Friday, November 28, 2014

Fun for the Zoo

In an amazing collaboration between CC & the ABQ BioPark., each this month this class experiences a special visit by zoo educators, then we take the kids on a field trip to meet behind-the-scenes with a zoo keeper/animal handler. Then… this week this class will be challenged to engineer ENRICHMENT toys that will be placed into the chimp enclosures to facilitate cognitive development of the these apes at the zoo. How cool is that? Thanks to the for the support of education of kids in Albuquerque!

Greg, the chimp handler, meets with our team and provides 
up close and personal education about the Chimpanzees.

Fun for the Zoo students learning all about chimps.

Our team of engineers building paper mache' pumpkins.

The paper mache' pumpkins will be filled with grapes and healthy chimpanzee food and hidden in the habitat for the chimps to figure out - exercise for the brain.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More than STEM: Creating Community through STEM Classes

Creating a Sense of Belonging

In our afterschool STEM classes, we DO want to increase knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math… but even more importantly… after-school, we want to inspire a positive attitude toward school and learning in general; we want to teach intrapersonal and interpersonal social skills; we want to create a sense of community and a feeling of attachment and belonging.

How do we do this? We make it fun; we make it bigger; we give it class; we do it right!
We invest class time in relationships and teambuilding. We create rituals that build a sense of belonging. We make learning playful because we know PLAY is fertile ground for growing imagination and creativity. We make learning playful because PLAY fosters a sense of belonging and encourages teamwork. We make learning playful because PLAY is our brain’s favorite way to learn.

We create rituals because we know that RITUALS create a sense of belonging.  Here are our Top 3 rituals for creating a sense of belonging in our STEM classes.

STEM Chants:
We provide semester-long or year-long STEM classes at every one of our schools. We begin every new STEM class by teaching and celebrating all of the awesome things that STEM has done for mankind.  Science has helped us to eradicate diseases, help animals, and understand our world. Technology has helped us develop all kinds of tools to help make our lives easier, more productive, and more convenient. Engineering has helped us to create better forms of transportation, better bridges, and better machines. Math has helped us to solve complex problems, discover new knowledge, and predict complicated results. We brainstorm on all of the awesome ways that all of the STEM-related fields have worked together to make life better. 

Then we set up the STEM chant ritual. We tell the kids that whenever we say “STEM is…” that we want them to respond with “…Awesome!” We do this loudly and quietly. We use this call and response as a way to get the attention of the kids whenever we need to ask a question, give an instruction, or see if they are ready to move on to the next activity. We do this frequently in every class for the entire year or semester. The kids are conditioned like Pavlovian Dogs to say “Awesome!” whenever someone says, “STEM is…”

STEM Names & the STEM Name Game:
Players think of a STEM-related term that begins with the same letter as their first name (with younger children, any STEM name will do).  Then they go around the circle, introducing themselves by their STEM name and first name.  Chemical Chelesa, Microbial Mike, Atomic Adeline, Multiplication Madison, etc.  We like to pause on the first day and quickly discuss the definition of each new STEM term (sneaking in a little vocabulary). Then we repeat, but this time the first player says their own name, the second player says the first player’s and their own name, the third player says the first two people’s name and their own name, and so on…until the last player attempts to say everyone’s name in order ending with their own name.  Repeat this time going the opposite direction.  Each time we use each other’s name in discussion throughout the duration of the year or semester, we use our new science names. This creates a special sense of community and feeling of belonging to our special STEM group.

STEM Shirts:

At the beginning of each semester, we make Sharpie Science Shirts. We print up plain white t-shirts with the organization’s logo for only a few dollars per shirt. We make small designs about the size of a quarter on white t-shirts.  Then we drop rubbing alcohol on the designs very slowly.  The alcohol spreads across the fibers of the t-shirt and acts as a SOLVENT on the Sharpie ink – producing nice bursts of color.  We talk about the meaning of words like disSOLve, and SOLution, SOLid, SOLubility, and SOLvent.  It is a science of SOL – tie dyed t-shirt. Kids frequently wear their shirts on STEM class days. Plus as a grand finale’ – at the end of each semester, we take a special science-related field trip and everyone wears their STEM shirts. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lego Movie Literacy

Lego’s are fun. The Lego Movie that was released this year added even more excitement to the classic building toy. Our idea was to create a Lego class that challenged kids to practice their literacy skills by writing a story – the classic hero’s journey.

The first step was character development. We asked the kids to draw their hero and describe the character’s personality by telling us if their character was good, or bad, or both, what their character liked to do as a job or a hobby, what the character wanted to achieve, what fears or obstacles could make it difficult for the character to achieve the big goal, and what traits, strengths, and skills can help the character achieve the goal?

Then we worked on the setting: We challenged the kids to “paint a picture of the setting… using words.” Where and when will the events of the story happen? 

  • Describe the place… Examples: the forest; the school; our town; or on another planet. 
  • Describe the location… Examples: beside the big oak tree; on the playground, near the zoo, or by the Purple Sea of Enselor. 
  • Describe the objects in the setting… Examples: mushrooms, the twirly slide, the koala bear enclosure, or the statue of the alien hero. 
  • Describe the time… Examples: morning, midnight, or dusk; in the present day, past, or future. 
  • Describe the weather… Examples: stormy, clear sky, muggy, hot.
We asked them to use descriptive and exciting words to describe each place. We challenged them to use great “kicked up” adjectives (hot/cold, bright/dark, dirty/clean, gloomy/cheerful, simple/elegant, colorful/faded, modern/old fashioned, luxurious/simple, threatening/tranquil).  But we also challenged them to “NOT make their adjectives DO ALL THE WORK” – instead of simply saying that the forest is gloomy – DESCRIBE what gloomy looks like, sounds like, and feels like. The dark forest was wet and a little bit cold, and the wind sounded like the trees were trembling and weeping.

Then we simply walked them through the process of telling the hero’s journey by having them come up with at least three problems or challenges that the hero would need to overcome and a creative, unexpected, or funny way of solving each problem.

Finally, we asked them to write a grand finale’. Tell the story of whether the Character wins or loses, reaches the goal or fails. Is there a moral to the story? If their character succeeds, this is a comedy; when the character fails, this is a tragedy. We challenged them not to just cut the story off, but to “wrap it up with a nice BOW.”

The kids thought about their stories as they build scenes and props with Legos, and worked on their stories at home. When they were happy with their stories, we snuck in a little technology education. We taught them to use stop-animation and green screen technology to create their own Lego Movies.

Here is a good example. As you watch, listen for character development, setting description, problems, solutions, and the grand finale’. Enjoy!

You can download the materials we gave the kids to help them at

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Spellin' Hopscotch

Spellin Hopscotch - Create a 35-letter (vowels and R, S, T, and N are written twice), 10-row hopscotch grid on the floor, inside or outside.  Write their spelling words or sight words for their grade level on index cards (Note – asking teachers for these lists helps build relationships and partnerships).  

Children draw a card, read it, replace it, and then hops out the word. Children can hop spell answers to any science or social studies question.  Or use numbers and hop out math problems.  

We have also used this to sneak in some social studies.  Hopsctch was developed from myths about mazes and labyrinths – you can see how the game board fits into such a story.   Some versions of hopscotch grew from religious beliefs of a human soul’s journey from Earth to Heaven.  The oldest known Hopscotch board is etched into the floor of the Forum in Rome, Italy.  The game spread throughout Europe during the rise of the Roman Empire.  Children in Britain, France, and Germany were taught the game by soldiers.  Hopscotch is now one of the most widely played games in the world.

Long Love Lists

Long Love Lists - We like to use adding tape for this fun literacy activity.  We simply put up a long strip of adding tape (to add some novelty and fun) and give the kids a topic.  Something like list everything you love (Valentine’s Day); 

everything you are scared of (Halloween); everything that you are thankful for (Thanksgiving) or everything that is WET.  They might list water, milk, orange juice, etc.  Eventually spit and pee might make the list, so be prepared.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Oreo's Don't Phase Me: Phun with Moon Phases

We started out asking the kids what they already knew existed in space. 

Then we played a game that allowed every child to tell us what they already knew about space - and wrote it on post it notes and stuck them to our Guinea Pig - I mean...happy volunteer. 

She was covered so we knew a lot of things that existed in space. One prevalent answer was the moon. We talked about each how the moon's appearance change during the month and the names of each phase, after we drew them on the board. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Constellations: Kids Create their Own

This is a fun, literacy activity we invented by accident - born out of imagination and a constellation conversation.

We were talking about stars and the groups of stars that form patterns when viewed from Earth - constellations. We talked about the 88 different constellations listed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy.

We talked about some of the more famous constellations like the Big Dipper and Orion.

Then we began talking about how when we look at stars we can see other patterns that may look like animals, mythological creatures, people, or inanimate objects such as a microscope or a heart.

We gave the kids some black paper and foil stars and let them create artwork based on constellations from their imaginations. To sneak in a little literacy, they all wrote a paragraph about their imagination constellations.

We decided we could kick these projects up a notch by making them GLOW! We have the kids some fluorescent markers and paints and let them do their projects under a black light. This was an instant hit.

We have learned that it is a little easier to use WHITE paper and standard highlighter markers. The florescent colors show up much better on white paper and the highlighters are easier for children to write with (and less expensive) than florescent paint.

The kids LOVE writing their own florescent messages. 

This one is GLOWING literally and figuratively – GLOWING!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Afterschool Constitution

Afterschool Constitution - In many afterschool programs, the adults develop and enforce the rules.  In many more programs, rules are generated through a discussion with the children.  Staff then help children rephrase their suggested rules for the official rules document.  Many programs do rules with kids, and then develop consequences for misbehavior through group discussion.  

Take this a step further and sneak in some social studies.  Print copies of the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Constitutional Convention, and the US Constitution.  Talk with the children about the meaning and relevance of each.  

Announce your idea to create a “Constitution of the Children’s Choice Afterschool Program” (insert the name of your program here).  The goal is to capture the flavor of the US Constitution in your program document - “We the children, in order to form a more awesome program…”  Have them write an initial draft and revise it for clear communication of ideas, and edit it for all writing conventions.  

When the final document is complete, transfer it to a poster board and have a program meeting to review what they created and agreed to.  All children sign their “John Hancocks.” Take this a step further.  

Have kids create a U.S. Bill of Rights My Way! First put each amendment into modern context, by paraphrasing it using terms that they truly understand.  Each amendment is paraphrased in 10 words or less.  For Amendment #3 on the unlawful quartering of soldiers in homes during any time whether in peace time or war, our kids said, “No soldiers in my crib – never, ever!” 
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