RAFT Activity Kit: Static Merry-go-Round

Monday, April 7, 2014

Forces and Motion - RAFT Retractor Car



As part of the forces and motion unit my students had the opportunity to play around with the RAFT Retractor Car Activity Kit. The modified activity [available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/17grd41wMyBj7kjTaZgBZk7x-trCcrDeQxNyx1LWYRhc/pub] involved the students building the vehicle [as specified by the project page] then deciding what they wanted to test.  Students had several options:


     how will the car perform over various surface types?

     how might the speed or distance be impacted if the car has to travel up an incline?

     how would increasing the mass on the car impact the speed or distance the car travels?

     how could the design be adjusted to make the car go further or faster?



As usual, only one person selected to try this activity, at least until the rest of the students saw the car cruise across the classroom floor.  Thank goodness for those students who are ‘early adopters’ and willing to try something unknown.  In the end there were several groups who performed the surface test; one group tried the incline, and two messed around with the design of the car.



The incline test was based on a using textbooks to create the rise.  Students used a ramp propped on one, two, or three textbooks.  We were collectively disappointed when the vehicle did not manage any of the inclines; however that did spark discussion about traction which lead to wondering if wider wheels would help or if the car needed more power [two retractors?].



The students who tried different surface areas [classroom tile, rough asphalt, and cement] had some interesting explaining to do in their lab report’s data analysis section.  The car performed so well in the classroom it would consistently run out of room before it ran out of power!  The students who were strictly testing distance would get false data because the car would go further on the cement just by the fact it was longer.  We decided, at some other point, we would need to test the vehicle in the cafeteria which is twice the length of our classroom.


The redesigner teams tried two different modifications.  The first team felt sturdier wheels would improve the vehicles performance.  They upgraded the plastic lid wheels for the higher end compact disc option.  Apparently flash is not everything.  The vehicle did not perform better! The students were surprised and concluded the CDs may have been too thin to get enough traction on the floor.  The second team wanted a car with more power so they upgraded their vehicle to the dual engine [two retractors] model.  When it came down to the classroom version of “fast & furious” the twin engine car had faster pick up but ultimately did not go any further.  Sad news for the betting crowd in the stands. 


This learning would never come from a textbook.  Thank you RAFT for providing inexpensive ways for students to explore science concepts in a real world application.  There was dialogue, thinking, exploring, testing, hypothesizing, analyzing, failure, success, and fun.  It does not get any better than this!

Cynthia Lipsig, Teacher and RAFT Fellow

Sunday, April 6, 2014


As we approach the full implementation of Common Core and the Next Gen Science standards the classroom has become a far more busy and chaotic place.  Lots of learning with lots of mess and noise.

My curriculum is all designed around a grid system where students need to accumulate a certain number of points via various assignments and projects.


My first grid is learning the basics: like vocabulary, concepts, ideas, laws, formulas, etc.   There are even choices within each choice [ridiculous!]. Most of these assignments involve writing, reading, watching videos, or using a digital media to create a learning tool [ex flashcards, vocabulary game...]

My second grid is where the students apply what they learned via grid #1 and any offline/in class learning to USE their knowledge to create or complete something.  RAFT is indispensable for these types of activities.  For our forces and motion unit the students utilized four different RAFT kits in addition to all my weird RAFT supplies.

So picture a classroom of 22 high school students all in the middle of doing DIFFERENT projects and amongst all this creativity you have two students building some giant ramp out of plastic tubing and an absurd amount of masking tape.  No matter what my other students were working on everyone stopped “Hey, what assignment is that? Can we do that one too?” 
There seems to be some undeniable pleasure in sending an innocent marble hurling down a steep incline and through a maze of friction, hills, and spirals.  The RAFT supplies were perfect for creating the marble death traps as well as the bonus challenges like loops, or spirals.  The students think it is all fun and games but in the end they are able to explain where the laws of motion came into play, why having a high friction starting hill was not an advantage even if it was a steep one, and how a spiral or loop actually increases the marbles speed through the coaster.

Cynthia Lipsig, Teacher and RAFT Fellow

Saturday, April 5, 2014

In the Beginning



I began teaching at Mt. Hamilton Elementary in the early to mid 90’s. Mt. Hamilton School was a one room school located at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton. I was the only teacher, and I had grades K-8 in one room (I did not always have a child in every grade). Lick Observatory is located some 20 or more miles east of San Jose in the Diablo Range. Being the only teacher I had to find other ways of networking and collaborating, and RAFT was one resource.

My first experience with RAFT was when you were in the other location. Was that in Sunnyvale? I remember walking in and thinking what is all this stuff, but on my out I saw a bin full of white binders that said FREE. I took some and, my relationship with RAFT was born.

Pat Graham, Teacher and RAFT Fellow

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Third Grade Ventures in Project Based Reports


It’s amazing how much students can do when they are given a little freedom, time, and a computer. I’ve taken a giant leap back from providing information and expecting my class to remember it. Most of my lessons are driven by collaborative work between students. The lessons take a social constructivism approach to learning where students are encouraged to explore, discover, and create their own understanding while working with others and sharing their ideas and information. Students are expected to work together in teams with a common inquiry goal.

The students' first science project gave them the chance to explore different biomes and consider which environment they would consider the best home. Students were able to choose their environment, which naturally selected the groups with common interests. They then used critical thinking by asking questions such as how would a plant or animal survive in this environment. Raul noticed that the grassland environment required camouflage for both predators and prey to survive and decided that he would be well suited to survive in this environment as long as he could wear camouflage clothing. As the students researched through their textbook and other informational texts provided, they discovered what essential elements were required in the various biomes. They were able to present their findings orally in a presentation supported by a student created Prezi (slideshow) on the Promethean Board. By giving the students choices, they were able to buy in to the project with a deeper level of interest. Their natural curiosity drove their learning and exploration, and they were able to work in a group to aide in the process of comprehending informational text. The students were able to use academic language both in class and at home. Some parents noted how impressed they were with their child's correct use of scientific language. Their speaking and listening abilities have grown tremendously in addition to content knowledge.

Here is a sample of one of the projects:

http://prezi.com/m8mvqigp0hxm/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share

Akilah Ponds, Teacher and RAFT Fellow

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Excited About Science


Nick Williams, employee at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and avid science educator, is a new RAFT member who just took 1,300 of our hands-on activity kits to rural Alaska. We enjoyed learning about how Nick and his team helped hundreds of students get excited about science.
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This fall, I took 1,300 RAFT kits on a trip to promote learning science at schools in the remote Alaskan villages of Kivalina and Kiana. Kivalina is a coastal village situated atop two square miles at the southern tip of a narrow, eight-mile long barrier reed separating the Chukchi Sea from the Kivalina River. It has a population of approximately 375, with about 150 in their school, Pre-K through 12th grade. Kiana is inland and sits on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Kobuk and Squirrel Rivers in northwestern Alaska, about 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Approximately 350 people live in Kiana, with about 120 kids in their school Pre-K through 12th grade.

The kits I took for assembly were:
  • Electronic Breadboard and Hovercraft for students grades 8-12
  • Hovercraft, Rollback Can, and Colors of Light for students grades 4-7
  • Colors of Light, Simple Stethoscope, and Tongue Depressor Harmonicas for Pre-K-3
I also left duplicates of these kits and a few additional ones for teachers to use as they see fit: Garden of Magnets, Puff Rockets, and Glove-a-Phones. The response from the kids and teachers was amazing. Everyone liked the kits and having us there to present the kits to the kids.

The experiences I have had with students and putting these kits together has been amazing. A very wise parent of an Alaskan student told me that their children, because they are still involved with subsistence living, need to see, to touch, to do, so they can learn the ways of Northern Alaska living. Your kits allow us to do the same thing with learning basic science principles as the objective.
 
Nick Williams, employee at Lawrence Livermore National Lab and avid science educator

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Next Generation Science Standards


Middle Grades Learning Progression Voted on at November 6, 2013 SBE Meeting

On November 6, 2013 the State Board of Education approved a modified recommendation from CDE regarding the adoption of the middle school progressions proposal. Rather than approve an "integrated only" option for schools, the Board approved both the integrated model as proposed by the Science Expert Panel as California's preferred model AND a domain-specific model that will be developed by the same SEP. Districts will have the option to choose what best meets the needs of their students. More information to follow.

Commentary:

The State Board of Education adopted an “option” for California school on Nov 6th. School in California can either adopted an “integrated” approach to science or a “domain” specific model as has been done previously in the past. This is a relief for teachers who have been in the “game “for years as “domain” specific has been the route taken in California by most districts as well as the nation. As I can understand the desire to be “integrated” in instruction, I feel that many teachers already integrate various fields of science into their curriculum. By going to an only ‘integrated” model California would be re-inventing the wheel as school would have to restructure their established science programs as well as having to re consider the qualifications of their multi and single subject teachers .Not to mention textbook companies have to scramble to throw together integrated textbooks that at most wouldn’t even be adopted or be available for at least 2-3 years, well after new testing plans to be already in place.

I understand California’s need to feel like they are creating something new and better with “integrated” only approaches but the domain specific model is working, is established also at high school, college levels…also “domain” specific has been accepted at the national level…even engineering students know “if it aint’ broke, don’t fix it”…

RAFT has always integrated science concepts and can be well used in domain specific classes…

Thom Stephens, RAFT Fellow and Master Teacher