Sunday, March 20, 2016

Connected Project Update

My students have been working very hard this past week. As posted in earlier blogs, my 7th grade STEM class is completing an Enrichment Design Project. This project is one of my favorites because of the level of engagement from the students and how we have been able to work with our local nature center/zoo at Oxbow Park.

So, last week Thursday, my student visited the zoo and made their primary observations. On Friday, an Animal Caretaker came into the classroom and gave the class a run down of animal enrichment, the specific animal characteristics and preferences when it comes to designing toys for them. At this point, I hadn't even been able to really get into too much detail about the project with students. I was worried about this, because I didn't know if they would ask the right questions to the Animal Caretaker when she came in. However, I found out that the kids had no problems finding and thinking of questions to ask her. It always amazing me the creativity they demonstrate!

Monday was when I really gave in-depth directions for what I was expecting from students for the project. I didn't want to give away any limiting instructions on their designs, but I just let them know that it had to be (1) safe, and (2) they needed to show some sort of reasoning behind their design.

Then, I started to explain how I wanted students to connect outside of our local community. Each team, consisting of 3-4 students was required to write three blog posts throughout the project and include a final reflection. I've never had my students blog before, so I wasn't sure how much they would write, so I told them they had to write at least one paragraph per post. Below are some example of the posts I received. In the future, I will make sure students read other classmates' posts and respond.

The second added piece of "connectedness" I added to the project, was that I wanted students to reach out to global experts.

Again, never having done this before, I was a little concerned who they might hear back from. So, I told them they didn't need to worry about hearing back from the experts, but I wanted to see evidence that they tried to reach out.. Then I went into a little bit about email etiquette and what to expect.

Right away, I had one team send an email to a reporter who had written about Como Zoo and heard back. I had many students reach out to the MN Zoo and also some other zoos around the country. It will be interesting to see who hears back from their contacts.

Finally, on this past Friday, the students presented their prototypes to another Oxbow Animal Caretaker. I was very impressed by the students and their products. I think they were proud of them as well. Some of their "crazy" ideas on paper, actually became a reality because they were motivated and determined to create them!


This upcoming Monday, we will head back to the zoo to give the toys to the animals and see how they react!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Start of Global Learning Opportunity

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that my 7th grade students would soon be starting an exciting Animal Enrichment Project. We have now started the project and it is going very well so far. One of the things that I really enjoy about this project is that the students have an opportunity to visit a local part of their town, that is an amazing resource to have so close to school.

Even though the project has just started, I am already thinking about how I can improve parts of the project for the future. The first thing I would like to change is the amount of time I have! We just got a 3D Printer for our middle school, and of course, I wanted to give the students a mini project where they would have the opportunity to use the printer. However, this cut into my short 9 week time span that I have with my classes. So, on Thursday this past week, my students and I traveled down to Zollman Zoo for day one of the project.

The day before, I had briefly told them about the project, assigned teams, and had them select specific animals to design for. I promised my class I would provide them with more details as the project progressed, but that their main goal for this mini field trip was to simply observe the animals, take pictures and videos of their habitats, and start noticing some enrichment toys they already had in their exhibits. Because we only had one class hour for the trip, we ended up having about 15 minutes of usable time at the zoo, which, for this first trip - was plenty of time.

(Pictured: Some students observing two otters in their exhibits.)

The next day, Friday, I had one of the expert local animal caretakers from Oxbow come into to school, and graciously, present some important information to the students. All of the kids were very engaged and excited about what our guest speaker was saying and it was awesome to hear students ask question after question about their animal's interests, food preferences, senses, and more.

Now that the preliminary parts of the project are complete, the students have about one week to (a) work through the design process, (b) reach out to global experts, and finally, build their prototype before presenting to another animal caretaker from Oxbow on Friday.

On Monday, my plan is to slow the class down a little bit and explain some of the other details of the project. We will be keeping a class blog, where I am asking each group to write three short posts about their project.

More information to come, but from what I have seen so far, I think this class will create some awesome enrichment toys!