2nd Grade Design Challenges

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Brown Bag Challenge

A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, I saw a tweet that encompassed some of my favorite concepts of a maker mindset. In the tweet, Angie O’ Malley, a STEAM educator in Washington(and a FABLearn Fellow), challenged her #elemakers to make robots with super powers ON THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. (High five, Angie!) By handing kids a simple bag of random materials, students were challenged to create a robot with the everyday materials in front of them.  I loved how she added the context of super powers, because it gave the students just enough direction (and constraint) to all make completely different and amazing robots.

I knew that I had to see what our Mason students would make with this fun challenge, but I also wanted to do this with FIVE different 2nd grade classes. So and I decided to add teaching the importance of recycling and re-use, and told students up front that they would build robots, snap a picture, and then dis-assemble after building so the next group could re-use the same materials.

The robots they made were super adorable. I took pictures and stored them in a Googledoc for each teacher with the intent that students could write about their robots in the future. (I’m also thinking if time allowed, it would be fun to have students make a Chatterpix of their robot describing its super powers.)

Here are some of their amazing creations!

Mrs. Denny’s sweet students wrote me thank you notes for “letting” them make robots in the library.

Designing an Accessible Playground

After seeing Angie’s great tweet about robots, I delved further into her work and discovered her amazing blog: Elementary Innovators.  She has so many great ideas posted, but one that really stuck out was a post about designing accessible playground equipment. Since we might be getting new playground equipment at Mason, I thought it would be great for our 2nd graders to design a new playground that is accessible for ALL of our students.

Using the design thinking process, we discussed user needs and the concept of accessibility. We asked students to brainstorm ideas out loud and on paper, and then sketch out accessible playground ideas.

Ideas included:

  • Lower Monkey bars so a student in a wheelchair could use them
  • Lower Monkey bars with a platform underneath that would move the wheelchair as the user “swung” across the bars
  • Zip line swings
  • An elevator to the slide
  • A moving sidewalk to the Playscape
  • A computer talker – A student wanted a computer so that one of our nonverbal students could tap on the computer to have it speak and tell others where he wants to play.
  • A Wheelchair zipline that lifts the chair safely
  • A lift to put a child in a swing
  • An accessible trampoline- a platform for a wheelchair that bounces the rider while they are safely in their chair.
  • And some students had super complicated ideas that were just plain awesome like this dinosaur with a slide coming out of it’s mouth!


Listen to this student talk about her design:

Little people have pretty amazing ideas! I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!

Risk Taking – a new school year, a new school!


Hey readers! My family moved and I’ve started librarian-ing at a new school at an IB campus. I’m taking a risk and moving down to elementary to see how I can incorporate making and literacy ties at the start of a student’s education (Bonus: I get to be at school with my own 8 YO.)

I’ve taught secondary for 15 years and I’m only three weeks into teaching at the elementary level. I’ve taken a lot of risks and I’ve already learned a lot! Instead of making over the library before school starts, I’m making slow changes, and hoping to have a 2nd and 5th class use design thinking principles to help me update our library. (Thank you, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Diamond!) Below is what the library mostly looked like when I came in (although I think I may have moved some things around already in this picture.)

Book-tasting Orientation

For the first time Mason students met me, I wanted to introduce myself, but still focus on building a love of books. So I had students sample books from different genres per this idea from Andy Plemmons (He posted a few weeks ago about having book tastings for library orientation.)  Initially, I tried having 4th and 5th students taste books and then make Flipgrid videos about why they read. After two classes, I realized I was asking WAY too much and decided to save the Flipgrid videos for another time. (I also realized that students had no idea how to make a Flipgrid video! I had to make a how-to sheet!)


For the book tasting, I pulled books from each genre to put in tubs sitting at each table. I also created a little “genre sampling” document. For 5th grade, the genre sampling document helped them write about what they liked about each genre. However, for the other grades, I quickly realized just talking about what we liked would be more effective than trying to have a third grader write about why they liked a book.

One of the most challenging genre pulls for this book tasting was pulling books for readers in 2nd grade since their levels are so varied. I enjoyed pulling picture books and early chapter books like: Bailey School Kids, Junie B Jones, Encyclopedia Brown, and Geronimo Stilton.  It was also difficult to pull for so many different grade levels. If I did it over again, I’d probably only do this for 3rd -5th grade.

What went wrong: Kinder

One class of kinder totally rocked the book tasting. They enjoyed looking at different types of books and did a great job handling books, and picking a book to take on picture walks. However, most of the kinder classes really couldn’t handle a book tasting! Imagine that! 🙂 Instead I took cues from teachers and began to focus on library systems and learning how a library works. One teacher suggested we spread students out per shelf at the Everyone books. This is how amazing that looks:

What went right:

The book tasting was great for 4th and 5th grade students! Since my library is genrified, it gave me a chance to talk about reading different genres and looking at books outside of your comfort zone. As students sampled books, I told them I would hold on to books they wanted to check out. This created these beautiful #TBR stacks and gaggles of students reading all over the library as seen below.

Flipgrid “I Read Because”

Since I had to move my Flipgrid videos to another lesson. I attempted it again with a few random classes. I made a how-to document, and tried it out again with 3rd grade.

Where I failed:

My first two classes of Flipgrid videos WERE TERRIBLE. I didn’t talk enough about good citizenship or even how to make a video.

What went right:

By the third class, things were going better. I made a how-to document, told the kids they couldn’t watch other videos until they were done with their own, and had them spread across the library. I also had to mandate a “NO PHOTOBOMBING” rule. Some of these videos are super adorable, but some are still just too random. They’ll get better as they continue to make Flipgrid videos. 🙂

Dot Day Connections

Scheduling Dot Day is a massive undertaking! However, from my days at Lamar Middle School, I knew it would be worth attempting. My goal was to have every 1st and 5th grade class make Skype connections. After reading The Dot by Peter Reynolds, my first grade teachers had students make art inspired by dots. We shared these dot day -ish art works with Maryland, Kansas, and Michigan. My fifth grade students made dot art about how they would make their mark on the world  and shared their art with students in Maryland, Michigan, and Korea.  (Thank you April Wa, Michael Medvinsky, Amanda McCoy, Matthew Winner, and Andrew Carle!)

One of my favorite moments was Skyping with Matthew Winner’s new students and having my 5th grade students give his 1st grade students advice and vice versa.  Matthew blogged about it later and one of his students said, “I heard them say “don’t get stressed out” and it made me know that it’s good to work because it makes your brain stronger. Lois (age 6) -” (See Matthew’s full post here.)

Our first graders in Mrs. Cotton’s class did such a great job we are hoping to continue our collaboration with Michael Medvinsky and his University Liggett students.

What failed:

Every Skype wasn’t awesome. We had connection issues, we had students being wiggly. I tried Skyping from classrooms which caused issues, and even had issues Skyping in the library because other classes came in while we were trying to chat. I will have to set some norms for students so they know how to act if they see a Skype happening when they come to check out books!  I also learned so much about Skyping with littles from Matthew Winner. It is important to teach kids how to respond on a Skype call, otherwise it just doesn’t even feel like you are calling someone. It’s also pertinent to teach some hand signals for how a whole class can respond during a Skype to let another class know they are listening and appreciative.

Looking Forward

This week I’m starting some brown bag design challenges with 2nd grade, thanks to a tweet from Angie O’Malley.  Our 2nd graders will build robots from the items assembled in these brown bags tomorrow and all week! (Thanks again, Kelly for helping build these bags.)

Plus, my fourth grade students will bring in poems they’ve written this week to program in Scratch. I thought it would be good to make some manipulatives to help them with programming before logging on to the computer. If time allows, they are bringing drawings for us to hook up to Makey Makey. I’ll let you know how it goes!