RAFT Activity Kit: Static Merry-go-Round

Monday, September 28, 2015

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes!

By Jeanne Lazzarini, Math Master Educator/R&D Specialist, RAFT

I have often shared with my students that I make mistakes, and I have learned so much because of them! Sometimes I even purposefully made a mistake in a math lesson to see if students take notice! Let your students know it is okay to make mistakes, and when you do, your brain is developing new insights, new ways of thinking, and bursts of conceptual understanding!  

From an early age many of us are taught that it’s bad to make mistakes, to fear failures, and to avoid them all costs. However, the truth is that failure and making mistakes are a necessary part of growing up and of being successful and should never be avoided! 

So, you might ask, how do I encourage students to feel okay about making mistakes?  Talk with them about mistakes and failures, including:
·         Have students investigate “famous” people who have made mistakes, then share them with the class!  They’ll be very surprised at these stories of success from failures!  (see:  http://www.onlinecollege.org/2010/02/16/50-famously-successful-people-who-failed-at-first/ )
·         Encourage alternate ways of expressing thoughts; verbally, written, artistically, acted out, or whatever. Even if that thought is off-target, it often leads to other ideas that may not have otherwise been discovered!
·         Failure and mistakes teach us an approach may not be right for a particular solution, but opens the door to investigating alternate approaches.
·         Inspire stepping out of a “comfort zone” and trying something new! This leads to new insights and self-realization!  And each time you fail, your fear of failure becomes smaller, allowing you to take on bigger challenges!
·         Each failure brings you closer to your goals and makes you stronger and better.  This brings to mind the saying “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”….
·         Learn from your mistakes by thinking about where you can go beyond them to get better.  You will never fail as long as you
never give up! 
·         All “successful” people have failed and understand the value of not giving up! 
·         Research shows when students make mistakes, brains grow!

So, it is good to make mistakes, and it is very important to talk about this with your students! Share examples, encourage alternate ways of thinking through a problem, and you’ll see students blossom with a new enthusiasm for learning!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How does math relate to real life?

By Jeanne Lazzarini, Math Master Educator/R&D Specialist, RAFT

How does math relate to real life?  One way is to take a look at the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline, or a tree!  You might be surprised to find that many patterns in nature, called fractals, including growth patterns, have very peculiar mathematical properties ---  even though these natural shapes are not perfect spheres, circles, cones, triangles, or even straight lines! 

3D Fractals For Inspiration

So, what is a fractal?  Benoit Mandelbrot (November 20, 1924 – October 14, 2010) is commonly called the father of fractals. He created the term “fractal” to describe curves, surfaces and objects that have some very peculiar properties. A fractal is a geometric shape which is both self-similar and has fractional dimension.  

Daydreaming fractals

Ok, so what does that mean?  Well, “self-similar” means that when you magnify an object, each of its smaller parts still look much the same as the larger whole part. And, “fractal dimension” is different from what we use to describe shapes such as lines, flat objects, and geometric solids.  Simple curves, such as lines, have one dimension.  Squares, rectangles, circles, polygons, etc. have two dimensions, while solid objects such as cubes and polyhedra, have three dimensions.  Some say time is the fourth dimension.  In all these cases, dimension, based on Euclidean Geometry, is described as an integer: 1, 2, 3, 4, … 
But a fractal curve could have a dimensionality of 1.4332, for example, rather than 1!  A fractal’s dimension indicates its degree of detail, or crinkliness and how much space it occupies between the Euclidean Geometric dimensions.  Most objects in nature aren’t formed of squares or triangles, but of more complex fractal shapes, such as ferns, flowers, coastlines, clouds, leaves, trees, mountains, blood vessels, broccoli, weather, lightening, fluid flow, river estuaries, circulatory systems, geologic activity, fault patterns, planetary orbits, animal group behavior, music, and so forth. 

Whew! By understanding fractal dimension, mathematicians can now measure forms that once were thought to be immeasurable!   

Romanesco broccoli fractals

Have fun discovering “fractals” with RAFT’s “Freaky Fractals” activity kit!  Use the kit to create a fractal shape resembling “arteries”, “coral”, “a heart”, “a brain”, “tree branches”, etc. Then go to the store, buy some broccoli or cauliflower, then take a  close look! Break off a branch and what do you see?  The smaller branch looks just like a miniature copy of the whole vegetable!  Now look around you and you’ll notice thousands of living examples of self-similarity in ferns, coastlines, clouds, leaf veins, trees, and the formation of shells, mountains, blood vessels, lightening, river estuaries, circulatory systems, fault patterns, galaxies, musical compositions, and so forth!  By understanding fractal dimension, mathematicians can now measure shapes, such as coastlines and so forth that once were thought to be immeasurable! Fractals are AWESOME!  Math really is all around you when you stop to look!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Using Personal Stories to Encourage Good Behavior

By Earlene Coleman, Special Education M.A.

After teaching Special Education for twenty-five years, I've found that sharing personal stories with my students helps build positive relationships.

How NOT to be around your students

Now that the school year is off to a start, teachers are busy getting to know all their students. However, spend some time letting your students learn about you. Tell them about where you grew up, your family, about your children, your favorite ice cream, and what your hobbies are. Maybe tell them about what type of child you were. 

One year, I recall describing in detail how I had a tantrum on my mother because I couldn’t go outside to play with my friends when she wanted me to do my chores. All my students thought it was very funny and shared what makes them act out. This sharing was beneficial. Remember, at the beginning of the school year, you are a stranger to most of your class. These conversations will help build positive relationships with students that will pay off later.

Therefore, let your students know you are will to be understanding, calm, and patient like many of their parents. This can prevent many future classroom disruptions. Do not think your students are miniature adults. They do not have experience in dealing with their emotions. You will see some tantrums but if you react appropriately, consistently, and let them know you went through the same things they are when you were younger, the disruptions will diminish or stop altogether.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Giving Positive Reinforcement to Inspire Your Students

By Eric Welker, Master Teacher and Activity Developer, RAFT

Positive reinforcement is simple and necessary in all classrooms - but can be forgotten while class rigor becomes more demanding. Here are some easy tips to remind ourselves to praise our students daily.

1. Have a small whiteboard outside the classroom and write a positive message on it to remind students that you are glad to see them. Messages such as: "We’re lucky you came today, it's going to be an amazing day!", or "I will give you my 100% today." This type of positivity will have students coming to class with smiles on their faces and sets the tone for a fantastic day.

2. Incorporate stickers into your daily routine. As children, we all loved receiving stickers, but even young adults enjoy small rewards such as stickers for participation. Small stickers may be placed on the front of folders or binders for students asking wonderful questions or participating.  An easy way is to have a clipboard with all the students names and tally how many stickers they have earned and pass them out at the end of class. Of course, the teacher should give praise right away, but the students can wait for the physical reward until the end of class. 

3. Focus praise on the student, not just how you feel about their accomplishment. I consciously try to say “You did ….” which focuses the praise on the student. Teachers can also post positive sentence frames throughout the classroom to remind themselves of positive phrases.

I have seen teachers in upper elementary grades use the Santa Clara County Office of Education Norms of Effective Collaboration table tents with the Seven P’s during group work . The Seven P’s are pausing, paraphrasing, putting ideas on the table, pulling them off, paying attention to self and others, presuming positive intentions, and pursuing a balance between advocacy and inquiry.

Group work can be very difficult for some individuals, and being able to communicate in an effective and approachable way is a valuable life skill. So please remember that teachers are not the only people in the classroom. Students need  teachers to positively praise them, and also need to have the tools to positively praise each other.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Let’s Talk Innovation: Adapting Ideas From RAFT’s Innovation Institute for Your Curriculum

By Jen Rodgers, 8th Grade Science Teacher

Last summer I attended RAFT’s two-day "Innovation Institute."  It would take several posts to share with you everything I learned and was able to apply to my classroom.  However I would like to share one activity with you this time, and how I adapted this to teach a concept in my class.

I teach 8th grade science, and one of the standards we teach is how to use the Periodic Table of Elements and what the patterns are in the periodic table.  We know how amazing the science is behind the Periodic Table of Elements.  But translating that to 14 year olds and letting them discover how incredible it is that everything we know is made of these few elements that share so many characteristics and all fall into this pattern is no small feat.  We teach them about groups and periods, valence electrons, metals and non­metals, and how the characteristics follow a pattern and why. 

Using RAFT’s Idea Sheet “Thinking on the Outside of the Box” ­
I started simple, using a couple of the simple puzzles given in the idea sheet to get them used to the process and how to use the boxes.  I made boxes out of the large sheets of poster board paper ($0.25 each!  I only needed two) and used post­it notes to put the pattern parts on the boxes.  This way I can use the boxes several times and I can keep the Post­-its for use in future years. 

To start, I give students their first box, ­ the first one shown on the idea sheet using A­F, 1­6, and circles, triangles, and squares.  I gave this puzzle one day during the beginning of class a few days before I began teaching the Periodic Table.  The intention here was to have them start to recognize patterns and be able to identify the missing element based on the patterns.  The next day I gave them the example with the men’s and women’s names.  This one was a little trickier, but with the scaffolding of the first one, they were able to work together in their group to deduce the pattern.  With this one, I took into consideration my population of students, which is 98% Hispanic, and based on their culture and names, decided to have “Rob” be the missing panel.  This helped, as names such as “Francene” and “Albert” are not that common in their world. 

Then we started to learn the patterns of the periodic table.  I taught them about periods, groups, valence electrons, electron clouds, and metals/non­metals/metalloids.  During this time I gave them two more puzzles with the boxes to build on their practice with recognizing patterns in this way.

Next came the Periodic Table puzzle boxes!  I developed the following puzzles for students to work together to determine the pattern and be able to use that pattern to figure out the information on the missing panel.

There is a few purposes to this activity.
1­ To have students collaborate on critical thinking and problem solving ­ a Common Core Skill Set that is very important in their development.
2.­ To drive home the content they had been learning of the patterns of the Periodic Table.
3.­ To check for understanding and help to dispel misconceptions.

I found this activity to be very successful throughout the entire unit of the “Patterns of the Periodic Table of Elements.”  From the beginning where they were discovering patterns, to the end where they were solving complex puzzles with detailed information of the elements and the characteristics they share based on their atomic properties and how that relates to their location on the Periodic Table.  It came full circle and nicely tied everything together.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Helping Students Understand the Engineering Design Process

Did you know NASA has created their Beginning Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) lessons to help K-8th grade students understand the Engineering Design Process?  The Engineering Design Process is a series of steps engineers use to guide them in problem solving. Engineers must ask a question, imagine a solution, plan a design, create that model, experiment and test that model, then take time to improve the original – all steps that are crucial to mission success at NASA.

Throughout the Building a Satellite to Orbit the Moon and Launching a Satellite activities, the emphasis is for students to understand that engineers must “imagine and plan” before they begin to build and experiment. To successfully complete the NASA BEST Activities, students must draw their ideas first before constructing. Students transform into NASA Scientist and Engineers as they create their own satellites using a cardboard tube and general building supplies including buttons, bubble wrap and aluminum foil. Then students must build a balloon powered rocket to launch their satellite. These highly engaging and multifaceted hands-on learning experiences are aligned with the Common Core State Standards and can be used to support core content curriculum in the areas of math, science, and language arts.

Visit RAFT for their incredible assortment of materials for NASA BEST Activities and general building supplies. 

NASA BEST Lesson Guide

Article by: Mera Burton-STEM Engagement Specialist- AERO Institute/ NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Making Toys From Recycled Material

RAFT was founded on the idea that extra materials should not be wasted, and instead, should be used to help children explore their creative abilities while learning. Many teachers use RAFT’s recycled materials to help solidify this idea – creating lesson plans that meet state standards, while engaging students in fun and inspiring ways.

Michele Guieu teaches art at the Montalvo Arts Center and specializes in multi-cultural and multi-media art. Michele pulls inspiration from her childhood in France and travels through Africa, giving her a unique view into societal influences such as global and environmental issues. Michele shapes these issues into meaningful pieces of art – through video, painting, photography, and elaborate installations.

In my art and through my teaching I am sharing my views and concerns about environmental issues. I engage the public and my young students to reflect, collaborate and create,” says Michele. Michele’s passion for the environment has been the driving factor for teaching her students with recycled materials.

Michele recently teamed up with RAFT to incorporate recycled and upcycled material into her art workshops for both children and teachers:

“This particular workshop, “Making a Toy From Recycled Material,” is about learning how to use one object to make another one. We as a society use a lot of things only once. For a lot of people around the world that is not the case. What if we had to recycle our materials to make other objects? Many children around the world cannot buy toys at the store and are making toys from recycled material. It is something children in our country were doing a long time ago (Native Americans and early settlers).”

Michele's workshops are also aligned with Common Core State standards 3-5-ETS1 Engineering Design and 5th grade-ESS3.A Natural Resources.

If you would like to see more of Michele’s art and lesson plans, please visit her blog.