RAFT Activity Kit: Static Merry-go-Round

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Doing Laundry in Pre-K

By Ashley Estes, RAFT Fellow
RAFT is one of the best places to find some amazing premade kits and learning tools. These kits are great and can be used across many grade levels. As a 1st grade teacher, I use them weekly in my classroom. In this article, I would love to explain one kit in particular that could be easily used with students from Pre-K to 1st grade. This fantastic kit is called, Laundry Math. This clever and adorable kit comes with sheets that have clotheslines drawn on them, pictures of shirts and pants, 2 sets of numbers 1-10, and Velcro for the items to stick on. This kit helps with counting, 1-1 correspondence, number identification, problem solving, adding, and subtracting. After laminating and placing the Velcro on the pieces, your students are ready to go. The basic idea of this activity kit is students place pieces of clothing on the clothesline and after counting the items; they place the correct number on the sheet (see pictures below).

As stated earlier, in my opinion, I believe this kit would be great for Pre-K to 1st grade classrooms. I am lucky enough to work in a school that has a Pre-K classroom, so I decided to pass along these kits to the teachers and see how they would implement them. I could not wait to see how this would play out, especially since I teach 1st grade.

The following paragraph was written by the Pre-K teachers to explain how they felt about using this kit in their classroom.

“This activity was used during our morning workshops. I particularly liked this activity because it didn’t require a lot of direct instruction. The children were able to figure out what they needed to do. I found this activity very useful because it helped the children make the connection that numbers represent the number of objects.  It also helped with identifying the numbers.” 

This was so great to read and I was thrilled with how well this kit fit within their curriculum. This made me feel that Kindergarten classrooms could also benefit from using this kit. As a 1st grade teacher, this kit would be wonderful to help my students who need extra help with addition and I would also use it for subtraction as well. I personally love this kit because it is so interactive and it can be used with many different mathematical concepts. I hope you consider using this kit in your classroom and remember you are able to use these to your advantage and tweak them to fiit your classrooms and the needs of your students.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Affordable Repurposing Supports Education

Guest post by Brittany Coleman, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT)

Instead of turning to affordable repurposing, many teachers and after-school providers spend hundreds of dollars of their own money each month on school supplies and activities for learning. But little do they know that the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

One Person’s Junk is a Teacher’s Treasure

By Elisha Burns, RAFT Fellow

This is the time of the year when I think of all the things that I am thankful for having in my life.
Materials found at RAFT
With all of the extra expenses that come with a teaching career I am happy to learn of any ways to lessen my expenses. One of the cost cutting resources that I love having access to as a teacher is RAFT. With the dawn of Common Core and the push for project-based learning comes the need for organizations like RAFT. As a teacher at a STEAM academy I am expected to bring my lessons to life, however my school only provides me with a small budget for materials.

Teachers need to create dynamic hands on lessons and RAFT offers the resources necessary to teach.  Every time I come to RAFT I leave with a cart full of items and ideas. I might find a stack of obsolete product boxes that become the foundation for my student’s historical diorama. Walking around I might see a display showing an innovative way to use corporate waste for learning. I find the RAFT kits an excellent introduction to new topics or a great culminating project to solidify concepts that have already been taught. Before the winter holiday break I gave my students a chance to construct a holiday house that could withstand the infamous RAFT shake table (shown below).

These shake tables were made from cardboard, PVC pipe, bottle caps, rubber balls and a small circuit. Alone these items may seem like junk, but to my students it was just the exciting element that they need to engage in their house construction.   

Thank goodness we have RAFT. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Importance of Play in the Classroom

By Rita Mercado, First Grade Teacher, Serendipity School

I have taught first grade for the last 12 years, and it seems like every year I get questions about what we do during our “Choice Time.” The number one thing that my students learn how to do during playtime or choice time is learn how to problem solve.

My student’s favorite choice is the blocks. Here you see some children building with blocks, but what else are they doing. They are learning about spatial reasoning, using geometry, comparing heights and inclines, among many other things. Not only are children learning how to share and work together during playtime, but they are becoming the engineers of the future. I often overhear my students discussing how they can change the angle of their ramp to make the cars go faster or how to make their tower taller by building a more stable base. They also like to “shop” around the room to find things to add to their structures. “Let’s use this toilet paper roll to add a tunnel for the cars to drive through!” or “Let’s use the counting bears to have customers at our hotel.” The play is collaborative, creative, and inventive. 

I encourage everyone to find what’s right for his or her class and allow time for students to explore. Do all of my students choose blocks? No, but they do all chose something to investigate, discover or create. Mini whiteboards to record math problems, scarp paper bins to create masterpieces, note paper to write messages, and math manipulatives to find new purposes for are all things that we already have on hand in class that my students gravitate to on different days. There is no limit to what they can come up to do during our “Choice Time” and my best answer to what they are doing during this time is learning.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

RAFT Presents Award at San Mateo County STEM Fair

On March 29th, the SMCOE STEM fair was held at the Hiller Aviation Museum. Every year, RAFT is allowed to pick a special winner who has demonstrated an exceptional skills in science. The RAFT special award winner this year is Maya Ellis, a fifth grader from Central Middle School in San Carlos! 

Maya's physics project, "Shaped for Speed," tested the effect of shape on the performance of boat hulls. She made simple aluminum foil hulls, which she floated in a tub of water. She added a drop of soap to the back of each boat, which propelled it across the tub. Maya is very familiar with the surfactant properties of soap. She tested four designs and discovered two were particularly good. Maya created a fifth design to extend her tests. She also tested both hot and cold water. All in all, Maya is an inquisitive young scientist! 

Maya's award was created by one of RAFT's champions, Greg Brown, and was made using recycled materials: 
Surplus aluminum sheet
Surplus plywood
Articulated arm to hold old-style phone on dash
Space Shuttle clay molds
Plastic pipettes
Wire nuts
Wire spools
Used pencil cup
Recycled trophy parts
Bottle cap

The tilted triangle at the top is the same shape as one of Maya’s most successful aluminum boat designs.

Congratulations Maya!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Juggling the Work/Life Balance

By Michael Rosenberg, Teacher, Stratford School 

There are few professions outside of teaching that can empathize with the struggle of being an educator. As a teacher, our days in the classroom can be a physical and mental roller coaster. Then at day’s end, stacks of papers await our pen and stickers, and Bay Area traffic awaits our draining commute home. Facing these issues, the recent addition of a child, and a move far from my campus have increased my need to find balance. However, wrestling with a reasonable balance of work and personal life has been a struggle for most of my career. 

Knowing that I had to restructure my life to fit my new struggles, I decided to reevaluate my work and personal life balance. I began this process by first mapping my day which included commute time to and from work, prep-time, and hours spent at home. By experimenting with my commute to work, I found that leaving fifteen minutes earlier allowed me to avoid most of the traffic. This allowed me to get to work thirty minutes earlier. Then I began to be more efficient with prep-times-grading as many papers as possible. From that, I noticed that there were opportunities to cut back on some excessive homework writing assignments. I shifted those into more creative visuals that became more effective at reinforcing concepts and look better on the walls. This sped up grading and marking papers, as the students were retaining more and I was not as buried. Prioritizing was my next task, setting a plan to tackling the more important/time sensitive tasks first. Finally, I set a time limit. I work until a set time. Once that time is up, I go home, and I take nothing with me. 

Mapping my schedule, readjusting my commute, prioritizing, and setting time limits has greatly improved my work/life balance. While it’s not a perfect system, it has worked well this year for me.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Closing the Content Knowledge Gap

By Elisha Burns, RAFT Fellow

Let me be one of the first to say there is an elephant in the room of education and it is called content knowledge.  As a teacher that has spent a few years teaching I can honestly say that the new Common Core curriculum has really opened my eyes to some of my own educational weaknesses. Have you seen some the questions that our students are being asked in the new curriculum? I consider myself an educated person (I do have my Master's degree in Elementary Education), but some of the questions being presented to my students really makes me question my level of content knowledge. It's not that I can't solve the problems, but I find myself spending quite a bit of time working out the problems so that I can teach my students how to tackle them.

In the era of Common Core comes the new problem of teacher knowledge, especially in high needs areas. Gone are the days of catchy rhymes and memorizing factoids, the new standards require students and teachers to dig deeper into the content. But how can a teacher ask a student to dig deeper into a topic they only have a surface level of knowledge in? And how are high need communities, that cannot keep experienced teachers expected to provide the appropriate level of content knowledge?

The reality is the level of content knowledge necessary to secure a teaching credential is less than the amount of content knowledge being required to succeed using the Common Core curriculum. That knowledge gap will decrease overtime as credentialing programs adapt, but time is not of the essence in the Common Core era. We need ways to bridge the content gap because it is no longer enough to just have a general knowledge of a concept. Teachers are being challenged to teach at a higher level because our students are expected to conceptualize and justify their ideas at a higher level.

Common Core standards expects students to not only know their content facts in isolation, but to have the higher order thinking skills necessary to apply their knowledge in practical applications. Once students apply these skills they are expected to be able to communicate and justify the thinking process they used clearly using academic English. Obviously this is not the elementary education that most educators experienced, yet we are expected to successfully implement it.

Now a motivated veteran teacher may have a slight advantage when it comes to implementation. They will seek out learning opportunities, like the courses offered at RAFT, to fill in any content gaps. In addition, they have the advantage of years of teaching the same subject, familiarity with the student misconceptions, and continuing education to help adapt to the rigor necessary to successfully implement the new curriculum. So what happens when you have a new teacher or a less motivated veteran teacher asked to do the same job? How do the students in those communities gain the knowledge necessary to meet Common Core standards? Based on the most recent California Common Core test results, the students just don't get the knowledge.

This disparity is obvious when you look at the neighborhoods that had the lowest performance on the first round of Common Core testing in California. Teachers in these high need areas tend to be the most novice or least motivated veteran teachers. The veteran teachers may have lost their motivation due to the stress and challenge of teaching in a high needs area. Teaching in a high needs area brings several hidden stresses and challenges that can defeat even a teacher with the best of intentions, but I will save that story for another time. All to often new teachers are hired to work in these high needs areas because motivated veteran teachers have decided to leave for greener pastures. Remember motivated veteran teachers are in demand and why would you stay in a high needs area if you can utilize your skills in a less stressful environment? Unfortunately the result of this trend is the highest need students are being taught by educators with the least amount of content knowledge.

The bottom line is teachers need more opportunities to deepen their content knowledge to prepare students for the new standards.