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Cardboard Common Core Robots

I'm thrilled to share a recent STEAM project that my students completed in ELA class....that's right, ELA class!!  We built cardboard robots using Hummingbird Circuits and then we used Scratch coding to program the movements of the robots.  WOW!

It all started with a Graphic Novel:

I had ALWAYS wanted to use a Graphic Novel for instruction, and upon perusing this engaging, high interest story, I knew it was the perfect springboard for our project.  Like every good novel study, we  want to explore the features of the novel in advance of reading.  Being a fan of technology, I thought Merge Cube would be a great way to introduce the elements embedded within a Graphic Novel such as:  gutter, panel, inferring, speech/thought bubbles, etc.  So I decided that Merge Cube would be a GREAT way to do that.

Merge Cube Overlay

Using the Merge Cube on page 21 of the book, students view an augmented reality overlay to learn the features of a graphic novel.

Here's the link to this interactive augmented reality overlay:


Our next focus was to evaluate the term "anthropomorphism".  My goal was for students to understand this term.  We spent time studying the term and brainstormed HOW we could demonstrate this in our robots.

The Hummingbird

The Hummingbird (by Birdbrain Technologies) is an Arduino driven circuitboard designed to work with LED lights, servos, motors and other sensors.  It's super user friendly and easy to set up.  Student's insert the wires into the circuit board and hot glue the servos, sensors or motors onto their cardboard creations.  It was so easy that my kids were up and running AND independent within a 1-40 minute session!!

Our Robots
We had an amazing explosion in creativity with this project. We worked for two weeks cutting, painting, assembling, coding and testing our creations. Students created anthropomorphic robots and articulated HOW the robots demonstrated anthropomorphism!  They coded their robot's movements in Scratch, added lights, uploaded and recorded sounds and took pride in their creations. Student's then presented their creations and stated claims about the anthropomorphic characteristics and then used evidence from their creations to support their claims.

Undoubtedly, student's enjoyed the project and we will do it again, but the important thing is they LEARNED!   We integrated STEAM into our ELA class and used our argumentative writing skills to support our claims regarding our anthropomorphic creations...creations that students took pride in making and sharing! 


Goal Setting and Forward Thinking: Why I Blog

Blogging isn't for everyone.  It can seem self-promoting or intimidating. Not everyone wants their words out in the world for everyone to see.  I get it.

For me, blogging started as a way to share the things about education that made me excited!  When I made a pretty bulletin board or found a strategy that I really reached my learners, I wanted to shout it to the world.  That's how blogging started.

Blogging for me has now evolved.  I'm finding it especially useful as a way to set goals.  As an educator that is CRAZY about new digital tools, I often voraciously consume a new tool and learn it myself,  and brainstorm a myriad of ways it can be used, but sometimes I don't share it with my learners!!!  Blogging has become a GREAT way to set goals about tools I wish to use and strategies I wish to employ.

The ISTE Standards for educators really refine the way that educators need to approach goal setting and reflective practice.  The specific standards that address goal setting are:
Educators continually improve their practice by learning from and with others and exploring proven and promising practices that leverage technology to improve student learning. 
1a . Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.
1b Pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks.
1c Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.

So as a learner and as a reflective practitioner and blogger, I'm sharing a few goals for myself as this year progresses:

#1.  Attend to digital equity.  It's real and it's relevant!!  Brainstorm and lobby for alternate solutions to bridge the equity gap.
#2.  Pursue.  Chase digital dreams.  Find ways to fund them, find ways to integrate them.  
#3.  Share.  Continue blogging and continue ways to share what you've learned through your experiences and through your personal learning networks. Participate in Twitter Chats MORE and contribute to online forums.
#4.  Reflect.  I'm always moving forward.  It's ok to stop, slow down, and look BACK.
#5.  Enjoy.  I chose teaching for a reason and sixth graders are a RIOT! Enjoy them.

and of course, as anticipated, I recommend that everyone set a goal to keep

Oh, That's HOT!!

Exploring Thermal Energy and MS-PS3-3

Have you discovered Thermochromic pigment?  It was new to me.  Basically, its a VERY DUSTY pigment that can be added to a variety of substances and it will respond to heat!  When I discovered this 'stuff' I knew for certain how much my students would enjoy an opportunity to tinker and explore with it, so I created a little Experimental Design lesson that meets NGSS standard MS-PS3-3 AND is a LOT of fun!!!!

Matching the Standard to the Task

When is comes to Design Challenges, the NGSS standards are pretty specific, students are always required to "design, construct and test".  With this particular standard, it boils down to:

and for awhile I was like 😩.  But then came thermochromic pigment and a stroke of inspiration! 

Creating Thermochromic Paint

If you aren't familiar with thermochromic pigment, essentially it change color (chrom) when heat (therm) is applied. 

So it took me QUITE a few trials to get the pigment to do what I wanted.  At first I blended this pigment with yellow paint and I got a light green result that faded to yellow.  Not so bad.  It wasn't until I purchased acrylic VARNISH that I was able to get the result of a dark color fading to reveal the word HOT underneath!!  Then I knew I was on to something awesome!!  

Our Task

For this task, students will be asked to use experimental design to create and test a Thermal Energy cup sleeve that indicates when a cup of cocoa is too warm to drink!

The Process

The process is based on the NGSS experimental design procedures which are EXPERTLY described by Paul Anderson.   I've created some great printables that can serve as a scaffold to the process if you're ready to get started with experimental design process.  You can get them here:

For this project, here's what the students were asked to do:

Essentially, the students need to create a sleeve for a 12 or 16 oz cup that contains a thermochromic sensor that will indicate whether or not the contents of the cup are hot by taking advantage of thermal energy transfer.  Much of the process involves experimenting with the design and materials for the sleeve, deciding how to create a sensor to reveal whether or not the contents are hot.  Attempting to maximize thermal energy transfer buy using different materials (aluminum foil, copper pennies, etc.) to get the thermochromic paint to respond more rapidly and of course, students are encouraged to create a visually appealing sleeve...

Save your lip when you take a sip!!


The students collected data as they went through the process in order to have evidence to support their claim at the end of the task.

As the students went through the process, they really NAILED it!  They:

  • Identified the problem, constraints and criteria
  • Brainstormed possible solutions
  • Diagramed ideas
  • Created solutions
  • Tested their solutions and collected data
  • Iterated
We finalized the process by writing our results in a CER:

And of course we finalized the project with a little hot cocoa party.

This is truly one HOT project,