The end of the 19-20 school year and the beginning of 20-21
The last year has been so challenging. Starting in March my school went to full remote. Trying to limit screen time and thinking about social emotional needs of students and families, the decision was made to limit some of the classes including library and technology live teaching. I tried to make connections with teachers and students through videos and building and making project ideas for students to do at home as well as trying to make connections with what students’ home life might be like, suggesting walks and neighborhood scavenger hunts. We made it through the remainder of the school year.
The summer was filled with anxiety and uncertainty about what it would look like if we were able to return to school in person or how to start the school year if we were not. My school made the decision in August to return in person but with strict social distancing guidelines. Classes would be split into two pods, each pod with a max 10 students, students would be in their desks spaced six feet apart, no shared materials or resources could be used. All of these limits presented so many challenges, especially for a teacher who focuses so much on collaboration, building and making. How could I make connections with teachers, curriculum and have students connect with each other and their work with all of these restrictions placed on how we could teach and students could learn?
We are now moving into month three of the school year and it has not been perfect or even easy, it is not a way that I would choose to teach or work with students but we are surviving and I think the students are doing some really wonderful things, learning in different ways and we are still finding ways to allow for students to be creative and build.
Collaboration with Third Grade Teachers
This year I am rotating between grades every three weeks to limit cross-contamination. Each week for three week I have three sessions with each pod. When it came time to work with my third graders, I wanted to do a project that connected something they were learning in their classroom with research and building, something we would have done in a normal school year. The building would need to be in a digital format or space because we would not be able to use all the materials and resources in our makerspace. I connected with the classroom teachers to find out what topics they were working on in their classrooms and thinking about possible projects to do with students. The third graders were learning about the Ice Age and what the area of Chicago and Illinois was like hundreds of thousands of years ago and how the land we live on, Lake Michigan and our space was formed. What if students learned about the environment and then had to design a time machine that would be able to travel around the Ice Age to document the Chicago of the past? And what if they had to create the Ice Age world as well? Third Graders’ Excellent Adventure to the Ice Age! (Collaborate School Library III.A.2 “Leading inquiry-based learning opportunities that enhance the information, media, visual, and technical literacies of all members of the school community.)
Research and Understanding: The Ice Age
Students were engaging with research and discussion about the Ice Age in their classroom work. In their library time I was going to continue to have them research about the Ice Age using the library’s online research resources. I created a Google slide deck with videos and links to National Geographic, Encyclopedia Britannica, and BrainPop. The slides had sections that students could edit to add their notes. The prompt that I gave students was to think about what the environment was like in the Ice Age, what animals lived during that time and what did they learn about the formation of Lake Michigan. Students spent time reading and listening to the articles, watching the videos and collecting their notes and information. They asked more questions about more types of animals that lived during the Ice Age and we did some whole class research to learn more about the animals and the distant cousins that still live today. (Collaborate Learner III.B.1”Using a variety of communication tools and resources.)
The Building Challenge: A Time Machine!
One thing that I always try to include in projects that I do with students is a building or making project with the research and information that they learned about, it is not just about collecting information, what is something new that you are going to make with that information. The challenge for third graders: based on what you learned about the environment of the Ice Age and the animals that lived at the time, design and build a time machine that could travel back to the Ice Age, travel around the world, and collect pictures and videos of the time period. (Collaborate Learner III.A.2 “Demonstrating their desire to broaden and deepen understandings.)
Students started sketching out their designs thinking about the land of the Ice Age. They took into account the glaciers, snow and ice, and changing format of the land as glaciers retreated and the Great Lakes were formed, as well as the animals they might encounter and the extreme cold of the time period. Next, I introduced how they were going to make their time machine, with the 3D design program Tinkercad. Tinkercad is an awesome online and app 3D design program that is great to use with students to make and create in 3D. Tinkercad can be a challenging app to work with and students need to think about shapes and space to design their projects. Third graders spent time looking at their design plans and thinking about how they could take the shapes and tools in Tinkercad and create their time machines. Even though students were at their individual desks and not able to work collaboratively, they still found ways to help each other. When a student was unsure how to make something or what shape to use, they mirrored their work up on the screen in the classroom and other students offered suggestions and ideas on how to make it work. Students were so creative with their designs and ideas, they built their machines to have space for the time travelers to collect samples, store supplies and clear roofs to observe the world around them. Their designs included unique ways to travel around the Ice Age including flying, giant tires to travel over ice and machines that could also go in water. (Collaborate Learner III.B.1”Using a variety of communication tools and resources.)
Challenge Part 2: An Excellent Ice Age Adventure!
Now that students had their time machines, they needed to travel to the Ice Age. The next step was students recreating the Ice Age using the virtual and augmented reality website and app CoSpaces Edu. CoSpaces Edu is a great tool to use to introduce students to AR/VR applications and creation. In the site students are able to choose a 3D world, add objects and items from the CoSpaces library as well as upload 3D designs, images and videos. Another feature allows users to code items from the CoSpaces library to move, animate and talk. Students are able to use block code to add all these features to their worlds. Third graders were able to learn how to create in a new format with the AR/VR tools and continue to build on their coding skills using the block coding in the CoSpaces platform.
Third graders were given guidelines on what their worlds could include, they had to make sure it was accurate as possible. Students referred to their Ice Age research to think about what animals might be in their Ice Age world, water and what plants might be similar to what existed during the Ice Age. As students were adding 3D objects to their world, we talked about what animals might have been similar including the woolly rhino, a distant cousin of the deer, and the Giant Ground Sloth. We talked about how none of the people available in the CoSpaces library really fit in the world, but agreed that having the astronauts in the CoSpaces library could represent the time travelers to the Ice Age. (Collaborate Learner III.B.1”Using a variety of communication tools and resources.)
The third graders worked so hard to learn this new technology, they figured out how to design their worlds, offer help to their fellow classmates in their designs, and do more research to make sure what they were creating was as accurate as they could be with the tools available. Once everyone was done with their worlds, students had an opportunity to explore the Ice Ages of their classmates and the rest of the students in third grade. It was wonderful to see them offer compliments and ask their fellow classmates how they coded their items or designed their time machines. (Collaborate Leaner III.D.2 “Recognizing learning as a social responsibility.)
Overall this project was a great success. Students did a great job navigating research resources and recognizing when they needed new information as they were building their worlds and returned to do more research to complete their projects. They were beginning to understand that research is an ongoing process, a skill and mindset that I hope to continue to develop. Third graders also learned a new design tool in Tinkercad. The 3D design process can be frustrating and the students handled managing their struggles and finding a way to complete the project. They were also creative and embraced the challenge of learning how to design and build their own worlds in virtual reality. Students also continued to build their coding skills, taking the block coding they had learned in earlier years and learned new coding techniques and blocks in the CoSpaces platform. It was also wonderful to see students explore their fellow classmates’ world and give feedback and compliments on their work.