tinker with text
Literacy-Based Maker Education
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.
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
I was feeling disheartened this week. It’s been a slow start-up to my program for several reasons and so this week, I finally completed my required student pre-testing. Seventeen Level B reading assessments and seventeen fluency tests (ugh). Thank goodness the LAT offered to do all of the Level A screens and we did the necessary paperwork together.
The scores were low. I’ve seen some of these kids for two years and some scores never change. No one ever gets past #25 on a certain subtest. After the testing, you input those numbers into the computer to produce reports with standard scores and percentiles. Print the reports, attach them to the protocols, analyze, plan accordingly, file. These numbers used to interest me and I actually enjoyed making charts for comparison … but no more.
Now, let me say something about the fluency test. They get 3 shots at reading 3 different passages in one minute. The passages are at grade level but I already know from the previous test that they are nowhere near grade level. They’re supposed to keep going, even if they skip words. So, there is no context clues or meaning because the key words are too difficult for them. It sounds something like this: “The ____ lived on the _______ _______. They _________ meat for the _______.” That’s not reading, people! Thanks, this test just confirmed again that this child is not reading at grade level.
When I met a new student and I explained that I needed to do some testing with him, he said, “Is it reading?” And he said it like there was something disgusting in his mouth. It killed my spirit. What are we doing?! What have we done?!
It reminds me of the quote by Mem Fox, “When I say to a parent, "read to a child", I don't want it to sound like medicine. I want it to sound like chocolate.” The same goes for how a child responds to reading.
Then I started telling him about the drive from his school to my school. I said, “You’ll drive past farms with horses and goats and llamas. Oh, and there’s lots of orchards with bright red apples that you just want to pick! The airport is right there too and sometimes it looks like the planes are taking off out of the trees.”
“What are we going to do at my school? Well, we’re going to make stuff with Meccano or K’nex to give us ideas about writing. Then we’re going to read our own writing and share it with other people. We’re going to use the computers with a headset so that you can dictate your writing, if you want, and then print it or post it online. We’re going to read instructions on how to make a stop motion animation movie using Lego and my phone. We’re going to check out some YouTube videos about building a cardboard town and then read Iggy Peck, Architect.”
The eyes … I wish you could have seen his eyes. They got bigger and brighter. He was spellbound, as if I was telling a story of a magical land. He’s hooked and I bet he told his parents the same story at bedtime that night, at least I hope he did.
You ask how I plan to work makerspace into a reading intervention program and still have time for the reading and the intervention? Well, I’m not sure about all the in’s and out’s of it yet; but I’m reading, writing, reflecting, noticing, learning, and connecting with those wiser than me that are walking down this road too. And I know it will work out over time and be something special. How? Those wide eyes told me something. That’s my data!
I love to go shopping at Winners, which is the Canadian equivalent of TJ Maxx. This popular store sells designer items at bargain prices, and their advertising slogan a few years ago was, “Winners. You should go.” Which I did … often!
I finally got my copy of Launch: Using design thinking to boost creativity and bring out the Maker in every student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani in the mail the other day, and I can’t wait to dig into it deeper this weekend. My mind has been swimming in ideas about literacy-based makerspace but I’ve been feeling kind of “fuzzy” on how to make it all work.
I don’t know about you but for me, most of my “brilliant ideas” don’t come while I’m sitting at my computer willing myself to THINK … c’mon, just think. They come while I’m about to fall asleep or walking my dog. I had one such epiphany the other day while driving to work. It was so great that I didn’t even mind the road the construction and traffic.
Many teachers give design challenges to students when integrating makerspace and design thinking. So, I was thinking, “Why not also give reading and writing challenges too?” During reading and/or writing conferences, ask your students what they think they need to work on in reading or writing. They know. Now ask them to write a challenge task card for that skill. Talk through how they will achieve that and how you can help them get there. Assign and scaffold tasks; and schedule the next conference to talk more, check progress, and adjust accordingly.
It might look something like this:
Stay tuned for real life examples and samples from the kidlets.
In my teacher research, I’ve found numerous articles and blog posts which affirm, inform, and inspire me. They affirm that this idea of literacy-based makerspace is worth exploring and that I’m on the right path; inform me in makerspace and literacy teaching practices; and inspire me to carry on and learn more.
One article, “How to Help Kids Innovate from an Early Age,” told of a research project carried out in elementary schools in Ontario, Canada. Makerspaces were funded and created in the schools, and the students were encouraged to tinker, explore, and discover. The children made projects such as programmable toys and green screen videos. Several important findings were that children were more motivated and engaged in their learning, they became independent problem solvers, and they were more likely to persevere at a difficult task while involved in the makerspace. Schools also noticed that there was a reduction in discipline problems and an improvement in academic achievement, especially for students who struggle in a traditional classroom.
Another article worth noting is “A Literacy-Based Strategy to Help Teachers Integrate Science Skills.” It made the point that many teachers who gravitate towards teaching in an elementary school prefer teaching literacy over science and math. So, the researchers looked at the elements of story such as tension, conflict, and resolution, and realized that those elements were perfect springboards for learning about design and engineering. STEM is all about problems that need to be solved too.
The third online “find” was a file of lesson plans created by the University of Arkansas, entitled “Integrated STEM Ed: A Collection of Elementary STEM Design Challenges Based on Children’s Literature.” One example is a lesson plan for Grade Two students about helping Franklin find his way home. After reading a Franklin story, children are challenged to design a map. In the process, they learn about directions, coordinates, measurement, and scale.
Which blog posts or articles have you found that affirms, informs, and inspires you to learn more about tinkering with text? Let’s share our knowledge and make creative spaces for children where reading, writing, and making are integrated and authentic.
In my last post, we talked about using fairy tales as starting points for tinkering with text. Let’s continue with that theme but now let’s look at “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
Same process … create text sets and read, read, read. Maybe these bins could have books about bears, cookbooks, oats and other grains, furniture building and design, hibernation, and of course all levels of the fairy tale including fractured fairy tales and graphic novels. Be sure to include lots of pre- and post-reading discussion. Use words, phrases, and sentences to teach spelling, syllables, vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and other language conventions.
Remember, reading, writing, and making are all equal players when we tinker with text. As they say in Montessori, “Follow the children.” See where they want to go with this.
A starting point for making might be to give a design challenge to the children to design a chair that Papa Bear would like (firm) or one that Mama Bear would like (soft). They could draw their furniture design and label it. If you have fabric scraps in your tinker tubs, perhaps they could staple a fabric sample to their drawing. Encourage them to look online or in a catalogue or magazine for ideas.
Others might prefer to do some writing. Maybe they could write a porridge recipe and then make some together. Maybe you could make three different batches and the kids have a taste test. Then they write about which one they like best and why.
Or perhaps they’d like to write an updated version of this classic fairy tale … or give her a different name and a family of unicorns, for example … or it’s a polar bear family in the Arctic. If the characters and setting are different, certainly the plot and the ending would change too. They might choose to follow up by making some puppets, a diorama or a stop motion animation video. As they play with the puppets or toys, the story will likely evolve. Encourage them to go back to their writing and make revisions ... tinker with the text.
Here are a few other ideas. Once you get started, you will see that there are limitless possibilities. The children will naturally do this. Set your own imagination free too.
It’s all about structured exploration while you are constantly weaving in opportunities to teach about language (speaking, listening, reading, writing). There is constant flow. To ensure that flow, you will have to pre-teach, model, set boundaries, define structures, and practice the structure so that everyone is actively engaged in the teaching and learning process.
Let’s look at fairy tales to see how we can tinker with text in a primary classroom.
Create a text set which is centered around a certain title or theme. You should have at least 30-50 books in your set. Make sure that you have a variety of readability levels as well as fiction and non-fiction titles. In this example, lets’ say that we are building our work around “The Three Little Pigs.” Fill your reading bins with different versions of this fairy tale; add fractured fairy tales, comics, and wordless picture books; and include non-fiction books about pigs, farm animals, wolves, forest habitats, and construction. Then – read, read, read. Do read-alouds, shared reading, think-pair-share, and book talks. Teach reading strategy lessons throughout. Use sections of these books to teach mini-lessons to small groups about decoding. Allow the students to talk about their learning or favorite part of a story and record it using the Do-Ink, Flipgrid, or ChatterPix apps. You could attach a QR code to the books with the recording to promote it to other students. Create a playlist of YouTube videos about pigs and wolves along with readings of related stories; add this to your Google Classroom.
Next, give your students a task challenge. (You could make several design challenge cards and let them choose but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll limit it to one for this example. This is called a “guided” challenge. All students do the same challenge but will go about it in different ways.)
Have the children draw blueprints and label, write a supply list to be given to the hardware and lumber store (you), and let them research construction. Provide the materials in tinker trays, tinker tins, or tinker tubs. This way there are built-in constraints on the amount of materials that are used. This is design thinking and makerspace, not a craft. Students are encouraged to create their house in any way they decide rather than following a teacher’s instructions or exemplar.
Use this experiential learning time to teach reading and writing skills. Not a full-blown lesson, just morsels dropped here and there. (i.e. Hmm, how can we make that word (nals) say “nails?” Is a vowel missing?) Provide lots of time for the children to build their houses. Then, test them. Use a fan or a blow dryer to “huff and puff, and blow the house down!” If the house falls down, go back to the drawing board. Think, talk, write, and plan for the rebuild.
Students will share their learning by talking about their house with other students and writing about their learning using apps such as WriteReader, Book Creator, or Google Slides. After they have written, they can read it to someone else or read each other’s writing.
Do you see how the reading, writing, and making act as differentiated springboards for the next and then loop back? Weaving one into the other while students move at their own pace and within their own ability level? This is tinkering with text!
*Note: My initial idea for this came from http://momgineer.blogspot.ca/ However, I have tweaked it in various ways to make it my own, as all good teachers do. There are some examples of this on Pinterest too but they either include worksheets or are craft oriented, which is not student-centred learning. You will find ways to reiterate this in your classroom too. Have fun!
I thought I had my summer all planned … teaching a course and a workshop, attending a conference, entertaining visitors. Then, one by one, they were all cancelled. Well, I kept busy enough with projects and a “staycation” in my hometown, but I still was looking for a bit of adventure. So, I decided to just go for it and check something off my bucket list. Thanks to my credit card and the internet, off I went to California for surfing lessons!
Lesson #1: Surfing is hard.
There’s a reason why most surfers are athletic, young people. You use every muscle in your body. I almost didn’t go back the second day (or the third) because I was so sore and tired. But I told myself, “Get up! You’re not a quitter.”
Lesson #2: Sometimes there are secondary challenges, such as:
It was so fun to play in the waves though. I don’t think I could have had a wider smile. Did I “get it?” No, but I did it! Afterwards, it really made me think about my students, who struggle with reading. In schools around the world, we ask kids to learn something new for six hours every day. We ask them to try and try and try, even though they may be “crashing” and exhausted. I hope my challenging lessons will make me a better teacher this fall.
When was the last time you did something that took every ounce of your courage and energy? Is there something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time? I’m not encouraging you to do something reckless or terrifying, but you know - that thing that you think you’re too old for or that you might feel silly doing; that thing that you keep talking yourself out of. Yeah, that’s the thing that you definitely should do. Maybe it’s taking tango lessons with your spouse, renting an SUP, colouring your hair, or getting braces. Maybe it’s getting a motorcycle, hiking a famous trail, or learning another language. The possibilities are endless.
But what if it doesn’t work out? What if you suck at it? Well, then you’ve learned something too. The thing is, if you’re a parent, teacher, coach, mentor, grandparent, aunt or uncle, there is a young person in your life who looks up to you. And the next time that they have a hard day at school or fail their driver’s test or don’t make the team, we can say, “I know how you feel.” And we actually do.