Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why It's Time to Make Learning Fun Again

Yesterday afternoon I visited a former student, Tanya. She was in my fifth grade class in 1993. What a joy it was to see her and meet her family. She is tapping maple trees on her property to make syrup. This is something that she learned in my class. We reminisced about all of the things we did in fifth grade. The many field trips, edible wild plants, rockets, and camp
Tanya, who is now a school board member at my former school, is passing this passion for learning and trying new things to her children. Her family also raises beef, chickens and sheep on four acres of land. Tanya’s husband, Dave is a tool and die maker and is adept at fabricating tools. This led us to a discussion about educational philosophy. We discussed how schools have developed a culture of testing and the negative effects on children. We spoke about how learning should be novel, hands-on and authentic and the importance of play and imagination in the learning process. We talked about how maker’s labs can foster that kind of learning. 
Too often as teachers, we are overwhelmed with all of the things that we have to get done in our classrooms and it is difficult to step out and develop new things. I want to encourage you as a teacher to put aside the textbook, and engage in something fun and novel for both you and your students. 

Yes, it is scary to step out of your comfort zone, but it is equally rewarding for both you and your students. Will you fail? Yes, you probably will at some aspect of your activity. This is how you learn. Revise what went wrong and then set the activity aside for next year and try a new activity. 
If you set a goal of developing a hands-on activity once a week or even once a month it will make your job a lot more fun and will provide for an enjoyable learning experience for your students. Build your repertoire of activities and soon your classroom will be the talk of the school!  

Friday, March 11, 2016

March 14 Pi Day Classroom Spectacular!

Don't forget about March 14 - 3.14 - also known as Pi Day! Pi Day is a great opportunity for you to encourage exciting and hands-on learning in your classroom teaching about the radius, the diameter, and the circumference of circles. Pi = 3.14159265359... and keeps on going.... We really like to have fun with math. When you make math fun and applicable to real life for students, the principles come to life.

Just as a refresher...the circumference of a circle is determined by multiplying Pi times the diameter (Circumference = Pi x Diameter) . And the area of a circle is determined by multiplying Pi by the radius squared (Area = Pi x Radius2). Pi Day is perfect for exploring this seemingly magic math number. Give your kids challenges for determining area and circumference and then toward the end of class enjoy some pie of your own! Your students will go crazy.

You can also work backwards with these computations. If you know the area of a circle, divide by Pi to get the radius squared (Radius2 = Area / Pi). And if you know the circumference of a circle, divide by Pi to get the diameter (Diameter = Circumference / Pi).

So why is Pi such a big deal? Because it works for EVERY circle! It's a constant, regardless of the size of the circle!

We like pie around here.
We especially like lemon meringue pie.

Sue remembers the Pi equation using this little formula:

Area = Pi Are Squared

No. Pie are round. 
Cakes are square.

....We're working with some real jokers here...

For some great classroom activities, check out our Pi Day Spectacular just in time for you to whip together an impressive and fun day for Pi Day on March 14! Students especially enjoy celebrating with pie or pizza pie at the end of the day! Lemon meringue, anyone?

Friday Follies: Meet The Parent

I snagged her on the way out the door this morning. She's going to flip when she sees I used this photo.
She thinks she looks terrible - I think she's adorable!

This morning we're going to give you a little Behind the Scenes Tour at Brain Brigade. Well, really, I'm going to introduce you to my mom who keeps this place from exploding during our hands-on science projects. My parents have been married for a long time. I don't exactly know how long because no one here is talking (but...if you ask my four year old, Finn, he'll tell you about 500 years). My mom has seen more of my dad's crazy and creative classroom projects than she can recount. Sometimes my dad tested his science experiments and projects at home. And he's always making something or tinkering around the house. She has stories to tell.

 Sue will be joining us here at the blog a little more regularly. She's funny. And intelligent. And organized. And she's got all the dirt on my dad. Sue works for Fisher & Paykel...and is a sleep medicine expert. She has worked in the sleep industry for over 20 years. First as a sleep technologist and now working on the sleep products side helping people with sleep disorders get better sleep. If you have a question, she is not a doctor! But she probably has seen it happen or has some good suggestions to make sleeping easier for those of you who struggle. Leave your comments and fan mail below ;)

When Sue isn't working you can find her attempting amazing feats while riding a hover board, working on her house (like right now at this moment she's actually tiling a back splash in her kitchen!), or find her hanging out with her grandkids (she has five). She also loves to travel. She loves to read. And she totes her little dog, Daisy, around with her often.

Daisy giving the hover board a try.
My dog, Odin, not making much of an effort to ride the hover board...

She has never had a specific hobby, until this week. After learning how to tile her kitchen back splash she is now ready to tile anything. 

"It's so picky and annoying and I loved every minute of it! Even the clean up is easy!" - yes, that is a direct quote!

She's the ultimate multitasker. And you're in for a treat!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Let's Talk About Maker Spaces

Hello friends. What does it mean to have a maker space in your school? First of all, there is not a standard definition of what a maker space should be. It can be as simple as a corner of your classroom where students can tinker, disassemble a broken computer, make a truss bridge with craft sticks, or just experiment with some safe chemicals. The whole premise is to get ideas flowing, to fail and find solutions through trial and error, to answer the question what if? Or, it can be a dedicated room where there are many high tech machines that can create almost anything you need or want. The two primary factors are cost and space. You can make it what you want based on funding and space and your own comfort zone. The important thing is to get students tinkering, creating, being curious and making connections to real life….authentic learning. Just do it! 

Take the first step. Get out of your rut, step into a world where you learn along with your students. 
Your students will love the experience and will benefit in ways that you couldn’t imagine. 

Once I challenged my students to design a cardboard and duct tape boat that could hold two of them. The finished boat could have only one layer of water-proofing on the exterior. This simple challenge excited them so much that they were doing research on designs, building prototypes and discussing the best way to build their yachts. Of course, some just dove in and started building without any idea of how to do it, but isn’t that what it is all about? 

Learning by doing, failing, trying again, and finally reaching success. 

Too often, as teachers we want students to follow our guidelines because we are the “experts”, and for purposes of efficiency we can save time. But by making things easier for our students we are missing an important piece in the learning puzzle. Two key ideas, choice and trial and error, are critical to creativity and learning.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Learning Through Play

Do you remember as a child how you would play with your dolls or with your army set? You used your imagination in creating real life scenarios. The concept of using play to learn is key for children to enrich their experiences and make connections with real life. Play is hands on. It requires curiosity and creativity. It is a perfect way to introduce authentic learning to your students.

Often children's museums have miniature sets. You'll find grocery stores, construction sets, play kitchen. Kids love to pretend using real life objects!

You can enrich your students' play in the classroom by using these concepts and integrating your curriculum.

For example, you can use cooking in your classroom to explore measurement, temperature, multiplying (halving, doubling or tripling a recipe!), fractions, portion size, reading a recipe, collaboration, following directions all while enjoying the experience. You don't need a worksheet to explore these concepts!

Taking a step farther, once you have the basic skills involved, students can create their own recipes and alter or tweak the recipe to their taste! This encourages creativity within the boundaries of skills they are learning.

One of our favorite ways to include play in the classroom is by setting up a miniature restaurant. We build a Hamburger Shack and stock it with pretend food items. Then students order from the workers and the workers must fill the order and calculate the cost of the order correctly.

Students hone their skills on charting, adding, using a calculator, making change, and customer service. We have a download available for you to make it easy to give the Hamburger Shack a try in your own classroom!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Quotes to Inspire Your Students

If you ask any of my students that I have had over the past 40 years about what it was like to be in my classroom, there are always some common themes...
  • Where The Red Fern Grows. 
  • Mr. Hoefs was CRAZY. 
  • And you'll almost always have someone mention a quote that has stuck with them through the years that I had hanging on the wall and drilled into their minds.

For many, many years, I had written the quotes and sayings on white tag board sheets with black permanent markers. Then I got fancy and had my students help me create some more colorful signs to hang in our Maker Space.

Jolene has started taking some of these favorite sayings and quotes of mine and turning them into beautiful and classroom-worthy posters. We've come a long way, baby (don't worry, that's not actually one of the posters!). Watch our store as she adds some of my favorite "-isms" and words of wisdom in ways I never expected to see these quotes in print - and you can print them yourself! 

I can't believe I didn't ask her earlier to help me with these...what a TRANSFORMATION!

Plus she's created them so that you can send them to a print shop or print them on your own. Check them out here! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hydroponics Strike Again!

I'm back in the classroom {greenhouse}!

I've finally graduate middle school...and in my retirement time am volunteering at our local high school ag department. I'm working with the agriculture teacher to start up aquaponics and hydroponics systems in the high school greenhouse.

I have ten students who have volunteered their free periods to work with me on getting these systems up and running.

Here Tyler is preparing the growing bed for the nutrient solution from the tilapia fish.

Our first steps were to obtain industrial bulk containers and cut the tops off to form the bottom tank and the top growing area. We had two of these tanks donated from Honey Acres in Ashippun, Wisconsin. Both will be used for aquaponics where we will grow about 100 tilapia over the next nine months.

I'll have more updates coming! In the meantime, if you want to try hydroponics on a small scale, check out these directions for a simple Windowsill Hydroponics system!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

All you need is love...

Since my retirement last summer, I've picked up small teaching job and am volunteering at our local high school ag department. This week I met with five students and we have two IBC containers that we're getting aquaponics started in for the semester. If my experience is anything like in the past with aquaponics, that number of interested students will grow quickly!

However, the latest craze we have been exploring are using SMD LEDs to create holiday cards. We created a few for Christmas...but with Valentine's Day on the horizon we wanted to do something a little more impressive {if you're going to give your Valentine something, it's worth the effort to look good, right?!}. Check it out! Our technology experience is growing, too.

We even made a GIF.

For real.

We're getting pretty savvy around here...

To make this card yourself, you can get our step-by-step directions by clicking here, or I can give you a rough breakdown. Basically you need three pieces of paper or cardstock, some SMD LEDs, (we used four in our example), copper tape, a coin battery, and some creativity!

Decorate your paper in any card style you'd like. On one piece, you'll need to decorate the "outside" to make a card, on the other, you'll decorate the "inside" and leave the back side blank. These will be fitted together at the end.

Run your tape to create a parallel circuit. Place your LEDs and battery in place, testing your LEDs as you go along. Take your third piece of paper, cut to fit over the copper wiring. Punch holes on that third piece of paper so that you can see the LEDs. We also cut a heart out of the middle so the lights really shine through! Tape the inside message to the outside message, fold, and send to your love. Full step-by-step directions can be found here.

Apple's Sparkling Heart