Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Toothpick and gum lolly fun for preschoolers

This afternoon I enjoyed some creativity time with my three year old son. We got a large supply of tooth picks and a couple of packets of jube lollies. He was very excited at the prospect of eating them more than building with them, but once he realised how much more stable our constructions would be than the playdough and toothpick ones we tried last week he was keen to build upon the base I began.

Here's last weeks playdough effort:

A pretty good start, but too flimsy.
The wonderful thing about using gum lollies is that they are so firm that the tooth pick can be reinserted in different places without worrying about having too many holes. This makes the height and load bearing opportunities for the structures we build to be much greater. Today it was triangular prisms and towers. Tomorrow we may try a bridge to get a car or train across.

I really enjoyed the language Mr Three used to explain what he was doing today. He decided to put my triangular based prism on top of a rectangular prism leaving him one corner and side short. He attached the triangle to the top two toothpicks then explained that it was sagging because there was nothing to support it. I questioned him about solving this problem and he decided to turn the triangle based prism into a square based prism on his own. It all fit nicely and he was rather impressed with himself, as was I with his problem solving skills.

Monday, 6 July 2015

STEM education in Australia

I have been very interested in STEM education for quite a while. For those not familiar with STEM it is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The proponents of STEM education view it as preparedness for students life in the 21st century. The number of STEM jobs available to school graduates is increasing sadly however the number of students electing STEM subjects for their upper highschool and university years is falling.
This leaves educators and engineering based employers with a big problem for the workforce of the future.
My focus is on primary school science education in Australia, having taught science for 7 years. In the early years I also taught maths through the middle of each day. I recall doing the TechnoPush Kids Design Challenge and building with my maths class a mean green billy cart which we raced at Eastern Creek Raceway with loads of other school kids. I now realise we were doing STEM and in a very fun way. The kids had a great time and so did I. It was all so practical and they were motivated to drive their creation and to race it at a day away from school.

The building of the billy cart was a huge and daunting challenge for me as a teacher. I had to extend myself far from my comfort zone and add a lot of extra hours outside of class sourcing materials and doing things to the cart that the students could not for safety reasons. This level of extension, discomfort and committment could be very intimidating for many classroom teachers and the reasons why so many brush science aside.
As I delve further into the world of STEM though, not only do I see why it is vitally important that Australia take on the same level of enthusiasm other countries have for STEM, but I fear we will be left behind if we do not act in the next few years. The American government aims to have over 100 000 STEM qualified teachers in their schools within the next 5 or so years and is partnering with major STEM employing companies to ensure the targets are reached.There is great urgency seen in the UK too, but Australia is reducing government funding in the sciences and in education.
I will be focusing my blog on STEM teaching for a while as I venture down this pathway of learning. I am excited when it will lead.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Teach sound with resonance

I have been thoroughly enjoying working on an all encompassing Sound Unit and am enjoying creating an interactive powerpoint presentation to introduce the concepts of what sound is and how it travels to students.
I have a lot of fun trying to find activities to really engage students from the get go and try to integrate lots of practical activities for students as well as embedding videos.
One of my favourite sound videos for kids is this sound resonance video in which a metal pad is connected to a sound wave generator. Sprinkle some salt on top and turn up the voume.
The various frequencies create waves of varying amplitude and wavelength, which in turn vibrates the metal plate in different ways.
The resulting changes in patterns created by the salt are absolutely beautiful to watch and can be inspiration for other student art lessons.
Take a look at this awesome video.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Organising my TPT graphics collection

Now that I have been working heavily on my Teachers Pay Teacher store, I had begun to encounter some issues with the way I have been saving my clipart, backgrounds, fonts and borders. It is very easy to become a horder of beautiful digital works both free and paid and I was being very lax in how I filed my downloads.

I decided early on that just putting them in one folder to scroll up and down would be a good idea for easy access. Turns out that was a very bad idea. Not only did I have no idea who owned the work I downloaded, I didn't know who to reference and I didn't know if I had paid for the download or not. All a copyright nightmare. Realising this, I switched to downloading files and keeping them in their original folder with the same name provided by the artist. This however was also confusing as the names meant something to the designer but not me.

So now I think I have finally got it sorted and it's helping me in more ways than one.

As you can see I have renamed each of the folders to first have the title of the designer and then the set included within. This has been great because I am fast becoming familiar with the names of the artists remembering who has my favourite styles. They become my first port of call to return to for new work.
This has made referencing a breeeze also as I recognise the style and go straight back to the folder to find the artist's button for reference.
I do the same with my font files, however I have been using google docs to jot down ideas for my products and have a list of font licences I have purchased there, I'll never forget which fonts I am permitted to use this way.
It's a small piece of organisation, but with two small children it is important to keep on top of the small things that save a few minutes each day.
I hope this will be of help to other teacher authors.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Teacher Author Profit/Loss Sheet - Reaching a new milestone.

I've happily been spending a bit of money on clipart, backgrounds and a new blog design of late and as many Teacher authors will know, it's easy to get carried away. I know there are expenses to be outlaid in any new business and those on TpT dwarf other small business - a font vs a coffee machine! So as I am a relative newcomer to TpT on a serious way I wanted to know when I hit the milestone of actually having my shop in the black.
So over the last few days I have created a Teacher Author Profit/Loss Sheet to calculate the income and outgoings of my TpT store.
Luckily for those that follow me on TpT they'll be able to grab it free first at Teacher Author Profit/Loss Sheet.

The worksheet allows users to easily repopulate the data with new stats downloaded from their My Product Stats page. I have included columns to add various expenses aside from those listed above such as TpT membership fees, tax and net and gross income. 
The sheet doesn't go so far as to aportion internet usage, computer wear and hours spent, but it's a good start.

It's important to be organised when running a small business with small children at home so I'll be posting some of the other simple organisational things I have been doing as my store develops.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Back on board.

I have decided to come back to my blog after quite a while away from it beign busy having another child. My delicious daughter is now a year old and I am so fortunate to be at home caring for her rather than having her in care.

We share two lovely quiet week days each week together and three energetic creative days with her three year old brother home also.
He is becoming so interested in the world and I am enjoying introducing Science to him in little snippets. He asks wonderful questions and as a result of him asking me why plants grow we have been growing some bean seeds in a clear soda bottle.
We have been documenting the changes we see in the free version of the Educreations app and discussing changes we see each day.
Funnily enough I didn't notice that before the bean seeds germinate they grow bigger and softer from absorbing the water into the seeds.

Mr Three has loved seeing how much change there is under the soil before the seedlings appear.

 We make our daily observations and he lets me know what he thinks will happen next. At three and a half he really is excited to see the changes taking place.
Today we were amazed to see that our little bean plant leaves had turned back towards the window within 2 hours of being rotated away from the sun.

We also grew some bean seeds in cotton wool and kept them on the window sill just to see what would happen. A little bit of slow germination and then a fizzle. They did nothing. This was enough to cement it for Mr Three that the seeds in the cotton wool did not survive because they did not have food, just water, sun and air.

This has made me think about a product I have been working on, a quiz for Science. In the making of this quiz I have been looking at each of the standards in the American curriculum. One of the fifth grade standards states that "...plant matter comes mostly from air and water, not from soil." "Students should understand that plants require air and water to grow only. That they are not dependent on soil or sun".
This to me is alien to both what I have seen through planting seeds and read. When we teach the basic needs of all living things, students learn that plants need air, water, food and space to grow. Specifically though too plants take in carbon monoxide so this further confuses me. I will have to further investigate what the standards are meant to convey.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Amazing crystals ready to go.

Over the last few weeks I have been spending my time working on a crystals unit for students in Year 5 in Australia and Year 6 in the USA. The difference in grade being of course to the relative curriculums.
This program was one I ran with year 5 and 6 students a couple of years ago and definately one my students enjoyed. At that time however I tried to have some success with Epsom and salt crystal growth, but we just couldn't get the crystals to grow and in fact we couldn't even grow salt crystal seeds despite trying various methods - no joy.

The greatest success we have had are with Alum and Copper Sulfate which are truly beautiful crystals and very easy for students to grow.

As you can image the students all wanted to have the opportunity to grow Copper Sulfate crystals. Copper sulfate is available in the gardening section of hardware stores. In Australia, it is available in Bunnings relatively inexpensively. 

The Amazing Crystals introduces students to crystals, where and how they grow and provides some really nice pictures of examples. It is always nice however to have the real thing to hold and you will often find students have collected some crystals at home that they may be willing to bring in. In Australia we have a Scientists in Schools program which provides the opportunity for different specialists to come and share their expertise in your classroom. I invited a geologist to come and provide a detail of knowledge well beyond my capabilities. The students really enjoyed his coompany and the amazing resources he was able to access.

In the unit, I outline how crystals form on a molecular level and provide opportunities for students to comprehend the information using drama. There is a procedural outline for growing crystal seeds (the base of growing a good healthy sized crystal) and then for applying this knowledge to grow a variety of crystals.

Students are then given the opportunity to create their own investigation into growing crystals. To reinforce knowledge I have made some posters to use and to aid in assessment there is a suggested assessment for each of the 9 activities described in the unit.
I feel that this is a comprehensive unit and I really hope others enjoy teaching this unit as much as I did.
The crystals make a great science fair project also.
The unit available in a few of my stores including Teachers Pay Teachers and Teacher's Notebook. More stores to come and the Australian version is also close to completion.