect on their processes and results.”Being able to reflect is a skill to be learned, a habit to develop. Reflection requires metacognition (thinking about your thinking), articulation of that thinking and the ability to make connections (past, present, future, outliers, relevant information, etc.)” (Amplifying Reflection).
  • Critical Awareness and Analysis –  This is the praxis, the critical thinking component that combines reflection and action. It takes reflection to a deeper level by dissecting the making process to analyze what worked and didn’t work which, in turn, will inform future makes. This critical analysis should directly and strongly influence future making experiences – the action part.
  • Sharing to Elicit Broader Connections and Change – Given today’s ease of sharing via the Internet and social media, the action part of praxis has been expanded, in this framework, to include sharing out one’s makes, observations, reflections, and critical analyses to a broader audience. This can occur by writing about the making process, and/or by doing a photo essay, video, podcast to share via social media. By doing so, others can benefit from one’s make.

a-framework-for_17172814_ad53e9ef20a574d3e44d93f984241673d1c3da24

Teaching Elementary-Level Learners About the Brain

Judy Willis in How to Teach Students About the Brain writes:

If we want to empower students, we must show them how they can control their own cognitive and emotional health and their own learning. Teaching students how the brain operates is a huge step. Even young students can learn strategies for priming their brains to learn more efficiently.

Teaching students the mechanism behind how the brain operates and teaching them approaches they can use to work that mechanism more effectively helps students believe they can create a more intelligent, creative, and powerful brain. It also shows them that striving for emotional awareness and physical health is part of keeping an optimally functioning brain. Thus, instruction in brain function will lead to healthier learners as well as wiser ones.

Here is a run down of the learning activities I did with my gifted elementary students to teach them about their brains:

Introduction to the Brain

  • Learners played a concentration brain game I created. Cards were created that had parts of the brain images on one of the paired cards and the definitions on the other. Games cards included: cerebral cortex, frontal cortex, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, occipital lobe, cerebellum, limbic system, hypothalamus, amygdala, neuron, axon, dendrite, neurotransmitters, synapse. Students were asked to read aloud the definitions when they match a pair. An alternative is to play Neuro-Jeopardy found at http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/jeopardy.html.

img_6319img_6323

Learning about the Brain Lobes

  • Learners completed a jigsaw puzzle I created about the brain lobes and their functions.

img_6303img_6309

  • Using the Smartboard, the interactive website, https://www.koshland-science-museum.org/explore-the-science/interactives/brain-anatomy, about the brain lobes was shown to the learners.
  • Using this website and brain anatomy posters on the wall as references, learners, in small groups, created their own model brains using dough (that they made themselves) for the lobes and sticky notes/toothpicks to label the lobes and their functions.

img_6341IMG_6353.jpg

img_6351img_6348

Brain Operation Game

  • I adapted the directions for their brain operation game from https://iamclaudius.com/makey-makey-operation-game/. I gave them an outline of the brain with lobes outlined for them to color and rubber cement onto a pizza box (see video below). For their brain parts, I gave them air drying clay. They were asked to create parts that represent the functions of the individual lobes, e.g., eye for occipital lobe, mouth for temporal lobe, a ball for the cerebellum, etc.
  • They were then asked to code their games using Scratch. Here is the example I used to get them started: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/283935140/editor/. I instructed them to include, for each lobe, its name and some kind of pun about its function.
  • Finally, they hooked up the Makey Makey using the directions found at https://iamclaudius.com/makey-makey-operation-game/.

Learning About Neurons

  • Neurons were introduced to the learners through this Neuroscience for Kids webpage – https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html
  • Learners made their own neurons out of licorice, fruit roll ups, and min-Reese’s cups on top of wax paper and labeled the parts of the neuron on their wax paper. This was inspired by the Neuroscience for Kids webpage – http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/chmodel.html.  Learners were then asked to show how their neurons would correctly connect to one another as they would be in the brain.

img_6361img_6377

stagimg_6397

Finishing Up with a Creative Writing Activity About the Brain

2016-10-21_1931

2016-10-21_1933

2016-10-21_1925

Teaching Grammar-In-Context

Archaic Ways of Teaching Grammar

We construct grammatically correct sentences or correct our mistakes by intuitively applying the rules that govern English syntax. If, instead, we had to apply those rules consciously, they would only get in our way, making it impossible for us to speak or write at all. To construct a simple two-word sentence, such as “He dreams,” requires the application of at least seven grammar rules. Imagine trying to apply them consciously following the rules of English grammar.

Over the years, the teaching of grammar has continued to be prominent in English and foreign language instruction, leaving less class time or student energy for students to speak, read, or write in those languages.  As early as 1906, studies were undertaken that attempted to show the relationship between knowledge of school-taught grammar and language skills. Since then, hundreds of such studies have produced some clear and unequivocal conclusions: The teaching of formal grammar does not help a student’s ability to speak, to write, to think, or to learn languages.

It is important for educators to know that, among recent research studies, not one justifies teaching grammar to help students write better.  Although we accept the fact that social, economic, and political forces influence education in many areas, we ought not to allow such forces to outweigh knowledge and reason in determining the school curriculum. (Is Teaching Grammar Necessary?)

A recent – November, 2017 – research article entitled, Experimental trials and ‘what works?’ in education: The case of grammar for writing, concluded:

With regard to our substantive case of grammar, the current evidence from randomised controlled trials does not support the widespread use of grammar teaching for improving writing among native English-speaking children. Based on the experimental trial and meta-analysis evidence about writing teaching more generally, our hypotheses are that supporting primary/elementary pupils’ grammar is most likely to require teachers intervening during the writing process, and interacting to discuss the use of grammar in relation to the overall purpose of the writing task and the purpose of the writing. Small-group and whole-class teaching that includes a focus on the actual use of grammar in real examples of writing (including professionally produced pieces, realistic examples produced by teachers including ‘think aloud’ live drafting of text and drafts of pupils’ writing) may be more effective.

Learning Needs a Context

I often discuss and blog about teaching content within a context, that learning needs a context. . .

How often have students been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts; get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?

The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts including memorizing grammar rules.

floating facts

The key to increased understanding is providing a context for the facts and the rules. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts and rules. This is especially true for abstract concepts such as grammar rules. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.context

Providing a Context for Grammar Instruction

I teach gifted elementary level classes with a good portion of the students being English Language Learners. This translates into ELA grammar making even less sense for them than for English only learners. I do a lot of maker education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and STEAM (adding arts to it) activities with them, and ask them to document their learning through taking photos and blogging about those activities using their Chromebooks. Because of the article about grammar and talking with the school’s literacy coach, I decided to bring grammar-in-context into my classrooms. How I’ve done this is through projecting individual blog posts onto the Smartboard. The writer of the blog opens his or her blog post in an editing mode. Another learner reads the blog post out loud. The rest of the learners make suggestions for improvement as it is read out loud. I help guide them asking questions like:

  • Does that sound right?
  • Is that the correct verb for that noun?
  • What tense should that verb be?
  • What type of punctuation in the different pauses?
  • Is that spelling correct?
  • Is that possessive? If so, what is the punctuation?

. . . and again, these questions and the suggested edits are done in the context of the individual learners’ blog posts that have already been composed.

Here is an example of one such blog prior to editing:

Some of my observations from this process that I noted includes:

  • Learners eagerly volunteer to have their blog posts reviewed. First, they really enjoy having their posts read out loud. Second, I believe this is also due to the focus being on improving their means to communicate better not for a grade.
  • The learners know that their blogs are viewed by their own classmates and their sister school (I teach gifted education at two schools and have opened my Kidblog to both schools to view one another’s posts). They have authentic audiences and what to present their best selves.
  • As it becomes a group exercise, the other class members seem to enjoy the challenge and become engaged in offering corrections and improvements.
  • To keep up the motivation and make it manageable, I only do 2 or 3 during any giving sitting.

An Engagement Story

Update: This is the second year that I am continuing this practice with my gifted elementary learners. I have a student who dislikes the hands-on activities I do in my class. Since I do so many of them, I often struggle to find ways to engage him. One of his strengths is writing and grammar. I’ve made him the “official” grammar coach helping the other learners edit their blog posts. When he is doing so, he definitely finds his stride; a purpose in my class.

IMG_2613IMG_2623

He work with an English language learner to help her edit her blog post. Both learners were highly engaged in this process,

Here is the before:

2017-11-16_1722.png. .  and here is the after:

2017-11-16_1732.png

Not perfect, but better, and I believe they both learned from the process.