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May 072021
 

Welcome to our second engineering challenge post to help you keep your students engaged the last few weeks of school.  (You can find the first challenge here.)

As we shared in the last post, it is essential to note that these posts aren’t intended to provide an entire NGSS-aligned lesson plan.  My goal is to focus on sharing a high-quality picture book, an engineering challenge, and question recommendations that you can use as a springboard to create a lesson that meets your specific classroom needs.

Our second challenge is:  The Rube Goldberg Challenge paired with Just Like Rube Goldberg by Sarah Aronson and Rube Goldberg’s Simple, Normal, Humdrum School Day by Jennifer George.

Like my first challenge, I’m going to break my own rules and recommend that you read one of the picture books when introducing the challenge.  Just Like Rube Goldberg is the story of the real-life Rube Goldberg whom the machines are named after. It is a fantastic story for discussing perseverance, determination, and hard work.  Time after time, Mr. Goldberg is turned down time yet continues to hone his craft and work toward his goal of becoming a newspaper cartoonist.  Several of Rube’s actual machine drawings are included in the text (in addition to a few the illustrator drew) and can be used to introduce the concept of a Rube Goldberg Machine; however, for younger students, the actual drawings may be a bit hard to follow.

I recommend following up by reading just the first three pages of Rube Goldberg’s Simple, Normal, Humdrum School Day. This book is packed with easy-to-follow Rube Goldberg machines.  But be careful!  When I was doing this challenge with my kids, I only gave them one example from this book (though they were begging to see them all!) because I didn’t want to heavily influence their creations. You can read them the rest of the book after they have created their machines – or leave the text out for them to explore independently.  Students could even compare and contrast a contraption the author and illustrator designed to one they created if the students choose the same task as one depicted in the book.

Questions to Ask While Reading: 

You could read students the first page of Just Like Rube Goldberg, and ask your students to predict how someone could become a successful award-winning artist and a famous inventor without ever inventing anything at all.  Then, you could show your students one of the illustrator’s machines such as “How do you turn off a light?” and ask students:  What do you notice?  What do you wonder? 

As I mentioned before, this book is excellent for discussing character traits.  It is also a friendly text for inferring.  Here are a few questions you could ask as you read:

  • What can you infer about the job of being a cartoonist from the reaction Rube’s father has when Rube told his family he wanted that career?
  • What can you infer from the fact that Rube kept drawing and never gave up on his dream?
  • What can you infer from the fact that Rube became a celebrity and that readers couldn’t wait to see what he had to say?
  • What can you infer from the fact that we still talk about and create Rube Goldberg machines over 100 years after he began drawing his creations?

This text is also the perfect opportunity to discuss with your students how Rube’s engineering degree, art training, and constant practicing of his craft helped prepare him for his eventual success.

The Challenge:  Challenge your students to design a Rube Goldberg machine to accomplish an everyday task in a complicated way.  Depending on your lesson objectives, you could have your students collectively choose a task and create their own machines to accomplish that task.  Then you can share and compare the machines.  Or, you could have each student (or group of students) choose a different task to accomplish.  You can either have students draw a diagram or actually try and create their inventions depending on your classroom constraints on time and materials.  Here is a comprehensive blog post that gives examples of common tasks your machine could accomplish and provides an extensive list of potential materials should you choose to build your machines: https://brainpowerboy.com/rube-goldberg-ideas-machine-tasks-and-materials/

This post also has a nice list of simple materials for younger students: https://tinkerlab.com/engineering-kids-rube-goldberg-machine/ 

You’ll want to carefully consider your time and materials constraints before beginning the project.  Your students should be aware of those as they design their machines.  You may also want to add constraints for: 

  • a minimum and/or a maximum number of objects to be included in the design.
  • the amount of space their machine can occupy.
  • the period of time their machine has to complete the task from start to finish.

You’ll want to consider your students’ abilities when designing this lesson so you provide the scaffolding they may need.  Here are some things to consider:

  • Do you need to support your students to figure out what objects to include in their machines?  For example, you could give them categories of objects to brainstorm – animals, things that move air, food, objects that make a sound, heavy objects, etc.
  • Do your students need to review cause and effect before designing their machines, or do you need to have some other cause and effect support available (like an anchor chart) during the design process?
  • Do you want to discuss simple machines with older students and brainstorm lists of materials that could be used for each type?
  • Do you want to provide technology for students who prefer to use graphics rather than draw their machines?

The structure of the lesson is up to you and your students.  The idea is to get your students experimenting with forces through the lens of cause and effect.   With older students, you can even bring in the concepts of gravity and friction. 

Next Generation Science Standards Connections:

These engineering performance expectations obviously fit well with this challenge:

  • K-2-ETS1-2     Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-1      Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2      Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3      Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.         

This challenge also makes connections with these grade-level PEs:

  • 2-PS1-3           Make observations to construct an evidence-based account of how an object made of a small set of pieces can be disassembled and made into a new object.
  • 3-PS2-1           Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.
  • 5-PS2-1           Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.

If you are a StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way subscriber, you can check out the engineering and forces and motion informational texts below.  Remember, each 1st – 5th grade text has multiple reading levels so all of your students can read the same content independently.  I recommend having students use these text resources after they have designed and built their own devices.  Used this way, the texts help students learn vocabulary and background information they can use to explain what they have learned on their own.

  • 5th Grade:  Gravity’s Forceful Nature
  • 3rd Grade:  May The Force Be With You
  • 2nd Grade:  From This to That
  • 2nd Grade: From Trash to Treasure
  • 3rd-5th Grade Engineering: Watering Your Garden on Vacation
  • 3rd-5th Grade Engineering: Two Ways to Solve a Problem
  • 3rd-5th Grade Engineering:  Testing Prototypes
  • K-2nd  Engineering: Sporty Shapes
  • K-2nd  Engineering: The Importance of Shapes

Not a subscriber?  Click here for a free trial to access the texts above.

Cause and effect is the main crosscutting concept that fits well with this challenge.  The machines students are creating are entirely dependent on cause and effect chains of events.

And students are using nearly all of the science and engineering practices.  They are asking questions and defining problems as they determine a task to complete and the materials they should use.   They are developing and using models as they draw their designs.  Students are planning and carrying out investigations if they are building and testing their machines.  They are constructing explanations and designing solutions, whether building their machines or drawing their designs.  When they share their machines with peers, they are obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.  There are many possibilities for incorporating analyzing and interpreting data in upper elementary and using mathematics and computational thinking.  For example, you could have your students time how long it takes their machine to complete the task (and/or provide a time constraint for them to address).  You could also ask them to create a machine that uses the smallest amount of space as a constraint to incorporate measurement and estimation skills.

Bottom line:  Have fun seeing what unique contraptions your students can imagine!

May 072021
 

If your students are anything like my fourth graders, by the time we get to May, we’re all getting a little antsy.  The weather in the United States is getting warmer, we’ve been working hard all year, and we’re all ready to climb out the classroom window at any moment to run around the playground like pollinating bees. (Which you can do for a fun exercise break with your class!) That’s why all this month, I’m going to be sharing engineering design challenges. Engineering challenges are a great way to keep your students engaged and excited about learning during these sometimes tough last few weeks of school.

As a teacher, they provide a vehicle for you to meet all three dimensions of the NGSS. They are an authentic way for students to use science and engineering practices while examining the disciplinary core ideas through the lenses of cross-cutting concepts. (More about this later. I’ll include which performance expectations, practices, and concepts you’ll meet with each post!)

If you are teaching using the 5Es, these challenges fit well doing the Elaborate phase.  Elaborate is an excellent opportunity to introduce an engineering challenge because engineering requires applying science knowledge to solve a problem.  That’s exactly what the Elaborate phase is all about – encouraging students to transfer the knowledge they just acquired and apply it in new ways.

Since helping teachers use literature effectively during science instruction our specialty, I’ll be recommending a picture book connection with each challenge as well as sharing how and when that picture book should be used during instruction.

Important Note:  These posts aren’t intended to provide an entire NGSS-aligned lesson plan.  My goal is to focus on sharing a high-quality picture book, engineering challenge, and question recommendations that you can use as a springboard to create a lesson that meets your specific classroom needs.

Without further ado, our first challenge is:  The Hot Wheels Challenge paired with Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee

Typically, literature should be introduced after students have had the opportunity to design and test their solutions because many picture books “give away” the information the students should be learning themselves. It isn’t much fun to design a bridge if you have already been taught the seven main types of bridges and what makes them structurally sound. You’re going to end up with a lot of bridges that look alike and mimic what they saw in the picture book.

However, I’m going to break my own rules with this first challenge and recommend that you read the picture book first.  In Roller Coaster, Marla Frazee recreates the experience of riding a roller coaster through her text and illustrations.  It builds background knowledge for kids who haven’t experienced a roller coaster ride before. (Which may be most of your students if they can’t yet meet the height requirements!) The book should cause your students to begin thinking about forces and wondering, “How does a roller coaster work?”

Questions to Ask While Reading:  When the train is being pulled up the hill, ask your students:  What do you notice?  What do you wonder?  And then again, on the page where the train goes all the way around the loop, ask the same questions.

Ask your students to compare the page where the train is being pulled up the hill with the page where the train zips or the train zooms. How and why are these pages different in their text and illustrations? How did Marla Frazee try to make you feel like you were on a roller coaster? How are the actions shown on these pages different?

The Challenge:  Group your students and give them each a few sections of Hot Wheels Track and a car.

That’s it.  (Resist the temptation to give them blocks or books to prop up one end to create a ramp!) Tell them that they can find or ask for other materials in the classroom if they need them later for their designs. (Note:  You can buy 40 ft. of track at Amazon for $20)

Below are example design requirements you could give students. Challenge them to design a solution using the materials you gave them and any other materials they can find. (Again, resist the temptation to tell them to raise and lower the track or to provide them with something to stop the car at the end. Let them figure out their designs!)

  1. Design a track that will make the car travel the shortest distance possible after rolling off the track.
  2. Design a track to make the car travel the farthest distance possible after rolling off the track.
  3. Design a track that will slow the car down, so it rolls to a stop at a specific location.
  4. Design a track that will cause the car to stop at the end of the track and not roll across the floor.
  5. Design a track that will allow the car to roll over a hill.
  6. Design a track that will change the car’s direction at the end of the track so it will roll into a cup.
  7. Design a track that requires a pull to get the car started (like the roller coaster).
  8. Design a track that requires a soft push to get the car started and one that requires a hard push.

You can have your students draw their track ideas before building them and/or after creating them.  Have groups share and discuss their different designs.  What did you try first?  How did you modify your design so it would work better?  Which designs met the criteria?  Which designs didn’t meet the criteria?  Why?  Which solutions were the best?  Why?

The structure of the lesson is up to you and your students. The idea is to get your students experimenting with forces so they can develop the concept that a force causes a change in the speed or direction of an object.  With younger students, you can describe the strength of pushes and pulls.  With older students, you can bring in the concepts of gravity and friction.

If you are a StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way subscriber, you can check out the forces and motion informational texts below.  Remember, each 1st – 5th grade text has multiple reading levels so all of your students can read the same content independently.  I recommend having students read these texts after they have conducted their track experiments.  This way the students are using them as a resource to learn vocabulary and background information to help them explain what they have discovered on their own.

  • 5th Grade:  Gravity’s Forceful Nature
  • 3rd Grade:  May The Force Be With You
  • Kindergarten:  Push This Way!  Pull That Way!
  • Kindergarten:  Push Hard!  Push Soft!
  • Kindergarten:  Push and Pull

Not a subscriber?  Click here for a free trial to access the texts above.

Next Generation Science Standards Connections:

Several performance expectations fit well with this challenge:

  • K-PS1-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object.
  • K-PS2-2 Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.
  • 3-PS2-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object.
  • 5-PS2-1 Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down.

Cause and effect is the main cross-cutting concept that fits well with this challenge.  Have students think about:  What happened when you did XYZ to your track?  What caused your car to do XYZ?

And students are using nearly all of the science and engineering practices.  They are asking questions and defining problems as they test and redesign their tracks.  They are developing and using models as they draw their designs.  Students are planning and carrying out investigations and constructing explanations and designing solutions during their track building and testing.  When they share their tracks with peers, they are obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.  In upper elementary, there are many possibilities for incorporating analyzing and interpreting data and using mathematics and computational thinking. For example, you could have your students measure the height of their ramps and how far their cars travel off the end. 

Bottom line:  Enjoy these last few weeks with your students.  Ask questions, let them take the lead, and have fun!!                 

NGSS Informational Texts for Second Grade: Seeds Everywhere!

 Posted by on January 25, 2021  Content Recommendations  Comments Off on NGSS Informational Texts for Second Grade: Seeds Everywhere!
Jan 252021
 
What might happen if a squirrel buries an acorn?

The second grade performance expectation 2-LS2-1 asks students to: “Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.”  In our second grade informational text for this performance expectation, Seeds Everywhere! by Sarah Wassner Flynn, students learn different ways animals spread seeds.  You can access the text here.

After students have read the text, you might interest students in playing this interactive game online where students are challenged to collect seeds that are dispersed in different ways:

> PBD Kids: Seed Racer

This is a great engineering lesson plan that aligns well with the performance expectation.  Students are asked to design a seed that could travel a long distance.  The plan includes videos that show students different ways seeds are dispersed and discuss how the design of the seed is important to the process.

> Project Learning Tree: STEM: Have Seeds, Will Travel

Seeds Everywhere! is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here.

Why is Informational Text Reading Comprehension Important?

 Posted by on December 23, 2019  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica, Content Recommendations, Reading Resources, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Why is Informational Text Reading Comprehension Important?
Dec 232019
 

It sounds like a silly question if you are a teacher.  We know students need to understand what they read, but maybe you haven’t stopped to really think about the question in awhile.  It may seem counterintuitive, but just because your students read fluently doesn’t mean they understand what they read.  This is a dangerous pitfall, because if we hear a student reading fluently, we often assume they are a good reader.

Assessing reading comprehension is further complicated when students who are able to comprehend fiction passages, may not be comprehend informational texts. Literary passages simply do not require the same set of comprehension skills as informational texts.

This issue of comprehending informational texts was identified in 1993 when researchers found “nearly 44 million American adults cannot extract even a single piece of information from a written text if any inference or background knowledge is required” (Levy, 1993). Not much since 1993 has happened to address the issue. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders can only read at or below a basic level according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (The Nation’s Report Card, 2015).  Researchers have even identified a “fourth grade slump” they attribute to issues with comprehending informational text (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006; Chall & Jacobs, 2003; Sanacore & Palumbo, 2009).

It is no surprise success in school, career and society depends on a student’s ability to comprehend informational text (Duke 2004).  But did you know, increasing a child’s ability to comprehend informational text also increases overall reading achievement (Duke, 2004)?  Did you know, reading informational texts increases a child’s background knowledge and background knowledge accounts for as much as 33 percent of the variance in student achievement (Marzano, 2000)?  And did you know, a major predictor of overall student achievement is the ability to use comprehension strategies during content area reading (Duke, 2003b; Hall & Sabey, 2007; Vacca et al., 2009)?  These are some of the reasons why the writers of the Common Core recommend increasing the instructional time spent with informational text during elementary school from 10% to 50% (Coleman, 2011).  Is 50% of your reading instructional time spent with informational texts?  Probably not.  I know as a fourth grade teacher, I didn’t meet this goal for a variety of reasons including not enough access to informational texts and the inability of students to independently read the texts I did have in my classroom.

So, what can you do to help your students with informational text comprehension?  Not only does comprehending informational text require a different set of strategies for students than when reading fiction, it also requires a different set of strategies for teachers:

  • Students need to be proactively taught to identify and understand informational text features first and foremost (Bamford & Kristo, 1998).
  • Students benefit from learning multiple comprehension strategies while they are reading (McKeown et al., 2009).
  • The more informational texts a student reads, the better their ability to comprehend text (Brenner & Hiebert, 2010). 
  • Informational texts should be carefully integrated into the curriculum (Strauss, 2010).
  • Informational texts should be matched to the student’s reading level (Lennon, C. & Burdick, H., 2004).

Frustrated with the lack of informational text resources, we decided to come up with a new solution based on research to help teachers with informational text instruction.  StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way is a library of customizable informational texts written specifically to address the Next Generation Science Standards. StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way helps teachers access and integrate informational texts into their curriculum during ELA or science instructional time. Unique to our resource, texts can be adjusted to a student’s individual reading level, so all students can read the same text. Corresponding comprehension instructions are taught throughout the text and Common Core-aligned quiz questions are provided as well.

We are excited about StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way and will keep you updated on our progress through upcoming blogs. Please visit our website or contact us directly to learn more.

Maps Digital Content

 Posted by on January 17, 2018  Content Recommendations, Social Studies Resources  Comments Off on Maps Digital Content
Jan 172018
 

Here are five pieces of digital content a teacher might choose from StarrMatica’s library to use social studies manipulatives to foster concept development.

jan1Map Maker Interactive

Create a customized map! Zoom in to a chosen area of the United States. Then select the features you would like to see represented by checking and unchecking boxes. It includes a point tool, line tool, ruler, and icon set.

jan2Landscapes Map Skills

Click on each of the four map skills (compass skills, grid references, symbols and keys, scale) to learn about them and practice what you have learned.

 

jan3Adventure Island

Learn how to read symbols and a map key to help Kimo navigate Adventure Island.

 

jan4Reading a Topographical Map

Learn how to read a topographic map of a national park.

 

jan5Roadmap

Answer questions using a roadmap and a mileage table.

Earthquakes Digital Content

 Posted by on December 12, 2017  Content Recommendations, Science Resources  Comments Off on Earthquakes Digital Content
Dec 122017
 

Here are four pieces of digital content a teacher might choose from StarrMatica’s library to use science manipulatives to foster concept development through visual models.

dec1Earthquake Animations

Learn the basics about earthquakes with these animations.

 

dec2Earthquakes and Plates

Drag the slider back and forth to explore the relationship between earthquakes and Earth’s plates.

 

dec4Earthquake Experiment

Discover how different building materials can minimize earthquake damage.

 

dec51906 San Francisco Earthquake

View photos and footage of the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

Digital Content for STEM

 Posted by on November 16, 2017  Content Recommendations, Science Resources  Comments Off on Digital Content for STEM
Nov 162017
 

STEM teaching encourages students to solve authentic problems and to collaborate with others to design, build, test, and re-tool until a solution is achieved. A library of content supports this integrated vision of STEM learning with its library design which allows educators to choose content that complements and supports in class hands-on investigations. In this way, educators can integrate technology into instruction in flexible ways to teach foundational STEM skills and to encourage problem solving and group collaboration. The following are concrete examples of digital content from each STEM area.

nov1Science:  Keeping Healthy

Students control Ruby’s actions to determine what effects sleeping, sitting, walking, and running have on Ruby’s heart.

 

nov2Technology:  Blabberize

Students demonstrate their understanding of a topic by creating an original narrative that is delivered by a talking photograph.

nov3Engineering:  Design A Machine

Students are challenged to build a Rube Goldberg contraption to perform a specific task.

 

nov4Math:  Valuable Jewels

Students use a balance to discover the weight of five objects by comparing them to one another and by using logic. (You must be a StarrMatica member to access this content.)

How do you use STEM digital content in your classroom?

3-6 ELA Manipulatives

 Posted by on October 12, 2017  Content Recommendations, Reading Resources  Comments Off on 3-6 ELA Manipulatives
Oct 122017
 

Here are five pieces of digital content a teacher might choose from StarrMatica’s library to use ELA manipulatives to help students develop concepts and demonstrate their understanding.

oct1Exploring Onomatopoeia

Create onomatopoetic words to describe each sound you hear.

 

oct2Persuasion Map

Plan a persuasive essay using this online persuasion map.

 

oct4Character Trading Cards

Create your own character trading cards.

 

oct3Myths Brainstorming Machine

Use this Myths Brainstorming Machine to help you write a myth of your own.

 

oct5

Create Your Own Comic Strip

Create your own printable comic strip!

How do you use ELA manipulatives in your classroom?

August Facebook Live Videos

 Posted by on September 14, 2017  Content Recommendations  Comments Off on August Facebook Live Videos
Sep 142017
 

facebookIf you haven’t joined us yet, set a reminder on your calendar for this Wednesday at 7:15 pm CST to join us for our next Facebook Live Video!  Every week, I go live on Facebook for 5 – 10 minutes to share specific digital content that may be helpful in your classroom.  Past video topics are hyperlinked below:

Discover two interesting alternatives to common math manipulatives

Learn an easy way to differentiate your instruction using digital content

Discover my favorite free online graphing activity

5 Digital Getting to Know You Activities for Back to School Fun!

5 sites that make science come to life!

Take your students time travelingwith five must see Social Studies simulations

3 virtual manipulatives that help students visualize addition concepts

K-2 ELA Manipulatives

 Posted by on September 5, 2017  Content Recommendations, Reading Resources  Comments Off on K-2 ELA Manipulatives
Sep 052017
 

Here are five pieces of digital content a teacher might choose from StarrMatica’s library to use ELA manipulatives to help students develop concepts and demonstrate their understanding.

sept1Foam Phonemes

Shoot letters and word parts into the air.  Then, create words in the sky with what you have chosen.

 

sept2CVC Maker

Switch word beginnings and endings to create words.

 

 

sept3Writing Repeater

Write letters and words with this writing repeater.  Then, play back what you have written.

 

sept4Flip Book

Create a flip book to demonstrate your knowledge of cause and effect, fact and opinion, summarizing, or sequencing.

 

sept5Letter and Number Formation

Learn how to write letters and numbers by watching and following examples.

How do you use ELA manipulatives in your classroom?