tinker with text
Literacy-Based Maker Education
The Evolution of a Cow
No longer do we limit writing, reading or technology to a set time block in our schedule. Children learn best when they are using writing for authentic purposes and making text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world connections in their reading. When they write about what they are doing in school, they will automatically make connections to the text that they’ve written since it was a lived experience. The same is true for makerspace. It is most definitely cross-curricular.
Makerspace is a huge trend in education today. It can be as low tech as creating cardboard towns or as high tech as coding and robotics. Makerspace enables all children to participate in hands-on learning. It also acknowledges a child’s natural inclination toward imagination and play. But don’t stop there - integrate the making with reading and writing.
Last week, we created a doodlebot aka a wigglebot. It’s one step up from a spinbot (see last week’s blog post), and a precursor to more high-tech robots like Ozobots. The children experimented with motors, batteries, electricity, balance, weight, and vibration. There are lots of examples on Pinterest and YouTube on how to make a doodlebot so I won’t go into how to make one. Just do a search.
However, I have to say it was a good lesson on grit and growth mindset when looking for all the parts and trying to make it work. You will need a DC toy/ hobby motor and some batteries. Hobby or electronics shops might have them, if you have one in your town. Sometimes you can find cheap or old, broken toys and take the motor out. Apparently, you can order them on Amazon but pay attention to what size battery (volts) it will need to work. I finally found two motors at an electronics and cell phone repair shop. I had a 9 volt battery already, which one of the posts said I needed. The guy at the shop said that that was too many volts for that motor. So, I bought 4 AA batteries from him and a battery pack to hold it all together. The original doodlebot plan was a cup and three thin markers as legs. Well, the battery pack was way too heavy and it wouldn’t move. Oh, by the way, if the motor doesn’t have wires connected, you will also need to buy some alligator clips with wires. They look like mini booster cables. I was ready to give up.
So, then I saw the plan for our doodlebot online and went with that. You will need:
After playing around with it and creating abstract art, the kids decorated it as a cow, since we had cow patterned duct tape. They even named her Clara the Cow! The googly eyes move around like crazy too when it’s turned on. (The kids are even trying to come up with a lightweight udder that won’t slow her down and a tiny cow bell.) Lots of questioning, discussion, and laughter occurred throughout each phase, and the play inspired more creative thinking. We picked her up and moved her to other parts of the long sheet of paper; we set up an obstacle course to see if we could change her direction; and experimented with colour combos. While some students continued to play with Clara and create more doodles, others began writing about their experience.
Throughout the week, we drew more out of this experience. We wrote down some inquiry questions that arose from their interest and curiosity. We also enjoyed the storybooks “The Most Magnificent Thing” by Ashley Spires and “A Squiggly Story” by Andrew Larsen.
As we move along, other ideas have evolved. One student created her own abstract art with “Clara” and is now building a fall poem (thank you, Angela Stockman!) in her journal. Hailey is using sticky notes with phrases that she can then move around till she finds the right flow. Then she plans to write the poem in black marker on her doodle art.
Today, poor Clara became the cow that Jack has traded for a measly five magic beans. She led us to read various fractured fairy tales based on Jack & the Beanstalk, create a giant beanstalk with key words on the leaves, and talk about how a change in setting and/or character affects the story. Long live Clara! She just keeps giving and giving.
We made some spinbots in class this week. They're precursors to doodlebots (aka wigglebots) that don't need batteries or motors. It was a huge hit!
To start, we read Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds. There's a line in the book that goes like this, "Sometimes, I'm a colorful dreamer ... painting my own path full of surprises at every turn." We linked this to our "I am" statements, which connect to the Personal-Social core competency that we've been focusing on. We reflected on these questions: Which kind of happy are you? What kind of a dreamer are you? What are your dreams? Which path are you on?
To make a spinbot, all you need is:
Then, the children wrote some of their attributes from their "I am" statements along a path on their abstract art. We displayed them in the hallway with a poster showing students how they can make their own spinbot at home. Our final step was to create a Wonder Wall for possible inquiry topics in the future. We plan to make a kit to loan out to other classrooms in the school and have some of my students demonstrate and assist.
It's an easy makerspace project that you could try in your own classroom. There are so many cross-curricular connections that could also fuel an interest in many related topics.
*Note 1: Most of my students have an SLD in reading and/or writing. I also honour and encourage emergent spelling.
**Note 2: When I asked the students, "What are your dreams?", one boy responded with, "My dream is to read." ... I just about cried. I've seen many learning miracles throughout my career. I have hope and believe in his dream.
I love books by Peter H. Reynolds! In fact, I think everyone does. The Dot, Happy Dreamer, Playing from the Heart ... they're all wonderful! Today, we read Ish in class. The kids have all heard it before but no on ever gets tired of it. Why? Because of its simplicity. We can all relate to being laughed at and feeling embarrassed, of giving up and then being encouraged to try again. And we also love the liberating idea of being okay with doing things ish-fully ... kinda but not quite. In my classroom, we are free to practice reading-ish, spelling-ish, learning-ish, writing-ish and yes, even teaching-ish. It doesn't have to be perfect but it can still be great!
After the story and discussion, I put out a tinker tray with various loose parts. The children were free to create "objects-ish" or "creatures-ish" with the materials. They loved it! It was fun to watch them move the materials around, change their minds, and create parking lots, dogs, trees, ducks, light sabres, and hovercrafts. They shared and asked questions all along. Then they wrote their "ish" words in their journal and had to do a quick little sketch beside at least two words.
We will continue with this tomorrow by fleshing out more writing ideas. They will then be free to write about their representations or an idea they've been thinking about that was sparked by the book, "Ish." They may write about it in their journals, in Google Docs (older students), or using the WriteReader app (younger students). While some students are writing, I will be doing reading conferences with other students and help them find new books to read that may be "Ish" inspired - perhaps other Peter Reynold books, poetry books, art books, or STEM books.
My main focus for this lesson was to build the Core Competency of creative thinking. I'll be focusing on the following "I Statement" throughout the term: I get ideas when I play. My ideas are fun for me and make me happy. This encompasses what I hope the students will discover about themselves and what Tinker with Text will become.
Constructing a Classroom
Here are some wonderful quotes by Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert, along with photos from my classroom. I first heard about tinker trays, tinker totes, and tinker tins from Angela Stockman. You can find lots of examples on Pinterest. I've added a few more ideas ... tinker tables, tinker tins, tinker tubs, tinker trolleys, building bins, and textile tubs. I just love the alliteration; it's so catchy! Lots of fun storage for everything from popsicle sticks to Ozobots, but it's also a way of teaching kids to work within constraints (i.e. only use pre-selected materials from the tinker tray).
Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover for himself will remain with him visible for the rest of his life.
- Jean Piaget
Rather than pushing children to think like adults, we might do better to remember that they are great learners and to try harder to be more like them.
- Seymour Papert
Play is the work of childhood.
- Jean Piaget
We imagine a school in which students and teachers excitedly and joyfully stretch themselves to their limits in pursuit of projects built on their vision.
- Seymour Papert
Vicki Den Ouden is an Elementary Reading Intervention Teacher from BC, Canada. She loves to dream, learn, teach, and create.