RAFT Activity Kit: Static Merry-go-Round

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

RAFT inspires Stanford student to design hands on Activity Kit for children with special needs

When I first walked into my 'Perspectives in Assistive Technology' class at Stanford, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know much about assistive technology, except for what I’ve learned growing up with my younger autistic brother, and I didn’t have much experience designing in the field. However, what I did know was my goal for the class: to design a device that would allow children with autism, like my brother, to communicate.

Through the RAFT project - to design an affordable, hands-on educational activity kit for children with disabilities - I was able to pursue that goal, while simultaneously gaining experience as a designer. At the end of the eight weeks, I came up with the ‘Spin a story’ Activity Kit, using RAFT materials, that provides several simple ways for students to express themselves. A mixture of three activities – sequencing, storyboarding and sorting – the kit encourages students to initiate their own thoughts with a variety of textual and visual prompts. The materials used in the activity include magnetic sheets, stickers, plastic bottle caps, and blank flashcards – things that are commonly found and easily upcycled.

Looking back now, I don’t think I could have chosen to work on a better project that suited my goals and skills! For one, the experience of going through the design thinking process – from brainstorming and need finding to prototyping and ideation – was simply an incredible learning experience. I had never worked on a design project by myself prior to this one (all of my past projects were team projects), so it was definitely a new experience trying to keep myself consistently on-track and be creative at the same time.
It was also wonderful to work closely with RAFT, and to learn more about the organization. During the eight weeks of the course, I was able to meet many incredible RAFT individuals and teachers dedicated to finding new ways for their students to learn. I learned that there are many ways to keep hands on educational activities simple, fun, affordable and easily available to one and all, if you just think creatively. 

On the whole, it is a gratifying feeling to realize the positive social impact this project will have in the area of education.

By Krystal Le.
 Krystal Le is a Sophomore at Stanford University studying Mechanical Engineering. She recently worked with RAFT to design an affordable and accessible hands-on Activity Kit for children with special needs.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Science fairs: Nurturing the 21st century thinker

3D Tessellation model
A bespectacled 6th grader enthusiastically explains ‘efficiency of 3D space tessellations’ with myriad equations and handmade tessellation patterns to address the needs of the packaging, storing, shipping and construction industry.

Another middle school student, was inspired by his little brother’s telescope and built a simple vacuum chamber using a PVC pipe with a microphone and a speaker on both ends to find out how sound travels on Mars! This 8th grader from Granada Islamic School used an oscilloscope his mother found at an auction to measure the sounds. “I poke around and find junk to build my projects. It’s fun.”

Science projects today have become fun for many students as they use more hands on activities to experiment and understand concepts. These two middle school students were among 996 participants at the recent Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship, where RAFT was one of the special judges.

Moenes Iskarous, President, SCVSEFA (Santa Clara Valley Science and Engineering Fair Association) feels, “The most interesting and enjoyable thing we see in the science fair is that the students are energized, motivated by the judges – the subject experts who talk to them and give them ideas …it gives them a big push in excelling in the future years.”

A science fair project is one of the best hands on learning experiences a student can undertake. From selecting a scientific question, doing library and Internet research work to formulate the hypothesis, and conducting the experiment, to writing a report on his/ her learning, the process introduces students to more than just science concepts. A student also learns how to collaborate with teammates, communicate his/her research findings, be creative and inventive, and also gains the most important skill – critical thinking.

These are the 4C’s that are the backbone for 21st century learning and innovation skills and RAFT has been instrumental in creating these 21st century thinkers  by empowering educators with hands on products and professional development services.

RAFT Activity Kit
Lindon Richards, a science teacher at Milpitas Christian School whose students have been participating in the Synposys Science Fair for over 10 years says, “RAFT has been an invaluable resource in helping me prepare students for this and other competitions. I have personally gleaned new ideas as to how to illustrate science concepts, just by conversing with the RAFT education team. The actual models that they have created also serve to demonstrate new ways to use the varied materials carried by the store.”

Two of Lindon’s students have won prizes at this year’s Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship.

Has RAFT helped you in helping your students prepare for science fairs and competitions? Share your experiences with us – email or comment below.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hands on solutions for children with special needs

In today’s highly competitive world the top priority of every school district is to make education accessible to everyone, irrespective of their financial or cultural background.  For the recently hired Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools, Xavier De La Torre, one of the main jobs is ‘to provide leadership for improving education, especially for poor and Latino children…’ Hands-on education has long been recognized as a superior medium for improving education as it engages students in learning.

Homeschoolers, students in classrooms and after school programs, as well as children with special needs benefit from hands on education. Says Gayle Mayekawa, a RAFT member & an early education specialist, “According to the brain research and studies, hands on activities are appealing and effective learning tools.”

Gayle is one of the instructors at the upcoming Early Education Special Needs Strategies workshop held at RAFT Redwood City. The focus of the workshop is to help educators create a successful learning environment for children with special needs in an inclusive preschool classroom.

This child development instructor at Foothill College, along with Lisa Shaanan, a pediatric occupational therapist will address environmental stimulations and different sensory needs of kids with special needs.  Says Gayle, “We will be working on three make and take activities. Each activity focuses on different needs, like the decorated cardboard tube that would help children, who need visual direction, to focus on the face and voice of the teacher when the environment over stimulates them.”

Adds Lisa, “All of the strategies we discuss at the workshop will be effective for all children, but they will have a bigger impact on students with special needs.” The workshop is divided into three sections that will address the overall learning environment, specific activities and skill development. The structured program also challenges attendees with problems to solve in real time with the help of RAFT materials.

 Lisa feels RAFT is a great asset to special educators, “I am able to create unique activities using RAFT materials that basically allow us to individualize each activity to the student needs. When it comes to students with special needs, if you are selecting an Activity Kit you need to think of the challenges faced by an individual child and address that.”

Join us in discovering strategies for designing a learning environment that motivates a child to participate. Click here to sign up for this workshop today!

Do you have activity ideas that address the requirements of children with special needs? Share it with us by sending us an email or comment below.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jewish religious artifacts get an inventive, artistic twist with RAFT materials

Deborah Jacobstein proudly displays her
students' art works made with RAFT
materials!
Deborah Jacobstein, one of RAFT’s longstanding members, has found beautiful, artistic and highly innovative ways to repurpose RAFT materials like cork and matt boards, double sided sticky papers, die cuts, pill bottles, bottle top lids and many more into Judaica – artifacts connected to decorative Jewish ritual objects.

Cork boards give life to sandy floors in a miniature sukkah (a temporary hut created during the festival of Sukkot) while bottle top lids become the feet for many things. Ordinary white pill bottles transform into colorful, scented Havdallah spice bottles--these spice bottles are used at the end of the Sabbath to remind Jews of its sweetness. The list goes on!

RAFT inspired Tzedakah boxes
This art educator teaches students from preschool to eighth grade at Temple Emanu-El’s Religious School art program. Temple Emanu-El, one of the oldest Reform Jewish congregations on the West Coast, recently showcased the Religious School students’ artwork in celebration of its 150th anniversary.

With 219 art projects on display, these original Judaica artifacts born from a confluence between repurposed art and religion, ranged from the Kiddush cups (a wine goblet used during the Kiddush ceremony) to Tzedakah boxes (Tzedakah means charity in Hebrew and Tzedakah boxes are similar to piggy banks where one collects money for charity).

One of the Tzedakah boxes project made by her 4th graders was inspired by a RAFT find Deborah unearthed in one of the bins years back. She recalls, “I was pulling something from the bins to collect a bag of stuff for a dollar when I came across a paper house Christmas ornament. It cost nothing, maybe pennies so I threw it in with the other things and got the concept of making these Tzedakah box houses from that RAFT ornament! Though it cost pennies, it’s priceless and I still have it with me.”
Collage made from double sided sticky paper and RAFT die-cuts

But Deborah doesn’t believe in hoarding materials, instead she buys only when need arises unless “it’s really cool on speculation…I use things for a very long time! Someone at RAFT let me purchase some double sided sticky paper they had in reserve about 7-8 years back and I have been using it since then, little by little. It was an awesome find.” Many of her younger students’ art projects are based on double sided sticky paper.

Other students’ art projects like the Torah Zentangles (the Torah is the Jewish sacred book) were inspired by RAFT workshops. Says the resourceful artist, “I have taken three Zentangles classes as well as a workshop where I learnt the shaving cream marbled paper technique that I taught my first graders with which they made a paper Torah mantle covering.”

Torah Zentangle
Her students are very enthusiastic about the art classes as it doesn’t just teach art, but also stimulates their critical thinking and creativity. “Though I guide them on the basic concept as each project should be religious based, I am constantly surprised by what they produce. And some of the non-traditional art forms I have shared with my students have brought forth some great reactions. When I first taught Zentangles to seventh graders, there was pin drop silence throughout the duration of the class, they were so involved in it!”

Be it through workshops, Idea Sheets or even commonly found, inexpensive materials, RAFT has always been an inspiration to many RAFT members like Deborah who have in turn encouraged students to think creatively and critically. Do you have an inspiring story you would like to share with us? Email us or comment below.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Weave storytelling and hands on activities to interest your students in science concepts

using the RAFT shake table capture your student's
imagination and interest in plate tectonics
and earthquakes!


‘Nothing was going right for Alice today. Her socks didn’t match in the morning, she left her homework at home and was admonished by her 6th grade teacher…and now Alice ended up leaving her glasses at school! How could she see? Her mom has left her a note on the refrigerator, but Alice couldn’t read without her glasses.

Alice tries to call her mom on the cell phone to take her back to school but her mom wasn’t picking up her phone! Then her friend Felicia walks in asking Alice to explain some class notes. Alice was a whiz at explaining and wanted to help her friend but she didn’t have her glasses. Alice then had an idea…she put a plain plastic sheet on the notes and put some drops of water on the sheet and magically the words were legible!’


With this story you can strike a chord with your students and explain the concept of magnification - as light goes through a drop of water, it bends and magnifies the words underneath – the water here plays the role of a magnifying glass.

Laurie Pines, a professional story teller and educator has found that incorporating stories into the curriculum at any level to introduce and augment the lesson, acts as a surprisingly potent magnet to stir the students' desire to learn. The learning becomes more effective if story telling is combined with hands-on activities!

Says Laurie, “I look at the RAFT Materials, Idea Sheets and Activity Kits and think what kind of story can I make around it? We can make up stories like Alice’s story here or we can even use real stories like Archimedes’ story to teach Archimedes principle and supplement it with an hands-on activity!”

This RAFT Member is one of the three instructors who will be showcasing various hands on science activities for 4th graders and above, at the ‘Science Mini-series: Taking Science Outside the Box’ workshop on March 17th at RAFT San Jose. Come and find out how you can weave stories around a science activity/experiment to interest your students in biology, chemistry, earth science and physics.

Eric Welker and Tom Gates from the RAFT education team will also walk you through various tips and innovative techniques for science curriculum teaching. The hands on science workshop gives you access to many RAFT Science Activity Kits, Idea Sheets and materials.

Come and learn about Fingerphones, Benham’s Disc, Mini Ice Mountains, Shake Tables, Who is the daddy, and other RAFT hands on science activities - register for the day long Science Mini-series workshop today! To register click here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It’s time for the lazy, long days of summer… Create your own sundial with RAFT’s hands on activities.

“Time and Tide waits for no man.” This famous saying comes to mind when it’s time again to set our clocks forward on March 11th 2012, and lose one hour of sleep!

Why is there Daylight Savings Time (DST)?  Basically it is because many people want to gain additional daylight during the early summer evenings.  So, clocks are advanced forward by one hour in the spring, and in the fall, are again set back one hour (the phrases “spring forward” and “fall back” help you remember this).

As we get ready to work on the hour hand on our clocks, Resource Area For Teaching (RAFT) takes a look at many, fun hands on educational activities based on RAFT Idea Sheets that you can use to innovatively teach your students the concept of time.

With the RAFT ‘Time for Shadows’ Idea Sheet activity you can quickly assemble an equatorial sundial that you can easily adjust for daylight savings time. With just drinking straws, protractor, compass and a CD, your third and fourth graders can create a sundial and, learn about sun positions and shadows!

Or you can use a view binder cover, a watch, a paperclip, straws, compass and other easily accessible resources to create the RAFT ‘View Binder Sundial’ that our forefathers used to track the sun’s movement to tell time before clocks came into existence!

Young learners can also create a hands on sand timer (based on the concept of an hourglass) and learn how to measure time. This RAFT Activity, ‘Sand Timer Primer’ also enhances their investigation and experimentation skills. For more ideas please click here.

DST has been used throughout much of the U.S., Canada, and Europe since World War 1. Today, about 70 countries around the world observe DST in some form, including most of the United States, but U.S. Federal law does not require its observance.  For instance, Arizona, Hawaii, and the territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa do not use DST since these areas receive so much sun throughout the year that it is not helpful to gain another hour of sunlight in the summer. 

Since 2007, DST begins on the 2nd Sunday of March, and ends on the 1st Sunday of November. Ah! Here’s to those lazy, long days of summer! 

Do you have great hands on activity ideas for measuring time? Please share it with us by sending us an email or giving your comments below!